(con't from Part I)
He sought out all of the spiritual masters of his time. He studied with several great Hindu masters and learned all of the practices and wisdom they had to offer. During the course of that instruction he had many very pleasant spiritual experiences.
What he was primarily taught during that phase was concentration
practices like yoga and mantras--repetitive exercises
of the body or mind that lead to one-pointedness. He
was taught theories of existence that ranged from eternalism
(existence forever) to nihilism (nonexistence after death).
Most of the concentration practices he experienced were
subtle forms of aversion, allowing him to ignore pain and confusion
but not changing his relationship to it. It is said that he
had meditative experiences ranging from total bliss to complete
nonexistence--experiences that took him to a level of
understanding or peace--yet, when the concentration wore
off he was still suffering, still subject to attachment to pleasure
and aversion to pain, still identifi ed with his physical body as
his identity, still caught in the cycle of sickness, old age, and
Each one of the spiritual experiences that he had with those
teachers taught him something new and wonderful that temporarily
freed him. But as soon as he stopped doing a practice,
the concentration wore off and he was left with ordinary consciousness.
In other words, the practices did not transform his
perspective. Because there was still fear, greed, and confusion
in his heart, he knew that he had not reached full liberation.
Each teacher he studied with told Sid they had taught him
all that they could, that he had accomplished what they
thought to be spiritual liberation. Each of these teachers
wanted Sid to be their spiritual heir, to stay and lead the community
with them, but he had no interest in the power or
prestige of being a guru. The practices he had learned did not
lead him to total liberation, and he was not satisfi ed with the
temporary spiritual experiences they offered. He decided to
keep searching for the truth until he found complete freedom
from the unsatisfactory nature of the cycle of rebirth. He
vowed not to stop till he found a state of mind that wasn't
dependent on any temporary meditative technique.
Sid's next bright idea was to break his identifi cation with
his body through self-mortifi cation. He went off into the
jungle and hooked up with a handful of other homeless
homeys--aka sadhus--who were doing various practices to
prove that they were not the body. They had the notion that if
they denied their physical needs they could break the identifi -
cation with the body, the physical form, and thereby reach the
state of nonidentifi cation and nonsuffering.
So they starved themselves, tortured their bodies, and tried
to fi nd freedom through extreme renunciation practices. It is
said that Sid fasted for weeks on end. When he did eat, he
consumed only morsels of rice or fruit each day. It was also
popular, among these sadhus, to go without sleep and to spend
days standing without ever sitting or lying down to rest. Sid
wound up emaciated and close to physical death, but he was
still suffering, still subject to attachment and aversion, still
identifi ed with his thoughts and feelings.
All told, Sid had spent seven years on the streets so far, following
the conventional practices of his time and mastering
the techniques offered in the Hindu tradition, including the
more extreme techniques of the sadhus, and none of those
practices had gotten him completely free. Now, close to starvation
and still totally committed to waking up from the delusions
of attachment, aversion, and identifi cation that cause
suffering, he refl ected back on his childhood experience of
being at peace beneath the tree. As he meditated on that experience,
and on his ongoing battle against all forms of pleasure--
a battle waged in the belief that attachment to pleasure
is one of the delusions that cause identifi cation with the body
and lead to suffering and rebirth--Sid realized that neither
pleasure nor comfort is the enemy. On the contrary, physical
health and pleasure are wholesome experiences.
Sid had experienced both extremes of life, from gluttonous
attachment to pleasure to radical rejection of all things pleasant,
from aversion to discomfort to attachment to pain. Suddenly
he could see that he needed to fi nd some balance. So he
left his homeys at the jungle squat and set off on his own to
fi nd the middle way. They accused him of selling out, saying
he was giving up the true spiritual path. They knew he was
going to eat and sleep and do all of the things that they had
renounced. Hearing taunts of "food-eater" and all sorts of other
insults, Sid stumbled to a nearby river and sat beneath a grove
of trees, where he did sitting and walking meditation by himself.
