Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Awakening Part 3

“It is the Unformed, the Unconditioned, the End, the Truth, the Other Shore, the Subtle, the Everlasting, the Invisible, the Undiversified, Peace, the Deathless, the Blest, Safety, the Wonderful, the Marvelous, Nirvana, Purity, Freedom, the Island, the Refuge, the Beyond.” (Samyutta Nikaya 43: 1-44)
We continue our reflections on the Buddha’s above description of awakening, or enlightenment, by examining the Undiversified, Peace, and the Deathless. The heart of these reflections are not the words themselves, nor the exercises imbedded in the text, but the experience to which they point. That the Buddha used so many different and differing words to describe awakening – he used many more than in the above paragraph – reveals the diverse expressions of it, and the many Dharma Gates to ‘enter’ it. Hopefully, we may stroll through such a Gate together and bask on the other Shore, in the Everlasting contentment of enlightenment.
·        The Undiversified (Nippapanca) To be diversified is to have many separate parts or divisions. An example of this is the human body which is made up of many, many different parts, each one distinct from the others. An arm is different to a leg; moreover, the right arm isn’t the same as the left one. Concerning the mind, one emotion is not the same as another, so that happiness isn’t identical with sadness. Nor is the thought arising now the same as the one that preceded it nor the one to follow. Humans are made up of highly diversified elements, and this is reflected on the social level, also. I am not the same as you, and even so-called identical twins are not exactly the same. Humanity is a diverse collection of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and societies which are extremely diverse. China is very different to America, Russia is in no way the same as Brazil, and Fiji has little in common with Swaziland. The human species is extremely different to even its closest relatives in the natural world: are you the same as a chimpanzee, orangutan, or gorilla? (Be honest now!) Indeed, the Earth is unique in the Solar System, differing from the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, or any other celestial body. The universe is a highly diversified place.
Now, is there anything that can be considered undiversified? It might surprise you to read that my answer is an emphatic, “No!” How can this be, when the focus of these words is the Undiversified? Well, the key is in the word ‘anything,’ for there is no thing that is not diversified in itself or as a part of the exceedingly diverse cosmos. If we wish to know the Undiversified, we need to turn our attention away from the world of things and the processes that they are part of, and see that which is neither a thing nor part of a process. But, where can we look for such a non-thing? Out amongst the stars? In a hidden part of the natural world, say in a tropical forest? Or maybe it’s in the depths of the human mind, buried in the subconscious, somewhere between childhood traumas and adolescent angst? Again, the answer is an unequivocal, “No!” The Undiversified is not a thing and is therefore not found among things, but stands aside from them, despite being in their very midst. Moreover, it is to be discovered right where you are now, and nowhere else.
As written above, the Undiversified is not part of your body; it is not to be found in your bones or your cells. Neither will it be revealed in a session with a psychoanalyst, pulling your psyche inside out. And yet, as stated earlier, it is amongst these things. To see it, simply turn your attention around gaze back into your being – what do you see? Do you actually see eyes or a brain or a head to keep them in? Now, it’s not being suggested here that these things don’t exist, for they surely do – you just have to touch them to prove that for yourself (although trying to touch your brain could prove somewhat awkward!). But what lies at their heart; ‘it’ can be seen, or at least experienced by looking backwards with a childlike innocence that accepts what is seen and not what we think we should see. Look again, and what do you really notice where you experience your awareness. Is it a thing or a limitless No-thing that is nonetheless without separation (and therefore separate existence) from the world that you perceive?
·        Peace (Santi) “Give Peace a Chance,” sang John Lennon all those years ago, and the world is in every bit of a need to follow his advice today as it was then. But, as many people have known long before that bespectacled Beatle tried to, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” real peace comes from within. That’s what the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree tells us, and it’s what such modern pacific luminaries such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have personified. But what is this peace that can change the world, and how do we find it, and maintain it? Well, following in the footsteps of the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, let’s indentify this peace by looking within.
Close your eyes, and take some deep breaths for a few moments, calming down the body - and hopefully the mind! Now, listen to the sounds arising in your environment at his time; here, I can discern music, fire works (there is a Thai festival going on outside), and the hum of an aging air conditioner. Turning attention away from these various noises to that in which they are heard, focuses awareness on the silence which is the capacity for them to arise in. Gazing into this silence, it is found to be perfectly still and peaceful, despite the sounds that are heard in it. It is Peace itself, undisturbed by the noises going on; moreover, it is also the Peace that is space for all mental stuff to exist in, no matter how ‘noisy’ that gets, as well. It is the Peace that contains all that we experience, whether sound, thoughts, sights, or any other of the sensations that go to make up our world. But, having found this Peace and seen what it is, how do we maintain awareness of it in our busy day-to-day lives? The clue is in that very word ‘awareness;’ if we maintain this in-gazing to the Peace that lies at our heart – in fact, it is our heart – then we can not only maintain connected to this peacefulness, but share it with others. Meditation can help us to do this, and the Buddha himself encouraged his followers to meditate on Peace. Indeed, what are zazen practitioners doing but meditating on Peace when they sit on their cushions and stare at a wall?
·        The Deathless (Amata) The hope of immortality has occupied the thoughts of most of us at some time or another, and the great minds of philosophers and theologians have staked their reputations on their views regarding this deep-set desire. The Buddha often talked of the Deathless, which is another way of describing immortality; it is also another way of representing Awakening, emphasizing its eternal aspect. In English, we might translate the original word Amata as ‘no dying.’ Doing this, we recognize the dynamic nature of enlightenment, which is to be known in this very life, rather than left as a thought or set of thoughts that we call beliefs. If we can realize this present continuous nature of the Deathless, we have outdone those famous philosophers and theologians, who rarely transcended their intricate and quite brilliant thought-constructions. But, then again, who said that Awakening had anything particular to do with ideas or beliefs?
So, now we come to the crux of the matter: how do we realize this ongoing Deathless? As stated above, it isn’t through thinking that we will awaken to our true nature, no matter how profound our thoughts may be. Thoughts are finite and impermanent; they do not lead to the Infinite and Permanent, which are synonyms for the Deathless. They are not without their uses, however, and can even assist us in discovering our Buddha Nature. The following exercise may serve to illustrate this in a most direct manner. Close your eyes so to eliminate visual distractions, and turn your attention to the thoughts racing around your mind. Whatever they are, whether they’re focused on work issues, family problems, financial concerns, deep philosophical riddles, or where you left your keys, they all arise in this spacious awareness that itself has no limited or limiting characteristics. Whatever particular thought occupies this space, it simply is open to it, without having preferences for this or that idea. Not being the product of the thought process, it is unconditioned by it. (It’s worth noting here that there’s a difference between consciousness, which the Buddha taught is dependent upon an object to be conscious of, and awareness that exists whether consciousness and its object(s) are present or not.)
Another way to become alive to the Deathless, and more dramatic - and therefore more efficacious, perhaps - than the above exercise, is to observe those things that are subject to death, and then contrast their features with that which is the Deathless. We already looked at ephemeral thoughts, so the nest subject for our reflection is the body, which even the philosopher and theologian might agree is mortal. Sit, or lie down, and look at your body, observing its features and the forms they take. They have shape, colour, size, and opacity. These are marks of impermanence, and every part of our body has them. By contrast, that which is aware of the body is without shape, colour, size, or opacity: It has the marks of the Deathless. And, just in case you haven’t quite got ‘it’ yet, all you need to do is look back at what you are looking out of. What do you see there - things with shape, colour, size, and opacity, or their opposite? You are the Deathless!
This is a tremendous discovery that what we truly are cannot die. And, as the Deathless is also the Undiversified, it is without separate, suffering parts, never at odds with itself, nor with the world with which it is one. This is true peace, then, of which John Lennon would have been most satisfied, and which he may well have experienced, for he was both an enquiring and truth-seeking man. And, this is an important point to end on: we do not need to be some great holy man or saint to see our true, peaceful nature. What we do need is the courage to look without preconceived ideas of enlightenment, and to work with what we see. This is indeed the path to the Deathless, as the Buddha once called it.


Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

I have not commented in a long time, more because of my own struggles with the fact that I have been diagnosed with a very life-threatening sort of cancer. (But at the moment, I think I have none.) It is difficult to find ways to deal with this, but I am trying. And the things you write are very helpful. Well, what is, is. And is that nothing? At any rate, thank you for all the good thoughts you scatter into the world. They are an act of compassion.

freespace said...

tough blog, about the contemplation of the body, here looking at "you" and the body is a mark of mortality but trascending it removing the notion of self reveals what we called nothingness which is an awareness when all separations gone... it is like you seemed to die over and over again but the real deathless is that as if you never existed only observations and experiences.

G said...

Kristi, sorry to read of your diagnosis. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago, but after much treatment she recovered, and last year was given the all clear. All things are impermanent, even cancer. So, it too can pass, sometimes.

If we live from the void at our heart, then it is surely easier to come to terms with our mortality - the mortality of these psycho-physical beings, that is - and then we will not suffer so. Furthermore, if we totally identify with this void, rather than our egos, we are free of all suffering. (Not free of old age, sickness, and death, but of the suffering that we cause around those three 'messengers' of the Dharma.)

I hope that you do not suffer badly with the illness that you've been diagnosed with, Kristi. And, if we all stay aware, life will open up to us in ways that make each moment precious, whatever troubles we may face.

G said...

Thanks for the commentary on this post, Freespace. Yes, Removing the notion of self is an important step on the way to full enlightenment. Further along, we will face the undefined feeling of being a self (mana) which is one the final fetters to be let go of, and this can remain for years (lifetimes?) after we've used meditation and mindfulness to see off the notion of being a self (sakkaya-ditthi). But, with right effort we can transcend all the fetters, and die completely into the void. Let's keep at it!

freespace said...

i think a buddhist have this in mediatation, an advanced one, he meditates as an observer seeing things happening at his front, he eventually use the experience to detach himself. insteado f observing or observer he use the scenario so as himself as mere experiences until subtle moments which he now sees how things goes arise and passes away. from everyday reality to discreet thought moments behind all phenomena into the depths of blackened space.