Sunday, October 13, 2013


now the taste of this flavour which consists in absence of knowledge.
Those who recite commentaries do not know how to cleanse the world.

Listen, my son; this taste cannot be told by its various parts.
For it is free from conceits, a state of perfect bliss, in which existence has its origin.

It is the very last segment that remains of the creation of illusion,
Where intellect is destroyed, where mind dies and self-centeredness is lost.
Why encumber yourself there with meditation?

A thing appears in the world and then goes to destruction.
If it has no true existence, how may it appear again?
If it is free from both manifestation and destruction, what then arises?
Stay! Your master has spoken.

Look and listen, touch and eat,
Smell, wander, sit and stand,
Renounce the vanity of discussion,
Abandon thought and be not moved from singleness.

From Saraha’s Treasury of Songs.
Translated from the Tibetan by David Snellgrove.

Saraha is credited with being considered to be one of the founders of Buddhist Vajrayana, particularly of the Mahamudra tradition, and was one of the first practitioners of Mahamudra meditation. He probably lived in the 8th century CE in India. He had a wife who was an arrow-maker who actually first taught him Mahamudra. He wrote three spiritual 'songs of realization' (dohas) on Mahamudra.

The verses set out above, which I first read many years ago in that wonderful anthology The Rider Book of Mystical Verse, encapsulate the essence of mindful living. The ‘taste’ of anything---and we are not just talking about food---can only be known in the absence of knowledge. Further, the ‘taste’ of a thing cannot be told, or known, by its various parts. The thing---whatever it may be---must be tasted in its entirely, in its wholeness. The moment you try to break it down into its supposed component parts, the appreciation of the thing is lost. Gone. The essence of a thing lies in its no-thing-ness, that ‘state of perfect bliss, in which existence has its origin.’ In the words of Swami Vivekananda, 'All the differentiation in substance is made by name and form.' Name and form are constantly chaging, but substance---the self-livingness of life itself---ever remains.

When Buddhists and Hindus use the word ‘illusion,’ they are not talking about something that does not exist. Rather, the word refers to the absence of any separate, permanent, and independent reality. So, when we talk about the ‘illusory self,’ we are talking about a self---or rather a myriad of selves---that we internally generate but which have no separate, permanent, and independent reality. Now, I place great value on the intellect and reason, but I have come to the sad, yet blessed, realization that intellect and reason are ‘conceits’ that veil reality. To again quote Swami Vivekananda: 'To reach truth by reason alone is impossible. ... Reason can go only to a certain extent, beyond that it cannot reach.' When it comes to problem-solving of a legal or business kind, intellect and reason are, for me at least, paramount. However, when it comes to the appreciation of life, wisdom and understanding come when ‘intellect is destroyed, [when] mind dies and self-centeredness is lost.’ One other thing---'illusion' refers to name and form, into which everything is cast. 'Reason is differentiation,' that is, 'limiting something by our own minds' (Vivekananda). Differentiation---just another word for ignorance and belief in duality---is the result of 'egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life' (Vivekananda).

The line ‘Why encumber yourself there with meditation?’ is an interesting one. There are different types of meditation. Only one type---mindfulness or insight meditation---affords insight into things-as-they-really-are. (Note. Mahamudra meditation involves both śamatha ('tranquility', and 'calm abiding') and vipaśyanā [vipassana] ('special insight').) Other types of meditation involve concentration of some kind, that is, concentration, whether by way of repetition or the focus of the eyes or mind, on some object, image, sound or whatever. Those types of meditation have their place, and can assist in calming the mind and relaxing the body, and possibly also in developing one’s powers of concentration. 

Mindfulness is quite different---the presence of choiceless awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of the present moment as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Mindfulness requires just enough attention (‘bare’ attention, it is called) to stay alert, open, deliberate, and curious. The essence of mindfulness is captured in these words:

Look and listen, touch and eat,
Smell, wander, sit and stand,
Renounce the vanity of discussion,
Abandon thought and be not moved from singleness.

The ideas expressed in the very last line are most important. Mindfulness involves a non-critical, non-analytical, non-judgmental, diffused state of mind. You look, you watch, you see, you observe, but you do not ‘stay’ with any one thought, feeling, image, bodily sensation, or external input. You remain---immoveable---not moving or being moved from your mental station of singleness. In so doing, you dis-identify and dis-relate your mind, and your moment-to-moment awareness, from every thought, feeling, image, bodily sensation, or external input, all of those things being 'fetters of self-interest' (Swami Paramananda). None of those things are you---the person among persons that you are. So, 'be unattached, let things work, let brain-centres work ... but let not a ripple conquer the mind ... do not bind yourselves; bondage is terrible' (Vivekananda).

The true essence of life lies not in its arising or vanishing, nor in its ‘manifestation [or] destruction,’ but in its be-ing-ness. The be-ing-ness of a thing---indeed, of existence in its totality---lies not in its form, which is forever changing. ‘A thing appears in the world and then goes to destruction.’ The be-ing-ness of a thing is something that goes beyond time and space. It just is.

'Abandon thought and be not moved from singleness.'

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