Everything that arises passes away
The Buddha said that the origin of all suffering is ignorance – so it is important to consider what he really meant by ignorance.
Most human beings live very much as if they really are their habits, thoughts, feelings and memories. They do not take time or have the opportunity to look at their lives, to watch and consider how these conditions operate.
What is a condition: The body that we are with, the emotions and feelings, the perceptions of the mind, conceptions and consciousness through the senses – these are the conditions. A condition is something that arises and passes away; it is not the uncreated, unborn, unoriginated ultimate reality.
Religion is what human beings use to try to get back to that ultimate realization beyond the cycles of birth and death, the supramundane wisdom, lokuttara panna;
Nirvana (Nibbana) is the experience of that transcendent reality. This is when we suddenly know the truth, not by studying the Pali scriptures or a Zen book, but through direct experience.
We generally conceive the truth as being some thing and Nirvana as being some peaceful state of mind or exstatic experience. But the Buddha was very careful never to describe the Ultimate Reality or Nirvana – he never said very much about it. People want to know what it is, write books on it and speculate about the nature of Nirvana – but this is exactly what the Buddha did not do.
Instead, he pointed to direct knowing of conditions that change, that which we can know through our own experience at this moment. This is not a matter of believing anyone else. It is a matter of knowing at this moment that whatever arises passes away.
It is important to reflect on the real meaning of ignorance in the sense that the Buddha used it when he called it the origin of all suffering. Being ignorant means that we identify with these conditions by regarding them as me or mine. We have got the idea that we have got to find some permanent pleasant condition, achieve something, get something we do not have. But we can notice that desire in the mind is a moving thing; it is looking for something, so it is a changing condition that arises and passes away – it is not-self (anatta). It is an actual penetration of the very nature of all desires.
As you look carefully, you begin to see that the created arises out of the Uncreated and goes back to the Uncreated; it disappears and there is nothing left. If it was really yours, it would stay. If it was really yours where would it go – to some kind of storehouse of personality? But that concept and whatever you conceive is a condition that arises and passes away. Anytime you try to conceive yourself, any concept or memory of yourself as this or that is only a condition of your mind.
Notice that in your life when you suffer or feel discontent – why? It is because of some attachment, some idea of yourself or someone else.
Buddhist meditation is a way of looking at the conditions of the mind, investigating and seeing what they are, rather than believing in them.
So – if you reflect…that is condition of mind that arises and passes away. That condition is dependent upon another condition, memory is what we have experienced, and the future is unknown.
But who is it that knows the conditions of the moment? I cant find it: there is only the knowing, and knowing can know anything that is present now – pleasant of unpleasant – speculations about the future or reminicences of the past – creations of yourself as this or that. You create yourself or the world you live in – so you cant really blame anyone else. If you do do, it is because you are still ignorant. The One Who Knows we call Buddha – but that does not mean that Buddha is a condition. Buddha is the knowing. So Buddhist meditation is really being aware, rather than becoming Buddha. Whatever you are experiencing is a changing condition and not self. You are seeing a perspective of being Buddha, rather than doing something in order to become Buddha. When we talk of sati, mindfullness, this is what we mean.
I am shocked and amazed at many religious people – Christian or Buddhist – who seem to be ignorant regarding the practice of their religion. Few people seem to have any perspective on religious doctrine and belief and disbelief. They do not bother to find out. They are still trying to describe the indescribable, limit the unlimited, know the unknowable. They believe what somebody else has told them.
Nowadays Theravada Buddhist monks will tell you that you cannot get enlightend, there is no way you can even attain stream-entry, the first stage of sainthood – that those days are past. They believe that enlightenment is such a remote possibility that they do not even put forth much effort to see that all that arises passes away.
So monks can spend their lifetimes reading books and translating suttas, still believing that enlightenment is impossible. But then what is the point of religion anyway? Why bother, if the ultimate truth is so remote, such an unlikely possibility?
Gotama the Buddha was one whose wisdom came from observing Nature, the conditions of mind and body. That is not impossible for any of us to do, we all have minds and bodies. All we have to do is to watch them. People say to me, I cannot do all that. I am just an ordinary layperson; when I think of doing all that, I realize I cannot do it, it is too much for me. I say, If you think about it, you cannot do it, that is all. Don’t think about it, just do it.
Thought only takes you to doubt. People who think about life cannot do anything. If it is worth doing, do it. Keep silently listening and watching as a way of life, then you begin to understand conditions. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing you have to get that you do not have. There is nothing to get rid of.