Early on in Shakyamuni Buddha’s public discourses, he was asked how one should ascertain the verity of his teaching. He replied, “Do not be led by reports or tradition or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But, … when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, wrong and bad, then give them up . . . And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them.”¹
Through contemplation, Siddharta Gautauma (the man who would become Buddha) witnessed the wheel of cause/condition/result in the world, in others, and in himself. This triad was highlighted in the previous post.
Causes of peace, well-being, and liberation for self and others could be what one engenders every second. However, due to habits of consciousness that deny or disregard the conditions and results that will arise from causes, one tends to reify the causes of limitation, suffering, and uncertainty. We do this mentally, emotionally, through behavior, action or inaction throughout each day. In other words, “All that appears and exists has one ground, two paths, and two results.”² This is so on all scales of life: personal, cultural, for nations or various collectives. Nothing and no one escapes this rubric until and unless the causes of liberation for all beings is fostered. One can contribute financially, or volunteer, or pray for others but until the causes of the issues that beset beings and the world are looked at squarely, with all features and conditioning factors in view, the issues cannot be truly addressed. This “truth” is the soil from which the majority of the Buddha’s teachings grow. Therefore early on, he said, “Cease from all evil; cultivate the good; cleanse your own mind.”³
Why “cleanse your own mind”? Because in order to assess what is evil or good one must first analyze what is in my mind, and why is that in my mind. As one does, a personal scaffolding of concepts, ideas, and life experiences will stand revealed. This will include past life imprints as well. Together, they define what is evil or good to one, to a culture or country. Think about it. Bigotry is not considered negative to a bigot -one whose mind perceives some people as less than those like him or herself. Mutilation of infants (boys) or young girls sexual anatomy is considered the right thing to do in certain cultures (circumcision/boys, infibulation/girls). Leaving a car engine running while parked receives no critical thinking by the one who is sitting in the car. All the while more pollution is being put into the air, greenhouse gases emitted by the car’s combustion engine are being added to a world in the throws of climate crisis, plus the engine’s output contributes to noise pollution and fouls the smell of the air. We deceive ourselves, and do so throughout each day in myriad, mostly unrecognized, unconscious ways. For this reason we are encouraged to cleanse our mind, to “illumine your way,” to “recognize awareness” and “to recognize great wisdom.” As Buddha said, “You are your own master. Who else could be?”
Shakyamuni Buddha invites us to “see things as they are,” to widen and clarify our perception. About what? About anything. Begin with what you like and dislike, what you do with your time, what you think about a particular subject, why you use the toothpaste you do or why you got dressed today. Think about your home. Why is it as it is: the decor, the paintings or pictures, its tidiness or clutter or both, and so on. In order to “recognize awareness,” one must notice the usually not noticed of one’s thoughts and emotion-driven behavior processes and begin to wonder why “I” believe, think, behave, choose, avoid, find joy in such and such, and hold on to what I do in my mind, from the past, in my cupboards and closets, and in my sense of self.
Upon analysis, one will agree with the Buddha: “Verily, … craving causes the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here and now there … (These are) the causes of suffering.” “[The cessation of suffering lies in] the laying aside of, the getting rid of, the being free from, the no longer harboring this thirst [craving]. … This leads to the exhaustion of sorrow (and is the) Eightfold Path: right Views, right Aspirations, right Speech, right Conduct, right Livelihood, right Effort, right Mindfulness, and right Contemplation.”4
“Right” indicates that which results from the personal examination which widens one’s perceptions, through wanting to see things more fully as they are. Or as already quoted, “… when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, wrong and bad, then give them up . . . And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them.”
We are enjoined to put preferences, concepts, wishes, and fears aside because they, together with the perceived differences and distinctions that accompany them, are superficial. We are advised to recognize our personal, cultural, and racial forms of prejudice and bias because these create favoritism or dismissiveness. These two then play out in what we choose to eat, how we spend our time, what one puts in one’s mind, or how we look upon one another and the world.
This is a bold way to live. Through opening and clarifying one’s perception, what is actually presenting -within and around- can be viewed. A big picture will be found with many underlying and unrecognized factors.
Seeing things as they are also speaks of recognizing the ground-state of being within one. Buddha witnessed that layers of subjective information create one’s individual and collective sense of reality. He pointed out that Awareness is always present and presenting; however, we lived with our minds obscured by concepts, ideas, beliefs, and shoulds. The spiritual path is a result of the incremental clarification of personal mind producing the resultant gestalt of uncovering innate wakefulness.
