Abandoning barriers to awareness, expelling all defilements;
Non-dependent, cutting aversion, allurement, wander alone like a rhinoceros.“KHAGGAVISANA SUTTA: A RHINOCEROS” (SN 1.3), TRANSLATED FROM THE PALI BY THANISSARO BHIKKHU. ACCESS TO INSIGHT (BCBS EDITION), 30 NOVEMBER 2013, HTTP://WWW.ACCESSTOINSIGHT.ORG/TIPITAKA/KN/SNP/SNP.1.03.THAN.HTML
We have journeyed together for 22 posts thus far for this ancient sutta. This is one of the earliest sutta in Buddhism and perhaps one that is most rejected by lay followers.
In this sutta, the Buddha preached a spiritual path that is austere and strict. A path that he had walked and in doing so, attained the ultimate goal of Enlightenment. In this sutta, Buddha did not mince his words and he exhorted serious practitioners to let go of all secular concerns and focus on training for enlightenment.
Naturally, this sutta makes many lay followers recoil in horror.
Anti-social, reclusive, Hinayana.
These are some of the names being tagged to this sutta.
For seasoned practitioners, we know that successful masters from all traditions retreated to practice alone too. From Theravada, Mahayana to Vajrayana practitioners, every one of those great masters had trodden the rhinoceros path to become Enlightened.
The reason is simple. It is almost impossible to see the Ultimate Truth if you are constantly distracted by secular activities.
In this verse, we should appreciate that a mind that is stable and “middle” is crucial for breaking free from the trap of delusion. We have to be free from allurement. That means not distracted by excitement arising from craving and chasing after pleasure. It is not helpful when you are thinking about what to eat for dinner or reminded that someone’s birthday is just around the corner.
We have to be free from aversion. That means not haunted by hurt and feeling displeasure. For example work stress. That is why in one of the Buddhist story, a Buddhist teacher who was busy with his teaching curriculum cannot attain enlightenment whereas his students became enlightened before him.
It is not the environment but the activities that is troubling one. That is why the Buddhist activities of the teaching monk can also be a hurdle to Enlightenment. That is why some practitioners can gain enlightenment while sitting in a cafe whilst others do not get to see a glimpse of truth while living in a monastery.
Being a layperson, it is difficult for us to have that state of “middleness”, a state of calm repose that is not troubled by external situations. From the moment we wake up and prepare for work, our mind becomes disturbed. That is why retreat is important if we want to improve our practice.
Take vacation for serious practice. Start with a one day retreat and try to stay away from all distraction and stress. By retreating away from situations that would otherwise trouble our mind, we give ourselves an opportunity to advance to the next level of realization. Once our mind develops strength during our retreat, we then return to the society with a strengthened mind.
When we are accustomed to one day retreat, we can try 3 days retreat and 7 days retreat. If one day retreat is impossible, at least try a 30 min getaway once a week. Start at a level that we are comfortable with. There is no short cut.
The objective of practice is to develop the quality as mentioned in the verse. We need to be aware of our mind. Be aware of the ceaseless flow of thoughts and how they define us as a person. Be aware of how those thoughts can be influenced by our social environment. We maintain a state of equilibrium in our mind so that we experience life as it is. Gradually, we will see the truth about our existence.
May all be well and happy.