Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Gloomy Goth outlook on "the world" (video)

Ven. Thanissaro ( Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Why does this keep happening again and again?
Samsara ("the world") is a terrible place, things unfolding and caving in on us. Samsara literally means "the continued wandering on." Many think of it as the Buddhist name for the place we currently live -- a place we leave when we gain nirvana.

But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer to "What are we doing?" not the question, "Where are we?"

Instead of a place (or proper noun), like so many things in Buddhism, it's a process. It is the tendency to keep wandering even co-creating worlds and moving into them. As one world or process falls apart, as is its nature, we incessantly create and cycle to another one.

At the same time, we bump into others who are co-creating their own processes, their own realities as well.
The play and creativity in this impersonal process can sometimes be enjoyable as it skirts the inherent danger. In fact, this play (lila, maya) would be innocuous if it were not for the enormity of the suffering (off kilter wandering, disappointment, pain).

The worlds we create keep caving in, killing us and others. Moving on requires effort: not only the pains and risks of again-becoming, taking rebirth, but also the hard knocks -- mental and physical -- that come from going through childhood into adulthood, over and over again.

Rebirth is the cause of redeath ad nauseum.
The Buddha once asked the monastics, "Which do you think is greater, the water in the oceans or the tears we've shed while wandering on?" The answer? The tears. Let's remember that the next time we gaze at the Ocean of Samsara or play in its  relentlessly cycling waves.

Another world, another world, another world...
In addition to creating suffering for ourselves, the 31 Planes of Existence and the countless worlds in these categories, we feed off the creations of others, just as theirs feed off ours. In some cases the feeding may be mutually enjoyable and beneficial, but even then the arrangement comes to an end.

More typically, it causes harm to at least one side of the relationship, often to both.

When we think of all the suffering that goes into keeping just one person clothed, fed, sheltered, and healthy -- the suffering both for those who provide as well as those who have to labor or die in their production -- we see how exploitative even the most rudimentary process of process-building can be.

This is why the Buddha tried to find the way to bring about the end of this "samsara-ing." Once he had found it, he made it known to others. And when they followed it, they brought about the end of all suffering.

Because "samsara-ing" is something each of us does, each of us is creating the suffering we experience. This is good news because we ourselves have the power to stop for ourselves alone. If samsara were an actual place, it might seem selfish for one person to escape and leave others behind.

But when we realize that it's a process not a place, it is clear that there is no selfishness involved. It is unselfish to renounce and bring all forms of suffering -- ours and others -- to a final end.

It is like giving up an addiction or an abusive habit. When we learn the skill necessary to stop creating our own and others suffering, we can share such skill with others who may want to bring their pain to a final end as well. At the same time we never have to feed off others, so we are lightening the load others pull as well.
Samsara is like a ceaselessly stirring ocean.
The Buddha likened the practice of bringing the process of samsara to cessation to the act of going from one place to another: Metaphorically, we go from this dangerous side of a river to the safety of the further shore.

But the passages where the Buddha makes this comparison often end with a paradox. The further shore has no "here," no "there," no "in between." From this perspective it is obvious that samsara's parameters of space and time were not the pre-existing context into which we wandered. They were the result of our continued wandering.

For someone addicted to reality-building, the lack of familiar parameters may sound unsettling. But if we are tired of wandering -- blinded by confusion/ignorance, frustrated by not getting what we want, and incessantly driven on by craving -- we are producing incessant and unnecessary suffering, we might want to experience such bliss and freedom.

After all, we could always resume building if the lack of a "here" or a "there" turns out to be dull. Of those who have learned how to break the habit of suffering, no one has ever been tempted to samsara again.

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