Saturday, September 28, 2013

Returning to the Lesson

And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would like to say to you
But I don't know how   
     (—from "Wonderwall," by Oasis)

Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.

     One of the very few blogs that I read is "The Fine Art of Living on a Motorcycle," authored by a friend of mine who is essentially a homeless wanderer, riding his motorcycle back and forth across America and making his way by twisting balloons, dancing, and enjoying the generosity of friends and strangers. In a recent post he describes how he was at a gas station, and a Christian minister accosted him. When he learned that my friend had just left a Buddhist monastery, he became enraged, and delivered what Kai called the most "aggressive verbal assault" he had ever experienced, so much so that he was literally afraid for his life. The minister knew little about Buddhism, and seemed to equate it with devil worship. As he was shouting Kai managed to get in a polite, "May you have a beautiful life and find peace," whereupon the other fellow shouted, "Don't you go acting pious with me! I am giving you the truth!"
     Kai reflected that the man's approach was hardly effective at converting him to "the truth"; in fact it did not reflect well on the man's religious attitude at all. But after all, we're only human.
     I mention this because recently I also have experienced something along these lines, although in a somewhat less violent form. Several weeks ago I posted the by now infamous and notorious "Let This Be a Lesson," actually believing that the posting of it could be beneficial to someone. There were many reasons why I posted it, including the honest desire to let those who support me know who it is they are supporting; but one main reason for it was to show that being human is OK, with all our blemishes and frailties, and that we shouldn't be afraid to admit who we really are…even if the results are painful. I consider that to be potentially a very valuable message. However, it raised a hue and cry of condemnation, sometimes hostile and spiteful condemnation, from almost all directions. Ironically, the message of "don't be afraid to admit who you are" was rejected by most of these people to the extent that they expressed their hostility anonymously. Even a relatively sympathetic reader, a German monk who I had some correspondence with many years ago, compared me to a child molester and to Hermann Göering, Adolf Hitler's second in command. Another person, an anonymous one who was possibly also a monk, went so far as to consign me to hell. And all because I admitted to being fascinated by females, to have fallen deeply in love with one (although without going to the extreme of "consummating" that love physically, so as to excommunicate myself from the Sangha), and not to have felt significant remorse over it.

The author attending to the comments section of his blog

     Some of my critics were friends or acquaintances of the Priestess, more than half of them heart-oriented females, who knew who I was writing about and thoroughly disapproved of my relative disregard for her privacy. That is understandable, as that point was the main ethical issue I grappled with before posting it.
     More of the accusers disapproved of my not living up to the standards that monks are supposed to live up to. That also is easily understandable, though perhaps not extremely realistic.
     A few people, also mostly female I would guess, condemned me for abusing my authority as a teacher, or abusing a supposed "power differential" between us. I consider this kind of stuff to be mainly a politically correct rant—if such ideas weren't in fashion in the West nowadays, these people in all likelihood wouldn't have said a word about it. Really, the whole notion of a "power differential" implies that one of the participants in the interaction is somehow inferior, at least with regard to power; and I never considered the Priestess to be inferior. (Also, from a material point of view I was under her power, as she was sheltering and feeding me at the time.)
     But the strange one for me was that many, including some of the more hostile ones, vehemently disapproved of my lack of remorse after the fact. I was even informed that some senior ajahns were "creeped out" by it. This never ceases to strike me as ironic.
     It is a shame that a renegade and villain such as myself should have to teach good Theravada Buddhists their own religion, but the fact is, as I've said numerous times before, that regret and remorse (kukkucca) are always an unskillful mental state, and just make a situation worse than it already is. As one fellow reminded me—and his comment was probably the one that sank in deepest—scruples of conscience should occur before one does the deed in order for it to be skillful. That is when I'm inspired to feel more conscience (hiri-ottappa) nowadays, partly thanks to him.
     Also, of course, venting hostility and spite at another person, even if it is done anonymously, qualifies as harsh speech, which is a form of wrong speech. I have to be careful of that one myself, especially at times of great frustration.
     Another aspect of Buddhist philosophy that it is human nature to ignore is that every experience we have, pleasant or painful, is ultimately the fruition of our own karma, and thus literally our own doing. This may be rejected by those who believe more in scientific realism ("Scientism") than in Dhamma, but I am not one of those. The world we live in is a creation of our own mind; and if we don't like what we see or hear, well, we have no one to blame but ourselves (although it's best not to blame anybody). As Eckhart Tolle has said, to blame the world around us is like looking into a mirror and blaming our own reflection. The world is the mirror of our mind, and I exist in your world because you have created me. As the Priestess used to say, everything exists because there's a need for it. So in some strange, subconscious way, you need me bothering you. But, as I say, that's a very easy teaching to ignore, and I also ignore it plenty sometimes.

     Conflict is with our own reflection
     Needless to say, I'm no Jesus, or Socrates, or Giordano Bruno, or Benedict Spinoza, but a vaguely similar principle is noticeable between their lives and mine: they met with great difficulties largely as a result of challenging the status quo of their society. Spinoza was lucky—he simply died in poverty and obscurity, despite his great genius (although it is said a Jewish community in Spain tried to kill him by laying a biblical curse on him). Giordano Bruno not only dared to agree with Copernicus and Galileo about the earth going around the sun, he hypothesized that the sun was just a star, and that there were countless worlds in the universe, not just one. He was burned at the stake by the Holy Inquisition. (Incidentally, when condemned to the flames he is said to have replied to his judges, "Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.") Socrates was sentenced to death by a democratic majority because he was a self-proclaimed gadfly who audaciously pointed out that conventional wisdom wasn't very wise at all (with plenty of ironical insistence that the people he was making fools of were much wiser than he was). The story of Jesus of Nazareth being nailed to a cross at the insistence of his own people is too familiar to require a detailed account here; although I will say that I wouldn't be surprised if his repeated denunciations of the hypocritical Pharisees (which naturally inflamed their hatred) were the effect of sheer frustration with his failure to get his point across. It was mainly after these men were already dead that people started realizing that what they said was largely valid. Again, I'm certainly no Jesus, or even Spinoza, but history shows that people who challenge established norms usually don't fare very well. Especially if they don't manage to do it with love in their heart, but sometimes even if they do.
     B. F. Liddell-Hart says in his military textbook Strategy: The Indirect Approach,
History bears witness to the vital part that the 'prophets' have played in human progress—which is evidence of the ultimate practical value of expressing unreservedly the truth as one sees it. Yet it also becomes clear that the acceptance and spreading of their vision has always depended on another class of men—'leaders' who had to be philosophical strategists, striking a compromise between truth and men's receptivity to it….The prophets must be stoned; that is their lot, and the test of their self-fulfillment.
And even though it may be grossly unpopular, I still say that it is OK to be genuinely, unhypocritically oneself. Concealing one's inability (or just unwillingness) to live up to a politically correct ideal is practically a guarantee for living a dishonest life. And trying to live up to the aforementioned ideal is almost as dishonest.
    Anyway, in conclusion, I would like to add that I'm still not sorry that I had the relationship with the Priestess. It was without question the most spiritual, intensely profound love relationship of my life, regardless of any "power differential," etc., and I am glad that we had our time together, and I still love her. I am sorry that it didn't work out, although I obviously can live with that. But one or two people pointed out in their comments that child molesters may make similar statements. And romantic love is nothing but craving and delusion, supposedly.
     I do hope that "Let This Be a Lesson" has inspired at least two people to try eye gazing meditation. It's really lovely.

I just can't resist including this one...
(or anyhow choose not to resist...)


  1. Quoting Wonderwall by Oasis is an affront to any sentient being with ears and is punishable in most civilized countries. I propose you go back to your cave in Burma for another decade and think about your error.

    1. But that's about the only song I like by them. :-) I remember once waking up in a cave in Burma with "Four Sticks" by Led Zeppelin pounding through my head. It lasted for about two days.