A young girl from a nearby village saw him there, and realizing
that he was close to dying of starvation, offered him the
food she was taking home from the market. She returned to
feed him yogurt and rice every day, and he gradually regained
his health. Meanwhile, he spent his time in deep contemplation
of the truth of the suffering and confusion that fuel the
human cycle of dissatisfaction. He began to see that a key ingredient in his practice had been missing: it was simple mindfulness. He began to practice an investigative present-time
awareness, seeing the process of mind and body more and
Once Sid had put a few pounds back on, he sat underneath
a tree and vowed to stay there until he could see through the
confusion in his mind. He was committed to not getting up
from that seat until he had freed himself from all forms of misidentifi
cation, attachment, and aversion--that is, until he never
had to take birth again. Until he was totally free, he wasn't
Can you imagine that kind of resolve?
So Sid sits there paying close attention to his mind and
body, and he sits there and he sits there and he sits there,
meditating on the causes of suffering and confusion. Feeling
his breath as it comes and goes, investigating the pleasant
unpleasant and neutral tone of each thought, feeling, and sensation.
He opens his awareness in a more compassionate way,
not trying to stop any experience no matter how unpleasant it
may feel, but rather meeting each moment with love and kindness.
Many things happen to Sid that can be interpreted in retrospect
as either internal or external experiences. A demonlike
character named Mara shows up. Mara personifi es all of the
strong negative emotions that, when taken personally, cause
us to suffer. These are the experiences of lust, fear, anger, and
doubt, to name a few. Mara appears and tries to tempt the
Buddha-to-be off his seat.
We can think of Mara as the aspect of mind often referred
to as the ego, or perhaps the superego. Mara is afraid that Sid will see through the mind's illusion of control, and then Mara will not have power over him anymore. This Mara-mind will
stop at nothing to sabotage Sid's (and our) resolve to be fully
free from the attachment and aversion that cause suffering and
Mara's fi rst line of attack is hatred, anger, and violence.
Mara tries to expose Sid's attachment to pleasure by raining
violence on him. Mara wages war on Sid, shooting arrows and
throwing spears in an attempt to deter Sid from his goal. But
Sid continues to sit. Seeing clearly that Mara is only an aspect
of his mind, he radiates love and compassion throughout his
being and turns the weapons of hatred into fl owers that
shower down all around him.
Next, Mara attacks with lust. A harem of beautiful women
dancing naked arrive to tempt the Buddha-to-be with his
desire. Sid continues to sit peacefully, refl ecting on the fact that
beneath the surface of temporary beauty is a bag of bones,
fl esh, and putrid fl uids. He knows that the happiness he seeks
will never come from a fl eeting experience of sensual pleasure.
He allows desire to arise and pass without clinging to it or
identifying with it as personal. Feeling rejected and confused at
Sid's refusal to accept their invitation of sexual pleasure, the
dancing girls retreat.
Sid continues to sit there, unmoved by the mind's insistence.
Mara takes one fi nal stab at Sid, attacking with the most
debilitating weapon in his arsenal: doubt. He challenges and
taunts Sid with criticism and judgment. Mara tells Sid he is
worthless and conceited to think he can fully awaken. Mara
says, "Who do you think you are? Everyone is identifi ed with
the body, attached to pleasure, afraid of pain. How dare you try to be different?" Yet Sid has, by now, seen through his mind's limitations and has understood that by turning his
awareness on the mind itself, he can see through the doubts
and fears that arise. He knows that the doubts of the Maramind
are not true; they are just another phenomenon that
arises and passes. To prove his resolve, he touches the earth to
bear witness to the four elements--earth, air, fi re, and water--
that make up all forms in existence, as he continues to be
mindful and aware of his mind and body.
Mindfulness is the revolutionary insight that sets Buddhism
apart from other traditions. Sid's main practice was investigative,
compassionate, present-time awareness. Though Sid had
learned to get the mind concentrated through his study with
various gurus, he had not learned to open the consciousness to
present-time awareness. It was this breakthrough that led to
Around dawn, Mara understood that he no longer had any
power over Sid. Mara had been defeated. With no more ammunition
or means of attack, he sulked dejectedly off to fi nd another
victim. Sid just sat there feeling his breath and sensations coming
and going, and he realized that everything is impermanent. Every
physical and mental experience arises and passes. Everything in
existence is endlessly arising out of causes and conditions. He
saw that we all create suffering for ourselves through our resistance,
through our desire to have things different than the way
they are--that is, our clinging or aversion. Sid understood that if
he just let go and was mindful and accepting without grabbing or
pushing, he would be free and at peace with life...
(to be con't)
Noah currently teaches at his meditation center in Los Angeles. Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is located in a historic building in East Hollywood, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.
4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90029