Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Dhanakosa Opening 1993 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

... of view. Well, every individual human being
should have the fullest possible opportunity to grow and to develop in accordance with his or her
own innate qualities, characteristics, needs and so on. You don't need to bring in this concept of
equality. Do you see what I'm getting at? I think we sort of confuse the whole issue by talking in
terms of equality or of even equal opportunity. Everybody should have what they need for their life
and for their development, full stop. So I don't use the term 'equality' and for this reason I speak
sometimes in terms of pseudo-egalitarianism by which I mean this sort of quite illegitimate, in my
view, application of this concept of equality to human beings. One can speak of human beings in
qualitative terms presumably by surely not in quantitative terms. So you can't say that one human
being is equal to another as though one human being was say a pound of flour and the other was a
pound of sugar or they're both equally pounds as it were. It isn't really like that. [Laughter]

But then what about this seeing us as all equal or not as all equal in Buddhism? Well, in Buddhism,
in Mahayana Buddhism, there are the jnanas, the five jnanas which are symbolised by the Five
Buddhas. So we've got the samata jnana and we've got the pratyeveksana jnana - I assume that's
what the questioner is referring to. Samata means, well, you could translate it as 'equality' but it's
more literally 'sameness'. So in what sense are, not just all people but all things, samata. This is not
samatha, by the way, this is samata, which is a different word. Well, they're all 'equal', single
inverted commas, inasmuch as they're all sunyata. They're all characterised by sunyata. That is the
sense in which they are 'equal', again single inverted commas, or 'same', and that's just one aspect of
the truth. But the other, or another, is this pratyaveksana jnana. Pratyeveksana jnana is that jnana
which recognises the indefinable uniqueness of things. No one thing is absolutely like any other.
Everything is absolutely unique. There is a principle in Western philosophy, I think it's contributed
by Leibnitz, called the 'identity of indiscernibles'. If two things can't be distinguished in any way,
well, they're the same thing, you haven't got two things. But the things that we're acquainted with,
well, are discernible in all sorts of ways so they're not the same. So the pratyaveksana jnana
recognises the absolutely unique individuality of every single thing. If you think about it, it is really
amazing how different things are. Take for instance the human face. There are how many billion
human faces? But they're all made up of the same simple elements. You've got one nose, two eyes, a
mouth, a couple of eyebrows but they're all absolutely different! Absolutely different. Look at your
hand. Look at the lines on your hands. Look at your fingerprints. There's, well, there's ten billion of
hands and well, fifty billions of fingerprints, they're all absolutely different. And if you look inside
each little cell, I don't know how many of billions and billions of cells there are, they're all different.
So everything has its own absolutely unique individuality which cannot be reduced to the
individuality of any other thing.

So that sort of realisation is the Pratyaveksana jnana. If you look around the world, if you go about
you just see how absolutely, well, unique everything is. It's absolutely amazing. You can't boil it
down just to one sort of soggy mass. But there's also this samata jnana. All these, absolutely unique
things are sunyata. So these are just two of jnanas. On the one hand you've realised the absolute
ineffable sunyata of everything. Everything is, well, let's use the word equally, by this time, equally
sunyata, but at the same time each individual thing is absolutely unique and irreducible to any other
thing. So the fact that these are two of the five jnanas means you, if you are enlightened you hold
these and the other jnanas together, so to speak, in your mind, in your enlightened experience at the
same time. At one and the same time you realise the absolutely void nature of absolutely everything
but on the other hand you realise and you experience the absolute unique individuality, particularity
of everything. So that's the sort of Buddhist vision, especially the Mahayana Buddhist vision about,
well, equality and difference.

So that comes a long way from the way in which we usually, and in my view quite wrongly, think
about equality. We just have to try and hold in our minds at one and the same time the, well the void
nature of everything and at the same time the absolutely unique individuality. And paradoxically I
think that the more we can do the one, the more we can do the other. (Pause)

Some of these questions are a little complicated. Yes, let's go back to something quite simple and
practical. Something to do with meditation. A question about the fourth stage of the Mindfulness of
"Why focus attention on the nose/mouth area?"

That's one. Two -
"Isn't ending the practice with the experience of single-pointedness like this a bit abrupt?"
"Some meditation guides to end with lead the meditator into a more expansive sense of the
environment all around the meditator. Is that advisable?"

So clearly the question is about the fourth stage of the Mindfulness of Breathing where one focuses
the attention just on the point where the in-and-out breath strikes. It's a very fine point, just that
sensation, you make that your object of concentration, not the in-and-out breath itself. So the
concentration that you achieve at that point, at that stage, is quite refined. In some traditions one
concentrates on the rise and fall of the abdomen but that is a somewhat gross object, it's a big object.
The sensation at the tip of the nose made by the breath coming and going is a much more fine point
so you achieve a better concentration, concentrating on that. Anyway this I expect you are familiar
with. We've focused, the question is "Why focus attention on the nose/mouth area?" It's not so much
the nose/mouth area, it is just that sensation at the tip of the nostrils made by the breath coming in
and going out.

Then the second part of the question is, "Isn't ending the practice with the experience of single-
pointedness like this a bit abrupt?" Maybe, we'll deal with that together with the next question.
"Some meditation guides to end with lead the meditator into a more expansive sense of the
environment all around the meditator. Is that advisable?" Well, if you practice the mindfulness of
breathing and if as a result of concentrating on the sensation at the tip of the nostrils you do become

really concentrated, it can even seem that the breath has stopped and that there's no sensation and
you're just absorbed. You may have a dhyanic experience. Obviously you must not make too abrupt
a transition back into the world as it were. But I think in the case of most people they, well, they take
care of that, as it were, automatically because what you find is usually after you've been in that very
concentrated state for a little while, it may be only a minute or two, you notice that your breath is
becoming, well, it's coming back perhaps, it's becoming a little harsher and well, your concentration
then becomes less refined because the object of concentration is less refined. So you sort of
gradually come down. Usually that happens quite naturally but it isn't advisable to, as it were, jump
from a highly concentrated mental state just into doing something else.

And if it is the case that some meditation guides do suggest that one just becomes aware of the
environment, well, there's nothing wrong with that I should say. Usually what happens is that people
are meditating with their eyes closed, so when the meditation has, as it were, come to an end they
just open their eyes. They may not actually look around. But if you open your eyes after a period of
meditation, maybe concentrated meditation, if you open your eyes, well you do become aware of
your environment anyway, automatically and you may sometimes find you see it in a very clear way
because you see it without any thoughts - maybe your mind hasn't started working again yet. You
just see it without any thoughts and then of course gradually the thoughts start coming back and you
start thinking about the next thing to do.

So I don't think usually any sort of special sense of the environment is needed to be cultivated but the
general point is, of course, as seems to be implied here, ...

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