Saturday, 30 August 2008

My websites

These are my websites. Two of them consist of talks I gave to various audiences during the 90's and 00's and the other has some odds and ends about my life and views:

http://www.angelfire.com/wizard2/ratnaghosha/
http://www.angelfire.com/wizard/ratnaghosa/index.html
http://ratnaghosa.fwbo.net/

No Choice

Perhaps the greatest issue facing us in the world today is how to stop destroying the planet and how to begin to reverse some of the damage we have already done. One of the reasons we have done this to ourselves and to our home, the planet Earth, is because we, the human race, have been and continue to be ignorant of the connections between things, ignorant of how all life is interconnected and interdependent. We have been ignorant of the very existence of an ecosystem. And it would be a great mistake for us to continue this ignorance into our search for solutions. It would be a mistake for us to think of environmentalism as concerned with a particular aspect of life. It would be a mistake to think that environmental issues were separate from issues of war or poverty or economics or politics or leisure or work or spiritual life. To think of environmental issues as separate in that way would be to continue the ignorance that has brought us into this plight in the first place. The social, the spiritual and the ecological are not separate spheres of knowledge and activity, they are intimately and irrevocably interconnected and it is ignorance of this that leads us to behave in ways that are destructive to the planet and therefore destructive to ourselves. This ignorance comes about because human beings have developed self-reflexive consciousness. We are aware and we are aware that we are aware.

This consciousness, which is what distinguishes us from the animals, is our greatest asset, and our greatest gift and perhaps our greatest curse. Because of this consciousness of self there is a consciousness of other and a consciousness of insecurity in relation to other. The consciousness of self is crude, rudimentary even, and is closely identified with the body, with things, with people as things and with a rigid world view. This self is constantly buffeted by the winds of change externally and internally by the primitive forces of survival and reproduction. So a sense of insecurity is an inevitable accompaniment of emerging self-consciousness. As Subhuti says in The Buddhist Vision "the rudimentary self or immature ego tries to find security by using the same instincts as those by which the animal preserves itself. Just as the animal hunts for the food which will nourish its organism, so the ego tries to possess those things it considers as securing its identity. And as the animal will attack and destroy whatever threatens its survival, so the ego seeks to destroy whatever undermines its integrity. Aided and amplified by the human power of imagination, these reactions can reach the monstrous proportions of ruthless empire-building and of mass destruction through war." So the immature ego is ignorant of interconnection and experiences itself as separate, and as fixed and unchanging. This according to Buddhism is the basic spiritual ignorance, experiencing ourselves as separate and as fixed and unchanging. It is this basic spiritual ignorance that gives rise to the greed for possessions and people to give us a sense of security and it is this basic spiritual ignorance which gives rise to hatred and a violent rejection of anything that appears to threaten this separate fixed and unchanging self. Here we can see the source of all human conflict, the source of consumerism, the source of overpopulation, the source of our blind destruction of our own environment.

This is what is depicted at the centre of the Tibetan Wheel of Life. There are three animals, a cock, a snake and a pig biting each other's tails and going round and round in circles. The cock symbolises greed, the snake hatred and the pig ignorance. They symbolise the animal within us which is covered over with a thin veneer of civilisation. Animals of course are not destructive; it is only the animal in conjunction with self-consciousness that is destructive. So this picture is not saying anything about animals, it is a mirror for us to look into and if we are honest we will recognise, perhaps with the shock, that what we see is our own inner self, motivated by greed for possessions, for sex, for status, motivated by aversion to discomfort or criticism and motivated by the yearning for security. This is what the first circle on the Wheel of Life shows. It is directly confronting us with our spiritual ignorance and spiritual immaturity. Because we are dealing with symbolism here it is perhaps better not to or over conceptualise. Concepts can become a barrier between us and the truth. It is better just to look in the mirror and see what we see; a cock, a snake and a pig; pecking, strutting, crawling, hissing, rooting, snuffling animals. However we are self conscious, we are human beings and that spark of consciousness is what can save us from the excesses of ignorance. We have the choice to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, to borrow an image from elsewhere. We have the choice to do something with our awareness. What we can do with our awareness is develop it. We can evolve further. We can make the choice to evolve our awareness and dissolve the fetters of ignorance, neurotic greed and hatred. We can embark on what has been called the path of the higher evolution, that is the evolution of consciousness or awareness. This is what the spiritual life is about, you could say this is what the truly human life is about and this is the long term and fundamental solution to the problem of human destructiveness. This is the radical solution in that it goes to the roots of the problem.

The second circle on the Wheel of Life is about this choice we have. A choice we make whether we want to or not because even doing nothing is a choice. This circle of the Wheel is divided into two segments, one white and one black. In the black segment, naked and anguished men and women tumble downwards tormented by demons, in the white segment men and women wearing bright garments and performing various benign activities are ascending. The message of this section of the Wheel of Life is that we experience the consequences of our actions. This is what is known in Buddhism as the law of Karma, a much used and often misunderstood term. To understand what Karma is we need to understand a very fundamental Buddhist teaching, the teaching of conditionality. After the Buddha's Enlightenment experience he tried to communicate what he had seen and understood in many different ways. One of the ways he used to explain his insight is formulated as the law of conditionality, which very simply states that everything arises in dependence upon conditions. In the texts it says "this being that becomes, from the arising of this that arises. This not being that does not become, from the ceasing of this that ceases." so everything comes into being in dependence upon preceding conditions. This applies to everything: a thought, a giraffe, a mountain, a war, a planet, a universe. So this would appear to be a very obvious and simple assertion, that everything arises in dependence upon conditions. However, simple and obvious as it may seem, it is the most fundamental teaching of Buddhism and it has vast implications. Karma is just one kind of conditionality. There are five kinds; there is conditionality on the inorganic level, the level covered more or less by the laws of physics. There is conditionality on the organic level, the level of biology. There is conditionality on the lower mental level involving such things as perceptions and instincts. Then there is conditionality on the level of intentional action which is the Karmic level and above that is the transcendental, Dharmic level of conditionality. The reason I have enumerated this rather technical list is simply to make the point that Karma does not explain everything that happens to us. There are a multitude of conditions at work all the time and it is impossible to separate out what results from our own intentional actions and what results from other kinds of conditionality. So we need to beware of simplistic understandings of Karma. It is not a model of linear cause and effect and it is not an exhaustive explanation of everything that happens to everyone. Everything arises in dependence upon conditions but not all conditions are Karmic.

Put simply Karma is intentional action. Buddhism teaches an ethics of intention. Traditional ethical systems in the West speak in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. Buddhism doesn't think in terms of good and bad actions. It focuses instead on the intention behind the action. Indeed the terms good and bad are alien to Buddhist ethical teaching, instead we use the terms skilful and unskilful. A skilful or ethical action is one that arises out of a mind that is loving, generous and wise and an unskilful or unethical action is one that arises out of a mind that is selfish, hateful and ignorant. Actions are understood to be of thought, speech and body. So the law of Karma states that unskilful actions have negative consequences and skilful actions have benign and positive consequences. Difficulties, suffering and unhappiness which we experience may be due to our unskilfulness in the past i.e. may be due to our past Karma, or may be due to other conditions. Happiness and good fortune may be due to our skillfulness in the past, i.e. may be due to our past Karma, or to other conditions. But the importance of the law of Karma is not that it may explain our present circumstances or help us to analyse the past. The importance of the law of Karma is that it allows us to shape the future and, because all things are interconnected, how we shape our own future inevitably affects others and even the whole planet.

Skilful or ethical action of thought, word and deed is the best way to create a happy and satisfying life. Skilful action is based in mental states of kindness, generosity and wisdom which are by nature expansive, outgoing and compassionate. This has a beneficial effect on everybody we encounter and on all the creatures and plant life. When we are experiencing kindness, love, generosity and wisdom we do not harm the world around us, we enjoy and protect it.

So the choice we have to make is whether to embark on the difficult task of overcoming our natural instinct to seek security for our fragile ego sense or go beyond that natural instinct by deliberately evolving consciousness that is expansive and self-less. It would seem that the obvious answer would be to say yes, lets go for it. However that is not a choice that the majority of people make. Most people decide to stay within the confines of their narrow self interest and seek as much security as they can from the world around them. This is because the spiritual path, the path of the higher evolution of consciousness, is truly difficult. It is not the work of a day or a week or year but of twenty, thirty, or more years and even then the fruits are gathered slowly. The truly spiritual life goes against the whole trend and logic of ordinary life. I have to make the effort, I have to change, I have to be transformed even, but ultimately it is not about any acquisition for me, not even the acquisition of wisdom. Certainly we must use our natural self interest to get started. We can be legitimately motivated by a desire for happiness and well-being. But ultimately all self-centredness is transcended, and our sense of self and other is radically transformed, so that to act in the interests of others is no different from acting in the interests of self. This is something that can be understood intellectually, but intellectual understanding is not sufficient to sustain consistent effort over many years. We need to have a heart response to the possibilities open to us, the possibilities of great wisdom and compassion that transcend all hankering after security all desire for personal gain, status, happiness even. We need to have a heart response to the ideal of becoming more truly human so that we come to value co-operation above competition, to value simplicity above wealth, value harmony above gain, value peace above revenge, and the welfare of all beings above our own life. We need to have a heart response because the heart or the emotions are where our energy is where our motivation is and we will need energy and motivation to make progress on the spiritual path. Because if we are not motivated strongly enough we will not be able to overcome the many obstacles and struggles that we will inevitably meet along the way.

For instance we will want to meditate but may get discouraged when we experience nothing but distraction for weeks or months on end. We will want to be loving and kind but may get discouraged when we meet people, especially Buddhists, were not nice kind people and who perhaps don't even like us. We will want to be wise but may get discouraged when nobody wants to listen to our wisdom and they even laugh of us. We will want to be ethical but may get discouraged when others take advantage of us. We will want to be more aware but may get discouraged when we become more aware and realise that we are not as good and truthful and kind as we liked to believe. We will want to transcend selfishness but may get discouraged by the tenacity of our egotism.

Spiritual life is not easy, it is not for the faint-hearted. It is a tough choice but it is worthwhile and it works. The alternative is to continue to seek security and happiness in ways that cannot ever deliver happiness and security. It may be difficult to make progress on a spiritual path but wisdom, happiness and compassion do arise in dependence upon the effort made. The mundane path of material success and status may appear easier but it is an illusion from top to bottom and it only brings sorrow and pain. This doesn't need any great elucidation, it is plain to see all around us and it is evident in the history of the human race down through all the generations. The great difference that has occurred over the last couple of centuries is that the world has become smaller due to the advances in technology and the human race is capable of massive destructiveness also due to the advances in technology. So our choice to pursue the life of material gain, power and status has greater implications now than ever before. And those implications are becoming more visible in such things as climate change, radioactive waste, weapons of mass destruction, large scale poverty and starvation and overpopulation. The implications of choosing a life of awareness, simplicity, ethical behaviour and compassion for all sentient life are also greater than ever before because of the possibilities of global communication and because of the spiritual vacuum at the heart of the world.

When we choose a life of spiritual quest within a Buddhist context, we undertake to live by five specific principles. These are the principle of non-violence, principal of generosity, the principle of contentment, the principle of truthfulness and the principle of awareness. The practice of meditation helps us to live by these principles.

The first principle underlies all the other principles and is the cornerstone of the whole edifice of Buddhist philosophy and practice. This is the principle of non-violence or to put it more positively, the principle of love. This love is what we call Metta, a love that is sustained, consistent, spontaneous and seeks no reward. This principle has implications for every aspect of our lives; most obviously it implies cooperative, forgiving and kindly relations with other people, even those we disagree with or dislike. So it rules out revenge, it rules out prejudice, it rules out persecution, it rules out discrimination, it rules out character assassination, it rules out slander, it rules out doing anything to others that they don't wish us to do. It rules out all kinds of manipulation and exploitation. All of these things appear in gross forms in the world around us, but as we become more ethically sensitive we will discover their more subtle forms in our own hearts and minds. We will begin to notice the edge of competitiveness or malice in our humour, we will begin to notice the subtle emotional blackmail between lovers, we will notice all the little ways we have of undermining the achievement of others and so on. Here we find our working ground and it is here in our everyday relations with others that we can begin the process of cultivating a compassionate mind.

The principle of non-violence has implications beyond our relations with other people. It applies to our relations with all living things: animals, birds, insects, trees, flowers etc. Before the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was a safe haven for wildlife, and vast herds of antelope and musk deer roamed the plains together with bears, wolves, foxes and wild sheep. But all that has changed now. The American photographer and author Galen Rowell in his essay" The Agony of Tibet", writes, "the invaders made a sport of shooting indiscriminately at wildlife. In 1973, Dhondub Choedon, a Tibetan now in exile in India, reported that "Chinese soldiers go on organised hunts using machine guns. They carry away the meat in lorries and export the musk and furs to China". Important habitat for vast herds of animals was soon over grazed as the Chinese forced nomadic families into communes to raise livestock for export instead of their own subsistence. Tibetans, including the children, were forced to kill 'unnecessary animals' such as moles and marmots that vied with humans for grain and dug up valuable grazing land. Children were given a qouta for small animals to kill that, if not met, resulted in beatings and other forms of punishment." It is so sad to think of the children being conditioned to kill animals. A stark illustration of how totally different a materialistic outlook is from a spiritual and non-violent outlook.

The principle of non-violence or love extends also to our attitude to the natural world. The Thai monk Prayudh Payutto has said that it is best to avoid using the word 'environment' in our concerns for ecology. He feels the word 'environment' betrays its origins in Western attitudes that separate human beings from the rest of nature. Nature includes us. Ecology includes us. When we really begin to understand and see this then we see that the effort we make to transform ourselves is ecological work and that all our activities have ecological implications. If a river dries up it is relatively easy to see the ecological implications. If human hearts dry up the ecological implications are far greater. We must keep our hearts moist with the life-giving waters of love.

Prayudh Payutto has written an essay entitled "Buddhist solutions for the 21st century". In it he states that modern human civilisation is in the grip of three harmful and tenaciously held views, these are:
"1. The perception that mankind is separate from nature, that mankind must control, conquer, or manipulate nature according to his desires.
2. The perception that fellow human beings are not fellow human beings. Rather than perceiving the common situations or experiences shared among all people, human beings have tended to focus on the differences between themselves.
3. The perception that happiness is dependent on an abundance of material possessions.

The first perception is an attitude toward nature; the second perception is an attitude toward fellow human beings; the third perception is an understanding of the objective of life."
He goes on to say that for a human beings to live happily there must be freedom on three levels: physical freedom, social freedom, and inner freedom. Inner freedom is the ability to live happily and contentedly within ourselves without needing to manipulate and exploit the world around us. Without inner freedom human happiness is totally dependent on manipulation of the external environment and social exploitation. So this inner freedom, which is freedom from neurotic craving, freedom from hatred and freedom from spiritual ignorance is essential to the ecology of our planet. Without this inner freedom we are at the mercy of forces which push us into over-consumption and violent competition and a search for happiness and security where happiness and security cannot be found.

These are some of the implications of this first principle of Buddhism, the principle of non-violence. The other four principles are, as I said, based on this one. The principle of generosity extends the principle of love into our relationship to property and possessions. Generosity is basically an attitude to possessions, property and money which sees sharing and giving as more important than acquiring and owning. It is an attitude that holds things lightly, regarding ourselves as only temporary owners of whatever we have. In fact it is even better if we can see ourselves not as owners but as stewards, we are simply looking after something until it passes on to someone else. The Buddha said that a strong possessiveness about things or people lead to suffering; all things are impermanent and the stronger we hold on to them the more painful is the inevitable letting go. This applies to everything including our own body and sense of identity.

The principle of generosity runs completely counter to what has been called the 'religion of consumerism', with its scriptures and liturgies dedicated to exciting greed and its places of worship designed to entice us to acquire things we neither need nor want. Consumerism could be said to be the dominant ethic in the developed world today and this makes the principle of generosity all the more radical. Generosity as a practice in a society and world which is dedicated to its opposite is not an easy practice. To develop a truly generous attitude, an attitude of non-ownership, non-possession, non-acquiring, an attitude of sharing, stewardship and giving requires a big effort to overcome the constant conditioning and brainwashing that we are subjected to and have been subjected to since childhood.

Another Thai monk, Sulak Sivaraksa, writes "consumerism supports those who have economic and political power by rewarding their hatred, aggression, and anger. And consumerism works hand-in-hand with the modern educational system to encourage cleverness without wisdom. We create delusion in ourselves and call it knowledge. Until the schools reinvest their energy into teaching wholesome, spiritual values instead of reinforcing the delusion that satisfaction and meaning in life can be found by finding a higher-paying job, the schools are just cheerleaders for the advertising agencies, and we believe that consuming more, going faster, and living in greater convenience will bring us happiness. We don't look at the tremendous cost to ourselves, to our environment, and to our souls. Until more people are willing to look at the negative aspects of consumerism, we will not be able to change the situation for the better. Until we understand the roots of greed, hatred, and delusion within ourselves, we will not be free from the temptations of the religion of consumerism, and we will remain stuck in this illusory search for happiness.”

The third principle is the principle of contentment and this is traditionally related to our sexual activity. On the one hand we are enjoined to refrain from any form of exploitation or manipulation to satisfy our sexual desires and on the other hand we are encouraged to practise contentment with our current sexual status, instead of constant neurotic seeking after new experiences. Ultimately this principle aims at what is referred to as a state of stillness, simplicity and contentment which frees us to a large extent from any neurotic dependence on sex. For most of us this principle will in practice mean trying not to use subtle, or even not so subtle, manipulation or emotional blackmail to get others to behave as we want them to and it will also mean meditating to attain to more tranquil and contented states of mind.

The fourth principle of Buddhist ethics is truthfulness. Truthfulness is essential to the functioning of any society. Without truthfulness there can be no trust and without trust human relations fall apart and we are left with an atmosphere of suspicion and hatred. Truthfulness as an ethical principle has to be based on loving kindness and not used as a weapon to hurt others. And truthfulness, like all these ethical principles, begins with ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves about what we think, what we feel, what we do and what we say. To be honest with oneself is not necessarily an easy matter, it may entail facing up to unpleasant aspects of our character and it may seriously dent our pride and even possibly put us in the position of needing to apologise to others.

Truthfulness means, firstly, being factual in what we say or write. It also means steering clear of exaggeration for effect. Exaggeration is one of the great building bricks of egotism. Truthfulness means not understating things and it means not deliberately omitting relevant information. Omissions can distort a narrative to the point of falsehood. And of course, truthfulness means not deliberately lying. When we tamper with the truth it is usually because we want to be seen in a particular light or we want to gain some advantage: we want to be liked, we want to be popular and bending the truth can seem to be an easy way to get attention and approval or get whatever we want. Of course if we do that habitually the person who gets attention and approval will be a fiction and in our hearts we will be lonelier than ever. For friendship to exist, for any loving human relationships to exist, there has to be honesty, otherwise we only have fictions relating to fictions, facades relating to facades, which is, to say the least, unsatisfactory.

The fifth principle of Buddhist ethics is the principle of awareness or mindfulness. You could say that awareness is just as fundamental as love. We need awareness that is saturated with love and compassion and our love and compassion needs to be as aware as possible. Love and compassion without awareness can degenerate into sentimentality and pity and awareness without love can be cold and alienated. So these two qualities, love and awareness, need to be developed in tandem. That is why we teach the two meditation practices, Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavana. The Mindfulness of Breathing cultivates awareness and the Metta Bhavana practice develops loving kindness. Awareness begins with ourselves. We need to become more aware of our bodies and our actions, we need to become aware of our thoughts and of our emotions. This forms the basis for awareness of other people, awareness of the world around us and ultimately awareness of reality.

Sangharakshita has said ''awareness is revolutionary. It is revolutionary in that it brings about change of a far reaching and profound nature. Awareness is naturally expansive. As we become more and more aware become more expansive and full of life. Our energy becomes more focused and more available to us and we become more capable of taking responsibility for our lives. Our normal state is not really one of being aware, we don't really know what we're thinking, feeling, doing or saying and other people are just projections of our unconscious needs, desires and aversions. We think we're being original when all our views and opinions are received. We think we are independent of influence when our whole life is a constant swinging from one influence to the next.

Awareness gives us the possibility of a genuine individuality and more real relationships with other people. It is revolutionary in that it throws the light of truth onto our lives and wakes us up to what is really going on. Awareness transforms us. The greater the awareness the more far reaching the transformation and there is no limit to how aware we can become. Buddhahood or Enlightenment could be said to be a state of perfected awareness. Awareness of other people and awareness of the world around us shows us that we are one with humanity and one with nature. It shows us that there is beauty everywhere. Lack of awareness, which is self-centredness, is narrow in perception and sees threat and ugliness everywhere. Awareness sees beauty and optimism even in the most unlikely places.

Awareness of reality is a constant immersion in the reality that all life is process, all life is flux and change, all life is interconnected and interdependent. To be constantly immersed in this vision, to experience this all the time is to be free from all ill-will and possessiveness. This awareness gives life a quality of lightness and a vast prospective that turns all personal fears and anxieties into absurdities and makes much of what seems important in the world around us look ridiculous. Perhaps that is why the Dalai Lama is always laughing so heartily! However because of the presence of compassion there is no arrogance or impatience in this awareness. There is rather a tender regard for the suffering of the world which is one's own suffering too when one ceases to separate oneself from others and the world.

These then are the five principles that we undertake to live by when we embark on the spiritual path: non-violence, generosity, contentment, truthfulness and awareness. These are the principles that we train ourselves in over and over again in order to transcend the poisons of neurotic greed, ill-will and spiritual ignorance, which are the cause of human suffering, both on the personal level and the global level. By training ourselves to live by these principles we contribute to our own well-being and to the well-being of the whole world.

Perhaps all this gives some little explanation of the symbolism of the inner two circles of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is an ancient symbol over two thousand years old. In one Buddhist text, which dates from 100 years BC, the Buddha is depicted as telling his followers to paint the Wheel of Life at the entrance to every monastery and to have a monk on standby to explain the imagery to visitors and novices. In this essay then we are taking part in an age-old ritual. Buddhism was wiped out in India, so that only one ancient image of the wheel of life survives in India, at the caves of Ajanta. But Tibet inherited the riches of Indian Buddhism and the Wheel of Life is still very much used in Tibetan temples. It is the nature of symbolism that it cannot be tied down to concepts and that there is always more to say. The Wheel of Life is a mirror of truthfulness and in it we see ourselves, warts and all. We also see the seeds of our happiness, the seeds of our Enlightenment even. Sometimes our vanity leads us to the mirror and sometimes our vanity keeps us away from a mirror, but this mirror shatters our vanity so that we can begin to see things as they are really are and so that we can make the choice to embark on the path of the higher evolution of consciousness, which is in reality no choice, because we cannot live by choosing death, we can only live by choosing life.

To conclude here is a little story from 'The Snow Leopard' by Peter Matheson which perhaps illustrates this point quite well, "the Lama of the Crystal monastery appears to be a very happy man, and yet I wonder how he feels about his isolation in the silences of Tsakang, which he has not left in eight years now and, because he's crippled may never leave again. Since Jang-bu, the interpreter, seems uncomfortable with the Lama or with himself or perhaps with us, I tell him not to inquire on this point if it seems to him impertinent, but after a moment Jang-bu does so. And this holy man of great directness and simplicity, big white teeth shining, laughs out loud in an infectious way at Jang- bu's question. Indicating his twisted legs without a trace of self-pity or bitterness - they belong to all of us - he casts his arms wide to the sky and the snow mountains, the high sun and the dancing sheep, and cries, "Of course I am happy here! It's wonderful! Especially when I have no choice!"

Constant Change

Impermanence is central to Buddhism, this fact, this truth, that everything at every level is changing, from galaxies to thoughts, from personal emotions to planets, in fact everything is change.
Change is constant.

You can treat this talk as a reflection; one of my points will be the importance of reflecting particularly using your imagination, reflecting imaginatively.

I'm going to look at the life of the Buddha before he was the Buddha because that's possibly more relevant to us, Siddharta before he was the Buddha struggling to follow the path. I'm going to use this part of the Buddha's life as a kind of symbol, a representation of the life of any human being.

Buddhism consists of the Path and teaching which enable all human consciousness to unfold and evolve into the awakened state - awakened to the true nature of Reality.

In this talk I want to look at that Path as it is illustrated by the life of Siddhartha. The story of the life of Siddhartha is a universal story and the significant episodes in that life indicate truths relevant to the spiritual life of any practitioner.

I’m going to look at some of these episodes - from the Four Sights up to the four archetypal images associated with the Enlightenment experience and I want to draw out the universal significance of each episode and perhaps a few points that could be of specific significance to us here today.

So first I’ll begin with the episode known as the Four Sights.

I believe this episode prefigures the later story of the appearance of Mara, the Earth Goddess, Brahma Sahampati and Mucalinda at the time of the Awakening - we’ll look at these parallels later. The story of the four sights tells us that Siddhartha had led a very sheltered life, protected by his father from all suffering, but as a restless young man he found a way to get out and some wider experience. What he experienced was seeing a sick person, an old person, and a corpse for the first time in his life and also a wandering holy man. These sights, we are told, had a profound effect on him and led to him giving up his life of luxury and going forth into the world in search of truth and a solution to the problem of human suffering.

You could take this story literally - that he had never encountered sickness, old age and death before - or you could understand it as meaning that he saw these things as if for the first time, in other words, he saw the significance of sickness, aging and death. He saw that it was what happened to everyone and what would happen to him. He saw it clearly, with the full force of a shock - he saw it in such a way that he couldn’t deny it, he couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t just carry on living as if everything was the same as before. No, now death was a reality for him, illness and old age were realties and they had to be faced up to. He couldn’t go back to a superficial life in the face of these existential facts which had shocked him into waking up to the naked insecurity of life. This was a process of insight for Siddhartha and it is a process that happens for many people, perhaps it has happened to some of us here. For some people this sort of awakening has a profound life-changing effect and they set out on the journey of spiritual searching and spiritual discovery - as Siddhartha did.

For others the experience gradually fades and old habits take over so that they manage to ignore their deeper experiences. Some people deliberately bury their insight into life’s insecurity, beneath a life of hedonism or even addiction. And some people embark on the spiritual quest, but get lost along the way or begin to use their spiritual practice as a way of avoiding the raw truths of sickness, old age and death rather than as a way of facing and transcending them.

But many of us, hopefully all of us here, are inspired by the image of the wandering holy man - the image of someone who gives up everything for the sake of truth, someone whose life is a wholehearted quest for truth.

Seeing these four sights is not an easy matter and I don’t believe it is usually a one-off event. Seeing these four sights is a process of deepening insight, a process of dawning clarity, a process of emotional, intellectual and spiritual adjustment to the fact that life is change. Sickness, old age and death are inevitable because change is the nature of life. The more deeply we see and understand this, the more acceptable it becomes and therefore the less we suffer by trying to resist change. This process of seeing the four sights - seeing them deeply, being affected by them, understanding and being moved by the significance of them - this process can go on throughout our life and it is worth our while reflecting on these four sights again and again.

We can ask ourselves questions. What is my attitude to illness? Do I see any deeper significance in it? Is my attitude to illness different when it affects me and when it affects others? Why is it different? Similarly with old age and death. What are my attitudes to old age and death? Am I aware of old age and death around me? Am I aware of myself as someone subject to old age and death? And what does the wandering holy man mean to me? Is there an equivalent of the wandering holy man in my life? Is there something which reminds me of the deeper significance of life? How often am I aware of that dimension represented by the wandering holy man? Am I moved to action by the image of the wandering holy man and the spiritual dimension of life? Perhaps for some of us the question will be - Have I really seen the four sights and if I have, am I still aware of them?

Because I've been healthy all my life it comes as a shock to me when I get sick, it’s something I don't normally experience or reflect upon. As I get older I am having to take it on board more. Sangharakshita some years ago when he was experiencing the effects of old age, including the loss of some of his eyesight, said that he had reflected deeply on death but he hadn't reflected deeply enough on old age and it's affects. It's not easy to be aware of these things.

Siddhartha did see the four sights. He saw them very deeply. He saw the significance of sickness, old age and death and the wandering holy man and it shook him to the core of his being. He could not be the same again; he had to change his life. He left home and set out in quest of the truth, in quest of the answer to the problem of human suffering. This episode in his life is known as the Going Forth. Going forth doesn't just apply to the Buddha it can apply to anyone of us and in different ways. Some of us may go forth in the traditional way and undertake something like a journey. Sangharakshita talks about going forth in terms of getting rid of his papers, passport and all those things and journeying around India on foot. When I was 22 I gave up my career and possessions to go in search of meaning. That was the result of seeing an older person in the work place retiring and seeing how empty their life was after spending 50 years in that job, it just shook me and I gave up everything. I did find Buddhism 6 years later.

The Going Forth represents a reorientation of one’s whole life - it involves actively moving away from the mundane, self-interested values of the world around us and moving towards values that are compassionate and based in a deeper awareness of the nature of life.

Sometimes it is quite difficult to see what the values of the world are because we are so much in the world and so much influenced by what we read and hear, a bit like fish swimming in water we can't see the water, - the newspapers, internet, TV and so on. If we are not sufficiently aware, we may not even notice that certain values are being promulgated all the time by the media, by politicians and so on.

Some of the more obvious values today are: that choice is a good thing, that economic growth is a good thing, that nation states have a real existence, that quality of life can be measured by the ability to buy things and so on. And some of the values will be so much a part of the air that we breathe that we will apply them to our spiritual practice without even noticing. For instance I have noticed that the notion of choice has become more and more prevalent over the past 5 to 10 years. Politicians tell us that what people want is choice and on the Internet, on TV, in the shopping centres, we are inundated with offers of choice. And of course, we often believe it, we believe that we are being offered genuine choices and that having these choices gives us greater freedom. We become enthralled to the idea that choice means freedom and we start to look for choice in our spiritual life, a choice of practices, a choice of lifestyles, a choice of teachings, a choice of teachers and so on. And of course the choice is there, a whole spiritual supermarket of choices, a whole shopping mall of choices - even within Buddhism and then of course there are all the tasty morsels from elsewhere - from various therapies and other disciplines - a whole smorgasbord of choices. So this one value of the world we live in could potentially cause us a great deal of confusion and lead us astray on all sorts of interesting sidetracks, especially if we haven’t quite seen the four sights yet away from depth of experience. I am not saying it is wrong to investigate other practices - just that we should go for depth in what we do.

Going Forth then, is a re-orientation of our life towards the spiritual values of awareness and compassion, the value of awakening more and more to reality and we need to examine other values in the light of this - does the multiplication of choices lead to greater awareness and compassion? Does nationalism or consumerism lead to greater awareness and compassion? What values do we have? What values are promoting greater awareness and compassion in our lives? What values are hindering our awakening to reality? What values are obscuring our vision of the four sights?

The questions mean reflecting, and the importance of reflecting on life and experience. It’s not such a good idea to expect immediate answers from yourself or anybody else the important thing is the question not the answer, the best answers come from the depth of your own experience. If you have an attitude of question, of reflecting then in your ordinary life as experience happens you will be reflecting because you will be bringing that attitude to what ever happens. You will be seeing the significance.

For Siddhartha going Forth meant a complete change in his life - internally and externally - for each of us it may mean that or it may mean something else. Whatever it means I think that it is also best seen as an ongoing process rather than a one-off event. As we will see it was an on-going event for Siddhartha too. The event symbolises the process - a process that carries on until awakening dawns. It is the process of letting go of everything that holds us back from seeing clearly the truth of constant change and living our lives by the truth of constant change.

The truth of constant change applies to our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions, it applies to other people, it applies to everything in this world, it applies to the whole universe. The truth of constant change transcends death because death is only a moment in the vast interplay of energies we call life. So we go forth from limitations, limiting views, limiting values, towards an open road, an open dimension where we can live in harmony with the reality of constant change.

(Joyful theme evoked by Walt Whitman)

Here is how the Sutta Nipata puts it

“Now I will tell the going Forth. How he, the Mighty Seer, went forth. How he was questioned and described the reason for his going forth. The crowded life lived in a house exhales an atmosphere of dust; but life gone forth is open wide: he saw this, and he chose the going forth.” (Nanamoli p. 11)

Let’s hope that given all the choices we have, we too choose the Going forth again and again.


The next episode in the life of Siddhartha that I would like to look at briefly is his attainment of Dhyana.


Siddhartha became the disciple of Alara Kalama first and later of Uddaka Ramaputta and under these teachers he became adept at entering dhyanic states of consciousness - right up to the highest formless dhyanas. He was such a good disciple that Alara asked him to become co-leader of his community of followers and Uddaka Ramaputta asked him to take over complete leadership of his community. However Siddhartha was not satisfied and was well aware that he was still within the realm of egotism and had not solved the problem of suffering. So he left these teachers and went forth yet again - this time to a life of great austerities. I think many of us would love to be able to get into dhyanic states at will. Indeed many of us probably feel that not being able to attain to the dhyanas means that we cannot meditate and we may even become despondent about meditation and perhaps give up. But Dhyana is not the aim of spiritual practice - it is a pleasant side-effect. I some Tibetan traditions the student is warned against Dhyana and told to come out of it as quickly a possible - it is regarded as a dangerous distraction. In the Brahmajala Sutta the Buddha outlines the 62 wrong views to be avoided if one is to make spiritual progress. Now the interesting thing about these wrong views is that most of them arise out of some kind of higher experience and quite a few arise from misinterpretation of higher Dhyanic experience. As Kamalashila put it in a talk on the subject, “It seems that if one practices within a framework of self-view, ten every attainment in meditation will simply confirm that view.”

So the danger of dhyanic experience is that it may lead into a cul-de-sac of wrong views, which block any further spiritual progress.

Siddhartha saw this and went forth from Dhyana. Perhaps we need to reflect on the significance of this. If we are regularly in Dhyana - we may need to let go of it and go forth into deeper insight and if we are regularly yearning to experience Dhyana perhaps we need to go forth from that yearning and start to see our meditation practice as being concerned with truth seeking rather than pleasure seeking. The pleasure will arise of its’ own accord. (David Smith p.118)

So, then, Siddhartha undertakes severe austerities, in line with practices current at the time. It was felt that the demands of the body, for food, sex, warmth and so on, were a major hindrance to spiritual insights and therefore the body had to be subdued. It is said that he took this to an extreme too, but in the end he realised that was not helping and he went forth from the life of austerities too - his third major Going Forth. I don‘t think there are very many people in the FWBO who undertake austerities - I’m not aware of any really but perhaps there are still some lessons to be learned here.

So Siddhartha moved from blissful practices to painful practices, hoping that what he didn’t gain through bliss he would gain through pain. And it is true for many people in the FWBO that there can be an over-emphasis on pain. We can give a lot of attention to painful emotional experiences and value them perhaps more than we need to, even considering them to be somehow more authentic or real, than pleasurable experience.

The American psychotherapist and mystic, Suzanne Segal, talks about this from her experience as a therapist (quoted in my talk “The Five Wisdoms”)

So for some of us at least there may be a sense in which we could helpfully go forth form an over-emphasis on the painful aspects of experience. We could deliberately affirm what is positive in our lives, some people have a practice of thinking at the end of the day what did I enjoy today, think of 5 or 10 things that I enjoyed today and it can give you quite a different perspective on life if you deliberately do that, just very small things like the light through the trees or the clouds in the sky. What you find if you do that is that you start to notice thoughts enjoyable things and you start to have more enjoyment in your life. It’s good to do a practice like that as it affirms what's positive and what's enjoyable in your day-to-day life.

Sometimes it is said that Siddhartha was making an unbalanced effort in practising austerities and he needed to find a middle was of more balanced effort. This is not borne out by the texts, which represent him as making a strong, even forceful effort, when he sat beneath the Bodhi tree. What was wrong about his effort in austerity was that it was effort in the wrong direction, effort leading nowhere.

So what we have to consider about our spiritual efforts is not so much a matter of quantity, but rather a matter of quality. We don’t need to worry too much that our efforts might be too strong, what we really need to pay attention to is whether our efforts are effective, spiritually speaking. Whether they are leading in the direction of truth. The direction of more Compassion, more Metta.

So Siddhartha went forth again, in the process losing his reputation, and being criticised by his former companions. Going Forth can bring unpopularity it seems. Your friends and family might think you're being foolish or a failure if you turn your back on material values.

So he took some nourishment and sat down beneath a peepul tree, thereafter known as the Bodhi tree. This tree prefigures the image of Mucalinda - naga and youthful hero. The tree represents a uniting of the heights and depths. Its’ roots go deep down in to the rock and its’ branches soar heavenwards. It is generating energy in the hidden depths and manifesting beauty and protectiveness in the world. This uniting of opposites - depths and heights, inner and outer - symbolises the enlightened state - a state of completeness uniting Wisdom and Compassion, uniting energy and stillness. This is something worth reflecting on - do we have a sense of heights and depths on our lives? What do we mean by heights? and depths? In what way are our heights and depths not united? In what ways are they united? How could we bring about more unity of our heights and depths? Or to put it another way, do our ideals, aspirations, dreams and imaginings have a strong connection with our on-going awareness of ourselves, physically, emotionally and mentally? Are the branches connected to the roots by a trunk of awareness and metta?

Siddhartha was sheltered by the tree or put symbolically, his aspiration and faith gave him protection.

And he needed protection because now he is assailed by Mara. Mara is the personification to spiritual awaking.

Firstly he is attacked by Mara’s army, then tempted by Mara’s daughters and then Mara tries to undermine his confidence. So here we have very dynamic images for hatred, craving and ignorance.

Mara’s army attacks with arrows and spears but all the missiles hurled at Siddhartha turn into flowers, blossoms and settle gently at his feet. This attack of Mara’s army represents a massive internal conflict. Siddhartha’s unshakeable determination is coming up against all the forces of his psyche that resist the implications of spiritual death. This is an inevitable part of any spiritual endeavour. We are never 100% behind our spiritual aspirations and so we experience conflict and you could say that dealing with this conflict is the raw material of our spiritual practice. That's what we are working with our aspirations and our actual desires and experience. We can take that raw material of inner conflict and d o something creative with it. If we don’t deal with our inner conflict it will begin to manifest externally and we will end up blaming other people for our lack of spiritual progress and limitations. It can seem more reasonable and comfortable to blame others for our hindrances and settle down into a habit of rumbling resentment. On one level inner conflict is a manifestation of the integrated psyche and the disparate parts have to come into some sort of relationship - just as the Buddha’s awareness and faith comes into relationship with Mara’s armies and the conflict resolves into flower blossom - symbols of beauty and growth.

On another level inner conflict is a manifestation of the ego’s resistance to reality. It’s an existential thing this inner conflict. Experiencing inner conflict doesn't mean we are bad or un-spiritual or incapable of practice, it is what happens if you try to lead a spiritual life. If you haven't done so already you will.

Either way it is more creative to recognise inner conflict for what it is and take awareness into it. We have to become acutely aware of how we resist spiritual insight and how we cause ourselves suffering. If we manage to do this thoroughly then our resistances will subside. For instance, we have an ideal of spiritual community, an ideal of harmony and co-operation and goodwill. We value friendship and collective activities. But then we may find ourselves feeling lonely or isolated - our ideal is not working - and this leads to a conflict within us - a conflict between our personal experience and our ideal. So this could lead us to blame the other people around us. It is because they are selfish or because they are unfriendly or because they are English or whatever - that’s why your ideal of a harmonious spiritual community is not happening and that’s why you feel lonely. Or you might blame the circumstances - it’s because community life is unnatural - or because the Buddhist Centre is not being properly run or whatever. So we look outside ourselves for causes and we find lots of imperfections in the people and the world around us which seem plausible reasons for our dissatisfaction. But we could take a different approach. We could assume that our conflict was a manifestation of egotism in some form and once again I’m not saying that egotism is bad but we could investigate it from that standpoint. We could ask ourselves: in what way am I being selfish? How is my loneliness and isolation a manifestation of selfishness? And we might discover some things to make us sit up and take action. We might realise that the antidote to loneliness lies in our own hands - we need to think of others and go out to them, befriend them. It’s a kind of counter-intuitive response- loneliness doesn’t mean I need friends, it means I need to befriend others. In a way, what we discover if we look deeply into our dissatisfaction is that we are both victim and perpetrator, we are experiencing suffer and causing suffering and if we see that clearly enough we stop perpetrating our own suffering and the spears and arrows of inner conflict turn into benign blossoms.

Another aspect of Mara’s army is that they represent fear- our worst nightmares - all the fears that hold us back from living more fully. Fear is one of the most tangible experiences of ego that we can have. Where there is fear there is ego. Where there is fear there is self-centeredness. The tantric yogis go into the cremation grounds at night to encounter fear - to encounter ego in a very potent form - and by facing fear they break through to a new level of freedom - symbolised by the dakini.

Most of us have no need to find a cremation ground- we experience fears, large and small, all the time - sometimes it is just the fear of being with other people or the fear of being alone. We can try to notice our fears and make use of them in our spiritual practice - by taking little risks here and there we gain a little more freedom and develop the habit of freedom and confidence. On a little personal note here, at the time of my ordination one of my greatest fears was the fear of speaking in public, which I assumed every order member had to do. I was even on the verge of holding back from ordination, to avoid ever having to speak in public. It was only by doing it that I gradually discovered it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

After Mara’s army we have Mara’s daughters - Siddhartha was a heterosexual man and so Mara’s daughters represent craving for sense pleasures. So Siddhartha is not having an easy time - it’s one distraction after another. Earlier we were told that he could get into dhyana at will and now he is enmeshed in conflict and distraction. From one point of view he is having a really bad meditation - anger, ill-will, fear and craving. I’m sure some of you are familiar with this kind of meditation, or at least you’ve heard about it. But Siddhartha knows what he is doing - he is deliberately facing all the resistance, all the egotistic forces of his own mind and transforming them into something positive. Mara’s daughters - the energy of craving, are transformed into inspiration - the energy of faith or shraddha - represented by the Earth Goddess. Mara’s armies, the energies of inner conflict, are transformed into compassion, represented by Brahma Sahampati. And Mara himself - the energy of ignorance is transformed into the great Wisdom represented by Mucalinda.

In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa - Mara tries to make a gift of his daughters to a monk - who refuses to accept them, but Vimalakirti does accept them and turns them into teachers of the Dharma. So Mara’s daughters are the energies of desire, which can move from being desire for sense pleasure to being desire for the Dharma - from kama chandha to dhamma chandha. In the symbolism associated with Siddhartha’s struggle, the Earth Goddess, Vasundhara, could be seen as his muse, his inspiration, his Dhamma chandha - she is the transformation of the energies represented by Mara’s daughters. The Earth Goddess is a witness to Siddhartha’s practice over lifetimes - she is an appeal to experience. In the context of transforming the energies of craving this means that if we bring awareness to our actual experience - we will see that our dissatisfaction has never been fully satisfied by succumbing to our sense craving - in fact our craving for sense pleasure is itself dissatisfaction, it is dukkha. Our experience is telling us the truth and if we listen often enough, eventually we will hear.
(Importance of reflecting on experience again.)

The earth Goddess is also an appeal to experience in the face of doubt and lack of confidence.

Mara suggests to Siddhartha that he is wasting his time - he could be having a good life - plenty of money, property, power - whatever he wanted - it’s all his for the taking - who does he think he is anyway trying to solve the problem of human suffering. He is assailed by doubts - doubting whether what he is doing makes sense and doubting whether he is capable of attaining to Wisdom. Any one on the spiritual path is going to experience doubt about whether what you are doing makes sense and if you are capable of it. And the Earth Goddess emerges and reassures him that she has witnessed all his efforts and he is indeed capable and worthy of gaining Enlightenment. The Earth Goddess has always been there - she represents something timeless, eternal - and she can attest that the pursuit of truth is worthy and worthwhile endeavour for human consciousness. Perhaps we could even say that the Earth goddess asserts that it is natural for human consciousness to want to evolve towards the truth. She is hinting at something that is made more explicit later in the White Lotus Sutra - that the dharma is eternal or timeless. Reality is always reality and has always been Reality and will always be Reality. So this is the answer to Mara’s attempts to sow the seeds of doubt.

When we experience doubt we may find it helpful to reflect on what spiritual experience we have had and what spiritual progress we have made. We may also find it helpful to reflect on the millions of people down the generation who have been inspired and uplifted by the Dharma - a concrete testimony to the power and efficacy of the Dharma. When we are beset by doubts, what we need is to appeal to experience and inspiration - our own experience and inspiration and the experience and inspiration of others -if we do that we will have the Earth Goddess on our side. If we are experiencing doubt we will need the help of others.

The next episode represents a big turning point - a kind of internal going forth. Brahma Sahampati appears. The story says that the Buddha was inclined to keep his realisation to himself because nobody would be able to understand it and Brahma Sahampati appeared before him, telling him there were some who would understand and pleading with him to teach what he had discovered.

Brahma Sahampati represents great compassion arising in the mind of Siddhartha. Previously he has been concerned with an internal struggle to overcome fear, hatred, craving and doubt but now he is turning outward - he is becoming concerned with the fear, hatred, craving and doubt of others. Having seen through the causes of suffering in himself - he now wants to help others to the same realisation.

This process is mirrored in our own lives. Often we take up the spiritual life for a mixture of selfish and idealistic reasons and as we practice we experience the conflict between our recalcitrant egotism and our altruistic aspirations. We necessarily become concerned with ourselves, with the workings of our own mind, the trajectory of our own habits and so on. However in time we should experience a quietening of the inner turmoil and a growing concern for the spiritual welfare of others and a willingness to help others through the mess of their inner conflicts.

As with all the other episodes in the life of Siddhartha, this episode also represents a process - the process of growing generosity and compassion. We all have our own version of Brahma Sahampati - a voice urging us to acts of generosity and kindness. As we progress spiritually we will find ourselves listening to that voice more and more. The more we hear that voice and pay heed to it, the more we can be sure we are developing spiritually.

The next episode is the appearance of the Serpent King - Mucalinda. He appears in order to protect Siddhartha from the rain. He wraps his coils around Siddhartha and spreads his hood over him. This image reminds us of the Bodhi tree shading Siddhartha from the sun. When the rain stops the serpent king transforms into a young man and salutes the Buddha. This young man, about sixteen yeas old, represents the prince of beauty and purity and is later seen in the forms of the archetypal Bodhisattvas - the great spiritual heroes. The serpent king - the king of the Nagas come from the depths of the ocean - Nagas are associated with wisdom, with depth of understanding. The great Buddhist sage Nagarjuna is said to have travelled to the depths of the ocean where the Naga kings transmitted to him the Prajnaparamita sutra. So the Naga king stands for Wisdom and the youth is the spiritual Hero, the Bodhisattva, acting compassionately in the world. The Serpent king and youth represent again the unity of heights and depths, as in the image of the Bodhi tree - but now at a higher level, wisdom/compassion, stillness/activity. The serpent is also an image of tremendous energy - the gathered energies of the Enlightened consciousness. Our spiritual life is fed and nourished by images and symbols and our imagination is the crucible in which our lives are transformed into energy streams of wisdom and Compassion. We need images and symbols of the life of Siddhartha - there are some I haven’t touched on. We need to allow our imagination time to engage with the whole rich panoply of images that Buddhism offers. It doesn’t do to reject some images as not suitable - all the images are interconnected - they are a huge pattern of psychic growth and if we reject some images we may be disrupting the pattern and making our psychic life more difficult. I mention this because in recent years some people have wanted to reject the image of the young hero - but here with Mucalinda we see that the young hero is integral to a complete image - a union of opposites. Usually when we want to reject symbols or images it's because we are taking them too literally, we are giving them a literal meaning, so we should reject literalism in the realm of symbols not the symbols themselves.

We began with the four sights - sickness - which mirrors Mara, the sickness of the mind, humanity’s illness. Then old age, which mirrors the appeal to experience and ageless wisdom of the Earth Goddess. Then death which mirrors the death of all the vestiges of ego or selfishness when Great Compassion arises as in the episode of Brahma Sahampati and finally the wandering holy man, the symbol of the pursuit of Reality mirrors Mucalinda, the Serpent king and young hero representing that reality at its height. The wandering holy man is also an image for the rest of the Buddha’s life. It's the archetype of spiritual life.

So we have been through a spiral of interweaving images, each with many meanings and each sparking off more and more imaginative reflection. This is the story of Siddhartha and this is our story, this is your story, because Siddhartha represents the individual human being - Siddhartha is everyman and every woman.
Siddhartha was born, as we are born
What Siddhartha attained, we too can attain
What Siddhartha overcame, we too can overcome
We reverence Siddhartha, and aspire to follow him.

This world of imagination and symbols, this world of heights and depths - intuited, imagined and experienced - this is the context in which we grow old, gain wisdom, suffer and experience pleasure. This is the rich tapestry of human existence. This is the context of constant change, constant letting go, constant growth and decay in which we live and die.

This vast context of flowing constant change gives us a perspective that can comfort our suffering and loss and can be a call to freedom for our exuberance and inspiration. We have only to engage with it - imaginatively and wholeheartedly - then death will be less important and life will be more full and meaningful.

I will conclude by giving the last word to a Christian monk and mystic, who was moved, inspired and awakened by Buddhist images. Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk travelled widely in Asia and had many contacts with Buddhism.

At a place called Polunnaruwa in Sri Lanka there are some huge Buddha images carved from rock. There is a seated Buddha and a reclining Parinirvana Buddha and a standing figure of Ananda. When Thomas Merton visited there in 1968 these Buddha figures had a profound effect on him. Here is how he describes it in his journal. (By the way he died four days later in Thailand in an accident involving faulty electrics in his hotel). The reason why I’m doing this is the importance of images and the power of imagination. If we really want to attain spiritual insight you have to engage with the world imaginatively is where insight resides, the intuition, it is not something literal or intellectual.

“Polunnaruwa with its vast area under trees. Fences. Few people. No beggars. A dirt road. Lost. Then we find Gal Vihara and the other monastic complex stupas. Cells. Distant mountains, like Yucatan.
The path dips down to Gal Vihara; a wide, quiet hollow, surrounded by trees. A low outcrop of rock with a cave cut into it, and beside the cave a big-seated Buddha on the left, a reclining Buddha on the right, and Ananda, I guess, standing by the head of the reclining Buddha. In the cave, another seated Buddha. I am able to approach the Buddha barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. The silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace, not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, which has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything - without refutation - without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity and fluidity of shape and line, the design of the monumental bodies composed into rock shape and landscape, figure, rock, and tree. And the sweep of bare rock sloping away on the other side of the hollow, where you can go back and see different aspects of the figures.
Looking at these figures, I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tired vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. The sheer evidence of the reclining figure, the smile, the sad smile of Ananda standing with arms folded. The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, no ‘mystery’. All problems are resolved, and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya - everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual vitality running together in one aesthetic illumination......
I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains, but I have now seen and pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise......
It is pure, complete. It says everything. It needs nothing. Because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we who need to discover it.” Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton, Page 435.

A World of Possibilities

A few months ago I watched a film DVD called “What the bleep do we know”. It is a kind of documentary about quantum physics, but looking at the spiritual implications of what quantum physics says about the nature of matter. I have no idea whether it was portraying a completely idiosyncratic view or whether views expressed are widely held by physicists. Anyway one of the points that came across quite strongly is that there is nothing fixed abut the material world and it changes by the mere fact of being observed - it is more of the nature of energy - constantly moving - not even energy but more like consciousness of thoughts - than of matter as we usually tend to think of it. Following on from that was the idea that the world, reality is completely malleable and therefore we can and do create our own worlds. Consciousness, thoughts and what we think of as matter are not that different - they are all equally ephemeral and impermanent - without any fixed essence or substance. So the result of all this is that anything is possible. We are only limited by habitual perceptions and a habitual conceptual framework which means we don’t see reality but our ideas about reality. Anyway this was in my mind when PV (Padmavajra?) asked me for a title for this talk about transforming the world - so we have “A World of Possibilities”.

I am going to make a few points by way of introduction and then I will approach this whole topic under three headings: education, ecology and economics.

The first point I want to make is that the whole universe is interconnected and that of course includes us. There is no such thing as an isolated individual. We may experience isolation on a social or psychological level - but real isolation from the rest of the living universe is not possible. We eat food which we buy in a shop where we are served by people and the food was put on the shelves by others and delivered by others and harvested and grown by others and the soil was prepared by others and the seeds provided by others and the plants grew because there was sufficient light and moisture and space. All of these things connect us to vast numbers of people and to the sun and the climate and the earth’s atmosphere and the solar system and galaxy and so on. We cannot be isolated from life. Even when we are dead our body returns to the earth and nourishes the plants and so on.

We are also connected to other people by virtue of influence and effect. The influence they have on us and the effect we have on them.

If we think about it - virtually everything we know, all our knowledge, comes from somebody else. We learn from books, from other people, parents, teachers etc and is a completely rare event for anyone to have an original thought and even when that does happen it is in relationship to all the thoughts others have had previously in a particular area - whether it is art or mathematics or science. We are made up of influences which we have imbibed since birth and which we continue to imbibe. It is good to try to become aware of this - what has influenced us, what is influencing us? What do we know? How have we come to know what we know? In our western culture a great emphasis is placed on freedom, independence, choice and so on and we are influenced by this emphasis to such a degree that we can become completely blind to how strongly connected to others we are and how strongly we are being influenced all the time. To a large degree we are made up of influences - whether from other people or the climate or the environment we live in. All these things form and shape our consciousness, affect our thoughts and emotions and are very much who we are. So in a sense all we are is interconnection - there is nothing solid or substantial or fixed that we can point to and say that’s me - completely unaffected by any influence from elsewhere.

The other side of this is that we are always having an effect - we are always influencing. Some people are referred to as influential people - well everybody is influential - it is not possible to have no effect on anybody or anything. By eating food you have bought in a shop, you have had an effect on the shop and those who work there and the whole chain of supply. I was reading an interview in a magazine recently with the CEO of Tesco’s. The point was put to him that a huge store like Tesco has a lot of power - too much power even. He said that from where he stood - all the power was with the consumer and he had to be constantly attentive and sensitive to what shoppers wanted or didn’t - otherwise even the biggest business could collapse quite quickly. There is obviously a lot of truth in that. But more immediately than that we have an effect on people we come into contact with. We can never know how much of an effect we are having. Sometimes we say or do something quite small and it has a big effect on someone. Perhaps a little act of generosity where it was not expected or a sharp word or a flippant remark.

I ordained someone a few years ago who in his early life had spent some time in prison. While he was there he was sent to solitary confinement for gross misbehaviour. He found solitary confinement extremely difficult and the prison warder noticed this and deliberately left the door of his cell ajar and sat in a place where he could be seen. My friend said this was a real act of kindness on the part of that warder and it had a huge effect on him - it was the turning point which led him away from a criminal life and towards a spiritual path.

Well we won’t always have a dramatic effect on others – we will have an influence. We could go further and say we are always becoming part of the consciousness of others and they are always becoming part of our consciousness. This is the case even with people that we just see in the street or the park or on the bus. They live in your mind – perhaps only momentarily or perhaps for longer. The more focussed and intense our awareness is the more impact we have on others and also the more impact they have on us.

So all this is by way of introduction - to say that we are interconnected with the whole of life and that we are always being influenced and influencing. We are a part of each other, part of the make-up of each other’s consciousness.

