Tuesday, August 05, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8
Heartbreak with Samsara
Meditation, Part One

Chapter 5 involved meditation, but with the addition of perseverance and diligence of the chapters in-between, we can tackle the more deeply embedded constructions of the self, those worldly habits that keep us "nauseated with samsara."

Worldly life is fraught with traps leading to the "fangs of affliction," or kleshas. In addition to the calm abiding meditation, penetrative insight meditation (vipassana) helps dissolve the grip of kleshas. Attachment to worldly stuff, relationships, wealth, health, anything whether 'good' or 'bad' can be a set-up for suffering. The solitude and absence of distractions of a monastic life make it easier to focus, though I think attachment to that solitude can be detrimental too.

Shantideva says, "But with a millionth part of such vexation/ Enlightenment itself could be attained." Too often that can be interpreted that it is not possible to experience liberation completely within a lay life. It is simply more complicated, but is made easier if at least we take the time to do those meditation practices. All of life is marked by that vexation, whether lay or monkly.

Dissolving the Barriers
Meditation, Part Two

Over and over again, my pain, another's pain...why should mine be more important than the other's? More than that, if we shut out another's pain so we don't have to feel it ourselves, that is selfish, self-absorbed, and doesn't help to decrease the amount of pain in the world.

And if through such a single pain
A multitude of sorrows can be remedied,
Such pain as this a loving being
Strives to foster in himself and others. ~Shantideva 8.105
The opposite of self-absorption is finding satisfaction in the happiness of others. If the barriers are dissolved, this is easy. Feeling another's pain as my own, so thoroughly putting myself in their shoes, the compassionate response will naturally and easily arise.

Chapter 9
Prajna, or Wisdom

Pema Chodron left this out of the book, as she considers it so packed that it requires a book on its own. However it was covered in class. From verse 77 (a different translation than that linked), "the source of sorrow is the pride of saying I." When we touch this wisdom, prajna, we know the truth of the Buddhist teaching that a solid enduring self is a delusion, and this delusion is the root of all suffering. To perceive emptiness is to awaken.
Without emptiness the mind is constrained and arises again, as in non-cognitive meditative equipoise. Therefore, one should meditate on emptiness. ~Shantideva 9.48
After calm abiding, after penetrative insight, what is left but to let the emptiness be meditated?

Let the emptiness be meditated.

Chapter 10

In all my work with various Buddhist groups, I have not found a sect that does not dedicate the merit. We all make the wish that those who suffer will experience relief, and may find this noble path, and so does Shantideva. He tries to think of everyone: those languishing in hell, the blind, those living in dread, captives in chains, etc. Sadly, I cannot agree with the sentiment of this one:
May all the women in this world
Attain the strength of masculinity

Or, from the more literal translation:
May the women in the world become men. ~Shantideva 10.30
If there were anything I would take issue with this, it is the rhetoric Pema Chodron must sometimes use (and the translator) to make this ancient writer with ancient prejudices be more palatable to the modern reader. I would rather find an acceptance that this wise text is flavored by the conditions of its time, and some of it is just not going to be applicable to this time and this society. When we push the words around, translate them into modern concepts as though they are dollars from a different time, we make it too easy for prejudices to persist, and these too I have experienced working with so many different Buddhist groups.

If I may be so bold, may my own efforts relieve the suffering of others, and may we find joy, happiness, love, compassion, peace, and emptiness.

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