Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What is a Buddhist "Saint"? (L.A., April 17-19)

It is good to see (darshan) holy ones even if they have only suppressed the defilements by meditation, which seems to be the case with inspiring and interconnected Hindu guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (

Hindu saints -- whether yogis, sages, or seers -- are not the same as "saints" (arhats) in Buddhism, they are nevertheless revered. The Buddha said it is good to see saints as ywell as those who have attained the jhanas (meditative absorptions).

What is a "Saint" in Buddhism?
Dharmachari Seven (Wisdom Quarterly)
In most religions, attaining these purifying states qualifies one as a saint. In Buddhism, by contrast, it is not these states but insight-wisdom that uproots the defilements of the heart/mind that matters. The absorptions merely suppress the defilements -- and it is for this reason that the behavior (hanky panky) of saints can be shocking when scandals are uncovered.

There is no surprise and no contradiction from a Buddhist perspective. A bodhisattva (someone who has taken vows to save all living beings before saving him or herself) should not be confused with a Buddhist saint, which refers to someone who has actually reached liberation.

Buddhist "saints" -- fully enlightened individuals -- cannot do certain things. They can seem to do them. For example, they cannot remove things with "thievish intent." But they can remove them. Stealing becomes impossible, but not the appearance of this.

The absorptions suppress this tendency towards greed. And people notice a change. They begin to call someone a "saint" (saddhu). That person rises and inevitably falls from grace -- falls from the expectations (misconceptions) we have and hold them to.

The absorptions allow one to exercise "supernatural powers" (psychic feats and marvels). When they fail, because they are very hard to maintain particularly under pressure to perform, many a famous name resorts to tricks. (Satya Sai Baba can clearly be seen employing deceptive sleight of hand tricks all over YouTube).

"The Yoga Gurus" movie trailer (Empty Mind Films)

The same goes for sex. (Nithyananda's recent sex scandal with the lying and pretending to be celibate will happen again and again so long as real enlightenment has not taken place).

A Buddhist saint is incapable of the sexual act because lust has been eradicated. But during the many stages preceding full enlightenment (there are actually more than three as explained in the ancient Path of Freedom or Vimuttimagga), it is possible to be married, to date, to enjoy sensual pleasures of all kinds. What has changed?

The commentaries analyze the situation in different ways. One way looks at the ten : Three things have been cut off (identity view, doubt, clinging to the belief that mere rites and rituals can possibly result in enlightenment), but there is no magic halo or aura announcing the profound change. The tendencies and habits one developed over an unimaginable number of births have momentum. Those habits do not evaporate at stream entry (the first stage of enlightenment).

But when greed (lust), hatred (anger, fear), and delusion (confusion, doubt, perplexity with regard to what is the path and not the path to liberation) are uprooted, all misconduct comes to end. The intentions that decide whether a deed is good, "bad" (productive of suffering for the doer when the act comes to fruition), or neutral have all become good. The Buddha found a way to eradicate the roots of suffering. This is why Buddhism is extraordinary and unique among philosophies, practices, and religions.

When asked if other religions had "saints," the Buddha pointed out that in a tradition where such and such were found would have saints of the first order, the second order, the third order, and arhats. But where these were not found, saints would also be missing. He then pointed out that such and such were to be found in this Dharma, this teaching, this practice (Buddhism). The details may be found elsewhere on Wisdom Quarterly.

All religions do NOT lead to the same goal, even if many good traditions head in the same general direction. If any other philosophy or religion (dharma) were arriving at enlightenment (bodhi) and liberation (nirvana), there would have been no reason for the Buddha to strive for the final solution to the problem of suffering 26 or more centuries ago. The heavens are relatively easy to be reborn (born again) into. But realizing nirvana (freedom from all bonds) here and now, while not as easy, is infinitely more secure and blissful than even the highest heaven.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's The Art of Living Foundation's yogic-breathing (pranayama) technique

No comments: