This is one of a series of transcripts of contemporary talks which have particularly resonated with me.
This talk was made available by Audio Dharma; the talk is available here: Buddhism Before the Theravada Part 6.
Insight Meditation Center 0:00
The following talk was given at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California please visit our website at audiodharma.org.
John Peacock 0:17
John Peacock 0:28
Okay the next link, and I’m not going to dwell too much on this… is Phassa. Contact. And there’s nothing much being said in that except that, obviously, every sensory organ is coming into contact with something. We can’t help but contact stuff. The eye is palpating the visual field, the ear is palpating the audible field, and so on and so forth. And the mental field is being palpated as well. So we’re always in contact with stuff; we can’t ever avoid being in contact. Even sensory deprivation chambers don’t work in this model because you’re still left with your mental sense contact. So you don’t escape being in contact with stuff; we’re always in contact with the world. This is part of what the Buddha’s saying; we’re always in contact with it. External phenomena.
John Peacock 1:39
And that external phenomena is then being seen, perceived in particular ways. And actually, the quality of that contact is being influenced by everything that’s preceded it. From Avijjā to the Saṅkhāras to the consciousness Viññāṇa] to the Nāmarūpa to the Saḷāyatana (the six senses) and to the quality of the contact that results out of those dependences of those chains of dependences. So it’s not as if we just see, is it? Not as if we just hear. It all comes in with something. And this is the something. Vedanā. Now it really gets interesting.
John Peacock 2:33
Because Vedanā is feeling. This is a feeling that arises. Now I mentioned this very briefly yesterday, but it’s worth running through yet again. Feeling is the quality of pleasant, unpleasant, or neither. Sukha, Dukkha. Pleasant, unpleasant. In relationship to, particularly, physical processes or Somanassa, Domanassa in relationship to mental processes. In other words, everything has a feeling tone to it. And then there is neither of both: asukha, adukkha. Asomanassa, adomanassa. These mean that there are dead zones in our experience.
John Peacock 3:29
Remember, I was explaining it to you yesterday. Really when we’re talking about neutral, it’s not neutral as in “neutral”. I can’t think of any other word for it. It’s not really neutral. It’s just that we don’t even perceive it. We don’t even see it. It’s not there in our experience. It’s actually the absence of sukha or dukkha. Somanassa or dominanassa. That’s the way our world is divided up. I always seem to think this is a pretty good description of it: I like, I dislike and couldn’t care less. That’s mostly what’s going on. That’s a fairly poverty stricken world in many senses, isn’t it?
John Peacock 3:35
Now … this will connect with those who are going to come tomorrow, perhaps if I don’t put you all off today, is that one of the things about Metta, of course, is immediately you have people you like people you like dislike, and those whom you feel neutral towards. Now, actually, most people have more problem with that category than any other category. I remember teaching a long Metta retreat at Gaia house in England. And a lady came along to me and saw me in one of the interviews and said, I actually realized suddenly that there is nobody I don’t either like or dislike. It’s really difficult to find somebody in your range of experience.
John Peacock 5:07
I can see you all go rushing through. Trying to work through in your mind’s eye, is anybody in this category? But most people we either like or dislike. Who is it who is there in your lives who actually comes in that neutral category? It’s quite difficult. I’ll leave you with that one, something you can return to.
John Peacock 5:28
But this is how experience has come to us. Now, not as easy as this. Because this is now in connection, this is the way I was explaining it to you yesterday, this is also in connection with the Saṅkhāras. So we’ve gone all the way back to link two. Because Vedanā isn’t just Vedanā. It’s not just the feeling of like or dislike. There is also the Saṅkhāra, the narrative, the story, or actually ,let’s put it in the other sense of the word “feeling” in English, the _emotion_ that comes in with it. Which is almost like the rationalization of the feeling.
John Peacock 6:08
How many of you will say, “I don’t like [X] because…” and then there’s usually an emotion.
It’s expected that you would say “because”.
John Peacock 6:19
Yes. And then that becomes the rationalization. And that’s usually the emotion. I dislike them because of, they make me feel this way, or whatever. And so it becomes linked into an emotional element. It gets linked into the logic of narrative of the emotions. So that’s what’s occurring at this particular stage. So when we say Vedanā is translated as “feeling”, it’s the sensation plus the emotion as well. I would actually say this is a pretty good dependency. You want to see two things supporting each other very very strongly then just think about how sensations and feelings and that are supported by the emotional element, by the emotional narrative. It’s a very strong concatenation of things coming together that gives you a very powerful narrative.
John Peacock 7:17
Now I said that became interesting and I have only really briefly glossed that. But it becomes _really_ interesting now. Because abandon hope all ye who enter here. Because this is what we get. Dependent on Vedanā is Taṇhā. Craving.
John Peacock 7:46
Now craving is, as I’ve said, I won’t emphasize it so much again, but there’s enormous pathos. This is the human condition as far as the Buddha is concerned. If you think about what we’ve done so far, in terms of the chain of Dependent Origination, **it’s taken us til this link to actually get to the second of the Ennobling Truths. So we’ve done all of this sketching in before we actually get to what the Buddha considers to be the absolute proximate cause of our Dukkha. Craving.
John Peacock 8:21
Now craving. Literal meaning of the word Taṇhā, means basically an unquenchable thirst for things. So it’s literally, by its very nature, a thirst that can never be satisfied. It’s never going to find any terminal point. It’s, if you like, the whole idea of Taṇhā is founded on the feeling of lack within our experience. And when we feel lack we try to fill it up with something. This is what we’re trying to do. Actually Taṇhā is also productive of the sense of Self. When do we most feel our selves? Often when we feel we’re lacking something. When there is contentment, ie the absence of craving, there is, I would suggest, probably a minimal sense of self.
John Peacock 9:38
I spoke very briefly about what are called Discrepancy Based Processes. The Self actually comes into being between where I am and where I want to be. Or who I am and what I want to have or what I want to avoid. That is when the self is generated, between those two processes: where I am and what I want, where I am and what I don’t want. That’s when we feel it most strongly. That’s when you feel your selves. Here I am again, in that moment of lack, so it’s productive of the self and continuously generating of the self in that moment.
John Peacock 10:25
And Taṇhā is not something that, as I say, can come to an end. It can’t come to a final point where it finds satiation. You could call this, as Jacques Lacan, the great French psychoanalysts did, “The Endlessness of Desire”.
John Peacock 10:48
Now, our societies, of course, are very good at producing desire and craving. That’s the way they work is productive of this desire and craving. And notice even how the advertising works for a lot of the goods that we see, they promise a sense of fulfillment through the obtaining of certain material goods. They hold out that promissory note, don’t they? Well, at least until the new model comes out. That’s what they’re doing. They’re constantly playing with desire. Now, the Buddha deliberately uses the word Taṇhā because, unlike ordinary thirst, which can be satisfied, there’s another word in Pāli called “pipāsā” which means a thirst that can be quenched. [It’s] like, here. Glass of water. I can quench this thirst. But this one [Taṇhā] can’t be.
John Peacock 11:54
*I was saying that obviously this is not in the texts, but here’s your little experiment. Have you ever told yourself this story? If only I had [X] I’d be happy. … But usually it doesn’t. What actually happens is there is an infinite progress of “If only I had”s. … If only I had, if only I was with, all of these stories that we tell ourselves about the possibility of satisfaction or the possibility of fulfilling the lack that we feel. And notice the way it’s directed; it’s always directed to something external. It’s always directed to something in the external world, some possession, some power, some money, some wealth, whatever it might be, is directed to something external to myself. So the feeling of lack is intimately related to external phenomena. And so our search is externally generated.^^
John Peacock 13:19
Lack of health, yes, but we can often look for external ways of, if only you had the right medicine, then I might be better.
John Peacock 13:45
… I often say this, a lot of this stuff is probably hardwired, and probably evolutionary. I mean, we had to, in a sense, have some of this stuff to survive as a species. But this is the big problem with the brain. It’s one of the people I work with an Oxford actually says if there’s any argument against design, nobody would have organized the brain like the one we have. Because **it’s in a kind of an internicene war with each element, because you’ve got the primitive part of the brain, which is probably the evolutionary part, which generates some of this stuff in relationship with the higher cortical functioning which is trying to rationalize it. And so you’ve got both these elements fighting each other. And this is the reason partly, I mean I wouldn’t want to reduce it all to this, but I think it’s partly the reason why it’s so difficult to deal with this stuff, because it is hardwired and evolutionary and it fulfilled a function in it’s time. Well, it certainly doesn’t do now.
