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?!