Kleshas and Tanhas

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Archive for the ‘Henry David Thoreau’ Category

Comment on Safe, Legal and Rare

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A follow up quote from the author Mark Shea: “We have to radically expand waterboarding RIGHT NOW TO SAVE LIVES!!!”

I think there is a parallel to what this quote encompasses, and it’s right within our American heritage. The American Colonization Society within the mid 19th century supported the deportation of black Americans to Monrovia (named after yours truly, Little Jimmy Madison.) The Society encompassed concept of sending blacks back to Africa which to us now looks odd because hindsight allows for us to know the solution to the problem of freeing millions of slaves in the 1860s. But at the time, Lincoln, Thoreau, and Henry Clay were among other prominent supporters that were then-moderates. It was then-extremists like Henry Garrison and the first abolitionist martyr, Elijah Lovejoy, that spearheaded the “radical” opposition of slavery. And I would like to point out that Garrison’s profound “Manifesto of the Anti-Slavery Society” was published in 1833. It wasn’t until 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation was put forth. In between ’33 and ’63 that the radical abolitionist and end to racism movements became widely accepted.

I would like to single someone like Mr. Shea for being one of the “extremists” that demand for radical change. Without spearheading a controversial topic, like abortion, with an absolute conservative opposition, there would be no movement for this radicalism to become more mainstream and accepted.

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Written by Jack Viere

November 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Thoreau Living Hinduism’s Doctrine Through A Buddhist Lifestyle Part 2

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“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”-Henry David Thoreau

To fully undertake the Eight Fold Path in order to end dukkha, or lives of quiet desperation, one must cut off their ignorance. And so when something profound like transcendentalism appears to mainstream America in the late 19th century, only that which can coincide with our comfort is learned and accepted from that philosophy. 
Reasons why we tend to be surrounded by comfort are found within technology. Technology should never be condemned, and within Buddhism’s Three Components, prajna encompasses the benefits that inventions bring. Described as an accurate understanding of reality, prajna accepts technology because it is a part of reality; its transformation. But prajna isn’t found within a Westerner’s vocabulary. We have no discernment; our logic isn’t prajna. Nevertheless, we still find ways to justify gluttony and desire. Hedonism is now called “play;” we go to work and we come home on the weekends to play. Engaging in ephemeral pleasure and abusing technology delude what our true desires are and become factors that make pictures of Kali seem so shocking and primal. To have our ignorance that resides in our beautiful and omnipotent heads chopped off by a fierce female deity is abhorred by not only the arrogant, presumptuous, and self-righteous, but also the weak, lazy, and incompetent. I think that going straight after our egos, our tanhas, with a sword wielded by a higher being is something that completely contradicts our self-gratifying Western society.
I think looking at Thoreau’s radical movement really puts Hinduism’s ideology into perspective; it is not simple, it is not half-hearted, and it certainly isn’t a Sunday-only devotion. When you start looking into the Four Yogas, you realize how inclusive Hinduism is, especially when it engulfs Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. What is to be gained through the practice of yoga, particularly raja yoga that embodies psychophysical tests on a yogi, is similar to what Thoreau wishes to achieve at Walden Pond. However, even though Thoreau’s profound experience came across as a radical response to the 19th century, it is not radical enough. This isn’t to say that Hinduism trumps transcendentalism, but it does hint at how something profound in Western society is dwarfed by mainstream Eastern culture.
There are burdens that the First Amendment of United States Constitution instills. A common Hindu philosophy is discerning right from wrong, what is holy and divine, and ultimately what is atman or soul; “Neti…neti…” which translates into “Not this…not that…” And this is the complete opposite of freedoms that are given, particularly those within the First Amendment. Freedoms say “this is acceptable…this is acceptable.” And this isn’t necessarily suppose to be bad or limited, but look at how much precedes and follows the First Amendment, seven articles and nine amendments. And again, this isn’t to say that Hinduism’s “neti” discernment process is a one-size fits all moral law, but with prajna, one is able to make decisions and say no, rather than be tempted to test the legal restraints. I immediately think of the protesting at the Lance Corporal’s funeral in Kansas, it was within the restraints of the law, but what was ultimately gained from using the law in that way?
               I think that the idea of laws saying “this is acceptable, this isn’t” is another reflection of how gluttonous and self-assertive we are in the West, especially when our freedoms were initially instituted to protect our self-interests, our tanhas. Protecting our excessive wants and desires make it even harder to ever consider chopping our egos off for the sake of devoting time to someone else, much less a god, or God, or even our true selves. Our atmans, souls, aren’t reaping the benefits of our hedonistic indulgences. “Ephemeral” doesn’t mean anything when technology and innovations make it cheap for replacements. Our animas, to trump our weak English word for soul with an etymologically superior word coming from Latin, aren’t fueled by our tanhas, but are weakened drastically.
               As an aside, the Media plays into our tanhas. The availability of what news we want to hear, when want it, and how we are going to receive it are all now determined by the individual. This is just another example of how we are able to shape our worlds into what we want, and this is consequently the definition of gluttony. We may or may not need news, but since it is there, we might as well obtain it for what it is worth. However, instead of consuming it raw, uncooked, and pure, we begin to perceive reality in a skewed telescope. We no longer perceive the tangible reality of this world, which in Buddhist, Hindu, and transcendentalist contexts is not the ultimate reality. 

Written by Jack Viere

November 19, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Thoreau Living Hinduism’s Doctrine Through A Buddhist Lifestyle

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               “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The recognition of this statement as reality is Truth. It is also the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. What Henry David Thoreau paraphrases into a simple sentence happens to encompass a much larger philosophy of dukkha, or suffering. Hinduism similarly points out that the human condition is samsara, which is life’s wheel of birth and death. The three beliefs, transcendentalism, Buddhism, and Hinduism prescribe medication, or rather certain rituals and practices to heal oneself of reality’s inflicting pain. The concept of life not being experienced fully is pointed out in Thoreau’s philosophy. Quiet desperation is prominent, hence “the mass of men lead” this short-sighted and ephemeral life style. Hinduism’s term samsara describes the limited life Thoreau mentions as innate; human beings are born with this dukkha, or the suffering of living in the veiled world.
Shiva Nataraja
               Hinduism’s definition of the human condition is the most complex of these three definitions. Samsara incorporates an identification of the unconscious because one is not able to recall previous lives. This belief that one has lead many lives through samsara is profound and seems irrelevant and foreign compared to Thoreau’s idea of quiet desperation. The dizziness that samsara can create, best depicted in the Hindu artwork of Shiva Nataraja sculptures does not encompass what the quiet desperation happens to embody. But if one was to look at these two concepts from a more general viewpoint, they both require the same medication. Quiet desperation calls for the recognition of nature as ultimately being God. The process through which one recognizes the ultimate reality of God is samsara’s opposite, moksha, or liberation from life’s repetative cycle. Moksha can be achieved through the Four Yogas which inevitably lead a yogi, the equivalent of a transcendentalist following Thoreau’s ideals, through several stages before reaching the final goal of moksha. These two medications are the same because “desperation” is in fact samsara; it is the fear of life’s unending cycle and consequently, the fear exclusively in desperation is a continuation of samsara.
               Thoreau’s prescription to cure a man’s life of his quiet desperation put in the simplest of terms is experiencing nature. It is crucial to understand that the quiet desperation derives from Thoreau’s previous life in New England life before becoming a transcendentalist. It’s also worth noting that the desperation is quiet because it is shameful. It is a weakness in Thoreau’s New England world to visibly wear the weight of life’s burden.  What Thoreau is escaping from in the “real” world, the world that is noisy, despairing, and hedonistic, is what yogis try to escape through the prescription of the Four Yogas. Raja yoga best exemplifies a transcendentalist’s escape from the world. Because a transcendentalist is not a reform worker or religious fanatic, he is not a karmic or bhakti yogi. The preliminary requirements for raja yoga are “one’s personal life needs to be in order by practicing the five abstentions that restrain one from injury, lying, stealing, sensuality, and greed.” (Huston Smith, 34.) This mirrors Thoreau’s previous life before escaping to Walden Pond; studying at Harvard University. There is a certain amount of preparation that both the yogi and transcendentalist undergo in order to fully experience moksha and nature.
               While these two types of believers follow strict rules, they in essence achieve what they are striving for in their work. “The object of…raja yoga is to unplug one’s sense receptors…or put them on hold so the clatter of the world’s boiler factory won’t disturb the yogi’s concentration.” (Smith, 37.) The escape a transcendentalist makes from society is this unplugging of one’s sense receptors. Both Thoreau and raja yoga point that too often are one’s surroundings and they are distracting and perverse. This establishes a need to perform rituals, such as raja yoga, to reach an ultimate truth above quiet desperation. This truth, found in nature and moksha, ultimately bring one to what is ultimately real. Realizing that there is in fact more to life than just quiet desperation is moksha, and to achieve it, one most consume and perform the necessary prescriptions that their medication calls for in healing.
               Buddhism prescribes explicitly what medication to take and in what dosage. Buddhism takes the Hindu term samsara a step further in explaining what it embodies. Known as the first of the Four Noble Truths, dukkha, meaning suffering, is what Thoreau coins as quiet desperation. The second of the Four Noble Truths is the cause of dukkha known as tanha, or thirst or craving. (Smith, 70-71.)This thirsting is fueled by kleshas, which are afflictive emotions and mental defilements. (Robert Clark.) Kleshas are divided into the Three Poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. Thoreau viewed these as the causes for a man to consequently live a life of quiet desperation. Quiet desperation, or kleshas, creates negative karma. In the Buddhist context, negative karma builds the amount of dukkha one undertakes.
The Four Noble Truths, however, don’t only echo the reality of dukkha; they also prescribe a cessation to its harm. Known as the Eight Fold Path, the Fourth Noble Truth is a course of training to end quiet desperation. The Three Components establish context for the marga, or path: sila meaning ethics, dhyana depicting concentration, and prajna, an accurate understanding of reality which translates into English as wisdom. (Clark.) Viewed as a pyramid, the Three Components are founded on sila. Ethics are ruled by the Five Precepts that hinder killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and the consumption of intoxicants. (Smith, 74.) By observing these laws, one is able to step to the next level of the pyramid known as dhyana. Concentration in this context refers to meditation, and through the practice of it, one can attain prajna, an accurate understanding of reality. Prajna is known as wisdom because wisdom allows for one to fully embody the Three Marks of Existence: dukkha, anicca, and anatman.
The Three Marks of Existence are the ultimate goal which Thoreau desires to reach, that is wisdom. Dukkha, or realizing that one does suffer, is the first step that leads one back to the beginning of the Four Noble Truths. Anicca means impermanence which encompasses the idea of an accurate understanding of reality. Anatman literally means “no-self.” Deriving from Hinduism’s term atman,
Kali

anatman rejects the egocentrism that a life of quiet desperation carries; self-centeredness, known as tanha, restricts one to fully partake in dhyana and prajna. (Smith, 71.) Hindu and Buddhist artwork depict the bloody rejection of egos, which inevitably derives from our ignorance. In certain portrayals of the Hindu goddess Kali, her necklace of severed skulls is the egos of her devotees. To fully undertake the Eight Fold Path to end dukkha, or lives of quiet desperation, one must cut off their ignorance.

This is where minute differences begin to appear between Thoreau’s ideal Walden Pond and Buddha’s strict teachings that derived from Hinduism’s seemingly sanguine doctrine. To an extent, it can be viewed that in the East, this shedding of hedonistic pleasures in a gory fashion are not warmly welcome in the West. If any change is to take place, even the “most dramatic” like Thoreau’s escape to Walden Pond, it is not painful. I think that there is too much gluttony and accessibility to comfort and the apparently profound idea of chopping this tanha, this “ego-oozing” desire as Smith puts it, from ourselves is too difficult and overly demanding. This can also be weighted with the West’s growing xenophobia, but I think there is more than just a fear for what is distant to us; there is a fear of dramatic change, even in this case when it is for the obvious better. It can be based on my opinion, but there is much to be gained from these outlying philosophies that reject the fulfillment of our egos. I think that much of what is coined with transcendentalism today is sustainable living, and thus it remains on the fringes of society. But in the East, both Hinduism and Buddhism thrive on the surface of Asian culture. I think that the “dramatic and bloody” baptism into a life of anatman is inevitably lacking within Western, fringe philosophy. Because we feel comfortable half-associating ourselves with certain ideals, we are able to pick and choose qualities of certain philosophies. And so when something profound like transcendentalism appears to mainstream America in the late 19th century, only that which can coincide with our comfort is learned and accepted from that philosophy.  

Written by Jack Viere

November 17, 2010 at 11:12 pm