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A Survey of Buddhism - Chapter 1 Sections 8 - 18

by Sangharakshita

... too skilfully well then we may
lose sight of the fact we don't have any real knowledge or experience of the things that they represent. In
other words we'll be under the delusion that we have experienced when we don't have it and that's a terrible
sort of situation to be in.
I was thinking therefore it might be a sort of useful exercise - again this is a bit of a diversion but maybe not
- that if supposing one does the Manjushri visualization one could say to oneself, by way of sort of exercise,
well I'll de a sort of, let's say, meditation on Manjushri but I'll do it, I'll try to get some feeling of Manjushri
without thinking of him in any particular form. I'll forget all about the sixteen year old youth and the
flaming sword and the blue lotuses. All right put all that aside, what am I left with? What sort of feeling,
what sort of experience? Because you can sort of conjure up the visual icon but if you're not careful that
may hide from you the fact you've no experience of what it represents. And it's the same with these verbal
icons; in other words with these descriptions in words. I mean because you can explain quite nicely, quite
neatly, what Enlightenment is, it's a state of Perfect Wisdom and Perfect Positive Emotion and Perfect
Energy. You can sort of kid yourself that you know all about it, but you don't. So the verse here says, 'when
all conditions are removed all ways of telling are removed.' You're very familiar with the ways of telling
and you don't really understand that, for what you're supposed to be talking about, there are in fact no
conditions. You've imposed certain conditions on that, and you're familiar with the words which reflect
those conditions and you think you know all about that which is, so to speak, behind the conditions, whereas
perhaps you know nothing at all about it. So therefore the verse says, ‘There is no measuring of man, Won
to the Goal’. Well it's very important to remember that. One might make use of expressions like Perfect
Wisdom and Supreme Compassion sort of provisionally. You understand what they mean, you understand
quite well perhaps but what you don't understand is in what sense they are true of the Buddha. So if you're
too confident that you sort of know all about it because you can manipulate the verbal and the visual
symbols it will remove all sort of sense of mystery from the Dharma; it’ll remove all sense of unfathomed
depth, as it were. It'll become glib, superficial. There won't be very much in it. So you have to be careful in
a way that you don't explain too much, you don't explain so well and clearly and confidently that you give -
I mean when you're talking especially about anything to do [5] with the Buddha, nirvana, sunyata - you
don’t explain it so well or so closely that you give people the impression that they now have a very good,
adequate idea of what that is all about.
You should also, if you want to communicate anything at all, be able to communicate something of the
mystery, something of the unfathomed depth, which words cannot reach, which thoughts cannot reach, but
which perhaps through the imagination, through symbols, you can get some glimpse of. But even the
A Survey of Buddhism (Chapter One Sections VII-XVIII) Seminar - Second Edition - Page3
symbols mustn't be sort of brought into play mechanically. They become. they are just what I call mere
visual icons.
Sagaramati: If somebody asks you a question, which beginners often do like 'what is Nirvana?' or ‘what is
the goal of Buddhism? I mean in one sense you're left with your own emptiness that you don't understand
and the other side is like well look if you just present this nothing to them they'll think well it's strange
being a Buddhist when you don't know what your goal is.
S: Well yes I mean you may get that sort of question from Christians. They'll come round, they'll bounce in
and say 'I'm saved, Jesus has saved me. Are you saved? Have you reached Nirvana?' So you say 'well, er, no
not quite'. Then they say, 'well your religion's not doing much for you - I'm saved!' [Laughter]. So the
semantic confusion is endless. It's not to be cleared up in a few minutes by anybody; hardly a Buddha
couldn't really clear it up probably, not in a few minutes. But I think what is important is - well let's deal
first of all with a sort of assumption - despite what some Buddhist texts say or appear to say I think one
should avoid dealing with nirvana as a sort of state, fixed, something definite, out there. Do you see what I
mean? When people ask you what is nirvana, the assumption underlying the question is that, well it is a
definite sort of identifiable even locatable thing that can be described in quite straightforward, as it were,
scientific terms. Well I think one should not go along with that assumption. So that when people ask about
Nirvana you should retreat a few steps as it were and make the distinction clear between the skilful and the
unskilful, the reactive and the creative, and then try to communicate a feeling for the creative process, and
then you should suggest that that is something that can go on and on to further and further heights,
becoming more and more intense, more and more creative, and that the whole spiritual life, the whole
process of the Higher Evolution is a movement of that sort in that kind of direction, and then bring in
Nirvana, and say that one can so to speak imagine this movement of creativity, this spiral of creativity,
going on and on indefinitely and that Nirvana represents the furthest conceivable point beyond which you
can't really imagine anything. I mean thought and imagination even just fail. So that sort of area which in a
way you believe that the [6] that the process in some way continues but the process has already reached
such a high pitch of development that you can't imagine what it might sort of expand to or spiral up into
after that. And that sort of unknown area where you have to sort of admit defeat, even as far as your
imagination is concerned, well, that you just indicate with the word Nirvana. Do you see what I mean? I
think this is really the only valid sort of approach if new people especially come to you with the question, of
`what is nirvana?' or `tell us something about nirvana' and the advantage also of this is that you can say
something from your own experience. You can say well as a Buddhist, as one who has gone for Refuge, I
do have the experience of a greater degree of positivity and creativity than I had before. There does seem to
be a sort of movement, a sort of stream setting in that direction; I'm trying to cultivate that and strengthen
that and I have the faith, if one likes to call it that, that I can go on doing this indefinitely and that this will
culminate in greater and greater bursts of creativity. And the ultimate burst, the ultimate so far as my
conception goes is the one that we call Buddhahood or Nirvana.
Atula: On that line Bhante, I think you've explained it before but the difference between rupajhana and
arupajhana - is it that in the rupajhanas there is still quite a substantial feeling of self, and in the
arupajhanas that is dissolved much much more. Is that what happens?
S: It does to some extent come back to this word 'rupa' which is 'form' - that's the literal translation - even
shape, configuration and this suggests something out there, an object, something that you see, if you take
the word ‘rupa’ literally. So obviously where there is rupa out there which you see and when there is you as
the seer, well clearly there is a division, there's a dichotomy, a subject/object discrimination, and there's a
sort of dualistic set up, dualistic framework. So supposing there is no rupa, well this suggests that there is
A Survey of Buddhism (Chapter One Sections VII-XVIII) Seminar - Second Edition - Page4
no subject perceiving the rupa so therefore that suggests that the subject/object relationship is in abeyance;
now not quite broken down. But there is of course in Buddhism a distinction between the arupajhana state,
or the arupaloka, which are virtually interchangeable, and Nirvana. Now speaking as it were
metaphysically, which is taking a different approach from the one I've just been taking, one says, according
to tradition, that nirvana, that there is no subject/object duality - there it's completely transcended. So if
there is to be a distinction between the arupaloka state and the state of the purely transcendental, the state of
nirvana, then one cannot say that in the
[7] arupaloka state or arupajhana state, one cannot say that subject/object distinction has been completely
and permanently eradicated. So one can only say, therefore, that it has become extremely subtle, so that
there is no very obvious or crude, as it were perception of something objective, something out there. The
subject/object relation is sort of toned down, it is not so strongly polarised. Do you see what I mean? I think
one can say that one finds that even in, let's say, ordinary meditation, meditation that doesn't get very far up
in the rupaloka even; even there the rupa is different, it is subtler. It’s more vivid perhaps but it is subtler
and more refined. So perhaps one can think of the arupaloka as a level where that process is continued even
further. There's ...

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