The Way It Is
A time to love
With the emphasis Buddhists place on reflection, mindfulness and wisdom, the Holy Life might sometimes seem to be an almost unfeeling attempt to look at everything in very objective ways. Rather than feel things, we're supposed to see everything as anicca, dukkha, and anatta. That's how it might seem. But remember, the heartfelt experience of life is a loving one, so that love and devotion are not to be dismissed.
If we're looking at the experience of love as just anicca, dukkha, and anatta, that might seem cold-hearted. Objectivity, however, is merely the way of having things in perspective so that love is not something that blinds us. If we're attached to the idea of love, then we can be quite blind to its reality. We can get very inspired by talking about it or meditating on love - seeking it in others, demanding it or feeling somehow left out. But what is love in terms of our lives as we live them?
On an emotional plane you might want to have feelings of tremendous one-ness, or maybe aim the feelings at some particular person, wanting to have a special, loving relationship with another person. Or, love can be abstract - love of all human beings, love of all beings, love of God, love of something or some concept.
Devotion is from the heart, it's not a rational thing. You can't make yourself feel love or devotion just because you like the idea of it. It's when you're not attached, when your heart is open, receptive and free, that you begin to experience what pure love is. Loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity - the realm of the Divine Abodes, the brahma-viharas - these come from an empty mind. Not from a sterile position of just annihilating feeling but from a heart that is not deluded, not blinded by ideas of self or others, or by passions of some kind or another.
You may think the Holy Life is cold and heartless because, in a community of samanas such as this, living according to a way of restraint and discipline, we're not demonstrative in our expressions of love and joy. This community is not bubbling up with feelings of devotion. It is quite formal and restrained in its form and its expression. But then this does not necessarily deny love. With mindfulness, with the way we relate - to our own bodies, to the Sangha, to the lay people, to the tradition, and to the society - there is an openness, kindness, and receptivity. There is caring, a joyfulness and compassion that we can feel.
It is still anicca and anatta, and it is dukkha in the sense that it's not in itself the end of anything; it's not satisfying as an identity or an attachment. But when the heart is free from illusions of self, then there arises a loving quality in the pure joy of being. It's not expected to be anything or anybody; neither is it expected to last, or be permanent. It is not to be made anything of. It's just the natural way of things. So when you contemplate in that way, that is the way of faith and trust and devotion.
When we talk about faith and confidence and trust, they're nothing you can really grasp. Faith is not anything that you can create. One can say the words, but to really have faith and confidence in Dhamma is to be willing to let go of any demand or affirmation or any attachment whatsoever. And that experience of faith comes to us as we examine and understand the Dhamma, or the true way of things. If we really contemplate Dhamma, see Dhamma, then there is faith, this strong sense of total trust, confidence in truth.
If you're practising vipassana meditation and you're getting more frightened, or anxious, or tense, or feeling emotionally sterilised, then you're not doing it the right way. Perhaps you are using technique as a way of suppressing your feelings or denying things. So you end up feeling more tense, sceptical, uncertain. There is an attachment to some view about it. The more we really see and understand completely the way things are, the more we have this quality of faith. This faith increases, it's a total trust. When one talks about surrender or giving up or letting go, it's through total trust. It is not just taking a chance or a risk, it is through the experience of faith.
The path is something we cultivate. We have to know where we are and not try to become something that we think we would like to be; we have to practise with the way it is now, without making a judgement about it. If you're feeling tense, nervous, disillusioned, disappointed about yourself or the tradition, or the teacher or the monks or the nuns, or whatever, then try to recognise that what is in the moment is enough. Be willing to just admit, to acknowledge the way it is rather than to indulge in believing that what you're feeling is somehow an accurate description of reality, or to feel that what you are feeling is wrong and you shouldn't be feeling like that. Those are two extremes. But the cultivation of the Way is to recognise that whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing. And this isn't a put-down or cold-hearted way of cultivating the path, even though it might sound like it.
You might think you just have to let go of all your feelings and see that the love in your heart is just anicca, dukkha, anatta. You feel love for the Buddha and you think, ' Oh, that's just anicca, dukkha, anatta. That's all it is!' You feel love for the teacher and you think 'That's just anicca, dukkha, anatta. Don't get attached to the teacher!' You feel love for the tradition... 'anicca, dukkha, anatta, don't get attached to traditions, - or techniques.'
