Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three Poems I Didn't Write (but Which I Somehow Inspired)

     Although I have messed around with poetry a little in my life, I do not have a very poetic temperament; consequently some of the people I know are much better poets than me. (My primary fascination with writing poetry is working with the idea of conveying information and feeling in accordance with a limited, stylized form, and since most poetry in the English language lately has dispensed with most limitations that can be dispensed with, keeping mostly only the limitations shared by prose, I pay little heed to poetry that isn’t “archaic.”) It may be that over the years I have inadvertently inspired more poetry than I have written. Some of it has been love poetry from young women—of which I have received little since I became a monk, for very understandable reasons—and that sort is best left unpublished, as it is intended for private reading, maybe only by me. But some others, including my father and some good friends, have been moved by a Muse on my behalf, or to my discredit. Three of the juicier examples of this are included here.
     The first is by my father, satirizing his fanatical, extremist son. Since my lay name was (and officially still is) David, and since I really have lived alone in caves (for many years in fact), the old and well known dirty limerick starting “There once was a hermit named Dave” sometimes becomes a theme of lampoons at my expense.

A Hermit Named Dave, by John R. Reynolds

Now I'm going to tell you 'bout a hermit named Dave
     Who renounced the whole world to go live in a cave:
He didn't like cars, and he didn't like people,
     And he didn't bells that make noise in church steeples.
He didn't like dogs, and he didn't like cats—
     Didn't even like clowns who wear funny hats;
He didn't like sidewalks or clothes that were pink,
     And he really went ape when faucets dripped in the sink.

He didn't like pigeons folks feed in the park;
     He didn't like sunshine, and hated the dark.
He'd detested TV since he was a child,
     And the sound of a car horn would drive old Dave wild.
He always went barefoot 'cause shoes hurt his feet—
     So what he'd hate most was chewing gum on the street;
Each time he stepped in some he'd jump up and down
     And holler and cuss and shake his fist at the town.

So now he's a hermit and lives under a rock;
     He don't have a table or a chair or a clock;
He sleeps on a bed made of rusty tin cans,
     And he don't wash his face, or even his hands.
He eats nothing but bugs, and smears mud in his hair,
     And wears nothing but burlap, with no underwear.
So if you're out in the woods and you come near a cave,
     If you're chewing on gum keep your eyes peeled for Dave!

Actually, he was proud of me. He just liked having a little fun, that’s all.
     The next little gem may require some commentarial gloss to illustrate its peculiar exquisite tastelessness. One time an American monk, one of the few Western monastic friends I had in Burma (not because the rest shunned me but mainly because there are few Western monks in upper Burma) came to visit, and we were out in front of my cave, talking. He mentioned that, in order to reduce feelings of lust, he would often lie on his bed holding a human skull in both hands. (Human skulls are rather easy to obtain in Burma, as they can be found lying around in the weeds at old cemeteries.) I observed that his method probably wouldn’t work so well for me, lustful as I was. I told him I’d be lying there holding the skull and thinking, “Hmmm…...that eye socket…...” Conversations between Western monks can get rather raunchy sometimes. So anyway, shortly thereafter, he sent me this fine work of literature:

(Untitled, by Venerable Anonymous)

There once was a hermit named Dave
Who kept an old skull in his cave:
     The rocket in his pocket
     Just fit the skull’s eye socket— 
May all sentient beings be saved!

It’s probably best to move on quickly, without further comment.
     The next one is by my friend Conor, who usually lives in Yangon, although at the time of writing this he is in the USA waiting for his lovely mate to have a baby, while trying to seem like he’s not waiting. (He says that is the appropriate way to have a baby, and I lack the experience in such matters to disagree with him on the subject.) It may be, for all I know, that the only real inspiration I lent to the next poem, written by venerable Conor, is the term inshallah, which I rather like. It’s an old-fashioned Arabic way of saying “God willing,” or “Who knows if it will really happen! Nothing is certain.” But the poem contains some profundity as well as beauty, more even than the troglodyte hermit joke poems. There is real Dharma in the next one, a genuine reflection on the First Noble Truth and the fact that nothing in the entire universe has the power to really satisfy us. But still we may as well continue on the great adventure until we get to the end, or just get supremely fed up and quit. It’s from a recently published slender volume entitled The Glossary Lament (Vinegar Mother Publishing, 2015).

Bride of the Sun (Mantra), by Conor Adam Mitchell

Inshallah, I will pilot a helicopter
and find it wanting.
Inshallah, I will bathe in an arctic stream
and find it wanting.
Inshallah, I will wear a championship belt
and find it wanting. 
Inshallah, I will hug a corner at 200 miles per hour
and find it wanting.
Inshallah, I will guzzle chocolate melted with gold leaf
and find it wanting. 
Inshallah, I will roll on the floor with buxom, velvet women
and find it wanting. 
Inshallah, I will talk to a clairvoyant 1,000 year old fish
and find it wanting. 
I will imbibe pomegranate wine, sob underneath the stars, 
               curse every midnight thing
and find it wanting. 
I will set fire to precious tapestries, gobble endangered orchids, 
               snort mummy dust
and find it wanting. 
I will pummel a mountain, crush a diamond in my fist, 
               chop the moon in half
and find it wanting. 
Inshallah, I will finish this poem, 
and I will find it wanting.

Inshallah inshallah inshallah inshallah inshallah inshallah
               enthrall in shell and shall and shall and shall and shall




Conor submitted this as an illustration.
I don’t think it really says “inshallah.”

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On the Four Stages of Meditation: or, On the Utter Futility of the Word "Jhāna"

     I’ve been intending to write this article for several years. I have continually put it off, though, as the task of writing it has always seemed rather daunting. Some articles are fun to write; some even overflow and practically write themselves; but this one has always loomed before me like a school term paper that has to be written. Still, though, the subject—the nature of jhāna—is a fundamentally important one in Buddhist philosophy and ethics, as well as a controversial and troublesome one. So I feel it is time to stop procrastinating and sit down and write the damn thing.
     The idea of jhāna is important because it holds such a central place in Buddhist practice, or at least did at one time, back in the old days. To give just one example of this, in the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (D22)—maybe a little ironically, as it is practically the Bible for Vipassana meditators who disregard jhāna—Right Concentration, sammāsamādhi, is defined as the four jhānas. The commentarial tradition has backed away from this idea, for reasons I may attempt to discuss, maybe, but the Sutta says it pretty clearly. So according to the Sutta, if we don’t have jhāna we don’t have Right Concentration, the eighth step of the Noble Eightfold Path. Some suttas seem to imply that the eighth step is even the most important step.
     The idea of jhāna is controversial because, although the word “jhāna” is tossed around quite a lot in some circles, people, even ostensible authorities on the subject, often disagree on what jhāna actually is. And the trouble comes from the combination of the first two: important + controversial trouble. So it’s good to do a little investigating.
     One bit of troublesomeness that steps in even before the controversy starts raging good and hard is the fact that, although jhāna is declared to be Right Concentration, also it is declared in the Pali texts to be uttarimanussadhamma—a “superhuman state.” So if the suttas are to be taken at face value (which the commentarial tradition pretends to do, but really doesn’t), then in order to have Right Concentration, a requisite for correct Dhamma practice, one must be essentially superhuman, at least with regard to one’s meditation.
     Another bit of trouble, which itself is a major cause for the controversy, is that jhāna is not clearly, precisely, unambiguously defined in the suttas. Literally, or so I’ve been told, the word means something like “blazing” or “illumination,” which is not very helpful, except perhaps to imply that it is a more intense state of mind than ordinary consciousness and not some kind of semiconscious trance. Practically every time jhāna is described in the suttas, the description takes the form of essentially the same stock formula, which is as follows (this quoted from the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta itself):

(katamo ca bhikkhave sammāsamādhi?)
idha bhikkhave bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati; 
vitakkavicārānaṁ vūpasamā ajjhattaṁ sampasādanaṁ cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ avitakkaṁ avicāraṁ samādhijaṁ pītisukhaṁ dutiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati, sato ca sampajāno, sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṁvedeti, yaṁ taṁ ariyā ācikkhanti “upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī”ti, tatiyaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṁ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati;
(ayaṁ vuccati bhikkhave sammāsamādhi.)

