Sunday, May 31, 2009

Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, Week One: Emptiness of Self

Notes from the video:

Buddhism is actually a science of mind. It works with two aspects:
  • The nature of mind, which is totally free and awakened.
  • Relative mind, which relates to emotions, thoughts, and ego clinging.
Mainly the teachings of Buddha are about working with the mind, nothing else. We do this via practice with body, speech, and mind.

Our mind fixates on things as really true and existing. This becomes the cause for our endless suffering. 

There are three forms of ignorance. We take things to be real in three styles:
  • Ignorance regarding time
  • Ignorance regarding objects
  • Ignorance regarding the skandhas*, or causes & conditions
In more detail:
  • Time: We develop a mind that clings to things as being permanent.
  • Objects: Unable to differentiate between objects that appear to be the same, we develop a mind that clings to singularity.
  • Skandhas or causes & conditions: We develop a mind that clings to autonomy or independence.
There are two objects of perception related to these ignorances, to which we cling:
  • Self of persons – We think we are permanent, singular, and autonomous, which gives us the misperception of a solidly existing self.
  • Self of phenomena: We cling to appearances as real and truly existing, also with the three ignorances: permanent, singular and autonomous.
Releasing the self of persons and realizing no-self is the realization leading to nirvana. Clinging to the self of phenomena is the obscuration keeping us from the complete wisdom of the Buddha.

Buddhism defines the nature of reality in terms of the two truths: 
  • Conventional or relative
  • Ultimate or absolute
Conventional truth is how things appear, as "merely existent" phenomena. When you do not analyze them, they work perfectly fine. We do not deny that reality. The conventional truth is the relative reality we should respect.

Absolute truth is how things are. It is beyond conception, beyond words, so we use labels to point at it, such as emptiness and egolessness. Emptiness doesn't mean nothingness, it means going beyond all concepts of existence and non-existence. Freedom from all conceptual elaborations. 

You can't mix up the two by saying, "If the chair is empty, how can you sit in it?" Rinpoche says, "You are trying to put my relative body in an absolute chair." 

There is a relative self, which is a mere appearance of a self that serves as the basis for karmic accumulation. 

There are two levels of this relative self:

1. Innate Self – This is the fundamental level of our clinging to self or "I." It is free from sophisticated labels and is the fundamental reference point of subject and object. 

From the commentary on Valid Cognition (Sanskrit: Pramana)
Through clinging to the existence of self,
One develops the notion of others.
From this basic duality of self and other arises clinging and aversion.
Through thorough habituation in these, all faults arise.
2. Imputed Self – These are labels which are integrated based on experience. They may be mundane labels learned from the environment, family, friends, etc., or non-mundane labels such as philosophical or religious labels. The imputed self is very conceptual. The innate self goes much deeper. Even so, sometimes imputed labels become habitual tendencies that can deepen into a very deep reference point. 

When we look at these two sets of self-clinging, they become the basis for basic self. 
  • Clinging to self brings a sense of self and other.
  • Then we engage in actions based on this.
  • From action, we accumulate karma (cause and effect).
  • When the karma fruitions, we experience suffering.
We have a fixation on the five aggregates* as equaling a self or person, with the three ignorances. So we are trying to work with this clinging. 

Identifying what is to be refuted is important. We are trying to transform our clinging onto things as inherently real. We are not trying to refute mere appearances. 

Shantideva said, "Mere appearances are not to be refuted. What is to be reversed is thinking of them as real."

In other words, mere appearances do not cause suffering. Clinging onto them as real causes suffering. How do we cling to them as real? We cling to them as permanent, singular and autonomous.

Tilopa said to Naropa: "Son, you are not bound by appearances. You are bound by clinging. Cut through clinging, Naropa."

[The teaching continues, refuting the three ignorances as related to the skandhas, one by one. At this point, the video began to skip. I'll attend to the video and we'll start here next time.]

Homework: Begin meditating each day on arising experience. Start with physical sensations, then include emotional and mental phenomena. Do not identify with what you observe; just open to experience and note how it arises, abides, and dissolves. 

For a good resource on how to do this kind of meditation, I recommend Ken McLeod's podcast on Releasing Emotional Reactions. Particularly sections 2 & 3 regarding Releasing through bare attention. Look under Retreats > Releasing Emotional Reactions >RER02 and RER03. Link to Unfettered Mind Podcasts

You might prefer to work with the vipassana method as taught in Insight Meditation: notice whatever is the strongest sensation at the moment, as it arises, abides, and dissolves, then notice what is next. Click here to link.

More resources on vipassana from the Insight Meditation Society: click here.

A Kagyu teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: click here.

*Five Skandhas (or aggregates) are the appearances which we take to constitue a self: form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness. For a fuller description of the five skandhas, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment