“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.
The deeper I go into the teaching of the Buddha, the more convinced I become that it is something quite unique and special. The most profound teachings of the Buddha are inexpressible in words; they cannot be described, only experienced. We don’t possess a proper ontological category for them.
The Buddha’s teaching is beyond being and non-being; beyond becoming and non-becoming; beyond self and not-self. This is the profundity of the Middle Path. When I contemplate it, I feel like I am surfing on a knife edge of energy. At any moment I could die; each breath, every heartbeat could be my last. Yet I emerge from these deep contemplations refreshed, with a feeling of renewal, a sense of having gone beyond.
Words have meaning, and their meaning is derived from etymology and ontology, which creates systems of terminology defined in terms of one another. As soon as I speak a word, I imply all that it is not. To say ‘white’ implies ‘not black’; to say ‘being’ implies ‘non-being’, and so forth. This dualistic aspect of language is inescapable.
Yet the Buddha’s teaching is not monism either. It is not about ‘oneness’, ‘becoming god’ or ‘merging with god’. Coming in to manifestation and going out of manifestation, creation and destruction, being and nonbeing are part of this teaching; but there is also something beyond them.
Sometimes people ask questions like, “Does the Tathāgata exist after death?” or “If there is no ‘self’, then what is reborn?” Questions like this are invalid, because they are based upon incorrect assumptions. There is a level beyond ‘self’ and ‘no-self’, beyond ‘being’ and ‘nonbeing’. This is inexpressible by definition, because it transcends the duality of language.
But it is possible to experience, and that is the point. When I write articles or make videos, sometimes I get the feeling that I am talking completely over people’s heads. Only one or two brave folks have the courage to discuss their impressions in the comments, so it’s hard to know how well I am getting through.
I am now at the point where I am directly seeing this condition beyond duality. It is quite awesome, and it kind of takes the wind out my sails. Even if I talk about it, I can only talk around it; the state is quite inexpressible in words. And although it is certainly possible to talk about the process that gives direct experience of this transcendent state—the Noble Eightfold Path—I feel that others have already done that in sufficient detail, especially the Buddha himself.
Any intelligent person with a good stock of pious activities and sufficient motivation can study the Buddha’s teaching and put it into practice for himself. There is a stream, a current of truth flowing from complete acceptance of the Buddha’s teaching to complete enlightenment. Once one enters this stream, he progresses inevitably to nibbāna. The current pulls and pushes him along; even when he is out of meditation, contemplation continues deep in the mind, ultimately revealing everything.
Maybe the best service I can provide is to encourage by saying, “It works!” There are many directions I could take my teaching work. But currently I feel rather disconnected from my audience. That makes it hard to decide what to talk about and how to present it.
As a monk in an obscure forest monastery high in the tropical mountains of Sri Lanka, I’m sure my daily concerns are vastly different from people just starting out on this path. I have tried various devices to stimulate feedback and discussion, but thus far they have not worked very well. So I think I’ll just sit here for a while and contemplate the inexpressible self-revealing transcendent beauty of the Buddha’s great teaching.
When Buddhism was first established in ancient India, there were few monks and nuns. The monks did not stay in temples but moved from one place to another. It was their mission to spread the teaching of the Buddha for the happiness and welfare of all living beings. In those days there were no paved roads, so the Buddha allowed his disciples to stop wandering and take up temporary abodes during the rainy season.
This season is called Vassā in Pali, meaning “Rains Retreat”. It begins in early July and continues through late October. This is a time of deep meditation and austerity, ending in a celebration where the congregation gifts new robes to the monks.
Nowadays, lay followers prepare robes for the monks, who benefit them by accepting offerings of robes and other necessities. The Kathina ceremony takes place during the month immediately following the full moon day of October. Today a number of customs and practices of a collective life, including the recitation of rules and the distribution of robes, became incorporated into the annual cycle of monastic life.
This historic ceremony, continuing through the ages, has evolved from culture to culture. Today in Sri Lanka, the Kathina ceremony provides one of the most popular occasions for merit-making. Buddhist people celebrate the robe-offering ceremony with profound respect and devotion to the monks, who have just spent three months in the monastery observing the Vassā. In rural Sri Lanka, everybody in a village participates in the Kathina ceremony at nearby temples as a community activity lasting from one to three days.
Among the Buddhist of Southeast Asia, there is a very grand festival at the end of the observance of the Rains Retreat. People offer food to the monks in monasteries and prepare the special robes that are offered to the Sangha. This special offering is called the Kathina Offering Ceremony. It is done only during the period of time starting from the end of Rains Retreat to the first day of the waning moon of the 12th Lunar Month.
Yesterday we celebrated Kathinā at our forest monastery in Sri Lanka. It was very beautiful, and a profound experience for me personally. Most importantly, I finally got to meet some of my superiors in the Order, and found the senior monks to be truly venerable and admirable beings.
I have been deeply involved in religious and spiritual organizations since childhood. I was raised in a Christian household, but left that because of its hypocrisy. That started a search for truth that has taken me all over the world, researching the roots of all the major faiths in their countries of origin.
Sadly, spiritual life and community are in sorry shape on our planet at this time. Error, deviation and corruption are much easier to find than authentic versions of any tradition. For many years I followed the Vedic spiritual path, and while my personal spiritual master was an admirable personality, his organization was rife with phony renunciants into power politics and the worst kinds of hypocrisy. I could never feel at home in that organization; and even when I left and started my own, it never felt right.
I first encountered supposedly Buddhist teachings in America in the late 1960s. As a young man in search of truth, I naturally visited important places like Esalen, Tassajara Zen center and others. But something about the American ‘Buddhist’ teachings put me off. I wound up becoming a yogi, studying the Vedas in India and eventually becoming a guru myself.
That feeling has only increased with time. Now that I actually know something about the Buddha’s teaching, whenever I hear what is being taught as ‘Buddhism’ in the West, I have to cringe. It is unrecognizable as Buddha’s teaching, mixed up with all kinds of mundane knowledge, or so twisted in its social manifestation that it resembles a business or a fundamentalist church more than the Sangha as the Buddha conceived it.
One of my most severe doubts about accepting ordination as a Buddhist monk was that I would find the same nonsense here as well. I was fully prepared to spend the rest of my life as a recluse, rather than join another organization where the so-called ‘leaders’ are really wicked men posing as monks.
My first experience of Buddhist society was in Thailand, where I went to study meditation. However, I found the best teacher in the books of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, who unfortunately departed this world some time ago. The same corruption I experienced in India was quite prevalent in Thailand—jet-set monks showing up at the temple in chauffeured Mercedes, wearing Rolex watches and surrounded by pretty young boys. I’m sure there are some monasteries like that in Sri Lanka, but fortunately they are in the minority.
The Buddha predicted that the Dhamma would be preserved in Sri Lanka better than anywhere else. My experience confirms the truth of this. The upland forest tradition monks are genuine and very strict. However, they are reclusive and difficult for a Westerner to approach. There are some monasteries that offer meditation retreats to Westerners, but they are more like vacation hotels—not my cup of tea. I wanted authentic discipleship, a lifetime relationship with a traditional Buddhist community.
Luckily I got an introduction through a relative of a friend, and was able to visit a deep forest monastery high in the mountains. I stayed there for almost two months, forming a nice relationship with the Chief Monk. He introduced me to his primary student, who has an even smaller and more obscure monastery in a tiny mountainside village. I went there to visit at his invitation, and liked it so much that I have never left except for short journeys.
Since I moved here we have had two major festivals: Vesak at the end of April and now Kathinā. Vesak was beautiful and I have done a short video about it. But especially now that I am a monk, Kathinā seemed much more powerful and significant. There was so much wonderful devotion from the congregation, I was overwhelmed. You can see it for yourself in the video.