Monday, October 31, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh on 'The Five Precepts'

One commentator observed that a fundamental difference between Christianity and Buddhism lies in the nature of their respective proscriptions. Christianity has the famous "Thou Shalt Nots" of the Ten Commandments, whereas Buddhism has the "Refrain Froms" or the "Avoids" of the Five Precepts that constitute Right Action. The defiant streak in human nature, the commentator pointed out, makes it tough for us to avoid the wrong actions covered by the Ten Commandments (or, at least, the milder of them). One might also point out that violation of the Ten Commandments can allegedly end one up in Hell, while it is through non-observance of the Five Precepts that we create a hell on Earth.

One of the most comprehensive and astute renderings of the Five Precepts (avoid or refrain from killing, from taking what is not freely given, from sexual impropriety, from harmful speech, and from taking intoxicants) is set out in the following "Five Mindfulness Trainings" recommended by Thich Nhat Hanh in his helpful book "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames," (Appendix B) pp. 209-212:

"The First Mindfulness Training:
Reverence for Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life.
The Second Mindfulness Training:
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving-kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth.
The Third Mindfulness Training:
Sexual Responsibility
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to protect couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training:
Deep Listening and Loving Speech
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training:
Mindful Consumption
 Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest food or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

William James: On 'Inner Religion'

Wm. James
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, one of the acknowledged "fathers" of modern psychology, distinguished between outer and inner religious faith. To him, "outer religion" was the province of rituals, sacraments, vestments and bells, while "inner religion" was a state of consciousness. In the true sense of the word, he viewed "inner religion" (from the Latin ligare, meaning to 'tie' or 'unite') as a state of natural, unitive and acceptive consciousness in which "religion comes to our rescue and takes our fate into her hands."

"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," he observes, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the folds and waterspouts of God."

"In this state of mind," he notes, "what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."

"This enchantment," he points out, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift or our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word or command."

"Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life," he concludes. "It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outward world disowns him it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste." "There are plenty of men," he adds parenthetically, "in whose religious life this rapturousness is lacking. They are religious in the wider sense; yet in this acutest of all senses they are not so."

[Wm. James, "The Varieties Of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aldous Huxley: On the Perennial Philosophy and the Ground of Being

" . . . (T)here is a hierarchy of the real. The manifold world of our everyday existence is real with a relative reality that is, on its own level, unquestionable; but this relative reality has its being within and because of the absolute Reality, which, on account of the incommensurable otherness of its eternal nature, we can never hope to describe, even though it is possible for us directly to apprehend it."

-- Aldous Huxley --
("The Perennial Philosophy," page 33.)
Just to the extent that we mistake our "relative reality" with "absolute Reality" do we suffer. That is the nature of samsara, the unawakened life. Our identification with the unawakened "self" of our normal, workaday consciousness obscures the consciousness of the true "Self" which is co-extant with the Ground of Being. The object of the Buddha's 'Eight-Fold Path to the End of Suffering' - the fourth of the Four Noble Truths - is, like all true spiritual teachings, to bring us to a unitive knowledge of this Ground of Being.

In his Introduction to "The Song of God," a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by his frineds Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, the polymath author and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, outlines "the Perennial Philosophy" underlying the world's great spiritual traditions, a philosophy which points to our ability to realize the ineffable Ground of Being.
"At the core of the Perennial Philosophy," Huxley observes, "we find four fundamental doctrines."
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
 "Direct knowledge of the Ground (of Being) cannot be had except by union," Huxley notes, "and union can be achieved only by the annihilation of the self-regarding ego, which is the barrier separating the "thou" from the "That.""  The ego, or smaller "self" is, thus, the face and identity of the "relative reality" which obscures our higher consciousness, while "the Self" of the divine "Ground of Being" is the higher consciousness which enables us to experience (although not describe) true "Reality."

