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

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by Vajrasara

... say a lot more about that, but you can talk about that another time. We are bound to
it but we can break free, so we are not bound in perpetuity or necessarily. We can break
free. The Greeks also had another image that connects with this wanting and it was of a
guy called Tantalus. And he also dared to defy Zeus, and again Zeus punished him for his
pride. Zeus’ punishment for him would be that he would be eternally tempted but never
satisfied. Hence, I imagine, the word tantalizing. Again this is just human life revolving
around craving, followed by satiation – but are we satisfied? The hell we are, or maybe
just briefly. Immediately, or almost immediately boredom sets in, doesn’t it? I’m sure
you’ve noticed – and then again we get into wanting. Wanting something else or wanting
the same again, all to escape the terrors of boredom.

Why do we want to dispel boredom? Partly, I think – although it’s not great fun boredom
on the whole – partly it goes a bit deeper than that, because boredom is a distraction-free
state that, dig a bit deeper, and what you find are these underlying truths of things like
our own insignificance and the fact that we are on an inevitable progression to old age,
and sooner or later, death. So boredom is an uncomfortable state. It’s a disconcerting
state. So we want to be free of it and – yep – a bit more wanting. We’re in a tight bind
and until we can slow down the wanting, perhaps lead a simpler life, reduce our self-
preoccupation, we’re going to be stuck. And, in a way, we need to wake up to the
predicament of human life.

I find watching people wake up, watching my friends wake up, seeing it on telly,
whatever, is very moving actually. I was at a film, a week or two ago, called Stranger
than Fiction – some of you may have seen it. It was all about this middle-aged tax
collector, a fairly blocked man I would say, leading his life on automatic and he has a
premonition of his imminent death. This leads to a rapid softening, a rapid opening up of
his experience. I think the first thing is he learns to enjoy chocolate cookies, he falls in
love fairly quickly, quite soon after that he has sex (probably for the first time) and the bit
I found most moving was that he took up the guitar, something he had been longing to do
for years. And in a way what we are talking about is waking up, on the first level that
Maitreyabandhu mentioned last night - the happy, healthy, human level – waking up to
what we could be. And then, obviously, we can move on from that first stage. But even
thus far, even on quite a simple ordinary level it was very moving seeing him come alive
in this film. I suppose I’m just saying, let’s cherish our wake-up calls. His wake-up call
came in a rather strange way - from a voice in his head - but, wherever it comes from, let
us cherish our wake up calls. We might enjoy life a lot more afterwards!

The Buddha said that our minds create our world. What we feel, what we think, what we
intend all determines how we experience ourselves, and the world that we find ourselves
in. The fundamental nature of our mind is that it is moving, moving all the time. But we
do have choice about how it moves. We can’t stop it moving but we can influence how it
moves, how we are, how to act. There is one teaching that I have relied on a lot on
recently and it is that of the two arrows, the parable of the two arrows. It has really
sustained me over the last four or five months because I have been suffering with acute
insomnia. What the Buddha says is that when we are suffering it is like being pierced by
an arrow and on that level we can’t do much about it. In this case I’m trying to do
something about the insomnia, but you can’t do much about some of the first arrow. You
may in time be able to affect it, you may not ever be able to affect it, you may have to
learn how to adapt. In my case I can’t just make myself sleep – anyone who has had
insomnia will know that quite well. But what we often do, the Buddha says, is throw a
second arrow at ourselves, increase our own pain by making ourselves angry, by being
resistant or denying the pain of the first arrow. By fighting the experience we double that
suffering. So I’ve been trying very hard not to fight the first arrow of insomnia, not to add
the second arrow. For instance, if I’ve had one or two hours sleep I could think, “Oh no,
today’s going to be a write-off,” and I’d feel really down. Or, on a good day, I can accept
feeling rough just as it is and not try to double the suffering. Of course I’ve been tired,
but I’ve discovered often I can stay positive and manage a lot more than I thought if I
don’t get into the second arrow. The second arrow, I’ve noticed, comes along at about
five in the morning when I’m feeling at my lowest ebb, perhaps a bit tearful, “Oh God,
how long is this going to last?” That kind of thing. And then you can get into all the
fantasies of, “This is going to go on for years,” or whatever. But that is all the second
arrow stuff, I don’t have to add that. And I’m sure, not wanting to labor this point with
my sleep, but we all have our own particular sufferings and we don’t have to make them
worse. I think this is a really liberating teaching. I’ve found it moving because it has
really helped me to not be as depressed as I might be and actually manage a lot more,
every day, than I would have thought. So, yes, the second arrow is dispensable.

The Buddha communicated in a range of ways. He urged people to open their minds and
challenge those who insisted on their own opinions and didn’t listen to other people. As I
said earlier, many people turned up trying to defeat him in debate, but what he was
teaching was pragmatic. He was teaching a path, a means to an end. He wasn’t concerned
to win any debate. He was just concerned to address people’s real concerns, their real
issues. Sometimes people would come just really to have a go or beat him in debate but
again and again he just invited them to look at the world they assumed they knew, look at
it and see, challenge their own assumptions really. Sometimes he did this in silence.
People might ask abstruse philosophical questions and he just said nothing. Sometimes, at
one gathering, he just held up a flower, nothing more, he just held up a flower and
apparently one of his disciples smiled and understood. So he had a range of ways of
communicating, and in a way he needed to because what he was trying to teach was
beyond reason, it was beyond concepts and, as Maitreyabandhu also said, images often
communicated where words would fail.

He also taught very much by example. There’s a story lots of you will probably know of
him visiting a monastery and coming across a sick monk. He’s alone in his cell and he’s
suffering from dysentery. In fact, the text says he’s covered in urine and feces, the poor
man. The Buddha says, “Why is nobody looking after you?” And the monk says, “It is
because I am old and of no use to the other monks.” So, the Buddha and his attendant
wash him. They clean him up, wash his robes and put him on the bed to make him
comfortable. And later the Buddha gathers together the other disciples and he rebukes
them. He says, “Don’t neglect your fellow companions. He who attends the sick attends
me.” He was unfailing in his care, in big ways and in small. His example did easily as
much to communicate his message as his discourses did.

Sometimes people didn’t like his teachings, as I said, and so they blamed the messenger. I
was remembering times when I’ve done this myself. Once, quite a few years ago I was
talking with a friend about impermanence and I said to him, “Yeah, impermanence, that’s
the ugly bit of the Dharma,” and he said, “No, that’s the ugly bit about life.” He was
making a really important distinction which I hadn’t noticed until that point. In some
ways, I’d taken the unappealing message – that all things are impermanent and if you get
attached to them it will only lead to suffering (I didn’t like that message) – and subtly I
was blaming the Buddha for it. Of course, I also knew that impermanence can be freeing
and all that, but at this point that was where I was, I was blaming the Buddha for it. But
actually, the Buddha’s only pointing out how life is. If I stop being a Buddhist, things
will still be impermanent, so there’s no point giving up on it. I think my confusion came
because, basically, I’m an optimist and I used to think that if I tried hard enough things
might, or would, work out. Things might last or I could make things like relationships
work out. So, in the early years, while I broadly appreciated the Dharma, I was still really
blaming the messenger for the teachings which really grated – so a bit of picking and
choosing going on although I wasn’t all that conscious of it, and this conversation that I
had here really highlighted that for me. People, I should say, also do this with the FWBO,
blame the messenger. So be on the lookout for it. It was really helpful, seeing that
distinction for me because actually the Buddha’s on our side. He’s only trying to help us
be free from suffering. We don’t have to listen to ...

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