All is Aflame
It is very strange here in the Northwest right now. There are many massive wildfires in the area and the sky is an eerie orange-yellow throughout the region. Many communities have been engulfed or threatened by the fires, with losses of life and property and a threat to the health of all who have to be outside for any reason. And this pattern is repeating in other parts of the country as well. Our hearts truly go out to all of those who have been or will be affected by this latest, additional, challenge.
For obvious reasons my mind turned earlier this week to the well-known 'Fire Sermon' that the Buddha gave. This is a lovely piece that can be read at many different levels, and which contains a wealth of wisdom that is highly relevant to us today.
In a nutshell, the Buddha is talking to a group of seekers who had previously worshiped fire and who practiced a fire ritual. Because of this he uses the metaphors of flames and burning to deliver his message. It covers how our senses and our minds interact with the world and how we then allow our passion, aversion and delusion to ignite. One passage that I think is highly relevant to today says:
The intellect is aflame. Ideas are aflame. Consciousness at the intellect is aflame. Contact at the intellect is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, aging & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs.
This is not saying that Intellect and Ideas are bad, or even that they are in themselves harmful. What causes suffering is when we allow ourselves to become aflame with passion, aversion and delusion. We are living in a time when this is front and center in our lives, where we see media of all sorts burning with division, ignorance and hatred. The devil nowadays not only has 'all the good tunes,' but also the best video production values as well. As Stephen Colbert says, we no longer care about the truth, but instead demand that what we see or read is 'truthy' - something that feels like it should be the truth. What becomes popular (and believed) is not that which speaks truth, but that which most effectively evokes our passions.
Of course, having laid out the problem that all is aflame, the Buddha goes on to explain how we can move beyond that and extinguish these flames If you aren't familiar with the piece you may be surprised with how we are taught to extinguish the fire. We are told that a person manages to extinguish the flames by doing the following:
He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with consciousness at the intellect, disenchanted with contact at the intellect. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the intellect, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is fully released. With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.' He discerns that 'Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'
Now when I first read this I found it strange, that we would be exhorted to become 'disenchanted.' It seemed strange that we should be cultivating what comes as second-nature to every teenager! But looking deeper, what it is saying that we need to let go of our enchantment with our ideas, our intellect our feelings. The truth is that we become enchanted by our beliefs, by our passions - and that we need to become disenchanted in order to stop them having a hold on us. This is the path to freedom.
I hope that you all manage to stay safe and healthy over the coming week. And maybe a little disenchanted, too.
For our meditation this week I have done something a little different. Rather than linking a previously recorded session I have recorded a new meditation. In the recording I read the full Fire Sermon, and then we do our usual 30 minute meditation. I read the passage again during the meditation. Hopefully this will allow you to meditate on the piece. Let me know what you think of this slightly different approach.
A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 13th September. You are welcome to join with us then if you wish.