This is very much the outlook of Tibetan Buddhism: as Reginald Ray puts it in “Indestructible Truth” (page 47)

“..we humans are one part of a vast, interconnected web of relationships with all other inhabitants of the cosmos, both those still living and those who are awakened.

An awareness of these relationships is critical because, to a very large extent, who we are as humans is defined by this network of relations. To be able to know this fact, and to take responsibility for it, gives us a dignified and directed human life. Within Tibetan tradition, the isolated individual – the one who is unaware of the vast cosmos of beings within which we live and who attempts to live as if it did not exist – is lost. He is a dundro, an animal-realm being in human form, controlled by ignorance, with its nose to the ground.”

This view has also had enormous implications for our own modern world. The collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of the 1980s was at least in part due to a recognition of interconnectedness. Here is how Mr Gorbachov puts it …

“We had to create new relations together,” Gorbachov says, “but for that we needed to understand that the stake placed on confrontation has yielded nothing. It had only led to a situation where the world was divided into opposing camps. It was a policy of blocs, confrontation and the arms race. This policy had only led us to the edge of a precipice. And we found new paths only by realising that we were all part of one civilization and that we lived in one interconnected world. The new thinking was born, and out the new thinking came the new policy”


(Gabriel Partos “The world that came in from the cold” p.234)

So when we come to look at this world of possibilities and how it might be transformed for the better we need to bear in mind this fact of interconnection and its’ implication for the effect that all of us have, all the time.

Now I will move on to look at the three areas of education, ecology and economics and the bearing they have on transforming the world and making the best of the myriad of possibilities available.

When I say education I don’t intend to say anything about the British school system or how universities work. At least not directly. What I want to talk about is our responsibility to educate ourselves about the nature of the world and the reality that we inhabit.

I have just been talking about influence and the fact that we influence each other. One of the most obvious ways in which we influence others is through what we so and what we say. However what we do and what we say are based on what we think and feel. So it is important to educate our thoughts and emotions so that wee can have a beneficial influence through what we do and say.

As Buddhists we have already begun this process – by thinking about and engaging with questions of value and meaning. However, it has been said that laziness is the besetting sin of Buddhists and often we don’t take our investigation and exploration of values and meaning much further than the most basic stage. We might feel we’ve got a grasp of the five precepts and therefore we know enough about Buddhist ethics or we have been told about impermanence and insubstantiality and shunyata and conditionality and so we are familiar with all the most essential aspects of Buddhism.

But it doesn’t work like that. We need to be thoroughly familiar with the teaching of the Buddha and other great Buddhist teachers and in our own case we also need to be thoroughly familiar with Sangharakshita’s interpretation of Buddhist teachings. (By the way, the more I read Bhante the more impressed I am by his clarity and profundity). But this is just the beginning. It’s as if we have been given a box of tools and trained in what each is for and how to use it – but the next step is to actually use these tools.

As Buddhists – this means learning to understand our experience more and more in terms of the Dharma. We need to understand our experience of happiness, anger, loneliness and so on, in terms of the Dharma. We need to get a thorough grasp of the central task of Buddhism - which is to undermine and transcend all egotism, all self-centredness. We need to learn how to gradually stop building a fixed self for ourselves and others. This is what the tools are for. This is what all the Dharmic concepts and lists are for and this is a big task – one that we need to bring as many approaches to as we can and a task that we need to patiently pursue for many many years.

So our understanding and ability to use the ideas of the Dharma can fee dour meditation – so that our meditation is much more than a pleasant interlude in the day. Our meditation can become a slow unveiling of all that is positive in us, all the qualities that out spiritual aspirations point to until we are face to face with the Buddha nature – which is another way of talking about the complete absence of egotism.

Okay so if we educate ourselves by going deeper and deeper into the Buddha’s teaching and if we allow those teachings to really affect our lives then we will change and as we change we will become more and more of an influence for good in the world. To allow the teaching of the Buddha to really affect our lives we need to give them the prominence and priority in our lives, so that it becomes quite natural for us to contemplate and explore our experience via the Dharma, primarily.

I am not saying we should not use other ways of looking at our experience - just that as Buddhists we need to give pre-eminent position to the Dharma. Personally I have found many other disciplines - psychology, art – useful – especially when filtered through a Dharmic perspective.

So our education in values and meaning requires us to become as familiar with the teachings of the Buddha and Bhante as a carpenter is with his tools or as familiar as an astronomer is with the stars. That’s probably a better analogy, as the astronomer knows that there are always new discoveries to be made and new things to learn. That is how it is with the Dharma too.

???What is metta?

As well as educating ourselves in the Dharma I thin k it is important that we try to have a really broad knowledge of the world around us. We should try to know something of history, art, nature, science, economics, politics and so on. If we are able to communicate with different kinds of people and be an influence for the good – we need to know something of the different worlds people inhabit.

I don’t mean that we need to have apposition or opinion about everything but it is helpful to at least know some facts. For instance, in this country, there are issues about immigration, the education system, the health and welfare systems, that impact on the lives of millions of people and it’s good if we have at least a minimum of facts available to us. For instance we ought to know the difference between an immigrant, an illegal immigrant and an asylum seeker. Or if we have at least a vague idea of the history of the 20th century we may understand better some of the forces at work in the world – which influence us all.

It is said that a Bodhisattva should be able to communicate with everyone on the own ground, in their own language so to speak, and that is something for us to aspire to – so that we can use metaphors and examples relevant to people’s lives when we talk to them or try to explain Buddhism to them.

In the FWBO more and more people are working alongside non-Buddhists in all walks of life – this is a change from how things werw15/20 years ago when large numbers worked and lived in Buddhist environments. This means that there is an opportunity for many FWBO Buddhists to have a positive influence on the values and discourses of the world around us. And this influence is not necessarily a matter of telling people about Buddhism – it is more a matter of educating our own hearts and minds in the values and meaning of the Dharma so that all our communication is permeated by those values and then people will notice and be affected by it. People will be affected by honesty and generosity and awareness and kindness and that is one way of transforming the world and giving emphasis to one very beneficial possibility in this world of possibilities.

From education in the sense of educating our hearts and minds with a deep sense of values and meaning, it is a short step to ecology. It is a short step because there is a direct link between the state of human consciousness and the effect that consciousness has on its environment.

Having mentioned the environment I want to quickly make a distinction between environmentalism and ecology. Environmentalism can be and sometimes is understood to be concerned with the environment we live in, but in talking about the environment we may subtly or not so subtly exclude ourselves. But we are the environment too. That’s why ecology is a better term for because it involves a whole system and we are obviously a part of that system. I believe there is a phrase which “deep ecology” which I think takes into account factors like consciousness, which is what I would like to talk about.

Ecology includes us. Nature includes us. What we do to ourselves we do to nature. What we do to ourselves, we do to the ecology of the planet. This is again that question of influence or effect I spoke about earlier. It is not just other people that we influence – we influence the whole planet. Our state of mind as human beings is a major factor in the ecology of the world. Much working the sphere of ecology in recent years is about trying to get human beings to realise this. As Buddhists we have our part to play because as I mentioned earlier, we have available to us a whole toolkit to perform the work of transforming human consciousness. And transforming human consciousness is ecological work. Much of the damage we have caused to the delicate ecological balance has been due to lack of awareness. This lack of awareness was compounded by some ideologies which saw the natural world as separate from man and something that had been given to him to use a she wished.

This unawareness and these ideologies are n longer such a big factor, but there is till a great deal of unawareness around the issue of interconnectedness and interdependence and how each individual has an impact on the overall web of conditions.

This is where the Buddhist perspective can be very helpful. With a profound teaching like pratitya samutpada available to us we are well equipped to begin understanding and even explaining the reality of the universe. Pratitya samutpada says that everything arises in dependence on conditions which n turn arise in dependence on conditions and so on until all conditions everywhere and in every time are encompassed. In other words, what pratitya samutpada shows- when we penetrate deeply into it – is that everything throughout time and space is inter-related. This is an awe-inspiring vision, which has implications in the cosmic level, and on the personal level. On the universal level it has ecological, political and life or death implications. On the personal level, it is a way to understand and penetrate more deeply into our minds. We tend to thin k in linear cause and effect terms – e.g. He said something that upset me and made me angry. If we apply pratitya samutpada to a situation where we have become angry because of something someone has said, we will find that it is not so simple, straightforward and linear – there are a whole multiplicity of conditions which have led to us becoming angry – some of them to do with what’s happening immediately in our life, some to do with our conditioning, some to do with the other person’s conditioning and what’s happening in their life, some to do with spiritual ignorance and resistance to reality and so on – a whole myriad of conditions. If we can work with pratitya samutpada like this we may find a bigger perspective opens up for us and we gradually move away from the narrow linear cause/effect interpretation of reality and come to more and more to see everything in terms of interconnection – inter-relatedness. If we can do this kind of work on our own minds – our own emotional and mental states – then we will be doing ecological work at the deepest level – transforming the structure of consciousness. And it could be argued that a transformation in the structure of human consciousness is in the final analysis the only answer to the problem of a consciousness that blindly destroys it’s own nourishment. However, as well as that work on the mind, I believe, as Buddhists, we should also be trying as far as possible to put all the other ecology enhancing measures into action in our lives. I won’t go into them here because they are well documented. But we all know the sort of thing – energy saving, recycling, a simpler lifestyle, using public transport and so on.

As with many things it is the small things that often matter greatly and can also be influential. For instance we could just try to be aware of the electrical appliances we own and what state of energy consumption they are in. We probably have lights and lamps of various kinds and maybe computer, hi-fi, TV, DVD player, electric kettle, microwave and so on. Are we aware of all these things and are we aware of how we use them? Apart from the energy saving and money saving that could come form from a greater awareness, there is also the benefit of awareness itself.

So as Buddhists what we have to offer to the ecology of the planet is potentially enormous – awareness, conditioned co-production with its implications on interconnectedness and of course the image of Indra’s net as a graphic description of the dynamic nature of reality. We can offer these tools and perspectives primarily by putting them into practice in our own lives and transforming ourselves. As we do that we will begin to have a beneficial influence wherever we are and add some creative possibilities to the world of possibilities.

Now to move on to economics. I must say first that I am not an economist and don’t know much about the technicalities of economics although I do find the topic fascinating especially since so much of it seems to be totally sensitive to mental states – in particular confidence, fear and greed.

What I do know is that everybody’s life has some sort of economic aspect to it and this can be the source of pain, fear, confusion, joy, sadness and so on. So when it comes to the topic of transforming the world, what does Buddhism have to say about economics?

I think it is probably usual for Buddhists to have a go at consumerism when it comes to the topic of economics. The usual argument is that consumerism is blind to the damage it causes, it’s insatiable, it is based on the constant encouraging of greed and so on. I have made all these points myself in talks. But today I want to say something different about consumerism. But before that, let’s have one more blast of consumerism. Here is a quote from Thai monk and activist Sulak Swaraksha

Consumerism supports those who have economic and political power by rewarding their hatred, aggression and anger. And consumerism works hand in hand with the modern educational system to encourage cleverness without wisdom.We create delusion in ourselves and call it knowledge.Until the schools reinvest their energy in teaching wholesome, spiritual values instead of reinforcing the delusion that satisfaction and meaning in life can be found by finding a higher paid job, the schools are just cheerleaders for the advertising agencies, and we believe that consuming more, going faster, and living in greater convenience will bring us happiness. We don't look at the tremendous cost to ourselves, to our environment, and to our souls. Until more people are willing to look at the negative aspects of consumerism, we will not be able to change the situation for the better. Until we understand the roots of greed, hatred and delusion within ourselves, we will not be free from the temptations of the religion of consumerism, and we will remain stuck is this illusory search for happiness.

(Dharma Rain, p. 182) By the way, I have just finished reading a book, “Paradox of Choice” which refers to many studies which show that too much choice does lead to unhappiness. So Sulak Swaraksha is not just engaging in polemic.

Okay so that’s a real kick in the teeth for consumerism. Now I want to say something a bit more positive about consumerism. One of the reasons I want to say something positive about consumerism is that barring catastrophe, it is going to be with us for a long time and those who have not had the opportunity to consume the so-called good things on life are going to want to.

So in the foreseeable future we are likely to have more consumerism rather than less with India, China, south America and eventually Africa stepping on to the train to go shopping with everybody else. So given that is what we have and are likely to have, what positive possibilities does consumerism hold for us?

It has been said that these days we are consumers rather than citizens. I was thinking about this and I came to the conclusion that it may not be such a bad thing if people were less identified with being citizens. Being a citizen implies belonging to a particular nation with all the characteristics of group mentality that that implies. As we saw from the Gorbachov quote earlier, it can lead to a sort of defensiveness and isolationism that is both oppressive and dangerous. Consumerism on the other hand crosses boundaries and cultures and o the level of international business it creates a world of connections and relationships that have the potential to defuse dangerous situations. On the personal level it gives a certain amount of power to the consumer. When you vote in an election you exercise some power, but also when you spend a pound you exercise power. You exercise power because just as with your vote you can make a choice. Your vote gives you a choice every four years or so to say who you want to govern or what policies you favour. The pond in your pocket gives you a choice every day to say which products and companies you want to support and which you would prefer not to. From my reading about business it is clear that businesses – even the biggest of them – are quite sensitive to what the consumer wants and doesn’t want. It has even been noted that sometimes business is ahead of government in its thinking on issues of an ethical or ecological nature. Anyway the point I am making is that since we are consumers, that means we are connected to a vast international web of trade which has a positive side to it and we can exercise some power in this network of trading by making informed choices about where to spend our money. Another point worth noting is that businesses are sensitive to criticism and if you see a business doing something you think is unethical, it is worth writing a letter to point it out. Every businessperson and politician knows that for every two people that complain there are probably another 20 who have the same complaint but stay silent.

It is not easy to make choices about our spending. To begin with there is so much conflicting information available and international trade is a complex network. But we can still make an effort – even seemingly small gestures do make a difference. You might need to support local produce for instance, or organic food or fair trade or ethical trading. You can always do a little research and make some small choices, without having to contemplate changing your whole way of life overnight. So this is about the power of the consumer to influence business and government by making spending choices.

But there is more to economics and its potential to transform than what we do with our money. If we go a bit deeper we can begin to look at our whole attitude to money. We could start by considering our conditioning in relation to money – what was the attitude of our parents to money? What part did money play in the family? Was it talked about? What was the emotional flavour of conversations about money? Fear? Anxiety? Freedom? Happiness? Joy? Anger? Insecurity? Did you rebel against family attitudes to money? Have they re-emerged as you have grown older? What is your own conscious attitude to money? What do you spend most of your money on? What does this tell you about yourself? And so on. It is a very good exercise in self-awareness to become more and more conscious of what money means to us. It is very easy to have consciously held superficial views and attitudes about money, which are not our real and deep attitudes.

But we can go further and ask what is money? Perhaps we know how we feel about money but do we really know what money is? Money is not pieces of paper. Those pieces of paper or the numbers on your bank statement represent something, but what do they represent? Do they represent bars of gold in the vaults of some bank? If they do, what sense does that make?

Mainly what money represents is energy. It is the energy of production and trade – and money is a convenient way of exchanging products and services without having to resort to barter every time. The money in your bank account or wallet in some way represents some of your energy. You have expended energy in some way and so much money has come to you. And it is lying there with unrealised potential – latent energy. What will you do with it is buy somebody else’s energy or if you save it in the bank, you in effect, give it to someone else to use and the interest in unearned income – unearned because you expend no energy for it.

So money is not a thing – it is a movement of energy, with potential for creation and destruction. Money is full of possibilities – that’s why we like it so much. So to go back to attitudes for a moment – our attitude to money can be seen as our attitude to energy and potential and possibility.

Another thing about money is that there is no security in it. It is a symbol of security and a very potent symbol but money itself is almost the opposite of secure. Security brings up an image of something fixed, safe, comfortable, but money is fluid, moving, never quite what it seems.

So I’m trying to take us deeper into the world of economics and its potential for transformation. And Buddhist economics has to be an economics of generosity. Buddhism tells us that we are not fixed separate entities and that al our ego building – protecting, defending, and enhancing our sense of self – is a gross delusion which brings us nothing but sorrow. Buddhism opens out a vision of a vast interconnected web of relations where consciousness is penetrated by consciousness, consciousness is influenced by consciousness, consciousness is in a dance with consciousness. And this is a dynamic vision of a constant interplay of energies. When we can enter into this vision, as a way of being, the expression of it is happiness, compassion, expansiveness and generosity. It becomes natural to give and receive because that is how things are, that is the nature of reality.

Egotistic vision wants to take and keep. Realistic vision wants to give and give. As ego-identified, self-centred beings who aspire to transcending this deluded state, one of the first and most effective practices to help us on our way is the practice of generosity. As PV said, when we talk about practice, it is good not to narrow it down to meditation. Ego will of course try to take over the practice and say “Look how generous I am. Look what a good Buddhist I am and I’m so humble about it all too. I must be making a lot of spiritual progress.” Well ego is tenacious but that is the territory we are travelling through – vistas of awareness, jungles of ego, and sometimes plodding, sometimes striding practice of generosity, ethics and meditation. As Buddhists then, to transform the world of economics, we can try to bring some awareness to it and be as generous as possible. The aim is not to be generous but to become generosity. If we become generosity, we will no longer have any sense of being generous.

Generosity of spirit has a very positive effect in the world and introduces a really moving and exuberant possibility into this world of possibilities.

What economics means to most of us is work. We work to get the money to pay the bills and enjoy our leisure. Quite a chunk of most people’s time is spent at work. It is worthwhile giving some thought to the area of work then and considering whether there are choices we can make in that area of our life which would give us a better basis for our spiritual practice. I don’t have any particular suggestions to make. It just seems necessary to seriously consider whether the thing you spend so much of your life doing is helpful to reaching your spiritual aspirations. Does it enable you to be generous? Does it allow you to be ethical, honest, kind? Does it leave enough time and energy for some meditation? And retreat? Subhuti gave a good talk about five years ago on this whole topic which it might be worth listening to (Reading – Roads to Freedom)

So I’ve been talking about transforming the world. I have looked at this under the headings of education, ecology and economics and I’ve made some points about each of these.

But really I have just been making one main point, namely: the reality is that all life is interconnected and following on from this is the point that we are all influenced and influencing all the time.

These points can be taken from the Buddhist teaching of pratitya samutpada - conditioned co-production and if we study, penetrate and try to practice with the implications of this profound teaching, we will transform ourselves and set in motion energies that will transform this world from a vale of tears to a world of possibilities.