Thursday, September 13, 2007


I was halfway kidding when I entered a comment on Thailandgal yesterday. Chani had mentioned (in her response to my own thoughts about Bush and his cavalier use of language) that she generally avoids involvement with American politics, and my comment included a reference to my "recovery from my earlier blog addiction: The Bush Diaries." As I told her, "I got tired of waking up with [Bush] in bed with me every morning. The Buddha is MUCH better company."

As usual, of course, the casual humor provoked a deeper truth with which I woke this morning: even a positive addiction can enslave us.

Let me explain. I have been noticing some inner turmoil recently that has caused a kind of chronic low-grade sense of dissatisfaction in my life--dare I say, to give it a Buddhist cast--"unhappiness"? You might have picked it up in a number of my entries. This morning I woke with the realization that I have formed a whole new cluster of habits that have started to create that sense of compulsion that is a kind of enslavement of the mind. I have even prided myself on them a bit, dignifying them with the name of "practice." They include the morning meditation, the blog entry, the time for exercise... and so on. All good things, you will agree. But my thought is that I have become attached to them in such a way that their benefits are in danger of congealing into just one more addiction--or should I say another network of addictions? To the extent that the breach of them induces an inner feeling of anxiety, dissatisfaction and--there we go--unhappiness.

Not that I want to lose the benefits of any of these good things. My meditation practice continues to bring me insights and some measure of serenity. Am I demonstrably the better for it? I don't know. I still get mad on the freeways, but I tend to mutter the imprecations rather than yell them out. I still get mad at Bush, and all the terrible things he's doing to our increasingly vulnerable world. I still get mad at other people, for their imagined offenses to my autonomy or dignity! But I am aware of a greater sense of peace pervasive in my life, a greater sense of acceptance... And I do love those moments when the meditation goes so well that I feel in harmony with the universe.

As for the blog, well, you have to know how much I love it. Aside from anything else, it has provided me with the forum for a more satisfying writing practice than I've ever known before. To have the challenge to write every day with the knowledge that what I write will be published, read, in some cases appreciated, and often responded to--this is a writer's dream come true.

And still, and still... there is that insight: even positive addictions such as these can enslave us, and I have--truth, now--been feeling that compulsion, that sense of obligation, that enslavement. And the whole point of Buddhist practice, as I see it, is to gradually free myself from those things that constrain me and control my life, to achieve, yes, happiness. This is the central teaching of the Dalai Lama; this is what he tries so hard to get across to stubborn, materialistic, competitive, goal-oriented Western minds.

So what to do with this realization? I guess, make changes. I plan to find other times to meditate, and other times to blog. I plan to feel less compelled to make that daily entry, to dis-organize my life a bit, and trust that a little bit of chaos, a little bit of not-knowing what's coming next will knock me out of orbit just enough to make the course correction that I need.

That said, well, I did my meditation this morning--but no so early. And (gasp!) in bed. And here I am, writing my entry in The Buddha Diaries. Am I beyond help?

Here's to greater wisdom and blessings in the world!


carly said...

P: One young Buddhist in London I converse with said he can't be meditating all the time and there needs be something else. I think I've always had something else and found philosophy for it. It has more to do with contemplation than meditation. And you do this alot. You contemplate everything. The question is, can contemplation bring no-mind and how does it work? My philos. puts it sort of like this: one contemplates the universals, to uncover how everything works. But contemplation should not be carried too far, for after a certain point, it only inhibits the freedom of action. The ordinary man would stop there and let his desires and emotions take over. He would use what understanding he has gained to satisfy his greed or other manipulative activity. But the superior man understands that once the hidden forces are understood and well-digested, the world as turmoil, if the contemplation is thorough, begins to fall from the mind and the world as concept now allows one to see everything without the chaos. This standpoint enables one to act or not in greater and greater accord with the universals. No mind is, among other things, his inner detachment which allows freedom of movement. He brings nothing to a standstill. He sees the world as a dynamic myriad of things in motion, all of which he is embedded in and empowered to use or not, because he has contemplated the forces at work. Inner peace of this sort also does not try to be all knowing, but lets many things pass. He doesn't dwell on the ultimate mystery behind everything. Instead, he sees the order and attempts to penetrate the forces causing the order. He takes life moment by moment for it's very nature. He realizes this is a given, not something to strive for. He contemplates the equilibrium in which movement is posited against rest. He seizes the moments for rest and movement or non-movement, that is, he lets things develop on their own. By doing this he actually assists the natural development of all things in accordance with laws he has discovered through contemplation, which control all evolutions.
You will notice that this is something like Buddhism, but the basis is quite different. It is older than Buddhism, and stems from man's primal need to understand all things and determine with a high degree of certainty, the outcome of events and actions.
And the beauty of this approach is that you can use it right away. There is very little to study except life itself as one lives it. The process is not the point. There is no "practice". If one is thoroughly engaged in perceiving everything, one will be too busy to be applying a moral system. If one is acting in accord, there is no need for behavioral tutoring. There truly is no goal, it comes about as a result of concentration on underlying laws. Since it is a waking contemplation, there is no need to transfer it from some other mental state. You can do it alone, or in community with others.
But - one should consider the world as an orderly process, not emptiness nor chaos, nor out of ones hands. The more he understands, the more outer terrors glance off. As he uses it, it increases. Increases him. Increases those around him, increases production of anything which is in accord with established order. The fun is in finding the established order of all natural and man-made systems. To begin, one only need to recognize the magnificent order of reality. This includes cause and effect, but is more than just that. It's the understanding of a dynamic evolution.
There is nothing platitudinous about it. There is no duality in it since everything is one thing. The forces which are hidden are embedded in the one thing, not something outside reality. Anything outside reality, remains that, outside his reality. He passes on it. Oh, he may suppose. or wax philosophical, but it doesn't affect his system.
One realizes after a while, that all other activity is either standstill or regression. So that a by-product is, you stop engaging in standstill.
But you know, I tell people all this and they never ask, gee, where can I learn more about these universal laws? Why? Because they are stuck on their ideas that life is chaotic, frightening, and probably godless. Or, they think if they just try harder, their religion will eventually sort things out. Others just trust to whatever comes, for their gods are all-knowing. Those are the ones that really suffer. Then there are the many who mesmerize themselves and try to escape for a while. While some people are just more inquisitive than all the others. But they don't need to ask.

PeterAtLarge said...

Great wisdom here, Carly--and all of it compatible with my own thinking. The only thing I'd add is this: that meditation is a way for me to become more fully able to do the contemplation, to be fully aware of life as it passes by. The "practice" is necessary for me because, without it, my mind is too scattered to be able to focus and observe reality in the way that you describe. I find the practice useful as a path to the serenity and openness of mind from which I can contemplate effectively...

robin andrea said...

When we started the Dharma Bums we posted something everyday. It did very much start to feel like a burden. You know there are many days that are quite uninspired and uninspiring. So, we first gave up weekends and flirted on and off with giving the blog up entirely. The truce we made with ourselves is to blog when we feel like it. I used to run out everyday with the camera hoping for something grand to materialize for me, so I could share it. Now we walk and I don't always take the camera. And when I do, there are many things that we see that don't make it on the blog. I, more than Roger, also felt very confused about the direction of our blog. We are obsessed with politics, but do not write so much about it because others do it so well. We are devoted to our little piece of the earth, but there are naturalists out there who know the names of everything, and truly enrich our lives. Who are we? I suppose we each carve out a little niche where we explore our own psyches and inner lives in a public sphere.

Blogging is one the best uses of the internet, providing us with an amazingly smart and thoughtful community of deeply interesting people. What could be better? Well, I guess not getting too attached to it.

TaraDharma said...

what an astonishing awareness here...yes, the quest for happiness can, in itself, cause enslavement to certain practices. I have been entertaining thoughts of giving up meat, with the goal of not contributing to the suffering of animals in our big industrial meat machine...all the restrictions and accomodations to create this reality for myself, wow. I'm finding myself overwhelmed. I'm trying to find the right way for myself - do I eat only free range chickens? Kosher meats? Do fish suffer when caught and killed? How much suffering am I willing to tolerate? How much adherence to the practice am I willing to perform? Will it bring me happiness? I am trying to be compassionate with myself.

PeterAtLarge said...

Tough questions, Tara. Almost imponderable. I guess the trick is to feel one's way through the minefield without too much judgment, but with careful attention to results. It's the old action and consequences game: in this as in other things, the skillful action will reveal itself in happy results, the unskillful one in consequent unhappiness. I believe that's what our teacher, Than Geoff, would advise in the circumstance that you describe.

Ray said...

i can resonate with this - i find i have the ability to corrupt most spiritual practices! :-) But it is that "unhooking" that we do, each time it comes back into our awareness, that is the most importnat lesson.

Intersted to hear you write of "positive addictions". this term has been used in alcohol relapse prevention programmes (and, no doubt, other addiction programmes) - it is used when a more healthy "habit" is substituted for the problemmatic one. But as you allude to, this can still be troublesome in perhaps a more subtle way. Its a phrase I tend not to use in my work.

Meditation and contemplative arts (photography, poetry....) are all good for the soul (sic).

Namo Amida Bu