Dhrtaka is speaking about Micchaka’s path as a sorcerer when he says, “The Buddha said that to practice sorcery, studying what is minor, is like being dragged by a rope.” Throughout the history of humankind, there has been a fascination with the otherworldly: supernatural powers, such as the powers of telepathy, astral projection, channeling, bending objects, prediction of the future, walking on water, changing forms. We are fascinated by all kinds of powers that we believe exist beyond the ordinary realm of experience and will give meaning to our lives.
What Dhrtaka is saying is that to pursue such a path is to learn something minor; it’s not really very important when juxtaposed with what really is most essential. Having mastered any of these supernatural powers, then what? Does that really transform the way you live your life? Does it help others? Does it change the world?
Trungpa Rinpoche spoke of the tendency—particularly for Westerners living in a consumer society—towards spiritual materialism. In this, our interest isn’t in being free of the self, in realizing the illusion of the self, but rather to enhance the self, make it into something more. We could understand the reference to sorcery in today’s terms to allude to any seeking of magical powers, even in an ordinary sense, like a power over people, the power of money or status, the power of beauty or charisma. In the commentary, Keizan says, “Even if by studying sorcery you manage to prolong your life and attain supernatural powers, you can only comprehend eighty thousand eons past and future—you cannot see before or after that.” In other words, even though it seems as though the world has gotten larger by virtue of that supernatural power, it’s still limited. And in that limitation there is dukkha, suffering, because it is still dependent.
He goes on to say, “Even though you cultivate the state in which there is neither perception nor non-perception and enter mindless thoughtless trance, unfortunately you will be born in the heaven beyond thought, become a long-lived celestial being, and still have the flowing stream of habitual consciousness even though you are rid of the material body. You cannot find the Buddha, cannot reach the Way. When the results of that active consciousness are exhausted, you will then fall into uninterrupted hell. That is why this is like being bound and dragged by a rope, there is no chance of liberation.”