UNIVERSAL DHARMA

This Too, Will Pass ~ BODY AND MIND

EXAMINE ALMOST ANY FOOD-PACKAGE today and we find, beside the list of ingredients, the virtues of the product extolled: "High Energy," "Low Calories," "High Fiber," "Low Sugar," "Low Salt," "Low Cholesterol," "Enriched with Vitamins and Minerals," "No Additives," etc.; the list goes on and on, often in technical jargon and chemical terms which are, one often thinks, designed to bamboozle the layman. Are the big food-manufacturers really concerned about the health of the consumers or more interested in their own profits?

We talk of 'wholesome-food' and 'junk-food,' and willingly pay more for brand-names, often getting fleeced thereby. But, while paying much attention to the food that goes into our stomachs, we seldom reflect on the other kind of food which is of equal importance as the food we sustain our bodies by, and perhaps moreso: the nourishment of the spirit— and I use the term 'spirit' here rather than the word 'mind,' as I’m referring to something more than just the mental. The mind is broad and open, has many aspects, and includes all we mean by words like 'spirit,' 'soul,' 'heart,' sub-conscious,' 'super-conscious,' and so on. But, to make it clear that I am speaking of the spiritual-aspect of the mind, I will use the word 'spirit' here.

Our spirit needs nourishment just as does our body. If the body is deprived of food it weakens and eventually dies; and should the spirit be different? Many of us neglect our spirits— unaware that we have an 'inner life' to take care of— and are literally starving to death, spiritually. It's not surprising that there is so much frustration, greed, rage, violence and suffering in the world when the causes of these effects go unrecognized and untreated; it is not surprising at all!

Jesus once said: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God". I accept the meaning of this, but because I reject the idea of 'God,' would rephrase it a little: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but also by Dharma." We all need Dharma, or Righteousness, for our inner life; without it, we dry up at the roots, like a plant deprived of water. It does not mean that we should go regularly to the temple or church, or call ourselves 'Buddhists,' 'Christians,' 'this' or 'that'; we may do so, of course, but doing only that does not make us religious, and often has little to do with Dharma. By 'bread,' of course, Jesus meant material things in general, and not merely that thing made of flour, yeast and water.

Another time, a man said to him: "Lord, allow me first to bury my father, and I will follow you." His father was probably old and not expected to live much longer, and the man wished to do his filial duty by tending his father till the end and giving him a proper funeral before leaving home and family to follow Jesus. But Jesus said to him: "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury the dead" (Matt 8:22). The Bible does not explain what Jesus meant, and we are not told if the man understood or not. It is rather cryptic. How is it to be understood? From the horror-movies, we are familiar with the idea of 'zombies'; a 'zombie' is some-body which, according to the cult of 'Voo-Doo,' has been 'raised from the dead' but is devoid of consciousness; in other words, 'living-dead.' Is this what Jesus meant? No, he was talking of another kind of 'dead': people who live as if they are dead, people who are starved spiritually or inwardly, who live mere physically, those who have not yet been born spiritually.

We hear a lot today about being 'born again,' meaning having been 'reborn' in religious faith; Christians often use this term, though the concept is not confined to them. Buddhists speak about 'having insight into Reality,' a very deep, personal and life-transforming experience; it may be equated to being 'born again,' born into an awareness of life hitherto unknown. Until such rebirth, many people live as if dead; the world is full of them; they wander through life without direction, not knowing where they came from, where they are, nor where they are going. Many of them live in selfish, uncaring ways, unaware that it is impossible to live by and for self alone, as we depend so much upon others, and this dependency carries with it a responsibility towards others, a responsibility which, if not fulfilled, brings repercussions that lead to our impoverishment.

According to Buddhism, when we die, we goes to face the results of our karma— our actions— done while living in this world, and in the New Testament, we find St. Paul saying: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). What can anyone do for the dead? I have my karma and you have yours, and, like airplane tickets, it is 'non-transferable.' The Buddha taught that we get the results of our own karma, each by himself; no-one can save another. Thus, the duty of the living— those who are spiritually aware— is to the living, not to the dead, for the dead have left our sphere of influence; it might be possible to help some of the living— those with whom we share this world— to awaken to the importance of living now, while we may, and not delay until we are old, sick, or near death, which might well be too late. The message of Jesus, therefore— similar to that of the Buddha, who lived and taught 500 years earlier— was "Live now, for tomorrow never comes". The Buddha taught that Nirvana is to be found in this world and not in the hereafter; in fact, the only time there ever is, is NOW, for we can live neither in the past nor in the future.

Now, Nirvana, or the Unconditioned, is not a place but a state of mind. Prince Siddhartha, otherwise known as 'Sakyamuni', attained Nirvana at the age of 35 and was known, thereafter, as 'The Buddha,' meaning 'The Awakened One.' When He passed away at the age of 80, He entered what is called 'Parinirvana,' or the state of Nirvana with no physical base. He said: "If a person were to follow me for 100 years, holding the edge of my robe, but with a mind defiled by the Three Poisons of Greed, Hatred and Delusion, he would never see me. But one whose mind is free of these Poisons, even though he lives far away from me, would see me all the time. He who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha," meaning that the state of Buddhahood, or Awakening, is not a physical condition but a mental or spiritual state, attained by realizing Truth or Reality.

A vision of Reality which we shall later know more fully, has an effect similar to that of a can-opener: of liberating us from the narrow confines of self and making us broad and wide-open. Anything that makes us narrow, intolerant and bigoted cannot be Reality, but just a mirage, something of our imagination, or something that we got from someone else, second-, third- or multi-hand. An experience which can be grasped onto, claimed as 'mine,' and makes us more selfish instead of less is, at most, a psychic experience, but certainly not a spiritual one, for a genuine spiritual experience burns out the element of self in us, lessens and weakens it. This is one way by which we can test our experiences: do they make us more or less proud, egoistic, narrow and intolerant?

We know the importance of having adequate Vitamins A, B, C, etc., for our physical bodies, but we also need adequate Vitamin W for our spiritual bodies, for our inner life. Vitamin W means WISDOM, a quality that this world is in dire need of today. It has been edged out, shunted aside, overshadowed, and almost overcome by technology and academic-learning masquerading as Wisdom— a wolf disguised as a lamb.

It is interesting, though, and encouraging, for in spite of the gross stupidities that flourish in the world, in spite of the fact that many people delight in flaunting their ignorance as if it were a virtue or treasure— something to be proud rather than ashamed of— Wisdom still occasionally shines through, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Take the Star Wars movies for example, and other big-hit Sci-Fi films: through and behind all the violence Wisdom is elevated and revered. As in the great epics of ancient times, of maybe all religions and cultures— Mahabharata, The Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ramayana, etc.— usually there is a Sage or wise man behind the triumph of Good over Evil. You may say: "Ah, but that's only in the movies or stories." No, it's not; it's part of our collective psyche, which is why we can appreciate it in the stories. The success of such movies, therefore, assures us that Wisdom has not been completely overcome or discarded.

Wisdom, however, is not confined to people with gray hair; it knows no such limits. Sometimes we meet old people who are quite foolish, who have spent their lives in useless pursuits, learned little from the passing years, and have grown old in vain. Sometimes, too, we meet young people— even children— who seem to be wise quite naturally. It is not something that comes automatically with age. Nor is it a matter of having gone through college and university and emerged with a string of degrees after one's name, as we not infrequently come across people who are highly educated in a particular and narrow academic area, but who, in other areas, are quite naïve and ignorant. What, then, is Wisdom? Is it not the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong, true and false, and to live accordingly? Is it not the faculty of recognizing the realities of life-as-it-is-and-not-as-we-would-like-it-to-be?

We know we must be equipped with various kinds of know-ledge in order to earn a living and survive in the world, but is that the totality of life— just earning a living and surviving? Isn't it something much more than that? There are two kinds of knowledge: the knowledge whereby we earn a living, and that whereby we live— live among others, as members of society. In schools and universities the pressure to compete and succeed, to become somebody— Number One, if possible— is so great that it's not surprising many people become neurotic and the suicide-rate among students is so high; such education is very dangerous and destructive— look how much trouble stems from it, including that ultimate form of folly, the Arms Race!

Some people argue that without competitive-spirit we will not develop and progress, but this is just short-sightedness; a much better and less destructive way to make progress and develop is by Cooperation or Working Together, and who will say this cannot be taught or shown in school? I don't deny there is pleasure and excitement in competition— and often a great deal— but it is usually for self, a thing of the ego, and it in no way compares with the joys of cooperating with others for mutual benefit and for the betterment of society as a whole. In competition, where there are winners there are also losers, and losers seldom feel good about losing, while with cooperation, not one person wins, but all who are involved.

There are various current world-views— that is, ways of looking at the world. Indeed, most of us have such a world-view, but in most cases, it was inherited from others and is not the result of personal research and thought. Some world-views take account of Man only, and disregard other aspects of life; indeed, those that do so even divide Mankind into categories like 'The Saved and the Damned,' 'Believers and Unbelievers,' and so on. But now, we are being forced to recognize that there are other forms of life apart from Man that are important and that any respectable world-view must take into account. Man does not live alone, but by a complex life-support system involving many other forms of life. An understanding of this gives rise to a sense of 'belonging,' of being 'a part of' instead of 'apart from,' and following closely upon the heels of this discovery, there arise gratitude, wonder, appreciation, reverence for life, joie-de-vivre and Love. And these, in turn, unlock and open the Gates of Wisdom in our hearts.

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