Monday, December 21, 2009

Pluses and Minuses

As for this sparkling awareness, which is call...Image by Wonderlane via Flickr
The notion that anything can exist, separate and apart from any contextual framework is of course absurd. “Up” makes no sense apart from “down;” good and evil define one another. Everything is defined and understood in such a manner and this is true of Buddhism as well. There are two truths in Buddhism just as there are two truths in everything. There is a negative truth and a positive truth. One truth pertains to impermanence; the other to permanence and neither could exist without the other, just as up couldn’t exist without down. Countless Zen Masters have spoken of these two truths in various ways. Nagarjuna used the terms partial, conventional and ultimate truth and said that until we know how they differ, and experience the ultimate, we will never be free.

Sadly too often just the negative/impermanence side is emphasized with no mention of the positive side. It is true that all phenomenal life is impermanent and clinging to what constantly changes does produce suffering. Various words and concepts are used to define this problem. Words like attachment or resistance are often employed but the important point is that by linking our sense of well-being to vapor we creates distress.

While that part is indeed important it is just the negative truth leaving a vacuum for the positive. Buddhism teaches that there is no substantial “mind” but rather a constellation of interdependent contributing factors. Sensory phenomena, perceptual capacities, mental processing and consciousness all contribute to the illusion of a solid mind and of course our sense of self is a function of this illusion which ultimately drives greed, anger and delusion. When we fathom the illusive nature of this constellation we realize that there is no basis for independent isolation and conflict.

This realization is an important milestone along the way to enlightenment. Before we can become genuinely self-aware we must relinquish these negative and poisonous illusions. Simultaneous to the realization of who we aren’t is the realization of who we are. The enlightenment experience is affirmed by the esoteric and intuitive teachings intended for Bodhisattva’s, which the late and great Nyogen Senzaki said was revealed in sutras such as the Mahaparinirvana which teaches that our true nature is buddha—the universal, never-born One Mind, uniting us with all life. When we can embrace this constant presence we finally know who we are, gain emancipation and discover that we are not alone.
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