What is the mind?
“Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made”
What is the mind? The language of Buddha, as well as Pali in which his complete teachings are set down, was based on Sanskrit, so we can get some understanding by looking at the Sanskrit terms from which the Pali was derived. Sanskrit and Pali have the same word for mind: mana. Mana comes from the root verb man, which means “to think.” However, mind takes in more territory than the intellect; it includes the senses and the emotions, because it is in response to feelings and sensory impressions that thoughts arise in the attempt to label and understand them.
Evolved minds have the capacity to think abstractly and to determine what shall be experienced by the senses or the feelings. In lesser evolved minds these impressions precede thought, but in higher evolved minds thought becomes dominant and not only often precedes those impressions but also determines them. Undoubtedly this is progress, but like everything in relative existence it has a down side, and that is the capacity of the mind to “create reality” rather than simply respond to it or classify it.
Perception is not a matter of exact and undistorted experience. Perception itself is learned, and is therefore extremely subjective. People born blind who later gained their sight have said that it took them weeks to tell the difference between circles, squares, triangles, and other geometric shapes–as well as the difference between many other kinds of visual impressions. This tells us that we do not just perceive spontaneously through the senses. We learn perception–it is not just a faculty. In other words, the senses do not perceive; it is the mind alone that perceives even though it uses the impressions of the senses as its raw material for those perceptions. Objectivity in human beings is virtually impossible. We might even hazard the speculation that objectivity is impossible outside of enlightenment.
The understanding to be gained from this is that our life experiences are a training film, an exercise in the development of consciousness with the mind as its main instrument. We are to look and learn. The question of “Is it real?” is almost irrelevant, “Is it comprehensible?” being more vital. There is a sense in which the individual alone exists and all that he experiences is but the shifting patterns of the movies of the mind–but for a purpose: insight that leads to freedom from the need of any more movies. Then the liberated can rest in the truth of his own self.
The problem is that those who have only an intellectual idea about the relation of experience to reality will come to erroneous conclusions that may result in very self-destructive thought and behavior. Only right experience garnered from right meditation and right thought (which is based on meditation) can clear away the clouds of non-perception and misperception and free us. The demarcation between “out there” and “in here” must become clear to us in a practical sense, as must “me” and “not me.” We must also come to understand that “real” and “unreal” have both correct and mistaken definitions, that all our perceptions are interpretations of the mind and never the objects themselves.
Our perceptions may be more or less correct as to the nature of an outside object, but how can we know? The enlightened of all ages have told us that a stage of evolution can be reached in which the mind is no longer necessary, a state in which we can go beyond the mind and enter into direct contact and communication with “out there” through a state of unity with “in here” and then perceive objects as they truly are–or at least as they momentarily are. The knowledge of temporality or eternality is inseparable from that state, so confusion cannot arise regarding them.
In our childish way we always think of perfection as consisting of all our good traits greatly increased and our bad traits eradicated. (If we are “good” enough children to admit we have bad traits, that is.) In the same way we think of eternity as time without end rather than a state that transcends time. Our ideas of eternal life are pathetic since we have no idea what life is, much less eternity. It only follows, then, that our ideas of enlightenment and liberation are equally puerile and valueless. This is why the wise center their attention on spiritual practice rather than theology and philosophy. Experience–Right Experience–will make all things clear or else enable us to see that they do not exist.
At the moment we can say that we do not know just what the mind is, but we are working on knowing it. So let us again set forth the opening words of the Dhammapada.
“Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made.”
First there is the mind. It is possible to view “mind” as both the machinery of perception we have been talking about and the consciousness which perceives the perception, the consciousness that is unconditioned and permanent–in other words, the spirit, the eternal Self. “The Self is ear of the ear, mind of the mind, speech of speech. He is also breath of the breath, and eye of the eye” (Kena Upanishad 2). From this higher aspect of Mind all things proceed–in both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic sense. From the Mind of God all things are projected that are found in the cosmos; and from the mind of the individual are projected all that are distinctive to his life. We are all co-creators with God, even though we have long ago forgotten that and attribute everything that goes on in our life as acts of God. From this delusion erroneous religion has arisen–religion that thinks it necessary to pray to and propitiate God in order for the “good” to come to us and the “bad” to be eliminated from our life. It is this religion and its false God that Buddha adamantly rejected and from which we must be freed if we are to gain any true understanding of what is really happening to us from life to life.
On the other hand, we need true religion–the conviction and aspiration for the uniting of the finite consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness in eternal Being. The call of the self to the Self is the essence of true religion, and in that sense those who would turn from death to life must be thoroughly religious. Any god that is separate from us is a false god; the true God is the very Self of our self. Though distinct from us, He is not separate. We are eternally one with Him. But we have to realize that–not just intellectually, but through direct experience. And that experience is only possible in meditation.
All right: mind precedes its objects, which are themselves governed and made by the mind. This has profound implications.
1. Karma is the creation of the mind–is simply the mind in extension. Karma need not be worked out or fulfilled; the mind need only be changed, or better yet brought into complete abeyance. Then karma is no more and its attendant compulsions–including birth and death–no longer exist.
2. Our entire life experience is but a mirroring of the mind. If something is not already within our mind it cannot be projected outward as a (seemingly) external factor or experience of our life. So our life is our mind in motion. By observing it we can come to know what is in our mind, just as by running a film through a projector we come to know what is in it. If we do not like what is happening in our life, the solution is to alter our mind. People who like to tell of how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal others habitually are to them are merely telling us how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal they are–potentially if not actually. Victims are only victimizers in a down cycle. The moment the upswing comes in their life rhythms they will go back to victimizing others.
Action and reaction are purely psychological matters, the film in the projector–the light and sound on the screen being only its projection. Change the film and you change the experience. Since objects come from the mind they can only be compatible with the mind and therefore express and reveal its character.
3. All the factors of life are really only thought, attitude, and outlook in manifestation.
4. Study your life and thereby know your mind.
5. You are always in control, even though that control may be on an unconscious level.
6. Change your mind and you change your life. (Do not forget that mind includes consciousness.)
7. Mary Baker Eddy was right: All is Mind and Mind is All.
Action and reaction
“To speak or act with a defiled mind is to draw pain after oneself, like a wheel behind the feet of the animal drawing it” (Dhammapada 1).
Suffering is inevitable for the person with a defiled mind, for it is impossible not to act or think (which is speaking inwardly, even if not outwardly). “Good” or meritorious acts done by a person with a defiled mind will bring suffering–perhaps not as much as evil acts, but still the suffering will not be avoided. This is imperative for us to comprehend: Action is not the determining factor in our life–Mind is. And mind alone. This why in the seventeenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna describes how bad people do good in a bad way and thus accrue more misery to themselves.
It is very important to understand this fact, since we tend to mistakenly assume that “good” acts produce “good” karma, etc., when in reality the actions mean nothing–it is the condition of the mind that determines their character and therefore their consequences. (Buddha was very insistent on this.) Selfish people do “unselfish” deeds to either cover up their selfishness or to get merit for themselves so they can enjoy this or a future life. Their intentions defile the actions and so little good (if any) accrues to them. Instead their selfishness and pettiness is compounded. This is the plain truth. False religion gets rich on such persons through promises of merit and remission of sins. Even after death the deception goes on as their relatives and friends offer prayers and almsdeeds that supposedly will mitigate their negative karmas and alleviate–or even eliminate–the after-death consequences of their defiled thoughts and deeds. It is common to hear patently evil people excused on the grounds of “all the good” they do along with their evil actions. The truth is plain: evil minds can only produce evil actions that produce evil results. That is why Jesus, a student of Buddha’s teaching, said: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matthew 7:18).
How then can a negative person break the pattern of negativity and escape it? By thinking and acting with the intention to change from negative to positive. The admission of negativity and the resolution to turn from it can produce positive thoughts and deeds when the intention is to change the consciousness, not just the consequences. Without the desire for real change nothing worthwhile can take place in life.
Buddha repeats his statement about the nature of objects and then continues: “To speak or act with a pure mind, is to draw happiness after oneself, like an inseparable shadow” (Dhammapada 2).
What is defiled and what is pure? Buddha is speaking of something much more than good and bad thoughts and deeds in the ordinary sense. Instead, he is speaking of defiled and pure minds. What is a defiled mind? One that is smudged and clogged with egotism and its demon attendants: selfishness, greed, jealousy, spite, hatred, and materiality. A pure mind is free from all these things, including the root of egotism. Further, a defiled mind is outward-turned and a pure mind is inward-turned. One roves through the jungle of illusion and delusion that is the world of man’s making, and the other rests in the truth and perfection of its immortal Self. A person who is spirit-oriented cannot but produce peace and happiness for himself. It is as inevitable as the suffering of the matter-oriented person. It is a matter of polarity of consciousness.
Again we see that suffering and happiness are matters of the mind alone.
Thinking makes it so–the indignant “injured”
“I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger does not cease in those who harbor this sort of thought. I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger ceases in those who do not harbor this sort of thought” (Dhammapada 3, 4).
Earlier I spoke about people who like to tell of how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal others habitually are to them, and that they are merely telling us how cruel, selfish, dishonest, and disloyal they are. As Jesus said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45). So those who speak habitually of evil, especially in an emotional or angry way, are harboring that very evil in their hearts. We have all known people who love to foster resentment, brooding on “wrongs” of various sorts, both personal, social, and religious. These miserable souls continually stir themselves up to negative emotions, seeking justifications for their anger, hatred, and all-round discontent. Wishing to feel and spew out anger and hostility, they work themselves up into a state of “righteous indignation” to cover up the evil that resides in them. Many hope that by pointing the finger at others their own evil will remain undetected.
The truth of things
The main idea of this quotation from the Dhammapada is that by such thinking people consciously perpetuate their anger–and therefore their delusion. From these we see that all delusion is not only self-caused, it is self-maintained–even self-defended. Such a state is classically pathological–sociopathic, actually, as it is used to manipulate others as well as one’s self. Modern society trains its members to be sociopaths. We are never to blame for anything. Criminals have been “failed” by society. Laws make people criminals(!). Others have been failed or harmed by their family, religion, or close associates (including spouse). Others are failures because they did not have the support of family, friends, or society. A great deal of government programs are based on sociopathic thinking. The moving finger points everywhere but to the source: the individual himself. Psychiatry in many instances is a major factor in the creation of a sociopathic attitude.
Buddha shows us how to free ourselves from this vicious cycle. This is not easy, but Buddha is speaking to those who want to strive for enlightenment, not to those who want an easy path. The first step in weaning ourselves–or guarding ourselves–from falling into the muck trap of self-pity is the facing and accepting of some basic facts such as karma and the source of all things being in the mind.
Nothing that occurs in the world is an entity unto itself. Rather, all things are reactions to previous actions: karma. I am stolen from because I stole; I am lied about because I lied; I am harmed because I harmed. My actions may have been in previous lives, but the reaction is no less a revelation of my present life. And it is much more a revelation of my mind as it is right now.
In the nineteenth century children were often told the story about a little boy who visited his aunt that lived in a valley where sounds were echoed. One day he came into the house and told her: “There is a bad little boy who lives up on the hill.” “Really? And how do you know he is bad?” inquired the aunt. “Because he called me bad names.” The aunt understood the situation. The little boy had called out something while playing and heard an echo of his voice. Thinking it was another child, he began calling out and became frustrated by the “bad boy” just repeating everything he said. So he started calling out insults, and got them back, so he went to “tell on” the bad boy to his aunt, who sat him down and told him the facts, showing him that he was only getting back what he had first projected. Karma is like an echo. What we shout will be shouted back at us.
Our life is a continuous stream of karmic echoes. Yes, others become instruments for the manifestation of the karma, but we are the origin of it all. So who shall we blame? As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and they are us.” The answer is to get busy and change ourselves. Then our lives will change automatically.
“Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law” (Dhammapada 5).
Let us not waste our time trying to apply this to world peace or strife among nations. Certainly the principle enunciated by Buddha would bring peace, but vast numbers of people are simply not going to follow spiritual wisdom. That is the nature of the world. It is the violent ward of the lunatic asylum we call the universe. Everyone here is either an active or a recovering homicidal maniac. This is the truth. Recovery is never in a group; it is entirely an individual matter. The intelligent recognize this and work toward their own recovery so they can be released from the cosmic booby hatch. They may encourage and even assist other individuals who wish to further their own cure, but they can accomplish nothing on a mass level.
Also, we need to cure ourselves of addiction to “others.” We are individuals and have to live as individuals. What others think or do should not influence us at all. Whether we are supported or opposed it should make no difference at all. We should do the needful and get off the revolving wheel of birth and death. And it is only done one-by-one, not in batches or multitudes. Buddha’s wisdom must be applied personally to our own lives. Even if millions do so it will still be absolutely individual. A vast forest is green because each tree in the forest is green. There is no “universal green” in the forest, it is all individual.
All right: what shall we do? Well, first of all, negativity is never counteracted by like negativity. So we do not react with hatred, anger, or suchlike. But neither do we mistakenly think that “positive” reaction is the answer either. Yes, I know, we have been told from Day One that love overcomes hatred, generosity overcomes selfishness, and gentleness overcomes violence. IT DOES NOT. Since negativity directed toward us comes from within us, our overt response effects nothing. Buddha does not say that love cancels out hatred. He says something far more profound (and practical): freedom from hatred within ourselves eliminates hatred directed toward us. Nothing else. Oh, indeed, we can shame others by our positive reaction, and even make them conclude (selfishly) that “nice” is more advantageous than “nasty.” But in the long-term nothing will change, just be delayed.
Until we are freed from negativity–consciously and subconsciously–negativity will occur in our life. That is the fact. Buddha says: “This is the eternal law.” Until we become incapable of evil our lives will be riddled with evil.
Peace with others
“Others may not understand that we must practice self-control, but quarreling dies away in those who understand this fact” (Dhammapada 6).
What? Buddha is advocating repression? Horror! We all know how destructive repression is, don’t we? No, we do not. We only hope it is destructive so we can run amok in our life-sphere and rejoice in our “healthy self-expression.” Buddha is not so sophisticated; he prefers the truth: Self-mastery is essential for peace with ourselves and with others. It is definitely true that (most) others will not understand “that we must practice self-control,” but that should matter not at all to us. We should just go ahead and do it and let them eat our dust.
Quarreling should not just not take place; it must die. That is, the root of ego that produces quarreling must be dissolved like the root of a baby tooth. Self-control does the dissolving to a great extent.
In such a few sentences Buddha has told us the way to both inner and outer peace. May we follow that way and demonstrate their truth.
The Tempter masters
“The Tempter [Mara] masters the lazy and irresolute man who dwells on the attractive side of things, ungoverned in his senses, and unrestrained in his food, like the wind overcomes a rotten tree” (Dhammapada 7).
There is a cosmic force of negativity that is the sum total of all the negativity, past and present, that has arisen in the history of creation. This force operates efficiently and therefore may be considered intelligent. This we may call Mara, as does Buddha, or Ahriman or Satan as do the Zoroastrians and Christians. Besides this there are intelligent beings who either consciously or unconsciously ally themselves with this force, merging themselves in it and becoming its instruments. Such beings may be in a body or disembodied. They may consider themselves evil, neutral, or even good–depending on the degree of their capacity for self-deceit. Put all together we have a league for evil that can collectively be called Mara. Since it is domination by evil that is being considered here, it matters little which aspect of Mara is doing the dominating–the result will be the same.
It is the nature of evil to coerce, cajole, tempt, entrap, dominate, weaken, and control. The nature of goodness is exactly the opposite–its purpose is to provide freedom, encourage reason, strengthen, and make independent–even of itself. Evil works through threats and the instilling of fear; goodness works through wisdom and freedom from fear. (From this we can see that virtually all religion is part of Mara, is Satanic. In their pure form most religions are free of Mara’s ways, but their degenerate forms are just as Satanic as any other.)
Mara, then, wishes to master men, whereas God wishes to make men masters–gods. (“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” Psalms 82:6.)
But man has free will, so who is subject to Mara’s domination?
The lazy and irresolute man
The one who acts not–whether from laziness or from lack of resolution–is overcome by Mara. Why? Because no one can stand still–we are either moving forward or backward. Those who are doing nothing, standing idle, are swept by Mara into the current of anti-evolution and become increasingly degenerate.
Spiritual laziness is a terrible curse, for it is not actively evil and therefore does not seem so bad. After all, tomorrow is another day, and perhaps then we will set out on the journey to higher consciousness…. Laziness plunges us into spiritual sleep that often becomes the sleep of death (see Psalms 13:3, 4). Solomon wrote: “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34). Yes indeed: “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep” and all is lost–at least for that lifetime. Spiritual sleep becomes a habit, even from life to life. Often only intense suffering wakes us up, and then we often blame God or cite it as proof that there is no God.
Irresolution is as much a curse as laziness for the result is the same, though the irresolute person often suffers from his constant vacillation. Irresolution arises from ignorance, fear, and confusion–torments all. Which way should I go? How can I know the right thing? Will I be safe from harm? What will happen to me if I go in that direction? These and many other agonies torture the irresolute. Seeing this weakness Mara strikes him down and tramples him mercilessly underfoot. Here, too, the slavery can last for ages.
Who dwells on the attractive side of things
Those who are always looking for pleasure, enjoyment, and gratification in all things are specially vulnerable to Mara’s ways, for they have no standards but “I like” and “I want.” Selfish to the core, they have no interest in the consequences of the actions that may be needed to get the things they want, considering that even wrongdoing is justified if that obtains their desires. Nor do they care about the real nature of the desired things. Addicts of all kinds embody this foolish disregard of reality, refusing to acknowledge the destructive nature of their actions on themselves and others and classically blind to the dangers and defects of the objects of their addiction. So inveterate can addiction to objects become that the addict in time may even admit their harmful consequences but boldly declare that he simply does not care. Spiritual suicide is the end result of all continued addiction.
Ungoverned in his senses
The slave of Mara is dragged along the road of life by the wild horses of the senses–horses he has himself whipped into mad frenzy. “Everyone knows repression and suppression are bad for you!” they trumpet as they plunge on down the path of willful self-destruction. The chariot race of their life gives them no pause for reflection or good sense–they are too busy “living life to the full” and know not that they are sinking into dullness and death. Such persons often (if not usually) become earthbound after death, obsessing others like them and urging them to like addiction in anticipation of some kind of vicarious experience. Only exorcism can free them from this baleful cycle, for they have truly become demons.
Unrestrained in his food
The importance of diet in the context of spiritual life can hardly be overestimated. What we eat and how much we eat is important for two reasons: the effect of food on the mind and its effect on the body.
Everything is vibrating energy–including the mind. What we eat is absorbed in the form of energy into the various levels of our being. Some energies are life-sustaining, some are life-inhibiting and some are even life-destroying. Animal flesh, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs consist of destructive energies, and so do other forms of food and drink, including sugar, coffee, tea (non-herbal) and “junk food.” If we take them into our body we not only harm our body, we distort our mind and greatly hinder any attempts at increased and clear-sighted awareness. We are already too body-conscious, and if we make ourselves ill we only compound the problem. Overeating does not directly harm the mind, but the motives for it, such as greed and desire for sensory distraction from inner discontent, are evil habits to cultivate. Overeating, however, does greatly harm the body, which in turn distracts the mind. Buddha gave an entire discourse on the importance of eating only once a day–and that before midday. By observing this discipline he claimed to eliminate nearly all disease and functional problems from the body. (Section 2 of the Kitagiri Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 70. See also the sixth section of the Latukikopama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 66.) In the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 55) he also spoke of the necessity to avoid the eating of meat.
Gandhi discovered that mastery of greed and taste brought about mastery of the other senses as well. “I eat everything” and “I eat what I want, when I want, and as much as I want” are self-imposed death warrants.
Like the wind overcomes a rotten tree
Those who have spent much time in forests know the frustration of sitting or stepping on a fallen tree only to have it collapse into a spongy ruin. The tree looks fine, but a little pressure reveals its thoroughly decayed condition. A rotten tree standing upright can be toppled by the slightest of breezes because its fibers are no longer strong or even intact. The same is true of those who are lazy, irresolute, addicted to pleasure, undisciplined in their senses and their indulgence: they have no moral fiber, no strength of will, no inner integrity. Just a puff from Mara and over they go, because spiritually they are already fallen to the ground. Being self-centered they are neither the friends of God or man–or even of themselves, really.
“But the Tempter cannot master a man who dwells on the distasteful side of things, self-controlled in his senses, moderate in eating, resolute and full of faith, like the wind cannot move a mountain crag” (Dhammapada 8).
Buddha did not advocate a hating of life or self-loathing, but he did advocate a realistic view of the perishable world and all within it, including our body. He also urged his hearers to look beyond the attractive surface appearance of harmful things and see the poison and ugliness hidden therein. It works the other way, too: we should look at what seems unattractive or miserable and see the benefits and healing they may bring. Buddha did not recommend either total acceptance or total rejection, but a clear-sighted understanding of all we encounter in earthly life. When we see the defects inherent in a thing we will not become addicted or unreasonably attached to it, nor will we loathe or avoid that which is essentially positive and helpful to us in our ascent to higher life. And at all times we should have a calm attitude to everything. This is the true Middle Way.
The other traits listed by Buddha as belonging to the Mara-resistant are just the opposite of the negative ones previously set forth, with one exception. He speaks of the wise man as being “full of faith.” The seeker has not yet come to the goal, so how can he know he does not waste his time in pursuing it? If an enlightened person is at hand, he can see a living demonstration of the goal’s reality, but what if he cannot? By practice, which includes purification of heart, faith–which is not blind trust or hope but intuition that arises as the veils that cover the inner light are dissolved–arises and becomes established in him, giving him the perseverance needed to press on and attain the goal himself.
Such a person is likened by the Buddha to a mountain crag. Just as the crag cannot be moved because it is made of the very stone of the mountain and is organically united to the mountain, so the wise is anchored in spirit, is himself spirit irrevocably united to infinite Spirit. Knowing this, Emily Bronte wrote shorty before her death:
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou–Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.
This is the status of those who follow the Buddha Way. Already they begin to experience to a limited degree the limitless life of Buddhahood.
The unworthy and the worthy
The following relates to any who claim to be spiritual and even teach others, not just monastics.
“The man who wears the yellow-dyed robe but is not free from stains himself, without self-restraint and integrity, is unworthy of the robe. But the man who has freed himself of stains and has found peace of mind in an upright life, possessing self-restraint and integrity, he is indeed worthy of the dyed robe” (Dhammapada 9, 10).
Buddha is making a play on words. The word for robe and stain (of passion) are very similar, the only difference being in the pronunciation of a single vowel.
Free from stain
Although the bhikkhu (monk) may wear cloth that is dyed, his mind should be free from the stains of anything external. “When the heart is made pure by that yoga, when the body is obedient, when the senses are mastered, when man knows that his Atman is the Atman in all creatures, then let him act, untainted by action. The illumined soul whose heart is Brahman’s heart thinks always: ‘I am doing nothing.’ No matter what he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats; no matter whether he is moving, sleeping, breathing,speaking, excreting, or grasping something with his hand, or opening his eyes, or closing his eyes: this he knows always: ‘I am not seeing, I am not hearing: it is the senses that see and hear and touch the things of the senses.’…The lotus leaf rests unwetted on water: he rests on action, untouched by action” (Bhagavad Gita 5:7-10).
There are two ways to be in the stainless condition: to always keep our consciousness immersed in the Transcendent through yoga, and to become incapable of being stained by any thing. This latter is the state of the liberated being, but those of us struggling toward liberation can manage the former if we really try. Of course we also have to work at ridding ourselves of the stains (samskaras–past life conditionings) accumulated in the past. And always we must remain aware that, however pure we may make ourselves, we are “stainable” until fully liberated.
Unworthy is he that is “without self-restraint.” Animals, infants, children, and unworthy men and women are instinctual rather than rational. However intelligent they may be, and capable in other areas of life, they do not restrain themselves–usually because they do not wish to. Others, approaching worthiness, would like to restrain the instinctual impulses that lead them back into pre-human patterns of behavior, but do not know how. For a while they struggle against the forces of their lower nature and then fail, falling into despair, denial, or hypocrisy. These unhappy souls are especially victimized by two vicious kinds of people: 1) the libertines who assure them that “repression” is negative and harmful, and urge them to indulge their chaotic instincts and even expand and elaborate on them, and 2) the “righteous” who attempt to show them how “bad” they are and how “displeasing to God” are their impulses and actions, instilling fear and self-disgust in them, but offering no real practical solution to their dilemma and frustration. Both of these types are degraders and destroyers of their victims. It is rare indeed to encounter a third type: those who, like Buddha, can not only reveal the cause of their problems, but can also show the means to eliminate both cause and effect. They can show the practical way out of the labyrinth of confusion, not relying on the whimsy of any force external to the seeker, but on his innate nature which he can awaken and unfold according to an exact and verifiable methodology.
This latter point is essential, because Buddha says the worthy are self-restrained, not ruled by another. Trading the bondage of our lower nature for the ideas and demands of an “authority” is merely trading one form of enslavement for another. Right Meditation enables us to awake, arise, and free ourselves.
One thing our reluctant egos like to do is torment us with ideals so high that they cannot be attained. “You should not need to…Only once should be sufficient…If it was real…Well, if it was…If you were…” etc., etc., etc. Buddha is speaking to people who are not perfect and who should accept that and work onward. The ego likes to condemn us for even needing discipline or restraint (“What kind of a person…?”), but that is a ploy to maintain its hold over us.
By telling us that self-restraint is needed, Buddha is acknowledging that he is not speaking to bodiless beings of perfect knowledge. He does not condemn us for needing his teaching, and neither should we. It is easy to think a worthy person is one who cannot be touched by the impulses or desires of lower nature, but Buddha sees it differently. He who masters himself must have something to master. He who is purified must have once been impure. Krishna tells us: “Desire flows into the mind of the seer but he is never disturbed. The seer knows peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:70). There we have it. Even the sage may experience the impulse of negativity, but he is unmoved by it. So being tempted or “hard pressed” by evil or folly is no fault in itself. Yes, we shall grow beyond these impulses in time, but until then we can remain untouched. Regarding this Swami Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote a song in which he says: “Desire, my great enemy, with his soldiers surrounding me, is giving me lots of trouble…. That enemy I will defeat, remaining in the castle of peace.” Here, again, the simile of the lotus leaf unwetted, afloat on the water, is apt.
Integrity is the third necessary trait of the worthy. In an era where the drive for “getting ahead” and for material gain and personal power are so prevalent–even obsessive–the idea of integrity as more important than any of them is not only shunted aside it is mocked and despised. I cannot think how long it has been since I even heard the world “self-respect” come up in a conversation, book, or lecture. Egotism and arrogance under the label of “self-esteem” are tacitly considered virtues, whereas self-effacement and humility are looked upon as marks of either weakness, stupidity, or Oriental craftiness.
Frankly, although I do not hesitate to write on metaphysical subjects of cosmic significance or of mystical and esoteric arcana, I find myself stymied when confronted with a need to expound the simple virtue of integrity. I just do not know where to begin in addressing those who, like myself, live in a society that has been stripped of nearly all virtue in every aspect of public and personal life. Those once-cited historical models of virtue are busily being “debunked” and besmirched by the fabrications of revisionist “historians” who are frantic to prove that virtue is not only non-existent but impossible except in the minds of fools who live in fantasy. The “real world” they present to us is not only devoid of divinity, it is also devoid of genuine humanity. Is there anything more inhuman than contemporary “humanism”?
Some translators use “truthfulness” or “truth” rather than integrity to underline the ideal of living true to our true nature. But rather than expound at great length on what integrity means, I will tell you how to get it: turn within and evoke it from your own essential being. It will put you out of step with much of “life” but that is the idea, is it not? At least it is Buddha’s idea and, I hope, it is yours.
Peace of mind
According to Buddha, those who possess purity, self-restraint, and integrity will find “peace of mind in a upright life.” There is no other way for individuals, associations, nations, and the world. And peace does exist only in the mind, not in the uneasy cease-fires or political apathy that the world means by “peace.” Those who speak or act for world peace do good, but those who become peaceful do best. For peace, like unrest, is contagious, and is an inward state. The meditator does more for peace and “world order” than any other. If we look at the great peacemakers and world teachers we will see that every one of them without exception was firmly rooted in the consciousness of Spirit. This is why Gandhi was called Mahatma: Great Soul. He was manifesting his spirit through his life. And we can do the same. I lived for some time with Sri Kaka Sahib Kalellkar, who was Gandhi’s personal secretary and his personal attendant in jail. He told me that Gandhi spent his nights in meditation so intense that each morning he could see the change that had been produced in him by the previous night’s meditation. Meditation was the secret of Gandhi’s personal holiness and power for social transformation. Setting the inner life right, he perfected the outer life, seeing God in all–even in his murderer. Longfellow was right: “Lives of great men all remind us we may make our lives sublime, and in passing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.” If we follow in the footsteps of Buddha and Gandhi we shall do the same.
There are a lot of jokes about people who cannot see correctly–the Mr. Magoo films and television programs are a prime example, and before Mr. Magoo the readers of the newspaper “comics” were treated to the vagaries of Weakeyes Yokum in the Li’l Abner comic strip. But in real life it is no joke, and in the more real life of the spirit it is even less so. Wherefore Buddha assures us:
“To see the essence in the unessential and to see the essence as unessential means one can never get to the essence, wandering as one is in the road of wrong intentions” (Dhammapada 11).
Instead of “essence/unessential” Max Muller and Sanderson Beck render it “truth/untruth,” T. Byrom: “true/false” and the Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu: “essence/non-essence.” This latter is perhaps preferable to the rendering of John Richards that I am using for this commentary, but the ideas are basically the same: mistaking the real for the unreal and the unreal for the real. Since Buddha avoided abstract metaphysical speculation as much as possible, I think we can be safe in assuming that his words are a focus on our minds and their function and the consequences they incur.
The word “negative” is tossed about a lot, often to mean something we do not like, whatever its real character. (This is particularly the practice of nasty-mouthed “positive” people.) Its essential character, though, is best revealed by a photographic negative. Everything is backwards: what is light is seen as dark, and what is dark is seen as light. So to be truly negative is to see things exactly opposite to what they really are. This is an essential point, for the most common frailty of the egocentric mind is to pretend to see things as of a character different from their actual quality, or to try to make others see them in a manner opposite to how they really are. But in those cases the truth is known–only being ignored or denied. Buddha, however, is speaking of truly seeing things completely opposite to their reality and believing it fully. This is the situation for all human beings, though in varying degrees, otherwise we would not be human beings, but be living in a higher world than this.
To mistake the unreal for the real and the real for the unreal is a terrible condition that distorts our perception and response to everything we encounter, both inwardly and outwardly, including our own self. Such a condition is absolutely hopeless in and of itself. It is not something that can be turned back on itself for alleviation or extrication. It will lead to nothing but increasing distortion. It must be either destroyed or thoroughly cast off.
As the individual consciousness evolves and becomes further entangled in this mess, there are moments when it is put into total or partial abeyance through outer influences such as the holy atmosphere of a sacred place, person, or object. Words sometimes momentarily shock the individual out of the grip of this dynamic ignorance. Whatever the nature of the outer force or the length of its duration, this clearing away of the mist of delusion cannot be permanent. Consequently such events are almost always completely useless, and many times are taken up by the deluded mind and distorted for further involvement in illusions. In time, however, the memory of those moments persists and becomes a stimulus from which arises the desire to escape the nets of delusion. For a while that, too, is of little meaning, for the deluded person begins wandering about seeking external factors to free him from his darkness. This is understandable since his moments of temporary sanity have usually come from external contact of some kind. After a while he either gives up or intuits that freedom must occur from within. Then the hope of freedom dawns. Once the understanding that meditation is the key to the prison is established in his consciousness, then his escape is assured–though he will no doubt have to wander down the byways of worthless (or even destructive) meditation teachers and practices before hitting on the real road out of the tangle. But once he does start on the road it is only a matter of…not time, but eternity.
“To see the essence in the unessential and to see the essence as unessential….” These words are frightening, for they express an actual experience on the part of the wanderer, not just some crack-brain ideas or concepts held only in the intellect. All of us consider that we know something when we have experienced it. So many firm-binding illusions have arisen from our own wrong-seeing. “I know it for myself” is often nothing more than the raving of the strait-jacketed ego. And things can get worse. Illusions of “truth” and “enlightenment” abound in the world of the “awakened” unawakened. And as Buddha points out, we cannot get to the perception of reality as long as these errors exist.
It is not just our mistaken perceptions that prevent our escape from bondage. Rather, they give rise to another ingredient in the stew of our samsaric misery: wrong intention. Our whole purpose is wrong. Our goals are themselves delusive. We want “things” or power, or exalted positions–even in heaven-worlds. In other words, we want some more chains to wind around us rather than to slip out of the bonds and be free–free not only from such stuff, but free from even the capacity to desire them or be bound by them.
In the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna lists four kinds of spiritual seekers: “The world-weary, the seeker for knowledge, the seeker for happiness and the man of spiritual discrimination.” The first he calls artas: one who is aware of a sense of loss or emptiness, who is aware of oppressions inner and outer, and who is suffering from it all. The second is jijnasus: one who desires to know, to gain knowledge. The third he calls artharthi: one who wishes to attain the summun bonum of life in the form of Highest Truth. The fourth is the pure jnani: one who is a man of wisdom, who seeks not to either gain something or be divested of something, who is not motivated by desire or aversion, but aims for the entrance into his essential nature. Who seeks for What IS for Itself alone.
Now if we look closely we will see that these four types embody the Four Aryan Truths enunciated by Buddha. The first is aware of suffering; the second knows that suffering has a cause and wants to know what to do about it; the third knows that the cessation of suffering is possible and is the paramartha–the highest aim and attainment–for all beings; and the fourth has known the way to end suffering and looks to that goal alone, knowing that knowledge (jnana) alone is the way to the goal.
“The man of discrimination [jnani] is the highest of these. He is continually united with me. He devotes himself to me always, and to no other. For I am very dear to that man, and he is dear to me.
“Certainly, all these are noble: but the man of discrimination I see as my very Self. For he alone loves me because I am myself: the last and only goal of his devoted heart. Through many a long life his discrimination ripens: he makes me his refuge, knows that Brahman is all. How rare are such great ones!” (Bhagavad Gita 7:18, 19).
Getting the right idea
“But to see the essence in the essential and the unessential as the unessential means one does get to the essence, being on the road of right intentions” (Dhammapada 12).
Through Right Meditation–one of the factors of the Aryan Eightfold Path–a complete change-around is accomplished, and the seeker comes to see the real as real and the false as false. What a pity that fake religion sends its adherents running about frantically–literally out of their minds–in search for everything but this one necessary thing: Right Seeing, for it “means one does get to the essence, being on the road of right intentions” as Buddha points out. To possess viveka, the ability to tell the difference between the true and the false, is itself a foretaste of the ultimate Freedom.
Rainproofing our mind
In the last century (!) millions of people listened to a vinyl Beatle croon:
I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in,
And stop my mind from wandering.…
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And keep my mind from wandering.…
As a friend of mine listened to it with vacuous admiration, I asked her: “Do you know what that song is about?” What a sour note to intrude into her beatific coma! It did not need to mean anything, and she told me so. “But it does,” I crudely insisted. “It is about meditation. If you analyze the words, they are describing the way meditation repairs the inner consciousness and makes it fit for ‘living in.’” Something clicked, even though I had not really expected it to, and it was not long until she, too, was stopping up the holes and filling the cracks through daily meditation.
Long before that inane little ditty with the profound message, Buddha had said:
“In the same way that rain breaks into a house with a bad roof, desire breaks into the mind that has not been practicing meditation” (Dhammapada 13)
What is wrong with desire? I have been reading oriental philosophy for over forty years, and the books unanimously point to desire as one of the major symptoms of ignorance and sources of suffering. But usually this is not explained, merely accepted without question. Blind acceptance of even the truth can bear no positive or lasting fruit, so we need to know: what is wrong with desire?
Desire as an effect
Desire springs from the root illusion that we are not complete, that we need something we presently lack to be a whole being. Even more, there is the illusion that “things” can satisfy and bring fulfillment and produce happiness, that “things” can make us more than we are–that without “things” we are minimal or nothing. Being addicted to “things” we naturally assert vehemently that “things” are “necessities” which all sensible people will pursue with their whole strength. Desire is the denial of our own essential being and the affirmation of the non-existent value of “things.” This two-edged sword cuts off the head of our discrimination and renders us truly senseless. Desire is the deadly fruit of ignorance and delusion.
Desire sensitizes us to the objects of the physical senses and desensitizes us to the presence and the call of the spirit. Consequently Krishna says: “Restless man’s mind is, so strongly shaken in the grip of the senses: gross and grown hard with stubborn desire for what is worldly. How shall he tame it? Truly, I think the wind is no wilder” (Bhagavad Gita 6:34).
Desire as a cause
As a cause, desire is immeasurably destructive. Here are a few things about desire revealed in the Bhagavad Gita.
One of the first things a spiritually awakening person sees with painful clarity is his inability to do the right and avoid the wrong. Religion usually posits a “devil” of some form who is responsible for this. Consequently nothing lasting is accomplished in the struggle to do the right and avoid the wrong. Only when the real “devil” is discovered can we intelligently deal with the impulse to wrong action. Krishna states the fact: “the chains of desire bind you to your actions” (2:39). End of case. Desire is the culprit that we are nourishing in our own breast while demanding that God “deliver us from evil.” It is not God, but we ourselves who need to act, for Krishna assures Arjuna that when a man is “free from the things of desire, I call him a seer, and illumined” (2:56). And: “He knows peace who has forgotten desire. He lives without craving: free from ego, free from pride” (2:71). For ego and egoism are the source of desire, which is a symptom of their dominance. Desire binds, but “when a man can act without desire,…no bonds can bind him” (4:41). Otherwise: “Man is a prisoner, enslaved by action, dragged onward by desire” (5:12).
“Self-controlled, cut free from desire, curbing the heart and knowing the Atman, man finds Nirvana that is in Brahman, here and hereafter.…Holding the senses, holding the intellect, holding the mind fast, he who seeks freedom, thrusts fear aside, thrusts aside anger and puts off desire: truly that man is made free for ever” (Bhagavad Gita 5:26, 28).
“When can a man be said to have achieved union with Brahman? When his mind is under perfect control and freed from all desires, so that he becomes absorbed in the Atman, and nothing else” (6:18). “Devotees enter into Him when the bonds of their desire are broken” (8:11). Otherwise: “They are addicts of sensual pleasure, made restless by their many desires, and caught in the net of delusion. They fall into the filthy hell of their own evil minds” (16:16). For: “He who…acts on the impulse of his desires, cannot reach perfection, or happiness, or the highest goal” (16:23).
Desire as religion
When negativity begins to experience the pressure of scrutiny and attempts at its eradication, its most common trick–like other germs, bacteria, and viruses–is to mutate into an unrecognizable form, the most unrecognizable of which is externalized religion. Krishna unmasks this, telling Arjuna: “Men whose discrimination has been blunted by worldly desires, establish this or that ritual or cult and resort to various deities, according to the impulse of their inborn natures” (7:20), and get what they desire–righteously!–and thus remain bound and in darkness. Nor is Krishna pointing the finger at religions outside India; He is speaking of Vedic religion itself: “Thus go the righteous who follow the road of the triple Veda in formal observance; hungry still for the food of the senses, drawn by desire to endless returning” (Bhagavad Gita 9:21).
Such desire-based religion binds its adherents to the wheel of birth and death. Wherefore: “When the whole country is flooded, the reservoir becomes superfluous. So, to the illumined seer, the Vedas are all superfluous” (2:46). Instead: “When a man has achieved non-attachment, self-mastery and freedom from desire through renunciation, he reaches union with Brahman, who is beyond all action” (18:49).
Ridding ourselves of desire
We need to free ourselves from the destructive curse of desire. How? Buddha tells us plainly: “While in the same way that rain cannot break into a well-roofed house, desire cannot break into a mind that has been practicing meditation well” (Dhammapada 14).
Many people claim to be practicing meditation, but Buddha spoke of Right Meditation when enumerating the components of the Aryan Eightfold Path. When desire remains on the rampage in the mind of the “meditator” he should realize that: 1) his meditation method is defective; 2) his practice of the method is defective; 3) some elements in his inner and outer life are preventing success in meditation. If, after checking carefully, he finds that his practice is not incorrect and his way of living and thinking is not wrong, he must face up to the unhappy truth that the methodology itself and association with the one who taught it to him should be abandoned and a right form of meditation adopted. For when the meditation practice is correct–and is being engaged in for the necessary amount of time–desire becomes increasingly attenuated and finally annihilated altogether. This is verifiable through our own practice and experience.
Jesus expounded it this way: “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:47, 48), the rock of meditative gnosis. Those who go deep in meditation and make the consciousness of the spirit gained thereby the foundation of their life will know peace of mind and heart–no other.
In summation: “Make a habit of practicing meditation, and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord, who is the light-giver, the highest of the high” (Bhagavad Gita 8:8).
The two ways of life and death
“There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.” So opens the Didache–The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles–perhaps the only authentic document we possess authored by the apostles of Jesus assembled in Jerusalem a few years after his death and resurrection. They were no doubt echoing words spoken to them by Jesus, and he was no doubt recalling the fifteenth and sixteenth verses of the Dhammapada which he would have either read or heard during the years he lived in the Buddhist monasteries of Northern India. In those verses Buddha set forth the two ways of life.
