We’re pained from memories of the past. And those very same memories computes frightening unknown futures. We can intellectually know that the past doesn’t exist anymore, at least for our physical bodies. We can intellectually know that the Universe is so complex, we can’t possibly predict the future.
And so we can intellectually conclude that the answer is to keep our minds in the Present, the only thing that actually exists. But yet we still suffer because we’re addicted to logic even though we’re not capable of always making logical decisions.
A good thing that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic is that we’ve seen that expertise is surprisingly flawed. Even with data-driven A.I. analysis founded upon exabytes of data, it’s highly flawed. And it always will be, even well after we’ve captured yottabytes.
So what good is your knowledge of the past? The Universe is so vast that all our books, all the collective neurons of all people, all the exabytes of data, is an indescribably miniscule part of all information – even if we’re only talking about Earthly concerns. The term, “imperfect information”, is the understatement of all time.
For example, how could we really know anything about a culture from thousands of years ago based on handfuls of artifacts? The petroglyph in the photo above comprises a few bytes of information. We have a hard time putting things in the context of just a few decades ago even with the benefit of billions of newspapers, books, and old films. Yet, many experts will claim to know about the culture from thousands of years ago. Our highly flawed intellect dictates our suffering through fantasies based on the past we don’t know about and futures that are yet to come.
The primary teaching of Siddhartha Gautama is that the cause of our suffering is due to clinging. We cling to fears and beliefs based on pains from the past. Equally, we resist the mishmash of undesirable outcomes our minds hallucinate for ourselves, frantically paddling towards dream worlds we’re striving towards.
He even left a prescription for how to relieve our suffering this through the Eightfold Path. Finding your way to that Eightfold Path is really what Bodhi Day is about.
Wouldn’t it be great to just not suffer? We’d freely take on whatever comes our way without the distractions of suffering. Isn’t that all you’d ever ask? We’re not lazy. We fully realize there is work to do. We know shit happens. We know lives are upturned, then we must pick ourselves up.
If we’re successful in detaching beliefs we’ve formulated from the past and fears of the future, our full focus is in the present and we are freed from suffering. With that, there are no more obstacles in your mind. Your mind is no longer a wobbly wheel resulting from a bumpy ride even on a perfectly smooth road. That is pretty much what dukkha means.
So with “no more obstacles”, we can sail to the other shore, as it says in the Heart Sutra:
“Bodhisattvas who practice the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore see no more obstacles in their mind, and because there are no more obstacles in their mind, they can overcome all fear, destroy all wrong perceptions and realize Perfect Nirvana.”
This state of full presence may seem wrong and indulgent since many have come to associate “mindfulness” to the act of sitting meditation (Om, Om) or being “in the zone” at work. We can’t spend all our time sitting in meditation nor does it sound pleasant to constantly be in the zone. For me, I love being in the zone coding, but I certainly can’t do it 24 hours a day.
Being in the present means to be mindful of whatever it is you’re doing, wherever, however. When it’s time to rest, it’s time to rest. Our bodies need to rest. From my strength-training, I well realize we can’t exercise in the gym 24 hours per day. We know that rest is equally important as exercise.
For Zen practitioners, being in the Present was traditionally practiced through a skill such as the tea ceremony, archery, martial arts, or flower arrangement. Practicing those skills is about the relief from suffering first by being in the Present. Improvement in performance of the skill is a byproduct. To draw from the strength-training analogy again, it isn’t about bench presses and deadlifts. It’s about physical strength.
I recall the ceremonies at the beginning and end of judo classes of my childhood. I thought they wasted time but learned that they signal the time for judo and time for something else. I later learned the wisdom of the sensei scolding me, “Judo is here! Everything else is out there!”
Yes, some anticipated events will be uncomfortable. We are in a human body. But it will pass and the dukkha doesn’t need to bleed outside of its timeframe. For example, there is a time for root canals. My root canal was uncomfortable. But I felt no pain from it before it started. And, at least in my case, the bulk of the pain ended as soon as the drill lifted out of my mouth for the last time.
This post is Part 3 of 3 of my guidance for what to meditate upon as we approach Bodhi Day 2020, on December 8, 2020. The series includes:
- Two Months Until Bodhi Day 2020, which shows that the Universe is One Big Process.
- The Universe Between #000000 and #FFFFFF examines how extremes are really two sides of the same coin.
- No more Obstacles
From those three parts, I’ve cobbled something I recite for my daily service before reciting Thich Nhat Hanh’s English translation of the Heart Sutra (much borrowed from Alan Watts):
- Everything is a process. Things seem real because it changes slower than the process of our minds
- Black implies White. Life implies Death. Self implies Other. Fear implies Courage.
- What is explicitly Two is at the same time implicitly One.
- The obstacles of our mind are merely distractions from the past and the future.
I like to think that these are the “insights that brings us to the other shore” that Avalokiteshvara was practicing deeply at the beginning of the Heart Sutra. What awaits on the other shore is the enlightenment to the meaning of emptiness, the reality of the Universe.
Faith and Patience,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku