Concerning the “Engaged” and the “Engagers”!

People who speak about “engaging” with any sort of mundane matters, societal or political, do so because they do not experience themselves the reality of the world of viveka, of meditative and attentional isolation, nor understand its benefits or even necessity for substantial progress in Dhamma practice and experience. The subtleties of mental phenomena, happening mostly in a manner that is totally unconscious to the individual, can be translated into a feature of speed, and can even be quantified as such. In other words, unconscious, autonomic, and spontaneous mental existence is not deep or hidden in any existential sense, but only in the sense that its functions occurs with such high speed that the natural human attention is incapable of detecting or keeping up with. The evolutionary benefits of reserving conscious attentional states only to urgent physiological and emotional conditions is self-evident, and the exercise of conscious attention over other secondary functions that could otherwise unfold in an autonomic fashions, relieves the brain of too much toil. Imagine the sorry state of a hippocampus that keeps detecting and redetecting every breath and every heartbeat! But the Buddha taught that liberation is contingent on bringing awareness to precisely every mental inhalation, exhalation, and pulse, that are of any emotional or cognitive substance or significance, much of which also unfolds unconsciously and in an autonomic fashion.

A continual non-stop and thorough training is needed in order to be able to accomplish this, and the disaster is that it is not like learning how to swim or ride a bicycle that you do once and then never unlearn. No: the sharpness, agility, absorption, and penetrating speed of the attention, is a skill that you immediately begin to lose the moment you stop exercising it, just like muscle work for sportspeople or finger dexterity for a flutist or pianist. The training of the attention in this field requires, out of necessity, that the senses are withdrawn from sensorial stimulation, and more powerful in its command over the attention than all other senses, is that of thought and ideation. Exposure not only to societal or political affairs, but even to normal everyday socialisation, even if it was devoid of any particularly dynamic conceptual purport, is alone sufficient to seriously challenge the composure, agility, and momentum of such transcendental introspective attention. And, indeed, not only in the field of meditative renunciate practitioners whose ultimate and most pressing goal is deliverance from all conditioned existence, but even in serious and purposeful sportspeople and musicians, withdrawal from social and sensorial distraction is a given, a necessary condition for such progress as corresponds to their seriousness and purpose, and YES, it is indeed such as make them appear antisocial to the eyes of their friends and relatives, who wish to have them participate in this family gathering and that dinner party, and who fail to understand the value of their sincere inward purpose, or even appreciate the fact that they live devoted to it and that as such it requires their isolation from destructive and harmful distractions. It is not a value-judgement over the miserable nature of these mundane, meaningless, and hopeless mundane distractions, as much as it is simply attending to the necessary needs of the task at hand, and which one willfully, voluntarily, and independently chooses to commit to in earnest and sincerity, and who need at best the help and support, or at least the understanding of those around them.

Look at any successful and accomplished sportsperson or musician, and you will in the majority of cases find the support and encouragement of family and friends behind that success. A sports coach or music teacher will even scold the trainee for having neglected his training by once, just once, compromising the appropriate diet or number of training hours, and at a young age, the parents will be there to ensure that this mishap does not happen again. This is the cost of excellence and success, and such rigour and consistency in training, sustained over a long expanse of time, is what it takes for success to occur. That’s why excellence is excellence, a rare thing, and not just a normalcy that anyone can accomplish. But this difficulty of excellence does not mean that we have to give up on pursuing it, and indeed, in our Buddhist terms, the slightest progress towards excellence is itself a substantial form of transcendence toward ultimate deliverance, with immediate and incomparable benefits that are hard to imagine by those who never experience them themselves. The plebeianisation of excellence, on the other hand, will not make everyone excellent, but will only deform the nature of the very goal and the requirements of its pursuit, even to the point of replacing it with its opposite: withdrawal, renunciation, aloneness, seclusion, disenchantment with the world and everything in it – in a word, saŋvega, become replaced by “engagement!”

This is how we end up with a situation where the serious, purposeful, and sincere practitioner, monastic or lay, whose goal is yet one of freedom from the world, becomes expected to “engage” with it! And instead of support, or at least understanding from others for his devotion to his training, rather he finds scorn and antagonism! We have to ask ourselves: what does it mean, exactly, that even those who are themselves in robes, supposedly themselves renunciates, supposedly even teachers, supposedly father and mother to young dependent practitioners, are themselves the ones who are encouraging the trainees to become “engaged”, not in that which corresponds to the most basic requirements of their training and success, but rather in that which precisely distracts them away from it?

