Monthly Archives: November 2015
I was talking with my daughter this morning about the Koel (Eudynamys orientalis). We watched two of them pass overhead, making their distinctive call. In the Spring they arrive in Sydney, from New Guinea, Indonesia and from even further north.
Many Sydney residents hate the Koel, for a few reasons, but in particular because it is very noisy at night. Many a person has been kept awake by the Koel. I said to my daughter, “It’s just living its dhamma.” This word has many meanings, but here I meant its ‘nature’ or its ‘constitution.’ The Koel species belongs here, and has been here for tens of thousands of years, doing its thing.
Dhamma, in the sense of the nature of things, is just so – just so in its suchness. We can’t be bigger than dhamma, or outside dhamma, because dhamma is doing us, so to speak. Yet, we humans are making war on dhamma. We continue to destroy what holds or supports us. (The origin of ‘dhamma’ is from dhṛ: to hold, support; that which forms a foundation and upholds.)
We are at war with that which upholds and supports us. Gary Snyder, in his essay, Writers and the War Against Nature
probes the word ‘nature.’ He points out: The English word “nature” is from Latin natura, “birth, constitution, character, course of things,” and ultimately from nasci, to be born. It connects with the root nat, which is connected with birth, so we have nation, natal, and native. The Chinese word for nature is zi-ran, meaning “self-thus.”
The way things are. Buddha’s are buddhas because they are in alignment with how things are. Buddhas are nature: “If you see dhamma, you see me.”
In the war, Snyder has committed himself to the side of nature. We say we love nature, but we are making war on it. Why are we not speaking, every day, about this war? Why are we, except for the few prophets like Snyder, not calling it for what it is? This has puzzled many writers. In her 2002 book Love of Nature and the end of the World: the Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern Shierry Weber Nicholsen wrote:
“Experience that is unbearably painful is impossibly difficult to communicate, and one falls mute. As Susan Griffin remarks, “a certain kind of silence is a common effect of catastrophe.” The very fact of not being heard gives rise to a shame that is further silencing. The more violently painful the experience, the more abusive and traumatic the lack of reception, the greater the muteness and the shame. This is why war leads to so much muteness. War uses up words, as Henry James said. What happens then to the experience? It is as though the not-hearing is taken back into the self and becomes a barrier of silencing turned inward, shutting away and even erasing the experience itself. Men return silent from the battlefield, poorer in themselves.”
This has been happening, too, since Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring. I notice that neuro-psychologist Sharon Begley, in the December 2015 edition of Mindful magazine, asks: “Why do so many of us persist in doing nothing about global warming?” and she attempts to tie this silence and inertia to the brain’s functioning. Hers is a painful presentation. You’ll find the article here.
She doesn’t suggest what we can do to change the human mental preference for destroying the matrix that holds us, gives us birth, and maintains us. To me, the answer lies in experientially learning that we and Dhamma are not two. Nature is not there for us, it’s simply so. We, too, are this suchness.
In the Garava Sutta, in the Samyutta Nikāya, there is this significant story. (Quotes are from Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation). After the Nikāya Buddha’s enlightenment, he resides at Uruvela on the bank of the Nerañjara River, dwelling peacefully at the foot of the Goatherd’s Banyan Tree. And, this thought comes to him: “One suffers if dwelling without reverence or deference. Now on what brahman or contemplative can I dwell in dependence, honoring and respecting him?”
Notice, he – the fully-enlightened one – being human, still needs to dwell in reverence or deference. Yet, who shall he defer to? We place ourselves, he observes, under others, so as to develop and perfect the qualities of: virtue; self-possession (samādhi); discernment; release; and knowledge and vision of release.
The difficulty is, though, now there are no contemplatives or brahmins more consummate than himself in these states. Who can he place himself under now? No-One. Realising this, he ask, “What if I were to dwell in dependence on this very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened, honouring and respecting it?”
At this, the great god Brahma Sahampati disappears from the Brahma-world and reappears in front of the flourishing one, and with his hands cupped before his heart, he says:
“So it is, Blessed One! So it is, One-Well-Gone! Those who were Arahants, Rightly Self-awakened Ones in the past — they, too, dwelled in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it. Those who will be Arahants, Rightly Self-awakened Ones in the future — they, too, will dwell in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it. And let the Blessed One, who is at present the Arahant, the Rightly Self-awakened One, dwell in dependence on the very Dhamma itself, honoring and respecting it.”
That is what Brahma Sahampati said. Having said that, he further said this:
& he who is the Buddha now,
removing the sorrow of many —
all have dwelt,
will dwell, he dwells,
revering the true Dhamma.
This, for Buddhas, is a natural law.
Therefore one who desires his own good,
aspiring for greatness,
should respect the true Dhamma,
recollecting the Buddhas’ Teaching.
I don’t use the phrase Buddha-Nature much, because it is so easily misunderstood, and provides a false refuge. But I do think we need to see this ‘dhamma’ – that which is to be honoured and respected, and which we should place ourselves under – not as a mere ‘teaching,’ no matter how wonderful – even a teaching like The Four Noble Truths. This dhamma which he re-discovered is something much, much bigger and more fundamental than a cultural creation. It is that which holds us, while it is us; it is that which gives birth to the teaching called the Four Noble Truths.
The Nikāya Buddha, in my interpretation, sees his place in the pattern of what supports him or holds him. He places himself under that. He is saying, “Now that I’ve realised how things are, what can I depend on, in my daily life?” The only answer to that is: “The way things are.”
