Teaching describing the attitudes and considerations to adopt for the dhamma's path.
Description of the highest realisations given by the meditation: the jhānas and nibbāna.
This path that is likely to lead beings to the end of suffering, is a legitimate and healthy path. It is a path that every person who is sufficiently wise and intelligent is committed to. Only animals – which cannot escape from their daily misery – do maintain themselves into it in the most confusing way and keep on living, beyond their control, in a world of predators, aggressiveness, fear, escapism, hatred and violence.
Humans have a capacity that animals do not have. In a first stage, it lies in conceiving that it is perhaps possible to escape from it. In a second stage, it lies in sincerely willing to escape from it and proceeding to something, to an abode, a state, an experience which is totally devoid of it.
For that, we have at disposal specific mental organs, which are parts of our human condition. They give us the possibility to distinguish between that which is likely to help us on this path on one hand, and that which is likely to maintain us in this misery, suffering, aggressiveness, violence and the life of a predator on the other. We do have this capacity to distinguish between what is skilful (kusala) and what is unskilful (akusala).
The Pali word "kusala" has become "skill" in English and "scola" in Latino language. We know that the word "school" has the same root, which means "skilfulness", as the school is precisely the spot where we are supposed to develop skilfulness. "kusala" therefore means "skilfulness". As it is specified in the commentary "dhamma saṃghani", composed by Buddha Gosa, the word "kusala" designates the skilfulness of a craftsman when performing his work. Here is therefore the meaning of the word "kusala", which does not mean "well" or "good", but "skilfulness", in the sense that it is intelligent, that it is sharp-minded, that it is that which will help us to get better. It is skilful, as it is going to lead us to less suffering, and help us to progress on the path. " akusala" therefore means "unskilful". It is that which is clumsy, that which diverts us from right way to operate.
We are in a school; the school of skilfulness precisely. We will get habituated to develop skilful, useful, constructive and beneficial behaviours. Concurrently, we will get habituated to give up unskilful, unhappy behaviours, which generate suffering and pain.
If, to a Jew, a Moslem, a Hindu, a Mahayana Buddhist, a theravāda Buddhist, a Christian, a Communist, a Nazi, a Fascist, or an Atheist, we were to ask: " which are the skilful means for reaching that final goal, this abode, this experience, which is empty of misery, empty of suffering? ", we will probably get various answers. We would certainly have a lot of elements likely to bring about confusion. It is not necessary to study all the paths that are taught by the ones and the others. It is more useful to think by yourselves and try to understand by ourselves too.
On one hand, we can think by ourselves on that which is a state of trouble, of stress, the state of constraint in which we live. For many among us, it is useless to reflect upon it even, it is spontaneous, quite direct. For a few of us, the first time we became aware of the world's suffering dates back from our early youth. On the other hand, we can reflect upon, draw an analysis on that which should be an abode, an experience or a situation that is empty of this pain, empty of that suffering.
Once we will have intelligently and constructively reflected upon these two elements and we will have avowed to their reality, we will have to develop the skilfulness in understanding that which, on one hand, does generate suffering, misery, pain, and that which, on the other hand, must lead us to experience the end of suffering, misery and stress.
We actually find ourselves into a four dimensions world. This reflection should be mature, it must back up with as many doubts and callings into question as conviction and confidence. Indeed, it is dangerous to be confident without doubting and barren to doubt without being confident. We ought to find a fairly equilibrated path where does always remain a slight doubt. This slight doubt will precisely lead us to reflect upon, to do our own self-questioning at any time, to wonder whether or not we are about to tread dangerous paths. One must be wide awake about confidence, which most shortly becomes a blind faith in a system that we no longer control.
We sometimes say: " the one who has done the experience of awakening is the one who has dispelled all doubts ". Paradoxically, dispelling doubt also lies in dispelling consciousness. Buddha doesn't tell: " the one who has reached the experience of awakening has developed a full confidence ". He tells: " the one who has reached the experience of awakening has forsaken sceptical doubt ". By abandoning sceptical doubt, on the same occasion, he has abandoned full confidence.
These two elements are harmful when they are present in a disproportionate manner, and constructive when they are present in a balanced way.
Our school, the one of reflection, the one of reasoning, it is the school of a kind of scepticism, but a constructive one, not a destructive one, it is the school of reason, of that which is reasonable. This school is not found within Judaism, neither in Islam, nor in Hinduism, nor in Mahayana, nor in theravāda, nor in another kind of Buddhism, nor in Christianity, nor in Communism, nor in Nazism, nor in Fascism, nor in Atheism. It is very simply found inside each of us, once we have adhered to it. It doesn't call for institutional affiliation, priests, hierarchy, conviction, discourse, scripture. That is quite simply the work that we each do, at our level, in our daily life. When we think, when we progress, we discover by ourselves, that our reflections have already existed in the past, that they have already been made and developed by some people in the past.
We then discover that Buddha, the monk Gotama, is someone whom discourse has never drifted apart from this line of thought. All his discourse in fact is – that's when we think that we discover it – a practical and reasonable discourse on the things of life. From this moment onward, we feel like tuning well with this discourse, with monks' teaching. We feel to be in harmony with Buddha's teaching, not because we are confident in it, but quite simply because we ourselves reach, by our own reflections, similar intuitions. It is not that much that we think agreeing with it, but that we consider that it agrees with us instead. There does always remain a certain balance between a certain kind of doubt, a certain kind of scepticism, and a certain kind of confidence. It is very important. Let us well know that the one who has reached perfect awakening, final realisation (an arahanta), is not someone about whom we could say that he gained full confidence into Buddha's teaching. He isn't someone who could say the opposite thing either. He is someone who developed that capacity, through all his experiences, all his reflections, to be never certain about anything. Nevertheless, he is someone who never doubts, a quite paradoxical thing indeed. The state of absolute confidence, of complete truth, of complete certainty is a thing that doesn't inhabit the spirit of a wise being.
Thus, if we reflect upon it, if we ask ourselves the question " what is this world made of? ", we will realise that any discussion or reflection will credibly lead us to become aware that this world is quite confused. We will ascertain that it is very difficult to succeed in taking out of it a truth, a substance, or something steady, reliable, on which we could rest. We really live in a confused world. Whether it may be the social world, the political world, the economical world, the technological world, the real world, the virtual world, the world of religion, of spirituality, of philosophy, of culture, all that remains confused and disordered to some extent.
Within all fields of activities, there does remain all the same a stable trait, which is a certain degree of stress, of constraint. There does also remain an unspeakable, tremendous thirst for freedom, which all beings, almost, share in their own way. We therefore come to a conclusion, which is reasonable, which is thoughtful, and which always deserves to be more investigated about, through our thoughts and reflection. This conclusion lies in that one of the main character features of this world is its painful nature, quite simply. It is a characteristic that tends to be verified everywhere, wherever we think of or observe it. We already have an essential element at disposal.
Now, we can try to think, to reflect upon that which could be a spot, an experience empty of such a constraint. And we can understand that this thing, this spot, this experience is the only possible alternative to all the turpitude and constraints of this world. Exactly in the same way as if there was noise, silence alone is the possible alternative to set ourselves free from the noise.
For example, when there is a particularly displeasing sound, we would like it to stop, because it is painful. It is possible for us to replace this sound by another one. We can transmute this sound, we can purify it. We can follow a step that will lead us from a particularly unpleasant sound to a blissful and marvellous one. The problem lies in that in any case, we haven't eliminated the sound. We have proceeded from an unpleasant sound to a pleasant one. It is better than nothing, it can give us a short term comfort. We have not however eliminated the problem of the sound, because the sound is still there. Moreover, even if we deal with a particularly pleasant sound, after some time, we will probably be totally fed up with it. Even a particularly melodious sound will finally turn to be unpleasant. What did change? Why is a sound pleasant, nice, and then, the same sound, the same melody, becomes unbearable? It is quite strange! That which has changed quite simply is: we have got too much of it. We have got an overdose of it.
Even pleasure becomes displeasure; through its occurrence, it becomes unbearable. It too becomes a source of pain, constraint and stress. Often besides, pleasure is utilised by humans as a short term remedy for wiping out suffering and miseries. In fact, we are almost condemned to run after pleasures so as to make this world better endurable. Pleasure even becomes the source of our suffering and misery, because we are condemned to run after it.
Pleasure therefore is not well being, it is not the solution yet, it is not the alternative to suffering yet. The alternative to pain; it is the end of pain. The alternative to an unpleasant sound is not a pleasant sound; it is the absence of sound. The alternative to all painful experiences is not an happy experience made of plenitude, it is the absence of experience.
It is that which Buddha has discovered and which our reflection can lead us to discover too.
We can succeed – as humans like to do since millennia – through spiritual exercises, in experiencing states of grace, states of consciousness that are crystal clear and in which almost nothing does manifest. Those are states of consciousness that have the potency to remain crystal clear, transparent and motionless. They do manifest along with a sensation of profound well being and are void of painful sensations. We do refer to such experiences within numerous literature of the past, within the literature of Sufism, Hinduism, Mahayana, Buddhism and other traditions.
These consciousness, we can imagine them to exist, even if we never experienced them. We talk a lot about them, within various mystic traditions of humanity. We could imagine – mostly if we, ourselves, went through a few unusual experiences – that it is possible, by means of meditative, concentration exercises, rooted in the vital blow, in mantras or visualisations, to reach a certain degree of inner plenitude, a state of intense happiness. It is therefore credibly possible to reach a spot, to experience a situation, a state, empty of sorrow, empty of stress. The monk Gotama named these experiences jhānas.
During these experiences, consciousness functions in a specific way, extremely speeded up, permeated by absolute lucidity, and remaining immersed into a state of well being, of neutrality, of exceedingly intense inner joy. It is a kind of liberation. Besides, he also calls these consciousness, "emancipated consciousness". Nevertheless, we face the same situation as in the case of an unpleasant sound that we replace by a pleasant sound. Admittedly, a pleasant sensation, is – by definition – empty of unpleasant sensations.
If we reach a kind of plenitude, a divinity, we are immersed into an experience that is empty of sorrow. Owing to this experience being particularly pleasant and enjoyable, the latter is empty of suffering. From this viewpoint, it is not the absence of suffering. It just consists in the incapacity for suffering to take place in it, as there is something else filling up all the space. To reach these states of consciousness, these mental experiences, one ought to engage into spiritual exercises that are described into numerous Christian, Sufi, Hindu, Mahayanist and other traditions' literature.
Buddha himself, besides, didn't fail to teach these spiritual exercises. He listed forty of them – which admittedly partake of no exclusive character – which enable the one who trains into some of them with a lot of diligence, energy and determination, to reach these peculiar spiritual experiences.
Nevertheless, to him, that is not the solution. Those are consciousness empty of suffering because their mode of functioning does not technically allow the presence of painful sensations. Exactly in the same way, when we are in the cabinet of our dentist, we do not feel the slightest pain because it is made technically impossible to the nerve to transmit it, owing to it having been put to sleep by an anaesthetising. However, the usual mechanism is still there: the dentist's drill is still there and the nerve is still there too. There is merely a function – the one of suffering – which has been momentarily neutralised.
Thus, when we get absorbed, by means of meditation exercises, when we experience a kind of inner sensuous enjoyment, we have not evacuated, nor undermined the foundations of suffering. We have momentarily neutralised a function. As we no longer have the capacity to perceive suffering, we are convinced to have reached a state that is empty of it.
Stress, constraints and difficulties have been replaced by something far too voluminous for leaving space to anything else whatsoever to take place. The delight given by the jhānas is without otherness, because it is technically impossible that anything else takes place in them. That is already very good to have reached it; we can achieve it by means of concentration, by focussing our attention to a single point, for hours, months, years, without respite, until this point does appear in our dreams, at any time of the day, even when we do not think about it. At any time of the day, we are immersed into, we are "one" with our meditation support. For example, if we chose a symbol or a deity, according to our religious tradition, there will come a time when we will reach a kind of unity with this deity. We will no longer be able to distinguish the deity from consciousness. We will thus dwell in the sphere of the deity. It is very good to have reached that, rare are those who achieved it. Nevertheless, if we reflect a little upon it, we can still wonder within ourselves whether or not this truly constitutes a definitive liberation.
