Indian Buddhism is really the key part of the course. Indian Buddhism today is taught only in Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, which used to be called Ceylon. You remember, when I talked about Zen Buddhism, I said, “Zen is life affirming, everything has to do with life affirmation.” Original Indian Buddhism is life negating. The Buddha said, “This world is a house on fire, get out of it.” It is suffering. Even what you think of as pleasure or joy is suffering. Therefore, to give up your individuality, you give up your self and are in nirvana, which is perpetual joy, but not as ‘Joe Jones’ or some individual identity. There are many who feel that no man in history has ever reached the level of knowing Being the way the Buddha did. You’ll get a chance to judge for yourself. But you’re going to have to empty your minds of preconceptions in order to understand what it is that the Buddha taught.

Buddha’s Background

First I’m going to tell you a little about the Buddha, the background. The Buddha was named Siddhartha and also Gautama. He was a prince in the kingdom of Shakya. This is why he’s called Shakya Muni. Very few scholars know this. They don’t know what muni means. They think it means a sage. Muni comes from the Sanskrit word mouna which means “silence.” A muni such as Ramana Maharshi is one who teaches in silence. We know the Buddha talked, lectured, for some forty odd years so how could he be teaching in silence? He said once, “Although I have led innumerable beings to salvation, I’ve never led anybody to salvation. Although I’ve preached innumerable words, I’ve never said a word.” There’s deep meaning there.

When the Buddha was born (of course he wasn’t called the Buddha – the Buddha means the Enlightened One, and only one man in history has ever received that title), his father, the king of the Shakya tribe, was told by the astrologer, “Your son will either be a chakravarti, a world conqueror, or he will be the greatest living holy man. The king didn’t want his son to be the greatest living holy man. He wanted Gautama to be a world conqueror. So he gave the order that while Gautama grew up, he was to see no suffering, have nothing but joy and pleasure; and he was never to see or view death.

Gautama grew up indulging in bow and arrow contests, riding his elephant, and hunting. He had a beautiful wife, maybe he had dancing girls, I don’t know, and he had a son, Rahula. Life was joy for him. One day his elephant driver accidentally took the wrong street. There on the ground lay the body of a dead man. Overcome by this sight, the Buddha realized all this joyful life didn’t mean anything. It was going to come to an end pretty soon.

That night, he and the elephant driver snuck out of the city and went to join a wandering band of ascetics. Gautama went from being a prince with everything to begging for food (and not much at that.) He studied with each of these many ascetics. He practiced what they did for a number of years. He said, “That is not the way. What they are trying to do is get a favorable birth; they want to go to heaven.” His goal was to end suffering.

Gautama left the group and went out by himself with his own practice, the basis of which is mindfulness. The Satipatthana, literally “The Way of Mindfulness,” is the great four-step meditation, which I teach when I give the “Heightened Awareness” seminars. Very few people will do it and stick with it. I think the Satipatthana is the king of meditation. Mindfulness becomes a 24-hour a day practice, even while you’re working or sleeping or playing. Finally, through his asceticism, Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree and almost died of starvation. Fortunately, a milkmaid gave him some milk to drink. He said, “I’ll sit here until I reach total enlightenment.” He was assailed by Mara, the devil, and assailed by all temptations. He stood firm. Finally, with the rising of the morning star, total enlightenment was his. I’m not going to go into what he said or what he felt at that time. First of all, I don’t think there was a secretary taking down his words. I think different sects make up his words to suit themselves.

Gautama wanted to find the causes of suffering, end suffering, and have the bliss of Nirvana for everybody. By ‘everybody’ he didn’t mean just people. This includes every being, every blade of grass. My friend Paul Reps, when asked who he was, said, “I feel the equal of every blade of grass.” Paul understood.

