As It Is ~ MAGIC WANDS
Before leaving office,
George Bush made a trip to Somalia, and told the U.S.
Marines there that they were doing God's work. Doing
God's work? What utter nonsense! Why doesn't God do
his own work? Such a statement implies that the situation
in Somalia has arisen with God's consent, or that
the claimed omnipotence of God is not supported by
reality?is, in fact, denied by reality! Our capacity
for superstitious belief and self-deception is so
great! Half the world is under the malignant influence
of the belief in a good, kind, omnipotent God. Why
doesn't it wake up and shrug off its delusion? It's
More often than not, people who follow religion?any
religion?are unrealistic in the things they expect
from it, and even though their expectations are seldom,
if ever, fulfilled, they still go on believing and
expecting. If, let us say, someone bought a car, and
expected it to fly, he might be quite disappointed
upon finding that it couldn't fly; the fault, however,
would not lie with the car, but with him for expecting
something from it that could not possibly happen.
Unrealistic expectations of religion may
be called "The Magic Wand Syndrome." Many
people obviously think that by believing in and praying
to some God or other, practicing yoga or meditation,
and so on, something miraculous might happen, to transform
or save them. They willingly do all kinds of things?pray,
chant, follow rules or precepts, fast, perform penance,
mortify their flesh, make pilgrimages, give donations,
do charity work, become vegetarian, practice meditation,
etc.?with the idea of getting something in return.
But it is best to be careful, before we begin, otherwise
we might trip over our own feet in our haste to get
or attain, for that which we might expect to attain
cannot be calculated or measured in terms of 'this-for-that.'
Many things are involved in anything and
everything?so many, in fact, that we cannot possibly
imagine how many. Nowadays, people are worried about
the damage to their health caused by smoking (and
quite rightly, too); but, we cannot simply say that
if you smoke you will get lung cancer, for though
smoking might well be the major cause of lung cancer,
it is not the only cause, and my father is living
proof of this: he has smoked heavily since he was
a boy and, at 83, he still shows no signs of lung
cancer. Can we, perhaps, attribute this to his karma,
and the lung cancer of others to theirs? An effect
is not produced by just one cause, and neither does
one cause produce just one effect.
So, when we follow a religion, we cannot
be sure that what we might do will inevitably produce
the longed-for results, as we can know only some of
the causes of those results, and by no means all.
If we see someone getting results by doing certain
things, that is no guarantee that if we do the same
things in the same way, we shall get the same results,
as each person has different accumulations?different
karma?and so their actions produce different results,
in different degrees. There is danger of disappointment
in practicing Dharma with the idea of getting something
in return, for though there would be results (as every
action has a reaction), they might not be the ones
we hoped for.
If only we were not in so much of a hurry!
If only we didn't want so much for ourselves?our own
small selves! If only we would see that to live virtuously
is sufficient reward in itself, without thinking of
what we might get as a result! We would probably be
more happy than we are, and there would be far less
conflict between people of different religions?or
even of the same religion?than there is, and the results
that follow?as follow they do?would be far greater,
and much sweeter and gratifying for not being sought
or expected. If we expect something pleasant, we feel
good when we get it; but if we get something pleasant
when we are not expecting it, it is so much better
as there is the element of surprise about it. So,
if we really wish to give someone a gift?not from
custom or because it is expected of us, but because
we feel like giving it and want to give it?any day
will do; it doesn't have to be a 'special' day, like
Christmas or a birthday; we can make any day special,
if we wish to, and there is no reason why we should
not do. And the least expected the gift is, the better.
When gifts are exchanged from custom, as at Christmas
time, some people consider the value of the gifts
they receive against that of those they give, and
bad feelings often result.
It is sometimes said that "It is more
blessed to give than to receive," but really,
we can give nothing that we have not first received,
and in giving, there is a feeling of satisfaction
of knowing that one has done something good or right,
and made someone happy, and is this not a kind of
If we were to plant seeds in the garden,
but then, impatient for them to grow, every day or
so we dig them up to see how well they are growing,
we would probably damage them and impede their growth
instead of promoting it. And this is like what happens
if we are overly concerned with getting results from
our Dharma practice.
There was a Sufi woman mystic named Rabiah
al-Hadawiyah, who lived in Baghdad during the 8th
century, and sometimes she would be seen walking the
streets with a flaming torch in one hand, and a pail
of water in the other. When asked why she was doing
this, she said that she wanted to bum down Heaven,
and extinguish the flames of Hell, so that people
would live righteously, and love God for His own sake,
without greed for reward, or fear of punishment.
There is a word in Buddhist parlance?Vipassana?that
many people have seized upon, and there is a tremendous
amount of pride and elitism attached to it. It means
'Insight’ or understanding clearly and directly
how things are: subject to Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta
(Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, and Selflessness
or No Self-Existence). When people babble on about
'practicing Vipassana', I feel they have acquired
this word to their own detriment, and it would be
better if they had never heard of it at all, for the
simple reason that Insight isn't something that can
be practiced; it is not within our capacity to practice
it; on the contrary, it either arises or it does not
arise (rarely does, usually does not), and there is
no way by which we can force it to arise. All that
we can do is to prepare ourselves, and open the doors
and windows of our minds, and maybe?just maybe?it
will come. The more we look for it and expect it,
however, the more we drive it away, for it cannot
be grasped and made into a personal possession; our
efforts to 'get' and 'achieve' it?no matter how pious
and good?are self-doomed to fail.
