Saturday 01 Aug 2020
The naturalness of ‘Letting-Go’
Buddhist practitioners (like me) often lament the difficulty of letting go. How do we let go? Any serious meditator who practices to ‘experience’ what the Buddha was pointing to will usually find themselves exploring this conundrum. Our practice is deep enough to understand the stillness of consciousness, nested beneath the movement of mind that creates our world and our being. We know without doubt that it is all mind created. Indeed, we may have experienced the extraordinary nature of our body and the world finishing in our mind, in what the Buddha labelled ‘Mundane’ knowledge. Further, some of us may have experienced consciousness finishing, which will lead to the cessation of mind should it be in place at death. This is an experience labelled ‘Supra Mundane’ by the Buddha. I infer that when the Buddha used the word Mundane, he did so to show that our work is still not done, we still habitually grasp onto our being and the world. It is true that the Buddha did say that anyone experiencing cessation would become a ‘stream winner’, enlightenment within a maximum seven rebirths in the idiomatic language of the time. He also explained that this process can be quicker as a “Once-Returner, Non-Returner, or Arahant” in this life. We know that we need to let go completely to fully realise, we know that the path is not about attainment, but we still grasp. So finely balanced is the wisdom and delusion found at the heart of the present moment, that fear prevents us from walking through the door of enlightenment. This is so because there is still a residual belief in the consciousness of death and this will naturally bring about a rebirth. We are still to fully appreciate and make real the truth and beauty of the universal nature of mind. We still see the external as the other.
<The karmic process that brought us into existence plays out for most of us until we are old and worn out. Death then comes as a release from the physical aging to allow the mind to condition a new body and a new circumstance depending on our karma. It is usually the sub conscious and unconscious nature of our consciousness that is at play here. We start to understand the way consciousness is iterating beyond any definition of fast, as it begins and ends in the present moment. The countless cycles and build-up of this conditioning of consciousness does create a strong belief in what the physical brain filters from the mind. Indeed, most of us believe the brain is the mind. We do not realise that the mind is beyond the activity and the consciousness being sequestered by the brain. Beyond this, it seems to be a very rare circumstance for someone to be aware of what it is to know beyond consciousness. Certainly, people the Buddha called Arahant have developed to be this knowing. In the realm of consciousness however, many people, especially children up to ages 5 to 7 years are aware of the life they have come from. Many people remember their past lives either spontaneously or because of a happening; traumatic or otherwise and indeed my work as a hypnotherapist has assisted many people to remember. For those of us who find past lives problematic, the work of Professor Stevenson (1918-2007) Chair of Psychiatry, University of Virginia, will be an enlightening read. It remains true however that the brain’s filtered understanding means ignorance remains so strong.
Having said all of this, the Human condition in fact displays very natural, comparable resonances of what it is to let go in the realm of consciousness. Investigating this way prepares us to be ready to know the Supra Mundane experience of consciousness ending. To do this we must know consciousness and how it works intimately. So, as an example, we can see the resonance of ‘letting-go’ when we can look at what it is to ‘drop off to sleep’. This is a change in the state of our consciousness. It is something that most have little awareness of because our consciousness is not usually awake when this happens, we are most likely to be sub conscious or unconscious as it happens. Practising waking into a dream lucidly is a way to know, and perhaps even semi consciously direct a dream once asleep. It seems to confirm we have innate will, but in fact it continues the delusion. Anyway, the phase transition from awake to sleep is a process we do not usually witness. We are awake and then we are asleep. I experience it like a quantum mechanical process where the mind goes into a dreamy state of uncertainty and instability, with random images and thoughts, somewhat akin to a ‘false vacuum’ in Physics. And then sleep! So, tiredness overwhelms, then sub conscious imagery and then a direct unconscious release into sleep. During sleep there is further sub and unconscious processes at work to rest, rejuvenate and recalibrate our body and the mental processes to recreate and sustain us over the course of our life. So, I am pointing to this ‘Release’ into sleep as a ‘phase transition’ we can come to terms with and be aware of. This can help enable the practice of being aware when letting go into the Supra Mundane and cessation. It demonstrates the limited nature of our will and in the end shows the empty pre and ongoing conditioning we all live with. It is not enough to have just the Right View; we need also to develop the Right Intention. (The two wisdom elements of the Noble Eight-Fold path), Specifically to know the right intention that allows letting go. These two factors, along with the support of the rest of the eight-fold path, enable us to move beyond physical conditioning and further, beyond the mental conditioning that creates the mind beyond the body and the world. This allows the cessation experience to be viable at death when it has been experienced and understood. When this knowing is in place, the mind will unify naturally at death.
