(Diclaimer: Corboy has never consulted the author of this essay for advice nor attended any of his events or retreats. The "Two Paths" essay offers some
food for thought, and that is why it is mentioned here.)
A Tale of Two Paths: The Renunciate and the Householder - Lorin Roche, Ph.D
In the ancient teachings of India, two distinct paths were set forth: the path of the renunciate (Sannyasin or Sadhu), and the path of the householder (with the dumb name, Grihasta). There are many variations and sub-paths on each of these two great paths, but essentially, renunciates take vows to irrevocably cut themselves off from the world, and householders live in the world and evolve through working and playing with it. In the ancient cultures of Asia, everyone understands what the paths are about. To the inhabitants of North America, the boundaries are not as clear. It is not obvious to students of meditation, upon encountering renunciate ideals in a basic meditation text, "Oh, that is for monks. It's not for me."
There are many kinds of renunciates - monks, nuns, hermits, and recluses. They may be called swamis, lamas, rishis, sannyasins, sadhus, or gurus. Whatever their name, these renunciates have for thousands of years kept alive the wisdom of meditation, and almost all the teachings on meditation in existence owe a debt of gratitude to them.
Also, however, everything we know about meditation is lightly or strongly tainted with attitudes of renunciation that are only appropriate for those who wear robes and live in religious orders. Almost all books on meditation available today are written by people who were inspired in one way or the other by the great monastic traditions of India and other Asian countries. Almost all teachers of meditation are either monks or nuns, were trained by monks or nuns, or were trained by students of monks or nuns. So attitudes of renunciation have come to be synonymous with meditation.
In a nutshell, monks and nuns evolve by living a life of detachment, disconnection, and aloofness. They may be very attached to their robes and their spiritual order, but their practice is about renouncing their desire for "worldly things." For them, spirituality is irrevocably tied up with denial.
Non-monks, on the other hand, evolve through working with the material world. Detachment is not the primary attitude to cultivate. Rather, the opposite of detachment is indicated: being involved, close, committed, and intimate. For some odd reason, (ignorance? unskillfulness?) this distinction is not being honored, and the wrong techniques are being taught on a wide scale – “sadhu-style” practices, which may be appropriate for 1% or less of the modern Western population, are being recommended for the 99% of the population that are householders.
TIME magazine did a cover story on meditation in August 2004, and they estimated that over ten million people in the United States practice meditation. Newer statistics suggest that number has gone up considerably. There are millions more in Canada, Europe, Central America, and South America. And many of us, myself included, have been strongly influenced by the monks from Asia and have wound up doing techniques that harm us. Since I have devoted my entire adult life, since I was 18 in 1968, to promoting the practice of meditation in the United States, I thought I would mention briefly some of the negative side effects that people have been encountering due to the confusion between renunciate and householder.
As you read the following, keep in mind that I myself have never had a bad experience with a monk or a nun, in my occasional encounters with them the last 40 years. I love them and honor them for what they are doing.
Monks and nuns, by definition, live in the context of religious orders and have taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. These vows are the essential act of renunciation. When renunciates meditate, they meditate within the context of their vows. They need to meditate in a way that tunes them to be obedient to their superiors, and to kill off any rebellious or independent thinking.
Renunciates give their lives to their religious orders, profound spiritual traditions that have continued with great stability for hundreds and often thousands of years. The tradition has their total devotion. As part of that tradition, they have to kill off any creative impulses they have to improve the tradition. A nun is not supposed to get up in the morning and say hey, we need new, more fashionable robes....... .
Extraneous desires must be snuffed out.
They have sworn to be celibate, so they have to kill off any sexual desires they have. And they have taken an oath of poverty, so they have to kill off the natural impulse to accumulate stuff. When done properly, all these impulses are deconstructed, taken apart, and their energy is recycled and dedicated to the spiritual life.
One of the impulses behind meditation is the desire to turn one's body into light, and then disappear, to merge with the Great Void. So, in spite of the rigors of the vows, the renunciate life has incredible allure. They get to be nuclear engineers, supervising the process of turning their individual existence into emptiness.
