[ Dhamma Talk ]
Cracking the Code of Practice
H2apo: I met and talked to a very interesting person today at a holistic expo. From what I could tell he was the most legitimate guy there. We were talking about practice, about vipassana practice specifically when he said something very practical. He said that, especially at first, it is not important what specifically you practice, it is more important that you practice. So it makes more sense to apply energy to figuring out your own innate practice than to apply energy to figuring out what exactly to practice. He said that once a person "cracks the code of his practice" then the whole life becomes a practice, and this is where true growth within the 8-fold path happens.
I think this applies to first grounding a beginner in sila before stressing intense samadhi or panna.
This teacher's suggestion is almost reasonable. To a great extent people here today (USA Sept 21, 2002) are not approaching Buddhism or any study for that matter with the idea of finding out the answer to the really big questions (Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?); what most people are doing is joining a trend or fad, most often with the idea of finding companionship, or even just some quick ... um ... conextion.
Buddhism emerged in a society in which these big questions were a vivid part of the culture and the Buddhist system was really addressed to those within that culture whose efforts had already advanced to a great degree. His was a system for those who were already experts at the answers to these big questions. That, as a byproduct, his system produces a huge body of good practical advice for the ordinary man is incidental to its real purpose. His system said, in effect: What you all (all you sorcerers, and shaman, and brahmans, and seekers and seers) are really trying to do in your seeking is to solve a different problem, the problem of the Pain associated with living and rebirth.
What we have here is so far removed from that level that the advice of this fellow (look for anything, any sort of seeking is better than none) almost makes sense ... except for the fact that people make wrong decisions, and telling them to seek without providing some direction, will more often as not, given their downbound orientation, accelerate their descent into ruin.
What one needs to do, to start with, (and I am saying that this is what everyone with any sense needs to do) is to ask the basic questions before (or at least contemporaneously with) deciding to engage in a life of self-indulgence.
What is the meaning of My Life?
Very few people are even asking this of themselves.
This is something I, who spent the better part of my youth in this very sort of hedonistic self indulgence, but always accompanied by the uttermost anxiety and effort to discover "the answers", have never understood; for the fact is that there is no single thing which more effectively squeezes the juice of pleasure from life than the ongoing struggle to let it go!
I was lucky in my life, I found Pali Buddhism almost from the very start.
So I am saying: make it the goal of your attempt to determine the method that suits you to know what you are doing here and to never be satisfied until you have determined this to a certainty.
I am confident that suggesting an approch in such a way as this, one who follows it will find no satisfactory answers outside the system set up by the Buddha, so this will have been a similar suggestion with a more satisfactory possible outcome.
Just as a secondary branch of this line of thought, mention should be made here of one group of people who do seek the answer provided by the Buddha in a direct way: Sooner or later some great grief befalls most of us. In a time of grief, the question almost always is "Why me!" Given a clear presentation of the point of this system at such a time, an individual in such a situation has a reasonable shot at at least seeking the point of this system directly without a lot of side trips. But even here the deep orientation of the individual will come into play: This system does provide answers. Getting an answer that relieves the immediate pain will more times than not result in giving up the effort.
The Buddha has a simile for this phenomena which I paraphrase: "Beggars! Which is the more? These few grains of sand I have picked up on the end of my nail, or the sands on Ganga's banks?
In the same way, Beggars, more are those who seek after other goals, so few are those who seek after the end of Dukkha."
Now, dealing with the conclusion you draw, and putting aside the fact that practice of sila (ethical culture) would be good for everyone, what we really have here is this business of the people who do come into the various systems offering enlightenment who are seeking this enlightenment in the same way they seek everything else: there must be instant gratification.
This is a problem which is compounded by greedy teachers who see that "jhana" or "getting high" is all the students really want and they cater to this, to serve their own purposes, not the benefit of their students.
This is a big mistake as I have suggested in many places on BuddhaDust because what you are dealing with in the "high" state is the mind at it's most powerful. If an individual who has no training in ethics and self-control develops himself to his most powerful mental state there will follow nothing but disaster.
Furthermore, the training in ethical culture and self control required by this system is not just training to a slight degree, but training to be able to handle the most powerful mental states of all, and here an untrained individual will fail in his efforts long before making any real headway, so not only is such training advisable, it is an absolute necessity.
Suppose you are addicted to sex. (I am not speaking about the modern fad where some fool claims to be a sex-addict; I'm speaking about ordinary people's ordinary desires for sex.)
Then suppose you say to yourself:
"But I am one who has not yet figured out the answers to life's biggest issues.
Being one who has not yet figured out life's biggest issues, for me to give myself over to indulging my addiction to sex would be foolish!
Suppose I give myself over to my addiction to sex and spend all my life's resources on sex and the real purpose here turns out to be spending all my life's resources on acquiring money?
I will have completely wasted my time and it will be too late.
So, listening to all those out there who are making claims about having the answer to the big problems of life, I will take the one or two or three or however many there are of those and I will study those and actually practice what they suggest along with my indulgence in my addiction.
I will, in effect, challenge each of these preachers out there with the task of showing me that they have something that my mind can clearly see is more valuable than my addiction to sex, and additionally, which is truly available to me by the method they suggest.
Ok, skipping the middle ground, where I say your addiction to sex will always win out over every other system, and going straight on to the Buddha's system, the practice will then become:
"OK. The Buddha says two things:
1. This cultivating the mind in This Way is something I will be able to see for myself is more rewarding than my addiction to sex, and
2. I won't get anywhere in the system without following the system in practice, and the first part of the system is training myself in ethical culture."
"This is what I will do: I will allow myself my pursuit of sex in so far as it does not violate this system of ethical culture."
What does it say about this?
In this context it says: Pursuit of sex does not violate this level of this system as long as it does not involve deliberate harm to living creatures, taking the ungiven things of others, deliberately saying what is not true, or forgetting my practice of ethical culture in my pursuit of pleasures.
So doing this what happens? Certainly no more rape or forceable sex. No more lies to get sex. No more intercourse with other men's women. No more taking sex after hearing "No." No more lies about one's wealth and status to convince someone of one's desirability. And so forth.
The result of this for most people will be a drastic reduction in the amount of sex available, and a huge increase in the quality of the sex that is available.
The individual practicing this way, evaluating the situation fairly, will need to conclude that he has become a winner on two levels: on the low level he has increased the pleasure which was the goal of his low self, and on the high side he has proved that by cultivating his mind he has been able to improve even his low state. He has, perhaps for the first time, seen the value of increasing the power of his mind.
The only logical conclusion one can reach after such an analysis is that further investigation of this system is waranted.
That's the method.
 I'll give you the shortcut, Buddhist answer: You are simply running away from the pain associated with the fear of non-existence by plunging headlong into mindless self-indulgence. Seen from the highest perspective we might say your mind was attempting to demonstrate to your body the futility of it's current method by an endless series of failures. Why not face the problem directly?