Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The First Step


The Eight-Fold Path is a road map for traveling from somewhere to somewhere else. From a certain perspective it is about traveling from suffering to the bliss of Nirvana. But from another perspective it is not a journey at all since there is nowhere to go from and nowhere to go to. This sounds like double-speak but it is not. The key word in these statements is “perspective.”

Suppose we are at a destination but don’t know that we are. For whatever reason we are confused or deluded. Maybe it is a case that we awaken from a dream into a fog bank so thick that is impossible to see the nose on our face. In the dream we imagined that we were at some other place and when we awaken we retain this delusion. In such a state we try to travel to the destination but will never arrive since we are already there. From this deluded perspective there seemed like there was a far-distant destination but then the fog lifts and a new perspective emerges and we realize there is a nowhere to go.

This is a non-journey or a journey depending on the perspective, either with or without the delusion of dreams and fog. It is important to know our beginning as well as our destination. In the vast majority of cases, suffering results from being lost in the fog of delusions without realizing that we are already home. We lust for what we already have but in ignorance are like people who die of thirst while in the vast sea of bliss

As form people we imagine poverty. As empty people we have no ability to harness abundance. The abundance, continuously available through the fullness/emptiness of dharmakāya can only be accessed through our physical form. And our physical form is nothing without the infinite, always-full, never-ending, well-spring of dharmakaya. These “aspects” of Buddha-Nature are inexorably joined and glued together through our spiritual aspect. The confluence of these three aspects is known in Buddhism as the “Trikaya”—the unseen/ever-lasting dharmakaya, physical embodiment and spiritual dimension. From the perspective of dharmanakaya nothing is lacking, there is no suffering and nothing but the unending bliss of Nirvana. This is the destination of the Eight-Fold Path. Our beginning point for the journey is the dream-state and fog and it is the task of the Path to remove the delusions which obscure the truth of our existence and allow us to see that we are already home.

Like any road map it’s important to have the correct perspective or “view point” which is why the first step on this journey is “Right View.” Without the correct view point it will be a case of the blind leading the blind, traveling forever and getting nowhere. From one perspective this is a non-dharma dharma. It is not a truth or teaching since there is no truth lacking, no teaching to be taught, no teacher and no student to learn. These entities do not exist independently. They are empty of intrinsic substance. This is the perspective of empty-emptiness—the ultimate non-dharma dharma. But most of us begin far away from this lofty goal of bliss-ful Nirvana. For us there is a dharma—a partial truth which we pursue so long as the teaching retains merit. When we learn what we need to learn then we must release the teaching, as we must release everything. To embrace a dharma is critical. To become attached is death. With one hand we grasp and with the other we let go.

Fundamental to this first step of “Right View” is the principle of attachment and one who attaches; the principle of resistance and one who resists. The Buddha preached a doctrine of non-self as well as a doctrine of Self depending on the object of attachment and the nature of the one who attaches. For those who concluded that nothing exists he taught the dharma of Self. For those who concluded that everything exists he taught the dharma of non-self. The nature of identity and the object of attachment determined which “medicine” was administered.

In truth neither SELF nor non-self exist as independent entities. Both are subject to dependent origination. The majesty of the SELF as the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha-womb), the ultimate, non-differentiated source spoken of in the Heart Sutra and the Mahaparinirvana Sutra is one dharma. The impermanent non-self/ego is a dharma which teaches about the other side. Such conclusions as “All conditioned things are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows; Like dew and also like lightning. Thus should they be contemplated,” are central to the teaching of the Diamond Sutra.

There is conditioned reality and unconditional reality. They exists as two book-ends propping up the dharma of dependent origination. Likewise the premise that nothing exists (Nihilism) is the flip side of everything exists (Absolutism). These too are subject to dependent origination. To cling to one view (or another) at the exclusion of the other is still a form of attachment which perpetuates suffering. To cling to, or resist, a non-self (ego) or a Self is still attachment. It is not an issue of establishing the validity of one view vs. another view—which will involve never-ending speculation, since both are true (dependently) and neither is true (independently). The issue is seeing all views, being rid of all views and clinging to none.
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