Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blood Red and Saffron

According to Buddhist teachings, there are five types of clairvoyance. Actually, there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of types of clairvoyance, but in Buddhism, we typically consider only five of these.

The five types of clairvoyance are usually summarized as 1) clairvoyance of divine eye, 2) clairvoyance of divine ear, 3) clairvoyance of knowing others' minds, 4) clairvoyance of knowing previous lives, and 5) clairvoyance of miraculous powers.

With the first of these, one is able to see the experiences of those far away. With the second, one is able to hear those far away. Generally speaking, clairvoyance of miraculous powers is the ability to manifest animate and inanimate objects. I think the others should be self-explanatory.

The basis of all of these is tranquil abiding, or in Tibetan: zhi na. You could also call this "remaining peacefully," if you like. This is a mind pacified of distractions, or to put it another way, a mind capable of perfect concentration. As an example, one could concentrate upon some object to the point where the mind and the object are clearly identical.

Tibetan teachers like to say that six conditions are necessary for tranquil abiding:

1) A suitable location
2) No desires
3) Contentment
4) No distractions
5) Mindfulness expressing itself as discipline
6) No conceptions

Each of these components is further divided, as for example a suitable location, which is said to have five characteristics. These are 1) ease with which one can obtain basic necessities, 2) a place blessed by superior beings, absent any conflict, 3) healthy environment, 4) availability of support, and 5) quiet.

You get the idea.

Once the six conditions are established, one next considers the matter of tranquil abiding in terms of five obstacles, eight opponents to the obstacles, nine mental abidings, six forces, four attentions, and the issue of measurement.

I think I enjoy Buddhism for the same reason I enjoy botany. I have a mind that favors the art and science of taxonomy.

But, then again, you can simply discard taxonomy, extinquish all of the twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes, letting tranquil abiding be as it will. You can stop thinking about tranquil abiding and just tranquilly abide.

You have a choice. You can think of yourself, lost in a forest. You can sit down and mentally picture a path through the trees to the plains. Or, you can jump up with an axe, and after some effort, cut down all the trees. Or, you can stop thinking about forests, axes, plains, and all the rest. Because of the symbiotic relationship between tranquil abiding and emptiness this really is the best way, but not everyone can extinguish effort quite so easily. Most of us cling to some notion of effort. We believe that we are fearless blood red and saffron knights on a quest.

Nevertheless, would it be fair to say that if you meet someone who shows evidence of clairvoyance, then you are meeting someone who has mastered tranquil abiding? Well, it might be fair, but I don't know how accurate. After all, you can become so drunk that you forget everything and then you can see everything just by looking in the mirror.

We see whatever is closest to us, don't we? This is like when we set out to look after the faults of others but wind up looking after our own faults.

What do we do when we meet with evidence of clairvoyance? Do we say things like, "He seems to know what's going to happen..," or "He must be picking up on the vibes...," i.e. do we take or assign credit for another's perceptions?

Some of us just sit around examining whether clairvoyance is "caused," or "inherently there." We examine whether clairvoyance is a by-product, or valid cognition. If we do this... if we sober up long enough to actually examine a shadow's reflections, we might decide that clairvoyance isn't very extraordinary after all is said and done.

Of course, it is very difficult to explain this to children. Children think they are infallible. Children think they, themselves, know everything. They come home from school and take pains to explain these things. It is charming but it is dangerous. Sometimes you have to play little tricks to introduce them to the nature of their own minds.

Children think that clairvoyance is supernaturally helpful. For example: if you go to the racetrack, you could use your supernatural powers to pick the quickest pony. However, all of these notions are based on a set of mistaken assumptions. The most prominent of these is that some permanent "you" is going to and fro, bringing information to the present from the past or future. This is not the case. You are not going anywhere. You are just directly perceiving the present without bringing anything.

Buddha tried to explain this. If you read the Brahmajala Sutta: The Supreme Net, particularly the "Sixty-Two Kinds of Wrong Views," then you get the flavor of how it all goes awry. You can buy this from you don't have to be clairvoyant. You can read, and learn, and come to understand that there is no going to and fro, no important, substantially existing reporting mechanism. No task at hand, so to speak.

Therefore, you see it is quite impossible to lay claim to powers of clairvoyance that one does not possess.

If you're going to be a singer, you should be able to sing. Not karaoke, which subsumes a sort of drunkenness, I guess... but really sing.

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