Casting Away Views

“I, good Gotama, speak thus; I am of this view: ‘All is not pleasing to me’.”

“This view of yours, Aggivessana: ‘All is not pleasing to me’ — does this view of yours not please you?”

“If this view were pleasing to me, good Gotama, this would be like it too, this would be like it too.”

“Now, Aggivessana, when those, the majority in the world, speak thus: ‘This would be like it too, this would be like it too’ — they do not get rid of that very view and they take up another view. Now, Aggivessana, when those, the minority in the world, speak thus: ‘This would be like it too, this would be like it too’ — they get rid of that very view and do not take up another view.” — Dīgha­na­kha­ Sutta (MN 74)

The Buddha granted that Dīghanakha’s view is nearer detachment when compared with its opposite view, ‘all is pleasing to me’. Dīghanakha was elated for a moment, thinking that the Buddha was praising and upholding his view without reserve. But he was disillusioned when the Buddha went on to show how the very dogmatic view that all views are unacceptable can itself give rise to suffering:

“As to this, Aggivessana, those recluses and brahmins who speak thus and are of this view: ‘All is not pleasing to me’, if a learned man be there who reflects thus: ‘If I were to express this view of mine, that: ‘all is not pleasing to me’, and obstinately holding to it and adhering to it, were to say: ‘This is the very truth, all else is falsehood’, there would be for me dispute with two [other view-holders]: both with whatever recluse or brahmin who speaks thus and is of this view, ‘All is pleasing to me,’ and with whatever recluse or brahmin who speaks thus and is of this view: ‘Part is pleasing to me, part is not pleasing to me’ — there would be dispute for me with these two. If there is dispute, there is contention; if there is contention there is trouble; if there is trouble, there is vexation.’ So he, beholding this dispute and contention and trouble and vexation for himself, gets rid of that very view and does not take up another view. Thus is the getting rid of these views, thus is the casting away of these views.”

Descent into Emptiness

“As this palace of Migāra’s mother is empty of elephants, cows, horses and mares, empty of gold and silver, empty of assemblages of men and women, and there is only this that is not emptiness, that is to say, the oneness grounded on the order of monks, even so Ānanda, a monk, not attending to the perception of village, not attending to the perception of human beings, attends to the oneness grounded on the perception of forest. His mind is satisfied with, pleased with, set on and freed in, the perception of forest. He comprehends thus: ‘The disturbances that might be resulting from the perception of village do not exist here; the disturbances that might be resulting from the perception of human beings do not exist here. There is only this degree of disturbance, that is to say, the oneness grounded on the perception of forest.’ He regards that which is not there as empty of it. But in regard to what remains there, he comprehends, ‘This is’ because it is. Thus, Ānanda, this comes to be for him a true, unperverted and pure descent into emptiness…” — Cūḷa-suññata Sutta (MN 121)

In much the same manner, the Buddha describes how a monk gradually and by stages attains to the perception of the earth as the object of meditative absorption (pañhavisaññā), the perception of the infinity of space (ākāsānañcāyatanasaññā), the perception of the infinity of consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatanasaññā), the perception of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatanasaññā), the perception of neither perception nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasaññā), and the mental concentration based on the signless (animittaṃ cetosamādhi). At the last mentioned stage, he knows that he is experiencing only those forms of disturbances (darathā) arising from the body endowed with the six sense-spheres, due to the fact that he is living. Then again he reflects on the mental concentration on the signless, and his mind delights and abides therein.

He now begins to reflect: “This concentration of mind that is signless, is effected and thought out. But whatever is effected and thought out, that is impermanent and liable to cease.” Even as he knows and sees thus, his mind is released from the cankers of sense-pleasures, of becoming and of ignorance. In freedom, he has the knowledge that he is freed and he comprehends that he has attained the Goal. He introspects and finds that while those disturbances that might arise from the three cankers are no longer there, he is still subject to whatever disturbances that might arise from his body with its six sense-spheres due to the fact that he is alive. Accordingly he determines the fact of voidness, being faithful to the findings of his introspection. The Buddha sums up the discourse by asserting that this is the true, unperverted, pure and supreme descent into voidness:

“Ānanda, whatever contemplatives and brahmans who in the past entered and remained in an emptiness that was pure, superior, and unsurpassed, they all entered and remained in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed. Whatever contemplatives and brahmans who in the future will enter and remain in an emptiness that will be pure, superior, and unsurpassed, they all will enter and remain in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed. Whatever contemplatives and brahmans who at present enter and remain in an emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed, they all enter and remain in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed.

