Annual India Tours
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt
gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity.
These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Duncan Jan 5 1992
Next week we are going to start a set of teachings for the spring.
If we take our basic position, we have conscious experiences of the world around us, and the teachings we receive are trying to give us a format as to how to observe what we are doing with ourselves. The particular quality of the teaching is that we are taking the teachings from Lord Buddha who has gone through the path and received full enlightenment. Having received full enlightenment, then he taught the dharma which means the stages and path which lead to enlightenment.
And so when we rely on the teachings, we rely principally on the fact that the Buddha became fully realized, taught those teachings, and then what we add to that is, the Buddha was not a short term type of thing. The practices were presented and then around for a long time. Many years. In doing so, many other practitioners meditated and looked at the teachings, appraised them, thought about them, practiced them, and then validated them. Of the teachings of the Buddha, some are a particular presentation, such as the world being flat, or the shape size and of the sun and moon and such are regarded as immaterial. But the psychology, the spirituality of Buddhism, that is very applicable, because it deals with our mind, our experience.
And so when we look at ourselves and deal into the human experience, and we take the teachings as the way to use or observe that, then we have the progression going through teachings, the practice. To strive for enlightenment. Two of the principal ways of looking at our experience, termed the two extremes. And it is said that the mahayana path is the middle path which is the void or separating from the two extremes.
When we look at ourselves, how we practice and work towards our own personal enlightenment, it is important that we try to flow into the middle path and try to avoid extremes. Extremes are those things which make us fall away from being in balance. Take us out of the mind that would be of a non productive realization. So the two extremes apply to the grasping of existence to being very real, and secondly, negating existence as being completely meaningless. Between those two, I look at the world, the world is very real. I look at the world, the world is completely unreal. It is nothing, whatsoever. One is nihilism, the other eternalism.
Eternalism is said to strive for a permanent soul. Another way it can be said is grasping at existence as being very real. And without a deeper understanding of the nature of existence. So that is the definition for the grasping at the extreme of existence, things being very real.
Nihilism is nothing has no meaning, law of cause and effect is null and void, everything happens without rhyme or reason. Nihilism is very much nothing is existent.
If we can look at ourselves and apply it to ourself and see how we look at the world, as we function, as our attitude works with us and makes us go through various experiences, we have something to judge sort of what we are doing with ourselves. And with intelligence, we can also appraise whether it would be valid or appropriate or reasonable with what we are doing with ourselves. That is in being self aware, being analytical with oneself to the point where one comes to some positive conclusion.
If we define the two extremes again, say grasping at eternalism or existence, is to say, for example, this watch, is a very real thing. It is so real, if anyone were to take the watch, I would be terribly upset. If anyone was to say anything about my existence, I would be terribly upset. I would have a very tight grasp of reality.
A person in this situation has moved their mind into the extreme of eternalism. Because of that, they respond emotionally because of their position and get very upset. One has to question, is this realistic? Does it really solve the problem. With ourselves when we get very uptight about something, we should analyze it and become conscious of it. Are we going to resolve it in this way?
On the side of nihilism can actually be a philosophical view. Some people actually will develop it. Because a lot of times, nihilism has to deal with being unhappy. When we have a low we get very nihilistic. There is no meaning in life. For example, if someone we hold dear dies, then suddenly all the brightness and goodness in the world disappears and we are very lonely. We feel isolated and things like that. So our mind becomes very nihilistic as to the meaning of pleasure and joy. Everything becomes very empty or hollow, in a sense no feeling in that. And that is the emotional feeling. But as I say it can come from a variety of reasons. One is the philosophically adopted position, like nothing is existent, everything is haphazard, there is no law of cause and effect, everything is black, and we develop that attitude and feel we can do anything. Or, that balance tends to be not very common. MOre common is that we are unhappy and with that unhappiness our mind swings to the side of saying life is miserable and everything is empty and there is no meaning. Then we fall to the extreme of nihilism, negating everything, making everything very empty.
That is self explanatory, isn't it! Actually you could get anger into that one too! But whatever the case, both are extremes. And the idea is to look at reality and question how it is? How does that appear in reference to these two points! Is there some soft of shifting of position that can be gained, or a new position to be arrived at by becoming observant of just the nature of the world.
