Friday, April 17, 2009

Gandhi on the Gita on attachment

"This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises."

I find myself referring back to this particular teaching of Gandhi's over and over again. I am posting it here, as much as anything else, so I'll have a handy way of finding this exact passage.

Mahatma Gandhi On The Gita (Chapter 5 verses 10-12):

Desirelessness or renunciation does not come for the mere talking about it. It is not attained by an intellectual feat. It is attainable only by a constant heart-churn.

Right knowledge is necessary for attaining renunciation. Learned men possess a knowledge of a kind. They may recite the Vedas from memory, yet they may be steeped in self-indulgence. In order that knowledge may not run riot, the author of the Gita has insisted on devotion accompanying it and has given it the first place. Knowledge without devotion will be like a misfire.

Therefore, says the Gita: "Have devotion, and knowledge will follow."

This devotion is not mere lip worship, it is wrestling with death. Hence the Gita's assessment of the devotee's qualities is similar to that of sage's.

Thus the devotion required by the Gita is no softhearted effusiveness. It certainly is not blind faith. The devotion of the Gita has the least to do with the externals. A devotee may use, if he likes, rosaries, forehead marks, make offerings, but these things are no test of his devotion. He is the devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolutions are firm, who has dedicated mind and soul to God, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free from exultation, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike, who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments...

While on the one hand it is beyond dispute that all action binds, on the other hand it is equally true that all living beings have to do some work, whether they will or no. Here all activity, whether mental or physical, is to be included in the term of action. Then how is one to be free from the bondage of action, even though he may be acting? The manner in which the Gita has solved the problem is to my knowledge unique.

The Gita says: "Do your allotted work but renounce its fruit. Be detached and work. Have no desire for reward and work."

This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He, who, being thus equipped is, without desire for the result and yet wholly is engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.

Again let no one consider renunciation to mean want of fruit for the renouncer. The Gita reading does not warrant such a meaning. Renunciation means absence of hankering after fruit. As a matter of fact, he who renounces reaps a thousandfold. The renunciation of the Gita is the acid test of faith. He who is ever brooding over result often loses nerve in the performance of his duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to objects of senses; he is ever distracted, he says goodbye to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.

From the bitter experiences of desire for fruit the author of the Gita discovered the path of renunciation of fruit and put it before the world in a most convincing manner. The common belief is that religion is always opposed to material good. "One cannot act religiously in mercantile and such other matters. There is no place for religion in such pursuits; religion is only for attainment of salvation," we hear many worldly-wise people say. In my opinion the author of the Gita has dispelled this delusion. He has drawn no line of demarcation between salvation and worldly pursuits. On the contrary he has shown that religion must rule even our worldly pursuits. I have felt that the Gita teaches us that what cannot be followed out in the day-to-day practice cannot be called religion. Thus, according to the Gita, all acts that are incapable of being performed without attachment are taboo. This golden rule saves mankind from many a pitfall. According to this interpretation murder, lying, dissoluteness and the like must be regarded as sinful and therefore a taboo. Man's life then becomes simple, and from that simpleness springs piece.

Thinking along these lines, I have felt that in trying to enforce in one's life the central teaching of the Gita, one is bound to follow Truth and ahimsa. When there is no desire for fruit, there is no temptation for untruth or himsa.

[Also, here is the original text from the Gita.]

Who's Imbuing Who? (Thoughts on "Americanizing" Buddhism)

Many western Buddhists are enthusiastic about the idea of "modernizing" and/or "americanizing" (or "westernizing") Buddhism. Inevitably one hears that this is what Buddhism has always done as it moves from culture to culture. But how seriously have people examined and thought about this process of acclimatization?

Personally I tend to agree with the late Jamgon Kongtrul, an important figure in the modern Ri-me (nonsectarian) movement within Tibetan Buddhism who said this: "it is important for the values of Buddhism to imbue a culture, not for those of a culture to imbue Buddhism."

The context for this is given below, which is taken from the Translator's Introduction to The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrul: A Gem of Many Colors (translated into English by Richard Barron). Note that the autobiography was written by the first Jamgon Kongtrul (who founded the Ri-me movement in the 19th century), while the quote is from the third Jamgon Kongtrul, who died in 1992.

In the mid 1980s, I had the opportunity to interpret a public talk given by the late Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoché in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. During that evening, Rinpoché spoke of the ri-mé approach. He defined this quite succinctly: "To adopt the ri-mé approach means to follow your own chosen path with dedication, while maintaining respect and tolerance for all other valid choices." The operative word here is "valid"; what is meant is not a blanket acceptance of anyone’s doctrines. A khenpo of the Nyingma School recently remarked to me, "We are to maintain a pure outlook toward all other beings, but not necessarily toward their opinions." This is anything but a sloppy approach. In insisting on the freedom for everyone to choose a spiritual path, and on the validity of all authentic alternatives, the ri-mé approach is broadminded, avoiding the all-too-common pitfall of exclusivism, but does not promote simplistic beliefs. Our prejudices concerning spiritual matters may come from issues that are personal, ideological, or cultural, but regardless of their origin, these prejudices can place severe limits on our own ability to grow spiritually. Jamgön Kongtrul also stressed, in that evening talk, that it is important for the values of Buddhism to imbue a culture, not for those of a culture to imbue Buddhism. The ri-mé approach was not intended to serve some other agenda, but to provide a context for honoring the contemplative life in all of its manifestations.

Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé was born into a culture that had been host to the Buddhist teachings for a millennium. Throughout its long history, the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism has seen many periods of mutual tolerance, particularly in the early stages of its development, when there was much interaction between the schools. We find accounts of many individuals who studied with masters of all schools and who in turn taught students from all schools. But there have been just as many times when political rivalries and power struggles led to sectarian polemic and even outright hostility. In a few cases, entire schools were suppressed. It would be bad enough if the grounds in such cases were (as claimed) doctrinal, in the name of keeping the teachings pure, but all too often a more mundane purpose was bring served. For people interested in more details on this subject, I can highly recommend Chapter 17 ("Jam mgon Kong sprul and the Nonsectarian Movement") in Gene Smith's excellent book, Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. The extent to which Buddhism imbued Tibetan culture over the centuries is nothing short of remarkable, but the extent to which that culture imbued the Buddhist teachings often resulted in unfortunate consequences.

The whole Translator's Introduction is online here.

[pic at top of post is the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul, it comes from here.]