An inconvenient truth
Sitting as dawn creeps along the valley wall,
Asking what life wants say.
And… In reply
Life offers an inconvenient truth
In reality there is only one truth, one universally unifying fact of experience. That is to say all experience is impermanent. Through the truth of impermanence we see non self and non self gives rise to ‘An inconvenient truth’ inconvenient because we clearly seem to believe otherwise, we believe in a self, protect and defend this ‘self’. The tension between ‘self’ and non self gives rise to Dukha, a term synonymous with Buddhsim and points towards the experience, attempts to conceptualise a sense of, unsatisfactoriness of pain and of suffering.
In Buddhism impermanence, non self and the truth of suffering are known as the three Laksnanas and it is insight into these ‘inconvenient truths’ that ultimately lead to liberation. The truths are neither positive or negative, they are simply true. Learning to live from these truths is, for me, what Buddhist practise is for.
The truths of life, the truths that Buddhist practise points towards, are nothing new, they are not hard to see. If we are aware we witness them everywhere, moment to moment. A sound, a thought, a smell arising and then either passing away, transforming, metamorphosing or, and possibly more likely, arising until we are distracted by another arising.
The human condition seems to be tuned to paying attention to whatever is the strongest stimuli. Today, mostly thoughts, but in the past, the distant past, maybe it was sound or sight as our survival would have depended upon awareness of potential sources of sustenance or danger.
I see now the song of impermanence has always been singing through my experience, how could it not? but I recall one particular time which changed everything.
I was on a solitary retreat at Rivendell, probably about a year or so after starting to work for the Dharma. I can remember watching the incense waft and curl backlit by dust motes and sunlight. The smoke danced and played and then I saw mountains, streams, faces, animals all manner of phenomena apparently coming into being, constantly changing until the form became unrecognisable only to reform into something else. It was a truly beautiful moment, my energies seemed to burst through their constraints and flow and that flow was deeply pleasurable. I walked out seeing impermanence everywhere. Pointing at trees and joyfully proclaiming their emptiness, there impermanence.
Sometime later I began to think of other aspects of my life and that they too where empty, impermanent and my response was very different. I thought of my partner, of our relationship, our home, the life we had made for ourselves. It was all great, it was all wonderful, it was all impermanent, nothing was what I thought it was, there was nothing fixed and enduring, the illusion of stability, security and control fell away. Impermanence had now become an ‘Inconvenient Truth’.
The truth is we want some things to be impermanent, we want them to change, want them to move on and other things we want to stay but truth is truth and no matter how much we would like it to be different this is simply how it is, neither positive or negative just true.
For about 18 months or so I was in quite a state. It wasn’t until I became ordained in what is now the Triratna Buddhist order and engaged in the visualisation of the Bodhisattva white Tara, a mythical representation of the enlightened mind but with an emphasis on meditation and compassion that I managed to get some perspective some balance back in my life. Visualisation, for me, put a mythical stained glass window between me and the truth if reality. It made the truth a little more bearable and offered ways in which I might be able to work with the ‘inconvenient truth’. In time I was able to let the glass become thinner and more transparent, the visualised form became more personal and more abstract, diaphanous, nebulous but I was better able to stay with it. In my mind this is what all Buddhist practise is for. Seeing the truth is relatively easy, learning to live with that truth, at least in my case, was a whole different ball game and even now, today, this minute I am still learning.
There are a number of what I term ‘Wisdom Schools’ available. I have attended a few in my time and there is no doubt in my mind that these schools will lead to an insight into the true nature or reality. My concern is they have very little by way of support post retreat. Indeed, they rely on you to decide whether you are ready for the truth taking little if at all any responsibility for ‘awakening’ individuals. Are you really ready to hear the truth, to see the truth. Once you know the truth, you can’t un learn it. You can try to dull it out by drink, drugs and distract your self with all manner of deceptions but deep down you still know, I still know and I have on occasions tried to ‘forget’.
Overall I would have to say, life is better. I suffer less and cause less suffering for others. There is a lot more contentment and I have what I always wanted, peace of mind. My life is simpler and I am happier for it but there are still bits of me, parts that still resist the ‘inconvenient truth’.