Sid - The Rebel Saint - Part II

06/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

(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

more clearly.

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

his freedom.

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