Thursday, June 19, 2008

Theravada 4 Eva

Posted 27th of March, 2008 @ Vraja Journal.


A person finding a sense of security in latching himself to an external conceptual framework may be inclined to a think that I have renounced the old Vaisnava-branded mind-frame and am seeking solace in a new Theravada-branded mind-frame. That would be overly simplistic. My brain tends to be more nuanced and twisted, no doubt to the joy of the many trying to resolve and classify my ramblings.

I am not seeking to accommodate myself to any given external concept structure, a formal doctrine I would assimilate in toto without chewing what I swallow. Doing it would be an easy evasion of responsibility; take it as it is, and if things go unexpected, blame it. Blame others, blame everyone but yourself, because you just followed. Or rather, made an uninformed and malprocessed decision to follow.

My current mode is a very pragmatic one. What works, that works, and that is worthy of imbibing. Unslanted observation and evaluation of reality is the only feasible and reliable avenue I have come across so far, a method where I observe and evaluate on all levels within my reach and choose a direction accordingly, subsequently also bearing personally and solely the responsibility for my choices.

"Did I hear you say you assume possible objectivity?" Well, not exactly. A human being is of course an inherently subjective entity. Yet still, should we become skilled in distancing ourselves from the ongoing mental commentary, we would be getting much closer to actual reality. The benefits are immense and encompass countless levels, and as such a bit beyond today's blog that has a different focus.

I wouldn't opt for becoming a Theravada fundamentalist. I do see the Theravadan way as a sublime and developed model of philosophical doctrine, as well as a very functional methodology of lifestyle and meditation, and as such have come to see it as worthy of following. Nevertheless, a "just because it is so" approach is indigestible for me. This view, uncharacteristic of a formalized religion, actually finds support in the Buddha's own teachings (see e.g. Kalama-sutta):
"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm and to suffering' — then you should abandon them."
Observe the fruits of diverse methods and teachings, conclude their worth for you on their own merits. That is, regardless of the brand label. I am writing this text at Tiruvannamalai, sitting in the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, the giant of Advaita-vedanta from half a century back. I have found his works very worthy, the crispness and lucidity of his perception admirable — and see no reason to abstain from the same owing to technicalities. To quote Ramana on a related theme (Talks 189):
Mr. Lacombe: Is Maharshi's teaching the same as Sankara's?
Ramana Maharshi: Maharshi's teaching is only an expression of his own experience and realisation. Others find that it tallies with Sri Sankara's. ... A realised person will use his own language. Silence is the best language.
Two standard epithets used for the Buddha's teachings on Dharma are sanditthiko, ehipassiko. Sanditthiko means that, which is self-evident; immediately apparent; visible here and now. Ehipassiko means that, which exhorts one to come and see. Bhagavad-gita (9.2) similarly speaks of the dharma as pratyaksa-avagama — that which is forthcoming to direct perception. My future builds on methods and concepts that are forthcoming to direct experience as yielding a worthy result.

With this are my priorities, in embracing methods and concepts I can practically perceive in benevolent action, yielding substantial and noble internal and external results. There is of course the issue of immediate and delayed consequence, but an acute observer will usually be able to notice at least some promising symptoms telling of the right direction. I find it equally hard to keep practicing methods from which good doesn't seem to be substantially developing either on a personal level or in the broader community of practitioners.

What are my base objectives? The following list of five would do for objectives currently being worked on. There are perhaps loftier goals the wise know of and have embraced, but the following is a base, the building of which I see as a necessity regardless of the specific spiritual path one may choose to follow. Even if the items below are primarily robed in language and systematism present in Buddhist scriptures, they are universal and also reflect some of my core values from before my introduction to Buddhism.
  1. There is a need to wholly weed out greed, anger and delusion from the mind, and cultivate their opposites, namely generosity, kindness and wisdom.
  2. There is a need to develop infinite compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
  3. There is a need to transcend the conceptualizing mind and obtain unslanted clarity or plain awareness.
  4. There is a need to learn to still the mind and bring it to perfect, single-pointed meditational focus.
  5. There is a need to, equipped with plain awareness and high focus, explore the nature of the conditional factors to eradicate ignorance.
Should anyone be well-equipped with the above requisites, I tend to think he'd be well set for any undertaking of spiritual substantiality. The methods of Theravada Buddhism for accomplishing the above are the most tangible and functional I have come across so far — and I have amended my practices accordingly. A hungry man needs an apple to eat, not promises of a heavenly tree with nectarine fruits far off in the worlds of utopia.

Beyond that, whether it's Theravada aka Vibhajjavada, Sarvastivada, Pudgalavada, Sammitiya, or whatever else, I really can't say I am in a position to judge their respective worths by analyzing the subtleties of their Abhidharma-theories that set them apart, and apparently at odds with each other, according to the scholastics anyway. When I attain the samadhi-level that gives me subatomic-level-penetrating perception, I'll no doubt be revisiting all of that with keen interest. In the meantime, I'll keep toddling along and working on the stuff that needs immediate attention.

In plain English, I haven't tattooed "Theravada 4 Eva" on my forehead. If I ever do, please someone come and scalp me for my own good.

No comments:

Post a Comment