After his enlightenment, the Buddha then remained sitting under the Bodhi tree, for I don’t know how many weeks, just lost in joy, just lost in bliss. No one in historic times had ever experienced this before. It is said that the god Brahma came to him and said, “Now you must use this knowledge for the benefit, the welfare of all men.” At first Buddha thought, “Men are little more than animals. They want their ease; they want a little joy; and they suffer. They’re born; later they experience old age.” The Buddha thought it might be a waste of time. Then he wondered if anyone would be able to understand; the original ascetics that he had known would. Buddha realized that they had moved toward Varanasi, which some of you know as Benares. He walked to Benares and as he approached the group, one man said, “Oh, here comes the ascetic Gautama who eats rich food.” But as the Buddha got closer, they got to their feet. He sat down and said he wanted to tell them the secret of Being. They were very doubtful. He said to them, “Have I ever spoke of this before?” “No,” they answered.

He turned the wheel of dharma for the first time in his speech to them, which we have translated into practically every language. With the Buddha’s enlightenment the complete method had come to him. It is probably the most abstruse thinking that’s ever been done by a human being.

For 400 years the Buddha’s method was passed orally. All remembered. What is more remarkable is one of his cousins, one of his disciples, Ananda, later remembered every word he ever said over 49 years. Later he repeated it to a council, who then entrusted it to monks, who passed it on to other monks.

What did the Buddha say? He said, “Greed, anger, and delusion are the cause of suffering.” If you think very deeply about it, you’ll find they’re the same thing: I love somebody and I want to hang on to her. That’s greed. I’m jealous. I get angry. That’s anger. I’m under the delusion that I can possess her. Keep her young and beautiful. They are really the same thing.

Four Noble Truths

Buddha said, “There are Four Noble Truths.”

1.) There is suffering. The one thing that all beings have in common is suffering. Suffering is common to all beings;

2.) There is an origin of suffering; 3.) There is a cessation of suffering;

4.) And there is a path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Then Buddha goes on to talk about that path, the Noble Eightfold Path:

1.) right understanding;

2.) right thought;

3.) right speech;

4.) right action;

5.) right livelihood (are there any tobacco growers in the room?);

6.) right effort;

7.) right mindfulness;

8.) right concentration (meaning meditation).

Buddha said, “Do not discuss these things with those who do not meditate. Be good to them, pay respects to them, but don’t get into discussions as to whether what you are doing is right or not.”

Impermanence, Suffering, & No-soul

The Buddha said there are three truths that make up life. The first is impermanence. We all live as though there is permanence. People don’t think they’re going to die. “I have a wonderful job, a swimming pool, two lovely children who are always obedient, a beautiful spouse. I’ll always have a good job; I’ll always have a swimming pool; my children will always be obedient; and my wife will always be beautiful.” Is that the way things work? In my mind, the biggest cause of suffering is the failure to accord with impermanence. A beautiful woman, past middle age, begins to look in the mirror every day and she sees little changes. She’s going to fight impermanence. Go fight City Hall!

The second truth is suffering, dukha. (Sukha is joy; suffering is dukha.) Dukha is a little different from ordinary suffering. The basis of the Buddha’s suffering is not knowing what you really are, who and what you really are. If you don’t know who you are, you’re going to drift through life, or blow like a tumbleweed.

The third truth (which is the most difficult and about which people fight continually) is there is no abiding self or soul. The key to Buddhism is An-atman, no atman, no abiding self or soul. Sure, on a tentative basis, you are here. This table looks very solid, but it hasn’t always been a table and it won’t always be a table. To illustrate this, I’ve often given the following example: A man dies and his body is eaten by worms. The birds eat the worms. The birds die and become the soil, and in the soil a tree grows which gives fruit. The fruit falls to the ground and is eaten by man. The man dies and the worms take over. At what point does one become the other? In other words, when does the man become the worm, and when does the worm become the bird?

On a related note, there is a very deep form of Buddhist philosophy in Japan known as Kegon, the Buddhism of totality. (There’s a Kegon Falls in Japan. I asked a lot of the Japanese who were there, “Do you know why this is called Kegon Falls?” Not one of them knew why it was named Kegon. It was from Kegon philosophy.) Kegon is the Buddhism of the interlocking, the totality of everything. It is very beautiful to read.

Five Skandhas

The Buddha said you are composed of five skandhas: body, feelings, perceptions, emotions, consciousness. When you take away these five, you’re not there any more. When these five skandhas are gone, what is left? Sure you are here, but are you here permanently? All other religions teach that there is an eternal soul that has no beginning and no ending.

The Buddha said, “No, there’s no such thing as a soul. There is a thing called the ‘dependant origination.’” It’s one of the most famous expressions. “This arising, that arises.” It’s like three legs of a tripod: if you take away one leg, the others fall. This arising, that arises. We are all interwoven, interdependent, and the result of causes which intermingle and each are affected by the other. I’m not solely talking about human beings. Dependent origination is completely contrary to the idea that you were created as an individual soul and that you have this great individuality, which will go through eternity. That’s what all other religions teach.

Hindrances to Meditation

All Buddhists meditate. Zen, which means meditation Buddhism, is based on it. The Buddha said there are several hindrances to meditation. Those of you who practice meditation (quite a few of you do, I believe) might be interested in this.

1.) Sense desire – We don’t want to give that up; lemon meringue pie is pretty good;

2.) Anger – We don’t want to give up anger. Why do we get angry? Because we get puffed up. Who do you think you are to say that to me? He did that to me! He said it and therefore my ego is threatened. I get angry. If there were no ego, no sense of self, and offended self, there would be no anger;

3.) Doubt.

Illustrations of Anger

I have seen Zen masters get angry, believe me! I saw my Zen master get angry once. He sent a young monk to get something at the store, and the monk got held up watching some sort of celebration. He came back a couple of hours late. Consequently, we didn’t have food for dinner. When the monk returned, Roshi didn’t say a word to him. Roshi didn’t eat dinner that night. He didn’t eat breakfast or lunch the following day. He told me that when he got angry, he didn’t eat because the food would turn to poison in his stomach. So he went on and carried out his duties without eating. Never said a word to this young fellow. Imagine how the young fellow felt. I’m sure he never did anything like that again. That’s much worse punishment than if you get balled out.

There is another story about a great calligrapher, a Zen poet, who lived pretty much as a hermit. The poet had nothing, but he came from a fairly wealthy family. He got a message one time: Would he return home briefly because one of the younger members of the family was squandering the family fortune on some dancer or singer. The family couldn’t get through to him.

The poet made his way to the family island home. (He never really had intended to go home again.) He spent the night, slept in the same room with this young fellow. The poet never said anything to him. The next morning when they got up, the poet bent over to tie his sandals and said to the young man, “Would you help me tie my sandals? We get older every day. Time goes along and we don’t realize it. Please help me.” The young fellow helped him tie the sandals (which the poet could very well tie himself) and felt the tears of the poet as they dripped onto the sandals. Then the poet straightened up and said to the young fellow, “Take good care of yourself.” He went away and never mentioned the whole affair. The young man never wasted his money again. That’s good teaching. I could give you many examples of that.

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The Buddha’s teachings, in some ways, are not different from the traditional teachings of India. The great difference lies in the an-atman, no abiding Self. Buddhism and the teachings of India both recognize impermanence. The Upanishads constantly talk about impermanence. However, the Upanishads are startlingly different in the treatment of the Self. The Upanishads talk about the Self and the Overself, Brahman and Atman (which are basically the same.) In Buddhism this does not occur, nor does God.

Buddhism is based on karma. “Work out your own salvation,” were the last words of the Buddha. The causes you put into motion will come back as effects. It isn’t that you can do something “bad” (I don’t like to use the word “bad”), something very negative, and then say to yourself, “I can pray and maybe there’ll be grace and I won’t get punished.”