John Peacock 15:23
So … when we’re dealing with craving, we’re dealing with something very, very fundamental. Really fundamental in our experience.
John Peacock 15:38
Now, this has manifestations and it has different manifestations. And the first manifestation of it is Kāmataṇhā. This word that keeps occurring again in the various listings. And I always say, It’s Buddhism. It has to have a list.
John Peacock 15:59
There’s three forms of Taṇhā that we see manifest in our experience. The first is this Kāmataṇhā, this craving for sensual pleasures, for sensuality. Now, I don’t think that’s a difficult one to see in our societies, is it? It’s all around us. This constant craving for sensual stuff. And that goes for all of the material possessions. I think it even goes [for] intellectual acquisition. Craving for the kind of sensuality that comes with getting this stuff that you do. So we’re always acquiring.
John Peacock 16:44
Now, **Gabriel Marcel, I don’t know if anybody’s come across him, he’s a French existentialist philosopher, actually said there was a big confusion that went on in our ways of living and being, which was the basic confusion between being and having. It’s a very interesting confusion because if any of you know languages other than English, the first two verbs you learn in any language is to have and to be. These are the first two basic forms you learn. And what he’s arguing, and I think this ties up very strongly with this, we have this confusion that we are what we have. We are what we acquire. Rather than just being. We are just being.
John Peacock 17:38
That’s a quite a difficult one in our society to get through because Kāmataṇhā is so rampant. “Kāma” is a term that you’ll find occurring in all sorts of lists, as you will probably know, it’s one of your favorite friends in the hindrances. It’s the first one, Kāmacchanda. It occurs In all sorts of different listings. We are sense-seeking missiles. We are searching out for anything that we can get something pleasurable from, trying to squeeze the last drop of sensory pleasure from it.
John Peacock 18:18
But what you can see within this, and why is this a Taṇhā? Because it’s endless, isn’t it? It’s endless and actually requires further and further and further stimulation, greater and greater stimulation. Now, I actually think the model that the Buddha is using, although again I wouldn’t say that this is obviously within the text because it’s not discussed in the texts, is an addictive model. This the model of addiction. Where you start off with relatively low dosage and end up with a very high one to try and get the same amount of pleasure from it. So you keep on upping the dosage. And I think we can see that. The computer graphics have got to get even better. The amount of gore has got to be even more. Whatever it is, we want more of it. The music has got to be louder. And so I think, just as with ordinary substance addictions there is also an addiction to sensory pleasure.
John Peacock 19:27
Now this of course, is Kāmataṇhā. But we mustn’t forget the next link. I really really can’t speak about Taṇhā alone because Taṇhā and Upādāna are absolutely intimately entwined. So it’s not just Kāmataṇhā, but it’s the grasping after Kāmataṇhā. The attachment to it, the clinging to these sensory pleasures.
John Peacock 19:53
Because we can say, for example, that we are in this world, we are sensory beings. We can’t help being it. I’ve got eyes, I’ve got ears, unless you go in for those really ascetic practices which try to cut off [sensory experience]. And actually some of the yoga traditions do that, you find this very much this idea, “pratyahara” in Sanskrit, the idea of the tortoise withdrawing all its limbs and its head back into the carapace, into the shell. And actually, you get that impression from a lot of monastic practices. That’s exactly what you’re doing; you’re denying the world. I don’t think that’s what the Buddha’s talking about in the slightest in these early texts. It’s not clinging to your sensory perceptions. It’s not grasping after them. If they come to us fine. What you guard against is not the sensory perception per se, but the clinging and grasping after the sensory perception. As a means to trying to find some kind of happiness in this world.
John Peacock 21:03
So I think it’s not… otherwise we fall back so easily into these very ascetic practices which require, I think, the monastic situations often you find in Asia. Although I haven’t come across many ascetic monasteries, I must admit. Most of them are not [ascetic].
John Peacock 21:28
Then there is Bhavataṇhā. The craving to be. Now, I think again it’s a big manifestation. I think Buddha was very insightful two and a half thousand years ago because this is one of the dominant traits of our culture. Everybody wants to be something. Cult of celebrity. Always wanting to be something in this world.
John Peacock 22:05
Bhavataṇhā is also caught up with novelty, innovation, always looking for where the action is. It’s that stimulus to keep on wanting stuff. Not necessarily material, sensual things, but always wanting to be in the midst of whatever is fashionable, going on. Indian society had its fashionable goings on as well. … I did a list with some of my students back in the UK, because there’s one text that talks about the Kāmataṇhā elements of Indian society: gold, silver, elephants, slave girls. These were the elements within ancient Indian society; now transpose into modern terms. What would your list … look like from a modern perspective? Because you can see, although the elements have changed, the kind of possessions that represent having got somewhere through materiality actually haven’t in many ways. Or the actual psychological condition behind it hasn’t changed that much.
John Peacock 23:20
So these two [Bhavataṇhā and Kāmataṇhā] are intimately linked because actually Bhavataṇhā, the craving to be, can also be represented by the things I have.
John Peacock 23:29
Now all too often, these are presented as a list of either/ors. Either you’ve got lots of Kāmataṇhā, either you’ve got Bhavataṇhā…
John Peacock 23:37
Also Bhavataṇhā is the craving to be in its most religious sense. Which, again, I think the Buddha is attacking. The idea of … immortality. Now I would say that’s you on a good day. I want to be me forever. I can’t think of anything worse, actually. I want to be me forever. The idea of the immortal soul or the Ātman. Now, again, I think the Buddha is making a jibe at the Brahmins with their idea of the Ātman and that which is indestructible, immutable. The idea of the Ātman carries through the whole of Indian thought out to the present day. This idea that there is this immutable, indestructible element to the individual.
John Peacock 24:33
And the most succinct expression of it is actually in the Bhagavad Gita. I don’t know if anybody knows this text, Bhagavad Gita, which again, is in line within the Upanishads and something that was around at the time of the Buddha. And it says, If you think you kill or you are killed, you are mistaken. The real self is neither produced nor destroyed. I find that extremely moralistically ethically dubious. And you’ve got to remember that Arjuna and Krishna are actually talking on a battlefield. It’s a wonderful way of justifying: actually, you’re not killing the real person. If you go out there and you’re killied yourself, it’s not really you that’s killed. It’s not your real self.
John Peacock 25:22
So Bhavataṇhā can have that drive towards immortality within it. To wanting to be you forever with that fully fledged sense. And that could be from something like the Christian soul to the idea of the Hindu Ātman. Something which is completely indestructible. It also … can be the wish to perpetuate yourself in some form. And it doesn’t have to be in that idea that it’s gonna be me that’s going on forever. But it can be at least that I am going on through you, my children and my grandchildren and their grandchildren, and that there is this direct link that somehow that individual is coming through the others. And in a genetic sense that probably is true. But this desire to perpetuate yourself in some form.
John Peacock 26:24
Now the desire to perpetuate yourself could also be through your good works. There is many a chair, I’m sure there is in universities over here, there’s many a chair at Oxford named after the person that set it up or donated the money quite a long time ago. For example the chair of Sanskrit has a particular name, the Bowden Professor of Sanskrit, which goes back to the early 19th century. It’s a good way of getting yourself perpetuated, isn’t it? [Bhavataṇhā] can go on in many different forms.
John Peacock 26:59
What the Buddha’s trying to make clear is that we all have this craving. And it might be, not these fully fledged forms, but it could also be very subtle. The sense of how we wish to see ourselves going on and being perpetuated in some ways. It can also go down to, I made the suggestion almost flippantly; I’ll be a bit more flippant. It might go down to even the writings on your tombstone.
John Peacock 27:35
I must tell you this funny story. I came across this wonderful, I do a lot of walking in England, going cross country and visiting ancient churchyards in England. And sometimes you find the most incredible inscriptions on tombstones. And I came across this absolutely, what I thought was hilarious, inscription on a tombstone, talk about one upmanship in death, this was it. Because it said, on the one tomb, I can’t remember the names on it but it said, here in lies the body of so-and-so, a proud and virtuous woman the whole of her life, unlike the woman in the other grave. *Laughs* As I say, talk about one upmanship in death.
