Thursday, September 17, 2009


Probably everyone who has ever lived has been taught what appears to be so—that life and death are separate. This is the beginning and the end of the matter but far from the only case. Throughout life we experience half of things and go unaware of the other half. We experience good vs. evil, up vs. down, left vs. right, form vs. emptiness, samsara vs. nirvana: Anything and everything seems to be one thing opposed to another. It is always the “versus” rather than the unified integration of opposites. This implicit teaching (either formal or not) is a reflection of what appears before our eyes. How could opposites be present together?

In the Śūrańgama Sūtra the Buddha shares a vision with Ananda. He takes a scarf and grasping opposite ends he ties a knot. Six times he repeats the knot tying until he has all six knots tied one on top of the other. What began as a single unified piece of cloth with two opposites ends is now knotted together. He then asks Ananda: “How should I untie these knots? Should I grasp only one end or the other and pull?” Ananda answer correctly, “No. The knots must be untied one at a time by grasping both halves of each knot and pulling.”

This simple illustration reveals a profound truth. The six knots represent our six sensory faculties (e.g. eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, mind). Each of these six is programed to function in a particular fashion and this function comprises the aggregate of delusion. Eyes naturally respond to objects of form. Ears naturally respond to objects of sound, so on and so forth. Each of our sensory faculties respond to particular objects. Because of this we are pulled astray, firmly convinced that life is nothing more than the aggregation of objects. The Buddha tells Ananda, “Until your six faculties merge and become interchangeable, you will never be able to put an end to your deluded mental acts.”

How are we to understand this? At the source—the well-spring from which all arises, there is only unity. Here all six faculties merge and become interchangeable. There is neither subjects nor objects. At this place of integration, which is the place of natural enlightenment, there are no versus. Discrimination arises from this place just as seeds grow from the earth but in the earth itself there is everything and nothing. It is due to the false conclusions, necessitated by the six knots of perception that the five, seemingly discrete, aggregates arise. Form seems like a discrete matter. Perception seems like a discrete matter; cognition, mental formations, and consciousness likewise—all five have the appearance of mutual discretion. But this is a delusion. Form is not separate and opposed to emptiness. Contact and separation are the defining characteristics of the aggregate of sense-perception. What is recorded in memory (or not) is the defining attributes of cognition. And entering into the state of deep clarity and being stored in that clarity constitutes the aggregate of consciousness.

Because objects appear before us we accept them as the components which constitute our lives. We accept what appears and are unaware of what is the substrate of appearances. There is both manifestation and source happening continuously yet we see only the manifestations and in ignorance conclude “versus”. In truth manifestation and source are a single, unified scarf with knots. Life IS death. These, and everything else, are interdependently joined together. Moment by moment we breathe in life and exhale death. Our biology is continuously being regenerated but it happens in such a way that we are unaware, until years later we look in the mirror and see a person we don’t recognize! Who is that old person? And where did the young one go? The rhythm of life/death is continuous and interdependent. And at the heart the real person is ageless and timeless and watches in amazement.
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