Continuing to study “Mindfulness” by Joseph Goldstein. These are notes.
This portion is in the middle of chapter 10, “Mindfulness of
“Conceit” in its Buddhist usage, refers to the deeply rooted
sense of “I am”, “I was”, or “I will be.”
This is the last of the veils of ignorance that needs to be
removed before full awakening.
Studying the elements breaks down conceit.
In seeing the body as a collection of parts, none of which
by themselves are particularly alluring, and then experiencing the body simply
as an interplay of elements, the conceit of “I am” falls away.
Bhikkhu Nanananda spoke to this conceit of taking the
elements as to be a self as “the misappropriation of public property.”
Contemplation of the elements leads to a radically different
vision, where we go beyond even the concept of “being.”
When we split up the body as “just the elements”, we begin
to lose the concept of a being or a person. We begin to lose the sense of a solid body and only the
feeling of sensation in space and the other elements are known.
From The Path of
Purification, 5th century AD:
This bhikkhu who is devoted to the
defining of the four elements is immersed in voidness and eliminates the
perception of living beings….Because he has abolished the perception of living
beings, he conquers fear and dread, and conquers delight and aversion
(boredom), he is not exhilarated or depressed by agreeable or disagreeable
things, and as one of great understanding, he either ends in the deathless
realm or he is bound for a happy destiny.
Relative and Ultimate
Through our practice of the four elements, we open a doorway
to understanding two overarching principles that frame twenty-six hundred years
of Buddhist Wisdom.
Relative truth – conventional world of subject and object,
self and other, birth and death.
All of our familiar experiences.
The Ultimate truth sees this same world quite differently - there
is no subject-object separation, in fact, there is no “things”. It is the deepest aspect of the
unmanifest, the uncreated, the unborn and the undying.
Goldstein likens it to a movie theater. The movie and the story in the movie
are a relative truth and for a while we see it as “real”. But when we see the over-view that it
is light playing on a screen, that it is projected from a little box, we see
that it doesn’t really exist. So
too is the play of relative and absolute in Buddhist understanding.
So, in life, everything is a play of momentary, changing
Don’t grieve for that which is non-existent.
From the Sutta Nipata:
Dry out that which is past, let
there be nothing for you in the future.
If you do not grasp at anything in the present you will go about at
peace. One who, in regard to this
entire mind/body complex, has no cherishing of it as “mine,” and who does not
grieve for what is non-existent truly suffers no loss in the world. For that person there is no thought of
anything as “this is mine: or “this is another’s”; not finding any state of
ownership, and realizing, “nothing is mine,” he does not grieve.
The contemplation of the elements opens up the idea that an
“I” is separated from everything else.
Getting stuck in the ultimate reality and losing the “ten
thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows” of relative life is a very limited view
of this understanding.
Nagarjuna, 2nd century, wrote:
“It is sad to see those who mistakenly believe in material,
concrete reality, but far more pitiful are those who are attached to
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche further elaborates on this potential
pitfall of attachment to emptiness:
“Those who believe in things
can be helped through various kinds of practice, through skillful means – but
those who fall into the abyss of emptiness find it almost impossible to
re-emerge, since there seem to be no handholds, no steps, no gradual
progression, nothing to do.”
A mature spiritual practice sees the union of the relative
and ultimate levels, with each informing and expressing the other.
The four divine abodes – lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic
joy, and equanimity – are all based on the conceptual level of beings.
At the same time, the deeper our understanding of
selflessness, the freer and more spontaneous are these beautiful mind states.
On the relative level – love and compassion are states we
On the ultimate level, they are the responsive nature of the
mind itself. When we recognize the
empty nature of phenomena, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns
uncontrived and effortless.
In a humble way,
We have a motivation to practice not for ourselves alone but
for the sake of others.
His holiness the Dalai Lama said:
“I cannot pretend that I am really able to practice bodhicitta, but it does give me
tremendous inspiration. Deep inside
me I realize how valuable and beneficial it is, that is all.”
We can plants these seeds of aspiration in ourselves without
pretension and without grandiose expectations.
Labels: absolute and relative, Buddhist elements, Joseph Goldstein"s Mindfulness, mindfulness, no-centralized self, non-self, Satipatthana Sutra, selflessness, void sickness