Final notes on the final talk of the year in the Planet Yoga Series 2009:
Hitchhiker’s Guide to Buddhism
Over the last 8 weeks lots of people have been attending the Dhamma Talks at Planet Yoga. What is it that interests people? Some come from yoga groups, some from meditation groups. Some are Buddhist scholars or studying comparative religion. Many people take up a meditation practise to help deal with health problems – as most Doctors these days recommend a more comprehensive approach to healing that involves some kind of meditation as well as diet control and exercise. Whatever your motivation, the meditation itself is a transformative process. It should take you in a direction you did not envisage.
The ultimate aim of Buddhism is Enlightenment, Nibbana. We are told there is this ground of mind, a ‘sphere’ that is to be seen and understood that is Deathless, unchanging. Something that lies beyond (or ‘prior to’) the ever changing senses. A source that is deeper than the ‘monkey-mind’ which you see leaping around in meditation.
Some schools of Buddhism call it ‘Buddha-nature’ but this is a little imperialistic. Rather like American astronaughts landing on the moon and claiming it for the USA. Or the British being the ‘first’ in India and claiming it for the empire because they have planted their flag. It is not ‘Buddha-nature’, but just the ‘nature’ of the mind at its source. One description from the suttas describes it as mind (citta) without an object (anarammana).
This is what the Buddha was all about. He found this state, and taught it to others who wanted to listen. We can’t look to Buddhism to solve social problems, or economics, or the environmental problems etc.. It may be that people interested in Buddhism have an interest in those topics; and they take some guiding principles from the religion. But at the end of the day, the Buddha taught about this ultimate nature of the mind. That is what he was good at.
If there is one consistent image that all spiritual teachers in all ages have pointed out, it is that the secrets of life and death are way beyond what you can imagine. If you bear that in mind, then you do not get caught up with partial attainments along the way.
In the record of the last days of the Buddha, he warned his monks ‘not to be content with partial attainments’. If meditation provides you with some health benefits. Or it reduces stress. Or gives you a feeling of being grounded or centered – these are partial attainments. So too are some of the special states of bliss that can arise. The goal is the ‘ultimate good’.
To re-phrase the word ‘partial attainments’ we can use the word ‘getting complacent’. That is, while you are healthy and have a bit of time and money, the bigger issues get forgotten. This is why we are encouraged to be mindful of our temporary time in life, and how fragile it is.
Right now most people have the best chance ever of pursuing the biggest mysteries of life and death. We have health, time, money, food – there is no war, no famine, no …..
Yes these things are there in the world, but this age we are living is has to be the best and safest ever. If there was ever a time for undertaking the spiritual practises, this must be it.
To get somewhere you can buy a car and drive there. You need the whole car though. Just the wheels or just the engine is no good. Similarly most meditation lineages, and most religions in general, ask you to buy into a whole philosophy so that you can practise the ‘right way’. But here is the catch! You know it is the ‘right way’ only after you have pursued it to the end. Then you ‘know for yourself’ this is the ‘right vehical’.
Buddhism too is divided into vehicles. Hinayana (aka Theravada) of Thailand/Sri Lanka, Mahayana is the ‘lesser vehical’. Mahayana of Northern Indian and NE Asian schools is the ‘greater vehicle’. And then there is the Vajrayana – the diamond vehical where you get enlightenment in one lifetime !
Even in Theravada you have so many different schools and styles. But rather than attach to one only, the Hitchhiker is willing to jump ship. You don’t need the baggage of your own car to take you to Paris. Take any car that is going in the right direction. You don’t have to buy into any philosophy, but use your own judgement in using what works. Keeping the mind open, and letting go of fixed views and opinions, you can hitch all the way to enlightenment.
This is in fact the way the Buddha taught. He described teachings as like a raft. Something that you use to take you over the water. Not something that you need to attach to.
The main body of the raft is Wisdom. It is of three kinds. The first is Cintamaya Panya – Wisdom that comes from listening to wise people. Who is wise ? That is up to you to decide for yourself. Just don’t get too attached. Teachers and teachings can be fascinating. They can enthrall. But you need to be careful not to get too enraptured. Some scholars get too caught up in learning ancient languages and texts, and don’t use them as a tool for transformation. Other people get very enthralled with a particular school or teacher.
Figuring Things Out
Suta maya Panya is the next level, and it means figuring things out for yourself. This is intelligence, and it needs to be maintained. Even though meditation is often about putting aside the thinking mind, or letting go of thoughts, you still need to keep your wits about you. If someone tells you to fly a plane into a building so that you are rewarded by God with everlasting heavenly bliss – your intelligence should tell you it is crazy.
Still, the danger is over-intelectualizing. If you could just figure out enlightenment, that is how it would be taught. But you can’t figure it all out.
Wisdom from Practise
The highest form of wisdom is that which comes from practise. It comes from directly experiencing. This is why meditation is taught – to directly investigate and experience for yourself. It is a process of disengaging, that leads to understanding the real nature of the mind. Understanding the satisfaction in the world, the danger of getting caught up in the senses too much, and the refuge from it all. (This is a classic Buddhist teaching that needs a few talks of its own). All this leads to disenchantment.
Is it better to live life enchanted or disenchanted? Probably most people prefer the enchantment. The way of meditation is not for the masses. But the path is described as ‘beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful in the end’.
Early on you learn to disengage the mind from jumping hoops – which is what people call the ‘monkey mind’. Once you can disengage, you can compare the peace of stillness with the agitation of all the movement. Of course, it does not mean you stop still forever – you have to take the insight and apply it to daily life. After a while there is less and less distinction between when you are ‘meditating’ and when you are not. And it is within the scope of all people to get a taste for the direction in which the ultimate enlightenment lies.
So be ready to jump ship when you need to. No need for your own car to take you to Paris, and no need to buy into a whole philosophy or join a club. By not attaching to fixed views there the
..stepping out from sense experience on which all views arise