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Poetry and Devotion in Buddhism the Sevenfold Puja

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by Sangharakshita

The Venerable Sangharakshita

Lecture 35: Poetry and Devotion in Buddhism: The Sevenfold Puja Venerable Sirs and Friends, This morning we studied the Heart Sutra, the Hrdaya Sutra, and the Heart Sutra has been very rightly described by Doctor Edward Conze as one of the sublimest spiritual documents of mankind. But sublime as it is, or perhaps we may say on account of its very sublimity and profundity, it is not very easy to understand. In fact it's quite difficult to understand, but I do hope that as a result of this morning's talk, aided perhaps by your own intuition, it has been possible for everybody to understand at least something of the meaning of the Heart Sutra, to have at least a glimpse of the truth which the Heart Sutra enshrines.

But we all know that however much, or however little, we might of understood, however bright that glimpse might have been, it's still very very difficult to put what we have understood into practice and to embody it in our lives, in our day to day activities and behaviour.

Socrates used to be fond of saying that to know the good was sufficient. Doing, he said, doing the good would automatically follow. Well that no doubt was true for Socrates but it isn't true for very many people.

It's true for very few people indeed. It isn't really, for the vast majority, as easy as that. So therefore we find, a hundred or so years later, we find Aristotle for instance criticizing Socrates for ignoring what he called the irrational parts of the soul, these irrational parts of the soul, Aristotle says, Socrates left altogether out of account.

This brings us to what is if not the basic problem certainly one of the basic problems of the spiritual life, upon which we've touched more than once before in previous talks, and that is the problem or the question of how to translate knowing into being. To know the truth, to understand the truth, to gain an intuitive glimpse of the truth, is difficult enough as we all know, but to embody it in one's being, to embody it in one's life, one's behaviour, this is a hundred times more difficult. Buddhism as a whole is very much concerned with this problem, this great problem, of how to translate knowing into being, and it draws attention to the problem and the difficulty of the problem in its distinction between what it calls the Path of Vision and the Path of Transformation.

Now this whole subject was dealt with at length in the course of the series of talks which we had here on `The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path' some months ago, and some of you, I do know, attended that series and you may remember what was said on that occasion. The Path of Vision, we then saw, represents the initial spiritual insight or experience; what starts one off, as it were. Sometimes this insight or experience comes, as it were, spontaneously. This is the experience of quite a number of people. It suddenly strikes them or it suddenly overwhelms them. They get a sudden, unaccountable, glimpse if not of the truth, of some higher and wider dimension of being and consciousness, all of a sudden, apparently without previous preparation. Sometimes again its initial insight or experience may come as a result of study, may come as we are reading a book, or musing upon some passage that we've read. It may come when we are concentrating our mind, or trying to concentrate our mind; when we are meditating, and so on. It may come at any time, any place, under any circumstances, in any way, either as I've said, spontaneously or in connection with one or another of these other activities, whether religious or otherwise. So this initial vision or insight or experience, this is known, in Buddhism, as the Path of Vision.

The Path of Transformation represents the gradual transformation of one's whole life according to that vision, according to that insight, according to that experience. And the second path, therefore - the Path of Transformation - is very much longer and very much more difficult than the first, the Path of Vision.

In the series of the Noble Eightfold Path, the Path of Vision is represented by the first step, that is to say by what is known as Perfect Vision, usually translated as `Right Understanding', but the Path of Transformation is represented by all the other seven steps. That is to say by Perfect Emotion, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Awareness and Perfect Samadhi. These all represent the working out of the insight, of the initial experience, in terms of different aspects of one's life and activity.

Now the question arises, `Why should all this be so?' Why should it be so difficult to translate knowing into being? Why shouldn't we all be like Socrates? - able to know the good and immediately do the good, without any sort of hiatus between the two. Why should the Path of Transformation be so long and difficult compared with the Path of Vision? What is it in us which prevents us, which hinders us, from making the transition as it were immediately, from the Path of Vision right onto the Path of Transformation in its fullness, it its completeness? What is it that stands in the way? Now it isn't very difficult to answer this question. Popular expressions, common modes of speech, sometimes embody a great deal of wisdom, traditional wisdom. Suppose somebody's doing something, engaged in some work, some job, some undertaking, engaged in something which he knows he ought to be doing, but suppose he doesn't do it very well. What do we say about him? We usually say his heart isn't in it. His heart isn't in it. In other words, he isn't emotionally involved. Energy comes from emotion. If there's no emotion, there's no energy, there's no drive, and for that reason the work to be done is not very well done. There's no need for me to insist upon this point, because we can verify it for ourselves, perhaps every day. The work in which we are not really deeply emotionally involved is not really well done. But this is particularly true in connection with the spiritual life. We may have a certain amount of spiritual insight, a certain amount of understanding, even experience, but if there is no, as it were, emotional equivalent of that insight, of that understanding, then it does not become embodied in our life. In other words understanding must pass through the emotions before it can influence life.

This is made clear by the structure of the Noble Eightfold Path. The first step, we've seen, is Perfect Vision. The second step or second aspect of the Eightfold path is Perfect Emotion, and Perfect Emotion is the first of the seven steps which make up, within the Eightfold Path, the Path of Transformation. In other words, we may say, Perfect Vision has to pass through, has to become, if you like, Perfect Emotion before it can manifest as Perfect Speech, Perfect Action and all the rest of the successive steps of the Noble Eightfold Path. In fact we can go so far as to speak, simplifying the whole matter, in terms of three centres in the human being. We can speak of a thinking centre, we can speak of an emotional centre, and we can speak of a moving centre; and in terms of the spiritual life, within the spiritual context, these three become a higher thinking - an intuitive or even visionary centre, a higher emotional or positive emotional centre, and a higher moving centre or centre of spiritual practice and experience. And I would request you at this point not to take these terms too literally or even too seriously, not to confuse them with similar terms used in other contexts by different writers on psychology and religion. The point which emerges here is that the thinking centre can influence the moving centre only through the emotional centre. So the question therefore arises: `how to bring this about?', `how to ensure this?', or `how to involve the emotions?', and this of course in turn raises the question, `why are the emotional energies themselves not involved? And answering the second question first we may say that the emotional energies are not involved because: one, they are blocked; two, they are wasted; and three, they are too coarse.

In order to involve the emotional energies therefore we have to remove the blockage, stop the waste and find some means of refining the emotional energies. So let's consider each of these in turn briefly.

First of all, emotional energy is not available because it is blocked. We all know what emotional blockage means, but when I was thinking about this I happened to just turn over the pages of a book by Ouspensky, and quite by chance I found a rather striking thing of Ouspensky's, and he says in this book, `People are not nearly emotional enough', and if you think about it it's very striking and very significant. And what does it mean? It means that our emotional centre is not functioning freely. The emotions do not flow freely. They've somehow all got jammed, all sort of stuck up, as though someone had thrown a spanner into the works, as perhaps they did when we were young or smaller, and Ouspensky as you probably know was a Russian, and Russians have the reputation of being rather emotional people, so he probably noticed this lack of emotion, this inadequate emotionality in the English, who are said or believed other nationalities to be very very reserved and in fact, in a word, on the whole, rather emotionally blocked. But whether or not it's true of the English, that they're emotionally blocked as compared with some other nationalities or peoples, it's certainly true of the old as compared with the young. In children we see usually the emotional centre functions very very freely indeed. A child is emotionally quite spontaneous until his parents or her parents start conditioning the child. Of course it is rather the lower emotional centre which is functioning, but at least it is functioning ...

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