John Peacock 28:36
I’m going to give you one last funny example, do any of you know the English comedian Spike Milligan? When he died, he had a particular description put on his tombstone, which was: I told you I was ill. But the point is about this, despite their being very amusing, it’s a good way of getting yourself remembered and perpetuated.
John Peacock 29:17
… Now in a way Bhavataṇhā can be seen as also [as a] drive for life operating through us in many many different forms, from the gross to the extremely subtle in our lives. This desire to keep ourselves perpetuated even in others memories for as long as possible.
John Peacock 29:38
However, there’s another side to it, which is the darker side, which is Vibhavataṇhā].
John Peacock 29:53
Are they two sides of the same coin? No. Well, in a sense one is the negation of the other. If there is a drive towards perpetuation, this is a drive towards extinction. Remember the middle way that is often spoken about? … Not the middle way between household life and the ascetic life, but the middle way between the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Here [with Bhavataṇhā] we have the eternalistic idea, the drive that’s often within us to want to be forever, let’s just take that as an example. Here [with Vibhavataṇhā] is the not wishing to be at all. I don’t wish to be.
John Peacock 30:42
It has a very dark side to this because this is also to do with suicidal tendencies. Psychologically it’s also to do with self harm, any form of self harm that you’re engaged in. And also manifests as aggression towards others. So you try to annihilate yourself by, in a way, I don’t mean this literally, but by, in a way, annihilating the other. So I give you a really hard time because, actually, I want to give myself a really hard time. Because I don’t like being here at all.
John Peacock 31:18
So you’ve got a very sad capacity, there’s a very sad side to this. These map on very well, for those who are familiar with psychodynamic theory, to Freud’s erotic drive and the death drive or what’s called “thanatos”. They map on quite well. There, in a way, different mood-ed-nesses, if I want to put it that way, in our sense of being in the world. And rather than [differentiating], here is a character who has all this ego, wants to go on, or here is somebody who has suicidal tendencies, … this is you. Here’s you on a day. Because this is how we go through it. Sometimes we’re full of sensual desire. Other times we’re full of cravings to want to be, wanting to become actually, “bava” actually has the literal meaning of “wanting to become something”. I want to become something in my life. Often making a mark. I don’t want to talk about this too much, but particularly associated with what’s called the worldly winds, praise and blame. And all these sorts of things wealth, and fame.
John Peacock 32:43
All of these things are associated with becoming something in our life. But then it’s all too much of a strain. I always say in English, look at this. [Writes the word “I” on the board.] What a poor, lonely little figure. Isn’t it? Poor lonely little figure of a character, I. It’s a devil of a job trying to keep yourself together a lot of the time. And those times when, for example, depression strikes, then it can feel such an uphill task to try and keep yourself literally together in this life. And that’s when the darker side manifests. And that might be at some point in the day, it’s all too much. But then you get caught up in sensual craving again.
John Peacock 33:38
What I’m trying to say to you is these are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many of the behaviors that we see manifest actually mix them up. And I’ll give you one example. Kāmataṇhā. This might be, I don’t know, drinking too much. Kāmataṇhā, nice sensations of drinking alcohol. Drinking too much, though, can lead to oblivion. The sense of not being at all.
John Peacock 34:09
It can be manifested also through Bhavataṇhā, I am what I have. Now making a statement, I am what I have. I’m becoming this person in my acquisition. In my acquisition of knowledge and wealth or whatever it might be.
John Peacock 34:29
So please don’t think of these as being any kind of linear process or character types. This is really descriptive of just ordinary everyday processes that we’re engaged in. And we’re trapped within this.
John Peacock 34:47
Now, one of the other dimensions of Taṇhā … [it] is governed not just by what we want, but what we don’t want. What we don’t want to happen to us. I would actually say the majority of people’s lives are probably governed by more things that they don’t want to happen than by what they want to happen to them. In other words, I crave to avoid certain things to happen to me. I crave that they don’t happen in my life. Even Freud’s pleasure principle was more about the avoidance of things which were painful than it was about pleasure. And this is exactly what’s going on with Taṇhā. It is Janus-faced. Janus was the Roman god of the door, looked in both directions. It was Janus-faced in that sense, it looks in both ways, that which I want and that which I want to avoid. This interplay of these two things. So it’s not only, if only I was I’d be happy, [it’s also] if only I didn’t have this I would be happy. If only I wasn’t in this situation.
John Peacock 36:07
So within this we’ve got aversion, too. Distinct, really powerful elements of aversion working through, continuously, in our ordinary lives. Aversion, craving, aversion, craving. It’s automatic reactiveness all the time. So as we steer our way through life, we’re doing that.
John Peacock 36:32
But this comes into the next part, effectively, which is, … you have to bear in mind, I’m condensing something I usually teach over a week. So it’s very much a snapshot, but we now have Upādāna [grasping]. This is intimately related. … Upādāna, these are really interesting words.
John Peacock 37:13
Upādāna, let me give you the origin. Again this is another example of the Buddha’s brilliant playing on words. Let me take you back to yesterday, the beginning of yesterday. Remember I talked to you about how Indian society was dominated during the period of the Buddha by Brahminical rituals, and the rituals would take place around a fire? Well actually they took place around three fires. If you went to a temple or to a ceremony, there would be three sacrificial fires burning. Within the home there’d have to be one, but within the temples, the mandirs, there would be three fires burning. And if you go to very strict Hindu temples even today you’ll find three sacrificial fires and they’re always kept stoked. They always have to be kept burning.
John Peacock 38:00
Remember, I connected some of the stuff with what was going on yesterday with the language [that] the Buddha uses. … For example, to perform your rituals around the fire was called samskara, which is simply the Sanskrit version of Saṅkhāra. This was to perform a ritual. So I’m performing a ritual. The Buddha takes that and now he makes it into a volitional formation, a habit pattern that I build up over a period of time. The outcome of doing my ritual was either good or bad. I kept the gods happy or I didn’t keep the gods happy. That was my Karma. The Buddha turns it into _action with intention_. He turns into something ethical. So karma was just something that automatically arose out of whether I bungled my rituals, or actually did them well, I was a good professional. And I did my rituals well and kept the gods happy. So he’s turned it into something now ethical, this term karma,** which was a common word used in Indian society at that period of time.
John Peacock 39:12
Here’s another one that goes with the ritual fires, is the word Upādāna. The word Upādāna literally means, in Pāli, it means “to fuel a material process”. And it referred to the actual physical act of putting more wood on the fire. This is what you were doing, you’re actually stoking your fires.
John Peacock 39:39
I can see minds starting to click here, because the Buddha refers to something as being three fires. Have you come across this? He said there are three fires. The whole world is burning. This is the very famous Fire Sermon, or the Fire Discourse. The whole world is burning. The world is burning with the three fires of greed, aversion, and delusion. Greed, aversion, and delusion. So he’s taken the three fires of brahminical ritual, and he’s said now there’s really three fires. These three fires are the fires of greed, aversion, and delusion.
John Peacock 40:16
Now, if you really want to keep your fire stoked, keep on grasping. It shows you the brilliance, I have such admiration for the Bhudda and the way he did this. Just using the stuff of his own society to keep on making an alternative point. So, keep your fires burning by grasping, by clinging, and in fact, there is another meaning to the word, Upādāna, which is the way, I don’t know if you’ve looked at a piece of wood, the fire appears to cling to the wood.
John Peacock 40:57
One of the other aspects of, say, Nibbāna, you’ll often find this relationship to what the Buddha says is, if the ordinary world of the householder that is represented by Brahminism is all about fires and sacrifices and rituals and everything else, then the Buddha’s path or the path that you’re on is about cooling. One is about heating and the other is about cooling. Cooling everything down, putting the fires out. The fire no longer clings to the wood.
John Peacock 41:35
There’s absolutely loads of metaphors used around Fire. Fire was one of the predominant ritual elements in Indian society at that period. This is why the Buddha is using so many metaphors of fire. The mind aflame, literally. The senses burning. Everything burning from these things. Even T.S. Eliot picked up in this; it’s in “The Waste Land, reference to that particular text. Everything is burning.
