Up until this point we have discussed in brief how difficult it can be to see through the somewhat schizophrenic games that ego plays. We have also mentioned how once we see through these games we can catch a glimpse of our true nature, which is no different from that of the Buddha. We see that the potential for enlightenment, for waking up, has been there the whole time. We could spend a great deal more time discussing each of these topics, and we will in the future, but at the present moment I do not think it would be of much benefit. I think it would be better if we were to begin to get our hands a little dirty, to actually begin to look into our situation from a first hand point of view. Therefore tonight we will be discussing what is referred to as the working basis.
Like I said earlier everyone shares the same nature, however not everyone has the capacity for realizing this. In Buddhism there are the teachings of the six realms, but for the purpose of tonight’s discussion we will not mention them all by name. We will just divide them into the lower and higher realms. The purpose of this discussing this is to gain a greater perspective of our current situation, and a side effect of this greater perspective is gratitude. The type of gratitude that changes our view of the world and the way we relate to it. It is actually very simple. If we have dark and pessimistic outlook on the world, life will appear to us as a type of hell we dread having to get up and face every day. So hopefully through the meditation associated with tonight’s discussion we can change our basic attitude.
Beings caught up in the lower realms are unable to engage in a true spiritual practice because the suffering they experience in day to day life is just to overwhelming. The suffering is just so relentless, they always find themselves ate up with some form of intense pain. First there are those who are engulfed by anger and resentment. For these people life has become a war, a constant struggle of me vs. the world. At some point these beings begin to become obsessed with the war, just preoccupied with destroying the whole situation. Next we have those who are under the grasp of depression, just gripped by the feeling of loneliness or inferiority. They seem to see themselves as inadequate or doomed. In order to protect themselves from the world they become obsessed with maintaining their sense of isolation, the distance between them and the reality. Next we have those preoccupied with feeding. They feed on whatever; food, drink, alcohol, drugs, shopping etc. The point is that they get caught in a cycle, what is often referred to as addiction. They become obsessed with the act of feeding. They are not so much concerned with what they are feeding on, rather the actual act of feeding itself. To round out the lower realms we have those overwhelmed with stupidity, but not stupidity in the normal sense, more like a bull headed type of stupidity. What we might call chronically hardheaded. They keep charging forward trying to complete their objectives. These are objectives which were contrived out of their stupidity, and as a result while they are trying to complete these objectives they destroy everything in their path. They are like tornadoes. This type of stupidity has a strong undertone of ignoring the obvious. They ignore the results and become obsessed with their plans, their objectives. It is a very goal oriented situation.
Now when talking about the higher realms we are talking about something much more subtle. The general downfall of the higher realms has something to do with the distractions created from fleeting comfort or security. One of these realms has not only this kind of false sense of security, but it also comes complete with an element of competition or jealousy. They compare themselves with everyone. They set up points of comparison, and as a result their situation is constantly changing as their environment changes. It is like they are on a roller coaster. Their sense of security is coming and going constantly, because it is dependent upon success & failure. As a result they are obsessed with competition, winning approval & avoiding failure. It is a very result oriented theme. In the next higher realm there is an immense sense of pleasure, pleasure which is also deceptive because it is also based on external circumstance. However the pleasure seems to be a bit more reliable in the short term. It isn’t quite as fleeting. This pleasure is so strong though that it hides what is actually going on. It wouldn’t be as comparable to the previous example of a roller coaster. It is more like a long steady river, one that ends with a huge waterfall. In this realm experiencing what is referred to as the suffering of change is inevitable, as they will fall from their exalted status. As a result they become obsessed with maintaining their status.
The common denominator between these two realms, the higher realms and the lower realms, is obsession with fantasy. They are obsessed with everything except reality. True spiritual practice is concerned with reality, suchness, things as they are. Therefore it is considered impossible to obtain enlightenment from any of these realms, because beings in these realms are obsessed with illusions. The human realm is based on logic, desire, and it also has an element of suffering. The suffering isn’t so overwhelming though. It can at some point serve as a type of fuel, a motivating factor. This is where we enter the path of spiritual practice, seeking relief from our pain. The pain becomes to much to bear and at some point we begin to seek freedom from our frustrations. At some point we will develop the attitude of a skeptic, we will begin to question what we do and why we do it, and at this point the whole situation begins to open up. A whole host of opportunities begin to present themselves, not new opportunities, but ones we have never noticed.
Aside from the fact that we are not completely overwhelmed by suffering, and have the capacity to practice meditation. There are a number of external factors we should consider. There have been many teachers such as the Buddha who have expounded a clear and complete method for attaining liberation from our discontentment & frustrations. There have also been people who carried on these teachings by practicing them their selves, achieving the result of enlightenment, and taking the time to pass them on by gathering students. Not to mention we live in a country where we have the opportunity to investigate such things freely. On top of the fact that we live in a country where we have the freedom to inquire about different religious traditions, those of us here tonight also live in an area of that country where we have a group of people who share a similar interest in spiritual practice. We have the good fortune of gathering here to discuss these interst once a week and encourage each others practice. When one takes the time to consider all of the conditions which had to come together in order for us just to sit here and have this conversation, let alone a group where we meet weekly and discuss similar topics, it is actually quite astonishing.
So it would be good for each of us to regularly contemplate our present situation, and the potential that comes with it. First we should recall just how advantageous our physical situation is. We have all of our senses, the ability to hear, see, think critically etc. We live in a place where we have the freedom to investigate different religions and practice them if we wish to. However we also need to understand the nature of our physical situation. We need to see that this life is not permanent, it does expire, and it is doing so constantly. Things are changing from one moment to the next. We can choose to call this change whatever we like, growing older, maturing, etc. The fact remains that this is change is the process of death. We need to see that death is a certainty, that inevitably the time will come when we will die. Next we need to consider when that time will be. We need to understand that the time of death is unknown. That time could be tonight on our way home, next month, next year, or in fifty years, it is completely uncertain. It is clear that this life has enormous potential for ourselves and others, however it will come to an end, and that the time at which it will end is uncertain. Finally we need to see where at the time of death the only thing that will be of any benefit to us or others is our ability to see things for what they are and be at perfect peace and ease with that. Seeing things for what they are and being at perfect peace and ease comes only as a result of true meditation practice. We will not be able to buy comfort at the time of death, nor will our friends or family be able to provide us with security. So we should look to develop a resolve to make the most of our present circumstances and strengthen our resolve towards spiritual practice. So in short the meditation goes like this. We first contemplate the great situation we find ourselves in. Second we realize that death is certain. Next we see that the time of death is uncertain. Then we see how at the time of death the only thing that will be of any benefit to us or others is our spiritual practice. Finally we strengthen our resolve to practice meditation.
Hopefully as a result of this meditation we will develop a greater perspective of our situation. Maybe we will see just how fortunate we really are. Just how many causes and conditions had to come together to create our fortunate situation. Not only this but hopefully we will develop a real sense of gratitude. Not just everyday whatever kind of gratitude, but the kind of gratitude that gives birth to action. If we are truly grateful for having a car we will do whatever it takes in order to take care of our car. We will wash it, keep up with it’s scheduled & unexpected maintenance, etc. The same is true for our situation. If we are truly grateful to have the opportunity to engage in a real spiritual practice then we will take the necessary actions such as study, meditation, etc in order to cultivate our practice.