October  1993   2536   Number 26 

Gnosis and Non-Dualism, Ajahn Sucitto
Servant of the Buddha, Buddhadasa Bhikku
The Long Path to Peace - Cambodia
Turning the Wheel in the West; Ven. Sobhano interviews Aj. Amaro
Gone on Tudong; Monastic experiences
The Road and the Path; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:

Gnosis and Non-Dualism
In the second of this series of talks on Gnosis, Ajahn Sucitto explains how through letting go of mental proliferation and experiencing that which divides us from reality - dukkha - we come to realise Dhamma.

Though we have to talk in words that evoke ideas, images and perceptions, insight knowledge, nyana, is more than just intellectual knowledge; it is intuitive knowing or gnosis. For this kind of knowing, we have to take things deeply, and let them work on us and penetrate our being. Indeed, a lot of this practice can be described as 10% doing things and 90% being worked on by things! We apply the effort to make ourselves open to being worked on, whether it is by doubt, by worry, by thought, feelings, or emotions until the dualisms; the defences, and the justifications of self-view actually stop.

People find this rather a strain because something in us is having to work and be exercised in a way that we are not accustomed to. Normally we are accustomed to mental activity like creating and figuring things out. Such activity gives a positive impression, and we can get high on doing things. But to be is something that we haven't really learnt. Can we do 'being'? Can we just be with what is, opening to our feelings and perceptions without the need to control, understand, or make something out of it?

Although we can have positive achievements in Dhamma practice, we have to get beyond the level of doing things in order to have that sense of furtherance. We have to do them in a way where we are no longer dependent upon getting positive feed-back. We must do things simply in order to take them into us, at a far deeper level than mere liking or interest. To sustain mindfulness and awareness of things arising and ceasing, we have to open beyond our personal view of what we need, or what is important. Dealing with one silly nagging thought or a fuzzy mind in Dhamma practice is humiliating when you can't feel it is of any value. You think, 'What is there to do? What can we do with this?' But for insight all we need to do is to be able to see clearly that this is changing, this is unsatisfactory, this is not-self.

Put another way, the watcher or meditator becomes the self, and the states of mind he/she observes becomes not-self.
As long as the world is experienced as 'me' and 'it', there will always be views and judgements about 'it', whether that is some other human being, life in general, or some idea or principle. Take our attitudes towards other people: even if we're not romantically involved, relationships are generally aimed at getting positive feed-back. We want to feel that sense of somebody fitting into and supporting 'our' world. We expect our family to be supportive and if it's not, then we want to make it so, and feel disappointed or annoyed if it isn't.

Unconsciously our whole way of perceiving things is based upon wish-fulfillment. Perception is that which creates order, which recognises, which makes things knowable, if we can't place our experiences conceptually, we feel estranged, and don't know if we're doing the right thing. What should we do? What have we not understood? With insight, all you need to know is that things which arise and cease are unsatisfactory and not-self. Sometimes, that very desire to understand is what should be understood, gnostically, in this way.

However if we have 'not-self' purely as an idea we think, 'Well I suppose that's right - if I'm looking at it, it's not me, it's something out there other than me.' But then there is the 'me' who is looking at it. Put another way, the watcher or meditator becomes the self, and the states of mind he/she observes becomes not-self. But who is the self or the not-self who is practising? We may think we are watching things that are 'not' self, but there is still some residual self-view left in the watcher who puts-up with the watching - just because they feel they have to - even though they'd really like to watch something else for a change!

So at that level of the experience of meditation, we find something isn't working. We're stuck on this plane of unsatisfactoriness. This is because the experience of anatta has not been realised. If we get to the root of this dualism, me and it, we can recognise that there is only the feeling of unsatisfactoriness itself. So 'There is suffering' is an insight knowledge. 'There is' is a non-dualist statement. 'There is' is not saying 'It's that out there'; instead it is allowing the dualistic consciousness to relax until we no longer interpret the situation as, 'I'm here and that's there', but simply, 'There is.' We hold the mind open so that its dualistic tendency can be relaxed and we let go of all the defences, the projections, denials, and fascinations. Then we come to 'there is.' 'There is dukkha.' This has to be understood, not in the intellectual sense, but in gnostically seeing its origins in the desires, aversions and attachments, which are usually built into the personality way of seeing things.

The word 'dukkha' means 'hard to bear', so in order to bear something that is hard to bear, we have to cultivate endurance. This is why it is so important to become relentlessly patient in order that the abandonment, or relinquishment of dukkha can take place. (Not that 'I' abandon suffering!) In order to arrive at the abandonment of dukkha, we have to give up our time to understand the origins of dukkha namely, bhava tanha, vibhava tanha, karna tanha. These feelings operate at a very deep level; kama tanha (sense desire) is fairly obvious, but bhava tanha, the desire for becoming or being something, and vibhava tanha, the craving for non-existence, are much more subtle and very, very strong. They involve our whole sense of personal identity. So often the origin of suffering is wanting to become something, wanting to be rid of something. These are not corrupt or foolish desires but they are still desires, and indicate the mind's lingering and identifying with the presence (or the absence) of perception and feeling.

The practice is one of awareness of our perceptions and feelings, and the response to circumstances. What does tiredness do to our mind? Whilst we may see it as an unpleasant experience, we make it that way. What does physical pain do, what does thinking do? How is our mind affected by the weather, by crowds or solitude? Essentially, these are all responses to feelings and perceptions. We note these reactions so that we begin to develop insight, direct contact with the self-view, that edge between the apparent 'me' and the apparent experience. How do we feel about our mind being this way or that way? For the development of insight, we always need to take our penetration to the ground of that authenticity. Only this persistent investigation will take us beyond the dualism of experience. We can also ask ourselves, 'Am I suffering?' We may not necessarily be squirming in anguish but nevertheless we may feel disquiet, or apathy, and we need to recognise it for what it is. 'Why is it this way?' Keep up that continual questioning attitude: do I want it to be another way, and if I want it to be another way, why? What have I built my hope, my self-view upon?

