On the path of insight, the right attitude to conventional reality is dispassion according with the eight insight knowledges (Vism. XXI). CR is based on name, which is an arbitrary label imposed on the body at birth, and all the institutions of CR have sprung up around tending to the body between birth and death.
CR has a limited truth based on common consensus, so it is not to be completely dismissed, but its great danger is that it purports to be ultimate, presents itself in the place of nibbana. This demands a revolution in priority in the mind of the practitioner.
It seems to me we all have to be careful in attempting to relate the thought-world and life-world of 5th century BC northeast India to our own present circumstances. Many - perhaps most - of the instructions in the suttas are directed to wandering, world-renouncing beggars on the outskirts of societies somewhat more used to wandering, world-renouncing beggars. Building an imaginary alternative world for ourselves inside the suttas, while attempting to live a life in our modern workplaces and households, can have tragic results I fear.
Is nibbana the ultimate? Isn’t there a strong case to be made that the correct interpretation of nibbana is just the extinguishment of the fires of greed, hatred and confusion, or the end of the pain of craving? That’s not a higher plane of reality, or a realm different from this realm. It is just how this realm is experienced when greed, hatred, confusion, or painful craving, are no longer present.
Conventional reality is woven around samsara, it appears innocuous but it has a momentum ( the current of desire, the round) which is delusory. That is why conditioned phenomena must be handled skillfully to create progress on the path.
Yes, and perhaps there’s a strong case for denying global warming. Anyone can make a case for anything, and you could try and say concrete doesn’t have water in it as its so hard! I prefer an inclusive understanding, in that the removal of craving, aversion and delusion is the day to day state of mind in an arahanth and a supramundane dimension of nibbana is accessible through their meditations, much like the arupa or immaterial states are accessible through meditation. Boys, tables and trees are seen to be aggregates, elements and sense doors.
In this case, what I meant is that the case can be made from the EBT’s themselves, which repeatedly describe nibbana as the cessation of greed, hatred and confusion, the putting down of a burden, the destruction of taints, the elimination of defilements, etc. The word nibbana just means extinguishment or extinguishing. The idea that nibbana is a supramundane reality or higher plane or realm is less common.
Coming to the suttas late in my life after decades of practice has been an uncanny experience of recognizing a great part of what I read now in the EBTs. Many suttas are proven to me from experience even though my younger self would have paused to study. And there were also suttas such as MN1 which gave me a startling realignment of perspective, startling enough to change my everyday life and practice.
Yet there are other suttas which I half understand, which pull me onwards inexorably, pointing out paths not fully understood or explored. One of those suttas is the quite remarkable MN121, which I am drawn to repeatedly as inspiration. And that inspiration is independent of worldly circumstance or current century.
It is very possible that my reading could lead to an “imaginary alternative world for ourselves inside the suttas.” Yet the uncanny alignment of suttas with my past experience in non-sutta life suggests otherwise. Indeed, in reading the suttas, I have learned more and found that “imaginary alternative world” directly applicable to the contemporary world.
SN55.53 speaks somewhat to your concerns about “attempting to live a life in our modern workplaces and households.” In fact, Dhammadina expresses a bit of the same in her opening statement:
“Sir, we live at home with our children, using sandalwood imported from Kāsi, wearing garlands, perfumes, and makeup, and accepting gold and money.
It’s not easy for us to undertake and dwell from time to time upon the discourses spoken by the Realized One that are deep, profound, transcendent, dealing with emptiness.
Since we are established in the five training rules, please teach us further.”
“So, Dhammadinna, you should train like this:
‘We will have experiential confidence in the Buddha …
the teaching …
the Saṅgha …
And we will have the ethical conduct loved by the noble ones … leading to immersion.’
That’s how you should train yourselves.”
“Sir, these four factors of stream-entry that were taught by the Buddha are found in us, and we embody them.
For we have experiential confidence in the Buddha …
the teaching …
the Saṅgha …
And we have the ethical conduct loved by the noble ones … leading to immersion.”
“You’re fortunate, Dhammadinna, so very fortunate!
You have all declared the fruit of stream-entry.”
MN 121 is indeed a very interesting sutta. It seems to describe a type of meditation practice leading to formless absorptions that is not well attested elsewhere, and which is no longer taught - at least not in the literal form it is presented in the text. It would be interesting to know more about where it came from.
I’ve confirmed from my own experience that backpacking the Sierras gave me the emptiness described for wilderness. I have also confirmed from my own experience that climbing in the Sierras transcends wilderness relinquished into the perception of Earth (i.e., the mountain climbed experienced as an ephemeral ant touching a larger deity).
Therefore, this internal and personal corroboration leads naturally to the conclusion that embracing the possibilites nascent in infinite space would be a natural next step. However, for that investigation I am relying on walking meditation as well as sitting meditation. I have never found sitting meditation sufficient. The recent adoption of walking meditation has proven quite valuable and complementary.
Please do share anything you find that would provide further understanding of the nuances of MN121.
(By the way, the formless absorptions are repeated in DN33 and elsewhere)
You’re talking about experiences that occur when you physically change your position, and abandon locations in which certain things are present and move to locations where they are not present. But the sutta seems to describe a practice done in one place - with eyes open - in which large numbers of objects present in the visual field are successively no longer experienced, or are experienced in a transformed way.
I don’t have anything. Nobody seems to discuss that sutta much. And as I understand it , the commentaries deal with it by reinterpreting the specific objects and entities described as figurative stand-ins for elements or other general features of experience.
Having backpacked and climbed, it is quite easy and natural for me to sit and “be there in Yosemite (and proxying Yosemite for wilderness and Earth)” even in the midst of a friend’s party where everyone is ferociously trying to beat each other in board games. The sense of the party does fade as if in a long long hallway with full awareness of events (much like listening to the news on TV while making dinner) as the bulk of my awareness is in the emptiness meditation itself.
MN121 is therefore quite real and actionable. My eyes are closed in sitting meditation, open during walking meditation (although sometimes I do close them if traffic is absent)
What is also interesting is…I have found that cycling focus through even a mere understanding of the formless dimensions does lead to deeper meditation. The hallway gets longer.
At some point the notion of “self-fulfilling prophecy” or “placebo effect” might arise. However, with the objective to lessen suffering in play, if it lessens suffering and dhukka, then Yay! I’m an engineer. If it works, I use it.
What I meant by this is not that the suttas don’t contain some lessons for everyone, but rather that the dominant images, teachings and lifestyle presented in the suttas relate to the lives of world-renouncing beggars, and so that life-world can’t simply be transposed into a contemporary life of ordinary social connections and responsibilities and taken as a model.
Going about in silence with eyes downcast might be the best demeanor for a person begging from town to town with only a robe and a bowl, but if you are a computer programmer meeting with colleagues and clients all day, or a kindergarten teacher trying to keep a roomful of five year olds engaged and focused, or a plumber visiting people’s homes and dealing with them about the services to be performed and the prices for those services, you have to deal with the people in your environment in a manner appropriate to the working relationship you have with them. Some degree of humility and restraint of rambling speech might be appropriate for everyone, but the severe humbling and abasement practiced by the wandering bhikkhu is incompatible with most livelihoods and sets of responsibilities available to people who must work for a living in modern society.