When a babe is born, we generally say that it has seen the light of day. Our daily evolution consists of a series of progressive sense-awakenings. The newborn infant finds the light too strong; by gradual effort it opens its eyes and by steady and persistent endeavours it learns to use those eyes.
So also it is with the soul. The growth of the soul is also a series of progressive awakenings; soul-sight, soul-hearing, soul-speech and so on, unfold slowly and gradually. The soul at first finds the light of Nirvana too dazzling; it is in a progressive manner that soul-sight opens, widens and deepens, and it takes many lives to reach its full brilliance.
Therefore we come across this strange phenomenon: Just as men and women have different eye-strengths—some are short-sighted, others are long-sighted, some have a more keen right eye compared to the left, or vice versa—so all human souls have a different power of soul-sight. Yet ordinary men and women of the world do not even know that there is such a thing as soul-sight.
The long evolution of the human soul has been compared to a Path—known as the Path of Dhamma-Law in Buddhist philosophy. It is called the Noble Path, for noble souls walk on it, and there are given to us eight steps, the first of which is Right Seeing: Samma-Ditthi, correct understanding of doctrine. We are going to study it with the aid of quotations from the Dhammapada.
The very first verse we must consider is this:
This world is wrapt in darkness. Only a few can see here. Only a few birds escape the net. Only a few escape into the heavenly light. (Verse 174)
This is an unlighted world, full of darkness, says the Buddha, and people are not able to see. They are like birds caught in a net and are unable to escape, to find freedom. But most people do not know that they lack the necessary vision. He who begins to see, inquires and tries to understand what he sees. Sorrow and suffering is a phenomenon in life. Would people behave as they do if they could fathom the meaning of sorrow which is omnipresent in the human kingdom? Suffering and its offspring sorrow have not laid their hard hands on these people; when they themselves experience suffering they are bound to see. The opener of soul-sight is suffering.
The next group comprises those who are not quite without vision. Having suffered in the past, they have begun to question and to inquire. They recognize that there is a mystery to this problem of life and suffering and seeing that, however dimly, they have begun their search. To them, another verse brings a message:
Why this laughter, why this jubilation, when this world is burning, burning? Shrouded in darkness why do you not seek for light? (Verse 146)
We who have seen a little, have no business to laugh with the foolish, laughing world. The Buddha advises us to seek a light, and with the help of that light to see for ourselves that the world is burning, and that we ourselves will burn up with the world if we do not recognize that fact.
What is the nature of the fire? In the fire-sermon the Buddha says: "It is the fire of lust, the fire of anger, the fire of ignorance. Mortals are afire; they verily are consumed by the fire of birth, of ambition, of grief, of lamentation, of dejection, of decay and of death." In such a world which has caught fire we are abiding; but we can get out of it before we are altogether consumed.
Men and women do not admit that the world is burning and thay they themselvelves are burning up with it. Just as the blind cannot see that they are blind, so also among those who see that they are suffering there are many who refuse to seek the true explanation and the implication of the questions posed in the above verse: What is there to laugh about? What is there really to enjoy in this burning world? Are we being consumed by the world-fire, and if so what are we going to do about it?" If in spite of our glimpse of perception that sorrow is, that vice is a consuming fire, we continue to laugh and enjoy with the laughing and enjoying sense-world, something more serious and fundamental will overtake us.
Whoso lives pursuing pleasures, his senses unrestrained, immoderate in eating, indolent, devitalized—him verily doth Mara uproot as a gale a weak tree.
Many are desirous to know the truth, but they make mighty little effort to ascertain the nature of truth. Great and greater suffering is bound to overtake them if they fail to pursue the great truths whose existence they have begun to sense, however vaguely.
So this is the first thing for us to see: humanity is burning with the fever and the fire of kama, tanha, trishna, of lust, greed, thirst. But it is often very difficult for some people to include themselves among the worldly. They say, "But we are not greedy, nor impure, nor selfish; we are not evil; what about us who labour and earn our bread, who love and rear our family, who live as best we can? We too suffer. Why?" Just as bad people are blind to their own folly and wickedness, so are many good people blind to their own weaknesses, which are often locked up in their virtues. We know that it is very common experience for good and virtuous men and women to be ever fearful of the future. They are on guard against evil and wickedness, but how many good people are free from the fear of poverty, of ill-health, of loss of good name, and so forth? Grief and fear, we are told, arise from attachment, affection, indulgence, desire and craving (verses 212-16). At first sight this might seem confusing. Attachment and affection, which are the basis of family life and the binding energy of brotherhood itself in the world at large, are here made the source of grief and fear. Attachment is the force that blinds us, and it is this truth which we at our state of evolution must see. It is that attachment which arises from the sense of proprietorship rooted in egotism. We need to make a distinction between impersonal compassion whose very soul is detachment, and personal love whose soul is attachment.
With the help of illustrations perhaps we can perceive the truth of this proposition. In ordinary life there are two attachments which they are as holy as they are strong—the love of the mother for her son or daughter and that of the son or daughter for the mother; and the love of husband and wife for each other. In these relationships great felicity, peace and inspiration are found. The mother's entire universe is centred in and made up of her strong love for her children; so it is with the son or daughter, the husband or wife. But that felicity and contentment are marred by fear of what might not happen, by grief because of what has actually happened. Besides, such a situation is not everlasting, is not immortal.
Turn to the divine, immortal counterparts of these relationships. The love between husband and wife is like that which subsists between two co-disciples of the same Guru. The love between parent and child is like that between Guru and chela, Master and pupil. In these spiritual ties, disease, decay and death of body do not interfere. The love persists and does not end with the death of the body. Secondly, while in human love, however pure, there is some desire for requital, some wish for recognition by the other member of the pair, in divine love no such feeling exists. The Buddhas and the Mahatmas love Orphan Humanity without seeking anything in return. So in our happiest and holiest of relationships there is still personal attachment. It is difficult, almost impossible, for us to conceive of the love that gives without asking, the sacrifice that looks for no return, the compassion that feeds and sustains regardless of any reward, recognition or gratitude.
At our stage of evolution, we must see this fact, this great truth of the spiritual world. We will not succeed in practising it in any great measure, yet we must endeavour to see the truth. Right seeing leads to Right Resolve; we cannot will or think or feel unless we have seen and perceived.
What will enable us to see this fact that from affection and attachment proceeds the fire of lust and passion and greed?
Sons are no protection, nor father, nor kinsmen when one is seized by death. There is no help from relations when death seizes one.
Here are some steps which if taken will surely bring us the vision: first, the recognition that death is the final outcome of that consuming fire with which the world and ourselves are burning; secondly, that friends and relations who also live in this world which is on fire can give no help—the blind cannot lead the blind. If we recognize these two facts, we shall see the logical deduction: we must seek out the way that will lead us away from this world into another where evil and suffering and death are not. "Clear the path that leads to Nirvana," says the above verse. That path is covered over with our ignorance, our pride, our passion, our numerous prejudices. We cannot undertake the task of finding that path unless we see that there is no refuge in this burning house.
In what way then must we seek refuge?
Irrigators lead the waters. Fletchers shape the arrows. Carpenters carve the wood. Wise people discipline themselves. (Verse 80)
The similes are not only beautiful, they are profound. We must be like irrigators, give course to our own waters of heart-feeling and emotions so that these waters may assuage the thirst of the thirsty. We must be like fletchers and sharpen our thoughts, make them clear-cut, so that the ignorant may learn, the simple-minded understand. We must be like expert carpenters whose deeds are like beautiful carvings that give pleasure as well as offer use to others. This triple blessing can be had by disciplining ourselves, and that is no easy task!
So we have seen (1) that this a dark world; (2) that it is being destroyed by passion and lust; (3) that attachment produces evil; (4) that detachment leads to Nirvana; (5) that friends and relations cannot help; (6) that we have to tame ourselves. But there is the seventh step without which it is impossible to see these propositions clearly. What is that?
As worldly men and women we see with two eyes: that of feeling-emotion-desire-kama; and that of thought-understanding-worldly knowledge-Manas. Kama-Manas, the passionate mind, is that mind which attaches itself to the objects it comes in contact with. We waver to and fro. from feeling to thought, or from thought to feeling. We are always double-sighted. We must work to possess the Single Eye of Spirit: the Eye of Dhamma, the Eye of the Buddhas, the Sacred Third Eye of Shiva.
That Single Eye is Bodha-Wisdom. When worldly knowledge is purified by the power of discrimintation, when worldly feelings and attachments are purified by the force of detachment, we succeed in developing that Single Eye.
What the Single Eye of the long line of Buddhas and Acharyas has seen, is recorded. The record of all that Gautama Buddha saw can be found in his Bodha, his Wisdom, in his Dhamma—the Four Noble Truths, the Three Jewels, the Five Virtues. Study and effort to see these great Truths with a becalmed mind and a cleansed heart will ultimately develop the Single Eye. At our own particular stage of evolution we have to see that our attachments and affections are veritable wombs of pain. We are not called upon to kill out affection, but to transform it into Compassion, into Love that is wise and that in its sacrifice gives wisely; and whatever it gives, it gives without any thought of recompense. Our fears and our griefs come from our attachments, and so as we walk the streets of our city, labour in our kitchens or in our studies, talk to our friends or teachings of the Dhamma. Thus shall we bring to birth the Single Eye of Bodha and we ourselves shall shine with the radiance of the Law. On this best of Paths the Seer of the True is the best of men ; therefore we must learn to see the True. Not knowledge can show us the Truth; but Wisdom, Heart-Knowlege, Heart freed from attachment, can. Having seen the Dhamma, we shall be ready for the next step—Samyak-Sankalpa—Right Resolve or Right Aspiration.