Living in the Material World

Materialism is the great bane of all Lankavatarists. The Lanka pulls no punches in relaying the dangers of materialism:

“Materialists employ all manner of expressions, arguments, metaphors, and embellishments to attract and deceive foolish people. They do not accept the personal understanding of what is real, nor are they aware that their projection of what exists is a delusion. Falling prey to dualities, they confuse simpleminded people and also harm themselves and cannot escape their continuation in other forms of existence. Unable to understand what are nothing but perceptions of their own mind, they do not get free of their attachments to projections of external existence. Thus, those who engage in materialist eloquence do not escape deception and confusion or the sorrows and afflictions of birth, old age, illness, and death.” (Red Pine, pgs. 202-03)

The Lanka warns that one should “keep your distance from materialists because they are able to promote the causes of suffering. Don’t associate with them.” (Red Pine, pg. 203) Mahamati next proceeds to ask the Blessed One the distinction between “embracing desires of the flesh or the Dharma.” (Red Pine, pg. 207) The Buddha responds by stating that all desires of the flesh “refer to clutching or letting go, touching or tasting, attachment to external sensation, addiction to dualistic views, and rebirth once more in a suffering body along with the anxiety, grief and affliction of birth, old age, and death.” (Red Pine, pg. 207) The Dharma refers to “understanding what are nothing but perceptions of one’s own mind, seeing that beings have no self and that dharmas have no self, not giving rise to projections, becoming versed in the higher stages, transcending the mind, the will, and conceptual consciousness, having one’s forehead anointed with wisdom by all the buddhas, embracing and fulfilling the ten inexhaustible vows, and gaining mastery of all teachings…it means not falling prey to any view, any fabrication, any projection, any existence or duality.” (Red Pine, pg. 207) It’s interesting to note that in one of the concluding gathas concerning materialism the Lanka states that “the slightest movement of mind” is an indication of materialism, while being “unmoved” by all these projections one is able to Recollect Mind as Mind, devoid of all these phenomenal outflows. Also, in that concluding gatha (verse) we see the essential nature of the Tathagata (Thus Come, Thus Gone): no longer appearing or disappearing—no longer concerned with what “comes or goes” (Moving principle), thus ceasing (Unmoving Principle) the ebb and flow of all mind projections.

The Lanka next expounds upon the notion of liberation from the world: Nirvana. It makes it clear in unequivocal terms, that nirvanva does not mean the extinction of anything:

“For followers of some paths it is the cessation of the skandhas, the dhatus, and the ayatanas, or the absence of worldly desires, or the impermanence of everything they see, or the non-arising of any and all mental activity, or not thinking about past, future, or present states, or putting an end to all sensation, like the extinguishing of a lamp or a fire or the destruction of a seed, or not giving rise to projections.” (Red Pine, pg. 209) All of these are but notions of the discriminating mind. What it all boils down to, says the Lanka, is that all these false notions suffer from duality. And so, what is Nirvana? “Nirvana means fully understanding that it is nothing but the perceptions of one’s own mind…it is seeing what is real without falling prey to dualistic projections that are pwerceptions of one’s own mind and that are devoid of perceiver or perceived.” (Red Pine, pg. 211) Reinforcing here once again what was written about nirvana in an earlier blog: Nirvana is the Noble self-realization that there is no independent entity that needs salvation from an abstracted and defiled representation that masquerades as apparent existence; in this sense, nirvana is the annihilation of this false no-self representation, thus rendering it extinct. The meaning of nirvana is thus: Annihilation of the false, abstracted, no-self and giving full recollection to the undivided awareness power of the unborn mind.

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3 Responses to Living in the Material World

  1. Jure says:

    Love this point. It’s interesting materialists – philosophical or practical – see themselves as those who embrace the real, the factual, what is solid, out there, externally real; and they see non-materialists as living in the clouds, believing in their own ideations, in thing that are not really there, and so on. The LS shows that it’s the opposite … it’s the materialist who believes in thought-constructs and ideations and lives in the clouds. I’ve read a similar remark in Hegel (who was, not surprisingly, and “absolute idealist”, meaning he equated reality with mind), who said that it is the ordinary people that live in a “world of thoughts”, not the spiritual people. Since spirit is the reality and thoughts are the unreal projections, it is all reversed. The most common people, the people that hang out on Facebook all day, are the people who live in the world of thoughts, ideations, and abstractions. While the spiritual lives with the most concrete & real.

  2. Bodhichild says:

    Wonderfully stated.

    Along with your Facebook comment it’s always so apparent how the materialists worship their material gods and goddesses…as witnessed during last night’s halftime show with the super bowl, presenting the greatest primadona of them all–Madonna. She also once performed a song dealing with the “material world”–really says it all. Or, the “Elton John” commercial televised during the game–this morning on YouTube, his video has close to 2 million hits in just 2 days!

    Also, with this materialistic culture thing, have you noticed whenever you google something, like destiny–what pops up first and foremost? Some popular icon like rock groups, ect. This stuff has really supplanted any semblance of true significance and meaning.

  3. Jure says:

    There’s also a materialist religion to accompany a materialist society. A religion that is all about feeding the poor, engaged, social action. While this is commendable, it can become like socialism, trying to make “Heaven on Earth”. The poet Hölderlin said that what made Earth Hell was always that people tried to make it Heaven. (How prophetic if we think of how many millions died for communist ideals of changing society into a classless system in which nobody would be poor. It ended it mass poverty and atrocities of all kinds.)

    The humanization of religion into a “charity” is the triumph of materialism in religion … religion becomes just a vessel for feeding the poor: a materialist aim. A Korean Zen master once said starving masses is an ultimately unimportant, trivial fact. It sounds cruel, but it was an attempt to save religion from humanization, from the materialist temptation of seeing it only as a charity. Dahui said “I would rather suffer torments of Hell that present the Buddha-Dharma as a human feeling.” – When I first read this it struck me, it’s a sentence worth considering, it’s an interesting standard. Isn’t Western Buddhism nowadays mostly just about human feelings?

    The essence of charity is in giving up objects, projections (possessions), thoughts. So when we “sit” for dhyana, that is charity, since we donate time, delusions (objects, thoughts), for the projectionless. The highest form of charity. Hui-Neng says we are not saved by giving money as charity. Salvation is only in the mind.

    Hence as Tozen and you say, “Dharma-ending age” – when people understand “prayer” as “asking God for objects” instead of “giving up objects for God”, and “charity” as a form of socialism, it is indeed Dharma-ending.

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