The Island: An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana
By Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro
Chapter Eleven, “‘Reappears’ Does Not Apply…”, pages 180-189
Sections to be read out loud: 11.2, 11.6, 11.7, 11.8
The Buddha encouraged us to leave interesting philosophical questions or speculations unanswered or unaddressed, and instead to apply ourselves to these more pragmatic concerns: how is it that the mind moves toward states of stress and dissatisfaction and how is it that the mind moves in the direction of disenchantment, dispassion, cessation and peace?
In 11.7, the Buddha offers the image of a flame being blown out by a sudden gust of wind, “In a flash it has gone out and nothing more can be known about it.” This aspect of annica, the ephemeral nature of all things, can be seen directly in our experience as well. For example, let’s remember a time when the mind was completely caught up in some drama and then suddenly, realizing that we simply misheard something, the drama immediately ceases. The mind doesn’t bother trying to revive the drama because it knows that it isn’t true now and that it never was true. There might be an impulse to laugh at the mind’s propensity to be duped by its sense of certainty asking, “I wonder what else appears to be true but isn’t?” What happened to the drama, that person/process that was caught up, where did it go? Of course, we can tell ourselves a story, ‘I was confused and then I got new information and now I am not confused anymore”. In terms of the practice, we want to recognize those times when seemingly coherent experiences cease without remainder.
What is our experience of something ceasing without remainder? This experience depends on wisdom realizing the empty, ephemeral and impersonal nature of an experience until it no longer makes sense for the mind to feed (keep alive) this pattern of neurotic mental proliferation. What happens to coherent mental activity when all grasping and attachment cease? Can a mental current continue without this food? How many times has the mind been entrapped by some drama? How many times has the mind (to a large degree) abandoned, gone beyond these mind made prisons? To the extent that the mind continues reverberating with past dramas is the extent to which the mind is still feeding the defilement’s through the clinging.