Drowning in Dharma

 The doctrine of anatman has always been the center of Buddhist controversy.  There is no doubt that Guatama Buddha made it one of the central points of his teaching, but the interpretations of it are various.  The Theravadins interpret it not only as ‘no self’, but also as ‘no Self’, thereby denying man both an ego and all participation in something pf the nature of the universal spirit or the One Mind.  The Mahayanists accept the interpretation of ‘egolessness’, holding that the real ‘Self’ is none other than that indescribable ‘non-entity’, the One Mind; something far less of an ‘entity’ than the atman of the Brahmins.

…If the Theravadins are right with their ‘No ego and no Self’, what is it that reincarnates and finally enters Nirvana?  Why do they take such pains to store up merit for future lives?  For if the temporarily adhering aggregates of personality are not held together by an ego-soul or by a Universal Self or the One Mind, whatever enters Nirvana when those aggregates have finally dispersed can be of no interest to the man who devotes successive lives to attaining that goal. 

It is also difficult to understand how Buddhism could have swept like a flame across Asia if, at the time of its vast expansion, it had only the cold comfort of the present Theravadin interpretation of Anatman to offer those in search of a religion by which to live.  Zen adepts, like their fellow Mahayanists, take anatman to imply ‘no entity to be termed an ego, naught but the One Mind, which comprises all things and gives them their only reality.’ ~ John Blofeld

A raging river of bits and pieces, ebbs and flows, interpretations and concepts.  Things arise from the depths slowly bobbing on the current, shine momentarily and then fall away.  A constant whirlpool of perceptions, hopes, feelings and failures that swirl to form a picture so beautiful and engrossing that we don’t want it to end.  To keep it eternal we make pictures in the clouds reflected in the waves.  An illusion is crafted from an illusion.

Throw a soul into a raging torrent and it disappears.  So what enters Nirvana?  Nothing.  Nothing has never left.  Nothing was ever apart from it.  To drown in Samsara is to drown in Nirvana and to drown in Nirvana is to be swept away by the current.  To throw ourselves completely in to the moment and be carried  away.  Throw Nirvana into the raging stream and it disappears just as quickly as any other construct.  Never apart from Nirvana, we learn that Samsara just owns the illusion.  Each drop in the river is the same entity, the same type of particle, has the same construct, as the one next to it.

Step into a puddle and fall down a sink hole.  It doesn’t need to be a river.  You can drown in 2 inches of water. Samsara is like this, harmless until you discover you can’t breathe.  Drowning in the very thing we search for ~ Nirvana.  As we stare into the river of Samsara we even see our views become absolutes, so precious is the illusion.  Yes, everything in impermanent.  That is a view, cling to it tightly.

“‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,’ is a viewpoint. ‘The cosmos is not eternal… The cosmos is finite… The cosmos is infinite… The soul & the body are the same… The soul is one thing and the body another… After death a Tathagata exists… After death a Tathagata does not exist… After death a Tathagata both does & does not exist… After death a Tathagata neither does nor does not exist. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless,’ is a viewpoint. The extent to which there are viewpoints, view-stances, the taking up of views, obsessions of views, the cause of views, & the uprooting of views: that’s what I know. That’s what I see. Knowing that, I say ‘I know.’ Seeing that, I say ‘I see.’ Why should I say ‘I don’t know, I don’t see’? I do know. I do see.” ~ Kokanuda Sutta

Ananda sees the process inherit in the river.  The mechanism that moves the particles.  When we lose our objectivity, our ability to see the rising and setting of views, we lose our ability to see the Dharma.

We throw the Dharma into the river and expecting a raft we see it bob on the current, glimmer for a moment and then drown in Samsara.




3 thoughts on “Drowning in Dharma

  1. Thank you for this contemplation. John Blofeld is imprecise when he writes that the Theravada perspective is tied to the viewpoint that there is no self and no Self. Rather, the notion of anatta is “not self.” That means that when one understands the nature of the phenomena perceived with the five physical senses and whatever pops into one’s mind, one knows that none of it is self, none of it is me, none of it is mine. This is a visceral understanding.The Theravada perspective is that one won’t get very far speculating about whether there is a self, or a Self, or no self, or no Self. Any viewpoint or opinion one holds in that regard is, by its nature, part of this roiling river, as you insightfully suggest.

  2. Thanks @Dhammametta for your clarification. It seems less pedantic to state “not self” rather than “no self” and provides a clearer picture of the illusionary nature of self rather than banging a gavel and saying “No Self!”All of Buddhism (or any contemplative practice) is visceral rather than academic.

  3. “So what enters Nirvana?  Nothing.  Nothing has never left.  Nothing was ever apart from it.”Just get out of the way.

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