Saturday, July 4, 2015

On True Love

What is more unreal than the perceptions of a normal person in love, who is carried into rapture and expansion of being by his own very exaggerations? —Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death (it won a Pulitzer Prize back in the 1970's)
     Over the years I have occasionally encountered statements, in Psychology books and Dharma books, to the effect that the state of falling in love, or of being in love with another person romantically, is a kind of insanity—a temporary "hormone high" which distorts our perceptions, especially with regard to the other person, into a state of manic delusion. When we are in love, we see the love object as indescribably beautiful, wonderful, and perfect, a glorious miracle; we glorify them and place them way up high on a pedestal. Being in love becomes practically religious, like a form of Bhakti Yoga, worshipping the Divine in the form of one's lover. The main evidence put forth by the authorities that being in love is insanity or delusion is that, in addition to rampant irrationality, mania, and sometimes even delirium, this state does not last. Eventually, the hormones return to their former levels and the glorious exaltation, etc., fades away; and one returns to a more contracted, more mundane, more "normal" state. (I think it was Freud who defined romantic love as "overestimation of the sex object.") After one's hormones and one's attitude have returned to "normal," the beloved appears significantly less glorious and miraculous, and is removed from the pedestal of adoration. Sometimes this is sufficient to end the relationship, or at least ruin it; although in some fortunate cases the feeling of being "in" love is replaced by a more stable form of love which is less dependent upon mating instincts and hormone levels. 
     So anyway, recently I was reading an anthology of Dhamma discourses and I encountered a statement made by a Western nun of the Ajahn Chah tradition along these same lines—falling in love temporarily blinds us to the faults of another person…and thus it is a kind of delusion. She gave as a similar example the state of many pet fanciers—you know, people who dote on their cat or dog or boa constrictor as though it were their own child. They consider that dumb little animal to be beautiful, wonderful, and perfect.
     I can think of another kind of "in love" that more closely resembles romance than a deep love for one's golden retriever, and that is new parents' love for their baby. The baby is perceived as an adorable little miracle, and a very valid excuse for euphoria, with that euphoria helping them to maintain their enthusiasm through countless diaper changes and through those nights when the baby just won't stop crying and fussing. This kind of "in love" is also influenced by hormones, and is another manifestation of the reproductive instincts which ensure that we replicate our DNA sequences. Love for pets may be just a pale shadow, a kind of displaced reproductive instinct, directed toward an adorable little non-human animal instead of toward one's own adorable little human animal offspring. I'm not sure why the nun didn't mention this kind of love. Maybe it would be just too extreme for a woman to belittle a mother's love for her baby. Maybe it was seen as a little too politically incorrect. Maybe she just didn't think of it. I don't know. It doesn't matter.
     But even for a nun to be belittling romantic love (and love for pets) struck me as somewhat extreme, considering that women, in general, tend to make love more central to their "life story" than men do, and to value love more than men do. (I think it was Lord Byron who said that the first time a woman falls in love, she falls in love with a man, but every time after that she falls in love with Love itself.) It seems that men are more likely to make a love relationship more a "setting" for their life, with their career, or their lifelong "exploration of the unknown," or whatever, being more of a central theme. Yet I am a man, and I have been deeply, madly in love before, and I can say from personal experience that it is one of the most glorious experiences that a mere earthling can know. 
     It seems to me that there is some confusion, or maybe some superficial thinking, involved in this wholesale dismissal of romantic love, with various elements of it being tossed together salad-wise and considered to be a single thing. Being romantically "in love" can be separated into several different ingredients, although for the sake of convenience I'll divide it up into three: the actual love, the hormone high, and other, emotional factors which may or may not be essential to being "in love," but which usually come along for the ride—desire, attachment, obsession, jealousy, etc. Some of this last may be summed up in the lyrics of a pop song from the 1970's: "You're walking in the rain and the snow, and there's no place to go, and you're feeling like a part of you is dying, and you're looking for the answer in her eyes…."
     First of all, the actual love. What love really is, in the highest, most spiritual sense, its fundamental essence, is not a feeling or emotion. It is contained as an element in emotional, instinctual attitudes which are called love, and it is such a powerful experience that it can easily inspire some very intense feelings and emotions, but real love itself is not an emotion. The essence of love, simply stated, is acceptance. Another way of explaining it is that love is non-separation, the absence of barriers, the deconstruction of Pink Floyd's wall, unity. It is more an experience of "us" than of "me and that other person." So instinctive emotions that are called "love" really do contain an element of spiritual love, the essence of acceptance and non-separation. In fact, any open-hearted acceptance—regardless of whether it's for a sex object, a baby, a puppy, a boa constrictor, a forest, a flower, a starry sky, a smiling little old lady on a bus, salsa dancing, beer, one's favorite golf club, whatever—to the extent that it involves acceptance and knocked-down barriers, to that very extent it is genuine Love. I suspect that the only way to be without any genuine love at all would be to be an unconscious robot, or just dead.
     And the thing is, the experience of being madly in love involves more open-hearted acceptance than does the ordinary human condition, even though, admittedly, it is filtered through a mating instinct and is not "pure." Some spiritual traditions have even incorporated a sublimated and refined sort of romantic love, or eros, into the yoga of devotion. In Hinduism, for example, the attitude of lover for beloved is an acceptable approach to God or guru, with one of the archetypes being the love between Radha and Krishna. Anyone familiar with the biography of Ammachi, "the Hugging Saint," may have noticed that, as a teenage girl, she was obsessively, deliriously in love with Lord Krishna. In Christian yogic traditions also there is considerable emphasis on the theme of being a bride of Christ. Catholic nuns consider Jesus to be their lawful husband, and some great female saints felt very romantic about that. William James was of the opinion, for instance, that St. Theresa of Avila spent most of her life engaged in "an amatory flirtation" with God. Furthermore, since the Latin word for "soul," anima, is grammatically in the feminine gender, even men can speak and write of their soul as a bride being ravished by Christ on her wedding night. St. John of the Cross, an extremely advanced meditation master, wrote some remarkably erotic poetry along these very lines; and his favorite part of the Bible was the Song of Songs. 

