|Wilshire Grand Tower hovers high in the sky.|
|The City of Los Angeles is backed by mountains with snow after storms (buzzfeed.com).|
|What is this skull doing here? Who gives up on life?|
If we asks ourselves: "WHY has this happened to me?" it is usually a complaint rather than a question.
The answer, if we wanted it, can be expressed in terms of actions-and-results. This gives great hope because the same regularity still applies! What we do now, right now, will bear fruit. Is there any time to complain or feel sorry for ourselves? Would it not be better to engage in plans, words, and deeds motivated by nonignorance, nongreed, nonhatred? Karma means hope and possibility. We steer our ship, often poorly and blindly, but we steer it, and we can get better at steering it.
|"Call the police, there's a jumper on the ledge." [Uh, never mind.] (Gareth Cowlin)|
Although we imagine ourselves to be a self -- a real and enduring substantial individual -- according to the Buddha's teaching we are, ultimately speaking, more like a flame-like process, an ever-changing combination of matter and mind, no element of which is the same for two consecutive moments.
- Alan Watts gave an excellent analogy. We assume there is a fist. We can clench five fingers and see it it. Unclench and it disappears. Clench and it reappears. But, say, there is a hand (five fingers like the Five Aggregates of Existence, composite parts not a concrete whole as we assume). Now say we make a fist. Has a fist really come into existence? No, we have a word, a noun, so we assume that is what happens. But when opened we called it a hand, when clenched a "fist." There is no fist, only "fisting," as it were, no hand but only "handing," verbs not nouns, processes not fixed entities. The same is true of the persistent idea/assumption of a self, and so we cling to form (body), feeling (sensations), perceptions, formations, and consciousnesses -- processes, not nouns. But this is only true in an ultimate sense. In a conventional sense, the Buddha and Buddhism very much may speak of a "self." The Five Aggregates describe that self in detail from one life to the next to the next. This is so liable to be misunderstood that it is only taught to advanced students, usually in an intensive setting such as a monastic context, because everyone is so likely not only to misunderstand but then to make wrong assumptions/conclusions based on that misunderstanding. So take it as it is given, as an ultimate teaching (Abhidharma), not a conventional teaching.
|The Buddha, Himalayan sky (Sahil Vohra/flickr)|
|Sensual craving disappoints|
Craving is a powerful mental force latent in all unenlightened beings. The cause of this constant craving is ignorance of the true nature of life: not knowing that life is an ever-changing process, we take it very personally even as it is subject to so much suffering; we cling to something totally devoid of a self or core. All life, wherever it is found, bears this same threefold nature: a process stamped with the Three Marks of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and egolessness (anicca, dukkha, anatta).
"No way out!"?
The Petavatthu is full of stories about the miserable karmic results of such a choice. Yet many are pulled to it, drawn by inimical beings (who are jealous and envious and wish the downfall of those fortunate enough to currently have a human birth), misled by wrong views, self destructive or sabotaging thought-patterns, misunderstandings of reality...
Real escape from suffering
The Buddha taught, "In truth, there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unbecome (unformed). If there were not this unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, unbecome, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed (becoming), would not be possible" (Inspired Utterances, Udana VIII.3). Where is happiness?