Buddhism is a mess. To look at all who hold reference to “what the Buddha taught” and the life of the Buddha, there appears to be nothing at the common core. One might imagine taking the three schools of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, seek commonality, and then call that commonality “the core of Buddhism” – and that doesn’t work either.
There seems a greater commonality in Christianity and Islam. Christianity has the two testaments, but then look at what passes for Christian behaviour on the Far Right of America. And in Islam you have the 3 branches of the Koran, Haddith and Shariya. These branches are hierarchical in belief, ie the Koran is the most important, and yet there are still people who blow themselves up claiming Shariya justification. And then there is the horrendous religion of Zionism which includes land as part of a religious belief.
Yet throughout the mess of Buddhism and the wider messes of the other religions all people are seeking meaning, seeking their paths. Somehow, in some way, these paths are the same because we are unity, one consciousness.
In future I have to play a bit of a Buddhist game using the sutta card. That which is the most profound and significant in my life has been my experiences. I attach great importance to these experiences because they have been life changing, but they are only just that – experiences. They are things to learn from and move on – despite their power. In Buddhist terms these experiences have ultimately been about anatta.
The first experience of anatta was one that I was completely oblivious of. Throughout my childhood I had followed instinct, on reflection the only consciousness I let in was reason because I gained acceptance through academic success. Yet even that was dubious because of the lack of effort in my studies. By the time I was 21 I had qualifications, and little understanding. Philosophy was my only expression of consciousness in that I wanted to study philosophy at university – long discussions with Henry were philosophical (Upper Sixth) although I have no idea what we talked about. But the university drink and socialising took over, and my mind never had the discipline to focus on philosophical study. On reflection I am amused at the year 1 philosophy exam in which I answered the questions by investigation as I hadn’t read a text, and got sufficient to drop it (maybe they just gave me enough to drop it and not be kicked out). I focussed on maths and became nothing but a maths drunk.
Conflict developed because of academic games with the stats department. I remember the details and I don’t always do that – my first conflict!! I was doing joint maths and stats, wanted to do stats postgrad, got a II(1) in maths and a II(2) overall – I knew the stats better than I knew the maths. So why did they let me do stats postgrad when a II(1) ought to be minimal postgrad requirements? I think the prior prof had been Lindley (if not Lindley a famous stats guy). To maintain the high standards set by Lindley the new prof lowered the results so that a II(2) from Aber meant something. What happened in my postgrad year backed this up. The degree students were all getting 3rds and some who worked got a pass, a pass was given if you completed the course and sat the exam. That was the first time I was a union guy, remembering lots of conversations about what was happening.
So I had focussed my self as an academic, and the institution sucked. I had done maths/stats because it was easier for me, and consciousness had lost out because I was too drunk and ill-disciplined to study philosophy. Work brought the next conflict because I had not discipline and didn’t know how to work. I wanted to be a statistician, and the company just wanted to make a. profit. In my first company I was a bit of a drunken talisman, Wendy found me, got no salary increase – didn’t deserve any, and moved on. Sevenoaks taught me how much of a talisman I had been because I had no work idea. I filled in data sheets wrongly and my immediate boss quite rightly said he preferred to use the school leaver. I did something stupid and they sacked me – well deserved the stupid incident was only the excuse. I had no discipline, no idea, I was a drunk who couldn’t work.
My self then had nothing. My academic self did not matter, I had no career or professional self, I had nothing – I was just a drunk – drank too much but not too heavily. I was absolutely nowhere at that point. My instinct through my upbringing had given me the qualifications to start on the bottom rung of the ladder, and the ladder had no attraction for me. I had no sila, the drink making that worse, the self had been completely destroyed, and there was just nothing. I hit bottom. I had the good sense to go back to Sale but I actually had nowhere else to go as I had no job – so no money. I probably spent a month walking as I cannot remember but walking was my escape – just walking the streets. It was over Xmas, and I remember a mixture of envy and disinterest as I heard the raucousness of office parties in the pubs. At some stage early in the New Year I decided to return to London. There was attraction and experience to be had in London, Manchester was too much parents, memories of a repressed childhood, and just a place I wandered on the outside. Something connected to London, I thought. I remember wanting a job that was not academic, and went to an agency. They forced me into a cobol programming job, I had the qualifications and they had their percentage – I had no idea.
