15 May 2014

There is a stranger within, did you know?

It is said that when the ascetic Siddhartha Gauthama was at the point of attaining enlightenment he was confronted by Mara, the ‘tempter figure’ wont to appear as deity (devaputta), defilements (kleshas), the aggregates (khandha), the karma-formations and as death.  Mara, it is said, after having devised various methods to break the will of the ascetic, appeared in the final instance for what might be called a face-to-face battle.  What is pertinent here is that Mara, facing the ascetic, took the form of the ascetic. 

In other words the final frontier, we are made to understand is not external. It is within. It is self. Within lies the seed of destruction. Within lies that which breaks our will, that which pushes the wheels that generate sorrow from one lifetime to the next to the next.  And within resides the seed of emancipation.  It is ours to nurture into fruition, it is ours to let it be overwhelmed by those other seeds that limit, that cripple and extend the boundaries of the territories of sorrow. 

The entire Buddhist canon, then, constitutes a call to self-reflection, to seek and find within the answers to all the questions pertaining to the human condition.  What do humans do in the general, though?  We have eyes, ears, tongues, noses and we possess the ability to touch and obtain texture.  The ‘outside’ dances before us all the time.  We don’t pause to reflect on that ‘outside’.  We don’t ask ourselves how much of that outside is created by us.  We don’t wonder if we see things in certain ways, calls things by certain names, embrace and abhor because we are who we are, made of all our learning, reading, associations, prejudices and beliefs.

Why is a ‘super model’ considered beautiful?  Why does skin whitener enjoy such a massive market?  Do we question, ever, that which we so readily call ‘self-evident’?  What is self-evident about anything? 

Let’s take a well-known example, the notion of the half empty glass.  What makes someone say ‘half-empty’ and someone else ‘half-full’?  The ‘external’ here is a single object. It is variously described, nevertheless. 

Let’s get back to the ‘within’.  What is it that forbids or inhibits self-reflection?  Again, the fixation with that which we label ‘self-evident’.  How often do we say ‘I know who I am’?  Do we know, though?  There’s something called ‘ego’.  We all have it.  There’s something call humility. We all have it, in small or great quantities.  There’s something called wisdom. We all have it. In small or larger quantities.  And yet, we seldom employ wisdom and humility to gauge the dimensions of self and thereby assess the quantum of defilements that prohibit examination of the deeper realms of ‘self’. 

‘Who am I?’ is a question we ask ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  ‘The Dhamma’ is the pathway to fruitful inquiry of course, but klesha-cluttering forbid wholesome reading. If the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama were present today, he would no doubt show us how to read the texts.  Indeed, he might re-write texts in languages less foreign to us all and here I am not taking issue with Pali but speaking rather of metaphor.  Handicapped by that singular absence, too crippled by intellectual poverty to draw from the rich granary that is the dhamma we flounder in the quagmires produced by our ignorance and arrogance.  We fall and even as we do we celebrate what we believe is flight.  Then we wonder what we did to deserve the punishment that is the sorrow we suffer. 

We have eyes but we cannot see.  Maybe that’s because we have no sense of self, no sense of our true dimensions. Here’s an exercise that might help.  Go out. Seek an open space.  Lie down flat on your back.  Let’s say it is night. Let’s say it is a clear sky.  We all have some idea of how big Sri Lanka is on a world map. How small.  We know how big the open space is.  We can imagine how large the world is.  Look at the sky and we get a sense of how tiny we are compared to the visible universe.  It is that ‘smallness’ that makes up our world, the universe we call ‘I’.  From that point humility is possible.  Humility is a scalpel that can help dissect ‘self’. 

We will not recognize Mara the way the Ascetic Siddhartha Gauthama did.  We might, however, notice some obstacles to exploration.  That would be a start.  Then we might begin to get a trace of the stranger that resides within us.  We would see friend and foe both. We can have a decent conversation and emerge more conscious and better prepared to deal with those externalities wherein we believe Mara is resident.