You have a concept of what you should be and how you should act, and all the time you are in fact acting quite differently; so you see that principles, beliefs and ideals must inevitably lead to hypocrisy and a dishonest life. —one of my absolute favorite quotes of J. Krishnamurti
But having abandoned all morality and observances, and that action that is criticized or uncriticized, not aspiring to “purity or “non-purity,” he would live refraining, not taking hold even of peace. —Mahāviyūha Sutta, verse 6
What follows is a reflection on a minor theme of this blog from the very beginning, and which lately has moved up in the rankings and become perhaps even a major theme. I have talked about it on at least one video with Brian Ruhe, but to my surprise, upon looking through old posts, I have failed to see a post specifically dedicated to this issue (though a rather recent one was leaning in this direction). So here I am dedicating this.
I can’t really accept the orthodox Theravada Buddhist notion that, although other religions may lead to a (temporary) rebirth in some heaven realm, only Buddhism (or Theravada Buddhism) has a monopoly on full enlightenment, i.e. Nirvana. Devout Theravada Buddhists can casually dismiss even the most advanced levels of Hinduism with “The Hindus practice only samatha.” But I suspect that even some Christian contemplative traditions, even some Muslims ones, may have produced fully enlightened beings, even if they became enlightened partly in spite of the teachings instead of because of them. Some people may even become enlightened accidentally, without even trying, just because they are ripe for it. Consider Ramana Maharshi, for example. Buddhism holds no monopoly on mindfulness and insight, even though it may stand alone on the hill of dependent co-arising and No Self.
Similarly I have little use for the (again orthodox) notion that a layperson who becomes enlightened must be ordained within one day to avoid an unnatural death—that is, that only a monk or nun can bear and sustain the full blazing glory of full enlightenment. Most famous people in the west with a reputation for enlightenment have not been monastics, like Eckhart Tolle, both Krishnamurtis, Horace Fletcher, Byron Katie, Paul Lowe, Adhyashanti, etc. etc. On the other hand, I don’t know of ANY Buddhist monks in the west who have even the reputation for enlightenment, outside of the beliefs of a few people who can believe that just about anyone is enlightened. Some Buddhist feminists may be extremely impressed by Ajahn Brahm, but that would be primarily because of his efforts (invalid efforts, in my opionion) to revive the extinct Order of ordained Theravada Buddhist nuns.
For that matter, I am pretty darned skeptical of the (yet again orthodox Theravadin) idea that one cannot possibly become enlightened without absolute purity of morals, which is claimed to be an absolute prerequisite for purity of mind, which in turn is declared necessary for enlightenment. The idea may be easier to swallow if the purity is just temporary, like when one is just sitting there meditating.
I’m just indulging in a little Mara’s advocate here, but even strict morality can be hurtful to others. Consider the pain a devoted non-Buddhist mother feels when her favorite child, maybe her only son, renounces the world, including his own family. For that matter I fail to see how simply following rules or precepts will lead to purity of mind, though of course wanton debauchery is not conducive to it either. I think most of us would agree that striving for enlightenment with a heart full of rage, hate, sensual craving, etc. is bound to be an exercise in futility. But rigid dogmatism is not optimal either.
So I am openminded with regard to the idea that someone who is not a Buddhist monk, or a Buddhist at all, or any kind of monastic or cleric, can become fully enlightened. Many western Buddhists, and most eastern ones, have trouble with this.
Clearly, uncompromising high moral principles and a life of renunciation are no guarantee of anything, and are not absolutely necessary to attain, or at least maintain, superhuman or particularly wise states. One possible example within orthodox Buddhist tradition is Mara himself, who must have done some really meritorious things to wind up in the highest deva realm (the Buddhist devil is in heaven, not hell), delighting in the creations of others, with a magnificent divine palace and all the rest, even though deep down he must have had some really samsaric inclinations. Pretty much all of the small-g gods and goddesses might be further examples of superhuman states, at least, not requiring strict austerity and renunciation. Devadatta, “the Buddhist Judas,” eventually wound up in a hell realm, but before he took the plunge he also had mastered jhana and had developed considerable psychic powers. Many relatively advanced spiritual teachers and gurus have likewise been pretty damned rascally, including some that I consider to be possibly enlightened. As I’ve considered with regard to Osho, alias the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (who I do NOT consider to have been fully enlightened), just because someone is at a higher level of consciousness does not mean they are moral or otherwise well behaved: a monkey is at a higher level of consciousness than a sheep, but at the same time a monkey is much naughtier and nastier than a sheep. But this may apply just to higher mental states, and not to highest wisdom.
It can be argued that relative morality (though not absolute morality, which may be impossible if it not simply defined as adherence to rules or applied to someone already fully enlightened) may be necessary to increase one’s likelihood of enlightenment, but afterwards it is simply part of the raft made of rubbish that, after it is used to cross the flood, can be left behind. Neem Karoli Baba, who I think may have been enlightened, and who certainly was at a much higher level of consciousness than almost all other humans, including Buddhists, told lies, yelled at people, hit people, and fondled women.
Or consider the classic Hindu example of Krishna: he also engaged in all sorts of naughtiness, including multiplying his body and having sex with five hundred women simultaneously, and encouraging his friend Arjuna to fight in a war against his own relatives. But this makes perfect sense to me: Krishna was an avatar of Vishnu, who to devout Vaishnavite Hindus is the Highest God. And to the Hindus, the Highest God is not simply the God of goodness and light, as later manifestations of Jehovah have been, but the God of absolutely everything, including immorality and darkness. He is the God of lies as well as truth, down as well as up, wrong as well as right. He has to be, in order to be the God of Everything in this world. But that’s Hinduism, not Theravada Buddhism.
The thing is, though, that if Nirvana is wholly other than Samsara (or even the same as it, according to some Mahayanists), and if no path really leads to the gates of full enlightenment (which it really can’t, considering that paths and Nirvana are at two entirely different levels of reality), then the cultivation of advanced contemplative states, and the renunciation virtually required to cultivate them, would not be absolutely necessary. They might even be largely irrelevant. Even orthodox Theravada admits that the highest meditative states are not necessary in all cases: the commentarial tradition denies that first jhāna is necessary, and the very prestigious Mahasi tradition of Burma even claims that normal “momentary concentration” is good enough.
Considering all this, the path of a modern western non-renunciant towards enlightenment would presumably be different in certain radical respects from the path of an early Buddhist mendicant in the Ganges Valley: it would be not so much bare minimalism and silent contemplation as a path of being challenged by various blows to the head by divine messengers. Most people in the west who experience profound awakenings appear to have them in this way, often even accidentally. Yearning for truth, striving to understand Reality as well as one can, longing to transcend Plato’s cave, can certainly help, but the main thing appears to be living fully and intensely and sensitively, and also, I assume, not being totally blue-pilled and integrated into the system, not being an indoctrinated and obedient subject of Mara’s empire.
This is essentially “tantra,” which is not endorsed in the ancient Pali texts; but then again, the earliest Buddhism was based on a paradigm already in existence long before the Buddha’s birth, based on radical renunciation, purity of conduct to minimize the generation of karma, and so on, derived largely from the religion(s) of the prehistoric Indus Valley Civilization. On the other hand, tantra was devised to help us in the final centuries of the Kali Yuga, the spiritual dark age, to transmute the world into unworldliness.
In conclusion to this meandering little essay I would like to perform a mathematical calculation that I have considered for many years. Let’s say that being a religious renunciant (or an orthodox Buddhist one for you doctrinal purists) increases one’s odds of realizing liberating insight by 10,000 times, which does seem a fairly generous estimate. And let’s also say that there are 100,000 times more laypeople than serious, qualified renunciants in this world, which also seems fairly generous and reasonable, methinks, but is just a guess of course. So, if my math skills are adequate for the task of solving this story problem, then there would still be ten times more enlightened laypeople in this world than enlightened renunciant monastics. That would not be a good reason NOT to be a monastic, considering the greatly improved odds they enjoy, but still.
The moral of the story: Don’t think that just because you aren’t an ordained monastic, or a great saint, you don’t have a chance in hell of realizing liberating insight, or highest truth, or nirvana. At least be openminded on the subject, because dogmatism is breathing death.
|they're all in the realm of Hinduism because rascally Buddhists|
aren't so famous