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Wednesday, 31 July 2013


I recently had a learning experience. It was one of those learning experiences that are accompanied by a slap down. We had a meet & greet with a couple who are Friends With Benefits. The meeting went, we thought o.k., not the best we've had by a long shot, but certainly not as bad as the one we had had the previous week. The couple promised to get back to us to organise a playdate. We suggested that we would like to play with the girl. The reply we got was both incredibly insulting and very specific about my inadequacies as a communicator. The letter is below:

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to that message.. Donald and I have discussed your last response and are a little surprised at the dastardly suggestion of me playing without my partner in crime.. As much as we wanted to only play with Selina, I would not have suggested in respect to you as a couple, how would've you felt if we had just asked selina to join us?. And although Donald and I may not be a couple in the traditional sense, we are playing as a couple, and during lunch, I thought I had made it quite clear.

In saying that, and I use Selina’s words “we are quite forward and blunt and appreciate it from others” I have to be honest in saying I’m not surprised that you may not have heard me mention that we really only play together, as you did seem to totally dominate the conversation, and have a habit of barely listening to anyone else’s opinion, or stories they had to tell, which for me, was your downfall.

If it weren’t for Selina, I would have outrightly said “No”. Clearly you are not my type (by a longshot) however I am generally not one to judge a book by it’s cover, and after some considerable discussion and thought, gave you the benefit of the doubt that you are as “active” as you suggest you are, and to play with Selina, I was prepared to play with you too..

So in conclusion, we are happy for Selina to join us, but I am quite reluctant to squander my limited time with you.. If she wants to join us she can contact either myself or Donald directly.

Cass (& Donald)

This got me to thinking. The ability to shoot myself in the foot socially has been a long term source of furstration for me. I am in the midst of the most profound personal change in my life. Now is the perfect time to address what was raised in the letter. I am, and always will be, an Aspergers. However this is something that can be turned into a net positive for me. I want to keep the positive aspects of Aspergers and to excise the negatives. 

This morning I woke...after a bad sleep...with the determination to fix this problem for once and all. I have a choice: I can take my dick in my hand and give up or I can accept reality and then find ways of addressing this issue. I Googled "How to be Charismatic?" I found a "WikiHow" on charisma and charm   It makes for interesting reading. The other thing I realised that I have completely failed to do is to radiate Metta when I meet people. Somewhere along the line in my journey I have forgotten this. Being aware of where I have made the mistake means that from today I can fix it. Today marks the new beginning.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


The Sangha in Metta Tantra is not exclusively the celibates that wear robes of various shades of khaki, orange or burgundy, though those these people are included in the definition. The Sangha in Metta Tantra is everyone who has ever taught us something, even if what they have taught us is how not to do something and our fellow Dhamma practitioners. Thus your parents, friends, lovers, your children (if you have them) the perfectionist arsehole who rode your ass until you did your job properly are Sangha. So are people like Krishnamurti, Osho, and the author of your favourite manuals of sexual athletics and the person you practice this Tantra with.

This clearly has precious little in common with what traditional Theravada practices. For traditional Theravada the definition of Sangha begins and ends with a group of people who are aberrant at best. One reason why I left traditional Theravada, apart from my Metta running out of places to go, was the functional deification of people who did little more than pursue their own self interests in the form of solitude and meditation and would opine on subjects that they genuinely had no clue about. Frequently skilled and qualified at nothing more than an inability to function normally, these people are treated like Gods and Goddesses. Their opinions, no matter how ill-informed or plain silly are viewed with an utterly disproportionate respect. Some members of the monastic Sangha are worthy of supporting and paying respect to, not a lot and it is up to you to decide which ones you have in mind when you do the traditional chanting that Metta Tantra encourages the use of.

In Metta Tantra we pay respect where it is due and frequently earned. If Krishnamurti and the other Teachers, most of whom I haven’t read yet (I intend to), were completely full of shit and their teachings unworkable, then they wouldn’t be as popular as they are...decades after their deaths. Thus these teachers are included in a definition of Sangha in this Tantra.
This is who and what we pay respect to when we chant our respect to the Sangha and not just a group of celibates who have, an at times childish sense of self entitlement. So if you want to place photo’s of these Teachers on your altar, there is no reason why you shouldn’t.


There are two forms of Dhamma. There is what was taught by the Buddha and a version is preserved in the Pali Canon, the teachings by Patanjali, Vatsayana and others are also Dhamma and then there is what we practice. Our everyday lives are Dhamma.

Dhamma is wholistic, it can, should, and will fill your entire life. There are very few acts that cannot become Dhamma. Everything from the exercise in the morning, to meditation to making and eating a healthy breakfast to smiling to giving your partner knee trembling orgasms is Dhamma.

What separates Dhammic acts from the profane is the attitude we have when we do them. Make the determination, keep in mind, that what you are doing is Dhammic when you make the protein shake, move from one asana to another, go for a walk, give your friend a hug. All these things are both Dhammic and a source of joy. Even the act of choosing a dress or suit is Dhamma.

Where we live is an extension of ourselves. If we are to be beautiful then where we live has to be as well. Keep them clean, if not tidy. There are wonderful scents available these days in the form of soy melts, candles and oils, these scents will change the energy in your house as well as making it smell wonderful. I use frankincense to change the feel of my meditation room. Frangipani gives my bathroom a light, happy feel. Having said this, there are times when the perfect scent in your house is that of the food you are cooking. Nothing says home like the smell of bread or biscuits or garlic bread baking.
One of the truly wonderful and useful things about YouTube is the endless free music. You can fill your house with beautiful music all day. We’re big fans of Imee Ooi, who is Malaysian and sings wonderful Buddhist mantras. I am also studying terrorism and find that filling the house with Albinoni or Bach or Beethoven is the perfect antidote and refuge after spending the day looking at people who are awful in every way.

The exercise is obvious and will be covered in much greater depth later. I will say here, to be Tantric is to be healthy and beautiful and to achieve both health and beauty you have to exercise and to be intelligent when it comes to nutrition.

Thus, you might say, you have a religious obligation to dress better, to keep a beautiful home, to work on a beautiful body and to have beautiful relationships. The beautiful home is not something from a catalogue that stresses you out to keep in immaculate condition, it is a home as clean as possible, and that is full of beautiful, if everyday objects. It should also be a place of light and happiness. Naturally the most beautiful thing in your home should be you. And a beautiful you should be beautiful in every way.
It is entirely possible to dress beautifully on a budget. This is what charity stores, factory outlets and sales in the major department and designer label stores are for. It is an often ignored fact that the charity stores near the wealthier suburbs often have killer bargains for the simple reason that people engage in retail therapy. We have found brand new, unworn designer labels at one tenth or less of their original price...often with the original price tags attached.

 We all have a deep beauty and dressing stylishly will bring that beauty out. Find out what colours and combinations of colours work for you. We must also avoid the trap of becoming “mutton dressed up as lamb”, which means we dress appropriate to our age. We have all seen the sad sight of a woman or man in their 50’s dressed in clothes that a twenty year old would look great in...And they don’t.

I will make a distinction here between fashion and style. Fashion changes and if you become devoted to it you will end up on a treadmill and spend your life trying to catch something you never can. Style on the other hand, as they say, is eternal.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Buddha

 The Buddha in Metta Tantra is the historical Buddha. The person whose earthly remains are in the National Museum of India in New Delhi. The same person credited with founding Buddhism and teaching the Pali Canon. In this respect Metta Tantra is in complete accord with traditional Theravada.  The Buddha is respected as the source  of this Tantra. The Buddha images that adorn our altars are the physical reminders of his limitless Metta.  

Bhikkhu Ňanamoli wrote easily the best biography of the Buddha I have ever read. Ňanamoli’s “The Life of the Buddha” first published in 1972 is an eminently readable mix of biography and scripture[1]. The best dating for the historical Buddha is between the Sixth and Third Centuries before Christ. Naturally there is a fair bit of ongoing academic debate concerning exactly when he lived. Which seems at times rather like position justification to me. It matters not when the Buddha lived, what is beyond all dispute is that he did live. Unlike the founder of Christianity in whose name so much horror has been committed, we, as I’ve already said, have the actual physical remains of someone who lived in the right place and has scientifically been proven lived at the right time. Certainly the people who interred the remains inside urns, which themselves where interred inside stupa and had writing clearly identifying whose remains were inside had no doubt as to whose bones they were in possession of[2].

What is a cause for concern is that in modern Theravada, as is the case with almost every other “religion”, is the moment you begin discussing the founder of it,  people begin turning their brains off. The result is that legends, myths and outright nonsense is treated like they are rock solid, undisputable facts. As I wrote in the Introduction, Theravada glosses over the fact that the Buddha certainly spent a fair bit of his pubescent years fucking his brains out with the servant girls....and possibly boys that were given the job of distracting him from ever entertaining the idea of fulfilling the part of his natal chart that mentioned the word “Buddha”.
Sadly this suspension of intelligence extends to the Buddha’s  entire biography. A baby literally minutes old walking, talking and announcing that he is the Buddha. To accept this as being entirely factual you have to be dumber than I’ve been known to look on occasion. For a start it kills the entire idea of the Buddha needing to have to engage in a lot of hard work in order to achieve Enlightenment and the whole Suddhodana needing to keep the boy in seclusion in order to prevent him asking The Big Questions. There are questions as to whether the accepted biography of the Buddha is even his biography, with at least one modern commentator in the blogosphere being of the opinion that it has been lifted almost intact from the biography of the Buddha’s contemporary Jaina Mahavira[3].
A biography of the Buddha:
When did he live?
The best available evidence has the Buddha living and teaching in the fifth century before the Common Era. The evidence for this is perhaps remarkable in its completeness, I’m aware of only one other  ancient religious figure having such a reliable fix in time and that is the Buddha’s contemporary the founder of Jainism, Jaina Mahavira and this is because he is so frequently mentioned in Buddhist texts. And to this we curiously enough owe the English and the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. Because at this time there was an outbreak of curiosity in Europe. This was due in part to the English, the French and the Dutch acquiring empires in Asia (the English hit the jackpot and got India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Malaysia, the French picked up Indo-China, the Dutch Indonesia). The Spanish had the Philippines which they had turned 90% Catholic, also by the time that serious questions were being asked, Spain was essentially not in the empire building business. So there was this outbreak of curiosity, that resulted in things being dug up and translations of indigenous religious texts being made. Including significantly the travel journals of some Chinese monks who had made pilgrimages to India.

