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 [Dhamma Talk]


You Can Lead A Horse to Water
but You Can't Make Her Drink

H: "Isn't the Buddha-Dhamma an attempt to explain the nature of existence — If the Buddhadhamma is doing this "background" stuff, why shouldn't we do the same?"

There is a simile for the attitude that one must know the nature of existence before attempting to solve the problem of the pain associated with existence: The simile of the man shot with a poison arrow who demands to know who shot the arrow, what sort of poison was used, the wood used for the shaft, etc. before he will allow the doctor to treat the wound.

For most people, death, whether one's own or experienced in reaction to the deaths of others does not really seem to strike home as a sufficient reason to fear life. Further there is at work in this a disbelief (as contrasted to an open mind) in rebirth and without that the full impact of Dukkha cannot be comprehended.

And the reality in this case is that without this awareness of 'dukkha' as it really is one has no motivation to understand the reasons for the Buddha's practices beyond those that yield beneficial results in terms of worldly life (giving, the respect of men for ethical behavior and self-control). In other words, no one can make you understand the doctrine. There is no logical reasoning that will bring about what must be a gut feeling in reaction to seeing pain as it really is.

Buddhism can only be understood as a solution to this problem of dukkha. If one does not even acknowledge the problem of dukkha as the underlying reason people seek God or answers to the issues of existence and non-existence, there is nothing further to be done until this issue ripens into this perspective.

To say: "Isn't the Buddha-Dhamma an attempt to explain the nature of existence"; and then: "If the Buddhadhamma is doing this "background" stuff, why shouldn't we do the same?" is to ignore the fact that again and again this issue has come up and been explained in exactly the opposite way:

"In the past and now I teach Dhamma only for the ending of pain."

And all the thousands of words concerning the so-called questions that Gotama would not answer are all this very issue.

All those questions are the questions of people who want to know the nature of existence: 'Is it?', 'Is it not?' 'Is one conscious after death?' 'Does one have form after death?' and all the rest of the 64 generic ways people struggle to pin down the nature of existence in the past, in the future and here and now.

When asked about the nature of existence, Gotama either states that he has no opinion on the matter, or if the question is put properly:

"What, then, Good Gotama, does the Good Gotama hold?"

he responds with the paticca samuppada:

Avijja. Blindness. Existence depends on ignorance of pain, the way pain arises, the way pain is brought to an end and the way to do it which is the path of intentional not-doings; (The problem is to recognize one's self in this and see that one who insists on understanding the nature of existence before tackling the solution to the problem of pain has a completely upside down misunderstanding of what Gotama taught and why he taught it.

At the least this must suggest that one should abstain from declarations of what the Buddha taught and then using what is in fact one's own speculative opinion as the basis for further conclusions about what the Buddha suggests.

Sankhara: Ignorance results in identifying with acts of thought, word and body intended to create personal existence and the identified-with result.

Viññāṇā/nāma-rūpa: identification with acts of thought, word and body intended to create personal existence results in identification with consciousness of named shapes;
identification with consciousness of named shapes is the conscious awareness of existence identified with the six senses;
the sensations that arise from the contact of the six senses with their sense-objects;
Taṇhā: the hunger and thirst for re-experience of existence that arise from the sensations arising from sense experience.

Following that comes making plans, wishing, intending, preparing, for action and action. This is the fuel feeding the impulse to act identifying with thoughts, words and deeds intended to create personal existence.

Acting in this way re-creates the personal world.

This is the 'nature of existence'.

This is as far as it can be explained without going into error.

It has nothing to do with 'it is' or 'it is not'.

As soon as one tries to push it into that construction one has split the totality of it into opposing factions none of which can possibly be the whole truth.

Even when one tries to put the both sides together as with: 'it both is and is not' what one has done is to speak of two separate non-coexistent incompatible points of view as one unified point of view which is just to put that point of view into opposition with the two points of view from which it was formed and also into opposition with the opposite of that which is that it neither exists nor does not exist.

So it is a futile endeavor and is hanging on to the belief that one or another of these ways of seeing things is the "Truth", that is at the root of all the evil in the world. And that, that is, the force of evil, is what one becomes, insisting on adherence to a point of view.

And it is for that reason that one tackles the problem of pain in existence before trying to understand the nature of existence.

Look at the Four Truths: Is there anything there that says: "First we determine the nature of existence and then we tackle the problem of pain? No. The first truth is recognition that 'This' (whatever) is Pain. This, the ultimate doctrine of Buddhism begins and ends with the issue of pain.

Look at the first sutta where Gotama's very first instruction to his very first disciples is: avoiding the path of self indulgence and avoiding the path of self-mortification go up the path that is the four truths.

The path of self-indulgence is the path defined by those who hold that the self does not exist (eat drink and make Mary for tomorrow we die). The path of self-mortification has it's origin in the view that the self does exist (and it's evil impulses inspired by the devil must be suppressed).

These two forms of behavior are the ultimate expressions of those points of view.

Neither of these two points of view end Pain, hence they are said to be pain.

And there is no taking one side or the other without setting rolling the impulse which eventually takes one to the ultimate expression of a point of view. It's the nature of mind. It pursues every idea to it's conclusion. This is why the Buddha says that holding wrong view ends in one of two results: in rebirth in hell or in one or another of the sub-human states such as as a daemon or as a ghost or as an animal. You either recognize this with your mind and struggle to escape or you go with the flow. The escape is what Gotama teaches.

To say that knowing this (settling in one's mind on some one or another speculative conclusion), which one in fact does not 'know' (it has no more substance than the faith in God), and which one cannot know because it is not a real thing and does not describe things the way they are, allows one to let go of concerns about 'self' and focus on concerns relating to the problem of pain is just deceiving one's self. Look at that argument.

Since one has not actually achieved the former how could one know that the latter is the result of such knowledge?

The problem of pain is the problem of concerns about one's self. This Dhamma is reality based. We do not concern ourselves with Pain as an abstract concept. It is a matter of personal concern. It is a matter of the pain of sickness and death in this life and re-birth leading to sickness and death in the next. Personal Pain. It is personal pain even in the case of these pains occurring to others. Compassion and sympathy and empathy are all based on the awareness of the (selfish) pain experienced by the self at the sufferings of others. Until one is free from the self altogether, it's all about the self.

Putting the order of priorities the other way around is having to know all about the arrow and it's maker before treating the poison and it's effects: you never get there. The nature of existence (seeing the paticca samuppada) cannot be seen before the solution to the problem of pain is seen. Intellectual understanding does not produce motivation to actually accomplish the fact of ending pain.

This mental attitude is understandable. We all take this position initially. But it is insane. The difference for the Buddhist is in the ability to recognize that the position is a result of fear of annihilation and to a lesser extent the fear of punishment for the guilt of existing and causing existence. The Buddhist recognizes that he is insane and takes steps to become sane.

Opening the eyes what first greets the eye is the impersonality of not existing in the world. It appears to be unbearable. But it is not the impersonality of not existing in the world that is unbearable. That fear is just a reflection of the intuitive knowledge that this world itself is of that same impersonal nature. The comradery of man is an illusion. What is unbearable is to see that having adopted sense-existence as a solution to impersonality has resulted in endless pain back to the beginning of Time and will result in endless pain down through Endless Time in the future and is a moan [om] of pain in the present and on top of all that has not resulted in the comradery of man that one wished for.

If one can recognize that the struggle to confirm existence in some form or another is a matter of personal fear of non-existence, then one can view this as a personal weakness. Then, with what may be no better than desperate hope that there is some escape, one can adopt Gotama's system on a try-it-and-see basis rather than both pretending that you understand it and arguing with it tooth and nail.

The thing is to try it.

This means, for example, with the understanding that ethical behavior is a matter of not-doing, that you notice when you are tempted to speak what you do not know,
and you do not say what you do not know;
or injure a living thing,
and you do not injure that living thing;
or take some thing that has not been given to you,
and you do not take that thing that has not been given to you;
or engage in a sensual indulgence at the expense of some aspect of your ethical standards,
and you do not engage in that sensual indulgence;
that you notice and make conscious to yourself the fact that you are aware that you will not experience the consequence of that breach of your ethical standards.

When you have noted and made conscious to yourself the fact that you will not experience the consequence of what would have been a breach of your ethical standards,
you then need to recognize that this is a freedom from pain,
and that that freedom from pain is not dependent on sense-experience,
that it is, in fact, dependent on not indulging in sense-experience,
and that that state of being free
is the state of impersonality you previously feared
and that it is not fearful at all.

This is also the knowledge that the pain you have avoided is of the same nature as the pain associated with all sense-existence and that it is that that is the real fear you feel when you contemplate annihilation.

This freedom from that fear is the freedom promised by Gotama that you have been seeking.

That is one proof to you that Gotama's system works.

Having that one proof you can argue with your fearful self that a second trial is in order.

Enough trials will form the basis for a stronger faith and greater effort and you will have set rolling a benevolent cycle which leads inevitably to ultimate freedom.



H: I don't think that knowing (seeing) that the self both exists and does not exist is necessarily a theory. The distinction, it seems to me, is whether one "sees," in which case it is not a theory, or whether one is only aware of this conceptually.

OBO: To see that it is not possible to see that a thing exists or does not exist and that therefore any belief or statement that one knows and sees that a thing exists or does not exist is self-deception based on a theory or conclusion one has reached with regard to what one has perceived at the senses:

First acknowledge that to see the nature of a thing one must first see that thing.

