The Radiant Mind Is Unawareness
Normally the mind is radiant and always ready to make contact with everything of every sort. Although all phenomena without exception fall under the laws of the three characteristics—stress, inconstancy, and not-self—the true nature of the mind doesn’t fall under these laws.
The extent to which the mind does follow these laws is because the things that fall under these three characteristics come spinning in and become involved with it, so that it goes spinning along with them. Even then, though, it spins in a way that doesn’t disintegrate or fall apart. It spins with the things that have the power to make it spin, but the natural power of the mind itself is that it knows and does not die. This deathlessness is something that lies beyond disintegration. This non-disintegration is something that lies beyond the three characteristics and the common laws of nature, but we’re not aware of it because conventional realities become involved with the mind and surround it, so that the mind’s behavior conforms thoroughly to theirs.
The fact that we’re unaware that birth and death are things that have always been with the mind infected by defilement, is because ignorance itself is an affair of defilement. Birth and death are an affair of defilement. Our own true affair, the affair that’s ours pure and simple—the affair of the mind pure and simple—is that we don’t have the power to be our own true self. We have been taking all sorts of counterfeit things as our self all along, and so the mind’s behavior is not in keeping with its true nature. Its behavior falls under the sway of the deceits of defilement, which make it worry and fear, dreading death, dreading everything. Whatever happens—a little pain, a lot of pain—it’s afraid. If even the least little thing disturbs it, it’s afraid. As a result, the mind is filled with worries and fears. Even though fear and worry aren’t directly an affair of the mind, they still manage to make it tremble.
We’ll see—when the mind is cleansed so that it is fully pure and nothing can become involved with it—that no fear appears in the mind at all. Fear doesn’t appear. Courage doesn’t appear. All that appears is its own nature by itself, just its own timeless nature. That’s all. This is the genuine mind. ‘Genuine mind’ here refers only to the purity or the ‘saupādisesa-nibbāna’ of the arahants. Nothing else can be called the ‘genuine mind’ without reservations or hesitations. I, for one, would feel embarrassed to use the term for anything else at all.
The ‘original mind’ means the original mind of the round in which the mind finds itself spinning around and about, as in the Buddha’s saying, ‘Monks, the original mind is radiant’—notice that—‘but because of the admixture of defilements’ or ‘because of the defilements that come passing through, it becomes darkened.’
The original mind here refers to the origin of conventional realities, not to the origin of purity. The Buddha uses the term ‘pabhassaraṁ’—‘pabhassaram-idaṁ cittaṁ bhikkhave’—which means radiant. It doesn’t mean pure. The way he puts it is absolutely right. There is no way you can fault it. Had he said that the original mind is pure, you could immediately take issue: ‘If the mind is pure, why is it born? Those who have purified their minds are never reborn. If the mind is already pure, why purify it?’ Right here is where you could take issue. What reason would there be to purify it? If the mind is radiant, you can purify it because its radiance is unawareness incarnate, and nothing else. Meditators will see clearly for themselves the moment the mind passes from radiance to mental release: Radiance will no longer appear. Right here is the point where meditators clearly know this, and it’s the point that lets them argue—because the truth has to be found true in the individual heart. Once a person knows, he or she can’t help but speak with full assurance.
Thus the fact that our mind is surrounded, made to fear, to worry, to love, to hate, or whatever, is caused entirely by the symptoms of conventional reality, the symptoms of defilement. We have no mental power of our own. We have only the power of defilement, craving, and mental effluents pushing and pressuring us day and night while we sit, stand, walk, and lie down. Where are we going to find any happiness and ease as long as these things, which are constantly changing, keep provoking the mind to change along with them without our being aware of the fact?
There can be no ease in this world—none at all—until these things can be completely eradicated from the heart. Until then, we can have no secure ease and relief in any way. We can only shift and change about, or lean this way and that, depending on how much we’re provoked by the things that come and involve us. This is why the Buddha teaches us to cleanse the mind, which is the same thing as cleansing ourselves of suffering.
There is no one who has genuinely penetrated the principles of the truth like the Lord Buddha. Only he can be called ‘sayambhū’—one who needs no teaching or training from anyone else. In curing his heart of defilement, he performed the duties of both student and teacher, all by himself, until he awakened to the level of the superlative Dhamma, becoming the superlative person, the superlative Master.
