Saturday, March 7, 2009

Awakening? Peace? Truth? Freedom?

All that is conditioned is impermanent.
All emotional reactions are suffering.
All experience is empty.
To go beyond misery is peace.

The four seals, as these four lines are called, make it clear that the aim of Buddhist practice is peace. It is the end of suffering.

A prevailing myth in Western Buddhism is the maxim "know ye the truth, and the truth will make you free". This misleading Christian myth (John 8:32) can, perhaps, be laid at the door of Socrates and his followers. They envisioned an ideal world of forms in which beauty, goodness, and truth were one and the same. This sentiment has, in our age, led people to ignore the fact that the various values of a democratic society — equality, justice, freedom, etc. — often conflict with one another.

The myth is deeply embedded in the Western thought and, inevitably, has insinuated itself into Buddhist thinking in Western societies.

What leads one to embark on Buddhist practice? There is only one answer: a mind (or heart) that is not at peace. One may call the aim awakening, or freedom, or presence, but these are all misleading terms, each of them implicitly suggesting a "higher" or "truer" way of living, or being, or whatever.

We cannot know what is true. As Chuang Tzu says, "How do I know I'm not a butterfly dreaming that I'm Chuang Tzu?"

Awakening? The best we can do, as Wittgenstein said, is to awaken to the understanding that we are asleep and dreaming.

Freedom? The more clearly one sees things, the less choice one has. The illusion of choice is actually an indication of a lack of freedom.

Presence? When I say that I am present in a situation, I mean that I am not being distracted or torn apart by internal or external tensions, in other words, a kind of peace, no?

If you look at the actual experience that these terms refer to, you find peace, peace from the tension of not knowing what experience is, peace from the tension of feeling bound and conditioned, peace from the tension between subject and object, etc.


William said...


Perhaps there is no Truth, meaning there is no answer that ends the questioning, and no final value that resolves or subsumes all other values. But as Milarepa sang, "nothing to do, other than stop being dishonest". If he was right, then we have to make sense of the idea of striving for the truth.

Can we be honest if we are not striving for the truth, and can we be peaceful if we know we are being dishonest? I'm not sure what it means to be awake or free. Nevertheless, I think that you cannot get there without seeking the truth, so in that sense, it is the truth that makes us free.

Ken said...

One question is, "What is this truth for which you strive?" As Kant pointed out, there is no such thing as truth separate from what happens. Milarepa was, perhaps, making the point that, in morality, the act which is freedom in a situation is the one that leaves you truly (in the sense of completely and deeply) at peace with the situation.

Greg said...

The archer makes preparation, then drawing the bow with intention to strike the target with the tip of the arrow, aims. Once released, aim is finished. Most of us are still fiddling with taking aim at a target, and that as you imply Ken, is slippery. The more clarity we bring, the more transparent it becomes. What target?

HH Dilgo Khyentse wrote this: [This is the translation I like. I am not sure of the source] It seems to echo my reading of your thoughts on awakening, peace, truth and freedom.

Everyday practice is simply to develop a complete carefree acceptance, an openness to all situations without limit.

We should realize openness as the playground of our emotions and relate to people without artificiality, manipulation or strategy.

We should experience everything totally, never withdrawing into
ourselves as a marmot hides in its hole. This practice releases
tremendous energy which is usually constricted by the process of
maintaining fixed reference points. Referentiality is the process by which we retreat from the direct experience of everyday life.

Being present in the moment may initially trigger fear. But by
welcoming the sensation of fear with complete openness, we cut through the barriers created by habitual emotional patterns.


Seeing all things as naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realize. The nature of phenomena appears naturally and is naturally present in time-transcending awareness. Everything is naturally perfect just as it is. All phenomena appear in their uniqueness as part of the continually changing pattern. These patterns are vibrant with meaning and significance at every moment; yet there is no significance to attach to such meanings beyond the moment in which they present themselves.

This is the dance of the five elements in which matter is a symbol of energy and energy a symbol of emptiness. We are a symbol of our own enlightenment. With no effort or practice whatsoever, liberation or
enlightenment is already here.

I am fond of saying: Truth is not mistaken appearances. What are mistaken appearances? Go to the root of that question and free it.

Koan like, the tail wags the head. Let the arrow fly.

William said... morality, the act which is freedom in a situation is the one that leaves you truly (in the sense of completely and deeply) at peace with the situation.

Yes. But doesn't this connection between peace and morality work both ways? On the one hand, the goal of action and thought is a state of peace and reconciliation. Being completely at peace means that you overcome the obstacles to being your experience, by following the path of attention.
On the other hand, being there makes truth, justice, and all the other virtues urgent. The choices are acting, or looking away from who I really am.

Ken said...

Dear Greg,

Unfortunately, a woefully bad translation. Pity,


Ken said...

Dear William,

Yes, it does work the other way, though I'm not sure that being there makes these virtues urgent. It seems to me that when one has come to a relationship with the internal material that prevents one from being at peace in a situation, a natural clarity arises and one knows what to do. Justice, truth, courage, etc., are all terms applied after the fact.


Greg said...

Dear Ken,

I have, three renderings of this text. The earliest goes back to Chogyam Trungpa in collaboration with Michael Hookman. The two later texts seem to be redactions of CTR's translation very precisely.

It is amusing to me. These translations have been very inspiring for me and others that I have shared them with over the years. That in itself brings another aspect into the question, what is truth. Is that pitiful, or is that a dog's tooth?


Ken said...

Can you get the Tibetan? What led me to make my comment was the verb tenses, the use of the word "phenomena", and the dependence on latinate English words in the translation. These are all problems that show up in many translations, but result in a misleading English. People such as you who have been around the Dharma in Tibetan Buddhist circles are used to this terminology and don't see how it makes the meaning difficult to understand or that, in effect, a special form of English has already evolved in Tibetan Buddhist circles.

Greg said...

Dear Ken,

I do not know if I can get this in Tibetan. Of the two attributed translations, the one from CTR states it was written by HH, the one from Yeshe Melong Publication staff states 'prepared from an oral teaching.'

I received the text I posted in 2000. Later that year the CTR translation was printed in Shambhala Sun. Something like that. The Yeshe Melong version was sent to me by a friend not long ago. I will ask around, see who knows what about this text.

I'd be happy to send you the three, let me know.


William said...

Dear Ken,
I'm not sure that being there makes these virtues urgent. It seems to me that when one has come to a relationship with the internal material that prevents one from being at peace in a situation, a natural clarity arises and one knows what to do.

Yes, I think I have briefly experienced that state. However, what about changes that required sustained, focused attention to achieve? It seems like urgency would be one's friend here ("practice like your hair is on fire").