Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Bound to Freedom

Having recently relinquished the post of Abbot of Cittaviveka, I’m taking a sabbatical. It’s a chance to put some activities aside, and as some space opens up, sense what feels right to give attention to.  One thing that seemed immediately attractive was to revive my rote recitation of the Pāṭimokkha, the bhikkhus’ code of training.  I first learnt to recite this Pali text during my fourth year as a bhikkhu, and recited it regularly by rota on the fortnightly Observance (Uposatha) days for over twenty years before the duties of abbot meant I couldn’t keep it going.  (By the way, Uposatha is the day when the sangha meets to confess offences, recollect training standards, conduct formal legislation and receive guidance from the teacher.) It took work to learn it (I practised it for one hour per day over a six-month period) and effort to keep it going – at a brisk pace it takes about fifty minutes to an hour to recite. It’s done by one bhikkhu sitting in the midst of the assembly while another keeps his eye on the text and interjects with corrections in case of an error.  So it can be nerve-racking – but I always felt it an honour to be rehearsing the same Pali syllables as had passed through the mouths of generations of bhikkhus from the time of the Buddha onwards. 

The affirmative effect of the recitation isn’t just through the meaning of the text, but through the effort and one makes in undertaking to learn and recite it. On top of the channeling of energy that occurs with that commitment, the recitation, as a ritual in a formal setting, creates a deep bond. In fact, this is what Pāṭimokkha means: ‘a thorough bond’. Just like the Shabbat, or the hajj, or the lay eight-precept Observance day, or a marriage, such ritual gives a formal definition to your identity. You don’t think a ritual, you do it, you surrender to it; it creates an obligation that holds you in shape.  So the Pāṭimokkha forms the sangha as a collective and guides the individual, through loyalty and respect rather than policing, into the lifestyle that the Buddha advocated as optimal for liberation. Pāṭimokkha is a bond that prepares the mind for freedom.

As I said, it took work to keep it going, and eventually I couldn’t find the time/energy. So it’s a particular and strange pleasure to return to both memorizing and enunciating the ancient text with its long a’s, retroflex t’s and nasalized m’s. A training for the speech faculty, which like handwriting tends to get slurred and hasty over the years of casual use.  So when reciting, I don’t remember the meaning; the practice is to weave energy at speed between the mouth and the memory, in something like a wakeful trance. If you think of the next word, or worry about whether you’re getting it right, the recitation collapses as surely as a tightrope walker falls off the wire if he wavers.

But right at the end there is the group recitation of some closing passages, one of which is particularly stirring. It is an exhortation that a deva (celestial) gave before the Buddha (!) and to which the Awakened One gave his approval.  Some extracts are:

‘Having exerted oneself, cut the stream!
Dispel sensual desires, O brahmin!
Without having abandoned sensual desires,
A sage does not reach unity.

‘If one would do what should be done,
One should firmly exert oneself.
For a slack wanderer’s life
Only scatters more dust.

The recluse life, if wrongly lived
Merely drags one to hell.’ (S.2.8)

Stirring stuff.  And surprisingly this anthem doesn’t originate from some crabby ascetic, but from a deva – one of those celestials who crop up in the suttas (to the irritation of secular Buddhists) and who are generally depicted as blissed-out and often frivolous. Furthermore it focuses on essential aspects of practice that contemporary Buddhist teachings can omit: that we have to give up some rather pleasing experiences, and also to work hard. This is a far cry from the hip easy-going Buddha of Beat Zen. Neither, with it’s affirmation that there is something that should be done and a veiled threat to slackers, is it palatable to the ‘allow all, just be here’ strain of thought. But as part of a wide range of teachings it presents the gritty bit, the tough love of renunciation, restraint and effort. Bitter or not, these are good medicine: without them, the mind doesn’t develop strength and resilience; with them comes the inner warmth, gravity and imperturbability of the awakened mind. I think we need to remember that. Because in a Western milieu which emphasizes wisdom, compassion and mindfulness (and yes to all those), a tendency to spiritual narcissism can still linger. That is, Dhamma has to arrive on my terms, fit my lifestyle and world-view, address my apparent needs and not challenge my comfort zones.  Consequently there is no crossing over from self-view.

