Archive for October, 2009

Nausea at the precepts

October 24, 2009

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.

The three fancy vehicles are a con

October 13, 2009

The days go by – every day the same routine; every day different states of mind, different troubles or joys, peace or not. Reb has a strange routine for his dharma talks. First he gives the talk but if anyone interrupts or asks a question – whether during the talk or afterwards – that person has to go up onto the low stage and sit on a cushion right next to Reb and address the whole hall of 60 or 70 people. This has extraordinary effects on the people who go up there.

One day a man struggles to understand Reb’s lecture and begins talking about the Creator. No, says Reb. In Buddhism, unlike in the monotheistic religions, there is no creator, he explains. The universe is self-moving. “This means we can play with the scientists” he concludes, which delights me. How wonderful it is to find a practice like this that does not entail believing things that are scientifically rubbish.  I keep sitting, keep working.

The three fancy vehicles are a con, we learn. When the children find their way out of the burning house there is instead one grand carriage drawn by a great white bullock that flies as fast as the wind; the one Buddha vehicle. Aha. And the gateway is oneself. Or another way of putting it is that everything is both the burning house and the way out of the burning house. Even the outside is really the burning house and the way out; being out is really only knowing that you are in the burning house. I suppose that flying like the wind on that great one vehicle is also really being inside the burning house. I begin to see everything around as the burning house, as the world of delusion.

“We seem to be sitting here, silent and still” says Reb. He urges us to sit wholeheartedly with body and mind. Indeed we must do everything we do wholeheartedly with body and mind. I had never thought of sitting meditation as something you do with the body but obviously it is. Being wholehearted about what you do now seems to me to be the opposite of having pride. As I sit the pointless conversations with myself sometimes start up but now I can see them too as more pride; things I want to tell other people – more pride, reasons why I did things in the past – more pride. It is amazing to me how pride there is!

In one session I go up to the platform and, like others, find the experience daunting (not like giving lectures to hundreds of people which I’m perfectly used to!). I tell Reb that I have seen all sorts of little examples of pride and almost feel ready to face the bigger prides – not just the little ones here on retreat that can’t hurt anyone, like being annoyed with people during kinhin. He is quite sharp with me and tells me not to judge pride as small, medium or large, or to decide in advance which will be easy or hard, or which will hurt people and which won’t. “People are easily hurt”, he says. “Right here being annoyed about kinhin all by yourself can hurt people”. I see his point – we are easily hurt, aren’t we!

We are easily hurt in this burning house; this world of delusion.

(I’ve got one final post to add about the retreat – troubles with a ceremony)