Saturday, June 19, 2010

Renunciation vs Relationships

Often, people enter the path of practice with sincerity and determination to transcend dukkha and thus leaving this cycle of rebirth. Thus one ordain and eventually through perserverance, faith and determination, one achieved peace and concentration through consistent meditation and ascetic practices.



In this article, I wish to address the issue of attraction towards the opposite sex- because this is a real challenge towards practice. Even years of practice with strong concentration (jhanic and even psychic powers), one can still find it difficult to overcome feelings of lust and attraction (kamaraga) especially if one is again reunited with one's long time spiritual partner.



Many people do have their own spiritual partners- usually someone who have practiced with us through many lifetimes. Often, we would live with that person as husband and wife in many lifetime. Even the Buddha and Ajahn Mun had their respective spiritual partners where they have gone through the trials and tribulations of the path till one realise the path of Arahantship.



It is not surprising that due to the joint kamma and determination made together through many lifetime, we can easily meet our spiritual partner again in our lives striving as a monk or nun. When one meet one's long time spiritual partner, the strong bond and attraction held through many lifetimes become very hard to break. The kammic bond of reuniting with one's long time spiritual partner is very different from the usual association with laypeople- of which is not much of an issue to a seasoned practioner who follows the Vinaya and applying asubha practices. And usually, the monk or nun who have been adept at meditation practice will recognize his /her own spiritual partner when it comes to meeting back with the person.



I have seen a few cases whereby monks (some well known) who have been practicing for decades, and teaching laypeople and meditation for years get stuck when they are presented with this challenge. Often, this issue is not really addressed openly even among the monastic community and therefore the practioner who is encountering this issue finds it hard to deal with because it is a totally new level.

In this article, I have compiled some sources relating to advice by past Ajahns on this issue.

The late Ajahn Thate spoke of this issue in depth in his autobiography- where he himself even after years of practice, realised through his meditation of his long time spiritual partner- and how he realised the danger towards one's practice when one is not skillful enough to deal with this situation:

22.2 The Latent Tendencies and Defilements of the Heart (chapter 22.2 of his autobiography):

During this period, when I was fearlessly pressing forward with my practice, something disagreeable came up as a meditation vision. It's something that should be revealed to my readers so that some of the shameful tendencies of the defilements can be exposed. Recognition of the harm of this type of defilement might then perhaps serve as a caution for their future restraint.


The image that appeared was that of a middle-aged woman, someone whom I well remembered from about five or six years previously. She had then been a lay supporter of mine, full of faith and sincere intentions. I considered her a good person, a person of Dhamma, courteous and refined, someone suitable for me to be associated with and a fine example of a genuine upaasikaa[152] of the Buddhist Teachings. Her physical appearance was rather ordinary, or so it seemed to me. Apart from that, I had never given her much thought except recalling her kind support to me as a monk — for a monk lives dependent on others.


When the image appeared in my meditation, she seemed to be sitting close to me on my right, in a rather familiar way. There then arose in my heart a spontaneous feeling as if the two of us had been living closely together for what seemed like decades. Yet there was no lust or desire involved in it. This shocked me. I withdrew from meditation and examined my heart but I couldn't detect any feelings of attachment towards her. Furthermore, I hadn't given her a moment's thought over the previous five or six years. Why then should I have such a vision?

After a more thorough investigation, I came to understand the nature of the latent defilement of sensuality (kaama-kilesaanusaya). This lies deeply submerged in the 'ocean bed', beyond the reach and understanding of the negligent person.

— A person possessing wisdom but lacking faith, energy and dauntless perseverance, will be incapable of searching out and confronting it.
— A person possessing faith, energy, and dauntless perseverance but lacking wisdom, will still be incapable of eliminating it.
— A person possessing faith, energy and dauntless perseverance together with wisdom; and someone who develops meditation by steadily cultivating those virtuous qualities without lapses will be able totally to eliminate the latent tendencies.


I then proceeded to reflect further about those meditators who had successfully achieved all the absorptions[153] yet could still be deceived and fall down badly because of the defilements of sensuality and lust. They take the sort of vision that I
have just mentioned as genuine, as truly signifying that they had been husband
and wife in a previous life.[154] This leads to the arising of tenderness and affection,
sexual excitement and desire that develop as is their wont into the searching
out of that 'vision'. There is then a meeting and a frank telling of what should
not be revealed. The twin live wires already run side by side and if some metal
object comes too close it has to be attracted and pulled in. They make contact
and that is why it's possible for so many meditators, particularly monks —
sometimes they have even been senior Teachers — to fall into the abyss. On
seeing such a vision, instead of being alarmed and seeing it as a threat and
danger — and therefore arming themselves for victory over it — they submit and
ally themselves with it. What a waste!



The Lord Buddha recounted how human beings and animals born into this world, one and all, have been mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. they have all been relatives to one another — in one or another birth. Perhaps even the poultry and pork that we eat might be the flesh of our father or mother from a previous birth. We still have defilements and so are liable to die and take birth, to die and be born through countless lives. Yet what sort of case is it when a seductive
vision arises just once, and one is lured away and goes after it.

Well, now that we have already exposed and shamed Maara,[155] the defilements, I would like to relate another instance.
This concerns an attractive young woman. She and her parents and relatives held
me in deep regard and I tried to help by advising and instructing her in
morality and virtue. I particularly wanted her to see the hazard inherent in the
feminine condition and to keep to the brahmacariya precepts all her life. Yet
events didn't turn out that way for instead she went and lost her virginity in a
very unfortunate way. When she came to her senses, she was overwhelmed by
tearful remorse. I happened to hear about this and felt a deep weariness with
all such gullibility and credulousness. Afterwards, she both respected me and
felt ashamed before me. All I could think of was: 'how could things have come to
this pass?'. Looking at her, I felt that although her form might appear human,
her mind-state was that of an animal. The more I thought about it, the more it
made me feel sick and tired about her and the whole matter — almost to the point
of nausea. This state of mind persisted for many years afterwards and that
nauseous feeling would arise whenever I recalled the incident. There was such a
strong feeling of weariness — I had never felt anything quite so deeply before —
yet it certainly was not the correct way of practice. However, that had all
happened in the past.



Afterwards, I came to reflect on the harm of sensuality, pondering the extent of its fierce severity. When it arises in the underlying personality of anyone it can vent its power and devour its victim.
This may happen regardless of whether the person has moral principles or is
delinquent, or whether they are seasoned meditators who have reached the highest
levels of absorption. The only exceptions being the Lord Buddha and the
arahants. Sensuality is totally lacking kindness or consideration, being like a
tiger pouncing on a defenceless puppy and cold-bloodedly consuming it.
This made me feel a lot more sensitive and open towards that young woman. She had
always had wholesome intentions, had hoped to be good yet passion can be so very
destructive. It pounces without caring whom its victim is. It is this sensual
desire that must bear so much of the blame and is unforgivable. This increased
my sympathy and compassion for her.
Those who are still sunk in the depths of the flood of sensual desires must come to birth in the sensual realm. This sensual realm or sphere is a place to develop spiritual virtues.[156] For those who want to progress in the way of the heart it
is the field of battle where one can fight for victory. While for miscreants, it
can become their graveyard.
The sensual realm or plane of existence is endowed with a full complement of natural resources, and all the outer and the inner ones are complete. Persons of wisdom can take advantage of this in whatever way they want. If there are no trees in the forest, where will one go to find herbal medicines? If there are no doctors then such medicines remain useless. If there are medicine and doctor, but the sick patient refuses treatment or will not take the prescription, they cannot cure their
illness.
Those who see any 'worth'[157] in the sphere of sensuality and engross themselves in its
array of sensual delights are called 'worthies of sensuality'.[158] Those whom the poison of sensuality has infected and are
aware of its virulence are called 'handicapped by sensuality' (Kaama-tote).
Those who have totally relinquished all sensuality are called 'freed from
sensuality'.[159]

Ajahn Thate also mentioned that another monk, who was endowed with psychic abilities and could read the mind of others was also challenged in this sense- and therefore he taught that even with strong samadhi (meditative concentration), when one lacked wisdom (panna) in understanding the body and the three characteristics (anicca, dukkha, anatta), one would not be able to transcend this obstacle which would either make or break one's practice:


Chapter 23: 23. Fifteenth Rains Retreat, 1937 Bahn Pong in Maer Dtaeng District


After staying to receive teachings from Ven. Ajahn Mun for a suitable length of
time, Venerable Kheung and I took our leave to go off in search of solitude and
secluded places by following the Maer Dtaeng River upstream. We stayed in a
secluded spot near a mountain area of tea plantations. I left Venerable Kheung
to watch over our belongings in an abandoned monastery at the foot of the
mountain, while I climbed the ridge to find a suitable place to stay above. It
happened that a young woman came strolling by flirting with some local young
men. Venerable Kheung saw this and he too became intensely excited. When I came
back down from my place on the mountain and saw the state he was in I tried to
counsel him and recommended various ways he could use to still the emotion — but
without success.



I had had an intimation of such a possibility ever since he had first come to stay with me. At that time, he had told me about a vision that he had experienced while staying with Ven. Ajahn Mun in Maer Suay District. He said that hearing about me had inspired him so much that he wished to meet me.
He had then had a vision:
'A road appeared that led straight from him to
where I was. He made a trouble-free journey along the road that ended right at
the foot of the stairs leading to my hut. He then seemed to catch hold of the
stairs and started climbing — they seemed extremely high — up to me. After
bowing to me three times, I offered him a complete set of robes but he refused
to accept them.'



It seemed that circumstances were beginning to fit in with his vision. I also felt as if our sympathetic association had reached its limit.
That morning during the meal, he had lost his temper with me over some
insignificant issue. By the evening, he had come to see me and admitted his
fault. He related his experience of the previous evening when lust had overcome
him at seeing the flirtatious young woman. His meditation throughout the
following night had not been successful and he came to take his leave and go off
wandering alone.



About three months later, we met again and I encouraged him to make a fresh start with his meditation: "If you have enough determination, it's still possible for you to succeed. Please, just have done with it and start afresh".
Nevertheless, he wouldn't accept this advice and afterwards I
learned with great regret that he had disrobed. He was a strong-willed
individual and did nothing in half measures, but he was also very opinionated
and even Ven. Ajahn Mun's Dhamma talks didn't always convince him. He had once
been a 'tough guy' back in his home village before ordaining and leaving without
any real goal in mind. He originally came from Nam Gam Village in the district
of Taht Panom.
The Six Higher Psychic Powers[162] — one example being 'knowing the minds of other beings' —
are not something common to every person. They will not necessarily arise in the
practice of everyone who meditates. With some people no matter how refined their
mind becomes no higher powers will arise. While other people meditate and when
the mind converges into momentary or access concentration (kha.nika- or
upacaara-samaadhi) these powers develop.
Venerable Kheung was adept at training his mind to enter tranquillity and he could remain in such a calm state all day and night. While walking around in seemingly quite an ordinary way, in his mind he would feel as if he were walking on air. While at other times he might feel as if he had penetrated into the interior of the earth. Although Ven. Kheung's mind didn't withdraw from concentration he lacked the wisdom to investigate the Three Characteristics.[163] His powers were therefore only of the mundane sort, arising out of mundane absorption.[164] Let alone Ven. Kheung, just consider Venerable Devadatta[165] who had been able to consult with Prince Ajaatasatthu by flying in through the palace window — that is until his abilities failed.

Therefore, if we encounter the issue, we need to reflect further if is worthwhile for us to continue this samsaric journey further even with another person. We know not of what further lives would bring. Our association with our spiritual partner through countless lives had enabled us to reach the stage we are now, endowed with inclination towards practice.

Ajahn Mun had also consoled his spiritual partner who felt such unspoken sorrow because she felt that Ajahn Mun had deserted her and strove for his own enlightenment. As the result of her state of mind, she was borned in a formless realm. Ajahn Mun had given her advice and as soon as realising her wrong view, she was immediately reborned into the heaven realm as the result of her past good merits. She came down to thank Ajahn Mun.


Source: "The Autobiography of a Forest Monk: Venerable Ajahn Thate of Wat Hin Mark Peng Nongkhai Province", by Venerable Ajahn Thate (Phra Rajanirodharangsee), translated from the Thai by Bhikkhu Ariyesako. Access to Insight, June 7, 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/thate/thateauto.html.

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