“Once adopted, a belief operates in a characteristic way. The mind classifies or labels experience in conformity with the belief and draws conclusions accordingly, perhaps ‘re-presenting’ the result as potential content for a new belief. The structure so determined screens out direct knowledge of experience itself. In establishing this structure, the key step is the acceptance of the content of the belief as trustworthy.” – Tarthang Tulku, Love of Knowledge

The Nikāya mythos suggests that death-dukkha, the anguish surrounding the concept of ‘death’ has to do more with a false sense of ‘I’ than it does anything else. Delusion is at the root of the fear of death. It’s the death of the ‘me’ that we fear, more than the actual physical end.

In my last post I began exploring the proposition that ‘whatever is actively appearing, is in every respect also a ceasing.’ My experience of this has been matched by others with whom I’ve explored this (experientially, not merely in discursive logic). That is, we notice that we baulk at staying right there, at that limit of human thought. As two brave explorers, in the one day, independently put it: “It’s freaky!” If you’ve done the experiment, you’ll know what they mean.

When I asked one person to explore (using Focusing-style contemplation) what makes it so freaky, after a period of sitting with it, feeling into his bodily-felt meaningfulness, he said, “If the arising and the ceasing are together… then who am I?” We explored that for a while; and after that, his next sense of ‘freaky’ was: “If the arising and the ceasing are both here, then… there’s nothing.”

In the Sutta-Nipāta: The Master told Upasiva:

“Use these two things to help you cross the ocean [of dukkha]: the perception of Nothingness and the awareness that ‘there is nothing’.” – verse 1070. Translated by Saddhatissa.

Remember the noting, we spoke of several days ago. Here it is. First the perception, then holding it with grounded awareness. I helped this person stabilise the awareness of the nothingness, and to check how the body responds. It is usually received well, overall, and he was able to hold the experience nicely.

If you do the ‘arising and ceasing, both’ exercise, please keep track of your body, and note the changes happening in your body as you encounter the ‘freaky’ display. You’ll be safe as long as you ground yourself in the body. The body can be tracked in all useful meditations. (See the Kāyasakkhī Sutta.)

So, that’s another type of ‘death.’ Dying to our beliefs regarding who we are and what ‘This’ is. (Even after dying to the belief in a little ‘me’ inside, I’ve found that the belief in some physical reality ‘over there’ persists for a long time.) When we can bring a unified consciousness to the question of what we actually experience, compared to what we believe we are experiencing, then the discovery that there is no ‘thing’ to be found anywhere, no conceivable reality-with-signs, which goes counter to the consensus belief-system, will eventually be found to be a great wish-fulfilling well – with the jewels of peace, joy, connection, and more.

Where did we acquire the belief that reality has to be conceivable, to be reality? How did it happen, that we put belief before experience? So strong is this, that when the mind confronts the inconceivability of ‘what is,’ it retreats in favour of concepts which can re-establish the familiar, the known and shared way to be. Another way of putting it: Where did we get the idea that the Kosmos is only cosmos?

Maybe that’s unanswerable, though if we can get the whippersnapper Science to talk to its rejected parent Philosophy, the two together might give us a decent answer someday. However, the crucial point will always be the ‘how’ of the continual mis-naming of what is going on here – the how of ‘dukkha.’ And, the ‘how’ of getting in line with what our experience actually is.

If we find that we are not believing our experience, or are rejecting it for one reason or another, how do we establish a way to go forward, in our quest for a flourishing life? The task hasn’t changed since the pre-Socratics ‘published’ abroad the results of their enquiries. That is, the task is, as in any good science, to find the appropriate method, and a ground upon which we can search for the questions which are appropriate to our situation.

My own history puts me in the Buddhist field, and more specifically, in the field of the ‘Pāli imaginaire’ (as Steven Collins says, in Nirvāna and Other Buddhist Felicities).I share from this angle. In this context, what does the text called the Dhammacakkapavatana (regularly misnamed ‘the Buddha’s first sermon’) tell us, about clarifying the problem of misperception of life, and undoing the knots? I’ve introduced its most radical insight, but let’s go back to first principles. Kondanna’s insight came in a situation of hearing some other things.

The Nikāya story is that this is the first occasion on which we hear of the problem situation defined: there is dukkha, and the necessary condition for dukkha. Upon this ground we can explore the cessation of dukkha, and the way of life which is the cessation of dukkha. A translation for dukkha is problematic, but for now, I’ll say it means ‘the anguish arising dependent on clinging to the wrong perception of how things are.’

“Now, Almsmen, for the spiritually ennobled ones, there is this dukkha: birth-dukkha, illness-dukkha, death-dukkha, association-with-the-unpleasing-dukkha, separation-from-the-pleasing-dukkha, not-getting-what-one-wants-dukkha. In short, clinging-to-the-fivefold-personality-processes-dukkha.”
Dhammacakkapavatana (The Sutta of Conveying the Nature of Reality.) Translated by Christopher J. Ash.