illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
According to the Ariyapariyesana sutta (MN 26), right after his awakening, and "prior to" (or "in order to obtain") the visit of Brahma, the Buddha thought: "This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise." He continued: "But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this/that conditionality & dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and others would not understand me, that would be tiresome for me, troublesome for me."
And, indeed, a regular question from beginners is about the efficiency of the Buddhist path, "given how few beings have attained Liberation in the couse of history"… All evidence points towards the fact that the nature of reality is "hard to see", and that nirvāṇa itself is not only hard to realise but even hard to see, nobody can truly describe what nirvāṇa is…
"What is abstruse, subtle, deep, hard to see, going against the flow — those delighting in passion, cloaked in the mass of darkness, won't see." (MN 26)
But the Sanditthika sutta (AN 6.47) states things quite differently: "The fact that when a delusive quality is present within you, you discern that a delusive quality is present within you; and when a delusive quality is not present within you, you discern that a delusive quality is not present within you: that is one way in which the Dhamma is clearly visible, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves."
Okay, now, wait a minute… "hard to see" but "clearly visible"?
Is the answer to Moliyasivaka —the wanderer questioning the Buddha in AN 6.47— so different because (as a 'successful' wanderer) he is no longer subject to attachment? Possibly… but would he not be a paccekabuddha or a arhat then, if he was already free from attachment and clinging? Or is he simply so close to the other shore that it is "in sight" although he had not attained yet when he asked his question?
Or is it that the only difficulty is yourself, i.e. that you are your worst enemy?
Is it that you 'only' have to pay attention here and now, and look at what's happening in your mind, but that —out of habits, certainties, automatic responses, greed, to-do lists, excuses, etc.— you just don't pay attention, and will simply not see for as long as you don't look, for as long as you don't stop, for as long as you don't pay attention?
Is it hard to see because the only one who can truly anticipate your attempts to see is yourself, the one also blocking the view? How can you beat yourself? Is it easy (any cultivation will lead to being 'better') or is it hard (any cultivation moves the bar higher)?
Every single moment when you 'stop', when you disengage the 'auto-pilot', when you consider the flow of life before choosing a response, you reclaim freedom. Don't you know when you pause and when you're in auto-pilot? Of course, you do!
Attachment manifests itself under many guises: greed, lust, aversion, hatred, fear, expectations, considerations of how things 'should' be… Every single time when you do not let any of these pick your life for you, choose your life for you, you reclaim freedom.
Nirvāṇa: freedom from lust, aversion, and ignorance…
This is easy to see… but, in the next instant, do you start thinking that it is hard to see when you could do so?
Do you start postponing freedom, pretending you have obligations, constraints, things and stuff and people tying you down in a forced causal web?
The causal web is true, what's delusional is to behave as if none of these was negotiable, as if none of these was transient and momentary, as if everything was permanent! How could this be true even though you cannot tell for sure what will be your future in even 5 minutes? Talk about permanency! Is that the "weak at the knee" version of permanency, or something? No, it's plain delusion. Causality exists, yes, but it doesn't tie you down! 'Things' change, better or worse or different, but they change…
Is it hard to see as in painful to see, because you don't want to see this, no matter how clearly visible this is? Because you cling to a sense of security (out of a delusion of certainty and permanency and predictability)? Is it clearly visible that this doesn't work (any dissatisfaction, uneasiness, suffering, struggle in your life recently?), but hard to see how to live without?
Slow down, take the time of one breath to ponder your actions,
pay attention, "don't (think you) know", notice, look then engage…
unattributed photo (possibly © http://www.dharma.org/)
Ariyapariyesana sutta (MN 26):
Sanditthika sutta (AN 6.47):