If we were to examine our motives (and it
is important to do so), we would probably find that
our search, including our practice of such things
as morality, charity, meditation, and so on, is rooted
in greed, or fear, or some other shaky emotion; we
want to acquire something we have heard might be acquired
if we do certain things, or we are afraid of not getting
such things if we do not do these things. What does
it all mean? Let me use a mundane illustration:
Recently, in Australia, some major stores
held after Christmas sales, with greatly reduced prices
advertised on some goods. As the management obviously
hoped for and anticipated, people began lining up
outside hours before opening time, and, when the doors
were finally opened, there was a mad and unstoppable
surge forward into the stores, with people being swept
off their feet, falling down, being trampled on, suffering
cuts, bruises, broken bones, and other injuries. For
the sake of getting something cheap (which they might
not have really needed anyway), they were prepared
to behave shamelessly, completely disregarding other
people around them?young or old?and push, shove, grapple,
and grope. Yes, they might, eventually, have got a
bargain, but at the same time they lost something
in themselves, something that thoughtful people strive
to protect and develop rather than discard: dignity.
In our conceit, we consider ourselves superior to
animals, but that is insulting animals, who are often
superior to us!
Life becomes more and more complex as we
go on, and many of us find ourselves increasingly
hard-put to cope with the speed of change; we become
tense and fearful; simplicity of living recedes ever
farther behind us. Yet would we abandon the luxuries
and comforts that fill our homes for simple living?
No, instead, we always want and acquire more. Some
people, feeling the strains and pressures of life
more acutely than others, perhaps, look around for
something to help them deal with their problems and
frustrations, and some find it?or so they think?in
meditation, which becomes, in some cases, yet another
possession, something else to think of as their own.
If we go into the practice of meditation
without understanding why we are doing it, or to get
something out of it, it is rather like applying perfume
or deodorant to cover up body odor: another odor is
added instead of the first odor being removed. Moreover,
mental derangement might easily result; it is not
uncommon in ‘meditation freaks.'
"I wish to find peace of mind,"
some people say, without ever trying to find out first
why their minds are not peaceful, or whether it might
not be the natural state of the mind to be un-peaceful.
So, like hypochondriacs rushing to the medicine cabinet
at the first tiny twinge of pain?real or imagined?they
jump into this or that meditation method (and there
are some strange and dubious ones around).
It would be infinitely better, I feel, if
we assessed ourselves as human beings, to see what
we have and are, before trying to acquire and accumulate
anything else. We tend to compare ourselves with others,
and deprecate ourselves or envy others if we find
that the comparison favors the others. How little
we understand of what it means to be human! There
is so much to do to understand what it means to be
as we are right now, without grasping for more. The
ladder we intend to use to reach the stars should
first be planted on a firm foundation, and not on
sandy ground; an understanding of the past is essential
to understand the future.
The word 'meditation' sets many people spinning,
like tops, and gives them airy fairy ideas about something
that has been going on in their minds, on and off,
all their lives, but they never noticed it before.
The word has become fashionable.
Meditation should not be seen as a means
to grasp something, or to escape from something, but
as a realization of what is here, and what has always
been here, a seeing of life as it is.
Sometimes, overwhelmed by the omnipresence
of suffering in the world, I feel as if a great burden
is weighing me down and crushing me. It happened,
several times, that this feeling came over me as I
was walking along, and my legs felt as if they were
made of lead: so heavy. Sitting down somewhere?it
didn't matter where, even with people all around?my
mind automatically became concentrated, without effort,
and the object of concentration?suffering?seemed in
no way repulsive or morbid, but was viewed in its
cause-and-effect aspect. Meditation came, unsought,
and there was no attempt to grasp it, or measure it
with time; it was a thing of quality rather than quantity.
Thus, suffering is seen as a key that unlocks closed
doors, and not as something to be regarded with fear
and loathing. (I feel that this kind of thing is not
uncommon, and that most people might have experienced
it now and then, although they might not have been
aware of what it was: natural, un-produced meditation).
By this, too, we see that, though suffering exists,
and has arisen/arises from various causes, it can,
with wisdom, be avoided or lessened; we are not helpless
victims, bound and gagged on the altar of pain; we
can change our condition, can change the world, in
a positive way, though this can happen only if we
understand how things are now.
Some people will probably disagree with
and dislike what I've said here, for shaking their
beloved system, and exposing the fact that it is precariously
balanced upon words like 'meditation' and 'insight'.
Can we?dare we?suppose that insight into reality arises
only through the practice of certain systems and disciplines?
Can we catch the wind in a bottle, or put chains on
the sea? Come on!
I am not against sitting cross legged, and
paying attention to one's breath; in fact, I think
it is as good an exercise for the mind as gymnastics
or calisthenics is for the body. But if we view it
as a 'magic wand,' as something that will ultimately
solve all our problems, I feel it is a case of expecting
To reiterate: Insight is not something we
can 'practice' or 'do,' but must come to us, unsought