Let us now turn to the Dhammapada for insights into the sage from a Buddhist perspective. Here is a selection of verses to consider. Please share your thoughts and questions with the group.

90. He who has thrown off the fetters and freed himself in all ways, he is free from sorrow; for him there is no suffering; he has completed his journey.
91. The thoughtful exert themselves. They do not delight in any abode. They leave their house and home as swans their lake.
92. Those who have no possessions, who nourish themselves according to knowledge and who realize the goal of freedom by perceiving that life is empty and transient, their path is hard to trace like the flight of birds through the sky.
93. He whose appetites are slain and who is indifferent to food, who has perceived the goal of freedom by realizing that life is empty and transient, his path is hard to trace like the flight of birds through the sky.
94. Even the gods envy him whose senses are subdued like the horses well tamed by the charioteer, who is free from pride and free from depravities.
95. He who is patient like the earth, firm like Indra’s bolt, like a lake free from mud—for him there is no round of births and deaths.
96. Calm in thought, calm in speech, calm in actions is he who has obtained freedom through true knowledge. He has become tranquil. He is full of repose.
97. The man who is not credulous, who has severed all ties, killed all desires, for whom even occasions to act with like or dislike arise not, who knows the ever-existing uncreate, he indeed is exalted among men.

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There is a feeling of austerity with the verses;   my comments are below.

90. He who has thrown off the fetters and freed himself in all ways, he is free from sorrow; for him there is no suffering; he has completed his journey.

Comment –The ascetic has freed himself from attachments of the world, conquering samsara, the wheel of birth and rebirth, and will not reincarnate any more. 

91. The thoughtful exert themselves. They do not delight in any abode. They leave their house and home as swans their lake.

Comment - This reminds me of a quote from the New Testament - Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. The students make intentional efforts to overcome the mind taking little rest and do not regard the world as his home.

92. Those who have no possessions, who nourish themselves according to knowledge and who realize the goal of freedom by perceiving that life is empty and transient, their path is hard to trace like the flight of birds through the sky.

Comment - Seeing the emptiness of the full, the ascetic longs for knowledge and does not crave for possessions. He leaves no mark in the world of materialism.

93. He whose appetites are slain and who is indifferent to food, who has perceived the goal of freedom by realizing that life is empty and transient, his path is hard to trace like the flight of birds through the sky.

Comment - Because the ascetic does not establish himself materialistically in this world, he leaves little trace.

94. Even the gods envy him whose senses are subdued like the horses well tamed by the charioteer, who is free from pride and free from depravities.

Comment - When the ascetic overcomes his senses and is freed from pride, he achieves the goal.

95. He who is patient like the earth, firm like Indra’s bolt, like a lake free from mud—for him there is no round of births and deaths.

Comment - Learning patience and unwavering persistence, the ascetic gains freedom.

96. Calm in thought, calm in speech, calm in actions is he who has obtained freedom through true knowledge. He has become tranquil. He is full of repose.

Comment - Through knowledge of the Real, the ascetic sees the emptiness and become indifferent to the pair of opposites, equanimity is obtained.

97. The man who is not credulous, who has severed all ties, killed all desires, for whom even occasions to act with like or dislike arise not, who knows the ever-existing uncreate, he indeed is exalted among men.

Comment - Like and dislike does not affect the ascetic for he has transcended the world of kama and abides in the Self.

 

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Thank you for these comments. Wonderful observations!

Do you have any thoughts on why austerity or asceticism may be necessary?

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“Do you have any thoughts on why austerity or asceticism may be necessary?"

I think there is a difference between austerity and being disciplined; the former may not be necessary in pursuit of spiritual living given our times and conditions, the latter is essential to be successful in any undertaking.   In a way, it is more difficult to practice a life of renunciation engaging as a part in the society; like the saying goes - learning to be in the world but not of the world.   

At the same time, a lot depends on our calling; some are called, at least in the present lifetime, to be a householder and be an active citizen in society.  And there are those who feel a strong stirrings of the soul, thus swayed by the law of attraction and repulsion, finding the world repulsive and empty.  They are called to a life of self-denial and sacrifice for worldly living has lost all the luster.  They start or continue on their journey - the return of the prodigal son.   

In the “key of Theosophy” section 13, there are passages on asceticism; see below.

 

THEOSOPHY AND ASCETICISM.

ENQUIRER. I have heard people say that your rules require all members to be vegetarians, celibates, and rigid ascetics; but you have not told me anything of the sort yet. Can you tell me the truth once for all about this?

THEOSOPHIST. The truth is that our rules require nothing of the kind. The Theosophical Society does not even expect, far less require of any of its members that they should be ascetics in any way, except — if you call that asceticism — that they should try and benefit other people and be unselfish in their own lives.

ENQUIRER. But you said that "ascetic practices" are not obligatory even in that Inner Section?

THEOSOPHIST. No more they are; but the first thing which the members learn there is a true conception of the relation of the body, or physical sheath, to the inner, the true man. The relation and mutual interaction between these two aspects of human nature are explained and demonstrated to them, so that they soon become imbued with the supreme importance of the inner man over the outer case or body. They are taught that blind unintelligent asceticism is mere folly; that such conduct as that of St. Labro which I spoke of before, or that of the Indian Fakirs and jungle ascetics, who cut, burn and macerate their bodies in the most cruel and horrible manner, is simply self-torture for selfish ends, i.e., to develop will-power, but is perfectly useless for the purpose of assisting true spiritual, or Theosophic, development.

ENQUIRER. I see, you regard only moral asceticism as necessary. It is as a means to an end, that end being the perfect equilibrium of the inner nature of man, and the attainment of complete mastery over the body with all its passions and desires?

THEOSOPHIST. Just so. But these means must be used intelligently and wisely, not blindly and foolishly; like an athlete who is training and preparing for a great contest, not like the miser who starves himself into illness that he may gratify his passion for gold.

http://www.theosociety.org/pasadena/key/key-13.htm

 

Key to Theosophy Section 13

 

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I think there is a difference between austerity and being disciplined; the former may not be necessary in pursuit of spiritual living given our times and conditions, the latter is essential to be successful in any undertaking.

Very good point! And I think you're right that each person must follow their own calling. Some of us will be drawn to asceticism some to the householder life. What I've noticed in ancient texts from the east is that there are saints/sages represented from both groups, and certainly no shortage of householder sages.

Thanks for sharing that section from the Key as well.

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May I ask what is the meaning in #93 of 'life is empty?'

And again in 97, what does it mean to sever all ties?

I am not quite sure. Thanks for any and all help :)

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May I ask what is the meaning in #93 of 'life is empty?'

I think the other word in that sentence is quite important to consider alongside 'empty', that word being 'transient'. In eastern teachings there's the idea is that: that which has no permanent existence is 'empty' because it has a beginning and an end and thus only 'exists' for a 'wink of an eye'. Think of bubbles forming on the surface of water; they come and go, while the water remains. Can we really say that the bubbles have any separate existence from the water? In truth the bubble is made of the water; it's a 'modification' of the water. So all that truly exists is the water, the bubble is just a temporary appearance and is therefore 'empty' (i.e. a maya).

We can apply this to the world of phenomenon (the outer world). Things and forms come and go, but they're all just temporary modifications of 'substance', and outside of 'substance' they have no independent reality.

At least, that's one way of approaching it. Anyone else have any thoughts?

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Thank you, this helped a lot. Good visuals. I was really stuck on these ideas. I can see it better as 'empty and transient' now, where before I couldn't quite grasp the concept for the word 'empty' itself.

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Glad to help. There are a couple of members here who seem to have an excellent sense of how the term 'empty' is used in Buddhist philosophy (the term issunyata). It's one of the most profound ideas when one starts to explore it. But I think for most of us, the basic concept of the 'unreality' of transient things is enough to really get us started in distinguishing between the 'real' and the 'unreal', so to speak.

And that ability to distinguish sure seems to be a central characteristic of the sage.

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What does it mean for the sage to be "indifferent"? And how might this differ from the common notion of "not caring"?

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The following extract from a letter written by the Mahatma KH to A.P. Sinnett may be relevant to the above question:

I hope that at least you will understand that we (or most of us) are far from being the heartless, morally dried up mummies some would fancy us to be. "Mejnoor" is very well, where he is – as an ideal character of a thrilling – in many respects truthful story. Yet, believe me, few of us would care to play the part in life of a dessicated pansy between the leaves of a volume of solemn poetry. We may not be quite the "boys" – to quote Olcott's irreverent expression when speaking of us – yet none of our degree are like the stern hero of Bulwer's romance*. While the facilities of observation secured to some of us by our condition certainly give a greater breadth of view, a more pronounced and impartial, as a more widely spread humaneness – for answering Addison, we might justly maintain that it is . . . "the business of 'magic' to humanise our natures with compassion" for the whole mankind as all living beings, instead of concentrating and limiting our affections to one predilected race – yet few of us (except such as have attained the final negation of Moksha) can so far enfranchise ourselves from the influence of our earthly connection as to be insusceptible in various degrees to the higher pleasures, emotions, and interests of the common run of humanity. Until final emancipation reabsorbs the Ego, it must be conscious of the purest sympathies called out by the esthetic effects of high art, its tenderest cords respond to the call of the holier and nobler human attachments. Of course, the greater the progress towards deliverance, the less this will be the case, until, to crown all, human and purely individual personal feelings – blood-ties and friendship, patriotism and race predilection – all will give away, to become blended into one universal feeling, the only true and holy, the only unselfish and Eternal one – Love, an Immense Love for humanity – as a Whole! For it is "Humanity" which is the great Orphan, the only disinherited one upon this earth, my friend. And it is the duty of every man who is capable of an unselfish impulse, to do something, however little, for its welfare. Poor, poor humanity! It reminds me of the old fable of the war between the Body and its members: here too, each limb of this huge "Orphan" – fatherless and motherless – selfishly cares but for itself. The body uncared for suffers eternally, whether the limbs are at war or at rest. Its suffering and agony never cease. . . . And who can blame it – as your materialistic philosophers do – if, in this everlasting isolation and neglect it has evolved gods, unto whom "it ever cries for help but is not heard!" . . . Thus –

      "Since there is hope for man only in man

       I would not let one cry whom I could save! . . ."