This is not to deny that on the level of concentration—the development of mental stillness—he received training from the two hermits; but that in itself wasn’t the way of extrication leading to the level of omniscience (sabbaññū). By the time he was to attain omniscience, he had left the two hermits and was striving on his own. He came to know the Dhamma on his own and to see on his own, without anyone else’s teaching him. He then brought that Dhamma to teach the world so that it has known good and evil, heaven, hell, and nibbāna ever since. Had there been no one to teach us, we of the world would be completely burdened with the mass of fire filling our hearts and would never see the day when we could put our burdens down.
This being the case, we should appreciate the worth of the Dhamma that the Buddha brought to the world after having endured hardships in a way no one else in the world could have managed.
So now, at present, what is it that covers the heart so that we can’t find its radiance and purity, even though each of us wants to find purity. What conceals it? To answer in terms of natural principles, we should start with the five khandhas. As for the ‘mind of unawareness,’ we can save that for later. Let’s just start out with what’s really obvious—the five khandhas and their companions: sight, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations.
These make contact with the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body, and then link up with the mind, forming the basis for this assumption and that. The mind then takes the objects that have come passing by and uses them to bind itself, entangle itself, or encircle itself so that it is completely darkened with love, hate, anger, and all sorts of other states, all of which come from the things I have mentioned.
But what lies buried deep is our belief that the khandhas form our self. From time immemorial, whatever our language, whatever our race—even when we are common animals—we have to believe that these things are us, are ours; that they are a being, the self of a being, our own self. If we become deities, we believe that our divine bodies are ours. If we become hungry ghosts or whatever, the things we dwell in—gross bodies or refined—we take to be us or ours. Even when we become human beings and begin to have some sense of good and evil, we still have to believe that ‘This is us,’ or ‘This is ours.’ Of the five khandhas, the body (rūpa) is ‘us.’ Vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa are ‘us,’ are ‘ours.’ These assumptions lie buried deep within us.
The Buddha thus teaches us to investigate. We investigate these things so as to see their truth clearly and then to uproot our mistaken assumptions and attachments that they are the self. We do this for the sake of freedom and for nothing else.
If we look at these things in their normal state, we might wonder why we should investigate them. Sights are simply sights; sounds are sounds; smells, smells; tastes, tastes; tactile sensations are simply natural phenomena as they’ve always been. They’ve never announced that they are our enemies. So why investigate them?
We investigate them to know the truth of each one of them as it actually is, to realize our own delusions by means of this investigation and to extricate ourselves from them through knowledge—for the fact that the mind lays claim to the khandhas as its self, as belonging to itself, is because of delusion and nothing else.
Once we have investigated and clearly understood what these things are, the mind withdraws inwardly through knowledge, understanding, and discernment, with no more concern for these things. We investigate whichever khandha is most prominent. We needn’t conjecture or speculate about the fact that we haven’t contemplated the five khandhas in their entirety, or each khandha in turn. We needn’t conjecture at all. All we need to do is to see which khandha is prominent and merits investigation at the moment—which khandha we feel best suited to handle—and then investigate and explore it so that it becomes clear.
Take, for instance, the body, whichever aspect of the body is most prominent in your awareness—the aspect that has you most interested, that you want most to investigate. Latch onto that spot and focus on examining it so as to see its truth in terms of the question, ‘What is stress?’
In the texts we are told that stress (dukkha) means ‘unendurability,’ but this doesn’t sit well with my own crass tastes, which is why—one man’s meat being another man’s poison—I prefer to translate stress as ‘a constant squeeze.’ This is more in keeping with my tastes, which are very crude. For example, the phrase, ‘yampicchaṁ na labhati tampi dukkhaṁ,’ is right in line with my translation. In other words, ‘Not attaining what is desired is stress.’ How is it stress? In that it puts a squeeze on us, or makes us uncomfortable.
If we don’t get what we want, we’re uncomfortable. Even if we get what we want but then lose it, we suffer stress. Stress in this sense fits the translation, ‘a squeeze.’ This squeeze is what’s meant by stress or unendurability. If it can’t endure, let it go its own way. Why mess with it? Actually, no matter which khandha, no matter which of the three characteristics, the mind is the one at fault for getting attached, which is why we have to examine the khandhas until we have them clear.
Whatever aspect of the body, look so as to see it clearly. If we’re not yet clear about the filthiness in our ‘physical heap,’ we can look at the charnel ground within us so as to see it clearly. When we’re told to visit the charnel ground, this is where we make our visit. Even if we visit a charnel ground outside, the purpose is to reflect inwardly on the inner charnel ground—our own body.
As for the external charnel ground, in the days of the Buddha it was a place where corpses were scattered all over the place. The dead were hardly ever buried or cremated as they are today. So the Buddha taught monks to visit the charnel ground, where old corpses and new were scattered everywhere. He also gave detailed instructions as to the direction from which to enter, in keeping with his sharp intelligence as a self-dependent Buddha, the Teacher of the world. He said to approach from the upwind side and not from the downwind side. Otherwise the stench of the various corpses would be bad for your health.
‘When you encounter corpses in this way, how do you feel? Look at the different types of corpses. How do you feel? Now refer inwardly, to your own body, which is another corpse.’ This is how he taught the monks to investigate. Once we have an eyewitness—ourself—as to what the corpses in the external charnel ground are like, we can refer inwardly to the internal charnel ground: ourself again. Once we have grasped the basic principle, the external charnel ground gradually fades out of the picture. Instead, we investigate our internal charnel ground so that it becomes gradually more and more clear. In other words, we see how this body is a well of filth. Repulsive. Something that constantly has to be washed, bathed, and cleaned.
Is there anything that, once it has become involved with any part of the body, remains clean? Even the food we eat, once we consume it, becomes filthy from the moment it enters the mouth and passes on down. Our clothing is also dirty. It has to be washed and laundered—a lot of fuss and bother. The same holds true for our homes. They constantly have to be cleaned, scrubbed, dusted, and swept. Otherwise they turn into another charnel ground because of the filth and the smell. Everywhere, wherever human beings live, has to be cleaned—because human beings are filthy. And since our bodies are already filthy, everything that comes into contact with them becomes filthy. Even food—delicious, inviting, appealing food—once it becomes mixed with the filth in the body, such as saliva, becomes filthy as well. If you took food of various kinds into your mouth and then spit it out, there’d be no way you could take it back in again. It’d be too disgusting. Revolting. Why? Because the body is filthy by its very nature, and so whatever becomes involved with the body becomes filthy as well.
To contemplate in this way is called investigating the charnel ground, or investigating the theme of loathsomeness.
So. Focus in on seeing its inherent nature. Look at every facet, in whichever way comes most naturally to you. When you’ve examined one spot, your knowledge gradually seeps into the next spot and the next. If mindfulness and awareness keep in close connection, discernment can’t help but go to work and advance unceasingly. You’ll feel profoundly moved as you come to see and know truly, step by step. This is discernment on the first level of investigation.
Once you’ve investigated filthiness, you then investigate the process of change in the body. In other words, filth is in this body. Dry corpses, fresh corpses, raw corpses, cooked corpses, all kinds of corpses are gathered together in this body, but I’ve never heard the place where they are barbecued, roasted, and stewed called a crematorium. Instead, it’s called kitchen. But actually, that’s what it is, a crematorium for animals. And then they’re all buried here in this stomach, this grave. We’re a burial ground for all kinds of animals—yes, us!—if we look at ourselves in all fairness, with impartiality, because we’re filled with old corpses and new. Once we have contemplated in this way, then if we don’t feel disenchantment, if we don’t feel disengagement, what will we feel?—for that’s the way the truth actually is.
The Buddha taught us to get to the truth, because this is what the truth is. If we don’t resist the truth, we will all be able to unshackle ourselves from our attachments and false assumptions—from our stupidity and foolishness—step by step. The mind will become bright and clear, radiating its brightness with dignity, bravery, and courage in the face of the truth that comes into contact with it at all times. It will be content to accept every facet of the truth with fairness and impartiality. Even though we may not have yet abandoned our attachments absolutely, we can still find relief in having put them down to at least some extent. We no longer have to be constantly weighed down with our attachments to the khandhas to the point where we are always miserable. This is in keeping with the saying, ‘Fools, the heavier their burdens, the more they keep piling on. Sages, the lighter their burdens, the more they let go—until nothing is left.’
