Seeing Things As They Really Are
The Buddha taught to look at whatever appears. Things don't stay. Having arisen, they cease. Ceasing, they appear again, and having appeared, they cease. But a confused, uninstructed person doesn't want it to be this way. If we meditate and become tranquil, we want to remain like that and don't want any disturbance. But that isn't realistic. The Buddha wanted us to first look at the facts and know these things as deceptive; then we can really have tranquillity. When we don't know them, we become their owners, and the trap of self-view comes about. So we have to go back to the origin and find out how it happened that way. We have to understand the way things really are, the way things contact the mind and how the mind reacts, and then we can be at peace. This is what we have to investigate. If we don't want things to happen the way they do, we won't have peace. Wherever we may try to escape to, things still happen the same way; this is their nature.
Simply speaking, this is truth. Impermanence, suffering, and absence of a self are the nature of phenomena. They are nothing else but this, but we give things more meaning than they really have.
It's really not so difficult to make wisdom arise. It means looking for the causes and understanding the nature of things. When the mind is agitated, you should realize, "This is not certain. Impermanent!" When the mind is calm, don't start thinking, “Ah, really peaceful!" because that is also not certain.
When someone asks, "What kind of food do you like best? don't get too serious about that. If you say you really like something, what's the big deal? Think about it—if you eat it every day, will you still like it so much? You'll probably get to the point where you say, "Oh, man, not again!"
Do you understand this? You can end up getting sick of the very thing you like. It's because of the changeability of things, and this is what you should come to know. Pleasure is uncertain. Unhappiness is uncertain. Liking is uncertain. Tranquillity is uncertain. Agitation is uncertain. Absolutely everything is uncertain. So whatever occurs, we understand this, and we won't be taken in by anything. All experiences without exception are uncertain, because impermanence is their nature. Impermanence means that things are not fixed or stable, and very simply speaking, this truth is the Buddha.
Anicca, uncertainty, is the truth. Truth is present for us to see, but we don't take a good, clear look at it. The Buddha said, “Those who see the Dharma see me." If we see anicca, that quality of being uncertain, in all things, then detachment and world-weariness come about: "Oh! This is merely so much. Eh! That is merely so much. It is not actually anything so great, it is merely so much." The mind becomes firm in this: "It is merely that much. Aha!" After realizing this, we needn't do anything very difficult in our contemplation. Whatever we encounter, the mind is saying, "It's merely that much," and it stops. That's the end of it. We will realize that all phenomena are only deceptions; nothing is stable or permanent, but rather everything is ceaselessly changing and has the characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and not-self. It's like a blazing redhot iron ball that has been heated in a furnace. What part of it will be cool? Try to touch it if you will. Touch the top and it will be hot. Touch the bottom and it will be hot. Touch the sides and they will be hot. Why is it hot? It is a blazing iron ball that is red-hot throughout. When we understand this, we won't touch it. When you are feeling, "This is really good! I like it! Let me have it!" don't give such thoughts credence; don't take them too seriously. It's a red-hot iron ball. If you touch any part of it, if you try to pick it up, you will be burned, you will experience a lot of pain, your skin will break open and bleed.
We should be contemplating this at all times, walking, standing, sitting, lying down. Even when we are in the toilet, when we are going somewhere, when we are eating, or after we have eaten and we excrete the waste from our food, we should be seeing that all we experience is unstable and impermanent, and that it is also unsatisfactory and without self. Things that are unstable and impermanent are uncertain and unreal. Without exception, they are all untrue. It's just like the red-hot iron ball-where can we touch it that it won't be hot? Absolutely every part of it is hot, so we stop trying to touch it.
This is not something difficult to train in. For example, parents warn a child not to play with fire: "Don't go near the fire! It's dangerous! You'll get burned!" The child may not believe her parents or understand what they are talking about. But if she touches the fire just once and gets a burn, after that the parents won't need to explain anything or try to control her.
No matter how much the mind is attracted to or infatuated by anything, you have to keep reminding it, “It's not sure! It's not permanent!" You might get something, like a glass, and start thinking how beautiful it is. “What a nice glass. I will store it away and take really good care of it so it doesn't get broken." Then you have to tell yourself, "It's not certain." You could be drinking from it and set it down by your elbow, and in a moment of carelessness you knock it over and it breaks.
If it doesn't break today, it will break tomorrow. If it doesn't break tomorrow, it will break the day after tomorrow. Things that are subject to being broken are not where you should be placine your trust.
This impermanence is the real Dharma. Things are not stable or real. Nothing about them is real, and just this fact is what is real. Are you going to argue this point? It is the most certain thing: being born, you must age, fall ill, and die. This is the permanent and certain reality, and this permanent truth is born of the truth of impermanence. Examining things thoroughly with the standard of “not permanent, not certain," a transformation takes place into something permanent and certain, and then one no longer carries the burden of things.
