By Tim Eyes
The Potential for Complete Satisfaction
Most of us are constantly striving towards what we think to be ideal, and avoiding what we perceive as negative. Rarely do we take a break and actually find perfection. Maybe five minutes on the weekend we really enjoy completely, or maybe even only one day a year we allow complete satisfaction. It seems to me that this is the accepted human condition. After all, aren’t satisfaction and dissatisfaction just alternating states? No!
The dominant, perhaps ‘worldly’ view would be that our enjoyment is dependent on conditions. ‘I can indeed be very happy, if I have some ice cream.’ Of course, we aren’t even that easy to satisfy. We want our favorite flavor, plenty of it. And then when we run out or eat too much, we are very unhappy. People are very picky. If things don’t meet our ideals to a T, we will become upset sooner or later. However, this attitude and way of life isn’t the only option. It is very much tied to consumerism and materialism. For example, the Coca-Cola Company wants us to buy a lot of their product so they make lots of money. Advertising isn’t just to inform of us the existence of Coke, it is meant to convince us that we really need it, that we would be happier if we drank some of it. The popularity of Coke points out that we buy that idea. The nutritional value it has is generally negative, but we drink it because it is sweet and we think that tasting sweetness will make our life sweet too.
This way of finding happiness is also connected with our survival instincts. Sweet tasting food in the natural world is usually something that helps sustain us. But we are addicted to survival. We can’t get enough survival. Even though we seem to have dominated the entire planet as a species, we generally aren’t just kicking back and relaxing. In fact, we aren’t relaxing much at all. The United States is overrun with stress, even though it is supposedly the most powerful and well-off country in the world.
To be truly sane and happy in a lasting way, we have to train ourselves to not depend on circumstances. This would be considered, taking responsibility for our state of being, and [or: happens to be an] is an essential characteristic of Buddhism.
According to Buddhist Prajñāpāramitā (perfection of wisdom) teachings, all phenomena, internal and external, lack an independent existence. This means that any ‘thing’, including ‘I’, only exists in relation to other things, and arises and fades within an all-encompassing network of causes and conditions. The reason these teachings exist is to cut through the mind’s tendency to solidify phenomena, especially ‘I’, which is considered an inaccurate view, and in fact the fundamental cause of suffering. The only difference between suffering and not suffering is our ability to liberate our experience into non-grasping awareness. As the famous master Shri Simha said to Dudjom Lingpa in a vision, “Just as water, which exists in a naturally free-flowing state, freezes into ice under the influence of a cold wind, so the ground of being exists in a naturally free state, with the entire spectrum of samsara established solely by the influence of perceiving in terms of identity.” It is easy to see how egocentricity is at least the hub, if not the cause itself, of all suffering, but it is not so easy to imagine any other options. Prajñāpāramitā teachings do just that.
Buddhist teachings often emphasize the emptiness of the self, because that is the root fixation of sentient beings. Basically, all sentient beings have or develop some sense of a self. Adult humans usually have a very tangible, obvious sense of self. Buddhist teachings don’t so much deny the reality of that sense, and the value of its functionality, but what it negates is an absolute, permanent, eternal self. Famous for being relatively reasonable, Buddhism uses nothing but reason and direct perception to seek out such an eternal, unchanging self. His Holiness the Dalai Lama illustrates the logic, “We may think that the self is identical with the body. For example, if there is pain in one’s hand, one has the instinctive thought, “I am in pain.” Although one’s hand is not oneself, one instinctively identifies with that experience and, in this way, the sense of self arises naturally in relation to the body.” He goes on to examine the sense of self in relation to the mind and so on:
At the same time, however, the sense of “me” is not completely identifiable with the body. . . If someone were to offer us the opportunity to exchange our old, infirm body for a more youthful, healthy body, we would most likely be willing, from the very depths of our heart, to make this exchange. This suggests that we believe, at least on some level, that there is someone, some non-bodily self, who would benefit from this exchange of bodies. We can extend this thought experiment into the mental realm by considering how we would respond if we were given the opportunity to exchange our ignorant, deluded mind for the Buddha’s fully enlightened mind.
For non-Buddhists, we could simply replace the "Buddha's mind" in the example above, with a mind that is more intelligent, more content, and more brilliant than our own. The point he is making is that our sense of self is dependent on the coming together of our physical and/or mental attributes, and yet most of us hold some sense of self beyond that, which is actually unfounded. The implication is that this particular sense of self is not based on any reality, or at least not based on something we can pinpoint or find.
This might sound sort of nihilistic, or to go against common experience. However, in terms of common experience, in Buddhist meditation, one of the most essential and highly regarded practices is to directly look into one’s sense of self. After looking into the body and the mind, and seeing that there is no unchanging-self there, one looks directly at awareness itself and sees that the sense of self is just a thought appearing within a vast expanse of non-referential spacious awareness, and the thought dissolves. That spacious awareness, however, remains. It is in fact described as unchanging, stable, and reliable, but it is not a self in that it is not something concrete or even particularly personal. As the deity Vajradhara taught to Dudjom Rinpoche in a vision, “In this way, the path of freedom within naturally occurring Buddhahood makes evident awareness. . . The essence of awareness is pervasive and extensive, the panorama of space, not existent as any object, and supremely unobstructed.” In this way, primordially liberated awareness is inherent to all sentient beings, yet cannot be defined or pinned down as ‘this’.
3, 4. Tenzin Gyatso, Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart of Wisdom Teachings (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 89. Purchase
6. Lingpa, Dudjom. Buddhahood Without Meditation: A Visionary Account Known as Refining One’s Perception (Nang-jang). Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 2002. Purchase
Tim Eyes is from Santa Cruz, California. He's been studying Buddadharma since he was 16 there and at Naropa University where he earned a B.A. in Religious Studies and Visual Arts. He now lives in Santa Cruz where he meditates and enjoys life.
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