A Veda Merry Christmas!
December 20, 2009 § 3 Comments
Yesterday morning, yearning to get out before the big snow storm hit, and wanting buck the tide of Christmas-shopping crowds, I drove up the Taconic to Chuang Yen monastery in Carmel, New York, where Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi’s is teaching classes in some of the sutras (or “suttas” in Pali) in his translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, or Middle Length Discourse of the Buddha. First, the assembled group of us meditated for half an hour, most of us in winter coats and shawls since the monastery is as cold as a castle on warm days and yesterday was freezing. At the end of the meditation, we bowed, including several full bows, head touching floor. There is something about the forehead touching the stone floor of a monastery that can remind a person that another way of relating to reality is possible. As a Westerner who was raised Methodist (you weren’t supposed to wear your spiritual heart on your sleeve), bowing used in this style used to seem a little wild to me. But now I love it because it reminds me that there is an inner posture as well in which the egocentric thinking isn’t on top. Lately, it seems to me that what Madame de Salzmann calls “voluntary passivity,” has to do with surrender my allegiance to the false self–with seeing that the momentum of what I take to be myself is largely driven by what the Buddhists call the “three poisons” of craving or grasping, aversion or ill will, or delusion or ignorance. Sometimes I can see and feel that what I usually take myself to be is largely made of tension and pain. What a relief to let go, even just for that second the head touches the floor. No self, no problem. Just life and the wish to take a place in life, to serve somehow.
Venerable Bodhi is a great scholar in addition to being a warm-hearted human being (he is just back from Copenhagen, where he was part of a group of religious leaders speaking out for taking better care for the earth). He parsed what it meant in the early days of Buddhism to have unwavering confidence in the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha. “Noble ones,” in the time of the Buddha were those who had done their own inner work, who could look back and reflect and gain inspiration and unwavering confidence (lin her upcoming book, Madame de Salzmann talks about faith coming from conviction based similarly on real attainments). The Pali word “dharmaveda” indicates that unshakable confidence and Ven. Bodhi explained that “veda” which was so important in India at the time of the Buddha (and long before) means “both to know and to feel.” He said that he settled for “inspiration” in his translation although it didn’t really cover it. Veda means to know and to feel at the same time–it is knowledge accompanied by elevated feeling or an inspired or exhilerated feeling accompanied by real knowing. Such inspired or exhilerated knowing leads to the kind of rapture or gladness that leads to tranquility, to the mind settling down and becoming concentrated and clear, resting on the only solid ground in this shifting world which is the Truth. I once heard Madame de Salzmann (a true Noble One) say that Ouspensky never understood that the Truth is in movement, like the stars and the planets. The Truth also encompasses impermanence and all the other laws that determine our lives.
Wishing you much “veda” ….a Veda Merry Christmas!