The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana
By Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro
Chapter Ten, The Unapprehendability of the Enlightened, pages 164-179
Sections to be read out loud:
10.4, 10.8, 10.10, 10.11, 10.13, 10.19 (page 175 only)
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Pali Canon is the interest people had in what happens to a Buddha (or any fully awake person) at the time of death.The Buddha responds to this concern by reminding the questioners that even now before death the Buddha is unapprehendable. The Buddha is pointing to the great mystery and perhaps frustration of not being able to locate the self. In our case, there seems to be a self because the mind equates the experience of tension with self. But, in the case of a fully liberated being or even an ordinary being experiencing moments non clinging, how would we apprehend a being without any residue of tension (dukkah)?
The five aggregates of mind and body exist regardless of the degree of awakening, but how to understand the experience the five aggregates without the presence of clinging. We would be safe saying that it would simply be the movement of nature without the neurotic habits of mind seeing everything in terms of dualistic notions such as good and bad. Even the habit of the mind conceptualizing and differentiating objects might fall away.
Venerable Sariputta states, “Is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else? – one is differentiating non-differentiation. However far the range of the six sense spheres reaches, that is how far differentiation goes. However far differentiation goes that is how far the range of the six sense spheres reaches. When the six sense spheres fade and cease without remainder there is then the cessation, the allaying of differentiation.” Page 178
The relevance of basic structures of our experience such as the six sense spheres might be incomprehensible when there is no longer a person (mental processes) dependent on them to organize a world to fit its desires and fears. The authors suggest another translation for the phrase, “Differentiating non-differentiation”, namely “Complicates the uncomplicated.” For this month, let’s practice letting these teachings open the mind to a deep state of humility regarding the mind’s underlying nature. Instead of constructing a picture of a one’s self becoming enlightened and there by constructing a personal problem that needs addressing, let’s continually come back to the unapprehendiblilty of the self here and now. It is only dukkha that gives coherence to the idea of a separate self, what relevance might it have when dukkha is allowed to cease?