Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Awakening Life

Describing his awakening, the Buddha said: “Coming to be, coming to be! Ceasing to be, ceasing to be! At that thought, yogis, there arose in me a vision of things not before called to mind. Knowledge arose: such is form, such is the coming to be of form, such is its passing away. Recognition arose: such is its coming to be, such is its passing away. And the state of abiding in the understanding of arising and passing away; that too arose.”
---Samyutta Nikaya

In this description, the Buddha is emphasizing the deep insight into impermanence and the emptiness of phenomena. Form – the body – is the first of the five skandhas, and in an oral tradition, often, just mentioning the first of a list implies the rest of the items on that list. So, we can be assured that as with form arising and passing away, the Buddha would say the same for feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.

When seeing clearly, with deep comprehension, the arising and passing away of the five skandhas, we come to see the empty nature of them; and in seeing the empty nature of the five skandhas, we loosen the clinging grip to the misidentification of them as “self.”

As a naturalist, I find the possible implications of that final sentence quite profound: the “state of abiding in the understanding” of impermanence may sound like a final, unchanging state of being, but he’s saying here that that state of abiding itself arose! Anything that arises passes away, so the importance of diligence becomes vividly clear: each moment we must cultivate the conditions that allow the on-going abiding in that understanding. It is moment after moment of understanding in relation to the ever-changing experiencing.

My graduate studies professor, Peter Harvey has said that the Pali would better be translated as “nirvana-izing,” as a kind of action rather than a state. This passage seems to point to that understanding. It may not satisfy a traditionalist and transcendentalist, but, as a naturalist, it is a way of understanding that I can feel comfortable accepting. Rather than seek a final "awakened" life, we can live the awakening life here/now, moment-to-moment, breath-by-breath.

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