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...)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Brief Account of the Holy Life

     There is nothing in this universe which has the ability to completely satisfy us. Thus nobody in the world, except possibly for an enlightened being, maybe, is really satisfied in life. This general dissatisfaction is the driving force of what is called "progress": the idea that if we change this and that, then we'll be satisfied—but that is an illusion (one of the many illusions on which Western culture is based). Even if we do experience some satisfaction, it doesn't last very long. And the desire for complete satisfaction results in even greater dissatisfaction. This is called dukkha.
     Closely related to this principle of chronic, universal dissatisfaction or unease is the fact that nothing in this universe is totally reliable. In other words, we can't rely on anything to keep us happy, or safe, or comfortable. But even so, we stubbornly keep searching for something on which we can rely.
     We often start out with sensual pleasures, but it doesn't take a genius or an extremely sensitive person to see that sensuality doesn't deeply satisfy us, but often has the opposite effect in the long run. 
     By searching we eventually realize that sense pleasures are not reliable; youth and health are not reliable; money is not reliable; property is not reliable; technological progress is not reliable; social status is not reliable; friends are not reliable; romantic love is not reliable; our own parents and family are not reliable (as the Pali texts so poignantly tell us); teachers are not reliable; books are not reliable; philosophical points of view (including scientific points of view) are not reliable; good works are not reliable; formalized ethical systems are not reliable; religious faith is not reliable; renunciation is not reliable; spiritual techniques are not reliable; meditation is not reliable; even the highest attainable contemplative states are not reliable—ultimately, even we ourselves are not reliable. We cannot rely even upon our inmost selves to keep us, or anyone else, happy. We finally realize, if we are fortunate, possibly after many decades or even countless rebirths, that nothing is truly reliable. Nothing at all in this entire universe.
     Upon realizing this stark fact, this inconvenient reality, we let go of the stuff to which we had been clinging, and stop trying to rely upon it: first with disgust and disillusionment perhaps, then with dispassion, and finally with penetrating insight. By not relying on anything, we become non-reliant, or in other words we become independent—we become free. This is Liberation, Nirvana. After that, we can do as we please.
     But it seems first we have to do the searching, and fail, and know that we have failed. Good luck to all of you in your failing search.



Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pointless Potthila

     "…This is why most people who have studied a lot and become monks never get anywhere. Their knowledge is of a different kind, on a different path….The knowledge of the Buddha is not worldly knowledge, it is supramundane knowledge, a different way altogether."—Venerable Ajahn Chah

     Now for a refreshing (or boring?) change of pace: An article about mainstream, relatively uncontroversial Theravada Buddhist doctrine.
     There is a well-known story in the commentary to the Dhammapada, the legend of Tuccha Poṭṭhila, explaining the origin of verse 282 of that text. It is well-known to Burmese Buddhists anyway; many Western Buddhists may be unfamiliar with it. So I present a translation of it here, based on the Burmese Sixth Council version of the commentary:

