AJAHN BRAHMAVAMSO 14/11/97
It is a interesting subject, and one that I havenít dealt with before, and it will give an insight into the way of Buddhism and how we deal with mysticism, what mysticism is, its dangers and also its benefits. It gives a nice framework for a talk on an aspect of Buddhism which is not so often talked about and also puts it into place with all the other religious experiences which one may come across throughout this world, the good ones and the bad ones.
One of the reasons for giving a talk on mysticism this evening is that I have only just returned from Sydney this afternoon. I was giving a retreat at a retreat centre outside Sydney and one of the talks I gave was a clear explanation of this thing we call Nibbana or Enlightenment and the question time which followed afterwards, one of the questions I received was from a person who preferred Nibbana to remain a little mysterious rather than something as clearly described as I gave. It brought me to a little discussion at question time about the nature of such things as Nibbana, Buddhist Enlightenment, this idea of a god and all these other little things which sometimes people can lump together as mystical experiences, is it just out of faith or what are these things anyway.
I started my answer to the question when I recalled the time when I was still a student investigating the different religions and paths of practice in this world and came to point where I rejected the idea of a god simply because whenever I asked anyone, whether it was a priest or a teacher of religion or anyone who was supposed to know, they could never give me a straight answer on what god was supposed to be or supposed to mean. They always say things like, Ďit is beyond your knowledge; something which cannot be expressedí, and to me that was never satisfactory. To me something which didnít exist would also be something you canít express or you canít know. It seemed to be an excuse for believing in something which couldnít exist. I always thought that if something does exist, if itís something real then there must be some way for you to know about it.
However, having rejected the idea of a god and taking up Buddhism and the practice of Buddhism, a few years later as a monk in Thailand when I asked some senior monks or some teachers about this thing called Nibbana, what is it, they said, Ďwell, just believe in it. It is very hard to know, you canít really explain ití. Straight away I saw that there was a correspondence there, a similarity, a disturbing similarity with the way that God was described to me as a young man. There I was having abandoned one sort of theory or unattainable mystery and then put my life on the line for another mystery. Really, I wasnít very satisfied with that, but thankfully there was a path of practice which kept me going as a monk. There was a path of practice of meditation which at least made me happy which gave some joy into my mind and into my life, and that was enough to keep me going until I got some deeper understanding of these things.
One of the important things which you do understand in this practice of Buddhism is that there is no mystery that you cannot see for yourselves through direct experience. The point of this practice of Buddhism from the beginnings of just being generous, being virtuous, being kind, meditating, becoming deeply peaceful in the mind, becoming wise, all these parts of the gradual training which we call the practice of Buddhism actually do lead to the wisdom, the direct experience, the insight which sees all of these things which can be seen, which knows all that can be known, and all of these things which the Buddha talked about, whether it is past lives, whether it is devas, divine beings, if you wish to call them that, and enlightenment itself. All of these things are something which can be known and experienced for yourself, clearly experienced, and not something which just has to be believed in or talked about in a very mysterious way. It is nice to be able to hear someone talk clearly about these things because very often a person talks in mysterious words when they are trying to cover up a lack of knowledge about the subject. If they say that Nibbana , Enlightenment is like ineffable, indescribable, just beyond words, very often it means that they have no idea what it means anyway, so it is like an excuse to cover up some ignorance or lack of experience but the great monks which I eventually got to know could describe and explain. Obviously one had to have some experience of the mind of deep meditation before one could appreciate the words which the great teachers were using, but certainly all these things were explainable, were describable. And these experiences which the Buddha talked about, once they were experienced by these great monks, the whole of these teachings, the deep teachings the part of religion which the world calls mysterious or mystical, is all made very clear and very understandable and very reachable. That of course was immensely satisfying. One didnít just have to believe as an act of faith or an act of trust, but one could see and hear and experience all these things.