To the awakened Gotama, the answer is negative. To the free thinker, the one who accepts nothing a priori, the answer cannot be positive. That which Buddha has discovered, is an unsuspected side path, invisible at his time. It is an unusual path that doesn't enable beings to shift from suffering to bliss, from unhappiness to happiness. It rather enables beings to succeed in no longer producing suffering, without generating happiness on the other hand. It is quite paradoxical. It is about bringing the mechanism of production, reproduction to a complete stop. What is meant is to no longer commit ourselves to a path. To him (Gotama Buddha), it is the only alternative to suffering. It is the absence of suffering, which lies in no longer committing ourselves to the path that leads to suffering. Should we no longer commit ourselves to the path leading to suffering, we would also not commit ourselves to the path leading to happiness, sensuous enjoyment or bliss. It is the path of abstention, of cessation.
The path of cessation leads us to change the way we relate to the world. We do not give ourselves up to a practice or exercise that is likely to give us a result. On the contrary, we cease to start up a practice or exercise likely to give us a result. From this level, the question of the joyful or painful result is no longer to be asked, as one or the other are still a problem. That is the reason why, in our path, we don't turn ourselves to the experience of jhānas, sublime consciousness, absorbed consciousness, divine consciousness. We are not following a step that should lead us to experience happiness, plenitude, inner peace. We deal with a step in which we cease to do that which is likely to bring about these things. It is unbelievable.
Whereas many are those who wonder about the world's creation, we are interested into the moment that preceded it. Many people are interested into that which ought to be done to reach, to attain something. That which does interest us, paradoxically, precisely is to no longer reach, to no longer attain. So that the world does not appear! So that it is not produced! So that suffering does no longer appear along with happiness and pleasure, which do no longer appear too! To back up with the image referred to previously: could there be no more unpleasant sound, but may there be no more pleasant sound too! The experience of silence that, by definition, cannot be one, is the absence of experience, as an experience inescapably calls for an object to focus itself on. What is meant by an object is a presence. We only talk about a presence among religions, spiritual traditions or economy.
Our step leads us to the absence of presence, the absence of experience, which is not nothingness for all that, as nothingness doesn't exist. We truly became aware of it, as the world is here before us. Therefore, we cannot reach nothingness; there is no nothingness, there is the world. There could have prevailed nothingness, but if there was nothingness, there wouldn't have been the world. Visibly, it is not the case. Thus, we only deal with the world and its absence, but the absence of this world cannot be nothingness. We face here a strange enigma.
There must therefore be something that shouldn't be an experience, neither a sensation, nor a consciousness, and which should be fundamentally empty of suffering, but at the same time empty of happiness, empty of plenitude and empty of joy. However, there must be something, as there cannot be nothing, as visibly, the universe doesn't rest on nothingness. We are therefore facing a kind of technical puzzle, a questioning partaking of a purely logical character.
Buddha is the one who made the experience of this extinct element, this thing that does exist, but which doesn't appear. It cannot appear, it bears no characteristics, it is shapeless. Therefore, we cannot say that it does exist. We cannot say that it does not exist too. He has, in a way or the other, approached this thing, by means of his consciousness. However, he couldn't see it. This unusual experience, which must be empty of sensation, is that which we call the experience of awakening. It is something that it is difficult to describe. Buddha utilises several terms, he speaks, among others, about liberation or emancipation. He also utilises these terms when he speaks about divine consciousness (having plural stages).
To designate this unusual element, he used the word: nibbāna, which does not bear the meaning that many people ascribe to it: the flame that would have been blown off, the state empty of attachment, empty of suffering, etc. The word nibbāna doesn't really have a lexical meaning. It has a use, as all the words do, but we can hardly find a root to it. Scholars like to find roots to words. However, there always comes a time when a word is without root. Example: The Greek root of the word "to petrify" is the word "petros", which means "pierre" (the French word for "stone"). "To petrify" means "to transform into a stone". The word "pierre" designates a "strong and solid mineral matter, shaping up into compact masses". This word does not necessarily have a root. In the same way, the word "nibbāna" is a term utilised for designating a thing, but does not necessarily have a root. It is not necessary to find a root to words.
Buddha has used this word that was a common parlance at his time, to designate, for example, the stage of the rice coming out of the steam room or the after death state of a dog. Paradoxically, there is no dog, as a dead dog is no longer a dog. To this sake, we used the term "parinibbāna", which means "complete nibbāna", "nibbāna that contains all the perimeter". When we take the rice out of the steam room, it is still hot, but it is no longer warmed up. To designate this particular state, we say that the rice is in parinibbāna. It has not disappeared, nothing has disappeared; however, there is something that has ceased to be. Buddha utilises this term to designate this element, this thing that is empty of pain, empty of sensation, empty of happiness, empty of plenitude. He utilises the word "parinibbāna", which he borrowed from his contemporaries' common language. nibbāna is certainly something but it is impossible to talk about it, to designate it, to touch it or to feel it. However, it is truly speaking something that must be there, which must be somewhere, but impossible to localise. It is something that shouldn't be into this world, truly speaking, but which however, cannot – by definition – be alien to it.
The term utilised by Buddha to designate this kind of phenomenon, is "loka uttara". "loka" meaning "the spot", "the localisation", and "uttara", which means "on this side of", "previous to", and not at all "beyond", contrarily to that which many scholars claim. "loka uttara" does not therefore means "beyond the world", but "on this side of the world", "which is previous to the world". Admittedly, the choice of this word by Buddha is no accident. According to him, nibbāna exists previously to the world and not beyond the latter. Roughly speaking, it is that which does occur when the world does no longer occur. Thus, it is that which does occur previously to the world. It is that which does exist previously to the world, before the world comes into shape, that is to say, the appearance of phenomena, whatever they might be. It would be useless to discuss about nibbāna at great length, but useful to think for a moment and tell ourselves: " there must be, in this world, an alternative to suffering, pain, misery and stress. This alternative, if it does exist, must be something that is perfectly empty, empty of experience, empty of sensation. "
By following the way pointed out by Buddha, by listening to his teaching, by following the training that he recommended us to follow, the one of the establishment of the presence of mind (satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā), we are supposed to succeed in doing this unusual experience of awakening. He says besides that it is the only path leading to it.
We can try to concretely see, what can the experience of the extinct element bring about in our daily lives of school teacher, of labourer, of doctor, of jobless, of man, of woman, of rich, of poor, of literate scholar, of illiterate, of old or young person. It is something. In which way will it enable us to suffer less, to feel less ill at ease, to be less miserable, less stressful, to encounter less difficulties, even if it means being less in pleasures, less amid the small happiness of life? How can we establish a link between that which exists previously to the world, that which is empty, and that which we experience in our daily lives, which is well and truly in the world, which is tangible, and not all empty of sensation, but full of sensations, of turpitude, of pains, of difficulties, of stress, of miseries, of joys, of compassion, of love, of happiness, of cheerfulness? Which link do we find, besides, between these two things? Does reaching awakening mean to merge into something, all of a sudden? Does it mean that this body suddenly vanishes, that consciousness disappears, that all disappears? Is there a bridgeable gulf between the world and that which exists previously to it, a bridgeable gulf between our daily life and a kind of non-existence? If such was the case, what would be the interest of it?
That which beings want, and it is the most legitimate thing in the world, lies in succeeding, in their daily life, in experiencing less suffering. Owing to be alive, we experience difficulty and stress. Everybody agrees with this. However, we are condemned to live, no other choice is left to us. Then how to handle with the span of time that separates us between the moment when we have understood and came to this point, and the last moment of our life, the one when we are going to die (after, we do not know at all what can happen). That which is interesting, in the step of satipaṭṭhāna – and it is admittedly not an accident of fate –, when we have succeeded in doing the experience of the extinct element, which is not in the world, but which is previous to it, lies in that once this experience is already achieved, many things have changed. These things that have changed, it is well and truly in the world that they have changed.
That which changed lies in that our mind is less defiled (by desires, attachments, fascinations, anger, hatred, aversion and indifference). We are the ones who changed, quite simply. It's a bit likened to a wheat field where we find weeds; it prevents us from fully appreciating the wheat. The experience of awakening is an experience of complete clearing; nothing grows. Once this experience has been done, the world is still there, phenomena are still there. Nothing has disappeared, well, not exactly. So as to remove weeds, we can choose the option of tearing away stalks one by one, while avoiding to damage the wheat that is precious, which is a difficult and long process, impossible even. Whenever we may reach the end of the field, weeds may have possibly started to grow again.
The approach that is suggested, is the experience of awakening where nothing does ever manifest, where nothing does ever grow. And we must vividly ascertain that after this clearing, wheat grows again better, and there are less weeds, much less weeds. When we again crop the weeds and plant the wheat, there are still less weeds. There will come a time when, during the fourth plantation, there will be no more weeds. When we will have done the experience of awakening for the fourth time, admittedly, everybody is there, all phenomena are still there, the entire universe is still there, nothing has disappeared. Nevertheless, there is a weed that has disappeared, which is no more present. There are no more emotions, no more pain, no more anger, no more jealousy, no more adversity, no more hatred, no more ignorance.
If we reached the end of suffering in this down world, it is not owing to have removed something from the world, it is not also owing to have substituted something to it; a kind of transcendence – in such case the jhānas. If we reached a state of well being into this world, it is owing to have removed from it all our unwholesome behaviours, all our unwholesome attitudes and as a consequence, we have also removed from this world all our wholesome behaviours and attitudes. We no longer generate attitudes or behaviours likely to bring about displeasing and harmful consequences. And we don't beget any likely to bring about pleasing and happy consequences. This incapacity to beget further such activities owes to the simple fact of having achieved the experience of the extinct element, of this loka uttara. Here is the link we find between the world and the cessation of the world. It lies in that when the cessation of the world has taken place, the world comes back, everything comes back... with a few ingredients missing. Nothing had to get transformed, nothing had to be transmuted, there is nothing to reject, there was nothing that ought to be adopted. There is no ritual, no prayer, no meditation, no mantra, no step to be followed, no technique, no procedure. There is no need for any institution, neither a master, nor the adoption of specific behaviours. On the contrary, the first thing to do is to start dropping all these things.
In a first stage, we can start to drop many behaviours, even before entering the path of vipassanā. We can start to clear the path, by renouncing behaviours, through body and speech, which instantly generate pain, suffering, problems, complications.
So as to bring to a full stop mental attitudes, ideas, behaviours, neurosis, we cannot come to this point through a control of physical and verbal behaviours. For that sake, we should whether practise a meditation that will bring about a state of serenity and inner force, but we will still get a temporary result (which could last as long as life will endure but which will still be temporary), or else manage so that these things do no longer appear by themselves. We can for instance, control desires by means of meditation exercises that will lead us to an experience of plenitude, empty of desires, which is quite good. Not to control anything, not to do anything, to utilise no technique, no exercise, no meditation, and to ascertain as a fact, that desires have totally disappeared, that they no longer do appear, whereas nevertheless, the entire environment remains the same, that is much better.
When we suffer from a sickness and we take medicines, we will succeed in eliminating the bacteria, the microbe or the virus that is the root cause of the disease. However, we don't have the guarantee that it will never reappear. It is still quite good to have treated the disease, but it can still come back.
That's why in our step, jhānas, the experience of bliss, mystic experience, experience of the divine, do hold no specific attraction to us. That which interests us in the step we took, lies in evacuating pain, misery, difficulty, stress – paradoxically – without starting up a technical exercise for that. Otherwise, it would be the result of this exercise, and we want a lasting result that may not be the result of an exercise. This is how we proceed in our reasonable and thoughtful step. It is true that to manage so that within our mind those stress generating elements do no longer appear, one ought to have contacted, through experience, something that is not located within this world. It is paradoxically about an experience where there is no contact with such object, as it is not located within this world.
This object, this thing, is that which we call nibbāna. We sometimes refer to it as dhamma dhatu – the element of the thing – or suññata dhatu – the empty element –, "suñña" means "empty" and "ta" means "that which is". In the same way, "dark" means "without light" and "té" (in French darkness appears as obscuri+té), "ness" or "ty" (for clari+ty) means "that which is". Darkness is "that which is without light". However, it is not something that does exist, it is not a thing in itself, it is not a phenomenon that we could touch or take; it is the absence of light. nibbāna is likewise, that's why we call it "that which is empty". Here is that which distinguish our step from the common meditation practices that we come across among various schools. Here is that which makes us remain remote, a fortiori, from the blind consumer society.
You will ascertain that often, people who adhere to a spiritual tradition have the habit to spit at the consumer world, while telling about others: " Those are people who run after sensuous pleasures, who believe to find a certain kind of happiness among material things, but us, we got something better, we permeate the sphere of spirituality ". We will notice that the materialists will tell: " People who do permeate the spiritual sphere live in a dream, they do imagine all sorts of things and force themselves to observe all kinds of disciplines, which finally put them under compulsions that ultimately force them and do not lead them to happiness, as everything is based on a dream ".
