Getting out of cooking pots
Answering some questions; from correspondence with a friend.
When experience contains no separation into object/subject, or any further categorizations, then phenomena can just be phenomena. Pleasant or unpleasant are not inherently skillful or unskillful, it is the movement of mind that can take place in relation to them that moves things into unskillful/stressful. This again seems to be much like the experience when the upadana/clinging is seen through and ceases to operate in relationship to the khandas/aggregates.
As I see it, our experience starts as appearing phenomena. There is no duality, no division between the mind and the contents of mind.
Then we interpret that experience — for example, as «thoughts» appearing in «mind», or images appearing in our vision, or objects appearing in space. We perceive phenomena as dualities like (1) material things and (2) the mind that reflects them.
Then we can develop all kinds of philosophy, like
(1) «the matter is primary, while the mind is just a function of highly organized matter»;
(2) «the mind is primary, while material objects are just like thoughts in mind»; etc.
In fact, «the primary thing» is phenomena that appear before we interpret them in dualities.
It's like we are used to see waves as interaction between ocean and wind; imagine waves without water and wind. That surface is the primary experience, there is no object & subject. Then we interpret them as water & wind, objects & subject, etc.
In awakened view, we still interpret phenomena, just like we do in deluded view. But in awakening we are aware that our interpretation is just an interpretation. It's a conditional truth. It depends on our perspective. The absolute cannot manifest as any expression, because the absolute truth is the primary experience before interpretations. Any expression would be one of possible interpretations, a conditional truth.
* Here my understanding of absolute truth & conditional truth probably differs from how these terms are usually understood in Theravada; my view is more like that of Nagarjuna & Diamond sutra.
So, the clear mental process is that we perceive the emptiness of interpretations, their conditional nature. Hence all «phenomena» and «self» as we «know» them are our interpretations.
We don't need to avoid dualities, we use dualities in our thinking and talking; but we know that dualities are illusory. We don't rely on anything as absolute. The world we know is basically unknown. What we think of «the real world» is mainly the world of our constructions.
When we deeply understand this, there is no clinging to objects, to feelings, to anything, because any clinging would be to products of interpretations.
Everything is revealed as flexible, a projection, dependent of our mental processes, e.g. dependent on assumptions we made and conditions we chose as current context.
That's what gives freedom to let go anything in our mental luggage.
I wrote out of curiosity as what you wrote about the person being like a cooking pot, and when the pot is gone, there is no sense of me, and no prioritizing, but instead spacious experience of phenomena seemed quite accurate to me and sparked interest in hearing more how you practice and what lead to what results for you.
Yes, the cooking pots. In the internet you can see images of Bhava-cakra, the wheel of being (existence).
Twelve pictures near the outer rim represent 12 nidanas. The second picture after the blind woman (ignorance) is the potter making pots (samskaras/sankharas).
I understand that like this: «samskara» literally means something like «artificial, constructed». Samskaras are «composite factors». E.g., if you think of your current situation or problem, you actually refer to some construction in your mind.
For example, you deem some factors important, and they become parts of that construction; some other factors remain overlooked, outside of your scheme of the situation. So our views of situations are limited: we construct their images; those are our «cooking pots». We can be captured by them, playing by their rules. For example, someone decides that money is the main thing he wants in his life — thus he defines a factor which will be a part of his cooking pots, which would define rules he would live by. Naturally he might throw out «helping others», thinking that helping others would be detrimental to his goals. That's how we choose some factors, absolutize them and limit ourselves, throwing away some other opportunities. Being limited like that might help us to concentrate on some «main goals», but also it might hopelessly bar us from what we would really need. We become firmly separated from real happiness.
In awakened view we might still prioritize, but we don't absolutize. We keep the context; i.e. we don't throw out the factors which we don't use in our schema; those factors remain here as the background. When those background factors happen to become important, we don't cling to the old schema.
In other words, I see delusions/vexations as being captured by samskaras. The liberation is not clinging to samskaras. Not relying on verbal theories. Not relying on anything as «absolute».
We still can use verbal theories; we can be open to emotions, using their energy. We are not rigid anymore, we don't keep anything as absolute.
We can drop separations like «self — everything else», for example:
(1) viewing everything as the energies of mind.
Thich Nhat Hanh explained this thusly: looking at a mountain, we can understand that this perception is in our mind, it consists of the energy of our mind. Looking at a friend, we see the same thing, the energy of our mind. Everything is one thing — the energy of the mind. It's «myself», not someone else or something else.
(2) Viewing everything as conditions.
Anything — for example, anything in our behavior — is conditioned by something. Hence we can view everything as product of some causes; and those causes in turn have other causes. So we see everything as combinations of conditions; «self» is no different.
We can imagine the world as an endless net of causes stretching into the past beyond all horizons. And if we try to find a border between «self» and «non-self», then we can't really define that line. Any line between «causes inside me» and «causes outside me» would be arbitrary.
For example, my eyes are blue; is that defined by me or by something outside of me? We can draw the «me - not me» border anywhere, and everywhere it will be equally illusory.
Chan Master Linji said that
- sometimes he takes away conditions, but not person;
- sometimes he takes away person, but not conditions;
- sometimes he takes away both person and conditions;
- sometimes he takes away neither person nor conditions.
We can view the world
- as only self (energies of my mind),
- as only non-self (conditions),
- as no self and no non-self (relations; like waves with no water & wind),
- and as both self and non-self (situations with ourselves in them).
All these views are conditional, illusory, and we can realize that.
When we realize how illusory are our selves and «phenomena», we are not limited by samskaras anymore. We don't rely on constructions, we try to rely on direct contemplation.
I had a dog, and she didn't need to think in order to see when we were heading for a walk. When I reached for the collar, she momentarily guessed it. And when you see a face of your friend in a crowd, you don't need to think — you usually recognize him right away. That's direct contemplation before words. We can train in it, eventually overcoming the habit of verbalizing all thoughts. We are able to think without words; words become more like comments which fix the outcomes of our thoughts.
Also, we can train in testing our conclusions. «Is that so? When can that be not so?» That helps to refine our logic, to avoid too broad generalizations, to formulate ideas with precision.
Correcting our views, we eliminate hooks for clinging feelings.
So that's how I see our cooking pots. We realize the illusory nature of any interpretations. We train in pre-verbal thinking. We train in re-interpreting our concepts and values and models… from absolute to illusory. Train in direct contemplation. We train in awareness — the Four stations of mindfulness — and then we notice tensions and states of attachment etc., and we liberate from them with Four proper exertions. So more and more we drop habits and remain in wondrous non-limited non-abiding.
PS. I want to quickly clarify two things I mentioned:
1. "We can still prioritize". It doesn't mean there has to be "self". We can see "prioritizing" as a function of conditions.
Conditions come together. This moment naturally develops — phenomena move & transform in some natural way.
Planning & prioritizing can be viewed as natural process of self-developing phenomena/conditions.
2. "We can view everything as the energies of mind". It doesn't mean that "mind" actually exists.
On some high stage of meditative practice, practitioners typically discover the world as One, something without separations. It can be a very blissful experience, because we feel as all our burdens have been dropped. Many people confuse that experience with enlightenment.
But usually it's not the real Buddhist enlightenment, because not all identifications are dropped. The world is still seen as something real; we might see it as the Universal mind, or Divine limitless Self, or something like that.
Actual enlightenment is not an experience but a way of perception. Seeing the true (empty) nature. For example, seeing the Universal mind as mere generalization of various phenomena interpreted as a whole.
Hence, after revealing "the great self", in Zen practice we go on, in order to realize "no self".
Good health to you!