     My king was lying on his couch, and my perfume filled the air with fragrance.
     My lover has the scent of myrrh as he lies upon my breasts.
     My lover is like the wild flowers that bloom in the vineyards at Engedi.  
          (—the Bible, Song 1:12-14)

I'm unaware of this romantic approach being followed in Theravada, however, except maybe for some lustful monks practicing diligently in order someday to acquire a harem of celestial nymphs. Plus I suppose there are some sexually frustrated nuns out there with the unofficial hots for some great Dhamma Master, maybe even for the Buddha himself.
     Even setting aside the overtly religious versions of eros, "spiritual eroticism," or "Tantra," it is still true that real, live sexual love, steamy romance, can be a very mind-expanding experience, a spiritual epiphany. Quietly, deeply gazing into your lover's eyes as a form of meditation, wholeheartedly blessing each other again and again, sharing what is deep within you and practicing radical honesty, openness, and vulnerability with another person, "worshipping God" through your beloved, in the form of your beloved, can be a powerful vehicle toward Awakening, if one has the courage and maturity to manage it. For that matter, with the right attitude, any experience can become a means to Awakening. And the deeper and more intense the experience, the better. Dare to live dangerously. So what if falling in love is a hormone high. So what if it doesn't last. No phenomenon in this world lasts, including the most exalted meditative states. Many people have experienced their first spiritual awakening as a result of taking psychedelic, "consciousness-expanding" drugs; the use of such drugs, or "sacred medicines," can be a valid spiritual practice. So, why can't a hormone be a sacred medicine? In either case, the trick is to learn and develop from the experience without becoming dependent upon the medicine. 
     Is the "normal" state of relative contraction and alienation more sane than being ecstatically in love with a sexual partner? Well, many celibate monastics would like to think so! So would some intellectual walking heads without much development of their heart. But the actual situation may be the other way round—it may be that, ecstatically seeing another being as glorious, beautiful, wonderful, and perfect is infinitely more sane than seeing that being as a pathetic, dysfunctional mess, even if one can easily work up plenty of reasons for the latter judgement. It may be that being "madly" in love doesn't so much blind us to another's faults as to prevent us from artificially conjuring up those faults in the first place.
     Consider little sparrows hopping around in the yard. The greedy, hostile little bastards are continually fighting and squabbling…but they're still perfect little miracles. Sparrows are supposed to fight and squabble. It's their nature. By fighting and squabbling they are fulfilling their nature, and are perfectly being beautiful, miraculous little hostile sparrows. Small children are in a similar state—if they behave badly, they have the excuse of being small children, and are easily forgivable. They're just little kids and don't know any better. They're simply behaving in accordance with their nature. So even if they squabble and cry and destroy things, they can still be wonderful and beautiful. But when we grow up, even though most of us are still children in a sense, our excuses, and our miraculousness, get taken away from us. What in any other being might be seen as a spontaneous act in accordance with its nature, in us is seen as a "fault." But whether we are a divine miracle or a dysfunctional mess who is "at fault" all depends upon how you choose to look at the situation. It all depends on how open your mind and your heart is. 
     So, if you live in fear and anxiety and remorse, so what? If you come too soon, or are afraid to come, so what! If you have crooked teeth or are fifty pounds overweight, so what? If you have some deep, dark secret that fills you with shame, and which you are chronically scared half to death that someone will find out about, so that you lie to cover your tracks, so what! You are still beautiful, wonderful, and miraculous, even if everyone around you, and even you yourself, are too closed off and alienated to see it. The wiser you are, the less "at fault" anyone is.
     Love itself, the fundamental essence of non-separation, is clearly not a problem. Also, the ecstatic expansion of being in love is not necessarily a problem, not directly anyway. The problem, the spiritual obstacle, consists of anything we can't be mindful of—although more conservatively and less radically, in this particular case, it consists primarily of the aforementioned accompanying mental states such as emotional attachment and addiction, possessive lust, obsession, jealousy, and so on, plus the virtual guarantee of misery by depending upon someone else or something else for one's own happiness. And some of this may be the inevitable flip side of the coin of being ecstatically, expansively in love. In which case it is ours to decide whether the positive advantages are worth also accepting and dealing with the negative obstacles. 
     It is true that romantic love, "overestimation of the sex object," is very much conditioned by human animal reproductive instincts, and is very conditional, and thus tends not to be very "pure." Then again, it is also true that the purest, most unconditional form of love that an ordinary worldling can know is also much conditioned by reproductive instincts, and that is a mother's love for her children. Romantic love often takes the form of attraction to a fine specimen, with a proviso of "I love you and think you're wonderful so long as you are faithful to me and treat me right"; but a loving mother loves her children no matter what, whether they are beautiful or ugly, healthy or sickly, intelligent or stupid, good or bad. (A father's love tends to be somewhat more conditional than this.) Yet even a mother's love is based on the condition that the child is her child. In order for love to be completely unconditional and completely "pure," it would have to be universal, for everyone and everything, no matter what; and that, presumably, would imply Full Enlightenment, with no separating walls at all, and thus no "me." Nevertheless, even the steamiest erotic love contains an element of real love. 
     Love, regardless of what form it takes, regardless of who or what it is for (a sex object, a baby, a snake, fighting, revenge, golf clubs, whatever), to the extent that it involves real, open acceptance, involves tapping into what has no beginning and no end, tapping into "the heart of God." Love, truly, is more real than "we" are. "We" are Maya, illusion; but what Love really is, its essence, is not Maya. Love is Reality.
     So, my advice, my suggestion, is to love, even fall madly in love. Love dangerously. Love so intensely that you feel you may die, that your heart may explode from overdose of sheer rapture. It's truly a glorious and glorifying experience. But keep your eyes open, be alert, don't forget Dharma, don't get totally lost in the romantic drama. You can live more openly and intensely, and you can learn one heck of a lot from it. Then, when you have had enough, and can see that the positives and negatives balance out in the long run, then be celibate. It may be easier to love the whole world if you're celibate. Then again, it may not.

Krishna and Radha


At the risk of appearing outrageously sentimental, I include here some results of a little experiment in which children between four and eight years old were asked the question, "What does love mean?" (Found in my email inbox via Paul Lowe's inspirational mailing list)

"When my grandmother got arthur-itis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore… So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthur-itis too. That's love."
(Rebecca - age 8)

"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."
(Billy - age 4)

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."
(Karl - age 5)

"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."
(Chrissy - age 6)

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."
(Terri - age 4)

"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."
(Danny - age 8)

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen."
(Bobby - age 7)

"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate."
(Nikka - age 6)

"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day."
(Noelle - age 7)

"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
(Tommy - age 6)

"During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my mummy waving and smiling. She was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."
(Cindy - age 8)

"My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night."
(Clare - age 6)

"Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken."
(Elaine - age 5)

"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford."
(Chris - age 7)

"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."
(Mary Ann - age 4)

"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones."
(Lauren - age 4)

"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."
(Karen - age 7)

"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross."
(Mark - age 6)

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."
(Jessica - age 8)

And the final one:

The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Guns, Germs, Steel, Gawd, and Mammon

     Twice lately I have come across discussions of a book entitled Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond of UCLA (W. W. Norton, 1997). It's apparently considered to be a big deal, an Important Book, and it won a Pulitzer Prize for its author. It discusses, among other things, why the European race, or, more accurately, European culture, has conquered the Earth. 
     I suspect that the main reason why it won the Pulitzer Prize is because it conveys an extremely politically correct message: The Europeans and their culture took over the world not because they are inherently superior to anyone else in any way, but because they were just lucky—that is, because they won a kind of geographical lottery.
     One argument in support of this idea is that the Eurasian supercontinent, at the western end of which sits Europe, is elongated from east to west, whereas the great land masses that theoretically could have competed for the honor of being the homeland of a world culture—Africa and the Americas—are elongated from north to south. This means that many human populations in Eurasia were living at similar latitudes, under similar climatic conditions, in relatively similar environments, which facilitated cultural exchange, including exchange of technologies. This in turn facilitated what is vulgarly known as "progress." 
     Another argument is that, apparently through random chance, Eurasia had plant and animal species that were more easily and usefully domesticated than those in Africa, Australia, or the Americas, which thus helped to support agricultural and urban civilizations. 
     There can be little doubt that such arguments have much truth to them. Obviously, having wheat, barley, and rice to cultivate would be a great advantage, and the Eurasian horse was extremely useful for transportation, plowing fields, and warfare. But I'm not sure just how decisive those advantages were with regard to the rise and eventual dominance of Western culture. Were American bison really that much more difficult to domesticate than European aurochs or Indian humped cattle? Why did northern Europeans domesticate reindeer, while the American Indians failed to domesticate caribou, which are essentially the same animal? And why did the British and European end of Eurasia conquer the world, not the Chinese and Japanese end (or for that matter the Indians or other civilizations in the middle)? The Chinese developed urban culture long before the Europeans did, and came up with many innovations, including silk cloth, printing, and gunpowder, yet, despite the head start, the Europeans quickly caught up with them technologically and passed them by. It is true that in recent decades the Japanese and Chinese have become great powers and have done some world conquering of their own; but their recent status as great powers has come from their rejection of many of their own traditions, and the adoption and modification of European ones. 
     It may be that Dr. Diamond addresses all these questions in his book. I admit that I haven't read it, or ever even seen an actual copy of it; but it doesn't matter, because all of this is just leading up to a theory of my own, which also seems, to me at least, to be a very probable contributing factor to Western dominance in the modern world, possibly the main factor. The theory is not politically correct, however, so it probably won't win any prizes. The theory is that people of the European race have a certain tendency, which may be genetic or just an arbitrary cultural quirk which proved useful in the struggle for survival, and which could be called a mark of superiority and of inferiority. And it is this combined superiority and inferiority which has resulted in Western culture—science, technology, politics, economics, social fashions, and much more—increasingly pervading and dominating world civilization.
     The genetically-conditioned tendency or arbitrary cultural quirk in question is extraversion—that is, an orientation in which one seeks to understand reality, and seeks fulfillment and happiness, by looking outside of oneself, and toward the surfaces of an external world. The opposite of this would be introversion, or seeking an understanding of reality, etc., within oneself. 
     This is not to say that European caucasians are totally extraverted, and that non-Europeans are totally introverted, any more than one would say that men are totally objective, or tall, and women are totally subjective, or short. It is a relative tendency, a matter of degree. To be totally extraverted would be to be a kind of robot, oblivious to one's internal states, such as pleasure, pain, happiness, unhappiness, hunger, lust, and so on. To be totally introverted would require one to be oblivious to one's surroundings, so that one might be in some vivid mental world, but nevertheless outwardly asleep, or otherwise completely incapacitated. 
