Notes and quotes on the talk
‘The End of the World’
at the Pharmaceutical Association of Thailand, Dhamma Talk series 2010
After reading and hearing a little about the mystical side of religion – from Christianity, Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism or others – one gets an inkling that there is a fundamentally different experience to the normal way of life.
A Buddhist model that explains it, and there are countless other models that can be used, is the six sense model. The idea is that the yogi starts the path with what can actually be known. And that is very little compared to the ‘world’. All you can know is the 6 data streams that are your senses. Five common senses, and also thought – which is considered to ba a sense because it can be ‘experienced’. If you could not sense it, you’d have no idea what you are thinking, hence it is counted as a sense, even though it is of a different kind to the other senses.
Doing meditation one finds that the attention jumps between the senses incessantly. You think you cannot do meditation because the mind is so unruly. Actually this is already the first insight – seeing the mind from the ‘non-self’ aspect i.e. that the mind does not do as you wish.
The attention gets absorbed in one of the senses, in some activity and you lose the presence of mindfulness. The mind comes back, and you ‘recollect’ yourself. Making a distinction between the times of recollection/mindfulness/awareness and the times when the attention is lost makes these two modes clearer. While you are recollected, you see whatever state the mind is in. It takes a long time for yogis to really trust that the ‘knowing’ of mindfulness, the quality of attention, is what is important rather than the particular state of mind.
Therefore, in Buddhism, the ‘World’ is equated to the ‘Six Senses’.
This would not make sense to a non-meditator … The world seems vast and complicated. How can it be reduced to just the arising and ceasing of the senses in the present moment? Yet this is actually what you can know.
Creating the World
Human beings give ‘permanence’ to objects and ideas in the world.
If you hurt your toe, you feel pain for a few hours; in the worldly view. But in the six sense view, you see your mind picking up on the pain, reacting, and then passing on to some other distraction. Every so often the mind returns to the pain, and considers it to have been there all along. It gives permanence to the pain, even though the actual experience is of it intermittent.
You relate to the pain in the toe as if it were there the whole time, but really it only ‘hurts’ when you put conscious attention on it.
This is ‘object permanence’ – a term in psychology. We create a whole world of objects. Wife/husband, house, job, self, identity, car, hobbies …. your whole world is made of objects that you necessarily relate to as ‘real’ and ‘permanent’. In fact, though you don’t think about them in this way, even roads, telephones, time – everything in society, you relate to as being there, being real. Your constructs are the filters of how you relate to the world and your expectations of it.
All this is sensible and necessary. No one could function on a level higher than a simple animal, if we did not create a world in this manner. It is a good thing.
However, the yogi view, watching things arise and cease, paying attention to the impermanent aspect, starts to deconstruct the ‘world’.
The world, the world – how far does this saying go?
What is transitory by nature is called the world in the Ariyan sense. And what is transitory by nature?
The eye, forms, eye consciousness … the ear, sounds, hearing consciousness … [nose, tongue, body] The mind, mind states, mind consciousness are transitory by nature.
Pleasant unpleasant or indifferent feeling which arise from sense contact – that also is transitory by nature.
Samyutta Nikaya, 2nd 50 (Ch IV) ‘Transitory’
The ‘Real World’
This view of the world does not mean that it does not exist. We might say the world is ‘delusion’ but it is not ‘illusion’. Floods famine, disease, as well as the beautiful aspects of the objective world are all real, and not to be ignored, or dismissed as somehow a grand illusion. Yet subjectively, it is our own delusion.
He who has seen the arising of the world, cannot say it is not real.
He who has seen the ceasing of the world, cannot say that it is real.
This delusion is generated and led by your thinking – or in modern terms, your constructs.
What is it by which the world is led? What is that whereby it plagues itself?
And what is that above all other things, that brings everything beneath its sway?
It is by thoughts the world is led, by its thoughts it ever plagues itself.
And thought it is above all other things, that brings everything beneath its sway.
The World S. I p57 (pts trans)
Cessation of the World
So the ‘World’ is reduced to the six senses – which is all you can experience and know directly. Holding the mind steady in mindfulness you do not let it get lost in a sense .. that is you can feel the mind go out and get lost in some sound, thought or feeling. Maintaining mindfulnss, the mind recollects itself (ekabhava) bit by bit. You experience spots and glimpses when the mind brightens and comes home. At those points it is self luminous, and not caught up with any object of mind. It is not thunderbolts and lightning, but the experience grows.
All the mystic traditions have to pass through this point. Anything else is another idea to hold onto, another mantra, tantra or other object in which to absorb the mind. There is no enlightenment without reaching the end of the world.
Rohitassa was a yogi who had attained the ability to [astral] travel at will, or at least so he claimed.
he was told:
Not to be reached by travelling is the world’s end
Yet there is no release for man from suffering
unless he reaches the world’s end. Then let a man
become a world knower, wise, a world-ender
Let him be one who lives the holy life
knowing the end of the world through being calmed
Then he does not long for this world or any other
The reason for this topic is the common ‘new age’ idea that you create your own world, that reality depends on your thinking. The corollary of this is you should fix your thinking to attract to you what you want.
While the ‘create your own world’ is not incongruous with Buddhism, it is still Samsara, the world of birth, death and delusion. The whole delusory world of your constructs comes tumbling down if it is cut at the right place.
The Zen commentary about the vines covering the mansions …. it is somewhat cryptic, but here goes:
Blind old futzer, down in a dark cave thick with a maze of vines and creepers. He comes back and sits stark naked in the weeds. Pity about poor Master Fu. He’s going to lose his lovely mansions. And don’t say these words are cold and indifferent, that they have no taste. One bellyful eliminates hunger till the end of time.
That is from Hakuin’s commentary on the Heart Sutra.