Friday, April 04, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapter 4 (part 2)

As if in response to my reading of The Way of the Bodhisattva, a new episode of My Name is Earl aired last night. The previous episode (pre-writer's strike) ended with a cliffhanger. Earl, and his possible new lady love, have both been hit by cars, in just the same way that Earl was at the beginning of the show, the hitting-by-car that leads him to the law of karma. Earl had thrown away his list of amends, because once he got out of jail for something he hadn't committed (but accomplished a bundle of list-amends), and used up all his lottery winnings to complete amends, he had some kind of post-jail PTSD and life sucked. He turned his back on karma, and what Earl means by karma is sorta what we mean by bodhichitta. And from what we just learned in The Way, it's like the baddest thing to turn back once you've made that bodhisattva commitment.

Earl, in a coma, creates a dream that is a wishful, old-style perfect Rob and Laura sitcom in which he can forget all the messy more complicated things of his list and bad choices and karma turning her back on him. All the people around his bed think he's dying due to the accident, but as the viewer you can tell he's dying because he's thrown away his list. It's only when his brother Randy, one of those lifted up by Earl's spiritual quest, finds the battered yellow list and finds some things that he can cross off, that Earl takes a turn for the better. Seriously, my buddha-friends, this is one of the best shows on TV.

Earl, how could you? Shantideva says

Thus, having found reprieve from all these things,
If I now fail to train myself in virtue,
What greater folly could there ever be?
How more could I betray myself?

In Part 1 on Chapter 4, I reviewed the first part about the ways to Pay Attention. This second part is all about how the kleshas get their grip on us and we can turn down that path to self-betrayal.

5 ways we succumb to kleshas

1. We are enslaved by them.
Anger, lust--these enemies of mine--
Are limbless and devoid of faculties.
They have no bravery, no cleverness;
How then have they reduced me to such slavery? (Shantideva 4.28)
How many times have you heard people say they couldn't help it, they just got angry? They couldn't help it, they were overwhelmed by desire? It just happened? They think they can't back up and look at where they started letting their emotions get amped up on steroids until they became kleshas. I brought up in class that our own body can produce these chemicals that put us in these states. The habit of amped-up or defiled emotions has been so reinforced that the body can drive us to them before the mind does. Earl's coma was an interesting case of enslavement by the klesha of delusion. He narrates as he leads the viewer into his internal sitcom, telling us how he escaped his own parents' raging arguments by escaping in front of the TV, and that's just what he was doing in his mind.

Simple awareness of this enslavement can give you the chance to turn the direction, loosen the shackles. It takes dedication to keep them from tightening again.

2. We welcome them. They give us identity.
They're familiar. They give us something to hold on to, and they set off a predictable chain reaction that we find irresistible. ...When we realize that we like our kleshas, we begin to understand why they have such power over us. ...Rage makes us feel ...powerful and invulnerable. Craving and wanting can feel soothing, romantic and nostalgic.... Therefore, we don't even consider interrupting the flow. Ignorance is oddly comforting: we don't have to do anything; we just lay back and don't relate to what's happening around us. (Pema Chodron)

I find this can be tricky. Who's to judge whether an action is ruled by klesha, or an action is true to the person's being, an action that flows with bodhichitta? It can be so bound up with societal mores that judge what is "naturally moral" and what is a distortion. Some would judge GLBTQs as indulging in distortions of natural drives. I know in my bodhichitta-inflamed heart that my own non-monogamy is not an embrace of klesha, but an embrace of love in whatever form it takes.

Polyamory certainly has given me more opportunities to test my vulnerability to the klesha of greed, and I have made my share of mistakes. I know, though, my impulse toward polyamory is itself not an indulgence of klesha. Just where that line of understanding is may be different for my teacher, or any teacher. I mean, just look at this is "lust" that is used. Why not "greed"? That is a more all-encompassing term that would include that desire that wishes to consume.

Chodron gives a good question as crucible: "If I strengthen this habit, will it bring suffering or relief?"