     Or, maybe a perfectly extraverted person could somehow externalize (or "objectify") his internal states, seeing them as outside him somehow; and a perfect introvert could internalize (or "subjectify") her surroundings, turning the empirical world into a kind of solipsistic dream. These latter alternatives seem to come closer to the contrast of Western and non-Western approaches to existence, especially in their most developed attempts to understand reality: Western science and Eastern mysticism. 
     One little bit of evidence suggesting a genetic component to the European outward orientation is the fact that the European race shows the most variability with regard to outward appearance, especially with regard to hair color and eye color. People of what other race may have blue eyes, or grey ones, or green ones? People of what other race may have blond or copper-colored or sandy brown hair? (This is setting aside modern non-Westerners employing Western technologies to look more like Westerners.) It's not necessarily proof of anything, but there may be a connection there, perhaps involving a greater appreciation for outward variety helping to inspire some Darwinian sexual selection, for example. 
     The most obvious strength of Western civilization is its production of innovative technology; this applies not only to physical objects, tools and gadgets, but also to other phenomena—the ancient Greeks' experiments in democracy and their development of warfare into a science would also be examples of this. This technological talent may be seen as something positive, a form of superiority. But the driving force behind that power, that "superiority," is something negative, an inferiority—namely, more than any other race, the members of Western civilization, through that very same extraversion and superiority, do not know how to be happy.
     The fundamental theme of human existence is the search for satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness. Mother Nature has the cards stacked against us from the very outset, designing us in such a way that we are convinced we will be happier if we eat delicious food (which in prehistoric times was the most nutritious food), spend most of our time clean, warm, and dry, acquire a beautiful mate, have sex, raise children, and attain the highest possible social status. She reinforces such belief by rewarding us with temporary pleasure if we succeed in such matters, and punishing us with pain if we do things contrary to the veiled biological goal of perpetuating our DNA sequences. These pleasures and pains are practically indistinguishable from true happiness and unhappiness by animals and unreflective extraverts. 
     So the relatively unreflective extraverts of the very outward-oriented culture which arose in Europe take this "approach to happiness" very seriously; and with their outward-oriented technological innovations they pursue, at maximum speed, a course of changing this, improving that, and eradicating the other, being incapable of leaving well enough alone, and continually, obsessively, fixing what is not broken.
     The result of this, outwardly, is that modern Western and westernized people experience more physical comfort, convenience, and superficial pleasure—which, however, is not the same as actual happiness. They may be no happier, or even less happy, than their stone age ancestors. They are fussier, harder to please, and addicted to unnecessary luxuries. Furthermore, at a much larger scale, this relentless urge to fix with technology what is not broken (or to fix what in some cases may be better off left alone anyhow, like natural checks to population growth) has resulted in a world which, according to the generality of ecologists, is at the verge of all hell breaking loose. In the same book on environmental systems that discussed the aforementioned Guns, Germs, and Steel, was an essay by James Lovelock, father of the Gaia Hypothesis, who assures us all that by the end of this century the Earth will have gone into a state of "morbid fever" which may last for 100,000 years, and that a massive human population crash will have occurred, so that in the year 2100, less than 85 years from now, the world's population will be approximately 10% of what it is now, and consisting mainly of "a broken rabble led by brutal warlords." 
     Even if Lovelock is mistaken, he's probably not completely mistaken, and panicking environmentalists around the world are crying louder and louder. So the clever Europeans who started the ball rolling, though as extraverted and philosophically materialist as ever, have decided to stop wrecking the planet. Meanwhile, the Americans are too entrenched in their consumerism to tolerate such an inconvenience; and the rest of the world, including India and China, are scrambling to catch up with the Americans' standards of extraverted luxury, extravagance, and waste.
     What are the Indians and Chinese thinking? The people of both countries have, or at least had, cultural traditions which could appreciate the second and third Noble Truths of Buddhism. These are really fairly clear and simple, and should not be difficult to see by anyone with intelligence and some capacity for introversion. Unhappiness is not directly caused by "economic backwardness" or a "low standard of living," but by craving, which is a psychological attitude, and generated within a person's mind (often with the encouragement of Western advertising). Also, both countries had traditions (mostly Hinduism in India, mostly Mahayana Buddhism in China) pointing to a profound idea: that "external" worldly problems are actually externalized manifestations of our own problematic attitudes and mental states. But most people in the world who are aware of overpopulation, deforestation, global warming, etc., including most Americans, are so dazzled by the obvious worldly power of extraverted scientific technology, and so seduced by the advertising that sells it, that they have faith that science, the same extraverted intellectual system that got us enmeshed in this situation in the first place, will eventually come up with something to bail us out—thereby allowing us to continue contributing to what is lately called the Holocene Extinction Event. Personally, though, I suspect that a search for extraverted, intellectual, materialistic solutions is on the wrong track altogether. It may be more realistic to expect benevolent, compassionate devas to step in and bail us out. 