Then look at the process of perception through the senses: An object comes into contact with an organ of sense and sense-consciousness arises. Visual consciousness, auditory consciousness, consciousness of smell, taste, touch and ideas are the sense-objects of mind.

Mind takes sense-consciousnesses and forms an image in the mind of an object. This image is then woven into the individual's world of existing things and it is mistakenly believed to be being directly perceived in that world. It is not being directly perceived. What the individual sees is an imaginary construction. And it may or may not have anything to do with a real object in the world. There are demonstrations galore in the world of psychology that show that perception is highly selective and often completely erroneous.

That's the first thing to realize.

Then examining a thing as perceived, note that there is no point in time or space where that thing is static. Down to the atomic level and below things are in constant flux; sensations, mental states, and ideas are in constant flux. A thing is a thing in the world strictly as a matter of a consensual acceptance of a name placed on a moving target.

It is for these reasons that one is not able to state, based on perception or reason, that a thing has any real existence.

On the other side, Gotama refused to state that the self does not exist because in the consensual reality a thing is said to exist. There is no denying the consensual reality, the subjective reality.

Further it cannot be said that a thing both exists and does not exist because the basic requirement of that statement is that the thing exists. We have shown, and it can be seen, that this is not a valid conclusion about what is there: from either side of the statement the other side is incorrect. To say that it is both things simultaneously is to claim to be able to see what one cannot see or to admit that one is not able to directly perceive the existence or non-existence of a thing and that what one is saying is valid only as a consensus name.

And again it cannot be said that a thing neither exists nor does not exist because the basic requirement of that statement is that the thing does not exist. And again we have shown, and it can be seen, that this is not a valid conclusion about what is there: from either side of the statement the other side is incorrect. To say that it is both things simultaneously is to claim to be able to see what one cannot see or is to admit that one is not able to directly perceive the existence or non-existence of a thing and that what one is saying is valid only as a consensus name.

The claim that one has directly perceived the reality of any statement concerning existence or non-existence of things is mistaking consensus name with direct seeing.

OBO: The result, when the last of an individual's already-set-rolling sense-experiences are used up or abandoned, is sensation, perception, and consciousness outside of the senses. The sensation is the sensation that arises from not-doing existence, or sensation that is neither unpleasant nor pleasant. Perception and consciousness are entirely devoid of ideas of self or ownership.

H: For me, as you have explained It above, the not-doing existence which results from "seeing" directly, when the nature of the ego self is seen as a fiction, does one come [Edit: amounts to?] to a not-doing existence. Resting there, one can deal with the existence of pain, by asking "existence questions" like What is pain, how is it caused, how is it stopped, and how to go about stopping it. Dealing with the existence of pain successfully seems to require a host of other questions which delve into the nature of pain. The Buddha has done this for us, but without following his thinking here (thinking about existence questions) we would be unable to successfully deal with the existence of pain as he understood it.

OBO: This is the problem with tackling understanding strictly through the intellect. There is no attaining the final result of not-doing existence, or Nibbāna without first having solved the problem of pain by abandoning (not just knowing and seeing) all that which is related to self.

The construction of your statement shows the fact that you conceive this state as being one which is attained by a self thus rendering your argument 'self'-contradictory. And it is in fact not a correct perception of the method.

It is not necessary to solve the problem of pain by delving into the nature of pain. It is necessary only to see that ending is built into the idea of existence and it is not the intent of the individual seeking existence to be experiencing endings.

In fact, it is not even necessary to have seen this much if one has an adventurous enough spirit to tackle the problem blindly. All that is needed is a willingness to experiment. As described earlier in the thread, one trial with not-doing, carefully examined for the results, will show the nature of the whole process. Insight is a result. Wisdom is a result of numerous insights. One does not pursue insight and wisdom by directly pursuing insight and wisdom. One pursues insight and wisdom by engaging in trial and error based on a thesis aimed at solving a problem.

Here the thesis, or working hypothesis, is the Four Truths. The nature of the Four Truths, as a thesis, is not the same as the thesis: 'It is'. The Four Truths do not engage in the discussion of existence and non-existence. The Four Truths is a thesis that is aimed at a specific problem which, when solved, results in the abandoning of the thesis.

The difference is that theories of existence and non-existence do not allow of abandoning; whereas the Four Truths is the use of theory to abandon theorizing.

H: I see no contradiction in having ideas of self, which are seen as false, and having a consciousness which is devoid of these ideas of self.

Exactly. You see no contradiction there. This is a result of living in the intellect. What you are saying is that there is no difference between a man sitting down to a meal and one imagining sitting down to a meal. That second man, if he does not give up that idea that there is no difference will soon enough starve to death.

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