Grasping at Sand – The Pursuit of Happiness

We pursue happiness,
grasping onto desires–
Justifying this as wisdom, as nature, as fact–
Fulfillment + gratification = happiness!!!
Yet we don’t see…

The heart grasping onto desires
Is like a hand grasping
Onto grains of the finest sand.
No matter how hard we
Try to hold on,
It slips out,
And what remains
Tickles and scratches,
Holding onto the hand
Even if the hand lets go.
Yet we don’t see…

Sand flits out of the hand’s grasp
Blowing away in the wind
Lost, gone, vanished
Like a dream
As though the grains were never there
Just like this
Desires arise and disappear
Ephemeral phantoms taken as solid
Yet we don’t see…
Is there a better way to be?

100_4073


Without desire, without distress
we keep to our empty heart.
The beauty of the Way is that there is no
“way”.

No self
No this, no that

Everything, everything is simply emptiness.
– Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Tao, §10)

Desire that has no desire is the Way
Tao is the balance of wanting
and our not-wanting mind

Travelers know that steep cliffs mean a long, hard
climb.
Just so with Tao:
No smooth roads without first a few ups and downs.
-Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Enlightenment, §1)

May this help you balance your wanting and not-wanting mind, finding the desire that has no desire. May this help you slowly open the heart that grasps onto desire, one that seeks happiness in selfish fulfillment. May you instead find your way onto the selfless path that brings true happiness: an open heart of bodhicitta (have a look at my discussion of the first chapter of the Dhammapada for more on the selfish and selfless paths, and have a look at this one for more discussion of bodhicitta).

Gassho!

Path of the Dharma: Dhammapada – Chapter 12: “Self”

Disclaimer: This book has 26 chapters, and I highly recommend you get a copy and read them all. I’ve had to pick and choose, and in so doing, much is passed over. I only hope to emphasize what is key for getting to the other side, but even in my choices, it would be too long to write out each whole chapter, so I have to pick selections from them as well.


Learn what is right; then teach others as the wise do. Before trying to guide others, be your own guide first. It is hard to learn to guide oneself.

Your own self is your master; who else could be? With yourself well controlled, you gain a master hard to find. (Chapter 12, Verses 158-160)

Stephen Ruppenthal introduces this chapter in my translation with an analysis of how the Buddha does not specify his position on what the self is; he cites the Buddhist scholar/philosopher par excellence, Nagarjuna. The Buddha, indeed, does not posit: “The self is X”. However, both here and in the opening lines of the first verse, (“All that we are is the result of what we have thought” see my previous post on the first chapter here), the Buddha makes clear that the self is something that can be trained. As such, it is something that can change; thus, it follows the Buddha’s emphasis on impermanence as does all else. The Buddha does not posit here that there is no atman (a soul), but he does say that the self is something that can be trained, mastered, and he indicates that the spiritual path is one in which you master yourself. The Buddha doesn’t posit anything about the self’s nature, as that would go entirely against the point (i.e. positing something that “atman is”.). Rather, he indicates selflessness, or as is often described as the Buddha’s position: no-self. As he says later in chapter 20: “All states are without self; those who realize this are freed from suffering.” He displays to us that what we label self is not fixed or permanent, rather a dynamic process: one that can be trained and mastered. A permanent, unchanging thing is not open to such dynamism. A biography I have recently read about the Buddha expressed the subtleties of this stance very well:

This was the last thing Gautama wished to communicate. He believed that in this life we inherit the karmic consequences of our actions in past lifetimes, and that when we die, our future existence will depend on our moral state in this one. Having been brought up to believe implicitly in rebirth, this didn’t raise for Gautama or his listeners the metaphysical problems it brings to many who hear these ideas today. He was trying to get away from metaphysical abstractions and point people towards the kind of experience they could detect and observe. Of course, Gautama was saying, every person, including a Buddha, thinks, feels and experiences; the point is that how we think and feel shapes the kind of people we become in the future. The self, therefore, is a process and the task is to shape it. The wanderers should stop asking of life, ‘What is it?‘ or ‘Where is the true self?‘ They should look, instead, at their actual experience and ask, ‘How does it work?‘ Sue Hamilton succinctly encapsulates Gautama’s approach: ‘That you are is neither the question or in question: you need to forget even the issue of self-hood and understand instead how you work in a dependently originated world of experience.’ (Blomfield, Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One, p. 151)

whirlpool-waves

The self is a process that changes with time like the flow of a river (read Hesse’s famous “Siddhartha”) or the waves ebbing and flowing on an ocean. Note: the flux of some processes can take a very, very long time–such as the erosion of a mountain. That does not make the mountain a permanent, solid entity…

In the quoted passage from Chapter 12, as elsewhere in the Dhammapada, the Buddha tells us to guide ourselves to develop our own wisdom (especially if no wise people are around to guide us–he clearly states it is better to go alone than follow the spiritually immature) and master our own minds. No one else can master them for us. This is the most fundamental aspect of the path–the aspect that wholly depends on our own efforts and no one else’s.

The evil done by the selfish crushes them as a diamond breaks a hard gem. As a vine overpowers a tree, evil overpowers those who do evil, trapping them in a situation that only their enemies would wish them to be in. Evil deeds, which harm the doer, are easy to do; good deeds are not so easy. (Chapter 12, Verses 161-163)

This injunction to not do evil comes right after the call to master the self. How are they connected and what exactly are we supposed to avoid? The answer could readily be seen in the twin verses of the opening chapter already discussed in my previous post. Self-mastery, the proper way to guide yourself, is to tame your thoughts in such a manner that will bring you away from sorrow and closer to joy beyond death–nirvana. It’s a taming that cultivates selfless thought–thought in accordance with the Eightfold Path, rather than the selfish thoughts that our mind is constantly lost in as untamed monkey mind. Selfless thought shapes the mind in a way that brings joy and nirvana. Selfish thought molds the mind in a way that brings sorrow and samsara.


May this help you see your “self” in a light that allows you to cultivate joy for yourself and others. May you be inspired to read through this great spiritual work and find the path to liberation from suffering. May you have the generosity, energy, discipline, patience, meditative insight, and wisdom to walk it.

Gassho.

Snippets of Wisdom from an Old Journal

I recently moved, and when I did, I came across some things that had been buried in boxes and corners. I found an old journal in which I wrote about the beginnings of my spiritual path, roughly a year and a half ago. I’ve strayed a bit and returned since then, but I was impressed to have found these thoughts and feelings at the end (because they are close to where I am now in many ways although I subsequently lost many of them) and thought I would share them here. I also shared another piece from this journal in a previous post: Control and Letting Go.


Reading through my words from the past…

8/15/2013

In any case, I am finding it very difficult to remain compassionate in the interpersonal drama of daily life. I see everyone casting about their plans, goals, and emotional hooks. In so doing, they use others as objects, as though we are all some great game of emotional physics–balls of emotional matter bouncing off one another and taking on each others’ energy. Is it any surprise that everyone else acts in turn when this is the inherently agreed upon name of the game? Some might say this is human nature or the human condition; I would say that the second is possible but only because we all make it so. I know that by the end of the retreat, I was able to step away from this game for the most part with a different perspective, and I understand why monks remove themselves from the attachment of the world now.

8/16/2013
Yesterday, I distinctly had a moment when I felt that the activities and lives of people are like so many ants, scurrying around the face of the planet, myopically thinking that their aspirations are more profound as their self-centered goals damage their very home. Of course, who am I to think I am removed from this, but I don’t think I am; I just think I am able to see it. We each think our own life is special and unique, thinking ourselves separate, and in one way, we are; however, in a larger way, all of the manifestations of separate difference are part of a greater universal whole that holds all difference in its chaotic depths, and we are merely its unfolding sway. This is where my Buddhist experiences from the retreat encounter Deleuzean difference, and I think they work together beautifully. It seems to me that Deleuze offers a metaphysical theory that resonates with the changing nothingness of Buddhist thought.
Another issue I face again and again now is the problem of balance and integration. How do I take my experiences and insights up as an ongoing practice in my life? I think that I’m doing OK with this despite my moments of being drawn into my own drama. Also, how does one balance the truths of separate individual life with that of the greater picture? This is the question I’m left with after Dōgen and after my new-found insight. I don’t know, but I find myself thinking often of ethics and self-growth over and across from trying to be a bodhisattva. This will take much more reading and meditation.

8/22/2013

I ultimately had to take a short walk to the park. Once there, I sat and meditated for a few minutes. I heard the cries of joy from nearby children and felt their lives wash over me as they experienced excitement, pain, happiness, and frustration. I heard cars go by on 33rd Ave. I saw the green of the grass and the blue of the sky as wind blew across my face. I saw people walk by, absorbed in their daily lives. I felt the universe unfolding in all the particularity of that moment, felt it unfolding again into the next and then again in the next–each just as miraculous as the last.
At the same time, I opened my heart chakra and felt that I was part of it all without separation. I was the children, the grass, the cars, the wind, and the universe. Of course, “I” is somewhat inaccurate here, and I’ll return to my placeholder about judgment from earlier. We constantly go through life labeling everything as “good” or “bad”. This is how our minds work–an apparatus for making decisions which is a separation of things into different categories. The unison of things is split apart into qualitatively different entities by the mind. This is not false. It is one aspect of existing as an embodied individual, but it is also not absolutely true as it is also true that everything is one and that the differences of separation are merely an illusion. As such, it is narrow-minded, or rather, missing the greater picture in pursuing “good” moments as special, uplifting moments of existence. Good and bad are just our own cognitive labels. Every moment is just as miraculous as every other.
In any case, my meditation allowed me to return to such a compassionate perspective, and I was able to go through the rest of the day and night with more grace and acceptance.


For more discussion of “good”/”bad” and our labeling of things, see: Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 — Love and Metaphysics.

Next Newer Entries