Top of the Path: Seeing and Knowing Comes Home on the Longest Day

Warm Summer Solstice greetings, dear friends, on this, the longest day, the day the sun appears to stand still.  At least here in the Northern Hemisphere.  And for those in the Southern Hemisphere, the darkest day.  For those out in space, nothing.

For those on the path, the sense of this day may have deep meaning for us.  It may be the day time stood still, the day where everything stopped, the day where time opened and became endless -- the day of great tragedy or of great awakening.  

Time and space are so relative in experience.  Speeding by, or dragging on excruciatingly slowly as the second hand echoes in its movements around the clock.  Or flowing smoothly and seamlessly, like an invisible river -- the fabric of our world.  Or deeper still, opening into the deep, the spacious, the peaceful -- timelessness.

For it is all a fabrication.  To be able to conceive of time, and all of these things within a framework -- or more rightly multiple interpenetrating frameworks of time, space and flow, form and emptiness -- is an enormous exercise in inter-connectivity.  

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Photo from San Francisco's Its About Times


This fabrication is known as sankhara in the teachings of the Buddha as passed down to us in the Pali-texts.  In the context of the Indian society that the Buddha emerged from, sankharas were the impressions that all experiences make upon the mind that then condition and fabricate our perceptions, views, attitudes, impulses, reactions and responses.  Everything that we think, say, do... becoming even all of our personal, social and cultural habits, duties, roles...  An amazing field.  

An amazing function, for good or for ill, for bondage, distortion and convolution, or for clearing, unbinding and freeing -- liberation.  Because the weaver can weave a tangled web, or can weave a very clean skein, or can gentle relax, unbind and open up everything -- disenfabricating experience.
  

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For if the weaver is weaving informed by misunderstandings and without clear and right knowing -- vijja -- then the weaver will weave the tangled web.  A web in which there are many traps, blind alleys, pitfalls -- dark roads that go nowhere but to more darkness and confusion.  But the weaver informed by light, clarity and clear knowing -- by true knowledge and vision -- weaves very differently.  And all around the weaving, within the weaving, fully penetrating the weaving is abundant space and light.  Clarity and consciousness.  A gentle purposeful weaving of knowing relationality, of bridges of light energy that simply care for what is to be done, in compassion and kindness.  With wisdom.  And all in the knowing of the unfabricated.


In the Avijja Sutta of the Connected Discourses of the Buddha or Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha is quoted as saying on the one hand:  

"...Ignorance is the leader in the attainment of unskillful qualities, followed by lack of conscience & lack of concern. In an unknowledgeable person, immersed in ignorance, wrong view arises. In one of wrong view, wrong resolve arises. In one of wrong resolve, wrong speech... In one of wrong speech, wrong action... In one of wrong action, wrong livelihood... In one of wrong livelihood, wrong effort... In one of wrong effort, wrong mindfulness... In one of wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration of mind arises.

But, 

‘‘Vijjā ca kho, bhikkhave, pubbaṅgamā kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samāpattiyā, anvadeva hirottappaṃ: 

  "Clear knowing is the leader in the attainment of skillful qualities, followed by conscience & concern.

"In a knowledgeable person, immersed in clear knowing, right view arises. In one of right view, right resolve arises. In one of right resolve, right speech... In one of right speech, right action... In one of right action, right livelihood... In one of right livelihood, right effort... In one of right effort, right mindfulness... In one of right mindfulness, right concentration arises."


The skillful question would seem to be "what is vijja-- clear knowing?" and "how can it arise?"  "What fosters clear knowing in our minds?"  And this is very important for us to know.  Among all kinds of knowledge available in our lives, knowing what causes us to be able to abide in clear knowing is very, very important.  For this will effect the very quality, fabric and experience of our lives.  

As the Buddha's relayed his own enlightenment experience, "vision (cakku) arose, knowing (nyana) arose, understanding (vijja) arose and light/wisdom (aloka) arose". 

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Here, first there was seeing, then there was knowing, then understanding, then wisdom--enlightenment.  And then, in the story, as he was saying this, as vision and knowing arose in another, a great light shot passed through all of the myriad dimensions of this multi-fathomed universe, even into the dark places in which there was nothing -- the light passed through.  And with it, a wave of exaltation.  For the spell was broken.  The spell that hangs over us, and clouds and stifles our minds. And allows everything to get so distorted, messy, and confused.  For misunderstanding and misapprehension to reign, and for distorted emotions to gain their grip on hearts and minds, and spread like wildfire. 

Developing our ability to look, see and know is a great, deep causal antidote clarifying the very root of this process.  

Mindfulness and clear awareness are not only good for health and good for stress reduction (although they are this).  They get at the very root and core of the issues.  

If we love ourselves, if we love our beloved and dear ones, if we love our world, and our human life -- if we love all of life, and if we wish for clarity, for peace and for happiness, we must take the self-determination to develop this clear knowing.  To develop and to perfect it, as in the Buddha's teaching above followed by hiri-ottapa, which Thanissaro Bhikkhu here has translated above as conscience and concern and the Buddha called "guardians of the world".

Hiri is when we see for ourselves what has been harmful to ourselves and/or others, and we recoil.  It is the natural action of a fully healthy conscience.  Ottapa is proactive -- it is when, recoiling, we make the caring determination not to continue in what is harmful.   It is a turning around of the mind -- with wise and right view, wise and right mindfulness and wise and right effort -- that comes from seeing and knowing cause and effect for oneself.  And from knowing that our own conscious and intentional actions affect the very fabric of our lives and our experience of them.  Right view and then right intention arises.

In these moments of seeing and knowing, it is as if time stands still.  For the fabricating stops for a moment, and we see clearly through to the bare nature of things.  

Seeing through the matrix in the Buddha's teaching not only reveals dukkha-unveiled, but also causation, and its end, the unbinding, the release, the clarity, the freedom -- and the how to -- the way to.  What is important becomes clear, and everything else falls away.  

But in the Buddha's way, what remains is happiness.  What remains is ease.  What remains is peacefulness.  Clarity, deep compassion, and an unhindered pure energy that is no longer oppressed, stifled or suffocated -- but is free. 

Even a few moments of this is good.  Not to mention a life. 


Wishing all deep and long moments of clarity, light, 
peace and freedom,
on this, the longest day,

with great loving kindness,
Tathaaloka Bhikkhuni


Study Resources

Note: the turning around of our knowledge and view that is Hiri and Ottapa are often scarily translated in Theravada Buddhism as Moral Shame and Dread, which can cause misunderstanding due to association with other teachings.  In other traditions they may also be variously translated as Repentance and Reformation or Contrition and Conversion.  

- "The Guardians of the World" -- on hiri-ottapa by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
- A Recent Audio Dharma Talk by Doug Slakey @ IMSB on "Working with Shame, Dread and Other Positive Emotions"
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