2020-05-20: Four Noble Truths: Nirodha (3 of 5) Arising and Cessation
3:48PM May 20, 2020
This is the third talk on the third noble truth, the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. Now, some of you might know that a very central teaching of Buddhism and Buddha himself is the idea of dependent co-arising. The idea that things occur, in dependence on other factors being present as well. That nothing exists spontaneously without any relationship to anything else. Then all things arise in relationship to other things that are also happening just prior to it, or while it's happening. And this idea of conditionality, that things arise based on conditions, is over and over again emphasized in the teachings of the Buddha. And there's many reasons for this and many ways that people are inspired by these teachings. Some people will dig deeply into the philosophy, the psychology, the mysticism, of conditionality and interdependence, and all these things.
In the early teachings of the Buddha, one of the central purposes of understanding that things arise because of conditions, that nothing arises spontaneously, without any connection to anything else, there's nothing which is permanent. Nothing exists independent of conditions, and so is unchanging and always been there and always will be there. That all things arise conditionally and if the conditions change, they will cease and pass away in some way or other.
Now in the early teachings of the Buddha, in the process by which the Buddha became awakened, there's various descriptions of this. One of the descriptions places as a central role for cessation, nirodha, the third noble truth, in the understanding or in the coming out of an understanding of dependent co-arising, that things arise because of conditions. And, it's presented in one of the stories of the Buddha's process of awakening, in very strong emphasis, very strong terms. And in this particular formulation or story, the Buddha realized what's known as a twelve full chain of dependent co-arising; how twelve factors come into play in the creation of suffering.
Rather than emphasizing that the important understanding is conditionality, the important understanding of seeing how things are dependent on each other. The Buddha makes a different conclusion. It's like this is, not the refrain exactly, but the culminating insight that comes after the Buddha, for first time, understands these twelve process of twelvefold dependent co-arising. He's realized that dependent co-arising, how deeply everything is arising conditionally, and then he exclaims, that the way the language is written, it's really like a: "Wow, this is how things are." And so the Buddha says, with the understanding of conditionality, he says: "Arising, arising. Thus regarding things unheard before, they arose in me, vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light."
Those are grand terms. What he's emphasizing here is not that he saw conditionality, but rather the conditionality broke up this idea that anything is permanent, that anything is constant and unchanging. And that was what he thought, "Wow, this is not constant. It's inconstant, it arises." And then he understood, seeing all those twelve full chains of dependent co-arising. He saw, if the condition cease all the other cease and there's a cessation of suffering. And this is a twelve full chain of dependent cessation as opposed to twelve full chain of dependent arising. And when he saw this, he said something, words of exclamation, of celebration almost; that now he had an insight, but he made it even more important, like more penetrating how valuable this next insight was.
And now he saw in seeing the cessation of things, he said the same thing in regard, he said, "Cessation, cessation, regarding things unheard before, there rose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge and light." But then he went on, went on and said, added that this was a breakthrough, through wisdom. Breakthrough means that he experienced the first stage, first insight of awakening, of liberation. He didn't experience that by seeing arising. Only he was seeing the cessation, that he had this, what he called, the breakthrough. And even more significantly, he claimed that with this breakthrough, that showed him cessation, he understood that this is the path of awakening. And this is the path of awakening he then taught for all these years. That was the path of awakening, this is not seeing conditionality by itself, but how seeing how things arise conditionally that allowed him to break the trends, the enchantment of idea that anything is permanent, including our suffering, he was able to then begin having insight into how suffering arises and passes, how our psychophysical experience comes and goes, Arise and passes.
And, when we do this in meditation, we're really, not looking at the mountains and seeing them arise and passing. But rather we're seeing the arising and passing of experience, moment-by -moment, in our moment-to-moment, living as we meditate. The opportunity of meditation is that we don't have to think about the past or the future. We don't have to think about abstractions and big ideas when we meditate. It's possible to settle enough to go to what's called the building blocks of our experience, the most basic ways in which we experience. Part of the reason why we relax deeply in meditation and can have a very peaceful, quiet mind is not only to have a peaceful mind, but that quiet mind is very much in touch with the moment-to-moment flow of experience as it's happening.
Many years ago, (...not so many years ago), I went hiking up nearby in the hills here. And there's a lot of tree roots that come out into the trails off. And it's a regular thing for me to be going along and maybe I don't know, thinking about something or I don't know what I'm doing. And in the side of my eye, I notice, I see, there's a snake in the trail. And, and that's my body reacts to the snake. But then I look down and I see that it's just a snake-like, a root that's poking out of the ground that's winding itself across the trail.
So there is a seeing in the direct experience of something that has a shape, long and narrow snake-like shape, and then my mind constructs it as a snake and it's not clearly accurate. Once in Thailand, I did the opposite. It was dusk. And so I didn't see so well. I walking in a jungle which has very poisonous snakes. But it wasn't thinking about snakes. It was a wide road, I think wide enough for a car; a dirt road in the jungle. And there was a branch laying. A large large tree branch was laying across the road. And just I don't know why, I just wasn't thinking about it too much; I wasn't thinking at all. But I stepped as I walked, I just stepped on the branch. Turned out the branch was a six foot or more longer snake and the snake immediately started moving. And boy did I move fast after that!
So there I saw a branch for what was a snake. It turns out that our mind constructs, reconstructs reality and occasionally it's not so accurate. But even when it's accurate, it still makes a concept, an idea of what is. The deeper dimensions of insight meditation is to let the conceiving part of the mind get quieter and quieter, so that we just see. We see the branch, we just see on the trail. For example, we just see the shape, the texture, and the color. We just see the building blocks from which we then construct: snake or branch.
Sitting in meditation, we start seeing the immediacy of our feelings of pleasure, pleasant and unpleasant, sadness and joy. And before it's, constructed into: "I'm having an unpleasant experience." or, "This is going to be a bad day." Or, "I'm a bad person because I'm having sadness." or "I'm a great person because I am happy." and we build all these edifices of all kinds of things based on very what do with, (originally was very simple) data.
When we can come down to that level, then we see that in fact, everything is coming and going, arising and passing. And it's not solid and fixed. And even the concepts we have that we tend to get lost in and tend to assume that things are more permanent, concepts having a filter of giving some kind of permanence to experience because an idea, ideas are kind of unchanging in certain way. But it's they're not they just also come and go in the mind.
And so it's this experience of the flow of our experience, the dynamism of moment-to-moment that we can experience when the mind gets focused, unified, quiet and clear. Then we see things arising and more importantly, we see them ceasing. And to get a little sense of how this is a possibility of freedom, that ceasing, the cessation when things cease, before they arise again, in that gap, who are you? When you have no thoughts to tell you who you are, when for a moment, thoughts have ceased and before the next thought arises, and you can't use thoughts to tell yourself who you are, who are you?
When, for a moment, something ceases that's been bothering you, and before it reappears in the next moment, but the moment in-between, in the changing flow of experience there, there's a freedom, that peace and powerful teacher teaching. There we can see the hints, the evidence, of what it's like to have this cessation of the causes and conditions and experience that has to do with suffering.
For the Buddha, really for the first time seeing how thoroughly and completely his experiences are, is in the flow, is arising and passing of phenomena led him to exclaim, "Arise, arise." it's combining these two, "Arising and ceasing, rising and cessation, regarding things unheard before. There rose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge and light. This was a breakthrough through wisdom. And I realized the path to awakening."
Arising and passing, the cessation, this is one of the fundamental insights of the Buddha. And I'll talk more about that tomorrow. So thank you for today. And thank you for this chance to do some teaching and I hope that your day is good and that you spread your goodwill wherever it's possible. Thank you.