(And what, monks, is Right Concentration?)
Herein, monks, quite secluded from sensual pleasures (or “objects of desire”), secluded from unskillful states, a monk, with discriminative thought and reason, with exhilaration and pleasure born of seclusion, having attained first jhāna, abides in it.
Having allayed discriminative thought and reason, with inward serenity and unification of mind, without discriminative thought or reason, with exhilaration and pleasure born of concentration, having attained second jhāna, he abides in it.
With the fading away of exhilaration he abides in equanimity, attentive and aware, and he experiences pleasure through his body, so that the Noble Ones say of him, “Equanimous and attentive, he is one who abides in pleasure”; having attained third jhāna, he abides in it.
Having abandoned pleasure, having abandoned pain, along with the former cessation of happiness and unhappiness, without pain, without pleasure, with the equanimity of purity of attentiveness, having attained fourth jhāna, he abides in it.
(This, monks, is called Right Concentration.)

     First of all I would observe that the very fact that jhāna is almost always described with a stock formula is peculiar. The Buddha himself, presumably an enlightened being, probably would not have used the same exact formula every time he described such an important part of his system. It would appear that the stock formula, easily plugged in to passages in suttas, was the result of dogmatization, possibly in the hands of people who never knew the Buddha, or deep meditative states.
     With regard to the translation above, I would point out that “pleasure” and “pain” (sukha and dukkha) are apparently referring to physical sensations or feelings, the more mentally-oriented positive and negative being “happiness” and “unhappiness” (somanassa and domanassa). So in first jhāna there is still thinking as well as physical and emotional pleasure and pain, or at least pleasure; in second jhāna no more thinking, but still the possibility of both kinds of pleasure/pain; in third jhāna no thinking, no happiness or unhappiness, but still physical feelings; and finally in fourth jhāna not even that, but only affectively neutral mindfulness (or “attentiveness”) and equanimity.
     Also I would point out that cetaso ekodibhāvaṁ, often rendered as “one-pointedness of mind,” is not necessarily the bringing of the conscious mind to a point, which would imply the narrowing of consciousness to such an extent that one could be oblivious to everything except only what is concentrated upon, as in a deep hypnotic trance. It can also mean that the mind is single or unified, whatever that means. I’ll eventually get back to that point.
     And thirdly I would point out that the above description of jhāna, which is essentially the description of jhāna in the Pali texts, can be, and certainly is, interpreted in different ways by different people, including different meditation instructors and other people who consider themselves to have attained jhāna.
     My father, among many other things, was an amateur hypnotist, and so I am familiar with the basic principles and characteristics of hypnosis; and it seems to me that most of what passes for jhāna, at least in Burma, is really hypnotic trance. For example, not far from my monastery in northwestern Burma there is a meditation center which, I’ve been told, guarantees meditators that by the end of one retreat, even if they are beginners, they will be able to sit for several hours at a stretch without moving, and furthermore they will be able to ascend into the heaven realms and descend into the hell realms in some kind of psychic body, and meet the denizens of these places. And it is to be expected that the denizens will look and act in accordance with how traditional Burmese Buddhists believe they would. That sounds like hypnosis to me. But the results are so dramatic that people are reluctant to consider that it’s not the real deal—whether or not they are sophisticated enough to have heard of hypnosis.
     But this confusion evidently does not occur only in little-known, out of the way meditation centers. Probably the best-known meditation center in Burma which advocates and teaches some semblance of jhāna is Pah Auk Tawya in southern Burma; and some of what I have seen and heard of the place indicates that hypnotic trance is confounded with Right Concentration even there (assuming of course that hypnosis and jhāna are not really and originally the same thing, which is itself a debatable subject). 
     For example, I remember reading in a book written by ven. Pah Auk Sayadaw (I don’t remember the title; it had a blue cover) a “success story” of a woman practicing samatha meditation under Sayadaw’s guidance who remembered a past life as a royal white elephant who attained human birth in its subsequent life through the merit acquired by offering a flower to a pagoda. This sort of story is easily acceptable to Burmese Buddhists, falling in line with their cultural conditioning, yet it may appear rather suspicious, to say the least, to a critical Westerner.
