So here we are, living our lives in the burning house, meditating, walking, doing our retreat jobs, all in the burning house. But if the way out is our self and there really is no self ….
In an interview I get the chance to ask Reb at last. We are sitting facing each other in the library with the great trees and Gaia House’s lovely garden outside the windows. He is attentive, alert and his eyes seem to contain the whole universe.
“So who gets out of the burning house?” I ask him.
“The one who made it” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. I’m shocked. He’d already said that there is no creator, no maker of the universe.
“But no one made it” I protest “Wasn’t it just made by the whole universe tangling things up together?”
“Yup” he says “and that who gets out – the whole universe gets out.”
“So the white bull and the computer that never crashes are all a con too?”
“Yup”. He smiles.
I am so relieved I want to hug him. I feel such a weight of confusion clear away as we go on to explore the parable and its strange implications.
But this con is a serious one – not just for me I realise as the retreat draws to its close. On the last night there is a ceremony in which four people take the precepts. I notice there are a few visitors and even some children sitting at the back of the hall to watch them take this great step in their lives. I begin to feel uncomfortable.
The whole process is done with precise coordination and seriousness, with the four lined up in front and Reb presiding. It reminds me of going to church but without the lovely music and beautiful surroundings. Here are four people, with deadly seriousness, dressing up in special robes and taking vows that are – by any normal standards – completely ridiculous. Not killing is fine unless you accept that by simply being alive and eating food you are responsible for others dying. Not intoxicating oneself or others is fine if you really think you’re going to live without drink, smoke, or any interesting drugs for the rest of your life (and don’t count tea, coffee, or those nice cold remedies that send you off into a woozy sleep). I suppose not misusing sexuality is fine if you have a clear idea of what use and misuse are in the case of sexuality. But I shiver at the whole idea of taking these sacred vows, and intending to become a Boddhisatva and live your life forever more for all others.
Worse than the impossible vows is the apparent clash with everything we have been learning. Didn’t Reb say that the mind of intention is wrong mind? Why then pile on all these intentions? Haven’t we been learning that we are nothing other than all beings in the first place, so vowing to work for all beings is superfluous. Hasn’t he explained that the inside and the outside of the burning house are really one and the same, and the promised mega-computers and fancy vehicles are just a trick to lure the children out? Why then dress up in fancy robes, put silly bits of cloth round your neck and make all these promises?
I didn’t want to be there. I really, really didn’t want to be there watching all this yuk unfolding …
With my new found tendency to notice pride I realised that at least part of my revulsion was due to pride. I didn’t want to spoil the occasion for others by creeping out. So I stayed, and watched, and listened, and wished I didn’t have to. I remembered Reb’s book on the precepts and how he make sense of them all but I went off to bed understanding for the first time in my life what it means to have a bad taste in one’s mouth from something that never touched a mouth.
The next day a lot became clearer, and I’ll write about that soon.