Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha,
MN 140, Dhatuvibhanga Sutta – The Exposition of the Elements
Sections to read out loud: 20 -32 on pages 1092 – 1095
This sutta is an example of the Buddha instructing someone already far along in the practice. (See Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote 1264 on page 1345 for background information.) In situations such as these, the Buddha doesn’t bother giving instructions having to do with sila and samadhi but instead goes directly to the wisdom teachings on the value of renunciation.
For each of the elements the Buddha instructs us to let go of any attachment or identification. Each element of experience, “Should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus; ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom one becomes disenchanted with the ___ element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the ___ element.”
Over the course of his teaching, the Buddha would use different expressions to describe our experiential reality: Four Foundations, Six Sense Gates, Five Aggregates, and in this discourse the Six Elements. Regardless of the model used, the instruction is the same, the Buddha’s message was consistent. Non-clinging is the means to realize Nibbana, the cessation of all that is agitating and hard to bear.
Generally it makes sense to us to abandon clinging to painful states because the pain involved is more obvious. It is usually less clear why clinging to neutral and pleasant states would be problematic. This month let’s take a different approach to this familiar teaching. Instead of practicing non-clinging, we can contemplate the question, why cling? In any moment of experience, we can directly observe the clinging and simply reflect on the function of this very same clinging. Is clinging functional? Is it adding any value to our lives? If clinging is unwholesome, then this unwholesomeness should be apparent – is it? Perhaps seeing clinging as it is is enough to set in motion the liberating process of awakening.