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Report: Notes on Dance of Emptiness Talk 5 — 4 Comments

  1. I loved this talk – for me it got to the heart of the matter – the nature of that which remains when the skandas are realised to be temporary and conditional. The analogy of the centre of the wheel being the place from where we aim to view the world (and dukkha as wobbly off-centre viewing) is great, thanks. Can literally feel the bumpy ride versus the smooth!

    So – this is the big question – when we’ve peeled away the skandas and are left with pure awareness of awareness, what significance does this have? Is it “just” a psychological state of profound peace and happiness? Or is it more?

    Can we speak further of the nature of this empty but profound essence to our consciousness? For some this is the starting point for the nondual teachings where we learn that at this level of insight (or inner-sight) reality itself is not what we typically assume. We hear that those who cultivate this pure view report that deep reality is a seamless, timeless whole. The provisional and ultimately false nature of the ego-self is evident, so wisdom and compassion naturally flow. At this level, reality does not fundamentally comprise separate objects (or people) but rather a very profound dance of connection as well as a dance of emptiness – the two are inseparable. The unfolding wonder is to identify with this, rather than the sense of a “separated-off” self.

    For many this re-visioning of physical reality is fanciful stuff and hard to get heads around! But after the talk I found the concept of skandas really help tie in this profound perspective on reality with neuroscience – interested if you agree?

    The skandas are great descriptors of neuronal processes, be it perception, cognitive processing, memory or emotional states. It seems obvious when we lay these processes out for examination that they are attempts to sample what’s there, a sampling that results in an elaborate conscious representation. The representation needs to be effective – it is the basis of survival. Our species however rather arrogantly assumes that its own representation is actual reality! Yet our sampling (however good) is not the Real Underlying Reality. How could it be? Our representation is without doubt a neuronally-mediated event in our brain/ consciousness. In fact what is really out there could be very different to our representation – how would we know – all we get is the representation. Through this sampling we create our experience of reality (including the sense of discrete objects and time) – this experience could be described as a semi-real illusion specific to our species.

    If we agree that the ultimate nature of Reality is veiled from us — and that we can only see our self-generated representation — our only hope would be to aim to drop the representation as best we can. We’d need to turn our attention to that which “knows” the representation i.e. see through the processes and become aware of what’s going on behind. Meditation! As you nicely put it:

    Note here that you are not mindful of an activity, but mindful during the activity, or perhaps even, mindful despite the activity.

    So we are withdrawing awareness from the lure of skandas and reaching within. Although not necessarily the ultimate, this seems a good bet for finding a level of awareness “more real” than the basic representation?

    As we know, many who do this diligently get paradigm-shattering insights. They speak of the more ultimate Reality as being nondual, i.e the seamless timeless unity mentioned above. Seen from here, there is no actual discrete self, physical or psychological, just a locus of awareness within the whole. As different levels of insight unfold, this tends towards the experience of one all-encompassing light-like reality (Dharmakaya).

    Of course this could just be another illusion, even a worse one! But I’m fascinated by the fact that so-called paradoxical findings in quantum physics (i.e. non-locality, time running backwards; consciousness affecting collapse of waveforms etc) chime with a nondual substrate to deep reality, in fact that’s what is getting suggested in physics right now. Particle physics experiments make it clear that mysterious things are going on behind the scenes. Actually it’s only to our illusion-seduced everyday representation that this seems peculiar and mysterious! Well it would, wouldn’t it??? We are typically living in shadows.

    So my main point is that seeing through the skandas is not just about freeing yourself from a tangled psychological reality into a happier state (which is true enough), but also freedom from buying the illusion of so-called physical reality… The whole shebang. To my mind, the classic texts you cite are beautifully consistent with this.

    Lots more to say on this, but just wondering if the nondual perspective is something that gets discussed within Theravada? Anyone else in Littlebang into this, particularly the interface between hard sciences and self-enquiry?

    Thanks for the great talks Phra Pandit — and all the efforts preparing them.


  2. I love that word you use “sampling” – I was looking for just such a key term for the 5 aggregates as they arise together on a particular object. I could only say ‘moment of perception’ but sampling is much better – that is exactly what it is.
    Non-duality is not stated in Theravada (or I think, most of mahayana outside of some typically zenny Zen teachings). But it is there in fact. “no here, no there, no inbetween” “no course, no refined” etc..
    I did put together many of the key non-dual quotes in Theravada in a .doc linked on the bottom of this page: http://littlebang.org/2009/09/04/notes-on-the-fridge-light/

    Also some references here: http://littlebang.org/2010/03/07/the-attainment-of-non-action/

    One thing is clear – the ‘awareness of awareness’ is only a practise, a door that takes you to non-duality. Ramana Maharshi said it is like the caterpillar that waves its head around feeling for the next leaf – it won’t let go of the leaf until it finds a new one. So the mind latches on to the ‘Who am I’ awareness, as a stepping stone to the true realisation.

    I have not compared to neuroscience (of which I am skeptical) or Quantum physics, of which I have a couple of courses I downloaded, but have not yet studied.