There are different kinds of discoveries and ways to discover. We may search for something and then find it - we can make accidental discoveries. We can discover a new theory or technique by reading, listening to others or, taking a course at a meditation centre, a school or university. Absorption - and Nibbana - are not ‘things’ we can find by looking here, there or, anywhere. They are not that kind of discovery.
We may undertake a noble search for the truth which liberates. In the process we learn how to relax and let go, be content with little. Those who expect nothing are never disappointed, and are often, pleasantly surprised! Nibbana is a true cessation not a true acquisition.
There is nothing to prevent us from looking for Nibbana. There is a lot of searching that has gone on and, may continue until the cows come home! The good thing about searching is if we don’t find anything we may have to think carefully about what we are doing and why? When it comes to liberation, the crux of the issue is whether there is anything to find?
The Buddha used similes to help us to understand these teachings. There is the simile where he asks: where does the fire go - when it is extinguished? Does it go in any direction? No, it just goes out!
The other ‘telling’ story is the one where he gets the psychic who can tell where beings are reborn - by tapping on their dead skulls - to tap on an Arahants skull. The Buddha gave him a skull that had been on the shoulders of an Arahant - who ceased without remainder. The psychic could not identify a place where the Arahant had reappeared.
“Suffering exists, but no sufferer can be found.
Actions exist, but no doer of actions is there.
Nirvana exists, but no one who enters it.
The Path exists, but no traveler can be seen.”
When we enjoy the deep peace, joy and happiness that is present in absorption we don’t discover this, as something that has entered our field of attention. Instead, we have relaxed, we are not self conscious, we are not busy ‘doing’ something. This gives deep joy and peace the opportunity to fill that opening. The space we had previously monopolized - as self-conscious observers - ‘opens up’ so we can breath easy - Ahh! Once the meditator drops out of the picture absorption moves in - a unique joy appears.
The Time spent in different states of absorption varies. We may be in the ambit of unique joy and happiness for a short while and then vanish in formlessness. We cannot consciously decide when to enter jhana, how long we wish to stay there or, decide that it’s time to leave.
Initially, when we meet the Dhamma, we may see it as a belief system - a religion from Asia. We can take on the teachings of the Buddha as something we believe in and leave it at that. It becomes our philosophy of life - an ideology we identify with. As we practice we begin to see more clearly - we begin to (see) the Dhamma first hand. Our practice gains momentum and we rely less on our teachers and more on what is revealed through direct experience.
This is a shift from theory to realisation - from belief to insight. This is why the Dhamma is so compelling and beautiful. This is what makes it a unique and priceless jewel - among the 3 jewels! The Dhamma comes alive for us as inquiry deepens. It is not a dusty old philosophy or, an ideology we identify with. That would be ‘missing the forest for trees’ - theories do not release the heart, they do not put an end to dukkha.