When Buddha first spoke to others the knowledge gained through his enlightenment, the first principle he gave was: “There is suffering.” This is the fundamental fact of relative existence. It is nonsense to accuse Buddha of being pessimistic or negative for saying this, for he continued with three other facts that give hope to anyone who ponders them: “Suffering has a cause. Suffering can be ended. There is a way to end suffering.” Everything else spoken by Buddha was the practical way to demonstrate the truth of these Four Aryan Truths by attaining Nirvana–the ending of all possibility of suffering.
Now in the Dhammapada Buddha is going to put it very succinctly:
“Here and beyond he suffers. The wrong-doer suffers both ways. He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behavior. Here and beyond he is glad. The doer of good is glad both ways. He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds” (Dhammapada 15, 16).
The “Big Catch”
Since duality is necessary for relative existence, there is no thing that does not have both advantages and drawbacks. Countless people in the West have hoped to escape the truth about their wrongdoing and its attendant guilt and retribution by seeking spiritual asylum in Oriental religions, notably Hinduism and Buddhism. “No hell here!” they exult, unaware that the popular scriptures of both Hinduism and Buddhism contain far more material on hell and threats of hell (often for incredibly petty offenses) than the Bible. “No talk about sin!” they shrill, perhaps not so unaware that both religions contain virtual libraries of material on those unescaped bugaboos. “No guilt!” they shout, not realizing that their desperation proves just the opposite. It is definitely true that Hinduism and Buddhism have a far more accurate and optimistic definition and outlook regarding these things, but that is because they greatly emphasize the two things those refugees have most been seeking to escape: personal responsibility for wrongdoing and the inevitability of retribution for it. For those seeking a higher consciousness through the adoption of a higher (i.e., sin-free) life, hope and confidence are abundantly proffered: “Though a man be soiled with the sins of a lifetime, let him but love me, rightly resolved, in utter devotion: I see no sinner, that man is holy. Holiness soon shall refashion his nature to peace eternal; O son of Kunti, of this be certain: the man that loves me, he shall not perish. (Bhagavad Gita 9:30, 31)
But there is no optimism for those who intend to stay in the hog-wallow mud of ignorance and evil:
“Men of demonic nature know neither what they ought to do, nor what they should refrain from doing. There is no truth in them, or purity, or right conduct. They maintain that the scriptures are a lie, and that the universe is not based upon a moral law, but godless, conceived in lust and created by copulation, without any other cause. Because they believe this in the darkness of their little minds, these degraded creatures do horrible deeds, attempting to destroy the world. They are enemies of mankind.
“Their lust can never be appeased. They are arrogant, and vain, and drunk with pride. They run blindly after what is evil. The ends they work for are unclean. They are sure that life has only one purpose: gratification of the senses. And so they are plagued by innumerable cares, from which death alone can release them. Anxiety binds them with a hundred chains, delivering them over to lust and wrath. They are ceaselessly busy, piling up dishonest gains to satisfy their cravings.
“‘I wanted this and today I got it. I want that: I shall get it tomorrow. All these riches are now mine: soon I shall have more. I have killed this enemy. I will kill all the rest. I am a ruler of men. I enjoy the things of this world. I am successful, strong and happy. Who is my equal? I am so wealthy and so nobly born. I will sacrifice to the gods. I will give alms. I will make merry.’ That is what they say to themselves, in the blindness of their ignorance.
“They are addicts of sensual pleasure, made restless by their many desires, and caught in the net of delusion. They fall into the filthy hell of their own evil minds. Conceited, haughty, foolishly proud, and intoxicated by their wealth, they offer sacrifice to God in name only, for outward show, without following the sacred rituals. These malignant creatures are full of egoism, vanity, lust, wrath, and consciousness of power. They loathe me, and deny my presence both in themselves and in others. They are enemies of all men and of myself; cruel, despicable and vile. I cast them back, again and again, into the wombs of degraded parents, subjecting them to the wheel of birth and death. And so they are constantly reborn, in degradation and delusion. They do not reach me, but sink down to the lowest possible condition of the soul” (Bhagavad Gita 16:7-20).
That is how Krishna put the matter before Buddha did; the sum of both are the same.
“Wrong” and “right”
Suffering is the lot of the wrong-doers and happiness is the lot of the right-doers. But what is “wrong” and what is “right”? Here, too, a lot of moral slackers take up Buddhism and Hinduism with the idea that they will escape “Judeo-Christian morality.” And they do–being neither Buddhist nor Hindu in any viable sense. On the other hand, those who investigate either religion to any significant degree will encounter a moral code that extends far beyond the simplistic “good doggie, bad doggie” code of externalized Judaism or Christianity.
First of all, the concepts, of “sin,” “wrong,” “good,” “right,” and “virtue” are completely different from their seeming equivalents in Western religion. In Western religion a thing is good because God commands it, and bad because God forbids it. The inherent nature of the thing is irrelevant. Do what God wants and you will be good and rewarded accordingly; do what God “hates” and you will be evil and punished accordingly. It is all a matter of “law.” The flaw in this should be obvious: everyone under the constraints of law seeks to get around it and yet be considered law-abiding. All kinds of stretches and concessions are sought–and obtained. (Just consider the Jesuitical contortions of Roman Catholic moral theology.) If one church will not make concessions, just go find one that will, or start your own. I knew a man who did just that. He belonged to a fundamentalist church that said those who divorced and remarried would go to hell–and so would those they married. He preached it fervently, and once when rebuking a man for having married a divorced woman, was astounded when the man countered that the preacher’s own sister had married a divorcee! He investigated and found that to be so. So “God” led him to start his own church that held to all his original principles, except for the allowance of divorce and remarriage.
In the East the criterion is very different. If a thing spiritually harms the individual then it is wrong; if something spiritually benefits the individual then it is right. What else need be said? Naturally addicts and ignoramuses loudly insist that harmful things are not harmful and protest that beneficial things are burdensome and hurtful. But that does not matter to Eastern religion, because unlike Western religion there is no compulsion to coerce people into doing the good and avoiding the bad. If someone wants to harm himself, calling it good, that is his business. For such a person religion is irrelevant anyway–and he is irrelevant to religion.
Here again we see a profound difference between East and West. In the Western religions God as an almighty monarch is the center of attention, the adherents have no value or relevance except in relation to His ideas about them. In Eastern religions, the spiritual liberation of the individual is the center of concern, and the truth about his spiritual status is all-important (whether he or others accept or deny it). Since liberation is the result of union with God, Eastern religions make Him truly the center of things, the center of life itself, in contrast to the basically political centrism of Western religions that insistently maintains an infinite gulf between God and us. In the West the question is: “Are you obeying and pleasing God?” and in the East it is: “Are you moving toward union with God?” As I say, it is politics versus states of being. One reduces us to nothing, the other makes spirit–both finite and Infinite–everything.
Here and beyond
Wherever we may be, we experience the effect of our deeds, whether we are physically incarnate in the material plane of existence or out of the body in an astral or causal world. Our presence in those worlds as well as our situation in them is determined solely by our own deeds. As a well-known Buddhist sutra affirms, we have nothing but our own actions and we never shall have anything but our own actions in the form of their results. As Saint Paul wrote to Saint Timothy: “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (I Timothy 5:24). They may be either actualized or potential, but they are there. They are there.
“He suffers.…He is glad”
It is the results that reveal the character of our actions, not the excuse-making or rationalization of ourselves or others. Consequently: “The wrong-doer suffers both ways. He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behavior.…The doer of good is glad both ways. He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds.” Anyone who wants can try to weasel out of it by claiming that God favors and purifies us by making us suffer to make us more “pleasing” to Him and curses those He detests by damning them through prosperity and ease, and therefore misery is proof of virtue. Such a view makes God a fool and a monster, but reveals that the view-holder is the fool, the monster–and is suffering accordingly.
Why does Buddha not explain to us about those bad, even horribly evil people, who live in high style and seem to have all they want, and those good people who have hardship and misfortune? The answer is twofold, external and internal. Externally, the good fortune of the bad is the result of good deeds done in the past, and the misfortune of the good is the result of bad deeds done in the past. There is nothing more to it. Internally, the truth is that no matter what advantages a person may have, how easy their outer life may be, the evil suffer constantly in their hearts and minds–that is why they are so addicted to alcohol, drugs, and frantic pleasure, especially sex. Conversely, however unfortunate the external situation of the good may be, they experience peace and contentment and even rejoice in heart and mind. So there is no need to comment on them; Buddha is speaking of internal suffering and rejoicing–not prosperity, poverty, or other external conditions.