In the end, understanding and being with this ‘sleep release’ is as natural as being with the ‘letting go release’ of our body at death, however it goes without saying that the ‘letting go release’ at death requires the mind to be totally awake for cessation. It is this fact that introduces doubt and confusion into the letting go process. To illustrate this, I have witnessed myself mindfully holding a cup firmly, with the intention of holding it up if I drop to sleep, only to find I waken myself when the cup falls from my hand. The sleep release had relaxed my body and fingers beyond my control into a sub or unconscious state. Perhaps I could condition myself to be like a bird that can hold onto a branch when asleep, by habitually conditioning its feet and claws to grip tighter, if it starts to slump in sleep. Its brain and body have some control in sleep as indeed we have some control in our sleep to keep us safe and alive, but at the bird’s death, it is said to ‘drop off the perch’. To further Illustrate this point I remember many years ago, I had the opportunity to arrange for some BSWA members along with some of our monks to visit the morgue at the beginning of each annual rains retreat. We were invited to observe autopsies and did so mindfully and respectfully. Observation of these corpses showed how the release of the life we knew, allowed the individual and compounded constituents that once made up the physical nature of the person, to collapse back into their own field of consciousness. These components, once animated with a life and ego, go their own way. The fluids succumb to gravity’s laws and where the person could have once held in its waste, it now flowed freely in some cases. Seeing and understanding the way mind ‘lets go’ (releases) a body at death has great merit. It demonstrates how the physical process finishes ready for recycling. The birds drop off the perch and our bodies go back to nature. These illustrations show how limited our understanding can become when we equate the mind as being the brain, without understanding the consciousness driving everything in the Universe. It is here that we can break through and understand completely the nature of the mind. Mind is the Universe driven by consciousness and it is personal for each of us, just as it is for components or collections of components of energy, mental or physical. We start to understand the insidious nature of consciousness. We see that will is an illusion. This insight opens the pathway to knowledge of the deathless.
So, recapping, mindful practice to stay with the still consciousness of mind is a practice that can be realised. The Buddha’s Eightfold path of practice will eventually lead you right into the heart of the present moment where the still consciousness identifying the boundary of the mind will stand forth. As refined as this experience is, the Buddha has labelled it Mundane. It is still in the realm of Samsara and is subject to birth, death, and rebirth, however the practitioner will now know beyond any doubt that their being, along with the world they are born into is mind made. All the physical has unified and subsumed into the still consciousness that contains it all. The subtle pleasure and beauty of the stillness will now allow Mindfulness to engage with it as a still datum against the apparent nature of life as it plays out in the world. The practitioner can now concentrate on deepening the practice by penetrating this pure consciousness with Mindfulness. This will eventually allow you to see that even this still consciousness finishes deeper again, right on the balance point of the present Moment. The still datum is gone. The boundaries of mind have gone. Consciousness is finished. Cessation! This realisation, along with an understanding of the on/off nature of phase transitions that govern the change in all energy states, will give great confidence to know how things work. This is so for both the sleep and death release, or indeed for any energetic transitions whether they are collapsing compounded conditioning to unify into the moment or, building conditioning as creations the other way into time and space. Phase transitions work naturally either way to keep our world and the emptiness of the present moment forever in balanced perfection. However, building consciousness and conditioning will always have the first noble truth of dukkha in place. Remember that the Buddha said, “I teach only two things, Dukkha and the ending of Dukkha”. With practice we can unify beyond dukkha and be awake to our non-self-nature and emptiness at our death even though others may judge our brain to be dead. Time and space have ended. We can see that when our personal being and world resolves and unifies beyond the realm of consciousness at our death, the two-way process and duality of our being has ended, becoming one with the empty nature of it all. Karma is finished, the universe is finished. There is only truth and beauty radiating beyond time and space and beyond any quantum mechanical logic, at peace in the present moment. This is not atheism and it is not theism; it is the Middle Way. We can realise this ‘knowing’ in a ‘unified natural state’, consciousness gone, relaxed infinity and Supra Mundane knowledge that allows our personal Universe to finish in Para Nibbana.
Heedfulness is the Deathless path,
Heedlessness is the path to death.
Those who are heedful do not die,
Heedless are like the dead.
Dhammapada Verse 21