John Peacock 42:15
So Upādāna. It’s keeping your fires burning by grasping and clinging. In Tibetan illustrations of this you find a monkey holding on to things. particularly fruit. Picking fruit and holding on to them. And you find within the early texts many examples of ways of trapping monkeys. How to trap your foolish monkey.
John Peacock 42:41
An example in the Samyutta Nikāya of the foolish monkey who strays into his wrong habitat. The other monkeys won’t go there because they’re frightened of going out of their own habitat into an area where they might get caught by a hunter. And one of the ways they used to trap monkeys was to put tar down in the forest for animals, and particularly monkeys, and that this monkey stumbling through the forest looking for better pickings in regard to food, and it stumbles into one of these areas of tar and it puts its paw in. It’s got its paw stuck. So it tries to get its paw out by putting its foot in, to pull the paw out. And now it’s got its foot stuck. And then it tries to put its other paw in to pull out its foot and its first paw, and now that’s stuck.
John Peacock 43:35
And then you can imagine what happens, it even gets its head stuck in the end. I won’t tell you what happens to the monkey, it’s not very pleasant. But as the Buddha says, the only way of getting the monkey unstuck is to put its paw out and to hold on to something which is worthy of holding on to which it can pull itself out by. Which is the Dhamma. This is what he’s saying. There’s something which is unshakable, which you can pull yourself out, extract yourself with, which is the tree of Dhamma, that you can hold on to.
John Peacock 44:09
And there’s another way, and I think this still goes on in Africa to this day, of trapping monkeys. And this one I think is a wonderful metaphor for our entrapment. What they do is they dig a hole in the ground and put a small bowl in which has a neck about that wide. And into the bowl, they put a piece of fruit. The monkey comes along, smells the fruit, and puts its hand down through the narrow neck and grabs hold a piece of fruit. You’ve got one trapped monkey. Because now the monkey won’t let go this piece of fruit.
John Peacock 44:43
*Isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for our situation? We’re entrapped by what we have and won’t let go. You won’t let go the stuff, even that you’re feeling entrapped by. When we think of all the stuff that we have, that we don’t let go of.**
John Peacock 45:05
Now I want to share this with you. I heard a conversation about three gardens away from me, where I live in the UK. And it was one of my neighbors talking to another neighbor of mine, it was sort about entrapment. [They were] talking to another neighbor of mine, and I heard this little phrase, this little conversation drifting over the fence like this, “I couldn’t possibly lend you that; I don’t even use it myself.” Yeah. That is entrapment.
John Peacock 45:40
And so Upādāna is about this experience of entrapment. This is can be images of what we have, who we are. It can be, obviously, all the physical stuff that we accumulate, that we have around, but we still don’t get rid of. And so we get swamped by loads and loads and loads of stuff. Mental and Physical, that we take on board and won’t let go of. We won’t, in a sense, release our grasp.
John Peacock 46:21
There’s one other aspect these words actually, what I call polyvalent, they have many many meanings to them. And Upādāna has another sense of actually a closed hand holding on to something not being able to let go of it. And so we literally won’t, like the monkey, release to find our freedom. We still continue to hold on rather than find our freedom by letting go of what we have. So we’re entrapped by what we have. It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? When we don’t let go.
John Peacock 46:59
Many of you must have heard the story about the two monks standing on the river bank. And there’s a lady wanting to cross the river as well. That’s a classic one. Where the one monk is going on to the other one, after he’s carried the woman over the river. He said, I let go of her when I put her on the other side of the river, you’re still carrying her. Because he’s still going on about it. And that’s another way of holding on.
John Peacock 47:27
*Think about that in terms of grievances. Malice, retribution, thoughts of revenge, all of these things, which are the real stuff of primitive human emotions. When we don’t let go. When we’re holding on and refusing to let go to find any sense of spaciousness or freedom in our existence. It’s very claustrophobic. [I want] to try and present a picture of that because it’s very claustrophobic. We get the sense of being confined in a very very narrow space.**
John Peacock 48:04
This is what this complex of Taṇhā-Upādāna is doing. And this is the crux of what we’re starting to observe. And this is the sequence that we’re going to observe. There are other aspects that are going to arise after this, but this is the sequence in meditation that we can observe. Contact, feeling, craving, clinging. You can really see this.
John Peacock 48:34
Now traditionally in meditation experience the weakest link to break this is considered between Vedanā and Taṇhā. Vedanā is an automatic arising. Some Vedanās are hardwired. If I stick my hand on a hot plate, and I’m not a masochist, I probably am going to experience that as unpleasant. If I’m a masochist I’m wired to feeling it as pleasant. So some of the things we can’t do anything about in terms of Vedanā. It actually comes to us. But we can do something about the craving and the clinging that arise subsequently on it. So it’s actually to observe this, to actually observe what follows the Vedanā. [Some] traditions, like the Goenka tradition, spend a lot of time, the whole practice is virtually devoted to looking at the Vedanā. Particularly bodily Vedanā. This is a lot of devotion of their attention. Endlessly endlessly scanning the body looking at Vedanā because then you begin to see the intimacy of this connection between the clinging and the craving. And then we can learn to let go.
John Peacock 49:53
Now, some monastics put the high-jump higher and say [that] you can probably break it [between Phassa and Vedanā]. I personally don’t think this is the case. I think that’s a case of monastic high jumping again. Try saying, look, we can go one better. We can break it between Phassa and Vedanā, between contact and feeling. In experience I’ve never seen this as being possible. I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m just saying I’ve never personally seen this. Whereas I can see this very clearly, [between Vedanā and Taṇhā].
John Peacock 50:28
Now, I think, again, we have to bear in mind some of the things and, perhaps I’m being provocative again, I don’t know. Sometimes we have to see the ways that monastics cling on to power. Power and authority. And the power and authority is actually putting the bar higher and higher and higher about what people can do. And often, that is the case, particularly with this. Saying where you can break the chain of Dependent Origination. Yeah, I mean Sayadaw U Pandita, for example, particularly says, Oh, there’s no problem. You can do it here. But U Pandita is U Pandita. I shall say no more.
John Peacock 51:17
But we can break it at this link [between Vedanā and Taṇhā] because we can actually see this. The Vedanā immediately giving rise to that tendency to want to crave to avoid, or want to crave to have in our experience. And the clinging and grasping to that that immediately comes upon that. In fact you can’t even really, in practice, separate these two. Taṇhna-Upādāna come as a pair. You get that.
John Peacock 51:49
Now dependent upon Upādāna you get Bhava. Becoming. We’ve seen this partly in relationship to parts of Taṇhā. We’re always in the process of becoming something. We’re always wanting to become something, even if it’s the being to want a cup of tea. We’re wanting to become something. We’re always trying to make a mark in the world in some way. But more directly, what this refers to … is often [how] we try to become the images that we project of ourselves in the future. Now that might be extremely mundane. I am the person that wants to get a drink. I’m perhaps an alcoholic or something. I want to get a drink. This becomes **the ways that we psychologically and literally manipulate a situation to fulfill what we want. Who, or what we want to become. The one that gets the drink or the one that wants to get the power, or whatever it might be.
John Peacock 53:15
And that will give rise… I’m doing this very rapidly and then I want to open this up to some questions because there’s a lot in this. This opens up to Jāti. To actually being born in that situation, or another situation, as the outcome of this process. Now, if I’m, I don’t know, if I’m the drinker who wants to get their drink and in the process of becoming, through the grasping and the craving for that drink, through the manipulation of the situation to get there, I might find myself being born in the bar. It’s as literal as that. That’s where I find myself.
John Peacock 54:09
But, and this is the final part of it, even if you do go that … we find ourselves in Jarāmaraṇa, which literally means old age and death. But it doesn’t have to be taken literally because you don’t need to take it literally. What it means is that situation is going to decline and disappear. I’m going to drink my drink, and the bar is going to close. And then I’m back into this whole situation again.
John Peacock 54:44
That’s a very crude example but you can see how that works. … That you can be trapped in that cycle of addiction, from the confusion [associated with] whatever it might be, and I’ve given you an example obviously of drink, but it could be anything, of expecting something to provide me with happiness, the Saṅkhāras which concretize and can contract around that idea, to actually finding yourself in the situation of getting or, actually, not getting it. Not getting [what you want], but you’re always born in a situation. In other words, you always find yourself somewhere as an outcome of your psychological processes. Your psychological processes, even if you don’t get you what you want, get you somewhere, probably into further misery.
John Peacock 55:42
I kind of just about that but it’s also quite serious. That we are always finding ourselves in a situation. But whatever situation we find ourselves in is going to decline and it’s going to disappear and it’s going to be replaced by another one. And this is an ongoing process happening in every moment. This is the way that we can read this within the early texts. And it’s supported by Abidhamma readings as well, this process of going on in every every moment.
John Peacock 56:12
So it doesn’t have to be taken on this three lifetime interpretation which seems to me to diffuse the power of what this is actually talking about, which is psychological process going on right here, right now, right at this absolute very moment. So that this actually represents, this cycle of Dependent Origination represents your past and your present and your future right now. Because you are your past your present and future as you sit on your chairs. Something will come which is going to be your future, which is your next moment.
John Peacock 56:57
I’ve spoken a lot about Dependent Origination but this is still very much a snapshot of it. There’s so much profundity to this particular dimension of the Buddha’s teaching. As I said yesterday, and I’ve said today, I think this is the _summum bonum_ of the Buddha’s actual practical ways of getting out of Samsaric experience. If we truly begin to understand this, and particularly see this sequence in action then you can start to do something about it. You can start to operate within your laboratory of your experience. And start to begin right now to do something about it. To see craving and to surf the craving. Go with it.
John Peacock 57:52
Because what you’ll find is anything that’s arising in the mind, well, what happens to it? It arises and it passes away. Interesting, isn’t it? We take it so seriously, and we hold on to it. Yet all it’s doing is arising and passing away. I feel that thoughts should have a little label attached to them that says, “Just passing through.” Because that’s all they’re doing, just passing through.
Vedanā is often discussed merely as pleasant, unpleasant, neither.] Can you document somewhere in the early texts where it’s extended to Papañca and proliferation and memory?
John Peacock 59:00
The Madhupindika, The Madhupinika Sutta. The Honeyball Sutta. In the Honeyball Sutta it gives you the whole sequence of the cognitive process. It’s the only place in the canon which gives you so much detail on the cognitive process, what’s actually going on. And basically you can reduce the sequence to this, although it’s a bit more complicated than this, that which one contacts, that one feels. That which one feels, one thinks about. That which one thinks about, one proliferates. Says it all. That is why we get caught. Upon that which one proliferates results all strife or conflict. He said, The resorting to rods and weapons. [That’s] the term that the Buddha uses. Look at the Madhupindika Sutta, the the Honeyball Sutta. … I’ve been spending quite a lot of time going through with some of my students, just going through it literally line by line because it’s such an important sutta. It’s in the Majjhima Nikāya; it’s in the Middle Length Discourses.
Thank you for mentioning that craving and clinging come as a pair because that’s, in general, my experience. But then you were saying, and I also have this experience where craving can arise, but we can also let it pass and say that’s just a craving, and we’re not actually clinging. It sounds like both can be true.
John Peacock 1:00:47
Yeah, very much. In our experience we can see this. With training, this is what we’re talking about, with training we don’t have to go with the craving that arises immediately on the experience of a feeling. On the arising of Vedanā, we just don’t have to go with the craving that arises. And I think sometimes we do see this in our experience. Because you can see the desire, let’s put it as the word “desire”, it’s a bit more approachable sometimes then “craving “. We can see the desire for something arising and if you sit with it for a few minutes, and particularly when you’re sitting in meditation, because you often get this desire and this feeling or craving for something, but you sit there, unless you’re going to leap off your seat, what you do is you watch it arise, and you can see it pass away.
John Peacock 1:01:38
You can see this in relation[ships] sometimes, I’m sure most of you probably had this experience, when [you are irritated at someone] and you feel the anger arising and then suddenly you feel… ah, yes. And it’s gone. You’ve stayed with it long enough just to see it and to surf it, to ride it, and to go with it.
John Peacock 1:02:00
[I don’t meen to suggest that’s always comfortable. It isn’t.] What we’re doing in the initial stages in meditation is beginning to train ourselves in discomfort. Because automatically it’s a bit like the itch you get. And this is why the instruction in meditation is not to move. To stay unless it’s really really uncomfortable. Not to automatically scratch itches that arise. Or if you’ve got a slight discomfort in your leg to shuffle around. Because we can do this automatically. So it’s observing the uncomfortableness of it.
John Peacock 1:02:39
Now I’m talking about physical phenomena, but also this is with mental phenomena. That we don’t actually have to automatically react to discomfort. We can actually stay with discomfort and see that discomfort actually is exacerbated when we leap into it and try to do something about it. Because you’ll find if you start scratching one itch then another one will arise somewhere else. If you got one pain in your body and you react to that, you’ll find another one arises somewhere else. And so you’re constantly shuffling around. And if you think of that mentally, that’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s actually proliferating more and more thought, more and more stuff we’re trying to avoid.
John Peacock 1:03:27
It’s like saying, Don’t think. What will happen? Or don’t think of the elephant in the room. Automatically the mind is grasping after it and trying to fulfill it. So we’re just riding it. Learning to ride that.
Can you talk about the Self, how Buddha see the self as Nibbāna. It seems like, from today’s talk, the Buddha is a great psychologist, but from a spiritual point of view, what does he say about a self and Nibbāna?
John Peacock 1:04:14
Self and Nirvana? Well, we did part of the self yesterday, but I mean, the self… the Self you have to hear as process. The self is a process. It’s not a thing. This is the Buddha’s argument. The argument is not that there is no self. I don’t even mind repeating this because I think it’s such an important dimension, even for those who heard it yesterday. The self is not a thing. It’s a process. It’s something that is a convention. It’s a very useful convention. For example, it brackets our experience by saying, This is my experience. It’s not your experience. It’s my experience here. But we don’t have to attribute something solid to that sense of my, I, mine. These are words we have reified, our sense of self, quite often. So actually we begin to live, and I think this is what the Buddha is really trying to talk about, if we live the self as an expansive process rather than as a contraction. We live it more lightly, is another way of putting this. We take ourselves terribly seriously. Everything that crosses the path of the self is terribly serious. But this is actually living in a much lighter fashion. So we live, this is not my phrase, it is Andy Alinsky’s [sp?] phrase: We live the self as the verb, not as a thing, as a noun.**
John Peacock 1:05:51
[You asked] about Nibbāna. What is Nibbāna? Nibbāna is simply the absence of greed, aversion, and delusion. Now it’s greed, aversion, and delusion, which help to reify the Self. When, for example, Taṇhā … greed and aversion are both within Taṇhā, because it’s this Janus-faced thing as I’ve spoken about, the Self is coming into being through that. With the absence of greed, aversion, and delusion, there is no sense of solid self.
John Peacock 1:06:39
Nibbāna literally means “gone out”. It means the going out of the three fires, which uphold that sense of #Selfing, in that much more contracted sense of selfing. And I think this is really a question. From a practical point of view, and I always try to bring these things back to practicalities, how do we want to live this world? Do you want to live it as a contracted being? Contracted around the notion of something, which is actually not existence, which is a fixed self. Or do we want to live it in a spacious expansive sense, where we can be responsive as opposed to being simply reactive? Selves as nouns react. Selfing, as verb, responds. That’s the big difference between the two. So that movement from [the] reactiveness of contraction, to the responsiveness of openness and spaciousness.
John Peacock 1:07:48
Now, there’s one thing we haven’t talked about … and I’m only going to say this because the later traditions get into such … tangles about this notion of Emptiness. [Emptiness] is associated with [the self]. Because the Self is empty. **What is it empty of? It’s empty of any inherent contracted existence. End the story. That’s all it is. I’ll say a bit more about that when the questions; the questions are quite important. [But] I hope that’s helped a bit.
Speaker 4 1:08:43
You mentioned yesterday, [not “not self” but] “no fixed self”. [Can you say something about the fact that] we have to perform certain functions and roles in this world and we have a self, in a sense, defined by various roles and functions we perform.
John Peacock 1:09:20
[This] is related to previous question. There’s two ways of living. … One again is, I’m going to use this word deliberately, one is contracted around the notion of what we do. In particular, if you’ve got a profession and things we have to do in life, we can create an identity out of it. We can create identity out of profession. The profession of being a doctor, a teacher, a mother, a lawyer, whatever it is, That’s who I am. I am what I do.
John Peacock 1:10:06
I’ll give you an example. I actually had the best answer to the question. When I was in South Africa about 22 years ago teaching, and I asked somebody the usual question … “What do you do? ” And he gave the most marvelous answer. He said, “I play at being professor of linguistics.” I think that’s such a good answer. Because he wasn’t diminishing it or saying this wasn’t serious, [that he] didn’t take his responsibilities serious, but in a sense, there is a play to it. You are not it.
John Peacock 1:10:46
What I think the Buddha’s trying to get us to see is the way that we try to create identity out of any mode of being that we can inhabit. So it could be: “I am a professor of linguistics”, or I am a waiter. I am this. And that’s reductionism. You’ve just now reduced yourself to some thing. And often I think this occurs, this is not within the text, but this often occurs psychologically, I think, because of the fear of not being anything.
John Peacock 1:11:30
Now, this is the reason why we’re so deeply attached to our Dukkha. It sounds an odd thing to say isn’t it? Our Dukkha gives us a sense of identity. Who we are. I am my misery. People can become the set of their symptoms. At least I know who I am now; I my symptoms. I’m kind of doing this slightly tongue in cheek. But what I’m trying to say is we can try and create identity out of anything. And what this not-self or not fixed self is, is actually a spacious process. Were I’m not tied to being any one thing. That’s the whole thing about this notion. Is it opens up possibilities for us.
John Peacock 1:12:28
For example if I’ve got a psychological condition, and let’s say I am, I think I am, a depressive. Well, actually, you’re probably far more than that. That might be a good reason for opening up to other possibilities of being or seeing other aspects of what’s going on in your mental states and so on and so forth. Because then you can see other ways of being in the world other than relating through a particular diagnosis and symptomatology. So we’re opening up other possibilities of being.
John Peacock 1:13:03
That’s really I think what the Buddha is saying because, and this is the important part about it from the Buddha’s perspective, from his perspective, is that at the moment we are in Saṃsāra, with all the Dukkha, with all of the contractions, with all of the Kilesas, all the defilements and everything else that the Buddha speaks about, but we don’t have to be it. That’s the hope. And we can only not be those things if they’re not fixed. Unless there’s another possibility.
Back to dependent origination; you say these arise instantaneously, right? This is not over a period of years. From, from contact to feeling to thirst, they arise together and one doesn’t cause the other. They’re conditioned by each other. But are they that quick?
John Peacock 1:14:16
Yeah. They are going that quick. This is the reason why it’s difficult to perceive it. This is why we engage in the practice of Bhavana, of cultivation, cultivation/attention to what’s going on. In order to see the process, let’s think about two fundamental things that have to be there: interest and curiosity. You’ve got to be interested, and you’ve got to be curious about what’s going on in your experience. So **initially, we start off with what I call inchoate experience. There’s just stuff going on. And the more you begin to look with curiosity at the stuff going on, the more you begin to discern. You begin to discern patterns. Remember, I used that as one of the synonyms for Dependent Origination. You begin to discover patterns in your experience.
John Peacock 1:15:17
Has anybody [experienced] this when [you’ve] been meditating? It gets laughable at times. Here it goes again. Here’s the old anxiety, yet again. Hello, aversion! Because they’re coming up again. So you get this various patterning that’s there and you begin to discern that. What you’re doing is getting in close. Going from a [wider field of view] down to a [more narrow field of view], getting down to looking closer and closer and closer at the various elements that start to form that patterning. And in doing that you’re starting to slow the process down. You’re starting to slow that process down. Still going pretty quickly, but it’s going a lot slower when you’re on the cushion than it is when you’re out in ordinary life. Because usually what happens in this thing is: somebody is nasty to you. Contact [Phassa]. Somebody is nasty to you, unpleasant feeling Vedanā. I’m annoyed [Citta]. It happens there. *snaps his fingers* And I’m probably saying something I don’t wish to have said.
It happens in a car every time I get on the freeway. Like that. Yeah. So quick.
John Peacock 1:16:38
Yeah. And if you think about your ordinary day, if you want to see it over a bigger sense of temporality, you think of the order day you can often go out in the morning, good intentions. Go out with good intention, by the [time you] walk to the end of the block it’s been completely screwed up. Something’s happened that’s come up in your experience, and then it’s gone. Now, what’s hijacked that intention? Well, it’s the automatic nature of this Dependent Origination]. That’s what’s hijacked it.
John Peacock 1:17:10
So if that’s the case, if our intentions can be so easily overridden, even if we have good intentions, then we have to start looking at what’s going on in the automaticity of this [The process of Dependent Origination]. This is where we start to regain our freedom from it, in beginning to look at that. [Do not underestimate the need for] interest and curiosity. [When I teach Vipassana retreats I often start off] by saying, Here’s your one question that you’ve got to sit with: “What the hell’s going on here?” Let’s get it right down to basics, because if you haven’t got that question, What is going on here, however you want to put it, you haven’t got the interest or the curiosity to start to examine it and start to tease it apart to start to see the patternings in your experience and to stay with the difficulties as well. But that’s what you’re doing. It is happening that quickly though.
Unknown Speaker 1:18:31
Is that why it’s translated as twelve links of co-origination?
John Peacock 1:18:37
Co-origination. Co-condition Genesis is another translation for it.
Unknown Speaker 1:18:44
So this may be interpreted as a Buddhist model of our mental process.
John Peacock 1:18:53
A mental process, yeah. Can be. It’s a process; it’s not entirely exhaustive in the sense that you could break this down even further, in western psychological terms, you could even begin to break this down even further. But this is enough that you need to know in order to get into the process; you don’t need to know much more than this. Now, if we left it as simply a meta of process, we can leave it as a metacognitive theory. That’s not going to get us anywhere. We’ve got to get this metacognitive theory down back into embodied experience and begin to see it with embodied experience. And that’s where it starts to change. When you start to see that. Without that it just remains up there. Remains a nice intellectual theory.
Unknown Speaker 1:19:48
What you’re saying is we should actually experience this process in meditation.
John Peacock 1:19:56
You will experience it.
Just want to spot check [that] I heard you right earlier; you said that the Self that has contracted is more likely to be reactive rather than responsible. Did I hear that right?
John Peacock 1:20:19
I didn’t say responsible, I said more likely to be reactive than responsive.
Oh, responsive. I see. Okay.
John Peacock 1:20:27
Yeah, that’s a very important distinction.
I’ve been kind of thinking about how to be proactive and pre emptive here. And usually what we’re told is between Vedanā and Taṇhā is where we can intervene. Really reflecting on your comments about our personalities, the way we’re organized, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, habits. I wonder if we can’t go back to the Saṅkhāras and begin to explore them, begin to spot trouble patterns. And rather than being ambushed or taken by surprise, … we already have a battle plan or some idea or understanding developing.
John Peacock 1:21:19
I think it’s very good strategy. It’s one I do encourage. It’s not an either-or. When we start to spot the Saṅkhāras, what you’re starting to do then is spot habit patterns. You’re starting to spot proclivities in behavior. The moment we start to do that you’re into looking at the narratives that support those behaviors and actually then begin to support this process [of Dependent Origination]. So it’s very useful to do that. … [As you said,] that is the traditional view, this is the weakest point [between Vedanā and Taṇhā] and you can see this. For those of you who are beginning meditation, even those who have very little experience, you can start to see the straightaway. But with more experience, you’re starting to see the patterning of the Saṅkhāras and how they inform even our patterns of craving. What we’re aversive to and what we’re wanting.
I don’t care what people think of me; someone can say, You’re not very bright. Because of my Saṅkhāras around not being attached to that I wouldn’t experience that as painful Vedanā. But for someone who cares greatly about being brilliant that same comment could create a whole flood of discomfort and pain.
John Peacock 1:22:45
Yes, that’s exactly right. Remember that the [[Saṅkhāra]s are deeply responsible for the sense of identity. These are “Saṅkhāras Are Us”. This is the way we feel because they are so heart-felt and heart-experienced. They are feeding the whole process. There is a word used in Pāli, “āhāra”, they feed the mechanism, just like we feed the fires. We keep on feeding the mechanism by reinforcing the Saṅkhāras that we have. Even my silly example I gave when a habit of yours is challenged and you defend yourself, in a sense you start to feed it again. You’re backing up into it and feeding it.
It’s hard to see them because it feels true.
John Peacock 1:23:54
They’re always saying, I’m true! Remember what I said, Trust me I’m telling you stories. This is what they’re doing. That is why the Saṅkhāras are so difficult to get into. It’s very useful to see them, but you’re not going to get into the totality. The process is actually unwinding the chain. Unwinding it. You can use many different metaphors or images, and they are metaphors and images. And I think we have to be aware of that. … If you drew the whole thing up [on the blackboard] I could show you much more of the relationship of them within the circle as opposed to just seeing them in the way that I’ve described them so far. Because they’re all interacting with each other. The Saṅkhāras are feeding into Bhava, into my ways of being. Bhava itself, who I want to be, is feeding into my Saṅkhāras. And that is being fed by the cravings [Taṅhā] that I have, which are being fed by the Saṅkhāras. … It’s much better to graphically illustrate this. But this is what’s happening. If you want to draw lines all over the place this is what you’d be seeing. So it is this mutually supporting system that’s going on.
John Peacock 1:25:19
Yet interestingly enough, the moment you start, it’s a bit like a piece of wool, the moment you start to pull a piece of thread, it starts to unravel and bits start to fall out of it. Now it’s not as if you’re going to pull and get the whole chain to drop apart at this stage, but even if you just start to pull it slightly it starts to loosen.
John Peacock 1:25:41
This is what I’m saying about the interest and curiosity; it’s a bit like pulling a piece of cotton or a piece of thread, when it starts to begin to unravel, the moment you’ve begun on that process you are, or who you think you are, is starting to unravel. [I want to tell you that that] is actually a very exciting process. And I don’t mean that in getting overstimulated, but just the fact we open up to other possibilities of being, other ways of being in this world, and much more responsive ways of being as well. It comes back to the fact that I can, instead of being this contracted, driven creature through greed, aversion and delusion, that suddenly the manifestation of Metta can be present, in my experience. Towards myself, towards others.
John Peacock 1:26:48
This is the way of holding all of what’s going on. And I’ll say much more about this tomorrow. But the Metta is the way of holding the difficulty. I’m not saying this as an easy process and the Buddha never says it’s an easy process. But it’s how we hold that we have to hold that, with metta, we have to hold it with friendliness.
John Peacock 1:27:16
Now, one of the words [that] I really do not like that is found in the canon and we’ve got absolutely terrible Translations often is “nibbidā”, “disgust” with things. I think the best translation for this word is “disenchantment”, starting to becoming disenchanted with the patterns that have seemed so seductive and the ways of doing things which have seduced us. Rather than being disgusted with the world, which is again, a very Theravadan thing, traditional Theravada, and is reflected in the ascetisism that you see practiced.
John Peacock 1:28:01
And actually, I’m afraid if my introduction to Buddhism [had been] first through Burmese Buddhism, I don’t think I’d ever become a Buddhist. … Luckily my introduction was through Tibetans who were very joyful about it all. But to see that disgusted side of it. Whereas, actually I think what the Buddha means is we become increasingly disenchanted by the patterns which have seemed so seductive to us. We progressively see that we’re no longer seduced by the magical game that’s being played.
John Peacock 1:28:46
It’s not that I get disgusted with Kāma, with sensuality, it’s that I become disenchanted with it as being a way of finding my sense of being in this world. We can go off into what I call heavy handed religious stuff. And I really don’t think, I’m giving you a very personal messenge here, I really do not think from my reading of the text [that] that’s what the Buddha is doing at all. That goes back to Hindu asceticism coming back in. Brahmanization.
John Peacock 1:29:21
The History of Buddhism, and I might add this on the back of the question, **the history of Buddhism has been one of creeping Brahmanization and Sanskritization*. … Everything that the Buddha tried to cut out, to stop, starts to creep back slowly through the history of Buddhism. It’s no accident, and there’s many ways of interpreting this, but one of the four great cleanings is the clinging Silabbata-paramasa, the clingings the rites and rituals. The clinging to rites and rituals. What has Buddhism become full of? Rites and rituals.
Do you think it’s more the clinging to rites and rituals or more practicality that at some point Buddhism died out in India and Hinduism had a resurrection, [the lay people were attracted to it] and that keeps the sangha going?
John Peacock 1:30:23
That’s a big common question. The reason why Buddhism died out in India is because it became increasingly more monastic and scholastic and increasingly divorced from practical concerns. There was the other factor, which was Muslim incursions into later India. Resurgence of Hinduism, particularly through philosophies that parodied or mirrored forms of what was going on. So for example, Shankara who is the great founder of the Advaita tradition really is parodying and mirroring some of Nāgārjuna’s arguments. But I think what it actually does is it loses touch with people. This is reason why Buddhism died out in India.
John Peacock 1:31:13
I use the word creeping Sanskritization deliberately because the Buddha himself, when he was approached in the Vinaya and asked, should we compose our texts and should we use Sanskrit? The Buddha says absolutely not. His was a path that was to be communicated in ordinary vernacular languages. Of which Pāli is just a reflection of that, that’s all it is. It’s just a formalized reflection of vernacular languages that the Buddha was using. Sanskrit was the language of the intellectuals, and by the end of the third century BCE, depending when you put the Buddha’s death, I put it about 400 BCE, by the end of the third century BCE, texts are starting to be composed in Sanskrit. Buddhist texts. Which meant that ordinary people had no access to that stuff at all.
John Peacock 1:32:17
So it became increasingly cut off from the mainstream of what the Buddha’s teaching was. So I think that results in it and then you get the Hinduization of it, in the sense of the coming back into it of lots of ritual. It’s a big story I could give you, but I won’t go on about what actually happens in the History of Buddhism. By the time you get to the dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet, that’s an interesting period, because you’ve got the kind of zenith or the apogee of what’s going on in India, the rising of Tantra. The great Buddhist teachers who went to Tibet came out of the two tantric areas of India, Bengal and Kashmir, which were also the major areas of Hindu Tantra at that period. And so there was this intermixing of Hinduism with Buddhism. And that’s what the Tibetans got and that’s why the Tibetans are so highly ritualistic. They even perform fire pujas. Which is actually the Brahmanical fire puja. So, again, it’s a response. I could go on about that one.
[In my meditation group I found that if I tried to sit for really long periods without moving, it was almost a punishing of the body. Is it another form of clinging or attachment, the subjagation of the body? Or is there a middle way somewhere?]
John Peacock 1:35:34
Well the first thing I would say is anybody who’s gonna sit for long periods should find themselves in a position where they know they can sit for long periods without undue pain. If that’s a chair or a meditation bench, or if you can sit cross legged, that’s fine. But often this is associated with images. “Good Buddhists sit on the floor”, can be the idea. And that can lead to a lot of pain, a lot of discomfort and actually a lot of injuries. And sometimes the tradition encourages this, “just sit with the pain” and it becomes grin-and-bear-it stuff. You’re not meditating; all you’re doing is experiencing intense pain a lot of the time. So it’s better to get yourself into a position that you’re not going to experience intense pain, particularly if you are gonna sit over long periods of time. If you sat for an hour or however long it might be, and you’ve had really bad pains in your knees, don’t sit cross legged. Sit on a chair.
John Peacock 1:36:41
And I do think part of it is denigration of the body. I think it drops back into ascetisism, give your body a hard time. Because the body is really secondary, it’s the mind that counts. But actually most of the mind is caught up in really deep aversion to what’s going on in the body. That is not the purpose of meditation practice. It really isn’t. And actually, I would add to this, one of the things that’s lacking in a lot of those practices is there’s no Metta. There is no kindness, there is no genuine sense of friendliness towards your body, your embodiment. And without that it becomes it can become a brutalization process. So I think it’s really, really important that people do spend some time experimenting with posture. Particularly in beginning stages, to find out [in what] posture, if they’re going to sit for long periods of time, however long you decide to sit, that you know that you can sit. I wouldn’t say without any discomfort, because no matter where you sit, you’re probably going to get some discomfort, but without real pain being generated. I see no virtue in pain.
John Peacock 1:37:56
In fact, the Buddha one time, the Jains came along, who gave their bodies an awful hard time and saying, we think we can liberate ourselves, find happiness through pain. And the Buddha says, “I don’t teach happiness through pain. I only teach happiness through happiness.” Not through pain. And I think that’s really important to remember. The Buddha wasn’t encouraging, he didn’t like ascetic practices. In fact, he really limited them. You’ve got Brahmins who wanted to do ascetic practices and he stopped them. He said, If you want to do them, these are the only ones you can do. But coming back to the main point [of] your question, it’s really, really important to find a posture and experiment with posture.
[My second question is about relationships. When I have a conflict I sit with that conflict. And I follow the advice of Karl Jung who said that you straddle the two opposites, the issues that you are conflicted with. And that is a long painful and confusing process. Can you speak from the Buddhist perspective, does this idea inform an understanding of the Middle Way? And how do you move on to the next step?]
John Peacock 1:40:35
Can I cut right to it? First thing is don’t get caught up in in rumination. Don’t get caught up in ruminating about conflictual thoughts. Go to something really practical. Go to where you experience that conflict in your body. What’s going on?
John Peacock 1:40:54
Because the tendency is to want to try and solve our problems. Because again, we elevate the mind, we experience conflict within the mind. And we pay very little cognizance of how we actually experience that, how we actually experience it. And the pain is coming from ruminating, just going round and round and round and round and round off. This is stuff I’m sure we all know, keeps you awake at night, when you’re trying to solve a problem when you’ve got Position A and Position B, and they both look equally bad, or equally good. And you can’t make a decision about them.
John Peacock 1:41:39
And a really practical way of doing this, of beginning to let that settle so that you’re not caught up with all that mental turmoil and conflict and pain, is to actually just go to the body. It is almost going back to the first question again; go to the body. Where do you experience that? Do you experience that as tension in the shoulders? Do you experience it as a pain in the abdomen, the solar plexus, where do you experience it in the body? Where’s the discomfort? And when you find that discomfort, deliberately breathe into it. Take your breath down to it. You can use the breath again, as we do.
John Peacock 1:42:18
Now you’ve asked about the middle way. And in both your questions, the Middle Way is always about not falling into extremes. Yeah, this is what the middle way is about. Now, there’s a number of ways of expressing it traditionally in Buddhism, which I won’t necessarily go into. But it’s always finding the way between extremes. Because normal human psychology is pretty simplistic. For example, we’re either for or against something. Actually, issues are far more complex than that. Either something exists or it doesn’t exist. Well, it might be both. There’s your conflict for a start off. Holding differences, holding differentials. Whether it be: should we mortify the body? This is ascetisism or shall we just indulge it? Find the Middle Way between the two. So middle way is always finding the complexity that’s normally cut out by bipolar thinking. Bipolar thinking.
John Peacock 1:43:38
*Now this is not encouraged in western thinking is not encouraged at all. You know, either something is or it is not. Aristotle formulated this he called the law of non contradiction. Either something is or something is not. To say something both is and is not as a contradiction. This law of non contradiction goes under another name. Actually, in western logic, it’s called the law of excluded middle. There are no middles. Now we are trained in the West, in general and within Western education and Western logic to think in that way.
John Peacock 1:44:20
The Buddha is trying get us to think something between these extremes. So we’re always coming to between the extreme. Is it the mind, or is it the body? No, it’s both. We don’t have to elevate one above the other. We use both. Is it existing or is it not existing? Well, it actually might be both. Is something good or something bad depends on the situation. It’s contextual. So what I’m saying to you when we talk about the middle way in Buddhism, we’re often talking about complexity. And actually, that’s what we’re opening up. Life is actually far more complex and actually far more interesting than the kind of bipolar nature of this or that. Is or is not.
John Peacock 1:45:13
And so when we get conflictual situations, it’s actually settling into the difficulty without trying to solve it. Because something will arise out of it. Something will arise out of that.
John Peacock 1:45:36
That is the question. That’s the question for every one of us, I think. Because this is the test of the teaching. Now, the first thing is to say, you really dislike somebody. Well, why do we have to like them? We don’t have to like them. We don’t have to love them. We don’t have to do any of those things. But what we can do is not react to them. We can, for example, hold them in friendliness, not in like, but in kindness. We can hold them in those things. But we don’t have to react through the old patterns.
John Peacock 1:45:36
I don’t think the Buddha’s saying you have to go around liking everybody. I think that’s too big a task. But what we can do is be respectful, friendly, and kindly. And I think the real test [for all of us,] a real test of our practice is when you’re confronted with the person who you find really irritating. Can you listen to them with a kinder manner? Can you be a little bit more friendly towards them rather than just react? Oh, I’ve got to get out of this. This is really too much. I don’t want to be with this person. Can you stay with them just for that little bit longer? Things like this, these are the real tasks of the practice. But those are about respect kindness and friendliness. They’re not about like or love or anything like that.
I have a question about early suttas. The Buddha’s teaching on the human condition is very impressive, as you said, it’s very down to earth. It has almost a clinical quality to it, diagnosis and prescription. But it doesn’t address the sense of the sacred. The sense of the mysteriousness of existence. And when we try to look at the world with beginner’s mind, and not take anything for granted, and everything becomes mysterious and empty, and here we are little specks of dust in the cosmos sitting together and exchanging these views. That to me is extremely mystifying. And yet when you try to say something substantive about this mystery, then you get into metaphysics. In the early suttas does the Buddha say anything remotely connected to this kind of thing I’m talking about?
John Peacock 1:49:10
Well there’s odd passages where we have, for example, the unborn, the uncreated, which I commented on yesterday, which I don’t think are mystical at all. I think they’re very practical, very down to earth. I think the mystery of life is revealed in the living of life. Now, the mystery of life is very different to the mystical. **So we don’t have to… a mystery explained is no longer a mystery. And that’s what metaphysics tries to do. We don’t have to explain anything, any mysterious, what I consider to be poetic elements of experience. The poetic dimension of experience. The ciphers that we can use to express our sense of wonder of the world. Actually, that’s the word I would use better than mystery. Is a sense of wonder at what goes on in the world. And I personally feel, and this is just personal reflection out of my own experiences forty-odd years of practicing, that’s what Buddhist practice has given to me is a sense of wonder about the world.
John Peacock 1:50:13
And this was very much brought home to me … when I was studying in Tibetan monasteries, because I was studying at that time Tantra. And every tantric text began with a mantra. This mantra went Em Ar Ho [sp?], in Sanskrit, which had a really esoteric meaning it means, Wow! Because it was an expression of the sense of wonder at the universe. Everything it is. And then everything followed from that, just from that sense of wonder about things.
John Peacock 1:50:51
Now I would actually say what we do in meditation, that’s why I tried to introduce the sense of interest and curiosity. Because the interest and curiosity comes out of a sense of wonder. No matter how messed up my experience is and how difficult I find life is, this is just incredibly wondrous. And I can explore it out of that sense of interest and curiosity. Now, if I’m bored, I don’t want to explore it. If I find it obvious, I don’t want to explore it. But the point is our experience is, if you want to use your word, mysterious. What’s going on? We’re trying to uncover that.
John Peacock 1:51:36
What we’re not doing away with, though, in uncovering the mysterious, is a sense of wonder that our experience is this way. That our experience of the world is this way and that it can be different. And I think there’s a very great impetus for practicing. Linked with that, I think, is also a sense of joy. It seems strange that in uncovering the origins of Dukkha, there’s a sense of joy. In uncovering our particular patterns of decay, there’s also a sense of joy that can arise. And that feeds back into more curiosity and more interest. And I think that’s absolutely a fundamental dimension to it. And I think it’s there implicitly, it’s not there explicitly in the Buddhist texts.
John Peacock 1:52:23
But metaphysics for me is actually trying to explain the mystery. That’s exactly what it’s trying to do, and give you a proper standpoint and metatheories about why things are as they are. But they actually are not very useful.
_Object of Consciousness_ is a great book by Antonio Damasio. The modern neuroscience definition of consciousness is exactly that. Analyzing the structures of consciousness that support it, it has to have an object that it addresses itself to.
John Peacock 1:53:40
It’s interesting stuff that a lot of neuroscience is actually beginning to, I wouldn’t say confirm, but it’s beginning to support elements of Buddhist practice and thought in a very practical way of understanding what’s going on in the brain by looking at brain patterns and what unfolds within the brain. Damasio is very good; he’s very readable as well. Antonio Damasio. Descartes’ Error if you haven’t read it, it’s a very good book.
John Peacock 1:54:10
Okay, should we sit for 10 minutes, finish off the day?