Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Noblest Jihad

“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle,
Yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.”

The above quotation is one of my favorite sayings of the Buddha, recorded in the book The Dhammapada as Verse 103. Considering the various conflicts around the world that continue to keep the news media busy, this verse is as important and pertinent for our lives today as it was when first uttered millennia ago. America and her allies are fighting Muslim ‘insurgents’ in both Iraq and Afghanistan, while Muslims have attacked their fellow countrymen (as well as foreigners) in pursuit of self-rule. But, though they may defeat their enemies, have any of the combatants or their leaders conquered their own minds? Who or what are the real enemies of the West? Islamists? Communists? And who or what are the true foes of the Islamists? Westerners? Infidels? No, the real enemies of Westerners, Islamists, communists, religionists and atheists alike are the same. In Buddhism they are called lobha, dosa, and moha, or greed, hatred, and delusion.

It is greed (or raga, ‘lust’), that drives all humans to want this beautiful person, or that expensive car, or to gain and cling to positions of power and influence. We find someone attractive, physically, mentally, or perhaps both. We are friendly towards them, listening to their opinions and problems with an open heart, unlike those people that we aren’t very keen on. This is attaching to our likes, favoring those that make us feel good in some way. Perhaps the person that wasn’t so attractive to us might have been a positive influence in our lives, helping us with some worldly endeavor, or even assisting us to grow in the Dharma. But, being greedy for those that we like, we miss out on a chance for growth. Hatred repels us from those people, things, and situations that we don’t like. How many of us in the past few years have felt repulsion either at the actions of the foreign military against Muslim civilians or/and the bombings of other civilians by their ‘fellow’ countrymen? This is a form of hate, arising in our hearts in response to that which we do not like – and has this hate changed a thing in Iraq and Afghanistan, or has it simply caused unhealthy mind states to arise within ourselves? Similarly, intense dislike of those people and things that we must endure in our everyday existences are also the recipients of our negative emotions. And do they stop being the way they are, simply because we hate them for it? Of course not.

Both greed and hatred have their root in delusion, or more precisely, the delusion of self. The feeling of being a self (mana, or 'conceit') fuels the fires of desire and aversion: it’s all about what I like or what I don’t like. Living from the position of ego, we constantly judge the world around us and the people in it. Whether it’s a hostile neighbor, soldier, terrorist, or love rival, it’s this sense of I up against the other that is the root cause of all this hatred. Ditto, with regards to desire; this I-ness causes us to latch on to this person or that, desiring all kinds of contact with them! Suffering, whether on the personal or societal level, ultimately comes from the three unwholesome roots of greed, hatred, and delusion that every human on this planet is subject to, unless he or she becomes enlightened. A name for enlightenment in Buddhism is nirodha (cessation or ending). Some think that this refers to the cessation of the self, but this is incorrect. Ultimately, the self is a delusion, so therefore it cannot end for it never existed. Enlightenment is the ending of greed, hatred, and the delusion of being a separate self. True victory is therefore the defeat of the delusion of self; it is the final triumph, which no tyrant can deprive one of, no matter how much they abuse one.

According to many scholars and mystics, this realization is not limited to Buddhists. In the traditions of Christian mysticism, Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, and Sufi Islam (not to mention many, many others), there are records of those that have let go of all striving and transcended the limitations of the ego to realize that which lies beyond the self. This conquering of the self – or, to be more psychologically accurate, relinquishing of ego – emphasizes the bonds between people, not the differences; it produces peace rather than conflict in our hearts and lives; it is the result of the inner, or greater, jihad (‘struggle’) that many Muslims speak of as being superior to the outer, or lesser, jihad against the ‘infidel’ aggressors. In the practice of Buddhism, we work towards the awakening of this realization of selflessness that transforms our understanding of who and what we are. Living from this position of awakening to the Dharma (the way things are), we are less likely to be in conflict with each other. I hope and pray that those in the throws of outer conflict are able to listen to the Dharma (whether cloaked in Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, or any other language) and adjust their lives accordingly. Only then will the people of the beleaguered nations of the Earth begin to live in peace (both physically and mentally).

The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.


Gladstone said...

