[Buddha-l] Laughing at enlightenment

Mike Austin mike at lamrim.org.uk
Sun May 8 20:32:31 MDT 2005

In message <1115329885.12383.64.camel at localhost.localdomain>, Richard P. 
Hayes <rhayes at unm.edu> writes

>If truth for the highest good DID falsify conventional truth, then
>conventional truth would not be truth, would it? It would be delusion.

It can be true that there are delusions, misapprehensions, ignorance. It 
can be true that things appear falsely. And an explanation of the causal 
process behind it would also be true.

>And yet there is no good reason for anyone to believe that it is

Not immediately, maybe. But if one struggles towards a mirage, believing 
it to be an oasis, there will eventually be reason enough.

>At best, there may be reason to think that the goodness we get
>from daily transactions is of a lesser value than the goodness we get
>from attaining non-attachment, but it in no way follows that what is
>worth less is altogether worthless.

Agreed. I sometimes think the word 'ultimate' sounds like the very best, 
when I don't think it has such a quality. From my present perspective, I 
think realisation of the ultimate truth would assist me dealing with the 
conventional truth.

>But if we also hold that
>truth for the higher good is obscured by everyday truth, we should also
>have to admit that the two-truth doctrine is unknowable to anyone who is
>still operating at the level of everyday truth. In other words, only the
>enlightened would know about the two-truth view, and the rest of us
>would not be able to have it in sight.

Sorry, I don't follow you here. One may continually experience phenomena 
in a conventional sense while intellectually knowing the appearance is a 
false one. One sees a mirage and knows it to be a mirage, even though it 
continues to appear as water. So we know of the two truths of the mirage 
even though we do not see directly the 'ultimate' truth of it.

>Now what would it entail to hold the view that the doctrine of two
>truths is BOTH a conventional truth and a truth for the highest good? I
>think it amounts to saying that this doctrine, in contrast to most other
>doctrines, just happens to be good currency in both the realm of
>everyday transactions and the realm of enlightenment. To hold this would
>require some explanation for what makes this one doctrine an exception
>to the general rule that what is true at one level is not true at the

We are talking about deceptive (conventional) truth  and ultimate truth. 
This is in dependence upon the mind that apprehends the phenomena. It is 
true that a confused mind cannot see clearly,  but instead projects some 
false appearance onto phenomena.  An awakened mind has finished analysis 
and arrives at the ultimate truth about phenomena.  Terms 'conventional' 
and 'ultimate' are not a pair of independently existing truths out there 

>But what if one were to say to the preachers (and buddhas) "I choose not
>to see my condition as an illness. I choose not to see the human
>condition as a disease requiring your, or anyone else's, cure. I choose
>not to see what I believe as a delusion."

I choose to be healthy, wealthy and handsome, but this is not made so by 
virtue of the wish.  Buddha gives a diagnosis of our state of existence. 
We are not obliged to accept it. I don't see any attempt to persuade. It 
is up to us if we want to hear it or read it.  If we want to dismiss it, 
we are at liberty (bad choice of word) to do so.

>If one were to say all that,
>then one would be free of attachment to the fantasy that things can be
>other than they are. And being free of such a fantasy, one would also be
>free of the suffering that would naturally arise from seeing one's
>present condition as somehow inferior to the condition imagined in one's

There are fantasies, and there are useful constructs and visualisations. 
It is by means of vision that one moves into the future. Also, I think a 
certain amount of hypothesis is necessary.  I am sure 'hypothesis' rests 
more comfortably with you than 'fantasy'.

>Now the interesting thing is that this condition of being free from the
>suffering that results from imagining that things could be other than
>they are can also be described as seeing things just as they are.

If one imagines a better state,  it does not necessarily cause suffering 
in the present state. If one knows how to reach an enjoyable destination 
and one is travelling there, then hardship is more easily tolerated.

>that, as I recall, comes pretty close to how Buddhist texts describe
>enlightenment. Enlightenment, in other words, consists in not thinking
>that enlightenment is something other than everyday consciousness.

But that does not mean it is exactly the same, either.

>So when people like Curt say "One is not qualified to write liturgy
>unless one is enlightened," then I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

I hear people bandy words about enlightenment and, to be frank, I think 
they are talking mumbo-jumbo most of the time. Even in teachings that I 
regularly hear,  I baulk at the rather literal-sounding descriptions of 
Buddha. The only description that makes any sense to me is the ushnish. 
This is beyond our measure. But I still fancy an 'enlightened' state. I 
just refuse to give a dog a bad name and hang it.

>But then what do I know? I'm just an ordinary guy with no aspirations to
>be much of anything else.

On our regular Thursday evening sessions,  we begin with a quiet calming 
meditation and then review our motivation. We chant a prayer to generate 
the mind of enlightenment. Yet, if one has little idea of this state, it 
just becomes a slogan. That is how it seems to me sometimes.  Motivating 
oneself towards a state that is so remote is difficult. What image do we 
have to work with? The enlightened state is the 'best'. We can only know 
the 'best' by practising 'better'.  I feel that the 'best' is realisable 
- it becomes a real possibility - the more I practise 'better'.

Mike Austin

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