Monthly Archives: February 2016
It was a toss-up, for me, what practice to enter into tonight. I was choosing between the guided meditation that Sariputta gave Anathapindika, and a meditation based on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Four Placements of Mindfulness). Then there’s the meditation adaption I’ve made of the Girimananda Sutta – it likewise leads from the gross to subtle, from sensory grounding to letting go. Anapanasati is good, too. Any of them would be good for dying with.
They all start with the body, and grounded, directed attention of some kind; and they all lead, step by step to dispassion, cessation and letting go. They all realise more and more space, until the space-like nature of the mind is clear. The way the steps of each of these are sequenced in the Pali version, they each deepen from the initial earth element, into water, into fire, into air or wind, and then to the mind liberated from perching on anything.
In the end, I’ve settled on the Anthapindika meditation, because it does seem to me that it most closely resembles the stages of dissolution at death. It has an interesting resonance with the meditation (developed in later Buddhist times) called the ‘Dissolution of the Elements.’
I used to lead a version of the Anathapindika guided meditation on retreats, years ago; and people would regularly request me to lead that one again. The lines that are most powerful in that meditation, were “I am not defined by…” and “I am not limited by…” For instance, “I am not defined by this body. I am not limited by this body.” “I am not defined by my vedana (feeling-tones). I am not limited by my vedana.” (No doubt it’s resonant with the Vedic ‘neti, neti’ – ‘not this, not this’ meditation.) The rest is silence.
Here’s an earlier version, for you to follow, if you like to try it. I call it, Emptiness for Anathapindika. It doesn’t have those particular lines in it, but it’s still pretty incisive:
Or, you can download it, by right-clicking this link and choosing ‘Save as…’: Emptiness for Anathapindika – February 2010. When you practice the meditation, don’t be surprised if the ‘blocking processes’ (pañca nīvaraṇāni) give you a dance. This meditation leaves you with nothing but the deathless to stand on. Persist with a curious heart.
I’d like to thank my wife Joyce for her constant encouragement during this project, even during her recent illness. I want to thank many of you for contacting me, or letting me know that you have really valued reading this blog. It’s been especially rewarding to know that it has supported you in your inner work. May you be safe, well and completely at peace. May you flourish.
I’ve received an intimation that I will be reborn. This particular destination is not guaranteed, but… I can say that: if I return on 1 March – after a day in that bardo which we call the leap day in the Gregorian calendar, Feb 29 – I will be found at thefocusingmandala.com.au.
I will be exploring the dynamics of being a sentient being – specifically, of course, I mean being a human sentient being. But I do hope that the principles we uncover in that place will be applicable to cockroaches, mosquitoes, dogs, egrets and amœbas (or, amœbæ).
I think of a mandala as the basic space of oneself in one’s relationship to (….). So, to study the mandala principle in relation to focusing is to explore how meaning arises out of the basic space of our awareness in situations. I’m interested in the principles and the transformative power of basic space.
The following is the basis for a guided meditation, based on the Satipatthana Sutta. This text is based on a meditation developed by Bhikkhu Analayo; but it has been changed in ways he might not approve, so I take responsibility for the form in which you have it here. You can listen to, and download, the original, here: http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/439/talk/26718/ I’ll go into it more tomorrow – the day I die.
Four Placements of Attention Meditation
Begin with being aware of the body, mind rested in the body.
Have a whole body awareness, which you can maintain throughout the whole meditation on the four placements of attention.
Resting with mindfulness in this whole body. Meditating moving from gross to subtle.
A. Awareness of the body.
1. Anatomical parts
A body scan – which we can simplify to: skin, flesh, and bone. (Or, you can replace with your style, like yoga nidra.)
Aware of the whole body in the sitting posture.
Aware of the skin at: the head, neck, shoulders, upper arm, lower arm, and hands. Front of torso, upper part of torso, lower part of torso, back of torso, pelvic area – aware of skin – upper legs, lower legs, and feet. Covered with skin.
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
Fleshy parts in the feet, lower legs, upper legs, pelvic area, lower torso, upper torso, both hands, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, fleshy parts in the neck and head.
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
Aware of the skull, neck bones, shoulder bones, upper arms, lower arms, and in the hands, chest area, down the spinal cord, bones and hip area the upper legs, the lower legs, and the feet. Aware of the bones in this body.
Insight: Skin, flesh and bones of this body, are functional processes; the body is not intrinsically, absolutely, unconditionally beautiful or ugly.
2. Four great Elements
Earth, water, fire, and wind. Hardness, cohesion/fluidity, temperature and motion.
It can be experienced in the bones. Head/skull, shoulders and upper arms, no arms, hands, upper torso, lower torso, hip area, upper legs, lower legs, feet. Earth element.
Evident in the fleshy parts, the bodily liquids – blood, synovial fluids, urine, and so on. Start with feet, aware that they are pervaded by the water element; lower legs, upper legs, pelvic area, lower torso, upper torso, hands, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and head.
Aware of whole body, sitting, lying or standing, pervaded by the water element.
Temperature, heat and warmth, and cold. Easy to notice at the skin level. With the head – aware of temperature. Cold and heat. Shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, hands, upper torso, lower torso, hips, upper legs, lower legs, feet. Aware of the whole body pervaded by the fire element.
Any kind of motion found throughout the whole body. Feet pervaded by the wind element, motion. Lower legs, upper legs, hips, lower torso, upper torso, hands, lower arms upper arms, shoulders, neck and head. Aware of the whole body pervaded by the wind element.
Earth, water, fire and wind – whole body pervaded by the four great elements. Just as it is in nature outside the body. All natural process. This body is non-self, in the sense that there is no permanent ‘thing.’
3. Cemetery contemplation
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
This body is not exempt from dying. No escape. This body will dissolve. If left in the open, it would decay. Imagine the bones scattered around a charnel ground – the skull, shoulder blades, the arm bones, the pelvic bone, leg bones, and all the hand and feet bones scattered here and there.
Insight: With every inhalation, “This could be my last breath.” With every out-breath, “Letting go – relaxing.” If you notice agitation, give more emphasis to be out breath: relaxing, and releasing fear.
This round of in- and out-breath could be my last. I am one breath closer to dying. Death is a part of life.
Awake to the present moment. The only time that is, here and now. Fully alive.
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
Feeling-tones can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral; gross or subtle (physical or psychic).
Scan the body one my time for what is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Be aware of the tonality of experiences, of sensations.
Scan shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, hands, torso, upper torso, lower torso, hips, upper legs, lower legs, and feet.
Now paying attention to any kind of subtle feeling that is nonmaterial – pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Notice the pleasure of being in the present moment. Notice the gladness that are doing this exercise. Notice the pleasure of being.
Become aware of the feelings which we don’t usually notice. For example, very subtle all disquiet in the body that would make us want to change position. If you are aware of your felt sense, see if has one of these three tonalities.
Notice again, the pleasure of being aware in the present moment. As we notice that it may become stronger – the pleasure of being. Perhaps you’ll see the joy of being.
Insight: Notice that all feeling-tones are in permanent, changing into the next, or maintaining itself through change. Every feeling-tone is a message of transience, an occurring.
C. Contemplation of the mind.
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
Contemplating that which knows by interaction. Knowing the body; knowing the feeling-tones. The faculty of knowing. This too is interactional; it is moving. You know one thing, then another, then another. Wherever it alights, right there it’s moving again. It is a flux of interactions.
Insight: This is the natural state of the interactional mind. Smiling to the interactional mind. Smiling to the mind that wanders into one attitude or another. Smiling to the changing weather of mind-states.
Three basic states
Perhaps, if the mind is distracted from long time, notice was this train of thought desire, or aversion, or delusion. Label these three types of mind.
Aware of the whole body, aware of feeling- tones, aware of attitudes (mind-states), and aware of these three types of mind – desire, or aversion, or delusion. And noticing how pleasant it is when these three states are not present, or are weakened. Notice the spaciousness, and notice the relief.
Noticing a mind without anger, without a version, without delusion, without belonging. This is beautiful, this is joyful.
Continuing whole body awareness, aware of changes – mindful. Aware of being awake. Sounds appear and disappear.
Aware of this precious present moment.
D. Contemplation of the interaction of processes
Aware of the whole body in the sitting, lying or standing posture.
Awareness of the five blocking processes
Is there some sensual desire as a quality of mind, right now? Is there some ill-will, now? Is there some torpor or dullness now, as a quality of this mind? Is there some restlessness or worry; or, debilitating doubt?
If we see any state of these blocking processes, then we try to understand how we got into it (trace back just a couple of steps), and we also try to understand we can drop it.
We notice when the mind is crystal clear, free of desire, free of torpor. “What a wonderful mind, free – I take joy in this.”
“Breathing in I am aware of this clear state of mind; breathing out I take joy in this state of mind.” I am glad of this state of mind, free of blocking processes, temporarily free of blocking processes.
Awareness of Seven Qualities of a Wakeful Mind
Investigating in this way, we see that this joy arises because mindfulness was present. Mindfulness present, I can investigate. Investigating brings energy and joy. Joy brings tranquillity, which is soothing. And the mind becomes concentrated. And then balance is present. Mind free from blocking processes brings the seven awakening factors.
With these awakening factors I know impermanence or change. And so, dispassion arises. This dispassion leads to no clinging. Dispassion grows and ceasing happens. We allow things to end. We notice every little fading of experience. Everything disappears – gone, gone, gone, gone.
Appreciating the dissolving of experience moment to moment. Allowing ourselves to see cessation. Noticing the peace that comes with familiarity with cessation.
From allowing things to end we come to letting go. There is nothing worth clinging to as ‘I’ or ‘mine.’ Dwelling independently, without clinging to anything, including distinctions such as inside and outside.
Resting in the peace and openness.
I’m in a kind of mood to pull the wings off a butterfly. It happens when I resist the world, the way it is.
My body, with its ompaired immune system reacts quite badly to sudden drops in barometric pressure. One’s body and the world are not-two, are one, from one important angle. So, today’s weather is tough; that is, if I’m wanting it to be some other way. I get grumpy.
How about I make it a ‘dragonfly,’ not a ‘butterfly’? When I was a boy in these mountains, dragonflies fascinated me, with their dancing colours. I’d like to paint one.
There’s a story about haiku master Baasho and his student Kikaku. He must have seen a red dragonfly. He imagined it like a pepper with wings, so he wrote this poem, and presented it to Basho:
pulling the wings off
Basho, gentle as ever, wrote back:
to the red pepper:
They both see the dragon-fly. But Basho’s reminder helps me. Now, I say, “Come, let’s paint today, World!”
If I imagine (as my present practice asks me to) that I will die in a few days’ time, I think I can say farewell without great remorse. No human being has no regrets, I suspect, if they are honest with themselves. “Non, je ne regrette rien,” is a defiant cry, not an intimate one, I suspect. Nevertheless, have I finished my war with myself?
Lately, I’ve been thinking frequently about the effect on my development of choosing, during the Vietnam War, to oppose that war. I registered as a conscientious objector. I am glad I made that commitment. And, today, the My Lai massacre is on my mind. I don’t think it’s just because Donald Trump is doing well in the polls.
In a couple of weeks, it’s the forty-eighth anniversary of that unspeakable crime against humanity – the My Lai massacre. To the U.S.’s unending shame, only one of the twenty-odd murderers was convicted, and he, William Calley, spend a paltry few years confined to a military base for his crime. “Bad boy. Shame that you got caught.”
No, there are some things I regret, but aligning with the cause of non-violence is not one of them. The Buddhadharma has symbolised that for me. Some years ago, I quit a certain spiritual path, because I felt that it’s demands were becoming too cult-like, and that it threatened my allegiance to Buddhism. Yet, it’s fair to ask what would make me so dedicated to the Buddhadharma?
One clear answer has emerged, because I have understood in my own mind the root of the human violence. Seeing that is inestimable. And, I know of no major spiritual path whose commitment to non-violence is so pointedly clear. The founder’s words are unequivocal.
They can be distorted and abused, of course, by any culture. We’ve seen that historically, in the approach of the samurai – the bushido approach to Buddhism. A distortion. And, presently we’re seeing it in Burma, where corrupt (or fake) Buddhist monks are inciting Burmese villagers to persecute the Rohinga.
Humans have such a propensity to harm other groups of humans. I was thinking today, about the Milgrim famous obedience experiments, which showed that under certain conditions the ordinary Jo or Joe, like you or me, will cause harm to others if ordered by an authority.
Reading about the My Lai massacre today, I came across an angry U.S. officer’s statement, a year after the atrocity: “[Calley] is a good man. He was obeying orders.” (Which it has been established that he wasn’t; and that he went way beyond orders. Was he ordered to murder women and children, even babies? Decent people know a hate crime when they see it.)
Of course, for those of us who cultivate non-violence, we hear in this U.S. officer’s statement, a defence what would please Adolph Eichmann unconditionally. Eichmann was, in his own eyes, a good citizen who was following orders. (Or, at least, that’s how he portrayed himself.)
It was, when I joined the opposition to the Vietnam War, my conviction that a culture of non-violence was necessary; and to that end, I took up a way of life. What I didn’t know then… (Well, I was nineteen. I became a Buddhist in the same month that Time magazine ran the story of My Lai, starting the exposé.)
What I didn’t know was that I would have to become intimate with my own violence, to find in myself the seeds of war. I hadn’t heard Thich Nhat Hanh, at that point. He had been in the West for just three years, then; having been exiled by both sides of the war in Vietnam. A peace-maker is hated by both antagonists. However, this is his message: that the seeds of war are in our own minds.
We must stop the war in in ourselves, if the human world is to know peace. I began the journey, not knowing that I wouldn’t be the same idealistic young man at the end of the process. . Mindfulness, Focusing, meditation, and a culture of enquiry brings transformation. I don’t regret becoming someone I couldn’t have imagined I’d be.
Before I die, though, let me tell another story. Milgrim’s experiments didn’t only show that 60% of the average college kids, in his experiments, would obey orders to cause others unreasonable pain. (The experiment demonstrated that the subjects would be willing to give a shock of 450 volts to a person.) That’s only the frightening and well-known result.
He showed something else. If others around you are willing to oppose injustice, it strengthens you to listen to your conscience. This is the power of a practice community, a sangha. As the American Psychological Association says it:
“In one of Milgram’s conditions the naïve subject was one of a 3-person teaching team. The other two were actually confederates who-one after another-refused to continue shocking the victim. Their defiance had a liberating influence on the subjects, so that only 10% of them ended up giving the maximum shock.”
If this experiment could be re-done (which, nowadays, it can’t), I would predict that if another group of experimental subjects were trained in mindfulness and in Focusing, a comparable figure (10%) would be realised. These practical disciplines support moral development. They don’t cause it; but they support it, with thousands of volts worth of energy.
Three men that day, in 1968 in My Lai, tried to stop the carnage – literal carnage. The corrupt President Richard Nixon and his vile administration tried to skewer these men, to protect the so-called reputation of the US. Army; but they eventually were acknowledged as the heroes of the day. They were the crew of a helicopter – the Hiller OH-23 Raven crew, led by a brave man Hugh Thompson. We have this in us, too. It needs protecting and nurturing, like a green plant. These men are remembered, too, every year on March 16.
I wonder: Has any journalist thought to ask Donald Trump for his candid opinion of his fellow Republican, Richard Nixon?
I am sitting on a seat, looking out over the Grose valley (pictured). After arriving, I send metta in all directions. Then, I invite immeasurable space.
If you’re not accustomed to that experience, to get a feel for it, try this exercise, from David Rome’s Your Body Knows the Answer:
Exercise 18.1 Enlarging Space
Go outdoors to a garden, park, or natural area. Find a quiet spot that affords a view of plants, trees, earth, rocks, and so forth, as well as a view toward the distant skyline (whether natural or constructed). If possible, sit down directly on the earth, or on a convenient stone or log. Settle your body and feel its weight sink down into the support of the earth. After a while, say softly to yourself, “Grounded on the earth.”
Concentrating awareness in your sense of sight, focus on a plant, stone, or other natural object no more than five feet away from you. Look at it as if you have never seen anything like it before. Perceive it freshly, vividly, appreciating its unique qualities of shape, color, texture, movement. Take in its presence, here and now. Let go of discursive thoughts that arise. Then refocus your gaze on something a bit farther off, perhaps 15 to 30 feet away. Again, see it as if for the very first time. Let its unique features become vividly present for you. If possible, do the same with a natural object in the middle distance, 50 to 150 feet from you. Then pick a spot on the horizon or skyline and gaze at it, letting go of any thoughts that arise, staying with the visual details and feeling the simple presence of whatever your eyes are resting on. Finally, let your gaze go out to the sky itself. Perhaps there are clouds or mist, perhaps just endless blue. Sense the sky’s depth and vastness. Without changing the focus of your gaze, become aware of your entire field of vision, everything visible out to the periphery of what you can see. Now bring in the other sense perceptions — sounds of birds or leaves or water, smells of earth or grass or flowers, the touch of the wind on your skin, the rough earth against your body. Sense the unified totality of everything you are aware of just now. Say softly, “Aware of all of it.”
Sustain this open awareness for as long as you can, dropping any discursive thinking and resisting the temptation to redirect your gaze to an object on the periphery. Imagine you have just arrived from Mars and nothing you see is familiar. Everything is abstract color, form, and texture, but extraordinarily vivid. You are also aware of being aware. Bringing a hand to your heart, feel your own presence. Gradually extend your sense of being present in your body to include the whole of space. You are present in the wide world, part of it, here and now. Say softly, “Present in this world.”
Let the outer and inner spaces coexist in your awareness. You may even have glimpses of nondual awareness, an experience in which the felt difference between outside and inside, self and other, dissolves.
Where are the Tourists?
To others who pass by, it might be obvious that I am gazing into the distance. “Aware I’m breathing in; aware I’m breathing out.” A little boy goes by with his family, and stares curiously at me. I smile to him, aware of my breath, and then go back to my gaze. I gaze longer. I come to the part where I am including my own presence in the measureless display. Aware of breathing; aware of joy.
