A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


The Buddha-Dharma's Third Truth simply states that whatever is subject to arising is also subject to ceasing. And since duhkha arises, it too is subject to cessation. The cessation of duhkha - the ending of confusion, sorrow, and loss - is nirvana. The Buddha referred to nirvana as 'unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned.' He said,

'Were there not the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, there would be no escape for the born, the grown, and conditioned. Since there is the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, so there is escape for the born, grown, and conditioned.'

The born, grown, and conditioned refer to everything you can conceive of - including yourself. Look around you. There's nothing you can find - indeed, there's nothing you can even imagine - that doesn't originate, develop, or exist in relation to other things. Being born, growing, and responding to conditions is built into the very fabric of the world we live in.

But the Buddha also pointed out that there is an aspect of experience that is not born, grown, or conditioned. This unconditioned aspect is directly available to perception. We can see it - we just can't conceptualize it or pin it down. In short, our situation is anything but hopeless. There actually is something Real, Genuine, and True for us to see.


Back when I had cancer, I would occasionally meet with others who had cancer. We always had much to share. And so it happened that I became friends with a man who was dying of the illness. I used to visit him in hospital. But I remember one evening in particular when everything seemed different. It wasn't like the other nights I had visited him. For one thing, the hospital seemed so much quieter than usual.

My friend was lying in a bed, hooked up to a machine that would sigh on occasion and break the silence every few minutes. Otherwise it was extremely quiet, except for the radio, tuned to the classical station, which was barely audible. I sat by his bed and we talked quietly for a while. Our conversation was mostly silence. Just the radio and the sighing machine.

He was in pain and asked me to give him a massage. I did for a few minutes. Then, again, we talked for a while. After a silence, he suddenly put his hands over his face and gave out a forceful gasp. Reality was overtaking him at last. He had been struggling with cancer for the better part of a year, but in that moment the reality of death was finally hitting him. At last he put his hands down and just stared ahead.

I said to him, 'Wherever we go, it's always like this.' Puzzled, he looked at me and said, 'What do you mean?' I gestured and said, 'thus.' The look of bewilderment remained for a moment. Then his face transformed. He understood. It was the last time we spoke to each other. I sat with him a while longer, in that deathly silent room with the gasping machine. And the radio, exceedingly soft. He died the next day.


Some people think the teaching of the awakened is nihilistic, as if it asserts a kind of nothingness. As if, somehow, nirvana is a lapsing into a tranquil oblivion, a floating grayness, drifting in a shoreless sea. That is not nirvana.

Recall that everything we see, hear, feel, and think is constant flux and change. Nothing endures. We long for permanence and as a result we suffer, for we find none. There seems to be only this coming and going, coming and going, this unending arising and ceasing. We experience everything as motion. Indeed, physicists tell us that matter is literally nothing but motion. And no matter how we look at it, at any scale, our experience is always of motion, of change.

That is true of everything in the physical world, including our bodies. Every cell - indeed, every atom of every cell - reveals nothing but ceaseless coming and going. Our bodies are re-made moment by moment, and in no two moments are they the same. The same is true of our minds. The contents of our minds are in constant motion as well. Thoughts, feelings, judgements, and impulses arise, one after another, then bloom and fade away like flowers after their season.

Nirvana is seeing, thoroughly and completely, that this is so.

From Buddhism Plain And Simple (1997) by Steve Hagen


am said...

"Then his face transformed. He understood."

Thank you for this today, solitary walker.

Loren said...

Quite moving, sw.

I'll have to add it him to my already too long Amazon wish list.