Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Renunciation - Part Three

Part of our resistance to this resolve is universally human. People everywhere relish their passions. Even the Buddha admitted to his disciples that, when he set out on the path of practice, his heart didn't leap at the idea of renouncing sensual passion, didn't see it as offering peace. But an added part of our resistance to renunciation is peculiar to Western culture. Modern pop psychology teaches that the only alternative to a healthy indulgence of our sensual passions is an unhealthy, fearful repression. Yet both of these alternatives are based on fear: repression, on a fear of what the passion might do when expressed or even allowed into consciousness; indulgence, on a fear of deprivation and of the under-the-bed monster the passion might become if resisted and driven underground. Both alternatives place serious limitations on the mind. The Buddha, aware of the drawbacks of both, had the imagination to find a third alternative: a fearless, skillful approach that avoids the dangers of either side.

Buddha Guatama

To understand his approach, though, we have to see how Right Resolve relates to other parts of the Buddhist path, in particular Right View and Right Concentration. In the formal analysis of the path, Right Resolve builds on Right View; in its most skillful manifestation, it functions as the directed thought and evaluation that bring the mind to Right Concentration. Right View provides a skillful understanding of sensual pleasures and passions, so that our approach to the problem doesn't go off-target; Right Concentration provides an inner stability and bliss so that we can clearly see the roots of passion and at the same time not fear deprivation at the prospect of pulling them out
There are two levels to Right View, focusing (1) on the results of our actions in the narrative of our lives and (2) on the issues of stress and its cessation within the mind. The first level points out the drawbacks of sensual passion: sensual pleasures are fleeting, unstable, and stressful; passion for them lies at the root of many of the ills of life, ranging from the hardships of gaining and maintaining wealth, to quarrels within families and wars between nations. This level of Right View prepares us to see the indulgence of sensual passion as a problem. The second level -- viewing things in terms of the four noble truths -- shows us how to solve this problem in our approach to the present moment. It points out that the root of the problem lies not in the pleasures but in the passion, for passion involves attachment, and any attachment for pleasures based on conditions leads inevitably to stress and suffering, in that all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. In fact, our attachment to sensual passion tends to be stronger and more constant than our attachments to particular pleasures. This attachment is what has to be renounced.