It is New Year’s Day morning in Sri Lanka, meaning New Year’s Eve in the West. Right about now, Times Square is filling with drunken revelers, greedy for any excuse to drown their sorrows in intoxication—thus creating for themselves an endless supply of sorrows in the future. Meanwhile, in our forest monastery we are observing a 4-day festival of chanting, fasting, silence and meditation.
This is an unbridgeable cultural gap. The western preoccupation with avarice and exploitation—ever bigger, better, faster—cannot grasp the Eastern aesthetic that less is more, therefore nothing is everything. The value of the Buddha’s breakthrough discovery—ending all suffering by realizing that ‘there is no such thing as a self, or anything related to a self’—is utterly lost on a misdirected culture dedicated to enhancement of the ego by passionate development of ignorance.
And so the end of the year is a fitting time to end this little experiment in cross-cultural communication on a note of warning. In my life I have enscribed and edited millions of words as a professional IT writer, and millions more as a spiritual teacher. Not much of tangible worth has come of all that work. I must confess my inability to break through the hardened Western conceptual barriers—mental blinders I transcended, in many cases, in early childhood.
The world staggers on the cusp of mass psychosis, driven to distraction by the utter destruction of trust in human society by the lack of integrity of the political and corporate misleaders. Their minions not only intercept and listen; they actively interfere to shape the thoughts and lives of lives of people for purposes of their hegemony. The full story of that social manipulation has yet to find its Snowden.
Some advise me that I should not quit writing because the teaching of the Buddha is needed more than ever nowadays, and certainly they are right. But what we need is his complete original teaching, not some speculative neo-Buddhism adapted to venal postmodern sensibilities. There is no Dhamma without the Sangha, the monastic order, and the Vinaya, its austere precepts. But people are unwilling and indeed unable to give up their addiction to sense enjoyment as a condition of advanced consciousness and realization. The social conditioning of materialistic culture runs so deep that, even in cases where people can see the importance of the Buddha’s contribution, they are unable to implement it in their lives. So where is the audience qualified to hear that teaching?
My reticence is informed by meditative experience. There are secrets beyond description that can be learned only by full participation in spiritual culture. There are confidential subjects knowable only through deep longing for the inexpressible beauty of emptiness. There are pearls of truth too precious and important to be thrown to the swine and trampled under their excrable feet. There are treasures too valuable to be wasted on people who would vitiate their worth by stupidity.
What’s ironic is that I used to think all the secrets should be shouted from the rooftops. But my experience is that sharing too much with unqualified people simply makes one a target of envy. Profound truths are better protected in the mountain caves and forest monasteries, kept alive by rare people of strong integrity, and whispered to those sensitive enough to value them, dedicated enough to offer their lives to their service.
The deeper spiritual truths are by nature reserved for those who have earned the right to hear them. And by insisting on maintaining the integrity of the Buddha’s teaching, I have in effect priced myself out of the market. So I conclude this blog, not because of any lack of things to say—quite the contrary, in fact—but because of a lack of readers able to understand properly and respond appropriately.
May you have a happy 2014 full of improved prospects. May the blessings of the Triple Gem—the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha—be upon you and guide your path. May you be free from all lack, fear and doubt in the days ahead, and may you come to complete enlightenment very soon.
As time goes by ever more quickly and my internal evolution proceeds ever deeper, it becomes increasingly difficult to express my thoughts and experiences in mere words. Yet I feel that I must record something, even if at the moment I have no idea who, if anyone, will be able to understand this. I often feel like a Crusoe, cast off on an alien shore, who though without prospect of rescue or contact, feels oddly compelled to keep a journal. Nevertheless on the off chance that my observations might benefit some unknown person at some future time, I will write a little to examine my views.
This whole year, like the previous one, has seen tremendous changes both within and without. As I go deeper into authentic Sri Lankan forest monastic culture, my context is changing and so, necessarily, are my values and the meaning of my life. A lot of my previous identity is shedding, and many things I have held on to as ‘self’ are up for review.
