2020-04-17: Paññā (5 of 5) Liberative Wisdom
2:43AM May 18, 2020
This week, talking about the faculty of wisdom, we began with what I might call initiating wisdom. That gets us started on practice, which has to do with our encounter with human suffering - suffering in the world, suffering in ourselves. This word suffering is a big word. It's a Buddhist English word. It's been adapted or adopted into English Buddhism to translate a word called 'dukkha,' which is the general word for the stress, distress, challenges, and difficulties that we have in life.
Buddhism has a very honest, realistic view that there's a lot of suffering. We're not cowering away from it, or avoiding it. We're not making it pretty or justifying it in any kind of way. But there is wisdom that comes out of our encounter with suffering, to want to come to the end of suffering, to find the freedom from suffering. That can then initiate practice, the practice of wisdom from the point of view of wisdom.
The next step is to cultivate the capacity and clarity to be able to distinguish what's happening. To really see clearly what's happening here in the moment, rather than lumping it all together in one big, generalized idea, or abstractions. But in the stillness and quiet of mindfulness, to see with clarity the details of what's happening. Not because we're thinking a lot. Actually the opposite. When the mind gets quieter and stiller, it can see more the distinctions.
As we make distinctions, we can live more wisely. We can choose what to do. We can see what's healthy and unhealthy, what's beneficial for ourselves and not beneficial. So then we begin to make choices about what we do, what we think, what we pursue inside, outside. We try to live both in the world and also within ourselves, choosing to do wisely what is health producing, beneficial, supportive for us. Helpful along the path of liberation and freedom from suffering.
As we get more familiar through seeing the distinction between what's healthy and unhealthy, wholesome and unwholesome, wisdom can become decisive wisdom - where there's clarity: "This is important. This is what I'm going to do. 'No,' to this. 'Yes,' to this. Practice is important. I'm going to put it central in my life. This is what I say, 'Yes' to, because I really want to see the possibility of freedom. I don't want to live this caught-up anymore and pursuing a lot of things which are not really that helpful for myself or the world."
Or it could be that I've been thinking the same thought for years. I've known people who've been resentful for years towards someone. Then to realize that after a while, they say, "Wait a minute. The person has probably forgotten me, and the only person is getting hurt through this resentment is myself. Maybe it's time to stop." It's not always easy to be decisive, and stop mental patternings and ideas. But there can be at least a decisiveness that, "Yes, I don't believe in this anymore." So sometimes there's clarity and decisiveness of wisdom.
Then there's the wisdom of insight. I call it revelatory. As we make the right decisions, as we really take a stand to be present, to be here in a strong, relaxed, open way - to no longer be committed to clinging, grasping, resentment, greed, and hatred - the mind begins to relax deeper and get softer. The mind becomes freer. This whole movement, including the decisiveness, is a movement towards opening, relaxing, and settling even more.
As we do this, the mind becomes more attentive to the moment-to-moment flow of experience - how things appear and disappear, the flow of the stream that's happening always in the present moment. It's the thoughts, ideas, and concepts we have that creates a still shot, a photo of experience. We live by the photo, and hold on to that, but reality keeps flowing. It keeps flowing.
To really settle deeply into 'vipassanā' is kind of like living in the video of life, rather than in all these still shots. To see in the flow, in the rising and passing of phenomena, the futility, unsatisfactoriness of clinging and wanting.
As this clinging, wanting, and grasping mind, a mind that is attached to things softens and relaxes even more - at some point, there is liberating wisdom, the fifth kind of wisdom. That's the wisdom that really supports, enables, and is the catalyst for a deep letting go - a deep release of the holding, of the clinging at some of the deepest levels in our psyche. The attachment, the clinging to life, to being alive. Of course, we want to be alive, but the clinging to it and the fear that that instills. The clinging to security, that's safety even. Such basic human phenomena, that of course, we want to be safe. But the clinging to it and holding on to it, to have that go, at least temporarily.
Clinging to self, to ideas, who I am, who I need to be, who I should be, who I shouldn't be. There's a whole constellation of attachments around this notion of self that is one of the primary sources of suffering in human beings. So to really feel that let go, to release itself and to have a qualitative, deep experience of being alive, being well, being good, feeling really some of the deepest, most wonderful ways of being alive and breathing, with the absence of these clinging.
The liberating wisdom are those things that allow that deep letting go to happen. Sometimes it's really seeing in some radical way the impermanent, inconstant nature of this world we live in. Sometimes it's seeing in some deep way that all the ideas and concepts we live by are just that, and to somehow no longer chase after the concepts. To see in a deep way, the unsatisfactoriness, the stressfulness, the 'dukkha,' the suffering, that somehow kind of integrated or enmeshed in the very way in which we see, hear, and think. To get a sense of release, of letting go of that, which is letting go of the wanting. A radical full experience of absence of wanting. And that's a catalyst of feeling and settling back into a place of no wanting is dramatic.
The third catalyst is the deep experience of having a real clear insight - seeing - that nothing that's here, nothing that I can experience really works, is satisfactory, can represent the self. All the details, everything I could touch, smell, taste, see, think about, and some radical experience of emptiness. Radical experience of not emptiness of kind of lack and lack, but a letting go, a deep, deep softening into an open, empty space.
To have that liberating wisdom - if the letting go has been deep enough, if we really relaxed and let go deeply - then it becomes a kind of a felt memory. It becomes almost like a lived experience, like living over your left shoulder, living like a space has been created in the mind. The attachments might come back, but that space is still there. That sense, feeling, or experience of freedom, non-wanting, non-clinging is there as a reference point. Liberating wisdom. Once there's some degree of liberation, is to have that reference point of freedom that's always there available. Maybe not always touched into, but always available to support us.
There's this juxtaposition of freedom and how we're caught - non-clinging and how there's clinging - anger and that place which is no anger at all. To have that juxtaposition gives a person the opportunity to have a very different perspective on clinging, anger, wanting, and attachment. It's possible to see very clearly that attachment, clinging is not really what we want, not really desirable, not really where freedom is.
At the same time, seeing it through the eyes of compassion and care. The eyes it don't see it as a problem, don't see that building up a sense of self or being attached to self is a problem. It's just something to have compassion for, kindness towards, or open for. Something not to believe, maybe even occasionally something to be amused by. "Look at that. Look what this mind is doing."
Liberating wisdom is that which brings a degree of liberation, that then lives in us ongoingly, and is a reference point of understanding. It's a reference point that is represented by this distinction between what's present and what's absent. There's part of our being which feels, understands the absence of clinging, the absence of suffering. And that makes all the difference as we continue the practice, and keep opening up, and freeing ourselves in this wonderful, beautiful path of liberation, of freedom.
So may we all be free. May we all find our way to full awakening. Please take good care of yourself and value yourself to a great degree.
This is the end of the five faculties. I'll continue doing these seven o'clock in the morning sittings Monday through Friday. I have an idea of a whole series of things to do over the next month or so. I thought of next week to do a series on Buddha's teachings on beauty, the beautiful, and how that also relates to the path of freedom. I hope to see you next week. Thank you.