This is an edited/adapted question and response at the end of my commentary on Zoom with the Sangha on the Discourse on the Greater Cessation of Craving/Desire given by the Buddha (Middle Length Discourses. 38).
S. I felt today’s teachings were scattered with pearls of wisdom and insight. I want to clarify something you said. The Buddha said nothing is worth clinging to and shows us that the practice leads to liberation. However, you also talked about people who keep developing on the spiritual path but not reaching the end of the path. So does liberation come from formal meditation and practice in the daily life or with letting go and liberation as something more immediate?
We see the grasping of things. Over time, we learn ways to bring momentary insights of recognition to grasping. How does this sit with not needing to keep practising to reach the goal of the spiritual path?
Christopher: You make a valid point. The body of the teachings encourage this kind of questioning. We engage in practice. We look at the human experience of our relationship to life seeing what needs to develop such as mindfulness, awareness, and kindness, as well as looking at things carefully and deeply. Practice also requires the wisdom of other people to give us support. The path of practice summarises as the Eightfold Path, a path of development. Remember the Buddha also used the simile of the raft (MLD 22) where he stated the Dharma is not worth clinging to but for crossing over to the other shore. Some find themselves engaged in practice, practice practice and, at some point, the benefit of practice (relative truth) shows itself in trust, clarity of mind and a sense of well-being.
Remember path and goal exist as metaphors. You do not need to concern constantly yourself with the path and goal? In a genuine sense of well-being, the language of path and goal can fade from consciousness This allows a turning of our attention to freedom What is freedom? What is the taste of it? What is the experience of it? This exploration has little to do with a path going towards a goal.
With calm and clarity, we do not perceive the world as the problem, as we often interpret it to be. This shift in view reveals a change from a developmental model to one of turning our attention to the Changeless, the Deathless, as the Buddha recommended. The interest in an authentic freedom takes priority over practices. This is a shift away from developing our practice to seeing and knowing the immediacy of things in this world as they arise, stay and pass, and know freedom from suffering in the face of situations.
Freedom allows us to accommodate birth, change and death, start, middle and end. This shift can occur can happen without a teacher, like myself, mentioning it to encourage meditation/reflection on the immediacy of liberation. A person engages in their practice and there is a sudden shift over knowing freedom of being, or a deep experience occurs or due to a reminder from a Dharma teacher and more.
It is important to give regularly reminders to ourselves of a liberation close at hand This shift in view is not necessarily a one-time changeover but you can go back and forwards between the exploration of liberation and developing the path.
It is useful to acknowledge the history of spirituality in India. The classical approach consisted of practice, practice, practice After much practice, you came to complete liberation. You realise the world was maya, namely false and deceptive. With this realisation, you didn’t go back any more into the world of maya. This enabled an abiding in liberation all the time.
The Buddha did not buy this package. He taught liberation in an unusual way. Seeing and knowing a limitless freedom may expand into the dark corners of the mind. Unresolved issues arise like a cloud over the sun. These issues seem to get in the way. We then shift back to the path and the relative exploring the issue. An ultimate freedom includes the freedom to explore the condition of the mind to see what needs to change to end any suffering.
The Buddha referred to freedom in all directions instead of claiming there is nothing more to be done. Few know this complete freedom without reference to states of mind. Freedom goes in both directions, namely ultimate freedom and the freedom to go back and attend to what needs attention. The Buddha explained this with the four kinds of noble ones. The first three kinds of noble ones have issues to work on and know the freedom to address them. The fourth kind of noble one has resolved all aspects of problematic life.
I regard these insights of the Buddha as brilliant. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with people and listen to their spiritual experiences for more than half a century. Some genuinely have deep and profound experiences, insightful and liberating. For the first time, they feel liberated in their daily life. Then this person abides content in this great freedom. Time passes by.
The same person experiences a fading of this great freedom. “I really believed I was liberated. I felt sure I wouldn’t have to attend to any personal issues in my life.” The Dharma offers a different point of view. If one is truly liberated, it means you will also be free to attend to these issues. You do not ignore them, deny them or have to experience waves of doubt about your liberation. Liberation includes the willingness to attend to issues.
As mentioned, freedom refers to a liberation in all directions and developing the wisdom into the unclear. We may not have enough skill ourself. Others may have skills that can show us the way to dissolve issues to recover the sense of natural freedom.
The Buddha used the language of the limitless encouraging a limitless exploration. We recognise the value of developing the practice and the value of turning our interest to liberation. Sometimes, we find ourselves making dualities of ultimate and relative truth, liberation and daily life. The Buddha took care about use of the language of ultimate truth/relative truth, as it can set up one truth against the other. Mind the gap.
The perception of divisions fixes a binary situation and we forget indivisible truth. Be mindful and careful of fixing a duality. Recognise the sense of expansiveness of freedom, the expansiveness of God. if you like the language of God.
Remember not to grasp onto practice and ultimate truth.