Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting to the other side

EnlightenmentImage via Wikipedia
If I were wishing to cross a river to the other side I would need some means to get there. Maybe I would choose a boat and some oars and propel myself across. But before I went to the trouble of obtaining the boat and oars, and expending the effort to cross perhaps I might consider why I want to cross in the first place. Maybe someone has told me that on the other side it’s a better place than where I stand and I decided that they might be right.

The point is that we do things like moving from point “A” to point “B” for what we consider to be good reasons. We can’t know for sure whether or not our reasons are valid until we make the trip. THEN alone can we know because we then have an actual experience of the other side to compare against the opposite shore. We refer to this as “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

But as we all know, often times the grass is not greener and then we have an embarrassing conundrum to deal with. Do we acknowledge this error in judgement and attempt to come to terms with how we made the error in the first place? Or maybe we take another tack and pretend that the other side really is greener (when it is actually not) to justify our actions. Many people are remiss to acknowledge error, feeling the pain of a diminished ego and humiliation. Rather than take the hit they choose to deny reality and continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Does this sound familiar? It should since we are living in a time when error upon error is being made, with no admission of wrong doing.

This line of thought is leading to a discussion on crossing the river from carnage to a better place and the presumptions we use to support the making. In standard Buddhist practice the presumption is that we move toward enlightenment by embracing a given set of precepts which we believe will purify our being and thus facilitate an experience we think of as enlightenment. If we have never crossed over we can only guess about the turf on the opposite shore. Maybe it will be greener and maybe not. But how would we know until we actually cross over? Perhaps the presumption is correct—that precepts produce the desired effect. But of equal value is to question the trip and the means to get across.

The Buddha probably wrestled with this predicament and learned through experience that his presumptions were flawed. His own prescription didn’t work. The more important question is a matter of order. Did The Buddha’s enlightenment come following the formula OR did the formula follow his enlightenment? This question is rarely considered but it is THE question. Is it possible, for anyone—The Buddha included—to manifest ultimate goodness while enslaved within the grip of an ego? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Or does genuine goodness and the evidence arise together?

The presumption of cause and effect leads us to examine in this way—Goodness (cause) and enlightenment (effect) or, Enlightenment (cause) and goodness (effect)? One side of the river is a corrupted nature (an ego) which may desire to do good but is lacking the capacity, and on the other side of the river is the well-spring of goodness, but is lacking the arms and legs needed to propel us across. So long as anyone thinks in this divided manner they will never be able to move, much less across the river. Why? Because motion—any motion, and particularly the motion of enlightenment—is not a function of division but of unity.

The Buddha’s enlightenment occurred once he had surrendered from the Gordian Knot—the insolvable conundrum which demanded this choice between cause and effect. Should he choose the side of ultimate goodness (Atman)? Or ultimate depravity (anatman)? That dilemma still stands as the ultimate challenge and there are no options to solve it today that didn’t exist in the time of The Buddha. The answer today, as then, is let go. It is not now, and will never be, possible to untie this Knot by traveling a path other than The Middle Way. Goodness and the well-spring of Goodness arise together and disappear together. We are both at the same time, or we are neither. Not cause AND effect but rather cause-effect. We can’t earn goodness from the center of self because self serves self alone. When we exhaust this center, goodness bubbles to the surface naturally. It can’t be forced upward through the filter of ego. That plug is too strong to allow passage. When it is removed the flow begins, and until that happens the only movement which can happen originates from the ego.

And then we discover that enlightenment is not one shore against the other shore. Enlightenment is both shores and the river and all of life. It is not a destination but rather an experience of goodness which flows naturally but only when the obstacle is removed.
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