Basically the Buddha said greed, anger, and delusion are the cause of suffering. Greed for food, greed for money, greed to possess another, even greed for life will cause suffering. It would appear to be an instinct that all beings hang on to life. Yet even hanging on to life is a kind of greed. Non-attachment (vairagya) rather than attachment liberates. If we follow the senses, if we follow pleasures, we gradually accumulate desires: “I want to repeat this because it’s very pleasurable. I want to stay away from that because it’s not pleasurable.” Through picking and choosing, we create attachments, which means that we create suffering. Non- attachment doesn’t mean giving up things. It means being not attached to them. A wealthy businessman can be a holy man just as well as a yogi, sometimes more easily.

What is Real Penance?

I once traveled with a holy man in India and I had a difficult time. He wouldn’t eat anything except prasad. Prasad is food consecrated by a temple. Well, you don’t come across prasad too often and I had to eat. But he didn’t. One day, we were driving along (he would drive a car) and we saw a man walking along a lonely road by himself with just a little string around his hips, ashes on his forehead, and various other markings on his body. I said, “What are all those marking?” The holy man answered, “He’s doing penance, tapas.” I responded, “Wouldn’t it be greater penance if he put on a business suit and no one could see these marks, and he did it without letting anyone know? That would be real penance.” But, of course, there would be no fun to that. If you’re going to suffer and do penance, you want everyone to know about it. I saw that very often in India.

A Return to the Five Skandhas: Consciousness Is a Phenomenon

As mentioned earlier, Buddha said there are the five “heaps” or skandhas: body, feelings, perceptions, emotions, and consciousness. In Buddhism, unlike Yoga, consciousness, too, is a dharma. That is, it is a phenomenon: It comes and it goes. On the other hand, in Kashmir Shaivism consciousness is the eternal. The Holy is consciousness. Not in Buddhism. Certain things bring consciousness into being, and without those causes, consciousness will fade from being. The five skandhas are what make up a being. Buddhism says that, when you take away body, feelings, perceptions, emotions, and consciousness, there is nothing left. What is it that is going to continue through eternity?

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The law of karma is everything. From the Buddha’s standpoint, nothing happens without a preceding cause. Thus even God would have to have a preceding cause. And what came before the preceding cause to God? One could go on regressing ad infinitum. God plays no part in Buddhism. Buddha never denied there was a God. He never answered questions about whether there was God or not. He said, “It is up to you to make your karma and make it properly or there will be suffering.” He did say, however, that there were gods, with a small “g.” One time the Buddha was asked, “Are you a God, a superman, what are you?” He replied, “I am awake!” Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say that? I am awake. The Buddha said, “Clear comprehension of Reality is the clarity and presence of knowledge that, in or behind the functions performed by the first three modes of clear comprehension, there is no abiding, lasting personality, ego, soul, substance.” So much of Zen has to do with this.

Stop Sticking Pins in Yourself

Meditation in Buddhism is called “right concentration.” Various subjects are given. The first is metta, sympathy. Good feelings toward all beings. One form, metta, is the practice of loving kindness, first, to oneself. I hope some of you are listening to that. First to oneself. Don’t be unkind to yourself. Then extend metta to all beings. This overcomes fear. Meditation on loving-kindness overcomes fear. Yesterday, I told someone, “Stop sticking pins in yourself.” We all do that sometimes. We’re too hard on ourselves. Being hard on oneself, in a sense, is ego- aggrandizement. I remember the book Jurgen, written so many years ago by James Branch Cabell. In the book, the grandfather went to hell. He insisted on going to hell because he had committed so many sins in his lifetime though no one had any record of it. The grandfather was indignant; he wanted to suffer more. The imps said, “We’re doing our best. We only have two hands.” When we stick pins in ourselves, it impedes the development of right concentration. If you get a chance (those of you who have either Meditation for Healing or Joys of Meditation) look through the Satipatthana, the way of mindfulness, and see if you feel like practicing it.