     The aforementioned state of being dazzled by obvious outward worldly power and success (even if it doesn't lead to happiness) also certainly has its effects on those who already have it, not just on those who crave it. It tends to lead its possessors to a kind of pseudo-wisdom, even pseudo-spiritual arrogance. For example, anyone who has read much English fiction from the 19th century may have noticed that the British, bless their hearts, naturally assumed themselves to be not only the most successful servants of Mammon in the world (which they evidently were), but also the most successful servants of God. Never mind that their own scriptures asserted that you cannot serve both God and Mammon. Never mind that the effective founder of the Church of England was Henry VIII, an antichrist if there ever was one, whose primary ostensive reason for breaking with the Church of Rome was his determination to defy the teachings of Jesus (by divorcing Catharine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, the latter of whom he later had beheaded). Never mind that by the 19th century the Church of England, as far as I have seen in the literature, had degenerated into little more than some ideological lip service, phlegmatic Victorian prudery, and the smugness of being "right." They were the greatest nation in the world, so how could they be wrong? God was on their side. Consequently they saw fit to send Anglican missionaries to places like India and Burma, to teach the misbegotten children of darkness and sin there the "True Religion"—which, however, had much less actual spirituality to it than what the misbegotten children already had. 
     Regardless of whether or not one is a Christian, Jesus of Nazareth was a wise man, and what he said about God and Mammon has some truth to it. Inward and outward are opposites. You cannot focus your attention, and set your heart, in both directions simultaneously (unless maybe you have advanced to the stage of transcending the limitations of "focus" and "direction"). A person or society highly developed in one direction is very likely to be clueless in the other. Either worldly form or spiritual essence is bound to take precedence. We have the ability to choose between outward, flashy comfort, convenience, and temporary pleasures on the one hand, and the inward subtlety of genuine happiness on the other. We aren't required to choose just one or the other, but still some choice is ours to make. But our cultural conditioning, plus maybe some human or caucasian genetic tendency, may strongly bias the choice.
     Needless to say, 21st century America is in a somewhat similar situation to 19th century Britain (although our position as Number One is growing rather shaky, and our economy is not nearly so bullish as was that of Victorian England). The people of America are not absolutely outward-oriented, and wise, gifted people may be found anywhere; yet the mainstream of the society naturally assumes that they know what's what, not only with regard to outward things, but also with regard to how to be happy. "We're at the top, so how could we be wrong? Right? Of course we know how to be happy." Thus the westernized walk around with an alienated glaze over their eyes, and assume that people living in material poverty, or even simplicity, couldn't really be happy, since they themselves are so conditioned that they would be utterly miserable living in such a way. They view other cultures through a filter of superficiality. They don't realize that genuine happiness is ultimately a matter of inward wisdom, not outward comfort, convenience, or outward anything else. 
     This applies to the mainstream of American Buddhists also. The general trend is for Mammon to take supreme precedence, with Dharma or "God" modified into a kind of "app" that is compatible with extraverted worldliness. (Rather like Ambrose Bierce's definition of a Christian as "One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.") Dharma becomes, rather than a means to awakening, a way of sleeping more comfortably, of enhancing the quality of Samsara, a stress-reduction technique, a kind of natural substitute for Prozac. Thus even most meditating Buddhists don't know how to be happy—or else they do know, but are unwilling to endure the inconvenience of changing their outlook and lifestyle accordingly. Mammon the unenlightened extravert is still in charge. 
     (There are some people in the West, though, most of them not Buddhists, who seem to be very extraverted and outgoing, and also very happy. There really are some people like this, who aren't just faking it either, and I would guess that many of them, possibly most of them, are people who connect deeply with other people, which talent is actually a kind of introversion. A drunken sailor and a prostitute banging away in a back room of a brothel somewhere are obviously very connected outwardly, yet there may be two stone walls separating them inwardly, one his and one hers. He doesn't give a damn about her, and she doesn't give a damn about him; he's just getting his rocks off, and she's just getting some money, and neither of them is really happy. This kind of alienated "pseudo-connection" runs rampant in the West, and not just between drunken sailors and prostitutes—even married couples can be like this, and many are. Two intervening invisible walls close them off from each other. A real, deep connection or contact with another being happens inwardly; using touchy-feely lingo, it is a "heart connection." I still feel a deep connection with my father, even though he left his body (died) several years ago, which from a purely extraverted point of view would be impossible, since one of us, technically speaking, doesn't exist. A perfect introvert can love everybody.)
     Yet how does one explain that the "external world" is an externalized manifestation of our own mental states, and that fixing things on the outside is treating symptoms, not curing causes, when such an explanation is nonsense from an extraverted point of view? How does one demonstrate the fundamental limitations of Western mentality, when such a demonstration requires one to stand outside those limitations in order to see them? For that matter, how does one explain to members of a society whose politically correct ideals include curing all diseases, reducing infant mortality, eliminating food shortages, and increasing the mean lifespan, that these ideals, good and worthy in themselves, contribute to the basic trouble our Earth faces, which is the mainspring for almost all the rest, namely, grotesque overpopulation? How does one explain that dying is no worse than being born, and that death is just as necessary as life? How does one explain that only what is unreal dies? 
     Human hard-headedness being as it is, it may be, strangely, that the best we realistically can expect would be something like Lovelock's nightmare coming true, and all hell breaking loose sufficiently to slam some of us, against our will and our dislike of inconvenience, into a higher, wiser state of consciousness, so that we ourselves might become the benevolent, compassionate devas who save the human race. As the saying goes, "Man's extremity is gawd's opportunity." It may sound awful, and it would be "nice" if we could avoid it, but if it does happen that way, it will be worth it.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Three Enlightened Beings (???), part 3 (?)

     The post(s) on "Three Enlightened Beings" was originally intended to be a one-part account discussing current events, with a major theme of those events being my chronic exposure to information concerning three people in recent times who have claimed to be, or at least have implied with clearly understandable hints that they are, enlightened beings. But the repeated exposure to information on the same three people—the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (latterly known as Osho), Jed McKenna, and Paul Lowe—continued during my stay in Bali. Also, current events just keep on happening. It's weird. You'd think that current events would eventually be exhausted, considering how many of them have already happened, but they just keep on happening.  So the purpose of this post is to continue the mystery tale of enlightened beings walking among us, and to mention how I came to be typing this in an outbuilding of a Burmese temple in California. At the present moment, as I type this, there is a loud Burmese wedding reception going on right outside my door. The table with the wedding cake on it is actually blocking the entrance. Anyway, on with the story.

     …So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddie, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald…striking.
     So I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one—big hitter, the Lama—long, into a 10,000 foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier….
     So we finish the 18th and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."
     So I got that going for me, which is nice.

     Ha, actually that didn't really happen to me. I was just kidding. That's from the movie Caddyshack. I found it in a book called Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing, by Jed McKenna—or a person merely calling himself Jed McKenna. For the controversial nature of his earthly existence, please refer to part 2, posted last month.
     At the time that I wrote the first two parts of this saga I was in southern Bali, recovering from a bout of some kind of flu, or some such. During that time I was asked if I would give a Dharma talk to the Buddhist villagers of Baturiti, the place where the Chinese cemetery and my vacation hut are located. I said sure, but was unsure of what I should talk about. I was advised to keep it relatively simple, as the villagers do not know much more about Buddhism than basic morality and generosity. Before returning to the cemetery I was also asked to deliver a Dharma talk to some of the Western Buddhists of Ubud, and said sure to that too. Then I returned to the bamboo hut at the edge of the Chinese cemetery.
     By the time the day came for the talk for the villagers, I had decided to explain how Buddhism is different from all other major spiritual systems. It seemed reasonable to speak on such a fundamental theme, right? They would learn more about Buddhism, right? I went to the Dharma hall, sat down up front, on the stage, and began by mentioning how pretty much all religions teach the same basic ethical fundamentals: do good, don't do bad, tell the truth, don't steal, don't kick puppies, be generous to the poor, etc.; so, if people don't go beyond these basics, then it doesn't even matter all that much which religion they follow. The good villagers immediately started becoming confused, since of course the big thing with religious people is to belong to the right religion among all the wrong ones. Then I mentioned how Buddhism appears to be the only major religion that teaches anattā, or No Self—thus I informed the nice people that they don't really exist. They became more confused. Then I briefly mentioned Dependent Co-arising, which the Buddha himself couldn't teach effectively, and which, according to legend, almost caused him to keep his mouth shut about Dharma, since he felt that nobody would understand it. It's important though, and it is fundamental to Buddhism in particular, and although I glossed over it fairly quickly, by this time the villagers had blank looks on their faces and were getting rather fidgety. Even my interpreter was getting confused. Then I moved on to how karma is a mental state, so that "right" and "wrong" are dependent upon our own mind; and although this was firmer ground than was covered before, the audience was by this time already so used to being confused that they just stayed that way. It was a tough crowd. At the end of the talk I was reminded of an old Daffy Duck cartoon in which he's trying as hard as he can to impress the audience, and dances his heart out, and at the end he throws his arms out and looks expectantly at the crowd…and all one hears from them is the ticking of a clock at the back of the auditorium. The villagers remained friendly, though, and I explained that it's good to hear confusing stuff sometimes, because if you easily understand everything you hear, then it generally isn't very deep, and one doesn’t learn very much.
     The next day I went to Ubud to deliver the talk to the Ubud-dhists. I had a feeling it would be an easier talk, though deeper, which turned out to be the case. Considering that this was my first Dharma talk to this group, I spoke of my own spiritual history, more or less along the lines of the old post "The Middle Way of Mediocrity"—about how I tried as hard as I could, failed, threw up my arms in despair and gave up…and then made some real progress. Then I discussed how giving up is often instrumental to spiritual breakthroughs and awakenings, including, sometimes, allegedly, full enlightenment. 
     It has occurred to me that a major reason why strenuously striving to become enlightened, or to realize Ultimate Truth, or to become one with the Universe, or with God, generally doesn't work, and why giving up in despair sometimes does, is that "we" cannot possibly realize Reality, because "we" are not real! Like I told those villagers in Baturiti, "we" don't really exist. The whole concept or feeling of "I" is what is keeping us unenlightened in the first place. So giving up and letting it all go actually lets it happen on its own, without any idea of "I am striving for enlightenment" getting in the way. I mentioned Paul Lowe a few times in the talk, including his statement that if you want to become enlightened, want it with all your heart, without doing anything about it. Also I mentioned during the Q&A session afterwards that good old Jed McKenna claims to have become enlightened by trying obsessively, as hard as he could, to find the truth, and failing utterly; this failure caused a crash of his belief systems, including his belief in his own identity. When I mentioned his book Spiritual Enlightenment, a person in the group exclaimed, "Oh! That's the most horrible thing I've ever read in my life!" I still cannot rule out entirely the possibility that the book is some clever and cynical attack on spirituality in general. The person who had never read anything more horrible had essentially the same idea.
     There was one woman in the corner who was very quiet; I think she may have been the only person in the room who didn't ask any questions. When I was talking she sometimes would just lie on the floor in the corner of the room, listening. After the talk she approached me and told me that Paul Lowe, a person I have much respect for, is a personal friend of hers. She said she loves him dearly as a friend, but that he has let power go to his head and is not above manipulating people. Her implication seemed to be that Paul isn't enlightened, but acts and talks that way through ulterior motives. At the very least he lets people think that he is. I have mentioned before that Paul would be at or near a list of the people alive today who I consider to be possibly enlightened; and although his position on that list easily survived my discovery that he had been the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's top therapy group leader and spiritual right-hand man, the information given by the quiet woman nudged me into a feeling of barren, existential futility—a feeling that there simply is no enlightenment, and of course no enlightened beings, either. A person's saintliness may stand up to scrutiny, but not their perfected sagehood. Like it or not, everyone is stuck with an unenlightened ego. 
     Before moving on with the story, I'd like to discuss this strange situation of enlightened beings. First of all, as I've already suggested, "enlightened being" is already a paradoxical contradiction in terms, since an individual "being" is unenlightenment itself, the very thing, or illusion, obstructing enlightenment. So from a point of view which acknowledges the real existence of beings, there simply is no enlightenment; and not only is the person in Bali right about Paul Lowe, but nobody is enlightened at all. It's a matter of "when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he notices is his pockets"; an unenlightened person can see others only in an unenlightened way. We are living in a world of pickpockets. Even if a fool considers another person to be enlightened, the fool's idea of enlightenment is itself unenlightened, so the "enlightened being" is just a fool's version of a great sage, and no great sage at all. Even Paul, who has occasionally hinted that he has done what needs to be done, also sometimes states that there is no state of enlightenment. "This is it." 
     Here’s another way of looking at the paradox: If enlightenment entails, as ancient traditions claim, the complete eradication of ego and the total cessation of attraction, aversion, and semiconscious stupidity (lobha, dosa, and moha), then full enlightenment would appear to be an impossibility in this world, since human consciousness and the human brain evidently have inevitable worldly limitations. Yet if enlightenment entails simply transcending these phenomena, with the laws of limited human nature still taking their course, then damn near anyone could be an arahant. Enlightenment wouldn’t necessarily be apparent at all. One could have a foolish ego that one simply wasn’t identified with. There may be a middle way between these two extremes—it is to be expected in Dharma anyhow—but I don’t know what it is, or how to explain it, unless it is the panacea of mindfulness. In which case, anger could still arise, but the mindful arahant would be mindful of it, would not identify with it, and would thus not be caught up in the karma of it, thereby not going with it and creating more karma. But Jed McKenna claims in his first book that he is fully enlightened but not particularly mindful. Which either kicks McKenna’s enlightenment in the head or else the mindfulness theory of enlightenment—and it may be impossible to know which. Then again, maybe Mr. McKenna is mindful, but of “non-dual awareness,” not the body, the thoughts and feelings, or whatever. Then again, logically, it would seem that non-duality could not be an object, since objects require the dualistic equilibrium of subjects. The whole thing is a paradoxical mess.
     On the other hand, if the paradox can be transcended somehow, and enlightenment is possible, then with perfected vision an "enlightened being" looks around and sees that everyone is enlightened, sort of, maybe. As Paul of Tarsus wrote, "To the pure man all things are pure." It seems to me that the notion of some people being enlightened and others (the overwhelming majority) not being enlightened is itself an unenlightened, dualistic notion. So the whole thing is a mind-warping paradox, and I leave it for now. The head doesn't wrap around it, or the heart either. Best not to think about it too much…unless it results in despair and a breakdown of belief systems which results in…oh, let's just forget it.

