In the last post, we looked at the Buddha’s list of Five Hindrances to awakening, and one of them was doubt. Self-doubt, but also doubt about the path we have chosen, whether it will bring us some relief and maybe even enlightenment.
Our ongoing Unveiling Series of posts continues to be a rich exploration, but you might wonder how the veil metaphor I’ve created fits in with Buddhist teachings, or whether it’s anchored in Buddhism at all. Well, here’s a quote from the Buddha that certainly indicates that:
“…It is by their not being able to comprehend the dependent origination that people are entangled like a ball of cotton, and not been able to see the truth, are always afflicted by sorrow, born often into conditions that are dismal and dreary, where confusion and prolonged suffering prevail, and they do not know how to disentangle themselves to get out.”
The use of metaphors and similes to teach challenging concepts is very much rooted in Buddhism. The Buddha would summon an apt comparison from anything that he saw around him to make the concepts he was teaching meaningful and understandable for his students. His similes and metaphors were drawn from daily life, and Buddhist teachers for the past 2600 years have continued this tradition, drawing from life in their times to illustrate and illuminate the teachings. Each teacher shares differently, based on their interests and experiences.
The heart of the dharma is constant, but just as sunlight looks different in different parts of the world, the dharma expresses itself in many ways. It is the living dharma, not dry dogma that sparks no sense of joyful recognition. The proof of the dharma’s value is that it always applies to our lives. I can’t tell you how many times students say that the dharma talk was exactly what they needed to hear right now, even though they never would have guessed that the subject would be of interest to them.
In the same way, sometimes a book will jump off a shelf to answer a question we didn’t know we were asking. Just so, this week I came upon a passage in a book I had tagged years ago that said: In the Abhidhamma, an early Buddhist text, it says that “the first task of insight meditation is…the dissecting of an apparently compact mass.”
Well now, isn’t that just what we have been doing these many months? We look at the dense knots and tangles of the various veils of thought we have been taking for reality but now see have been blinding us to this moment. The thought threads, saturated with emotion, can get in such tight knots they form a seemingly compact mass. A mass that may seem insurmountable. But the Buddha through his steady practice of quieting the mind and noticing the nature of thinking saw clearly that the solid-seeming mass is permeable. We don’t have to be trapped in self-limiting thoughts. There are skillful ways to gently soften and release them.
So if you thought that perhaps in these posts I’ve been wandering off into uncharted territory, a Buddhist teacher gone rogue, you can rest assured that the dharma is alive and well in what I have been sharing in my way, just as other teachers share in their ways.
With the practice of meditation, we are strengthening our ability to recognize when our attention is chasing down a habituated thought thread, and compassionately return it to this moment, anchored in the senses. Again and again. And in the process, we are also able to understand the nature of any of the troubling threads and loosen the tightest knots that have us convinced we are dealing with something solid and insurmountable rather than a tangle that can be met with loving awareness, the way a patient mother gently untangles the hair of her beloved child.