     Another example was told to me by a young Western meditator at Pah Auk many years ago. He had been assigned the practice of seeing, with the “samādhi eye,” the internal organs of himself and others. (This is not supposed to be just an exercise of the imagination, but an actual seeing, through finely honed concentration, of those organs.) He told me that once he was in the meditation hall “seeing” the bones of the person sitting in front of him. He was doing this with his eyes closed, since the physical eye is not what is supposed to do the seeing. So after looking at the other person’s bones to his own satisfaction, he finally opened his eyes to discover that, without his knowledge, the other person whose bones he had been observing had gotten up and walked away—so he was “seeing” bones that weren’t there. When he reported this to his meditation instructor, he was informed that it didn’t matter.
     These two cases (and I could give more) are not so much cases of doubtful jhāna as cases of doubtful psychic powers derived from a jhāna-oriented technique, and they illustrate the possibility that what is called jhāna and psychic powers may really be, in such cases, hypnosis and the power of suggestion influencing one’s imagination. Hypnosis is not bad or wrong, and may really be useful in some situations, yet if that’s what it is, then the person experiencing it should probably be aware of the fact, and not call it something that it is not. It would be interesting if some scientists from a hypnosis lab like the one at Stanford University were to bring a PET scanner or some such to a place like Pah Auk and test whether the practitioners of jhāna were hypnotized or not. The results might result in some heated indignation from the teachers and devout practitioners of the method, however, and a denunciation of the tests. Human nature being what it is, that could be expected with a fair amount of confidence, assuming that the tests came out positive.  
     This is not to say that all jhāna at a place like Pah Auk Tawya is hypnotic, but I would guess that most of it is. I’ve been told that even ven. Pah Auk Sayadaw has acknowledged that much of what people have experienced along the lines of past life regressions and so on have just been vivid figments of imagination. Yet hypnosis appears to be inherent in the system.
     It would seem that this confusion of jhāna with hypnotic trance (again, assuming that they haven't been identical from the beginning) did not originate in Burma, but began even in ancient times. The traditional meditation technique of kasiṇa, for instance, described in detail in the great hypnosis—I mean, eh, meditation manual Visuddhimagga, is very similar to techniques employed to induce hypnotic trance. The aforementioned hypnosis lab at Stanford uses, or has used, a method involving the subject gazing at a small circle on the wall before him or her, which, aside from the smaller size of the circle, is pretty much the same as a kasiṇa disc. I do not remember if it is mentioned in the suttas themselves, but tradition has it that while one is sitting in fourth jhāna one’s breath and heartbeat slow to virtual nonexistence, and one becomes oblivious to one’s environment, including even physical injury…which is also symptomatic of deep hypnotic trance. Yet I fail to see how going into a state of suspended animation like that of a hibernating squirrel could be called higher consciousness or “purity of mindfulness.”
     Bearing this in mind, I consider it possible that the alleged confusion could have occurred relatively early, even before Theravadin orthodoxy set in, during the first century or two while the system was undergoing its phase of explosive systematization. I know enough about early Christian history, and have seen enough of modern Asian Theravadin ecclesiasticism, to know that orthodox doctrine is usually decided by members of the system more interested in scholarship and Church politics than in actual practice of Dharma; and even with the best intentions the truth can become very distorted by fellows who are working not from personal experience, but from intellectual theory. And thus, somehow, what may have originally been a convenient, rather loose description of the progression of stages in Buddhist meditation ossified into a stock, formulaic description of superhuman mental states, in the same category as psychic powers and the four stages of sainthood or Ariya-hood, accessed only by a relatively tiny minority of monks. At this point I suppose I should explain my theoretical version of jhāna.  
     The very same formula found in the texts can, as has already been mentioned, be interpreted in different ways. One way is to see it as a progression in the development of meditation in general, not only the most advanced, “superhuman” stages. Thus first jhāna could be elementary meditation in which the meditator has a perceptual “primary object” of meditation, and in which he or she has not yet entered any particularly deep or refined mental states. It could still be a relatively “normal” state of mind, although clarified and pacified by the meditative practice. In Roman Catholic monastic traditions this level of meditative practice is simply called “meditation.” 
     But with second jhāna one enters the realm of what the Christian mystics call “contemplation.” At this stage one is not only no longer indulging in discursive thought; one is no longer focusing the attention on any perceptual primary object at all. The mind becomes clear, luminous, and relatively silent. Thoughts may begin to arise, yet they simply pass away under the dissolving light of mindfulness and do not reach the stage of linking together into a “train of thought.” At this second stage of meditative practice one’s more basic mental processes of feeling are still in the dualistic realm of positive pleasure and negative pain, however. One may still experience physical pleasure and pain, and one may still feel the exhilaration and joy from conscious expansion; and, although the stock formula doesn’t explicitly assert it, one may still experience various feelings of happiness or unhappiness. Feelings of grief or anguish could theoretically arise at this level, although they would not lead to any elaborated dramatic story being cooked up, since one is not focusing on them specifically, and the linking together of perceptions into narratives or themes has already been abandoned along with first jhāna.
