Indrabhuti, the MahaSiddha Politician, refused to leave his kingdom, refused to renounce the world, and refused to give up desire for dharma. Indrabhuti, King of Odiyana, with great devotion and respect, asked Buddha to give him a dharma teaching where he could remain king. He asked for a teaching that would lead to enlightenment within sense pleasure and responsibilities. Buddha did teach him. It is said that the monks who were in attendance fainted in horror at what the Buddha said. Through this teaching – Indrabhuti and his entire kingdom were enlightened.
As Tantric practitioners, we have not renounced the world. Instead we engage with it fully and joyfully in thorough awareness. We engage with family life, body, emotions, world, romance, and society. This is a useful landscape for training because interactions with others are inevitable. As long as there is another person on this earth besides our self, we cannot avoid politics. As long as there are many other people on this earth, we cannot avoid politics. Power, control, government, inter-relationship between people – we are relating to this constantly whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We can do so with awareness and meticulous care. This does not necessarily become a burden, nor is it antithetical to our spiritual life. It is a natural extension of our spiritual life to communicate with our world, to care for it, and uplift it. For practitioners, how we care for our world is essentially through immaculate awareness and open-hearted compassion, and these may be expressed in infinite forms. We may be leaders or rulers like Indrabhuti, or we may work in shadows, hidden and anonymous. Whatever form our relationship with our world takes – whether we like it or not, it is embroiled in political consequences.
Politics are everywhere. Every time we eat sugar (and that’s a lot of times, I have heard that the average American eats 150 pounds of sugar a year….) we are engaging with a corrupt industry. In places like Maharashtra India, fathers leave their families to slave over sugar cane farming that they may never even be paid for. In the US, sugar farming is ecologically devastating the Everglades. The sugar barons pay of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization to skew nutritional guidelines in their favor. Taking a similar route as the tobacco industry, the science, media and advertising are manipulated by the sugar industry in order to shield the public from the true effects of the sugar products…The more we look into it, the less sweet it becomes.
I chose to name sugar here, because it is so tasty and we might feel so innocuous when eating it. However I could have easily mentioned cotton, coffee, jeans, products from China, or the plethora of products in our every day life which help to fund corrupt regimes, maintain poverty, and perpetrate environmental devastations. Samsara seems to extend as far as the eye can see – if we are willing to look at it. If we are not prepared to see the full extent of it, we too might faint in horror upon sight. But if we are willing to look into our own minds and the world, we will be in touch with what is. That is always better than shrinking into ignorance. Showing up to how things actually are is the goal of the Buddhist path. From ignorance all manner of suffering, confusion, and dissatisfaction is regenerated. From denial, samsara is ever recreated within our un-inspected lives. However, by not closing our eyes, we could find endless motivation for the path. We see a world that needs awareness, compassion and virtue. Our practice becomes imperative as we see that honor, integrity, kindness and open-ness are becoming endangered species.
We could dismiss all the corruption, confusion and suffering in the world. We could treat it as information coming from over-zealous fanatics. We could hide behind a haze of overwhelm – retreat into a feeling of powerlessness. We could get aggressive and hate “them” accusing “the man” of all he is certainly guilty of. We could get cynical. We could get negative or depressed. There are many neurotic views we could take when looking at the miasma of political intensity that we are unwittingly involved in.
We could retreat and renounce it all – but that is not the path for everyone. Some of us enjoy the world too much to leave it. Like the MahaSiddha King Indrabhuti, we may refuse to have our enlightenment without the pleasures and intensities of this world. We may remain in the world and remain on the path – in which case there is only one alternative. We will not shut down or shut it out. Instead, we wake up. This is how Buddhist Yogis practice. We can wake up right here in the midst of samsara – not in spite of it, but because of it. By asking ourselves how to get real in an unreal world, we transform our relationship to it. Samsara becomes a crazy maze that leads us back to the nature of mind if we know how to look for it, if we are willing to face it.
Our path begins by bearing witness to all that we see. Not hiding from it, but looking at it in an unflinching way, we remain on the spot and see it. We face the suffering, confusion, and dissatisfaction of this world. We would only be able do so only because we are willing to first do so within our own mind.
If we are not willing to look into our own
minds, we loose touch with workability
and things will seem overwhelming.
If we are not willing to look into our own minds then we will not be able to stand looking out into the problems in our family, relationships, and our world. We will have to hide behind candy-bars, booze, drugs, depression, TV or work-a-holism. If we are not willing to look into our own minds, if we do not work with what is, we lose touch with workability. Our mind will seem overwhelming, out of control, unruly, unmanageable….and therefore so will our world.
If we are willing to look into our minds, the way we do in meditation disciplines, then we see that as complex as things appear at first glance, they are actually quite simple at the same time. Underlying complexity and simple values and the straightforwardness of virtue. Ignorance leads to all the five poisonous states and the six realms and so forth. So there are endless distractions and abundant necessary dramas to get tangled in. The point of meditation however is to find a sense of stead presence and focus despite all that appears. The more focused awareness we develop, the more simple things begin to seem. We discover that by conquering our own ignorance that our lives and our world feel more workable. We feel less encumbered and more spacious – more equipped to relate with our world. This is the power of developing our power of focused calm in meditation.
The benefits of meditation go beyond just what happens during our session sitting on the cushion – it is a training in a way of being. This is because the more we pay attention to our minds, to others, and our lives, the more we see how worthwhile it is to pay attention. The way we relate with our own minds changes how we relate with others and uplifts the quality our relationships. Paying attention allows for greater choices rather than knee jerk reactions. We feel empowered by this observation and begin to develop discrimination. We become selective with our words, with our activities. We become aware of how our every action is a communication with this world, how there is always an effect from our communication. This awareness is not a burden – on the contrary – it is profoundly empowering. Our interdependence is a connection to our humanity and we feel ourselves living and dying in a great concert of all beings communicating together.
We meditate in order to expand our capacity for awareness. Awareness of what we say, what we eat, what we wear, where we go, how we get there, and the impact of all this… Awareness is the essence of our spiritual path. It means that we can take interest in life and see the greater context of things, even if it is painful to look at. Awareness is always beneficial. It leads us further into our heartache and into our joy. If we are willing feel both – we become fully alive to what we are. Through learning to meditate we learn to be able to stand our life, to sit still in the face of whatever we see. Sugar in that candy bar came from somewhere – someone’s entire life was bound up in making it. It is interwoven with human innocence and human suffering. We must be willing to see that, otherwise we will never see ourselves. We cannot know the nature of mind in isolation from its greater context. It is not separate from the whole, from the entire situation of samsara and nirvana. Seeing things as they are is the most important political act we can engage in – since all neurosis and confusion exists in the world because of ignorance.
The “benefit of all beings” is not something abstract. We are constantly engaging with the welfare of beings through everything we do or do not do. If we try to avoid politics and engaging with corruption completely, it would be impossible. But if we bring awareness to it, then there is the possibility of empowered engagement. If we can’t avoid engaging with it, we can at least chose how we engage in it. Most importantly we can bring bodhichitta, altruistic intention to that engagement. This is the mindset in which we work for the benefit of ourselves and others, in which our motivation is compassion. With compassion we can affect our world in the most ultimate, complete, and potent sense. We can bring the most benefit to beings by being compassionately aware. This is root of the most powerful activism there is. We might avoid wearing jeans, eating sugar, drinking coffee, non-organic cotton, shopping at wal-mart; we may use only recycled goods and fabrics, run on solar power and anything else that could potentially avoid harm. However if we did so without compassionate awareness, without understanding the nature of mind, without caring for others – then the fruit of our efforts would be minimal. We might take action but we could easily fall into anger or hatred and therefore add to the gestalt of global aggression that is causing these troubles in the first place. Without compassionate awareness, we might easily fall into depression, overwhelm, and all kinds of confusion which would interfere with, distort, and limit our attempts at taking appropriate action. As long as we live in confusion, our activist actions miss the mark. By failing to address the root of these problems – we allow them to continue, to reoccur. All corruption relies on ignorance. If we have compassionate awareness then we have single-handedly undermined all corruption and confusion.
If we are faithful to compassionate awareness as the path –
then we will be affecting the sugar industry, the Iraq war
Global Warming, poverty, racism, bigotry
– all of which depend on ignorance.
We will have to make choices. We must have the courage to make choices. We cannot take on every cause at once. We cannot avoid all association the corruption completely- because of interdependence. We are implicated in everything that is happening in our world. This means we are responsible, we have a duty. Maybe the responsibility is overwhelming, but the Buddhist approach is to consider the root cause and always be addressing that. As dharma practitioners we can address the cause of every cause – we can address all the world problems by addressing their root cause – ignorance. If we are faithful to awareness as the path, then we will be affecting the sugar industry, global warming, world poverty, racism, and bigotry – all of which rely on the ignorance of individuals such as ourselves.
In Dzogchen we say that the base, path and fruit are all awareness. Awareness, awareness, and awareness, but this awareness is not stale or neutral, it is compassionate, kind and responsive. Awareness naturally leads to compassionate action. The more awareness we have the more sane our relationships are, the more sane all our choices are, the more we care for our world. The sanity is contagious and spreads throughout our entire lives. In infects everything it touches with goodness, integrity, simplicity and compassion. The more aware we are, the more we see the power of awareness, the necessity of awareness as the basis for addressing the troubles of our world. This is why Buddhism has advocated meditation as a integral part of its social vision.
What the world needs now
more than anything
is radiantly sane, compassionate awareness.
To meditate is not necessarily a way to check out or be apart form the world. We can consider it a way of showing up to our world more fully. When we sit to meditate with our eyes open it is because we are showing up here, right here, to how things are, to how we are.
Whether we change where we buy our products, or which products we buy, or how we get where we are going, or make no external changes whatsoever – whatever changes we make, if we have bodhichitta- altruistic intent, we can make these choices with greater confidence knowing we are affecting our world in the way that matters most. Knowing that corruption in the world comes from suffering and ignorance allows us to have strategic action. What the world needs now more than anything is radiantly sane, compassionate awareness. Then our own life politics can become transformed and on the basis of that, our community, our society. The power, control, government, and interrelationships of our own lives can be infused with compassionate awareness and the world is changed – and not in the abstract either. If you have ever had someone be kind to you when you had a broken heart or were having a bad day, you know how potent altruism can be.