On the whole I have been extremely fortunate. I was born in a family of perfect puthujjanas—completely average ordinary folks—destined to become a fool, an idiot with no future except to work to death. Somehow by sheer determination I overcame obstacle after obstacle, mainly composed of the thickheadedness of the people in my life. They sought to limit me and divert me from my purposes. Somehow I broke out of the emotional and social prisons they sought to entrap me in, and found some real, honest sādhus. Skill or luck? A little bit of both, I think, along with purity of purpose and some profound good kamma.
Anyway I just returned from a hectic, stressful weeklong trip to Chennai to renew my visa and apply for permanent residency in Sri Lanka. I used the opportunity to purchase the remaining items for our video studio. Thus there was much confusion and running around in auto-rickshaws in the choking smog. I came down with cold-like symptoms the last day or two, but those cleared up as soon as I got into the fresh air of Sri Lanka. Still, I was exhausted and slept around the clock.
Several times during that long rest, my consciousness surfaced into a meditative state. My body was asleep, but I was awake, clear and sensitive to deep, tranquil concentration. I took the opportunity to investigate several questions regarding higher jhānas and final enlightenment. I experienced several abstruse and subtle states that I won’t attempt to describe. Then after some poking around, I discovered something very wonderful.
Unfortunately I can’t say anything about it in public. Given that I have stumbled, in my usual bumbling spontaneous way, into something so esoteric that it defies language and mocks my powers of explanation, I think it is a good time for me to withdraw from public presentation and teaching altogether. In fact, all I really feel like doing is to meditate and contemplate my new discovery.
I’m not going to claim enlightenment, or Buddhahood, or any other status or designation. I’m just going to fade out of sight completely. I will still help the other senior monks make videos of their teaching, post them online and so forth. But I will not be posting under my own name, because it’s not my teaching. If I would teach, I would have to talk about my experience, and since I can’t do that without violating Vinaya rules, I won’t.
I feel that a certain phase of my existence is coming to an end—not just a chapter, but a large section of chapters. I feel no more compulsion to teach and share; although I would like to, I find myself multiply constrained. First of all, in the year I have been presenting the teaching of the Buddha, few interested students have come forward. Is it really worth the effort? Second, fellow western Buddhists, even monastics, have been overtly hostile. Third, the Vinaya prohibits me from talking to laymen about the most interesting part of my experience. Finally, restricting my teaching to an introductory level would be boring.
The Vinaya rules have an important purpose: they restrict who may hear certain confidential subjects to the circle of ordained monks. This maintains the status of the Buddha’s teaching as an authentic mystery school, and it also requires a major life commitment before disclosing certain powerful technologies of consciousness. Trust is an important part of integrity, and the Buddha wanted to insure that his best knowledge would remain the property of trustworthy men, men of proven character and integrity.
So I will fade away behind the ochre curtain. There are times when teachers and teachings are better hidden, rather than being degraded by public exposure in a time of almost universal confusion and distortion of esoteric truths. The Buddha has already presented everything in his Suttas; anything more we can say is just commentary—and there has already been more than enough of that. Plus there are many senior monks who are far more capable and experienced teachers than I. Anyone who really wants to experience the heart of the Buddha’s teaching should come to Sri Lanka and become a monk.
I will leave you with my decision and reasons, and sincerely hope that you do not experience any ill feelings or inconvenience because of it. I truly wish you the very best: the blessings of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. May you be happy and free from all anxiety, suffering and fear, and may you reach complete enlightenment very soon.
Your Dhamma friend,
PS—This site, like everything that exists, is impermanent. If you want to save any of the posts, do it now.
“All fabrications are subject to cessation.” — Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta
All things that have a beginning also have an end. This blog began about a year ago, in the aftermath of the spectacular failure of the spiritual community I founded as a Vedic guru, as a chronicle of my research into integrity and leadership. It morphed into an existential examination of the human condition based on phenomenological observation and ontological analysis. It finally settled into a narrative of my inner journey from theistic tradition to radical direct realization of the teaching of the Buddha.
