Inspector Maigret on Non-duality

I’ve always been a fan of detective stories, and over the years, one of the detectives I have enjoyed the most is Jules Maigret, Commissaire de la Police Judiciaire, the creation of Georges Simenon. The Maigret novels are short, and written in a spare and simple style. Deceptively simple. Maigret is a detective who’s often more interested in whydunit, than whodunit. I can’t recall the Inspector ever using a gun. His weapon of choice is his psychological insight.

There’s a certain Buddhist/Taoist quality about Maigret. As Pierre Weisz wrote in his essay, Simenon and ‘Le Commissaire,’ “Maigret’s great asset is being there.” Maigret has his own unique way of working cases, and many times, he’s like Lao Tzu’s sage, who “goes about doing nothing.” It may seem like he’s doing nothing, perhaps strolling along the banks of the Seine smoking his pipe, or having a casual beer in a small Paris cafe, but actually he’s deep into an investigation of the causes and conditions behind the actions of both the guilty and the innocent.

My cable company carries the MHZ Network (KCET) which has “International Mysteries,” currently featuring Beck, a Swedish police detective, based on the novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, who were pioneers of Scandinavian crime fiction in the ‘60s and ‘70s; Inspector Montablano, created by Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, an absolutely great series (and great books); and Maigret. The Maigret series was produced for French TV in the 1990s and are set in the times of the novels.

I was watching “Maigret and the Candle Auction” last night, and I forget what the other character said to provoke this response, but Maigret said, “Happiness is just dormant sadness.”

It seemed to me that Maigret was making an important point about non-duality. That was probably not his intent, and possibly not Simenon’s either, assuming the line was taken from the book.

It reminded me of something I read by Krishnamurti not long ago:

There is sorrow. My son is dead. I do not move away. Where is the duality? It is only when I say I have lost my companion, my son, that duality comes into being.

Even though we talk about the cessation of suffering, there really is none. Suffering is never completely absent. Sadness at the loss of a loved one, for instance, never leaves. Not even after decades. I know. Like Buddha Nature the potential for suffering exists within us always, and can arise at any time. Peace is just dormant suffering.

Sadness and happiness are advaita: two, but not two. They are non-dual. Duality comes into being when we begin to make distinctions and comparisons. And cessation comes into being when we stop suffering from ruling, and ruining, our lives.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
nothing in the world can offend,
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.

Seng-ts’an, Verses on the Heart-Mind

Just in case you’d like to learn more about the novels of George Simenon and his character, Inspector Maigret, hop over to pattinase, the blog of Patti Abbott, a writer of short stories, and check out Friday’s Forgotten Books. This week the bloggers at taking a look at Simenon’s work.


“Equally a coming Buddha”

Vasubandhu, a 4th Century Indian Buddhist, once wrote:

All sentient beings originally and universally posses the pure Buddha Nature. Thus, it is not possible that anyone should ever fail to realize Nirvana.”

– from Treatise on Buddha Nature

When you read something like this, you should feel happy. It’s really good news.

Today, I’m unabashedly gloating over the idea that all people have Buddha Nature. What a positive message. How could any person not be glad to hear it? Having Buddha Nature means that Nirvana, which is peace, is presently available. We don’t have to wait until we die to find peace, and we don’t have to rely on anyone or anything outside of our own life. Nirvana is right here, right now, if we want it.

Buddha Nature, or Fo-xing, is a term that originated in China; there is no Sanskrit equivalent for it. The word does not appear in any Indian sutras. Even in the Nirvana Sutra the term used is Buddha-dhatu (Buddha realm), although it is considered synonymous with “Buddha Nature,” as is tathagatagarbha (“womb of thusness”), expounded in the “Tathagatagarbha” sutras.* Indeed, the notion of Buddha Nature, as developed and popularized by the Chinese Yogacara and Madhyamaka schools (the basis for our present day understanding of the term), apparently was unknown in Indian Buddhism.

