“Fully knowing the arising and fading of the five sentient processes,
one finds happiness and joy. For those who are discerning, this is the deathless
– The Dhammapda, verse 374. Translated by Christopher J. Ash

The usual understanding of death and rebirth misses the point, so grossly. Rebirth theory is related to the experience of a constructed ‘self’ (atta) and, hence, to intentions (karma). Both of these are concepts for which we can find experience-near meanings. If we can be mindful and directly experience how karma moves, then we can understand the issues of death and rebirth at a more everyday, realistic level.

I wrote about the ‘pause’ as a part of the mindfulness attitude; the slowing down of experience, so that we can sense more of what is actually going on in and around us.  The more we appreciate the present, then the more it responds by revealing its intricacy.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the veranda of my home, in a reverie of appreciation for the textures of the forest – mostly of the eucalypts and the ti-tree. And, there was a currawong sitting on a branch, close by. I wasn’t exactly watching the bird. I gazed, I suppose; which is a mode of vision that includes much more, by not naming.

This pause in the default human mode of ‘mind’ led to including in my ‘gaze’ (or awareness) my sensations, my thoughts, and the felt presence of my whole situation. Including all of these in what I was aware of, at that moment, without losing my relationship to the currawong, gave rise to holistic sense of space – a kind of space that is throughout the field of experience, not just outside the skin.

It’s a fact that by including the observer in the observing, one loosens the hold and even dissolves the sense of separation to all things.  So, the concepts of ‘self’ and ‘world,’ in that state, were distinctions not needed at that moment. The still, silent quality of knowing didn’t support the kind of space where I would create any ‘thing’ (a ‘me’) to be separate, or to be separate from.

“The mind is always thinking of things in the past and of what it is going to do in the future. It rarely settles in the moment. If it did, it would become quiet. When you settle into the moment, you realize that there is not much happening—a few things here and there. The primary awareness is of the immediacy of the moment. This is because presence—being in the now—is characterized by beingness, simply being here now. In contrast, our familiar self is based on doing, going, making things happen.” The Unfolding Now, p. 160

The bird and I were together in every particle of being. To reflect on language, here: if I was to say ‘currawong,’ in that situation, I would be to point (with this linguistic gesture) to this living, dynamic relationship; a relationship which far exceeds, in its implicit intricacy, what the word ‘currawong’ can say. The public or dictionary meaning of that word is nothing. It’s certainly laughable in that moment to think that ‘currawong’ means a ‘something’ – an isolated, permanent, independent object in space-time. Poetry says it best:

Snow in withered field, nothing to touch.
’s head clear as sky
– From the poem ‘Sparrow in Withered Field.’ In Triumph of the Sparrow: Zen Poems of Shinkichi Takahashi. (Translated by Lucien Stryk).

Granted, this is not a perception readily accessible to some people, because we are mostly unfamiliar with experiential space and the ungraspability of the ground reality. But, familiarity grows with the practice of mindfulness. Then, it is possible to name a ‘groundless ground’; which the Nikāya Buddha indicates by referring to the ‘un-’ nature: unborn, undying, unailing; and ‘unmanifest consciousness,’ for instance. The odd thing is that moments like this occur all day, but we don’t notice them, until mindfulness reveals them. My spiritual grandfather Buddhadasa called them ‘little nirvanas.’

In default, trance mode of consciousness, if we notice such an empty moment – empty of ‘thing’-ing and constructing – we are afraid of its silence, its formlessness, and the unnameable quality of everything. Why do we fear? Primarily because our constructed ‘me’ has dropped away. There’s now no locatable someone behind the eyes doing the knowing. Yet, right there is the end of birth and death; and, ironically, right here is freedom and independence as individuals.

Until we train ourselves to pause, slow down, and stay for such moments of ‘empty contact’ –through the contemplative disciplines – then, we don’t appreciate the luminous wonder of the world and other people. We are in a pure land with radiant beings, and don’t see it.

the night’s downpour;
in this alley,
this half-eaten peach.

– Christopher Ash.