I am back reading the “Handbook of Mankind”, this was one of the first books I looked at after retiring. Reading the first chapter “Looking at Buddhism”, it strikes me more and more, how did this man arise in Thailand? Or perhaps more succinctly how is this man revered so in Thailand when even cursory reading has to be taken as criticism of practices of Buddhism in Thailand? Thailand’s Buddhist rituals and ceremonies are integral to their practise of Buddhism and yet in this first chapter such approaches are dismissed as not being Buddhism. There is a new Suan Mokh institute in Bangkok, it is ornate. And just recently Suthep has taken orders at Suan Mokh in Surat Thani. For me this was a kiss of death on Suan Mokh. This man was the leader of the populist (but minority) forces that paved the way for the current military dictatorship in Thailand – censorship prohibits saying more. For me it draws into question the relationship of religion and politics. However whilst I am critical of the ornate Bangkok structure, Suan Mokh itself is not ornate. It does have a hall dedicated to the writings of Tan Ajaan, and throughout the wat the kutis etc. are not ornate. A monk can open the door of his kuti and see only Nature.
Ajaan Buddhadasa professed throughout that his work went back to “what the Buddha taught”, of course many claim this. One can simply say that this is only one man’s opinion of “what the Buddha taught” but I like what he writes because he cuts through the bullshit, and this opening chapter of the Handbook is the best example I have read.
Rereading such an erudite work it is interesting to see what grabs you this time around, with such books there is a depth that I cannot ever hope to reach and unlikely to be reached reading just one time. With Tan Ajaan this is particularly so as what he describes can so easily be understood on a more surface level and yet moves to depths I cannot understand. Typically “To attain liberation, we first have to examine things closely in order to come to know and understand their true nature. Then we have to behave in a way appropriate to that true nature” [p7]. From that paragraph underlies what I have said above “It sets no store by rites and ceremonies such as making libations of holy water, or any externals whatsoever, spirits and celestial being included. On the contrary, it depends on reason and insight. Buddhism does not demand conjecture or supposition; it demands that we act in accordance with what our own insight reveals and not take anyone else’s word for anything. If someone comes and tells us something, we must not believe him without question. We must listen to his statement and examine it. Then if we find it reasonable, we may accept it provisionally and set about trying to verify it for ourselves. This is a key feature of Buddhism, which distinguishes it sharply from other world religions” [p7].
I began thinking about Truth after reading this “Consequently, “the Truth” is not quite the same thing for different people” [p8]. At all appropriate levels learning what is what is what it is all about. If your enquiry is genuine then you unearth some of the truth, and if you are a genuine follower of the Path you unearth all the truth your Path could allow. But that truth you learn is only part of the whole truth as you are only part of a whole. To discuss Absolute Truth as attainable is a delusion. If Absolute Truth has any meaning it is the meaning of all the Truth, and if we can only attain part attaining Absolute Truth is a delusion. Tan Ajaan does not refer to Absolute Truth but different truths. But that needs to be considered, the Truth that we can discern can possibly be “conveyed” to others, we might be able to flag a bit of truth in such a way it can be conveyed to others. The raison d’etre is learning what is what, and with learning comes teaching. But essential for a legitimate teaching process is that the student is willing to accept that they are learning and are motivated to learn. In spiritual matters few are willing to accept that. Their egos get in the way and they assume they have learnt and are unwilling to learn from others. It might be true that they are willing to learn from teachers with labels such as orange robes but that is for those with the labels to answer. A teaching process does not follow from the knowledge of what is what it follows only when the student is prepared to listen. For those learning what is what it is their responsibility to be open to those with motivation but this is so hard to judge because it is almost a requirement of those on the spiritual path to claim they want to learn despite the innumerable barriers they put in learning’s path.
I would like to think the following is why I am restarting this blog. “Buddha-Dhamma will enrapture a mind that has developed a taste for it. It can be considered an indispensable form of nourishment too. True, a person still controlled by the defilements continues to desire nourishment by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body and goes in search of it as suits his nature. But there is another part of him, something deeper, that does not demand that sort of nourishment. It is the free or pure element in his mind. It wishes the joy and delight of spiritual nourishment, starting with the delight that results from moral purity. It is the source of contentment for fully enlightened individuals, who possess such tranquillity of mind that defilements cannot disturb them, who possess clear insight into the true nature of all things and have no ambitions with regard to any of them. They are, so to speak, able to sit down without being obliged to run hither and yon like those people to whom the Buddha applied the simile “smoke by night, fire by day” [p17]. The truth is I am unsure. The hormones started to strike two years ago but with acupuncture and a change of diet the worst aspects of hormonal degradation were capped. But what suffers is my day. I know I want to get up at 06.00 but I go to sleep maybe 04.00, and doze during the day too much. This worsened 18 months ago when I damaged my wrist, what I intially thought was a bad sprain turned out to be a small fracture; my age means my wrist will only be 90% healed. Between the two what was pleasant days of meditation, study and the beach have become a shell.
I use the word shell because I go through the motions of meditation, study and beach but I know they are routines because they lack heart. Why has the heart gone out of them? Firstly meditation is not daily, and that provides the backbone; I don’t get up wanting to meditate and this is significantly due to my hormonally-disrupted sleep patterns. The destruction of Gaza provides external demotivation. How can people do that to each other, how can the zionist government and their soldiers do that? There is no excusing the ineffective Palestinian bombing including suicides, but what kind of horrendous occupation means that some of the people are willing to do that. And in this world the majority are against what the zionists are doing. But the 1% have the power, and there is nothing education can do. As an educator I feel powerless, whatever I learn and then teach doesn’t have the desired impact.
The keyword in that last sentence is desire, I desire social change, and I have to detach from that desire but at the moment I cannot. I would like for this study to be a change in me, but it isn’t. It’s not learning for learning’s sake, the learning alone is not driving me – the learning is not enough. And when I am learning and writing I doze!!
“The word “religion” has a broader meaning than the word “morality.” Morality has to do with behavior and happiness, and is basically the same the world over. A religion is a system of practice of a high order. The ways of practice advocated by the various religions differ greatly” [p 20]. It is now late and I am wide awake – thank you hormones. The issue of morality and religion is so important. I can remember when much younger having infuriating rows with a friend, in retrospect I am not pleased with myself concerning the rage I felt with those rows but have now realised that whilst the discussions for me were concerning learning and actually using the discussions to determine a solution I have discovered that the friend was using them as intellectual debate and that a solution was not important. His approach meant that just as we were moving to a possible agreement that would transcend the intellect his approach meant that the intellect could jump in and avoid truth. Over time he might well have attained truth but it was never at the time in conversation with me because of this defence mechanism. I now see my rage as a more legitimate response because I was too young and vital to detach myself from the situation.
One of the frustrations was that when talking of matters of the soul he focussed on morality. At the beginning of my retirement I focussed greatly on sila as a prerequisite for the Path, and I tended to equate soul with sila. Now this was an error. Firstly soul for me is not concerning reincarnation and transmigration, as I cannot be certain I do not accept the existence of such – I cannot experience them. But it is worth discussing sila and soul, and examining the error I made and how it connects with these frustrating arguments. Sila is a Pali word sometimes translated as moral integrity. It is a collected term for 3 parts of magga – the 8-fold path:- Right honesty, Right Livelihood and Right Speech. A few years ago I identified this sila with soul, but this is not the case. The soul I am referring to is a whole lot more. The usage of soul I am describing is about creativity as well as moral integrity – my earliest times on the Path came through creativity hence my usage – transmigration of souls was an intellectual concept for me. What was this creativity? Insight. That description of soul was concerned with Insight which is so much more important than morality. My earlier understanding did not embrace insight the way I do now – I wasn’t meditating. The muse was insight, and the muse and sila are nowhere near the same thing. So why did I previously connect the two – early retirement. Because sila once practised becomes the core of one’s actions and this core could be considered part of insight.
