Jan 2016: Reflect and Refresh

The Jan 2016 retreat report by Ngaire is on Page 5 of our Summer 2016 newsletter.

Below are Guy’s notes from the retreat:

Not wishing to waste your time…so let’s cut to the chase.

One of the most difficult things in life we have to approach is letting go.

It seems that our very biological impetus is to cling to life…we are born into a world that has so many ways of ending it…so it is natural that we have this inbuilt strategic conscious and unconscious programming to stay alive.

Generally speaking, Buddhism is marked by what are known as Seals or signs.

The Four Seals are as follows:

As suffering is not an inherent aspect of existence sometimes the second seal is omitted to make Three Dharma Seals.

So one of the main teachings of the Buddha is that all phenomena are impermanent.

What does this mean?

On a practical level it means that everything that makes up our world will eventually disappear. From the merest instant of a thought moment which is like a soap bubble in the wind to the seemingly eternal duration of a mountain range like the Himalayas, all things arise and disappear. The word ‘everything’ is crucial in a deeper understanding of what is really going on.

From the point of view of a world comprised of countless ‘things’ it does appear as if they are made and then unmade…and it is undeniable that a seed planted can bring about the juiciness of a ripe nectarine from the tree that grew from that seed. So the impermanence of the seed brought about the arising of the tree and the fruit appeared and it will temporarily taste sweet and delicious or grow old and rot and perhaps grow another tree. So what is the ‘thing’ in this example? Is it the seed, the tree or the fruit? Each one is an example of an arising and a disappearing. It could be argued that each is a separate ‘thing’ in and of itself. It could also be argued that each stage of the process is part of a larger whole ‘thing’ called The Nectarine. This is part of a classical line of Buddhist reasoning that examines and refutes the notion of a permanent separate existing ‘self’ of sentient beings and phenomena. This is also where the insight into impermanence meets the insight into emptiness and dependent arising.

From the point of view where all these ‘things’ are seen as arising as part of a seamless flow of events lacking any separate form of entity it can be argued that our experience and mental formulation of each disparate thing/event is analogous to taking snapshots of time moments that we then convince ourselves to have a real and separate existence. It is also important to distinguish here between the concepts of the ultimate and the conditional ‘real’.

For some ‘thing’ to be impermanent does it have to exist? Or put another way, can something that has no-self be said to be impermanent? Try hanging on to it and you will certainly find suffering.

On a deeper meditative level the understanding of impermanence can bear a true and reliable joy. There seems to be a doorway here to an experience that some call liberation. If we are able to clearly experience all phenomena as a whole unfolding river of non separateness which understands the arising and disappearing of ‘things’ as mere appearances of separateness perhaps we are then able to relax our clinging and enjoy the ride? Learning to trust our deeply embedded place in the whole shebang seems to be central to discovering this freedom. Easier said than done, but doable nonetheless.

Embracing impermanence is our main practice and understanding emptiness is our main ally and from these together great compassion is generated.

Great compassion for all we see because all we see is vanishing as we see it…constantly.

Guy Turnbull