Protecting Who You Aren’t

Sunday, ten a.m. Ram Dass was sitting in front of a window; because his face was backlit by brilliant sun, the features were difficult to distinguish and at times dissolved into blackness. “There is a Sikh saying: ‘Once you know that God knows everything, you’re free,’ “Ram Dass said. “We all have rooms in our head we keep closed and guarded, as part of our social posture. That guarding is energy, and it makes the things real. Freedom lies in realizing that everything you were protecting isn’t who you really are.”








The World Is On Fire

The world is on fire!
And you are laughing?
You are deep in the dark.
Will you not ask for a light?
For behold your body –
A painted puppet, a toy,
Jointed and sick and full of false imaginings,
A shadow that shifts and fades.
How frail it is!
Frail and pestilent,
It sickens, festers and dies.
Like every living thing
In the end it sickens and dies.
Behold these whitened bones,
The hollow shells and husks of a dying summer.
And you are laughing?
You are a house of bones,
Flesh and blood for plaster.
Pride lives in you,
And hypocrisy, decay, and death.
The glorious chariots of kings shatter.
So also the body turns to dust.
But the spirit of purity is changeless
And so the pure instruct the pure.
The ignorant man is an ox.
He grows in size, not in wisdom.
“Vainly I sought the builder of my house
Through countless lives.
I could not find him…
How hard it is to tread life after life!
“But now I see you, O builder!
And never again shall you build my house.
I have snapped the rafters,
Split the ridgepole
And beaten out desire.
And now my mind is free.”
There are no fish in the lake.
The long-legged cranes stand in the water.
Sad is the man who in his youth
Loved loosely and squandered his fortune –
Sad as a broken bow,
And sadly is he sighing
After all that has arisen and has passed away.


– The Dhammapada




Institutionalized Power Relations

Relations of power are not in themselves forms of repression. But what happens is that, in society, in most societies, organizations are created to freeze the relations of power, hold those relations in a state of asymmetry, so that a certain number of persons get an advantage, socially, economically, politically, institutionally, etc. And this totally freezes the situation. That’s what one calls power in the strict sense of the term: it’s a specific type of power relation that has been institutionalized, frozen, immobilized, to the profit of some and to the detriment of others.


– Michel Foucault. Power, Moral Values, and the Intellectual.


The Lower Lokas

A section of the Buddhist scriptures, the Peta Vatthu, describes the state of those reborn in the Duggatti spheres, and how they can be helped by the living. The word ‘Peta’ may be roughly translated as ‘ghost’, though it is related to the Sanskrit Pitri, meaning ancestor. In the Peta Vatthu it is shown that those reborn in the spirit world nearest the earth-plane often have an inferior type of consciousness to that with which they were equipped in their previous existence. Far from having access to wider realms of knowledge they re-manifest with a limited consciousness and intellect, with imperfect memory of the past life, and inhabiting a vague, in-determinate half-world. At the same time because of their strong attraction to the sphere they have left, their contacts with it are relatively easier and more frequent than those of beings in the higher lokas. In a sense, they exist side by side with the ‘living’; the step between their place and ours is only small and one easily taken by the psychically-sensitive. It is from these beings that the trivial messages and meaningless phenomena emanate. They have not the same ‘personality’ they had on earth, but retain only the accumulated characteristics most predominant in that personality. This condition prevails until that particular kamma-resultant is exhausted, when they are reborn once again in the ceaseless round of saüsàra, from which final escape is only possible through the realisation of Nibbana. On the human (manussa) level of the kàma-Loka there is pain and pleasure, good and evil, hatred and love. It is the sphere of opposites, from which we, as free agents, have to make our own choices for the fulfillment of our evolution. All the  lokas must be regarded as planes of consciousness which are attainable… in the physical body.


 – Ven. Suvanno Mahathera. The 31 Planes of Existence. From




Asura Loka

Always desiring to be superior to others, having no patience for inferiors and belittling strangers; like a hawk, flying high above and looking down on others, and yet outwardly displaying justice, worship, wisdom, and faith — this is raising up the lowest order of good and walking the way of the Asuras.


 – Zhiyi (538-597), patriarch of the Tiantai school. Quote taken from





Happiness As Positive Suffering

When the Buddha found that he was Awake during that night under the bodhi-tree it may be assumed that he observed that what hitherto he had regarded as happiness, as compared with suffering, was such no longer. His only standard henceforward was ananda or what we try to think of as bliss. Suffering he saw as the negative form of happiness, happiness as the positive form of suffering, respectively the negative and positive aspects of experience. But relative to the noumenal state which now alone he knew, both could be described by some word in Maghadi, the language he spoke, which was subsequently translated as dukkha. Dukkha is the counterpart of sukha which implied ‘ease and well-being’, and whatever the Maghadi word may have meant it remains evident that to the Buddha nothing phenomenal could appear to be sukha although in phenomenality it might so appear in contrast to dukkha.


This proposition is quite general and can be more readily perceived in the case of – say – humility. Humility is the negative form of pride, and pride the positive form of humility: they are not different as what they are but only in their interpretation. What we mean by true or perfect humility is not that at all: it is the absence of ego-entity to experience either pride or humility because, if humility is experienced, it rebecomes a form of its opposite – pride.


Similarly what we interpret as suffering and its opposite are just negative and positive experience, but when there is no longer a supposed ego-entity to experience either, neither can be present any longer, and what remains is sat-chit-ananda the division of which into three elements is merely a dualistic convenience. To require an accurate translation into Pali or Sanscrit of words in a lost language, long centuries before the dialectics of Nagarjuna, Arya Deva, and Candrakirti, is unreasonable, particularly in a tradition rooted in the Positive Way which is natural to Indians: it is the inevitable burden of the Buddha’s teaching which concerns us rather than the dubious terms in which it may have been put into writing several centuries after his parinirvana.


– Wei Wu Wei. (1968). Posthumous Pieces.