In the Buddha’s ‘graduated path’ – the presentation of the process of Dhamma – renunciation and restraint are the watershed, the dividing line between the habituation that he called saṁsāra (‘wandering on’) and nibbāna, the ‘unbinding’ of those very habits. And the deal is that if you want to unbind habits, you bind your mind to a training. So in the graduated path, first of all you centre in the heart through cultivating generosity, and in the respect for others that epitomizes moral integrity. Then you cultivate sense-restraint and renunciation; and then you practise in line with the four noble truths. The opening part of the sequence is not difficult: anyone who can be trained recognizes the value of giving and sharing, along with the need for boundaries around behaviour. In the light of that understanding, it’s easy to acknowledge that sensuality can drive people to murder, steal, lie, and sexually abuse others; or at least to consumer addiction. So one acknowledges that the mind/heart needs restraint. It’s a sobering truth, but without the harnessing, conserving and skilful directing of the mind and its formidable energies, unbinding doesn’t happen. In fact, without restraint effort itself becomes a strain and a chore – because we don’t have the juice and we’re carrying too much weight. The message is: get lean, get fit and you won’t have to labour. But that means restraint.

The need to get a handle on the sense-world is pretty much why I became a monk: to meditate, for sure, but with the recognition that thus mind needs reining in.  And it’s not just sex, drugs and rock and roll that are the issue. Mental proliferation into needless speculation and planning, doubt about oneself, rehashing the past and distraction into anything, are far more common and insidious. Then are the opinions about what is right and fair and the way people should be (I’m still working on these). Out of all that, the mind spins fascinating webs, and makes the weave of saṁsāra more dense and knotted. But however well it is woven, if we examine the fabric of our self-concern, the heart/mind isn’t at peace. As another dialogue between a deva and the Buddha illustrates:

‘Always frightened is this mind,
The mind is always agitated
About unarisen problems
And about arisen ones.
If there exists release from fear,
Being asked please declare it to me.’

[the Buddha]
‘Not apart from enlightenment and austerity,
Not apart from restraint of the sense faculties,
Not apart from relinquishing all,
Do I see any safety for living beings.’ (S.2.17)

Now this may all come across as very monkish, world-denying and inapplicable to lay life.  But I don’t think that’s the case. Firstly neither of the speakers in these specific dialogues is a monk or an ascetic, and secondly the graduated path is the mainline teaching that the Buddha gave to beginners. It’s only when they could handle generosity, morality and renunciation that he felt they were ready for the liberation teachings of the four noble truths. But the path is graduated and it unfolds by steps: restraint allows one to get perspective on the mind, and the effect of that is that one sees what habits are unskilful and go nowhere useful, and also what qualities (such as kindness and sharing) gladden the heart. That process ripens into a more reflective mind-set that withdraws from worldly values and readily enters meditation. Meditation then provides the calm, and inner happiness that allows one to acknowledge the craving at the root of suffering and to let go of its urges. It works: letting go happens, across the world and across cultures. The real-life examples as far as I can see are that committed lay practitioners party less, if at all, abstain from taking life and from harsh speech, and live with sexual restraint or even celibacy. It’s not a matter of culture, belief or indoctrination; you’re a danger to yourself and others if you don’t learn the value of letting go.

