Monday, January 12, 2015

Four Separations — materialism

If you are concerned with improving your life, you are a materialist.
If you are concerned with how you are feeling, you don't want to be free.
If you are concerned with your own welfare, you are asleep.
If you are concerned with holding a position, you don't see.

Sakya Pandita, when he was twelve years old, received this teaching in a vision of Manjushri. 

The Tibetan language can pack a tremendous amount of meaning into just four lines. I offer here a deliberately provocative translation that seeks to unpack some of that meaning -- in colloquial English that reflects the directness of the Tibetan. This translation, account and explanation ( provide you with the usual approach to this verse. For comparison, I include a classical translation.

If clinging to this life, you are not a Dharma person; 
If clinging to the three realms, you do not have renunciation;
If clinging to self-purpose, you do not have bodhicitta; 
If grasping arises, you do not have the view.

As some of my word choices may seem a bit unusual, over the next four weeks I provide a few words of explanation for each line.

If you are concerned with improving your life, you are a materialist.
The spiritual urge, or whatever you want to call it, is concerned with many things, but the one thing it is not concerned with is conventional life or conventional success. That simply doesn't satisfy it. As Peter Drucker says:

Because man must exist in society, there can be no freedom except in matters that do not matter; but because man must exist in the spirit, there can be no social rule, no social constraint, in matters that do matter.

Many people today come to practice and continue to practice in order to improve their lives, i.e., to be happier, more successful, healthier, to be the best they can be, etc. This relationship to practice is essentially transactional (I put X amount of effort into practice and receive Y amount of benefit) -- very different from the concerns and interests of those for whom spiritual practice is the center of their lives. This transactional view permeates virtually all aspects of today's world, from education and healthcare to relationships to mindfulness, meditation and many other aspects of what was traditionally regarded as spiritual practice.

As Pope Francis wrote in his book Evangelii Gaudium, because of the influence of capitalism, "hedonistic, consumerist and narcissistic cultures have infiltrated Catholicism."

The traditional method for cutting through all this is, of course, meditation on death and impermanence. It changes dramatically your concern with conventional notions of success and failure. Indeed, much of what we regard as important and meaningful in our lives simply evaporates in the light of our mortality. 

In terms of practice, one way to bring this perspective into your life is to ask yourself repeatedly during each day, "Is this the last thing that I want to say or do?"

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