So lets go back to the beginning of mysticism, and all the different experiences, which come under that heading of mysticism which you may have heard about, read about, or sometimes even experienced. You will find that in our western culture, mysticism always depends upon people not living as it were in the world and thinking about things, but the mystics were the people who removed themselves from the world for a time or for their whole life. In Christianity, these were people who lived in mountains, in deserts usually; in Buddhism, in forests. But in any culture, people who wander alone live in solitary places. Of course what they would be developing in those places is a meditation of like letting go. This is why it is so important to understand these things, to develop some degree of deep meditation. Because all of that which is called mystical in our culture, is developed from a very peaceful and still mind. And it is there that one can start to understand where mysticism arises from, the experiences which are called mystical, and how they all fit together, as it were in the scheme of things. What happens for a person who is meditating, is that your goal is to let go of so much of the external world, which is so coarse and gross compared to the world of the mind. I sometimes describe the world of the mind to the world outside like coarse signals on a radio frequency which block out the very fine and subtle signals. Therefore, if one wishes to see that which is subtle and refined, you have to filter out the coarse, the gross, and you do find this is the way of meditation. When you let go of the coarser things of the world, the busyness of life, then you are able to see that which is far more refined. Even on a small level, if you can just stop for a while thinking of all you have to do and the places you have to go and you can pause, then you can be able to appreciate the beauty of the tree in the park on the corner. You have time in your mind to look up at the stars, and just see the heavens. But so often it is the case that people are running around too fast, they are so engrossed with the coarse, that they never see that which is refined and very beautiful.
On the plane coming over from Sydney this afternoon, I was looking out the window at the beautiful clouds, while the rest of the plane were looking at, I think the movie was ĎMen In Blackí or something. I think I had the better view, the better movie. But isnít this the case, that people prefer fantasy to reality? And again, much of our world which we think is real, again is mere fantasy. We make our world; do we really need to work that hard, to rush around so much? Who says we should?
Anyhow, even more than just going slowly in the outside world, if we just spend a few moments by ourselves to make our body peaceful. Because the body is a coarse thing which creates so much disturbance most of our time is taken up just trying to find a comfortable position, some peace in this very irritable body. I often say that every time you move it is because of pain in the body. I am not talking about great pains, sometimes they are great pains, but mostly small pains, discomforts, where there is an itch, where it is an ache, one moves to try and overcome that disturbance. And has to move again, and again, and again. So much time and energy is taken up just with this physical body. When you meditate, the aches, the itches, the pains in the body can sometimes stop you developing that ability to let go of this body and to dwell in the peace of the mind. Youíll always notice good meditators sit still, and the reason they can sit still, and when I say still it means without any motion at all in the body, not anything moving; and the reason why you can do that is because all your attention is taken away from the body and given to the mind. When all the attention is in the mind, you donít even feel the body or experience the body. And this is one of the important stages of meditation; to reach a stage where you can let go completely of the physical body, to the point where you are not experiencing it at all. And I mention this stage in meditation, because many people do get to this stage, and it is what I call the launching pad for the deeper stages of meditation, where mystical experiences begin, first of all the coarser ones, and then later on the more refined ones.
Talking about mystics of different religions, different ways of overcoming that coarseness of the body, sometimes they used, and this is not the recommended practice, torture of the body. Some of the mystics of the middle ages would torture the body to extremes. One of the most famous of these, I remember reading some years ago, was this fellow Simon the Stylite. These were the people who literally lived on the tall columns of ruined buildings, buildings which were ruined from the Roman Empire in Europe. You may see these big columns lying around many places in Europe. They would just simply climb up to the top these columns and live on the small platform on top, subsisting on whatever people would actually throw up to them, or on that which they would pull up by a rope. Some of these people lived up there for years, with no shelter from the elements, enduring rain and cold, and even heat in the southern part of Europe. Some would refuse to wash; I remember this one fellow, he used to wear this very tight belt around his waist for years on end, to the point where the flesh underneath rotted, and when he moved, the maggots would fall out. And this made him very famous at that time; people thought such a person must be very saintly or sacred, when you got maggots falling out of your body. However, obviously he did have something there other than maggots, because it is true that if a person does create pain in their body, the mind just retreats so much away from the body, that it shuts the body completely off, and just goes into the world of the mind, and there some mystical experiences can begin. This is the way of medieval Christianity of torturing the body to free the mind. It is not a very good way; there are many easier ways than that, but it does sometimes work.
I remember one monk in Thailand telling me that he did the practice of sitting all night without moving any part of his body. Even Thai monks who do this, who sat on the floor since they were small, experience great pain. Enormous pain, especially after three or four hours. And when it gets to six or seven hours without moving, they commonly experience the body as if it was on fire. These are monks of great determination and resolution. However it got to a point where as it were, the pain in the body got so much it completely disappeared . And in just a few moments, and for the rest of the night, he was not aware at all of the body; he got into the realm of the mind. And very often it can happen that a person in intense pain like that, the mind can be so, as it were disturbed by the body, it just abandons it, lets go.
People sometimes experience this at the time of their death, when theyíre again in great pain, as their body is about to stop working, either due to an accident or an operation or whatever - they experience the mind letting go of the body. I remember recently in the retreat I was giving one meditator describing an experience, again, when he was very sick and dying, leaving his body through the mystical experience we call Ďout of the bodyí experiences; very much caused by the extreme pain in his body at the time, giving him the incentive, almost forcing him to let go. And it is this letting go which is one of the most important points of getting to, it is the stage where such mystical experiences can happen. This is the way of letting go through force, forcing the mind to let go through the pain and discomfort in the body. It is not a wise way of going about things - it does actually manufacture the release of the mind from the body but in a way which is not conducive to too much wisdom . People can start having mystical experience because of this, but it is not very satisfactory nor can it be repeated very easily.
The other way of letting go of the body is through this way of meditation where each little letting go is experienced not as a release from pain, but is experienced as a realization of joy. Every time that the person has some success in meditation, there is an experience of the joy of peacefulness. And this is a very important understanding of the way of meditation - to know that every time the meditation is slightly successful there is, as it were, the reward of inner contentment. Even the stages which I were talking about earlier, when the mind reaches the present moment, the experience of the present moment, when you are not going to the future or the past, you should be able to notice that this is a very pleasant abiding. Just to have let go of that much is an acquiring of inner peace, a contentment of the mind, where you are not so concerned with the demands of the past and the future. And if one can achieve the second stage of silent awareness of the present moment, that is even more delightful yet. If one can experience the silent awareness of the breath continually from one breath to the next, that is even more delightful. However, this is a delight which each one of you should know because they are subtle delights, not the normal happinesses which you may be aware of in the world. However, when one realises that each stage of letting go is happiness - I repeat letting go of the past and future, one; letting go of the thinking mind, two; letting go of everything else except the breath, three; these are all letting gos - they create greater happiness. And, if instead of looking at the pain of the world, one looks at the happiness of letting go, and realises the different happinesses of each of these stages and values them, then the meditation is going through wisdom rather than through aversion to pain. And you will find that you can carry on this letting go, seeking deeper happy states. Eventually in this way of meditation, the person becomes aware of the happiness of the mind, the bliss of the mind, the very fine inner contentment, when the mind is completely released from the body. And this is a much better way of developing the same states (i.e. rather than torturing the body).
Now, these are two ways to realise the state where mystical experiences can begin. But the first time that mystical experiences begin, when the mind is released, when you experience the mind without the body taking up too much of its time, when you are experiencing the mind, when the mind first becomes manifest to you, it can throw up all sorts of visions and dreams and imaginary worlds. It is because at this stage of the development of the person, the first time the mind is actually free from the body, the mind isnít trained, it just roams all over the place, it has got little direction, many things can come up, and many of the things which come up at this particular stage can be very misleading, very delusory. This is where mysticism becomes mistakism, where people too easily mistake what theyíre seeing to be some great truth. This is the stage where people can hear sounds and see visions which arenít true. So, this is very important.
Once in my early years of meditation, when the mind started to become peaceful, when the body started to disappear, I remember once seeing this image of a demon. And some years ago, a lady who was meditating got to the same stage, and was very afraid because this demon which she saw spoke to her, and said ĎIíve come to take over your mind.í Of course that put her off meditation for a while, and I had to tell her a couple of things. First of all, if any of you have any experience like this, at least you should use the rational part of the mind as well as the experiential part of your mind. I told her that a demon coming to you saying, "Iíve come to take over your mind" would be like a burglar knocking at your door the evening before saying, "Excuse me, but Iíve come to break into your house tonight." Of course demons would not give such warnings, nor would burglars. And that was an important statement for her, because it started to give her the idea that this demon which arose in her mind is very much the creation of the mind, and not something which was real outside of the mind. And I also related to her what I did with that demon which came up in my mind. It looked very similar to these Tibetan drawings, some of you may have seen, this thing with big eyes and very sharp teeth and hair-like spikes - prototype of the punks - but it is very frightening at first, but at least I had the knowledge that this were creations of the mind. And so having a sense of humour, being quite playful, I decided to black out a few of the fangs, put glasses over these very terrifying eyes, and pulling a hat over the spikes - you know one of those straw hats with little flowers coming out - until the demon looked so ridiculous inside of myself, I laughed and the demon completely faded away. I realised I had created it for myself, therefore I could create it and change it in whatever way I wanted it.