We say we love nature, but we are making war on it, and it is our thought-created support (false-‘I’) that leads to this raging war on dhamma. We can relinquish the causes of this war, by turning to our non-conceptual nature (dhamma).
I’m joining the artists who, like Gary Snyder, fight this war on dhamma’s side, and who speak for the ones who don’t have human language. I may not have long to live, but this is what I’ll do until I die.
“We are not the same person we were a moment ago, nor does anything in the universe maintain itself for even an instant.” – Smith, Rodney. Lessons from the Dying (p. 197). Wisdom Publications.
We have the idea that we are the ‘same’ person in some way. Recently I spent an hour with a man who needed to talk about his life.
What struck me, as he discussed his difficult relationships, and his inner reactivity, was that he indiscriminately used the pronoun ‘I’ to cover a multitude of mind-states, as though somehow it was all the same ‘I.’ In what way can the word ‘I’ be said to refer to the same ‘I,’ and in what way not?
I think what is marvellous is that there are moments of lucidity, in which the ‘I’ word is… well, not exactly irrelevant… but that it doesn’t carry its usual baggage – its pretension to give self-representations an air of permanence. These are moments when ‘I’ points to the implicit person; when this person (who I am, as a living, interdependent event) has no conscious representation, and no need of one.
At these times, if I say “I,” it could be from a number of viewpoints. I (the implicit person) could say “I and the Kosmos are one.” That’s one valid use of the ‘I’ word, at that moment. Or, “I am the universe.” These uses denote how I feel my presence to be. Similarly, I could say, “I am hungry.” This refers to the person I am, for whom I have, at that moment, no image, but whose condition (hungry) I know (via a bodily knowing).
In my understanding, the person of my self exists implicitly (and obviously interdependently), even when I am not identified with anything. So, in a state of luminous openness – when confident that I am nothing, I am everything, and that I am a unique person – at that time, I can say, “I am hungry.” That’s a sane and valid use of ‘I’ – to designate the person speaking, who is implicitly present.
How do I know this is healthy? Upon the realisation that this way of speaking was available to me, all kinds of healthy states of mind and body ensued upon this understanding. A peaceful abiding, even in the midst of life’s physical difficulties became possible.
I can say “I went to the movies last night.” And, again, I am saying something about the implicit person that I am. The movie has left its imprints, perhaps. This use of ‘I’ is free to use concepts, but will not get used by them; won’t get limited by them. Living organises the concepts, not the concepts organise the living.
But, sometimes, I am not so conscious; and I might say “I hate that movie.” Then, in another unconscious moment, “I hate myself when I hate something like a movie.” What happening here?
The implicit person whom I am, whom I can never find directly, is divided against himself. Upon mindful investigation I might realise that both these ‘I’ states are a part of my self-representation system – they are separate sub-personalities. They are explicit. The ‘I’-use is not pointing back to the implicit sense of the person whom I interdependently am, but to a fixed and much more limited conception of myself. That is, the dynamic patterns of energy of the always implicit person are this time organised by concepts.
This is what struck me as so painful about the conversation with this man. He was attempting to name all these different mind-states as all pointing back to some explicit self, which he called ‘I,’ as though it existed actually, and as though it were the same person each time.
As a result, identified with this or that momentary configuration of body, speech and mind, he got bounced around from configuration to configuration, with no underlying unifying presence.
The suffering as a result of the identification was big, but if I made any little attempt to differentiate the different ‘I’-dentities (Stephen Wolinsky’s term), he acknowledged what I said, for a brief moment, and – bingo! – went back to the same mode of being.
I got the impression that being able to name an explicit continuity (of images) was satisfying, even if it was the satisfaction of a fragmented pseudo-‘I.’
“Truth is indeed the sweetest taste. Life is the best for one living in wisdom, they say.” – Nikāya Buddha in Sutta Nipāta, Verse 182.
The human capacity for fabricating is extraordinary. Consider this example, from Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. According to one French soldier wounded in the World War I, the war was ‘”… make-believe. It’s not a real war, just an experiment.” If a soldier next to him got wounded, it was just that he injured himself while throwing a grenade. And the flattened houses? “It’s a local custom each year to pay certain communes to put on some real shooting on their land.”
Psychologists have a mass of data showing that we often lie to ourselves to produce less disquiet about the contradictions we have in our experience (‘reducing cognitive dissonance’). If something doesn’t make sense, then tell yourself a story about it.
There are, broadly speaking, two ways to know something – taking a fresh whole-body approach, or through the already finished categories. There is the knowing by feeling into the living situation, and there is knowing conceptually. Also called the intuitive, and the analytic. We need both, but usually our experience is dominated by the activity of representational, analytic part of us.
The logical part, then, is driven to make sense by imposing its categories on experience; and given that the mere existence of the universe doesn’t make sense – it isn’t a logical happening – then one way that we can do that (or that some people can do it) is to invent ‘God the Father.’ (Religious males have been known to assert this with a vehemence. Funny that, heh?)
Buddhists do the same, in their own idealizing way. We invent heaven (or the pure land, or nibbana) as literal places that we go to after death. Another example of this fabricating is the gambit “The Buddha said…” It’s a story-telling device, meant to convince that we know what the historical Buddha said, and to lead the conversation in a positive direction, for the speaker. It is for the speaker, so that she or he feels that their universe makes sense.
So, we are prone by biology and training, to fool ourselves. It takes a dedication to freshly-uncovered truth, to change this; and, to take the species on to another level; a level which includes, but is bigger than, logic.
The universe clearly exceeds sense or logic, if only for the reason that it gives rise to logic. Right? What comes first – natural process or human logic? Logic can’t contain, limit, or define, the process that gives rise to it. This delusion that conscious thought is super-right about reality, appears to be a left-hemisphere predilection.
“Truth, for [the left hemisphere], is coherence, because for it there is no world beyond, no Other, nothing outside the mind, to correspond with.” That is, it’s enough for our logical thought apparatus that our statements cohere – they don’t have to have consistency with the more-than-logical aspects of human experience; not for thought to be happy.
So, when the ice-taking person says, “I can do anything.” Thought is really satisfied with that statement. If the person is unable to listen to their body (that wilderness of primordial and creative belonging), then there will be no other input into the situation. (Remember how I often talk of the zig-zag – the zig-zag between thought and the visceral knowing in the middle of your body?)
Whether I die today, tomorrow, or whenever hence, I vow together with all beings: When I am vigorously defending something, to ask: “Can I be sure?” And, to check in with this open, organic, intuitive bodily intelligence.
In terms of the brain correlates: “The right hemisphere prioritises what it learns from experience: the real state of existing things ‘out there’. For the right hemisphere, truth is not mere coherence, but correspondence with something other than itself. Truth, for it, is understood in the sense of being ‘true’ to something, faithfulness to whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves.”
It’s my experience – having made a life out of talking to all kinds of people about experiencing, knowing, being, and loving – that in most people there is an inordinate fear of a non-fabricated universe – a raw, wild universe. To face it is to know we will die; yet, to avoid it is to be plagued with fabricated meanings which shut out our real state of existing.
“But I do not mean only that the right hemisphere starts the process of bringing the world into being. I mean that it does so because it is more in touch with reality, and that it has not just temporal or developmental priority, but ontological supremacy. Whatever the left hemisphere may add – and it adds enormously much – it needs to return what it sees to the world that is grounded by the right hemisphere.”
– Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.
That is, we need to zig-zag between thinking and our body, checking that they are each okay with the other.
The lack of this skill accounts in part for the resistance I get when asking people to look into experiencing, to question whether we can really say that things are as they appear to our linguistic habits. Even to question what death is, seems crazy to some.
The Nikāya Buddha’s foremost student Sariputta says: “The difference, friend, between intuitive wisdom (pañña) and discriminative consciousness (viññāṇa) – these states that are conjoined, not disjoined – is this: intuitive wisdom is to be developed, discriminative consciousness is to be fully understood.” MN 43, Mahāvedalla Sutta. Translated by Christopher J. Ash.
Why does Sīhā – a Nikāya nun – awaken, when about to take her life? Precisely because there is no more future for her? Possibly. I’ve sat with it, feeling into what it must be like to arrive at that decision. Does she finally get how precious life is, and drop her indulging personality? Sihā:
With all my shortcomings, following glimpses of happiness,
I didn’t obtain any peace, under the sway of my desire-mind.
For seven years I went about emaciated and pale – colourless.
Miserable, I could not find happiness by day or by night.
Then, grabbing a rope I went deep into the forest, [thinking]:
“It is better I hang myself here than to continue on so low a course.”
Making a strong noose, I tied it to a branch and
placed it around my neck. Right then, my mind was freed.
From Therigatha (Poems of the Buddhist Nuns at the time of the Nikāya Buddha) Verses, 78-81. Translated by Christopher J. Ash
Or was it that she was finally concentrated? No longer entertaining doubts about meaning, and her worth, and so on? No future, and therefore collected; and was it that such pure presence, combined with her years of meditation, led to a recognition of the open, luminous intelligence which is the core of the human? Who knows? Maybe humanity is on this course; and, will only wake up, when things get desperate enough, and too late for so many?
Better by far, a path of titrating self-knowledge though mindfulness and meditation, and of giving, so that life can be seen in the light of letting go of possession.
“Emotion and the body are at the irreducible core of experience: they are not there merely to help out with cognition.” Iian McGilchrist, ‘The Master and his Emissary.’
I will put it a little differently: Feeling and the body are core to experience. Thinking follows, not leads. This leads to a distinction that the Nikaya Buddha teaches: “Intuitive wisdom needs to be developed; discriminative wisdom needs to be understood.”
We need them both, but one is core to experiencing. The other can serve.
An instance: Occasionally, someone asks me about my bowing to the Buddha statue, (the rupa), in the centres that I go to. It looks to them like I’m bowing to a statue. I think that’s funny, when I hear the idea. To an observer, it looks like something is being fabricated.
From inside the experience, I’m feeling my whole body in a gesture of under-standing. It’s the practice of heart. Putting one’s body in a felt relation to the big life process. That’s what Meditation Dogen style is. You just sit, and that is enlightenment. You place your body in the enlightened posture, and live in that wholly. Afterward, you might want some words for it, or not.
Today I came to the ocean. (The Tasman Sea.) I felt humbled. I sat before it, and understood. The ocean stops me. I don’t go any further. Its unlimited power limits me. But in that right relationship, where fabriucating ends, I find my true power: intuitive knowing. I feel with all my body, respect for who I am. The ocean and I are ‘This.’ The ocean teaches me that.
So, the rupa is an opportunity, to com-body my full stature – bowing down with my head to the floor – not pushing forward, not pulling back – I place my self in the gesture which invites the felt knowing that: at the still point of creation, I am nothing, everything, and just this unique person alone. It’s so sweet, like nectar. I almost do want to praise the rupa, so grateful am I for the opportunity!
Two nights back I walked some people through a contemplation of present-moment experience. I suggested a way they could have direct contact with their present-moment experiences, relying on an openness that would ground them in their bodily presence throughout the exercise. Then we zig-zagged between this present-moment openness and a series of perspectives.
Firstly, we held up the word ‘change’, to present-moment experience. Then, in order, we presented these words: ‘movement’; ‘arising’ (presenting/appearing); ‘ceasing’ (dissolving/fading); ‘arising and ceasing together’; and, lastly, ‘no arising, no ceasing.’
By this time the mind is very, very quiet, and collected in its presence. I could feel their strong presence in the room. Later when we talked about it, it was clear that in some of us, this presence felt luminous, centred in the heart, and connected to all and everything.
Now, the language that I have used to set this up can be challenged philosophically, but I don’t want to defend it just now. I’ll ask instead that my reader indulge us a little. The finer points will be explored later.
My present point is this. What came into view was a kind of experience where it can be said that there was a suspension of the usual elaborations of experience. In the light of this cessation, one genuinely cannot identify with one’s personality. What could be reborn, then? Only identifications can be reborn. (Remember Guenther’s ‘fictions’?)
A (woman) practitioner is recorded in the Khuddaka Nikāya as saying: “When freedom from old age is found, what use have you for pleasures that quickly grow old? All lives, everywhere, are caught by death and illness. This is freedom from old age, this is freedom from death, this is the state without old age and death, without sorrow, without enmity, without obstacle, without disturbance, without fear, without pain. This state without death has been attained by many: even today it may be attained.” (Therigatha, 511-513. Translated by Rune E.A. Johansson.)
In a sutta on the destruction of craving, the Nikāya Buddha (in the classic authoritative style of ancient India) runs a set of checking questions by his students. The point of these questions – or, how I use these questions – is to get the student to check back with the experience of the luminous, open heart. So, imagine that each of them was answered after a pause in which they resonated the question against the freedom that they had awakened. ‘This way’ is not an abstraction. They have it right there:
“Now, Practitioners, knowing and seeing in this way, would you chase after the past, thinking, ‘Were we in the past? Were we not? What were we? How were we in the past? Having been what, what did we become back then?”
“No, Bhante.” (= Venerable Sir.)
“Practitioners, knowing and seeing in this way, would you run after the future, thinking, ‘Will we be in the future? Will we not be? What will we be? How will we be in the future? Having been what, what will we become in the future’?”
“Practitioners, knowing and seeing in this way, would you be inwardly perplexed about the immediate present, thinking, ‘Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it going?'”
“Practitioners, knowing and seeing in this way, would you speak thus: ‘The teacher is respected by us. We speak as we do out of respect for the teacher’?”
“Knowing and seeing in this way, would you speak thus: ‘A recluse says this, and we speak thus at the bidding of the recluse’?”
“Knowing and seeing in this way, would you dedicate yourself to another teacher?”
“Knowing and seeing in this way, would you fall back on the observances, the tumultuous debates, and auspicious signs of ordinary recluses and brahmins, taking them as the essence of the matter?”
“Is it that you speak only of what you have known, seen, and understood for yourselves?”
“Good, Practitioners. So you have been guided by me in this truth, which is visible here and now, timeless, inviting inquiry, carrying forward, to be experienced by the wise for themselves.”
Checking Questions from The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving (MN38) – Translated by Christopher J. Ash
The conversation continues…
Christopher: “How was that? What stands out for you?”
Melissa: “That was really interesting. Usually, people speak so negatively about clinging; but after that, I feel rather… I don’t know… it’s rather poignant, isn’t it?”
Kent: “That voice was really operating from such an instinctual level, wasn’t it? Not just childhood, but kind of animal, too.”
C: “Yes, well… we can acknowledge our four-billion-year ancestry, heh? That was mild, of course. There are some very fierce patterns in us. But it’s enough to encounter, now.
“There’s so much more we could explore, but we’re restricted by time. But it was great – and important – to explore the traditional four clingings. Thanks, Melissa.”
Kent: What four?
C: “Clinging to sensory pleasure, to views and opinions, to rules and rituals, and clinging to a belief in a fixed self. They all came up, didn’t they?”
M: “About self – don’t we all naturally have a self-system?”
C: “Yes. Even the Nikāya Buddha has that, but he doesn’t identify with it. It merely serves a fleeting human life.
“The pleasure, the views, the rules and rituals, and a views of self may exist, and may even be natural, as you say; but why cling to them? Clinging gums up the works; clinging is the bondage. As the Nikāya Buddha says, “Nothing is worth clinging to.”
K: “And, it seems the deepest reason for our clinging is wrong view about self?”
C: “We are afraid of not existing in a manner to which we have become accustomed since very early in our childhood development; namely, existing in a manner which is limited to name and form.”
M: “That’s why the clinging self is trying to establish a solid self, because it feels quite insubstantial.”
K: “It doesn’t like the insubstantiality.”
C: “Yes, yet if we can turn toward the insubstantiality, with a healthy heart-felt attitude – caring for all beings – that insubstantiality transforms into freedom.”
M: “Okay. Now I’m ready.”
K: “Me, too.”
C: (Laughs). Okay. Let’s. (Kent and Melissa move.)
C: “Who am I speaking to?”
M & K: “The non-clinging mind.”
C: “Welcome. Glad to have you, here. Tell me, what’s another name for you.”
K: “Vast Mind.”
C: “Peaceful, yes. And, vast.”
(Christopher invites a few more responses, giving time for Kent and Melissa to savour the taste of this healthy non-dukkha state. Then, he asks…)
C: “Tell me, how come the person misses you?”
M: “She disowns me. If I turn up, she doubts me, and she runs back to her normal patterns.”
C: “Okay. So, you do show, sometimes, though?”
M: “Oh, yes.”
C: “When do you turn up?”
M: “Mostly on retreat, and lately when she’s just relaxing, and not doing her work. Sometimes, after she’s meditated.”
C: “Thank you.” (Turning to Kent) “And you, how come he doesn’t see you?”
K: “Oh, he keeps himself so busy. He doesn’t like to stop long, so how could he notice me? If he’s not busy with his body, he thinks and thinks.”
C: “Interesting. He clings to busy-ness inside, with the result that you can’t show. Thank you. And, please tell me, Non-Clinging Mind, when you are in the person’s life, what’s that like? Can you describe it for me?
C: “Peaceful and grounded. Yes?”
M: “Connected to everything.”
C: “Ah-huh. Connected to everything.”
M: “And, there’s something else…”
C: “Hang on. We’ll come back. Melissa has something there that’s forming.”
M: “I feel like I’m seeing from her heart, here in the middle.” (She places her hand over her heart centre).
C: “Okay. Thank you. Here in her heart. She can see from there, when you’re in her body.”
C: “Thank you. Kent?”
K: “I feel a lot of space.”
M: “Oh, that’s it! Yes! Space.”
C: (To Kent) “There’s a lot of space. Good. Say more, Non-Clinging Mind.”
K: “When I’m in, his usual ‘I’ is out; and, this is a big, silent, intelligent space.”
C: “A big space.”
K: “And, boundless.”
C: “No centre, no periphery?”
K: “Exactly! I’m the cessation he seeks.”
C: “The cessation of clinging is what he had been looking for, and with it comes the cessation of limits in his mind – and you’re right here when he stops looking for you.
M: “I have nothing more to say. I’m glad you invited me. Thanks you.”
C: “Yes, saying nothing is satisfying, too.
“Okay, we haven’t got much time left, so let’s go back to the person, now. Is that okay by you?”
M & K: “Yes.” (And, they return to their former seats.)
C: “Thank you, Guys. That was great.”
M: “That definitely wasn’t a ‘bad space.’ And, I can feel the space, still resonating in my heart centre.”
K: “No, not bad at all. That wasn’t dukkha. That was the ending of dukkha, right there.”
C: “That citta – mind, I mean – had the quality of the cessation of dukkha?”
M: “One thing that was noticeable throughout, was that our bodies change so dramatically according to the situation, the relationships, the spot in the room, and all.”
C: “That feels like a good note to end on. Because, we were saying, in the beginning, that dukkha is the rejection of situations. But, if situations are already and always in our bodies, prior to perception and conscious thought, then we are going against our bodies when we reject birth, illness, death, associating with the unpleasing, separating from the pleasing, and not getting what one wants. Maybe dukkha is the feel of going against our interactive, and changing bodily knowing in the flow of situations?
“So, we might come to see how recollective present-moment awareness and clear comprehension (sampajana) can cure death-dukkha, by dissolving craving and clinging.”
Regarding the four ‘clingings,’ Ajahn Buddhadasa, one of my spiritual grandfathers, said about them (here):
“To know the truth about these things, which are of everyday concern to us, is to be regarded as one of the greatest boons, one of the greatest skills. Do give some thought to this matter of the four attachments, bearing in mind that nothing whatever is worth clinging to, that by the nature of things, nothing is worth getting or being. That we are completely enslaved by things is simply a result of these four kinds of attachment. It rests with us to examine and become thoroughly familiar with the highly dangerous and toxic nature of things. Their harmful nature is not immediately evident as is the case with a blazing fire, weapons, or poison. They are well disguised as sweet, tasty, fragrant, alluring things, beautiful things, melodious things. Coming in these forms they are bound to be difficult to recognize and deal with.”
Christopher has invited the ‘non-clinging mind.’ Melissa, however, says, while moving back to her original chair: “Sorry. I don’t feel comfortable, as it turns out, going straight to that one. And, my hesitancy has to do… with the feeling that something was left unexplored… before this leap.”
Christopher: “No problem. And, you’d like to go back over something?”
Melissa: “I’m wondering what happened to the question about the part of us that ‘sticks fast’ to things.”
C: “Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, I see. Sorry. I didn’t notice… that I didn’t stay with the question, did I? That’s interesting.”
M: “I noticed.”
C: (Laughs) “Well, are you saying you’d like me to speak to the part which holds fast to things?”
M: “Yes. I’m interested in that.”
Kent: (who had also moved back, when Melissa did): “Yes, let’s. I’m fine with that.”
C: “Okay. And, it makes good sense from a Voice Dialogue point of view. I’ll explain later, why.
“Let’s see… I asked, “Why would we do that – cling – especially when it’s not good for us?”
M: “That’s right. Something like that.”
C: “So, are we ready to go with the clinging one? Yes?
“Okay. Please may I speak, first of all, with the clinging mind?”
K & M: “Yes.” (And, they move again.)
C: So… Who am I speaking to?”
K & M: “The clinging mind.”
C: “Welcome. Lovely to have you here.”
C: (Laughs) “Yes. Really. And what is your job? What do you do in the person?”
K: “I stick to things. My job is to hold on to things.”
M: “Hold on tight.”
C: “Tight, yes. Because… ”
M: “Well, how else would you know what matters.”
C: “Clinging reveals what matters?”
M: “Well…. well… (defiantly) yes!”
C: “That’s interesting. Thank you. I hear that. Clinging helps know what matters.”
K: “I cling to things that give me pleasure.”
