Saturday, 4 September 2010

Third Noble Truth (Interactive): which drinks make you drunk?

This is a continuation of the following earlier posts on the First and Second Noble Truths:

The first of the five faculties in Buddhism is faith. It is the starting point of every religious and spiritual tradition. It is not blind faith, but conviction or self-confidence. It is the ability to make a choice. 

That which is sweet first is bitter,
That which is bitter first is sweet.
To each a choice, then it all depends
On effort and unflagging will
To reach the city of your choice.


The city of our choice is not something concrete, or an intention of the ego. Rather, it is abstract, pure intent, a choice of the heart. Choices of the heart are always abstract. The path of heart may be difficult at first – there is nothing concrete to hold onto (it is a letting go) – but in the long run it will always turn out more pleasant.

When this faculty of faith is developed, it becomes a powerful force. It becomes the first power. To do good is to be faithful to abstract intent. To do evil is to be waylaid and distracted along the path.

And what causes us to be waylaid?

Before we try to answer that question, we recall the Buddhist paradigm (discussed in the Interactive First Noble Truth) of first examining the nature, before turning to the origin or cause, then looking at the purpose or consequence, and finally at the way to proceed. What is the nature of being waylaid? We might recall the five hindrances of day-dreaming, boredom, doubt, ill-will and agitation. But, in short, it is the interference of the mind that causes us to deviate from the straight path. Metaphorically, it is drunkenness. And what causes drunkenness? It is drink. With wisdom of which drinks have this effect, what is the consequence of abstaining from those drinks? It is sobriety or clarity. And finally, the way to proceed along with faith, with wisdom and with “effort and unflagging will”, is clearly to be mindful as to what we drink.

We can’t go to two cities at once! That would be called “seeing double”, a true sign of drunkenness. It is a cliché of Zen: when you do X, just do X; when you do Y, just do Y. Some students after long instruction of this by their Zen master were shocked to see him eating breakfast and reading the newspaper at the same time. “What’s the problem?” he replied to them. “When you eat and read, just eat and read.” Right then, that’s all the jokes done with. The rest will be all suffering. Actually, the cessation of suffering. It's no joking matter, lol.

Even if we have wisdom and refrain from the drink that causes drunkenness, still the craving for that drink remains and will cause suffering if not addressed. The craving is itself an interference of the mind, or a drink that we’d do well to refrain from. As we learnt in the Interactive Second Noble Truth, we must go to the root, and the root of that which disturbs peace of mind, or gives rise to dukkha, is tanha, the thirst and attachment to those drinks that lead us away from our city into the vineyards of drunkenness.

But again we ask, which drinks are these that lead us astray? 

Because this wisdom will get us a long way to avoiding them. If we recognize something as an unwanted attachment or addiction, then this recognition is the first step in helping us to be rid of it. It will give us the gift of disillusionment in that which causes us to suffer. If it is a strong addiction though, disillusionment won’t necessarily be enough to change our behaviour. Then we might try transference, and swap our craving for one drink with craving for another. We do this all the time in most interesting ways, for example doing things which give us pleasure to cancel or make up for that which gives us pain. We can all see this in our towns, how the evening and weekend binges release all the tension built up over the course of the day and week. Or at a more moderate level, how food and exercise are great relievers of stress. This is all well and good, but we may come to notice in time how pleasure and pain create patterns, some of which may distract us from the city of our choice. And the drunkenness borne of pleasure is the harder of the two to shake… because it feels so good! What if we didn’t or couldn’t transfer our craving or act on it in some way? I would call this “sucking it up” or cessation. Our capacity for cessation is much greater than we imagine it to be. But if the pain is too great, or we lack resolve, we might not succeed and this might discourage us completely. Our response might be avoidance, escape, sleep, cessation from the path altogether. This may do as a stop-gap to buy us time, but ultimately we must embrace life and face up to our cravings. And whether we employ disillusionment, transference or cessation, there is a seed of wisdom whose contemplation is at the heart of the Third Noble Truth: in the fullness of time, all that arises will also cease.

In the game of intent, we must surrender the battles that fuel our drunkenness – neither win them nor lose them, but realize their cessation – in order to win the war. Only when our desire aligns perfectly with our intent, when all other cravings are vanquished or by transference replaced by our true desire, all mind-addictions ceased or replaced by the addiction to Dhamma, and all our love unified in the name of Love, then are we truly on our way to the city of our choice!

For the third time I ask, which are these battles which fuel our drunken state and waste our energy?

I would say: all that does not belong to the city of our choice, all that is not of Truth, all that is not of the Heart, all that is not the drink of the Beloved. Could I be less abstract? More practically useful? I will think more on it… how about you? The questions I’ve been sizing up in this blog may be summarized as follows:

1. What is the city of your choice?

2. What leads you away from the city of your choice?

3. How do you vanquish that which leads you away from the city of your choice?

Let the real work begin! Buddha’s Third Noble Truth encourages us that absolute success is possible and may we set about realizing it. May all answers that you seek come to you, and may they be an expression of “heart”.

I pass the blog over to you! As always, your criticism and feedback is dearly welcomed, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these questions.


  1. Kathy said: Hey! Okei is back from vacation...welcome home ;) . My brain tells me that we can achieve success by BEing successful. We set an intention and act on it. Kind of like a goal...we set it and then take the always-mindful steps necessary one by one to get to the end result. It does not need to be any more complicated than that, does it? Blessings!

  2. Thanks Kathy! Coincidental that Karol had also posted about faith in Buddhism, the kind of faith that you describe in your comment and which sets us on our way. The city of our choice to put it another way. And then I was trying to contemplate how other things then distract and create patterns of interference from our choice.

    A silly example might be of a sportsman who has an injury and changes his diet for the worse and when he returns to action, the pattern of diet from when he was injured holds him back. Of course the reverse could happen and the injury could be a trigger to taking better care of his diet. Exchange sport for life and injury for a setback of some kind and suddenly the example isn't so silly.

    So I wanted to try to be more aware and mindful of these patterns. Which help us, and which hold us back? How do people go about recognizing and dealing with them?

    Now that I write this, it feels a lot like what some would call 'stalking the self'. I need to go look up comments by Deano whom I know has talked about this in the past... And understanding the process of arising (so that we may stalk the self) is what the Third Noble Truth is all about...

    Everyone's thoughts, links, references on the subject most welcome.

  3. Ok, "stalking the ego"... this is exactly what I was subconsciously re-wording in my post above.

    "Our self-importance loves routine. By changing your habitual routines you throw yourself off balance, things change and you begin to move your energy out of them."

    "One of the prime features of stalking the self is the issue of responsibility. This is the place to start ... You must stalk the issue of what you are responsible for and what you are not. We all spend too much energy accepting responsibilities that are not ours... If you know what your personal difficulties are you still are left with how to overcome them and this is where stalking becomes active. The recapitulation does this; it is an active process of energy retrieval. "

    While stalking is self-awareness, re-capitulation is re-wiring/re-programming.

    The Toltecs describe three ways of accomplishing this process of slaying the Hydra of self-importance:
    "The first way is to sever each head one at a time; the second is to reach that mysterious state of being called the place of no pity, which destroys self-importance by slowly starving it; and the third is to pay for the instantaneous annihilation of the three-thousand-headed monster with one's symbolic death." (Castaneda)

    Finally, Deano made a comment on an earlier thread which sums up all the above...

    "The purpose of 'stalking-the-self' is in preparation for stopping your thoughts...
    Identify subconsciously stored habits and routines and "refile" them in the conscious mind.

    I know a few people who succeeded at stopping their thoughts without any effort to identify anything in their subconscious.
    They came face-to-face with everything they feared.
    Hence, I don't recommend it."

  4. Kathy said: Thank you for researching and providing Deano's quotes on Stalking the Self.

    As for the city of my is balance. To be in a centered state of balance, even in the middle of chaos, is the ultimate way for me to remain aware of just how crazy, imbalanced, skewed, or extreme things can be. And other people have noticed when I am in that city, let me tell you.

    What leads me away from that city...that state of balance...would be if I were to choose to attach my self to one of those extremes; to make a decision "for" or "against" something; to attach a label of judgment to something; to act in a way that is imbalanced or do something that is either discriminatory or goes against my life's purpose.

    How do I vanquish what leads me away from being balanced? That would have to be to become mindful of that balance once again. To recover it; to end the connection or attachment to the extreme; to stop doing the action that places me out of line with my life's purpose and return to the middle/center/zero point.

    Hope that makes sense. ;) Namaste ~ Blessings!

  5. It makes perfect sense Kathy. I think it's up to each of us to carry out this very individual process in our own ways.

    Deano has written much on this and said all the above, but only the final quote was actually his. I will keep researching it. Much can be found in the Castaneda books. Of course much is said in Buddhism also. The 'gate that we watch' in the Four Noble Truths is 'our desires' and this breaks the cycle of dependent origination. The Toltec talk instead of 'self pity'... How exactly this translates I'm still exploring...