I remember when I started teaching I realised that I was a Teacher – capitalised because teaching was my Path (that teaching and what passes for education in our system have limited connection). Teaching was at the core of my being. I taught in a difficult school, that difficulty being actuated there in the poor behaviour of the students. I was required to act without thinking because of that poor behaviour and I needed for those actions to have professional integrity. They did because I was a Teacher and Teaching was in my core, my soul. Together with the “muse” soul was very real to me, but not known as insight then. This aspect of my argument revolved around the notion that soul and morality were synonymous. No that is not fair. I didn’t understand his argument so it is fair of me to assess what the position was. Albeit my frustration was concerning a perceived failure on tge part of my friend to recognise these two aspects of soul – creativity and the Teaching core as being beyond morality.
So what is creativity and Teaching core now? Here anatta and insight come in. Both are parts of insight but in some ways that does not help understanding. Yes it does but the understanding can go beyond insight. For insight can be perceived as personal, my insight, but insight is not personal. Creativity is not personal, that Teaching core was not personal. Personal requires separation, it requires self but both the muse and the Teacher were beyond self because I was not thinking. In the Teacher the thinking did not happen – I didn’t have the time to think. So if I was not thinking What was acting? No self. When I was writing I tapped into the muse. It is not uncommon for artists to describe their inspiration as coming form outside – hence the term muse which in some ideologies has almost God-like status. But this muse just happened, the self did not think, the construction of the sentences was not an intellectual or logical process but far more. It was Insight or No-self. This is far more than sila.
Yet without sila there is no Insight, moral integrity is required to move beyond the mundane. Without that basic security of moral action then defilement can happen. My confusion was that the Teaching at the core was moral action – Right Livelihood, but it was not it was No-self. But of course No-self is the highest morality – excuse my arrogance!!!
This Muse and the Teacher, they were not self. How can they not be self when I was acting? This brings us to Unity, it is Unity or Being that is acting when there is no self. What does this mean? To understand this requires a level of understanding of Unity or Gaia, and a degree of questioning of separation. There appear separate human individuals because our bodies are separate, questioning this notion of separation appears absurd. But if we consider various unities that appear separate maybe it is not that absurd. the two examples I always use are ants and the sea. When you look at the separate bodies of ants there appears to be uncanny communication, a level of communication and understanding better understood as One Ant with innumerable separate ant bodies but functioning as One. Waves appear to be individual and could easily be thought of as separate from the sea but once a wave rises and falls we know it is just sea. Humanity is born and dies in the same way, apparently separate selves but in reality just One Being of human bodies. When there is no self there is only the One Being acting through separate bodies. This is the Nature of Being of which our apparent separate selves are a part.
So there is a clear question, if this is the reality why do we think we are separate? And the answer is in the question, what thinks we are separate? Our separate minds think we are separate, our minds create the illusion of self. So when we talk of anatta we are talking of no mind.
But that sounds absurd as well – no mind. Once the mind kicks into action in whatever way self is created. Our minds prevent Being from acting through us. This is explained in the doctrine of paticcasammupadha – somehow. Here is my current stab.
It is better not to think of mind as an entity because thinking of mind creates separation. If there is no mind what is there? Khandas. These khandas are translated as aggregates, in other words the aggregate of the khandas is the human. In other words there is no self but khandas. So why not have my khandas? The self’s khandas? Having the concept of khandas themselves we have not resolved separation.
At the basis of paticcasammupada is that everything arises through cause and effect – conditions. Cause acts on the khandas producing effects, this arises because of the cause and not because of a self. In thinking of no-self this intellectually makes sense but I don’t feel it as truth. This is how I feel about all the stages of dependent arising and khandas. It is intellectual dogma to me despite it being the truth. I need to move it beyond intellectal dogma to understanding.
5 khandas :- rupa – body, Vedana – Feelings, Sanna Perception, Sankhara Thoughts,Vinnana Consciousness
The twelve nidanas and their causal relationships can be expressed as follows:
Paticcasammupada – English terms (wikipedia)
With Ignorance as condition, Mental Formations arise
As an intellectual system the khandas and paticcasammupada can explain that there is no need for self. But it is only a belief or faith unless it is understood, and as far as I am concerned there is no faith.
I continue slipping into the old patterns of writing for teaching as if the purpose of the writing is to teach. Teaching is a consequitor of learning and occurs only when the learner wants the teacher; writing only has a learning purpose. This is particularly true of blogging, the meat on the bones of insight.