     "Indeed, by spiritual practice…" This Dhamma instruction was spoken by the Teacher while residing at Jetavana, with regard to an Elder named Poṭṭhila.
     It is said that he was a master of the Tipiaka in the dispensations of the seven [most recent] Buddhas, and taught Dhamma to five hundred monks. The Teacher considered, "For this monk there is no thought of 'I will make an escape from suffering.' I will stir him up." So from then on whenever the Elder came to attend on him, he would say, "Come, pointless Poṭṭhila. Bow, pointless Poṭṭhila. Sit down, pointless Poṭṭhila. You may leave, pointless Poṭṭhila." And when he had gotten up and left, he would say, "Pointless Poṭṭhila has gone." 
     He considered, "I have memorized the Commentaries and the three Piakas; I teach Dhamma to five hundred monks in eighteen great assemblies; and still the Teacher continually says to me 'Pointless Poṭṭhila.' The teacher must be saying it on account of my non-development in meditation." With a sense of urgency stirred in him he thought, "Now, I'll enter a forest and will carry out the Way of a [true] philosopher." So secretly having gotten his bowl and robes together, in the early morning he set out with the monk who was last of all to learn his Dhamma studies. Those sitting in the monastery enclosure repeating their lessons did not notice that he was their master.
     Having traveled a journey of 120 yojanas [roughly a thousand miles], he arrived at a forest residence where thirty monks were residing; and having approached them, and having bowed to the Elder monk of the Community there, he said, "Venerable Sir, please be my refuge."
     "Friend, you are a teacher of Dhamma. It is we who could learn something by being in dependence on you. Why do you talk like this?"
     "Don't make it out like that, Venerable Sir. Please be my refuge."
     Really, all of them were with encumbering influences exhausted [khīāsavā, i.e., liberated, enlightened]. Then that great Elder considered, "There is pride [māno] in this one on account of his learning," and sent him to a less senior Elder. That one spoke to him in the same way. In this same manner every one of them passed him on, till he was sent at last to the most junior of them all, a seven-year-old novice sitting in a well-lighted workplace doing some sewing.
     With his pride humbled, he respectfully held up his joined hands to the novice and said, "Good man, please be my refuge."
     "Oh Master, why are you saying this? You are a very learned senior monk. It is I who should learn something in your presence."
     "Don't do like this, good man. Please be my refuge!"
     "Venerable Sir, if you will be willing to accept admonishment, then I will be your refuge."
     "I am, good man. If I am told, 'Go into a fire,' then I will even go into a fire."
     Then he pointed out to him a pond not far away: "Venerable Sir, fully dressed as you are, go into that pond." Although knowing that he was dressed up in a very valuable double-thickness robe, he said this checking to see if he was indeed willing to accept admonishment. The Elder, immediately upon the novice saying this, waded into the water. Then when the edges of his robes were wet, immediately upon being told, "Come, Venerable Sir," he came and stood before him.
     "Venerable Sir, say there is a termite mound with six openings. Now, by one of these openings a monitor lizard has gotten inside. Someone wanting to catch it would close off five of the openings and leave the sixth one open, and would catch it right at this opening that it had entered. Even so, you, with regard to the six sense doors, having closed five of the doors, tend to your work at the door of the mind."     
     To the learned monk, just this much was like the blazing up of a lamp. He said, "Let that be enough, good man," and, knowledge having descended into his karma-born body, he undertook the Way of a philosopher.