In terms of letting go, restraint is only a beginning, and has its limitations. We act and our attention goes out; the mind gets busy; we acquire and engage. But as I notice in myself through years of having my attention engaged in management and organisation, restraint sinks deeper than apparent mental activity. It ripens into relinquishment: when you give up success and failure, you act just because the intention itself is good and clarifying. For example, I have no expectation of getting my recitation complete, let alone flawless, but it doesn’t matter: energy, application and one-pointedness are good for the mind.  And as the mind relinquishes spinning out into the future, results, or self-image, it steps out of its activity. A distinction between the mind as an activity and mind as a still knowing becomes clear. So even when attention has to go out, the heart doesn’t. When you no longer relish the rush and the resonances, the successes and self-imagery, the stickiness fades, and there is an awakening to freedom.  Most webs are really 99% space; as the world deconstructs, the openness remains.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Happy Deathday

On October 26th, I formally handed over the responsibilities of Abbot of Cittaviveka, along with my blessings, to the community and especially to my successor. This was at the yearly Kathina festival – when lay people gather to give supplies to the monastery after the Rains Retreat. Coming in the autumn season, the mood, however festive and celebratory, is nuanced with the gut knowledge of the northern hemisphere: winter is coming, this is the time to get the supplies in, because this is the season when green things die. The year’s end was also the time in some ancient cultures to sacrifice the king. Not a bad idea. After serving the community for twenty-two years through its changes, upheavals and growing pains, I feel that the function of community supervision can best be served by fresher minds. As for myself, the role of abbot has done what it can for my spiritual growth. A coup de grâce was due.

A few days after that formal event, it was my sixty-fifth birthday. That offered a fuller sense of celebration, with monks and nuns coming down from Amaravati and more people bringing cards, good wishes and gifts. Yet, amidst all the expressions of appreciation and good humour, some of that wintery feel was with me. It’s the season of endings. We give endings scant attention, but in each of them – even the moment at the end of a conversation – there is poise, stillness and an emptiness that lets the mind rest. So although people wanted to know what I plan to do next, or assumed that I would now have a chance to do things I really wanted to do, for me the sense was about finishing the past, not of creating a future. Of closing the book, or at least of ending the chapter with a blank page staring at me and with no wish to write on it. Happy death.

In some ways, the role of abbot, or any managerial role, flies in the face of the Dhamma. Whereas insight reveals that all phenomena are anicca – changeable and insubstantial – the ‘one in charge’ has to make things reliable and steady. While the Buddha constantly pointed to dukkha, the unsatisfactory and stressful nature of experience, the ‘one at the top’ can carry the expectation that things will work, that people will live harmoniously and that an easeful scenario will ensue. And although all this change and inability to control life surely underlines the realization that there’s no-one holding things together, the set-up of community leadership creates the focus of a big someone to hang a self-view on. In fact a major process for any community, or even relationship, has to be to handle the projections of its members: that is to unravel the process whereby a person’s needs and fears distort other people into heroes, negligent fathers, smothering mothers, and rebellious juveniles.

Projection of one’s needs and fears onto others is quite normal, but it is a process to be released from. Projection around leadership (in oneself or others) happens for most human beings as they enter adulthood. Adulthood isn’t really a matter of age, but of operating in terms of responsibility (of course some people may never make it into true adulthood). With projection, a function (someone does this) becomes a role (their identity is a doer of this). A function is defined by the task: someone fixes cars, cures diseases or manages accounts; these functions are finite and can be learnt. A role however is defined by the expectations and attitudes of oneself and others: you are as good/valuable as your performance is judged to be. Dependent on what is being projected, the bearer of the role is complimented or attacked, resented or depended upon. And although a function may last for only a few hours, the role remains, because although the expectations that generate it are measureless, their overriding feature is that the role remain stable and fulfil my projected wishes. (Even if sometimes I want a villain.)

But what is there to wish for? What do we project onto others and ourselves? I seek fulfilment/
success, but have a fuzzy ‘feel-good’ sense of what exactly that would mean. Meanwhile ‘failure’/disappointment is a very clear and haunting presence. It often keeps us running – in the fear of not meeting the deadline, or of performing inadequately; or in the anxiety that one might not be good enough for the task, or with the worry that one might disappoint other people. So the mind gets on board, or even becomes, a helicopter hovering over the slippery spin of possibility; and at times it seems that it’s only the constant whirr of our activities that holds it up. Faced with the need to adopt a stable role, most people take time off to break free of it, or build up a persona to carry the role and cover the heart. But as how you are seen affects which aspects of your mind/heart get energy, so the aspects that fit (or try to fit) the persona get to predominate. Celebrities crack up under the pressure of being encased in it. But for spiritual growth, a role (one's own or another's) is not something to get fixated on or frustrated by. Instead, its pressures urge one to learn how to step in and out of role; and this is done not by distraction, nor via a mask or by armouring. Instead there has to be a wise handling; and this comes when one gains access to something less formed and more authentic. Role comes with responsibility, but through access to spiritual truth or Dhamma you can meet its challenges and the fear of failure, and through that meeting, open into freedom.

If you take on responsibility to be something for others, you’ll be familiar with at least some of this, as well as with the judgemental mind, both in yourself and in other people. My advice is to not take it personally: the sense of failure is endemic to any performance and any role. If you have any sense of getting ahead, if you’re in any race – you can’t win it. And if you’re in any kind of role, you will disappoint others: projection will conjure up more expectation than you can fulfil. In the face of that apparent failure, the untrained mind will need to justify or defend itself from criticism – your own if no-one else’s. Say you’re an accountant, a wife, and a mother: if you don’t practise with these as activities (with all their variable results) but take them as identities, then you will feel failure’s cold shadow in your heart. Even meditation, which should open an opportunity to release and regenerate, can become an attempt to excel and ward off the sense of ‘not good enough.’ Unless meditation, or at least mindfulness of mind-states as mind-states (and not as self), can meet failure, it fails to release the besieged self.

As an abbot, my function included management supervision, leading ceremonies, counselling, instruction in Dhamma, training and providing support for monks/nuns, representing the community at sangha gatherings and to the lay community, and in an undefinable way, setting the tone and the human atmosphere of the monastery. If people don’t feel welcome, if some monk is impolite, if the treasurer fails to pay the bills, if the teaching isn’t happening – it’s the abbot’s topic. Still, as a function, although it keeps you busy, it’s not that difficult. Of course, the mind is often in ‘helicopter’ mode: I can almost hear the rotor arms turning in my mind: ‘Is everyone here yet? Have I forgotten so-and-so? Whapp… Whapp…The cable to the P.A. is hanging loose. That woman looks like she needs a doctor. Who is supposed to be doing the recitation? No, not that recitation. Whapp…whapp… Is everyone OK with this? Did I mention that detail at the last community meeting? Is what we’re doing in accordance with the tradition, the agreement, the Vinaya, the neighbours? Whapp, whapp…’ And one is also referring to qualities such as maintaining calm, patience, kindness and accessibility: in fact it is those internal qualities that make the function doable. You can develop them. But as for results?

Well, the immediate result is that there is a lot of movement in the mind, and some of that will be associated with the need to get things right, or coming from a sense of duty rather than personal interest in what one is involved with. This is not to say that you don’t wish for the best or function without integrity; but ‘getting it right’ in a Buddhist context really amounts to being able to compassionately and patiently encourage others to meet the unsatisfactory nature of experience (including oneself). It hardly feels like a success, but the best result isn’t so much an immediate ‘feel-good’ as a release from expectation. And that doesn’t support a role or any self-image. As Luang Por Chah asked of would-be disciples: ‘Did you come here to die?’ To die to the future, and to what one feels both things, oneself and others should be. And I’m sure that he did a lot of dying every day: to die in the face of people’s projections, to refuse to adopt any image of being ‘enlightened’, to allow Wat Pah Pong to dip into chaos – and yet to remain present, at ease and free. As much as Luang Por Chah encouraged people (in the beginning) he determinedly disappointed and frustrated his disciples as they matured. His successor, Luang Por Liem, has such a different personality that for years he had to put up with a barrage of criticism about ‘not being like Ajahn Chah’. He just kept his Dhamma-practice going and helped out where he could. And the result? Luang Por Liem remains at ease, sensitive but still – anything but armoured, or slick, or desperate to make things work. Never buying into any role, one of his recent comments was: ‘People call me the abbot, but that’s just what they say. I help out where I can.’

I was at Wat Pah Pong a few years ago, at one of the big festivals when tens of thousands of lay people and a thousand monks and nuns were participating. The Army were bringing in water in trucks, there were free food stalls, as well as Dhamma-talks and socialising; so with these contradictory activities, people were milling around everywhere. Luang Por Liem was in the open space under his kuti in the middle of it all, receiving whoever came by. I suggested to him that as abbot, he must have needed to be a civil engineer, a meditation teacher, a Vinaya-expert, an organiser of ceremonies, a diplomat and facilitator: how many years should one train before being ready to be an abbot? His reply was ‘You’re never ready. You just do it and keep your practice going.’ And the practice? Samatha? Vipassana? Metta? It depends.

One sure thing is that you have to cultivate whatever is skilful in terms of penetrating self-representation and how things should be. One abbot mentioned to me that one aspect of his practice is to practise with being misinterpreted. Luang Por Sumedho developed his practice of listening to the sound of silence through attending to that background resonance in the midst of meetings, arguments, emotional floods, and of course his own stuff. I’ve practised with the ‘not getting it right’ mood long enough now to have defanged the judgemental beast. Because actually there’s only one person’s projections that you have to deal with, and that is no person at all – it’s just this mind with its images of success and completion. So you get to the end of the meeting, the day, and let that unravel. You cultivate the wisdom of no-performance and no-result. You listen to any judgements that are rattling in your mind, establish mindfulness on the mind-state and its feeling, then let the defences and identities go. It’s a matter of acknowledging the inner helicopter that is hovering over ‘If only this’ and ‘I should have said that’ and ‘How dare they do this!’ and steadily touching the ground. Allow the feeling to be felt and breathe through it. Let it end, even let the wish that it all end come to an end. When the rotor blades stop, just here, on the other side of failure, is purity and release. This Dhamma life is not for excellence and fulfilling wishes, but just to understand suffering and its cessation.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Sin, Sex and the Inner Tyrant

I’ve just returned from teaching a retreat in Ireland. It was a pleasant weekend attended by a good number of people. The theme, one that I’ve touched on before, was ‘Unseating the Inner Tyrant’. You can probably guess, but if you’re in doubt about what I’m referring to … Do you ever find yourself dominated by a chain of thought that tells you that you’re not good enough, and don’t deserve much?  Are you convinced that other people look down on you? Does your mind recite memories of things you did wrong in dramatic detail? Do you find that when you admire someone, you simultaneously feel unworthy of them? Or that, although you really ought to be a success and help the world, you’re never really going to achieve anything? That voice, that attitude, is the Tyrant. If there is such a thing as freedom, peace and ease – it must entail dethroning this Tyrant from our minds.

Freedom is an aspiration that many people can resonate with; as a practice it means meeting and overcoming our inner tyrannies – whatever their urgings. There are many, often contradictory: along with preoccupations with duties and obligations, and the sense that ‘I should calm down’, come the feelings of inadequacy and guilt that lock the door of the heart. ‘I’m never going to get clear,' they say, 'or be happy. There’s something wrong with me. I’m like this because I messed up.’ This is why  we should take Angulimala, the serial killer who became an arahant, as our patron saint. As I outlined in my posting of August 2013,[http://sucitto.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-good-bad-and-clear.html]he can certainly be said to have messed up; and yet his murdering didn’t amount to an insurmountable obstacle to awakening. This is because, according to the Conch Blower sutta (Connected Discourses, 42.8) what sticks bad actions to us aren’t the actions themselves, but their stickiness. Action based on clinging – to sense-data, impulses, views and the notion of self – is sticky and because of this leaves residues. So we have to deal with these residues, which are left as a vague stuck mess called 'I am this'. The practice of clearing these residues is one of clearing the identification with actions and their results.

A major obstacle to this clearing is denial (which shields a notional self), the bluster that tries to shrug off, justify or blame one's actions on other people. Another obstacle is guilt (which creates a sinful self). What both of these reactions have in common is that they obstruct an investigation of the emotions and psychologies that constitute that apparent self. To investigate the lack of control and the unskilful action as it is amounts to skilful remorse and conscience; these neither justify nor burden a self, because they relate to the actions, not the identity. They are healthy and have to be responded to; firstly by an acknowledgement that is free from justification and judgement; secondly by the avowal to understand any error and refrain from such actions in the future; and thirdly by widening and softening the mind with kindness, compassion, appreciative gladness and equanimity to all concerned – including this heart and mind. We have to acknowledge that our minds get overwhelmed and aren't entirely our own. This is not an easy process, but one that one can train in.

The Buddha’s message then is that it’s not justice that sets things straight, but clarity and empathy. We are asked to look steadily at how deeds, words and attitudes feel, and then to align our intentions to the good heart. Then it’s apparent that the first important thing to set straight is the ‘black and white’, the hard line that cuts off our empathy. Because when empathy is cut, there is no harm that a human will not to do to another. On the other hand when there is empathy, we are enriched with the great heart of tolerance, love and compassion. That heart isn’t strait-jacketed by obligation; it’s a joy and a refuge from bitterness, guilt and greed.  So with perceived wrong-doings, the empathic heart is willing to acknowledge and be emotionally present without reactions. That’s the first necessary step; then comes the feeling, and the remorse of ‘this was not worthy of my good intentions’. This can then be followed by a compassion that embraces our impulses with understanding.

Sometimes guilt is imprinted not so much by what one has done as by social shame or stigma. That experience or dread of being barred from fellowship generates an Inner Tyrant: the Judge. Another socially-oriented drive orients around what one should be and do. I call this the Benevolent Dictator: the obligation to be responsible and help the family, or the world (from one’s own viewpoint). In both Judge and Dictator, unexamined perceptions of self and other give rise to compulsive drives. Some core assumptions also remain uninvestigated. That is, we may assume that we should never fail, but be perfect (I have to get it absolutely right); or we may be dominated with goal-obsession (I have to get to the good thing in the future because I can’t accept how I am right now); or with missionary zeal (I have to fix other people, and I know and possess exactly what they need). These attitudes are signs of an Inner Tyrant. The Tyrant may also be hidden under the adulation of others – 'who’re so much better than I am'.  In Buddhist terms such compulsive drives are called 'becoming' (bhava). ‘If only I was this; if only he wasn’t like that – then I’d feel satisfied,’ it says. That's the Inner Tyrant. It believes in unexplored assumptions and fantasy projections; and it turns the potential for an aware and compassionate life into the weight of a debt that can never be paid off. Because the Tyrant is never satisfied with or appreciative of what has been done. In fact the Inner Tyrant finds satisfaction, appreciation and contentment dangerous, naive, and even lazy: ‘Don’t you see what a mess you/they/ the world is in! You can’t sit around being content for the rest of your life!’

Take note of the tyrannical voice: ‘never’, ‘always’ ,‘the rest of your life’ and ‘everyone thinks’ are standard references. The Tyrant always presents perceptions and impressions as solid truth, and based on that operates in terms of black and white realities, prophesies and judgements. Justice and ‘what they/I deserve’ are common slogans, messages that blaze through the minds with such conviction that we never examine their logic – and how they sour us. Once infected by the Tyrant, the mind can justify any action; particularly a wrathful response to perceived evil. Hence Crusades, missions, jihads, witch-hunts, pogroms, torture and jails. The Tyrant often masquerades as the Just God. Justice? –  too often it's a mask for self-interest and revenge.

Crippling though the Inner Tyrant is, it acquires even more strength when it is supported by, or morphs into, the Outer Tyrant of political or religious repression. This has been the case in Ireland where the tyrant of British domination was succeeded by the Catholic Church.  The Church at first offered a religious identity (tyrants offer security and a stable identity) but also condemned as sinful all sexual activity apart from marital sex without contraception and without abortion. Not that condemnation has ever stopped sexuality; rather it has driven the sex drive underground – only to have it resurface as clandestine sex, or abuse of one kind or another. All of which, it transpires, has been practised, denied and swept under the carpet by bishops, priests, monks and nuns.  An estimated one in four of the population of Ireland have been affected by sexual abuse. Along with child-abuse, perhaps the grimmest accounts are of the ‘Magdalenes’, unmarried teenage girls who became pregnant and were then incarcerated in convents in ‘magdalene laundries’ as unpaid washerwomen for the rest of their lives. It’s bad enough when the Outer Tyrant is the member of another nation; jaw-dropping when American police can shoot unarmed black fellow-citizens dead in the street; almost beyond belief that parents can condemn their own children to an exile in which they will be treated like scum for the rest of their lives. But it’s not unbelievable, and certainly not uniquely Irish (Magdalene laundries existed in Britain and Australia) – but when the Outer and Inner Tyrants merge under the aegis of Divine Will, justification is beyond question. Men get slaughtered and incarcerated as a ‘threat’ or ‘the enemy’ of course, but if the deviation is in anything sexual which involves a woman, it is she, even if she is the victim, who will feel God’s wrath. In any religion. A brother will murder the sister whose crime was to be raped, parents cast out their daughter who associates with a member of the wrong caste or family, and so on. All justifiable to cleanse the family’s name.

It may seem impossible to lose empathy around such a central and shared feature of being human as sexual desire – after all, how else did we all get here? – but the Tyrant can bring that around. Because passion is a threat to order, both internal (the solid self, in control) and external ( the solid government, in control). A human dilemma lies between repression and passion: repression is repugnant and eventually ineffectual, but passion is dangerous. Yet from an awakened point of view, that are both born of ignorance, of an inability to stand beyond the power of desire. True enough, males of most species regularly fight and kill each other when in the grip of sexual desire, and it is on account of projected desire that women get repressed, abused and locked up. 

Throughout history, people have attempted to channel sexual desire into socially manageable containers – none of which are innately secure. No Tyrant, however Divine, can manage and contain feeling; repression is inadequate to the task, and sublimation into sport and entertainment only a stop-gap measure. It’s certainly difficult enough to both meet and stand beyond that which we dislike, but even more tricky when it comes to desire and lust. But that’s what’s required: a skilful channelling entails acknowledgement of the luminous power of desire, and of its ability to flood the body and distort the mind. ‘Standing beyond’ comes through restraint, then empathy: respect for one’s own body, heart and mind and that of another. This takes contemplative skill. Whereas a tyrant will either repress desire or justify it, a meditator can soften and widen the energy channels in the body and transfer that energy into the heart. As a process, that means acknowledging the specific desire, dropping the images that it brings up, focusing on the body energy and softening and widening that energy with breathing.

Clearly (to me), celibacy offers many benefits in terms of supporting simplicity, curtailing competition, jealousy, infidelity, performance anxiety and sexual abuse – but celibacy is a choice. It’s not a compulsion based on aversion to nature. It has to be accompanied by a huge affirmation of the human ability to include nature and transcend ignorance. Without that understanding and contemplative skill, celibacy becomes arid; it doesn’t ripen into a fullness of being. 

Meditation offers a resolution of the conundrum of passion. All compulsions grab the heart and deprive us of freedom; without meditation, people just use the Tyrant of blame, repression and punishment to ward off the Tyrant of compulsive desire. When we're thrown between these two forces, we lose self-respect, empathy and clear understanding. But when we operate in terms of present-moment experience, and a clear and empathic approach to meeting the energies of fear, rage and desire as they happen to us, then there’s a way out of the tyranny. The energy of desire can then be held and correctly channelled, not into prophesies or assumptions of what others think or God wills, but into the full fruition of the heart.