Sunday, August 7, 2011

Getting out of jail

Having a clear understanding of a problem is essential to finding a viable solution. Buddhism may be the best solution to the expressed problem of suffering. But is that the problem or a symptom? Perhaps we need to better understand the root of suffering before accepting it as the problem.

Certainly illusion is part of the root. Illusion is, of course, something which has no self-containing substance and is fleeting. That is how the three “dharma seals” is defined—Impermanence, No-self and Suffering. More to the point, illusion is the sea in which we swim. We think we live in an objectively, substantial world but both the Buddha and modern science say otherwise—That our only ability to discern anything is a matter of images projected in our brain. This nature of illusion is foundational to our existence. So the root problem must be understood within that all-pervasive context. We are idea people living within the framework of ideas. Or as the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment says, “We solve illusion by employing illusion.” There is no other way.

Then we come to the matter of self understanding. How did we get here? And where did we come from? That is not a metaphysical set of questions. It infers the emergence of identity and the process of identity formation. And to understand this process is enlightening. All of us begin life in the cocoon of our mothers womb where we are literally a single being and literally attached to her. We are a single entity—mother/child. At that stage there is no such thing as an idea of a separate self since we are NOT a separate being. Only following birth are we separated and only then does the process of individuation begin.

To watch a young child begin to grapple with not being one with mother is itself an important part of understanding the root problem. Slowly a child becomes self-aware, not as joined physically with mother, but as a separate person with an emerging and isolated identity. At first this awareness results in stark terror! One moment mother is there and the next she is gone. The unavoidable awareness is separation and difference and then the next step of psychic construction takes place: If not mother, then who? This moment is the beginning of the idea of self (ego) and from that seed grows fear of survival as a separate and isolated individual with a unique but vulnerable identity.

Phenomenally, mutual discretion is the standard. We see others as mutually discrete. We see our selves as separate and apart from them and in our perceived isolation we are afraid of dying and trapped in a conundrum: We must emerge as independent but are in fact linked, if not physically (as previously with mother) then certainly spiritually and mentally. And the result of this conundrum is possessiveness and greed, the rationale being that if we are separate and isolated then for survival we must hoard and insure against risk. It quickly becomes a matter of me and mine and self-absorption.

This idea of self—an extension of our ground of illusion— then becomes the mask which hides our truth: That we are not an objective image, but rather a subjective reality which has never been disconnected from anyone or anything. At the imperceptible level of our true nature we are interdependently connected, but for this awareness to evolve the image of a separate self (ego) must pass away. This death of a self-image is very much a suffering matter, since it seems so real (just like all illusions can).

The solution is thus to dissolve this phantom and find our true, never-divided self—To release our attachment to an idea and find our substance. AND that is what makes Zen nearly magical because it is a process of releasing from illusions but always from within the context of illusion. We are not “just” an idea. We are both an idea (phenomena—discernable but unreal) and noumena—real but imperceptible. We will never be released from an ego. It is our imaginary self and a part of who we are but we can be detached from bondage which comes from seeing ourselves as its exclusive prisoner. From that understanding comes freedom—That we exist and that we don’t: The Middle Way.

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