Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections: The Art of Disappearing... & Reappearing (II)

What is anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi, i.e. perfect enlightenment?

Lately, I've been asking a different question, namely: What is the way? The way is often summarized by the words "Just sit." Just sitting means just to sit regularly, preferably every day, and, for the majority of people, the mind gradually unlearns the bad habits of a lifetime and begins to appreciate the peace and ease that can be found in each moment, regardless of circumstances. It's a miracle of kindness, because it happens all by itself. A person has to put in the time and that's it. It's easy to miss the simplicity and essence of the meaning of "just sitting" when reading the Shobogenzo or other sutras. Which is why I appreciated Ajahn Brahm's The Art of Disappearing so much. He gave me a fresh perspective on many of the things I learned in the early days, now, at a time when it was good for me to see them.

Beyond that, the way in real life is different for each person, because each person is a unique individual and each person's circumstances are unique as well.

My own personal and preferred description of enlightenment these days (though partial and, therefore, in error), is when the peace and ease of sitting get up off the mat. With time, I think that more awareness gets up and comes along too. Walking meditation, chanting and the rituals in whatever tradition are good practices because they teach the transition. Each of these practices is subtly directing mind. Each activity can be a sort of meditation in and of itself. The eight-fold path and mindfulness strategies, such as dropping off views, also can be thought of as enabling strategies because they also teach the transition.

Siddhartha Gautama spent roughly six years as an ascetic before deciding that asceticism was not the way. I used to think of asceticism in those classical terms. One of Ajahn's Brahm's insights is that any form of goal-oriented behavior easily reverts us back down the ascetic path. The mind likes to default back to it's habitual way of functioning. Something is fundamentally wrong when sitting, ritual or various mindfulness strategies become an ascetic practice. It prevents the awareness, peace and ease of sitting from diffusing through the rest of our lives. When practice is pushed, the path of regress that is supposed to occur naturally is inhibited. The path of regress, the way, in a nutshell, is the path of gradually being comfortable with less and enjoying what is or can be present in each moment if we only know how to find it.

Not everyone choses to live in conditions as austere as those Siddhartha Gautama or even Ajahn Brahm himself endured. Real existential torment can result for the average practitioner when "just sitting" or any of the above other practices is relied on as an escape rather than facing changes that need to be made in life. It turns "wisdom-power" of the way back into "will-power." "Will-power" is indicative of holding onto to a view or perspective of how things should be. Defaulting to "will-power" instead of "wisdom power" is an error that occurs in monasteries as well.


I'm writing this post on a day when fighting has, again, broken out in Israel. And even though I very much want peace in Israel, the question I find myself asking of my own practice is how is it possible to live life without views? When does dropping off views result in injury, not only to myself but those around me? The answer is dependent on context and the circumstances of others and while I can aim for it, it's impossible to know. Sometimes metta may be the only option. I'm in the process of writing my own simple version of the metta sutta. ... it's the best I can do from here.

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