     The Teacher, even sitting at a distance of 120 yojanas, observed that monk and having considered, "This monk, in order to be of broad understanding, ought to have something by which to apply himself," emitted a beam of light which spoke to him this verse:

     yogā ve jāyati bhūri / ayogā bhūrisakhayo
     eta dvedhpatha ñatvā / bhavāya vibhavāya ca
     tathāttāna niveseyya / yathā bhūri pavaḍḍhati
     Indeed, from spiritual practice broadmindedness arises; 
          From non-practice broadmindedness diminishes.
     Having understood this twofold way
          Of development and non-development
     One should thereby establish oneself
          So that broadmindedness will advance.

…At the conclusion of this teaching Poṭṭhila the Elder became established in the state of an Arahant.
~     ~     ~
A few comments:
     This story is very anachronistic, and is hardly likely to represent actual history. For example, there is mention of seven Buddhas; and, more obviously, mention of a Tipitaka existing even during the lifetime of Gotama Buddha himself, and even commentaries. Also, it seems unlikely that the venerable Elder would walk a thousand miles to meditate in a forest. Forests were pretty easy to find in India in those days. Furthermore, the Dhammapada itself is considered by Western scholars to be a relatively late addition to the Pali Canon. But even so, the subject matter of the tale is of interest; and a story doesn't have to be objective history in order to be potentially useful.
     The word "pointless" is a makeshift translation of the Pali word tuccha, which literally means empty, like an empty pot or an empty hand. But emptiness has rather positive connotations in Buddhist philosophy, and I certainly wouldn't want to denigrate someone for being empty. "Vain" also might be appropriate, but it might sound like ven. Poṭṭhila was stuck on himself or overly concerned with his appearance. "Pointless" seems to come pretty close to the intended meaning of "lacking what is essential." "Futile" might come close to the mark also.
     One may see that the word for "spiritual practice" in the Dhammapada verse is yoga. Here it means mainly meditation, not sun salutations and other physical practices associated with that word in the West.
     The main interest of the story, aside from the messages that scholarship is not the Way, and that humility is a beneficial virtue, is the meditation instruction given by the enlightened little novice. One of the main purposes of sitting in meditation in a quiet place is to reduce stimulation of the five grosser senses so that one may more easily observe the movements of the mind. If practiced skillfully, directing one's attention to the mind may be deeper and more subtle than, say, observing bodily sensations like the touch of air at the nostrils. In Pali this kind of meditation is generally called cittānupassanā, reflecting upon the mind. Sometimes I call it "third gear," with first and second being variations on ānāpāna, or mindfulness of breathing. 
     There is a fourth gear, however, that is deeper and more subtle yet—observing the mind is still a deliberate process of observing; it is volitional, and therefore still karmic. The next step is to relax the mind completely while remaining very alert, without deliberately focusing on anything in particular. By not excluding anything, but keeping everything in the field of consciousness equally in focus, one reaches a profound state that the Catholic Christians have called "high contemplation." Different Buddhists call it different things. If one can practice it well it is an indescribable blessing.
     However, no technique in particular is really necessary. If it works for you, then do it; and if not, then try something else. The important thing is to tend toward clearer consciousness, and the rest tends to take care of itself.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cynicism (Especially the Old-Fashioned Kind)