     With third jhāna, in accordance with the hypothesis, not only thinking but also a dualistic experience of emotional states would be transcended. Physical pleasure and pain would still be discerned, however subtly, as dualistic “realities,” though.
     Finally, with fourth jhāna, the entire dualistic complex of perceptions and feelings, from top to bottom, would be transcended—not necessarily suppressed or eradicated, but no longer a focus of consciousness, no longer a variegated, dualistic “reality.” The mind would be like a mirror, reflecting whatever naturally comes to mind (which would be relatively little, quantitatively), without discriminating it, without focusing on it, without attributing significance to it. The mind would, temporarily, be free from the self-generated limitations of the mundane mind. But even fourth jhāna, supreme meditative state that it is (setting aside further and presumably later elaborations of the system, like formless jhānas and the state of “the attainment of cessation”) is conditioned, with a beginning and an end, and is not true enlightenment.
     The evolution of jhāna into trance states, even superhuman ones, going with the hypothesis, has resulted in traditional Theravada splitting into "two sāsanas," two teachings. Sometimes in Burma one may be asked, "Which Sāsana do you belong to, the Vipassana Sāsana, or the Samatha Sāsana?" But I really don't think the Buddha originally taught two rival approaches to Nirvana. My experience as a long-term meditator, as well as a person who arguably thinks too much, leads me to feel that mindfulness is really the key to Dharma practice—not so much the eradication of unskillful mental states as the neutralization of them through the detachment and non-identification of mindful awareness. The thing is, though, that we cannot detach from what we are oblivious to. Deeper jhānas, which are "purifications of mindfulness," allow the meditator to be mindful of subtle states that the ordinary person walking around and making noise does not even suspect the existence of. 
     The more awake and attentive one is, the more subtle the phenomena one is able to observe, thereby "transmuting" it into awareness. The four jhānas are, according to this interpretation, the progression of meditation from the most obvious, crudest phenomena, which is all most people tend to be aware of, to the most refined, until the whole field of consciousness is no longer subconscious, or semiconscious, but conscious.
     Even in fourth jhāna a meditator would be conscious; in fact he or she would be more conscious than an ordinary person in an ordinary waking state. One would not be oblivious to anything; it would simply become irrelevant, and remain undiscriminated. In this sense advanced jhāna may be said to be a kind of temporary, artificial enlightenment; in the texts jhāna is called “temporary liberation” (samaya vimokkha). Thus it would mean more than just temporary liberation from mental defilements by lapsing into a tranced pinpoint or laser beam of attentiveness.
     But trance states have always been in vogue in India, as have their dramatic psychic effects, and scholar monks, church politicians, and even conscientious Dharma practitioners who were not strong in meditation, or maybe just not strong in discernment, could be misled into thinking that popularly revered trance states, and the seeming powers that they can evoke, were the real thing. And thus the four stages in which Buddhist meditation progresses, including the most elementary level, mutated into superhuman mental states, and became almost unapproachable to the majority, almost mythical. 
     It seems to me that, practically by definition, anything a human being attains would by that very fact not be “superhuman.” If a human attains it, then it is human. So in this sense even enlightenment itself would not be a superhuman state. But if consciousness expands beyond what is characteristically human, transcending humanity somehow, for example by transcending form, then I suppose it could be called a superhuman state, although a person technically would not attain it; it would be attained by somehow leaving the person behind. In this case, transcendental states, say, from second jhāna on up, could reasonably be called superhuman; but elementary first jhāna, still bound to human thought, could hardly be above the human level. 
     So anyway, I consider the word “jhāna” to be futile, a useless word now, because the meaning of the word is so controversial, with different people meaning different things when they use it, that it simply results in more confusion than information. Better to describe a meditative state in one’s own words, or just to remain silent, than to use a word as vague and non-descriptive as “jhāna.”
     I suspect that the state of being a “stream enterer,” a sotāpanna, was not originally a superhuman or transcendental state either…but we needn’t get into that here. That’s a whole different kettle of wax.

     Well, that wasn’t so hard to write.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

How to Be Enlightened (Maybe)

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius. —William Blake’s Devil

     Over the years (ha, it’s been years!) I have mentioned several times on this blog a person that I consider to be a “sage,” or an abnormally, extraordinarily wise person, named Paul Lowe. But instead of just mentioning him, in order to do him justice, so to speak, I’d rather let him speak for himself in this post. So I transcribed two of his Dharma talks, or whatever he calls them, from the audio section of his website,, one of which is included below.
     I discovered Paul about 13 years ago, when I was going through a kind of spiritual/emotional/existential crisis in Burma. A friend, a fellow Western monk, gave me In Each Moment, by Paul Lowe, or maybe just lent it to me indefinitely, apparently without considering it to be much more than an interesting book. But it was one of those miraculous cases of receiving the right blessing at the right time, exactly what one needs—which is one reason why I like Paul so much, despite the rather New Ageish angle he adopts. I can honestly say that my life was changed significantly after reading the book, and letting it sink in.
     As Paul says sometimes, the mere words themselves are really not the point, so I suppose the following words will miss the point too. The words are simply a kind of vessel for an attitude, or a “vibration.” So reading dead words on paper or on a screen will hardly have the same effect as listening to a wise teacher in person, or even on a recording. But still, it’s well worth reading—the book, as well as what follows.
     I had never transcribed a talk before, and one interesting thing I learned (interesting to me anyhow) is that there are practically an infinite number of ways to transcribe a talk, even though the words are given; there isn’t just one way, or even a right way…unless the speaker’s preferences would be considered “right.” Where does one start a new paragraph? Does a comma go here, or a semicolon, or a dash? Sometimes it’s not clear even where to end a sentence. So any transcription is also a translation to some degree, reflecting the transcriber’s style of thinking and writing. Bearing that in mind, I hope I haven’t mucked up Paul’s talk too much.
     Also, as is often the case with me, I overcame many urges to “fix up” what are essentially someone else’s words. My duty as a transcriber is simply to record what Paul said, not fix sloppy grammar or whatever. (This is one great advantage of writing: That one can go back and fix up the rambling mode of communication that spontaneous speech often takes. On the other hand, that aforementioned “vibration” is lacking, or much reduced.) So instead of fixing up sentences in which Paul suddenly changes the subject midway, or in which he slightly forgets how the statement began by the time he gets to the end, I have left it as it is, which is best.
     I assume that most of the great spiritual teachers spoke in a rambling, not necessarily grammatically correct manner, and that later disciples, in recording and editing everything, smoothed it all out for the sake of “propriety.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Buddha and Jesus gave rambling, sometimes semicoherent Dharma talks, and tossed in unnecessary particles like “kinda” or “y’know?” as well as some substandard grammar. “OK, uh, blessed are they who know their spiritual poverty, y’know?”
     Anyway, here’s the transcription of Paul’s talk. It, and many others well worth hearing, may be found at He also has talks on YouTube.

"Being Open for What We Need," by Paul Lowe

     As we start to be less asleep, more awake, we start to realize that what we've been accepting as "the way it is," is not the way it is. There really is something else. And is seems that this happens in degrees; we have a certain level of waking up, and we go, "Ohhh…right, it's not like I thought is was! It's like this!" And then, we start to assume that this new "this" is the way it is, because we want to be safe and secure and predictable—you want to say, "Ah, this is it." And it isn't it. I don't think that there is an "it." It's moving and changing all the time.
     So we have an awakening, you see the way it is, and that's the way we want to see it now. And it isn't the way it is, 'cause if you can see it, there's still a seer and a seen. There's still a separateness. So, to have our realizations and then say, "Great! And is there anything else?" be grateful for where you are, and be open for something else. 
     Now one of the things that people wake up to is, that they've had a fixed idea about what's possible and not possible. Of course we were indoctrinated with that from birth—"This is the way it is"—and it's a different "This" depending on whether you're a Catholic or a Muslim or a Jew or a this or a that. The "This" is different. 
     When you realize, "Oh, it's not that way; things aren't as fixed as I thought; so therefore: I can change it! I can manifest it."—in fact there are workshops about manifesting—which is certainly a better idea than being stuck in the old, but what we don't realize is, when we manifest something, we manifest it from the old, 'cause that's all we've got. We don't have the new, we don't know what the new is. So when we manifest something we take the old, and squeeze it into a shape we like better, and project it into the future and say, "That's what we want." 
     Marilyn Monroe sang, "After you get what you want, you don't want what you got at all." So when you get there you realize, "Oh, this is out of date already," or "This isn't the way I thought it was," or "I didn't realize that." I didn't realize that. And we can't, 'cause we don't see in the future. Even a psychic, when they see what we call "the future" is the future based on now. You can say, "Oh, this will happen to you in the future," but only if you keep on doing the same thing in the same way; so if a psychic says you're going to have a car accident on the 19th, you don't get in a car on the 19th. You've already changed what's called "the future."
     So when we manifest, we manifest from the old—and we put a lot of energy into it—getting something that may, almost certainly, [be] what we want, but not what we need. And what we really need to be open for, is, "What do we need?" Whatever it is, however it is, we need to be open to what we need; so then people say, "So don't manifest," and we go into extremes again. 
     What I suggest is this: Sit, close your eyes, turn everything off, and listen. Be still. And then, allow coming in, "How would I like things to be, ideally? Where would I like to be, what would I like to be doing, and would I like to be—" get it all very clear, because you see, that is your reality, whether you know it or not. That's your matrix. That's your pattern. That's what goes on in the background all the time; that's why you keep getting upset, because things aren't the way that you would like them to be. In the background. But get it clear, bring it all to the fore, see it, get it clearly and say, "That's the way I would like things to be." And then, disconnect and let it go. As is appropriate. 
     Don't make things happen. You use your will and almost certainly you'll regret it. Because the will…let's say it…bends things, your will bends things, you bend peop—you know, when you convince somebody against their will to do something, they're never happy, and neither are you! 'Cause you know you made them do it and they didn't want to do it. Disconnect from the will. Acknowledge it, see what you would like, and disconnect from it. Make space. Open up, and say, "As is appropriate. That's what I'm available for."
     Let's go back a little bit. Almost everybody all the time has a fixed place, and if you say, "Aw, that'll never happen," you have put out a frequency that that will never happen! "Oh, I'll never meet anybody that—" You've just created it! Acknowledge that thought, and then say, "and, I don't know. Existence, I'm open for whatever you'd like to bring me, however you'd like to bring it." Open up, be available, for whatever. 
     Have you noticed sometimes some of the most intriguing things seem to happen, by what we call "accident?" Do you know, many of the great breakthroughs in science were all an accident! Look at the guy that developed LSD: He had no idea what was happening to him, going into these states, he didn't know where it was coming from. He was just imbibing the fumes and going into a state—oh, and so many things; Madame Curie, and—and, uh, Einstein had it come in his sleep, and so, we don't know.
