Monday, October 7, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Recently, my family & I moved home. It will be the seventh home that my wife and I have shared, and one of numerous places that I have called home during my life. Some have been warm, cosy dwellings, whilst others have been somewhat dirty and rundown domiciles. The new house that we now occupy is a wonderful, newly-built place, with spacious rooms and a decent-sized garden for the kids & dogs. Compared to previous houses that we've occupied, it is aesthetically more pleasing & will be somewhere that we will be happy to call home for many years to come. But, on reflection, is it our real home?

The point here is not to question whether or not the house is the abode in which my family & I live, but rather to consider what it is that is truly 'home.' In other words, where is it that we all retreat to and reside in at the end of the day? It was the widely-respected Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah that said our real home is inner peace; that spacious awareness in which all our experiences arise. It is true enough, of course, that this body resides in a physical home, but it also inhabits another home. This home contains everything I have ever seen, heard, tasted, smelt or touched. It contains such phenomena right now. But, it also plays host to every thought, emotion, or memory. And, what's more, I can never leave this home, for it is an indispensable aspect of my being; without it, there is no world and no 'me' to experience the world.

What is the nature of this home, then? Generally, homes can be big, small, attractive, ugly, elaborate, simple, old or new. This home is spacious enough to contain everything I ever experience - including his sense of 'I' - and yet it can seemingly contract to contain nothing but the minuscule figure of an ant. It allows for beauty and ugliness, complexity and simplicity, aging and birth…and yet it is none of these, for it is unlimited by being this or that. It's lack of specificity is the very quality that gives rise to all the myriad particular things of this universe. That this home is silent capacity means that all sounds can appear in it; because it is invisible potentiality, all sights can be seen in it. Try the following exercise, and see if what's written above is true for you or not.

  • Look at your home - or wherever you happen to be right now - and note the following, basing your conclusions on current evidence as opposed to memory or assumptions.
  • Firstly, observe your environs visually. What colors, shapes, & sizes can you see? Take time to mentally describe as much of your seeable surroundings as you can. Now, turn attention around to observe the observer. What can you see where you are? Pointing at your eyes, what can you actually see? Is there any color, shape or size there? Or, do you see what I see here: a spacious aware nothingness in which all visible objects appear - including my own 'self?!'
  • Secondly, observe your environs audibly. What sounds, rhythms and tunes can you hear? Take time to mentally describe as much of your hearable surroundings as you can. Now, turn attention around to listen to the listener. What can you hear where you are? Listening to your ears, what can you actually hear? Is there any sound, rhythm or tune there? Or, do you hear what I hear here: a spacious aware nothingness in which all audible objects appear - including my own 'self?!'
  • Finally, observe your environs mentally. What thoughts, emotions and mental images can you perceive? Closing your eyes, take time to mentally describe as much of your brain as you can. Now, turn attention around to observe the observer. What can you observe behind those thoughts, emotions and mental imagery? Do you find what I find here: a spacious aware nothingness in which all mental objects appear - including my own 'self?!'

This spacious awareness which - hopefully - you have just observed, is that in which all phenomena appear, including those places we normally consider home; houses, apartments, bodies, and minds. It is our real home, and unlike those other places, it does not get old, damaged, or destroyed - there's nothing to be destroyed! And yet, we need to be a little careful here, for there's a subtle distinction to made between this spaciousness and 'self.' As observed in the third exercise above, not only is the body not our true home, but nether is mind our true home; both are contained in what we truly are. This true nature is pure being, and cannot be deemed this or that. Therefore, even the underlying sense of 'I am' is itself something that lives in this home. In the history of Buddhism, this error has frequently been mentioned, as it is an easy mistake to make.

An episode in Buddhist scripture illustrates this last point nicely. The Venerable Khemaka stated that he no longer regarded any of the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness) to be self. Hearing this, a group of monks declared that Khemaka must be an arahant, a fully-enlightened one. Khemaka denied this, however, for although he didn't associate self with any of the aggregates, he still had the residue feeling of being a self, or 'I am.' (In the text, known as the Khemaka Sutta, the monks and Khemaka did realize full-enlightenment whilst the latter gave a thorough explanation of the Buddha's teachings regarding the sense of 'I am.')

The American monk Ajahn Sumedho once wrote to me that even the sense of being a Buddhist (or whatever views of self we posses) must be let go of, for eventually even they get in the way of simply living as the knowing. The awareness that lies at the heart of human existence is not Buddhist, Christian, atheist, theist or whatever; it is the home in which all these ideas live. We may use them to help approach and exist as this spaciousness, but they will become a hindrance of we cling to them for too long. Letting go of these temporary abodes and residing in our real home (as our real home) is the ultimate aim of Buddhist practice, as well as much mysticism in the world's religions and philosophies. So, whilst my family's new house is our outward home, and one which we will enjoy, our real home lies within, and is even more wonderful, being free of suffering and ignorance. And, it is waiting to be discovered. Right now.

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