"True happiness is regarded as the goal and final aim in the philosophy of the Cynics, as well as in every other philosophy. But this happiness consists in our living according to nature, and not according to the opinions of the crowd."—(Julian "The Apostate," the last Pagan emperor of Rome)

     A few months ago a fellow paid me a strange compliment—he said he had always liked Diogenes and the Greek Cynic philosophers, and that I was the closest thing on the Internet, that he knew of, to "Diogenes incarnate." This was kind of flattering considering that when I was a teenager, before discovering Ram Dass and Eastern philosophy, Diogenes the Cynic was one of my heroes and role models. I didn't know that much about him, and hadn't studied classical Cynicism much, and still haven't, but there's not much to study anyway. Not a single treatise written by an ancient Cynic philosopher survived the book burnings of the Christianized late Roman Empire and the collapse of Western civilization that followed it. But upon reflection, it does seem to me that since returning to America in 2011 I have been drifting more and more toward resembling an ancient Cynic, and less and less toward resembling a classical Theravada Buddhist bhikkhu. This has not been deliberate, or complete, but it has happened.
     This is not entirely a bad thing. The Cynics were about as close to wandering Buddhist samanas as Western classical antiquity ever saw; and besides, Diogenes was an interesting guy. According to the historian Will Durant, he was the second most famous man in Greece in his day—only Alexander the Great was more of a celebrity. But that was in a very different culture than ours.
     For those of you who received an education which omitted premodern thought, Diogenes, according to the tales of him, began his career as a banker in the Greek colony city of Sinope (now Sinop, on the Black Sea coast of Turkey), and was run out of town because he allegedly was criminally minting coins of inferior quality. When upbraided for this in later years he would calmly reply that it was this that resulted in his embracing philosophy in the first place. He moved to Athens and allegedly became a follower of Antisthenes, considered by tradition to be the first Cynic philosopher, who was in turn a disciple of Socrates. According to legend Antisthenes drove Diogenes away with blows, but he kept coming back for more till the beatings finally ceased. Diogenes lived in a derelict tub on the outskirts of a temple compound, owned almost nothing, went barefoot even in winter, and begged for his food in the streets. He also taught there, and did pretty much everything else there. One of the most famous stories about him is that he walked through the streets of Athens with a lit lamp in broad daylight, looking, he said, for a true man—a genuine human being. At one point he was captured by pirates at sea and sold as a slave. While he was at the auction block he pointed out a rich Corinthian man walking by and said to his vendor, "Sell me to that man; he looks like he needs a master." The rich man bought him and put him in charge of educating his children. While he was thus living in Corinth, Alexander the Great, who enjoyed hanging out with philosophers, came to visit him. Diogenes was lying on the ground sunning himself at the time. After some conversation Alexander was impressed by the philosopher and offered him anything he wanted: Diogenes simply replied, "Stand out of my light," as Alexander was blocking his sun. As Alexander walked away he is said to have said, "If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes."
     It is said that the Cynics got their name because people considered them to resemble dogs (κύων, kyon, is the old Greek word for "dog"); although their behavior was rather different from the canine ascetics described in the ancient Buddhist texts. The fundamental premise of Cynic philosophy was that the greatest happiness results from living in harmony with nature—but for the Western "canine" philosophers this did not mean going around naked on all fours, eating and drinking without the aid of their hands, and refraining from human speech, as was reportedly the situation in India. Nature for them meant human nature, which included walking upright, wearing clothes, speaking, and also exercising reason. It also included sexuality, since this is obviously a very basic aspect of human nature. Despite their austerity in most respects, the Cynics considered sexuality to be a fundamental natural urge, much like the urge for food or sleep. It is said that Laïs, one of the most beautiful and renowned hetairas in Greece (a hetaira being a high-class courtesan) rented her charms to Diogenes for a very much-reduced fee, largely because she liked the idea of such a famous sage bowing down at her altar to the Goddess of Love, so to speak.
     A concise synopsis of the Cynical situation, one aspect of it at least, may be found in this extract from an essay by Jules Evans:
     "Diogenes claimed that civilised values make us sick. They make us excessively anxious about what other people think of us. As a result, we put all our energy into tending our public masks or personae, while hiding away any parts of us that might be deemed shameful or ugly, even if they’re perfectly natural. Civilisation demands we scrub and prune out any wilder bits of our nature. But we end up becoming false, inauthentic beings, china dolls rather than whole persons.  
     "Diogenes attacked and defaced this false morality of appearances. He broke down the wall between the public and private selves, and insisted that anything we are happy to do in private we should be happy to do in public as well. Diogenes lived in public, in his barrel. He slept in public, ate in public, defecated in public, even masturbated in public. This was an aggressive assertion of his freedom from civilised conventions and his preference for a life ‘in accordance with nature’ rather than with false civilised values. These animal antics earned him the name Diogenes Kynikos, or Diogenes the Dog-like."          
As the spiritual teacher Paul Lowe (who may be somewhat of a Cynic himself) has said, once we submit to living according to other people's conditions, we enslave ourselves to their neuroses. This is true in a relationship of two people or in a neurotic society at large.