I started work in a cubicle reading manuals. I remember a pipsqueak telling me off over something trivial and getting really upset because it was only discipline that was keeping me there. But the discipline was good, I was trying yoga and meditation. I had reconnected with Wendy, so I guess I had touched the Arts Centre. Art was never something I related to being a mathematician, and I say touch because I cannot recall being there. But I do remember Linda talking about the mongol kids when I started the Saturday volunteering. I lasted maybe two months on the cobol, and the second month I volunteered with the kids. That was my first compassion coming through, and it became a full-time temporary housefather compassion, consciousness was coming through.
The Arts Centre validated a different self, the writer, but this self had compassion and intelligence, and whilst writing had jhana – concentration, concentration that allowed consciousness through. I was on my path but there was still much self in the way. Consciousness came out through the writing, and I was encouraged to see the world for what it was through creativity – the eyes of the Art world discovering itself. “Seeing what it is” is like Buddhadasa’s “learning what is what”, but there was no Buddhism only a vague spirituality sponsored by creativity. But it was consciousness – vinnana. However what I saw as spirituality, I did not see as vinnana, I saw consciousness and spirit as something completely different. It was at this time I was beginning to use words to describe the Unconditioned thinking that my consciousness and creativity came from the Unconditioned as opposed to jhanas. This fallacy developed more when a few years later I got involved with theosophy. Theosophy was good for me because it opened up a whole world of people talking about spirituality, but it was the intellectual mind spreading its fanciful wings.
By this time the drink had got hold of me again because of work. I was teaching, I was born to be a teacher, but the institution was so screwed up by the 1% (nee bourgeoisie) the teacher in me wanted to drink. Thus began my working life of stress, stress that initially came out with drink and then later became apathy because of degenerative ill health. Throughout my teaching I had the holidays, they became my spiritual time. Here more experiences (jhanas) happened. I began to associate these jhanas with presence. I remember the Summer I wrote Kirramura. I was living in Brighton walking on the Downs, and then waiting for bed-time when I would lie there waiting for presence to come. At that point I centred, and as I centred it was as if there were only presence (I now call that presence “muse”). I associated this presence with spirit so in Buddhist terms I was trying to describe the Unconditioned, but it (the muse) was some form of jhana.
Meditation was never a part of my life, I dismissed meditation because of pretensions and Buddhism because spirit was free and did not need discipline; both were intellectual self giving excuses, trickster reasons not to embrace truth and true practise. On occasions I did have jhanas occur through some form of meditation through the centring process described above. So this spiritual existence based on my personal experiences interpreted by an errant frame of reference continued for 30 years until I retired. During work these experiences dwindled as my health and therefore energy began to deteriorate. I had always been close to nature when not teaching, and this became more and more important during the holidays which became back to nature and studying. For many holidays would be rushing from one place to another, whilst I met some good people on the holidays my holiday was static and based on study in a natural surround.
I used to think of these holidays as getting back to the path as work had dragged me away. Often walking and later sitting it was me in nature. On retrospection Kirramura was the end of the muse experience. Following Kirramura coincided with travelling, and once in Botswana I found nature 24/7. I got there and I felt free. I associated that freedom with being out of UK repression but it was more than that, I was free because of nature. I loved being in nature that Botswana gave me. Once I got rid of western angst and settled into the peace of African time I got back to nature far more regularly, I can still remember weekend afternoons under the reeds of Shashe dam, or the campsites especially Maleme. It was such a wonderful time. I remember the wonderful women with their strife, but the real Africa for me was nature – it is African nature I cried for when I left; I remember travelling to Maleme my last weekend and crying. I am feeling emotional now Africa was so wonderful …. I want to be there but the violence I can’t be.
There has to be nature in my life.
Africa brought me back to study. Around me there was drinking and screwing, and although I enjoyed the second it was very disruptive with the strife that came with the women. And the fact that I didn’t offer them anything. Once the UK repression went, study came, and included in that study came a life review that is still around on my website. Post-review meditation began to come in, and I remember erratic experiences (jhanas). I loved being in Africa, I should say Southern Africa – Nigeria had none of it. I played too much but it was a place for playing, the people I knew there were playing as well, the place was built for playing. I played and studied and centred again on my spiritual life. I first began with websites there, here are my earlier deliberations. It was the first time I thought of Buddhism but it was still mostly spiritual. I should also say Africa made me love education again, and I will always remember the haunting Kereng’s “we’ll miss you” after I surprisingly told the kids (surprise to me) how they had brought education back to me. Never had it again with all the screwed up institutions I later worked in, although the kids in China were so attentive and hard-working. Until I retired I never had that feel again, I now have it but every time I think of that Africa I want to go back – but I can’t, age and violence prevent me, too ill-disciplined.
Once study had got hold of me again, and with the return of the experiences Buddhism had to follow. I tried to develop the study with the institution but the gatekeeper told me that they allowed educated thinking at M Ed but Ph D was too integral to the institution and you had to follow their discipline. Soon study turned to where it belonged “Buddhism”. I became Buddhist when I became absorbed at Wat Phra Keau – jhana, I then visited a monastery, felt presence – jhana – that the guest monk had no idea what I was talking about, and never looked back.
But my experiences were still not in the correct frame of reference, I had more than 10 years to wait for that – assuming I am somewhere near now. Buddhism has become so disparate the frame of reference has disappeared, I have to assume that the Buddha gave the correct frame of reference. There have been too many revisions and inappropriate interpretations that what the Buddha taught has been lost as an integrity. Whilst that is true, what is truer is that I have never had to face my own false frames of reference.
When I retired my first study led me to sila, blog history here will show that. I early in retirement read Buddhadasa, and this helped clear some delusions but I was left with others. The power of my experiences (the strength of the jhanas) made me attached to the experiences, and I was attached to the feeling that these were more than vinnana – more than consciousness, what I fancifully later called Voidness-“experience”. In truth Buddhism has never asked me to place these experiences in a Buddhist context. OK this is my fault, I have never been to teachers. I have been to monasteries for short-term retreats but I have never been taught. Maybe if I had been taught I would have been taught jhanas, and taught that these experiences were jhanas.
Here is what the Buddha said about jhanas:-
“And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration.” Samyutta Nikaya 45.8
Someone said that jhanas are discussed everywhere in the suttas, yet my mind has tricked me into never seeing what has happened to me as jhanas. Look at what I have just written, look at this sutta. Stilling through walking, stilling alone, clear mind through writing, clear awareness when writing; what else is it?
No jhanas are not Unconditioned. This spirituality is consciousness, vinnana, it is right concentration, but it is not Voidness. Why have I not looked at jhanas? Because they are monks shut away in monasteries sitting. My experiences were about me coping with and then living daily life. Jhanas are this as well but not all do that. At the same time there appears to be a chauvinism about jhana, am I in jhana? Have I reached jhana 7? I haven’t fully studied what the Buddha describes as jhana nor what Tan Ajaan has either but I don’t know what level these experiences are. I didn’t choose them, they are not a reflection on work I did. Far from it at the beginning I didn’t know what was happening. After that I was not disciplined and working hard. The problem with all this chauvinism is that it separates people. “How far have I got?” is a competition – separation. More to be done on jhanas – a lot more. And a lot more on jhana reconciliation.
|Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.