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Tales of a Free Spirit-45 Years of the Buddhas Life

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by Vajrasara

...
your eggs!

As the Buddha gathered more and more disciples, they started finding different ways of
practicing. Some of them went off meditating alone into the jungle and others formed
small groups – support groups you might say – and there was a group of three monks
which we sometimes refer to as the Aniruddhas. Actually, only one of them was called
Aniruddha. They come across from the texts a lot like an ideal community. These three,
they lived together in a grove and they coexisted, the scriptures say, like milk and water.
And they looked at each other only with kindly eyes. So they were rather perfect, and
they carried out their daily tasks in harmony and silence, cooperatively and everything.
They only discussed the Dharma – they didn’t talk about anything superficial – and they
were in so much harmony that they could read each other’s thoughts. Anyway, the
Buddha comes along and he’s very chuffed with them, he’s very impressed. He praises
them and their lifestyle. And I’ve often studied this text in communities or teams on
retreats and it’s held up as something ideal which we can aim for. What can we learn
about kindness, about mutual support, about rejoicing in each other, communal living, all
that kind of thing? So I found it really heartening that a few weeks ago I was reading an
account of the Buddha and it tells us a bit about the early life of Aniruddha. He wasn’t
born perfectly spiritual. Apparently once the Buddha had become quite well-known and
widely acknowledged, it came about that local families took great pride in sending one of
their sons to join the Buddha’s order. So one day, Aniruddha, who comes from a well-off
family, his elder brother came along and said, “Well, it would shame our family if one of
us doesn’t go off and become one of the Buddha’s disciples.” Aniruddha, this decorous
young man, he’s lying on the couch listening to musicians. I imagine he’s being fed
mangoes or something – he’s generally having a very comfortable life, and fairly young I
think. He says, “No, no. Not a bit of it, brother, I’ll stay here.” So they have this little
dialogue and his brother says, “No, no, I’ll manage the household and you go and join the
monks.” And then his elder brother goes into quite a long description of the household
life - the responsibilities, the onerous tasks, the chores, the effort of the household life -
and Aniruddha’s going, “Oh my God.” Obviously hadn’t taken this into account at all. He
seems even more appalled by the thought of staying at home than leaving home, very
much echoing the point that came up in the Buddha’s earlier life, that household life is
hard work and narrow. So basically Aniruddha says okay and signs up for the spiritual
option, reluctantly. And, like the young Buddha, he found it very hard at times.
Apparently, he found the begged food revolting and he missed his soft bed sheets. But he
persisted and Aniruddha becomes renowned for his clairvoyance and very much an elder
in the Buddha’s Sangha, eventually becoming enlightened also. I found that a little bit
heartening. From small beginnings…

And sometimes, like the young Aniruddha, I can get into thinking I’ve chosen the tough
option by trying to train my mind, by trying to transform my ethical behavior - that it all
goes against the grain in some way, which in a sense it does. All these thoughts I’m sure
we’ve all had. “Couldn’t I just relax a bit, lie on a couch listening to music, lead fewer
retreats, ease up, take more holidays – that kind of thing?” I know this is called Self-
Doubt. But anyway, I was reading Sangharakshita, our teacher, making the point that the
spiritual life is not more difficult than the worldly life. We can think it is. I can think it is.
He says, “Our tendency is to think that worldly life is easier, less trouble, but there’s no
objective reason for that. Trying to be happy, find a partner, have a successful career,
bring up a family, it all brings a lot of stress and strain, and that plenty of things also
upset our plans. However, if one follows a spiritual path, sooner or later success will
come.” Now I know we’ve heard a lot about success, and I think Sangharakshita means it
in a slightly different way, but he’s really pointing out the law of cause and effect - that
actions have consequences. If we apply ourselves to growth, growth will happen. And I
think also on a deep level it is actually working with the grain of our lives because, well,
enlightenment is an active force in our minds that we can learn to be receptive to, that we
can learn to cooperate with if we choose. So, in a way, that’s quite heartening. We’re not
really going against the grain, it only seems that way.

So when I crave an easier life or more pleasure I really value the Buddha’s teaching that
“foolish people seek to have experiences, wise people seek to understand experience.”
Because I think hankering after experiences is very common, it’s almost like something
we can add onto ourselves, a good experience. Like “I’ve had this really big, intensive
experience.” Often we want that. In a way it’s something which makes us feel significant,
or makes us feel special – perhaps some of us are hoping for a “big experience” on this
retreat. And in a way, why not? But there is a downside. I think it isn’t exactly a modern
phenomenon but it is very much emphasized these days – “big experiences,” collecting
“intense experiences.” So, it might be sex or sky-diving or celebrities going off to try to
survive in the jungle or whatever it is. They seem to be elevated in our culture. But I
think what we’re all wanting is to feel more alive. But we go for the quick fix. And
actually awareness is much, much more satisfying and sustaining than adrenaline. But
what we go for is adrenaline - the instant gratification. And, as we know, or have heard,
ordinary experiences are enriched by awareness and we can gradually learn to hang loose
to those. The teacher, Christopher Titmuss, says that wise people stop clinging to
experiences to sustain their ego, and then, left with nothing to feed on, the ego feels
powerless and in time it withers away.

There are two distinct strands that make up Buddhism. Theory and practice, you could
say, or doctrine and method. The doctrine is metaphysically very subtle. We’ve heard a
little about this conditioned co-production last night – not as much as some people
wanted to hear, perhaps more than others wanted to hear. The Buddha said that
everything is continually arising and passing away. Nothing stays the same for even a
nanosecond. In fact it never really exists at all, from a certain point of view. And seeing
this, if we can really see this, we stop clinging to it. And that’s it - if we could really see it
there would be no problem. The Buddha taught that the doctrine of becoming says that
consciousness is not fixed. There is a momentum, there is an energy that flows through
life – and even flows from one life to the next – but in a way this cannot be grasped. It
slips through your fingers the moment you try and think about it actually. So you can
puzzle over the ungraspable and it is probably quite valuable to do so – getting as clear as
you can about it – but actually when all that gets too much it’s fine just to set it aside and
focus on practice, focus on method. And on the level of method it’s really quite simple. It
is summed up quite famously in the tradition by, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good,
purify the heart.” We’ve all got a fair bit to do just on that lot. I know we could discuss
what evil is, what good is, what purity is – although I’m not going into that now – but
there is something that is quite simple about Buddhist practice on that level.

So last night Maitreyabandhu talked about wanting and I’m afraid I’ve got a bit more to
say about wanting and that’s partly because wanting is so central to what the Buddha is
talking about. He says that the cause of all our trouble is craving - craving for food,
craving for love, craving for ideas, craving to be rid of things, craving for people, craving
to get rid of people and right up to the most subtle cravings. Craving to be alive, or
craving not to exist. So on all those levels, we just want, want, want all the time – I’m
sure you have noticed. And of course the Buddha was not the first to notice this and nor
is he the last. It is the human condition, he was just pointing out the facts. But his path is
a very clear path. It’s not the only path but it is a very clear path in addressing this
problem of wanting. I was reading lately that the Greeks noticed it – I’m not quite sure
when – but in Greek myth there’s one symbol for the human dilemma. It’s the image
called the wheel of Ixion. Ixion, apparently, was a king who was very disloyal to the god
Zeus, and Zeus, being a powerful chap, punished him by binding him to a fiery wheel
that went round and round and round eternally, it never stopped. And this reminded me of
the Buddhist Wheel of Life. Vidyajoti, in her talk, mentioned the Wheel of Life - a
Buddhist symbol for worldly existence - in which we too are bound to that wheel. And I
could ...

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