Mindfulness and Awakening
This is the direct path for the purification of living beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of distress and displeasure, for acquiring the true method, for the realization of Nirvana, namely the four establishments of mindfulness.(MN 10: ekāyano ayaṃ … maggo sattānaṃ visuddhiyā sokaparidevānaṃ samatikkamāya dukkhadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamāya ñāyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya yad idaṃ cattāro satipaṭṭhānā).There is a single path for the purification of living beings, for going beyond sorrow and fear, for eradicating distress and affliction, for abandoning weeping and tears, for attaining the right Dharma, namely the four establishments of mindfulness.(MĀ 98: 有一道淨眾生, 度憂畏, 滅苦惱, 斷啼哭, 得正法, 謂四念處).There is a one-going path for the purification of the actions of living beings, for removing worry and sorrow, for being without afflictions, for attaining great knowledge and wisdom, for accomplishing the realization of Nirvana, namely that one should abandon the five hindrances and attend to the four establishments of mindfulness.(EĀ 12.1: 有一入道, 淨眾生行, 除去愁憂, 無有諸惱, 得大智慧, 成泥洹證, 所謂當滅五蓋, 思惟四意止).
One cultivates the awakening factor of mindfulness in dependence on seclusion, in dependence on dispassion, and in dependence on cessation, culminating in letting go.(SN 54.13: satisambojjhaṅgaṃ bhāveti vivekanissitaṃ virāganissitaṃ nirodhanissitaṃ vossaggapariṇāmiṃ).One cultivates the awakening factor of mindfulness supported by seclusion, supported by dispassion, and supported by cessation, leading to letting go.(SĀ 810: 修念覺分依遠離, 依無欲, 依滅, 向於捨).
The Path and the Goal
nirvana, in being the unconditioned, can’t be the result of any cause and specifically can’t be the result of any mental cause. But this implies that nirvana can’t be the result of following the Buddhist path … how is liberation possible if nirvana can’t be the effect of any cause? …Whatever is unconditioned can’t be the result of any cause, and nothing can affect it. Therefore, no activity, including meditation practice, can bring it about. So, how could awakening or nirvana be realizable in meditation or by following the Buddhist path?
I say that purity is not [reached] through a view, not through learning, not through knowledge, not through virtue and observances, and is it also not [reached] through the absence of a view, through the absence of learning, through the absence of knowledge, through the absence of virtue, and through the absence of observances; it is not in that way. Having relinquished these without grasping, peaceful and independent, one should not long for becoming.(Sn 839: na diṭṭhiyā na sutiyā na ñāṇena, sīlabbatenā pi na suddhim āha; adiṭṭhiyā assutiyā añāṇā asīlatā abbatā no pi tena. ete ca nissajja anuggahāya, santo anissāya bhavaṃ na jappe).One does not become wise by seeing and hearing and also does not become purified by being endowed with the practice of virtue; one does not become [free from] delusion by not seeing and hearing and also cannot purify oneself by being separated from the practice [of virtue]. There being such perceptions, one should relinquish them and not cling.(T 198 (no. 9): 亦見聞不為黠, 戒行具未為淨, 不見聞亦不癡, 不離行可自淨. 有是想, 棄莫受).
For [Nirvana] is indeed to be reached by the path, [although] it is not to be produced [by it].(Vism 508: pattabbam eva h’etaṃ maggena, na uppādetabbaṃ).
The Realization of Awakening and Not Self
Others, however, must rely on the teachings of the Buddha to experience enlightenment, and even then, that experience is not said to be self-validating. The Buddha’s foremost disciples, Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, who flank him in so many paintings and statues, had to be informed by the Buddha that they had reached the stage of arhat.
The mind of one who knows like this and sees like this becomes liberated from the influx of sensuality, the mind also becomes liberated from the influx of becoming, and the mind also becomes liberated from the influx of ignorance. Being liberated, there is the knowledge of being liberated and one understands: Birth has been ended, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no further for this state of existence.(MN 27: tassa evaṃ jānato evaṃ passato kāmāsavā pi cittaṃ vimuccati, bhavāsavā pi cittaṃ vimuccati, avijjāsavā pi cittaṃ vimuccati. vimuttasmiṃ vimuttam iti ñāṇaṃ hoti, khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā ti pajānāti).The mind of one who knows like this and sees like this becomes liberated from the influx of sensuality, and the mind becomes liberated from the influx of becoming and the influx of ignorance. Being liberated, there is in turn the knowledge of being liberated and one understands as it really is: Birth has been ended, the holy life has been established, what had to be done has been done, there is no further experiencing of becoming.(MĀ 146: 彼如是知, 如是見, 欲漏心解脫, 有漏, 無明漏心解脫. 解脫已, 便知解脫: 生已盡, 梵行已立, 所作已辦, 不更受有, 知如真).
Many of the Vedic-Brahminical thinkers would agree that what the Buddha calls the ‘five aggregates’ are indeed not-self. They would say that the true self (ātman) transcends the aggregates. The true self isn’t the body, feeling, sense perception, volition, or sensory or mental consciousness, and it lies beyond them.
One does not regard form as the self, nor the self as possessed of form, nor form as in the self, nor the self as in form. One does not regard feeling tone as the self, nor the self as possessed of feeling tone, nor feeling tone as in the self, nor the self as in feeling tone. One does not regard perception as the self, nor the self as possessed of perception, nor perception as in the self, nor the self as in perception. One does not regard volitional formations as the self, nor the self as possessed of volitional formations, nor volitional formations as in the self, nor the self as in volitional formations. One does not regard consciousness as the self, nor the self as possessed of consciousness, nor consciousness as in the self, nor the self as in consciousness.(MN 44: na rūpaṃ attato samanupassati, na rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, na attani vā rūpaṃ, na rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ. na vedanaṃ attato samanupassati, na vedanavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, na attani vā vedanaṃ, na vedanāya vā attānaṃ. na saññaṃ attato samanupassati, na saññavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, na attani vā saññaṃ, na saññāya vā attānaṃ. na saṅkhāre attato samanupassati, na saṅkhāravantaṃ vā attānaṃ, na attani vā saṅkhāre, na saṅkhāresu vā attānaṃ. na viññāṇaṃ attato samanupassati, na viññāṇavantaṃ vā attānaṃ, na attani vā viññāṇaṃ, na viññāṇasmiṃ vā attānaṃ).One does not see form as the self, does not see the self as possessing form, does not see form as contained within the self, does not see the self as contained within form; one does not see feeling tone … perception … volitional formations … consciousness as the self, does not see the self as possessing consciousness, does not see consciousness as contained within the self, and does not see the self as contained within consciousness(MĀ 210: 彼不見色是神, 不見神有色, 不見神中有色, 不見色中有神也, 不見覺, 想, 行, 識是神, 不見神有識, 不見神中有識, 不見識中有神也).One does not regard form as the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as being in the self, or the self as abiding in form; one does not regard feeling tone … perception … volitional formations … consciousness as the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as being in the self, or the self as abiding in consciousness.(Up 1005: gzugs bdag yin, gzugs bdag dang ldan, bdag la gzugs yod, gzugs la bdag gnas zhes yang dag par rjes su mi mthong ste; tshor ba dang, ’du shes dang, ’du byed dang, rnam par shes pa bdag yin, rnam par shes pa bdag dang ldan, bdag la rnam par shes pa yod, rnam par shes pa la bdag gnas zhes yang dag par rjes su mi mthong ste).
All phenomena are not self.(Dhp 279: sabbe dhammā anattā),(Gāndhārī Dharmapada 108, Brough 1962/2001, p.134: sarvi dhama aṇatva),(Patna Dharmapada 374, Cone 1989, p. 203: sabbadhaṃmā anāttā),(Udānavarga 12.8, Bernhard 1965, p. 194: sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ),(T 213, stanza 12.9: 一切法無我).
The Four Noble Truths and the Experience of Awakening
Part of the problem is that there is no Buddhist consensus on what the content of the state or experience of awakening is … already in the early Buddhist texts, we find different and irreconcilable conceptions of the content of the awakening experience that leads to liberation.
All religions, including Buddhism, when viewed as being about beliefs in supernatural agents (gods, celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas) or supernatural principles (karma), cannot but seem ridiculous in the eyes of science in all the ways today’s ‘new atheists’ never tire of pointing out.
The Centrality of Meditation
the belief that Buddhism is … inherently rational and empirical … or [a] way of life based on meditation. These beliefs, as well as the assumptions about religion and science on which they rest, are mistaken. They need to be discarded.
There is a popular idea that Buddhism is inherently rational and scientific. People say that Buddhism isn’t so much a religion as it is a philosophy or a way of life. Some scientists have described it as ‘the most science-friendly religion.’ It dispenses with the concept of God, upholds direct observation, understands things in terms of cause and effect, maintains that everything constantly changes, and says that there is no essential self or soul.
it [is] important to acknowledge that psychology and Buddhist meditation are different knowledge systems with distinct epistemologies and dissimilar final aims. Nevertheless, they converge on a keen interest in understanding the workings of the mind with a view to alleviate unnecessary suffering. This common ground can become an arena for an open dialogue that avoids both a quest for validation and an attempt to trump the other.