Optimism will destroy us all

No, seriously.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – what are these but the triumph of good ol’ American optimism over common sense, or indeed, any kind of sense at all? Global financial crisis – caused by the incredible unthinking belief that Capitalism can solve anything, a belief sold to you by the ones who benefit. And global warming; it’s either not happening (because I can’t bring myself to think something so negative) or if it is, technology will fix it. Or at least, we can build a shelter to survive in. Yeah!

It’s not a new thing. Positive thinking, as a recent critique has shown, has a long history, especially in America. How can it be that we have all fallen for it? Are we simply too happy, and therefore, gullible? All the “science” and psychology has gone to telling us what we wanted to know: happiness is good. Are Buddhists to blame for buying into the “happiness” paradigm. I’m guilty of it myself! Maybe I should go and mope for a while about how I’ve helped end civilization.

Buddhism has been successfully marketed as a ‘positive’ psychology. In this it is, of course, precisely in line with the modern developments in Christianity, as promoted by the right wing evangelists. Historically, Christianity was often an extremely negative psychology, which relied on reducing the individual to a worm in the sight of God, so he could be exposed to the saving grace of Christ, or more to the point, the Church. Such negativism came under scathing criticism in the latter days of the Church, and in implicit acknowledgement of the accuracy of the critique, modern Christianity has largely abandoned the guilt-sodden, sin-obsessed ways of the past. But the happy-clappy services of the modern evangelists are no ancient tradition, stemming no further back than post-Puritan America.

Buddhism tells people that they are responsible for their own suffering – so hey! Why worry about social conditions, poverty, or discrimination… This is, of course, counteracted by the strong emphasis on compassion in modern Buddhism, but we can’t deny that the narcissistic ‘me and my happiness’ forces are present, and powerful.

In point of fact, however, real Buddhism is strikingly balanced; for every positive there’s a negative. My favorite Dhammapada verse:

What is laughter, what is joy, when the world is ever burning?

Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek the light?

Whenever we idealize happiness, we alienate a sad person. Yes, Buddhist meditation texts speak often of happiness, but they also acknowledge the ‘spiritual depression’ (nirāmisa domanassa) that arises as one contemplates the wondrous dhamma that one has not yet attained.

For those who feel lost and alone in the sea of smiling faces, there are plenty of depressing Buddhist suttas for consolation.

Art is terrific to bring you down from those fakely happy feelings. Try a really, really sad song, or a story about a deal with the devil that goes wrong in the worst way, or (and i owe this recommendation to my friend Giles) a relentlessly bleak post-apocalyptic film.

If none of these work, there’s always that daily horror movie right there on your TV – the 6.30 news.

Let me know your favorite tips for getting in touch with the depressing truth.

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133 thoughts on “Optimism will destroy us all

  1. Uh-oh, it looks like somebody needs some cheering up! :)
    Here’s a video that might help…

    If that hair doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will!

  2. Bhante Sujato: Let me know your favorite tips for getting in touch with the depressing truth.

    Dear Bhante, may I beg to disagree? Truth is not depressing. Deluded people find truth depressing. :)

    BTW, I’m still deluded.

    I’ve just come across a lesson + exercuse to ponder on Anicca and Anatta: watching the flame consuming my father’s dead body.

  3. My condolences Dheerayupa and may your contemplations bear you fruit.

    I have a close friend who has terminal cancer. She’s one of the most cheerful people i know. We often talk about how ‘death’ is a taboo topic and so sanitised when it should just be seen as what it is, completely normal.

    Much metta to you at this time in your life.

  4. Despite knowing the Dhamma, a memory of how the fires were once banked against me is always close by. The personal experience of the vagaries of dukkha is ample enough for my practice.

    I highly recommend the poem “Thanatopsis”, by William Cullen Bryant in times such as these. I find that it captures the gentle balance between the darkest of the unknown, and the company of ones fellow humans in the face of it.

  5. Thank you for your kind sympathy.

    Ajahn Brahm said: what does one learn from happiness? Only complacency and selfishness.

    Only in times of sufferings does one learn about the truths of life and then to be kind and compassionate.

    I’m grateful for all the teachings of all the wonderful monks. So many of them rushed to my mind to give me Sati and help me contemplate life during this past week.

    Sadhu to the Buddha’s and all Ajahns’ teachings.

  6. Dear good Dheerayupa

    May your goodness rise up to support you at this time.

    May Peace and acceptance find you as you contemplate the Dhamma of letting things be and letting things go.

    May you accept yourself as you are right now. You don’t have to be anything other than what you are; the Dhamma will find you all by itself because you have put enough causes in for this to happen. As you say yourself, ‘I’m grateful for all the teachings of all the wonderful monks. So many of them rushed to my mind to give me Sati and help me contemplate life during this past week.’

    Much love

  7. “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” – Col. Nathan R. Jessep

    Now if you REALLY want an antidote to optimism, have a listen to this. (But please, NOT on acid – it’s been almost 40 years and I still haven’t fully recovered!)

  8. Dear Bhante,

    I cannot tell you my favourite tips for getting in touch with the depressing truth because it would be an endless list.

    I do what i feel i can Bhante. Anything more may cause me harm and i’m not willing to test that boundary at this point in my life and only i can make that decision.

    When i feel down about the world and the general abundance of suffering that is there for all to see i like to reflect that the Lord Buddha was spot on in that First Noble Truth. Somehow that makes me feel better. Cos that means the chances of him being spot with the other 3 are pretty high.

    Also i try and remember our teacher Ajahn Brahm saying:

    light a candle rather than complain about the darkness (which by the way Bh Sujato, you have done…perhaps a rather large bonfire, instead of a candle though)

    and

    when there’s nothing you can do, do nothing. (probably best to do nothing with a teeny bit of metta though; but i am 100% certain that you know more about this than i do).

    ***

    I’ve heard it said that when the world ends…the universe ends…all beings will automatically go into a Jhana realm until conditions change again. doesn’t sound too bad really. ;)

  9. Dear Bhante Sujato,

    I have relinquished my search for happiness (ignoble truth). While I do enjoy unattached sprinkles of happiness, instead I have found equanimity to provide a steadier place of peace and balance.

    Neither good nor bad, pleasant nor unpleasant…everything is as it needs to be.

    Wishing you well,
    A. Natta

  10. I recently found your blog and have been enjoying following it.

    Regarding tips for getting in touch with misery, paying attention to what hurts seems to do it!

    For better or worse, I’ve always had an acute sensitivity to suffering. The first time I heard of Buddha’s first noble truth I thought “now this is a teaching that makes sense.”

    That said, some optimism can be a helpful thing, even in Buddhism. Taking refuge in triple gem is a kind of optimism, as is cultivating the four immeasurables. The key difference to me seems to be in the meta-cultivation, as when “may I be free from suffering” means even though I am in pain, may I accept that I am in pain without additional clinging that causes me suffering.

  11. Dear Dheerayupa

    At times like this, it depresses me that I cannot be glib in offering those standard Buddhist condolence messages, as I know absolutely nothing about your state of progress in Buddhism. And then I remember, it should be about comforting you, and not about how people perceive me or the appropriateness of my message.

    So, Avuso, I wish you well and may you remember those precious lessons we have learned from our kalyanamittas.

  12. Dear A.Natta

    It’s ignoble only if it’s connected with the search for kamasukha. There are supposed to be the other-worldly pleasures that the Buddha recommended.

  13. The language of the hearts is universal and has no set phrases.

    I truly appreciate your metta, Sylvester. I will give you a big Thank-you hug before we request the eight precepts from Ajahn Brahm in June. :)

  14. To me, I find that during the time of depression – of suffering or dukka, it is so much easier for us to reslise what dukka is. In short, it’s the best time to learn the first noble truth!

    Most of us usually think that we ‘know’ what suffering was. Quite a while ago, I just realised that I had not. When I had a glimpse of what Dukka was, I started to understand the cause of my dukka.

    Ajahn Chah said where there was dukka, there was ‘end of dukka’.

    So, I would say that where we find depressing truths in life, we can also see beautiful truths.

    As cited by Khun Kanchana, Ajahn Brahm’s interpretation of Ajahn Chah’s teaching: when there is nothing to do, (just have a cup of tea and) do nothing. BUT if there is anyting you can do, give it your best.

    Thailand is in a state of political turmoil right now. I can’t do much, but I will do the best of the very little I can do.

  15. Optimism will destroy us all? Perhaps but I think not. I live in hope and probably many others do too and one has to be optimistic to hope. But not just hope only as action is required.

    Bhante Sujato as a Buddhist activist, liberal, egalitarian, ethicist and vegan you have to be an optimist to change the world for the betterment of humans of all genders as well as animals. Your being a social conscience for the Buddhist world I cannot see any viable alternative.

    I enjoy your blog posts and they resonate with me so please continue to explore topics shunned by others too afraid to speak out or who wish to maintain the status quo.

  16. Doesn’t “when the world is ever burning” refer to the flames of raga, dosa, and moha? “The world” usually means “one’s world”, as in “the end of the world is in this fathom-long carcass.”

    “Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek the light”

    seems to me to be a clear reference to individual suffering. Trying to end suffering by fixing the world outside is impossible and this is the specifically Western attempt at ending suffering, which has not worked and never will.

    I think that a problem is that people use the word “happiness” in different ways. True happiness means nibbana. So happiness should really refer to freedom, ease, equanimity, contentment, and peace of mind, not positive emotional highs.

  17. Bhante, you may be interested in a new book which is a critique of the american positive thinking movement.

    Title Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
    Author Barbara Ehrenreich
    Publisher Metropolitan Books, 2009
    ISBN 0805087494, 9780805087499

  18. Yes that’s true Albert.

    Although Bhante, if you ever feel the need to head to the remotest kuti/cave at Santi and have a retreat for 6 months…i’m sure we’d all survive and just be very happy thinking of you cultivating happiness and discovering suffering along the way.

  19. This post made me smile, thank you Bhante.

    It was the Buddha’s social activism and compassion that made me fall in love with the Dhamma, and its the Dhammas transcendental truths and practices for happiness that keep me searching. Thusly the Dhamma is “good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end.” Martin Luther King would be a good example of the Dhamma used for greater good.

    but Ive been increasingly disappointed with the spiritual narcissism/ nihilism that seems to be so prevalent in Buddhist circles. Venerable bhikkhu Bodhi speaks to this in his essay “facing the future; four essays on the social relevance of Buddhism”. Someone at my temple gave a talk soon after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, at one point in his talk he said something along the lines of “people dont like to talk about it but it was the people of Haiti’s karma that this happened.”

    It seems most Buddhists, including monks have adopted a very deterministic/ fatalistic view of the law of karma. And so its become something to excuse yourself from being responsible for your fellow sentient life forms.

    Californian :
    Doesn’t “when the world is ever burning” refer to the flames of raga, dosa, and moha? “The world” usually means “one’s world”, as in “the end of the world is in this fathom-long carcass.”
    “Shrouded by darkness, would you not seek the light”
    seems to me to be a clear reference to individual suffering. Trying to end suffering by fixing the world outside is impossible and this is the specifically Western attempt at ending suffering, which has not worked and never will.
    I think that a problem is that people use the word “happiness” in different ways. True happiness means nibbana. So happiness should really refer to freedom, ease, equanimity, contentment, and peace of mind, not positive emotional highs.

    I partially agree with your post Californian, yes personal happiness and liberation (nibbana) is the most important, and is the ultimate goal of the Dhamma, but it is not the only goal. The Buddha also said we have immense social responsibilities for the society we live in and other sentient life forms as well. See for example the sutta of the bloodless sacrifice in the Digha nikaya. In that sutta the Buddha was giving advice to a king, in a modern democracy WE are the king, we are the ones asking the Dhamma for advice, and the Dhamma is very clear.

    Will we as the kings and queens of our nations be poor rulers, will we be the king in the sutta and build elaborate colossal buddha images and ignore the rampant poverty, war and suffering in our countries and our world? or will we take the Dhamma as our co-regent and become wheel turning monarchs?

    my vision of the Dhamma that I get from the suttas is that personal and societal transformation are not mutually exclusive but each is necessary for the development of the other. In my opinion so long as Buddhists are only concerned with meditation and scholarly pursuits only half the Dhamma is being practiced.

    Metta,

    Lars.

  20. You begin by asking: “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – what are these but the triumph of good ol’ American optimism over common sense, or indeed, any kind of sense at all?”

    That seems to me to be absolutely (pornographically?) wrong. Optimism has nothing to do with those wars and to treat the subject of the violence of war so frivolously, so facilely seems unfortunate indeed.

    This long (sorry) article from Alternet raises a number of points about war, lack of empathy, inability/unwillingness to grieve for those outside one’s own group, and misogeny.

    A Carefully Crafted “F**k You:” An Interview With Nonviolence Theorist Judith Butler
    By Nathan Schneider, Guernica Magazine
    Posted on April 17, 2010, Printed on April 19, 2010
    http://www.alternet.org/story/146483/

    Judith Butler’s philosophy is an assault on common sense, on the atrophy of thinking. It untangles not only how ideas compel us to action, but how unexamined action leaves us with unexamined ideas—and, then, disastrous politics. Her work over the last few years has been devoted to challenging the Bush/Cheney-era torpor that came over would-be dissenters in the face of two wars and an acquiescent electorate. She does so not with policy prescriptions or electoral tactics, but with an analysis of the habits of thinking and doing that stand behind them. It is in response to the suffering of others, she insists, of innocent victims in particular, that we must come to terms with the world as it is and act in it.

    Butler is, at University of California at Berkeley, Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature. Her reputation is secure as the most important theorist of gender in the last quarter century, thanks to books like Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993). The thrust of her contribution is to destabilize—to queer—identity by disentangling the fragile performances that give rise to it. Whether in gender politics or geopolitics, her analysis shows how failing to grasp these sources of identity blinds us to the common humanity of others.

    Her latest book, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009), reflects on the past decade’s saga of needless war, photographed—even fetishized—torture, and routine horror. It treats these practices as issuing from a philosophical choice, one which considers certain human beings expendable and unworthy of being grieved. The concluding chapter confronts the paradoxical nature of any call for nonviolent resistance—paradoxical because the very identities that we claim and resist on behalf of were themselves formed by violence in the past. Butler does not mistake nonviolence for passivity, as so many critics do. At its best, she writes, nonviolent resistance becomes a “carefully crafted ‘fuck you,’” tougher to answer than a Howitzer.

    Many of Frames of War’s reviewers comment about the difficulty of Butler’s prose. It certainly departs from the usual terms of debate about the subject—say, troop levels or international law—in order to point toward something more fundamental. Her books are notoriously dense, but the sensation of density stems from the very expectations we hold that she is trying to challenge. Butler has written about J.L. Austin, who taught philosophers in the deepest throes of the linguistic turn “how to do things with words,” and that is what she does. Reading her prose is a feat, an act. It is performative, in the sense that the text aspires to change us, not simply inform or explain. Apparently clear language can be more misleading than purposeful obfuscation; clarity sometimes depends on the assumptions and vocabulary that deliver us into war after war, or hate crime after hate crime, or refusal after refusal to admit the personhood of another.

    Butler’s sentences are an invitation to refute those mistakes, to rethink, and to start again. Whether her particular performance, or philosophy in general, can make any dent in the war machine remains to be seen—though its influence may finally be too subtle to detect.

    We had this exchange over a series of emails, during which she traveled to the West Bank and back on a research trip.

    —Nathan Schneider for Guernica

    Guernica: This book, you write, is a response to the policies under the Bush administration. How different would a book about the Obama administration be? Have we learned at all how to expand our circle of grief? Have we adjusted our frames?

    Judith Butler: The fact is that the war in Afghanistan has escalated under the Obama administration, and though it seems as if there is a firmer policy against torture, and a clear condemnation of torture on the part of the administration, we still are responsible for an extraordinary number of brutal deaths by war. This administration was fully silent during the massacre on Gaza. And Obama himself has agreed not to disclose the full narrative and visual archive on U.S. torture—we have to ask why. I think we have to learn how to separate our impressions of Obama the man as both thoughtful and inspiring from the policies of the Obama administration. Perhaps then we can begin to see that the politics of the administration are very separate from the impression of the man. This is a painful lesson to learn, and I wonder whether the U.S. public and its European allies will actually learn it.

    Guernica: That kind of distinction between the man—well, as you say, impressions of him—and the administration is something one hears disappointed progressives making a lot lately. But many still feel that, in Obama, they have an ally on the inside who is doing the best he can against political inertia. Can one afford to trust him? Not doing so could undermine his ability to undo that inertia.

    Judith Butler: Those explanations that try to locate all the inertia outside of Obama don’t take into account his own unwillingness to speak and act in face of certain urgent issues. His inability to condemn the onslaught against Gaza was not a matter of some external constraint upon him. No one coerced him into escalating the war in Afghanistan, nor was it a matter of externally situated inertia when he abandoned stronger versions of universal healthcare. Perhaps we should cease to ask the question of what kind of person he really is and focus on what he does. He speaks, he acts, and he fails to act; he is explicitly thwarted by entrenched relations. But let us not make excuses for the man or his administration when his actions are weak or, indeed, when he fails to act at all.

    Guernica: Obama has performed his presidency as a thinker, a reflecting person, perhaps most ironically when deciding how many tens of thousands more troops to send to Afghanistan. Do you find this heartening?

    Judith Butler: With Obama, there is thinking. But it seems to me mainly strategic, if not wholly technical. He has surrounded himself with technocrats, especially on his economic team. So how do we understand the disconnect between the domain of principle and that of policy? What is the relation between the moral vision and principles he espouses and the kind of policy he implements?

    Guernica: Let me turn that question back at you. In a world ever more specialized, should articulating a moral vision still be expected of politicians? Might mere bureaucratic competence at the service of their constituent’s interests be enough?

    Judith Butler: A president is part of a team, and he chooses those with whom he will act in concert. Summers and Geithner were choices, and they were ones that clearly put technocratic free market thinking above questions of social justice and the kind of political thinking it would take to implement norms of justice. One has to be competent at implementing one policy or another. But there is always the question of which policy, and this is a matter of principle.

    Guernica: In the book’s introduction, you set out a principled vision for how we might go about defining life—

    Judith Butler: I am not at all sure that I define life, since I think that life tends to exceed the definitions of it we may offer. It always seems to have that characteristic, so the approach to life cannot be altogether successful if we start with definitions. All I really have to say about life is that for it to be regarded as valuable, it has to first be regarded as grievable. A life that is in some sense socially dead or already “lost” cannot be grieved when it is actually destroyed. And I think we can see that entire populations are regarded as negligible life by warring powers, and so when they are destroyed, there is no great sense that a heinous act and egregious loss have taken place. My question is: how do we understand this nefarious distinction that gets set up between grievable and ungrievable lives?

    Guernica: How does your understanding of life differ, for example, from that of the pro-life movement?

    Judith Butler: I distinguish my position from the so-called “pro-life” movement since they do not care about whether or not life is sustainable. For me, the argument in favor of a sustainable life can be made just as easily for a woman or girl who requires an abortion in order to live her life and maintain her livelihood. So my argument about life does not favor one side of that debate or another; indeed, I think that debate should be settled on separate grounds. The left needs to reclaim life, especially given how many urgent bio-political issues face us now.

    Guernica: What do you mean by “separate grounds”? Must we draw a line between death by abortion and death by war? As opposed, for example, to the “seamless garment” of life in Catholic social teaching?

    Judith Butler: We cannot decide questions of reproductive technology or abortion by deciding in advance where life begins and ends. Technologies are already re-deciding those basic issues. We have to ask what kinds of choices are made possible by social configurations of life, and to locate our choices socially and politically. There is no way around the question, “What makes a life livable?” This is different from the question of what constitutes life. At what point in any life process does the question of rights emerge? We differ over how to answer that question.

    Guernica: Your account of life depends on being intertwined with other lives; does it really then call on us to be more concerned for the lives of others in distant places and conflicts?

    Judith Butler: Along with many other people, I am trying to contest the notion that we can only value, shelter, and grieve those lives that share a common language or cultural sameness with ourselves. The point is not so much to extend our capacity for compassion, but to understand that ethical relations have to cross both cultural and geographical distance. Given that there is global interdependency in relation to the environment, food supply and distribution, and war, do we not need to understand the bonds that we have to those we do not know or have never chosen? This takes us beyond communitarianism and nationalism alike. Or so I hope.

    Guernica: Yes, but surely the lines of interdependency are much deeper and immediate between me and my friends, family, and local community than between me and the average Iraqi in Iraq. Can’t I be excused for at least grieving the Iraqi less, proportionate to my dependence?

    Judith Butler: It is not a question of how much you or I feel—it is rather a question of whether a life is worth grieving, and no life is worth grieving unless it is regarded as grievable. In other words, when we subscribe to ideas such as, “no innocent life should be slaughtered,” we have to be able to include all kinds of populations within the notion of “innocent life”—and that means subscribing to an egalitarianism that would contest prevailing schemes of racism.

    Guernica: What does the grief you call for consist of? How does it act upon us?

    Judith Butler: If we were to start to grieve those against whom we wage war, we would have to stop. One saw this I think very keenly last year when Israel attacked Gaza. The population was considered in explicitly racist ways, and every life was considered an instrument of war. Thus, a unilateral attack on a trapped population became interpreted by those who waged war as an extended act of self-defense. It is clear that most people in the world rejected that construal of the situation, especially when they saw how many women and children were killed.

    Guernica: On your recent trip to the West Bank, did you observe any instances of grief at work?

    Judith Butler: I certainly saw many commemorations on the walls of Nablus and Jenin. The question is whether the mainstream Israeli press and public can accept the fact that their army committed widespread slaughter in Gaza. I heard private confirmation of that among Israelis, but less in public. Some brave journalists and writers say it. The organization, Zochrot, that commemorates the deaths and expulsions of Palestinians in 1948—the Naqba—does some of this work, but so much of it remains partially muted within public discourse. There is now a resolution under consideration in Israel attempting to ban public funding for educational and arts projects that represent the Naqba—this is surely a state effort to regulate grieving.

    Guernica: Forms of grief are deployed, through certain deplorable exemplars, to justify a military regime—the Holocaust, for example, and now 9/11. Why, then, can’t grief just as easily be used to justify more war?

    Judith Butler: Well, I do worry about those instances in which public mourning is explicitly proscribed, and that invariably happens in the context of war. I think there were ways, for instance, of producing icons of those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in such a way that the desire for revenge and vindication was stoked. So we have to distinguish between modes of mourning that actually extend our ideas about equality, and those that produce differentials, such as “this population is worth protecting” and “this population deserves to die.”

    Guernica: The hawkish wing in the “war on terror” has quite effectively claimed the banner of feminism. Is feminism as it has been articulated in part to blame for this?

    Judith Butler: No, I think that we have seen quite cynical uses of feminism for the waging of war. The vast majority of feminists oppose these contemporary wars, and object to the false construction of Muslim women “in need of being saved” as a cynical use of feminist concerns with equality. There are some very strong and interesting Muslim feminist movements, and casting Islam as anti-feminist not only disregards those movements, but displaces many of the persisting inequalities in the first world onto an imaginary elsewhere.

    Guernica: After millions of protesters around the world could do nothing to prevent the Iraq War, what do you think is the most effective form of protest? Disobedience? Or even thinking?

    Judith Butler: Let us remember that Marx thought of thinking as a kind of practice. Thinking can take place in and as embodied action. It is not necessarily a quiet or passive activity. Civil disobedience can be an act of thinking, of mindfully opposing police force, for instance. I continue to believe in demonstrations, but I think they have to be sustained. We see the continuing power of this in Iran right now. The real question is why people thought with the election of Obama that there was no reason to still be on the street? It is true that many people on the left will never have the animus against Obama that they have against Bush. But maybe we need to protest policies instead of individuals. After all, it takes many people and institutions to sustain a war.

    Guernica: Anyone who went to an anti-war protest during the Bush administration surely saw the violence of the anger directed personally against the president. People have a need to personalize. It seems to me the strength of your book, though, is that it counter-personalizes, turning our focus not so much to policies or policy-makers as to victims and potential victims.

    Judith Butler: It is personal, but it asks what our obligations are to those we do not know. So in this sense, it is about the bonds we must honor even when we do not know the others to whom we are bound.

    Guernica: Your account of nonviolence revolves around recognizing sociality and interconnection as well. Does it also rely on the kind of inner spiritual work that was so important, for instance, to Gandhi?

    Judith Butler: I am not sure that the work is “inner” in the way that Gandhi described. But I do think that one has to remain vigilant in relation to one’s own aggression, to craft and direct it in ways that are effective. This work on the self, though, takes place through certain practices, and by noticing where one is, how angry one is, and even comporting oneself differently over time. I think this has to be a social practice, one that we undertake with others. That support and solidarity are crucial to maintaining it. Otherwise, we think we should become heroic individuals, and that takes us away from effective collective action.

    Guernica: What can philosophy, which so often looks like a kind of solitary heroism, offer against the military-industrial complexes and the cowboy self-image that keep driving us into wars? At what register can philosophy make a difference?

    Judith Butler: Let’s remember that the so-called military-industrial complex has a philosophy, even if it is not readily published in journals. The contemporary cowboy also has, or exemplifies, a certain philosophical vision of power, masculinity, impermeability, and domination. So the question is how philosophy takes form as an embodied practice. Any action that is driven by principles, norms, or ideals is philosophically informed. So we might consider: what practices embody interdependency and equality in ways that might mitigate the practice of war waging? My wager is that there are many.

    Guernica

    : Last year, for one, the Mellon Foundation awarded you $1.5 million which you are using to found a critical theory center devoted to scholarship about war. How is it progressing? What are your goals?

    Judith Butler

    : I am trying to bring together people to think about new forms of war and war waging, the place of media in the waging of war, and ways of thinking about violence that can take account of new forms of conflict that do not comply with conventional definitions of war. This will involve considering traditional definitions of war in political science and international law, but also new forms of conflict, theories of violence, and humanistic inquiries into why people wage war as they do. I’m also interested in linking this with studies of ecology, toxic soil, and damaged life.

    Guernica

    : Do you mean to say that the concept of war might be recovered, as William James proposes, for instance, in “The Moral Equivalent of War”? Is war’s ferocity of commitment possible without the bloodlust and the bloody victims?

    Judith Butler

    : Perhaps the issue is to become less ferocious in our commitments, to question certain forms of blind enthusiasm, and to find forms of steadfastness that include reflective thought. Nonviolence is not so much about the suppression of feeling, but its transformation into forceful intelligence.

    Nathan Schneider lives in New York City and writes about religion. He blogs at The Row Boat.

    © 2010 Guernica Magazine All rights reserved.
    View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/146483/

  21. Lars :

    my vision of the Dhamma that I get from the suttas is that personal and societal transformation are not mutually exclusive but each is necessary for the development of the other. In my opinion so long as Buddhists are only concerned with meditation and scholarly pursuits only half the Dhamma is being practiced.

    Someone asked Eckhart a question on a related subject. He asked , sometimes I think about the state of the world and humanity and feel a deep sense of responsibility, what is the right relationship when it comes to responsibility.

    The answer he gave was:
     
    One of the first thing each individual can do to contribute to the well-being of humanity is to take the responsibility to transform themselves from within. Your inner state of being determines what kind of world you create. You  are humanity. Humanity isn’t an abstract concept.  Humanity is the human beings. Only a diseased dysfunctional state of mind produce a disease , dysfunctional world out there, the human made world. We are not separate from it. The cause is the dysfunction / sickness of the human mind. Your state of consciousness determines what kind of world you create. What kind of action you take. What kind of consequences your actions have. So the work is to address the sickness of the human mind. If there is no shift in that then the dysfunction will destroy us. Therefore it is important to take responsibility for your inner state of being now. What is my state of consciousness at this moment ? Are my generating conflict and suffering for myself and other?
    Are my generating inner pollution with continuous absurd movements of thoughts.

    You are the beginning of the transformed world. You need to embody the change. The change that you want to see out there. You need to embody that. Whatever you do flows from that ( your inner transformation) . That is primarily your responsibility . However, there are many people who are not yet aware, or take responsibility to transform themselves . They generate suffering for themselves and others who are sharing this world. -Eckhart

    I agree with Eckhart Tolle ‘s answer relating to taking responsibility in this world. Like the saying goes ” As within, so without”. Such a person is less likely to do harmful things , instead they are more capable of doing good. Outer transformation starts within. We can spend all our time trying to reduce crimes,violence, and wars in this world. But these things are only the outer symptoms and not the root cause. When we focus on treating the symptoms and not the cause, the solution will only temporary. As long as the the root cause is not removed, the symptoms will return again and again . The best thing to do is to work on inner transformation and help others do the same. If there are enough people transforming themselves internally, it can be seen reflected in the external world. Of course, that is not to say that we shouldn’t try to ease the external symptoms whenever we can.

    With Metta,

  22. Anything by Barbara E. is a great read – someone who knows how to speak to truth and have fun doing it.

    Being one of the alienated, I appreciate your post, Bhante. I think an important corollary is Aj. Thanissaro’s essay ‘The roots of Buddhist romanticism’, http://www.purifymind.com/BuddhistRomanticism.htm. As Buddhism grows in the west, we westerners are easily confused. Especially when we’re given to polarities like optimism/pessimism, good/bad, female/male, social/natural, etc. We’re strongly conditioned to want to choose one or the other extreme, or to deny or collapse them, or else to transcend them both in a romantic unity, but not to hold the contradictions and tensions of samsara with equanimity. Karl Jung said that the capacity to tolerate contradictions is a sign of maturity (something to that effect). By ‘hold’ I guess I don’t mean grasp, but be present with contradictions without pushing or pulling.

    I’ve rarely had to face the challenge of bringing myself down from excessive optimism, so I’m afraid I don’t have anything to offer there. I’ve found the kind of equanimity I’m talking about in some poems by the great Ch’an masters. Like these:

    …I’ve scanned the whole world
    everything fades
    knowing emptiness well
    I wonder about sorrow.
    -Stonehouse

    The hand let go, the cup was shattered.
    Family is broken up, people have died.
    There is no way to speak of such things.
    Spring arrives, the flowers are fragrant;
    Everywhere is suffused with splendour.
    The mountains, rivers, and the great Earth itself
    Are just the Tathaagata.
    -Master Xu Yun (from translation of of Master Hua)

  23. ‘The peace which arises from wisdom is not happiness, but is that which sees the truth of both happiness and unhappiness’. Ajahn Chah.

    I hang onto this saying by Ajahn Chah whether I’m happy or depressed. Happiness and depression are both only visitors. The closer I come to seeing through them – the closer I come to peace and to being able to offer my help to others.

  24. Hi Jarett,

    That hair is sure kinda of cute:-) just saw the picture but didn’t see the video…

    Geez Bhante,

    Wht depressing outlook. But thanks and make sure if you go to mope, you will be refreshed to continue teaching us.

    something i got from the internet, A Theravada Library;
    Life’s Highest Blessings – The Maha Mangala Sutta
    translation and Commentary by Dr. R.L. Soni
    revised by Bhikkhu Khantipalo
    © 2006–2010
    XI
    Though touched by worldly circumstances,
    Never his mind is wavering,
    Sorrowless, stainless and secure:
    This, the Highest Blessing

    Tao De Jing By Lao Zi
    A Buddhist Perspective on Tao De Jing
    Bro Teo Toh Liang
    2008
    Chapter 13
    Praise and blame is the source of worry.Its degree depends on the individual. When a person is being praised, he is worried about losing it. When being blame, he is worried about how others will look at him. If a person takes praise and blame with equanimity, he has no worry of losing his ego.

    A person with no selfish interest will do things for the benefit of people at large and he is a good leader.

    _/\_

  25. I have now listened to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ around 6 times since last night…..

    Wonderful song!!! Im sure like all food, music etc that I really take a liking to, Ill play/eat it excessively until i’m tired of it in a weeks time.

    Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta….

  26. “What makes a life livable,” she notes, and I think the rest of her concern in this respect flows from this question and her specific answers to it in the face of unique and challenging dilemmas.

    I think it was Camus who clearly saw this course for human ethics when he suggested that the question of whether to suicide, or not, was the sole meaningful philosophical question; an extrapolated case can be made that environmental issues are a key component of the discourse on war and human relations thereby.

  27. Hi Visakha,

    I can’t always read everything but i’m glad that i stopped to read your post. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

    I confess i’m a tad intimidated by the depth and breadth of your focus. I hope you won’t mind a bit of dialogue about some of what you have posted.

    ***

    The most interesting for me was the use of the word ‘grief’.

    First of all, here’s where i am coming from. Ajahn Brahm often talks about the time when he was a young monk in Thailand, living in an indigineous Buddhist culture that had not been touched by outside influence; it had been Buddhist for many many generations. In this culture, grief did not exist. People died and there was loss, but Buddhism has conditioned these folk to accept death as being a normal part of existence.

    So initially i had a problem with Butler’s use of the word ‘grief’. But i started to see the point she was making and i really liked it when she said: ‘The point is not so much to extend our capacity for compassion, but to understand that ethical relations have to cross both cultural and geographical distance.’

    If there is a disaster somewhere, we may hear on the local news that 6 Australians have died, rather than the 60 human beings that have died.

    And then:

    ‘Guernica: Yes, but surely the lines of interdependency are much deeper and immediate between me and my friends, family, and local community than between me and the average Iraqi in Iraq. Can’t I be excused for at least grieving the Iraqi less, proportionate to my dependence?’

    I liked this question. Because that’s what happens. It’s automatic.

    Perhaps it’s because of a sense of self. My body, my family, my country, people like me whom i can relate to…

    Butler replys with ‘It is not a question of how much you or I feel—it is rather a question of whether a life is worth grieving’. I think i understand how she is using the concept of grief here.

    Yet I wonder if it IS a question of how much you or I feel.

    Butler states that ‘If we were to start to grieve those against whom we wage war, we would have to stop’

    To me this ia also about feeling. Empathy as well as compassion.

    But then with these two feelings i hear of some dreadful tragedy and ‘am repulsed because of the depth of pain that i experience just upon hearing about it. This is one of my responses. It is a useless response but i need to acknowledge it and see it nevertheless. I also need to validate it and allow it IF it comes up…otherwise i can’t really move on from it.

    I’ve been exploring ways of moving from this place; to a place where pain doesn’t arise in practising and feeling empathy and compassion.

    It’s been very interesting to see how solutions to my daily battles present themselves when i stop trying to run from the experience of the pain they cause me. When i stop trying to control, avoid, subjugate the pain they cause me. Instead i am trying to condition myself to just wait and see. And sure enough, that pause gives the unwholesome a chance to fade, and the wholesome arises in its place. It seems to be automatic. I find it takes a bit of courage to just pause and not try and control my reactions as well as the external situation. But i know through intimate, though minimal, experience that when i remember to ‘do’ this, it does work!!

    So this then becomes a space where compassion and empathy can exist without pain. That space where the wholesome has arisen in the present moment. I find that is a space that can easily expand to include others. I think this is essential if we as a community of humans on this planet are to stop feeling apathetic towards ourselves, each other and other beings on this planet. I think the cultivation and expansion of this space is essential.

    This allows, in my opinion, the apamana or measureless states to arise. I believe this is what the Buddha was talking about when he taught the Brahmaviharas. If I am trusting, courageous, waiting on the moment, empathatic and loving, if I am not judging any being, not measuring any being and importantly i can extend this to myself so that i am not experiencing pain while i acknowledge, notice, validate another beings suffering, then i think Butler’s noble ideal has a chance of success.

    At one point she states that we have to be careful of our own aggression, to craft and channel it correctly. I think ‘the pause’ is one way of doing it. Most of us know the right thing to do because most of us (those reading and writing here) have been heavily conditioned about what the right thing to do is. I think a grounded, present, pause is powerful enough and our wholesome conditioning will just do the rest.

    Butler states: ‘So we have to distinguish between modes of mourning that actually extend our ideas about equality, and those that produce differentials, such as “this population is worth protecting” and “this population deserves to die.”’ This is what the expansion of loving kindness does. But it is an individual thing that can be hugely benefited by being part of a community that also values it’s cultivation. So I hope Judith Butler encourages individuals at her new centre to practise this also!!

    Perhaps she does, because even though she says, ‘I am not sure that the work is “inner” in the way that Gandhi described’, she also says:

    ‘I do think that one has to remain vigilant in relation to one’s own aggression, to craft and direct it in ways that are effective. This work on the self, though, takes place through certain practices, and by noticing where one is, how angry one is, and even comporting oneself differently over time. I think this has to be a social practice, one that we undertake with others. That support and solidarity are crucial to maintaining it. Otherwise, we think we should become heroic individuals, and that takes us away from effective collective action’

    I’m not sure about non-violence being like a carefully crafted f**k you because a f**k you (regardless of how carefully you craft it) is a f**k you; it’s aggressive. Non-violence doesn’t come from that place. Not for me anyway. There is a world of difference between restraining myself when i am furious, to having the time, space and clarity to give the fury a space, to see it pass away and see it replaced with love and wisdom and successful, positive action.

    ***

    I found the following interesting too:

    ‘The real question is why people thought with the election of Obama that there was no reason to still be on the street? It is true that many people on the left will never have the animus against Obama that they have against Bush. But maybe we need to protest policies instead of individuals. After all, it takes many people and institutions to sustain a war.’

    I appreciate that what Butler does is trying to undermine a system that does not question itself and so sinks slowly into awful corruption.

    I hope in doing this we can stop to focus on the positives (sorry Bhante…there it is again!!!) as well. I only say this because of a memory of Ajahn Brahm saying that we don’t learn from focusing on our mistakes, but we learn through focusing on our successes.

    Perhaps an active democracy requires both though i don’t know in what measure…perhaps not in equal measure.

    ***

    I also very much appreciated receiving this bit of information:

    ‘There are some very strong and interesting Muslim feminist movements, and casting Islam as anti-feminist not only disregards those movements, but displaces many of the persisting inequalities in the first world onto an imaginary elsewhere.’

    ***

    Thanks for your post.

  28. Hi Californian,

    I would question whether ‘true happiness means Nibbana’. The Buddha said that Nibbana is the ‘highest happiness’, but he didn’t, to my knowledge, say that other forms of happiness were unreal. Transient, insufficient, not up to expectations, yes, but still real and meaningful for all that.

    Happiness as an ‘emotional high’ is an intrinsic part of meditation (= pīti, rapture), while a more, if you like, ‘structural’ form of happiness results from a life of virtue and restraint.

    The Buddha commented plenty of times on social conditions that lead to suffering – cruel sacrifices being just the most obvious form – and clearly thought that a change in social practices would lead to a reduction of suffering and a corresponding increase of happiness. Of course, as you say, such reforms can never really solve the problem, but that does not mean we should not do what we can.

  29. Kanchana :I’ve heard it said that when the world ends…the universe ends…all beings will automatically go into a Jhana realm until conditions change again. doesn’t sound too bad really.

    Ah ha! Somebody’s been dipping into the Visudhimagga. I never quite figured out how all those Brahmas make it to hell to teach the denizens there to attain the appropriate Jhana to escape destruction by the water,fire or wind dhatu. Perhaps another clue of Ven Buddhaghosa being influenced by some form of Mahayana cosmology?

    However, it might be a bit too optimistic to believe that “all” beings are saved thus. The denizens of the hells in the inter-stitial spaces between the world systems do not get saved; apparently the destruction by the dhatus do not reach there…

  30. From this poor ex-Christian who’s learned a bit about dhamma practice but not much about traditional Buddhist cosmology …

    “What?”!

  31. Is this a positive, as I’d like to think?

    Wikileaks Soldiers: “We Did Unto You What We Would Not Want Done To Us”

    Two U.S. Army specialists at the July 2007 Baghdad shootings in the infamous Wikileaks video have written an open letter to Iraqis offering “our apology, our sorrow, our care, and our dedication to change.” Conceding “there is no bringing back all that was lost,” Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord say they seek to “restore the acknowledgment of your humanity that we were taught to deny.” They also post a letter to be signed by those who wish to disavow U.S. policy and “extend our hands to you.” For those old enough to remember, they echo Vietnam veterans marching, wearily and powerfully, against their war.

    (Alternet)

  32. Yeah, i’d like to think it’s a positive too.

    I wonder what the reaction of Iraqis will be to it.

    I think it will be completely positive if it is received with a sense of…amnesty i think is the word i want. If there’s forgiveness for real.

    I think it will be completely positive if the soldiers involved really do mean it.

    I think even without these 2 criteria, it is still a positive action on the soldiers’ part. I’d say it took courage.

    It has to be a positive in some respect at least because it’s already had a positive impact…on me! And by the sounds of it, on you.

    I caught a small glimpse of that video. It was rather awful and i couldn’t bring myself to watch more. That was a negative impact on me…a small part of the effect of the bad kamma that rippled out from that dreadful action.

    Now it seems these two men on looking to make something wholesome happen instead. Good for them; i hope it brings them healing, forgiveness and a focus on cultivating those things that are wholesome and happy.

  33. Yeah, i’d like to think it’s a positive too.

    I wonder what the reaction of Iraqis will be to it.

    I think it will be completely positive if it is received with a sense of…amnesty i think is the word i want. If there’s forgiveness for real.

    I think it will be completely positive if the soldiers involved really do mean it.

    I think even without these 2 criteria, it is still a positive action on the soldiers’ part. I’d say it took courage.

    It has to be a positive in some respect at least because it’s already had a positive impact…on me! And by the sounds of it, on you.

    I caught a small glimpse of that video. It was rather awful and i couldn’t bring myself to watch more. That was a negative impact on me…a small part of the effect of the bad kamma that rippled out from that dreadful action.

    Now it seems these two men on looking to make something wholesome happen instead. Good for them; i hope it brings them healing, forgiveness and a focus on cultivating those things that are wholesome and happy.

  34. Ven Sujato, you make many pertinent points in your original post: Indeed, how should Buddhists respond to the sheer machiavellian, evil wiles of the powerful,and the hell like states they create in the world ?

    I’d say it’s a really thorny question — Buddhists natrually want to be compassionate, and Buddhists are often inspired to learn about Buddhism because of deep personal suffering.

    However, the problem arises when a practitioner has to decide whether to be really involved in the world’s suffering — or to maintain some kind of detachment.

    I seriously wonder if it’s even possible to be totally aware of the world’s evils,and yet still maintain a meditative state of mind.

    I mean, how does one meditate calmly everyday, knowing that Palestinians are being slaughtered and having their land illegally stolen? How can one enter Samadhi when thinking about the dead bodies and maimed women and burned children in Baghdad, and in Guantanamo, and in Kabul?

    These are serious considerations, and thanks for bringing it up.

    It’s not easy to answer, because on the one hand, I would say that truly caring about these worldly issues is deeply important. Theravadins can sometimes tend to be complacent, and not even know about many of these issues — but then in all fairnes, how can one strive for detachment and stillnes when all these issues are so intensely moving and so sad and emotive?

    How can one read Chomsky, Pilger and Finkelstein’s revalations about the world — and then go and meditiate?

    These are important questions, some of which I know that Korean Buddhists had to consider regarding the Japanese occupation, and also Vietmanese Monks had to consider during American occupation.

  35. From this poor ex-Catholic cathecumen to you. The cycles of destruction of this planet can be found sketched out in a few suttas, most famously the Seven Suns Sutta, AN 7.62, and the Aganna Sutta, DN 27. Some other references are scattered around elsewhere, eg Patika Sutta, DN 24.

    However, the fullest description of the cycles of destruction and regeneration of the cakkavallas (world systems comprising planets and stars) can be found in Chapter 13 of the Visudhimagga, paras 29 to 66 (pp 455 to 463 of Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s translation). This goes into great length into how other dhatus operate to destroy the “cosmos”, whereas I’m only aware of the suttas describing the destruction of this planet through “fire”.

  36. Wholeheartedly agree!!!!

    I have recently come to the realisation that wanting or seeking to be happy ……….all of the time! is INSANITY
    yet i have been seeking happiness like some nirvana where i seek to feel happy…all the time…same with peace and contentedness…NOT Possible

    The normal state of the universe is equlibrium which means happy sometimes unhappy othertimes I want to get to the place where I can ACCEPT being unhappy/discontented and unpeaceful and not feel guilty about it and try and do things to change it or feel as though something is wrong….I have come to the realisation that if i am happy half the time then i am a lucky fella :-)

    Somewhere deep down i feel that I have to make room for it all…….the good the bad the ugly …you get the drift….what that state is i dont know I guess it might be equanimity!!!

    Thinking about the world geopolitical situation each side believes they have a just cause…….both cant be right , both cant be wrong……….can they

    I am with the Budddha this world is suffering……but without the suffering would we seek Nirvana????

    Hmmm I think I am rambling …Goodnight all

  37. Ok so samsara sucks big time right. it is suffering.

    Now the good news is that the Buddha taught us the EIGHTFOLD PATH:):)
    Yuppii!!!
    there is a way out.

    and this blog’s question: “Let me know your favorite tips for getting in touch with the depressing truth.”

    so far whenever i get sad, i just remember that being depressed is just making more kamma and more samsara and reinforcing this delusion of ‘self’.
    so… “make peace, be kind, be gentle” and paaatient:)

    now, i try to remember to not make any kamma that fuels more samsara. I try to remember to just stay peaceful, kind etc and trust that this will lead to cessation of ‘me’ and samsara:) and thus suffering!

    (and i just got a cute fluffy little bunny that helps me make my ‘be kind’ kamma:)

  38. For “Getting in touch with the depressing truth” one needs only to keep his eyes open to the truth – it is mostly depressing.
    I can so strongly identify with B. Ehrenreich’s experience as one I had when going through extremely hard times was constantly told by my “new age” brain washed friends that it is all my doing – I just didn’t have the right attitude! That is why I wasn’t attracting the right things from the universe……

    Not that I’m against optimism and happiness but they are only positive when they come from within – after you personally came to realise them. Much like enlightenment- which is not something you can make happen. Even if you walk the path- the end of it is entirely out of your control.
    When you are facing difficulties, having someone tell you you have to be optimistic and happy is not only unhelpful but annoying and insulting. It is a kind of social Darwinism that take away all social responsibility off society and dumping it on the individual who, as it is, usually feels burdened and guilty.

    Yes, I do believe that happy people probably have better lives than unhappy ones. And lucky you if you are born one- but if you are not- holding it against you is utterly futile and probably detrimental to your mental well being.

  39. Papancha papancha papancha.
    or should that be PAPANCHA PAPANCHA PAPANCHA

    Some of you folk ‘Think Too Much’

    Grinding through all the above papanchaness reminds me of abhidhamma.

    As David Conway said “From this poor ex-Christian who’s learned a bit about dhamma practice but not much about traditional Buddhist cosmology …

    “What?”!

  40. Dear David

    It’s hard for me to comment on the Visudhimagga, given that –

    1. my sutta study is still very much incomplete;

    2. my Abhidhamma study is even more scanty, and this makes it practically impossible for me to comment on which aspect of Abhidhamma is grounded in or inferable from the Suttas, and which are not, or are inconsistent with the suttas;

    3. without #2, it would be presumptious of me to really comment on the entirety of the Visudhimagga, since that is built largely on Abhidhammic architecture.

    So, just because I do not find a suttanta basis for the Mundane Jhanas and Supramundane Jhanas, or the concept of “khannika” cittas, employed by the Visudhimagga, that does not really give me a basis to take wild pot shots at its analysis of Samadhi. etc etc.

    Did that help or obfuscate?

  41. Didn’t the Buddha say that the cosmic cycle, without beginning, without end, is one of the imponderables?

    Obviously if persisting in that cycle is suffering, we’re not going to be let off the hook by something so elementary as the end of a particular cycle! That may be the end of all the matter with which we are familiar, which will return to its most elemental forms or primal energy only to start up again. The Buddha taught that there is no beginning and no end. It’s all a cycle, a process, which proceeds in four stages, formation, existence, degeneration, and destruction. After destruction, the elements (or energy) began to reform and exist, degenerate, and then break down once more. These forces of “creation, formation, existence, and destruction” are universal throughout the entire cosmic space which has no ending. Time has no meaning in this cosmic display of life cycle.

    And what of “us” wherever we may be when the universe breaks down? Well, we are born of our kamma, heirs of our kamma, abide supported by our kamma, and will continue as that kamma, since that which we are now doing, either for good or for bad, of that too we will be the heirs.

  42. I find myself in agreement with Visakha and Wilc, and I am glad that Sujato is introducing these thorny dillemmas of conscience and priorities that Buddhists face — don’t hold your breath waiting for other Theravada blogs to address these issues though.

    However, that’s not an exclusive criticism of contemporary Theravadin institutions at all — I do deeply understand the desire to just ‘shut out the world’ and to see it all as just a net of suffering to urgently disengage from.

    However, increasingly, I find myself unwilling to trun a blind eye to it, and feel uncomfortable just following the ‘detach and stop thinking’ route usually popular with Theravadins.

    Here’s author Alice Walker with a Buddhist point of view on the suffering of Gaza, and her response to Israel.

    http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2010/4/13/poet_and_author_alice_walker_speaking_in_gaza

    And here is John Pilger on the background to Iraq : as a Buddhist, who aspires to prioritising compassion for others , I found these incredibly moving.

    http://documentaries2bseen.blogs.sapo.pt/21265.html

  43. Well said MahaCitta!

    I agree with you, when one is suffering and having a difficult time, it only makes it worst when another person says statements to the effect of “chin up” or “harden up”, or the worst, “it’s your karma”. It’s too simplistic and flippant a response, only meant to makes it easier on themselves to absolve them from any kind of real understanding or compassion.

    The greatest service we can do to help another person who is having a hard time is to listen, really listen without judgement, and to be present for them while they unburden their heart.

    Yes, being happy is preferable, but grounded in reality and not just a fake optimism. Putting rose-tinted glasses on puts a veil between ourself and the real world. To be aware of the suffering in the world as well as the joy takes a very brave heart indeed!

  44. This is excerpted from the book “Taking the Leap”, by Dakini Pema Chodrön:

    “A few years ago, I was overwhelmed by deep anxiety, a fundamental, intense anxiety with no storyline attached. I felt very vulnerable, very afraid and raw. While I sat and breathed with it, relaxed into it, stayed with it, the terror did not abate. It was unrelenting after many days, and I didn’t know what to do.

    I went to see my teacher Dzigar Kongtrül, and he said, “Oh, I know that place.” That was reassuring. He told me about times in his life when he had been caught in the same way. He said it had been an important part of his journey and had been a great teacher for him. Then he did something that shifted how I practice. He asked me to describe what I was experiencing. He asked me where I felt it. He asked me if it hurt physically and if it was hot or cold. He asked me to describe the quality of the sensation, as precisely as I could. This detailed exploration continued for a while, and then he brightened up and said “Ani Pema, that’s the Dakini’s Bliss. That’s a high-level of spiritual bliss.” I almost fell out of my chair. I thought, “Wow, this is great!” And I couldn’t wait to feel that intensity again. And do you know what happened? When I eagerly sat down to practice, of course, since the resistance was gone, so was the anxiety.

    I now know that at a nonverbal level the aversion to my experience had been very strong. I had been making the sensation bad. Basically, I just wanted it to go away. But when my teacher said “Dakini’s bliss,” it completely changed the way I looked at it. So that’s what I learned: take an interest in your pain and your fear. Move closer, lean in, get curious; even for a moment, experience the feelings without labels, beyond being good or bad. Welcome them. Invite them. Do anything that helps melt the resistance.

    Then the next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrül gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering – yours, mine, and that of all living beings.”

  45. I really like Pema Chodron’s insights and find her to be a very compassionate teacher. This story however revels something that I find intriguing.
    Notice how when she tells her teacher what she had been through he first identifies with her due to a shared experience. His realisation of her experience as “bliss” comes after a long enquiry into it- he wanted to know everything about it- before he offered his insight.
    More then that, even though SHE realised that her pain came from her resistance to it – HE never said it to her.
    And this is what I mean by “it only works if you realise it for yourself”.
    Yes- teachers can point you in the right direction but they can never walk the walk for you. The good ones won’t even try. Those who do try- usually just get on your nerves.

  46. I think once we can accept that its OK to be sad, depressed, unhappy, afraid or anxious …we can move on and lead a fuller life. I believe that this is implicit in the teachings of the Dharma…are these states along with joy and happiness not just mental states that rise and fall away,impermanent in their nature?

    I have found that once I accept their presence and stop resisiting negative states, they pass through me so much quicker….

    I think this is where positivity comes in…..to me its possible to be positive and sad/unhappy at the same time.
    For being positive is accepting that a negative state is part of the WHOLE experience and I am learning that these states are likes waves of emotions that rise and pass away.

    I believe its possible to be positive in the midst of suffering if we dont get attached to the suffering. For in suffering much truth emerges…..the Dharma ermeged out of the Buddhas suffering..and Mother Teresa was beacon of positive will amongst the squalor and despair of the Calcutta slums.

    I believe this blog by Bhante Sujato is a response to the prevailing culture where positivity and optimism are rooted in a denial of suffering rather than an acceptance of it.

    I think positivism and optimism grounded in the acceptance of suffering rather than the denial of it is the heart of the Buddhas teachings for we have started this journey contained within the teachings of the Dharma with positive and optimistic hearts and not with denial of suffering but with full acceptance of its presence :-)

  47. Hoben: “Some of you folk ‘Think Too Much’”

    Yes, my sentiments. Less thinking, more meditating. Less is more, more or less.

  48. I am nearing the end of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book which I have barely put down since opening it a few days ago. (incidently it took me longer to find it in the book shop than it will to read as outside of the US is seems to go under the name of ‘Smile or Die’. Must have been a little harsh for the US classifiers)

    Having mixed regularly in positive thinking social circles over the past few years, and read numerous self help books the general consensus I have understood is that Positive Thinking is about approaching practical situations with an optimistic attitude, (seeing the things that one can actively change as appose to dwelling on a negative situation one has no control over). Maybe it is a US pnenonemum, but she seems to point more to ‘Negative Denial’…

    Many perspectives I am sure…anyway in terms of tips for getting in touch with the depressing truth no one says it better than Morrisey for me!

  49. There is a current stream in Buddhist teaching which encourages us to see that we always have enough conditions for happiness, we haven’t got a toothache, we can see, and so on. It seems to me that this is another manifestation of the “think positive” trope.

    It can be helpful if I’m being irritated or grumpy for no good reason (if there is such a thing as a good reason) to snap me out of it, but it is actually very self-centred, based on comparing myself with someone else or with myself at another time, and it really does trivialise dukkha (which, at its base, is existential, not circumstantial, and is there even when circumstances are perfect) and thus denies a student the chance to really address it. And it makes all happiness dependent on conditions and ignores the possibility of unconditional happiness.

    I lived in the US for a number of years and experienced the relentless drive to see everything positively and “have a good attitude” as a kind of emotional fascism. Every cup of coffee had to be “awesome”, it couldn’t just be good. I couldn’t just enjoy my job, or not enjoy it some days, or just do it well however I felt, I had to be “passionate” about it. We were robbed of the ability to use language precisely and well, with shades of meaning developed over centuries, since everything just had to be “great” all the time.

    Even in business, which is supposed to be very factual and pragmatic, the loss of 80% of a client’s account was trumpetted at the end of the year as “retaining one of our most committed clients”. I tried to have a discussion about the reasons for us losing most of the contract, and to see if we could improve what we did in some way. This was vilified as “being negative” and we were never able to address, or even discuss, the problems in the business.

    In a Buddhist circle in which I used to be, a friend expressed worry about her teacher, who is old and increasingly ill. She was told off since her negative worry “vibes” would somehow make her teacher even iller. She was just supposed to imagine him being well and he wopuld magically get better. It seems to me that this just denies the basic facts about illness and death, but also the possibility of effective compassionate action driven by concern for another.

    Where socially enforced positivity ignores the facts, it can be very damaging.

    David

  50. Barney, I empathise with you as I feel the same. How can we possibly turn away from such injustices and suffering if our chosen path is to practice kindness and compassion? Attributing an individual’s condition to karma without trying to help sounds hollow and meaningless.

    The same goes for animal welfare and rights. Nearly all the meat, eggs, milk and other animal products we consume in industrialised countries comes from factory farms where animals are intensively reared under inhumane conditions. For example sows are forced into tiny metal farrowing crates where they are unable to raise their head or turn around and as soon as their babies are taken away after a few months they are impregnated again for the next brood. The cycle repeats until they are worn out and they sent for slaughter. Male calves are immediately taken away and kept in veal crates too small for them to walk in order that their muscles atrophy so that the veal sold is tender. Cage eggs come from hens squeezed into tiny cages no more bigger than their bodies. They never see the light of day until slaughter. These are just a few examples of cruel agribusiness. There are many more if one goes to websites of animal rights and welfare organisations.

    So the question to me becomes: Having known such cruelty in the production of meat and other animal products can I still remain a meat eater? The answer became plain; no it’s not ethical to continue as before. I have to change my eating to vegetarian or vegan and have done so for the last few years. I don’t want to be an indirect contributor to harm, cruelty and the killing of sentient life.

    I wonder if the Buddha were alive today and knows how much cruelty is involved in producing the tray of meat or the packet of milk on the supermarket shelf whether he would continue to permit the eating of meat. My guess is no.

  51. Living in California has its advantages when it comes to food. I am able to purchase humanely raised meat and humanely produced eggs and milk. This means I spend more money on food and eat less meat but after I learned about some of these practices I just had to change my ways.

    I understand that some people will have the same feeling about eating any animals that have been killed. For me it’s a trade-off between ideals and health and I try to strike the right balance. There is also meat that comes from animals that are slaughtered in such a way that they do not know it’s coming and they aren’t stressed at that time, but that is really expensive and hard to get.

    Here there is a highway that runs all the way through the state north to south, and next to this highway in the middle of the state are massive factory farms. You can see the hundreds or thousands of cows on the yards which are coated in their excrement, and you know those cows can’t be happy about that, and the whole institution is so unnatural and revolting. We have such a huge disconnect in our country (probably most Western countries) when it comes to food. We are mostly unaware of how unsustainable and unethical the food production is.

    Better to exit samsara altogether…

  52. Sometimes I just look at why I’m ignoring the truth about things. Usually it’s my ego. We get stuck thinking everything revolves around us. So positive thoughts can only work to our benefit in a world made for us!
    My way of grounding my self is to think ” If I was so wonderful and everything is going to work great for me, why on earth is it taking soooo long ?!?!”

  53. Wilc, I want you to know that the gist of what you just wrote and the way you wrote it immediately put me right into an AMAZING mode of contentment and equanimity that I have rarely experienced before.

    is just GOLD!

    Thank you very much :)

  54. Remember the Buddha’s noble truth: craving is the cause of suffering! so if we’re craving or wanting to be happy, we’re suffering! If we don’t ‘want’ or crave, then we are happy. Buddha was a wise man ;)

  55. But let’s not forget also what Bhante said about “nirāmisa domanassa” – that other-worldly depression that drives us to yearn for the yet-unattained states.

    Bhante didn’t quite answer my query previously about nekkhamma domanassa mentioned in the Salayatana Vibhanga Sutta, MN 137. Are they states that are recommended or did the Buddha just make the observation that these are simply states one can expect to experience on the journey, with no comment on their utility or otherwise?

  56. Albert, Sujato, Visakha, and Wilc — I agree with your sentiments.

    I hope you got something too, from the video I posted earlier of Alice Walker offering her Buddhist perspective on the reality in Gaza.

    If I can, I’d like to add another video which deeply affected me — If you start watching from the five minute 30 second mark on the Video, here is an insiders’ view of a psychiatric clinic in Gaza, after the massacre of 1,400 Palestinians, most of whom were non combatants. ( To contrast that terrible death toll,it’s timely to remember that in the Gaza massacre, 14 Israelis died, most of them soldiers, and some died from friendly fire)

    Somehow, these images help put my own struggles regarding ‘looking on the bright side’ in perspective.

    Metta and total unconditional ahimsa to all,

    Barnabas.

  57. Wilc said :

    “Somewhere deep down i feel that I have to make room for it all…….the good the bad the ugly .. I guess it might be equanimity!!!

    Thinking about the world geopolitical situation each side believes they have a just cause…….both cant be right , both cant be wrong……….can they

    I am with the Budddha this world is suffering……but without the suffering would we seek Nirvana?”

    Yes, I second that.

    Albert Said “I empathise with you as I feel the same. How can we possibly turn away from such injustices and suffering if our chosen path is to practice kindness and compassion? Attributing an individual’s condition to karma without trying to help sounds hollow and meaningless.”

    Well said.

    Whilst I do deeply understand and even strongly empathise with the prevalent ‘Theravadin urge’ to turn away from the world, ( and that usually means a state of almost total political/social disinterest and detachment ) I increasingly feel I cannot do so, and still consider myself a Buddhist.

    Sujato, you are doing a good thing with your pages, bringing these questions to the table.

  58. Hi Sylvester,

    When reading the Suttas, utility is everything, my friend. Utility is everything.

    I love practical questions directly related to the suttas, so I’ll chime in in-depth here.

    The key to understanding the practical aspect of grief based on renunciation in MN137 is the phrase, “Therein, by depending on this, abandon that.”

    That is, by depending on the joy based on renunciation (the joy that arises together with knowledge of impermanence, suffering and cessation in connection with sensory contact), one should abandon joy based on the household life (the joy that arises together with delusory conceptions of ownership over pleasurable sense contacts present or past). By depending on the grief based on renunciation (the longing for Nibbāna that one deliberately generates when there is knowledge of impermanence, suffering and cessation in connection with sensory contact) one should abandon the grief based on household life (the grief that arises together with delusory conceptions of how one does not have or has not gotten pleasurable sensory contacts).

    So here, the Buddha recommends that we escape the trappings of worldly joy by relying upon spiritual/renunciant joy. Also – and more interestingly – he recommends that we abandon worldly unhappiness by depending upon spiritual unhappiness. But in both cases, what he is telling us about what to do with our tendency of mind is the same. That is, consciously retrain the mind away from mindless, delusory and habituated conceptions of ownership, towards conscious knowledge of or conscious yearning for cessation.

    In other words, it doesn’t really matter if one feels happy or sad. What matters is that one always makes an effort to direct the energy of one’s happiness or sadness towards the only goal really worth pursuing, Nibbāna.

    So, for example, if one ever feels happy about having received a beautiful rose, one should make an effort to feel happy instead about the beauty of the impermanence of the rose. Or, if one feels unhappy about how the rose has withered, then one should use this as an opportunity to see the futility of existence and yearn for Nibbāna.

    Thus, the Buddha provides us a framework which gives meaning to both are positive and negative emotions. Furthermore, he gives us something practical to do with them. He empowers us, gives us a way to move towards the goal no matter what is happening. Now, that … is pretty darn cool.

    It’s also worth noting that the Buddha, at this level, doesn’t ask us to replace all grief with joy. He merely points out that if one is going to be sad or happy, one might as well make it useful. Utility is everything!

    However, at the next level of instruction in this sutta, the Buddha does instruct the trainee to replace grief with joy.

    He further instructs, by depending on the joy based on renunciation, abandon the grief based on renunciation.

    At this stage, the trainee has learned to direct pretty much everything they emote, positive or negative towards the attainment of Nibbāna. So, the Buddha instructs one to take the next step by abandoning the unhappiness (which is now predominantly renunciant grief) by developing the renunciant happiness – which is basically the joy of knowing that nothing is as big a deal as we like to make things out to be.

    But a big warning sign needs to be planted here. This movement towards a life of exclusive joy should only be attempted after mastering the previous step wherein one learns to accept and work with all states -otherwise it turns into either narcicism or nihilism. It is only when a skillful and pragmatic acceptance of the mind is developed is it possible to start relinquishing sadness and grief genuinely and altogether.

    But then the Buddha goes even further than that! He instructs the trainee to abandon even renunciant joy … but I’ll leave it there.

    MN 137, Saḷāyatanavibhanga Sutta. Brilliant stuff. Thanks to Sylvester for mentioning it. Get it while civilisation lasts, people.

    -j-

  59. … also, the Buddha did not recommend replacing joy based on the household life with grief based on the household life or vice versa. One should not trade poison for poison. So the content and tenor of the second and third last paragraphs of Bhante Sujato’s article here contradicts the recommendations of MN 137.

    -j-

  60. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu! You’re a kalyanamitta when one was needed indeed.

    I love it that you mentioned so many times the abandonment of phassa based on the kamagunas. That’s a theme that resonates with me at this point in my journey. Oh, when will I touch those liberations secluded from kama?

  61. Dear Bhante.

    Funny enough i just wrote a blog about depression… one of my ways of getting in touch, like you said also is to listen to a music that helps to bring out that feeling. It is funny how music is something that can move us to experience an array of emotions. Music has always been party of human culture.

  62. Noosh.

    Sylvester, what are the kamagunas? I’ve stopped my Pali studies for now in order to concentrate on studying the suttas.

    Thanks,

    -j-

  63. Though, doing things like listening to sad music to ‘get in touch’ with one’s grief based on the household life is wholesome to the extent that it can help overcome the denial that can arise through wrong meditation and other means. One has to be able and willing to accept, forgive, listen to and love that grief and yet have developed a true yearning for something better before one can overcome it genuinely.

    Listening to sad music etc in order to deepen or eulogise the grief based on household life is clearly contrary to the Dhamma.

    -j-

  64. Why does it have to be the difficult questions?

    The pancakamaguna are the 5 cords of sensual pleasure defined as such –

    “Forms … sounds … smells … tastes … touches cognisable by the eye/ear/nose/tongue/body that are desirable, attractive, pleasant, endearing, associated with sensuality, delightful”

    eg Nibbedhika Sutta, AN 6.63

    The definition of the kamagunas also feature in the current debate in the modern versus traditional interpretation of Jhana.

    A modern interpretation that suggests that there is satipatthana WITHIN and during Jhana says that the external ayatanas (objects) are only kamagunas if they incite lust; objects to which one is equanimous are not kamagunas.

    The more traditional definition of the kamagunas is that the term covers all external objects, without regard to the perceiver/cogniser’s subjective response to the object. This seems to be bolstered by a sutta in the 1st Vagga of the Samyutta Nikaya. I need to trace it down, but I recall the Buddha being portrayed as recognising that the gunas mean different things to different people.

    Ven Sujato had addressed this too, in an earlier thread, perhaps the 1st Q&A thread.

  65. Depression is a serious illness, and unfortunately because it is not a physical illness and can’t be “seen”, too often it goes untreated and ignored….until it is too late. Here are some links for anyone out there feeling the “blues” for an extended period of time:

    http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=89.586

    As well as how to help someone who confides in you that they are feeling depressed:

    http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=89.586

    Learn depression “First-Aid”, you never know you may one day save a life.

  66. Jason Chan :… also, the Buddha did not recommend replacing joy based on the household life with grief based on the household life or vice versa. One should not trade poison for poison. So the content and tenor of the second and third last paragraphs of Bhante Sujato’s article here contradicts the recommendations of MN 137.
    -j-

    Hee, hee. But let’s not forget that the practice outlined in MN 137 is really only meaningful to a sekha/trainee who has obtained renunciation joy. I think MN 137 was intended only for Stream Winners and above, since renunciation joy seems to be only accessible to those who have actually witnessed the 3 Signs.

    For the rest of us poor putthujanas wallowing in the lower life, an occasional dip into household distress could be useful to shatter the illusion of household joy.

  67. I don’t think MN 137 is addressed exclusively to Ariya Sangha. I believe “knowledge” of the three signs can be interpreted more broadly to include mundane knowledge. I say that simply because I have personally found apply MN 137 very fruitful, and I am but a mere putthjanas.

    I still standby the recommendation as per the sutta that constant effort be made to abandon both household joy and grief by way of reliance and development of renunciant joy and grief. The proof is in the pudding. It works. It makes life good and leads to increasing strength of both body and mind.

    -j-

  68. Dear Jason

    If MN 137 works for you, then there’s hope for the rest of us. Sadhu!

    But are you sure you’ve not passed muster with the Ariyo-meter? I suspect the Ariyans may include those who have entered the “fixed course of rightness” and perhaps even that cannot be detected by the Ariyo-meter. ;)

  69. Hi Sylvester,

    There is a threshold, very ordinary but beautiful one, the passing of which is the mark of a person with faith in the Dhamma. If there is a faith-o-meter, I might score well.

    The day I became conscious of how much faith I have in the effectiveness of relentlessly striving to live up to the instructions contained in the Suttas, a scene from Silence of The Lambs came to mind. It’s that scene leading up to the climax where Hannibal Lecter is having his last interview with Clarice before his escape. He says “I’ve read the case files. Have you? Everything you need to find him is there in those pages”.

    To me, reading and contemplating the Suttas is like unraveling a desperate mystery, decoding a magic cypher, following a treasure map with dog-ears and stains of every kind of brown.

    Speaking of which, in search of seclusion and the secluded, I am making a trip to Sri Lanka near the end of this year, hopefully to ordain. I’m not sure where I’ll end up in the end.

    This is my final post. I’m retiring my ancient IBM Thinkpad.

    I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all the community members here, Sylvester, the Davids, Dheerayupa, Kanchana, Californian, the notorious bewildered1, Santa Claus … and all. And, of course, to Bhante Sujato as host. Many ideas have been clarified. Many thanks, indeed.

    -j-

  70. Sob :( Why am I filled with domanassa to hear of your departure?

    I wish you well (if you still pop in here to peek) and may you totally unravel away.

  71. Dear Jason

    So all things do pass…even Jason Chan from the ranks of the blogaholics and not quite blogaholics!! ;)

    I wish you well!!

    Nothing i can say at this departure will matter much since it sounds as if you already know in your own heart what you must do; you have read the case files and you are seeking to renounce in the most amazing manner. So you already know that your journey is going to be one of wonder and beauty and release.

    But being what i am…which is a generally cheerful rambler (given half a chance…and Bhante S has given me that chance through this forum!!)…I’m going to make a speech. …Ahem…cough, cough…

    May you stray true to your course and if you ever feel lost, may the Triple Gem guide you back to the Path. May good friends surround you, patience always be at hand, courage allay your fears, and loving kindness give you the softness and strenght to break through. I truly wish you well Dhamma friend.
    :)

  72. Dear Jason,

    We’re in Kandy and would be very happy if we could be of any assistance to you when you come to Sri Lanka.

    w/metta,
    Visakha and Ken
    e-mail:
    phone: 077 964 9292

  73. Dear Dheerayupa,

    I hope that your father is in a better place right now. Being a monk, he might not be so sad about leaving this world of samsara. I wish him the best wherever he may be , or not be. This can be a very difficult lesson in letting go for you. I hope that time will heal you!

    Best wishes,

  74. All the best Jason:) May you nibbana in this life:) I agree with you, there are a lot of suttas out there but remember the main message repeated over and over and over again is: eightfold path leads to the end of things so just follow the path and your doubts will be clarified by themselves through time. Be careful not to get lost with thought, thought is just a conditioned movement of mind, remember it’s not yours anyways: anatta. Doubt is also just a movement of mind that you cannot trust. Remember the third noble truth: “Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, ‘non-roosting’ of it! caga, patinissagga, mutti and analaya. Let me know if ever you would like some mp3s of Ajahn Brahm talks:)
    It was really great to have met you at Santi, you were a great MC at the inter-religious debate in Sydeny 2 years ago:) and all the best in your journey. May you be liberated soon and your path be smooth and happy:)

  75. Ajahn Sujato wrote: ” Yes, Buddhist meditation texts speak often of happiness, but they also acknowledge the ‘spiritual depression’ (nirāmisa domanassa) that arises as one contemplates the wondrous dhamma that one has not yet attained.”

    This is true , spiritual depression “that arises as one contemplates the wondrous dhamma that one has not yet attained” is also part of the spiritual path (temporarily). I believe the intense desire for Nibbana diminishes the desires relating to Samsara. After this happen (not before), we need to relax from this single intense desire/ craving for BECOMING enlightened also. This reduce the feeling of restlessness due to attachment to enlightenment, and gives way to a deeper level of letting go that makes it possible for the mind to settle into stillness. From there, the joy of the path of letting go can arise when we meditate in solitude. As renunciant joy and grief arise, one naturally loose interest in household joy and grief.

    During this point of the practice, this saying by Ajahn Chah can be helpful:

    ” Shouldn’t be concerned with Nirvana, if you are then that in itself will prevent you from entering Nirvana. Just Let go .(of both the desires for Samsara or Nirvana)Be mindful and just let things take its natural course. When your mind will become still like a still forest pool, all kinds or rare animal will come to drink at the pool,you will see many things come and go, but you will be still,problems will arise but you will see through them immediately. This, is the happiness of the Buddha. ” Ajahn Chah

  76. Dear Jason,

    You’ve been a joy to have on this blog. I will miss your posts.

    May your journey go well. May you realize the deepest peace and freedom.

    Much metta,
    Linda

  77. Hi Sylvester,

    The Sutta itself says that by relying on ‘depression based on renunciation’ one abandons ‘depression based on the household life’, which in this context means sensuality. Renunciation is a good thing in Buddhism, so there’s no doubt it’s a step up. Whether it is meant ‘to be developed’ by everyone is less clear, or whether this is simply an acknowledgement of what happens as our emotions mature. There are plenty of descriptions of the course of development that don’t mention this ‘spiritual’ or ‘renunciate’ depression. Thanissaro’s introduction, as always, makes some interesting points.

  78. Totally agree with you Albert. I think if we are really serious about practising harmlessness, then we cannot continue to eat animals. Also, caged chickens has to be the most cruelest form of farming. So free range or organic farming of eggs and dairy products is by far the better way to go :)

  79. Dear Sylvester, (this reply concerns your earlier entry on the kamagunas)

    The answer to whether the ‘modern’ interpretation or the ‘traditional’ interpretation of jhana is correct may be found in the very sutta that you mention – the nibbedhika sutta (AN 6:63). In that sutta you will notice that kama is said to cease only with the cessation of phassa, contact – that is, at the end of the life of an arahant – and not with the attainment of nonreturnership (anagamita) as one would expect. The significance of this is that kama, at least in this context, must refer to the objects of the five senses, irrespective of whether or not they give rise to desire.

