From the Editor
Illustrated in this issue are some postures from the series of movements entitled “Theorhythm”, which were devised by Phiroz in the 1920’s and which he practised for many years. He taught these movements to, among others, C. B. Fry the cricketer, who was then in charge of the training ship Mercury for boys destined for the Merchant Navy, and he also taught the boys themselves.
Is there anyone who has any information about “Theorhythm”, or who was perhaps even taught by Phiroz? The Editor would be glad to hear from you, if so.
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 9th June 1974
It is a specially significant fact that in all the great religions of the world prime place has been given to Love. Whether the word used be Love, or Compassion, or Loving Kindness or Friendship, this ‘something’ which has been called Love has primary place, not only in the great religions of the world but also in the earlier forms of religion, such as those which have come down to us traditionally in the different so-called mythologies and in the pantheons of the different cultures that have existed in the world. We all know that Love is the world’s supreme need now, just as it has always been its supreme need.
The human race is still so immature that it is unable to live simply in accord with Love. This is not too surprising considering our origins. This organism, the psycho-physical organism of the human species, is of animal descent. The animal world displays love in its own way, and its way is predetermined very largely by nature, by the ordinary chemical and physical processes that take place in the body and according to the seasons. The animal obeys them, it has little, if any, choice to disobey. So its obedience to the laws of its being are easier to understand and preserve than obedience to the law of our being, by us humans. We have the power of choice to a degree that no other kingdom of nature has. We have this power of choice, but we still have not developed the intelligence to choose wisely. We lack both intelligence and wisdom, and this is a very important point to bear in mind. And the purpose of the effort to live the religious life is to release this intelligence and wisdom. We are still learning what are the laws of our being, we do not really understand them, we haven’t the vision, we haven’t the knowledge. We think we do, we imagine we do, and we feed our ego conceit, and we try to satisfy our vanities accordingly. Now this lack is not due to lack of experience, experience we have in plenty, but the trouble is that our intellect, our discursive, logical faculty has run ahead of our other development to such an extent, and we are still so dominated by our what we call natural, instinctive urges and desires, that the intellect has become the slave of desire. Under these circumstances, wisdom, understanding, compassion lag behind.
Approach it from another point of view. Why is it that they lag behind? What is it that is the root source of our state of conflict in the world, within ourselves, fundamentally and essentially, and between ourselves and our environment, our fellow human beings? What is the root cause of it? Surely is not the root cause the fact that we are conscious of our existence in this dualistic sense of Self and Not-self? On the one hand there is the overwhelming awareness of ‘I am I’. The consciousness of the rest of the whole universe is all dumped under the ‘other fellow’, the ‘other thing.’ It is a one-one relationship. I, this infinitesimal little speck, less than a grain of sand in the ocean, in the huge immensity of the cosmos, and so important to myself, so fill my own self-awareness that all the rest of the cosmos is just perhaps as much as another speck. This fundamental ignorance, this fundamental conceit, lies at the root of all our conflict, it is the basic root. When there is a one-one relationship of that sort, and there is the instinctive urge to survive, then one is perpetually in a state of conflict, of struggle. “I am going to survive, if there is going to be difficulty with the other fellow.” Now you see, this is where we lack understanding, wisdom and intelligence. As we speak about such things, as we read about such things, the intellect says, “Oh, yes, yes, of course, obviously so, this is obviously true, this is perfectly logical”, and so forth. But this intellectual assent is an extraordinarily impotent assent, it has not got the power so to transform me that I am aware of existence in terms of a single Totality, a great unity. This transformation of my awareness of existence is really our fundamental need. And the whole of religious discipline is directed essentially for the purpose of bringing about this transformation, and of course there we have Mindfulness therefore playing the dominant part.
We are not really awake, we are conscious of ourselves and of our environment in the wrong way. We have constantly the wrong approach, the approach of Self versus Not-self, of Self surviving at the expense of Not-self. So you see, it is impossible for Love in the real sense to flourish. It flourishes within limits in the sense in which love flourishes in the animal world. There it flourishes perfectly according to the laws of being of the animal. (Even that turns to lust and horror and terrible things in the human kingdom, in the name of Love.) We have to understand these things very, very deeply, understand them, not just logically, not by means of mere intellectual comprehension, but by virtue of seeing Truth, by being the Truth, and here of course Mindfulness is the supreme instrument for it.
Let us consider the matter first from the individual, the personal point of view. Do I hate myself? It is a curious thing that everyone of us, in some mysterious way or other, has a great deal of self-hate. Part of ourself, deep down in the unconscious, wreaks vengeance upon the whole being. There are many causes for this. One is the fact that we have accepted the imposed morality of religion, of society and so forth. Religion lays down, “Thou shalt not do so-and-so, so-and-so, and so-and-so.” Society says, “Thou shalt refrain from this, that and the other.” Now, whether we agree with what is laid down or not makes no difference to the fact that, having been conditioned in that way, through our upbringing and education, there is this unconscious acceptance of those norms. We have never really looked into those norms, never really understood them, never outgrown their limitations. So this which is accepted by the psyche, in the depths of the psyche, acts as the censor and as a ruthless, sometimes brutal judge and punisher, of what we do wrong. This is one of the extraordinary aspects of our life. Some of the great poets, the great tragedians, men like Aeschylus and Sophocles and others, have expressed this in extraordinarily deep ways. There is that in us which decrees our own punishment as well as our own reward. But that in us which decrees, and the way it is carried out, and the way the whole thing takes place, is entirely confined within the limitations of this dualistic, ambivalent, discriminative consciousness (Viññaṇa). It is within this sphere that all this takes place. It is the sphere of conflict, it is the sphere of beginning and ending, of being born, of coming to birth and dying. It is the sphere of sorrow and suffering, because every happiness, every joy, which is confined within the sphere of ambivalence comes to an end and causes grief, because it is felt as a loss. Supposing one were quite free of this dualistic awareness of existence, this ambivalent state. If one is quite free of this ambivalent state, then one is aware in terms of Totality, of the Wholeness, and in terms of the Wholeness there is no gain, there is no loss, there is no good, there is no evil in our limited dualistic state. The conditions of conflict are in our own being and deeply ingrained in the psyche. This does not mean that we are forever doomed to be limited in this way, far from it, we are not doomed at all, because the potentiality for Transcendence is within all living creatures. This is only a potentiality which the intellect cannot bring out, it needs understanding, and this understanding is the child of love and wisdom in harmony. Until then there is merely intellectual comprehension as a logical process, and logic will never take you out of the circle of duality. (You can’t present a logical statement unless it is within the sphere of duality, because if a statement is made it is not its opposite, and so forth. You must have duality where statements are made, so intellectual comprehension doesn’t do at all).
How then do we find this release? We use the word seeing the truth, but we could just as well say touching the truth, hearing the truth, smelling, tasting, savouring the truth, eating it, digesting it, becoming it. When we say ‘seeing’, obviously, because our physical eyes see that which is outside the eyes, we are always aware and conscious in terms of ‘I’, the seeing subject, observing the external object. There is the subject/object relationship, and they are different from each other, so that won’t do it. If I touch it, again there is the ‘I’ touching. We see at once how difficult it is then for any verbal process, any discriminative thinking process, for thought, for intellect ever to break through the bounds as such. And yet it is intellect alone which will give the first inkling, the first glimmering and the first big kick out of this circle, this sphere of limitation, of mortality, of suffering, of duality. When we realize that, we naturally become concerned with finding out, discovering how this intellect is to be treated, to be dealt with, so that that it has the power to pierce through the eggshell.
Here we come to that very mysterious aspect of the whole psycho-physical being (physical as well as the psychical part). We’ll just generally say the mind. It is sensitivity (it is a peculiar sensitivity). The word sensitivity again has its difficulties because we associate it with sensations, and sensations of course are associated with the nerves and the brain and all the rest of the story. (But there are no words in any language. We have to use some words and just ‘feel’ them out, ‘feel’ our way out of the limitation of the word). So this sensitivity has to come into play, this ‘feeling’ aspect, and the feeling aspect is warm. The purely seeing aspect is cold, cold intellect, and then there is the warm aspect of the heart. The knowing by the heart, as we may say, is of quite a different quality and nature from knowing by the intellect. The knowing by the heart, because of its warmth, softens that which rigidly holds us enclosed. It softens all those aspects of our mind, and in that softer condition of the mind, that deeper potentiality, which enables the emergence into Transcendence to take place, does take place. We have therefore so to live, to be mindful in such a way, to meditate in such a way, to perform all our daily actions and go through our daily life in such a way that this perfect marriage of the cold intellect and the warm heart takes place within us. There is a secret, an open secret, about consummating this marriage, and that secret is simply ‘non-grasping’. If we don’t ‘grasp’, if we don’t ‘clutch’, in other words, if we are free from slavery to personal desire, ambition and so forth, then we become quiet and still within ourselves, and in that quietness and stillness our whole seeing and hearing and touching and everything gets transformed into something totally different. It gets transformed into that developed sensitivity which lies hidden within our minds, by which everything is experienced in terms of wholeness and not of particularity. When you experience in terms of wholeness and not of particularity you have ceased to take sides. If you have ceased to take sides you have also ceased to separate Self from the Not-self, because we live all our lives taking sides with our own Self against the Not-self. When you cease to take sides, when there is this sense of wholeness permeating you all the time, it becomes second nature to you and you function in this totally different way. When there is no need to seek, to talk, to search for, to try to express love, or wisdom, or truth, or goodness, then it just happens naturally, it happens as naturally as the bud unfurls and becomes the full-fledged flower, a thing of beauty, of marvel.
We are so accustomed to seeing the phenomena of nature and we take them for granted. “There the clouds gathered, and there was hail, there was a storm,” or whatever it is. We just take it for granted like that. But do you know that this is Eternal God showering blessings upon the earth? It is Transcendence itself pouring its benediction upon us, but we are not conscious in that way about it. We are conscious in a different way. “Bother this rain, the match has to stop now and it’ll probably be a draw instead of a win for us.” I am the devil, I am the destroyer, I am the obstructor of Transcendence because I am aware of Self and the so-called Not-self in this peculiarly devilish manner, the manner which produces, sustains and maintains conflict, war, suffering. So you see there is a shortage of Love throughout the world.
I suggested a few moments ago the fact that we hate ourselves. If we were not fragmentary in our own self we would cease to hate ourself. If we don’t hate ourselves, we go to the other extreme, we have self-love, and self-love is also a divider of oneself from the environment. This love, this hate lie within the sphere of ambivalence, and this is what we have to transcend. We have to be free both of this love (which is a possessive love, which is a destructive love really, in the long run, a love which brings pain and sorrow, disappointment in one form or another), and of this hate which is obviously evil. So non-grasping, we suggested, is one very, very important factor in all this.
Let us approach this in still another way. There are various techniques of meditation. We have in both the Hindu and the Buddhist presentations meditations that are known as the Brahmavihāras (the Divine Abidings). Consider how this is presented and how does it arise in the case of the Buddha and his teachings. Throughout the various Discourses you will find these presented by the Buddha. In one case a young Brahman called Subha, who is an intelligent young fellow, comes to the Buddha and talks with him about religion, about the deeps, about the bringing of the religiousness within our being to fruition. And during the Discourse the young Brahman speaks out something which obviously lies deep in his heart, and he asks the Buddha, “Show me the way to union with Brahmā.” Now Brahmā is the Father God, the Creator God, Love as the creative power of the universe, Eros. You find Eros presented by Hesiod in his Theogony in two forms. One is the ordinary presentation which all the world knows and chatters about a lot, in connection with the word erotic, and so forth, that part of Eros which is the ordinary positive/negative, male/female attraction, the sensational pleasure, and all the rest of it. But kāma is presented by the Ṛgvedic teachers, and Eros is presented by the Greeks as the creative power of the universe. Eros is the creator of all the gods and conferrer of immortality. It’s a very important point to bear in mind. It is Eros who confers immortality. Secondarily to Eros, secondarily to kāma, all the other gods confer immortality also. But that is the significance of Brahmā, the Father God as the Creator God.
And this young Brahman Subha asks the Buddha the question, “What is the way to union with Brahmā?”, and the Buddha immediately presents the teaching of the Brahmavihāras, the Divine Abidings. In brief it consists of its four aspects, Mettā, Loving Kindness, Karunā, Compassion, Muditā, Sympathetic Joy, and the last one is the most interesting of all because it is the peak point, Upekkhā, which is Perfect Equanimity, Perfect Mindfulness. And the Buddha always associates that with the idea of perfect purity, perfect purity of Mindfulness. (People forget the purity part of it, they think only of the Mindfulness).
Now the aspirant suffuses himself with Loving Kindness, he suffuses his teacher, suffuses the dear one, suffuses the ordinary acquaintance, and, when he is developed enough, he suffuses the hostile one and the whole world with Loving Kindness, as well as any members of the opposite sex. It is a very interesting point, you will find it in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, that the beginner must not attempt to suffuse a member of the opposite sex by this meditative process, otherwise he will get into trouble, and probably so will the other person. What is the meaning of this? How do you suffuse yourself with Loving Kindness? What sort of a ‘psychical sprayer’ filled with this mysterious liquid or powder, Loving Kindness, do you use? And how do you do it? What sort of psychical or spiritual or psycho/spiritual shampoo is this? Have you ever really gone into it? No! Has anybody really gone into it? Several of us have practised the meditations, as we say, and what do we do when we have practised these meditations? We go through a verbal ritual, don’t we? There is a laid down ritual with respect to it, and remember that this is not only Buddhist, this is pre-Buddhistic also, pre-Buddhistic by over a thousand or fifteen hundred years. It comes down right through the beginnings of Yogic teaching, which are at least five thousand years old. That is an historical fact.
The verbal ritual is laid down, and the believing disciple just goes through the verbal ritual and hopes that something will happen. But does it? John Brown has practised Mettā and Karuṇā and these Brahmavihāras for the last sixty five years, and John Brown explodes with anger and annoyance if his favourite chair by the fireside is taken, or his pipe has been mislaid by the chambermaid. Where is his Mettā? What has happened? A verbal ritual, a purely intellectual process is impotent where the transformation of the psyche is concerned. You can acquire ideas, you can hold on rigidly to beliefs, you can have all sorts of intellectual convictions. They are utterly useless. You will find that you use them against your own good and against your fellow human beings. This softness, this warmth of the heart, this natural something has not been allowed to emerge, to come to fruition.
You have a lovely garden, and the flowers come out in spring, they give you pleasure, every year you look at them, you tend them and you pronounce judgement, “This hasn’t come off well enough,” or “These are lovely this time,” and so forth. Have you noticed that it is all a little bit cold blooded? It is very analytical. You know all your botany, you know the names of all the flowers, the numbers of petals, of sepals, and goodness knows what, all sorts of marvellous things — you’re so learned. But you are separate from that flower. You are not in union with that flower. By contrast, when you are at ease within yourself, within the innermost depths of your psyche, and when you do not know with the brain, intellectually, that you are in this state of ease, then you are in that peculiar state of receptivity and responsivity, because of which, when you have seen that same bush producing flowers which you have seen year after year, suddenly you are lifted up into a totally different sphere. You are rapt beyond the senses, and you know an ecstasy, a quiet ecstasy. There is a stillness and a silence within you which makes the whole mind completely shut up, and something divine, something utterly transcendent, something which is total and whole, permeates your whole being, and our body too responds to it. Have you noticed how your hair stands on end? As I say these words, as a matter-of-fact, I feel that feeling throughout my body, not excitement, not sensational upset, but this extraordinary sheer delight, this state of bliss, which actually produces electro-chemical processes in the body.
Now in that state you are suffused with Love. You can’t order it, you can’t compel it. You can’t say, “I’ll practise this, that or the other laid down ritual or discipline,” and bring it about. It is not like practising your scales or arpeggios on the piano, practising your piece till you know it very thoroughly, and then you can play it and captivate your listeners. It is not like that. This is a thing that happens, and remember, how and why did it happen? Because you were in this state of ease where there was no Selfness, no grasping anywhere. You had let go, there were no barriers. There was not a Self and a Not-self, there was only the Totality, there was only God, there was only Truth, only Transcendence. There was only beauty, wonder, marvel. Use what words you like, they are all inadequate and useless. But you know what I am talking about because you yourselves in your lives have experienced that sometime, somewhere, somewhen. Perhaps you even experience it frequently. (God caught you napping and he filled your whole being.) This is what happens.
When the intellect also really sees all this very clearly, it ceases to be the slave of desire. It ceases to be the miserable Machiavelli who plans, schemes out and carries out all the evil which preserves separateness, duality, conflict within oneself. You unconditionally surrender to Reality, and in that unconditioned surrender there is no question of defeat or victory. At last Reality as it is, Truth as it is, Transcendence as it is, has come to fruition through you, and then the shape given to its manifestation is named in terms of thought and speech Mettā, Loving Kindness. It is named in thought and speech Karuṇā, Compassion. Where there is real Loving Kindness, where there is real Compassion, it is not I who am compassionate towards another. It is not I who am condescending, patronising, sending out pity, or all this usual rubbish. “Poor chap, poor darling, etc.” It has no meaning behind it, no substance behind it. Then there is only the reality of the thing. then you can experience Muditā, Sympathetic Joy. We all turn on the tape of Sympathetic Joy. So-and-so is getting married, you write off a lovely letter and all the rest of it. So-and-so has had a first child (or the seventh grandchild, as I had recently, last month), and the usual tamasha, the pantomime, the show takes place. No! It is not necessary for the child to be my grandchild, or my child or anything at all. I see a little one toddling across the pavement, full of the delight of life, jumping and running. And on those occasions when suddenly my hair stands on end, that is Muditā, Sympathetic Joy, the sheer delight of life. When you see a youth and a maid, perhaps sitting or talking to each other, you may see that glance which is that magic of communion taking place. Not mere animal attraction, remember, something quite transcending that takes place, and then there is Sympathetic Joy, and this expression of Transcendent Love has come through there unobstructed, unhindered.
So there is Muditā, Sympathetic Joy. And then there comes that peak point, as both Hinduism and Buddhism have presented it (in a form which is perhaps rather peculiar to most minds, east or west, north or south, it makes no difference), Equanimity, Poise. Why should Poise, Balance, Equanimity and Purity of Mindfulness, why should that be associated with Love? If the Holy Ones thought that that was the peak point of Love, it is not very likely that they were wrong and we are right! You remember that I said a little earlier that you cease to take sides. When you cease to take sides there is no separation, in the absence of separation there is no disharmony, there is only harmony. And the state of harmony is the state of union. And the state of harmony is not a static state at all (there is no condition attached to it), it is the unconditioned state. And the state of harmony is continuously moving, it’s a dynamic, it’s a continuously creating state. It is creating right beyond the bounds of all my little observations and knowledge. And this is what happens in you and through you, when you are in Upekkhā, in Equanimity. This is the magic of stillness and silence, and this is the state of Love, the Love that is utterly unpossessive, that is not binding, that lays down no conditions, that is unconcerned with reciprocity, which is not concerned to give, nor to take, because this Love is the energy, the power of Transcendence in its creative activity, flowing unhindered through you, the purified one, the perfectly mindful one.
Now you see what is the meaning of suffusing the friend, the acquaintance, the teacher, the world, with Equanimity. (I wonder if there are any texts which have presented things like this, I don’t know, I have not come across any texts of that sort). But you see this raises a great point. How truly, how purely do we care for Truth, for Transcendence? Or do we seek Truth because we want to be free of our suffering, we want to gain nirvāna, etc? You know how often and often I have put this point for consideration, why do we turn to religion? Is it in order to gain something for ourselves, to assuage our griefs? Do we turn to religion as a balm for our pain and suffering? Then we are not turning to religion as true religion, we are only looking for a palliative, and in the case of certain pains things like aspirins are far more effective than all the religions of the world put together! Isn’t that so? Why do we turn to religion? Do we really care for Truth? And if we care for Truth, we will not chase it, what you chase gets frightened. In our ambi-valent sphere, when the male chases the female (or perhaps nowadays the roles are getting reversed, the female chases the male!), there is fear, one is on guard at once. And also one enjoys the excitement of the chase, but where does the chase end? The hunting ends with blood, doesn’t it? The spilling of blood. And remember the significance of blood, the blood is the carrier of life, and when we have spilt that we have squandered life, we have destroyed life, we have sinned. So you see, no chasing of the Truth, but caring for the Truth, loving the Truth, and in that state of Love there is no Self to obstruct the Truth from being in us, permeating our being and flowing out freely. These are not mere words, these are not just airy-fairy poetic fancies, they are of the very life, the very throb of the heart of Truth itself. This is what happens to you, a Man, and only through Man can this happen. It cannot happen through a cat or a lion or a bird or a tree, but it can happen through you, your divine destiny, the purpose of our existence in this world. And it is not you who can fulfil it but the purpose and the totality fulfils itself through you. Let it do so and this world will know no shortage of Love. It will be full of Love and it will be full of that Love which will heal the strife and the sufferings and the sorrow of Man. It will be the Love that will bring the strength, the extraordinary comfort and that infinite resilience which will enable each and everyone to take the whole of life, of circumstantial life, in their stride, and circumstantial life will always present the dualities, pleasure/pain. That is the nature of concrete physical existence. That you can never get rid of, never try to get rid of it, but learn out of it all the time. Then you will find that your intelligence will be wholly awake. There will be real wisdom because of this ‘feeling’ aspect particularly, this knowing through the power of the Divine unknowing, and that will mean the transformation of life and being.
A talk given by Sankarankutti Menon Marath at the Phiroz Mehta Trust Autumn School on 28th October 2000
There is a legend about the Bōdhisattva Avalokiteśvara which explains why he relinquished the bliss of nirvana. Just as he was on the point of passing into nirvāna there arose from all inhabitants animate and inanimate of every quarter of the universe a terrible cry of despair and hopelessness. Hearing this cry the Avalokiteśvara in the fullness of his compassion relinquished nirvāna and vowed to lead all beings to liberation before he would seek nirvāna himself.
The Bōdhisattva thus renounces liberation for ever, for all eternity. This is the destiny which a Bōdhisattva deliberately designs for himself. “The burden of all creatures must be borne by me,” he vows. “It is my resolution to save all creatures, set all free from the wilderness of birth, old age, disease, death and of rebirth. I have no concern whatsoever for my own deliverance. For the salvation of all creatures I resolve to abide in each single state of misfortune through numberless future ages, and as in one abode of misfortune, so in all such abodes belonging to the worlds. Why? Because it is better indeed that I alone be in pain than that all those creatures fall into the place of misfortune.”
The ordinary human mind boggles at the magnitude and the heroic sublimity of the ideal to which he dedicates himself.
That this ideal should have had its origin and inspiration in the teaching of the Buddha is natural. When dukkha was seen to be the over-riding experience of existence, manifest in the lives of every human being, the need of compassion assumed an importance which it did not have in other schools of spiritual thinking in India.
However, in early Buddhism the path of complete deliverance was usually not for the ordinary mortals, but for those who had renounced the world and become bhikkhus. The bhikkhu pursues the goal of nirvāna and attains to it simply by his own efforts. Each one for himself; the teaching is there for all to follow — that appears to have been the rule. Compassion, which in Buddhism is not merely the emotional response to man’s suffering, but the active pursuit of means for ending it, embraced a narrow, perhaps elitist group of individuals, viz. the disciples who had renounced the world. If it extended beyond to those mortals outside, the feeling of compassion was probably remote, without any sense of immediacy, an abstraction. There was not enough concern for the prthagjana, the ordinary man, the householder, lost in false views; he was left to his own devices to fend for his spiritual life as best he could.
Then, suddenly, still in the period of the pre-Christian era, there appears this grand and wondrous flood of compassion, in protest against the solitariness of the arahat ideal of the Lesser Vehicle. Now for the first time there is a mighty passionate swing away from this exclusiveness of the early Buddhist schools. We see an unprecedented sensitiveness to the human condition, an acute awareness of the predicament of all beings caught in the toils of samsāra in the founders and sages of the Māhayāna schools. They used the Bōdhisattva concept of the Pali canon to express their zeal and their new and splendid understanding of the ideal of compassion. They reinterpreted the concept and invested it with singular grandeur and profundity.
The career of the Bōdhisattva actually begins when bōdhicitta, the thought of enlightenment, first arises in the disciple. Śāntideva, the Indian Buddhist philosopher poet of the eighth century, in his work Bodhicaryāvatāra, Entering the Path of Enlightenment, calls the experience this “highly prized jewel”, because it has taken many lifetimes for the urge to serve all humanity to ripen and become unwavering; to be spontaneous and without any kind of prompting from the outside. Before the true dawning of bōdhicitta the good thoughts of the aspirant are “like arrows shot forth in the dark, which have very little chance of hitting the mark.” The aspiring Bōdhisattva is called the “Bōdhisattva mounted on a chariot drawn by oxen”, because of the slowness and doubtfulness of his success. Seizing the jewel he proceeds to dedicate himself to enlightenment by taking the Great Vow: “to save all beings from delusion, to destroy all evil passions, to learn the truth and teach others, to lead all beings to Buddhahood” (Sangaraksita). The pilgrimage to the goal starts with the offering of gratitude that the urge for enlightenment has appeared in him. He looks into himself and searches and brings forth into the light everything that is evil or unwholesome in him, in the form of a full and frank confession to them. He does this three times each day.
Now the career is in progress. The disciple must now not only purify and refine the bōdhicitta but also strengthen it by the cultivation of the six pāramitās, perfections. Later texts have 10 pāramitās. He is still swayed by the demands of his ego and he has to be ever vigilant that he does not lose the insight of illumination.
The first of the pāramitās is dāna, giving. The giving understood here is boundless generosity, not only to man but to all beings. Not mere dāna, of material things, but also the gift of one’s own limbs. And equally he should be ready to sacrifice his own life if circumstances demand it. The Jātakās contain many arresting examples of what such unbounded compassion may entail. He gives without thought of himself.
