Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Rabbit Who Jumped Into the Fire

"A skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness." 
                                                           -- T.E. Lawrence

Sometimes, it is useful to consider the way bodhisattvas choose to withdraw their vision.

One morning in May 1935, T.E. Lawrence swerved his 1932 Brough Superior motorcycle to avoid striking two boys, flew over the handlebars, and struck his head on the roadway. He lingered in a coma for six days, and then died. That is how we lost Lawrence of Arabia.

On the 28th of September 1986, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche went into cardiac arrest. He drifted for about six months thereafter, and died in early April 1987. The general opinion is that he drank himself to death -- maybe this is partly true -- so that is how we lost Trungpa of America.

And then there is the famous rabbit from the Śaśajâtaka who, when he saw a starving buddha (or  Quetzalcoatl, if you happen to be an Aztec, because they tell the same legend) jumped into a fire so the buddha would have something to eat.

Try that with a vegetarian, and you burn for nothing.

Generally speaking, naturally arising conduct having its locus in the realization of the nature of one's own mind is no different from the naturally arising conduct having its locus in an utter lack of realization of the nature of one's own mind.

Of any distinction between Actors-Having-Realization and Actors-Having-No-Realization what can one say? Does it really exist?

Soldier has a deathwish born of sublimated survivor guilt, drops a bike, and dies. Poet in pain has an Irish Indian's disposition to the Creature, drinks way too plenty, and dies. Rabbit channels moth, jumps into fire, and dies.

Doesn't matter what you think, does it? All light, reuniting.
When it's time to leave this body, this illusionary tangle,
Don't cause yourself anxiety and grief;
The thing that you should train in and clear up for yourself -
There's no such thing as dying to be done.
It's just clear light, the mother, and child clear light uniting;
When mind forsakes the body, sheer delight!

                                                            --Gyalwa Gotsangpa (1189 - 1258)
But -- aha! you say -- the characteristics imputed to the conduct of the Actors-Having-Realization are such that, due to noble intention, there is a favorable, ultimate consequence. The characteristics imputed to the conduct of the Actors-Having-No-Realization are such that, due to ignorance, there is an unfavorable, ultimate consequence.

Oh? One to heaven, the other to hell? Chasing after gods and devils, eh? That's mighty Christian of you. Whatever shall you do if you catch them? Have a sort of moral arm-wrestling contest, or something along those lines?

If you don't trust yourself -- and, if you are reading this, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why you should -- conduct can -- for whatever reason -- be reduced to, and thereafter expressed as, vows that are only difficult to keep in inverse proportion to the degree you do trust yourself. In a not altogether dissimilar fashion, the construct of vows having their locus in an appreciation of cause and effect -- and notice, I did not say "fear," I said "appreciation" -- are likewise simple to understand.

Perhaps we can say such vows are not vows but postulates (and perhaps we can say I might be using "postulate" as a codeword for "aspiration.") A postulate is erected against which one examines one's effortless behavior as against one's crafted behavior, hopefully if not practically learning something in the process. Padmasambhava said, "Ascend with conduct, descend with the view," and by this he did not mean that if you step on a crack you will break your mother's back.

Postulates are not assumed to be true; neither are they assumed to be untrue. Postulates are tested with evidence. If the evidence supports the postulate, it will buy you a drink. If otherwise, it is a number ten, one stripe, cheap charlie postulate.

No tea, no talk. No money, no honey.

In the conventionally agreed-upon set of beliefs we collectively call "Buddhism" -- or something which the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, expressly stated does not exist -- vows have been codified in several forms, both rudimentary and extensive. Actually, if one perfectly understands those vows which are considered rudimentary, those vows which are considered extensive no longer seem so extensive; rather, they seem a natural extension of fundamental sanity expressed in the most basic vow of all.
"Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places — to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines. Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering. This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering." -- Dhammapada 188-192

This vow of refuge can arise perfectly, by which I mean one can, in a sudden flash typically lubricated by an eternity of tears, consider the suffering of sentient beings in conditioned existence and, without any particular thought for one's self, develop an immediate thirst for refuge as a means by which to liberate them. I am told this is rare, but in my own personal experience, I have seen numerous such cases.

There are a lot of noble people in this world.

One can also obtain refuge vows from peer-pressuring priests, i.e. one has no choice in what is a fundamentally a culturally prescribed affair. This accounts for millions of people who describe themselves as Buddhists, but never really gave the matter any serious thought. They are merely the native sons and daughters of traditionally Buddhist nations, and they want to please grandma and grandpa. In some societies where Buddhism is the de facto state religion, it is conveniently possible for someone else to take refuge on your behalf, before you are even born.

Oh! Here is an interesting idea: when such people become rebellious, do they run off and become Christians, and stop watching motion pictures that feature Richard Gere?

Having sought refuge, and having uttered the refuge vow, one becomes like the fabled Dutch boy of yore. One now has one's finger in the dike, except in this case one is already underwater. On the other side of that dike is the space-like, empty vastness of vows like stars, generally divided into Pratimoksha vows, Bodhisattva vows, and Secret Mantra vows. These collectively cover all conceivable topics from the materials used to make cases in which to hold needles, to circumstances that I do not feel at liberty to discuss. I will merely say it is expressly stated  that there are "one hundred thousand million classes of mantra words of honor," by which you may safely infer you have just encountered the mother of all glosses. In any event, one can keep one's finger in the dike, relax one's resistance as much or as little as one dares, or say, "What the heck," and remove one's finger altogether, by which means the metaphorical ocean is paradoxically drained and one now stands on equally metaphorical dry land.

So, then...

Maybe, at some juncture, the vows cease to be postulates and become simple practicality. There is the aspirational and the practical, now isn't there?

If you have a needle case made of ivory or gold, decorated with rubies, and you encounter someone who has a needle case made of tin, then there is this idea that your grand needle case may excite envy.

Or, what is more likely, you will spend your neurotic hours marveling at your needle case, and guarding it against thieves. This could entail all sorts of locks, safes, and security measures.

You may misplace it, search high and low for it, and begin to suspect that someone has stolen it. You may lie awake, tossing and turning, dwelling on all the possibilities, until a suspect congeals in your fevered mind. If you have teeth, you begin to gnash them.

Now comes revenge! Days, weeks, and months may go by, as you plot to retake your property, drawing confederates into your campaign.

Finally, you arm yourself and set out to regain your treasured needle case. There are trumpets. There are drums. On the burning field, one meets only with the ghost soldiers of one's own emanation. Dawn breaks, and there you remain, a smoking pistol in your hand. Sirens are heard, and they are getting closer.
When the whole thing's just not working, everything's lined up against you,
Don't try to find some way to change it all;
Here the point to make your practice is reverse the way you see it,
Don't try to make it stop or to improve.
Adverse conditions happen, when they do it's so delightful -
They make a little song of sheer delight! 

Therefore, to save everyone and his uncle the grief brought about through ornate needle cases -- and the expense of funerals and trials -- you vow to keep your needle case on the simple, utilitarian side. The point isn't the grand or humble needle case. The point is the practical impulse to transform problems.

Maybe there is no needle case.

Maybe there is a box of football cards.

Go ask O.J. Simpson.

But, we digress....
When kleshas get me going and their heat has got me burning,
I try no antidote to set them right;
Like an alchemistic potion turning metal into gold,
What lies in kleshas' power to bestow
Is bliss without contagion, completely undefiled;
kleshas coming up, sheer delight!
It is entirely possible to deceive one's self into thinking that one is a great bodhisattva, upholding one's noble, altrusitic vows even at terrible cost to one's self, and therefore, anything one says, schemes, or does, is ultimately worth saying, scheming, or doing. In fact, I will go a step further, and say that is is not only possible, it is highly probable -- downright likely, in the immediate sense that one cultivates the garden of such self-deception all the  time.

Will it startle you if I say that is not necessarily a bad thing?

One act of cultivation is fertilization. If you are such a grand bullshit artist that you can bullshit yourself into trying to act like a bodhisattva without actually being a Bodhisattva, that means you have bullshitted your way into actually becoming a bodhisattva.

Should this "bodhisattva or not" dialectic even matter? Does your "bodhisattva" have a beginning, a middle, or an end? Does your bodhisattva only grow where the wild things are? Across how many lakes and rivers must your bodhisattva travel? Is this your bodhisattva's first rodeo? Have you negotiated a bodhisattva pre-nup?

Somewhere in the great maw of Buddhist writing, there are words writ to the effect of, "Don't unload the high and heavy stuff just for some lousy, small time result," or, "Silly Rabbit, jumping in the Fire is for Bodhisattvas."  I have been looking all over for the exact language, but have been unable to find it yet. Which makes sense, because this is one I have observed in the breach -- over and over again -- with what most people would consider are horrific results.

Guess this is one I just don't get, because I always... always... always... just jumped.

I did not care about yesterday. I did not care about tomorrow.

Knees knocked.

Lips quivered.

Men shouted.

Women cried.

Tears fell.

The undeniable was not denied.

I absolutely did not care what it cost.

Everybody wants to rule the world.

Everybody has their own reasons.

Everybody likes those reasons.

Now I am old. People who tell you, "sixty is the new forty" are out to trade you a cow for beans. You climb that stalk, I promise you, there is a fat guy up there, and he is ugly. I saw him in the mirror just the other day.

Anyway, because I am old and in seeming possession of what most people might consider horrific, I am often asked, "If you knew then what you know now --- if you had it to do all over again -- would you still do things the way you did them?"

When you are old, fat, ugly, and horrific like me, people will ask you the same question. Which is an utterly ridiculous question, asked by people who absolutely do not understand how things work. What are you doing? Are you holding a tiny city in the palm of your hand, arguing about the little doormen and cabdrivers? Are you saying, of them, "Oh look! This one is doing so and so! That one is doing so and so!"

The answer to that question is I am so very pleased and delighted with every shining moment -- every glittering second -- that passes here in this crystal prism of neither-within neither-without, effortlessly unlocked possibility.

So pleased and delighted that when I heard the screams and whispers of the crazy people who see monsters on the wall -- the people who clutched at my sleeve, grabbed me by the lapels, shoved their faces right up in my face, and stammered out with their stinking breath across their broken teeth, "Do you see them? Do you see them?" -- I always said yes, I do....

Yes, I see them, too.

And I will sit with you in the dark. Maybe I will hold you. Maybe I will caress you. Maybe I will sing to you. Maybe I will lie to you. Maybe I will seduce you. Maybe I will soothe you. Maybe I will stay here, finding out what makes you shake, and here we will shake together until your shaking stops.

Because there but for fortune... something like that... something close to that... until one day I discovered I was wrong, and it is nothing like that.

It is nothing like that.

There are no roads to travel, no glasses to raise, and no fires.

There is nobody needs saving, and nothing to save them from.

If you look for the one who knows this, that one cannot be found.

Autumn Equinox, 2010

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9 reader comments:

michael said...

On this day of equal, a toast to the seamless fire of reflection made with the universal solvent which has no glass to contain it and which no tongue can taste.

Don said...

There is the very real possibility that T. E. Lawrence was assassinated. A story persists that he was about to be arrested for homosexual acts, which were still illegal in England at the time. Some very important people, including perhaps his pal Winston Churchill, did not want to see his name besmirched in this way. The mysterious black car seen speeding away from the scene of his “accident” has never been identified, and eye-witnesses were forbidden to mention the car at Lawrence’s inquest (apparently they could do this in England). Then again, he may have committed suicide. There was a very dark side of his life that he did not want revealed.

Tharpa said...

Regarding the rabbit story:

So, basically, you're justifying leading a lifetime of killing innocent animals because of attachment to specific sensory sensations by quoting a fictional story.

Pretty typical.

TENPA said...

Huh? Can you explain that a bit more?

O said...

Maybe the rabbit is more like the Hare in this story.

TENPA said...

Interesting concept. Did they serve entrails there?

Another alternative said...

There is so much I would not know if I had not managed to bring my very yearning, very alienated butt from my native United States of Empire (pardon the politics)to Thailand for the half a year or so that I had managed to stay there. Your (and I haven't taken the time to sift though it to remember your name, which I am sure is in there somewhere)blog which I have read for the past few months, is THE ONLY place where I have found free-wheeling, down-to-earth, and deeply insightful (Buddhist, of course)content posted regularly. I am indebted to you in one way or another. May we both continue. And pardon the comment which is longer than most. Jin

D.R. said...

This is an honest, direct and important article on what it means to be a Dzogchenpa in 21st century modern world. There is a lot of texture in this article as there is in most all of your articles and I feel like you are writing for the future as well as the present. Thank you so much.

Kunga T said...

Thanks, yet again, for this and all your other writings :-)