That’s why there is some question among modern scholars about whether or not Vasubandhu is the actual author of the Fo-xing-lun or “Treatise on Buddha Nature.” Regardless, Sallie B. King, now Professor of Philosophy and Religion at James Madison University, published a study of Fo-xing-lun, titled Buddha Nature. She says, “Buddha Nature means ‘potential Buddha’ – not as a type of being, but as practice (i.e. realization) that is an action or series of actions.”

This potential has always existed within sentient beings. Some Buddhists maintain that insentient being posses it as well, that even plants and trees have Buddha Nature. However, only human beings can realize this potential for awakened life.

I think it is important to keep in mind that just because Buddha Nature and the peace of Nirvana is presently all around us, there is still some effort required to realize it. Potential, remember, means “possible,” “capable of being.” Buddha Nature is a latent quality that must be developed for it to manifest. And once we have awakened our Buddha Nature we can’t rest on our laurels. After he became the Buddha, Shakyamuni did not just sit back and say, “I’ve got it made.” He continued to develop himself.

There’s a phrase in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums that I think sums up Buddha Nature perfectly:

equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha . . .”

If you uncover your Buddha Nature, you won’t be able to see it. If you were to become a Buddha, you might not even know it. But if you can wrap your mind around the idea that there is absolutely no real distinction between an ordinary human being and a Buddha, then you’ve taken a giant step on the journey of awakening.


*Tathagatagarbha Sutra, Srimaladevi-simhanada Sutra, Anuatvapurnatva-nirdesa


Mandela: “Peace is not just the absence of conflict”

Today is Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated in recent years on his birthday, and this year he turns 94. There’s no need for me to elucidate about Nelson Mandela. He’s a great man. A little bit, though, about the day: the purpose for celebrating Mandela is to inspire people all over the globe to work for positive change, to take action to make this a better world. An important aspect is service to others. One could say that a Mandela Day is a Bodhisattva Day.

Well, ‘nuff said. Now, here are some thoughts by Nelson Mandela, in a message to the Global Convention on Peace and Nonviolence in New Delhi on January 31, 2004:

I offer these few words to this important conference deeply aware of the state our world is in. Peace and non-violence have not yet become the automatic or predominant modes for living with difference and diversity, in spite of all the progress humankind has seen and achieved in the last century.

Too much of our planet is still embroiled in destructive conflict, strife and war.

And unfortunately none of us can escape blame for the situation in which humankind finds itself. In almost every part of the world human beings find reasons to resort to force and violence in addressing differences that we surely should attempt to resolve through negotiation, dialogue and reason.

Development and peace are indivisible. Without peace and international security, nations cannot focus on the upliftment of the most underprivileged of their citizens.

Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division, and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.

The Global Convention on Peace and Nonviolence is a very timely initiative and I congratulate its organisers. It is indeed the moment to refresh the memory of the lessons taught by the lives of great apostles of peace like Mahatma Gandhi. The fact that this Conference is being held just one day after the death anniversary of the Mahatma Gandhi is an apt reminder of the fact that the path of those who preach love, and not hatred, is not easy. They often have to wear a crown of thorns.

It should, however, not always be the case.

South Africa, the country that inspired the Mahatma and that was inspired by the Mahatma, chose a path of peace in the face of all the prophets of doom. We chose his path, the route of negotiation and compromise. And we hope that we honoured his memory. And that in remembrance of that great tradition others will follow.

Human beings will always be able to find arguments for confrontation and no compromise. We humans are, however, the beings capable of reason, compassion and change. May this be the century of compassion, peace and non-violence: here in this region where you meet, in all the conflict-ridden parts of the world, and on our planet universally.

I thank you.


Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for being a shining example of how to practice what one preaches.


Thought is Homeless

The Dalai Lama holds some of the International Network of Street Papers he will star in their July 2012 issue.

I read that the Dalai Lama is helping to raise funds for homeless people around the world by agreeing to appear on the cover of more than 40 street publications. These are independent newspapers and magazines that provide employment opportunities for people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and are part of the International Network of Street Papers.

The Dalai Lama says, “On some level, I am also homeless.”

He’s referring to the fact that he is in exile from his home in Tibet, but that statement can be interpreted another way, for on some level, we are all homeless.

We may have a home, perhaps own one, but when we leave the world, we leave our home behind. Someone else will have it. Our “ownership” is only temporary, just as we temporarily own our body and our “self,” or anything else.

Homelessness was an important concept in early Buddhism. The Buddha and his original followers were part of the Indian tradition of Parivrajakas, or “homeless ones,” men who had “gone forth” from householder life. To use an old expression, they had “dropped out” of society, rejecting not only homes, but kinship, class, and even clothes, for they cast aside the garments they normally wore for old clothes and rags.

The bhikkhu’s homelessness was symbolic of the greater homelessness of life itself. As everything in this world will eventfully decay and disappear, there is no true home for anything, certainly no permanent home. Even our thoughts are homeless.

Thought, Kasyapa, is formless, unseen, not solid, unknowable, unstable, homeless. Thought, Kasyapa, was never seen by any of the Buddhas. They do not see it, they will not see it; and what has never been seen by the Buddhas, what they do not see and will never see, what kind of a process can that have, unless things exist by a false conception? Thought, Kasyapa, is like illusion, and by forming what is not, comprehends all sorts of events. . . .

Crown of Jewels Sutra

Wandering through realms of consciousness like a refugee, thought looks for a home. Thought thinks that perhaps by clinging to this or to that, it can find a home. In this way, thought forms attachments with names and forms, with concepts such as “is” and “is not,” “self” and “other,” “me” and “mine,” and with emotions like envy, pride, and desire. It is the mission of thought to form these attachments in hopes of finding a home. Thought wants to own its own home.

But having things can be a burden. As George Carlin used to say, a home is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. He said, “Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” Yes, after a while the stuff we own, owns us.

Moreover, since none of our stuff, nor our attachments to them, can last, ownership is an illusion, because it’s always temporary. We never actually “own” anything, we just have things and use them for a rather brief period of time. It is our mission to free thought from the burdens of attachment and ownership, from illusion.

To put an end to thought’s endless search for attachments, we train our mind. We train our thoughts to think differently. This is the primary value of meditation, the tool we use to stop the mind from searching for this illusion of a home, even from searching for itself.

During his meditation, a [practitioner] will find that not even one of the thoughts arising in the mind stays for an instant . . . [He or she] will find that the past mind has gone, the present mind does not stay, and the future mind has not yet come. [The practitioner] will discover that it cannot be found anywhere after an exhaustive search of it in the three times. As it cannot be found, it follows that it is non-existent and that all things (dharma) are so as well.

Chih-i, Stopping and Seeing for Beginners

This corresponds to the concept of wu-hsin or “no-mind,” meaning that there is “no deliberate mind of one’s own.” Of course, it doesn’t mean there is no actual mind. It simply means abiding in a mind that is without attachments.

The phenomenon of wu-hsin, or “no-mindedness,” is not a blank mind that shuts out all thoughts and emotions; nor is it simply calmness and quietness of mind. Although quietude and calmness are necessary, it is the “non-graspingness” of thoughts that mainly constitutes the principle of no mind.

Bruce Lee, On Wu-hsin (No-Mindedness)

We, and our thoughts, are homeless because we are searching for a home that doesn’t exist, forming attachments, clinging to things we can never own. We think in this way we will find security and contentment. It’s a search that will remain frustrating and elusive as long as we continue to seize and grasp. It’s not necessary that we emulate the actual homelessness of the Buddha and his followers. It’s all in the mind, and when we let go of the mind that is constantly seeking to form attachments, when thought is comfortable in its homelessness, we can abide in the home of no-home.


Woody Guthrie: Notes of Hope

As I mentioned Thursday, Woody Guthrie would be 100 years old today. But, you know, calculating birthdays like this is a little strange. Turning 100 after you’re dead really isn’t much of an accomplishment. Anyone can do it. No, it’s just an excuse to celebrate someone we admire.

I’ve been a fan of Woody’s ever since I was in grade school, when we use to sing his songs in Music Class. My favorite was “Roll On, Columbia,” a fun song to sing in a group. That was long before I had ever heard of Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan or Alice’s Restaurant.

Now if you are an admirer of Woody Guthrie, you don’t need me to tell you why he matters. You already know. And if you are not a fan, and wondering what the big deal is, I suggest you listen to some of his recordings, and read Joe Klein’s biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life.

Klein not only captures the spirit of Woody’s life, but also the tragedy. Woody was a fountain of nervous and creative energy. He couldn’t sit still to save his life, couldn’t stay in one place for long, always talked up a storm, wrote incessantly – thousands of songs, 2 or 3 letters a day, books – and a man possessed of an indomitable spirit. Yet, that restless, creative mind, and that spirit, was diminished by Huntington’s Chorea, which was “to rob him of his precious ability to sing, to write, to make music.”

In 1940, for his song “This Land is Your Land,” Woody wrote:

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back . . .

“Note of Hope” is a new 12-track collection*

In December 1954, after he was diagnosed with the first stages of the disease, which had caused him to exhibit bizarre behavior that many interpreted as drunkenness, Woody wrote this:

Huntington’s Chorea
Means there’s no help known
In the science of medicine
For me . . .

So, in the end, the man whose name, to me, is synonymous with “hope,” was robbed of even that, perhaps his most precious quality of all.

From the ravages of Huntington’s Chorea, Woody lost control over his body and mind, and was hospitalized and bedridden the last 13 years of his life, but that’s not how we like to remember him. And it’s not how he would like to be remembered. We like to think of Woody as that rambler and hard traveler, always singin’, always dreamin’, as he described himself at the end of his book Seeds of Man, about a 1931 trip through Texas with his uncle Jeff in search of a silver mine, when he was 19 years old:

I took my first good long backwards look while the whistling of the breeze and the sporting of the winds yelled at me louder through the suction of the Slick Rock Gap. Sam Nail told us that this wagon trail out of here to the north towards Alpine would save us more than forty miles of dagger walking. I commenced trickling tears down both of my cheeks as I turned my face away from the Rough Run Valley, the Hen Egg, the Chisos, the Christmas Mountains, the Saw Tooth, the Santa Rosas . . .

I commenced to walk along past an old sign, scribbled on the fan of a blown-down windmill, which said, “Rock Canyon Ranch, 15 mis.,” with a little wiggly ground rattler arrow shooting towards the ranch. I commenced laughing at my own silly self as I flumped my guitar in a crazy banging which made no tune nor sense. My bangy laughing echoed back down in both my ears while I walked my first few steps on through the Slick Rock Gap.

I laughed so hard that I had to drag my feet like a cripple, I was thinking of something so funny that human words, human songs, can’t quite run and catch it . . .

I’ll skip Tucson and the Gonzalezes this trip. I’ll head on back up to Pampa and make friends again will all of my relatives laughing at me. I’ll save up, all of us will put up, and we’ll make another stab at this country down in here. Maybe, maybe that pretty, peachy, big-eyes, curly-headed Riorina will still be down here when I come back with a little more sense. I made so damn many mistakes on this run, I . . . I couldn’t stand up and look her straight in the eyes. Hyooee. Hyooee . . .

I just hope this one hope this morning, which is, I want to hope that Eddie Stoner is having better luck, or at least just as good, down along the muddy pool with Luisa and that Rio Rattler River, and with Ole Man Rio’s greeny wool blanket somewhere around.

(From Seeds of Man: An Experience Lived and Dreamed © 1976, by Marjorie M. Guthrie)

We remember Woody Guthrie for his notes of hope, those simple but magnificent songs that have inspired generations of American and people all around the world. And we remember him for a life lived and experienced as beautiful and troubled and complicated and free as life really is. We remember Woody Guthrie for his pride in America, for his belief that this country could always be better than it was, for his love of humanity, for his devotion to working folks and folks who had no jobs and no home, and for his fidelity to hope. We remember Woody Guthrie.

Other posts about Woody Guthrie on The Endless Further can be found here, here, here and here.

*On September 27th, 429 Records will release “Note of Hope,” a celebration of Woody Guthrie, based on many of his unpublished writings, featuring Rob Wasserman in collaboration with Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Kurt Elling, Michael Franti, Nellie McKay, Tom Morello, Van Dyke Parks, Madeleine Peyroux, Lou Reed, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Tony Trischka, and Chris Whitley