Some western students of Buddhism have tended to be revolted by the apparent senselessness of this kind of sacrifice. They ask, if the tigress is allowed to die from starvation does it make any difference at all to the cruel course of nature? But then such calculations are wholly alien to the idea the Bōdhisattva has vowed to pursue. “My neighbour suffers his pain just as I suffer mine; why should I be anxious about myself and not about him?” (S.VII.90). By sacrifices of this nature the distinction between one’s own suffering and that of others is eroded and then destroyed. Continued exercise of dāna alone does away with the illusion of self. His compassion has to be total; he must not be stopped by any notion of his own self. Only action can free one from enslavement to greed, hatred and delusion.
The pāramitā of dāna, though only the humblest of virtues, is the most crucial of the perfections. It demonstrates the way in which the ideal of the Bōdhisattva is given expression in practical terms. The remaining pāramitās, except prajñā, are directed to removing any insufficiencies that may weaken the cultivation of dāna.
It is for this reason that even breaches of morality are allowed if by “the eye of knowledge” he sees some advantage for his neighbour in doing so. He may choose to abandon meditation and even break the vow of dāna if he is convinced that by these infringements compassion can be made more effective. If true compassion is the motive these transgressions are forgiven. However, he does not make such decisions lightly. The needs of each situation and the help required are determined by his knowledge. He is deferent and courteous and full of humility. He makes no distinction between friends and enemies.
The second pāramitā isśīla, morality. It ensures that no moral or harmful actions, that is, ego-centred actions, are done by the disciple. This is to be seen as a positive virtue, (pravritti), not one of inaction (nirvritti).
The third pāramitā is kşānti, a virtue which embraces endurance, patience, tolerance, forbearance, humility, absence of anger. Impatience or anger in the disciple is perhaps the greatest of sins. It destroys all the progress that has been made over the aeons, because it springs from discontent which again is born of desire. “No evil is equal, to hatred.” says Śantideva; “and no austerity is equal to kṣānti. For me let there be hatred of hate.” Here too, true knowledge it is that helps the aspirant to understand the pointlessness of anger, impatience etc. It is foolish to be angry with men who injure us, for they are impelled by causes, and among the principle causes are the wicked deeds of our previous lives. “Far rather think of means of saving them in spite of themselves.” (S).
The pāramitā of vīrya, strength, energy, resolution, zeal, the fourth one, has a number of subtle connotations. Vīrya is the endeavour for good, the unceasing energy for the destruction of all vices, including one’s own, and the filling of oneself and one’s neighbour with every good quality. He takes pride in this, pride in what he has undertaken, pride in his power to accomplish it, in his endurance, pride against harbouring passions, pride that all lowly tasks and those fraught with difficulties are his to do. Śantideva says, “Those are truly proud, victorious, even heroic, who destroy pride for the conquering of the enemy, pride; …” (VII.59). Ever aware and alert, he knows the extent of his powers when he embarks on anything; and equally he knows that it is time to cease when these powers are seen to be inadequate. When he has brought to an end one task he is all readiness to start again. He is fully prepared always, and nothing takes him by surprise. Vīrya is the vigilant energy required for success in the practice of dāna. The enemy of vīrja is sloth, relish for pleasure, despair and self-contempt.
In the stage of sāmadhī or contemplation, the fifth pāramitā, his mind is detached and absorbed in dhyāna. He is not troubled by worldly desires. The phenomenal world is seen for what it is, relative and unreal.
Perhaps there is a slight suggestion here that while practising this pāramitā the disciple apparently ceases to give active help to beings. At any rate, so it must have struck the poet Śantideva. “What good is the insipid deliverance of an arahat or a pratyeka-buddha?” he questions; “When beings are delivered it is for them an ocean of joy, which overwhelms all”. In his view therefore the more profitable and compassionate course is to sacrifice oneself for one’s neighbour. So Śantideva proceeds to equate his neighbour with his own self. He installs the neighbour in the place where the ego is accustomed to reign. The ego then is subjected to every one of the kinds of treatment which are normally reserved for the neighbour. The ego now is the stranger, suspected, vilified, maligned, attacked and so on. And the neighbour is cherished, praised and admired: whatever advantages the self may have are appropriated and used for the neighbour. The germ of such transference is already there in the meditation on the four Brahmavihāras of Maitri (friendliness), Karuṇā (compassion), Muditā (sympathetic joy), and Upekṣā (equanimity).
The disciple by this substitution gains a penetrating insight into the real nature of the ego, and thus is able to lose the attachment to the notion of “self”. The insight so achieved is expressed by Śantideva by these paradoxes: “If I really love myself I must not love myself. If I am to preserve myself I must not preserve myself”.
The last and the greatest of the pāramitāsis prajñā, the knowledge of all things as they really are. Every pāramitā is intended of course to lead to the arising of prajñā. This is the perfect and total understanding, wisdom. Sarva dharmesu yathāvad vyavastā jñāna. All false views about self are extinguished. The ego is destroyed. However, his is committed to deliverance of all beings. And to him the joys of this work are infinitely superior to those of the Buddha passing into nirvāna.
In further (and perhaps later) elaborations of the Bōdhisattva ideal his career was conceived as an ascent through ten bhūmis, periods or stages of levels, and the cultivation of one pāramitā isvisualized in each bhūmi. To facilitate this the four further pāramitās mentioned before were added to the previous six. The four are: upāya, kauśalya, skilfulness in choice of means for helping others; praṇidhāna, the vows; bala, strength; jñāna, knowledge, wisdom.
In these bhūmis we get a detailed, rounded, and, if one may use the phrase, a full-blooded and credible portrait of the Bōdhisattva. Here the pāramitās are only one of the ideals to be striven for and attained. The pāramitās are designed largely to bring about the extinction of the ego and the consequent world of subject and object, of you and me. While the ego dominates and injects duality into every human activity, true giving will not be possible.
Every being of course is a potential and future Bōdhisattva. If this were not so compassion would be partial and exclusive, which would be a betrayal of the nature of the ideal.
The first bhūmi is properly called the joyful because here the aspirant celebrates his joy at the good fortune of the blossoming in him of the bōdhicitta, the thought of the Bōdhisattva ideal. Then, as we watch his progress from bhūmi to bhūmi, we see the process of refinement and purification at work. He is not hindered by fears that dog the ordinary mortal’s existence. He is unafraid of death and of unpleasant births. Virtues mature and grow more perfect in him. He cannot think of destroying any being, however insignificant. He covets nothing. He deepens his understanding of doctrinal works, both worldly and Buddhist, and also his knowledge of the world and of men. The limits of his endurance increase. By his good reputation, which he carefully keeps untarnished, he is able to help beings to ripen. The sense of I and mine no longer operates in him. When he speaks he is direct and considerate, but he never flatters. He is fully aware that if he fails he puts the universe at peril: He now knows the truth of dukkha, anicca, and, anattā.
Then, freed from all defilements, he goes beyond the relative, the conditioned and transient, and experiences Absolute Truth, Śunyata, Void. What this experience is, is the theme of the Prajñā Pāramitā Sutras, which appears in condensed form in the Hrdaya Sutra, the Heart Sutra. He is now possessed of all the qualities of the Buddhas. But he is reminded of the great vow to deliver all beings. So for the benefit of all beings the Bōdhisattva remains for ever poised between Paramārtha Satya, Absolute Truth, and Saṁvṛiti Satya, relative truth, which is the world of ego, duality and illusion; between time and eternity. Śantideva explains the difference between the absolute and relative truths: “It is understood that truth is of two kinds, saṁvṛiti and paramārtha. True reality is beyond the range of understanding; so understanding is called saṁvṛiti.”
However lofty and heroic the Bōdhisattva ideal is, it is founded unequivocally on the capacity for good in man. But an ideal, a spiritual ideal, is the measure of man’s concern for what is good, ennobling. The spiritual quality and worth of any people, any nation, is therefore seen in the ideals it has created for it to strive for. The loftier the ideal the greater is the moral worth of the people concerned.
The tremendously heartening thing about the Bōdhisattva ideal, as of any truly compassionate ideal, is the magnanimity with which the spiritual and moral capacity of man is viewed.
Despite the heroic reaches of determination and strength expected of the Bōdhisattva, we are never able to forget or ignore the fact that the aspirant is a human being, though a very great one. His frailties are squarely faced and practices prescribed to overcome them. Nothing is beyond the ability of man to attain — this is the faith of the sages, and the lesson which they wish to transmit to us. When we learn of a Buddha, a Christ, a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, we realize that here is the proof that this is not a wild or a fantastic estimate of what man is capable of achieving.
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