Saturday, June 01, 2013

Long Direct Quote from Living with the Devil by Stephen Batchelor

One moment we are "pathing," only in the next to find ourselves "stuck" and "blocked." We may not have lost our sense of purpose and direction, but feel incapable of making any headway. It is as though a barrier has been placed across our path and we can find no way to surmount it. We feel hindered, trapped, frustrated. The more we struggle to be free of the obstacle, the more we seem to bang our head against the wall. It is as though Mara deliberately puts immovable objects in our way to frustrate our aspirations. We find ourselves paralyzed by an obsession or fear, we meet with accidents and calamities, we are debilitated by disease and the ravages of aging.

Progress along the Buddhist path to awakening is said to be "obstructed" by the devil of compulsions. A compulsion is any mental or emotional state that, on breaking into consciousness, disturbs and captivates us. Whether inflamed by anger or inflated by pride, we feel ill at ease and hemmed in. A compulsion encloses us within its boundaries. When overwhelmed by depression, not only are we inwardly sunk in despair but whatever we see, hear and touch is abhorrent.

Shantideva compares compulsions to "bands of thieves" who lie in waiting for an opportunity to invade us and "steal the treasures" of our minds. As soon as there is a lapse in self-awareness, a compulsive thought or image is liable to erupt, triggering a torrent of longing or despair that leaves us rattled and bewildered. As creatures of Mara, compulsions act as if they were autonomous forces. We suffer anxiety or panic "attacks" and feel overwhelmed by unwelcome thoughts. We are seized by feelings and images that we cannot seem to shake off.

The depiction of Mara as autonomous being who argues with Buddha illustrates how such drives feel as though they happen to one. I do not choose to be lustful, lethargic, conceited, or deluded; I find myself feeling that way. I do not decide in advance to think a thought; it comes to me as a ready-made phrase. I talk of "my" desires, "my" fears, and "my" doubts as though I somehow owned and controlled them. But when I try to let go of them, I find that it is not so much I who have them, but they who have me.

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