How many times can we keep digging up these dusty old bones for perusal? A lot, apparently. The Dharma is the gift that looks different each time you look at it. Not because it is, but because we are.
Sitting around, doing nothing, the Four Truths popped back up again—only this time as the present experience rather than a theory about experiences. We’ve already compared the mind to the innkeeper and the guests. To put it plainly, we’re talking about the mind and what’s on the mind; the container and the contents.
Whatever we experience is content, it’s what’s on our minds. This includes the idea “mind,” our sense of self, all the views and teachings, even enlightenment. The first Two Truths (Suffering and its cause) have to do with this, with what’s on our minds. When we work with this content—when we’ve come to terms with it, and we’re centered and at ease in it—we can turn around and address the mind itself.
The second pair of Truths (the Path and the cessation of suffering) have to do with studying the mind, the container, the innkeeper. When mindfulness and concentration are constant, and when we can easily keep the four fundamental precepts, it’s time to start this leg of the journey.
For the first pair of Truths, there are reliable and detailed views and methods; for the second pair, you’re pretty much on your own. No set views, no detailed methods; no picking up, setting down, pushing away, letting go, or letting be because that’s all content.
It’s like if someone is trained to build cabinets. They’re taught the tools and techniques, given close guidance and schematics. Then, when you pass the class, you’re on your own—no schematics, not even any tools since they were all borrowed. You just have the skills and the confidence that you can build something with them.
It’s like the Native American ritual where kids were taught how to hunt, fish, build shelters, etc. Then they have to go off alone and survive the wilderness to prove themselves and be recognized as adults. We learn the lay of the land in daylight, then—beneath the moon—we set out alone.
Through mindfulness and concentration, we get acquainted with our suffering. No longer running from it, we let it pass through until we’re no longer afraid of it or hateful toward it. This is brutal work, and learning how to find joy and rest in meditation helps us endure it.
Through study, we learn about what causes all this suffering. We come to see it in countless different ways until eventually study and intellection themselves become causes for it, until we throw up our hands and say, “I’ve had enough.”
Then we’re able to use that space we’ve found in our minds to stop chasing things. When we’re neither running from or chasing after what’s on our minds, we’re ready to investigate the mind itself.
Of the mind, I can only offer a verse for guidance:
Unmoving, silent, bright, and clear
Just this is all, already here.
In that there’s the Path and the relief. Unbinding, unknowing. No more tricks, no more striving. Free falling along the Way. Genuine heart. Sloughing off the intellect and thinking with feeling, like making your way through a dark room by seeing with your hands.
No one can do it for you or with you, not even the Buddha. It’s our own path we walk, just as it was Siddhartha’s own path he had to walk. Most will never make it to the second Two Truths, though anyone can. And most who follow the Path won’t uncover that Together Heart that beats within it, though once again, anyone can.
It’s important to note that none of this is separate from ordinary life. I don’t believe in kenshos, in awakening experiences—whether they’re sudden or gradual. They might be authentic for others and serve them well, but for me they’re just more houses in Illusion City. I don’t believe in enlightenment as something attained, but as just this life, just this moment, even when it’s jam-packed with suffering.
So, this Path for me isn’t about going somewhere, but about truly being where I already am. It’s not a shiny place, this mindscape I wander. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. All the resplendent Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Maras have gotten bored with me and went off to bother someone else. I’m just human, and in that there’s nothing to write a Sutra about.