Friday, October 3, 2014

Verse 2.1 — outlook, holding no position

Last week, I talked about lines 2, 3 and 7, which are based on the ground, path and fruition framework. Lines 4, 5 and 6 make use of a different framework -- outlook, path and behavior. I've talked about this framework in several retreats, for example, talk 2 from the Buddhahood Without Meditation retreat in 2008.

Outlook is the way we look at what we are, what we experience. In a sense, it's a kind of philosophical stance. Practice is what we do in order to experience life that way. It usually takes the form of some kind of meditation practice. Behavior is how we live that in our lives. While often expressed in terms of do's and don't's, the guidelines for behavior are not ethical codes in the conventional sense, but ways of living that express and support the practice and outlook.

Line 4: Complete - the essence of all outlook is no conceptual position.
It's a tricky business. As soon as I take any position, I end up in a contradiction. I may say things exist, but they change and disappear before my eyes. It's very hard to pin down what actually exists. If I say things don't exist, I'm confronted with a world of experience. If I say I hold no position, that, in itself, is a position -- an example of both an ancient and a post-modern dilemma. In other words, I'm in a box.

If I take the box apart, it somehow remakes itself even as I'm taking it apart. If I try to step out of it, I end up back in it, too, like Alice in Through the Looking Glass. If I make an effort to understand it, I accept the world it defines and I am still in it. If I try to ignore it, I live in the world it defines and I never leave it. If I try to change it, the changes I can make are ineffectual. If I try to rise above it, I find that I'm tied to it and it pulls me back into it. If I push against it, it simply pushes back. If I analyze it, I follow an intricate maze but the maze always leads me right back to where I started from -- the box.

It's as if the whole universe is wonderfully skilled in reductio ad absurbum - whatever position I take, it will be shown to be absurd and untenable. Punk in the late '70s was an expression of this view -- no matter what you do, the universe renders your action meaningless -- a philosophy of despair that led people to express their individuality in whatever way made sense to them.

From a practice perspective, taking a position and holding a position are movements in mind and body, just like thinking, feeling and sensing. When I hold a position, there are subtle tensions and contractions that I'm usually not aware of. If, when I become aware of holding a position, I move attention to the body, I gradually also become aware of those physical tensions and contractions. Sometimes it's the other way round -- I first become aware of tensions and contractions and then become aware that I'm holding a position.

It's possible to rest there, just experiencing both the tensions and the holding of the position. Sooner or later, something lets go, though often I am unable to say what that is. I have no say in what lets go or when it lets go. The letting go, the release, is itself a movement in mind, and there are corresponding shifts and changes in the body. All I can do is experience what happens.

Of course, if I sit down with the intention of letting something go, of getting out of the box, then I'm back in the box and nothing changes.

I can only be right there, in the experience of the box, open, clear and aware, to the best of my ability. I don't control what happens then, just as I don't control what happens in my life. To practice this way is not easy and it can be more than a little frustrating. I hesitate to say "it works", whatever that means, but anything else puts me straight back in the box.

It doesn't sound like much -- no grand philosophy or insight -- but this is how I've come to practice "no conceptual position".

3 comments:

Kim said...

Wonderful post.

"Outlook, path, and behavior" is also used in Theravada Buddhism: The 8-fold path is traditionally divided into 3 segments of sila (ethical behavior), samadhi (path/meditation), and panna (wisdom/outlook). The first step of the path is Right View, part of panna, and it's also the fruition.

The Buddha said that he teaches "one thing and one thing only: Suffering and the end of suffering." Isn't that two things? No. Just as the post points out, the full experience of the box is somehow the escape from it also.

Right View (aka Wise Understanding) includes the understanding that all views are limitations. The Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1 -- the very first discourse in the entire Pali Canon!) is a catalog of 62 religious and philosophical views that were common at the time of the Buddha, including the view of having no view. He debunks them all as mere manifestations of reactions to contact and feeling tone. The "view" he offers instead is to be aware of sense contact and how it leads to suffering when grasped and identified with.

Just smiling to see this resonance.

Kim said...

Wonderful post.

"Outlook, path, and behavior" is also used in Theravada Buddhism: The 8-fold path is traditionally divided into 3 segments of sila (ethical behavior), samadhi (path/meditation), and panna (wisdom/outlook). The first step of the path is Right View, part of panna, and it's also the fruition.

The Buddha said that he teaches "one thing and one thing only: Suffering and the end of suffering." Isn't that two things? No. Just as the post points out, the full experience of the box is somehow the escape from it also.

Right View (aka Wise Understanding) includes the understanding that all views are limitations. The Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1 -- the very first discourse in the entire Pali Canon!) is a catalog of 62 religious and philosophical views that were common at the time of the Buddha, including the view of having no view. He debunks them all as mere manifestations of reactions to contact and feeling tone. The "view" he offers instead is to be aware of sense contact and how it leads to suffering when grasped and identified with.

Just smiling to see this resonance.

Diane de Ford said...

Everything that you write, I find true. Amazing that you have found the words to make clear such profound thinking.

I have heard the word "abandon" used to understand the effort or energy involved in holding no position. When I abandon a conceptual position, I know it still exists but I let it go anyway. So there is this knowing that my concepts are there and not there at the same time. Joy and sadness meet.