The heart of the matter
“Here and beyond he is punished. The wrong-doer is punished both ways. He is punished by the thought, ‘I have done evil,’ and is even more punished when he comes to a bad state. Here and beyond he rejoices. The doer of good rejoices both way. He rejoices at the thought, ‘I have done good,’ and rejoices even more when he comes to a happy state” (Dhammapada 17, 18).
Now we come to the major message of these two Dhammapada verses in relation to both good and bad: “He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behavior.…He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds.” When we look at our life, both internal and external, and intelligently perceive it, we SEE the nature of our past (and often present) deeds. Our external life reveals our inner life; our life as it unfolds before us is an objectification of our mind, and nothing else. Study your life and you will come to know your mind. When we suffer we are seeing our negativity, and when we rejoice we are seeing our positivity. Our life is a revelation/reflection of our inner life. The effect reveals the nature of the cause.
Actually, Buddha’s words apply mostly to the wise, for only the wise grieve or rejoice over their wrong or right behavior–others only grieve or rejoice over their results. The ignorant says: “How miserable I am: look at my poverty and illness.” The wise says: “How wrong have been my past actions: look at my poverty and illness.” It is the difference between the person who repents because he understands his deeds are evil and the one who repents because he is going to be caught and punished.
The ignorant only look at their outer condition, whereas the wise look at their inner condition as revealed by the outer. So, as is usual with the words of all the wise, only those already substantially wise will understand and heed them, and the foolish will either not even see them or will disdain them altogether.
Words are not wisdom
“Even if he is fond of quoting appropriate texts, the thoughtless man who does not put them into practice himself is like a cowherd counting other people’s cows, not a partner in the Holy Life” (Dhammapada 19).
These pungent words of Buddha immediately bring to mind a part of Chapter Twelve of Autobiography of a Yogi. Swami Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, was the very embodiment of jnana–divine wisdom. He often encountered the braying of jackasses–donkeys carrying the scriptures and words of the wise while dinning them into others’ ears like overbearing parrots. One of these squawkers received a real jolt from him in this way:
“With ostentatious zeal, the scholar shook the ashram rafters with scriptural lore. Resounding passages poured from the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, the bhasyas [commentaries] of Shankara.
“‘I am waiting to hear you.’ Sri Yukteswar’s tone was inquiring, as though utter silence had reigned. The pundit was puzzled.
“‘Quotations there have been, in superabundance.’ Master’s words convulsed me with mirth, as I squatted in my corner, at a respectful distance from the visitor. ‘But what original commentary can you supply, from the uniqueness of your particular life? What holy text have you absorbed and made your own? In what ways have these timeless truths renovated your nature? Are you content to be a hollow victrola, mechanically repeating the words of other men?’
“‘I give up!’ The scholar’s chagrin was comical. ‘I have no inner realization.’
“For the first time, perhaps, he understood that discerning placement of the comma does not atone for a spiritual coma.
“‘These bloodless pedants smell unduly of the lamp,’ my guru remarked after the departure of the chastened one. ‘They prefer philosophy to be a gentle intellectual setting-up exercise. Their elevated thoughts are carefully unrelated either to the crudity of outward action or to any scourging inner discipline!’”
In spiritual matters, theory is vastly preferred to practical experience, perhaps because experience entails change and responsibility. In religion many “experts” on externals are completely ignorant of spiritual matters–including many “experts” on mysticism. Hilda Graf, for example, who wrote volumes on mysticism and “mystical theology” only met one actual mystic in her life–Teresa Neuman the stigmatist–and hated her virulently and wrote slanderous denunciations of her. One of the more tragic figures of the American stage and screen–alcoholic, drug addict and sexual addict–was perhaps the foremost expert in this country on the lives of Christian saints. I knew an Eastern Orthodox priest who was considered the world’s expert on the mystical theology of Saint Gregory Palamas, one of the major figures in Orthodox mysticism. When questioned as to whether he practiced Hesychia (the main subject of Saint Gregory’s writings), he indignantly avowed that he certainly did not(!). Fr. Herbert Thurston, the twentieth century’s self-elected expert on mystical phenomena, had neither experience of mystical phenomena nor even much belief in it, often discounting or deriding it in the lives of saints and blesseds.
Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word was the difference between lightning and lightning-bug. The same may be said about those who know spiritual principles and those who put them into practice.
Closely related to the mental librarians, though vastly inferior to them intellectually, are the “movers and shakers” that invade virtually every spiritual institution that shows promise of growth and influence. These people neither study nor practice the principles and disciplines of those groups, yet they insinuate themselves into administrative positions and eventually control everything, turning it into an opportunity for both profit and power. They are always “busy” in the “work” of the institution (which they often refer to as “the Work” or “this Work”), darting here and there and hurling directives everywhere. The dupes of the organization stand aside in awe at their “dedication” and practical abilities, not knowing they are being sheared like sheep in body (pocketbook), mind, and spirit.
The Venerable Ming Zhen Shakya, in The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism, discusses these people who turn Zendos into Zen-do’s. They are “practical people who excel in improving earthly existence. [In the spiritual organization they] are always involved in non-spiritual activities, doing jobs which they perform with exemplary efficiency. Their strategy is simply to become indispensable and it succeeds admirably since, invariably, they are fearless and proficient in all tasks which scare the wits out of Chan masters and other spiritual persons. They know how to fill out forms, handle media, arrange excursions, regulate crowds, collect fees, profitably manufacture and peddle religious articles and other souvenir items, compile mailing lists, and operate restaurants, bakeries, retreats, hostelries, etc. When it comes to developing monastery real estate and putting the bite on tourists, pilgrims and congregation members to pay for the improvements, [they] have no peers.” But meanwhile they are a deadweight on the spiritual dimension of the organization and often stifle it altogether, while making it well-known and very profitable. “[They] simply do not understand that Chan is Buddhism and Buddhism is a religion, a religion of salvation. Though Buddhism may well provide for such ancillary functions, it is not a health club or a social center, a guild, an arts and crafts studio, a sanitarium, a study group, a philanthropical society, a boarding house or a profit making enterprise. The aim of Buddhism is not to cope with earthly existence but to transcend it, not to gain material comfort but to dispense with the notion of it, not to enhance or to rehabilitate reputations, but to be born anew without earthly identity in the glorious anonymity of Buddha Nature. Being a good fund raiser is a little off the mark.” So is being a good preacher, teacher, author and debater when there is no inner realization. For example one highly-renowned American teacher, lecturer, and writer on Buddhist meditation never meditates except in his classes, when he can hardly do otherwise. The motto seems to be: Monkey talk, monkey write, monkey teach; but monkey not do.
The problem with the “thoughtless man” is that he is completely heedless of the spiritual life, confusing intellectual activity with spirituality. The heart of the problem is his incomprehension of the need to “take it personally” and apply the principles and practices in his life and change himself. This malady afflicts all, both East and West, but it is particularly pernicious and persistent in the West. Knowing about something is not the same as being or possessing it, yet people avidly read books and attend lectures and seminars on spiritual life (including meditation) without the slightest intention of engaging in serious, dedicated practice. Just a few days ago I received a letter from someone telling me that she had given a lecture on the need for spiritual study. Afterward the attendees were rhapsodizing about how “inspiring” and “wonderful” it had been. But not a single one of them took her advice and opened a book. Quite some time back I gave a talk at a Christian monastery on meditation. Everyone was thrilled and uplifted–they said. Not only did they say, “At last we know the way!” they even claimed that some time before in a vision one of them had been told that this teaching would be coming to them as fulfillment of their spiritual aspiration. (I modestly omit that in the vision the monk was told that “a master” would be giving them the teaching.) Two days later, when I asked them how they were managing in meditation, as per my talk, they looked utterly blank and then unanimously said that they had not even tried to do so. When I vulgarly asked Why Not? one of them replied: “It just didn’t seem so important.” I went home. My chagrin was uncalled for, really, because a few years before that I had been invited to a contemplative Catholic monastery to talk with the members on meditation. The first thing I did was ask who had read The Way of a Pilgrim, a Russian Orthodox book about constant prayer and meditation in the Holy Name of Jesus. Every one of them had not only read it, they all expressed great enthusiasm and admiration for it. It was their favorite spiritual book. “Have you tried to pray always and meditate as the book says?” was my innocent query. Silence. They looked at me as though I had asked if they had considered burying themselves alive, or something equally outrageous. I went home, then, too.
Multitudes want to hear about enlightenment, meditation, the Self, and the Buddha Nature, but hardly any want to do anything about it. As Saint Paul lamented: “Many sleep” (I Corinthians 11:30). And many talk in their sleep.
Most religion is worthless cow-counting–obsession with the glories, powers, and even divinity of one or more superior beings, whether called avatars, buddhas, bodhisattwas, prophets, or saints. Religious people believe in, hope in, take refuge in, surrender to them–in exchange for great rewards here or hereafter. How they trumpet the praises of these goody-vendors to the skies and decry those not so praising. They even tot up lists of glories and benefits of various divinities and produce a religious consumer report that establishes the superiority of their particular cult. They write sermons, poems, hymns, and even shed tears of devotion and faith. But they do not live the Holy Life exemplified by the objects of their devotion. They do not need to–they have faith! I well remember a church full of people desperately singing over and over: “I can, I will, I do believe; I can, I will, I do believe; I can, I will, I do believe–that Jesus saves me now.” But in their hearts they knew it was bunkum. That is why they “believed” it so insistently. And like all delusionals they became emotional and violent when their delusion was challenged. (Just try it.)
Partners in the Holy Life
Buddha lets us know quite clearly that the Holy Life is what matters, and that is a matter of living–that is, doing. “Doing, doing, done!” is a common statement in India regarding spiritual life. In Buddhism, the mantra beginning “Gate, gate,” conveys the same idea: Going, going,…gone. “Partner in the Holy Life” may not be the best translation. Some translators render it “sharer,” but that can be misunderstood as someone spreading it around or having it handed to them. “Partaker in the Holy Life” is better, for it implies activity on the part of the aspirant, activity that results in his participation in the Holy Life. No part of the idea is then passive, but thoroughly active. The idea is also there that the Holy Life is an ever-present thing, that it need not be produced, but only entered into for it is a matter of our eternal nature. It has always been there, we have just not accessed it. It is there for everyone; we need have no one else give it to us, nor does it depend on the whimsy of some deity. Rather we must learn how to access it and then do so. End of story. Swaha!
The holy life defined
“Even if he does not quote appropriate texts much, if he follows the principles of the Teaching by getting rid of greed, hatred and delusion, deep of insight and with a mind free from attachment, not clinging to anything in this world or the next–that man is a partner in the Holy Life” (Dhammapada 20).
Better than “Teaching” is the original term, “Dharma,” for that is not mere philosophy or theology, but the way of life that leads to the true wisdom of enlightenment, to Nirvana. And Buddha Dharma, the dharma that leads to Buddhahood, consists of “getting rid of greed, hatred and delusion,” being “deep of insight” and having “a mind free from attachment, not clinging to anything in this world or the next.”
Raga and dwesha
Two of the most important words in analyzing the dilemma of the human condition are raga and dwesha–the powerful duo that motivate virtually all human endeavor. Buddha, in common with all philosophers of India, continually refers to them, so an understanding of their import is essential to us. Unfortunately, both Hindu and Buddhist translators are prone to do just that–translate them–and thus obscure or distort their meaning. There may be exact equivalents in other languages, but not in English, and translators do us a real disservice by not retaining them and explaining them somewhere in the text by a footnote or by a glossary. Here is my preferred definition of them:
- Raga: Attachment/affinity for something, implying a desire for that. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple liking or preference to intense desire and attraction.
- Dwesha: Aversion/avoidance for something, implying a dislike for that. This can be emotional (instinctual) or intellectual. It may range from simple nonpreference to intense repulsion, antipathy and even hatred.
They are commonly referred to as “rag-dwesh”–as a duality, for they are the alternating currents or poles that keep us spinning in relativity, reaching out and pushing away, accepting and rejecting, running toward and running away from. The horror of them is that they not only alternate, spinning us around, they also mutate into one another. What we like at one time we dislike at another, and vice versa. For they, like everything else, are essentially one, a double-headed monster. “When he has no lust, no hatred, a man walks safely among the things of lust and hatred. To obey the Atman is his peaceful joy; sorrow melts into that clear peace: his quiet mind is soon established in peace. (Bhagavad Gita 2:64, 65)
Buddha lists ridding ourselves of raga and dwesha as the first step in the Holy Life. But what a gigantic step! It will not be made overnight, we may be sure, for raga and dwesha have driven us along from the moment we were plants, what to say of animals and human beings.
In his teachings Buddha frequently listed the Unholy Trinity: Raga, Dwesha, and Moha. Here is my preferred definition of moha that I feel covers all aspects: Moha: Delusion–in relation to something, usually producing delusive attachment or infatuation based on a completely false perception and evaluation of the object.
It is bad enough to be pulled toward or pushed away from just about everything we encounter in external and internal life, but to top it off we are totally wrong most of the time about the character or nature of those things. This is moha. Although in Hindu usage there is always an implied attachment or desire resulting from moha, that is not an absolute, and Buddha used it to indicate confusion and misperception in general.
Is there significance in his listing of raga-dwesha before moha? Is he indicating that raga and dwesha produce moha–at least at the beginning, although later on they combine to make a rolling wheel of general confusion?
Deep of insight
Buddha has told us what to jettison from our minds, and now he tells us what is to be established in their place: deep insight. The Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders it “alert” in the sense of keen awareness. Sanderson Beck prefers “possessed of true knowledge,” as does Max Muller. “Firmly established in liberated thought” is Harischandra Kaviratna’s choice. All convey the right idea, whichever may be the most exact. We need profound knowing, not intellectual theorizing and mind-gaming, but direct knowledge–which is possible only to those free from raga, dwesha, and moha. No small order, as we Americans are wont to say.
With a mind free from attachment
Obviously when we have no delusion about “things” and neither attraction nor repulsion for them, our minds will be free from attachment/involvement. Again: “When he has no lust [raga], no hatred [dwesha], a man walks safely among the things of lust and hatred” for they do not touch him, nor does he touch them. “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,” said Saint Paul (Galatians 6:14).
The Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates the expression: “his mind well-released, not clinging.” This is most significant, for it is not enough to merely be unattached at the moment; rather, we must be in that condition of release (genuine separation) in which attachment is no longer a possibility.
Not clinging to anything in this world or the next
That being the case, Buddha says that the final component of the Holy Life is a mind “not clinging to anything in this world or the next,” underscoring what I have just said. Those who have either not correctly pursued enlightenment or have not had the time needed to become perfectly established in it, may in a subsequent birth lapse back into attachment and clinging and begin the awful cycle of rag-dwesh and moha over again, wiping out the former attainment–perhaps sinking even lower than before. This is almost guaranteed in the case of those of incorrect pursuit. This is the cruel fate of those whose practice is not “right,” as Buddha knew well from his own pursuit and observation.
A final consideration
It is relatively easy to become detached from the defective and pain-producing elements of this material world, but the beauties and seeming perfections of the subtle worlds are not so easy to be indifferent to. And this includes their equivalents in our own private inner world of the mind. A person can break all chains of this world and yet remain completely bound to other worlds. In the same way we can turn away from the gross allurements of the earth plane while remaining thoroughly bound by the psychological and “spiritual” elements of our creative and “higher” natures.
To be a total renouncer is a rare thing indeed. Many may become weaned from the outer sense-life, but what about the inner senses and the conceptualizing “wisdom” of the intellect? Saint Silouan of Athos stated that delight in philosophical and theological niceties is the false mysticism of the ego.
“For when a man’s heart has reached fulfillment through knowledge and personal experience of the truth of Brahman, he is never again moved by the things of the senses. Earth, stone and gold seem all alike to one who has mastered his senses. Such a yogi is said to have achieved union with Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 6:8).
The Holy Life leads to The Holy.
Next article in the Dhammapada for Awakening: Attention
Chapters in the Dhammapada for Awakening:
- The Twin Verses
- The Mind
- The Fool
- The Wise Man
- The Enlightened
- The Thousands
- The Rod
- Old Age
- The Self (Atta Vagga)
- The World
- The Buddhas
- Impurities (Taints)
- The Righteous (Dharmic) One
- The Way
- A Woeful State
- The Elephant
- The Bhikkhu
- The Brahmin
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary