09 August 2010

A Bit More on Samadhi

I once participated in a guided meditation led by a contemporary Buddhist teacher I know and respect very much. I'll summarize it and let you work it out as a thought experiment:

First, visualize yourself on the surface of a choppy sea, with no land in sight and no rescue coming by air by boat. You are bombarded by flotsam and debris from a shipwreck, and pollution and garbage from ordinary people like yourself; you have reason to believe there are hungry sharks nuzzling your Nikes. You are in deep trouble.

And that was it. This picture of samadhi was presented as a kind of celebration of solitary repose, as an escape from the prison planet of distress and the hell of other people. I experienced it instead as a terror scenario: trapped in a bubble of my own making on the bottom of the ocean, by myself, far from any opportunity to fulfill my vows as a Buddhist, soon to run out of air in the company of silent octopi.

Our form of Buddhism demands that you learn how to work with the flotsam, the garbage and pollution, the stormy world of surfaces in a wise and compassionate way. It is not about making for oneself a cocoon of safety and then hiding in it 20,000 leagues below. Remember, form is emptiness and emptiness is form; form is also form, and emptiness, emptiness. Your nature is the same as that of the sea, storm, and sunlight (emptiness), but your function differs from those things if you are committed to the Mahayana project.

In that spirit, I would like to invite you to consider how the meditation I described above should conclude. Once you have made your bubble and attained a measure of control and stability of mind, how do you break out of that bubble? Your nature is no different from that of the sea, the storm, the tide, the trash; how do you dissolve those "mind forg'd manacles" and move on to avoid becoming trash, to avoid losing your function? Is there another approach to take? What is your function?

A related point: let us not bind ourselves with our samadhi, with our views, with anything at all (including "nothing").

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