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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
SUMMER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 7 Sham bhala Sun Foundation An independent, nonprofit corporation. Publishers of the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly. I n classical Buddhist teaching, meditation (samadhi) has always been sandwiched between integrity (sila) on the one hand and wisdom (pañña) on the other. Indeed, this is what makes it Buddhist. As a technol- ogy for the attenuation of consciousness, meditation had been practiced by yogis for centuries before the Buddha, but in his hands it became a tool for the deep transformation of character that results in liberation of the mind from the toxins that cause suffering. One might admire a craftsman’s ability to sharpen a chisel to a fine edge, but surely the value of doing so lies in being able to wield it skillfully as a tool. This is also the case with meditation. Only if it is wielded skillfully, with integrity, can the benefits of a focused mind result in a noble outcome: a person who has quenched (or at least diminished) greed, hatred, and delusion through the develop- ment of wisdom. What are we to think when we see people who are highly skilled in meditation, many of them venerated teachers, demonstrate an appalling lack of integrity and thus an appar- ent lack of wisdom? One explanation that is frequently offered up is that people can be highly developed spiritually but underdevel- oped emotionally. This is especially the case, the argument goes, for Asian teachers who might have been raised in very traditional set- tings like a monastery and are then unleashed amid the wild freedoms of the West. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it any more than I buy the argument that the misbehavior is itself an expression of wisdom. Moral integrity, concentration, and insight all grow together, conditioning one another every step of the way. Ethical mind states are a necessary precursor for meditation, because the mind is incapable of tranquility if agitated by the hindrances of sense desire, ill will, restlessness, laziness, and doubt. Ethi- cal behavior is also the demonstrable result of wisdom, insofar as unwholesome states arise less often and with less intensity as wisdom deepens. Wisdom transforms the unconscious mind, rooting out impulses that lead to suf- fering both for oneself and for others. It does this not by acting them out or suppressing them, but by the middle way of seeing clearly how impermanent they are, how ultimately unsatisfying they are, and how they are born in and nourished by the delusions of self. In short, one understands them, and they lose their allure. A more plausible explanation of teachers’ misbehavior is simply that they are demon- strating their lack of wisdom. Behavior is the outward expression of one’s inner under- standing, and only someone still firmly in the grip of craving and ignorance is capable of the abuse of power, money, sexuality, and intoxicants. Cultural forms being what they are, it can be difficult to distinguish the wis- dom of the teacher from the wisdom of the teachings, especially for those unfamiliar with the profundities of Asian wisdom traditions. Some very unwise people can say some very wise things. Much of dharma teaching is a performance art, and it is easy to conflate the skill of the actor with the skill of the author. The compilers of the early Buddhist texts seemed quite familiar with the potential dan- gers of this dynamic. They urged judging a COMMENTARY Walking the Talk by Andrew Olendzki ANDREW OLENDZKI is senior scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts, and the author of Unlimiting Mind (Wisdom). SUMILOUNDONKIM