Look Deeply, Be Free

This waking life is like a dream.   If we know we’re dreaming, will we hold on to the people in the dream?  get upset about how we feel or that we lost something in that dream?   Son to Mom:  “Pretend you are surrounded by monsters and they are all coming at you.  You’re really frightened.  You think they’re going to attack you.  What would you do?”  Mom:  “I don’t know—What would you do?”  Son:  “Stop pretending!”

Examining the aggregates of existence in the past few weeks, we see that we live in a constructed reality.  Consciousness storing received sense impressions in memory and projecting them into the future, we create a solid, personal, view of an abiding self.  But consciousness is only here and now—the present moment is all there is.  The texture of thoughts, mental states, perceptions, body sensations is ephemeral, empty. Appearances are insubstantial, fleeting, generated by a nervous system pulsing on and off thousands of times every second.  What feels solid is just hardness conveyed by the sense of touch, another fleeting sense impression. We may never know what underlying reality truly is.

The wisdom of the teaching of the five aggregates is to see “emptiness” or “selflessness,” which does not denote nothingness, a state of desolation—it points to the transparency and spaciousness of experience.  The potentially deeply liberating effect of meditation is that it gives a steady basis from which emptiness—the impermanent and insubstantial nature of sense experiences that arise and dissolve, appear and fade—is revealed.

Buddha:  “Empty phenomena roll on.  This view alone is true.”  Look deeply, be free.

What is this thing called “Self”?

Importantly, development of the Wisdom aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is grounded in seeing the ephemeral nature of what we call “self.”  The Enlightenment Factor of Investigation helps us in this endeavor.  When we actually investigate the components of self, what we find instead are 5 Aggregates—(“aggregate” is translated from an everyday term in Pali—kandha.  The closest literal translation for kandha is “heap” or “bundle)—5  “heaps” or components of being—form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.

Through investigation of these 5 Aggregates, we see the insubstantial nature of sense experience more and more clearly and that nothing in experience falls outside them.  Sounds, smells, tastes come and go lightly; emotions are ephemeral, largely ungovernable; thoughts are fleeting—unceasingly coming and going.  At first we see the body as dense and solid.  Later on, paying close attention, we see its vibratory nature—how vibrations in the body endlessly pulse on and off.  Solidity breaks into particles, waves and vibration.  Physics confirms this.  And we don’t need machines to measure it.  All we need is attention to know it.  Looking deeply, we see nothing solid—just change.

Can you explore whether your deep attention to each of these five aggregates offers wisdom?  In the next weeks, we will investigate each aggregate to see if we can begin to let go of the idea that these aggregates, taken together, form a solid unchanging self and realize our deep potential for liberation, beginning with realization of the true nature of “self.”