When we investigate in this way, we should examine the process of change in the khandhas. Every piece, every bit, every part of the body undergoes change. There’s no exception, not even for a single hair. Everything undergoes change in the same way. So which part is us, which part is ours, to which we should be attached?
The same holds true with the word ‘anattā,’ not-self. It drives home even more firmly the fact that these things don’t deserve our attachment. ‘Anattā’ lies in the same parts as change—the very same parts. They’re anattā, not ours or anyone else’s. Each one, each one is simply a natural phenomenon mingled with the others in line with its own nature, without any concern for who will like it or hate it, latch onto it or let it go.
But we human beings are light-fingered and quick. Whatever comes our way, we snatch hold of it, snatch hold of it, with no concern for right or wrong. We’re more light-fingered and quick than a hundred monkeys, and yet all of us, all over the world, like to criticize monkeys for not being able to sit contented and still. Actually we ourselves can’t stay contented and still in any position. We’re full of restlessness—unruly, reckless, overflowing our boundaries—and yet we never think of criticizing ourselves. The Dhamma taught by the Buddha is thus like a stick for slapping the hands of this light-fingered, unruly monkey.
With the three characteristics, anattā among them, he warns us, strikes our wrists: ‘Don’t reach!’ He slaps us, strikes us: ‘Don’t reach for it as “me” or “mine.”’ The phrase, ‘The body is not the self,’ is just like that. ‘Don’t reach for it. Don’t latch onto it.’ This is simply so that we will see that it’s already not-self. By its nature it’s not-self. It doesn’t belong to anyone at all. He’s already told us: ‘Anattā: It’s not the self.’ This is how we investigate the body.
So, now then: Focus on visualizing it as it disintegrates, in whichever way seems most natural to you. This part decomposes. That part decomposes. This part falls off. That part falls off. Let yourself become engrossed in watching it, using your own ingenuity. This falls off, that falls off, until everything has fallen apart—all the bones, from the skull on down. Once the skin that enwraps them has decomposed, the flesh has decomposed, the tendons that hold them together have decomposed, the bones can’t help but fall apart, piece by piece, because they are held together only by tendons. Once the tendons decompose, the different parts have to fall off piece by piece in a pile on the ground, scattered all over the place. You can even visualize having vultures, crows, and dogs come to eat and scatter the parts everywhere. How does the mind feel about this?
Well then, look at it. Visualize the liquid parts seeping into the earth and evaporating into the air, then drying away, drying away until they no longer appear. The solid parts, once they’ve dried, return to the earth from which they came. Earth returns to earth, water to water, wind to wind. Penetrate down into any of four elements—earth, water, wind, or fire—because each gives clear evidence of the Noble Truths.
We don’t have to think that we’ve examined earth clearly, but this element or that element isn’t clear. We needn’t think that way at all. If we examine any one of them until it’s clear, we will penetrate them all, because earth, water, wind, and fire are all already open and aboveboard. They appear to our sight. In our body, we already have water. Wind—for example, the in-and-out breath—is already clearly there, already clear to see. Fire—the warmth in the body—is something we all have here in our bodies. So why don’t we accept its truth with right discernment? Once we’ve investigated it over and over again, we have to accept it. We can’t resist the truth, because that’s why we’re here: We want the truth.
So keep investigating. Look for the part that’s ‘you’ or ‘yours.’ Look for it! There isn’t any—not a one! The whole thing originally belongs to them: to earth, water, wind, and fire. It originally belongs to the different elements.
Now, when you look in this manner, the mind can settle down and grow still. At the same time, these aren’t preoccupations that will make the mind proud, conceited, or unruly. Rather, they are themes that calm the heart, which is why the Buddha taught us to investigate them repeatedly until we understand and become adept at them.
When the mind sees clearly with its own discernment, it can’t help but withdraw into stillness, firmly centered within, letting go of all its cares. This is one level in the investigation of the khandhas.
Now for the next step: Investigate feelings of pain, especially when you are ill or have been sitting in meditation for a long time, and severe pain arises. Take it on, right there. A warrior has to fight when the enemy appears. If there’s no enemy, how can you call him a warrior? And what’s the enemy? Feelings of pain, the enemy of the heart. When you’re ill, where does it hurt? There: You have your enemy. If you’re a warrior, how can you run away and hide? You have to fight until you gain knowledge and then use that knowledge to come out victorious.
So. What does the pain come from? From the time we were born until we first sat in meditation, it wasn’t there. Before we first became ill, it didn’t appear. It appears only now that we’re ill. Before that, where was it hiding? If it’s really ‘us,’ our mind should have been aware of it at all times, so why hasn’t this kind of pain appeared at all times? Why is it appearing now? If the pain is ‘us,’ then when it vanishes why doesn’t the mind vanish with it? If they’re really one and the same thing, they have to vanish together. The pain should appear as long as the mind is aware. If they’re one and the same thing, the pain shouldn’t vanish. You have to look and investigate until this is clear. At the same time, analyze the body when the pain arises—when, for example, your legs ache or when this or that bone hurts. Fix your attention on the bone if the bone is really hurting.
Is the bone the pain? Ask yourself! And whatever you’re asking about, focus your attention right there. Don’t ask in the abstract or absentmindedly. Ask in a way that focuses the mind right down to see the truth. Focus steadily right on the pain. Stare the mind right down on whichever bone you identify with the pain. Look carefully to see, ‘Is this bone the pain?’ Fix your attention there. Really observe with your own discernment. If this bone is really the pain, then when the pain vanishes, why doesn’t the bone vanish with it? If they really are one and the same thing, then when the pain vanishes, the bone should vanish too. It shouldn’t remain.
But look: When the disease goes away, or when we get up from sitting in meditation, the really severe pain vanishes, the stress vanishes. So if they are one and the same thing, why doesn’t the bone vanish as well? This shows that they aren’t one and the same. The feeling isn’t the same as the body. The body isn’t the same as the feeling. Similarly, the body and the mind aren’t one and the same. Each has its own separate reality. Distinguish them so as to see them clearly in line with this truth, and you’ll understand their true nature through discernment, with no doubts at all. Feeling will appear in its true nature.
Ultimately, the investigation will come circling in, circling in, circling in to the mind. The pain will gradually shrink into itself, away from the mind’s assumptions. In other words, you will see that the mind is the culprit. The mind is the instigator. The physical pain will gradually subside and fade away. The body will simply be there as the body, with the same reality it had before the pain appeared. And now that the pain has vanished, the flesh, skin, tendon, bone or whatever part you had identified as the pain will maintain its reality in the same way. It isn’t the pain. The body is the body. The feeling is the feeling. The mind is the mind. Fix your attention on seeing them clearly. Once the mind has penetrated to the truth, the pain will disappear. This is one result.
Another result is that even if the pain doesn’t vanish—here I’m referring to the physical pain—still it can’t have any impact on the heart and mind. Ultimately, the mind is serene, secure, and majestic, there in the midst of the physical pain. No matter which part of the body you say is pained—even if it’s the whole body at once—the mind isn’t disturbed or agitated in any way. It’s relaxed and at ease because it has seen with discernment right through the pain appearing at the moment. This is another sort of result that comes from investigating pain.
When investigating pain, then the greater the pain, the more important it is that your mindfulness and discernment not retreat. They have to keep advancing so as to know the truth. You needn’t aim at making the pain vanish, because such a desire would simply enhance the pain and make it more and more severe. Actually, you’re making an investigation simply to see the truth. Whether or not the pain vanishes, know the truth that is the pain or gives rise to the pain by seeing through it with your own discernment: That’s enough. Fix your attention there, and these things will keep appearing and disappearing there in the khandhas.
The body appears for a certain period and then disintegrates in what we call death. As for feelings of pain, they appear a hundred times in a single day and then disappear a hundred times, a thousand times as well. What’s lasting about them? This is the kind of truth they are. Get so you clearly know with discernment the truth of painful feelings as they appear. Don’t retreat or let the mind wander adrift.
What is saññā labeling at the moment? Saññā is the important instigator. As soon as saṅkhāra fashions anything—blip!—saññā latches right onto it and labels it this, labels it that—stirring things all up. When we talk about the things that create havoc, provoking this issue and that, we’re referring to these characters: saṅkhāras and saññās that label things and stamp meanings on them. ‘This is us. This is ours. This is pain. It hurts right here. It hurts right there. I’m afraid of the pain. I’m afraid to die’—afraid of everything of every sort. These are the characters that fool us into fear, making the mind apprehensive, making it give up its efforts and lose. Is it good to lose? Even children playing games have a sense of shame when they lose, and try to make up their losses. As for meditators who lose out to defilement, who lose out to pain: If they don’t feel embarrassed in the presence of the defilements, the pains and themselves, then they’re simply too shameless.
Know that vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa are simply individual conditions displayed by the mind. They appear and vanish. ‘Saññā anattā’—see? They too are not-self, so how can you hold to them? How can you believe them to be you, to be yours, to be true? Keep track of them so that you can know them clearly with mindfulness and discernment: audacious, undaunted, diamond-hearted, decisive in the face of defilement and pain of every sort.
Saṅkhāras, mental formations: They form—blip, blip, blip—in the heart. The heart ripples for a moment: blip, blip, blip. The moment they arise, they vanish. So what substance or truth can you find in these saññās and saṅkhāras ?
Viññāṇa, cognizance: As soon as anything comes into contact, this takes note and vanishes, takes note and vanishes. So ultimately, the khandhas are full of nothing but appearing and vanishing. There’s nothing lasting about them that can give us any real sustenance or nourishment. There’s not even the least bit of substance to them. So use your discernment to investigate until you see clearly in this way, and you will come to see the real Dhamma taught by the Buddha, which has not been otherwise from time immemorial and by the same token will never be otherwise at all.
Once we’ve investigated to this extent, how can the mind not withdraw into stillness until it is plainly apparent? It has to be still. It has to stand out. The mind’s awareness of itself has to be prominent because it has withdrawn inwardly from having seen the truth of these things. The mind has to be prominent. Pain, no matter how horribly severe, will dissolve away through investigation, through the mind’s having clearly seen its truth. Or if it doesn’t go away, then the pain and the mind will each have their own separate reality. The heart will be inwardly majestic. Undaunted. Unfearing.
When the time comes for death, let it happen. There is no more fear, because death is entirely a matter of rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. It’s not a matter of the ‘knower’—the heart—breaking apart. It’s not the knower—the heart—that dies. Only those other things die. The mind’s labels and assumptions have simply fooled it into fear. If we can catch sight of the fact that these labels and assumptions are illusions and not worthy of credence, the mind will withdraw inwardly, no longer believing them, but believing the truth instead, believing the discernment that has investigated things thoroughly.
Now, when the mind has investigated time and again, ceaselessly, relentlessly, it will develop expertise in the affairs of the khandhas. The physical khandha will be the first to be relinquished through discernment. In the beginning stage of the investigation, discernment will see through the physical khandha before seeing through the others and will be able to let it go. From there, the mind will gradually be able to let go of vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa at the same time.
To put the matter simply, once discernment sees through them, it lets go. If it has yet to see through them, it holds on. Once we see through them with discernment, we let them go—let them go completely—because we see that they are simply ripplings in the mind—blip, blip, blip—without any substance at all. A good thought appears and vanishes. A bad thought appears and vanishes. Whatever kind of thought appears, it’s simply a formation and as such it vanishes. If a hundred formations appear, all hundred of them vanish. There is no permanence to them substantial enough for us to trust.
So then. What is it that keeps supplying us with these things or keeps forcing them out on us? What is it that keeps forcing this thing and that out to fool us? This is where we come to what the Buddha calls the pabhassara-citta: the original, radiant mind. ‘But monks, because of the admixture of defilement,’ or ‘because of the defilements that come passing through’—from sights, sound, smells, tastes, tactile sensations; from rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa, that our labels and assumptions haul in to burn us—‘the mind becomes defiled.’ It’s defiled with just these very things.
Thus investigation is for the sake of removing these things so as to reveal the mind through clear discernment. We can then see that as long as the mind is at the stage where it hasn’t ventured out to become engaged in any object—inasmuch as its instruments, the senses, are still weak and undeveloped—it is quiet and radiant, as in the saying, ‘The original mind is the radiant mind.’ But this is the original mind of the round of rebirth—for example, the mind of a newborn child whose activities are still too undeveloped to take any objects on fully. It’s not the original mind freed from the cycle and fully pure.
So while we investigate around us stage by stage, the symptoms of defilement that used to run all over the place will be gathered into this single point, becoming a radiance within the mind. And this radiance: Even the tools of super-mindfulness and super-discernment will have to fall for it when they first meet with it, because it’s something we have never seen before, never met before, from the beginning of our practice or from the day of our birth. We thus become awed and amazed. It seems for the moment that nothing can compare to it in magnificence.
And why shouldn’t it be magnificent? It has been the king of the round of rebirth in all three worlds—the world of sensuality, the world of form, and the world of formlessness—since way back when, for countless eons. It’s the one who has wielded power over the mind and ruled the mind all along. As long as the mind doesn’t possess the mindfulness and discernment to pull itself out from under this power, how can it not be magnificent? This is why it has been able to drive the mind into experiencing birth on various levels without limit, in dependence on the fruits of the different actions it has performed under the orders of the ephemeral defilements. The fact that living beings wander and stray, taking birth and dying unceasingly, is because this nature leads them to do so.
This being the case, we have to investigate it so as to see it plainly. Actually, radiance and defilement are two sides of the same coin because they are both conventional realities. The radiance that comes from the convergence of the various defilements will form a point, a center, so that we can clearly perceive that ‘This is the center of the radiance.’ When any defilement appears, in correspondence with that state or level of the mind, a very refined stress will arise in the center we call radiant. Thus radiance, defilement, and stress—all three—are companions. They go together.
For this reason, the mind possessing this radiance must worry over it, guard it, protect it, maintain it, for fear that something may come to disturb it, jar it, obscure its radiance. Even the most refined adulteration is still an affair of defilement, about which we as meditators should not be complacent. We must investigate it with unflagging discernment.
In order to cut through the burden of your concerns once and for all, you should ask yourself, ‘What is this radiance?’ Fix your attention on it until you know. There’s no need to fear that once this radiance is destroyed, the ‘real you’ will be destroyed along with it. Focus your investigation right at that center to see clearly that this radiance has the characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self just like all the other phenomena you have already examined. It’s not different in any way, aside from the difference in its subtlety.
Thus nothing should be taken for granted. If anything has the nature of conventional reality, let discernment slash away at it. Focus right down on the mind itself. All the really counterfeit things lie in the mind. This radiance is the ultimate counterfeit and at that moment it’s the most conspicuous point. You hardly want to touch it at all, because you love it and cherish it more than anything else. In the entire body there is nothing more outstanding than this radiance, which is why you are amazed at it, love it, cherish it, dawdle over it, want nothing to touch it. But it’s the enemy king: unawareness.
Have you ever seen it? If you haven’t, then when you reach this stage in your practice you’ll fall for it of your own accord. And then you’ll know it of your own accord—no one will have to tell you—when mindfulness and discernment are ready. It’s called avijjā—unawareness. Right here is the true unawareness. Nothing else is true unawareness. Don’t go imagining avijjā as a tiger, a leopard, a demon, or a beast. Actually, it’s the most beautiful, most alluring Miss Universe the world has ever seen. Genuine unawareness is very different from what we expect it to be.
When we reach genuine unawareness, we don’t know what unawareness is and so we get stuck right there. If there’s no one to advise us, no one to suggest an approach, we are sure to stay stuck there a long time before we can understand and work ourselves free. But if there is someone to suggest an approach, we can begin to understand it and strike right at that center, without trusting it, by investigating it in the same way we have dealt with all other phenomena.
Once we’ve investigated it with sharp discernment until we know it clearly, this phenomenon will dissolve away in a completely unexpected way. At the same time, you could call it Awakening, or closing down the cemeteries of the round of rebirth, the round of the mind, under the shade of the Bodhi tree. Once this phenomenon has dissolved away, something even more amazing that has been concealed by unawareness will be revealed in all its fullness.