one of my teachers (I can’t say if he’s enlightened)

     So immediately after the talk in Ubud, while people (including the cautionary friend of Paul Lowe) were talking with me, Nirgrantha the host gave me two more books by Jed McKenna(!). He also amassed from his library a little pile of books which he loaned to me. I'm not sure if I'll ever read the McKenna books, unless it's in an Asian forest where I have nothing better to do (although I am curious about his theory on Moby-Dick, since I've been sorely tempted for years to write an article describing my own theory); but one book in particular I was instantly interested in: The God That Failed (St. Martin's Press, 1986) by Hugh Milne, formerly known as Swami Shivamurti, Rajneesh's personal bodyguard. It's a "whistleblower" kind of book about the Bhagwan, and the organization he founded.
     So now I know a lot more about Osho. For example, my impression that he probably got first pick of all the pretty sannyasins is apparently totally true, as Mr. Milne claims that the Bhagwan had "special darshans" with young females frequently (like twice or more per day), in addition to a more or less permanent British mistress. As for how the Bhagwan could be so mesmerizing to his disciples, the author says this:
Many people have asked me how a sensible, independent person could be mesmerised by someone like Bhagwan. The answer, as many sannyasins would agree, is that once you had been affected by his energy and experienced the sensation of being touched by it, you knew that there was nothing like it, no bliss to compare with it.
What was it about Bhagwan that attracted people so? He was undoubtedly very confident in himself and of what he was saying. He was intensely, almost overpoweringly, charismatic, a most persuasive orator and no mean magician….He himself did seem to be enlightened, but then, as I reminded myself, I had nothing whatsoever to compare him with….In the darshan sessions I had no doubt that he was a healer, a mind reader, a clairvoyant, a soothsayer, and the wisest man I had ever met.
It may be, though, that in addition to the charisma, mystique, apparent psychic powers, and large, dark, penetrating eyes, one thing which drew people to him, and to many other spiritual teachers like Amma and Neem Karoli Baba, was the feeling, mentioned by Milne elsewhere in the book, that this person accepted his disciples with absolutely unconditional love, knowing everything about them yet wholeheartedly accepting them anyway. In this world, that is rare to the point of being priceless.   
     Although I found Milne's book very informative, I cannot consider him to be a very objective observer of what he wrote about. From the beginning he seemed to have a very subjective, rather "New Age" way of experiencing the world, and as his experience with the Bhagwan soured, he became, as the book progressed, more and more bitter and derogatory, seemingly biased against the Rajneesh organization to justify his break with it. But then again, it is practically impossible to find information about Rajneesh that isn't biased one way or the other.
     One idea I've had about the Bhagwan for years is that, although he may have really been operating at a higher level of consciousness, and may really have had psychic powers such as seeing into the minds of others, a higher level of consciousness is not necessarily a sign of goodness. A monkey, for instance, is at a higher level of consciousness than a sheep; yet a monkey is much naughtier than a sheep. In the Buddhist cosmos Māra, the Buddhist "devil," is a very advanced being, living in the highest deva realm. The Christian Lucifer also is an angel, albeit a fallen one. So I suppose Osho may have been like this: a naughty monkey among sheep.
     What especially interested me in Milne's book was his comments on Swami Anand Teertha, better known nowadays as Paul Lowe. I can't help but like Paul’s style, even though (or partly because) he was such a lustful swami in the old days. Maybe he still is, although he is well into his 80’s, age-wise. Once the Bhagwan ordered Teertha to become celibate; and according to Milne, "Teertha's interpretation of this edict was to restrict himself to prolific digital manipulation of his female group participants." Also, the author says that "Teertha's group was not for the fainthearted," and that "Teertha's natural propensity to push people beyond their limits of self-control led to many broken bones and other injuries." Swami Teertha reportedly experienced at least two broken bones himself, one from a jealous girlfriend trying to break his head, but only managing to break an arm, and one apparently from a guy totally losing it when required, as an advanced exercise in detachment, to watch another man having sex with his own mate. (I laugh.) Although Shivamurti and Teertha had their ups and downs, Shiva/Milne admits to having deep respect for Teertha/Lowe and calls him "one of the most insightful of human beings."
     I may as well add, before moving on, that the friend of Paul Lowe who warned me about his shortcomings also mentioned that Paul's "method" of pushing the limits of “normality” and encouraging a kind of moral anarchy tends to work only for those who have strong and independent minds, but that weaker people, and those who become emotionally dependent upon the method or the teacher, often become more messed up than they were before, seemingly addicted to the chaos of the method. I would like to think that I would be strong and independent enough to prosper with the artificial stabilizers kicked away. But who knows.
     Another book about Osho which Nirgrantha lent me was Don't Kill Him!: the story of my life with Bhagwan Rajneesh, by the notorious Ma Anand Sheela, who spent a few years in prison for attempted murder, etc. Considering that practically everything I know about her supports the notion that she is untrustworthy and rather egomaniacal, I wasn't much interested in the book, especially after seeing how she attempted to whitewash her character completely, claiming total innocence of any wrongdoing, or else claiming that what little wrongdoing she did engage in was as a dutiful puppet of the Bhagwan. I don't like being lied to, so I had an intuitive dislike for the book. Again, mainly I was interested in comments about my hero Teertha. According to Sheela, he was a selfish, greedy, obnoxious ass who would have sex with any woman. But her attitude, and her book, are far from unbiased. Furthermore, Teertha may have progressed since then.
     To top all the confusion off, Nirgrantha himself, who had told me previously that the Bhagwan, in his opinion, wasn't enlightened, subsequently retracted that judgement, in favor of the ambiguity which reigns supreme over such matters anyhow. The subject of enlightened beings is somewhat like a big conspiracy theory—we'll never really know the all details of the JFK assassination, or the 9/11 disaster, and we'll likewise never really know whether this or that person really was or is enlightened, whatever "enlightened" even means.
     The talk in Ubud went so well that I was invited to lead a meditation retreat, and to become a teacher of the group (possibly even "the" teacher, according to Nirgrantha); and Nirgrantha even mentioned the possibility of putting my picture on his "spiritual hall of fame" wall, along with photos of Rajneesh, H. H. the Dalai Lama, Joseph Goldstein, his friend Ram Dass cooking eggs, and I don't remember who else. That was flattering.
     After the talk, before going back to the cemetery, I spent a few days at my friend Tony's little art gallery paradise (described in earlier installments of this narrative). At one point he mentioned that what really sells in art nowadays is "death and pornography." So I suppose any artist who specializes in naked dead people could really make it big. One highlight of that visit, which highlights the difference of the Western mentality from the Asian, is my repeated requests, finally realized, for a "frog ladder" to be installed in the fish pond in his little garden of Eden. Frogs would jump in and be unable to get back out again. I notice these things. So Bhima and Uma, the two young adult family members, built a little ramp to satisfy me. It was nice, but I informed them that it would be illegal in America, because it had no hand rail for safety. I'm hoping the hand rail will be installed by my next visit.
     To make a long story a little longer, I spent another week in Bali, and gave several more Dharma talks to sophisticated Indonesian city dwellers. I was beginning to scratch my head in the effort to come up with something to talk about that I hadn't already talked about, until I realized that it's probably better to talk about the same themes repeatedly. If it's important, people should hear it more than once, and we don't have very good memories anyway. I can repeat myself and people don't even realize it. Then I came to the USA for the big challenge. 
     On my first Sunday in America I went to my friend Aaron's home for swun, or monk food, which he and his Burmese wife generously offered. After the meal Aaron wanted us to watch a documentary on YouTube about Buddhism in ancient Gandhara, and how ancient Greek culture has affected modern Buddhism. The thing is that the documentary was originally in French, and when people are interviewed who do not speak English, and there are many of them, there is no translation. So I came up with the brilliant idea of turning on the YouTube CC subtitles. It so happens that the subtitles are generated automatically by a computer—so if someone doesn't speak English very clearly, like the British narrator for instance, the subtitles became very strange. The Buddha was continually called "the border," the Sakya tribe the "suck your tribe," the Kushan Empire alternated between the "koosh on Empire" and the "Tucson Empire," etc. But when people not speaking English began talking, all hell broke loose in Aaron's peaceful home: The subtitle generator did not realize that these good folks were not speaking English, and came up with subtitles that had Aaron and me laughing like fiends. (I realize that a monk should not laugh in public—there's actually a rule against it—but this was hilarious.) It was like watching a documentary and a comedy simultaneously. To give a typical example, at one point a central Asian townsman is interviewed, and says, in all seriousness, 
Money and the yo shit got Hyjal it was P going all out I was looking for locations earned a young man must suck it up men who nah no kids even allowed a movie ended with all the love go to work younger we do you all when the gunman on a router I don't know I know that.
At times like that, or when I'm trying to have a video chat with the screen continually freezing or the sound breaking off, I feel like we are still living in a technologically primitive age. Anyway, I highly recommend the documentary, which is right here. And don't forget to turn on the CC. Even the serious stuff is interesting. For example, did you know that there are ancient images of the Buddha carved with Hercules standing next to him?  I've read elsewhere that the deified Hercules and the bodhisattva Vajrapani eventually merged into the same being.
     While I was still in Bali a member of the Western Vipassana group sent me a link to a long interview with Adyashanti, yet another Western person who claims to be, or at least implies that he is, enlightened. I finally watched it here in California, and was unsettled a little by the eerie similarity of some of what he says to what Jed McKenna says…although venerable Adya appears not to be an egomaniac. It may be no coincidence that several of his pictures came up on a Google Images search for Jed McKenna—with none coming up of Jed himself. What he (Adya) says makes near-perfect sense, like so many of the others; although I consider it rather incongruous, or counterintuitive, that an enlightened being would say "sort of" so many times, sometimes two or three times in one sentence. And in one podcast of his that I watched he appeared to be nervous at the beginning of the talk. Would an enlightened being get nervous before a public appearance? Who the hell knows! Anyway, the interview is well worth watching, and can be viewed by clicking on this. Then another person sent me a video of Rupert Spira, who is yet another Western person who appears to be enlightened. So now they're coming thick and fast, and we're wading through a greater confusion of possibly enlightened beings than before, so I'd better just stop. The situation is getting out of hand.
     In conclusion though, I would like to give some advice: Don't think about whether or not you are enlightened. First of all, it might not mean anything at all here in Samsara. But even if it does, thinking "I am not enlightened" simply reinforces it; and thinking "I am enlightened" is something that any respectable arahant would never do, except in scriptures. Don't even think about being enlightened in the future, because it just creates more separation. We can't understand it by thinking about it anyway. 

APPENDIX: Some Computer-Generated Poetry

Following is a monologue supposedly delivered by a French scholar, on the captioned version of Eurasia: Gandhara, The Renaissance of Buddhism. I think it could really be publishable in some modern or postmodern poetry journal. Completely unpretentious, completely unselfconscious, completely unaffected.

The and also dust 
Doofus ocean hull of the ku ku ku 
This too but he so often a the match 
Scheck buy nor yet do 
Plywood cut discern so so did the net to 
Who shot an example wayyy her
The path to do to them booed up or via computer 
Miss you the mattress giant 
Chandana muddy pit and for that the the flow
Laugh am less so
The same issue key airlift Tia 
I'm ap booked love Joe so they occur the firm 
Don't ever present this your who shone dogged on the Administaff  
Above bruised up is open to the miss you EC 
You note for me to live as the move for me have a cam 
And Jean MacPhee the empty pass crucial 
He says he and one is not an otaku sir.