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Beyond perception
July 11th, 2014

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Beyond perception

   When looking for beauty in everyone and everything, one uses discernment to indeed find beauty in each and every particular form.

   When everyone and everything are discerned as beautiful, the adjective loses its meaning (yin cannot exist without yang), and discernment ceases: one has gone beyond discernment, without 'suppressing' discernment.

   The immeasurables (brahmaviharas) rely on an equivalent logic to go beyond 'measures', 'limits', self-centred 'domains'… E.g, perfected compassion comes with discernment of what needs to be adjusted to reduce suffering and stress, but goes beyond discerning who 'should' receive help: everyone and everything!

   The Buddha notoriously rejected asceticism, as an extreme. Going beyond sensuality isn't in forcefully suppressing any engagement with the senses. It may instead lie in the mindfulness of one's intention behind the perception: if the intention is universal enough, then every perceived phenomenon will 'embody' this intention, and one might go beyond the sensual world without repressing the senses!

   This being said, the Buddha did not  equate the jhāna of "neither perception nor non-perception" with nirvāṇa.

   Going beyond perception the way described above remains 'conditioned' by the intention, and not all intentions are equal: biases (maybe as a reaction to the perceived object), tendencies (e.g. anger, which may colour most perceptions) and plain ignorance (self-centric views) lead to unskilful responses, while an appropriate response to the context at hand without preference and without ignorance would embody skilful intentions.

   Nirvana is defined as freedom from preference and from ignorance (of the three traits of existence); it also is the cessation of struggle.

   When one sees the "four noble truths" as the "four ennobling tasks" ( & and the eightfold path not  as a recipe to reach the 'unconditioned' but as a manifestation of having ceased preferences and ignorance (i.e. a manifestation of having attained the cessation of the craving, the previous task), then one can see why "neither perception nor non-perception" isn't nirvāṇa.

   In relation to its actualisation, an intention is by nature pre-conceived, and the conditioning of the jhāna by an intention would make nirvāṇa conditioned by a pre-conception, a preference, a bias, a tendency… Nobody goes beyond discernment as described above without holding onto a 'universal' intention… however, for being pre-conceived (hence biased), such an intention is not necessarily appropriate to the situation at hand in this moment or the next.

   Nirvana is beyond perception, like the highest jhāna is, but without the conditioning by an intention.
   Wisdom is also manifest though, so any phenomenon (incl. 'intention') after the attainment of nirvāṇa is wholesome.
   How could this add up?

   We've already seen how an immeasurable might be 'beyond' perception (not 'without' perception).
   The question is then: can one embody compassion, loving-kindness, empathetic joy or equanimity without an intention to do so? A resounding 'yes' matters here and constitutes the skilful view.
   The immeasurables might be expressions of wisdom (i.e. of understanding the nature of our interdependent world as well as the universality among sentient beings of the desire to escape suffering, without falling into crippling oneness "it's all the same"), these qualities may arise from "doing what's needed, what's called for by the situation, what's wise, what 'works', seeing things as they are"  rather than the frustrating quest of be(com)ing a 'good' person… They might arise as a constructive response rather than as the actualisation of a preconceived 'agenda'.
   The brahmaviharas are a gate into nirvāṇa, but to actually cross to the other shore requires that one drops the intention to 'be' a 'good' 'person' (which is too self-based still, and full of prejudices, and thus obscures what's needed by what one wants… even if this desire is undoubtedly wholesome).

   If one drops preferences and ignorance, one engages in the world having gone 'beyond' perception ('beyond', not 'without'), simply because the nature of reality is beyond perception: one tunes into the common  causal web and what needs to be done to respond to the universal  desire (to escape suffering) of the specific  sentient beings engaged in the specific  situation at hand.

   Beyond perception: neither perception nor non-perception.
   Neither blind to commonality, nor blind to specifics.
   Neither solely limited to one's 'own' point of view, nor considering all views equally legitimate and an indistinct blur.
   Neither losing sight of a wider perspective (by clinging to myriads of local preferences, getting entangled in the net of distracting details), nor negligent of practicalities (by clinging to the "big picture").

   Any resemblance with a "middle way" (beyond meditation, concentration, absorption, jhāna, calm, equanimity —which are not mere 'blindness'— and knowledge, insight, 'right' way of life, engagement, wholesome choices —which are not mere 'reactions') would not be fortuitous.

#Buddhism   #Dharma
(crop from) photo © Anastasia Pelikh