If you haven’t read the other post on samsara yet, please check it out. This is a continuation of that one.
The problem starts with walls, doesn’t it?
And it isn’t our fault, we’re born with their foundations already in place. And then we build on them, because that’s the next logical next step.
We surround ourselves with walls; we separate ourselves from our experiences. If you could simply, by whatever means, no longer feel apart from the experiences you’re having, then that’d be all she wrote. As they say in the suttas, “The holy life is lived, there’s nothing left to do.”
You could walk away from all these teachings, all the metaphors, right now if you could just close the gap between I, not I, mine, and not mine. We often perceive life as if we’re here, and the experience we’re having is all around us. Objects, people, the sun, the sky, even our thoughts, feelings, and bodies seem, “out there,” outside of ourselves. So, if we could make all of that Self, or all of that not-self, then that’d be that.
Samsara, nibbana, ignorance and enlightenment, grasping, not grasping, it’d all “poof” just be words. You wouldn’t need them anymore, having already cut off your arm and stepped into Bodhidharma’s cave.
Then you have a decision to make: whether to stay in the cave, or step back out of it to serve others. Stepping into that cave is an enlightenment experience. Venturing to it and then back out of it, is enlightenment itself.
Never think that the Buddha suddenly became enlightened while sitting under that tree. He was born enlightened, that’s why he was able to cultivate and experience his own enlightenment. The same way that we’re born with eyes and that’s how we’re able to see ourselves in mirrors.
Anyway, for the rest of us, these walls are too real to write off. They’re like dams, they block up the river and create that contrary current that starts the waters swirling.
I think we can all relate to this feeling, to being walled-in. It’s like we’re here, and everything we want to be is on the other side of this wall. We struggle, so hard, to break through. Or we distract ourselves from it by getting lost in passing pleasures. Sometimes, we start to hallucinate, we project whole worlds onto that wall like it’s a blank screen, but it’s really just the wall the entire time.
And reality always catches up with us, it always exposes our delusions. That’s what’s happening whenever we suffer. It’s truth trying to reveal itself, it’s like our alarm going off when all we want to do is to stay asleep, to keep dreaming. So, we do the logical thing: we hit snooze. But we can’t turn it off, we can’t disable the alarm.
It’ll go off at seemingly random times. When we’re impatient while waiting in line; when we catch a cold; when someone cuts us off in traffic; when we’re restless because we want to do something but we don’t know what we want to do; when we fall in love with someone who doesn’t love us back; when someone we care about almost dies; when we’re given a terminal diagnosis.
Samsara is logical. What we’re trying to do here is evaporate those whirlpools, to tear down that wall. This wall is a circle, and there’s always a logic to circles. What isn’t logical is open space. There’s no logic without barriers to contain that logic. What’s infinity plus infinity? If you add infinity to infinity, is it bigger than it was before? If you subtract 1 billion from it, is it smaller?
If you have a hundred foot circle, what takes up more space in it, a 2-inch cube or a 10-inch one? The 10-inch one, right? Duh. Now, the same question, but on a limitless plane. If we put the two cubes side by side, we could still say that the 10-inch one is bigger, but since the plane is limitless, it’s not actually taking up any more space than the 2-inch one. See? Boundaries are what make things make sense.
With the circle in place, everything makes sense, everything seems graspable. We can measure a circle, we can quantify it. We can compare it to other shapes, and we can watch it turn. We can predict its patterns.
When we close ourselves off in circles, we submit to circular logic. This gives us the ability to strive for things, we can gain things, we can move forward, and succeed. We can live. That’s because we’ve wrapped everything up in loops, like dipping a cup in the stream to fill it with water.
But then we get trapped by the other side of this logic.
Because if something makes sense, that means it can’t always make sense. And when we gain something, that means we’re gonna lose it. If we move forward, we can be pushed back; if we succeed, then we can fail. If we live, then we can die. And this circle turns, and turns all through the day; it never stops.
If we dip that cup in the stream and fill it with water, then the water’s going to evaporate. Sooner or later, we’re gonna be left with an empty cup that we’re gonna try to fill over and over again until our backs ache from bending.
But that circle doesn’t contain everything. Its logic is secondary and arbitrary since we drew it in open space. The loops we use to make sense of ourselves and the world are arbitrary since they can’t ensnare the present moment—they can only collect moments together.
