Fields of Creativity
Sangharakshita shares his thoughts on how we can express creativity through the arts, meditation, friendship and institutions.
I'm not quite sure when I was here last. I'm not quite sure when I last spoke to you, but I think it must have been rather more than a year ago, and in the course of this last year quite a lot has happened. Quite a lot has happened in the world; quite a lot has happened in the FWBO, and quite a lot has happened, I might say, in my own life.
So what have I been reflecting on? What have I been thinking about? Well, just a couple of weeks ago I was in Birmingham at Madhyamaloka and I was sitting out on my patio in the sunshine - yes, in the sunshine! - and I started thinking about creativity. For some reason or other thoughts about creativity started coming into my mind, and I thought well perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea if I shared some of these thoughts about creativity with some of my friends, some of the people within the movement. So my first thought was, well, why not go down to London, why not share them with people attending the LBC who are always so receptive and enthusiastic and always give me such a wonderful welcome? So I made a phone call or two and very smoothly, very efficiently, of course, it was all arranged. So here I am.
So, creativity. One of the things that occurred to me, one of the thoughts that occurred to me was that nowadays we use this term 'creative' rather loosely. It's been rather debased, rather vulgarised. Sometime ago I heard of something called 'creative accounting' [Laughter]. It used to be called falsification, but it's become creative! All sorts of things have become creative. You get a sheet of paper and you scribble on it a bit and, well, you're being creative apparently. You could even win a prize, who knows? So this term creative and the term creativity, these terms have become rather overworked, they've become cliches, they've lost much of their significance. So I was just trying to think what it really meant to be creative, what creativity really meant. I don't want to spend too much time on this topic because it is rather abstract. I want to get onto something more concrete as soon as I can, but let's just linger for a few minutes on this question of what is creativity.
Creativity, we could say, means producing something new, bringing something new into existence. But it isn't just that - because everything that is new is not necessarily creative, even though what is creative is new - or that creativity does consist in the bringing into existence of something which is new, or if you like something which is original. Of course people nowadays also set great store by being original, but you can't really be original by taking thought. That sort of originality is a false, is an artificial, originality. It's not the real thing. You can only be original, you can only produce something original if you are original. That doesn't mean being eccentric, it means in a way being yourself, it means being in touch with yourself, knowing who and what you are; having or developing insights, vision, having imagination. If you can be yourself in that way well you will be creative in the sense of producing something original, something which partakes of the nature of creativity. So I think it's quite important to understand this.
Well so much for the more abstract aspect of the topic. What I want to go into now, and I think this is quite important and perhaps in some ways the crux of my talk this evening, I want to go into the different fields of creativity, the different areas within which creativity manifests itself, or the different areas in which we are creative or the different ways in which we are creative, different ways in which creativity manifests.
The first is of course the rather obvious one of the arts - music, poetry, literature in general, film, the visual arts, painting, sculpture - these are all, at their best, manifestations of creativity. They are original in the sense that they are the products, the expressions, of someone's genuine original, actually experienced vision, imagination, insight even. So there's artistic creativity. I need not press this point. It's a pretty obvious one.
And then, something which is perhaps less obvious, the second area or field of creativity is meditation. Well some of you may think of meditation as hard slog, but actually meditation is creativity. When you're meditating you're being creative. So the point arises, when you meditate what are you creating? Well, you're creating thoughts in a way, mental states, mental events. Of course skilful, kusala, mental states or mental events. You are bringing them into existence. Previously of course there was rather a mixture perhaps of many unskilful thoughts passing through your mind or at least wandering thoughts, discursive thoughts, unconcentrated thoughts; but when you meditate you bring into existence a succession of skilful or wholesome, kusala, mental states and mental events. And the more deeply you go in meditation, the more meditative you become, the more continuous does that stream of positive mental events which you are producing become. So meditation in this sense is a highly creative activity. You are bringing into existence and hopefully sustaining in existence, something which is positive, something which is helpful and wholesome, something which is skilful. And with experience you can do this uninterruptedly, or at least with only intermittent breaks. And when I say uninterruptedly I don't mean that you're doing it just when you're sitting on your meditation cushion, ideally you do it with the help of awareness whatever you are doing; that your mental state, your sequence of mental events, is skilful, not unskilful. You are constantly, whatever you are doing, bringing into existence this positive, this skilful, these really creative mental states and mental events. So I think it's important that we think of meditation not just in the way that we usually do but think of meditation as a creative activity, as one of the most creative activities in which we can possibly engage. This creation of an uninterrupted series or sequence of positive mental events, whatever we are doing - whether we are on our cushion or whether we are moving about in the world. So this is meditation as creativity, or creativity as meditation.
We could also of course more specifically refer to some of the Mahayana and Vajrayana meditation practices in which we use our imagination, we are being very creative. For instance when we visualise the Pure Land, or when we visualise the figure of Avalokitesvara or Manjughosa or Padmasambhava or Tara and so on, that is a much more specialised form of meditation as creativity, and this of course does have tremendous emotional and spiritual value for those who engage in this particular type of meditative practice or sadhana as we call it.
All right, now we'll go on to the third area within which creativity manifests itself, and that is the area of friendship. Now perhaps we don't always think, or don't often think, of friendship as being something creative, you don't think of creativity as such manifesting within the field or the area of friendship, but when two people meet and when two people become friends, and especially when they become spiritual friends, well what happens? They have an influence on each other. They produce something between them. They produce between them a relationship, an experience, a mental state which we call that of friendship, metta. The English word 'friendship' of course is rather weak. Even the word metta, even kalyana metta is perhaps a rather weak expression for the kind of experience that you can bring into existence between you when two friends get together, and especially when communication between them is deep and honest and sincere and intense. A lot can happen within the context of a friendship as I'm sure many of you know. As you interact with your friend with openness and with honesty, rough edges get smoothed, corners get rounded off. And perhaps more importantly, even, you learn perhaps to do for your friend, or for the sake of your friend, what you would not perhaps hardly even do for yourself. And in this way friendship becomes what I've called somewhere in the past a sort of mutual transcendence of egoism. Shantideva of course sheds a lot of light on this sort of situation in his Bodhicaryavatara. And if of course you get a number of people, several people, in a relationship of mutual friendship, well something very great and very precious can be produced.
I remember reading many years ago in Aristotle - I think it was in Aristotle's Ethics - that friendship is something which is possible only between the virtuous. Now by the virtuous he didn't mean the goody-goody - Aristotle, like other Greeks, wasn't interested in that sort of virtue. You mustn't forget that virtue means something like excellence, and when Aristotle said that true friendship is possible only between the virtuous, he meant something like the fact that in order to be truly friends you must have something, some principle, some ideal, on which the friendship is based. In the context of Buddhism, in the context of the Dharma, kalyana mitrata is based essentially on the fact that both parties concerned are living and working for the Dharma, are committed to the Dharma, are dedicated to the Dharma - that is the basis upon which the friendship is founded. So the friends, spiritual friends especially, are helping each other to engage more deeply with that common Dharma to which both of them are dedicated and committed. So in this way there comes about what I've called that mutual transcendence of self, of separateness.
So in this way friendship becomes a manifestation of creativity. Something new is brought into existence in the field of human relations. Friendship is something unique. If you have a real friendship with someone you get from that friendship something you don't get from your relationship with your parents or from your relationship with your employer or your relationship, say with your children, or your relationship with your sexual partner. You get something completely different, something completely new, something unique, which unfortunately nowadays very very few people in the world at large seem to have any experience of. So this is the third area, the third arena, in a way, within which creativity manifests itself - within that of friendship.