'Not getting attached to anything' can merely be a way of suppressing everything. It's not necessarily letting go or non-attachment, it can merely be a position you take. And if you take that position and you operate from that position, all you're going to feel is negativity, stress. 'You shouldn't be attached to anything; you shouldn't love anything, you shouldn't feel anything - feeling anything is just anicca, dukkha, anatta.' That means you're just taking the words and you're using it like a bludgeon, a big club to your mind. You're not reflecting, watching, observing, opening, trusting.
Metta practice is one of the beautiful devotional practices that is highly recommended in Buddha-Dhamma. Loving-kindness. As human beings we're warm blooded creatures. We do feel love. That is part of our humanity. We like each other; we like to be with people; we like to be kind; we get enjoyment out of cooking food and giving it to other people. We enjoy helping. You can see that with the custom of dana in the Asian communities. When Sri Lankan people come here with their curries, they light up. It is the joy of giving.
Now that's a very good quality, isn't it? It's beautiful to see somebody who's maybe been up all night preparing delicious food to offer to somebody else - they're not cooking it for themselves. Well, what is that as a human experience? Is it defilement or is it being attached to feel delight or happiness at doing things for others? This is the beauty of humanity isn't it - just being able to love, to give, to share, to be generous.
Try contemplating what would be the great delight of being the richest person in the world? What would be the truly delightful thing? To get what I want? No, it would be the opportunity to give it away, wouldn't it? That would be the true delight of being rich and wealthy - so that you could give it away, as dana, generosity. Whereas to be rich and not to be able to give it away would be a real burden. What a burden that would be, to be the richest man in the world and be selfish and hold onto it and keep it all to myself. The joy of wealth is in one's ability to share it and give it without any kind of corrupt intentions or selfish demands.
So this is what is lovely about our humanity: we can experience this joy of giving. And it's something we all experience when we really give something, when we help somebody without any selfish request or demand for something back. Then we experience joy. It is certainly a lovely human experience - but we don't expect it to make us joyful for the rest of our lives.
The joy of generosity and kindness isn't permanent, doesn't make us permanently happy - but we don't expect it to. If we did, it wouldn't be dana any longer, it would be a deal we were making. It wouldn't be an act of generosity, it would be buying something.
Real joy comes from giving and not caring about whether anyone even knows or acknowledges it. As soon as the self comes in (for example: 'I'm giving this dana to you and it is very important that you know who's giving this dana. - ME, I'm giving it!') then the amount of joy that comes from giving is probably very minimal. If I'm so concerned about being recognised and being appreciated, that you appreciate my generosity and my goodness, then that becomes a joyless state of mind. One cannot feel happy or have real joyfulness in living if there is attachment to the idea that one's actions should be recognised. There's nothing wrong with people appreciating somebody else's goodness and generosity, but when we don't demand it, then there is joy.
Romantic love is usually based on the illusion of a self and a demand for something back. Spiritual love, then, is altruistic love or universal love and is represented by the brahma-viharas - metta, karuna, mudita and upekkha. Such love is a unitive experience. It brings together, it unites. It is a communion. Hatred is the experience of separation. When we hate then there's no union, communion, or oneness. Hatred is separative, divisive, and discriminative. Love is unitive and we want unity because living in a world of hate, discrimination and separation is a miserable hell-realm.
The community is a communion, a Sangha, a whole. If we're divorced from the Sangha, if we hate the Sangha, 'Hate this nun, hate that monk - and I don't like that, don't like this,' then this is not community, it's a dis-unity. That feeling is one of alienation, separation, emphasising me and you, and your faults and my feelings, and my anger at your faults. Or, it can be my emphasising the things that are wrong with you - things that are wrong with the monks, things that are wrong with the nuns, things that are wrong with the anagarikas, things that are wrong, full stop. And attaching to those perceptions will make me feel alienated, separated, angry, discontented, unhappy, depressed.
Sometimes the mind will go into a very negative state where all you feel is annoyance. Whatever people do doesn't seem quite good enough. When you're in that mood then everything seems wrong - the cats, the sun, the moon <197> the mind goes into division, separation, and negativity. You feel separate from everything you see, and no communion or union is possible as long as you are identified and attached to that attitude of mind. When you are in a loving mood then it doesn't really matter whether somebody isn't feeling very good or they're not doing exactly what they should. There are always little things, little bits and pieces that aren't quite what they should be. But, when you're in a loving mood these things aren't so important.
So the loving experience comes because you're willing to overlook the personality differences and the discrimination that exists in the conditioned realm, for the feeling of communion, of union, of oneness. We are uniting as brothers and sisters in a common experience of old age, sickness and death, rather than pointing out the differences, or who's better than whom.
When we take refuge in Sangha, we're taking refuge in supatipanno* (those who have practised well), ujupatipanno (those who have practised directly), ˝ayapatipanno (those who have practised insightfully), samicipatipanno (those who practise). Rather than taking refuge in Americans, British, Australians or in men or women or in nuns or monks, we take refuge in those in those who practise the Dhamma - in the good, the direct, the sincere.
( *These terms form part of the daily chanting in honour of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha)
We have tendencies for both union and for separation and we can be mindfully aware of these. The way things are has to be recognised as Dhamma. There is uniting and there is separating, and with clear awareness one is not identifying with either extreme. There's time for union, communion, time for non-discrimination, for devotion, for gratitude, for generosity, for joy.
But there's also time for separation and discrimination; for examining what's wrong. There is a need to look at the flaws - to look at anger, jealousy and fear - and to accept and understand those emotional experiences rather than judge them and take them as self and as something that you shouldn't have. This is what being human is all about: we're born into a separate form and yet we can unite. We can realise unity, community, oneness; but we can also discriminate.
So the refuge in the Buddha is the ability of a human being to recognise both sides, and to respond appropriately. We can look at the flaws and the problems of life as part of our human experience, rather than in a personal way. We are no longer proliferating, nor are we magnifying or exalting, obsessed with what's wrong because we have this perspective of unity and separation. This is the way things are, the Dhamma.
Is being a Buddhist monk or a Buddhist nun a denial of love? Is the Vinaya discipline merely a means of suppressing feelings? It can be just that. We can use Vinaya discipline and monastic tradition as merely a way of avoiding things. Maybe the monks are just frightened of women.... Maybe the nuns are just petrified of men so they become nuns and they don't have to face their fears and anxieties with regard to relationships with men.... And, of course, many worldly people think like that, don't they? They think we're all here because of an inability to cope with the real world.
But is that really how it is? If it is, if that's what you're a monk or nun for, then you're in it for the wrong reasons. This is not an instrument for avoiding reality and life but for reflecting on it. Because in the restraint and in the dignity of restraint, the way of monasticism is an expression of love for all beings - men, women, both inside and outside. We're now no longer choosing one person to focus our attention on and devote ourselves to, but we devote ourselves to all beings.
I realise if I were a family man, my whole attention would have to be towards my wife, my children and immediate family. That's the result of family life and what marriage is about. They have priority. You have to relate with regard to those who you are married to and responsible for.
One can be an alms mendicant, live on faith alone, on the trust in the goodness and benevolence of other beings because one feels love or respect for all beings. Love and respect for all beings is what generates the alms that sustains us in this life as alms mendicants.
And the funny thing is that the power of the Buddhist Sangha is so strong that even if you personally hate all other beings, the alms still come in! The power of the robe seems to be so strong that even if you as an individual monk or nun hate everybody, you're still going to get fed by kind-hearted beings. This is because of the paramitas of the Buddha. This doesn't mean you should develop hatred or justify it in yourself in any way. Rather, it's a reflection on the power of a very skilful convention that was established by the Lord Buddha. When you appreciate that then you really feel love and trust.
Why do these monasteries here in England work? Why should they work in a non-Buddhist country? Why should anybody want to send a cheque by mail, bring a sack of potatoes or prepare a meal? Why should they bother? This is because of the paramitas of the Buddha. The goodness of the lifestyle he established generates generosity. The loving-kindness, the compassion and joy of the Holy Life reaches out and opens other people to that same experience.
It is a mystery. From a practical, worldly attitude of justifying our existence in the eyes of society, we don't look like we do all that much for anyone. Many people think we just sit here and try to get enlightened for ourselves - have nice, pleasant mental states, because we can't stand the real world. But the more you contemplate this life and understand it, the more you realise the power of the goodness, the faith, the paramitas of the Buddha, which allow a communion to take place in an inter-connection of goodness.
And it needn't be demonstrated and talked about and emphasised a lot. It speaks for itself. We don't have to go out telling people: 'You should give us alms because we are practising the Dhamma and we are disciples of the Buddha.' Our requisites are offered because people appreciate and respect the Holy Life. It brings joy and happiness into people's lives, because we rejoice in the beauty of others and in the goodness and benevolence of this experience of living.
So the Holy Life is a strange one, a strange way to live, actually. Quite how it works is a mystery in terms of what we regard as reality according to our cultural conditioning. But as Dhamma, as Truth, as the way things are, it actually works. And this increases our faith, and our trust in the Refuges and in the beauty and goodness of our lives as samanas.