As a person, I know what I need. I need comfort, I need to feel needed. I need to feel I am achieving something, and that my life is worthwhile. I need to feel that other people understand me. We should discover what our wants are and then ask ourselves what is it that actually identifies with those wishes. And what can recognise this? A lot of this practice is holding attention onto dukkha until all the circumstantial details die away and we get to the heart of the matter: not so much 'I want to believe in something, I want to feel needed by somebody', but simply, 'I want!', or, 'There is desire -the origin of dukkha.' No shoulds and shouldn'ts about it. We need to break down all the complexities of life, all the perceptual complexities of time and events and situations, into the simple core experiences. This activity within the stillness of meditation is very important if we are to get to the heart of things.

jewels in my hand

I hold dead friends like jewels in my hand
Watching their brilliance gleam against my palm
Turquoise and emerald, jade, a golden band.

All ravages of time they can withstand
Like talismans their grace keeps me from harm
I hold dead friends like jewels in my hand.

I see them standing in some borderland
Their heads half-turned, waiting to take my arm
Turquoise and emerald, jade, a golden band.

I'm not afraid they will misunderstand
My turning to them like a magic charm
I hold dead friends like jewels in my hand
Turquoise and emerald, jade, a golden band.

Sasha Young 1931 - 1993

The fundamental wants of the heart can never be fulfilled by grasping perceptions and feelings anyway. There is satisfaction, the cessation of dukkha, but it only comes through awareness, through insight and clarity. These enlightening qualities could be described as unconditional love, in which instead of wanting something, there is a giving, cago, an abandonment of self, a kind of communion with the way it is.

So dukkha has to be understood; not changed, but understood in terms of its cause: the origin of dukkha is our attachment to the sense of a separate self that stands back, makes the judgement, and creates ideas rather than seeing things as they are. This mental proliferation has to be abandoned. Sometimes we only have to do it once to cut the illusion, but sometimes it's not complete. Although something in us understands, to not just believe and react to them, the thoughts and moods return. This is where abandonment entails abandoning identification with those patterns, and abandoning the wish to not have those mind patterns. Insight knowledge occurs where there is this selfless recognition, and is characterised by equanimity towards all mental events. Whatever the feelings or perceptions, there is equanimity, and to cultivate equanimity you have to be really patient.

Patience is both an active and passive mental state; activity being the effort to just hold attention on and bear with conditions, whilst passivity is to let things work on us until our struggle with them and our denial of them is finished. Then the origin of suffering has been abandoned and the cessation of suffering has been realised.

The word 'realisation' seems of little significance, yet most of our life is not real. For this reason alone, insight into dukkha brings about a transfiguration. It is far better to insightfully experience dukkha than to get away from it, because as long as dukkha has not been understood, and all the time it is fended off, our lives are operating on a dualistic basis. Our life is not real. Dualistic life is a kind of phantom life, made up of fantasies, as we run around being this, being that, going here, going there, seeing this, seeing that, in a world of fleeting forms and appearances, of temporary gratifications, birth, death, arising and passing away. It's just this, just a phantasmagorical magic-lantern show; because on that level, nothing is real, everything else is transient.

When we taste something, what is the 'realness' of it? We can say, 'It tastes nice' but this is what we think about it, not what the taste is. We can say, 'It's a grape', but that's a designation, a perception, isn't it? What is the actual taste? We say, 'It's sweet', but 'sweet' is a judgement, isn't it? We come to understand that the reality of it is indefinable, and that for most of our life we are operating at the level of interpretations and classifications, of secondary experiences, rather than living the actuality of it. We never even know who we really are, because everything is constantly changing; the reference points are changing so although we feel we're something, nothing quite fits. So as long as we identify with the world of change and appearance, this is all we shall ever feel ourselves to be, just an appearance that changes and wants to find a certain position.

To understand dukkha, and to experience the cessation of dukkha, makes life real; it is realisation. It's not that the world changes, but our 'knowledge' of it, and response to it, comes from a different place. Instead of the discriminative, secondary level of knowledge, our conceptual, abstract perceptual thinking, we get to the direct 'this-ness' of things, and this is where meditation, mindfulness, and insight practice lead us to just the 'suchness' or 'thisness' of things. It is a kind of communion.

Anatta, non-dualism, is a realisation of the communion with whatever is in consciousness, from personal friendships to the wars in the world. We may think, 'Well, what can I do about it? I don't want to know.' But we can practise with that. The authentic life is one of compassion. So often we assume that compassion is something that demands our practical intervention, but however much that may be desirable, that is not the basis for it's arising. The basis for compassion is selfless awareness; the practical aspects arise from that.

The Path of Insight is therefore an opportunity to arrive at total authenticity, to live as a real being by investigating the experiences that happen to us. We note our reactions to meditation on the breath, to routines, mind states, or even the same slightly dreary faces across the breakfast table. Being in an imperfect situation asks and allows us to bring forth the heart, the care, the forgiveness, and even the quiet inner celebration. We find an unforced empathy towards all beings. We don't have to embrace them, but recognise them as a part of our life.

Making it all a part of our life is like coming out from our shell; all beings are as much a part of our mind as any other perception and feeling. Once we begin to see our life as a way of supporting and communing, then we, in our turn, feel supported by the universe and the way our whole life has been given so mysteriously and wonderfully. The realisation of anatta is thus: without division, without separation, it is the practice and essence of the Dhamma.