Pinning every defilement onto the ‘self’ is not quite correct, although Freud would no doubt agree with you. People who overcome the delusion of self are called Sotapannas, those who have attained the first stage of enlightenment.

Tanha and dhosa are tastes that people attach to, and are not dependent upon the illusion of self, as they still remain even when sakkaya-dithi has been defeated.

As for the followers of other religions being capable of unravelling sakkaya-dithi, then they would also need a method of practice (other than just thinking), and only Hinduism has anything remembling this, otherwise sine, samadhi, pannya is meaningless and The Buddha was wrong.

Out of politeness we can accept that many followers of other religions are kind people far from being selfish, but this is still far from the level of understanding that a Sotapanna has realized through meditative development.

Enlightenment is becoming free of conditioned phenomena.

Ten out of ten for saddha, somewhat less for content.

G said...

Thanks Gladstone for the stimulating comments.

Sotapannas are said to have overcome sakkaya-ditthi ('self-belief' or 'identity-view'), but as they haven't reached complete enlightenment, are still subject to the feeling of being a self (mano or 'conceit'). So, yes, greed and hatred remain, because a 'stream-enterer' is still subject to the delusional sense of being a self that is the antithesis of enlightenment. According to Buddhist teachings, a fully enlightened being has let go of this conceit of self (mano), as well as sakkaya-ditthi, so avijja (the 'delusion' of being a self) is no more. Full enlightenment is being free of the delusional self, thereby nether desiring nor repulsing conditioned phenomena.

As to judging other traditions according to one's own narrow viewpoint, might this be another example of attachment to views, Gladstone?

Be well,

Justin said...

Good post Gary, but I do not believe Muslims are going to stop their conquest of the West and any other country/culture they are currently destroying because there is nothing within their belief system that would give them any reason to. Islam is a relious system and a political system wrapped into one whose founder, Mohammed, actally gave the ok to kill those who do not agree with them. Perhaps in Sufism there may exist something similar to Buddhism but there is no such thing in so called "moderate" Islam.

I feel that us Buddhists must prepare for and suffer martyrdom since Islam is spreading so rapidly and forcefully in every corner of the world, especially the European continent. The West abandoned it's belief in anything but nihilism and moral/cultural relativism long ago and so it is on it's dying breath. Tolerance, diversity, white guilt, where has that gotten the West but closer to cultural collapse?

The problem lies in the greed, hatred, and delusion that you mention but I don't think we can do anything about it on a global level. As far as the Buddha was concerned, both the Muslims and everyone short of Buddhist streamwinners are all enmeshed in wrong short, the world is run by wrong view. I am personally sickened by Europe's loss of heart and it's descent into a sort of glib nihilism along with its belief that somehow kindness and tolerance can save them.

I struggle because I do not, on a personal level at least, believe that we can all "just get along." Historically it has never happened, so what is different now? As a Buddhist I really try to put aside ill will in my heart but I don't believe that we can really do a whole lot to get rid of greed, hatred and delusion out of anyone but ourselves.

I can see this atitude in my mind with awareness but I can't really let go of it, no matter how hard I may have tried. It just seems to be in direct opposition to common sense since all the current and historical evidence points to the impending demise of Europe, the west and the massive bloodshed that will precede it. At least I can see these things in my mind and not get swept away by them.

By the way, a good book to read that points out the problem in the west is Nihilism, the root of the Revolution of Our Age, by Father Seraphim Rose. It's not a Buddhist book but it's dead on, at least as far as I can see.

Thanks for listening Gary, and I wish you well.

G said...

Great to hear from you again, Justin.

Many people in the West - Americans particularly since the shock of 9/11, perhaps - are understandably afraid of the violent Islamists. However, considering the present situation as 'the end of civilization as we know it' is simply another state of mind, as you recognize in your comments, Justin. Some people remain optimistic about the near future of humanity & the world, preferring to focus on the positive developments in modern societies. It's a matter of perspective, really, isn't it?