This is what is said to be like the quaking of the cosmos within the heart. This is a very crucial mental moment: when the heart breaks away from conventions. This moment, when release and conventional reality break away from each other, is more awesome than can be expressed. The phrase, ‘the path of arahantship giving way to the fruition of arahantship’ refers to precisely this mental moment, the moment in which unawareness vanishes. As we are taught, when the path is fully developed, it steps onward to the fruition of arahantship, which is the Dhamma—the mind—at its most complete. From that moment on, there are no more problems.
The phrase, ‘the one nibbāna,’1 is fully realized in this heart in the moment unawareness is dissolving. We are taught that this is the moment when the path and the fruition—which are a pair—come together and meet. If we were to make a comparison with climbing the stairs to a house, one foot is on the last step, the other foot is on the floor of the house. We haven’t yet reached the house with both feet. When both feet are on the floor of the house, we’ve ‘reached the house.’ As for the mind, it is said to reach the Dhamma or to attain the ultimate Dhamma, and from the moment of attainment it’s called ‘the one nibbāna.’
In other words, the mind is completely free. It displays no further activity for the removal of defilement. This is called the one nibbāna. If you want, you can call it the fruition of arahantship, for at this stage there are no more defilements to quibble. Or you can call it the one nibbāna. But if you want to give it the conventional label most appropriate to the actual principle, so that nothing is deficient in conventional terms, you have to say ‘the one nibbāna’ so as to be completely fitting with conventional reality and release in the final phase of wiping out the cemeteries of the mind of unawareness.
The Buddha taught,
n’atthi santi paraṁ sukhaṁ:
There is no ease other than peace.
This refers to the stage of those who have no more defilements, who have attained sa-upādisesa-nibbāna alive, such as the arahants.
To practice the religion means to attend to your own heart and mind. Who is it that suffers pain and difficulty? Who is the suspect, forever imprisoned? Who else, if not the mind? And who has it imprisoned, if not all the defilements and mental effluents? To deal with the situation, you have to deal directly with the enemies of the heart, using your discernment, for only sharp discernment is capable of dealing with the defilements until they dissolve away of their own accord, as I have already mentioned. From that point on, there are no more problems.
As for rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa, they’re simply conditions—just conditions—no longer capable of affecting or provoking the mind. The same with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations: Each has its separate reality. To each one we say, ‘If it exists, it exists. If not, no matter.’ The only problem has been the mind that makes labels and assumptions through its own stupidity. Once it gains enough intelligence, it becomes real. All phenomena within and without are real. Each has its own separate reality, with no more of the conflicts or issues that used to occur.
When we reach the stage where ‘each has its own separate reality,’ we can say that the war between the mind and defilement is over. When the time comes to part, we part. If not, we live together, like everyone else in the world, but we don’t take issue with each other like everyone else in the world, because we’ve made our investigation.
If the words ‘inconstancy, stress, and not-self’ don’t refer to the khandhas for which we are responsible, what do they refer to? So now we have completed our studies—our study of the three characteristics (tilakkhaṇa), rather than of the three divisions (tipiṭaka) of the Pali Canon, although actually the three divisions are nothing other than the three characteristics, in that the three divisions are a description of the three characteristics throughout.
Inconstancy: the process of change. Stress. Not-self: The khandhas are not us—not us while we are living, so when we die what is there to latch onto? When you see the truth in this way, you don’t worry or feel apprehensive over the life or death of the khandhas. The mind simply perceives the modes in which the khandhas behave and break apart, but by its nature it doesn’t disband along with the khandhas, so there’s nothing to fear. If death comes, you don’t try to prevent it. It life continues, you don’t try to prevent it, for each is a truth.
In completing your study of death, you become the ultimate person—the ultimate you. When you have completed your study of death, you don’t fear death—‘If life continues, let it continue; if death comes, let it die’—for you have spread a net around yourself with your discernment. You don’t tremble over the truths of which the heart is fully aware at all times.
So. That’s enough for now. As it happens, we’re at the end of the tape…
1. This is an indirect reference to a passage in a Thai Dhamma textbook that reads, ‘The transcendent Dhammas are nine: the four paths, the four fruitions, and the one nibbāna.’