Monday, June 21, 2010

Positive Renunciation

The Four Noble Truths were given by the Buddha in the form of a medical diagnosis. The first truth is that sorrow exists and simply states the existence of sorrow by simple observation, that people suffer when people we care about die, when divorce happens, when birth happens, when we contract illnesses, when accidents impair us, when war happens, when harsh people dominate us, when we are separated from what we love, and when we are joined with what we do not want. The second noble truth is that sorrow as a cause. It does not arise randomly and capriciously. There is a cause and effect order to its appearance and disappearance in our lives. Behind the appearance of sorrow in our lives are the three poisons of the mind, addictive craving, condemning negativity, and ignorant delusions. The Buddha further develops an understanding of operation of these poisons in our lives through his teaching of the Twelve Interdependent Originations, the 12 interconnected and mutually sustaining causes that keep us stuck in a repetitive pattern of sorrow. The basic flow of the nidanas is that we have a conditioned body and mind which is actively engaged in the world through sense organs and sense experience. We eventually have subconscious impressions activated by something we sense which inspire us to cling to, resist, or ignore whatever is arising. This process is usually going on in a low level way all the time with tiny micro-reactions happening which in turn become experiences that we have other micro-reactions to, in other words, the reactions we have become experiences that we react to, and these can also be experiences that we react to, ad infinitum. Craving and aversion to experiences happens. Sometimes we latch on to something that we crave and attach ourselves to this. We then develop possessive patterns to hold this in our lives, form fears of losing what it is that we are attached to or angry resistance to losing what have attached to, and then give birth to a personality formation which has all these processes working below its surface. This personality undergoes a karmaic destiny from the time that it is born, has an energetic youth, gets worn away, decays, and dies. This can be an actual birth, aliveness, aging, death, and rebirth of bodies or an emotional wave of some personality identity going through a emotional trauma where some emotional self that is born, becomes vital, then gets worn down by all the effort to maintain itself, and eventually wants to die. These processes get loaded as potential experiences in our subconscious mind and get reactivated when the right external causes and conditions appear. This activation is like a birth of an energy pattern that runs its course. The mass of impressions plays out in the bardo dreamscape between life times and causes us to take on a specific rebirth with specific parents whose karmaic patterns are similar to our own.

The third noble truth is that sorrow can come completely to an end by ending the three poisons of the mind. When the last traces of them disappear from the subconscious mind, then we experience nirvana. This is a peaceful consciousness which rests in the "unborn, unchanging, and undying" dimension of eternity. This is a level of consciousness, innate to us all, that has never been contaminated by the three poisons of the mind and can be felt within us when they lose their grip. There is a kind of relative enlightenment when our seventh consciousness, our ordinary waking consciousness, is free from the three poisons of the mind. But to totally empty the entire subconscious mind of all subconscious impressions (formations, samskaras) takes a fair amount of time in meditation. It seems that even the Buddha did not fully attain supreme perfect enlightenment in his 40 day meditation into nirvana.

When Buddha was walking from town to town teaching the dharma, he has a vision where his mother appears and offers her breast to suckle on and he does, after he has this experience he says, "Now I feel whole and complete." The mother of the Buddha died two weeks after he was born. He had an incomplete experience that he had to finish with inside himself. Merely meditating for 40 days did not completely release this samskara. There was a child inside of the Buddha that mourned the lost of his mother and longed for a deep connection with life through the feminine principle. This shambhogakaya vision allowed him to have closure and to release the force of this samskara.

This historical event shows to me that there are different degrees and kinds of enlightenment. They may have a similar flavor, but differ in terms of depth, completeness, and comprehensiveness. In Zen, they distinguish between a tongue tip taste of enlightenment is kensho, to the comprehensive flash of enlightenment is satori, to flowing with enlightenment and continuing the process of enlightenment in fugen kensho, to the supreme perfect enlightenment when the entire subconscious mind is emptied of all afflicted samskaras, and even further "profound realization and great function" where the enlightened being freely operates in the world in compassion and spontaneously helps others to be liberated when possible. I mention this, because one can be very enlightened and still have some stuff to process and get healed. It is sometimes called "nirvana with residue" in Mahayana Buddhism and is very common among Bodhisattvas and Dakinis who serve the healing of this world.

What I wish to share in this writing is about the Fourth Noble Truth. The Third Noble Truth merely points to what brings sorrow completely to an end. If you merely try to eliminate the three poisons of the mind, you will not succeed in completely ending sorrow. What is needed is embrace "the path with eight branches". This is a different way of life that the usual samsaric worldly existence of ordinary sentient beings. It is clear that the way of life of ordinary sentient beings does not escape karma and sorrow. This way of life is actually driven by the three poisons, based on the three poisons, and even makes the three poisons stronger over time.

In the Fire Sermon, the Buddha talked about how the whole world is burning with the fire of craving, with the fire of negativity, and with the fire of delusion. All the power struggles and power trips of the world generate patterns of sorrow. They are based on delusion, because people expect to find happiness and find sorrow instead. They imagine that feeding their addictive cravings is somehow going to fulfill them, but instead they find sorrow instead. They are driven by addictive cravings, experience them as desires, and attach to things and relationships with the idea of fulfilling this addictive craving. But these addictions do not find fulfillment, but merely go from one object to another in an endless search for "more".

The Buddha created a community of people who had chosen to renounce the old pattern of life, to renounce the cravings and ambitions that defined the usual way of living in the world, and to live in an entirely different way. This radical renouncing of the world, the desires of this world, the ambitions of the world, the goals of this world, and images of fulfillment that the world tries to emulate is at the heart of the Eightfold Path. I like to call this Eightfold Path, "the path with eight branches", because it sees the eight precepts as branches of the same tree. It shows that the precepts have unity with a symbolic tree, an organic natural way of life. All the precepts become eight interdependent factors which sustain a way of life which is beyond sorrow and the grip of sorrow. These factors replace the twelve factors which sustain the patterns of our sorrow.

I find it interesting that the word that Jesus used that gets translated as "church" is "ekklesia". This Koine Greek word means "call out of". The church that Jesus named was not a building, religion, or club. It was actual people, actual sentient beings, who were "called out of the world", who have chosen to live in love and compassion with each other and for each other, to form a community awakened to the truth of sorrow and how sorrow ends, who see that the world is "judged" in the sense that it is found lacking in the power to move its inhabitants beyond sorrow, that it is composed of people who are drowning in sorrow, perishing in sorrow, and burning with the fire of sorrow. The commandment that Jesus gives to the ekklesia is merely "to love one another as I have loved you". He does not give all kinds of exotic dogmatic beliefs like the Trinity, Vicarious Atonement, the Inerrancy of a Bible that has not even been written yet, and other beliefs that only divide people into fragmented communities that are not even in communication with each other. The word that is used for truth in the Greek of the New Testament is "alethea" which means that which is beyond words. What is beyond words is love itself.

Jesus, like Buddha, also emphasized positive renunciation as the actual entry into the path. Once you renounce the world, then you live "in the world but not of it". You live in a world whose "glory" is fading away. You live in the glory of another way of life that is emerging on this planet, which is already here energetically, and which we can feel in our lives right here and right now. Jesus called this other way of life by the phrase "kingdom of heaven". As one scholar pointed out, this is not a geographic place, but entering a kind of guidance or rulership in your life of a new principle. You are no longer guided by craving, negativity, and delusion, but by a loving, wise, and creative energy that is sacred and which is already within us.

The word "glory" is used to describe the energy of both the old world and the new world. I found that the word "glory" means a kind of energy. Saint Paul talks about different bodies, different cells, as "differing in glory". The old world is not merely bad. It served its purpose. It brought humans up to a certain point. It has an impressiveness to itself, but it does not lead to a deep and lasting inner peace. It reaches a certain level of survival and a certain level of happiness, but ultimately fails to go beyond a certain point. It also accumulates karma and sets up more sorrow in our future. As we learn its limit, see through its glory, the glory fades away.

The Jerusalem Bible translates a passage from the Sermon on the Mount this way, "Unless righteousness is deeper than the scribes and pharisees, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." I like the use of the word "deeper" rather than "greater", because the pharisees were keeping the commandments good externally. Jesus sees that they are still not transcending the inner attitudes and motivations that keep us linked to the old world samsaric patterns. The revolution in consciousness needs to be deeper than our usual motivation for being a good person. If worldly success matters, fame in the eyes of others, still wanting what the world finds valuable, marketing with an aggression that wants to get things from others, forming bonds with people to get what we want, hiding our real feelings and telling people what they want to hear so that we can exploit them, trying to control people through guilt, and so on, then our commitment to end sorrow in our lives and the lives of those we care about will not have the power to reach "the other shore of enlightenment".