 The English, we may remember, were the colonial masters of the Indian  sub-continent for a century. They were also the rulers of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Hong Kong. They were also travellers and traders and travelled to China and Japan. The English and other Europeans kept seeing amazing similarities in the local religion. The Japanese had similar statues to the Sinhalese, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the statues in Tibetan monasteries, the Vietnamese had statues that looked like the Japanese. Not surprisingly a penny dropped and the question was asked “Are all these “idols” from the same religion?”

 Now parallel to this dropped penny, the English were engaged in surveying and mapping their newly acquired Empire in India.  Sooner or later the two worlds were going to meet. They met in the form of Alexander Cunningham.  The English by this time had established that there was a Pan Asian religion that they called “Buddhism”. They were also furiously digging up every ruin they came across and translating the inscriptions they found on coins, on rocks, on pillars. Sooner or later someone was going to “test  drive” what the translations of Buddhist texts were telling them….that when the Buddha had died that his ashes were distributed to eight different places.  They had the translations of Venerable Fa Hien who very considerately included accurate descriptions and distances in his journal. Once the English had converted Venerable Fa Hiens ancient Chinese measures to English miles, yards and feet, the rest, so to speak was easy.

Within 20 years the English had located the birth, enlightenment and death places of the Buddha. They had also excavated the stupa they found there and translated the inscriptions that they found. Significantly in 1851 at Sanchi the reliquaries of the Buddha’s disciples Maha Sariputta and Maha Moggallana. In 1897 at Piprahwa the relics of the Buddha himself were found exactly where both Fa Hien and the suttas had said they would be[4].
Evidence, including I believe, carbon dating has placed the objects found at Piprahwa and Sanchi to the 5th Century BCE + or – 200 years.


Where did he live?
The evidence from the suttas suggests that the Buddha never left what are now the Indian provinces of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and the Nepalese province of Lumbini. There are legends of him making it as far a field as modern Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, but there is nothing in the suttas to remotely suggest this. The place names mentioned in connection to the Buddha all fall within the boundaries of these modern jurisdictions.  We must remember that the Buddha walked everywhere. So given that it is a walk of 2000+ kilometres to Sri Lanka, which at 30 km a day would take about 70 days each way, and there are no gaps in the chronology to allow for a walk of 140 days (5 months) and that is assuming that he walked there, took a look and then immediately returned, it is easy to see that these visits never happened. Also logic tells you that there was no visits by the Buddha to these places:

1.      He most likely had never heard of them.
2.      What reason did he have to visit them when he was fully occupied teaching in the places we know him to have been?

It is perhaps worth noting that whilst we can place the Buddha in a limited geographical area, that this area is still significantly larger than that which either Jesus or Confucius ever travelled.


The world at the time of the Buddha.
The world in the Fifth Century BCE was a very, very different place, as you can see by the map that accompanies this chapter. Although the map only covers the Eastern Hemisphere, there is much that it will inform you concerning the world at that time. Try to find the Roman Empire on the map, you won’t, for in the Fifth Century BCE Rome whilst busy, hadn’t moved much beyond being a city state whose own independence was in doubt. The Romans in fact had trouble asserting their authority in the Tiber Valley. They were at war with the Etruscans and the Sabine’s. It was in the Fifth Century that the Roman Republic was born after the Romans had deposed their last king, who incidentally was an Etruscan. Rome was almost unknown outside the Italian Peninsula. The possibility of an empire that would govern Western Europe for the best part of a thousand years and influence it for two thousand years after its fall, was nowhere evident.

The Greeks had their hands full experimenting with the idea of democracy and repelling the expanding Persian Empire.

The Persians were building an empire that was geographically centred on modern Iran, but extended eastwards to the edge of India and west to the Mediterranean. If you were to place bets on who would ultimately rule Europe and determine the nature of European civilisation, all the safe money would have been with the Persians. The Persians were Zoroastrians, more commonly known today as the Parsi. Zoroastrianism was the dominant monotheistic religion of its day.

Any suggestion that the Jews whilst monotheistic would in any way, shape or form produce something that would alter the world would have earned you a trip to either a doctor to figure out which malevolency was inhabiting you or utter derision. The Jews were an argumentative people who lived roughly where Israel is today. They had never been able to get it together long enough to build an empire nor was there any prospect of them actually doing so. Yet the Jews through Christianity did fundamentally alter the world. Jesus, we remember was born Jewish.  

The Carthaginians were building the empire in the Western Mediterranean/North African region that Rome would destroy in the Punic Wars, some four centuries in the future. Egypt had her pharaohs.

The Chinese were engaged in a period of internal war with the various principalities trying to conquer their neighbours and eventually form the next empire. Confucius lived during this century.

India had her city states, kingdoms in the Dravidian south (as distinct from the Aryan dominated north) and experiments with republicanism, and of course the Buddha.

New Zealand was empty of people and would remain so for another thousand years.
Australia had her diverse Aboriginal cultures.

In the Western Hemisphere, the Mayans in modern Mexico, the Chavins in Peru and the Muisica in Colombia were the dominant cultures. Maize, potatoes, chillies, beans and Sweet Potato, Alpaca and Llama were all domesticated and had been for about 5000 years.
South-East Asia had its rice farmers and proto-empires. The Mon were the power to be reckoned with.

This, then, was the world a the time of the Buddha. How much of it was known to him is hard to say. He would have known of the Persian Empire. He most likely did not know of the Greeks or any other peoples to the west of the Persians. It is a much smaller world than the one we inhabit, but still fascinating.

The culture he was born into.

In a lot of ways the Buddha was born into a remarkably tolerant culture. I remember having read the Pali Canon, and remarking to a monastic friend that I couldn’t remember the Buddha really prohibiting all that much in the areas of sexual expression. His reply was “No. The Buddha stayed out of peoples bedrooms.” Which is remarkably at odds with the Abrahamic religions where masturbation, homosexuality, contraception, divorce, inter-racial, inter-religious and even inter-denominational marriages are prohibited. So there seems to have been relatively free reign in sexual matters. Polygamy and polyandry seem to be a matter for the people concerned to sort out for themselves. The operative words are “free consent”. There are serious prohibitions against sexual relations with people in the care of their parents, which makes an allowance for minors and the mentally disabled. Also marriages are viewed as sacrosanct. But within marriage, it is up to the couple to reach decisions on sexual matters. Sexuality itself is not discussed in the suttas. We do not know if any of the disciples of the Buddha were Gay, because once you become a celibate monastic it is irrelevant. And in the non-monastic life the same rules apply as to heterosexuals. The Buddha taught one Dispensation, he didn’t teach a different one for each sexual orientation.
Slavery was present in the culture. How onerous the slavery is hard to determine from a simple reading of the suttas. It seems to be more burdensome than bonded labour, but significantly less burdensome than in Rome where the slave was literally the possession of their owner and the owner could do pretty well what they liked without fear of legal sanction.

Women had more legal rights than they were to enjoy in later centuries. Perhaps the single piece of evidence that illustrates this is the existence of a Nuns Community in Buddhism and the absence of a Nuns Order in Hinduism. Although in allowing the creation of an order of female ascetics, the Buddha was pushing the social envelope until it squeaked, it does show that women weren’t bound to domestic duties with the cultural chains that they were to be under Hinduism and Islam. It was possible for women to pursue an alternative to marriage and the kitchen. There was a right of divorce.

 Hinduism, as such, wasn’t in existence. All the gods, well the major ones are present. We remember it is the Hindu god Brahma who asks the Buddha to teach. But perhaps because Buddhism concerns itself with other matters, gods such as Ganesh &  Kali aren’t mentioned. Even if we assume quite reasonably that the whole pantheon of modern Hindu deities are being worshipped at the time of the Buddha, the caste system isn’t concreted into place with the Brahmins at the top of the social pyramid. But there are hints in the suttas that this was beginning to happen, because the Buddha teaches that it is not birth that makes a man a Brahmin, but rather his own effort.

Even given this, the great spiritual endeavour is happening in India at the time of the Buddha. Before his enlightenment, the Buddha was a part of it. Today some 26 centuries after the Buddha modern Indians are still engaging in the same ascetic practices that he engaged in. The Indians had a spiritual thirst before the Buddha and it is still unquenched. It makes the spiritual endeavours of the West look quite lame in comparison. This then, is a brief examination of the culture into which the Buddha was born.
Who was he before the Enlightenment?

The person we know as The Buddha came into the world on the full moon in what is now our month of May somewhere around the year 560 BCE . His mother Maha Maya was following the custom of her time and returning to the village of her birth to give birth to her child. There are legends of her dreaming that a white elephant had entered her womb and of the newly born child taking seven steps and declaring that this was his last lifetime and that he was a Buddha…..which notably conflicts with another essential (and to my mind seriously inspirational) part of the Buddhas biography. His father Suddhodana was a governor of the expanding Koliyan kingdom. He was also eventually the father of at least one son, the Arahant Rahula, and an unknown number of daughters…..daughters not being important in the succession of power, are therefore unlikely to be mentioned by ancient chroniclers, but nevertheless, there is no mention of a daughter of the Buddha.

 Ultimately, as the son of a governor, Gotama would have entered the administration of the Koliyan kingdom, led a normal life of marriage, work and a death in his late 60’s.

Fortunately for us, this was not to be so. At the time of his birth, the infant Gotama’s horoscope was drawn up (proof that not a lot has changed in India in 2600 years), the hermit Asita predicted/saw in the horoscope that the boy currently only interested in his next feed, was someone very special indeed….a Wheel Turning Monarch. You get the impression that Dad wasn’t wildly happy about the news….not what the Old Man had in mind for junior.
You can almost imagine the scene:
Asita: Ah, sir, I’ve ah done young Gotama’s horoscope
Suddhodana: Yes! My son will conquer the world, have 50 wives and leave 300 children!
Asita: Ooh, ah!
Suddhodana: Well? Out with it man!
Asita: I’ve done the horoscope,  it does say that there is a very good chance that he will conquer India and have 50 wives and 300 children, but there’s something else in his chart.
Suddhodana: Something else? What something else? I didn’t pay you for “something else”.
Asita: Sir, ah, would it upset you all that much if he was to become one of those forest ascetics and become a Buddha?
Suddhodana: WHAT?!!!

You can imagine crockery being thrown at this point and Asita looking very carefully at where the guards hands were in relation to their swords. Clearly the second aspect of the horoscope wasn’t the desired outcome, because the decision was made that absolutely everything possible to prevent its occurring must be done. Young Gotama was to have a good education, he was to live a life of total pleasure, he was never to be exposed to anything that might remotely trigger a spiritual question in his young mind, including seeing old people….which means that after a while he stopped seeing Dad and they became pen-pals. This was the Grand Plan, and like all Grand Plans it had a serious flaw.                   

You can imagine the life that the young Gotama was living….endless sex, great food, and enough alcohol to drown in. But sooner or later the boy needed to have some time on his own. He asks to be taken for a drive. Along the way he sees something that he has never seen before: a sick man. He asks “What’s wrong with that person, they look pale, they’re unsteady on their feet, hell they look awful?”   Now the bodyguard/chaperone/charioteer has been ordered to say nothing, but he responds “That person, sir, is sick, he is unwell”.
“What’s “sick”?”

You can imagine that there followed a pretty long question and answer session between Gotama and the other person. At the end of it, the boy isn’t happy. He gets taken home, he thinks it over, he most likely corners a couple of people and asks them about this thing called “being sick”.

Some months later he gets taken for another drive. This time he sees an elderly person. Again the same Q & A session results. He gets taken back home. It’s a repeat of before. The Grand Plan is getting shaky.

Gotama gets taken out for a third drive….you can imagine by now that no one is volunteering for the job. They see a corpse. This time a serious Q & A breaks loose because in the space of about a year the young Gotama has seen three things that he never even guessed existed and he has some serious questions that need to be answered.

The fourth and final trip is the decider. A wandering ascetic is seen. Now this is just the sort of person that the Old Man didn’t want junior to become. To make it worse the ascetic is happy. There is a chance that the young Gotama saw this ascetic on his alms round.
“So who’s that guy with the shaved head, brown robes and bowl, the happy one?”
“That would be a wandering ascetic sir. Someone who seeks the ending of birth and death.”
So by now Gotama is a seriously troubled young man. The Grand Plan has come apart at the seems and Gotama has seen exactly the things that Dad didn’t want him to. He goes home.

The questioning continues. In fact Gotama has so many questions and so very few answers and is so troubled that he eventually decides that he has to leave his very comfortable life in order to find someone who has the answers to his questions. There is a catch, he can’t just pack up and leave, there is the royal succession to consider, he is the heir and he must provide “the spare”. So he does and eventually Rahula is born. So Suddhodana has an “heir and a spare”. I, personally, don’t accept that Gotama left when Rahula was a new born, too many children died young in this age for the Buddha to be to feel secure about the chances of a new born actually living. We, in the first world live in a time where infant mortality is low, but in the Third World today, and certainly in historical times, you were as likely to have both mother and child die as live. Childbirth was a risky business. So he was in the palace for at least the first six to twelve months of Rahula’s life, which actually illustrates just how deep the questioning had become. The Bodhisatta was so troubled by his questions that he actually left his infant son in order to have them answered.

It is hard to accurately portray just how deep the questioning had become, but take a minute and consider a couple of things: Gotama at this point in his life had only known comfort. He had never been hungry nor exposed to anything like physical discomfort. He has both a son and a wife he loves dearly. His life, as it is, has a guarantee of physical pleasure. He is also so deeply troubled by what he has seen that the only way forward for him was to leave all this and to quite literally step into the unknown.

This is exactly what he does. One night he and his servant Channa leave the palace. Gotama dons the robes of a wandering ascetic and tells Channa to take his clothes back to the palace and to tell them what he has done. Now Channa isn’t a fool, he realises that if he shows up with Gotama’s clothes with no Gotama filling them, that he’ll most likely be executed out of hand. So he decides to accompany his master on his quest and the clothes are left in the branches of a tree not far from the chariot and horses.

