To get the best out of this website, please read on...
We have set your language based on your browser language settings or location. To change language use the flag above.
We'd like you to have the best possible experience of our new site, and we notice you're using an older browser that isn't compatible with some of the latest developments on the internet.
We've designed things so Free Buddhist Audio will continue to work for you, but we invite you to a better experience of the web now and in future if you have a few minutes to upgrade...
Install (or update from an older version) a future-friendly browser:
We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Eric, FBA Team
Coleen, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vicki, Seattle, USA
... of a practical sense of what is meant:
‘If one thinks of matter in terms of energy…the whole universe can be considered as
consisting of life or energy that coagulates into more or less separate forms of
conscious life. It is as if the whole of life is a stream within which more concentrated
currents flow. So in building up a mental picture of the universe we should think
neither in terms of mutually exclusive interlocking parts, nor of a sort of
undifferentiated mass; the reality is somewhere in between. We are separate from
each other and from the world, but there isn’t a hard and fast distinction between us.
What I think of as me and what you think of as you is in each case the centre of a
particular coagulation of the common stream of life. It is difficult to tell where ‘I’
come to an end and where ‘you’ begin. We shade into each other.’
‘Know your Mind’, pp.90-91
He also says:
‘When you attain Enlightenment… you no longer have a will that is separate from
that of others... You don’t experience another person as a sort of brick wall you are
coming up against, and you no longer experience yourself as a separate and
conflicting solid force. You experience others in a completely different way: they
become diaphanous or transparent, because your will is not coming into collision
with theirs. This completely different, more relaxed, lighter, freer attitude taken to the
nth degree, is something of the nature of Enlightenment. The world is the same but
you see it differently.’
‘Know Your Mind’, p.53
So, hopefully I have established here a clear link between spiritual death, letting go of
identifying with a fixed sense of self, and love. It is not an immediately obvious connection,
but is worth reflecting on. I bring this aspect into my Amitabha sadhana very directly. I have
a phrase that I say to myself during the practise that invariably softens my heart; “We are not
separate so the only response is to love”. I quite systematically track through the relationship
between impermanence, interconnectedness and love. Over the years the connection has
become much more intuitively obvious and at my fingertips. Initially I had to sort of figure it
out when I reflected – now the connection between death/letting go and
love/interconnectedness is much more instinctual. I have used my Amitabha connection as a
training ground to loosen up and increase the pliancy of my heart. In my meditation, I often
get an image of myself and others being like waves on the ocean. As I breathe in and out, I
get a sense of us all coming into being and passing away just like waves. There is a gentle,
constant, ebbing and flowing of form in harmony with the movement of the breath. It is very
harmonising and beautiful and helps me get a sense of our separate, yet temporary, forms
rising and falling from the vastness, or ‘big mind’ of the ocean.
‘If you cast a pebble into the quiet ocean, the ripples extend in all directions and
finally melt into the ocean. This is really human life. So, from this vantage point,
whatever kind of ripples you can see – suffering, up and down waves – whatever kinds
of things come up, remember they are happening in the vastness of the ocean, and
sooner or later they melt back into the immense ocean.’
by Dainin Katagiri in ‘Returning to Silence’
As well as reflecting on the image of the waves and the ocean to try to get a sense of
interconnectedness, I also use related questions such as; “why is compassion an expression of
wisdom?” “What is the loving aspect of the unconditioned?” All these approaches and
reflections help alleviate any tendency one may have to seeing spiritual death in a cold, dry
way. They bring in a warm, loving, very heart based aspect of practice – which is essential
when contemplating or dwelling on impermanence or death.
They help us remember that death is never an end in Buddhism, it is just a marker for change.
Death and rebirth are two sides of the same coin. Even the ultimate ‘death’ of Enlightenment
is not to be mistaken simply as an ending eg Bhante has described Enlightenment as a state of
irreversible creativity. One could say we die from narrow ego hood to freedom, as beautifully
described in Govinda's poem that I read at the start of this talk;
“Let me fearlessly go through the portals of death
So that I may awaken to the greater life.”
This points the tremendous richness that one can experience when living more in harmony
with the beauty and liberation of change. It is a deeply creative and wise person who is able
to be fully aware, fully present in the moment and yet at the same time open to death, to
emptiness. We will have a rich life if we can engage wholeheartedly, mindfully and
passionately with whatever this moment contains whilst at the same time letting the whole
experience slip through the fingers without grasping.
3. Spiritual Death in Different Practices
The idea of going beyond identifying with a fixed sense of self and moving towards spiritual
death underlies all Buddhist meditation. I believe we can include this sort of exploration
within any of the meditation practices taught within the FWBO.
Mindfulness of Breathing
In the Mindfulness of Breathing we can be aware of the three laksanas in relation to the
breath. The breath is a fantastic object of mindfulness in this respect. It is always present as a
felt sensation and so it is inherently grounding and real, and yet it is always changing. There
is a lot of scope for investigating the breath in this way. We can also ask ourselves ‘who is
breathing?’ as a way of beginning to break down the artificial separation between breath as
experience, and the breather.
‘If you think “I breath”,
the “I” is extra.
There is no you to say “I”.
What we call “I” is just a swinging door
Which moves when we inhale
And when we exhale.
It just moves, that is all.’
D.T. Suzuki in ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’
We can explore any element of control within the act of breathing and practice letting go very
fully into the breath. I find a good way to explore this edge is to ‘ let the breath breathe itself’.
Metta Bhavana (and Brahma Viharas)
In the Metta Bhavana we have a lot of scope to explore and see through the false separation
between self and other. If we ask ‘Who am I?’ we can also ask ‘Who are you?’ of the other
people we include in the practice. We can see how both self and other are empty of a fixed
and unchanging self and, in that sense, are not ultimately separate or isolated. The quality of
metta, by its nature, includes an ‘opening’ or ‘releasing’ of the heart, which can help us
loosen up our sense of self and generally become more pliant, flexible and mentally and
emotionally creative. I think the Metta bhavana is a good context to reflect on spiritual death
if one has a tendency to a sort of cold, alienated nihilism. One can reflect on
interconnectedness, loving others as much as self, as a way of seeing through attachment to a
fixed, unchanging, isolated sense of self. We can exchange self and other, reflecting on how
“you are dear to yourself, as I am dear to myself. What might it be like to be you etc”. So,
one can explore all these aspects of the self/other conundrum within the metta bhavana and in
this way it can be a very effective vipashyana bhavana practice.
Six Element Practice
This is an excellent practise for training oneself to loosen the mind and its identification with
the elements and the senses. As I’ve already said it is the main practise Bhante recommends
for overcoming pride and the wrong view that one has a fixed and permanent self.
Before major surgery last year I systematically embarked on this kind of training as
preparation. I did the six element practise most days for several months where I concentrated
particularly on letting go of identifying strongly with the elements as being exclusively
‘mine’. I reflected a lot on how all the experiences of resistance both internally and externally
are the earth element, both in me and the world. Likewise how experiences of movement and
fluidity are the water element. When I contemplated the air element I reflected on how the
wind in the trees is no different from the air in the forest of my body. In the consciousness
element I simply tried to loosen my identification with whatever my mind was getting up to.
I find it evocative to think of one of those hanging tapestries that you see in country estates.
They cover a whole wall and depict a coherent image from a distance. Close up you can see
how the image is made of millions of interwoven coloured threads. Between each thread
there is a tiny ...