The monks and nuns who followed the Buddha renounced all their worldly possessions, sometimes renounced a lot of actual wealth, many of them being princes and princesses, sometimes donated their wealth to the meditative community, and wandered around the world with a begging bowl, three garments, and a few other things that they needed. They radically simplified their life so that they could free their mind from complex worldly entanglements and so that they could meditate onto supreme perfect enlightenment. They were not merely beggars. They were either healing emissaries or teaching emissaries for the dharma. This was considered their service, what they were giving to others in return for whatever others were inspired to give them. Many of them memorized and recited whole sutras that summarized the teachings of the Buddha. Many of them took time to memorize, verify in their own personal experience, and fully master a section of the teachings, and shared what they had with anyone who was truly open to hearing them. They would ask for nothing in return, but would wander around with their begging bowl and take whatever was freely given. This was a version of right livelihood, free from the stain of a greed and ambition driven economy.

Renouncing the world brings up a primal fear. It brings up the ego belief that the world will let you starve to death unless you "play the game", unless you work hard to lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead, all the while pretending to be a good person. There is a fear of being a "failure" in the eyes of the world. It feels naked to wander around without all the diplomas, education, certificates, and the image of having a high powered job. There is a kind of alpha leader image we are meant to project in the world, a vestige from the animal pecking orders of the past, and emulate even if it does not feel true inside. There are status battles, trying to climb the social ladder, marry up, or whatever it takes. All this is meant to end in the new energy of the dharma. When we renounce, carry the begging bowl, and live in this simplicity, then something happens inside us. There is a kind of vertigo that we go through when we learn to live this way. It does not feel as real or substantial as being successful by the usual career path with lots of education and diplomas getting attached to our name. There is a lot of illusion on this worldly path, because it is an external. Even religion can just be another disguise for a worldly life.

In later lifetimes, a person learns to be a monk or nun in the world. A regular job becomes a hidden place to serve others in love and to let your begging bowl get filled. Behind the transactions and money, this attitude can be there. It is peaceful and trusting of life to take care of itself. You trust synchronicities to happen to support you. There is no effort to puff yourself up with certificates and diplomas to make yourself be more than just a human being on the path to enlightenment. Like Jesus taught, you willingly take the lowest status seat at the banquet table and peacefully wait until life promotes you. When you do get promoted, you do not glory in the increase in status, since "the greatest is the servant of all". You see that you are merely widening your field of service and becoming a servant to more and more people. You never get to be the dominating boss who has minions at his or her beck and call. This whole primate pecking order which wants slaves doing our bidding is completely released. There is a kind of hierarchy to the people on the path, but it is not based on dominance and cannot be climbed by status ambition. It is a natural growth where people with greater wisdom serve those in need when they are able. In this time period, sometimes those more advanced on the path are not even recognized and seen. Many of them will not wear fancy robes, but deliberately dress in such a way so that they blend into the world and hide among those of low status. They do not want people to come who are still attached to externals, who cannot tell who is who without marketing glitz and a promotional campaign beefing up an image. This appeal to the small self is not used on the path. This is also why advanced meditators normally hide their paranormal abilities and only show them when needed. They are not trying to market themselves or prove themselves to anyone. They have long since abandoned any alpha dominance motivations. They may sometimes enter the ordinary world, demonstrate a miracle, show something is possible, and then go back to being "in the world but not of it," being "cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown" and "being nobody, going nowhere". Some miracles do show people that a higher way of life is possible and show that life will support us and care for us, that if we take care of our world, then our world will take care of us. Yet ultimately miracles prove nothing, we eventually mature to the point where the wisdom of the path becomes our natural common sense.

I think it is possible to be prosperous in worldly terms and still be on the path. In one section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the key and it is about having the right motivation, to always seek "the kingdom of heaven and its balance". To make sure that the motive is right and that it always puts meditation first. We will get what we need to live comfortably and this is all we need. Greed beyond this is excessive and wastes precious time when we could be meditating and morphing into the next species to appear on this world.

When our motivation falls back into the primate level, then we are living in fear again and will soon get lost in samsara, be driven by addictive craving, condemning negativity, and ignorant delusions. We will have lost our compass again. It takes some time to stay in right focus and balance when we understand. It is easy to fall back to the old motivations of our primate past. When it happens to me, I remember my past lifetimes when being a monk with a begging bowl was enough for me to be happy and that I have always had more than this. This centers me back into the enlightenment process and the right way of life.


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