The disciples of the Buddha awakened to the truth of impermanence. From awakening to impermanence, they experienced detachment and weariness with things, or nibbida. This weariness is not aversion. If there is aversion, that is not really weariness, and it does not become a path. Nibbida is not what we think of as worldweariness in the ordinary way. For example, living with our families, when we are not getting along well, we might start thinking that we're really becoming disenchanted in the way the teachings mention. That's not it; that's merely our defilements increasing and oppressing our hearts. "I'm really fed up-I'm going to leave it all behind!" This is weariness because of defilement, and what really happens is that your defilements become greater than before you gave yourself this idea of weariness over things that disagree with you.
It's like the idea we have of metta, loving kindness. We think we are supposed to have loving kindness toward people and all living things. So we tell ourselves, “I shouldn't have anger toward them. I should feel compassion. Really, sentient beings are lovable." You start having affection for them, and it ends up being desire and attachment. Be careful about this! It's not just a matter of what we normally call love. This is not metta in the way of Dharma. It is metta mixed with selfishness. We want something from others, and we call it metta. This is similar to our ordinary "world-weariness. "Oh yeah, I'm really tired of it all, I'm getting out!" That's just big defilement. It's not world-weariness or dispassion; it's only giving the same name to it. That's not the way of the Buddha. If it is correct, there is giving up, without aversion or aggression, without any harmfulness toward anyone. One is not complaining or finding fault-one just sees everything as empty.
It means coming to the point where the mind is empty. It is empty of grasping attachment to things. This doesn't mean that there is nothing, no people or objects in the world. There is empty mind, there are people, there are things. But in the mind there is the perception of it all as truth, as something uncertain. Things are seen as being the way they are, following their natural course as elemental nature arising and passing away.
For example, you might have a vase. You feel that it's something nice, but from its own side it exists indifferently. It doesn't have anything to say; it is only you who have the feelings about it, you who live and die over it. If you dislike or hate it, it won't be affected. That's your affair. It is indifferent, but you have these feelings of like or dislike and then get attached to them. We judge different things as being good or bad. This "good" troubles our hearts. “Bad'' troubles our hearts. Both are defilements.
We don't need to run away to any other place; we need only look at and investigate this point. This is the way the mind is. When we dislike something, that object of dislike isn't affected; it remains as it is. When we like something, it isn't affected by our liking, but remains just as it is. We are only making ourselves insane, that's all.
You think some things are good, you see other things as great, but you are projecting these ideas from yourself. If you are aware of yourself, you will realize that all these things are equal.
An easy illustration is food. We feel this or that kind of food is nice. When we see the dishes on the table, they are attractive; once everything is put together in the stomach, it's another story. But we look at the different dishes and say, "This one's for me. That one's yours. That one is hers." When we've eaten and then it comes out the other end, probably no one is going to contend over it and say, "This is mine. That's yours.” Or is that not so? Will you still be possessive and greedy over it?
This is putting it briefly and simply. If you see clearly and make up your mind, everything will be of equal value to you. When we have desires and think in terms of “mine” and “yours," then we end up in conflict. When we see things as being equal, then we don't see them as belonging to anyone—they are just conditions existing as they are. No matter how fine the food is that we eat, once it is excreted, no one wants to pick it up and make a big deal out of it. No one will fight over it.
When we realize things as this one dharma, all being of the same nature, we relax our grip, we put things down. We see they are empty, and we don't have love and hate for them; we have peace. It is said, “Nirvana is the supreme happiness; nirvana is the supreme emptiness,"
Please listen to this carefully. Happiness in the world is not supreme, ultimate happiness. What we conceive of as emptiness is not supreme emptiness. If it is supreme emptiness, there is an end of grasping and attachment. If it is supreme happiness, there is peace. But the peace we know is still not supreme. The happiness we know is not supreme. If we reach nirvana, then emptiness is supreme. Happiness is supreme. There is a transformation. The character of happiness is transformed into peace. There is happiness, but we don't give it any special meaning. There is suffering also. When these occur, we see them as equal. Their value is the same.
The sensory experiences we like and dislike are equal. But when they contact us, we don't see them as equal. If something is pleasing, we are really happy over it. If something is displeasing, we want to destroy it. So they aren't the same to us, but in truth they really are equal. We have to train in this: they are equal in that they are unstable and impermanent.
It's like the example of food. We say this kind of food is good, that dish is great, that other one is wonderful. But when they end up together inside the body and then get excreted, it's all the same. Then you won't hear anyone complain, "How come I got so little?" At that point our minds don't get carried away over it.
If we don't experience the truth of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self, then there is no end to suffering. If we pay attention, we can see it every moment. It is present in mind and body, and we can see it. This is where we find peace.