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15194Re: [Meditation Society of America] Beware of Snake Oil Salesman

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  • Marc Moss
    Jan 28, 2007
      Dear Bethjam,
      I think you hit on a point that is so often passed up in pursuit of the so called "snake oil." We're often taught to seek enlightenment, but have no idea what enlightenment is. We are told that we should seek awakening, and have no clue what that means.
      You have said that you do not want to give up this "ego", a self that you believe has some form of concrete existence. So, let's examine that for just a few paragraphs.
      Is Sean (I think that is your name since you said "Seanness") a physical, mental or conceptual thing? If it is the body and the body has some kind of essence, then we should be able to find something that endures longer than a millisecond. But, because your body is always changing, and it is that same change that makes your body function (heart beat is a form of change, eardrum function is a form of change, blood flow, nerve impulses...all forms of change that allow the experiences of the individual to arise, flow and move on. So, we can say that the body is an impermanent, moment-by-moment changing thing. The same rules would apply to the mental aspects of Sean. Sean's thoughts are always changing, always leading to attractive things and from repulsive things. Therefore, the mental continuum of Sean is always changing as well. With these two properties of "Sean", we find that it is different in each moment. But, it feels so much like something continuous. We are never in the moment in our everyday, walking around, talking and thinking life...we are always behind. And being behind for even a fraction of a second is 1) something that could be a very valuable length of time as the subatomic world has demonstrated; or 2) still behind by definition.
      Further to the confusion is the deception of the concept of a self. Sean SEEMS to be the same Sean as ten years ago. The concept is not something that changes moment to moment. It is the delusion that we grasp to. It is the delusion that would prevent us from examining ourselves deeper in fear of finding that there is nothing there that can truly endure. To add insult to injury, your grasping at a self that does not exist THE WAY YOU HAVE ALWAYS THOUGHT IT TO EXIST (and that is important, because there is NO BUDDHIST SCHOOL that denies the "conventional" existence of a self) will be that which brings you so much more suffering when it finally either succumbs to forces you believed to be immune to, or when it finally ceases.
      Of the various forms you can see and experience in this universe, which of those are permanent? Which of them do not undergo change moment by moment? When you find that there are none, you should then examine your own consciousness, but no longer see it as a fixed concrete thing, but as the result of so many causes that have been put into motion and are simply rendering their result now. You are, simply put, the sum total of all your karmas that are ripening right now. Here's a visual to help:
      Take a tall narrow glass filled with water. You see the surface (that is the part of the analogy that we will say beings see as the "self"). Drop an alka seltzer tablet in the water. That is the karma that was created somewhere in the past...as simple as the learning process we accept (five paths, or kindergarten through senior year). As the karma begins to ripen, it rises to the surface. That is what you see yourself as...all the various perceptions of the self and the environment in which the self dwells. Sometimes, it's just smooth bubbles popping on the surface, and other times chunks float to the top. You see, because the self is not a concrete and solid thing, it is always changing. It is this process of change that brings what you like, what you dislike or the things to which you have apathy.
      As you said so poetically, everyday is an expression of art. Without change, expression is rendered functionless. Without experiences from which to draw for such expression, we can gain nothing that would prompt the chain reaction to EXPRESS. What you are saying before this in a round-about way is the same thing as a smoker who lights up shortly after leaving some kind of repiratory therapy. The self that you see as being worthy of such expression is rendered through the process of change to the point of being able to express it. Without this, there would be no "ego" to create, or to experience. The concept is the delusion. It is the kick that makes us thing "those changes happened to me, and now I can tell people about it." Rest assured, it is a new being that will be telling the story of a past beings' experiences. The delusion is that it happened to you. And through such grasping at a false reality of the self, karma can do precisely what it is supposed to do.
      Now, admittedly there are many that try to teach things in ways that do not accord to our experiences. And when there is such a dichotomy, it can bring us a lot of discomfort. As much as I hate to say it, that is ALSO the result of karma. That these beings can enter into your life, lead you astray for a while and maybe even cause some physical, mental or other harm is the result of karma. If you did not do something within that mental continuum to bring about these experiences YOU COULDN'T EXPERIENCE THEM. So, purification comes from the fact that when you see this in others, it is still within you. My lama says it is "confession" to criticize others.
      If a guru is charging you a lot of money, or expecting you to take care of their needs, you can simply decline to do those things which you believe are non-dharmic...or conflicting to your spiritual path. BUT, because you are not aware of the way things REALLY are, you cannot be sure that this is not just an appearance to teach you something valuable. To criticize them could result in very bad effects. It is important to understand that attraction and attachment to material and worldly endeavors are in direct contradiction to a spiritual life. That does not mean that we cannot enjoy these things when they occur, but we must do so in an intelligent way, not an ignorant one.
      Now, you have said that there are no guru's to lead you to self-realization. This is somewhat true. The Buddha couldn't even save his own clan of people from being slaughtered by an enemy tribe while he was among them, trying to teach them. In fact, there were those that grabbed his robes in hopes that he would be able to help them...he could not. This was their karma, and they hadn't purified it and were forced to experience it. The Buddha was not omnipotent.
      The gurus, avatars, deities, angels, dakinis, nirmanakaya form of any other buddha, cannot help in even the slightest way. They can only teach. And it is up to us to either apply the teachings or to ignore them. So, you should always analyze the teachings and apply them first to see if they work.
      Skepticism works as strongly in this system as does belief. There is karmic power in generating faith in the teachings and in making heartfelt prayers and request to beings that you know to be farther along than yourself. In fact, the Sangha is not defined as just any robed person or persons, but they are those beings who have seen emptiness directly - those who have had a nonconceptual experience in the first level of form realm meditation with ultimate reality. The Dharma is the direct perception of emptiness itself, and the Buddha is a being who's mind is one with the Dharmakaya, abiding in ultimate truth...as well as being able to see deceptive reality as well.
      To kill an insect is obviously a negative karma, but it is not as great as killing a human. This is not because humans are better than insects. It is simply that our foundation for seeing emptiness directly and achiving enlightenment is much stronger than that of an insect. The closer one is to seeing emptiness directly, or one who has just seen emptiness directly, even one who has achieved 'cessation meditation', are all much closer than an ordinary person. Therefore, devotion or negative actions to these beings ripen much, much quicker than ordinary karma.
      You said that we are created in the image of "our creator". So, this creator must then be a permanent, changeless thing. But how could a changeless thing create? Creation is the process of influencing change, and a changeless thing cannot even START a chain reaction to create something which, obvious to all today, is not DONE. Creation implies that this is all done. But, even reading this letter is an unfolding process, not a completed one. There is nothing yet that you can experience that is a completed unfolded process, except anything that has already past.
      A Creator would also have to be independent, for any interaction would then inspire change. A changeless being could not observe a changing being, for a changeless being couldn't even "observe" for that requires change. And if something is changing, then you could trace every moment of change back to a point where this "perfect being" was not so perfect, in fact quite normal.
      And if this Creator is changeless and independent, then it would have to be self-powered. Even the desire to create becomes a feeling that has been forced upon it...and then why would there ever be a point where it would NOT create? In the words of Shantideva:
      If the creator is the elements, so be it; but then why the tussle over a mere name?
      Moreover the earth and other elements are not one; they are impermanent, inactive, and not divine. The can be stepped on and are impure. That is not the creator.
      Space is not the Lord because it is inactive. Nor is it the Self, because that has been refuted. How can the inconceivable creatorship of the Inconceivable One be described?
      What does he desire to creat? If he desires to Create a Self, are not that the Self, the nature of the earth and other elements, and the Creator eternal? Cognition is due to the object of cognition and is without being. Happiness and suffering are the result of action. Say then, what did he create? If the cause has no beginning, how can its effect have a beginning?