3. Kleshas, and their effect of suffering, stick around for a long, long time.
No other enemy indeed
Has lived so long as my defiled emotions--
O my enemy, afflictive passion,
Endless and beginningless companion! (Shantideva, 4.32)

They are entrenched. Ignoring them allows them to thrive, and keeps us asleep when given glimpses of our own buddha nature.

4. If you let them, they will magnify.
But should I serve my dark defiled emotions,
They will only harm me, draw me down to grief. (Shantideva 4.33)

Here in the Pacific Northwest, if you ignore blackberries volunteering to grow in your yard, they become a thicket worthy of enclosing Sleeping Beauty's castle. Hmmm, not a bad metaphor I think. Chodron says it doesn't help to ignore them, to feel guilty or ashamed, or to struggle. So true. She says, "The only way to dissolve their power is with our wholehearted, intelligent attention." That sounds a lot like the practice we do in Soto Zen.

We speak of this ever-deepening spiral into entrenched kleshas as habit-patterns. Like an animal path that becomes a human path that becomes a road, kleshas encourage the same well-worn routes, until you put forethought into turning in another direction. There are certain thoughts that turn us down those well-worn paths.

5. There will be no peace until each one of us can be peace.
Therefore, if these long-lived, ancient enemies of mine,
The wellspring only of increasing woe,
Can find their lodging safe within my heart,
What joy or peace in this world can be found? (Shantideva 4.34)

This is the way of looking at the bodhisattva path that no one can be enlightened until all are enlightened. Until each heart contains the understanding and skill to dissolve kleshas and nurture love, none of us can experience a world free from violent aggression and greed.

On the flip side, as long as society collectively endorses greed, ignorance, and violence, as I see happening right now, it is supremely difficult for individuals to find and stick to this Way. Pacifism is a long slow bodhisattva road.

How to break the grip of kleshas
The essence of this is Attention! Attention! Attention! In another word, zazen.

And if the jail guards of the prisons of samsara,
The butchers and tormentors of infernal realms,
All lurk within me in the web of craving... (Shantideva 4.35)

First recognize that whatever the conditions of the external world, the suffering we experience comes from our own internal attitudes and habits. Somebody in class said, "Don't argue with the storyline--understand it." Because there is an internal dialog, and most of us do argue with it.

When I asked if this practice we do could be considered creating new habit patterns, the opposite of the klesha habit patterns, G said, "Bodhichitta is what is left when the kleshas are dissolved." The practice is the ever-attentive work of untangling the karma, dissolving the kleshas, turning away from the seductive paths of greed, hatred, and delusion.

I don't really like the overarching metaphor of the remaining verses of this chapter, entrenched as they are in the warrior and war culture that Shantideva knew intimately. He says, " the high endeavor for so great a prize,/ Why should hurt and injury dismay me?" Be strong and steady. Just keep going. It's possible. We talked in class about how people under stress have less options, they are weakened by this. (As are their bodies.) It is important to do this practice of Paying Attention, and Noticing the triggering thoughts, when we are not under stress. Then when we are under stress, we're already good at it. That's why we call this spiritual path a "practice." We have to make the conscious choice to make these new bodhichitta-fed mindful habits.
When I pledged myself to free from their affliction
Beings who abide in every region,
Stretching to the limits of the sky,
I myself was subject to the same afflictions.

Thus I did not have the measure of my strength--
To speak like this was clear insanity.
More reason, then, for never drawing back,
Abandoning the fight against defiled confusion. (Shantideva 4.41-42)

That sounds like what I said! Like me, perhaps Shantideva didn't fully comprehend the vows when he pledged, didn't know his own measure, but now he couldn't possibly choose another way.

See through the mirage:
They are simple mirages, and so--take heart!
Banish all your fear and strive to know their nature.
Why suffer needlessly the pains of hell? (Shantideva 4.47)

This is the funny thing. We defend this self, these identities wrapped around the entities born of kleshas, and all the while it is the stuff of smoke and mirrors. This becomes clear with steady intention, attention, and time. In the clear bright space that is bodhichitta that is left when the kleshas dissolve, here there is no self left to defend. There is no war because there is no Other.

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