Sun, 28 May 2000

Meditation the path to freedom from craving

By Rahayu Ratnaningsih

JAKARTA (JP): In the previous article we talked about the root of suffering which was craving (desire), caused by attachment to a phony sense of identity. The presumption of this sense of identity declares that there is a solid, unique, independent and palpable "I" that needs to be perpetually pleased and defended.

One reader objected by saying that life was not always suffering. The original word is dukkha, from Sanskrit that literally means "hard to bear", "dissatisfactory", "off the mark", "frustrating" and "hollow". Perhaps the more exact translation would be "chronic frustration" or "chronic dissatisfaction." Even through the passing and arising of pleasures alone, we are indisputably time and again confronted by the feeling of helplessness.

The problem with pleasures is they do not last: the honeymoon ends, your wife is losing her Barbie doll figure soon after the baby comes and you are balding, and your brother finally gets a divorce. The feeling of loss caused is enough to give us heartache. So when there are pleasures, sorrow is lurking at the corner waiting to rear its ugly head (remember, opposites arise simultaneously and mutually). Hence, life indeed sucks, whether you are powerful and wealthy or not.

It is not that we are not supposed to have healthy desires or have to get rid of the things we desire. The objects are not the problem. It is our clinginess and identification with what we crave -- money, person, material object, thought, feeling, sex, career, self image -- that causes suffering. Tilopa, a wandering 10th century yogi, sang, "It is not the outer objects that entangle us. It is the inner clinging that entangles us".

Have you ever heard someone say, "I want her/him so badly, I am out my mind." Or "I would kill for ... (fill in the blank)"? How many hours do you spend on your treadmill or fantasizing about the things you desire? At what point do all those endless hours spell out of obsession? The issue with craving is that it grabs control of your mind and your life. It takes over. In its most intense form, it is like being possessed by a demon.

Wei Wu Wei put it: "Why are you unhappy?/ Because 99.9 percent/ Of everything you think/ and Of everything you do/ Is for yourself/And there isn't one."

In quite the same way Alan Watts said, "The biggest ego trip is to get rid of your ego, and of course the joke of it all is your ego does not exist".

This concept of no-self is not by any means an absolute denial of the existence of "I", rather it sees "self" as a process rather than a fixed, independent, eternal or concrete entity. Our "self", like everything else, is relative and an inherent part of a web of interconnected and interdependent relationships. According to Buddhism, "self" consists of five skandhas (aggregates of individuality): form, feelings or sensations, perceptions, intentionality or will, and consciousness, all of which change from moment to moment. Behind these, there is no abiding, independently existing permanent self -- or soul -- to be found. There is no fixed, eternal "I", or ego. Everything changes according to the law of cause and effect. All is in flux or flow.

This is like saying jocularly, "The lights are on, but nobody's home".

OK, so now we know, or at least we think we know, that the two Cs (craving and clinging) are what cause us pain. Since we cannot tell ourselves to stop craving -- like you cannot tell others not to think of a polka-dot zebra because they will straight away think of one -- what to do now? How to cure ourselves from this hallucination? You know now that you cannot get the answer from the old hand-me-down religion you inherited from your parents or priests.

Meditation is the only way toward this understanding. It's the only path to freedom -- freedom from anxiety; freedom from pain, anger, distress and depression; freedom from all sorrows, all fears and bondage. Meditation is not religion. It is not dogma you can or have to cling on. Meditation is a school where you learn about yourself and the world, and what crafts them. Through meditation seekers become genuine finders through critical examination and personal experience.

Honest investigation and inquiry are the most powerful agents of transformation or, according to Buddhism, the main ingredients of enlightenment. Lifeless, inert dogma lacks the living intelligence of radiant Buddha -- nature. And the reason you are reading this article now is because you have outsmarted it.

In meditating we strive to keep going deeper and deeper. It's like peeling off layers upon layers of an onion until we find its center. This kernel-less center is called sunyata, the Sanskrit term of emptiness. As we keep peeling and peeling, we begin the process of unmasking our personas. First we unmask the body, then the mind. Then we go deeper and unmask the psyche, continuously letting go and unmasking all the layers. We are so full of ourselves. We all have so many masks as though every day of our life has been Halloween and when we remove them all, we are shedding our fantasies about ourselves, others and the world.

When we have cut through this delusion that shapes our phony sense of identity we will no more be attached to anything: luxuries, persons, ideas, opinions. This is nirvana, this is home after the endless torments along the futile journey of chasing mirages, when conflicting emotions are no longer burning us. This is liberation; this is bliss; this is true freedom. And the good news is you can have it here, in this life, and now, not after you die. We all have already had this seed of Buddhamind (or the Atman-Brahman, the true Self, the Witness, the Spirit, Al Insan-Al Kamil, Supreme Identity, Kingdom of Heaven, or by whatever name it is called) within ourselves, we just need to recognize it.

Unlike your old hand-me-down religion, you do not have to believe in it -- in fact you are encouraged to doubt it. Small doubt, small enlightenment; big doubt, big enlightenment. There is only one way to figure it out, which is to try and prove it for yourself.

The author, director of the Satori Foundation, a center for the study and development of human excellence through mind programming and meditation techniques, can be reached at