      You see, the Buddha is the only being to have described our suffering in such an accurate way. Many others have come after him to experience the truth for themselves in the precise manner that he taught. There is simply no disparity between us and the forces of creation we think are coming AT us. Upon a direct experience with ultimate reality, the perception of emptiness in the first level of form realm meditation and the subsequent coming out of meditation, you understand the process precisely as it works. You understand the Four Arya Truths. They are not called NOBLE, that is a mistranslation. Certainly there is some noblety from this achievement, but ARYA means "one who has seen emptiness directly". That is why the earlier schools of buddhism said that an ordinary being cannot understand them. Today, we can understand them, but not directly. We are always decieved.
      Anything outside of this perception of emptiness is a conceptualization, and that requires a dualistic expression of "this happened to me", or "that is unattractive to me," as if they are just random situations that could arise to a perceiving consciousness.
      In fact, I would say that the appearance of a Pure Realm to a Buddha is as much a part of that process of perception as would be for us to undergo some unattractive situation. The difference being the completely enlightened beings are aware of exactly how this process works and bring about the enjoyment body(part), the wisdom body(part) and emanation body(part).
      Now, certainly there is a lot that we do not understand, and even more that we have yet to experience. But, if one has not done the valuable reasoning, analyzed it logically, or experienced it for themselves, all they have is speculation - and that is almost always intermixed with other experiences to arrive at a conclusion, even an erroneous one.
      If you feel like being Sean for the rest of your life, or eternity for that matter, have at it. That is in direct contradiction to any spiritual path. If you are a christian, you hope to one day be in heaven with God and Christ. And how could you do that without giving up this impure, sinful body? A letting go must occur. If you are a Buddhist on the Theravadin path, how can you achieve enlightenment without letting go of a self with deluded thoughts and ignorant views that lead to more suffering? If you are a spiritual person, seeking spiritual truths, how can holding on to this changeless concepts bring about any kind of spiritual result? You ask the impossible for yourself and turn to point fingers at everyone else that is trying to help the unfolding of Sean's evolution. You are then guilty for the charge, and no one else. I mean this with all the love and compassion I can feel.
      In my practice, I studied in the Buddhist path from the age of twenty until today. The entire span of my practice was a hope to achieve something for "me". Even meditation was something that I thought I could go without. I'd sit on a cushion, get bored and get up with hip aches and knee pains. Eventually, I met my lama...and that was a remarkably inspiring event, one that shook me to the very core of who I thought I was. Since receiving my vows from him, my life has changed...in more ways than I could possibly describe. He is the happiest person I know, and such a blessing to my practice. I have met many other beautiful and kind lamas, teachers all, through him. I have been blessed by Ani Lobsang Chukyi-la, to give me my Bodhisattva vows. I am endebted to them all. Not because they charged me anything, but because the instructions they have given have worked. My heart is lighter, more flexible than it was. My mind is more full, overflowing with what I never knew I could know...and my direction is more understandable. I am not meaning to gloat, but when it comes to my teachers, I can only say that this pride is in them, not myself. I hope that you could meet with these kind teachers as well.
      The Asian Classics Institute makes available to all persons via the web the Buddhist teachings in a very understandable way for the common person. Geshe Michael Roach has interpretted the buddhist path so clearly and with accessiblity to the common person. He insists that the Dharma be given freely, to never charge money for the teachings, to accomodate all that seek the teachings, to give as is requested to those who sincerely wish to learn. This is not a plug - I do not work for them. But, it is proof that there are those out there still, maybe not within the scope of your search, that may be able to help you understand much better than my poor feeble words.
      You are who you've been, and you will be what you now do. Our society raises us from kindergarten to graduation...obviously we DO believe that the process works. But, it is not immediate. You can't plant an appleseed in your front lawn and hope to find a fruit bearing tree there tomorrow. Don't be deceived by the gap between cause and effect.
      Pray for the blessings, pray for understanding, pray whole heartedly to meet your own teacher...and it WILL happen.
      Sonam (just another changing being like you!)

      As long as space remains, as long as living beings remain, until then - may I too remain to dispel the sufferings of the world. - Master Shantideva

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