People who speak about “engaging” with any sort of mundane matters, societal or political, do so because they do not experience themselves any spiritual success, or any progress toward such success. They do not know of the incomparable bliss of renunciation and of attentional isolation. They are thirsty and have no access to the cool stream, because it runs further, up and beyond, from the low station in which they abide. They are the plebeianisers of Dhamma! Those who thus speak and thus act are not sons and daughters of Buddha, at least not of the same Buddha that you and I follow and revere. Those who thus speak and act do not have footing in Theravada; at least not in its Asian present home. Those who thus speak and act are made of the world, driven by the world, and are not going anywhere beyond the world.

Adoration to Buddha, Teacher and Revealer, to his transcendental, emancipatory Dhamma, and to the Sangha that keeps his message and upholds his way, above and higher than all else that is in this morbid existence. Adoration.

Viveka Always!

… in fact,
wisdom is not necessarily inherent in the pursuit of wisdom!
And the only reason one pursues wisdom is that,
one
is yet to have it.
What is inherent in the pursuit of wisdom, then,
is precisely the absence of wisdom!
It is a paradox.
But it is immediately resolved
knowing that wisdom is not a thing to be acquired,
but rather a process of gradual transformation,
precisely,
of gradual vanishing!

That aside,
what will be found to be inherent
in both,
the enjoyment of wisdom and the pursuit of it,
is aloneness.
And should there be other features
inherent in the experience of wisdom;
aloneness is the most visible,
the most solid,
the most necessary,
the most inescapable!

Through the great mount of seclusion,
it was once said,
lies the path to wisdom.
But also,
there is no going back,
no going down,
from the intemperate,
non-mild,
inhospitable,
icy,
peaks.

Ariyo

No freedom, no certitude, surpasses that experienced by one who is willing to die facing what he must face in order to accomplish what he must accomplish. No hardship can erode his resolve, no setback or weakness can bring about self-contempt in his eyes, and no fault can taint the sublimity and heroism of his heart.

Noble, is he who not only dares death, but can no longer bear life, except by submitting to the fate that is upon him; precisely, to transcend not only the animal, but also the human, that is bounding him to this morbid earth; to rise above the station even of gods, oblivious in their blissful power; to free himself totally from all chains of existence, every atom of it, and to deliver the last bit of his presence, from the shackles of suffering and subservience to nature and life.

Noble, is he who is to conquer death and to amount to eternity, not by inscribing himself in the memory of progeny, but by himself alone, through his very inward being, in this very life, in this very moment, and so long he still exists.

On “needing” … needing ‘anything’!

There is not a creature whose life is not afflicted by need. And why does my hands tremble and tremor now, had it been not for my severe malnutrition; the weariness of the muscles of my arms having carried an alms bowl full of rice across the village! The body alone, needs. Death and decay is constantly upon it. It feeds, only to avoid death. The bitter taste of decay and repugnant smell of decomposition, is in the chewed food. Then it trembles. It cannot sustain itself. But it brings the mind down. It is the consciousness that faints. The psyche will not die; it never does – but it is reborn. Alas.

What one needs is what one suffers. Nothing is freer, nothing is purer, than needlessness. Freedom and cleanliness together are in the situation of needlessness, total and complete. Imagine him who is thus free and clean; he is one who has no needs anymore. It is so, because this is how the world gets you; it finds what you need, what you ‘think’ you cannot live without, and then enslave you with it. And what is the “world”? It is “others”, those who have what you need; those who can and do give it to you – whatever it is, whomever they are.  They know that you need, they know that you will suffer without having what you need, they know that they can hurt you by denying you of it, they know that you fear losing it, they know that you fear losing them, they know that you fear them. This whole world and everything in it is governed in this way. This is what needing begets; the opposite of freedom and purity: fear.

And for the people, there is a million need: needing pleasure, excitement, stimulation, and companionship; this is at the core. And so there is a million fear: fearing pain, boredom, restlessness, and loneliness; this too is at the core.

But they say: a “bhikkhu”, that is, a “mendicant”, a “son of Buddha”, one who has “gone forth”; gone forth where?!

