It is now so clear that the world is on fire, that we cannot look away. That’s how the Buddha put it 2500 years ago and it is why he proscribed a whole life path. The distraction and haze of habitual concerns is thick and it is sustained by social agreements. As a result, we are burning together.
The figurative has become literal. Our minds are on fire, but so are our forests. Our hearts are flooded, and so are our farmlands. Our oceans are toxic and so are our societies.
We can no longer look away. The Buddha’s description of why we do not see things as they are is that we are flooded by intoxicants (asava). More than any other teaching, this tripod of suffering was the Buddha’s shorthand for the human dilemma.
We are intoxicated by sensory attachments.
We are intoxicated by self-making.
We are intoxicated by ignorance, most fundamentally not knowing our predicament.
We don’t know we are intoxicated any more than the drunkard knows their own flooded mind state: “Don’t worry, I can drive.”
Do we recognize the haze we live in? Have there been moments during which you’ve witnessed the mind’s capacity for clear seeing?
The everyday nature of the lived life just seems so tangled and mundane. Dull. Muddy. A mess.
More bluntly, sometimes the mind just seems shitty.
And stranger than this is how partial awareness and confusion endure despite the most stunning insights and decades of meditative effort.
But at the very same time, these same muddy shoes and this tangled mind are infused with something refined, bright, unattached, and decidedly pleasant regardless of circumstances. This, too, is our capacity. The luminosity infuses the hard knocks and flooded mind states.
Let’s look clearly at the mud, and let’s honor the radiance.
Do refined practices matter when the mind is so often shitty anyway?
Yes, they matter a great deal. This is where we directly experience the peace and refinement that is also part of our human potential. Importantly, we can experience the radiance in individual practice, and we can experience in in relational practice. By experiencing it, we come to recognize it. To taste it. Then we can find it in our lives.
Recognizing the radiance individually, it becomes a reference point even as the fires burn. We can bear facing our own illness and that of our planet. Recognizing the radiance in relational meditation, we learn to sense it in all of our interpersonal contacts. Our capacity to act wisely and strongly to heal the world becomes motivated by a refined compassion and tolerance for interpersonal difficulties. It’s about more than connection; it is also about awakening and right action.
Yes, we may still be intoxicated. But also open to us is the de-tox program of asava opposites:
Relinquishment counters sensual clinging
Effacement counters self-making
Wisdom practices counter ignorance.
This is a summary of our whole life path, individually and relationally. Well aimed, and working together, we can move forward.