Friday December 15, 2006
One way that I have been thinking about my meditation practice recently – and about life in general – has been in terms of reconciliation. In an earlier post on Russell Hoban, I wrote about making friends with your own head, and Christy left a comment which expanded this to the idea of making friends with life. What I like about these kinds of approaches to life and to practice is that they overcome the human tendency to imagine that behind the world there lies some big secret, and that our job is to somehow root out this secret.
I don’t think it is like this. I don’t think that practice is about understanding the world if this understanding means cracking the secret of existence. There is no reason to assume that there is a secret, nor to assume that we could have any access to it. If we turn to the early Buddhist texts at least, it seems that many of the central truths about which they speak – impermanence, suffering, insubstantiality, even emptiness – are in fact quite ordinary. They are not beyond our everyday experience. We experience them here and now. If these are not esoteric truths, nevertheless they are perhaps hard truths to become reconciled to. So hard, in fact, that we dream of things that are permanent, that are free of suffering, that are substantial, that have their own subsistent natures in our attempt to escape these simple, inescapable conditions of our existence.
Through the centuries, the Buddhist traditions themselves have become tangled in such dreams and fantasies; but I cannot help thinking that all such imaginings pull us away from the basic facts of our condition here in the world: as impermanent beings, liable to suffering, thoroughly conditioned by the world in which we live.
This is why I think the idea of reconciliation is so powerful. It is not a question of overcoming the fact of impermanence, or even of overcoming suffering and discontent. After all, if dharma practice is a means of overcoming discontent once and for all, it seems a pretty poor technology for dealing with that particular problem: I have known many practitioners through the years, and they seem a peculiarly discontented bunch. Nobody that I have met seems to have eradicated these things. Either they are doing it wrong (in which case it is such an impossibly virtuoso exercise, so difficult to do right, that I am no longer interested in it anyway), or this idea about overcoming discontent once and for all is itself a mistaken idea.
Reconciliation, however, is a different matter. If it is a question of reconciling ourselves to this fleeting existence, of reconciling ourselves to the fact of suffering, of reconciling ourselves with the world, then it is possible to see that, yes, practice does work. I can recognise in my own practice endless moments of reconciliation where I have come to see that yes, this is what is happening, that this is the world in which I live, that suffering is ineradicable.
Sitting in meditation, sitting with the fact of suffering that will not go away, giving up the hope of perfection or of ultimate understanding or of the attainment of some state beyond the world, reconciled and at home…
Comments are turned off for this article.
Today's Most Popular
The Transitive Theory of Weirdness: Monday October 6, 2008
Johnny Wilkinson and quantum physics
Blogging as Practice: Tuesday September 27, 2005
Is blogging just an idle pursuit, or is it a form of practice? Thoughts from Seneca to Basho on the value of writing journals.
Risk: Wednesday November 12, 2008
On the pleasures of bad Health and Safety induction films.
A Viable Way: Friday January 15, 2010
Wisdom from the bestselling book “How to Marry a Western Woman”…
The Lure of the Cloister?: Friday August 17, 2007
Where are the secular cloisters?
Kindness and Philosophy: Monday March 10, 2008
Where are our philosophies of kindness?
Mountains? What Mountains?: Wednesday April 1, 2009
Tintin, meditation and the mountains of the mind…
Darwin's Dharma?: Tuesday February 17, 2009
Darwin the crypto-Buddhist?
Liking Your Neighbours: Monday April 2, 2007
Must we like people to love them? Can we dislike them also?
A Handful of Simsapa Leaves: Monday October 31, 2005
How much do we need to know for the liberation of heart and mind?
Zen, Brains and Making Friends With Your Own Head: 10 Nov, 2008
It’s a complicated business having a brain.
Lies in Which not Everything is False: 10 Sep, 2008
Stories – they are nothing but a pack of lies.
The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: 30 Oct, 2007
Aidan Delgado on Buddhism, ethics and the war in Iraq.
Baboon: 06 Jun, 2006
Feeling like a grumpy old baboon?
Meditation as Unphenomenology: 07 Feb, 2008
Meditation, cartography and the territory of the mind.