Continued notes on Disenchantment: Talk @ Wat Yannawa 2008
Satisfaction, Misery, Escape
This is a classic Buddhist teaching. That in all things there is the aspect of satisfaction, of misery and the escape therefrom.
That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, is satisfaction. If there were not this condition then beings would not be attached to the world (assaada)
That impermanence, suffering and instability in the world – that is the misery of the world. If there were not this misery then beings would not become wearied by the world. (Aadiinava)
That restraint, that putting out of desire and passion in the world – that is the escape. If there were not this escape then beings would not be able to break free from dukkha. (nissarana)
This is a clear teaching. Often we are told about Dukkha in the world as if it were the truth. But it is only an aspect of the world and not the totality. Not everything is Dukkha. The only reason that we are advised to concentrate on Dukkha is because of where it takes you – to the liberation aspect and escape. You look at the Dukkha in order to break attachment to the world. That’s all.
An example of this teaching might be drinking beer – there is a pleasant aspect to it. But if you bring mindfulness to the state of being drunk it suddenly does not feel nice at all. Perhaps the whole object of getting drunk is to get rid of the mindfulness and awareness for a short while. So with attention it does not feel nice. If you then give it up, you have initiated the escape aspect.
As noted, the beginner to meditation (and experts too much of the time) are faced with an unruly and uncomfortable mind. Actually this is your general mode of being, it is just that you do not notice it. You are not creating dukkha, you are not making it a construct through which you are filtering your experience. It is there, and you can see this if you pay attention. Tahn Chao Khun Pitaka, a foremost scholar monk in Thailand, has a good example that illustrates this. If you sit in any chair for a length of time, you will soon start to shift your position around. Every couple of minutes you wriggle about a bit and change posture/postition. It feels nice when you do this, but in reality it is not pleasure, but a way of hiding the pain of the body. If you do not pay attention if feels nice to move after sitting still. But to the careful observer you can see that the ‘pleasure’ is only a cover for the inherent discomfort of the body.
It is the same with the mind. It has this underlying dis-ease, or discomfort that you can see in meditation. Your pleasures in life are really only to hide this dukkha. The Buddha had a sharper example – he said that lepers will gain a certain pleasure from cutting or burning their boils and sores. But a healthy person would not want to engage in this behaviour. So an enlightened being sees regular worldly people finding pleasures in coarse things, but has no desire to engage in that behaviour himself.
When you meditate then, you are disengaging the conscious part of the mind, the mindfulness and attention, from the world. The term ‘world’ and the term ‘six senses‘ are interchangeable in Buddhism, as they mean the same thing (to some degree the regular person sees things in terms of the world, and the meditator sees the arising and passing of the six senses). That is your work – to hold the attention still and not get lost in the movements of the mind. We can call this ‘dis-engaging’.
If you compare to a car, you can accelerate, or decelerate – both are making actions of speeding the car up or slowing it down. But if you shift out of gear altogether then the engine is not under any kind of stress and it can idle. The car of course, carries on with a momentum of its own, and will keep rolling until it runs out of steam and comes to a halt, taking longer the faster it was travelling.
Similarly you hold the attention still in meditation, but the mind runs on with a power of its own, pushing and pulling, and desperate to latch onto something. If you observe closely, you can see that when the consciousness is lost on some object of thought, sound (etc for 6 senses) you lose sight of the underlying dukkha. It feels comfortable. When attention (self awareness) returns you are back to being aware of the mind jumping around pushing and pulling. It doesn’t usually feel pleasant, but this is your job as a meditator. You can hold the attention still, even if you can’t stop the whole mind still. Bit by bit the mind runs out of steam and will settle of its own accord.
There are a few insights that come at this stage :
- This underlying Dukkha is your normal mode of being, only you are not usually aware of it.
- Sukha, happiness, is the goal of the holy life, and it is yours for free since it is revealed when the agitation of the mind disappears – the resultant happy states of mind and concentration.
- The happiness that comes with freedom from the dukkha is utterly superior to the happiness of regular folk. In fact, the Buddha said that the happiness that comes to worldly people that is born from ‘favours and flattery’ is like dung to a meditator.
- Seeing this agitation of the mind generates the aspiration to be free from it.
Those doctrines which lead not to complete weariness of the world, to dispassion, ending, calm, knowledge and awakening – do not regard them as Dhamma or the word of the Teacher. (To Upali)
So we come to the term nibbidaa ( ‘aa’ is a long a sound ). It is has a number of translations, with perhaps the nicest being ‘dis-enchantment‘. This suggests that the world has cast an enchantment on you so that you do not see reality. Breaking the spell, you feel happy. Rather like the simile of the cloth – a blind man is sold an oily rag as a clean cloth. If he regained his vision he would see he had been conned from the start. That is the feeling when the enchantment is lifted. Another term is disillusionment. Translating from the Thai, the meaning is to be ‘fed up’.
The function of nibbidaa is to break attachment. If you look at the nine Vipassana insights (~naa.na) then adiinava (misery) is listed as number 4, and nibbidaa as number 5. Importantly, the following insight knowledge is mu~ncitukamyataa~naa.na which is translated desire for deliverance.
This means that it is experiencing disenchantment that leads you to aspire to liberation. The word ‘aspire’ is better here than ‘desire’ since it is a desire that is not born from grasping or attachment. It is not wishing for pleasant meditation, and trying to generate this from the will. But it is a willingness to let go of the dis-ease in the mind. It is a kind of desire that is based on relinquishment, and not on gaining. You can’t get enlightened by wanting to. Force of will won’t do it for you, but you can be willing to step up and watch the mind with conscious awareness, and welcome the disenchantment regarding the agitated mind.