C: “I’m speaking to the one who clings, and, for you, pleasure plays a big part?”
K: “The thought of pleasure does, yes.”
C: “Tell me more.”
K: “I cling to what is yummy.”
C: “I see. The thoughts about what is pleasing, these matter to you. And if something is displeasing, where are you? How are you, then?”
K: “Well, of course., I still cling to something.”
K: “I cling to the idea of escaping what’s unpleasant; I cling to the idea of finding something else.”
C: “Hold tight to the idea of getting out of this, and getting to something you like.”
M: “I’d put it more in terms of what I value. I cling to what I value.”
C: “Which is what you like, right? What you prefer?”
M: “Of course. But the pleasure is secondary, for me. I cling to what is meaningful.”
C: “Oh, I see.”
M: “I particularly cling to what makes me feel connected to others. She likes to feel connected to others.”
C: “Yes. Clinging to stay connected to others. And, if you can cling, what does it bring?
M: “It feels good. Feels that my life is… hopeful.”
C: “Thank you. Tell me other kinds of things that you cling to.”
M: “Beautiful things. I cling to nice things, things that bring a sense of beauty in her.”
C: “Right. So for the clinging mind, clinging to the senses is important, but sometimes that serves the sense of something in her self-image.”
K: “Oh, yes. I cling to beautiful things, too, if you put it like that. I like art works, and nature scenes. I like good food. I help him feel important, and sensitive. And, other people like those things about him.”
C: “Yes, so that’s there – there’s clinging to the sense-doors. And, that can serve his inner feel of himself, and his social needs.”
K: “If you like. Sometimes it’s just to indulge, of course.
C: “Just revel in the senses. Yes.
M: “I cling to ideas. When she gets in a philosophical argument with her boyfriend, she’s a tigress.”
C: “You’re a tigress in her, when she’s onto a good idea in an argument. You won’t let go, even if his argument looks good?”
M: “Yes. You’ve got it!”
Melissa pauses, and then laughs.
M: “Oh, I was just remembering an argument I had with a friend…”
C: “She had an argument with a friend, and you – clinging mind – were in there?”
M: “Oh, that’s right. Ah.. I make sure she doesn’t let go her opinions – even if it’s about recipes!” (Laughs)
C: “Makes me think. I have one who clings, too, of course. I find my clinging one comes to cling to ‘ways of doing things.’ You know what I mean?
K: “Do you mean like: I can’t stand it, when his friend goes the long way in the car, to some place – which he does every time.”
C: “That’s an instance, yes. You cling to the right way to get there.”
M: “It sends me crazy, when I stay with my boyfriend, that he won’t place his toothbrush separately.”
C: “When she stays with her boyfriend, you come out in the bathroom, yes? How things are arranged, there?”
M: “There’s a system there, for hanging the brushes, and he never does that.”
C: “Right. So you cling to the right rituals, right? That makes sense, to you. I get it. And, because you cling to the right way of doing things, she gets into conflicts with her boyfriend.”
M: “Not yet. But she probably will say something some day.”
C: “And, you’ll be there, yes.
“This prompts a question, for me: What would it bring in you, if you were able to cling without opposition from anyone or anything?”
M: “Satisfaction. And, hope…. and… certainty. I’d feel a guaranteed stability.”
K: “The pleasure of being.”
M: “And, a sense of richness.”
C: “Great. Wow. That’s big. Tell me more about the pleasure of being, and about guaranteed stability. I’d love to hear about this territory.”
K: “This might be a bit embarrassing. But, like we were talking earlier… Ah… When I cling to a woman’s beauty, I am not just clinging to what’s over there. I’m clinging to…” (Here, Kent pauses, and senses inwardly, as though he is re-creating the instance in his body). “I’m clinging to being him.”
C: “Help me a little here. Do you mean that you cling to who you think he is?”
K: “Yes, and that guides a lot of my clinging to other things, as well – to sensory input and ideas – because they confirm who he thinks he is. For example, when I cling to perceptions.”
C: “Yes. We were talking about clinging to sensory perceptions. Is that what you mean?”
C: “What does that bring, clinging to sensory perceptions?”
K: “Then I know what’s real, and that he’s real.”
C: “Wow – that’s a big job you’ve got! So, you’re working to support some identity-making process in him, to confirm his self-sense?”
K: “I think so. Yes. That feels right. We’re a team, and we have to help him have a solid sense of himself.”
C: “Brill. Fantastic insight. Thank you for that.” (Looks at Melissa.)
M: “Well, yes. I took that for granted. My clinging is core for her to have a sense of stable self. I think that’s what I meant about ‘guaranteed stability.’ She’s appreciated that about me, since she was a child.”
C: “Right. She depends on your clinging, to feel grounded. I guessed that. You act on the basis of the self-representations, and confirm them, too. That makes sense. No wonder you stick fast to experiences that she has.
(To both): “Those are important things, in a human being. So, from where you sit, no wonder sticking to something is a good idea!”
M & K: “Yes. Too right!”
C: “But sometimes your clinging brings trouble for the person?”
M: “Less so, since she’s been listening to me, noticing that I’m here.”
K: “I think I can say that, too.”
C: “Well… Thank you. I’m sure that Melissa and Kent have been listening, and can learn from you. It might be time to return to them, now. Is that okay by you?”
M & K: “Yes.”
The both move back to their original chairs.
C: “How was that? There’s so much more we could explore, but we’re restricted by time. So, how was it? What stands out for you?”