Now a tourist, with her mobile phone camera, comes and – despite there being room enough for a bus, either direction left or right – she find this spot the best spot to stop. I am presented with a choiceless view of her back. Then, I notice a choice – a can get caught by giving 100% of my attention to my “Oh, surely not. Surely she can see she’s standing in my way”; or, I can still include the spaciousness. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose that.
Now, two more people come and join her. One of them glances nervously in my direction, and he tries to move a little bit to my left, but the others don’t move. Two backs, I’m aware of. The space is still present, which gives me some curiosity about what makes the slightly angry ‘Oh, no!’ element in my consciousness so insistent about taking up centre stage with ‘those people,’ so that the subject-object drama upstages the spaciousness, forcing it to recede into the shadows, almost.
I take up a question Peter Fenner asks: “Where are they, these people?” That insistent voice is mildly irritated with that. “Obviously, they’re right there!” he says. “Okay. And, where’s that?” I look more intimately at the three backs.
The more conscious one has re-joined them. From what he says to them, I gather he is a local. He’s showing his friends the sights. They love it. She’s trying to get a camera angle on the Bridal Veil Falls. (Just for your information, her best view is about twenty yards along to my left.)
“Where is this ‘right there’?” Well… the first thing that I notice is that saying ‘those people’ (or ‘there’) doesn’t point to anything but my exaggerated attitude. If I were to give this sub-personality a name, I’d call him ‘Atta-dude.” The ‘where’ question obviously can’t be answered by referring to an attitude, especially in the form of Atta-dude. Dropping that particular shaping of citta, I look again.
The second very clear thing, then, is that ‘where’ can’t be answered except by reference to my own citta (heart-mind); that is, in terms of my perceptions and conceptions.
Where is my perception? Solely over there? No. Solely in here? No. Intertwined, as Merleau-Ponty would have it? Closer, but not the whole story.
So, by now it’s obvious that “I’m here,” creates “They’re there.” I remember the teaching of the Nikaya Buddha. “However you think something makes it otherwise.”
I don’t seem to get my mind, with even the purist or kindest perceptions, out of the way, to find the reality of the tourists. Even if I could do that, in some measure, would I see them in the way that that raven there sees them; or, as each sees their self; or how?
I see them from a particular human heart. So, how am I going to find ‘them’ as such? And, where is this heart which sees?
Space is returning to centre-stage, and bringing contentment with it. Having seen Atta-dude’ exit, the next thing which I look for (and the tourists are getting ready to go) is the knowing itself. Where is that? The wholeness of the situation doesn’t have boundaries like ‘here’ against ‘there,’ or ‘me’ against ‘them’; but, it also doesn’t have a locatable mind. The mind that knows is not findable like a ‘over there’ kind of thing. [Here, I want to remind you that in the Latin origin of the word ‘object’ gives us: ‘thrown’ (-ject), with ‘against, in the way of, as in obstacle and opposite.’ (ob-). Thrown in the way.]
I’m not saying that the word ‘mind’ now can’t be used; it’s just that its frame of reference has shifted dramatically from when Atta-dude was centre stage. Now, a focaling knowledge is not, as he has it, sharply focused like a ray from here to there. Now it is implicitly felt as all-pervading. Implicit, yet felt as present, here in this body on this seat. This must be what David means, I think, by ‘nondual.’
It’s so open, peaceful, and it doesn’t need anything; and, now I am gazing into space. How could I not? Space is everywhere. The valley, breeze, the bird-calls; and the tourists feet are crunching on the gravel as they walk toward a more comprehensive view. In the heat of Australian summer, all this is vastness gazing into vastness . They are happily chatting, just like that.
these crunching stones,
dry and gravel-voiced,
light the shimmering sky.
Anathapindika is a lay student of the Nikāya Buddha. He has been a dedicated follower of the master for forty-two years. You might recognise his name, because many suttas open with these words, “I have heard that one time the flourishing one was staying at Sāvatthi, in Jeta’s grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery…” You might remember that the Bāhiya sutta, which we looked at closely, begins that way.
Anathapindika is a rich merchant in the royal town of Sāvatthi, a place where the Nikāya Buddha spends a lot of time – especially on retreat in the rainy season. The land for the monastery was donated to the Buddha’s mendicant community by Anathapindika. The monastery gets its dual name from the fact that Anathapindika purchased it from Prince Jeta for the community’s use. And, now Anathapindika is dying.
He doesn’t have much in the way of pain management, of course. He’s doing it tough. He knows he’s dying, and he sends homage to the Buddha, through someone else. It has been a tradition for centuries, in Buddhism, that when a person is dying, they take into their heart the ‘thought’ or ‘feel’ of the presence of a being of great wisdom – their teacher, or some other great being who, to them, represents all goodness. Anathapindika thinks of the Buddha at this point.