To protect this process, recluses are insulated from much of the difficulty and uncertainty of life. They live in some ways as people did a thousand years ago in the feudal systems of Asia.
And the feudal system, with its intricate rituals of submission, humiliation, and domination, has a magical attraction. Think of Star Wars - it takes place in a feudal universe, with Knights and Slaves and Masters and Merchants and Princesses. Even Darth Vader bowed down and humbled himself before his Master, the Emperor. Lord of the Rings is a feudal world.
The Dalai Lama is an emissary of the feudal world of Tibet. He is a reincarnating god-king, who comes again and again to rule. And he couldn't be more charming. He is releasing tremendous energies across America and advocating the practice of meditation
We householders do not know a lot about why a certain person may wish to take religious vows and renounce sex, money, and independent will. Personally, I do not begrudge anyone this decision - it is an important sacrifice that some people make, that has benefitted humanity immeasurably over the millennia.
This is certainly a grave decision, like having a sex-change operation. Ordinarily we wouldn't want to comment or speculate about why a given monk would take vows. Let that be his secret. However, these monks basically set the tone for the teaching of meditation the world over. What they think of when they sit in their rooms staring at the wall becomes sacred text. So when these monks, who consider themselves enlightened, go on and on at great length about how degraded we all are, we have to stop and inquire, just who is this that's talking? If something gets into the record, into the tradition of meditation literature, does that mean that it is holy? What if the writer is a really sick person, who was so tortured that he took vows to never have sex again, because his desires were so degraded and abnormal? What if a given saint is gifted in some ways and also, a deeply disturbed human being?
Not everyone who shuts himself away all day, year after year, cutting off all the parts of himself that do not seem monk-like, and leaving only the parts that hate life, gets enlightened.
We householders need to understand that some of the people whose writings make up the "tradition" are perhaps partly brilliant, partly demented, from the extremes of denial they have subjected themselves to.
What Nagarjuna, in the example below, is a master of is deconstructing the self - showing how there is no "there" there in the self.
You are made up of parts that have no real existence.
In other words, Nagarjuna has convinced generations of monks that they don't exist anyway
The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna
When renunciates find themselves teaching householders about meditation, odd juxtapositions sometimes occur.
When the Dalai Lama lectured at UCLA in 1997, a book,The Precious Garland was handed out as you walked into the Pauley Pavilion to hear him talk. His Holiness read the 88 page over a period of three evenings.
The following quotation from The Precious Garland starts from the top of page 32 and goes to near the bottom of page 33:
"Gambling causes attachment, dislike, and anger,
deception, trickery and an occasion for wildness,
lying, pointless chatter, and harsh speech.
Therefore, always refrain from gambling.
Most attachment to women comes from
the belief that women’s bodies are pure.
But in actuality there is no purity
in a woman’s body at all.
Her mouth is a vessel of impurity,
with putrid saliva and gunk between her teeth;
Her nose is a pot of snot, phlegm and mucous,
and her eyes contain eye-slime and tears.
Her torso is a container of excrement,
holding urine, the lungs, liver and such.
The confused do not see that a woman is such;
thus, they lust after her body.
Like unknowing persons, who have become attached
to an ornamented vessel filled with filth,
Unknowing and worldly beings
are attached to women.
If the world is greatly attached
to the noxious objects that are bodies,
which should cause non-attachment,
how then can it be led to non-attachment?
Just as filth-loving pigs are greatly attached
to heaps of feces and urine,
so too the filth-loving pigs that are desirous people
are greatly attached to heaps of feces and urine.
Foolish persons imagine
that this city (of bugs) that is the body,
with cavities that are sources of filth,
is something conducive to pleasure.
When you yourself see the impurities
of excrement, urine, and such,
how can the body, being composed of them,
be something pleasant for you?
It is produced by a seed of impure essence,
an admixture of ovum and semen.
How can the lustful be attached to it
when they know its nature to be impure?
One who lies with this filthy mass,
covered with skin moistened by these fluids,
is doing nothing more than lying
on top of a womans bladder.
Whether it be beautiful or ugly,
whether it be young or old,
the body of any woman is filthy,
so to what special quality could you be attached?
It is not right to yearn for a pile of excrement, even if it has a nice color
or is very fresh or nicely shaped;
likewise, one should not yearn for a woman's body."
- The Precious Garland, translated by John Dunne and Sara McClintock, Wisdom Publications, Boston, Massachusetts, 1997. P 32-33. Cited with the permission of the translators. For an audio tape of the series, check here.
So here was the Dalai Lama, being his charming self, talking in a kind of Pidgin Engish, partly incomprehensible, saying “Practice compassion. Feel afraid? Meditation. Anger no use.” Then turning back to the text and reading, “In actuality there is no purity in a woman’s body at all, putrid saliva and gunk between her teeth.”
The text continues in a similar vein for several more pages. The English translation of the text runs from page 9 to page 88. So out of about 80 pages of teachings, 4 are devoted to a description of how disgusting women are. That's about 5 percent of the text. If you didn't know that this is a sacred text, you might think that it is just hate speech. The ravings of a deeply disturbed individual. Perhaps a transcription of a psychiatrist's interview with a man who has a terrible eating disorder. Or maybe the script from a Beavis and Butthead cartoon.
A Note To the Reader at the front of The Precious Garland states, "This book was produced for the special occasion of His Holiness the VIVth Dalai Lama's teaching in Los Angeles in June, 1997 . . . The book consists primarily of a new translation of the Precious Garland of Nagarjuna, which was undertaken by the translators especially for this auspicious occasion. It is this text which will form the basis of His Holiness's teachings each day on June 5th, 6th, and 7th."
On June 5, 6, and 7, the Dalai Lama read from and gave a commentary on The Precious Garland, and on June 8 he gave an "Empowerment for the Meditational Practice of Sakyamuni Buddha."
A woman psychotherapist who attended the Dalai Lama's talk opened The Precious Garland and exclaimed, "Why, this is exactly how bulimic women think of their bodies, that is why they are always bingeing and purging." Perhaps in the future, psychoanalysts will take a look at the origins of this attitude in monks and nuns, and map out how it arises and influences or distorts their approach to spiritual practices.
Someone in the audience asked about the anti-female teachings in the book. The Dalai Lama laughed and said, "That's because it is for monks." There, in sentence of six words, the Dalai Lama summed up the whole gist of what I am discussing in this little essay.
So universal is the love for the Dalai Lama that there was no public discussion of how bizarre some of the ideas in The Precious Garland are. Thousands of people were in the auditorium, including many famous actors and actresses, some of whom have been declared to be tulkus, reincarnated Tibetan lamas. Newspapers and television stations covered the talk, and everyone was given a copy of the book, but there was no mention of the fact that the teaching was partly about how women's bodies are vessels of yuckky fluids.
People who have families, jobs, pay rent or mortgages, and live in the real world, have very different needs in meditation. Recluses call us householders. Houeseholders do not need to constantly kill off their natural impulses. As a matter of fact, the last thing they need is to weaken their desires, instincts and intuition. The path of the householder involves working with attachment. It is very daring to be attached. Tolerating the experience of attachment takes courage. Personal bonds are attachments. Loving someone is an attachment. Householders, when they meditate, should savor every sexual impulse, cherish every desire, honor and listen to all their instincts, and cultivate their general enthusiasm for life.
When The Paths Become Confused
When householders practice meditation in the style of a recluse, and practice detaching from their desires, they often find that over time their instincts become weaker, their intuition becomes flawed, they become confused about their desires, and they start looking for an external authority to dominate them and tell them what to do.
This is what happens when you practice detachment.
When you internalize toxic attitudes toward your desires, attachments and your identity, such as advocated in The Precious Garland, you will indeed find over time that your individuality is weakened and you start longing for some dominant male to tell you what to do.
You will long for shelter in a religous organization, spiritual collective, or cult. As you separate yourself from your personal desires, you become magnetically attracted to people who have strong, dynamic egos. In other words, the center of life is moved from being inside your body to being out there, somewhere.
For the entire essay, read here: