Below is the full video interview just released from the makers of the Deep Transformation Podcast, a discussion with Samaneri Jayasara about her ‘Wisdom Of the Master’s’ YouTube channel — how it began, her inspirations, what drew her to Buddhism, and more…
(NB: We previously posted a link to the edited podcast version a few months ago, which you can find here…)
Today we are entering the traditional vassa period (rains-retreat season). This is an ancient tradition observed by Buddhist monastic communities everywhere (originating in Asia, during the three-month monsoon period each year). The vassa season commences on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month – this year being the 14th July.
This tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha. It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels. Although many Buddhist ascetics and monastics (like us) now live in regions that don’t have a monsoon season, it is still a tradition that is observed by the larger Buddhist community as it provides a structured opportunity to focus more on intensive meditation practice and to spend more time in solitude. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to continue to observe this period of practice and to limit travel outside of the monastery or hermitage where one was residing.
Although we live a fairly simple life at Viveka Hermitage, just maintaining a hermitage and our various web resources entails ongoing responsibilities. We also established Viveka Hermitage only one year ago and the property needed some work and TLC, so there have been quite a few things to do which has kept us relatively busy. But now we have this wonderful opportunity of the vassa retreat for more solitude and focus on formal meditation practice.
For many people, being alone for long periods of time and observing noble silence for much of the day would be a torture. But for some, like us, who are more hermitic types, we look forward to the vassa retreat each year. Solitude and quietude provide such potent conditions for settling the mind and for allowing insight into Dhamma to arise. After an initial settling-in period and an adjustment to less sensory input, I always find that many ‘knots’ naturally unravel and everything loosens and softens. The body likes it, the mind appreciates it, and the heart begins to open more and more.
What more can be said about the benefits of solitude that hasn’t already been eloquently expressed by the Masters? All the great spiritual Masters spent long periods in solitude because the benefits for deep meditation are recognized and valued. Without periods of solitude, I doubt many of them would have developed and accessed the profound wisdom and compassion they displayed and shared. The Pali word ‘Viveka’ actually has the meaning of solitude/seclusion, so the name of our Hermitage reflects the inspiration and motivation for setting up this place.
Viveka is not just about physical solitude though, it also means solitude of the mind/heart from the habitual and ongoing proliferations, imaginations, desires, and aversions. It is about finding that place within that remains equanimous and unmoved by all the sensory input – sights, sounds, smells, thought impressions, emotional reactions, and so on. Ultimately, this kind of solitude is something that can be cultivated by everyone, even within a busy daily life. It’s something that can develop as one becomes more stable in the practice of Dhamma. Therefore, periods of alone time each day can be a wonderful support for our practice and give us the boost we need to meet the various demands that come our way.
So, for this next period of time (until mid-October), you may hear a little less from us; however, we will be with you at the deepest level of Dhamma connection and will share some reflections along the way with you too.
Wishing you all wellness of body, mind and heart; and may you find, or build-in, some periods of quiet and solitude in your life (even just five minutes here and there if that’s all you can find for now), to recharge your energy, renew your commitment and motivation to realizing the Dhamma, and to heal and nourish your hearts.
With much mettā, Jayasāra, Jitindriyā, and ‘Cat’
BTW, you might find the latest guided meditation we’ve uploaded called ‘Silence and Stillness’ supportive for practice. May it help you discover the silence within.
From a Dhamma talk given at Cittaviveka Monastery, UK, Feb 2002
by Ayya Jitindriya
We’re now coming to the end of our winter retreat. Over these past months we have experienced all kinds of conditions passing through the mind – perhaps the whole spectrum, from anger and rage to peace and serenity, from grief and despair to joy and happiness, from desire and longing to contentment and equanimity. This is an aspect of the mind’s nature – it can go from one extreme to the other. It goes up and down, goes round and round, turns from black to blue, to white, to red; it can go all over the place. And in my experience, the benefit of being able to have the space and time to practise and contemplate over a longer period such as this, is just to see that much – that this is what the mind does. And when we want to get in there and sort it all out, fix it all up, and make it into what we think it should be, there’s a lot of becoming energy in that. There’s a lot of desire, aversion and delusion involved in that kind of activity.
Being able to see this clearly can lead to relinquishment and letting go. This is the reflection that has come up the most for me in this retreat, and which has been the most consistently useful – this reflection around relinquishment and renunciation. Even needing to relinquish the desire to ‘fix it all up,’ the very desire that carried me for so long in this practice. I didn’t realise that I was holding on to a very deep-seated idea of perfection, an idea of the way it should be, or the way ‘I’ should be (and along with that, the way ‘it’ or ‘I’ shouldn’t be)! There’s a lot of judgement, wrong-view and hatred rooted in the mind in ‘not-wanting’ things, or an inability to open up to the painful or negative experiences.
In contemplating what relinquishment is really about we can come to a place of peace and contentment with the mind just as it is. It’s basically about relinquishing the notion of ownership; seeing that these things are not ‘mine’ in the first place, not ‘mine’ to fix, not ‘mine’ to make into something else. When we contemplate and see things in this way then things settle down of their own accord; more clarity arises to actually see the true nature of conditions as they’re passing through the mind. When there’s a lot of desire to ‘fix things up’, that very movement of desire, hatred and views just keeps stirring up the water, stirring up the mind.
Much of monastic life is geared towards relinquishment; we practise on many levels of body, speech and mind, giving-up, letting-go, renouncing. But relinquishment has to happen in the mind by relinquishing ownership of the conditions that are passing through. Not in an irresponsible way, but by actually finding a space within that’s a little lighter and more spacious around all the conditions we experience. So whatever arises can come, be what it is, and pass through. This is the nature of all conditions – ‘whatever arises is of the nature to cease.’ It’s such a simple truth and yet so hard to see clearly in a mind that is infected with self-view – that is still working on the delusion that ‘this is me’ and ‘this is mine’, grasping at whatever arises in consciousness, and creating all sorts of issues and strategies. It all circles around the unquestioned sense of self. Whose stuff is this anyway? We just assume it to be ‘me’ and ‘mine’.
The mind is a weird and wonderful thing and having the space and tools to investigate it can reveal quite a lot. There’s a lot of becoming energy – which, if it’s still based on self-view and ideals, is taking us out of the moment, taking us out of the place where enlightenment is actually possible. The suffering is here and now, the origin of suffering is here and now, the cessation of suffering is here and now, and the path is here and now – they’re nowhere else.
But we get caught up in a lot of picking and choosing, what the Buddha calls ‘favouring and opposing’, based on feelings of pleasure and pain, whether they be subtle or gross feelings. When there’s contact at any of the sense doors there’s always a feeling-tone associated with that, a feeling-tone of pleasure or pain. It’s right at that point that craving arises, that suffering arises. There’s a claiming of whatever is passing through to be ‘mine’, then ‘I want’ or ‘I don’t want’ arises, and then that proliferates further.
If we’re not awake to that process we get caught into the spin, caught into the becoming energy which is taking us away from the possibility of enlightenment here and now. If that process goes unquestioned, we’re missing the opportunity to see the natural cessation of phenomena; we’re just getting caught up in the craving, clinging and becoming, into the strategizing and proliferating. This happens over and over again. It’s the stuff of our practice, the field of our investigation where we can begin to wake up. Contemplating Dependent Origination, the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics, these are the primary paradigms that can help us to wake up and come back to the Dhamma of relinquishment.
What does it take to relinquish clinging to a feeling, to relinquish the desire for it to be other than the way it is? It takes a lot of coming into presence; being willing to come into full presence with the way it is. Just that much allows relinquishing to happen. Then, as you contemplate the results of that shift on the body-mind, you see that it brings about more of a sense of ease, contentment, and clarity. For some of us, some fear or uncertainty may arise right there: ‘I can’t be nothing… I have to be something… I have to hold onto something!’
In these moments, when there’s agitation in the mind, we can see that we’re just blindly grasping at anything, anything that’s stirred up and running through the mind, grasping at it no matter how painful it is. We’re still claiming it to be ‘me’ and ‘mine’ because we seek some kind of support. So at those times one needs to be contemplating how suffering is arising, where it is felt, and also where and how it ceases. It’s always here and now. It is here where suffering arises, and where suffering ceases.
There’s a famous teaching of the Buddha in which he talks of the radiant mind, first describing a mind affected by defilement, and then a mind free of defilement. He says, ‘This mind is naturally radiant and pure, it’s only defiled by transitory defilements that come from without [itself].’ The mind of an enlightened person is no longer stirred up by influences that come from without. I find this a very important teaching because it establishes a slightly different notion of the mind and defilements than the one we tend to believe. We tend to isolate the mind in a very personal way, connecting it, if not to this body, at least to some sense of a limited self – and thinking that defilements are something that we create. We tend to think that, ‘through my ignorance I created them… It’s my fault and I’m wrong for having them.’ So then, we’ve got to do all this stuff to be free of them!
Yet the mind is said to be naturally radiant, or originally pure, you don’t have to fix it. Ajahn Chah says: It’s already peaceful by itself, inherently peaceful; it only moves and shakes when it’s contacted by sense impressions. Or, as the Buddha described it, the mind shakes when defilements enter into it. And we take those sankharas (conditioned formations) that are arising in the mind to be ‘self’, to be ‘me and my problem’ or ‘me and my stuff’.
Ajahn Mun gave an analogy about this: This pure, radiant mind is like the sun, and the defilements are like the clouds that come over and obscure the sun. It’s just clouds floating over obscuring the sun; it’s not that the sun isn’t there or it’s not radiant and pure, or that it’s not shining; it’s just obscured by passing clouds. He also said: Don’t go thinking that the sun goes and grabs at the clouds; rather, it’s the clouds that come and obscure the sun. To me this is a really important difference in the way of contemplating the mind and defilements.
The mind gets caught up because we don’t actually understand that all conditions arise and pass away and are not-self. If we could understand just that much about everything that arose we’d be free. What arises, ceases, and is not-self. How can it be self if it can be discerned to arise and cease? It’s not that the stuff we deal with doesn’t have any kind ‘reality’, but it is a conditioned reality, it comes into being through causes and then passes away. It has no permanent or intrinsic reality.
Another delusion of self-view is when we have a wrong grasp of kamma – ‘I must have caused this in the past’ – taking the teaching on kamma and thinking of experiences as a kind of kammic retribution, so taking it all very personally. That’s the nature of self-view, it takes these things very personally. Yes, there are causes and effects, actions and results, but can we see them as just that much without turning them into another cause for self-view and suffering to take root.
Coming back to this word ‘relinquishment’ – in the teachings (the suttas), it often comes after the experiences of detachment, disenchantment, dispassion and cessation. Experiencing these things is a result of contemplating impermanence, seeing and experiencing the impermanence of conditions with insight – coming to understand conditions as not-self; not me, not belonging to me. There are actually two Pali words relating to relinquishment: patinissagga and vossagga. They both appear in the Anapanasati Sutta and they’re often both translated as relinquishment. Patinissagga is a giving up, a renouncing, a letting go, abandonment of craving and clinging. Vossagga comes in to replace that word in a similar passage afterwards, at the very end of that sutta, and it is said in one commentary to imply not only a full abandonment and relinquishment but also an ‘entering into’ Nibbana; a complete letting go of all attachments, and experiencing the peace and freedom of Nibbana. It seems more complete. It is a lovely concept to contemplate because relinquishment is actually about coming into a space of completion and of peace, by letting go of the burden of self-view and resting into Nibbana. Nibbana is described as liberation of mind through not clinging. The mind is liberated by not clinging or holding on to anything. It realises the fullness of its nature; it’s a letting go of clinging to those clouds and realising the fullness of its own radiance and purity. It doesn’t have to cling; it doesn’t have to become anything.
Naturally, when we’re not fully awakened we have to work with the habits of the mind. There might be moments of peace, recognition, and relinquishment but we tend to get pulled back into habitual ways and states of mind. The practice is just continually waking up to the way things are, continually remembering the truth of impermanence, seeing that suffering arises when we claim things to be ‘me’ and ‘mine.’ The Buddha said that we tend to delight in feelings. Whether they’re pleasant or painful there’s an element of delight there. It’s actually the mind just habitually wanting to engage, to get a sense of existing or having some purpose, even though it might be painful.
I see in myself a great desire to understand. This desire has a lot of ‘becoming’ energy in it – bhavatanha – because on an intellectual level there’s a real hit when we ‘get’ or ‘know’ something: ‘Ah, now I understand! Now I’ve got it.’ But on an intellectual level it doesn’t last long at all. True liberating understanding has to be at the level of direct insight, of clearly seeing the nature of the mind that gets pulled this way and that, and of knowing what it is that pulls it, and relinquishing that. If we use the model of Ajahn Mun’s, the mind doesn’t go out, rather conditions float through it. The bhavatanha is that which, like a hand, grabs at the mental object, and then consciousness becomes established there. That’s why it feels so personal – we’ve just been born into it and created conditions for future birth in the very same place and conditions.
After we have grabbed onto something, what is relinquishment? At that point we have to contemplate the Four Noble Truths – ‘This is suffering’ – and become aware of the suffering of holding on, of consciousness becoming established in a limited form. Be it pleasant or painful, it’s limited, it’s death-bound. Letting go is waking up to that, waking up to the facts of anicca, dukkha, anatta. Seeing where it’s happening is really important; it seems to be the key. If we don’t see the craving that arises upon feeling we can just be stuck in the holding. The metaphor for this is of clinging onto a red-hot iron ball that’s burning like hell – we can complain all we like about it, but if we don’t see where we’re holding on, we won’t be able to let go. Once you know where it’s happening the instinct operates to just drop it, to let go, because it’s hot and it hurts!
Although that sounds very simple, the craving and clinging happening around a painful or pleasant feeling arising upon sense contact is very hard to see. The nature of delusion is that it clouds our vision and our understanding. We get caught in habitual reactions and responses. We get caught in views that block us from seeing what’s happening. Remembering images such as the radiant mind or the passing clouds is helpful. Also, we can remember Ajahn Chah’s image of the mind being inherently peaceful, that it only shakes when touched by sense impressions, just as leaves shake when they’re blown by the wind. It’s the wind that blows the leaves; it’s not in the nature of the leaves. So, if we have no argument with sense contact, with the mind experiencing things, then there’ll be the clarity to understand the nature of all this.
Another familiar metaphor of Ajahn Chah’s is that of the still forest pool, which is a metaphor for the still mind where there’s a degree of samadhi. Sitting by a still forest pool we can see many different creatures coming to drink there, all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures; this is likened to the stillness of the mind which can clearly see all the different conditions that come. You don’t have to get out there and chase away the ones you don’t like, or order them all according to the way you want them to be; just see their nature and leave them be. There are all sorts of different creatures, they come and go, they have their own relationships with each other; so just come to know that and be aware of that.
If we’re harassed by particular neurotic tendencies that have obsessed us for a long time, then we can get to know them as we would a particular kind of creature that we’re really interested in. We’re out there hiding behind a tree, really wanting to understand this peculiar, strange creature we’re watching. We watch it carefully, so we don’t do anything that’s going to scare it away; we just watch its nature, watch its behaviour and get to know it. It can take a lot to open up to stuff within ourselves, to have that kind of attitude towards certain things that we’ve had a lot of fear or judgement about. Can we check out our attitude towards those things when they arise and consider: ‘Well, how can I understand this? How does it arise? How does it pass away?’ We might also find that there are other things we need to meet before we can look at that, like the fear or guilt about it. They are also creatures of their own. ‘How does that come into being? How is it maintained? How am I relating to it?’ We can just get very frightened of fear. It is very hard to be still with fear and look at it, but we have to cultivate the attitude that allows it to come out so we can see it for what it is. We learn to trust in the stability of awareness.
One of the main aspects of this life devoted to Dhamma, is to practise virtue, to cultivate this mind in a good way. So, it’s okay to look at this more ugly, difficult stuff that arises and trust in your good intentions to see clearly in order to let go and be free of it. Trusting is another essential aspect of the practice. Just remember to trust in your capacity of awareness, which is really the root refuge in Buddha – the one who is awake. Trust in your own capacity to be aware: awareness can always embrace whatever’s going on.
Before I finish, another one of Ajahn Chah’s pearls of wisdom comes to mind. He said, ‘When the mind is peaceful, it is just like still flowing water.’ It’s a bit of a conundrum. He put it this way: “Have you ever seen still water? Have you ever seen flowing water? When the mind is peaceful, it is just like still flowing water.” To me, conditions are what flow through the mind. But the mind doesn’t have to be moved by that flow, it can embrace or let it be while not being pulled in. The stillness of peace and clarity maintains its own integrity. This is detachment, viveka, a quality of being ‘in the world’ yet not ‘of the world’, not drawn into worldliness. In that level of detachment there is peace and yet there is flow. Relinquishment is not cutting off from the world’s conditions but realising their true nature and the true nature of the radiant mind. The metaphor for this is that of the bead of water that just rolls off the lotus leaf, it doesn’t get absorbed into the leaf. It’s like the world and the enlightened mind, they can be together but the enlightened mind, or that peace and stillness, is not affected or distorted by the flow of the world. There’s a full knowing, a full capacity for understanding, but not a joining to it. Not being swept along, not joining to the realm of birth and death anymore; that’s the quality of the awakened mind, of ‘still flowing water’.
So, relinquishment isn’t about getting rid of anything – of getting rid of one’s old self and getting a better self, or of getting rid of the nasty things. It’s about relinquishing the tenacious habit of clinging to any thing, whether good or bad; relinquishing the ‘I’-making, ‘mine’-making, ‘me’-making mechanism through seeing it as it truly is.
These questions and responses have been selected for their topics of general interest from Samaneri Jayasara’s ‘Wisdom of the Masters’ YouTube channel. They’ll also be added to our Q & A page here.
Q: I can not distinguish between the false ‘I’ and the ‘I’ source, even though I listen and practice meditation also… Please do you have any recommendations or advice for me?!
A: Regarding your concern about how to distinguish between the false ‘I’ and the real ‘I’ or source – or you could say the FALSE as opposed to the REALITY – there are some important things to keep in mind during your meditation or self-enquiry.
Firstly, the real ‘I’ or Source/Reality is not a thing to be possessed or attained. It is actually your true nature. But it has no characteristics and transcends this dualistic, conditioned world which is marked by the characteristics of impermanence, change and not-self. The real SELF is also not really ‘a self’, in the sense that we think of it as something having substance or permanent characteristics. It transcends all conceptual, intellectual, rational understandings, ideas or beliefs.
However, you can come closer to being what you truly are when you let all concepts and thoughts go. The Reality can only be fully realised when the ego self is completely allayed, but in the process of our practice we may glimpse it and rest in it when we give up our clinging and grasping to everything – the body, mind, emotions, thoughts, ideas, sense impressions, etc… These things, when grasped at, constitute the false sense of ‘I’.
The more we can practice peace, stillness, silence, inner calm and relaxation, the more we come back to the ‘Source’ – our true home and real nature. The more we abide in it the more pronounced this will be and the false ‘I’ will drop away.
Q: How do I think from the heart and stay there? I do not want to be in the mind for the mind causes depression…
A: Indeed, the mind can be either our greatest enemy or friend. To ‘stay in the heart’ and abide there, as Ramana encourages us, means to allow the thought waves to settle and to stop identifying with them as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. They are simply energy vibrations which in Reality have no real substance to them, yet we give them power by consistently focusing on them and identifying and clinging to them. See this habitual pattern and behaviour that happens, wake up to it, and in seeing it clearly without judging, condemning, pushing away with aversion, or clinging, thoughts will naturally dissolve. It does take some commitment though to be present and aware. I wish you all inner peace and contentment.
Q: Even calmly abiding in the Dharmakaya for a few moments is a blessing. An awareness of the proliferation or its resolution seems natural and harmonious. I was blown by Padmasambhava’s assertion that the true nature doesn’t even have a tendency to proliferate. It just happens. It is its nature. But since the source has no need to proliferate thereby creating the samsara, why does it happen? What purpose does it serve? Why is the confusion caused only for it to be resolved time and time again?
A: The simple answer as given by the Buddha is – ignorance (avijja/ma-rigpa) is the cause. The slightly longer answer is ignorance, karma, craving/clinging is the cause.
Regarding the question, WHY? I quote Ayya Jitindriya – “The search for meaning is a pursuit of the ego.” Finally, to quote a Dzogchen Master who responded to the question, “Where does ignorance come from?” He said, “If there’s ignorance it has to come from somewhere; but if there’s no ignorance it doesn’t have to come from anywhere!”
I hope some of these reflections help.
Q: Thank you so much for this meditation; [this] most profound focusing on the breath and the body was a light bulb moment for me… I have read it, and listened to so many teachers saying the same thing but up until now did not understand it. So, so grateful! How does one loose this ego?! I don’t like myself.
A: How does one lose this ego? Recognize that Ultimately there is no ego – it is simply the mental proliferations moving at a relentless speed and density and giving the ‘appearance’ of a personality self or ego. Look deeply, look gently and quietly and soon you will see the delusory ego-trickster. Don’t believe the thoughts that prey on you – they are just conditioned phenomena from lifetimes… Your ‘not liking’ yourself is part of this faulty conditioned processing. See with Awareness and they simply resolve and release. This is how the so called ego dissolves.
Q: During my morning meditation listening to Tilopa’s teaching on Mahamudra I had a magnificent experience that I want to share and would like to hear if this kind of thing is normal and what it might be...
At the end of the meditation, energy exploded in my body and I can’t really describe how it felt, but very much bliss/orgasm like through the whole body and light entered my closed eyes.
As I needed to go to work, I was trying to assemble myself, but I had so much energy and started to shiver in pure ecstasy, as I now write I feel this same energy below my belly-button and it feels like it can burst out anytime.
Is it possible to get a bit clear of what is happening to me?
A: It’s good to hear that Tilopa’s jewel of a teaching had such an impact on you. These things can happen spontaneously from time to time and it is a good sign and experience if it is understood and worked with properly.
The bliss and ecstasy you experienced is really just your own nature waking up to itself. When the mind becomes deeply calm and still in meditation and thoughts begin to dissolve, this inner bliss sometimes bursts forth and can feel very strong and sometimes overwhelming. There is nothing to be concerned about, but equally one has to be very careful not to get fixated on it and desire it with every meditation.
Like all experiences and states within this phenomenal world (and worlds beyond this world) they are all impermanent, changeful and not-self. If we can just allow these things to flow through us without any sense of ego gratification thinking we have ‘attained’ something, or cling to it as the best experience ever, we are on the right path of wisdom. Bliss and ecstasy are very nice and very intoxicating but ultimately it is not liberation if clung to and identified with as ‘me’ or ‘my experience’ or if one becomes overly excited by it – so we need to discern this and keep working with it.
Within the yogic tradition, these experiences are termed kundalini awakenings and they can appear to originate in the lower chakras and feel like full body orgasms. They speak of it as a latent serpent, coiled in the lower chakra that wakes up suddenly and causes these intense waves of bliss and ecstasy to surge through the body. It’s all good, and is a sign that your energy is definitely moving and waking up. Just enjoy and flow with it but don’t get attached to it. These experiences and energies can become addictive – like narcotics – so we should be wary of this. When we cling and become addicted to them and constantly look for and desire them, then it is just the ego playing itself out again and again.
It’s worth just investigating that when the mind puts down all concepts and is fully relaxed, letting-go in each moment, what naturally arises is bliss and peace. As the energy settles down and you keep practising, you might notice that the energy settles and you experience more of a calm, all pervading peace, and the energy might move more to your heart chakra. When it resides more in the heart chakra, the feeling is one of openness, compassion, love, tenderness, forgiveness and a connection to all beings – seeing and feeling none as separate from ourselves. This energy is more conducive (as it’s less overwhelming) to settle into and for allowing the liberating insights to emerge of themselves.
I would simply advise you to keep practising – keep listening to Tilopa’s teaching from time to time as there are so many layers contained within it. The depth of wisdom it contains is immense and the more you listen to it the more you will understand in your heart what this incredible Master is pointing to. It has all the jewels of true Dharma contained in it and can help us awaken more and more to Ultimate Reality and Liberation.
I hope some of these reflections and explanations might be of help for you in understanding this process and what is going on.
A couple of weeks ago Jayasara asked if I would write a reflection for the website… I agreed to of course, but in truth, I’ve been so taken up with keeping track of news about the war in Ukraine (and closer to home, the unprecedented deadly floods that engulfed parts of Eastern Australia this month), that I hadn’t made a start.
She asked me again today, and though very willing, when I contemplated what I might say, I realised I felt a great inner vacuity of words in the face of the huge drama playing out in Ukraine, and the subsequent implications and reverberations moving across the whole world.
Keeping track of the war via the rolling thread of real-time news and images has stirred such a range of emotions and reactions. In my earlier years I was never particularly interested in geo-politics and daily news feeds, but in the last few years, often out of necessity, the internet and the global news network has become a much bigger presence in my life. With having to keep track of news about the devasting bushfires burning across Eastern Australia (some of which threatened our monastery and village at the time); then right after that the onset of the global pandemic and trying to fathom and keep track of what was happening in the world (and the ever-changing regulations in our own society); and now this gruesome and critical conflict playing out in Ukraine, being virtually live-streamed for us all to see and respond to… It’s absolutely phenomenal really. And yet, from the large-lens Buddhist point of view, well, it’s just another day in samsara, isn’t it? Nothing much seems to change on that level, hmm?!
Even in the Buddha’s day, over two and a half thousand years ago, as he and many people around him were awakening to ultimate truth and getting enlightened, there seemed to be plenty of deadly wars, coups, plagues and disease playing out in the society around them.
Personally, due to modern technology, I’ve never felt so close to a war – the senseless and devastating destruction; the unfathomable ignorance behind such an egregious attack; the continued aggression despite the obvious untold cost on all levels for everyone; and feeling the utter tragedy and human trauma in the making. But the odd dissonance is that I am residing about 15,000 kms away from Ukraine, on the other side of the world in a different hemisphere, and in a relatively idyllic location amidst a peaceful community. My life at present feels blessed indeed; and yet, I recognise how circumstances can flip so easily, as it did for those in Ukraine and Russia just a month ago, as it can in any part of the world at any time. Of course, there are plenty of conflicts and dreadful circumstances simultaneously playing out around the world that we don’t always get such rolling coverage of… and the danger is, the longer such conflicts, crises, or social problems persist, the more easily they become ‘normalised’ in our perception. The danger of complacency increases.
When contemplating what to write about here, a theme did pop into my mind: ‘Love in a Time of War’… But, wasn’t that the name of an old book or movie? I googled it. Would you believe that two new books with that very same title have been released recently, (one of fiction and one autobiographical). I wasn’t thinking of a love story per se, but love as in the ‘power of love’. Jayasara recently uploaded a video called ‘Peace for the World’ to her YT channel with inspiring words from Mahatma Gandhi. The very last phrase was: “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” That seems to sum up a big part of the problem, doesn’t it… the love of power.
We are all conditioned to want to stay in control at some level, it seems like a basic instinct, and fear of the loss of control is perhaps its driver. The need for having a certain degree of power and control, whether in our personal life or in the world at large, can be relatively rational and expected and held in appropriate perspective, or it can become irrational, grandiose and disproportionate to reality, abusive and dangerous, and completely unhinged. But it is all related to the ego-sense of self… that largely imagined entity, which mistakes itself for this ‘skin-bag’ (as the Buddha called this body), and is a condition which fears any sense of threat to its perceived existence, fears feelings of vulnerability, humiliation, and obliteration. Projected large however, it becomes completely unruly and the cause of so much suffering.
Unless we can come to understand this complex predicament and the ‘mistake’ of the uninformed mind, it seems the love of power will continue to play out in repeated cycles of conflict and war, as history bears witness to. But how can we harness the power of love in our world, and in response to the love of power? I bet you would love an easy answer to that here! And I wish I could provide it for you too… However, we each have to make that enquiry ourselves, take it inwards, sincerely and deeply; go to bed with it at night and get up with it in the morning; and repeatedly ask ourselves ‘How…?’. The true answer can be found, but only by embarking on that journey of discovery and transformation for ourselves — each one of us, in our own life, our own everyday world, with whatever we are encountering. Only in this world, can we truly find the power of love, not in a projected ideal of how the world should be, or could be, or how we should be, but in direct relationship with how it is for us in this moment, moment by moment.
Love for peace is not attachment to peace… True love (in the unconditional sense) is able to face anything and survive, as it is the very basis of existence, the very fabric of reality, and ultimately, has nothing at all to fear. If we can connect with that, then peace has a chance. In writing these words, I am acutely aware that this seems far too easy to say when not in the midst of wartime atrocities oneself… However, it doesn’t diminish the truth of it, and the very real possibility, indeed the imperative, to connect with it.
I wish you love, I wish you peace, I wish you courage, I wish you freedom.