At this particular stage of meditation, many things may come up. Do not believe in them at this stage. You may have visions, you may have words come up, sights come up, or whatever, but this is not the true mystical experience. This is the stage where sometimes people predict the future, they can sometimes predict things far away, but these are so often delusory. If you hear the name of a horse running in the race, donít put your money on it. You will lose.
What is happening here is the mind is becoming powerful, and itís starting to create these things. This is a mysticism which can be very popular in the world, but should not be followed. Deeper than that is when we train the mind. Here the mind is manifest, but is an untrained, like an untrained child and plays with all sorts of things, and imagines, like the childís imagination. It should be trained further. And the training of the mind further is the practice of jhanas, where instead of allowing the mind which is free to roam around with all sorts of objects, we just choose one very beautiful object which it can maintain its attention on for long periods of time. This is where we use such things as the beautiful breath to develop that which is truly beautiful - the beautiful, radiant mind - and to put all our attention on this. I mention these here because itís at this stage we get the more profound mystical experiences of the religions of Christianity and Hinduism in particular.
I was talking with one of the meditators on our retreat in Sydney, who used to be part of a group called the city-yogis, who were followers of one of the probably most famous of the Hindu yogis or swamis of recent times, Swami Muktananda, some of you who have been reading widely may know of him. He passed away sometime ago. But it was interesting, he was saying that in his meditation which began similar to the meditation we do as Buddhist, that when the mind was as it were, released from the body and he started to see visions, what he actually saw was this beautiful blue pearl, he described. This is a standard, like what we called nimittas in Buddhism, in meditation. Anything which is beautiful, which is attractive, which is created in the mind at this stage is useful to develop deeper meditations. All one needs to do is to point the mind in that direction and allow that beautiful object to draw you in, or draw the mind in, to become absorbed in that object, to become one-pointed, so that the diversity of the mind is let go of to give a sense of unity in the mind. And itís interesting here, that he told me that if he could have absorbed into that object, in that system, itís called enlightenment. However in the Buddhist system, thatís just called like the first jhana, one of the first stages. However when he told me this, it brought back a lot of memories and understanding of the words of Christian mystics and Hindu mystics, in particular mystics such as Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, who were probably two of the greatest meditators in the Christian tradition of the middle ages, and also of swamis like, very recently, Ramana Maharshi in the South of India. Each one of these great mystics did attain to these stages we call jhanas, it seems.
One of the things to remember is that to attain any of these stages, weíre letting go more and more. One of the reasons why there is diversity in the mind at this stage when the mind is free from the body is because there is still something creating the diversity which I call the doer. That doer you can actually experience at all stages in the meditation, itís that thing inside of you which is always choosing, which is pushing and pulling this way and that, which is deciding what to do and putting your decisions into action. The doer. Very often at the early stages of your meditation the doer will manifest as the thinking mind. The thinking mind is as it were the speech, the language of the doer. As you develop deeper and deeper meditation, the doer has to become quieter and quieter and quieter. Itís like some person in the office or at home, always running around doing things, who never sits still and just relaxes and rests. And you can see that in your mind. The doer in your mind never allows your meditation to become deep. However at this particular stage, to enter into what we call like the first jhana, the doer has to disappear. You canít Ďdoí within a jhana. You canít go rushing around, you canít go making decisions, you canít go thinking. One of the experiences of the first jhana, one of its signs is that that which we call the doer disappears. Now that which we think of as me, as the self, as the soul, very much of that is taken up with the experience of the doer. So much so, there is two great philosophers equated doing and being. I think it was Descarte who said Ďto do is to beí. And Jean Paul Sartre turned it round and said Ďto be is to doí. Just equating like being and doing. And I usually add on here what was actually written on the philosophy wall as graffiti in the time when I was a student Ė Ďto do is to beí, Descarte; Ďto be is to doí, Jean Paul Sartre; Ďdo be do be doí, Frank Sinatra - the great American philosopher.
But to come back to the point of this talk, to be is actually to do something. I often say this, that sometimes the search for these very important concepts, such as God, instead of looking at what God is in your examination of this, if you are still interested in that sort of examination, look at what does God do? Anything which is, has to do something. If it doesnít do something, itís like a rock, itís not alive, it has no beingness. Look at a person, if theyíre dead theyíre not doing anything. If they can do something, they are not dead. They are; they exist - to be is to do; to do is to be. So what does actually God do? Itís one of the problems in Christianity. Many hundreds of years ago, God had lots to do. He started the universe, created Adam and Eve, and is continually involved in peopleís affairs, continually talking to the Pope. I got to be careful here, havenít I? Bit by bit, in Christianity, you might say that God had less and less to do. He sort of became more and more redundant, as his job was given over to science. Just like your job is given over to computers, Godís job was given over to the laws of Science, until it got to the point where Godís only job was basically just to push the button to start the big bang. And does nothing else since, according to science. Everything can be explained according to science - so they say. But if God doesnít do anything, what is his purpose? Itís as if itís dead.
The same consideration applies with that which we call self, soul, or me. In your search, your investigation into the nature of yourself or the nature of soul, Ďwhat is thisí, sometimes if you ask Ďwhat is this, what is this, what is thisí itís very hard to find any answer to that question. If instead you say Ďwhat do I do? If there is a self or soul in me, what is itís function, what does it do?í There you can get a handle on this thing we call self, or soul or me, or whatever you wish to call it. Because doing defines the being. If you didnít do anything, then you would be nothing.
This is one of the interesting parts of this type of meditation. You experience Ďdoingí completely vanishing in the first jhana. With the doing completely vanished, for many people, itís as if the self has vanished. St John of the Cross had gone. Teresa of Avila, as she knew herself had disappeared. Ramana Maharshi as he knew himself had completely vanished. The doer had gone. What is left is a very powerful and blissful experience of unity, one of the great mystical experiences which we call first jhana. But because of the conditioning, the viewpoint, the religion to which they adhered, they interpreted that experience, not as first jhana in Buddhism, not just as an experience of the mind, the natural state of the mind, they experienced that as God. Thatís why if you read the experiences of such mystics in the middle ages, or the experiences of Hindus even today, they experience these stages as union with the divine, union with God. They disappear, and whatís left is bliss, whatís left is the sense of unity, the doer is gone, completely submitted to this powerful experience, and this is how they interpret it when they come out afterwards. When youíre in any of these stage, you canít think, you canít interpret, you canít assess. Only afterwards you think ĎWhat was that?í.
Have you ever noticed that the way you think about experience is all through the filter of your past experiences, your world view? Itís all the same. Iíve told this simile before, but itís the most informative to make this point. People with out of body experiences - there was a study done in a hospital somewhere in the United States. A great study because of the of the multi-cultural nature of this hospital - there were people from all different religions and from no religion. Those people who had the full experience, experienced floating out of the body, going down the tunnel to the white light to the end of the tunnel. Those who were Catholics saw the Virgin Mary there, sometimes Jesus. Anglicans didnít see the Virgin Mary, just Jesus. Jews saw Moses there. Whereas the Hindus saw Krishna or Vishnu, depending on who they worshipped. The Mahayana Buddhists saw Kuan Yin, and the atheists saw Uncle George waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. There was actually, someone told me this, a friend of theirs, who was a bricklayer, who saw this big bloke in a long beard and white clothes. Thatís what he saw. We call him a bloke. Anyway, it really depends on your viewpoint. Are these people seeing different things, or are they seeing the same thing and giving it different names? As any psychologist would know, theyíre seeing the same thing but the names, the interpretations we add on to these experiences, is what we usually remember the experiences by. Thatís why the Christian, the Catholic who saw the Virgin Mary or Jesus would be absolutely convinced that that was actually what they saw. As much as the atheist would be absolutely sure it was Uncle George. They saw him, they recognised him, absolutely sure. This is the way that our viewpoints, our beliefs, actually affect - in a way which sometimes staggers you - what we see, especially in the refined world of the mind. This is why those mystics of different religions sometimes see completely different things. Or is it the same thing, which they add different names and descriptions to?
I remember reading about these mystical experiences of people who saw angels in different cultures. People who see devas, in Thailand say, see them without wings because devas in Thai culture donít have wings. In western culture, every angel has wings. And in the 1920s, some mystic who saw angels, did a drawing of them. And they all had clothes and hair-dos which reflected so clearly the fashion of the 1920s. Is it so that the angels or the devas actually keep up with the fashions of the time? Or is it actually just something that people add onto something which is a common experience? The point is, it is a common experience, and people add the extras, the hair style, the clothes, the wings.
The same applies to Jhanas as to these experiences. Unless one really knows through lots of experience of these states and has a good guide book, like the Buddha gave, so often, one would not be able to distinguish the experience, or raw experience, before one adds on to it. Thatís why many mystics actually say at this point that they are enlightened. Or they can say itís a union with the divine. And they would be convinced of this. Thatís why the mystical experiences should always be tempered by reason, by logic, by knowledge, by understanding of exactly what is going on inside.
As one develops the power of the mind through these experiences of jhanas, which are more and more letting go and releases with refinements of the mind, they actually call them liberations of the mind. That one develops a more powerful mind. Even people starting meditation begin to realise an increase in the power of their mind, whether it is to remember things, or to think clearly, or to see clearly. One of the common experiences of people who can meditate deeply is when they go outside afterwards, leaves appear more green, the stars are just more brilliant, whatever they see or whatever they hear even tends to be more intense, not in a painful way but in a beautiful way. Just as if the mind is rubbing off some of its dirt and grime which stops it seeing clearly. This is just a small indication of the power of the mind. I started using meditation when I was doing examinations. Itís amazing just how it can make the mind that much clearer and more powerful just to pass your test. If you wish to use it to study, to meditate before a class means you can listen better to what the teacher is saying and also recall it much better when the time comes to recall it. Youíre actually developing the power of the mind.
However, if you really develop the mind very powerfully, then you start to develop some of the super normal powers which are real in this world but depend upon the training of the mind. The mystical experiences which people have of seeing other beings can be real. Itís part of the thing which can be developed with the mind, seeing such things as devas, divine beings. Such divine beings actually exist. You donít need to take it on faith. If you wish to do the training, the development of the mind, they do not become mystical experiences, but a reality. The trouble though with people seeing devas is that somehow we think that the divine beings, are somehow wiser than us. Just because theyíre of a different realm than ours does not mean theyíre more intelligent than us.
Thereís a story of this divine being, this deva - theyíre usually called devas, the original Pali or Sanskrit word means shining, because these beings have got so much mental energy, that when perceived, again by the mind, they are perceived as a great light, a blinding light. And once one of these devas manifested in front of the Buddha. The Buddha said ĎWelcome. What do you want?í. This being was so impressed, because this being wanted to ask the Buddha some questions about the universe, about the mind, about the world. He had been wanting to ask these questions for hundreds of years but every time he manifested in front of a monk or nun meditating in the forest, instead of having the opportunity to ask his own questions, he spent all the time answering these meditatorsí questions. ĎOh, at last Iíve seen God. At last Iíve seen a divine being. Can you please tell me the answers to all my queries?í And so this was the first time that instead of having to answer questions, the divine being had the chance to ask the Buddha. Which is why in Buddhism, we donít call Buddha a god. We call Buddha ĎTeacher of Godsí. Teacher of all Gods and men. Just because a person is a divine being doesnít mean theyíre wise. Be careful of that because sometimes people that have access to divine beings either through mediumistic trance or through the development of the power of the mind, and they take whatever these beings say as absolute truth; they must be right. And very often they get into great difficulties when what they predict doesnít turn out to be right. Divine beings make mistakes; divine beings can be stupid. Never trust them.
Some years ago when I used to go and visit Bunbury to teach in a jail there, I stayed with a Catholic priest. One day this man, he was on a mission around the world, had a video of these children in Yugoslavia who had had a vision of the Virgin Mary. And he was pressing me all day, ĎYou must see this.í Obviously he wanted to convert me, ĎYou must see this video!í. I saw the video and it was not all that interesting, but there is one thing which I remember. According to this vision of this angel which these kids had, the message which this angel had given the kids to proclaim to the whole world, was many, many things. But two of the things which this angel commanded the children to tell to the world was that she wanted more conversions and more peace. When I heard those two words next together I thought, Ďmore conversion means less peaceí. If that is what you want to do in this world, to convert other people to be like you, youíre going to have no peace. Which was an example of how devas can make mistakes. Thatís not the way to get peace in the world by converting and changing everyone else to be just like you.
But such beings do exist in the world. Itís interesting, one of the people I was talking with in Sydney, told me one of his interesting experiences, fascinating actually, and maybe you may have some of these experiences yourself. He was walking through some of the bush in Queensland; some of you may have been in the deep bush, and know just how isolated and wild it all is, - you can walk for days, and you never meet anyone. He was walking alone in an isolated path of the bush. Heíd run out of water because many of the creeks were dry and it was hot; it was summer. He wanted something to drink. He just asked ĎWish I had something to drinkí. And about a quarter of an hour later - it is one of these true stories, this is a fellow I know very well and he wouldnít lie to me - on the path, in the middle of nowhere, he saw this container, this little wax paper fruit juice, just lying on the side of the road. He hadnít met anyone all day. It was opened, there was no flies or ants in it. He said the strangest thing which convinced him this was offered by the devas was that it was chilled. They are very kind, devas - this was a hot day in the middle of nowhere, hours and hours from shops. If that had been left there by a walker, it would not have been chilled. It convinced him to this day that somebody was helping him. They even opened it up for him; he didnít even open it up himself.
So there are such things as devas. However, you can say ĎOh, thatís all very well. Iíll wait till it happens to meí. One day it will happen to you. Youíll have your own experiences - mystical experiences. But keep them all in proportion. These are just part of the world, like cats and dogs and ghosts; the beings in this world. But the important thing is, itís not just the Ďhave fun experiencing the different parts of the world which you may not know of yetí but making sense of this, understanding it so you know what your place is - so mysticism doesnít just become a mystery. You understand how it all holds together, how these are beings born in the different realms, according to their karma, and how even each of these realms is not absolutely satisfying. And how through this letting go and absorbing into the realm of the mind, the deeper one lets go the more one comes close to this thing which in Buddhism we call cessation; ending. The ending of this process we call the body; the ending of this process which we call the mind - ending. This goes against what we call the wheel of rebirth, which is continuing, going on and on and on and on, for countless births, the Buddha said. The Buddha said there is an ending to this. If you want it, there is an ending. And that ending is what the Buddha called Nibbana. Nibbana, in Sanskrit we call it Nirvana, is literary the going out of the flame - when the candle behind me stops burning, it nibbanas.
Sometimes people object at this point. This is where that man in the retreat I gave in Sydney complained, ĎThatís all very well, but I prefer the mysterious Nibbana, which I donít really understandí. Because, when I donít really understand, I can think about it, I can write books about it, I can convince everyone else about it. And when itís something you donít understand, itís everything to everyone. You can make whatever you want out of it. When you try and explain it and pin it down and say, Ďitís just a cessation of thisí, people arenít happy. Why is that? It is because you still think thereís someone in here, and you donít want to let that go. The path of Buddhism is letting go, letting go, letting go, letting go. When you let go of everything, thatís called cessation. When you want to keep things, thatís the opposite of letting go, thatís called attachment. And that keeps the cycle of rebirth going and going and going. If thatís what you want, thatís what youíll get. When youíre tired of all of this, then youíll start letting go. Youíll realise there is nothing in here worth keeping. There is nothing in here or out there. Youíve been playing with these things how many years, how many lifetimes, arenít you fed-up yet? Or do you still want more? Do you still want more experiences, more relationships, more children, more lives, more things to do? Or have you had enough?
When youíve had enough, youíll start to look at the cause of all of this - why it keeps on going. Itís what I say in the simile of the driverless bus. You get fed-up after a while; sometimes life doesnít go the way you want it to. So you look for the driver whoís to blame for life not going the way you want it to. It takes a while to find out where the seat of the driver lies, the self, the doer. Eventually through deep meditation you find the seat at the front of the bus. Thatís when you get your first big insight, the greatest shock of your life, when you find the seat at the front of the bus, where the driver sits, is empty. Thereís no driver there; the driverless bus. The result of that, of seeing thereís no driver there, is that you go back to your seat, and you stop complaining. Thatís when the bus starts to slow down and eventually stop. All your desire and complaining about yourself, about others, stops right there, when you find inside of you is a driverless bus. Thatís the beginning of Nibbana. The end is when the bus completely stops, and vanishes.
Remember when it doesnít do anything, it isnít. To do is to be; to be is to do. Do be do be do.