The body won’t sustain the mind without nutriments and oxygen circulating continuously in the blood stream. Otherwise the consciousness faints. It really faints; I know that for certain! So the problem is not one of pain; pain is welcome; pain is a servant of the noble heart. But for the consciousness to live one and to be used for the sake of transcending its own conditioned existence, the body needs food and safety. So there is also safety: that it is not bleeding, that it is not seriously ill and exhausted, that it is healthy, at least enough, for the task at hand and which is now, Lo, the only one which gives any meaning and value and purpose of life.  If we add to this that going about naked is likely to expose one to manifold forms of violence, then there is need also for clothes to cover the body.

Food, physical safety, and clothes; narrowing it all down to three needs, offers a glimpse at freedom and cleanliness, yet involves also a great deal of fear. For food, perhaps comes about more easily, but not so with clothes, and certainly hardly with safety! There are many reasons for this: the “people” are not benevolent or malevolent; they are all conditioned; and nothing stimulates the impulse of cruelty and violence more than the appearance of weakness and helplessness! Men abuse women, women abuse children, children abuse animals, and all abuse the lone, wandering, silent mendicant! [Despite of the tremendous power residing within his heart, invisible, unseen to others]. A bare skeleton walking about is a ghost that scares people to death; but a skeleton covered with but a tiny sheet of flesh and fabric; that is a fragile human, one which provokes either reverence, or cruelty.

Then there is need and needing, and the suffering, enslavement, servitude, fear, and self-contempt, of need and needing. And I long to needlessness; I long to the freedom and cleanliness of needlessness; I long yet to more aloneness, more seclusion, more poverty, more relinquishment, and more renunciation. This is the right way, this is the fateful way. I long to go forth, even after having gone forth! I long to live the going forth, more fully, more earnestly, more deeply; this is the right way, this is the fateful way. For pain is welcome; pain is a servant of the noble heart.

A very short story!

“I am aware that this is not a criminal court and that my duty is here to arbitrate on minor civic infringements on the law; nevertheless I am a judge, and regarded as a representative of the law in its entirety, and having come to the point where I can no longer accept the death penalty with a sound conscience, I hereby declare that today, I resign my post as judge and representative of a law that upholds the capital punishment!” The judge said solemnly moments after he entered the hall, addressing a small audience of quarreling divorcees and people who came to appeal their traffic speeding tickets. He left the hall swiftly even before anyone sat down having “all risen” following the usher’s call. Dismayed by the delay, the citizens complained and inquired about when their next court-hearing will be scheduled. The judge, for ever departing, could still hear the resonating murmur coming out of his court-hall. [end]

“Regret”, even the possibility of it, and the noble psyche!

The case for seclusion, renunciation, and withdrawal, is not only made on circumstantial grounds, or those of monastic social organisation and coexistence; there are further purely psychological concerns:

Wisdom and gnosis, at least in Buddhism, are not all or nothing, have it all or have none phenomena. The wisdom that you have today maybe still lacking, and the lack may become transcended tomorrow. We know this because it is something that we observe in our experience, all of us, even in mundane settings. A person whose wisdom never develops, is never wise!

Thus, a position that you take today with a wisdom that you have developed today, may become something that you _regret_ with a wisdom that you will develop further in the future. The same applies to those who, today, trust in you and act upon your wise Dhamma advices, but regret having done so at some point in the future when they will have outgrown their faith in you. This is actually the grounds for the offence of promoting abortion in the vinaya; the origin-story shows a woman abusing the monk (and denouncing the whole tri-ratana while she’s at it) upon whose advice she made an abortion that she later regreted.

Both the Dhamma experts and the followers of them can, and should, outgrow their yet unperfected wisdom. Wisdom is not an ultimate state, it is a process of development. Understanding this, a heart that is exercising its effort in the ennobling path should not promote any kind of position over any kind of issue that may be regretted in the future; especially if that position is one that will have impact on others rather than on strictly one’s own self. For there is no anavajja-sukha without freedom from regret; there can be no bliss and joy in the renunciate life while regret is hovering upon it, even if just as a mere possibility. The freedom from the morbid effect of that mere possibility of regret is worth infinitely more than whatever temporal mundane situation one could get right, for a while, before it dies out into change and oblivion.

To DEATH, is where all mundane things are headed.

On nissaya and dependence

To understand anything is to learn what is its purpose, what is it for. And ours is like any other situation of “mentoring”: the ultimate purpose of the nissaya or “dependence”, is to learn how to become precisely independent or self-sufficient in terms of external circumstantial and inward psychological needs and support. A successful period of nissaya leads precisely to the situation where no more nissaya is needed!

Of course after that we will always continue to learn from others, and the end of nissaya doesn’t mean the end of learning. But the difference is that, as is the case in any period of mentoring, one at first may need to take certain things on faith, or apply himself to what the mentor prescribes whether or not it makes sense at first, and so on. So long the practitioner sees progress in the course of time, and discerns the development of a higher level of understanding and knowledge, and confidence in himself; this means that one is in the company of a good mentor, be it another human being or ancient words written in a text. It is for this reason that, in its description of nissaya rules and procedures, the Vinaya places so much more emphasis on the required qualities of the mentor or provider, than the duties of the dependent!

Thus a good nissaya is one which results in a practitioner who is more readily capable of independently scrutinising and evaluating the word of the Buddha, and the interpretations of such by others, and the advices that he receives from others, including the advices of other venerable and respected monks concerning “nissaya” itself! And he does no longer accept anything on faith or trust alone, or without independent judgement and discernment.

People in general differ in their capacities to develop such independence, and some –many- live their entire lives in need for support and dependence, and they do falter and go astray the moment they lose it. It is a curious question to me, whether a practitioner could ever really make any substantial progress in this transcendental path of deliverance, without such independence and self-sufficiency of mind?!

“Should Monks Vote?!”

Strolling through the city; sipping coffee or eating out in a restaurant; visiting tourist cites … things of that sort, which we monastics actually do and are not prohibited from doing; yet feel somewhat uneasy whenever we do them! It is a spontaneous sense of shame, which comes from the stark contrast between the perceived indulgent nature of these activities, and the ideal of renunciation, which we not only have freely chosen, but which also governs the social relationship which we have with the laity, and for which we receive in exchange all that we need in terms of material sustenance, and furthermore, a continually owe-inspiring respect and reverence.

How could a mendicant with any such basic sense of shame, and whose life symbolizes the very effort of deliverance from the world, even from the most fundamental forces of it, such as sexual and egoist drives and impulses, and who is supported in this individual quest of deliverance by all people of faith, irrespective of their political inclinations – how could he show his face in the polling booth?! With whom will he be competing at that moment, and over what miserable worldly concern?! And what face does he show later, when the one he voted for wins and brings ruins and destruction upon that portion of the earth that common people call “my country” and “my national homeland”, or abuses the power given to him by people who, with a high-powered self-righteous sense of sociopolitical “responsibility”, go so far in their arrogant delusion as to demand political participation from others, even from mendicants, who are supposed to carry upon themselves no responsibility other than that of renunciation! [You can’t blame mendicants for dropping their social involvement and “responsibility” without at the same time blaming the Buddha for leaving his family behind! Show consistency over this matter and you will end up all China!]

If there is no prohibition on voting in the vinaya, this be the case only because any mention in this ancient text of ballots and democracy would only be anachronistic! And it takes no genius to discern how such liberty of monastics to vote will instantly create divisions, not only between monastics and the laity, but worse, between monastics and monastics. And the world already laments how parents and children, brothers and sister, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and many other people and communities which were once integrated and whole, have now become divided and separated, antagonistic, hateful, resentful, even violent, due to the process of “political participation”. Indeed, it’s already a telltale that there is any question or confusion about whether renunciate mendicants, or any serious practitioners for that matter, should join this miserly mundane festival!

For it is not like it’s the official ordination or the vinaya that restrains mendicants from doing this or that; rather it is “shame”, arising spontaneously and naturally in the heart of any sincere and genuine practitioner, literally, right at the center of the chest, where the piercing poke of guilt strikes mercilessly the moment he consciously acts in a way that contradicts what he publicly states to believe in, and what his life represents and for which he takes the material support of the laity, and accepts their reverence. And don’t take my word for it; just use your imagination: picture him whose sense of shame arises with great urgency even when the careless act is done in private, and then have a look on the other: Here he stands in the polling booth, in front of everyone, in robes yet competing with others, including those who just offered him food and medicine because they believe in the spiritual worth of his renunciate quest – there he stands, deeply confused about what should constitute his own purpose, neither living the renunciation which he preaches after the Buddha, nor practicing even its appearance!

And then it might all appear so clearly: indeed, it was precisely for such type of people, that we ever needed any vinaya. Dummaṅkūnaṃ puggalānaṃ niggahāya!

Puzzle!

________________

It is difficult

To find a good one-word answer!

It is even more difficult

To find the same

Heart-felt

One-word answer

To three very important questions:

What do I have?

What do I owe?

What do I want?

. . .

La La La!

Alms!

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