Then there's the fourth and last one, and this may surprise you. It might even shock you! The fourth one is institutions. Oh, groans all round! [Laughter] The word institution has rather a bad press, hasn't it? It has rather a bad press even within the FWBO, in some areas at least. But really we shouldn't be misled by that. Institutions are very important. Without institutions there's no civilisation, there's no culture. Everything that is alive is organised. Disorganisation means death. If you look at a plant, it's organised, it has a structure, and when the plant dies, when it's deprived of water, when it withers, what happens? - it disintegrates. So long as it has life it has structure, it has organisation. It's the same obviously with the human being. So long as we are alive we are a structure, we are a structure of bones and blood and flesh and phlegm and bile and all the other things mentioned in the contemplation of the decomposition of a corpse. But when we die, what happens? - the body becomes disorganised. It reverts to the elements of which it consists and from which it was originally drawn. So that which is alive is organised. If you're not organised you're not alive. So the organisation within the context of civilisation and culture is a very important development, a very important manifestation of creativity, and it usually takes a lot of people to bring an institution into existence, and it takes a long time for them to do it, a long time for the institution to develop within itself sufficient life, sufficient energy, sufficient vitality, for it to be able to endure and survive under changing circumstances.
So we do see in the world all sorts of organisations, all sorts of institutions and among them of course there is the FWBO. I think we need not hesitate to refer to the FWBO as an institution, despite the fact that the word has unpleasant connotations for some people. I can't think of any other word. If someone could think of a better word I'd be very glad to hear it. But the FWBO is something, as you know, that has been built up, created, over the years. So many people have put their creativity into it. Well you could say the LBC, the London Buddhist Centre, which we originally used to refer to as Sukhavati, is an institution. So much energy went into its creation, so many people committed themselves to the creation of our London Buddhist Centre from which so many people over the years have benefited. I can remember, when was it? - thirty years ago roughly, no it was less than that, twenty years ago - there were some thirty odd men working on this semi-derelict old fire station and transforming it over a period of some two, two and a half years, into our present London Buddhist Centre, and this was a great creative achievement. We mustn't think of it just as bringing into existence an institution in the ordinary, rather negative, sense of the term, but the creation of something valuable, something important, something beautiful, something which would be of great benefit to numbers of people. So we have the FWBO also as an institution. We have the LBC as an institution. We have many other FWBOs, all of them, in their own way, institutions. Team based right livelihood businesses, chapters, communities - these are all our institutions and we put our creative energy into them.
So these are these four areas, I would say, within which creativity manifests. Obviously there's the arts; then there's meditation; then there's friendship, especially spiritual friendship; and finally there are institutions, especially those which we ourselves are in process of building up.
So I would say that in the course of my own life I have been quite fortunate. In the course of my reflections over the last few weeks I've been wondering among other things how I could characterise my life. If I was asked to be quite objective and to look back at my life as though it was somebody else's life and try to characterise it, I was asking myself what would I say, how would I characterise it? One of the things I thought was, in some ways that means how would I characterise myself. It occurred to me that if I was asked and if I had to be quite objective and honest I wouldn't say that on the whole I was a religious minded person. That is to say not religious minded in the conventional sense. I don't think I've ever been a pious person, and in fact I don't think I like to be described as a religious person. It seems to have all the wrong sort of connotations; so how would I describe myself, looking back on my life? Well, I think I'd like to describe myself as a creative person. I would like to think that I was someone whose life was dominated by, or whose life was an expression of, creativity, even if only in a relatively small way. After all I've written quite a bit of poetry, I've written quite a few volumes of memoirs. I know that not everybody in the FWBO appreciates my poetry! [Laughter] I'm quite well aware of that! I'm quite well aware of the fact that it's in some quarters considered rather old-fashioned and non-experimental, but never mind, I've written it! I've expressed myself through that particular medium so I can, yes, justly say, I think, I've been creative in that way, whatever the objective value of that particular creation of mine may be.
And then of course, yes, I've had the good fortune to come into contact with very good spiritual teachers, spiritual friends. And I've had the opportunity of taking up meditation, having meditative experience including experience of those sadhanas which I've mentioned. So in this respect also my life has been a creative life, an expression of creativity.
And then of course I've been very fortunate in my friendships. I think I consider this one of the great blessings of my life, that I have had, both in India and in the West, many good friends. Some have been friends for decades now. Some, sadly, have departed this life. Dr Johnson has famously said it's important to keep one's friendships in repair. It's important to keep in contact with one's friends, especially one's old friends - not to lose contact - to keep in contact by one means or another. I think I have tried to do that. So I've a number of good old friends and I'm glad to say that even in my old age I seem to be making some new good friends as well.