“Therefore, Ananda, you should train yourselves: ‘We will enter and remain in the emptiness that is pure, superior, and unsurpassed’.” — Cūḷa-suññata Sutta (MN 121)

Dependent Co-arising (paṭicca-samuppāda)

“When this is, this comes to be; with the arising of this, this arises; when this is not, this does not come to be, with the stopping of this, this is stopped.” — Vera Sutta (AN 10.92)

All the formulas of paṭicca-samuppāda are specific applications of this principle. When applied to the phenomena of our daily experience, this principle enables us to wean our minds from the tendency to rest on the concepts of existence and non-existence. As a preliminary step towards this end, those two concepts are replaced by the two terms uppāda (arising) and vaya (decay), These latter enable us to view the two extremes rightly (sammā diṭṭhi) as they are suggestive of conditionality. In developing samatha and vipassanā (calm and insight), the mind is made to oscillate between these two terms with ever-increasing momentum, spurred on by the three signata: anicca (transience), dukkha (suffering) and anattā (not-self). At the peak of intensity in this oscillation, the lingering notions of existence and non-existence wane into insignificance since the mind now hardly rests on them. The three signata involved in the oscillation have by now built up a powerful motive force of detachment. So the mind gets weary of (nibbidā) the extremes, and decides to step out (nissarana) of the process. Hence he cuts off the thread of selfhood—already made slender as at the stage of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana)—the thread by which his mind was oscillating under the artificial superstructure of concepts. As he lets go selfhood, he touches the realm of cessation (so nirodhaṃ phusatiPoṭṭhapāda Sutta). Thus the distressful tension abates (dukkhūpasama), the mental synergies are allayed (saṃkhārūpasama), and the triple process of conceptualization subsides (papañcavūpasama). Along with the concepts of the extremes, that of a middle also disappears. In short all concepts lose their significance for him (papañcasaṃkhā-pahāna). As for the relevance of the metaphor of mental pendulum that we have adopted in this connection, attention may now be drawn to the following passage of the Udāna dealing with the problem of Nibbāna:

“For him who clings, there is wavering, for him who clings not there is no wavering. Wavering not being, there is calm; calm being, there is no bending; bending not being, there is no coming and going; coming and going not being, there is no death and birth; death and birth not being, there is no ‘here’, no ‘yonder’, nor anything between the two. This indeed is the end of Ill.” — Catut­tha­nib­bā­na­paṭi­saṃ­yutta­ Sutta (Ud 8.4)

The word nissita (lit., resting on) is reminiscent of the Buddha’s sermon to Kaccāyana on the two extremes. This being so, the rest of the passage accords well with the metaphor. To one who rests on the verbal dichotomy,there is mental unsteadiness or irritability. Hence to him who does not rest on it, there is no such irritability. The absence of irritability brings about tranquility of mind. The tranquil mind has no inclination towards conceptual distinctions of two extremes or of any middle position. This release from the bondage of concepts is itself the end of suffering.

‘Positions’ and the Middle Way

“Vaccha, the position that ‘the cosmos is eternal’ is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding…”

“Does Master Gotama have any position at all?”

A ‘position,’ Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception… such are mental fabrications… such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.’ Because of this, I say, a Tathagata — with the ending, fading out, cessation, renunciation, & relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making & mine-making & obsession with conceit — is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released.”

“But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?”

“‘Reappear,’ Vaccha, doesn’t apply.”…

“At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier conversation is now obscured.”

“Of course you’re befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you’re confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, Vaccha: …If a fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, ‘This fire burning in front of me has gone out’?”

“…yes…”

“And suppose someone were to ask you, ‘This fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?’ Thus asked, how would you reply?”

“That doesn’t apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber, being unnourished — from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other — is classified simply as ‘out’ (unbound).”

“Even so, Vaccha, any physical form… Any feeling… Any perception… Any mental fabrication… Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathagata would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, Vaccha, the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea.” — Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta (MN 72)

The End of Conflict

“If, O monk, one neither delights in nor asserts, nor clings to, that which makes one subject to concepts characterized by the prolific tendency (papañca), then that itself is the end of the proclivities to attachment, aversion, views, perplexity, pride, ignorance and attachment to becoming. That itself is the end of taking the stick, of taking the weapon, of quarreling, contending, disputing, accusation, slander and lying speech. Here it is that all these evil unskilled states cease without remainder.” — Madhupiṇḍika Sutta (MN 18)

The Key to Self-Transcendence

Emptiness does not cling to being and becoming. I know, the implications of this are close to “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form”. But that is not quite accurate, because the obverse relation—”being and becoming cling to emptiness”— is falsifiable by inspection. Being has only itself to cling to, and of course emptiness is incapable of clinging to anything, since its very nature is the absence of ‘things’. Only the second limb of the tetralemma of emptiness/clinging/being is valid.

As we discussed in a recent post and video, the Buddha’s teaching has the unique property of self-transcendence. The key to this astonishing property is its apophatic periphraxis, already discussed, and the ontological triple of Causality, Emptiness and Non-Clinging.

Causality: The principle of paṭicca-samuppāda (Dependent Origination): “When this is, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises; when this is not, that does not come to be, with the stopping of this, that is stopped.” — Vera Sutta (AN 10.92) Continue reading The Key to Self-Transcendence

The Signless

So I’m sitting here in the midst of the tremendous insight I had back in August, and finally articulated just now, trying to process and digest its tremendous significance. The power of the apophatic structure of the Buddha’s teaching rests in the fact that nibbāna cannot become a symbol, a concept; it must remain ever and always an ineffable living experience of transcendence, or the essence of the Buddha’s teaching will be lost.

Simultaneously, the function of the Eightfold Noble Path as ‘a process of becoming that leads to the end of becoming’ is revealed to be applicable to any set of aggregates. In fact, the more drastic the change, the more bizarre the configuration of aggregates we find ourselves beset by, the more powerful the Buddha’s teaching shines as a means to transcend their influence. This is the source of its profound and unprecedented antifragility. Continue reading The Signless