The Bodhisatta has set out on his quest. The first days and weeks can’t have been easy for him….he has no experience of life outside the palace. We don’t know what, if any use Channa was to him.  It is a safe bet that the Bodhisatta didn’t immediately tap into the local ascetic network, the first days would have been tough. Even if the Bodhisatta did tap into the ascetic support system on day one, he still faced sleeping out in the open, having to go on alms round where you can guarantee that the food wasn’t of either the quality or quantity that he was used to and dealing with insects, people who neither knew nor cared who he was and as a result were rude, indifferent or even hostile, there were no body guards to keep him safe and we can bet that Dad had people out looking for him. Not only did Gotama have to tap into a world he had until relatively recently barely known existed, he had to disappear as well. In a very short space of time Gotama left his wife, child, life as he had known it and the province his father administered. This must have been deeply frightening for him. One day a pampered princeling, the next a nobody on the run. This, to me, shows that the boy was deeply serious about his questioning.  He faced these hurdles and then overcame them.

He found a teacher, a guru. His first guru was Alara Kalama. Kalama ordained him and then taught him all that he knew. Gotama masters all that Alara Kalama has to teach him and is offered the position of Guru….Alara Kalama offers him equal status so long as Gotama stays. Even at this point Gotama still hasn’t had his questions answered. He goes in search of another guru. He finds Uddaka Ramaputta and ordains into his tradition. The pattern is repeated. At the end of two guru, the now ascetic Gotama still has his questions unanswered.

He decides to go it alone. Because no guru has been able to give him a teaching that results in Enlightenment, he decides to have no guru. He actually has his own group of disciples who by the time he sets out on the course of action that leads to Enlightenment live apart from him. The austerities that the ascetic Gotama undertakes are almost beyond comprehension, he eats the dung of cattle, he fasts almost to the point of death, he holds his breath for long periods of time. He tries everything he can think of in order to achieve his goal, which is Nibbana. The body is nearly destroyed as a result, and Gotama still hasn’t reached the end of his quest. But let us not take my words for the austerities that the Bodhisatta undertook, let us hear him talking about them to his disciple Ven Sariputta
 “Sariputta, I recall having lived a holy life possessing four factors. I have practised asceticism-the extreme of asceticism; I have practised coarseness-the extreme of coarseness; I have practised scrupulousness-the extreme of scrupulousness; I have practised seclusion-the extreme of seclusion.

“Such was my asceticism, Sariputta, that I went naked, rejecting conventions, licking my hands, not coming when asked, not stopping when asked; I did not accept food brought or food specially made or an invitation to a meal; I received nothing from a pot, from a bowl, across a threshold, across a stick, across a pestle, from two eating together, from a pregnant woman, from a woman giving suck, from a woman lying with a man, from where food was advertised to be distributed, from where a dog was waiting, from where flies were buzzing; I accepted no fish or meat, I drank no liquor, wine or fermented brew. I kept to one house, to one morsel; I kept to two houses, to two morsels;…I kept to seven houses, to seven morsels. I lived on one saucerful a day, on two saucerfuls a day…on seven saucerfuls a day; I took food once a day, once every two days…once every seven days, and so on up to once every fortnight; I dwelt pursuing the practice of taking food at stated intervals. I was an eater of greens or millet or wild rice or hide-parings or moss or rice bran or rice-scum or sesamum flour or grass or cow dung. I lived on forest fruits and roots; I fed on fallen fruits. I clothed myself in hemp, in hemp mixed cloth, in shrouds, in refuse rags, in tree bark, in antelope hide, in strips of antelope hide, in kusa grass fabric, in bark fabric, in wood shavings fabric, in head hair wool, in animal wool, in owls wings. I was one who pulled out hair and beard, pursuing the practice of pulling out hair and beard. I was one who stood continuously, rejecting seats. I was one who squatted continuously, devoted to maintaining the squatting position. I was one who used a mattress of spikes; I made a mattress of spikes my bed. I dwelt pursuing the practice of bathing in water three times daily including the evening. Thus in such a variety of ways I dwelt pursuing the practice of tormenting and mortifying the body. Such was my asceticism.    

“Such was my coarseness, Sariputta, that just as the bole of the tinduka tree (Diospyros embryopteris “Indian Persimmon), accumulating over the years, cakes and flakes off, so too, dust and dirt, accumulating over the years, caked off my body and flaked off. It never occurred to me: ‘Oh, let me rub this dust and dirt off with my hand, or let another rub this dust and dirt off with his hand’-it never occurred to me thus. Such was my coarseness.

  “Such was my scrupulousness, Sariputta, that I was always mindful in stepping forwards and stepping backwards. I was full of pity even for the beings in a drop of water thus: `Let me not hurt the tiny creatures in the crevices of the ground.’ Such was my scrupulousness.
“Such was my seclusion, Sariputta, that I would plunge into some forest and dwell there. And when I saw a cowherd or a shepherd or someone gathering grass or sticks, or a woodsman, I would flee from grove to grove, from thicket to thicket, from hollow to hollow, from hillock to hillock. Why was that? So that they should not see me or I see them. Just as a forest bred deer on seeing human beings, flees from grove to grove, from thicket to thicket, from hollow to hollow, from hillock to hillock, so too when I saw a cowherd or a shepherd…Such was my seclusion.

 “I would go on all fours to the cow pens when the cattle had gone out and the cowherd had left them, and I would feed on the dung of the young suckling calves. As long as my own excrement and urine lasted, I fed on my own excrement and urine. Such was my distortion in feeding.

“I would plunge into some awe inspiring grove and dwell there-a grove so awe inspiring that normally it would make a mans hair stand up if he were not free from lust. When those cold wintry nights came during the `eight days interval of frost,’ I would dwell by night in the open and by day in the grove. In the last month of the hot season I would dwell by day in the open and by night in the grove. And there came to me spontaneously this stanza never heard before:

                                                ‘Chilled by night and scorched by day,
                                                Alone in awe inspiring groves,
                                                Naked, no fire to sit beside,
                                                 The sage yet pursues his quest.’

“I would make my bed in a charnel ground with the bones of the dead for a pillow. And cowherd boys came up and spat on me, urinated on me, threw dirt at me, and poked sticks into my ears. Yet I do not recall that I ever aroused an evil mind of hate against them. such was my abiding in equanimity.

“Sariputta, there are certain recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: `Purification comes about through food.’ They say: `Let us live on kola fruits,’ and they eat kola fruits, they eat kola fruit powder, they drink kola fruit water, and they make many kinds of kola fruit concoctions. Now I recall having eaten a single kola fruit a day. Sariputta, you may think that the kola fruit was bigger at that time, yet you should not regard it so: the kola fruit then was at most the same size as now.  Through feeding on a single kola fruit a day, my body reached a state of extreme emaciation (It should be noted that the kola seed that the Blessed One is talking of here is actually a form of jujube, and not the kola of West Africa which is the source of the caffeine in soft drinks. The kola nit we use is a known euphoric, the kola the Buddha knew was simply a fruit). Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed segments of vine stems or bamboo stems. Because of eating so little my backside became like a camels hoof. Because of eating so little the projections on my spine stood forth like corded beads. Because of eating so little my ribs jutted out as gaunt as the crazy rafters of an old roofless barn. Because of eating so little the gleam of my eyes sank far down into their sockets, looking like a gleam of water that has sunk far down in a deep well. Because of eating so little my scalp shrivelled and withered as a green bitter gourd shrivels and withers in the wind and sun. Because of eating so little my belly skin adhered to my back bone; thus if I touched my belly skin I encountered my backbone, and if I touched my backbone I encountered my belly skin. Because of eating so little, if I tried to ease my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair rotted at its roots, fell from my body as I rubbed.

“Sariputta, there are certain recluses and brahmins whose doctrine and view is this: `Purification comes about through food.’ They say: `Let us live on beans,’…`Let us live on sesamum,’…’Let us live on rice,’ and they eat rice, they eat rice powder, they drink rice water, and they make many kinds of rice concoctions. Now I recall having eaten a single rice grain a day. Sariputta, you may think that the rice grain was bigger at that time, yet you should not regard it so: the rice grain was then at most the same size as now. Through feeding on a single rice grain a day, my body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little…the hair, rotted at its roots, fell from my body as I rubbed.
“Yet, Sariputta, by such conduct, by such practice, by such performance of austerities, I did not attain any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Why was that? Because I did not attain that noble wisdom which when attained is noble and emancipating and leads the one who practices in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering.”              
The Greater Discourse on the Lions Roar
Majjhima Nikaya Sutta 12

 Perhaps it was because he was simply tired of the pain that his current line of asceticism was giving him, perhaps he had simply “reached the end of his tether” and couldn’t think of any way to reach his goal, but at some point the Bodhisatta remembered an event from his childhood. He remembered meditating under a tree. He also remembered that the meditation was intensely pleasant. He had in fact entered into Access Concentration or First Jhana  by accident. Think of a bliss that reduces you to a giggling wreck for days afterwards, this is what Gotama had as a kid.  Understandably given the amount of physical pain he had put himself through, pleasure appealed to him. He also may have considered that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain from returning to an exercise from his childhood.

 It would seem that the thinking current at this time was that the body was the problem. If the body was somehow made different then Nibbana would be reached. This line of reasoning is present in varying degrees in Yoga and Jainism….perfect the body and the mind will follow. Indeed even in modern India there are still ascetics practising almost identical austerities to what the Bodhisatta practised. Although I can’t find an explicit mention of it, it is reasonable to assume that Gotama used both cannabis and opium in his austerities. My line of reasoning is this: Both were available at that time. Both cause mind altering effects. Bhang (cannabis) is used by Sadhu as part of their religious practice. The sheer determination exhibited by Gotama in his endeavours to achieve Enlightenment suggest that he left no option unexplored. It also explains the Fifth Precept of not taking intoxicants. The Bodhisatta knew first hand how a night on the weed could wreck your meditation for days after.  The Bodhisatta realised that it is the reverse that is true. Perfect the mind and the body will follow.

 So it was that he re-examined the lessons that he had learnt long before he had even conceived of a life as an ascetic. I will take the liberty of assuming that whilst jhana was known at this time, that it was viewed as an end in and of itself….this explains the concept of Union with Brahma. No body had thought that jhana could be the key to Enlightenment. This was the avenue of endeavour that the Bodhisatta now decided to explore.

Take a moment to consider that for the previous six years the Bodhisatta had engaged in serious asceticism, he had gone hungry, thirsty, been cold, had explored mind altering substances….he had learnt and mastered the teachings of the most wise guru he could find, and whilst he had come a long way, he still hadn’t gotten what he had given up so much for. He was still unenlightened, still subject to greed, anger and delusion, he was still very much an ordinary person, there was still a very real chance that he could give up the quest and return to the life he had left. Subjecting the body to torment had quite literally gotten him no where. Returning to the experience under the tree when the body had been healthy was the only option other than giving up, that was available to Gotama, and with his character, quitting wasn’t an option.

                                        The Bodhisatta practising austerities (Gandhara 4th Century CE )

 So Gotama quits the ascetic practices. He takes nourishment from Sujata who offers him milk rice (kheer). You can imagine that if ever kheer tasted good, it would have then. That  first sip of milk, that first taste of the rice and sugar would have simply been explosive. Gotama regains his health. This must have taken weeks. Then he pursues jhana. He uses Mindfulness/Awareness of the Breath (Anapanasati) as his meditation. This culminates in one explosive night when he overcomes all the obstacles to Enlightenment and with the dawning of the next day he is a Buddha, an Awakened One.  Neither he nor the world will ever be the same.

At this time an event occurs that is utterly electric in its potency.
Mara shows up the morning after the Enlightenment and challenges the Buddhas attainment.
“So you’re Enlightened are you?”
“Yes I am”
“Well who’s your witness?”
The Buddha simply touches the ground  with his middle finger and says
“This is my witness”.

The Earth is His witness. There is no need for a divinity. The Earth alone will suffice.
 In the suttas the Buddha talks about confronting demons, and the daughters of Mara, of raging elephants and finally Mara himself. I would suggest that these are metaphors. For all of us who seek to live a life of purity confront these things. Oh Mara the Tempter exists, of that I have no doubt, but the Buddha uses metaphor to describe His battle, and never for a moment do those of us who seek the ending of suffering do anything other than agree totally with his description of the fight that he had.      
This brings to a close the first stage of the life of The Buddha.

Life post Enlightenment

Immediately after the Enlightenment the Buddha did something totally understandable….he took a break. He spent the first months enjoying the bliss of Enlightenment. Teaching wasn’t his first inclination, in fact he had to be asked to teach, and at first he refused. So you can picture him sitting under the Bodhi Tree in what is now known as Bodh Gaya, blissed out with jhana. He has absolutely no inclination to do anything other than this. He knows how hard it is to achieve Enlightenment….he’s not long done it himself. Now Enlightenment is such a rare thing, that the Buddhas Enlightenment attracted attention, one of the beings inhabiting the race known as Brahmas (not Brahmins), one of the beings called “gods” in the suttas, had noticed that something very rare and important had happened. So this being known by the name Sahampatti shows up to take a look at the new Buddha.  He politely interrupts the blissing out. He then asks that the Buddha consider helping others to Enlightenment. In fact he asks three times and three times the Buddha says “No”.
Sahampatti asks “Why not?”
The Buddha: No! It’s too hard.
Sahampatti: Look some will listen to you
The Buddha: They’re all too stupid and self interested to even want to try.
Sahampatti: I’ve had a look, and there are some who will listen and do what you teach. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.

So the Buddha does take a look, and there are some “with just a little dust in their eyes”, who are capable and willing to do what he asks of them. So he relents. You can imagine the reluctance in which he approached the task he had just accepted.

“They’ll bring all their worries, petty quarrels and disobedient children to me. The questions will be endless!”
“True, but there will be those who will simply follow what you teach and do it in silence”.
“Yeah! How many?”
“You might be surprised. And worse comes to worse you can always go back to your meditation and solitude”.      

At any rate, the Buddha sets out to find his former disciples and does. It is curious that along the way that the Buddha meets another ascetic and proclaims that he is a Fully Enlightened Buddha and basically gets the brush off. To paraphrase”
“Friend, I am a fully enlightened Buddha, someone who has come to the end of rebirth”.
“Yeah, whatever!”

 The two go on their ways, the Buddha to Sarnath, the other ascetic, who knows?

It should be noted that when the former disciples saw a well nourished Gotama show up that they were a long way from being impressed and had thought that he had given up the quest. Consequently they decided that they weren’t going to pay respects to a quitter, no matter who he might be. Eventually, despite themselves, they do. The Buddha asks them had they ever seen him behaving and speaking in the way that he is now behaving and speaking? The reply is that they haven’t. He tells them of his achievement and after a time teaches the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta (SN 56.11).

[1] Ňanamoli. B “The Life of the Buddha” Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka
[2] Allen. C “The Search for the Buddha The Men Who Discovered India’s Lost Religion” Carol & Graf Publishers, New York 2003
[4] Allen. C “The Search for the Buddha The Men Who Discovered India’s Lost Religion” Carol & Graf Publishers, New York 2003