Raphael's Diogenes

       Although the Cynics could hardly be said to have a school, as each of them was a nonconformist individual, a basic outline of their position could include the "three alphas": autarkeia τάρκεια, or independence); askēsis (σκησις, or ascetic discipline); and anaideia (ναίδεια, or shamelessness). This absence of shame, especially when combined with the acceptance of natural sexuality aforementioned, was occasionally taken to some strange extremes. The Cynic philosopher Crates is said to have had sex with his wife Hipparchia (a Cynic philosopher in her own right) in public; and on one occasion when Diogenes was rebuked for unconcealed masturbating, he calmly observed that it was a pity that he couldn't relieve his feelings of hunger similarly, by rubbing his belly.
     Another fundamental of classical Cynicism was parrhēsia (παῤῥησία), free and frank speech. According to the anecdotes, once when someone asked Diogenes "What is the most excellent thing among men?" his answer was "Parrhēsia." 
     This free and frank speech, naturally, was a vehicle for biting social commentary, as well as some plain old smart-assery. One time Diogenes was orating in a public place, but nobody was attending, so he began whistling. When a crowd started gathering around him to gawk, he reproached them for ignoring philosophy but being attracted to silliness. Once, upon being rebuked for drinking in a tavern, he replied that he also got his hair cut in a barbershop. Encountering a very unskillful archer doing target practice, he sat down right next to the target, saying that he wanted to be out of harm's way. He occasionally begged from statues, and when asked why, he said it was in order to grow used to being refused. One day when he was eating in the marketplace (which was socially unacceptable in ancient Athens) some bystanders repeatedly called him Dog, whereupon he said, "It is you who are the dogs, who stand around me while I am at dinner." And once when someone asked him why people give alms to ordinary beggars but not to mendicant philosophers, he answered, "Because they think they might one day become lame or blind, but never expect that they will turn to philosophy."
     William Blake once wrote, "Always be willing to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you." Actually, pretty much everybody will avoid you. Free and frank speech is frowned upon in civilized society; but the usual alternatives are phoniness and damn lies. Returning to the wisdom of Paul Lowe, he once observed that if everyone suddenly began saying what they really felt, the whole world would explode into chaos…but after a couple of weeks, when the fallout had settled a bit, society would find itself at a higher level of consciousness. But most people fear this higher level, this most excellent thing, and don't want it. That includes most Buddhists.
     Anyway, as has already been mentioned, I have been leaning in a Cynical direction. Who knows, maybe in a previous life I leaned more officially that way. However, I am still a Buddhist, and do not live entirely in harmony with nature; for example I still eat only once a day, between dawn and noon. Actually, it seems to me that nature hasn't intended for us to be happy. Pain and suffering are tools Mother Nature uses to compel us to do her bidding, i.e. to remain alive long enough to reproduce our DNA sequences. But even the ancient Cynics realized this to some degree: they considered the natural life, with few possessions and comforts, to be more happy than an unnatural one, but they didn't even hope for a complete end to suffering, unless maybe it occurred at death. As Arthur Schopenhauer said of them:
     "Thus they started from the insight that the motions into which the will is put by the objects that stimulate and stir it, and the laborious and often frustrated efforts to attain them, or the fear of losing them when they are attained, and finally also the loss itself, produce far greater pains and sorrows than the want of all these objects ever can."
     When I was young and Diogenes was my hero, I rebelled against society. I no longer rebel against it; now I'm content just to renounce it, more or less. It seems madness and futility to rebel against 99.99% of the human race. I'm willing to let society be. I don't really rebel against the Bhikkhu Sangha either, although I renounced that institution also, more or less, when I was still a young monk, still not at my peak of strictness, after realizing that more than 95% of bhikkhus don't seriously practice Dhamma or Vinaya (and that is not an exaggeration). For years I avoided the company of other monks whenever it was convenient to do so. But now, in my less fanatical maturity perhaps, I'm willing to let the Bhikkhu Sangha be also, and am more willing to associate with my colleagues in that organization, whether or not they are willing to associate with me.
     But there is one institution that I still consider worth my while to rebel against: and that is what many (but certainly not all) people in America are pleased to call "Theravada Buddhism"—a movement in which laypeople who may not take three refuges or keep five precepts call themselves "Sangha," and if they do take refuge in the Sangha, take refuge in themselves; in which the members believe more deeply in scientific materialism and politically correct humanism than in Dhamma; in which even many teachers do not believe in fundamental principles of Buddhism, even Nibbana, because scientific materialism cannot explain it; in which the members sew new patches onto old cloth, and are essentially worldly materialists with a little Buddhist flavoring added; in which the possibility of miracles is rejected out of hand; in which monks are required to be politically correct, smiling politicians, or saints, in order to be considered the equals of the lay community; in which a monk must prove himself worthy of even receiving a bowl of food every day; in which many of the teachers are more ignorant of the Buddhist texts than a typical Burmese villager with a grade school education; in which most of Theravada Buddhism is rejected or ignored, with the system reduced to little more than a few elementary meditation techniques, being a pale shadow of a mutilated fragment of Dhamma; in which complacent lukewarmness is standard, with anything more than that being considered extreme, unnecessary, or "cultish"; in which truth is covered up with phony politeness for the sake of not ruffling feathers, or threatening people's fragile self-esteem; in which true renunciation is scorned; in which austerity is pretty much a nonstarter, with luxury and wimpiness being virtually mandatory (with the Goenka folks not culpable of this one); in which "sacred" is regarded as a superstitious word; in which Liberation in this very life has been replaced by enhancing the quality of their mental prisons, because the members are unwilling to go beyond a very casual and elementary level of commitment; in which a radical way of life designed for enlightenment has been rejected in favor of watered-down, soft, easy, convenient, comfortable, non-threatening, politically correct fluff designed to help them stay more comfortably asleep—THAT I rebel against. I lift my lower robes and fart in its general direction. And if that implies that I rebel against many or even most Western people who consider themselves to be Theravada Buddhists, then so be it. I'm not in this for popularity. A handy rule of thumb, which is especially applicable in spiritual matters, is The Majority Is Always Wrong. I'm wrong too of course, but at least it's my own wrongness, and not the wrongness of other people that I'm slavishly parroting through moral weakness and herd instinct. 
     Long live parrhēsia. And may the gods and goddesses have mercy on all of us.