Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
1st of 16 Lectures
FIRST LECTURE: On board ferry from Naples, Italy to Tunisia – August 18.
Tomorrow we will approach our study of Abhidhamma, but today I would like to talk briefly on the subject of Totality. In the book “THE BUDDHIST TEACHING OF TOTALITY” by Garma C. C. Chang, some of you perhaps found that the most relevant thing was the prologue. It gives a background, without which the book might not hold together for the majority of students. To study anything you first must have an overview, and it is provided in this case by the prologue.
There is a statement in the teaching that trying to find a first cause is productive of madness. In fact, the difference between dharma and other teachings could be said to be that other teachings are often concerned with finding first causes, with searching for a creator. When you begin from that basis, many errors (micca ditthi) follow. Dharma has to become not only a belief but a feeling, in a way, something that you study with your senses. It is impossible to find a first cause because that is outside of the realm of find-out-ability, so you have to operate on the basis that the concept of a first cause is meaningless and improvable.
I believe that this book starts with the statement that there is no first cause, which is also an error. You might think that I say it is an error because it isn’t true, but that would also be micca ditthi. It is an error simply because such a statement is not provable. It is not a question of right or wrong, it is totally a question of realization.
A true Buddha refuses to answer such questions as whether or not there is a first cause. Sakyamuni Buddha did say, “without beginning, without end”. The statement that creation is without beginning and without end is, as this stage, not resolvable; it comes under the heading of pure speculation for most of you. It is important to understand that the basis of the teaching rests on the question of what you can see, what you can understand here and now. And when you explore that question, all you can find is flux. That is provable: everything is in flux.
In the prologue of this book the author talks about a rimless net of flux and no event within it; nothing linear or spatial. It is past all partial considerations. They are merely babbling of the mouth. All experience is flux. Any other view is erroneous. You don’t know your beginning, nor your ending, nor the happenings, the meanings, the dimensions of your life. This is the basic feeling to which you must come, the feeling of the no of nowhere. Abiding nowhere with no name is Sunyata. All these other considerations are fiddles compared to the essential nature of your being, which comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.
I want to stress the futility of trying to prove or disprove an original or first cause! It’s true that you can say, “Well, mommy and daddy got together one night and intercoursed and then nine months later I was born.” But your parents were brought together by an unlimited flow of activity. You would spend endless time were you to try to find a first cause, to find the unfindable. But what you have, here and now, is experiencing: “I see, hear, sense, the flux.” You have experience.
The book starts off by saying that an event doesn’t have a beginning or an end. To refer to something in those terms is merely a descriptive attempt to point at an experience. So you start off with this feeling of nowhere going nowhere. The book might be said to be somewhat in error by making the statement that it is without beginning and without end, although in a way that is correct. The Buddha said himself that it is open-ended – but not quite! Because he also talked about Nirvana, Samsara, and Dharmadhatu.
Samsara is happening and you can’t find a beginning: it is beginningless. But it can have an end if the being experiences Nirvana, because that is said to be the end of Samsara. So, Nirvana has a beginning, but no end; it is an expression of open-endedness. Dharmadhatu has no beginning and no end, and it is not Samsara and not Nirvana. Samsara and Nirvana are experiences, and Dharmadhatu is the open-ended happening that embraces all happenings whatsoever. So, in that way one could say that Dharmadhatu is not merely the human getting enlightened, or an ant in Samsara or Nirvana; it is whatever is happening.
In experiential terms, there are the awakened and the unawakened. The unawakened being comes from anywhere, beginningless wandering, but they can have the experience of open-endedness; the realization beyond that which obstructs one’s view of totality. Because it is open-ended it is total; beyond time and space. It includes all beginnings and all endings. However unknowingly, all beings are everywhere experiencing totality. There is neither arising nor passing away. To come to the end of being subject to such wandering is an experience; enlightenment. So you can refer to samsara and nirvana in experiential terms.
We say things like, “He was born on that day” – which denotes a linear experience. But that is not the Universal experience. In a sense, you are meaningless to the universe. Your life is like a bubble on a lake, it is not the Universal Happening. To you, death is an event, but to the universe it is a temporary ending to an artificial being. Say that the wind was blowing or a trout was rising in a stream, or that somewhere a tree was falling: if someone is there, that is an event. Being there marks the beginning and the end; the Universe does not.
