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Lions Roar : March 2018
There’s a sense of a path of awakening we’re walking from first breath to last, and probably before and after that, too. It has stages and aspects, sudden leaps forward and devastating stumbles. While what we awaken to is the same for all of us, how we awaken and express that awakening in our lives is endlessly idiosyncratic and gives the world its texture and delight. For Westerners especially, it’s important to keep remember- ing that awakening is something different from the projects of self-improvement and self-actualization we’re used to. It’s not about being a better self but about discovering our true self, which is another thing entirely. From this perspective, the process of awakening is less a mat- ter of actualization and more a matter of “truing”—of becom- ing aware of the way things already are. Rather than developing an enhanced and therefore more solidified self, we dissolve into something that existed before we did. We become aware of our continuity with enlightenment, which is none other than the universe itself. This has been called our original face, what we “look” like when we step back into the moment before the world of our thoughts and feelings comes into existence. The teachings speak of a single enlightened thought as being the whole of enlightenment, and a single deluded thought as the whole of delusion. This acknowledges that we’re capable of both, but however seductive the desire to sort our thoughts into separate piles of enlightenment and delusion and then choose one over the other, that isn’t the offer. Instead, it’s to get under- neath the self-centered, operational realm of sorting and choos- ing and to sink back into the place from which all thoughts arise—sometimes appearing as distorted thoughts, sometimes as clarifying ones. It’s a truer place to rest, and a humbler one. We still have bodies that break down in all sorts of amazing ways. We still face injustice and conflict. Awakening isn’t a waiver from the shared circumstances of human life. But it does radically transform how we experience them. We are no longer beleaguered exiles but instead are now people at home even in the most difficult times, searching for ways to respond that encourage the bursting forth of the enlightenment that is present always and everywhere. JOAN SUTHERLAND, ROSHI is a teacher in the Zen koan tradition and founder of The Open Source. Her teachings and talks are collected at joansutherlanddharmaworks.org. * Nibbana is Letting Go by Ajahn Chah Practicing virtue and creating merit, we say, “Nibbana paccayo hotu”: “May it be a condition for realizing nibbana.” As a condi- tion for realizing nibbana (Sanskrit: nirvana), keeping precepts is good. Practicing meditation is good. Listening to dhamma teachings is good. May they become conditions for realizing nibbana. But what is nibbana all about, anyway? Nibbana means not grasping. Nibbana means not giving meaning to things. Nibbana means letting go. Doing meritorious deeds, observing moral precepts, and meditating on loving-kindness—all these are for getting rid of defilements and craving, for making the mind empty—empty of self-cherishing, empty of concepts of self and other—and for not wishing for anything, not wishing to be or become anything. Nibbana paccayo hotu—“Make it become a cause for nibbana.” Practicing generosity is giving up, letting go. Listening to teach- ings is for the purpose of gaining knowledge, to give up and let go, to uproot clinging to what is good and to what is bad. It’s the same no matter what you are doing: if you do it with a mind of letting go, then it is a cause for realizing nibbana. When your mind is free of desire, free of defilement, free of craving, then it all merges with the path, meaning noble truth, meaning saccadhamma (ultimate reality). It is the four noble truths, having the wisdom that knows tanha (restless, anxious craving), which is the source of dukkha. Kamatanha, bhavatanha, vibhavatanha (sensual desire, desire for becoming, desire not to be): these are the origins, the source of suffering. If you go there, if you are wishing for anything or wanting to be anything, you are nourishing dukkha, bringing dukkha into existence, because this is what gives birth to duk- kha. These are the causes. If we people can be free of just this one thing—selfishness— then we will be like the Lord Buddha. He wasn’t out for him- self, but sought the good of all. If we people have the path and fruit arising in our hearts like this, we can certainly progress. With this freedom from selfishness, all the activities of virtu- ous deeds, generosity, and meditation will lead to liberation. Whoever practices like this will become free and go beyond— beyond all convention and appearance. As the knower of the world, the Buddha saw danger in the round of samsara. For us who are his followers, it’s the same. If we know all things as they are, that will bring us well-being. Where exactly are those things that cause us to have happiness and suffering? Think about it well. They are only things that we create ourselves. Whenever we create the idea that something is us or ours, that is when we suffer. Contemplate these truths and don’t be heedless. AJAHN CHAH (1918–1992) was a renowned teacher in the Thai forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism. This teaching is adapted from Everything is Teaching Us: A Collection of Teachings by Venerable Ajahn Chah (Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery). LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 42