If you lose a lot, you might consider yourself to be a loser. But that’s false, because when we only rely on this moment for our views of things, there are no loops, there are no patterns. There’s nothing we can use to form that view, “I’m a loser,” or its opposite, “I’m a winner.”
Without that circle, without the cognitive loops we’ve created that tie moments together, the idea of things making sense or not making sense, doesn’t make any sense. Right now, does this moment make sense or not? If yes, how exactly does it make sense? If no, how doesn’t it? The question itself doesn’t make sense.
The idea of things being graspable or ungraspable can’t be grasped. There’s no striving, no gain, no moving forward, and no success. There’s no life. That means there’s no weariness from striving, no loss, no moving backward, no failure, and no death.
We’ve let go of the cup, so there’s just the stream. And without anything to compare it to, we don’t even think of it as a stream.
Because the only reason to call the number one, “One,” is to separate it from all the other numbers. But if there’s only one, then there’s no reason to think of it as such. No need to think of it at all.
Think about it. If you draw a circle on the beach, you’ve suddenly created inside and outside. You’ve created the circle and everything that belongs to it (inside) and also everything that isn’t the circle, and everything that doesn’t belong to it (outside).
That’s the foundation that makes impermanence possible, because the tide comes in and washes the circle away. But if you don’t draw the circle, then what’s there? And what happens to the absence of the circle when the tide comes in? Nothing. There was no circle before the tide, and no circle after. So once we unbind our cognitive loops, we overturn impermanence and all the suffering caused by it.
And if there’s no circle, does that circle depend on the beach or not? Of course not, because it’s not there haha. How can something that’s not there depend on something else? Now we’ve just overturned dependent arising, which is the process that forms these mental cycles to begin with.
Enlightening experiences are those moments when we untangle the whirlpools, break through the walls, and erase the circles. But, what’s revealed, what’s understood is that we’ve never really been walled-in, that whether the circle’s there or not, the space inside is identical to the space outside because it’s still just the beach. And that whether the river is smooth or full of vortexes, it’s just water, just water.
Suffering is caused by samsara, samsara is caused by grasping, and grasping is caused by ignorance of the ungraspable nature of all things.
We build walls because we think we can, even though we can’t. We draw circles because we think that stakes out our own ground, but it doesn’t.
These walls, dams, and circles are there to protect us from suffering, and that’s why we suffer. Zen exposes us to the logic of our circles, and when we see that, we see that it’s illogical to be logical. That the only truly logical way to view things is, “I don’t know.” Without these walls, without these cognitive loops, I don’t know who I am—there’s nothing I can say about myself. Finally, I’m able to be my genuine self.
And without this sense of separation these loops create, I can’t say anything about anything in general. It’s just open, free. It doesn’t make sense, and that’s the only thing that makes any sense. It’s all beautiful.
If we simply understand that we can’t understand, then that’s understanding. If we can stop searching for an end to our suffering, then that’s the end of suffering. If we stop trying to grasp onto things for lasting satisfaction, then that’s lasting satisfaction.
Because there’s no need to eat when we’re not hungry. If we feel like we don’t have to search for something, then we feel the same way we would if we found it. If you already have everything you could ever want, then there’s no need to strive for it. So if we don’t feel the need to strive, then we feel just like someone who has everything they could ever want.
The only emotional difference between someone who wishes for something and gets it, and someone who wishes for something and doesn’t is the wishing. When someone gets their wishes granted, their wishes go away. So stop wishing, and whether you have or don’t have, gain or lose, you’ll feel like someone who’s never not had and never lost a thing. Just stop.
This is how we practice with samsara. We turn it backwards, use logic to dispel logic; we use concepts to shatter concepts. We use upaya (bullshit) to see through our own bullshit. Because the stream, the circle, the walls, they’re just metaphors. We live our whole lives lost in metaphors, so that’s the only way we can talk about this stuff.
But if we see samsara directly, we’re seeing nibbana directly because both of them are silent, and it’s that silent feeling, that unvoiced shine, that we’ve been talking about all along.
The way to break the cycles is to look to this moment as it is, to unobscured immediacy, and see that here and now—there are no cycles. There are no loops. Nor have there ever been.