I made a sustained effort to describe my realizations as I researched each important component of the Buddha’s teaching. That covered a lot of ground. I supplemented the essays posted here with podcast discussions and video tutorials. I tried my best to make the material accessible to intelligent westerners. I even started a separate blog (now closed) of intimate Q&A sessions with my Mentor, a fully self-realized monk.
Unfortunately, there was very little in the way of appropriate responses. Only one or two readers provided useful feedback or relevant discussion. Other western monks have been very critical of my work. Only my teachers really support it. Given the hostile response from the western monastics, I am very glad that I protected the identity of my teachers, monastery and lineage from the start. I certainly would not want them to experience censure or trouble on my account.
Anyone who enjoys this blog should understand from the attitudes of western monks toward this work that even Theravāda Buddhism is not without sectarian envy and partisan politics. It is not free from sociopathic attempts to denigrate deep thinkers and usurp individual efforts to attain higher stages of enlightenment. As in other spiritual communities, there are organized efforts by outside agencies to thwart exceptional individuals from receiving due regard and install showbottle ‘authorities’ who divert sincere inquiry and interest in the Buddha’s teaching into superficial doctrinal wrangling.
Considering all the above, and the general climate of fear now that the pervasiveness of online spying has been revealed, I think it is appropriate to bring this experiment to an end. I have done my best to fulfill my ethical obligation to society at large to document my transformation, report on my experience and share my conclusions. I have done this with as much honesty and integrity as I can muster; if some people don’t like it, I don’t think it’s my problem. But I have lost my taste for publicly sharing so deeply.
It’s time to move on, both to a more secluded location and into a different orientation towards my teaching work. I will step aside, adopt a more background supporting role, and let others take credit for being on the front lines. My natural inclination is to live a contemplative life of quiet and solitude, free from the inevitable harsh politics of public teaching and the disturbance of contact with the puthujjana mentality. But I had something valuable and important to say. Now that I’ve said it, it’s time to let someone else be the hero and deal with the inevitable flack.
Inevitably, a few will be disappointed; but I think in a larger sense, no one will miss me. That’s fine, since my aim in life is to disappear into nibbāna anyway. I will leave this blog online, accessible to search engines, as a legominism for future pilgrims on the same path. Good luck; may the Triple Gem bless you.
aya buwan • budu saranai • namo buddhāya
ineffable adj. too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words; not to be uttered.
Synonyms: indescribable, inexpressible, beyond words, beyond description, begging description; indefinable, unutterable, untold, unimaginable; overwhelming, breathtaking, awesome, marvelous, wonderful, staggering, amazing.
Most people trying to understand the Buddha’s teaching fall into two classes: those who think it’s about being, and those who think it’s about nonbeing. Schools such as Mahāyāna and the religious practitioners are contemplating Buddhism as being; Zen and other voidists are contemplating it as nonbeing. Both are incorrect, and their understanding is insufficient for complete enlightenment. Actually the Buddha’s teaching is about something inconceivable and ineffable: neither-being-nor-nonbeing.
Both being and nonbeing are part of Dependent Origination, the process of being and becoming taught by the Buddha. After a state of being has been conceived and manifested, it gradually decays and becomes unmanifest again. Both being and nonbeing, becoming and passing away, are causes of suffering, to be transcended by the aspirant through deep meditation.
The very last words of the Buddha were, “All fabrications are subject to cessation. Attain completion by heedfulness.” [Mahā-pārinibbāna Sutta] Thus the Buddha’s teaching has nothing to do with either fabrication or cessation, being or nonbeing, becoming or passing away. The essence of the Buddha’s instruction is contained in the words, “Attain completion by heedfulness.”
Completion of what? Cessation of suffering via the Noble Eightfold Path. We get a clue from the description of the eighth jhāna (meditative state of concentration) as ‘neither-perception-nor-non-perception’. This rare and little-understood meditative state is the gateway to nibbāna and Unbinding.