So yes I have had experience of creativity in that form too. And of course when we come to institutions, the question of institutions, yes, I think I can say I've played a significant part in the creation of the FWBO. Now of course I've been able to hand on many responsibilities to the college of preceptors and to the council, and they are continuing that work of creativity, as in fact are all those who are, in one way or another, involved with the Western Buddhist Order and with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. We are all engaged in one great creative endeavour manifesting itself, in many cases, in the creation of our institutions.
So I consider myself very very fortunate that I have been able to lead a life of creativity in this way, and I think I can also say that a creative life is a happy life. I think if you're being creative, whatever the difficulties you are happy. If you're painting a picture you may be experiencing all sorts of technical difficulties, you may be tempted to give up even; the same with writing a poem, but deep down you're very very happy. Creativity is a very positive experience. While you are creating you are happy, and I will also say that if someone is not creating, not creating anything, not creating in any way or creating only in a very very limited sort of way, then the likelihood is that you're not very happy. To be creative is to be happy and creative in this broader sense which I've tried to describe.
Now, thinking about creativity it occurred to me that in an early talk I spoke of Mind Creative and Mind Reactive. I think most of you have heard this talk on tape or read it in the little book that has now come out called Buddha Mind. I've described creative mind as being the mind that is independent, the mind that is spontaneous, the mind that is aware; and in the same way I've described the reactive mind as the mind which is re-active. It doesn't originate anything, it just re-acts, and the reactive mind is therefore the dependent mind; it is the repetitive mind, it is the mechanical mind. I've gone into all this I think in some detail in this particular talk and perhaps on other occasions. But thinking about these things it occurred to me recently that I could add another characteristic or epithet to the reactive mind - that the reactive mind is not just re-active, not just repetitive, not just mechanical, not even just unaware; it's something else. The reactive mind is not just non-creative, the reactive mind can be anti-creative. The reactive mind can be destructive, and this put me in mind of something I'd been reading recently, or rather something to which I had been listening recently on cassette.
And this was to Ted Hughes' translation and reading of that great old English or Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf. I don't know how many people are familiar with Beowulf but it's well worth being familiar with, and it's illustrative of what I'm talking about now - of a certain aspect of it. The poem it seems, as far as I can make out, was written down in the tenth century. I believe there's only one surviving manuscript, but it seems it was composed, perhaps orally, in about the eighth century and relates to happenings which probably occurred in the fifth or sixth century, as far as I can make out. Scholars probably differ from one another on all these points. The story of the epic - at least the first part of the epic - is set in, it seems, what is now Denmark, and it begins with the description of the descent of the then king of the Danes. The Danes, it seems, were called Shieldings for some reason or other, and the poem relates I think four or five or more generations of kings down to the king who was reigning at the time of this particular story. The king it seems was very famous. He attracted many young men into his service. He was a just ruler. He accumulated great riches, and one day he decided to build a great, a magnificent, hall, and he sent for architects and artists from all over the world. This couldn't have been very historical but anyway this is what the poem says. Perhaps we'll see the significance of this in a moment. And this great hall was built, this enormous hall, and the poem describes it as a wonder of the world, and it describes how it was adorned, inside and outside, with gold and it glittered from afar. It was the most magnificent building at that time in the whole world, we are told. So clearly the building, this great hall, comes to have a sort of, we might say even, archetypal significance, and it's referred to as a mead hall, the hall in which the warriors gathered to drink mead, to rejoice, to celebrate. And we're also told that when this hall was inaugurated - the first time it was used when the king was there with all his men, the queen was there - the minstrel started singing, the court poet, so to speak, started singing, and his song was of creation. The creation of the sun and the moon, the creation of the earth and of all living things. So it seems to me the first time I read this poem (because it was many years ago), when I came to this passage I felt well, here is something of great archetypal significance. It's almost as though this great hall adorned with gold that the king has built represents the whole structure of civilisation and culture of the whole of humanity. It's what we've built up, the values that we've created over the centuries since the dawn of history. It seems to me to have that sort of significance.
So the story goes on that there was great feasting and rejoicing in the hall, and everyone was pleased, everyone was happy. I say 'everyone' but there was someone who was not happy, someone who didn't like to see that great hall, who didn't like to hear the rejoicing, didn't like to hear the song of the minstrel, and that was the demon, a monster called Grendel. Now I don't know what the word Grendel, the name Grendel means but it has a very harsh sound. To my mind it has a sound as of the gnashing or grinding of teeth: Grendel! So Grendel, this demon, this monster who is described as being descended from Cain who murdered his brother Abel in the Old Testament, this monster, was not at all happy to hear the feasting and the singing. So one night he crept up, he broke down the door of the hall and he slaughtered thirty of the men who were sleeping there that night and took them away to eat them, to devour them. So after that, night after night he came and pillaged and wrecked that hall so that it became deserted: people could not feast, could not make merry there, could not hear the song of the minstrel there any more. There's just another little significant detail - the hall was also the throne room of the king, and we're told, in a rather mysterious way, that Grendel was kept from the throne. Now that has, I'm sure a deep significance that I may go into at some other time, but we'll leave that aside for the moment. But we're told that for twelve years Grendel was visiting that hall and despoiling it so that it could not be used, and word of this spread quite widely throughout the area, spread even to distant countries. Again to cut a long story short the hero Beowulf comes, from the land of the Geats, which seems to have been not very far away, perhaps in Southern Sweden, and he and his men sleep in that hall. Grendel comes. He kills one man but then he comes to Beowulf and Beowulf has in his hands the strength of thirty men, so he seizes Grendel's arm and doesn't let go and Grendel is so desperate to get away that he leaves his arm behind. Beowulf wrenches it off.
So again there is feasting and there is music and there is singing in the hall, but that's not the end of the story, because Grendel has a mother. We are not told her name. She is just referred to as Grendel's Mother [Laughter] and she lives where Grendel also used to live, at the bottom of a deep, dark pool in the midst of a very sinister sort of forest way up in the mountains. So she is very upset that her son has lost his arm and died as a result, so she comes again to the hall and she snatches away the king's close friend and favourite advisor and then she gets away before Beowulf can catch hold of her. So the next day, the next morning, Beowulf and the king follow her track and they discover this black lake overshadowed by rocks and trees deep in the forest, and Beowulf plunges down into the depths where he kills Grendel's mother.
So I'm dwelling a little on some details but I think they're of some significance. Grendel is defeated in the hall. He comes to the hall and he's defeated there. But in order to defeat Grendel's mother Beowulf has to track her and go down into those depths. It's as though she represents a force even more primordial than Grendel himself. So I'm dwelling on this episode in the story of Beowulf, and this is only half the story by the way - there's another half where Beowulf fights and kills a dragon and is killed himself at the same time, fifty years later - so I'm using this just as an illustration as it were of the fact that the reactive mind can be destructive. Grendel, we can say, represents or even symbolises or embodies that aspect of the reactive mind which is not only not creative but is even opposed to creativity. And we can see this operating on or within all these different fields of creativity which I've mentioned.