Everybody stands on his positions and is convinced to be right. That which we can say, is that the one as well as the other is not completely wrong. It is the reason why we do not commit ourselves; whether to the path of spirituality, or else the one of materialism.
The path of spirituality is followed by those who believe in eternal happiness, eternal consciousness, eternal unity, a state of bliss, of absolute happiness. The path of materialism is followed by those who believe in nothing and who believe that after death, everything disappears, everything is totally destroyed. That's why we tell that they believe in nothing. To them, life appeared at the time of birth and will come to an end at the time of death, and in-between, "one should enjoy himself to the full". We avoid these two extremes, which are rooted, according to us, into an error, a misunderstanding. We are not much interested into an hypothetical happiness pertaining to the beyond, and we have ceased to run here and there, as we have grown mature enough to understand that there does exist no happiness apart from the one that we can find in this life itself.
We are facing the situation of the one who, after having hanged around in the aisles of the subway, is desperately in search of toilets so as to get relieved. We are facing the situation of the one who is getting tired and wants to get relieved. It is as simple as that. To get relieved, we proceed – obviously – to a certain direction, and we are proceeding to that which likened to a shelter, a refuge, a protection. That is to say we actually proceed where there is not much to do. However, we go where we have nothing to expect, just like the one who takes shelter from the rain and expects nothing, neither from the rain, nor from the shelter, but he simply takes shelter from the rain. In the same way, by following Buddha's way, by turning ourselves to the dhamma, by proceeding to the saṃgha, we don't expect anything. We simply go for refuge.
In order to take shelter from life's vicissitudes, sufferings and pains, we can benefit with the protection of sīla – virtue – which does constitute a protection at the body level. We train into refraining from doing unhealthy, harmful, painful things, which do generate suffering. We do perform this training at the grossest, most tangible and most material level, that is to say the body, precisely the one into which materialists rejoice. We train ourselves too, as far as possible, into a certain quality of attention, of vigilance, of concentration, of presence of mind, which must also protect us from letting ourselves go to behaviours that are exclusively rooted into fascinations generated by sensuous desires. At last, we train ourselves into this unusual path. It is unusual as it is desperately desert, void of mark benches, a path on which we sometimes feel a bit alone, like left behind, on which we sometimes feel like disconnected from the world because we have it difficult to find our usual mark benches. It is the path of establishment of the presence of mind that leads us to direct insight into reality, vipassanā.
This latter will not only lead us to give up behaviours, cultivated through mind and speech, but also to observe by ourselves the disappearance of the patterns of the mind – thought processes – which are whether likely to generate pain, misery, suffering, or else to generate happiness and enjoyment too. We proceed to the experience of nibbāna, which is the experience of cessation.
Once someone asked to Venerable Sāriputtarā: " You claim that nibbāna is totally void of sensation. How can that which is void of sensation be happiness? " Venerable Sāriputtarā replied to him: " It is precisely owing to the fact there is no sensation that it is perfect happiness. " Truly speaking, there is no experience of nibbāna. There is no nibbāna practice, nor nibbāna consciousness. If there is a work to be done, one must do it before, as this work disppears at the time of awakening. This moment is nibbāna, that is to say that which exists previously to the world. The work that we do, we do it into this world, the consequences – the effects – which we inherit, in our daily lives, do occur into this world. And that, even if we made a bend just before; a little bend towards that which precedes it.
We can hope to progress on this path that will lead us to the experience of awakening, or nibbāna, to use the word that Buddha himself utilised. We can also wish, admittedly, that beings who live in this world, who are not in the position to think, doubt or understand, may one day, once in their life, or in another one, come across the Teaching. That is to say, they could do the experience of the world, do the experience of the things of life, think, understand, proceed further on this path and, at their turn, reach nibbāna. Let us hope that, even if it may look like an utopia, one day, all beings in this universe – which is so vast – may come across this teaching and ultimately do the experience of liberation, the experience of the complete end of suffering.
sādhu! sādhu! sādhu!
Origin: Teaching given at Bagneux (France)
Author: Monk Sāsana
Translator: Thierry Lambrou
Date of translation: 2003
Update: 2005, June the 14th