Christopher: Dukkha is not just any suffering, but a specific kind of suffering. So, what do “birth-dukkha, illness-dukkha, death-dukkha, association-with-the-unpleasing-dukkha, separation-from-the-pleasing-dukkha, not-getting-what-one-wants-dukkha – in short, clinging-to-the-fivefold-sentient-processes-dukkha,” what do they have in common?”
Melissa: “When I invite the pain body, speech and mind associated with dukkha, I feel some sort of urgency, some sort of… intensity.”
Christopher: “Yes. It would appear so. Is that the first thing you notice?”
Kent: “A kind of hunger accompanies this.”
C: “Yes. A thirst for movement, right? Rather than let reality present you with its raw face.”
M: “I certainly see that. There is illness and we want that it doesn’t come to us. There is death, and we don’t want it to come.”
K: “We want it not to come.”
M: “That’s more like it. And, ‘to come to me,’ especially. I don’t mind it being out there in the world, but I want it not to come to me and my loved ones.”
C: “So, you are implicitly raising memory, and comparison (which wouldn’t be possible without memory). You’ve also introduced self-image – the Narcissus theme – with the longing belonging to the ‘me.'”
M: “Is memory only a bringer of dukkha? That would surely be extreme, wouldn’t it?”
C: “Good question. You’re asking, ‘Does memory have some proper place?’
M: “That’s right.”
C: “I agree that we have to keep a perspective. Memory might have a place in life. And, we’re just investigating the feeling of ‘things being out-of-kilter,’ ‘skew-whiff,’ or the feeling that no matter what we do to secure peace and happiness, there is a pervasive unsatisfying element. And, we see that memory plays a part in that.”
M: “And, more generally, there’s a subtle way we feel driven, most of the time.”
K: “You know, Christopher. I’ve been doing some reading, and it appears to me that you’re deviating from a standard view.”
C: “Which is?”
K: “Which is that the very fact of a stubbed toe is dukkha.”
C: “I know what you mean. And you’re right – I’m not wasting my time with that one. That view doesn’t comprehensively cover the entirety of the teachings; and furthermore, I’ve found that it is allied to the view that liberation (nibbāna) is release from life processes – liberation out of life. The ‘stubbed toe is intrinsically dukkha’ view accompanies the ‘life stinks’ attitude, which I’ve met in some Buddhists.
“So, you’re right. After decades of inquiry, I’ve decided that nibbāna is a release from bondage, and that, if it’s not a release into more realness, and a real life of compassion, then it’s not worthy of my limited energy.”
M: “May I suggest that we take those last three? ‘Association-with-the-unpleasing dukkha, separation-from-the-pleasing dukkha, not-getting-what-one-wants dukkha’ – what do they have in common?”
C: “Good. I, myself, have a chronic illness. That’s not pleasing. But, when I despair that the illness is making my life is meaningless, then I’m adding a special burden to my already unpleasant illness. And, it’s clearly an optional extra.”
K: “I know what you mean. Like when getting the flu, and feeling: ‘Why me?'”
M: “Yes. That’s clear. Adding the special burden of dukkha. It’d be important to find what our experience is, of that ‘special’ bit.”
C: “Okay. If I had a healthy attitude, I could inquire into it, while seeking to address it practically. But, with dukkha, I am not with the illness just as it is, in its unfolding. In this ‘special burden’ case, I am taking it personally, and I despair. The despair has got a refusal to experience, inside it, hasn’t it?”
M & K (both feeling into their bodies): “Yes.”
C: “Then… It’s easy to see that the second one is similar – the dukkha which arises with ‘separation from the pleasing’ is likewise a refusal to experience reality as it is. I remember relationship separations that had me so devastated that I could hardly function.”
K: “Oh, yes, for sure. I was talking with a college friend, just an hour ago, who’s besotted with a married woman in his class. A part of him accepts that she’s married, but another part of him won’t give up the longing. Like you say, there’s a refusal in him, to face that he can’t be with her.”
M: “Wow! That’s heavy.”
K: “Oh, he’ll be okay. He does fundamentally accept it. But, it’s giving him anguish, just the same. It’s just on this point – that’s what I was thinking.”
C: “That can be dukkha, sure. (One translation of dukkha is ‘anguish.’) If what he’s experiencing is dukkha, it can be an instance of not-getting-what-you-want dukkha; there can be moments of separation-dukkha, and there can be having what you don’t want – all in the situation. Desiring her might be natural. Feeling the pain of the impossibility might be natural. Pain is there, but dukkha is the refusal to accept the pain.”
M: “So, you think the refusal is at play for emotional pain, too?”
C: “Yes. Take when someone you love dies. There’s a hole in your life. The situation is in your body, and it’s unpleasant by its nature. The untrained person wants to get away from the feeling of the hole in them.”
M: “But if you refuse to feel the pain of the loss, then there’s a different feeling comes – dukkha.”
C: “Then you’ve got the being-out-of-harmony-with-life-as-it-is feeling, right.”
M: “So dukkha is the specific suffering of being out of alignment with life.”
C: “Lovely. That’s an interesting definition. That makes sense of the etymology. I’ve heard different origins given for the word; but the one I use – because it makes the most sense of the word across all contexts – is in the Pāli English Dictionary. it says it’s: ‘duḥ’ plus ‘kha.’ That’s: ‘bad’ plus ‘space.’ Some think it refers to the space at the hub of a wheel. Maybe so. Either way, it’s a bad space, which is good experientially, isn’t it?”
M: “Very good.”
C: “There’s a lot like that. A small example would be: I wish I could go down into the wilderness in the valley near where I live. It was the joy of my childhood to be in places like that. I can’t due to a combination of a chronic illness and old age creeping up on me.”
M: “Is that dukkha?”
C: “Not for me, because – in this instance, at least – I don’t resist the poignancy of life. I’m sure dying will be the same. Poignant to part from loved ones, but I think there’ll be a lot of love in the parting, not resistance, not rejection – because I do my best in my life to place myself under the big open field of how things are. It’s not just that I’m in training for death, but I find more life living this way.”
M: “100% for birth and death.”
K: “Resisting the situation by continuing to entertain the possibility. That’s the dukkha. My friend is looking at why he’s so enamoured, of course. That makes it a little better.”
C: “The Nikāya Buddha names this particular clinging the hardest of all, for both men and women. He says that the form, sound, smell, taste, and touch of the other preoccupies the mind like nothing else.”
M: “I like that word ‘occupy.’ When your friend is occupied with his classmate, he surely can’t have much space for keeping his mind on lectures.”
K: “So, true. Still, I’ve been there…”
M: “So, we’re naming another aspect of dukkha: ‘Clinging’ is a strong word, but that’s what is here – a feeling of holding onto something for dear life.”
C: “And there you have a very deep element. To stick fast to something. Now why would we do that, when the clinging itself, or the something we cling to (I’m thinking of the drug ‘ice,’ right now), may not be good for us?”
K: “In that particular case neither the clinging nor the object are good for us.”
M: “I think this is a good question.”
C: “Let’s look at it another way. A radical Gendlin-style question. How would your being – your whole body-mind complex – feel, if you were not clinging? Your body knows what all okay is like, in this context. Can you invite that into your body, now?”
K: “Oh, that’s a good idea. It’s a Byron Katie question, too. But, can we do it using the Hal and Sidra Stones’ Voice Dialogue process, which you’ve done with me before?”
C: “Unexpected way to go, but why not? Melissa?”
M: “Yes. I’d love it.”
C: “Okay. May I please speak to the… Ah…let me see… Let me speak, please, to the non-clinging mind.”
(Melissa and Kent both move their positions in the room, finding a place to speak as ‘Non-Clinging Mind’ Tomorrow, the conversation continues, with Christopher supporting Kent and Melissa to dis-identify from the clinging mind.)
“Death is not the end of Being; it may the end of some sort of being. Being remains unaffected by death; only that which is fictitious, sham, is continuously dying.” – Herbert Guenther, in his commentary to Longchenpa’s Kindly Bent to Ease Us.
Death-dukkha is a trance of identification, a trance created by the will. Mindfulness makes possible the releasing of will from its entanglement in unhelpful patterns of ‘identity.’ Mindfulness through the body cures our wrong relationship to death, with its confusion, stress, and anguish.
Mindfulness is recollective, present-moment awareness. And what is recollected? That depends on the view underpinning your mindfulness; and, the level of your insight into human process. The view in Buddhism is that liberation from fundamental delusions about self is possible, and in this context ‘mindfulness’ means recollecting your sentient processes. Particularly, we pay attention to those areas of functioning named in the mindfulness sutta: our bodily form; our feeling tones; our states of consciousness (in terms of general descriptors, such as expanded or contracted, wholesome or unwholesome, or this or that attitude); and, the dynamics of these three, in terms of whether they are organised to tend, to ‘slant and slope’ toward liberation; whether they are organised to tend toward maintaining the trance of dukkha (including death-dukkha).
Mindfulness, then, can help one to recognise that one is in a trance of mindlessness. Then, automatically the trance loosens. Leaving the body out of awareness supports the trance, so mindfulness in the body reminds you to be intimate with your bodily experience of the trance. Mindfulness helps you bring in the experiential, body-based skills or methods you may have learnt with others – with friends, sangha, therapists, meditation or mindfulness teachers, focusing trainers, and so on – to take care of yourself. And, from the Buddhist point of view, mindfulness supports deep enquiry. All of this, if tended well, results in dis-identification, which is central to all healing.
Identification happens when the mind state includes a specific kind of error in the feeling of ‘self.’ A self-image gets formed out of the error. The feeling of ‘self’ is a dependently arisen process. That is, it’s a feel which is constantly renewing in all our situations. It isn’t permanent, otherwise it could provide no fresh guidance. So, we can’t actually have an accurate fixed image of our self. But we become caught by the error that the ‘self’ is permanent and that it is the same as our processes. In identification, ‘I’ and something which comes and goes are the same. For instance: I am my body, I am my feeling tones, I am my perceptions, I am my intentions, or I am the one who knows, and so on.
Of course, you – the person of such and such a name and such and such a place, and whose body is quite unique – you can’t be limited to, or defined by, any one process. Neither can you be a findable something which is the totality of all these processes – if only for the reason that the one inside who would be looking for the real you couldn’t include itself! Also, if we were to list all that makes you up, we’d have to include everything in the universe – past, present, and future. How do we get an image of that?! If you are an interdependent, living event, then what image could possible encompass all you are and imply? So you are not measurable, and not findable.
So, if you aren’t anything which can be represented with an image – and, where you begin and end can’t be found – then what dies? With familiarity with what is, when the identification with this or that ceases, one can recognise a special quality of openness.
Aware of this foam-like body,
Awake to its insubstantial nature,
cutting the flowered spikes of Māra,
go where the Kind of Death can’t see.
– Dhammapada, verse 46. Translated by Christopher J. Ash
So, to become free of the fear of death, we live our bodily life consciously. We turn up 100% for birth and death, which puts self-images (self-representations) into perspective – as being only provisional tools, pointing to a reality that can’t be pinned down.