He also has had a close relationship with Sariputta, the chief student and right-hand man of the Nikāya Buddha. To Sariputta, Anathapindika not only sends homage, but he sends a request that out of compassion Sariputta might come to Anāthapiṇḍika’s home. The layman is seeking objective support for his dying process. Ānanda, the Nikāya Buddha’s attendant, goes with Sariputta. (I often visualise these two together, and Ānanda, too, no doubt, has a great love for Anathapindika.)
They arrive and enquire after his health. How bad it is? Are the pains getting better, or has Anāthapiṇḍika’s time come? No, not better; the pains are getting worse. It doesn’t look good, at this stage. So, Sariputta, out of compassion, does something very unusual.
The Nikāya Buddha’s deepest teachings – those on emptiness – are usually only shared with the mendicants, and not so much with the lay people. If lay people pursue such teachings, then such teachings are, of course, shared, if that lay-person is ready, but it isn’t usual. Mostly, lay people just want to know where they’ll be reborn – hopefully it’ll be a good destination.
But Sariputta, out of his care for Anathapindika, leads the layman through a guided process, wherein Anathapindika dis-identifies with all that he would normally take himself to be, starting with his six sense organs and their functioning. And, he doesn’t cling to sense contact; or the feeling-tones that arise dependent on the contact. And, during the guided meditation, he doesn’t cling to the five elements (which are another way to experience ourselves). Next, with Sariputta’s help, Anathapindika doesn’t cling to his five sentient processes, either. Gradually, every kind of ‘content’ of consciousness is ruled out as being a foundation for consciousness. Anathapindika, doesn’t perch on anything that comes and goes.
Such a level of detachment (non-clinging) naturally give rise to subtle meditative experience, so Sariputta guides Anathapindika, so that he doesn’t to cling to: infinite space; then infinite consciousness; then (getting subtler and subtler) the experience of nothingness; then the experience of neither perception nor non-perception. “That’s how you should train yourself,” says Sariputta. And not to cling to any world – this world, or a world beyond.
At this stage Anathapindika weeps, and Ānanda, thinking that the layman must be despairing, asks if anything is wrong. “No,” he said, “There is nothing wrong, esteemed Ānanda. It’s just that: I have served the master and the community for many years, and I have never received such a wonderful instruction as Sariputta has given me, just now.” His tears were the tears of his release.
Ānanda said, “These teachings aren’t usually given to lay people.”
So, Anathapindika said, out of his great heart, “Then let them be given to lay people, because many lay people are ready for these teachings on non-self.” And, he died happy, his citta radiant.
The Following is the second half of my slightly fictionalised, loose translation of Madhupindika Sutta: The Honeyball Sutta (MN18), the purpose of which is to facilitate understanding for students of the Buddhadharma. I didn’t complete it for you on New Year’s Eve, remember? You can find a more conventional rendering, for comparison, here.
The story so far: A mendicant had, on behalf of his fellow mendicants, asked the Nikāya Buddha, “What did you mean, Sir, when you said: ‘someone not beset by perceptions’? And, what does that have to do with ‘not arguing with others’?”
The Buddha answered: “Practitioner, if, when encountering multiplicity, there is no ‘thing’ there to find delight in, no ‘thing’ to welcome and get hold of, then right there, that will be the end of underlying unhealthy tendencies. That is the end of the habitual, deep-seated tendency to desire becoming, and it is the end of ignorance. This is where all the violence ends – no arguments and quarrels, no accusations and tale-bearing, no falsities, and no taking up weapons. This is where all these harmful things cease.”
Then the teacher, without a word more, got up from his seat, and went into his own hut, leaving the young mendicants in silence. They went, then, to find Mahākaccāna, who was widely respected by the senior practitioners; to get an explanation of this teaching.
The esteemed Great Kaccāna said this to those monks who had sought him out: “The flourishing one made that short statement to you, and then he went into his dwelling without further analysis of the statement. As I understand it, he said:
‘About the perceptions and categories of division which assail a person, if there is nothing there to find delectable, to welcome, or latch onto, then this is the ending of the trance of views, doubts, conceit, resistance, and passion; the end of obsessing about becoming, and all the fixations of ignorance. So, it is the end of disputes, quarrels, arguments, slander and false speech; and of taking to weapons. This is where all these evil, unbeautiful things cease, without remainder.”
The mendicants listened in silence.
“You want to know how this can be. So, listen. Depending on eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. These three together we call ‘contact.’ With contact as a condition, feeling-tones arise. And, what one feels, one recognises (perceives). What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one divides up. Based on this dividing up, the elaborate perceptions and categories of the object-world assail a person, all involving such past, present and future states as are dependent on the eye.
“So it is with the other channels: With ear and sounds, ear-consciousness arises; with nose and smells, nose-consciousness arises; with the tongue and flavours, tongue-consciousness arises; with body and bodily sensations, body-consciousness arises; and, depending on the intellect and ideas, mind-consciousness arises.
“In all cases, the process of these three together – organ, sense-experience, and consciousness – is ‘contact.’ With contact as a necessary condition, there are the feeling-tones (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral). And, what one feels, one recognises. What one recognises, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one divides up. Based on this dividing up, the perceptions and categories of division assail a person, involving the past, present, and future concepts accumulated through the particular sense channels.
“Understand, so far?”
They assented with silence.
“So, where there is the eye, and forms, and eye-consciousness, then it is possible to separate out a category called ‘contact.’ When we can separate out ‘contact,’ it is possible for one to separate out ‘feeling-tones.’ When such a separating out of feeling-tones is possible, it is possible that a separating out of perception will be possible. With a separating out of perception, it is possible that forms of thought will be separated out. With a separating out of thinking, it is possible to separate out of the experience of ‘being beset by the perceptions and categories of the object-world.’ And, so it is for: the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the intellect. Right?”
They were satisfied so far.
“Now, when there is no eye, no form, and no eye-consciousness, is it not possible that a category of experience ‘contact’ would be separated out. Then, if there is no separating out of contact, it will be impossible that one would separate out feeling-tones. If there is no separating out of feeling-tones, it is impossible that a person will separate out perceptions. If there is no separating out of perception, it is impossible that someone will perceive a separate process of thinking. If there is no separating out of thinking, it is impossible that the separating out of the experience of ‘being beset by the perceptions and categories of the object-world’ will happen.
“So it is for the other organs: the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the intellect.
“This is how I understand the detailed meaning of the brief statement made by the flourishing one – let me remind you:
“‘About the perceptions and categories of division which assail a person, if there is nothing there to find delectable, to welcome, or latch onto, then this is the ending of the trance of views, doubts, conceit, resistance, and passion; the end of obsessing about becoming, and all the fixations of ignorance. So, it is the end of disputes, quarrels, arguments, slander and false speech; and of taking to weapons. This is where all these evil, unbeautiful things cease, without remainder.”
“Now, go to him, and question him about this. Check with him; and, whatever he answers, that is how you must remember it.”
So, these mendicants, delighting and approving of the Mahākaccāna ‘s words, rose from their place and went in search of the flourishing one. On arrival, after bowing down to him, they sat to one side. And there, they told him what had happened after he had retired into his hut; saying: “Then honourable Mahākaccāna showed us the meaning of these words, statements, and phrases.” And, they recounted Mahākaccāna’s elucidation.
“Mahākaccāna is wise, Practitioners. He is a person of great discernment. If you had asked me about this matter, I would have answered in the same way. The import of my statement is as he said. That is how you should remember it.”
When this was said, the esteemed Ānanda, who was there, and who remembers all the flourishing one’s teachings, said: “Sir, this is as though a person, overcome by hunger, weakness, and thirst, were to come upon a honeyball; and tasting it, he would experience a delicious, sweet taste.
“Wherever a mendicant is in a state of consciousness capable of exploring the meaning of this dhamma discourse, she or he would experience a similar satisfaction, and would experience faith in the dhamma. What is the name of this dhamma discourse?”
“Ānanda,” the flourishing one said, “you can remember this dhamma discourse as the ‘Honeyball Discourse.” Ānanda delighted at that.
“There is a greed that fixes on the individual body-mind. When that greed has completely gone, then, brahmin, there will be no more inner poison-drives, without which you are immune from death.”
– Sutta Nipāta (verse 1100). Translated by Bhikkhu Saddhatissa.
This fixating distorts our recognition of behaviour possibilities available to us. To become accustomed to dissolving this fixation, regularly do this exercise from Tarthang Tulku’s Love of Knowledge (p. 255). Lying in bed at night, riding the bus or subway, in a crowded bar, walking in nature:
Observing Hearing (Exercise Thirty)
[While] focusing on sounds expand awareness to include yourself as the one who is hearing the sound. Include, as well, awareness of the ‘process’ of hearing. This practice makes the energy within sound more available to knowledge, allowing greater clarity.
“Name has conquered everything,
There is nothing greater than name,
All have gone under the sway
Of this one thing called name.”
– Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda. Nibbāna – The Mind Stilled
Read a newspaper and you’ll note many articles about people doing cruel and insane things to others. All these people do their evil based on beliefs. And, the beliefs are based on ‘naming.’ Obviously, naming is useful. I’m naming now, aren’t I? Can I do so with the right lightness of touch? Can naming be helpful in nurturing healthy lives, and not become a problem? Of course, with understanding how it works.
Notice the saying, ‘gone under sway.’ If we are seduced by unskilful use of language – and by that I mean, language-use not in accord with the fundamental matrix of experiencing – then, we misuse our gift. Conceiving of things, in the way we do when influenced by craving, conceit and views, changes the objects of our conceiving.
Even more radically, however you think a thing, by that very thinking it becomes otherwise than it is. (Though to show how that is would take more time than I have available. However, this has been well-demonstrated by Eugene T. Gendlin in his A Process Model.)
The task as the Nikāya Buddha present it, is to disconnect our naming practices from a belief in the inherent existence of ‘things.’ It is neither the case that ‘things’ have a prior existence, and are there already to be named; nor that the naming creates them.
“Beings are conscious of what can be named,
They are established on the nameable,
By not comprehending the nameable things,
They come under the yoke of death.”
– Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda, Nibbāna – The Mind Stilled.
So, I’m asking you to consider that the designation process might be a gestural ‘strategy’ – a gesture which is intended as a way for working with experience. When we take up this way of using language, then we find it is a gesture which increases the power of self-reflexive experiencing, but doesn’t establish things, and therefore doesn’t put us under the yoke of death. Language is an evolutionary gesture that needs its next step.
I think the aspect of ‘space’ might be important – especially the concept of experiential space. This is named, too, in the wrong way; and, hence, becomes solidified into ‘mine’ and ‘not-mine’; where ‘this’ and ‘here’ is distinguished from the experience of ‘that’ ‘there.’
“A currawong,” it is said. “A currawong.” How is this a currawong?”
This experiential space could increase our power of experiencing, but instead it becomes – via mistaking naming for existing – a ‘thinging’ of space. If you make ‘mind’ mean a personal space, it has to have limit, and a centre. We name that limit ‘contact,’ as though ‘contact’ ultimately exists independent of our perception and naming. And, the centre, we say, is the perceiver; and beyond the limit is the ‘something contacted.’
But, look for it! If you find or grant space in the limit itself, then see where the experience goes. This afternoon, I was sitting on the veranda of my home, in a reverie of appreciation for the textures of the forest – mostly of the eucalypts and the ti-tree. And, there was a currawong sitting on a branch. I wasn’t exactly watching the bird. I gazed, I suppose; which is a mode of vision that includes much more, by not naming.
This led to including in my ‘gaze’ (or awareness) my sensations, my thoughts, my felt presence. I included them in what I was aware of at that moment, without losing my relationship to the currawong. A holistic sense of space arose. It’s an irony that by including the observer in the observing, one dissolves the separation. And ‘self and world’ in that state was not a needed distinction.
The still, silent quality of knowing then doesn’t create any ‘thing.’ Now, when I say ‘currawong,’ I am pointing to the dynamic relationship, which far exceeds, in its implicit intricacy (Gendlin’s term), the dictionary meaning of the word ‘currawong.’ It far exceed perception and name. It’s certainly laughable in that moment to think that ‘currawong’ means a ‘something’ – an isolated, permanent, independent object in space-time.
Snow in withered field, nothing to touch.
Sparrow’s head clear as sky
– From the poem ‘Sparrow in Withered Field.‘ In Triumph of the Sparrow: Zen Poems of Shinkichi Takahashi. (Translated by Lucien Stryk).
Granted, this is not a perception readily accessible to some people, because of unfamiliarity with space and groundlessness. But, familiarity grows with practice. Here, it is possible to name a groundless ground; which the Nikāya Buddha called ‘unmanifest consciousness.’
The odd thing is that moments like this occur all day, but we don’t notice them.
Normally, if we notice such empty moment – empty of constructing – we are afraid, because there appears to be no inner ‘me’ behind the eyes doing the seeing. But, right there is the end of birth and death.
Until we train ourselves to stay for such moments of ’empty contact’ – for instance, through the contemplative discipline of haiku-writing – then, we don’t appreciate the luminous wonder of the world and other people. We are in a pure land with radiant beings, and don’t see it.
the night’s downpour;
in this alley,
a half-eaten peach.
“If, Ānanda, consciousness were not to find a footing, or get established in, name-and-form, would there be an arising or origin of birth, decay, death and suffering in the future?” “No indeed, Lord.”
-Translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda, Nibbāna – The Mind Stilled