When Buddha sat under the tree, he had a series of experiences.

1. He remembers that, as a child, he had entered a state of reverie or rapture while sitting beneath a rose apple tree while everybody else was enjoying themselves at the Spring Ploughing festival. He thinks to himself, why can’t I just enjoy such an experience now? So he does so and this is called the First Dhyana. He then passes through seven more dhyanas. It is clear from several texts, however, that this ability to enjoy the dhyanas is not considered to be enlightenment. In fact, Buddha says in the very first sutra of the Majjhima Nikaya that one can experience all these dhyanas and still be completely deluded. So I think we should try to understand this.

Really, dhyanas are states of enjoyment that are independent of any extra stimulus. This is enjoyment that does not depend upon having a movie to watch or other form of entertainment, does not require alcohol or drugs, does not require a sex partner, does not require anything other than simply joy in being alive. We can imagine the Buddha asking himself, Why not? Why not just enjoy being alive? It is a good question. The dhyanas are available to anybody. Secluded from all unwholesome thoughts, all unwholesome stimuli, the Buddha was able to enjoy all eight dhyanas.

I remember that when I first got involved in Buddhism it was in the late sixties. It was the time of “flower power”. People were “dropping out and turning on”. The people who were promoting meditation at that time often said that meditation is the way to get everything that drugs can give you but with no bad side effects and without it costing you anything. This was a strong argument and it was not so far from what Buddha said to himself. The dhyanas were, and indeed are, tranquil and delightful abidings.

2. However, hot on the heels of this pleasant abiding, Mara arrives with all his host. What does this mean? It means, in psychological terms, that the attempt to simply push the unwholesome thoughts, fantasies and urges aside and enjoy life without them, provoked a reaction on a large scale. What is pushed aside goes for a time, but then it comes back, perhaps in even greater force.

This is how the mind works. We can impose rules upon it and it will follow them for a time, but it does so by holding the things that don’t fit back. This only works for a limited time and, as Freud said, “arguments are of no avail against… passions”. Whatever rule we impose upon ourselves, there will be times when it comes undone. So, on the rebound from the happy thought that he could simply enjoy peace, secluded from the passions, the passions return in force.

3. It says that Buddha was able to turn all of Mara’s host into celestial flowers. I take this to mean that this time, rather then resisting, destroying or setting them aside, he was able to receive, accept and honour the passions without them leading him into unwholesome action. This was an act of sublimation. Instead of putting the fire out, he was able to contain and direct it.

4. It was after this that he had insight into dependent origination. Looked at in this context we can take dependent origination to be, broadly, the idea that the passions appear in different form according to whether they are built upon avidya or not. Buddha had been able to turn them into flowers by not being caught in avidys. So what is avidya? Avidya is something that we could call wilful ignorance. The Buddha concluded that wilful ignorance is a function of personal conceit. These two, thereafter, were the main objects of his attack and criticism - conceit and its derivative wilful ignorance, These two are the root of all evil in Buddhism.

So we can say that the essence of Buddhism is to transform avidya into vidya and conceit into a non-self attitude. This, however, cannot be done by the conceited, wilfully ignorant mind and herein lies the problem of self-power. The conceited, wilfully ignorant mind can do many things - enter all the dhyanas, practise awareness, be in the present moment, at least every now and again, and can use all the Buddhist methods and practices, but when it does so it will turn them to its purpose of self-agrandisement, self-abasement, self-definition, self-projection, self-esteem, self-love, self-centredness and so on.

The best method available, therefore, is to despair of self - cultivate a sense of humour about oneself - and baffle self-power by worshiping what is mysterious and gracious beyond. This is why Mahayana Buddhism developed such a panoply of sambhogakaya Buddhas. Such an approach asks the Buddhas for their help. It says, “I see that I  cannot do this. Please help.” Thus, there is no method by which one can ensure arrival at enlightenment except complete reliance upon a Buddha or all the Buddhas. Their Dharma will save one - one can take refuge in that even without knowing really what it is. In fact, one never really knows and it is that essential ignorance that makes such reliance real. This means that ignorance is essential for its accomplishment and that this is the only way for conceited, wilfully ignorant beings to have a chance of fully entering the grace.

It does not really matter whether you take as your object of refuge Amida Buddha, Quan Shi Yin, the Lotus Sutra, Samantabhadra, the Buddha’s relics or whatever. In the Amida Shu we turn to Amitabha, but that does not mean we are in opposition to those who turn to some other manifestation of Buddhadharma. To be so would just be another demonstration of conceited wilful ignorance.

So one of the things that Buddha is telling us by this story of his own experience is that , yes, it is possible, by will, to put unwholesome states aside temporarily and enjoy coasting through the dhyanas, however, you can expect a comeback. Mara will return. However, armed with this knowledge, you can be ready for him. This means that as passions arise, you are ready to investigate their true nature - celestial flowers - and see how them affecting you one way or the other way depends upon the functioning of self.

You might think that seeing in this way would then free you from self, but it doesn’t. Insight into the cause of a disease does not cure it. It permits wiser management of the condition, but it does not cure. A person can know all the reasons why and how he is an alcoholic and he still goes on drinking. It takes something else. It takes faith that something beyond oneself can help.

Views: 197

Replies to This Discussion

This teaching made me smile a lot. Thank you.

 

Really I think that in every practice, in a greater or lesser degree, I am seeking to put unwholesome states aside temporarily and enjoy through dhyanas. I had not thought of it before in this way , But , in fact, at a deeper level, despite my devotional intention, I am always seeking something for myself…That is why Mara always returns…Even I could think that the more I practice the faster Mara returns, or at least I am more conscious of it.

Then , I think, here we could find the real purpose of it, I mean, the main purpose of all practice would be to recognize Mara afterwards with our eyes opened( this is the great challenge), and  if we can maintain our eyes opened we can see something which is deeply true, something that has not been pushed. I think that when we find a real truth we naturally open ourselves to a greater one. Maybe these are the “celestial flowers”.

Thank you Dharmavidya

Thank you, Nati - very nice comment.

RSS

Events

ITZI Conference 2019

Subscribe to ITZI Conference Newsletter

* indicates required

Blog Posts

Sagesse féline...

Posted by Tamuly Annette on September 29, 2019 at 12:00 1 Comment

En l'absence de Darmavidya, j'ai - en ma qualité de voisine et d'amie - le privilège de m'occuper (un peu) de Tara, la petite chatte. C'est un bonheur  de la voir me faire la fête chaque fois que je me rends à Eleusis: elle s'étire, se roule sur le dos au soleil ou saute sur mes genoux. J'ignore si elle a profité de l'enseignement du maître des lieux, mais j'ai comme l'impression qu'elle me donne une belle leçon de sagesse: elle…

Continue

WEEP FOR OUR WORLD

Posted by David Brazier on August 20, 2019 at 21:38 2 Comments



At the moment I am feeling very sad for the state of the planet. As I write the great forests are being consumed by fire, both the tropical forest in Brazil and the tundra forest in Russia. The great forests are the lungs of the earth. I myself have lung problems. When there are parts of the lungs that don’t work anymore one can run out of energy. It can strike suddenly. We will probably not do anything serious about climate change or wildlife extinction…

Continue

MY MEDICAL CONDITION

Posted by David Brazier on June 26, 2019 at 18:04 10 Comments

My medical condition continues to be a mystery. It is clear that I do not have any of the big nasty things - brain tumour, cracked skull, stroke, etc - as these have been ruled out by MRI investigation. Nonetheless I continue to have persistent, continuous head pain that varies in intensity and I become exhausted by the least effort so that I am functioning like an invalid incapable of doing very much. There is always a possibility that the whole syndrome is a…

Continue

Grace.

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on June 2, 2019 at 1:02 4 Comments

“Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark Valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us… Continue

© 2019   Created by David Brazier.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service