This is not simply intellectual play. To enter the feeling of freedom you must abandon the search for a first cause. If you are searching for that, you are left with only speculation, limited view and tyranny of the mind. Abandon such limitations and watch the rising and falling. Open your being past concerns for events. Enter deeper and deeper levels, moving past hope and fear. Make this a way of living. In this way you will pass from Samsara to Nirvana. Nirvana only means the going out of the erroneous. The bubbles of the lake go out, but dharma has not gone out.
I suggest that you review the prologue of this book; immerse yourselves in it. Then it will be a thing of the utmost simplicity to understand Nirvana. There need not be any striving or progressing or ‘Bodhisattva-path-treading’ resolutions. Do only one thing: abandon the search for causation. A teacher is only a being who is listening.
You have so many views. You may think that such and such a being is neurotic, maybe even describe them as neurotic, but there is no cause of neuroses. In fact, it’s only a happening, a flow. There may be associated events, but any other view than seeing the rising and falling of a series of happenings is erroneous. To liberate your being from obstructions on the path immerse yourself in the doctrine of non-causation. Feel the non-clinging limitlessness. Later on you can explore limits.
Seeking is limiting. Seeking to find the cause of suffering is limited view. You can only define relative truths. There is no cause of suffering, and without a cause of suffering there cannot be the going out of suffering. There is suffering. In the scriptures it says, “There is suffering, but no one suffering”. That is, suffering is part of the mind. I will go further: one thinks in terms of causes and endings, but there is neither cause nor end of suffering. There is the path. And where there is duality there is suffering.
The Buddha also said, “I teach but two things: suffering and the cessation thereof.” That’s all there is. Pragmatically speaking to beings in ordinary life one might say: “You have a problem. You want to know where it began. Don’t bother. Find an ending.”
Notice that in the Eightfold Noble Path the experience of ‘samma’ is pointed to. I would like you to consider whether ‘Sammasambuddha’ is talking about total view, total action, total seeing, and total understanding, or is it simply immersion in non-causality; no beginning and no end.
No beginning and no end is not an erroneous description; that is exactly what is experienced. There is no beginning, no causation of suffering. By thinking in terms of finding beginnings and endings you will certainly find a truth or law, but it is possible that you will miss something outside of relative truth. What beginnings and endings are to be found in the immensity of the Universal Happening? All events are occurring within the matrix of universality, of totality. And the majority of our lives are lived in reference; not so much black versus white, but in probings. Pragmatically we do not live within duality. We live within reference systems. We are structured, and we go between moments of decision making. That is not dualism, that’s relativity.
You have to get into the whole of suffering. If you are to cut into the endless wheel of life, hit at the mind that seeks first causes, at the mind that seeks definitive causes, and enter the mind of ever-increasing realization of relativity. When that is experienced you can say – in Mahamudra terms – that the son light has become one with the mother light. The dharma has always been. You are only required to awaken to what is: mother and son emerged into truth. These, too, in their way are limited views, but within the light of this you can pick up readings of different systems: Tibetan wongkur, Huan Yin teaching, and so forth and see clearly (within the context of the pragmatic) what is required of you in this life.
Gurus can be an obstruction. In this teaching you are required to stop and consider only what is. You are taught to see, sense, experience what is actually occurring. To do this, first of all you will have to abandon the false view of a first cause. A creator God is a false statement; that evil exists is a false statement. There is only one true statement: there is happening, flux. Even in relativity there is no such thing as evil or good. Evil is not a transcendent, it is a happening. It is no more relevant than whether one brother completes his training and another does not, or whether one tree grows tall and another grows crooked. A being might be described as evil, but what is actually being seen is conditioning – which is another way of saying dharma! All of this is merely happening. You can’t ultimately talk in terms of bad or good because within totality neither exists.
So for understanding it is necessary for you to abandon the mind that seeks first causes and endings. That mind is limited in view. Get to where you don’t know where you came from or where you’re going – and you couldn’t care less! That is a depth view. Involvement with beginning and ending is suffering. If you know the state without reference, you know that it is beginningless, open-ended, and non-suffering. It is freedom. There is no other. Freedom is freedom from worry, from ego-centred reference. It is the cessation of fear and worry. “No hope, no fear.” If you are concerned with awakening, that is dukkha. If you are concerned with non-awakening, that is also dukkha. There is no sure experience in such a state. But the mind that can see worry taking place without ego-reference, that sees happenings rise and cease without beginning, that mind is not trapped in causation.