Buddha experienced a two-fold understanding about thoughts, emotions, memories and such that arise and float through our mind. He came to his understanding by watching them. Siddharta (Buddha’s name before enlightenment) experienced that thoughts and emotions, memories, fantasies and projections are like waves on the ocean. Waves dissolve back into the ocean; and waves of thought, when left alone, subside back into the ocean of Awareness. If not poked, prodded, chased, or rejected, thoughts will unfailingly dissolve or fade back into the empty potentiality of Awareness-Mind.
He also perceived that desire fuels action and produces a constant chain of reactions. The only way to undo the linkage of action-reaction is to not act on desires. We experience this when we try to change a habit because habits are based on desires and preferences. Fixation is another manifestation of desire producing response.
Through watching his mind and its contents, Siddhartha further recognized that mental and emotional content are distinct from the background awareness in which the contents play (i.e. the mirror of the mind). Meditating, he experienced that mind-awareness is unmodified by the arising and the subsiding of internal content or processes. This was the realization of the substrata of Awareness itself. Therefore, the instruction quoted above has further layers of meaning and application. Through “the laying aside, the getting rid of, the being free from, the no longer harboring of this craving” allows the ocean of pure Awareness-Being to be experienced as it is in any given moment. This letting go/letting be also allows the thing, person, or craving in one’s moment to also be without projected content.
The illuminations from Buddha can be applied in meditation and life and provide a deepening level of seeing things as they are. For example, this insightful process can illumine how ascriptions, definitions, concepts, and projections are not intrinsically real, while at the same time are the source of one’s personal reality. For instance, if one thinks that gender is a factor in overall intelligence, then one will project that “reality” onto others. If protectionism is one’s view, then one will perceive others as adversarial. If optimism is one’s attitude, then problems are generally not a problem at all. Siddhartha experienced that the background quality of awareness is distinct from emotional-mental content. We are called to this same awakening.
There are two take-aways here. First is the full acknowledgement that projections onto people and things are born from our personal experiences, beliefs, fears and hopes. Second, a personal view established through personal experience is deeply set whereas information gained through reports or education is more easily adjusted, let go of, or put aside. For instance, the experience of the searing heat near a fire or stove element informs all living beings to back off. The sense is that danger and pain will result if one gets too close. Yet, firefighters train so as to work alternatively with the natural aversion to fire.
Siddhartha held his mind steady and undistracted as he sat in meditation through hours and years of practice. He experienced that which arose and primordially present, unchanging awareness. He realized that grasping at or rejecting the contents in the stream of one’s emotion-mind is what beings spend their lives doing; and with this, Siddhartha more fully understood the causes of suffering.
As he sat under the bodhi tree, lives passed before his consciousness. He was viewing causes, conditions, and results that acted and reacted through his many lives and created the interconnectedness that he had in the past and currently was living with others, human and non-human. With that expanded perception, his view enlarged again to the interdependence of cause-conditions-results as a flawless law of existence. A further facet of awareness revealed itself: that the contents of mind-emotion-sensation are both distinct from foundational, primal awareness but also are the kaleidoscopic display of essential awareness.
Then, during a full moon cycle of May 2600 years ago, as the night hours of meditation gave way to the dawn hours of samadhi, Siddhartha realized one more thing. Not only is one’s general reality largely a set of mistaken premises (an action/reaction treadmill of desire/attachment, avoidance/repulsion), but, on top of that, he experienced a primal sense of self-identity. Yet, by not addressing or engaging it – like the other thoughts that arose – it dissolved into the sky-like nature of Awareness-Mind. With this experience he realized that there is no self, and that self or identity is a mistaken view as well. He realized that “self” is a collection of thoughts, experiences, projections, and beliefs. Concomitant with these realizations of seeing things as they are, Siddhartha experienced ultimate wakefulness: enlightenment.
Awakened to truth, Buddha poetically said, “… there arose in me the eye, there arose the knowledge, there arose the understanding, there arose the wisdom, there arose the light.”
A contemplation of cause/condition/results brings the understanding that the well-being of others requires the participation of everyone. Negative conditions follow self-oriented choices, whether they be generated from lack of understanding, lack of caring, or straight-up selfishness. Warm-heartedness and a creative altruistic mind produce positive conditions, beneficial circumstances, ease, respect, peace, and trust. This is our juncture.
Kalama Sutra, Translation from What the Buddha Taught by Dr. Rahula.
The Aspiration of Samantabhadra, from Penetrating Wisdom, pg. 3; translated by the Ponlop Rinpoche.
Piyadassi, The Buddha’s Ancient Path, 77, Dharmapada 183.