Take for instance, the arts. In what way does the destructive reactive mind operate here? Well we could say it is through the carpings of small-minded critics who can't appreciate true greatness. I remember in this connection quite recently I was listening to some of the music of Richard Strauss. People have been very kindly giving me CDs of the music of Richard Strauss to which I've been listening, and one of his compositions is called The Life of a Hero, and in the opening movement you get the sort of hero theme, and in the second movement, or what appears to be the second movement, you get all sorts of odd little sounds, little sort of sharp quavering sort of sounds, which according to the programme note represent the critics who were criticising Richard Strauss for his music. So you always get those sort of people. Of course if you're criticised it doesn't mean that you're a genius, [Laughter] but a genius may be criticised which is another matter. So in the field of the arts you get this, this sort of niggling criticism. You get it in other fields also, of course. But then I think where the destructive force operates perhaps most is within the life, within the psyche if you like, the soul, of the artist himself. Some artists begin to compromise. They start off very well, they're inspired - perhaps they are geniuses - but then they start compromising. They want success and therefore they start supplying the public with what the public wants. In other words with what will sell, because perhaps they've got all sorts of domestic responsibilities and commitments, or perhaps they want to build themselves a magnificent house and entertain in style - so they compromise. So this, we could say, is the working of that reactive mind in its destructive aspect, within the mind, within the psyche, of the artist himself. Sometimes I think that the pre-Raphaelite painter Millais was an example of that sort of thing. He produced some really wonderful work in his early days, but towards the end of his life, though he did sometimes paint very fine pictures, he seems, to my mind at least, to compromise more and more with his public that wanted just pretty pictures, like for instance Bubbles - I don't know if you know that one. That's a good example, I think, of that kind of thing. And of course writers do that too. Some of you may know that very find novel by George Gissing called The New Grub Street which tells the story of a novelist, a literary man, who set out with great ideals but who gradually compromised himself writing the sort of novel that the public wanted to read and would therefore sell and bring him in a lot of money. The old Grub Street of course was the street in which hack writers lived who sold their pen to the highest bidder in the days of good old Samuel Johnson. So The New Grub Street illustrates this sort of thing.
And then we come onto meditation. Well in what way does this anti-creative force manifest itself? I think I would say here that it manifests when meditation becomes just a matter of technique. When you think that if you get the right technique and practise it regularly, even forcefully, even forcibly, you're sure to obtain results. So one can develop this sort of attitude towards any particular kind of meditation practice. You can start seeing it as an end in itself, almost a sort of magical solution to your problems if you can only just go on doing it however repetitively and however mechanically, even though it's lost whatever life was originally in the practice. So it's very important that we refresh our meditation practice from time to time. One need hardly dwell on this - I think this particular question is familiar to most of you.
And then of course there's the question of how that destructive impulse, this anti-creative impulse, manifests in the sphere of friendship, well in the sphere of human relations generally. I've thought about this quite a bit recently and I was recollecting what, for instance, Aristotle also says about friendship being possible only between men who were free. Aristotle didn't think it possible for there to be friendship between a free man and a slave, because a slave is a slave - he's not his own master, he's not independent, and in order to be a friend you have to be independent. You both have to be independent. So the destructive element enters in when one of the friends is dependent on the other in an unhealthy sort of way, is no longer emotionally and spiritually free. Sometimes it happens, even in a friendship, that one friend dominates, even controls the other, or even takes over the life of the other in the name, in the interests, of so-called friendship - but this is not true friendship. And one could also say that, looking at the whole question from a broader point of view, the same destructive element enters in when the individual is taken over by the group, when the individual is made to submit to the group, when the individual is swallowed up by the group, or perhaps even wants to be swallowed up by the group - to merge with the group. So this is where the destructive aspect of the reactive mind manifests in the field of friendship and in fact of human relations generally.
It can also, of course, manifest in all sorts of other ways and of course it can manifest in the field of institutions. Here that destructive aspect of the reactive mind manifests when, to take a very obvious example, say a universal religion becomes an ethnic religion, and of course this is a danger facing all universal religions, whether it's Buddhism or Christianity or Islam. There's always a sort of gravitational pull by virtue of which they're in danger of becoming ethnic religions. We have to be on our guard against that all the time.
So we can see that what I've called the destructive aspect, the anti-creative aspect of the reactive mind, can operate in all these four fields which I have mentioned. But there's another way in which this reactive mind can be characterised. It's not just destructive. You could say it's more than destructive, in a way. You could even say it's devouring. I happened to be reflecting recently on William Blake. Blake of course is an excellent example of a truly great artist and poet, a truly creative person - perhaps one of the most creative people that we've had in the course of the history of English art and literature. Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell distinguishes between the prolific and the devouring. I'm mainly concerned this evening with the devouring but I'll say a few words about the prolific. The prolific is that which is enormously and constantly productive and creative. Blake is also concerned with other aspects - social, economic and so on - I'm not concerned with those. I've noticed that many of the greatest artists, the greatest writers, were also very prolific. Not turning out just one or two little masterpieces but perhaps dozens. One thinks for instance of the great Greek dramatists, of Sophocles, of Euripides and others. According to tradition they did produce a hundred or more plays. Only a fraction of course survive, unfortunately. Then when we come down to modern times, when we come down say to the painters of the Renaissance, we think of people like Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo - they're so prolific. They're working all the time. Creating is happiness, working all the time. We come down to the great Elizabethans, we come down, for instance, to Shakespeare. Think how prolific Shakespeare was. Think how prolific, for instance, Goethe was. Think how prolific Dickens was. Think how prolific the great Russian novelists were. If one goes to the East, well one thinks for instance of a Sufi poet like Jalaluddin Rumi, how prolific he was. He was constantly producing, constantly creating, sometimes in a state of ecstasy, just dictating verse after verse after verse, thousands and thousands of verses. He couldn't stop. And in modern times the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, think how endlessly creative he was. He produced an enormous amount of lyric poetry, short stories, novels, plays, and as if that wasn't enough, in his old age he started painting. He produced about 2,000 paintings and he also composed and set to music 2,000 or so songs which are sung today all over India. So, endlessly creative. So I've noticed that some of the greatest or many of the greatest artists and poets have been very very creative. They've been prolific.
And, coming onto meditation, well meditation can be prolific too. They say one good turn deserves another, but one good thought, one skilful thought, produces another. So the more you meditate in the sense in which I've described, well the more you are likely to meditate. But not just that. Mediation is prolific in another way, because if you are a meditator, if you are creative in that particular way, you can teach meditation. So from you other people can learn to meditate. When I started the FWBO I was teaching mindfulness of breathing and I was teaching the metta bhavana. Now since then, just because of the fact that I was not keeping my practice or experience of meditation to myself, but I was teaching it, well hundreds, perhaps thousands of others have learned to meditate, have had meditative experience. In that way meditation has become, one could say, prolific. And not only of course within the FWBO: wherever meditation is taught there is that spread, there is that creation and recreation of a certain very positive state of mind. I remember back in the sixties we had something called Transcendental Meditation. Some of you may have been around at that time. I know some of you, some of the older Order members, had probably come to us after practising Transcendental Meditation. Well, I don't think there was anything very transcendental about it, but what was very positive about it was that at that time, and subsequently, it popularised the practice of meditation. So we can be very grateful to the old Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for doing that.
So we could say that meditation is inherently prolific, because once you have a meditative experience, just as when you have another positive experience, and positive experience of any kind, you want to share it with other people. So I'm very happy to learn that here at the LBC the meditation classes are thriving, that meditation is being taught, that more and more people are learning to meditate, are learning to be creative in that particular way in their lives.
Then what about friendship? Isn't that prolific too? I was thinking about that and I thought if you make a friend, if you make a new friend, you like normally to introduce that friend to your old friends. So in that way a sort of network of friendship grows up. You introduce your new friend to your old friends. Perhaps they introduce that new friend to other friends of theirs, and in that way a whole network of friendships is created - and I know that sometimes we speak of the FWBO itself as being fundamentally a network of friendships. Network, you might say, is another name for organisation; a network of friendships, of people who are in that relationship of mutual friendship, one with another. I'm reminded of that old simile which we get in one of the Mahayana sutras, of a flame being lit from another flame. One flame being lit from another. The first flame doesn't lose anything by propagating itself in that way, and so in the same way, friendship propagates itself. The flame of friendship passes from one person to another and then to another until there are all these flames as it were burning brightly together within what we might described as the mandala of friendship.
I've rather gone a little out of my way. I hadn't intended to say quite as much about the prolific. I was going to say more about the devourer! [Laughter] As I mentioned, Blake says in The Marriage of Heaven of Hell, that there are two kinds of men, the prolific and the devourer. So I was thinking about devouring. Do we have anything corresponding to that aspect of the reactive anti-creative mind? I thought, yes we do. There's a very important word in Buddhism. I wonder if you can think of it. It's a word that occurs in the chain of the nidanas - that is to say the nidanas which are part of the wheel of life - and that word is trsna, craving. So what is craving? Craving is the desire, the urge to devour. You want to swallow, whether it's another person, another idea or a thing or an object. Craving is the devourer.
So let's just have a few words about that before I start thinking of concluding. You all remember, I'm sure exactly where craving comes in the nidana chain, but perhaps I'd better remind you! [Laughter] You have, of course, first of all the cause process of the past, the past life that is to say. That is to say you have avidya, ignorance, and the samskaras, the factors conducing to rebirth. And then of course in this life you have, first of all the effect process of the present life. You have first of all vijnana in the sense of the seed of consciousness which comes into being in the womb of the mother. Then of course you have nama-rupa, the psycho-physical organism that comes into existence in dependence upon that vijnana, that initial consciousness. Then in dependence upon that you have the six sense organs including mind. Then you have contact, contact with an external object, physical or mental. Then you have vedana, feeling - pleasant, painful or neutral. End of result process - but not the end of that chain, because what usually happens is that in dependence upon feeling, especially pleasurable feeling, there arises thirst or craving. You want to devour that pleasant experience, that pleasant person, that pleasant idea, that pleasant possession. You want to have it. So in dependence upon trsna, craving, there arise upadana, clinging. I need not trace the process any further. The point I want to make is - and I've made it before and you must have come across this before - that this is a very crucial point. The point at which the result process of the present passes over into the cause process of the present. What we have to do is to maintain our awareness, and when we experience vedana, whether pleasant, painful or neutral, we have to be careful not to react. We mustn't allow the reactive mind to come into operation. We must be creative, we must respond - and especially when we experience duhkha, when we experience suffering; in dependence upon that we should try to develop sraddha or faith.
Now, when we are enjoying ourselves we don't usually think very much. That is to say enjoying ourselves in the ordinary way. We don't stop and think, Why am I enjoying myself, why should I be so happy, why should I be in such a good state? - no, we don't. That sort of state, that sort of condition is not one that is conducing to the asking of philosophical questions! [Laughter] But when we experience pain, when we experience suffering, whether it's physical suffering, illness, old age, decrepitude, or when we're parted from those whom we love, especially when they die, or when we are faced with unpleasant experiences of loss of another kind, we start thinking, we start reflecting. And I've noticed this happening quite a lot within the movement and within the Order recently, because many people within the FWBO are now of an age when their parents die. So there have been many reminders recently in the course of the last few months, reminders that life can hold some quite painful experiences. We can suffer. That human life inevitably involves suffering. So suffering makes us think. We start thinking, Why am I suffering, why is this? And perhaps we start thinking that there must be something more than this present life of alternate happiness and enjoyment, suffering and pleasure. And when we start thinking in that way we start lifting our minds to something higher, for want of a better term, to higher values. To something more truly satisfying; and in Buddhist terms our aspiration eventually comes to rest on what we call the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha - and faith, in the sense of the placing of our heart on the Three Jewels, arises. In this way we take the first step out of the round and up the spiral which leads eventually to Enlightenment.
So, as I'm sure all of you know or at least have read from time to time, in dependence upon faith there arises a feeling of a sort of joyous contentment. A deeper, more heartfelt, satisfaction. And then in dependence upon that there may even arise a state or experience which is, so to speak, ecstatic. A very intense sort of bubbling joy and happiness. And in dependence upon that there arises an even loftier experience, which consists in the calming down of the previous experience, without a lessening of its intensity. And in this way we come to experience what we call sukha or bliss, a truly blissful experience, and we then become concentrated, samadhi, and when we're concentrated we're able to see things as they really are; and that really does constitute a tremendous turning point in our whole spiritual life. From then onwards the attainment of Enlightenment, we might say, is certain.
(From a talk given at the London Buddhist Centre in Spring 2002)