Again, I think that it doesn’t stop there. One can only talk about a cause when things stand still, and nothing stands still in time and space. There is only dukkha, there is no cause. The Buddha said that trying to make the impermanent permanent is suffering, and that, to me, is truth. The mind that sees all conditioned things as impermanent awakens. There are all sorts of schools to awaken beings, but they could all be jettisoned without exception if one could find a way of getting beings to open-ended reference, or to non-view reference. How to get beings to the experience of the ‘no special reference’ mind, that is the question!
The entire of Buddhism, if viewed one way, is poison. No declarations or teachings can ever be substituted for the direct realization of totality. Descriptions are meaningless. It is only relevant to the human being to have total reference in relation to experience. You need to know in very ordinary terms, to be with the experience. And you need to practice awareness without worry, without thinking “If I practice this way, will I awaken?” Just listening.
Apart from the natural mind of compassion, it is true that it is no different for a teacher to be in this room or in another. It makes no difference whether or not classes are given. The teacher dwells in a state of non-worry – quite different from the usually held view! A teacher dwells in compassion. You, on the other hand, want to get somewhere so you spend your time and energy; you pay your money to ‘get’. The teacher is dwelling in non-distinction. Apart from compassion, there is no involvement with you. This is actually so. Most beings in this time are dwelling in indecision, but compassion happens to be a very penetrative, distinctive mind state. In a sense, there is only the compassionate mind at work when there is understanding. Compassion is not separate from the natural mind. Compassion is being involved with what is next to one. From that interest will arise a greater involvement with you. A teacher is not aware of association for your sake.
I suggest that you make the effort to increase experience, become more aware that this existence suffers. If you experience lack, already suffering is present. There is no one striving for enlightenment, there is just suffering. Everyone is so busy trying to find ‘it’, but if you would just stop and hear you might discover that existence is inseparable from suffering. And an organism that makes reference in order to survive already implies suffering.
You are caught in flux, in duality. In actuality, you have never experienced duality. The mind that thinks in terms of a first cause becomes very ego-centred, very selfish. But the mind that is dwelling in pure experience is not subject to discursive thought; it is dwelling in clarity. Only when you look for something other than clarity can you speak of duality.
So, where is this duality? You’ve never experienced it! There is no day and night, no black and white. All duality is a product of conventional mind. Through using dual terms so frequently you become imprisoned by concepts. You have never been in duality; you simply use dual reference. Beings are stuck in the delusion of fixity to feed ego-reference; through trying to make everything set: “That is out there. It is so-and-so and I am such-and-such.” But that only leads to suffering. One might say that beings suffer, but there is really only the impermanent event of suffering. There is hunger, and then it passes. There is the pure happening, and then there is the overlay, the preference which dramatizes that. Duality is a dramatization. You are making dualities.
If that is your habit, I think you are approaching it the wrong way. If you are trying to get Nirodha, extinction, even the thought of trying is suffering. That needs to be replaced by simple awareness of what is occurring. Perhaps you should try the Abhidhamma view; ask “What is mind?” I’m not suggesting that you collect long lists of Pali terms to impress yourself, but do study the lists so you can become aware of what is occurring. Watch the process of mind in detail. When the texts speak of Nirodha or going out, they aren’t talking about things that happened yesterday. Yesterday has gone out. There is no yesterday, there’s only the going. If you are living with being, in the reference, in the happening, it is not an ending. When you want causes and you seek permanent references, you are defined. If you look more closely you will see that you are simply defining – or going to sleep, as the case may be!
This is direct pointing. You can only do one thing – take the transmission which is no transmission. It isn’t transmitted because it’s already present. It can’t be given because it’s already taken. Dwelling in non-distinction is unarguable, although you may argue about it. And trying to grasp what I say is suffering. Grasping in itself is suffering, but there is no grasping. There is only realization. It either drops or it doesn’t, unless you’re in outer space.