2 June 2008

Letter 1.49

Having emerged from a twelve-foot dry well, from which I rescued a fallen rabbit, I am now able to reply to you, who send ideas full of life, who live full of ideas, who preserve others, use yourselves, cherish relationships, and enjoy (enjoy!) existence: for, being none of these (and, nonetheless, still being), an act of identity must be committed each time I wish to communicate with those who talk of toads - real toads in imaginary gardens. In other words, before I went into the hole it did not exist for me; while I was in it, it existed in reality; now that I am out of it it exists in imagination.

Godawaya: forty days and fourteen miles from Karmagala, the surf shouts insistently across the beach, reminding my hut that it is only made of palm fronds, that I am only made of experience. Peace is allowable; as for apples I cannot say, but if Godawaya had been the Garden (with real toads) it would have been not possible for Cain to have struck his blow. Cactus and coconuts, soft soil and still softer sunrises, bananas and bhávana: my day. Subtle sunset, night-time stars, sand, smoke a cigarette, smile, serene, sleep…

Doctrinal scoldings? Forgive: I miscommunicated. Don't forgive: I did not scold. How could I, when we do not, in fact, follow - either of us, I think - any doctrine at all? What I do follow is a set of texts written in the Pali which contain a certain set of instructions along with descriptions of what will be found at the various stages of practice by one who follows those instructions. Anyone who imagines that the Pali texts are a doctrine will find himself down a rabbit-hole, in a wonderland. It is because of this that your letters are welcome; it is because of this that I am able to disagree with you.

A few random comments on your letter:

1) Ho-Shan (whom you quote) says that 'the great knowledge is realized by 'abstaining from all reflection and discursive thinking'. The Pali texts say (perhaps several hundred times and in many different ways) that the first jhána, or stage of attainment, is a necessary condition for the attainment of enlightenment, and that first jhána is identified by five characteristics, two of them being: reflexive and discursive thought.

2) Ho-Shan also says that 'every being has the Buddha-nature within him'. How does he know what I have within me? (The Pali texts neither state nor imply any such thing.)

3) You are quite right: Mahayana does accept Theravada as true, while Theravada does reject Mahayana (not so much as false - on my part, at least – as much as irrelevant). You find this, apparently, all the more reason to accent Mahayana. Odd. I find it all the more reason to reject it. ('Two things only do I teach, monks: suffering – dukkha - and the Path leading to cessation of suffering.') If a solution to the problem of suffering - which is the problem of existence – sankháradukkha - is to be found, two things are certain: (i) the solution is difficult to arrive at - else there would be no problem; and (ii) the solution is specific and not general - for it is my specific dukkha, my specific existence, which I am trying to put an end to, and therefore a specific practice must be followed rather than one which attempts to embrace many - or all - different disciplines.

4) You refer to an 'illusion of duality'. Neither I nor the Pali texts make use of any such concept. Duality is real. Subjectivity (not to be confused with either sakkayaditthi - personality-view - or asmimana - the conceit 'I am') is dependent on the fact that there are objects - objects which are appropriated ('This is mine, I am this, this is my self') - which appropriation is what is meant by upádaana (holding): upádaana paccayo bhavo: dependent upon holding is being.

Finally we come to your statement: A is not-A. Here lies the crux of the matter. The Pali texts are concerned with suffering, which is existence, which is experience. Therefore, they are existential in character, dealing with the structure of experience, but from within - for if I try to work outside the structure of my experience I leave my dukkha, my existence, from the account - i.e. delude myself about the very nature of my experience. Since that delusion, too, is structured, constructed, there must be a way of 'dismantling' it. The Buddha teaches that way.

There is no problem involved in changing our mode of being - we cannot help but do it - but the Buddha shows us the way in which we must direct that change in order to arrive at a position where we can eliminate the very essence of the delusion, the reason to be. But it must - can only be - done from within. Therefore anything which cannot be part of experience has no possible place within the Teaching. And I find that I am not able to imagine A being not-A: it is impossible for me, no matter how hard I try (and I have tried), for it is outside my experience: I have never experienced any thing being not-itself. Therefore 'A is not-A' cannot have any place in my practice. I know, however, that your experience is very different from mine: perhaps the structure of your experience is also very different from the structure of mine. Perhaps - if so, then we ought to follow different teachings for the Pali texts contain within them the underlying assumption that A is A, and that A is not not-A.

Many Mahayanists seem to believe that what constitutes enlightenment is the ‘realization' that A is not-A. This is false. Enlightenment, as taught by the Pali texts (nibbána, more correctly translated as 'extinction') does not involve a change in the nature of our being or existence to another state of being or existence, or an alteration in our mode of thought or experience to another mode of thought or experience: it involves the extinction of our reason to be, whatever its nature may be. Once this is attained, both 'A is A' and 'A is not-A' become irrelevant, since when existence is this sense is no longer involved the word 'is' is no longer applicable.

So - if you find that you can, here and now, imagine A as being not-A (and if you are quite certain of precisely what you mean by it), get on with your work within that frame of thought. Fine. But if you recognize that you cannot imagine A as being not-A, and think that your goal is to so recognize it, you should recognize also that the Way taught by the Buddha - the Noble Eightfold Path - is not the way leading to knowledge of A being not-A; for the Dhamma leads to the cessation of suffering (dukkhanirodha). As for myself, being unable to imagine A being not-A, I shall continue within my dull non-mystical and rather unhappy frame of thought until - I hope - I succeed in doing away with it entirely, A, not-A, X, Y, Z, the whole works, and put an end to clinging to existence, experience and suffering (not to speak of lust, hatred, and delusion) altogether.

Nowhere in the Pali texts does the Buddha teach dharmas, illusory dualities, or dogmas. What he does give us is a many-faceted diamond - and on any one of the facets of this diamond the careful eye can read the inscription:

Sabbe sankhára anicca: All determinations are impermanent.

Sabbe sankhára dukkha: All determinations are suffering.

Sabbe sankhára anatta: All determinations are not-self.

Ride that for a while and see how far it takes you.

I shall probably leave here very soon (I've been saying that for the last month), and continue my eastward trek. Eventually I shall return to the Island Hermitage. Where else I shall return to I don't know. If you shall be returning to Japan, please send me a parcel of pleasantness from that island. As for me, Ceylon is too beautiful for just one lifetime. Sukhi hontu upekhaya: May you have the joy of equanimity - and of stringhoppers too.


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