    So what, more broadly, are the contexts in which kama refers to the “world of the five senses”, and what are the contexts in which it refers to “sensual desire”? The answer to this is remarkably obvious if you have access to the “Rolls Royce” of Pali dictionaries, the Critical Pali Dictionary. In this dictionary, kama is divided up into two almost entirely separate categories: one is kama in the singular, which almost always refers to sensual desire, and the other is kama in the plural, which perhaps exclusively has the sense of “the objects of the five senses”.

    The significance of this becomes clear once you recall that the kama you have abandon to enter jhana – vivicceva kamehi – is kama in the plural. In other words, it is quite clear that this refers to the objects of the five senses, or if you like the entire world of sensory activity. This makes sense in the context, since sensual desire is already covered in the jhana formula by the phrase vivicceva akusalehi dhammehi, “separated from bad qualities”. It is hard to see why one subcategory of akusalehi dhammehi would be mentioned separately. So, there you are: this, together with other Canonical reference – such as the one where sound is said to be a thorn to first jhana (AN 10:72) – makes it quite clear that jhana is altogether beyond the sensory world.

    Once you start to read the suttas with the idea that kama in the plural refers to the entire sensory world, you quickly start to see that this interpretation makes good sense in several instances. One such instance is the one in the Nibbedhika Sutta, mentioned above. Another is in the compound kamacchanda, which is the standard sutta word for the first of the five hindrances. If kamacchanda is translated as sensual desire – as is usually the case – then very little distinction is made between the meaning of kama and chanda; one might wonder why the text doesn’t just say kama. It makes much more sense if kama is here read in the plural – which is perfectly allowable for Pali compounds – and the meaning actually is “desire for the objects of the senses”. A third example is the word kamaloka, which includes the human realm and thus also arahants. So to translate kamaloka as “the world of sensuality” doesn’t work, and the correct translation is surely “the world of the (five) senses”.

    For people who don’t read Pali this sort of analysis is very difficult. One of the great benefits of knowing a bit of Pali is that it frees one from being a slave to other people’s opinions. Now that is something really worthwhile! – and, unfortunately, often necessary.

    With metta,
    Bhikkhu Brahmali

  80. Dear Bhante

    Thanks so, so much!!!

    Just a bit more investigation into the “cessation of contact” (phassanirodha). You posit that this occurs with the death of an arahant, and I guess you must be thinking of “nirodha” in its permanent form.

    Do you think that AN 6.63’s kamanirodho/ phassanirodha could be a reference to a temporary cessation of kama/contact? There is, after all, the attainment of saññāvedayitanirodha, a conditioned and temporary samadhi. Might it be possible that the kamanirodho in AN 6.63 is a reference to suppression of kama/sensualdesire in Jhana? This reads more consistently with the subsequent passage where the Ariyan disciple is said to “know kamanirodho” which looks like an ante-mortem knowledge.

    I think there is at least one or two suttas in the MN that talk of the cessation without remainder of unwholesome and wholesome intentions in 1st and 2nd Jhana respectively. These may be interpreted, I hope, as a reference to temporary cessation?

    Where I am going is this line of reasoning. If phassanirodha = kamanirodho, and nirodha here can be temporary, then Jhana is that state where none of the phassas based on the kamagunas are found. I’m thinking also of one of those rare Jhana formula which adds this tag to the standard 1st Jhana formula, ie “quite secluded from the Upadhis”. It’s in a MN sutta, but I can’t remember its name.

    In my convoluted fashion, I am trying another argument for the traditional interpretation of Jhana as follows :-

    because there is no kama (desire) in Jhana, this also implies that there is no phassa based on the kamagunas. The kamagunas may be there, but if the “corresponding engagement” does not bring vinnana to that kamaguna, that explains why there is no phassa based on the kamagunas in Jhana. No phassa based on the kamagunas implies no vedana, no sanna and no sankhara in relation to kamagunas. Or is this too contrived an argument?

    Is the Rolls Royce complete or is it still missing some volumes?

    _/\_ with gratitude

  81. Dear Barney,

    Barney wrote:

    “I seriously wonder if it’s even possible to be totally aware of the world’s evils,and yet still maintain a meditative state of mind. I mean, how does one meditate calmly everyday, knowing that Palestinians are being slaughtered and having their land illegally stolen? How can one enter Samadhi when thinking about the dead bodies and maimed women and burned children in Baghdad, and in Guantanamo, and in Kabul?…How can one read Chomsky, Pilger and Finkelstein’s revalations about the world — and then go and meditiate? how can one strive for detachment and stillnes when all these issues are so intensely moving and so sad and emotive? ”

    Many of us grow up believing that thinking or doing is more productive and being still or purifying the mind doesn’t have any effect in our lives or the world. Or that thinking and doing is the only way we can make a difference, not when we are not thinking. We are accustomed to functioning at the mental and emotional level that we cannot imagine a way of functioning that doesn’t involve emotion and thought.

    By constantly thinking about the problems and feel emotionally depress about it might not be as productive as we believe. Sometimes it doesn’t decrease the amount of suffering in the world, but instead of having 5M people suffering, now there is one more person suffering. What we should aim at is decreasing the number of people suffering , instead of adding ourselves to it. But how effective can we be in removing suffering in the world if we don’t know how to remove our own emotional and mental issues.

    Contentment is just one aspect of meditation. When we clear the mind of mental and emotional debris that haunt us day in and day out, there is mental clarity. With mental clarity we can see things more clearly with deeper insights. Solutions to the problems in daily life and in the world can present itself when we clear the mind of thoughts and emotions that often cloud the mind. I wouldn’t put meditation in the back burner in favor of endless thoughts and emotional turmoil. In fact, some/if not most problems that we have/created in the world comes from wrong thoughts.

    Barney wrote: “the problem arises when a practitioner has to decide whether to be really involved in the world’s suffering — or to maintain some kind of detachment.”

    As we learn the concepts of the Buddha’s teaching, it is natural to want to refrain from misconduct and do good. That is a beautiful thing to see happening. But I wouldn’t let it stop you from going further all the way to awakening. Meditation can give rise to wisdom that complements your compassion. The mental purification and insights found in meditation can only help you in finding the right approach in your compassionate work, not hinder. It also rejuvenates and keeps you from feeling burned out from whatever charity work you are doing. It is true that the world needs changing, but eliminating meditation is not a good approach. If anything, we should stop making the beings in the animal realm suffer for our enjoyment of the sense of taste. Or stop over using the planet’s resources. Meditation is not the issue.

    L & L,

  82. Albert wrote:” I have to change my eating to vegetarian or vegan and have done so for the last few years. I don’t want to be an indirect contributor to harm, cruelty and the killing of sentient life.”

    This is a very helpful action and an inspiring example .

  83. Helpful links:
    Critical Pali Dictionary: http://pali.hum.ku.dk/cpd/

    PTS dictionary: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/

    Conscise Pali-English Dictionary by Buddhadatta Mahathera (briefer and simpler than the above two, and you can also see the alphabet order if you aren’t familiar with it): http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/dict-pe/index.htm

    And here’s a simple list of key Pali words:
    Bhikkhu Bodhis’ Pali-English Glossary of Buddhist Terms:
    http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/bud-dict/pali-gloss.htm

  84. What I notice about a lot of the above comments, is that the majority of them are centred on our own personal suffering and our own depression,and our own anguish, and not many of our posts are at all are focused on alleviating the suffering of others, such as the needlessly , ceaselessly bullied, harassed and persecuted in Gaza, Guantanamo,Abu Ghraib, Sri Lanka, the rest of Palestine, and Iraq.

    Isn’t there something solipsistic and self centred and even emotionally immature and narcissistic in that ignoring and distancing? Shouldn’t we consider if that is the case?

    I am not trying to be contentious here — I am trying to watch these patterns in my own mind all the time, and do not consider that I have risen above these dillemmas yet.

  85. PS Is that separation and ignoring of ‘outside suffering’ ( those outside the Sangha, those outside ‘our own mind’) a hallmark of contemporary/historical Theravada world view ?

    Is that a noble ideal? Is it the only truly genunine reaction to a world of transience, change, illusion and cycles of endless suffering ? Is it then, the clearest way to free oursleves — and ultimately, each person outside the Sangha has to, like us, ‘work out their salavation with diligence’ given the context of our isolated illusiory world?

    Is such a response at least partially narcissism? Is it partially due to emotional insecurity and immaturity?

    Just some questions that I as a Thervadin have worked with for some time.

  86. Dear iMeditation and Barney,

    What a beautiful post iMeditation.

    I would add that the effect of any kind of deep meditation is that one feels (for as long as the kammic effect of that meditation lasts) naturally and effortlessly more inclined to be kind, compassionate and helpful to others.

    So I totally agree that meditation is not the issue.

    ***

    I’m reminded of the story of the two acrobats. One says, ‘I’ll look after you and that way i am looking after myself and therefore we will both be safe during our acrobatics’

    The other disagrees and says ‘no no, i’ll look after myself, that way i’ll look after you and that way we will both be safe.’

    I think they took the matter to the Buddha but i can’t remember the rest of the story… Does anyone know what the Buddha’s reply was?

    ***

    Barney it’s really useful that you have written these comments and asked these questions. Because i think it is very easy for us to become complacent as Buddhists and perhaps in particular as Theravadin Buddhists.

    My current view on this is that it should be the personal choice of each practitioner with regards to how much service/dana/charity work they wish to perform. I think a religious system that respects this is going to be softer, stronger, flexible and far more able to have a positive impact in the world.

    Let’s think of someone who is in Sri Lanka now. They may have lost their whole family. They may be very ill. They may have seen some dreadful things and had dreadful things done to them. Let’s say that through some good kamma they are reborn in a more peaceful setting. Perhaps in a more peaceful and prosperous country. Let’s say that they come into contact with the Dhamma. Let’s say that the echoes of their immediate past life are still with them; perhaps they are still very fearful, prone to depression and anxiety. Such a person needs to nurture themselves. They’ve been through a lot. Perhaps they will choose to help others as an aspect of their healing of themselves.

    When someone says that meditating and practising a little bit of dana is all they can do… I respect that and support that because i do not know where they’re coming from.

    I know many Theravadin Buddhists who do A LOT of charity work. Not because they are trying to heal themselves (although it does make them inordinately happy) but because they are compassionate towards other beings. They often don’t go and tell the whole world what they do…they just do it. Some people do an awful lot; one woman i know, voluntarily interacts directly with people who have suffered dreadful things. Personally i find myself emotionally crippled by just hearing some of the stories that she relates to me. However my friend is not affected in the same way…her heart is strong and soft and well enough to deal with the horror stories.

    The world i think, is such that there will always be these variations of ability amongst people who wish others well.

    Thanks so much for your very beneficial comments.

    Metta :)

  87. Dear Sylvester,

    Thanks so much for asking the question/making the comments so that we were all able to benefit from Bhante B’s lovely and rarely heard answer/comment.

    _/\_

  88. Furthermore, my personal feelings about monks and nuns meditating in seclusing rather than helping others in more obvious ways is that they should go for it!!!

    If the Buddha hadn’t gone for it then we wouldn’t have his teachings to be of benefit to us now.

    I want to nurture anyone who has the ability to keep their virtue pure and therefore their meditation deep!! They are a rare, rare, rare thing in this world. I don’t even want them to teach much if they don’t want to… I’d rather they focused their energies on turning themselves into utterly harmless, profoundly wise beings… If i had even a hint that they’d done any such thing…then i’d probably ask them to teach; like in the story of Brahma Sahampati…if he hadn’t ask Gotama the Buddha to teach…we’d probably all still be wallowing in the dark ages.

    Amongst those beings who wish the world well, those who go forth are rare. And amongst those who go forth those who practise well and keep their virtue are rare. And perhaps amongst those of good virtue, those who have a yearning to learn meditation are rare. And amongst those who want to learn meditation, those who actually understand how to meditate are rare. And amongst these, those who have lasting and profound results (ie…enlightenment experiences) are very rare. So…considering such people are so rare…they really need to be suppported and nurtured.
    :)

  89. Imed! and Kanchana, it’s good to get some debate moving around theae timely topics — I have long been motivated by two very different sets of ‘ethics’ : On the one hand, I have a strong sense and intuition that a deeper understanding of ‘reality’ springs from creating conditions of silence and stillness and solitude and retreat from all worldy ‘concerns’ and nets of views and opinions. That’s where I feel right at home with most Theravadins.

    On the other hand, I have a very strongly developed awareness of social and geopolitical injustice and believe in doing whatever it takes to support the exploited.

    Sometimes the first set of ‘beliefs’ and motivations seem absurdly selfish and narcisistic and even immature — at other times, they seem the right way to go !

    I am sure that many Buddhists feel these dual pulls, and it’s good to debate.

    In the meantime — let me share a song for the suffering Christian and Muslim children of Gaza; the children being slaughtered, having their land illegally stolen from them daily — whilst America and Europe turn away.

    It can’t go on forever.

  90. Barney :Imed! and Kanchana, it’s good to get some debate moving around theae timely topics — I have long been motivated by two very different sets of ‘ethics’ : On the one hand, I have a strong sense and intuition that a deeper understanding of ‘reality’ springs from creating conditions of silence and stillness and solitude and retreat from all worldy ‘concerns’ and nets of views and opinions. That’s where I feel right at home with most Theravadins.
    On the other hand, I have a very strongly developed awareness of social and geopolitical injustice and believe in doing whatever it takes to support the exploited.
    Sometimes the first set of ‘beliefs’ and motivations seem absurdly selfish and narcisistic and even immature — at other times, they seem the right way to go !
    I am sure that many Buddhists feel these dual pulls, and it’s good to debate.
    In the meantime — let me share a song for the suffering Christian and Muslim children of Gaza; the children being slaughtered, having their land illegally stolen from them daily — whilst America and Europe turn away.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GO5Cay6GUkM&feature=related
    It can’t go on forever.

    Dear Barney,

    Your comment about the different sets of ethics reminded me of something Ajahn Brahm said… He was commenting on a saying of Jesus': do unto others as you would do unto yourself.

    Ajahn Brahm points out that this lovely saying doesn’t require you to do more for others or more for yourself or less for others or less for yourself… ie…you can switch it around and state: do unto yourself as you would do for others…

    so basically we should be striving to be kind to ourselves…treat ourselves as we would treat ourselves if we were someone else!!! Would you say to somebody else…’you need to stop being so self-focused…get off the cushion and go out and help someone else!’ You would never say that…you would encourage and applaud someone if they were meditating…heck…most of us probably need to meditate more!!! I know i do!!!

    In truth (imo) the 2 different ethics you refer to are 1. Why is the neglect of your happiness something to feel good about? Why is the nurturing of your happiness something to feel guilty about? What’s so special about you that you should be exempt from your own love and care when everyone else might be getting it? I don’t think you are that special Barney ;) I think you totally deserve the same love and care that everyone else deserves!!! :) Besides which you are in the perfect position to deliver that care to yourself!!! Nobody else can get quite as close to you as you can!!! Go ahead and be a little narcisstic i reckon…you sound like you care a great deal about others…so no danger at all of a little self-care and self-love spoiling that!

    Yours in self-luvin!!! :) :) :) And thanks again for your comments. :) :) :)

  91. David

    Yes

    I personally seek the truth not Joy……….all this happiness well mmmmmmmm nice but give me the truth above all these joyous and happiness states. Being unhappy and negative is part of the trip.

    Q What comes first Joy and Happiness or Truth

    A I thinks its the truth :-)

  92. Dear Kanchana and Barney,

    Kanchana wrote: “Furthermore, my personal feelings about monks and nuns meditating in seclusing rather than helping others in more obvious ways is that they should go for it!!!

    If the Buddha hadn’t gone for it then we wouldn’t have his teachings to be of benefit to us now.”

    Yes Kanchana, I believe there are many issues in the world and there are more than one way of approaching these issues. The most common approach is attempting to change the world on the external level/ from without. Examples of this can be the Red Cross, Feed the Children, and various charitable organizations. Each of these institutions have a role to play . They specialize and focus on a certain external symptom that we see effecting society in a way that is appropriate for their fields.

    But on top of that we also need someone to address the underlying cause of the multitude of external symptoms that we are facing without end, which is the impure and untamed mind . I believe this is the area that the Buddha’s teaching address and specialize in. Therefore, this is where the Buddha’s disciple can focus on addressing instead of directing our energy towards doing what every other organizations are doing ( easing the external symptoms temporarily). We would then have no one to actually address the underlying cause . Some of the tools we use in purifying/ taming the mind are dhamma and meditation. Before the monks and nuns can effectively teach people to tame / purify their minds, they first needed some space and time to tame/ purify themselves. Or else they wouldn’t we familiar with the ins and outs of mental purification to effectively help others. Going into stillness is a crucial aspect that shouldn’t be left out because that is where they can access the source of wisdom/ insights necessary to help themselves or teach others. I think of the solitude retreat period like a caterpillar entering a cocoon before it can be transformed into a butterfly to fly freely. From the outside, it might look like nothing productive is happening,but a lot of change can take place within. This may seem contrary to the stream of the world/ society, but it is perfectly in tune with the ways of nature.

    Personally, I don’t think it is a good idea to suggest that everyone should only focus on easing external symptoms . We are already lacking institutions that specialize in addressing the real issue underlying all the dysfunction we see everywhere in the world .I think various teachers like Ajahn Brahm and Eckhart Tolle are doing a great job at changing the world from within, one person at a time.

    Barney wrote: ” Sometimes the first set of ‘beliefs’ and motivations seem absurdly selfish and narcisistic and even immature — at other times, they seem the right way to go ! ”

    Instead of feeling guilty about meditating, why not join in and help contribute to the collective positive energy in the world. You feel guilty only when you perceive that you and the world are two separate things/ entities. We are one with it, just like many cells within the body of a single entity. When meditating you are supporting/ participating in the movement/ cause of changing the world from within.

    ” The world can only change from within.” – Eckhart Tolle

    L & L,

  93. Dearest Jason

    Thank you for your participation here, which I have enjoyed and valued.

    I wish you well, dear friend.

    One of the Davids

  94. Helpful links:
    Critical Pali Dictionary: http://pali.hum.ku.dk/cpd/

    PTS dictionary: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/

    Conscise Pali-English Dictionary by Buddhadatta Mahathera (briefer and simpler than the above two, and you can also see the alphabet order if you aren’t familiar with it): http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/dict-pe/index.htm

    And here’s a simple list of key Pali words:
    Bhikkhu Bodhis’ Pali-English Glossary of Buddhist Terms:
    http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/bud-dict/pali-gloss.htm

  95. Nice post Wilc — I agree with all you say as usual.

    If you and the other fellow boarders are interested, here is an interesting talk that Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein gave on the two sides of Gandhi and his Hinduism — One side of Gandhi was the austere Monastic; the other side was someone who was deeply politically and socially engaged.

    http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/norman-finkelstein-democracy-now-interview-march-2010-part-ii/

    Norman Finkelstein,( who comes from a family almost totally annihilated in the Nazi Holocaust) is as always, impressive and fair on all points.

  96. Dear Sylvester,

    You asked:

    “Do you think that AN 6.63′s kamanirodho/ phassanirodha could be a reference to a temporary cessation of kama/contact? There is, after all, the attainment of saññāvedayitanirodha, a conditioned and temporary samadhi. Might it be possible that the kamanirodho in AN 6.63 is a reference to suppression of kama/sensualdesire in Jhana? This reads more consistently with the subsequent passage where the Ariyan disciple is said to “know kamanirodho” which looks like an ante-mortem knowledge.”

    So far as I can see, it is fairly clear that phassa in AN6:63 refers to all contact, not just kama-contact. I am not aware of phassa, in the suttas anyway, ever being used to refer to a sub-set of contacts. You will also notice, in the same sutta, that both feeling and perception cease with the cessation of phassa, which could only refer to the death of an arahant (or perhaps sannavedayitanirodha). It is hard to imagine that phassa would refer to two different things when used in the same way in parallel passages within the same sutta.

    Remember that the ariyan disciple knows the four noble truths, which includes Nibbana – both kilesa-nibbana and khandha-nibbana. The stream-enterer obviously hasn’t experienced this yet, but he knows this inferentially. In the same way, he also knows the cessation of kama.

    “I think there is at least one or two suttas in the MN that talk of the cessation without remainder of unwholesome and wholesome intentions in 1st and 2nd Jhana respectively. These may be interpreted, I hope, as a reference to temporary cessation?”

    You are referring to MN78, the Samanamandika sutta. Indeed, here the reference is to the temporary cessation in jhana. But in this sutta phassa is not said to cease; rather, intention is said to cease. The problem with the word nirodha, cessation, is that it means different things in different contexts, sometimes referring to temporary cessation and at other times to final and complete cessation. One has to carefully judge from the context and the general use elsewhere in the suttas which type of cessation applies.

    “In my convoluted fashion, I am trying another argument for the traditional interpretation of Jhana as follows :-
    because there is no kama (desire) in Jhana, this also implies that there is no phassa based on the kamagunas. The kamagunas may be there, but if the “corresponding engagement” does not bring vinnana to that kamaguna, that explains why there is no phassa based on the kamagunas in Jhana. No phassa based on the kamagunas implies no vedana, no sanna and no sankhara in relation to kamagunas. Or is this too contrived an argument?”

    Your general description seems right to me. I think you are right to say that there is no “phassa based on the kamagunas in Jhana”, but I am not sure if phassa is ever used quite like that in the suttas, including in AN6:63.

    “Is the Rolls Royce complete or is it still missing some volumes?”

    The CPD was commenced in 1924, and by 2006 (roughly) they were still working on the letter ‘k’. In other words, they had completed approximately a quarter of the dictionary in 80 years! At that point the funding stopped – you can sort of see why! So we are now left with a partial dictionary, but the parts we have are still very valuable.

    With metta.

  97. Dear Bhante

    Many thanks again.

    I also realised that my earlier reading of phassanirodha in AN 6.63 would have been problematic if applied as if AN 6.63 were an exposition on Jhana. Since at least phassa based on Mano must be present to keep the Jhana going, AN 6.63 could not have been talking about Jhana, given AN 6.63’s inclusion of the cessation of feelings and perception based on mental contact. Silly me!

    Time to get back to Phra Brahmagunabhorn’s short essay on “nirodho” occassionally meaning “not arising” instead of “cessation”.

    _/\_ with metta and gratitude

  98. Here are some helpful links to those interested in Pali:

    Critical Pali Dictionary: http://pali.hum.ku.dk/cpd/

    PTS dictionary: http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/

    Conscise Pali-English Dictionary by Buddhadatta Mahathera (briefer and simpler than the above two, and you can also see the alphabet order if you aren’t familiar with it): http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/dict-pe/index.htm

    And here’s a simple list of key Pali words:
    Bhikkhu Bodhis’ Pali-English Glossary of Buddhist Terms:
    http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/bud-dict/pali-gloss.htm

  99. Thank you so much, IMeditation. To be honest with you, accepting my father’s death is not too difficult, but to face the feeling of ‘I should have taken better care of him” is eating at me…

    Why do we, me as an obvious example, have to wait till it’s too late to ‘do our best’ for our loved ones?…

  100. Beautifully said, IMeditation.

    Sadhu.
    …………..

    Kanchana, I totally agree with you.

  101. Such a cliche – but listening to Jeff Buckley always seems to hit that “getting in touch with the depressing truth” spot for me. Try ‘Lover, You Sould Have Come Over’ or ‘Hallelujah/I Know It’s Over’ the live version from So Real: Songs From Jeff Buckley…and if that’s all a bit too sensual, sentimental and romantic, for all you hard core Buddhists out there – just think about how he died. That guy really sang as though every second of his life was seriously in touch with some sort of depressing truth.

    Years ago I went to see Ryuichi Sakamoto play at the State Theatre and he related a story about some composing he had done, before playing one of the tracks. His brief was to compose something really sad for a part of the film “The Sheltering Sky”. He went away and did just that – and came back to present the director, Bertolluci, with his interpretation. Upon hearing it Bertollucci was apparently so moved that his response was something like – but Ryuichi – that’s soooo sad – there’s no hope! ??! So Sakamoto went away and injected some hope into the music so it could emote the right balance of darkness and light that we humans seem to need. The soundtrack is pretty good too.

    Which always struck me as interesting – that what he was saying in this communication was that somehow as human beings we need to have even our sadness touched by even a slight tinge of uplift to keep us motivated or something. There needs to be at least a sense of light around the edges of our darkness – even though it may only be a faint flicker at times. Call it hope if you must.

    As a slightly morbid eternal optimist in a world of emotion, I wish you all well on your voyages of samsaric satire and senselessness!! Peace.

  102. Wow, looks like one of my posts got posted multiple times (at least that’s how it appears on the screen I’m looking at). Sorry…..! Maybe I’m unconsciously trying to push Pali studies or something… :) Bhante, can you delete the repeats?

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