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I laid out a general sketch of the path of awakening from beginning to end in my previous post on Disintegration and Reintegration. In this post I hope to elaborate on a common misconception that frustrates many a spiritual seeker, and for much longer than necessary in most cases. It is a misconception about the nature of path and its result.

We know the first phase of the path is one leading to the disintegration of the illusion of separateness. This illusion (or delusion) is not merely one of abstract thought, but also of direct perception (as an aside, “direct” here does not mean clear or correct, as one might suspect when contrasting with abstraction). Not only is how you think about the world skewed in the beginning, but also how you experience the world. This is because the thinking and perceiving are interconnected processes, however counterintuitive this might seem to those who have yet to experience any amount of disintegration.

Now, the spiritual path is often described as path leading to the end of suffering, particularly in Buddhism, and also in various forms of Hinduism and Jainism (among others). It becomes pretty clear early in one’s journey that the path leading to the end of suffering is not itself free of suffering. In other words, you will suffer on your way to freedom. Disintegration hurts. Realizing your limitations, facing your fears, experiencing your lack of control – it’s a humbling experience, to say the least. But one inevitably passes through the war zone to a stretch of the journey where the battle has largely, if not completely, subsided. If one keeps practicing, awakening (in the form of completing the path of disintegration) is realized.

A sense of accomplishment undoubtedly arises. “I did it! Suffering has been conquered! It is finished!” And it is… sort of. You see, the difficulties you face on the path give you no other option than to open up, to become exposed and vulnerable. There’s no other way through. And so you open up just enough to get past the difficulties and realizing the initial awakening. You remain open, exposed, and vulnerable for a time, but then you start to close up. Only you don’t notice it, because you feel safe and sound having travelled what seems like a great distance from the war zone.

Herein lies the misconception that thwarts the progress of countless spiritual seekers, even the newly awakened. You thought awakening was a state of calm, where everything is OK. No war, no pain, no grief or sadness, no disappointment or frustration. You feel as though as long as you stay right year, on the other shore, those sorrow-filled days are over. All of that madness happens over there, not over here.

But that isn’t true at all.

The misconception is that believe you are now OK because you’re no longer in the treacherous territory. But moving past the territory is not what saved you. It was the way in which you past through the territory that saved you. It was the shift in the way you relate to whatever you experienced that changed you, even if the change may now seem temporary.

What really occurs on the path is an opening. The opening cannot stabilize to any significant degree without disintegrating the sense of separateness, but that alone will not sustain or fully develop a truly reintegrated freedom. And that’s why reintegration must follow disintegration. One has to keep moving, allowing themselves to experience whatever comes. This isn’t because the first landmark of awakening – the fulfillment of disintegration – was somehow an illusion that now must be discarded and forgotten about. It truly was necessary. But the path of awakening is the path of life as it is, and life as it is brings experiences of joy AND suffering, beauty AND ugliness, pleasure AND pain, fulfillment AND longing. To close yourself off to any of it is to live only a partially-awakened life.

It’s not that you continue to go through struggles because you have yet to finish the job. Difficulties will always come and go. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. The key is to open yourself up equally to all of the ups and downs of existence. There is no escape, and yet there is freedom in the midst of it all. Freedom is not found outside of life, detached from experience. True freedom is realized only when one first able to let it all go, and then embrace it all once more. You don’t really end up where you started, but you also kind of do.

True doneness comes when being done no longer matters. In that sense, it isn’t being done at all, and is also exactly where and how the awakened live their lives in freedom. But there is no way to realize the result by way of bypassing your difficulties. Skipping over the path is impossible.

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In my first post on the subject of suffering, I described it as the state of affairs for those who have not (yet) awakened. When we identify with the processes of the conditioned mind – those that grasp, push away, or block out – the result is suffering. The other day, I stumbled upon a familiar story from the practice history of the late Ajahn Chah; a story which illustrates my point beautifully. Ajahn Amaro tells the story…

Years ago, when [Ajahn Chah] was a wandering monk, living on his own on a mountainside above a village, he kept a strict meditation schedule. In Thailand they love outdoor, nightlong film shows because the nights are cool compared to the very hot days. Whenever there was a party, it tended to go on all night. About fifty years ago, public address systems were just starting to be used in Thailand and every decent event had to have a PA going. It was blasted as loud as possible all through the night. One time, Ajahn Chah was quietly meditating up on the mountain while there was a festival going on down in the village. All the local folk songs and pop music were amplified throughout the area. Ajahn Chah was sitting there, seething and thinking, “Don’t they realize all the bad karma involved in disturbing my meditation? They know I ‘m up here. After all, I’m their teacher. Haven’t they learned anything? And what about the five precepts? I bet they’re boozing and out of control,” and so on and so forth.

But Ajahn Chah was a pretty smart fellow. As he listened to himself complaining, he quickly realized, “Well, they’re just having a good time down there. I’m making myself miserable up here. No matter how upset I get, my anger is just making more noise internally.” And then he had this insight: “Oh, the sound is just the sound. It’s me who is going out to annoy it. If I leave the sound alone, it won’t annoy me. It’s just doing what it has to do. That’s what sound does. It makes sound. This is its job. So if I don’t go out and bother the sound, it’s not going to bother me. Aha!” (italics mine)

The problem is never in the seing, hearing, feeling, tasting, touching, or thinking. The problem is identifying with these processes. When you are identified, when it moves, you move. When it stops, you stop. When it is born, you are born. When it dies, you die. So then, the practice is not to somehow stabilize the conditioned mind indefinitely by means of sensory deprivation or some kind of trance, so that it will not move. That kind of calm can only last so long. Rather, it seeing the truth about the mind. Seeing the truth, identification falls away. And then you will not go out to meet the sound, because what/who you really are does not move. When this realization abides continuously, you’re awake.

Sam

The number one question I get from people who hear that I’m awakened is, “Do you still suffer?” Of course, this questions is inspired by the First Noble Truth of the Buddha, which is dukkha. The word dukkha is almost always translated as suffering, which many truly awakened folks have found to be a bit misleading. For most people, it is nearly impossible to separate suffering from pain, anguish, the so-called “negative” emotions, etc. But any truly awakened person with a shred of personal integrity will tell you that they still feel pain, still experience negative emotions, and that anguish may still arise.

Still others try to translate dukkha as “unsatisfactoriness,” but that doesn’t really fit the bill, either. There are plenty of things that I find unsatisfactory, and my awakening doesn’t diminish in the slightest in light of this fact. What, then, is this suffering stuff all about?

It’s quite simple, actually. All we have to do is first look at what old Buddha said was the cause of suffering, and then describe the experience of the awakened and non-awakened individual.

The Buddha as depicted in the Pali suttas (the oldest teachings ascribed to the Buddha) describes the cause of suffering as “craving” in his Second Noble Truth. However, he later elaborates on this and says that the causes of suffering are greed, aversion, and delusion. These causes are generally seen as things that can be cleared away from the mind, thus relieving suffering. However, I think it’s more accurate to describe these processes as nothing more than the activities of the conditioned mind itself.

You see, human beings (and perhaps all other beings) generally mature into a state of identification with the conditioned mind. This mind is none other than the processes of grasping, averting, and ignoring, any and all experiences that arise to meet it (to use crude, unscientific language). When we are identified with these processes – when we understand them to comprise a single entity called “I” or “me” – we are bound to their movements. This is a rather turbulent state of affairs, don’t you think? Constantly moving towards, moving away, or blocking-out experience is quite the existential run-around. This state of affairs, as well as the corresponding cognitive friction, is what the Buddha meant – and any other awakened person means – when the word dukkha is used.

It is possible to concentrate on a single point of reference, and to fix the mind into a state of stability, which temporarily halts the state of affairs called dukkha. But, being temporary, the state will not last, and suffering will commence once more. This is why it’s not enough to calm the mind. One must leap clear of this mind all together. That is, one must awaken out of the mind, so that its movements are no trouble at all.

Imagine for a moment that someone has given you a soft clay figurine and said, “This is you.” Now, let’s say your cat comes along and takes a bite out of the figurine’s left arm. If you believe that you are this figurine, you’ll panic! You’ll scream! “No! You’ve injured my body! This just isn’t fair! I hate you, Fluffy!” But this is ridiculous, isn’t it? You know that you’re not a clay figurine. What’s even more ridiculous is that you believe that you are your mind.

That’s what this awakening business is all about. It’s not about stabilizing your conditioned mind – it’s about no longer identifying with it. Any technology of awakening you practice should have this dis-identification as its sole aim. See the mind for what it is, and then let go. Freeing yourself from the processes of the mind (NOT stopping or purifying them) is the end of dukkha.

Until next time,
Sam