Stages of Meditation

With the investigation of Reality, meditation will go through various stages: energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, equanimity. About concentration it is said, “A lamp does not flicker in a windless place.” The Buddha talked about Buddhist meditation and he said, “In Buddhist meditation the first absorption is detachment from conceptual thought, filled with rapture and joy. For most of us who practice it, we feel that joy. That is the first absorption. Later you go on to the second absorption. No conceptual thought, still rapture, joy, and attachment. Conceptual thought has disappeared, but there is still rapture, joy, and attachment. In the third absorption there is equanimity, the fading of rapture, but we still know pleasure and pain. In the fourth absorption, the highest state, there is no pleasure or pain, only equanimity. The fourth absorption would be nirvana. Nirvana actually means, “Blowing out.” Many have thought it means extinction. It does mean, of course, the extinction of the individual personality.

It always makes me laugh when people practice Buddhism and various forms of Yoga, moksha. You say, “Okay, you’ve succeeded. Now you have moksha, you’re off the wheel of life and death.” They’d scream, “Nooooo! I don’t want to get off the wheel of life and death.” Wouldn’t they?

A Story: An Old Lady Glued to the Wheel of Life & Death

In Japan one time, a Zen Roshi heard this little old woman coming into a temple every day and she prayed to the Buddha. (You’re not supposed to pray to the Buddha, but she prayed to the Buddha.) She prayed, “I’m growing old and they don’t let me participate in their activities. When I wash the dishes, they say ‘Grandma, why don’t you go rest.’ I’ve outlived my usefulness; please take me now. I’m ready to die.”

She came back the next day praying again, “Sir, please take me now, I’m ready to die.” The Roshi wanted to see if she really meant it. He hid behind the statue of the Buddha, and when she came the third day and said, “Please take me now.” He answered in a deep voice, “Because of your faith, your wish is granted, I’m going to take you now.” She screamed and cried, “Can’t the Buddha take a little joke?” Then she ran out. It makes me laugh because this is part of not knowing your true nature.

Follow Your True Nature

Remember the story I told you about the Chinese monk who kept picking the scorpion out of the water and the scorpion kept biting him? The bystander said, “Don’t you know the scorpion is always going to bite?” The monk said, “Yes, it’s in the nature of the scorpion to bite me, but it’s in my nature to keep picking him out of the water.” There’s a man who knows what it is.

I know so many people who go through Indian ceremonies but they don’t know the purpose or the real meaning of the ceremony. They are not ready for the real meaning of the ceremonies. What is the purpose of the ceremonies? Moksha. Liberation from life and death. Get off the wheel of life and death. How many here want to get off the wheel of life and death? (No one raises a hand.) Well, it’s a unanimous vote.

Why go through all this nonsense and hypocrisy if they aren’t what you want? If you don’t want liberation, why follow the practices to do it? This doesn’t mean you can’t follow a spiritual life. It means that whatever direction you’re going, whatever your own nature is: follow that. Don’t say a lot of things just because other people are saying them.

One-pointed, No-pointed Mind

I’m going to repeat a phrase about meditation because I know quite a few of you meditate. “A lamp does not flicker in a windless place.” The mind does not jump around when it becomes one pointed. It is a strange fact that many of you have found. When the mind becomes one pointed (ekagrata is the word in Sanskrit), it goes on to become no pointed. Once it becomes one pointed then no pointed (those of you know who’ve done deep meditation), the world disappears. When the world disappears and you finally come out of meditation, you consciously reconstruct the world. It may take you a little while if you’ve been very deep.

Yogacara

Buddhism had a school called Yogacara. The school disappeared, but it lent a lot of impetus to other sects. Yogacara means “thought only,” “consciousness only.” This whole world, this whole cosmos, is the product of thought. Those of you who do deep meditation know that that is true. When you go very deep and there is no thought, there’s no world. Nor is there any suffering. There are many schools of Buddhism and Yogacara Buddhism is one of the two schools that had perhaps the biggest influence. The other is the so-called “middle way” of Buddhism, Madhyamika. The middle way is: the answer isn’t yes, the answer isn’t no. Is it being or is it non-being? Those are dualities. In China, the Buddhists used to talk about the mean. Not yes, not no, but the mean.

Four Directions of the Mind

One of the great Zen teachers, Rinzai (whose real name was Lin Chi), said, “It is not being; it is not non-being; it is not a combination of being and non-being; it’s not the absence of being and non-being.” What is it? Those are the only four directions the mind can go. Is it yes or is it no? Is it an absence of yes, or an absence of no? Absence of yes and no. Confronted with this, there’s nothing the student can say. If it’s not yes and it’s not no, it’s not a combination of yes and no, and not the absence of yes and no, what could it be? Can anyone here tell me?

Zen teachers have used that with advanced pupils because it brings the mind to the end of thinking. In order to apprehend the truth, to have a Satori experience, the mind has to stop thinking and suddenly it’s there.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

When the student goes to the Master in the “kill or be killed” confrontation, the sanzen, he is not supposed to express his ideas intellectually. His answer may be entirely independent of what was asked of him. I passed one koan because, as it was happening, I was being asked, a plane was flying overhead and so I simply imitated the plane and went, “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Then that took me into music and I started playing a tune on an imaginary trombone. It had nothing to do with the question the Roshi asked me at all. He was delighted by the answer. Then Roshi gave me a harder koan to do. The purpose of the koan is to stop the mind from thinking. It will stop it cold.

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Buddhism says, “Mind brings all happiness and woe.” The first line of the Dhammapada, which is Buddha’s work often compared to the Sermon on the Mount, is “All that you are, all that you were, all that you ever will be, is the result of what you have thought.” Buddha’s laying it right on the line. You are the result of what you have thought. If that is so, then wouldn’t it be great to control mind and be able to

make mind powerful and go in the direction that you want?” All that you are, all that you were, and all that you ever will be, is the result of what you have thought.” If you ever see the Dhammapada in the bookstore (Dhamma is Pali for dharma and pada – all one word, Dhammapada of the Buddha), written in very simple terms by the Buddha, I think you would find it very edifying to read. It’s very inspiring. “To conquer woe, I now enter the path of mindfulness. May what I win bring peace to me and all beings.”

The Boddhisattva ideal, however, which is the ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, doesn’t stick the “me” in there.

Shu jo mu hen sei gan do Bon no mu jin sei gan dan Ho mon mu ryo sei gan gaku Butsu do mu jo sei gan jo.

He says these vows three times. What he is saying is: I vow to save all sentient beings.

I vow to conquer all passions.
I vow to enter all Dharma doors.
I will not accept Nirvana or enlightenment until all beings have had it.

It’s hard to believe that there have been any Boddhisattvas in the world, but there have been. So to conquer ‘woe,’ I now enter the path of mindfulness. The best way to answer it that I know is to practice the Satipatthana. A small part of the Satipatthana has been brought to this country as the Vipassana meditation.

Vipassana Meditation

Justin: Have any of you ever practiced Vipassana? (One person raises a hand.) The Vipassana practice was started in Burma not too long ago by Sayadaw. The man who is sort of the guru of it is S.N. Goenka. You’ve probably heard Goenka’s name. Goenka was from Burma but he spent most of his time in Bodhgaya, India where the Buddha had his enlightenment. I had some correspondence with him for a while. I thought of going there to meet him. Some of the Vipassana retreats are watered down but the retreat length is typically ten days or two weeks.

Justin: Was your retreat ten days or two weeks?

Questioner: This was just a short, one day….

Justin: Oh, well the Vipassana is ten days or two weeks in which twenty hours a day are spent in two types of meditation. Moving meditation and sitting twenty hours a day. Usually there’s one meal. The body’s system slows down so much that when it is over, they have to bring you back to the real world gradually. You can’t suddenly snap back and try to live in this life. You have so simplified your life. Many people have said that during the course of this suddenly they stop thinking. Their brain stops thinking. They know, just know, Reality. One woman I know, a very advanced woman from Santa Fe, went to a Vipassana retreat and she returned home and promptly divorced her husband.

Vipassana, the way I’m talking about it, is so stringent, so difficult, that I think it is important that people be psychologically screened first to see that they can do this. A lot of people start things and find they go off the deep end. I feel that most people are not psychologically capable of it. Nor do I feel they want something. They should do something less stringent: an hour a day of meditation. Twenty hours out of every twenty-four, eating once a day, and doing the same thing, over and over. It’s not too enjoyable, but the results are tremendous.

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The Buddha said, “To conquer woe, I now enter the path of mindfulness; may what I win bring peace to all beings.” After that he added, “By self alone is evil done; by self is one defiled.” The Buddha is telling you there’s no self and he’s saying you’re defiled by self. This is the small self. “By self alone is evil done; by self is one defiled. By Self is evil left undone; by Self alone one is purified. Pure and impure on self alone depend.” No one can make another pure. No one else can do it for you.

You Must Fulfill Your Karma

Ramana Maharshi, the great teacher, said, “I don’t care how long you go into samadhi and meditation; when you come out you have to fulfill your karma. You’ve made the karma and you’ll have to fulfill it.” When that great teacher was asked by a student, “Meditation is so blissful, why don’t I just stay in meditation?” He said, “Try it; you won’t be able to. Your karma will bring you out.” You cannot hide, you can not retreat to the womb of meditation. You’re going to have to work out your karma. If your karma is to be a monk, you will become a monk. Your whole tendencies will head in that direction. Many people try to become renunciates.

In Tibet they do something that I think is horrible. There is one group that has walled themselves up in a cave. It is cemented over. They can never get out. There is a little space through which food and water can be passed. Suppose a meditator changes his mind? The rest of his life he is in there. He feels that by doing this, Reality will rush forth to him. But that’s a misapprehension. His karma is going to have to be worked out. Being walled in is not something I even like to think about.

Following the Path in the World

In the greatest teaching in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the one who follows the path in the world and understands and is not attached is far stronger than the one who goes to the top of the mountain and becomes a hermit. You don’t have to go to the mountaintop. You don’t have to give up money. (Many people have thought they had to.) You don’t have to do all these. Later I’ll tell you about a man who tried to give everything up; a man I came in contact with in the Himalayas. But, you must be nonattached to worldly things. You remember the story about the piece of cake? Push it away. Can we do without this? Sure. Well then, we might as well eat it. That’s non-attachment.

Three Kinds of Relinquishment

In my opinion, nobody in the world’s history has ever gone as deeply and taken apart the very creation of Being and what is behind Being, the way the Buddha has. It may not be the way you want to live. But there are certain things that are very true.

I talked about the Bodhisattva whose vow is to save all sentient beings. That’s unheard of! In any religion in the world, in any history, these are men who perfect themselves in order to save others and refuse to accept salvation for themselves.

Huang Po, who was a great Zen teacher of the ninth century (really Chan, the Chinese pronunciation of Zen), said, “The Bodhisattva’s mind is like the Void for he relinquishes everything and does not even desire to accumulate merit.” There are three kinds of relinquishment:

1.) When everything inside and outside, bodily and mentally, has been relinquished, when as in the Void, no attachments are left, and when all action is dictated purely by place and circumstance and when subjectivity and objectivity are forgotten, that is the highest form of relinquishment;

2.) When, on the one hand, the way is followed by the performance of virtuous acts, while on the other, the relinquishment of merit takes place and no hope of reward is entertained, that is the medium form of relinquishment;

3.) When all sorts of virtuous actions are performed in the hope of reward (going to heaven) by those who never-the-less know the Void by hearing the dharma, and who are therefore unattached, that is the lowest form of relinquishment.

The first is like a blazing torch held to the front, which makes it impossible to mistake the path. The second is like a blazing torch held to one side so that it is sometimes light and sometimes dark. The third is like a blazing torch held behind so that pitfalls in front are not seen. That is what a Bodhisattva is like.

This article is published in Gateway To Eastern Philosophy & Religion.