I’m thinking about a question on this post, whether or not “adaptations performed by the unfixed self indicate something other than emptiness.” I was trying in that post to convey my experience of life, not a theory. I’ll say more about the experience, but first a bit about theory.
Philosophy and religion are how we try to explain our world. Philosophy is “the study of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language systematically and based on rational argument.” Religion is “an organized collection of beliefs that relate humanity to existence.” Belief is “when one feels certain that something unprovable is true.”
Somewhere in my teens I began to wonder about reality. I was quite discouraged to realize early on that a definite answer cannot be seen from inside a human body. We can only see what’s visible from a specific perspective with limited tools. But the feeling returned that even so, it is worthwhile to study and reflect.
Religion never appealed to me because it requires feeling certain about things that are unprovable. Also, I was horrified that both British and German church leaders in WW1 had exhorted their followers to go forth and kill in the name of the same God. Religion can be dangerous because religious establishments, like all large organizations, amplify power.
After more reflection, I realized the problem is abuse of power: organized religion can be very helpful. But it still did not seem an effective approach to understand the world.
At last I realized what I was seeking was a training practice to help me interact in the world more helpfully and a system of studying reality based on rational argument.
Returning now to my experience of life, my Tibetan Buddhist practice is helpful in the way I hoped. Perhaps if I continue searching I could find a still more effective practice but it’s best to use what time I have to do what works.
My practice does include study and reflection on reality, and what Buddhists term “enlightenment” does seem attainable, but it is not yet clear enough to me to articulate. All I can say is what I tried to express before, that I have less experience of “self” and what’s masked by my apparent self does not feel like an individual.
The analogy that struck me this morning is tumbleweed, “the above-ground part of any number of plants that disengage from the root and tumble away in the wind.” Looking at all I do, I see only echoes of my past experiences and those I’ve been close to, habits triggered by circumstances outside my body that all arise in the same way.
It’s like watching tumbleweed, which is empty of intrinsic nature just as I seem to be. This tumbleweed blown against a fence is also a collection of smaller pieces, each made up of still smaller pieces. And so on.
But there’s a big difference. The tumbleweed has no capacity to act — it can only be blown by the wind. I can act and because my body is alive, I will keep taking action, so I must do all I can so those actions are increasingly helpful. Study is part of the process, but the goal is better action.
I too, have been trying to come to understand what the seemingly elusive term enlightenment means. Only recently have I come to the realization that enlightenment is the never ending process of understanding ourself.
Now, what does it mean to understand oneself? The purpose of this self-understanding is to only allow us to live (experience life) through our true nature, that part of us that is left if we stripped away all of our beliefs. It is those beliefs that act as the filter through which we experience reality.
This is not to say that our beliefs have no value to us. If we experienced things through our beliefs then we have already distorted what we experience by mixing it with our beliefs.
Suppose we experienced things before imposing our beliefs on them. That would be an enlightened experience because it was unfiltered. And what if we first experienced and then applied our beliefs? If we did that we would be using our beliefs to consciously interpret our reality instead of filtering it. In this way we would know when it was valuable to apply our beliefs to our experiences and when it wasn’t.
I think being able to do this would be an enlightened way to live. The problem is that it is very difficult to understand what our beliefs are and then being able to experience things without applying our beliefs unconsciously.
You sparked what feels like an important insight – another Buddhist word, “liberation”, gives a better sense of what I’m aiming at than “enlightenment.” As you say, the problem is putting concepts/habitual responses between us and our experiences. That’s what I’m trying to liberate myself from.
The easier part, although it’s still very hard, is recognizing emotional habits. If I have a negative response to Mr. X when he says or does something I dislike and I then categorize him as a jackass, from that point on whatever he says or does, I will interpret as the behavior of a jackass. I not only judge his behavior, I feel my judgment. It’s a feeling I create more and more easily the more I do it, “There goes that jackass X again!”
If I can recognize that I formed a concept about the nature of Mr. X and liberate myself from that concept, I’ll see the reality. Then I can act constructively.
The more difficult part is to articulate the nature/experience of liberation/enlightenment. That seems to be on the one hand necessary, because we must understand the goal in order to attain it, but on the other hand impossible because all our words are based on our unenlightened perception of reality.
People like Pema Chodron, Phachok Rinpoche, Jesus Christ or others who are liberated can serve as guides, though. It looks like there’s only so much progress most of us can make on our own, even by studying books and videos, We each need to find a guide who can communicate in a way we can at least partially understand.
Better yet, I should have titled this post “Liberation Or Tumbleweed” because that’s the choice we make.
We don’t have to let ourselves be blown along mindlessly by the wind of circumstance, just allowing any snaggly stuff we encounter to get added to our tangle. Because we have a mind, we have an alternative to waiting for the wind to change when we run into an obstacle. We don’t have to behave like tumbleweed.
S. asked: “Martin, do you think differently about liberation and something like independence? Liberation in this context sounds like freedom from(something)…I distinguish also the desirability of freedom to/for(something).”
I replied: “Mainly, I’m growing ever more aware of the limitations of words. The liberation I’m trying to attain is from what I’ll call programming to what I’ll call spontaneous selflessness.
The programming is emotional and conceptual. It directs habitual responses to largely preconceived ideas of what’s going on. I want to overcome the programming by more clearly seeing what actually is going on. So, yes, the liberation is freedom from automated responses.
The freedom to is to act spontaneously in a way that is not self-serving. It’s not other-serving either but that’s even harder to articulate. I want to be more free to act more kindly. That requires recognizing that the separation I’ve always seen between myself and others is misleading.
That the separation of self and other (actually the notion that there is a self, or others) is a flawed idea can be arrived at via logic (although it’s not easy) but that’s not the point. What’s important is the result of experiencing that understanding – compassion manifests. From limited but slowly growing first hand experience I do now know that’s true.
A separate point is I’m also realizing that all these posts are trip reports. I used to write them after business trips. Now I write them as I go about my exploration business.”
To which S responded: “I experience freedom-to in arenas where I’ve won a certain freedom-from (by intentional maturity, for example – not waiting to feel gracious to behave with grace).”