Reflections on Rapture and the End of the World


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To all dear friends who have been wondering 
if the Buddha ever said anything about the end of the world,

In fact he did.  He said:  
Without having reached the world’s end
There is no release from suffering.


But his meaning might be different than some other similar sayings. It is very important to know things in their context. For this is part of a discourse spoken to a skywalker who was interested in reaching the end of the world by walking.  The Buddha answered him: 


The end of the world can never
Be reached by walking. However,
Without having reached the world’s end
There is no release from suffering.

I declare that it is in this fathom—
long body, with its perceptions
and thoughts, that there is the world, the
origin of the world, the cessation of the
world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world.

-- The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya 4:45

A very interesting and very different statement.  And it is this end, this "cessation" that the Buddha himself experienced in his awakening and then taught for the rest of his life.  

But a cessation of what?

The cessation of the suffering that arises out of the way we give rise to the "the world" in our minds and hearts when under the influence of hatred, under the influence of painful desires, longing and craving, and under the influence of ignorance, delusion, confusion and doubt.  Whether gross suffering, or the underlying tendency to dissatisfaction, to never having quite enough, to never being fully and completely satisfied and content.

If the end of the world were really tomorrow - what would be important?  What would we know as our work undone?

These questions can be very useful to help us learn what is most important to us, what we need to do - to illuminate our true values.  The work of a lifetime, however long or short.

The Buddha highly encouraged living each day (in one way) as if it was our last.  And not only this one day, but even each morning, each afternoon, each evening.  And not only each part of the day, but each moment, each breath.  Right there with it, on top of it.  

There is a sutta teaching in which the Buddha asked a group of bhikkhus if they knew how long they were going to live, and they gave various answers, one not knowing how many years, another not knowing how many weeks or days, another not knowing if he would live the night, and finally, another mentioned that he did not even know, truly, if the next breathe, or even this breath would be his last.  And that last one's knowing was applauded, as the Buddha then recommended the importance of being fully mindful of each moment, and fully, of each breath.

When we are fully mindful of the moment, the stretching out of the mind, its tipping into the other -- the past, the future -- comes back to rest, centered here in the moment.  And we can live it fully.  A pervasive underlying dissatisfaction, always subtly driving us, steps back and lets go, and calms.  Becoming present and aware, a whole lot of life energy becomes available, rejuvenating, refreshing, clearing the field of the senses.  Clearing, strengthening and lightening the heart/mind.

In monastic life, we are advised to live each day as if our last.  Even when we leave our lodging in the morning, to look at it and reflect that we may never return.  Is anything left undone, is anything in order.  At the end of the day we reflect on what passed, put it all in order, so that there are no files left scattered about, and then with love and blessings, let it go, and move into full mindfulness of the body, breath and mind, before sleeping.  Then sleep is good, clear -- the night secretary not needing to come out and do her work under cover of darkness -- as all is in order.    

It is a very clean way to live, without regret and many things hanging on.  And yet it does not mean that we cannot plan, that we cannot have longterm efforts, that we cannot think and act for the welfare of our world or in love and compassion for one another.  But just that when we do that, we do our best and we do it fully, and then, having done it fully, we are also free to let go, and just give each effort to its own moments.  

In one of the suttas teachings in the Digha Nikaya, the Long Discourses of the Buddha sometimes called "On Beginnings," the Buddha spoke about human beings not always being human as we are now, and not always being terrestrials - beings of this earth.  In several other suttas, he speaks about seeing myriad mega-eons of universal expansion and contraction, and myriad forms and dimensions of life, beings born here, born there, as this and as that.  Our identity and the time frame is not so small, but greatly expanded.  

There is another sutta sometimes called "Expanding Eons" in which he speaks about cycles of this earth and of humanity over the ages.  And indeed, there are times of many natural disasters, times of famine, drought, fire and flood, times of great destruction.  Times when humans treat each other better and worse, coming and going in a great rhythm of cycles that are mind-expanding, almost beyond comprehension.  And this world, like every world and all things, changes, transforms and eventually becomes other.  The end of all things as we know them is a continual process happening in each moment.  

And as he said it all comes to an end, in the here and now, in this very life, this very body.  

Amazing thing.  In this very moment, this breath, not knowing what the next will bring, but living this one now fully, and freely.  With a clear and balanced mind of loving kindness, compassion, appreciation and equanimity - fully, to all as to oneself.

For here with the breath, equanimity does come, and with equanimity joy, and with the deepening of that joy, then rapture... with rapture, fearlessness...

The blessed miracle of deep meditation and when the heart becomes free.


 in this very fathom-
 long body
...
there is the world, 
the 
 
origin of the world, 
the end of the 
 
world, 
and the path 
leading to the end of the world.


(Some may recognize the pattern of the Four Noble Truths here :)


Wishing all well in the end of the world
in each moment of life,
in joy, rapture and tranquility,
and in perfect peace,
in which the heart walks the sky
the water or the earth,
or realms beyond imagination,
free from fear,

in loving kindness,

Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni

--
Further reading:
"This Fathom-Long Carcass" by Andrew Olendski - Tricycle
"Beginnings" from the Digha Nikaya Agganna Sutta - Long Discourses of the Buddha, translated by Ven Bhikkhu Sujato
"Buddha's Discourse on the End of the World" or "Sermon of the Seven Suns" Anguttara Nikaya (*warning old translation)
Cakkavatti Sutta - "On the Ups and Downs Longs and Shorts of Human Life" - Digha Nikaya
"The Beautiful Breath" - Ajahn Brahm on the Jhanas
Anapanasati Sutta - The Buddha on Breath Meditation and Rapture in context
"Only One Breath" - The Way It Is 

-- 





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