Living With the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil (Anglais) Relié – 11 novembre 2004
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THIS IS A BOOK for those like myself who find themselves living in the gaps between different and sometimes conflicting mythologies-epic narratives that help us make sense of this brief life on earth. Lire la première page
Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Quatrième de couverture
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This book could serve as a better introduction to Buddhism than most books that are so dry and doctrinal they put you to sleep. If you are a Buddhist scholar or meditation practitioner, read it too, as it may give you a few fresh perspectives (or take away some of your beloved opinions). Enjoy the book, and its reminder: There is no Buddha without Mara; there is no Nirvana without Samsara.
Living With the Devil has helped me to create a different perspective on mortality. For example, as he had suggested that our existence is "contingent rather than necessary."
To illustrate this point the best, I will give an example of how it helps me in my specific situation. I am an Asian immigrant in America. And just few weeks ago, I was walking one early morning to class on a college campus and saw a white football player type of person walking toward me. That morning I was in a fairly good mood and was in fact planning on saying hi to that person, despite the fact that few hate crime incidents had just happened in the last couple of weeks on campus and I was fairly frustrated because not a lot of people including the faculties, which were essential, were willing to participate and show support in the discussion about the hate crimes after they had happened. Anyway, as we are about to approach each other, he suddenly cut in front of me, so that I had to actually force my self to stop so that I don't bump into him. I looked at him in surprise and he gave me a nasty stare. PLEASE NOTE: this is not a racial comment, it can happen to anyone, for example, maybe in the case of a Chinese soldier to a Tibetan in Tibet.
I had thought about this incident and couldn't really think of anything. I am like 6-3, so if I have to fight I can, but I am also a psychology major and am interested in public service, so there is a conflict in me. What is more important is that I feel like I might look at white people more negatively afterwards and I really don't want to do that.
Then I read Batchelor's book. My solution is to look at the whole incident as a contingent event. I reason,
1st If I were to brush my teeth that morning or ate my breakfast, I would not have encountered him.
2nd what happens is not personal, it can be anyone else of my race, so it is really about him.
3rd Next, I just accept him as he is. Just like I accept a tiger; a tiger for some reason by nature or nurture functions differently, though it is potentially threatening to me, but I don't hate a tiger, in fact I think tigers are exotic and beautiful.
Instead of projecting my self-centered compulsive reactivity (that has helped our ancestors to survive though-out natural selection) onto the contingent world, (which freely plays itself), I face myself.
I face my own biological and psychological self-preserving compulsions. One's life is "contingent rather than necessary", there is no special reason why so and so bla bla bla, our urge to think of life as a story that revolves around us is a trick that the "devil" plays on us. We live in that fixation or routine way of thinking as if they are necessary because somehow they are special.
Fixations become a restraining routine or "devil's circle" that just repeats itself again and again. The problem and challenge that Batchelor points out is radical and unconventional in many ways. As you will see if you read the chapter "Fear and Trembling" about a nun who is fearless in the face of the possibility that she might be molested and her respond to the "devil" or her own biological and psychological fear is even more magnificent as the nun Uppalavanna says,
"Though a hundred thousand rogues just like you might come here, I stir not a hair, I feel no terror; even alone, Mara, I don't fear you. I am freed from all bondage, therefore I don't fear you, friend."
In Batchelors view; God, nivana, the deathless, emptiness are all names for something that is best left unnamed: the perplexing and life altering experience at the heart of religious traditions. This experience is simply what happens when we unclench the mental fist with which we reflexifly grasp our illusions and defend our illusory self. Once we relax our grip we are free. Mara nature is inescapably present. It is built into our biology. It is that which causes the grasping and blocks our freedom. It is the root of rigidity, a dam in the stream of life, a locking into rigid patterns that cause suffering. Our Buddha nature dwells in freedom, but we need to make an effort to realise it. This effort culminates in letting go, in unclenching the mental fist. Letting go is a precise action, while grasping is a crude reflex that may be enacted in any number of ways, and is triggered by any number of things. Even an intent to "let go" can end in grasping and rigidity if we are unaware of the slipperiness of Mara. Bachelor suggests that naming Nirvana, even calling it emptiness, is devilish, tending to rigidity. Koans are a way of investigating while not naming, but even Zen Buddhism cannot escape the grip of Mara, it too tends to institutionalization and rigidity.
I found Batchelors parallels between the Christian Satan and Mara rather interesting. He says that for Buddha the price of Nirvana is a "pact with devil." Before anyone takes this too literally I should point out that Bachelor specifically says he no more believes in God than he believes in Hamlet, "but that does not mean that God or Hamlet have nothing important to say." Presumably the same applies to the Devil. In fact, the thesis that permeates this book is that Buddha and Mara, and Christ and Satan, are nothing more than aspects of our human condition. He also brings out the contrast between the Christian concept of Satan as the embodiment of evil in opposition to God, and the Old Testament concept of Satan as an angel of God. As a servant of God the Old Testament Satan seems closer to Mara, who is essential for Buddha. To put it simply, to let go, first you must grasp.
Bachelor addresses a central problems in any religion: how to consistently point the way to freedom while not grasping habitual patterns and thus blocking the path. The discussion he provides is useful, but he seems to contradict himself in the end. Batchelor concludes that "you can no more preserve a path than you can preserve a breeze." But in the beggining, and throughout the book he points out that a path is maintained by using it. He claims to find his path in the "gaps between religions", yet speaks with the authority of someone who has glimpsed Nirvana by following the beaten tracks of two Buddhist traditions.
Bachelor expresses frustration with the "repetitive" and constraining forms of religion. His observations about the workings of Mara in institutionalised religion are valid, but I would have been more impressed if his conclusion about the human condition, that it must always contain and tolerate both Buddha and Mara, had been extended more generously to formal religious institutions. As human constructs these institutions will always express both sides of our nature. Even were this not so, to truely let go we would need to let go of the institution and establish our own practice. This can be done without abandoning the useful aspects of formalised religion. Indeed, it would be almost impossible for most people to develop a spiritual practice without someone organising a roof, some food, and some guidance. The limits of this help are acknowledged in Zen when we are told, "don't attach to anything, including Buddhism." Far from being habitual, the behaviour of Zen masters is notoriously unpredictable, but I must grant that the behaviour expected of a Zen student is repetative and narrowly defined. Bachelor claims that he now finds his path in the "gaps" between religions, and seems to advocate that others do the same, but before setting off to blaze a fresh path Bachelor himself did plenty of training on well groomed trails.
Don't get me wrong; he has a helpful (especially because non-theistic) hypothesis. He has made a contribution to the thinking on this vast topic.
The best thing about this book is the prose. As always, Batchelor writes poetically, almost lyrically. It is a pleasure to read. Some might find it a book to be savored, and lingered over, and some might find, as I did, that it can be read and enjoyed in brief snatches.
Batchelor does a wonderful job of putting Buddhist thought into understandable language, and of making the ancient texts relevant to modern experience. For practitioners of Buddhism, like myself, this book can enhance one's understanding of any number of elements of Buddhism (e.g., meditation on the breath, having a body, human relationships, the idea of engaged Buddhism). I would imagine that for non-Buddhists, besides being exposed to a clear exposition on basic Buddhist philosophy, this book demonstrates how Western and Buddhist thinkers concur on the problem of evil in important ways.
In the West, the Christian legacy has left us uneasy about the 'dark, instinctive' side of ourselves. Stephen's book has the merit of making us see that we have something to learn from the 'dark side' of ourselves. As numerous psychologists' couches would tell us, if they could speak, we pay a heavy price for failing to listen, splitting ourselves in the process.
This book has interesting things to say about this process of learning. In Chinese terms, its yin and yang, and we might view the dark side of ourselves as the fruitful bathos or dark ground required for shoots of light to grow. Most of Stephen's observations concern what might be called the inevitable dialogue between the dark and light side of ourselves, in which the dark side doesn't preponderate, but merely hinders. For Stepnhen, it is all tied up with clinging, blocking the flow, damming the stream of life.
However, as with so much literature of this type, which falls into the 'self-help' category, questions concerning 'evil' on a macrocosmic scale are hardly addressed at all. One might ask what bearing these observations have on something like the rise of Nazism and the appearance of death camps? Such issues touch on the problem of collective unconsciousness and the collective shadow. Seen from that perspective, a philosophy of 'letting go' and 'letting things happen' would seem to be double-edged. In one sense, the dangers of the modern world stem from a lack of reflection or reflective awareness, rather than an excess of it. Some things need to be 'resisted' - either in our immediate, personal lives, as well as our collective lives at large. Still, at least, if we are in touch with the 'devil' or 'mara' in ourselves, we are that less likely to locate the devil elsewhere, or in someone else.