     Now this is what I'm telling you: Listen. Listen. Dare, "Don't know." Don't know. There could be a knock on the door any time, or the phone will ring, or… Anything can happen. Anything. Way, way beyond what you imagine, because you're imagining the old in the old way, and it's usually contracted and it's usually complaining. "Aw, that doesn't happen to me. Aw, I never win anything." Well, you keep going on like that and you probably won't! You're creating an aura around you. And existence will respond to that. "Oh, so you think nothing will happen? I'll make sure nothing happens!" Instead, say, "I don't know, and I'm available, and it may come in some unexpected form, and I'm ready. I'm available. Every time the phone rings, I pick up, not knowing. Every time I meet somebody, I don't know whether I'm not going to say anything, I'm going to have a deep conversation, or I'm going to live with them for the rest of my life!" Don't know. In each moment. 
     Here's something else to review, not getting what you want. So, as I say what I'm about to say, watch where the mind tends to jump, and have a reaction to it. Just, just listen. Just listen. You see, most of the time, most people are not having fun, because they think they don't deserve it. Do you deserve it? 
     You take a look inside, and you'll probably find that somewhere, you're not honoring yourself. You're not accepting yourself the way you are. You think you should be another way, or you think about all the things where you were not kind, or you could have done something else. And so, at some level down there, you don't think you deserve what you would like. And that keeps blocking your blessings. Allowing existence to bless you, to shower on you, to pour all over you—abundance. 
     Nothing's a coincidence; everything has some link somewhere, and if you look deep inside—oh! I used to do this in the groups—I used to say, "Say a long lost uncle had left you some money; how much did he leave you?" You'd be amazed at the piddling little amounts people gave themselves! Instead of millions and millions and millions they'd say, "Oh, he left me a hundred dollars" or "a thousand" or "ten thou—" but they're restricting: they just wouldn't open up to a total amount beyond their imagination. And that's what we do, we just don't allow ourselves to be that open to an abundant, unexpected gift. 
     In each moment…ofttimes—oh, especially when I was born in England, it was, [moaning] "Uhhhr, yeah, oh we're going on a picnic, it'll probably rain." Just…And where I was, if you'd say, "How are you feeling," if somebody was feeling really good they'd say, "Ahh, I could be worse." You see, that's a frequency, that's a vibration, that's what you're putting out, so that's what you get! 
     And I'm not talking about the opposite of being positive, I'm just talking about not being negative. Just being open. "Yes, it could rain, and it may not. And even if it does rain, maybe…" and so on. Keep looking for possibilities that you enjoy, and not keep looking on the dark side. 
     Here's another aspect to not getting what we would like to get. What we don't realize is, as I was saying before, is we've got a fixed place inside—it's fixed—and…see it as a box, and inside the box are all sorts of little compartments about, "This can't happen unless that happens." And so, these are the conditions that you're setting up for what you want to happen; and you make it pretty well impossible. Here's an alternative. Just for a moment, imagine you're semi-transparent; instead of being a fixed idea, you're a not-knowing energy. Now, everything's changing and moving and shifting, and if you look, everything's growing. You just put a tiny little seed in the soil and water it, and in no time at all you've got this incredible being coming out of the ground. And trees that you imagine, "Oh, it's a tree," but keep looking at it, and you'll find it's growing, it's moving, it's changing—everything is growing and moving and changing. If you are less fixed, life will flow through you, because you're not stopping it in any way, you're not fixing it in any way, you are not putting conditions on it. You're saying to life, "Live me. Live through me. Be me." And you're part, then, not a-part, meaning separate, you're part of this incredible abundance. Go out into the forest, go down to the river, look at the fields, bursting with energy, with life…and movement. Moving, always moving. 
     So when we get a fixed idea, we've anchored ourselves in a spot; and as soon as you're not moving, you're miserable. The joy, the bliss, the ecstasy, is Being With Each Moment, as it takes place, flowing with it. And when I say "with it," you're not doing anything; you're just not stopping yourself. 
     A classic one—you jump in a river. If you're trying to achieve something, you're swimming up against the tide. Or, you're a negative person, you're fighting your way down the flow. Instead of, just let go. Bernie Gunther used to say, "Waterfall? No trouble at all." Just be with the flow. And it'll take you here, and it'll take you there, and it'll always take you exactly where you need to be at exactly the time you need to be there! You say, "Isn't that amazing I met you at this point!" No, it's not amazing. That's what happens when we get out of the way. When we become part of life instead of apart. 
     And then, you know, you really do feel blessed. You say, "Oh! Isn't that amazing? Isn't that wonderful?" And the thing is, you see, the more you feel blessed, the more blessings you get, Tiddly-Pom. That's the way it is! Gratefulness creates a space for more to come to you: exactly what you need, in exactly the appropriate moment.                          

Thank you, Paul.

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.'