Introduction to Insight Meditation
by Venerable Sujiva
I think that the great Indian Sage, if there were volcanoes where he lived, would have used them in his teachings, as he did with the lofty, snow-capped Himalayas.
Not until recently – except in geographical magazines and on television screens – did I have the opportunity to behold these fascinating spouts from the boiling bowels of the earth. The craters that I visited on my trip to Indonesia were not the most spectacular ones, but they were enough to give me the idea that those people who devote their entire lives to studying the area of science concerning volcanic activity may not be doing so just for the sake of concern for human safety.
We live quite indifferent to, and unaware of, many things around us. Coming face to face with a volcanic crater jolted me into a sudden awareness of the superficial stability of the very earth we stand on. Where we live in Malaysia, just outside the ring of fiery volcanic regions, tremors, once in a blue moon, do occur. But earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are generally regarded as something that is not a part of our world. People living on the slopes should be more aware of the dangers, but this is not always so, for people often prefer to be like the ostrich – remaining blind to the dangers. Warnings will be issued, but still there will be casualties. The fertile soil, for one thing, promises abundant harvests, and people grow attached to their homes. The earth, the blood and the emotions soon become quite inseparable.
There are many types of volcanoes, our guide informed us: live volcanoes, sleeping volcanoes and dead volcanoes.
Living volcanoes which are active – as can be seen by their still fuming craters – can blow up at any time, although modern science has instruments that can forewarn us to some degree.
Sleeping volcanoes are dormant because they have not shown any activity for some time. But they can still ‘wake up’ when the conditions play up again. Pinatubo, of the Philippines, which blew up in 1991, had been sleeping for about 600 years.
When we are more sure of their extinction, those mounts which were once active volcanoes can be considered dead. But we can never be truly sure unless we know what’s going on underneath.
Think of the hot, molten rock called lava – cascading at great speed down those steep slopes and burning everything on its way, although it’s other things, such as pyroclastic flows, that kill people. It doesn’t need much to kill man or inflict more suffering than man can bear, but Nature’s moods are impersonal and so when they blow their tops, it’s ‘run for your lives’!
Java is the most volcano-riddled region in the world. Two of the most disastrous, Tambora and Krakatau – which have claimed many thousands of lives, not to mention property loss – exist here.
People can also be seen in the same way – active volcanoes, dormant volcanoes and dead volcanoes.
When you are in a fit of anger, consumed by lust, or buried by delusion, you are undergoing an eruption. It strikes terror in and around you, and you may lose some good things in life. Although it may not take lives, it can, and may even be, more lethal than an actual volcano. How about the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an example. The Japanese themselves killed some millions of Chinese in World War Two. Atrocities by man upon himself can do more than natural disasters.
Therefore, if I may add, there are three types of eruptions – minor, major and catastrophic:
You may survive many minor eruptions but one major one is enough to drive quite a few people off their rockers. Hope (against all odds) that such unfortunate happenings will not come to you – but tragedy will eventually play its part. Look deep into your heart and you will know what I mean. Look at all the other walking volcanoes around you, and at the instability of the world, and you will be convinced. The fires of greed, hatred and delusion run deep in everyone’s veins. A dormant volcano can sleep through centuries, but these defilements spew out dirt everyday.
What is it that can quell these fires? The answer is found where the problem began – hidden underground, where there are veins of hot molten lava, can also be found the cool refreshing springs of life, that is, in the Mind itself – the cooling waters of mindfulness!
Resting for a minute on the largest stupa in the world, I could see the distant volcano Merapi mixing its fumes with the clouds. Borobudur, sometimes referred to as the Mountain of Buddhas, may have actually been inspired by the presence of volcanoes.
Whilst watching the magnificent statues of our Lord, serenely seated, with various hand gestures, it occurred to me that this is a genuinely dead volcano, the fires of defilements which have long been extinct. How marvelous it is to be part of the picture with this symbol of peace!