“Further, Ananda, the monk — not attending to the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, not attending to the perception of the dimension of nothingness — attends to the singleness based on the dimension of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. His mind takes pleasure, finds satisfaction, settles, & indulges in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
“He discerns that ‘Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness are not present. Whatever disturbances that would exist based on the perception of the dimension of nothingness are not present. There is only this modicum of disturbance: the singleness based on the dimension of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.’ He discerns that ‘This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness. This mode of perception is empty of the perception of the dimension of nothingness. There is only this non-emptiness: the singleness based on the dimension of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.’ Thus he regards it as empty of whatever is not there. Whatever remains, he discerns as present: ‘There is this.’ And so this, his entry into emptiness, accords with actuality, is undistorted in meaning, & pure.” — Cula-suññata Sutta
But even the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception is not the ultimate:
“‘I shall be of neither-perception-nor-non-perception’—this is a conceiving. Conceiving, monk, is a disease; conceiving is an imposthume (abscess); conceiving is a barb. When, monk, the sage has gone beyond all conceiving, he is said to be at peace. But, monk, the sage who is at peace is not born, does not decay, is not agitated; not decaying, how will he die? Not dying, how will he be agitated?” — Dhātuvibhaṅga Sutta
Nevertheless, the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception is an important milepost on the way to enlightenment of the Noble Eightfold Path. How can we understand anything higher until we have realized it? The key is in the statement, “not born, does not decay… not decaying, how will he die?”
The key to the whole problem is desire. Desire is the beginning of the whole chain of Dependent Origination, cause and effect leading to birth and death, being and nonbeing. We feel that we are incomplete, and so we reach outside ourselves for gratification, not realizing that in doing so we set in motion a process that inevitably leads to suffering.
Attaining the object of our desire requires a self, an ego, an identity, a body. The body requires a world to live in, and thus we set in motion space, time, matter and energy. The impulse to possess and enjoy some object creates the senses that give enjoyment, but also suffering and ultimately death.
Out of ignorance, we do not foresee the consequences of desire. So ironically, out of a desire to enjoy we create an eternity of suffering—samsāra. Even if we can tolerate the cessation of the body and senses that embody the results of this cause, we do not understand that we also have to let go of desire.
Thus we usually wrap right around into another cycle of desire, becoming and suffering. This is called rebirth, and it can happen at the time of death after a lifetime, or in a moment as we change from one desire to another. The Buddha’s teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path is designed to counteract this vicious cycle.
And what is the end of the Noble Eightfold Path? Nibbāna, Arahantship, Unbinding. These states cannot be explained in words, because words are symbols referring to things that exist, that have being. And nibbāna, by definition, is beyond being and nonbeing. As soon as we try to explain nibbāna, we are actually talking about something else.
But the method or path to attaining nibbāna can be explained in words. When an expert physician gives a prescription, he does not try to explain the chemical composition or biochemical science behind his diagnosis and treatment. He simply tells the patient how to take the medicine, and leaves him to experience the result. And that’s what the teaching of the Buddha is: not a religion, not a philosophy, but simply a treatment for the human condition; a way or path to the cessation of suffering.
Upasiva: “Those who have reached the end, do they no longer exist? Or are they made immortal, perfectly free?”
The Buddha: “Those who have reached the end have no criterion by which they can be measured. That which could be spoken of is no more. You cannot say ‘they do not exist.’ But when all modes of being, all phenomena, have been removed, all ways of speaking have gone too.” — Upasiva-manava-puccha
This blog has been in existence for nearly a year. It began in January 2013 as a chronicle of my transformation from an ex-Vedic guru to a Buddhist monk. Somewhere along the way it also became a teaching vehicle as I tried to reach out to people with similar issues, goals and thoughts. Especially, I have been trying to reach Westerners who would like to become a first-class Theravāda monk.
So far, I have only found one who is sincerely interested. This gives me pause for thought. I know from experience that spiritual teaching is difficult. In my last project, I built up a community of 12 committed students in India over a period of 2-3 years. It took more than 100,000 individuals sufficiently interested to visit our website to find them. Of those 12 students, some of whom had been with me 5 years or more, all of them quit when things got tough, leaving me to face the consequences alone.
That was not an experience I would like to repeat. At one point I was planning to build this into an extensive teaching site with a complete series of instructional videos leading gradually from the condition of the typical ordinary person to the level of a committed Buddhist monk. I was even willing to build a small colony of meditation huts for visiting students in the forest highlands of Sri Lanka. Given the rarity of suitable candidates, however, I had to ask myself tough questions about ROI. In reality there just isn’t enough response to justify the required time and energy.
Oh I have plenty of ideas, information and a medicine bag full of treatments for various spiritual ailments, drawn from many paths and teachers. But what’s the use of hanging out my shingle if no patients show up for treatment?
I suppose it’s possible to put more effort into promotion, but I think it’s pretty clear this is an uphill slog. If I were younger, I might consider making a big effort to promote the teaching. At my age, I’d much rather invest my limited energy and time in perfecting my practice. There is already enough material here and elsewhere online to help the average intelligent person understand and apply the teaching of the Buddha.
That said, I am planning (as is my custom) to take an end-of-year hiatus. I want to retreat to do a little exploring, think things over, evaluate the year’s progress and maybe initiate a new direction. After all I’m not getting any younger, and I have some high goals to reach before I’m ready to leave here. I’m thinking about a series of Dhutanga retreats for monks already here on Sri Lanka.
For those who would like more information about the Dhutanga path, please read the biography of Venerable Ācariya Mun Bhūridatta Thera [5.2 MB PDF]. An inspiring book by one of his close disciples.
We have been taught to believe
that love is everything
the most important thing
and that it leads to happiness.
But I have heard
and have directly seen
that love is a selfish thing
and it leads to suffering.
Even a perfect love
will end in death
and you will be
bereaved and weeping.
Even love of God
is something human
born of our imagination.
Who can say it is forever?
What could be more than love?
Commitment to a path
that leads to the end
of all stress and pain.
So here I am, sitting on the porch of my stone cottage in the late afternoon. The awesome view overlooks the whole southern plain of Sri Lanka. It’s rainy season, and storms cruise over the horizon like motherships, dropping sheets of water on the lowlands.
I’m fully occupied, very busy doing nothing. It’s about time.
My whole life up to now was driven by the need to find a solution for the suffering of human existence. I have literally been running, looking all over the world, under enormous internal pressure. I was sick and tired of the constant mental tension and emotional stress.
And I have arrived at something: the original teaching of the Buddha. It has given me substantial, tangible relief. I feel released from the burden of finding a cure, and ready to get on with the purpose of my life.
Helping other people get the same profound benefits that I am experiencing. But that part of things is, unfortunately, not going well.
I have tried my best to document on this blog the final stages of my transformation from an angst-ridden American artist to an enlightened Buddhist monk. I’d love to be able to plug you in and pour the delicious tranquillity and ease I am feeling directly into your brain. But since I am limited to using words, sounds and video, I have a problem.
You’re not getting it. Not as far as I can tell anyway.
So my career as an aspiring Bodhisatta is being cut short because I have no idea how to get people to take seriously what I am trying to communicate here. As far as I can tell, I’m not getting through.
Oh, there are one or two who show up now and then and emit signs of intelligent life. But it’s very hard trying to transfer my knowledge, experience and expertise to people who just don’t respond.
Of course, as I have written here before, there is only one question—‘How can I end the suffering?’—and only one answer: the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. That is documented very nicely in the Theravāda Suttas. So my only job is to be a friend, to help you with your misunderstandings and encourage you to take your medicine.
But if you don’t talk to me, how am I supposed to know what’s going on with you? In the absence of that feedback, how am I to structure this material? I have all kinds of ideas, like a doctor with a bag full of medicines. But if the patients won’t tell me about their symptoms and ask for help, there isn’t much I can do.
Meanwhile I sit in my modern cave with its terrific view. For the first time in my life, my mind is full of tranquillity and ease. There is nothing I need to do. I know I have found the solution. I am willing to share it.