They say the law of cause and effect is the most effective tool for both of them. The reason is, if you move to the side of grasping to reality, this watch is a real existent thing, my personality, my life and everything presides on the watch. Even my house, the car I drive, the clothes I wear! Even the physical shape and position of my body, and the way my hair is, all of these things are grasped at as being very real. And when something becomes a little wrong with them, then I get very uptight! Mind is becoming extreme in it's view of these various objects. But if we look at at the law of cause and effect, and question the objects, we find their function is because of the nature of dependence. It is the phenomenal process of all the energy that has gone into it!
But even then we can look at anything, the hair on your head! If that is what one grasps at. The hair is in the process of cause and effect. As we grew older, it falls out! It turns grey! The point is look at any object! The house is put together by carpenters and such, all the elements that come together. The reason a house exists is to keep me warm, but it is also fueled to produce heat and such!
When the mind has some wisdom and looks at the house and sees all the elements that have come together as part of the process, one can also view other objects in the same way. Things are part of the impermanent process. Impermanent process does also mean cause and effect. Because something came into existence, and other things interplay with it, then that changes its existence. This watch has now a shiny surface, but in ten years it will have changed.
You can say the impermanent process is like cold water. As soon as the heated position of grasping at existence, it cools us off, and we can become more flexible. We sort of fall away from grasping at image, position, power, possessions, things like that and the mind becomes more receptive, centered, more appropriate.
But then we can go to the other side. That is like there is too much cold water. We then sort of say life is alright, but I am feeling vulnerable, lonely, and have too much lack of meaning. A lack of love and feeling. Anyway our mind goes to the other side, and if we are not skillful, we cling, we grasp to it, because we are trying to validate or fuel our position. What we need to do is to again take the law of cause and effect and realize, like some of the more profound levels, for example the experience of suffering, like three people in an accident, one dies but not the other two, why? That is more profound. Hard to talk about that one! But, if we become more looking at the process of the world, our feeling is everything is meaningless. But with a little intelligence, we should try to see the process of life is the law of cause and effect. My body's existence is due to the food, water, warmth, and the various processes. In being involved with those processes, my body has life. It is not sort of, I am alive or something, there is something there, cause and effect. Similarly we can reflect on the circumstances around that are quite good. And we can be quite happy. So there is a relationship. It is not that my mind is independent. My mind is in relationship. So if I get good experiences, I feel quite happy. When I have lousy experiences, my mind gets down, but still there is the mind in relationship or interdependent.
Same thing with the body. The body has it's existence and experiences on the basis of interaction with the food, water, earth, and air. Then we can look at our mind and see how our personality experiences things in relation to the people we grew up with, the education we got, and such. So there are these various inputs of information in our mind. And then how I approach that information is how I work it! We do have interdependence. It's not that we have things there without any cause, it is always due to the process which our mind is involved with.
Again, it makes it come back to realizing that there is cause and effect. If I turn the heat off everyone will get cold. If you do not water your plants in the house they will die! Things like that. There is the process of cause and effect there. There is relationship, interdependence. If we reflect on that, then we can see that things are not just haphazard. Things have a quality of continuity. If one is in that position of unhappiness, one can appreciate thinking of previous times of similar unhappiness that with the change of time, one will slowly come back to being a little more balanced in the sense of having a little more happiness.
To come back to the middle path, the avoidance of extremes. For ourselves as meditators, the point of our meditation is that we try to cultivate a balance in our life. And to try to be a comfortable person, a more integrated person. In striving we want to be reasonable, in tune with reality and happy. With this understanding about ourselves, we could extend that in saying I want to be enlightened, or just come back to the immediate situations, try to get into the middle position. That is for personal awareness. The point is, that as a meditator, we should try to keep ourselves in the middle path where we will work productively with ourselves and be in harmony with the natural nature of reality.
For our meditation, the very natural way to gain a sense of realization is to be conscious of the breath. And in being conscious of the breath, we have our awareness which is observing that. And in being aware, that awareness has the capacity to judge and to say which side we are moving towards or if we are in the middle, not grasping to extremes of existence. In that way we can become conscious of what we are, if we go to one extreme we should try to think about what would bring us back to being on the middle path and not grasping as things as being very real, we should look at impermanence to make us relax. And if we move to the side of nihilism, we should try to look at love and feeling, that which brings happiness into the world.
Copyright 1994 Daka's Buddhist Consulting
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