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On the Emptiness of the Path, and the danger of excerpts
August 26th, 2012
On the Emptiness of the Path, and the danger of excerpts

Maybe most people look for 'answers' in their practice, so maybe this has to be taken into account until they're ready to move beyond 'spiritual materialism'… In such case, promoting the eightfold path and other many collections of practices that exist among the various Buddhist traditions might be the right thing to do. But I don't know. I'm far from convinced by the idea that misleading people is okay even if it is "for their own good." I know there is the precedent of Gotama himself using "skilful means" or "clever methods," but who is awakened enough to decide this for others today?

The following excerpt from a longer text made me jump: "Nibbana, of course, is independent and unconditioned; but the act of awakening to nibbāna depends on a path of practice that has to be willed. It happens only if you choose to give rise to its causes. This, as the Buddha noted, involves determining to do four things: not to neglect discernment, to preserve truth, to develop relinquishment, and to train for peace."
There is always a danger in excerpts, out-of-context quotes, and this illustrates such a dangerous situation. I was particularly surprised, given the quality of the sources. Let me explain why I jumped.

• निब्बान [nibbāna], "of course, is independent and unconditioned;" so far so good. The teachings are pretty clear on that.
"but the act of awakening to nibbāna depends on a path of practice that has to be willed." Errr, no! Nibbāna is independent, so it does not 'depend' on anything (a particular path, a particular will or anything else). Trying to get around this by replacing nibbāna by 'awakening to nibbāna' leads nowhere: nibbāna is the experience of being awakened;
"It happens only if you choose to give rise to its causes." Errr, no! It is unconditioned, so it has no 'cause.' 

पच्चेकबुद्ध [paccekabuddha] are said to experience Enlightenment without teacher, guide, or even Buddhist teachings (path or otherwise)… Impermanence, suffering and non-essence are just not secrets. 'Realising' (seeing) these characteristics of human experience is different from 'reasoning' them, so no path and no teaching can make one see: since no teaching can make one see, one's realisation is clearly not conditioned by the path! Think of the path as of science: a model may help you look in the right direction (for the right signs) and thus help you see, but the model is not the view itself.
Suffering primarily comes from delusions (about permanence and essence), and a stream-enterer getting a glimpse beyond such delusions is said to stop clinging to rituals and rites… Clinging to a particular path is one of the sure ways to stay in samsāra!
Am I saying Buddhist practices are pointless or worthless? No, far from it! There is a very simple analogy. The illusions of Permanence and Essence are veils over one's experiential characteristics, they're like barriers making harder to creatively engage with the sheer diversity of life, to respond to what's new, free from conditioned automatisms (habits and preferences carried over from culture, family, previous experiences…). The path consists in removing such barriers, so it has enormous value. But removing barriers does not make one cross to the other side, it only makes such a crossing easier, which is why nibbāna is unconditioned: providing people with a raft is not making them cross, it is not taking them to the other side. Providing a map to people lost is obviously useful, but it doesn't make them reach destination just yet: by all means, give the map around! But should we tell people "now, you're sorted"? They can still get lost. Someone without the map may still reach any destination first. And, as many tourists know, a map without a reference point of where you are now is pretty useless…

So, was the excerpt misleading?

"This, as the Buddha noted, involves determining to do four things:"
"not to neglect discernment," for example not to think one can escape clinging by clinging to a particular path, not to think 'independent' is compatible with 'dependent' on a particular path, not to think 'unconditioned' has 'causes' (even indirect). Not to neglect discernment is not to confuse removing barriers or acquiring a raft with reaching the other side. Not to neglect discernment is not to think that barriers necessarily have to be removed: jumping over barriers, running around them, all are possible paths to reach the other side… That one path is easier does not make it the only path (hence the existence of paccekabuddhas);
"to preserve truth," i.e. not to blind oneself about the uniqueness of the path, not to think a map is 'required' to reach destination, and not to think a person on this path is cleverer or making more progress than someone climbing over the barriers! To preserve truth is also not to deny the existence of barriers, not to 'reason' that the barriers don't exist (e.g. because they're impermanent and without essence, or because we know a path to destroy such fetters) while perpetuating them and carrying them within oneself;
"to develop relinquishement," i.e. letting go of the barriers. To cling to the barriers clearly prevents one from going beyond. To cling to a path is adding a new barrier! It is like removing some barriers but carrying them around as souvenirs (to remember the path taken, and marvel at one's progress)… To cross is to let go of certainty and embrace impermanence and lack of essence;
" and to train for peace." Special mention: how many wars of religion have started out of "I'm right, you're wrong," "my truth is The Truth" etc? To train for peace requires relinquishing certainties about the path itself, and promises of Paradise–Enlightenment (attached to a particular practice). To train for peace is to refuse erecting a new barrier from the path, and separating those on the paths from others, or good practitioners from bad practitioners, on oneself's good moments of practice from bad moments!

It would seem the second part of the excerpt contradicts the first part! Now if one reads the full text, I'm mostly in agreement but the above would make it appear I'm profoundly against the expressed views! So, for the avoidance of doubt, the shared link is an interesting read…

I guess I would simply have quoted different parts:
"Nibbana, of course, is independent and unconditioned (…) no one is doomed never to awaken, but neither is Awakening assured. (…) Your sense of who you are is a fabrication, regardless of whether you see the mind as separate or interconnected, finite or infinite, good or bad. The path is also a fabrication: very subtle and sometimes seemingly effortless, but fabricated nonetheless. If these layers of inner fabrication aren't seen for what they are — if you regard them as innate or inevitable — they can't be deconstructed, and full Awakening can't occur."

#buddhistcircle   #buddhism   #Dharma   
by ****:
Nibbana, of course, is independent and unconditioned; but the act of awakening to nibbāna depends on a path of practice that has to be willed. It happens only if you choose to give rise to its causes. This, as the Buddha noted, involves determining to do four things: not to neglect discernment, to preserve truth, to develop relinquishment, and to train for peace.
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Freedom From Buddha Nature