Monday, November 9, 2009

Nirayavagga: Hell

There’s a song on the “Darklands” album by the Jesus and Mary Chain titled “Nine Million Rainy Days” that has a line that pretty much summed up a relationship I had with another person. Granted, this relationship was not a love relationship; he was not a boyfriend. But for a while we believed we were close until the relationship completely disintegrated, largely because of our mutual yen for hedonism and mass quantities of drugs and alcohol. Here’s the lyric:

“As far as I can tell/I’m being dragged from here to hell/And all my time in hell is spent with you.”

That song sums up the nature of that relationship; it was hell. Took me a while to realize it, but I finally did. I can honestly say I’ve been to hell.

Because of that experience, I tend to take all references to hell within the Tipitika as metaphorical. I don’t believe in a place, a destination, beyond my current reality that is “hell.” Hell is inside my mind, and if I’m not careful, my mind will very willingly take me there again. And even if there is a real place, a real destination called “hell,” the fact I don’t believe it exists is moot. Because as long as I pay attention to how I think, act and speak, as long as I behave with skill, I not only stop creating a hell during my lifetime, but I enhance the nature of my rebirth, thus avoiding this place if it is there.

The Nirayavagga covers some of the acts that result in “hell,” largely following the content of the Five Precepts. For example, false speech is addressed in the first verse.

“He goes to hell,
the one who asserts
what didn’t take place,
as does the one
who, having done,
says, ‘I didn’t.’
Both — low-acting people —
there become equal:
after death, in the world beyond.”

Liars live unhappy lives, as the liar must always keep track of his or her lies. And when the ruse is revealed, the consequences can be severe. So the liar is always trying to outrun the hell he or she created; but it always catches up. It’s kind of like the Fram oil filter motto – you will either pay now or pay later.

“Four things befall the heedless man
who lies down with the wife of another:
a wealth of demerit;
a lack of good sleep;
third, censure;
fourth, hell.

A wealth of demerit, an evil destination,
& the brief delight of a
fearful man with a
fearful woman,
& the king inflicts a harsh punishment.
no man should lie down
with the wife of another.”

An act of sexual misconduct is addressed here. While Buddhism teaches us to avoid attachment, the Buddha nonetheless recognized that in the layperson’s life, there are certain cultural norms that the wise and skillful pay attention to. The trouble created by sleeping with someone else’s partner is far reaching. Think about it this way.

A long time ago I was chatting up a fellow online and it looked like a rendezvous was possible. But then the guy said he needed to be very discreet, I couldn’t contact him later because he couldn’t risk his wife finding out. I said, “Wait a minute! If you’re going to all this trouble to be dishonest with your wife, someone you took a vow with, how can I possibly expect you to be honest with me about anything? Like your HIV status for example?” His response was like, “Huh? What are you talking about?” But the conversation was over.

“Just as sharp-bladed grass,
if wrongly held,
wounds the very hand that holds it —
the contemplative life, if wrongly grasped,
drags you down to hell.

Any slack act,
or defiled observance,
or fraudulent life of chastity
bears no great fruit.

If something’s to be done,
then work at it firmly,
for a slack going-forth
kicks up all the more dust.

It’s better to leave a misdeed
A misdeed burns you afterward.
Better that a good deed be done
that, after you’ve done it,
won’t make you burn.”

To behave with skill, constant vigilance over our motives is necessary. Even when we “think” we practice the Dhamma well, our squirrel minds will find clever ways to lead us astray if we’re not vigilant. And the consequences of the “lapses” can lead us into a self-made hell that may take us a very long time to crawl out of. Right on point is the next verse:

“Like a frontier fortress,
guarded inside & out,
guard yourself.
Don’t let the moment pass by.
Those for whom the moment is past
grieve, consigned to hell.”

Wrong view is problematic for all people, but sometimes I think my fellow brethren in “the life,” as it used to be known, have some real issues with this.

“Ashamed of what’s not shameful,
not ashamed of what is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Seeing danger where there is none,
& no danger where there is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Imagining error where there is none,
and seeing no error where there is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

But knowing error as error,
and non-error as non-,
beings adopting right views
go to a good

Talk about emptiness, the Circuit Scene – particularly among gay men – is as empty as you can get. The circuit boys see danger in stable relationships, in monogamy, and see no danger in promiscuity. The line of thinking that justifies promiscuity is not limited to just sex; it reaches far beyond that to other areas. Of course, we may think there is no harm in such hedonism because we don’t observe any negative consequences being experienced by these fellows. But that’s only what we can see.

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