Yet I confess that I, individually, am not yet exempt from some of the terrestrial attachments. I am still attracted toward some men more than toward others, and philanthropy as preached by our Great Patron – "the Saviour of the World – the Teacher of Nirvana and the Law . . . ." has never killed in me either individual preferences of friendship, love – for my next of kin, or the ardent feeling of patriotism for the country – in which I was last materially individualized.

Mahatma KH (Letter no. 8; T. Barker edition)

* ‘Zanoni’  a novel by Bulwer Lytton

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Peter might you share with us what meaning all of this has for you and what ideas in it you found the most illuminating?

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We normally think of indifference as a rather detached attitude to life and events, and that may well be one aspect of it.  I think the Mahatama’s words show us another side to this when He explains how our feelings for the particulars - whether for individuals, the higher pursuits & so on - may be gradually subsumed by a universal feeling of love for humanity as a whole.  This suggests that in our striving for ‘the universal’,  it (the universal) eventually overcomes ‘the particular’.  Perhaps at that stage we might call it ‘divine indifference’.

I wonder that without this positive aspect to indifference there always a danger that our practice of indifference to events in our life becomes merely a form of self-development or self improvement?  In other words, that our self-ish-ness might just carry on as before but under another guise.

HPB draws our attention to this aspect of the path in The Key to Theosophy

‘. . . the one self has to forget itself for the many selves. Let me answer you in the words of a true Philaletheian, an F. T. S., who has beautifully expressed it in the Theosophist: "What every man needs first is to find himself, and then take an honest inventory of his subjective possessions, and, bad or bankrupt as it may be, it is not beyond redemption if we set about it in earnest." But how many do? All are willing to work for their own development and progress; very few for those of others. To quote the same writer again: "Men have been deceived and deluded long enough; they must break their idols, put away their shams, and go to work for themselves — nay, there is one little word too much or too many, for he who works for himself had better not work at all; rather let him work himself for others, for all. For every flower of love and charity he plants in his neighbour's garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from his own, and so this garden of the gods — Humanity — shall blossom as a rose.”’

(Key To Theosophy, p 53)

Replies to This Discussion

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 21, 2013 at 10:19am
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There is no doubt that shifting the focus away from the little "i" is a long and difficult process.  Not to mention tricky.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 7, 2013 at 3:50pm
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I think one way to think of indifference is not willing to give something very much if any importance.

Children might fight for who is first in line in the lunch room.  Everyone will get their meal, why fuss over where you stand in line.  The sage is indifferent in that he or she does not give the weight of importance to things that ordinary people put enormous importance into.  Another example is how we struggle and fight to retain an appearance of youth as we grow older.  Why fight it beyond a certain point, nature is taking its course.  We despair as our 'youthful appearance" recedes.  The sage is indifferent to appearances.

Some ideas at least.  I am sure there are much better and richer examples and meanings than these.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on March 7, 2013 at 9:22pm
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Wonderfully said. The notion of placing the appropriate importance on things seems like something valuable that's within our ability to begin putting into practice.

But what about more drastic events/situations... for example, I wonder: how might an 'indifferent' sage, who has realized the 'emptiness of life', who is free of sorrow and suffering, respond differently than us to, say, someone in extreme suffering? How might they respond (inwardly or outwardly) to famine, war, rape, etc.? How might they respond differently to the 6 o'clock news? ;)

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on March 7, 2013 at 9:22pm
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How might be interpret the idea of having no possessions? Do we take this in an external, literal way? Is it more of a state of mind? In our material/commercial world, how might we apply this to our lives?

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 21, 2013 at 10:16am
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Your question brings to mind the idea of stewardship as opposed to possessorship.

Permalink Reply by Don Petros on March 8, 2013 at 12:57pm
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such interesting thoughts and comments..

What does it mean for the sage to be "indifferent"? And how might this differ from the common notion of "not caring"?

I think that for the sage to be indifferent, that person would be operating without a desire for some particular or personally desired outcome.  They've realized that their personality is an illusion. You could say they no longer have 'skin in the game'.  That is not to say they don't have a deep compassion or care for the welfare of others, which can be seen with them. 

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 19, 2013 at 10:55am
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This is beautifully put by Don.  It brings to mind the idea in the Gita of disinterested action, or renunciation of the fruit of action.  Put simply it is the doing what is right for its own sake and not for any reward one might acquire.