The Way It Is
In Ajahn Buddhadasa's book on Dependent Origination, he emphasises that his approach has been on the paticcasamuppada as working in the moment rather than in terms of past present and future lives. When you contemplate, when you practise, you realise that that is the only way it could ever be. This is because we are working with the mind itself. Even when we are considering the birth of a human body, we are not commenting on the birth of our own bodies, but recognising mentally that these bodies were born. Then, in reflection we are noting that mental consciousness arises and ceases. So that whole sequence of Dependent Origination arises and ceases in a moment. The arising and the cessation from avijja is momentary, it is not a kind of permanent avijja. It would be a mistaken view to assume that everything began with avijja and sometime in the future it would all cease.
Avijja means in this sense 'not understanding the Four Noble Truths'. When there is understanding of Suffering, Origin, Cessation and Path, then things are no longer affected by avijja. When we see with vijja then the perceptions are conventional reality, no longer 'me' and 'mine.' For example, when there is vijja then I can say 'I am Ajahn Sumedho' - that is a conventional reality, still a perception but it is no longer viewed from avijja, it's merely a convention we use. There's nothing more to it than that. It is as it is.
When we get to cessation of ignorance then at that moment all the rest of the sequence ceases. It is not like one ceases then another ceases. When there is vijja then the suffering ceases. In any moment when there is true mindfulness and wisdom there is no suffering. The suffering has ceased. Now when you contemplate the cessation of desire, cessation of grasping (upadana), there is the cessation of becoming, cessation of rebirth and suffering. When things cease, when everything ceases then there's peace isn't there? There is knowing, serenity, emptiness, not-self. These are the words, the concepts describing cessation.
When I practise in this way, I find it is very difficult to find any suffering. I realise there isn't any suffering except in a heedless moment when one gets carried away with something. So because of heedlessness and lack of attention and forgetting then we get caught in habitual (kammic) mind stuff. But when we realise we have been heedless we can let it cease, we can let go. There is the letting go, the abiding in emptiness. No longer are there the strong impulses to grasp; the fascination and the glamour of the sensory world has been penetrated. No longer is there anything to grasp. One can still experience and see the way things are without grasping it. There's nobody grasping anything, but there can still be feeling and seeing and hearing, taste and touch. It is no longer created into a person ... 'me and mine'.
For me the important insight is just how momentary consciousness is. The tendency is to perceive consciousness as a long-term thing, as being awake and being conscious as permanent state of being rather than a moment. And yet viņņana is always described as a moment, a flashing moment, an instant. So rather than assume that avijja is a continuous process from the birth out of our bodies, we can see that at any moment there can be vijja and the whole thing just ceases. The cessation of that whole mass of suffering can be realised. It's gone! Where is it?
To practise this way is to keep examining things so that everything is seen exactly for what it is. Everything is only what it is in the moment. When we see that beauty is just beauty in the moment. Ugliness is just that in the moment. There is no attempt to solidify that or prolong that in any way because things are just what they are. One is increasingly aware of the formless or nebulous as just what it is rather than something that is overlooked, dismissed or misinterpreted.
The problem of perception is that it tends to limit us to just being conscious of certain points. We tend to be conscious in certain designated points and the natural change and flux and flow is not really noticed. One is only conscious at the A, B, C, D, E, F, G - the points between A and B are never really noticed because one is only really conscious at the designated points of perception. That is why when the mind is opened with vijja and is receptive, then Dhamma reveals itself, there is a kind of revelation. The empty mind in the state of wonder allows truth to be revealed - not through perception anymore. This is where it is ineffable truth, words fail us and it is impossible to put it into perceptions or concepts.
Maybe now you are beginning to appreciate the emphasis the Buddha made: 'I teach suffering and the end of suffering. I teach only two things ... there is suffering and there is the end of suffering.' If you have just that insight into understanding suffering then realise the end of suffering then you are liberated from ignorance. If you attempt to speculate on what that is like, you could call it 'Nibbana, the highest happiness' - but 'highest happiness' is not quite it either, is it? To expect the highest happiness to be like getting high, floating in the air, reaching Nibbana and floating up to the ceiling.
But the Way is one of realisation; mindfulness and realisation. Then the eightfold path is development, bhavana: to develop that path to right understanding. More and more we realise the emptiness, the not-self, the freedom from not being attached to anything; which affects what we say, what we do and how we live in the society we are in by increasing the sense of serenity and calm.
That word Nibbana is generally defined as 'non-attachment to the five khandhas,' which means no longer experiencing a sense of a self in regard to the body and mind - rupa, vedana, saņņa, san^khara, viņņana. We contemplate the five khandhas not with avijja anymore but with vijja. We see that they are all impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. Then Nibbana is the realisation of non-attachment wherein the self-view ceases. The body is still breathing, so it doesn't dissolve into thin air, but the mistaken identity that 'I am the body' dissolves. The mistaken identity with vedana, saņņa, san^khara and viņņana - all that ceases. The self dissolves, you can't find anybody. You can't find yourself because you are yourself.
In the view of Dependent Origination occurring over the span of three lives, we see the five khandhas are seen as a kind of permanent form from birth. The body: feelings, perceptions, mind formations and consciousness, are considered as being continuous from birth. But that's an assumption we make - and the reflection of momentary arising points to the mind itself. The body isn't a person anyway, it's not 'me' and 'mine' anyway, never was, never will be. There's only the perception of it as 'me' and 'mine'. The belief that I was born.
I've a birth certificate to prove that this body was born. We carry birth certificates in our mind - we carry around the whole history, the memories and so forth of our lives, giving us this sense of a continuity of a person from birth to the present moment. But examination of perception alone shows that perception arises and ceases. This perception of me as a permanent personality is just a moment. It arises and ceases. Consciousness too is just momentary and conveys the attractive, repulsive and neutral qualities of the conditioned realm. When one sees that clearly then there is no interest anymore in that attachment and in seeking for happiness, trying to be reborn into happiness or beauty, pleasure, safety or security. Rebirth is a grasping of the conditioned realm so we let that go. The five khandhas are still the five khandhas, they are seen for what they are as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self.
So this reflection on the truth of the way it is - it's very direct, very clear. From the confused, amorphous, nebulous, insecure, unstable, uncertain to the certain - whatever it is, we are no longer choosing which we prefer, we are just noting that what ever arises ceases. As you realise this through your practice, then a lot of the vagueness, and fuzziness of your mind are seen for exactly what they are. Confusion is confusion, just that, it's a dhamma. Confusion is just confusion in the moment, it's not permanent or the self. So what before was a problem or something deluding us is transformed into a dhamma. The transformation is not through changing the condition but through changing the attitude, from ignorance to clarity.
People say, 'all this is very well but what about love and compassion?' The desire for all that is the block, isn't it? Love is no problem once there is no delusion, once there is no self, there's nothing to hinder or block off or prevent love. But as long as there is self-illusion then love is just an idea that we long for but are always feeling disappointed with because the self is getting in the way. The self-view is always blinding us, making us forget and deluding us that there isn't any love. We feel alienated and lonely and lost because there doesn't seem to be any love, so we blame somebody else. Or we blame ourselves, maybe because we're not loveable. Or we become cynics.
But the Buddha pointed to this and asked what was the real problem? It's the illusion of a self. It's the attachment to that perception. That affects the consciousness and everything else so we are always creating the separations, and the dissatisfaction and identifying with that which is not ourselves. Once we are free from that illusion then love is ever-present. It's just that we can't see it or enjoy it when we are blinded by our desires and fears. As you understand this more and more your faith increases and there is a willingness to give up everything. There is a real zest, a joy in being with the way things are.