Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Complete Release— Number 1



The first of the Four Noble Truths acknowledges that during every persons life they will experience suffering. While this may seem like a negative assessment, it is  honest and realistic, neither negative nor positive. By studying the dharma we come to understand that there is a causal link between suffering and attaching to temporal life. We also learn that by breaking this attachment link, suffering is undone and life is transformed.


The problem is that attachment of all forms has another causal link to identity. By misunderstanding who we are we set off a cascading chain reaction involving delusion, greed and anger. When we see ourselves as independent and separate beings we create further delusions, which reinforce further delusions. The ego is imagined by thoughts and these thoughts further imagine an imaginer, which only has value and worth by attaching to fleeting life, like a leach sucking blood to survive. Whatever we choose to identify with becomes our basis of joy and sorrow. 

We may imagine that our worth depends upon anything: another person, a job, status, wealth or anything conceivable, but nothing of a phenomena nature lasts or conforms to how we wish it to be. We may have once loved a person deeply but they, and we, change into someone we no longer love and nobody lives forever. When change or death comes, we experience sorrow. But this base delusion (and the presumption of attachment which flows from it) produces greed and possessiveness. Since temporal life is ever changing, loss inevitably occurs which then activates anger, producing bad karma and endless cycles of samsara—greed, anger and delusion—all cascading from misidentity.

This conundrum is nothing new. People have forever wrestled with the same issue before the Buddha and ever since. This is, and has been, the battle of two opposing Titans—one the ego (the illusion of identity) vs. the seeming champion, the true Self. Until the Buddha, the Self appeared to be winning the contest. But this victory turns out to be possible only by virtue of the ego committing suicide, which it is extraordinarily reluctant to do. So where is the transforming power to be found?

I began this series on surrender with a reference to complete release, which I said would be reserved for a latter discussion. The time has come and I want to start the ball rolling with a reflection on thinking. When we think, by definition (defined by dependent origination) we are the thinker. Thinking is the product of a thinker. It would be nonsensical to say that thinking comes from nowhere. Thinking and thinkers arise as a single entity, just like a Mother is only a mother with a child. These are interdependent entities. One can’t exist without the other.

When there is no thinking, no thinker exists. But when we don’t think we don’t just disappear. Therefore we are not the thinker; otherwise we would disappear when thinking ceases. It is thus clear that we are independent from both thinking and the thinker, which seems to defy the premise of dependent origination. Interdependent existence, you’ll recall from an earlier post, are the two legs of a Ladder—the two discriminate aspects of form; one aspect defining the other (good/bad, in/out, etc.).

When we imagine our self there is an image of a self which, when we see clearly, is just a thought. This thought (or image) is linked to an imaginary self, which we refer to as the thinker who thinks thoughts but this can’t be true. If it was true then we would disappear when we stop thinking. Logic cancels this connection. So if this imaginary self is the product of thinking, who is the independent being who jump-starts (originates) the thinking process? A car doesn’t move itself and we (the car) need a driver. Who’s the driver? The answer, as strange as it may seem, takes us to the Wall— Essence.

The Heart Sutra says that form is emptiness; emptiness is form. These are the two legs of life that are irrevocably joined together. Two legged ladders must lean against a wall or fall down. The metaphor works perfectly. It would logically follow that if we are not the imaginary self, then we must be the opposite: the non-imaginary self, which has been known since before the time of the Buddha as the independent who that we truly are. The independent who thus seems to be essence—the true Self. But don’t jump there quite yet.

Read carefully the following quote from Bodhidharma, the acknowledged father of Zen. He said this about motion: “The Buddha is your real body, your original mind. This mind is not outside the material body of four elements. Without this mind we can’t move. The body (by itself) has no awareness. Like a plant or stone, the body has no nature. So how does it move? It’s the mind that moves.” Huineng, the sixth patriarch of Ch’an, reached the exact same conclusion upon hearing the Diamond Sutra recited and realized enlightenment.

There is an extremely subtle twist to Huineng’s enlightenment that may not register unless we slam on the brakes and reflect. One day Huineng heard two monks arguing about the movement of a flag. One said the wind moved the flag. The other said that flag moved independent of the wind. Huineng said to the monks that neither the wind nor the flag was moving. Instead it was the mind which moved. Wow! Does that sound cool and upon first blush (if we’re really honest) we’ll have to admit that we have no clue what that means. Was Huineng saying that the flag was being controlled by some extraterrestrial force, or that he projected his mind psychically to wave the flag? Hold the question.

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra — Chapter Five, the Buddha says (when referring to his Adamantine Body, which means having the hardness of a diamond—unchanging) “It is neither action nor fruition (e.g. cause and effect). It is not one made, not one that dies. It is ‘no mind’; It is one not countable; It is the All-Wonderful, the One Eternal, and the one not presumable. It is not consciousness and is apart from mind (e.g. transcendent to both). And yet it does not depart from mind. It is a mind that is all-equal. It is not an ‘is’; yet it is what is ‘is’. There is no going and no coming; and yet it goes and comes.”

Elsewhere in this Sutra the Buddha spoke of the non-self as the imaginary self, otherwise known as an ego. This non-self is interdependent and is linked to thought, which is vaporous: a mirage, which seems very real. That part fits perfectly within the box of dependent origination. Within this box the non-self imagines itself using the tool of imagination, which further reinforces the artificial sense of reality. It is the Matrix, which I spoke about earlier. However, this does not explain Bodhidharma’s mind or our question, who’s driving the car? What animates our being? Does our being animate itself, like a flag waving in the wind? Bodidharma says no. Our being, without mind essence is just like a plant or stone. That would be like a car, which drives itself without a driver.

So with that pregnant issue hanging in mid-air we’ll take a break here and pick up tomorrow with concluding remarks.


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