Friday, October 28, 2011

Why we fear "doom"

Wisdom Quarterly

Doom is the end of the world. Doom is death and destruction. Doom, we can't get enough of it. Why are we obsessed? It may be fear of death the forces us to pay attention. It may be relief -- we need another "failed" prediction to bolster our sense that no one will ever predict anything. No one has seen anything. No one knows anything. We're safe.

We are safe. But as we sleep in safety, are we ignoring the doom all around us? The Buddha's final words as he exited this samsara (the round of death followed incessantly by rebirth) were:

All conditioned phenomena are hurtling toward destruction;
work out your liberation with diligence.

Translators may tweak the tone or sentiment of these words. Yet the message is incontrovertible. Things fall apart. They are always falling apart. That is the nature of "things" (all that arises supported by causes and conditions, which is everything with the sole exception of nirvana). Release from this, freedom from this, liberation from this is knowing and seeing nirvana.

Mahayana Buddhism popularizes a confusing notion, "samsara is nirvana," a dangerous witticism on par with "If you meet a buddha on the road, kill him." These are odd ways to say simple things. This is not nirvana. It can be. Nirvana is not elsewhere. But we have not realized that liberation. The belief that we have does not bring us closer to it.

And if a paradoxical Zen instruction says reject authority because we have that in us, great. But to "kill" (utterly disregard, denounce, silence) a guide who points out the way? That is like rejecting a prison door labelled EXIT and deciding, "I'll just keep looking for myself."

Buddhas point the way.

There is precious little time for us on this plane, so fortunate to hear the path to freedom from all suffering. We go from here onto other states, only very rarely coming back. It is not likely that we will hear this message again for a long time. We ourselves are conditioned phenomena, and everything (material form, sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness) in us that we regard as us is hurtling toward destruction.

The Buddha (teacher) is a guide. The Dharma (teaching) is a guide. The Sangha (those who have successfully followed the path) collectively is a guide. The path does not simply lead to nirvana, final emancipation. It leads to all good states along the way. If one should wish to be reborn in one of the many heavens (states superior to the human in terms of longevity, beauty, pleasure, radiance, etc.) that is available by the path of serenity and insight, concentration and mindfulness, stilling and seeing.