A while back I listened to some really good Dharma talks by the Chinese Buddhist nun, Ven. Sister Fa Xun in Australia, and she described the mind and its cravings like a pot of boiling water. If you put some cold water in the pot, the water will stop boiling for a time, but then start back up again.
In the Dhammapada, the Buddha said that even if the sky were to rain gold coins, one’s desires would not be appeased for long. When you think about it, it’s true. Suppose your greatest dreams came true: you win the lottery, or have mind-blowing sex with a lingerie model, or both. Before long, your cravings, though momentarily satisfied, would start up again. It’s true when you think about it. It just never stops.
So anyways, I’ve rolled this analogy around in my for a while and wanted to expand on this analogy as I see it.
Ven. Sister Fa Xun is right in that the mind and its cravings are like a boiling pot of water. Putting more cold water (satisfying one’s cravings) in the pot is a temporary solution, and no matter how many times you do, the pot of water will just boil again and again. If you put in too much water it will make a mess all over the place. That’s what happens when people veer toward hedonism, self-indulgence or thinking to themselves “this is all there is, so I’ll just enjoy it as much as I can.”
On the other hand, if you stop putting water into the pot, the pot will boil itself dry and the pot will be ruined. This is like someone who veers toward self-deprivation or self-mortification.
So, in the end you do have to keep putting some water into the pot, at least to keep it going and keep things balanced. But while this is going on, you need to figure out how to turn off the heat that makes the pot boil. This is getting to the root of the problem, rather than dealing with the symptoms. Instead of just dealing with the craving, which is only a symptom of the issue, you need to gradually go to the source and figure out where the craving comes from.
So, going back to the analogy, all schools in Buddhism from Zen, Vajrayana (Japanese and Tibetan), Theravada, Pure Land and so on deal with this issue: how do you turn off the heat that makes the pot boil?
Here’s my analogy on each approach (others can correct or expand on what I am saying):
- Theravada, Vipassyana – This approach is to carefully examine the pot and the oven, based on advice from the Buddha, as depicted in the instruction manual, and investigate how it works. One carefully starts with the gas flame, and work one’s way backwards until you find out how to turn it off.
- Zen – Instead of getting caught up in turning off the heat to the pot, one focuses on putting cold water from time to time in the pot, allow it to boil. In time, if you relax and keep things simple and straightforward, the solution will just dawn on you. If you get flustered, the local mechanic at the hardware store will remind you not to worry and just keep adding water from time to time.
- Vajrayana (Tibetan and Japanese Shingon/Tendai) – Instead of trying to figure it out yourself, go to the local hardware shop and ask the mechanic there. At first the steps will seem very obtuse, but if you patient and just let the mechanic show you all the steps, you can perform the same steps on your own and turn off the heat.
- Pure Land – If you find that you just can’t figure it out yourself, and can’t make it out to the hardware store, you can also call Amida Buddha’s mechanic services. He does home repairs, and works weekends. As a master-certified mechanic, he’ll walk you through how it works, and turn off the heat for you. Sometimes he’ll bring along his trainees, Kannon (Guan-yin) and Seishi too.
People who come to Buddhism have different backgrounds and dispositions, so people will incline toward one approach or another. The important thing to keep in mind is that until you understand how to turn off the heat, you should keep a nice balance of water in the pot (not too little, not too much) and find an approach that will help you get to the root of the problem. Don’t waste too much effort on the symptoms as time is short. At the same time, don’t forget that until you find the root of the problem, you’ll have to keep putting water in over and over and over.
All that I said in the preceding paragraph is just Buddhist “diligence” by the way. 🙂