As to the specific subject of the state of western societies, America included, there is much to appreciate about the present situation, when compared to times past. I'm sure many women & non-whites might see things differently to you Justin when considering how their parents were treated because of their sex and color not so long ago. (Not that such prejudices have completely disappeared, of course - how could they in an imperfect world?) Whether our individual minds attach to positive views or negative views about current events, it is the wise course to remain as unattached as possible, focusing on the Path before us.

Also, if you are right, and we are at the 'end times' then that's the way it is, isn't it? Therefore, we must redouble our efforts to awaken to the Buddha nature with us, and share this awakening with the suffering beings of the world. A conclusion that leaves us essentially in agreement, despite the different ways we got here!

Be well Justin,

Gladstone said...

So what you are saying is that a Sotapanna has not defeated sakkaya-dithi.

And where are these enlightened Jews, Christians, and Muslims?

Gladstone said...

I see what the problem is, you are also saying that an Anagami still has sakkaya-dithi because he has conceit, 'mana' not 'mano', (note that it is subtle conceit, not the conceit of ordinary people).

This is understandable because he is a non-returner and is close to completion of the final path, and even with this subtle conceit many Anagamis can sit in nirvana exactly the same as an Arahant (Nirodha Samapatti) even though they have not yet completed the final path.

You are interpreting everything in a Freudian way (egoism), but lust, anger, and subtle conceit have nothing to do with sakkaya-dithi (self-illusion).

G said...

Hi Gladstone; nice to read your words again.

According to Buddhist teaching, sakkaya-ditthi and mano are not the same thing. A sotapanna has let go of the self-view (sakkaya-ditthi), but not the underlying vague feeling of being a separate self (mano). An arhat has let go of both. Sakkaya-ditthi is an intellectual idea or belief that self consists in soul, mind, body, or any combination of these factors. Mano is pre-intellect; more of an instinct.

It is this instinctual feeling of being a separate self up against the world which creates the conditions for greed & hatred to sprout from. The thought of self and the concepts that derive from it (sakkaya-ditthi) are secondary to the conceit of self (mano), which is why a sotapanna has transcended the former, but not the latter. This isn't my opinion, Gladstone, it's traditional Buddhist teaching, which as far as my limited experience of these things is concerned, seems to be so. Please consult the Tripitaka, its commentaries, or modern Buddhist teachers like Ajahn Brahm or Ajahn Sumedho if you don't believe me!

But to some extent all this is playing with words and concepts, isn't it? What really counts isn't which particular teachings we attach to or reject, but how we develop wisdom & compassion in daily life. Teachings are there to be used as skillful means along with such techniques as prayer, chanting, meditation & mindfulness. And this is an ongoing effort for us all that live a 'spiritual' life, which with presence & perseverance we can cultivate successfully, Gladstone.

Be well,

Gladstone said...

Note that my source is the Pali Canon, and there are in fact no references or instances of what you are saying. However, I may perhaps be incorrect in pointing the finger at you rather than your own sources.

While it is not unusual for people to disagree with certain aspects of the Tripitaka, you cannot rewrite the basic foundations, which is what you are attempting to do in saying that sakkaya-dithi is not defeated until full enlightenment is reached.

The idea that everything is related to ‘self’ until one reaches full enlightenment simply reinforces the concept of self, which is always illusory, and thus is a false teaching, not Buddhism.

G said...

Gladstone, I'm beginning to wonder if you are either deliberately misconstruing my words or unable to understand basic English language. Please reread all of my replies to you - nowhere have I written that Buddhism teaches that sakkaya-ditthi is not transcended until full enlightenment. I have repeated the traditional Buddhist teaching that mano (the 'conceit' of self) is not transcended until full enlightenment. Do you understand, Gladstone - mano (conceit) & sakkaya-ditthi (self-view) are not the same thing according to Buddhist teaching?!

Intelligent debate is useful in our spiritual development, Gladstone, but twisting other people's words to win an argument (which is what you appear to be indulging in) is neither beneficial to spiritual awakening nor particularly dignified.

Please reread my replies to you with an open and honest mind - carefully! And afterward, please don't misrepresent me merely to try to win a doctrinal argument. A useful exercise is to reflect on the state of mind when you do this - what responses are present when you read the words, and what motives are present when you compose your reply. Try it!

Be well, Gladstone,

Gladstone said...

Whatever samanas and brahmanas, bikkhus, insist on regarding the self in different ways, all of them do it with reference to the five factors of clinging to existence, or some of them. What five? Herein, bikkhus, the common unlearned man, disregarding the noble ones, ignorant of the Dhamma of the noble ones…… (and then The Buddha lists the five khandas (body and mind) as being seen as the self or the self as having these five khandas). What he was saying is that there was no self outside of this view.

To begin with, in talking about Buddhism you have to be very careful about the use of the word self. Above is basically the anatta doctrine of The Buddha, but there is also the atta doctrine too in Buddhist texts, where the self meant the perfect self, the enlightened self; abhinibbutatto, one whose self has been utterly cooled. Then again there is the modern interpretation of self (wired meat), so many interpretations in fact that it would really be the last choice of words in explaining Buddhism.

The above quote covers the meaning of sakkaya-dithi, as realized by those who complete the first path.

You said that:

“It is this instinctual feeling of being a separate self up against the world which creates the conditions for greed & hatred to sprout from.”

I take this as meaning that rather than attachments in the mind you regard greed and hatred as resulting from a sense of self, which is something that neither Sotapannas nor Anagamis possess; that is unless you have a poor opinion of these noble beings.

Admittedly for ordinary people there is this underlying vague feeling of being a separate self, but as noble beings have realized sakkaya-dithi and also know that beyond the view of self arising from the five factors of clinging to existence there is no other self, separate or otherwise, to deal with, for them there is no self to defeat, only attachments in the mind.

In calling these attachments, greed and anger, as facets of the self, then you are saying that there are other conditions beyond what The Buddha taught as the anatta doctrine, which, according to Buddhism, is not correct.

Gladstone said...

As for the idea that greed and anger originates from a sense of self, this is somewhat simplistic. Greed and anger are primal instincts that we developed in our jungle days as animals, and they were necessary for survival. Wild animals have no sense of self; they are completely attached to the senses and operate on instinct. Where did we originate? Pond scum probably, and you can be sure that it also has no sense of self.

The highest attainment for any animal is to become tame, and once they start hanging around human beings then they generally take on the personality of their owner, and this in turn can lead to them being reborn with two legs instead of four, with the opportunity to start acting as a self.

Many of the emotions that humans experience are also experienced by animals, although some are unique to humans, like hatred (perhaps demons too), and unique to humans and the higher realms, like conceit, which we develop a taste for when we are young if we haven’t experienced it before. One of the noticeable differences between animals and humans regarding anger, or ferocity, is that wild animals can let go of it in the blink of an eye, whereas humans have problems letting go of it due to their attachment and often take hours to let go.

So, whether it is greed, anger, or conceit (mana), they are all tastes that the ignorant mind clings to; attachments. This mind is not a self.

G said...

Obviously, you won't take my word that self-view and the conceit of self are different, Gladstone, and that whilst the former is transcended at sotapannaship, the latter is transcended only at arhatship. Why should you? Perhaps, however, you will listen to such venerable luminaries as P.A. Payutto, Nyanatiloka Bhikkhu, and Bhikkhu Bodhi, all of whom write with the authority of the Tripitaka which you claim to derive your doctrines from...

"The Ten Fetters (Samyojana)

The Five LOWER Fetters
1. PERSONALITY-VIEW (sakkaya-ditthi)
2. doubt
3. adherence to rules & rituals
4. sensual lust
5. repulsion

The Five HIGHER Fetters
6. greed for fine-material existence
7. greed for immaterial existence
8. CONCEIT/pride (mano)
9. restlessness
10. ignorance (avijja)"

(From 'Dictionary of Buddhism' by Venerable P.A. Payutto)

"Mana, [or mano; they are different grammatical forms of the same word in Pali] - 'conceit' 'pride', is one of the ten fetters binding to existence. It vanishes completely only at the entrance to Arahatship, or Holiness." Venerable Nyanatiloka in 'The Buddhist Dictionary.

