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Cutting Away the Old

by Abhaya

... so striking. He sits crumpled on his
throne — and the text says:

'So bent with age that he seemed almost a dwarf — looking at least a hundred years old,
ashen in complexion and wrinkled, deprived of all initiative.'

...He is passive; he can hardly even speak; and he is only open to the poisonous words of
Wormtongue, and these words weaken him still further.

But then Gandalf and company arrive on the scene. The Bodhisattva returns! And very
soon the power for good is at work through the agency of Gandalf, Theoden's saviour.

Now, it is not a sword that Gandalf uses to restore the King's powers; they have had to
leave all their weapons outside. It is a staff. But, of course, Gandalf's staff is a magic
staff... and as he points it and thrusts it, more like a spear than a sword, we see the visible
signs of Theoden's false age crumble away, and he stands up tall from his throne, a man
again... a King again.

So I am citing this as an appropriate image for the power of the creative mind, that can
sometimes very quickly cut through the obscurations of the reactive mind; sometimes in a
very magical way.

We see something similar on retreat here at Padmaloka; I'm sure we'll see it this
weekend. We see how people on the retreat, even in a weekend, can become quite
dramatically transformed — in appearance, even — as a result of spiritual practice. They
leave the retreat looking younger! It's magical. It's wonderful.

So, our weekend here is a spiritual workshop on how to use Manjughosha's sword to
remove the crippling effects of the reactive mind, constantly and systematically. We
won't achieve it in a single day, but if we do this, we will begin to look even physically
fresher — younger — or at least, even if we can't shed the physical marks of age, the
brightness of Manjughosha's eternal youth will shine from our eyes... our being.

Now you might like the idea of getting a grip of Manjughosha's sword. You might be
already, in your mind's eye at least, enjoying the feel of the vajra hilt in your hand. (By
the way, if you do get hold of it, don't forget that you have to have the demon-quelling
mudra — yeah? You hold it with the demon-quelling mudra, because this sword does
literally destroy demons!). But if you are enjoying the feel of it, you also have to know
what it is you are going to start thrusting and slashing at. I must ask myself — you must
ask yourself — what are the qualities, the tendencies, the proclivities, the bad habits, that
constantly sap away at my spiritual energy? Is there one particular bette-noir? One
particular terrible demon, that I'd really like to have a go at?

...It could be an inhibiting self-view. It could be, say, to do with lack of confidence. It
could be my bad temper. It could be a communication block that you have with someone
— someone you work with, someone you live with — a block in communication that has
been interfering with your spiritual life for weeks; for months; even, unfortunately, for
years. Or it could be something nasty (or something you think is nasty!) that's lurking,
that you've been keeping very private for yonks, and yet it's sapping at your vitals! —
something, maybe, we want to confess; something maybe we feel like confiding — and
yet we've never been able to bring ourselves to do it. And yet it's in the way. We want to
get rid of it.

Well... it could well be the sword of Manjughosha, even this weekend, that does this for
you. Just bring the nasty or pathetic demon into the open — hold the tip of the sword to it
(don't forget, it's a flaming sword) — and it will be (hopefully) immediately reduced to
ashes!

A magic sword; quote from 'The Flower Ornament Scripture' — Entering the
Realm of Reality; Bodhicitta as higher nature; decapitation; resentment — quote
from Hamlet; cutting off the sprout

So — I'm already beginning to answer my next question, which is: 'having identified the
enemy, how are we going to destroy it?'

Well, the two things go together really. We are going to destroy it with the sword, of
course — and don't forget that Manjughosha's sword is a versatile weapon. It is not only
versatile, it's magic — it's a magic sword — and this magic sword can change in size and
shape according to circumstances. So you needn't feel stuck with a long, narrow blade
that feels rather unwieldy and heavy. There is a wrathful, or angry, form of
Manjughosha... I won't say much about it, but this wrathful form has many pairs of arms,
and in these many pairs of hands you see all sorts of different kinds of weapons. So I take
this as an image for the versatility of Manjughosha's sword.

So how are we going to destroy the enemy? I want to call on two spiritual masters to help
me to do this. One of them is Buddhist; he is (or they are) the unknown author(s) of a
scripture called the 'Flower Ornament Scripture'. That is the first master I am going to
call on. And the other one is a Neoplatonist master — Neoplatonism being a form of
Western philosophy... don't worry about it... [LAUGHTER]... but one of the masters of
Neoplatonist philosophy is called Plotinus. So he is the other master I'm going to invoke
in the rest of my talk.

This is what the 'Flower Ornament' has to say, in a chapter called Entering the Realm of
Reality — interesting, because that's what we're doing; we are trying to enter into the
realm of Reality (with a capital R) — and the text says:

'It is like a scimitar, cutting off the head of affliction. It is like a sword-blade, slashing
through the armour of pride, conceit and ignorance. It is like a razor, slicing off
compulsive propensities. It is like an axe, cutting through the tree of suffering. It is like a
surgical probe, cleaning away the covering of the sheath of ignorance.'

— So that's what 'it' is like. 'It' is like a scimitar; like a sword-blade; like a probe.
Actually the repeated 'it' in that passage is what in Buddhism is called the 'Bodhicitta' —
the heart or mind of Enlightenment — which arises in a mysterious, wonderful way when
we have done the right kind of practice.

But the use of Manjughosha's sword in our present context is very much to do with
whatever prevents this arising of the Enlightened mind; so the passage also lends itself to
illustrating how versatile Manjughosha's sword is. At this stage of our spiritual
development, the Bodhicitta — the mind of Enlightenment — doesn't operate
spontaneously, so we have to (as it were) invoke our 'higher nature', the Bodhicitta deep
within us, in order to take up the sword against our 'lower nature'.

The instrument of the 'higher nature' is the sword of Manjughosha... and it is not just a
matter of thrusting, as in sword play with rapiers. The first action is this: in the text it
says, 'It is like a scimitar, cutting off the head of affliction.' You know a scimitar is a
broad, long, curved blade — very sharp — so what we are talking about here is
decapitation! ...Is there anything afflicting you that you can dispense with swiftly by
slashing off its head, clean and quick, and afterwards it will never bother you again? Can
you think of an example in your spiritual life where you could do this?

...I can think of one example, and that example is resentment. You know resentment?
Resentment is stale anger which you constantly regurgitate and indulge in, maybe for
hours on end! It is a horrible affliction; it's an insidious enemy that is terribly
incapacitating. Wow... we've got a slogan there, haven't we? 'Incapacitate —
decapitate!'... [LAUGHTER]... I like that!

In his first soliloquy, Hamlet (in Shakespeare's play, Hamlet) is talking about his mother's
lust for Claudius, and he says:

'Why, she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on!'

...What an image, eh? Resentment is like that. If we indulge in it, it gets bigger; it 'grows
by what it feeds on'. So the only thing is to cut off the beast's head, with Manjughosha's
sword as scimitar, otherwise it just keeps coming back and growing.

Of course, I agree the metaphor does have its limitations... because we know that in our
experience of resentment, it does keep coming back. But the thing is not to indulge it.
You decapitate it every time, as soon as it appears; you cut it off at source. The sword of
Manjughosha is always active.

'Cutting off every sprout of dukkha, you grasp the sword' — that's a quotation; a line from
a devotional verse in honour of Manjughosha.

'Cutting off every sprout of dukkha, you grasp the sword.' ...Dukkha is suffering. So you
cut off the sprout, so that it can't grow into the full-blooded monster.

Armour — conceit and ignorance; razor sharp, white hot; compulsive propensities;
vigilance at the gates of the mind

Ok, so much for decapitation.

Then, says the 'Flower Ornament Sutra', it is 'like a sword blade, hacking through the
armour of pride'. — I'm going to change that — well, it also mentions ...

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