"Thou art that," we read over and over again in the Upanishads, and in other Scriptures. "Tat tvat asi."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rumi: "The Other Thing"

The Other Thing

There are few resistance pockets left,
patches of shade the sun has not struck,
but mostly this universe is transformed.
Every star has become the evening star.

Every soul, a king with no flag or parapet
to shield him from direct light.

Go within and discover this land
where everyone is a living soul
under a wide, sky-field with a king entering
from the other side, a jubilee, a singing
where wine and dessert and the other thing
are given away.

            Last night I was out of myself.
If I were that way again, I could finish
this poem, but I'm not.

My poet-self is a protective pawn
put before the king, who is Shams,
whose light changes every being to an ocean,
and every body to a coral reef.

-- Jalalludin Rumi --

[Coleman Barks, "The Essential Rumi," pp. 310-311.]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Viktor Frankl: On Suffering and Life's Meaning

To psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, the test of life lay not in overcoming suffering and thereby achieving enlightenment, but rather in how one finds meaning in suffering itself. "If there is a meaning at life at all," he observed, "then there must be a meaning in suffering."

"Suffering," he pointed out, "is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death," he observed, "life cannot be complete."

This very humanistic viewpoint is, of course, quite opposite to the transcendental teachings of the Buddha, who demonstrated and taught that suffering can, in fact, be overcome even in this life. Nonetheless, there are similarities in the two teachings. Both identify, for instance, the central role that man's relation to suffering plays in shaping the course of the individual's life. And both identify suffering as the great potential teacher of mankind.

"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross," wrote Frankl, "gives him ample opportunity - even under the most difficult circumstances - to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal."

"Here," Frankl observed, "lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this," he declared, "decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."

To what end, then, are we going to use our suffering? Are we to use it to face the worst in life and overcome it? Or, are we to go beyond embracing suffering - a necessary first step, perhaps - and use it as a catalyst to transcend self and strive for enlightenment? Are we worthy of our suffering?

[Excerpts from Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," p. 88.]

Monday, October 3, 2011

The End of Suffering

"When you can't stand the endless cycle of suffering anymore, you begin to awaken."
-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose")

"To the unawakened mind, life is suffering," the Buddha taught. This First Noble Truth was the prime basis of all the Buddha's teachings. Turning his back on his own practice of self-induced suffering (he was born a wealthy prince) the Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi Tree determined not to move from that spot until he had achieved enlightenment. 

It is said that during the four watches of the night he consecutively realized (a) that ordinary life is suffering, (b) that there are specific causes of suffering, (c) that there is an end to suffering by eliminating these causes, and (d) that there is a path to eliminating these causes. Thus, the Buddha's own enlightenment is evidence, as Tolle notes, that the beginning of awakening is unendurable suffering.

Moreover, it is taught in some schools that this realization, some 2,500 years ago, was the first turning of the dharma wheel, the first realization of the true nature of being, and the first realization of nirvana. If this is so, then Tolle's observation is all the more pertinent. The Buddha's awakening was then, indeed, the beginning of the end of "the endless cycle of suffering" - the beginning of the end of both individual and collective suffering.

"Suffering is a wonderful teacher," Tolle observes in the video (below) on "The End of Suffering. And for some people it is their only spiritual teacher he points out. "Suffering deepens you. It gradually erodes the mind-made human sense of self, the ego. And for some people the point arises where they realize, "I have suffered enough."" This, he points out, "is the end of living in the state of suffering."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Enlightenment Takes No Time At All

Spiraling, spiralling,
out through space-time
the stars and all their planets
ever whirl.

I look about and all I see
is star dust.

Enlightenment takes no time at all.
Being eternal it is beyond space-time,
which can only denote and thereby sever it.

Even the finest wine turns to vinegar in time.
Therefore, imbibe now!

If eye could see all this from without,
would not the universe itself be an infinity
of swirling vortices congealing out of the void?

And yet,
when we envision that within which is every being, how still and empty does it seem?
Such illusory stillness is the stuff of which some far off heaven's made.