The Ten Fetters (Samyojana):
1. SELF-DELUSION (sakkaya-ditthi)
2. scepticism
3. attachment to rules & rituals
4. sensual lust
5. ill-will
6. craving for fine material existence
7. craving for immaterial existence
9. restlesness
10. ignorance (avijja)

"One who is freed from the first three fetters is called a sotapanna...An arahant is freed from all the ten fetters." (Venerable Nyanatiloka, 'The Word of the Buddha')

"THE CONCEIT 'I AM' DIFFERS FROM IDENTITY VIEW, the view of self (sakkaya-ditthi), to which it is partly akin. The view of self affirms an enduring self existing in relation to the five aggregates, either as identical to them, or as their inner core, or as their owner and master. But the conceit 'I am' lacks a clear conceptual content. It lurks at the base of the mind as a vague, shapeless, but imperious sense of the 'I' as a concrete reality. THOUGH THE VIEW OF SELF IS ALREADY ELIMINATED AT THE STAGE OF STREAM-ENTRY, THE CONCEIT 'I AM' PERSISTS IN NOBLE DISCIPLES EVEN UP TO THE STAGE OF NON-RETURNER. This is the point of the incisive Khemaka Sutta." Bhikkhu Bodhi, 'In the Buddha's Words.'

So, according to the Tripitaka & the three venerable bhikkhus above, the view of self and the conceit of self are NOT the same thing, the latter only disappearing at full awakening. Gladstone, is your knowledge of the Tripitaka better than the above venerable scholar-monks? If you maintain such a view, then surely that's a prime example of the very thing you are denying (the conceit of self!!). ;-)

May we all be well in the light of Dharma,

Gladstone said...

Where exactly do I say that self illusion and conceit are the same? I don't, so your argument about that is a non-issue.

As for mana, it is obviously not a big thing, as bikkhus can realize non-returner status even though they may be a tad conceited. I would think that most people would accept that and put up with being called conceited any day.

The Buddha himself did not make a great fuss about mana, because he knew that it was relatively easy for an Anagami to overcome it.

Going back to my original argument,
"Pinning every defilement onto the 'self' is not quite correct", then I think I have offered some food for thought on this problem.

This is not meant to be a reflection on those who do explain things in this way, but as mentioned earlier, using the word 'self' is perhaps a poor choice of words.

I have also pointed out that in Buddhism you cannot imply subtle or vague feelings of self that do not fit in with The Buddha's Anatta doctrine.

As for the scholastic interpretation of mana, then one can only say that on face value it is correct. However, the words used, like conceit and pride, are the same words we use for ordinary people, yet you would have to be a noble being yourself to fully understand the level of influence it has.

That is why I have termed it subtle conceit as I suspect that it is not exactly as the words may imply, and it should be regarded as an attachment, an enjoyable taste that the mind clings to, rather than a problem of self attachment.

G said...

Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in DEBATE,
yet he is the noblest victor who conquers himself.

Gladstone, we're clearly drowning in a sea of semantics here, and it's going nowhere! You have your understanding and the monks quoted above & I have ours, and it's fine that we understand the subtleties of this subject differently, as the teachings are a raft to be used to realize enlightenment and not to be attached to anyway. In this spirit, you can have the last words on this topic on this comments board.

So, let's do the wise thing and let it go (at least for now), as I'm sure we both have more important things to do than indulge in a never-ending battle of words - philosophical argument is no substitute for genuine Buddhist practice, after all.

Be well in the Dharma,

G said...

Humble pie:

Gladstone et al, reviewing this article I noticed an awful error which may or may not have contributed to the misunderstandings between Gladstone & myself. Instead of writing "The feeling of being a self (mana, or 'conceit') fuels the fires of desire and aversion: it’s all about what I like or what I don’t like," I wrote that, "self-view (sakkaya-ditthi) fuels the fires of desire and aversion..." This was a terrible mix-up of terminology, which could be very misleading, so I have corrected it in the original post.

My sincere apologies to anyone who read the original post and may have been mislead, and to Gladstone I extend a further apology: the cause of the confusion over sakkaya-ditthi and mana was mine alone. In subsequent comments, the difference between the two concepts is clearly demarcated by myself, but in relation to the original wording of the post, it was most confused & confusing! This has been rectified.

Be well,