Life is going to be frustrating and painful if we are looking for certainty and definition in terms of being a person, being some place, being in time. It's only when we let go of the sense of I... me ... and mine ... , of the sense of there being a person here who has anywhere to go to, or anywhere not to go to, that there is the clear abiding in awareness.
The tendency of the mind is often to conceptualize that. You say, "OK, I'm just going to be aware," and you take that as an ideal and try to fill the mind with that thought. What will happen then is that the thought turns into an object, so rather than just resting in being, the knowing, we try to see what it is that is knowing.
As Ajahn Chah would sometimes say—you're riding a horse and looking for the horse. We wonder, "Who is it that knows the knower?" "Who is it that knows the thing that's knowing the knowing?" One can get the impression that there's some sort of infinite regression happening here, and that it's like falling off a cliff backwards. But it's not, because what happens is that when we let go of our sense of identity, then there is just the clear knowing. The mind rests in the bright, selfless, knowing, timeless state. Then the idea arises, "Oh, there is knowing." So rather than just resting in that pure knowing, we attach to the thought that there is something that is knowing. We're just fixing on that thought and then stepping out into the conditioned world. As we attach to any thought we're stepping away from that sense of pure knowing. If there is just pure knowing it's like being up against the back wall. As soon as we hold onto any thought we walk away from the wall. We're going out into experience, going out into attachment to some condition.
If we just allow the mind to relax and rest in that sense of knowing, in that purity of being, then there is liberation, there is freedom right at that point. At that point, the mind is aware of the sense of unity, of Suchness, there is the unifying vision which in Christian terms they call beatitude. The beatific vision is the vision of totality, of wholeness, the disappearance of any separateness. In this realisation there is no self—it's not you being with Ultimate Truth—there's just THIS, the mind in its pure awakened state, Dharma aware of its own nature.
With the early presence of Buddhism in America in the 1950s and early 60s, there was a tremendous amount of use of this kind of understanding; people were saying, "Everyone is a Buddha," "We're all Buddhas," "Everyone is perfect." And, instead of this giving rise to people having the conduct of Buddhas, which is modest, gentle, and restrained, this was sometimes taken as a justification of license. Whatever you do, it's perfect—sober is perfect, drunk is perfect, to do whatever you feel like doing, whatever you're inspired to do—it's all empty. It's all Suchness. For people who took that highest principle as a fixed position or identity to hold onto—you can see that just the idea of it was not enough, and it caused some of the brightest Buddhist lights of the Beat generation to die as alcoholics.
There was a great sense of freedom of spirit that was inspiring it, but the idea of us all being Buddhas and everything being perfect is not exactly the same as the direct realization ... of that. When the mind truly rests with that realization, then what flows forth from it is a purity of conduct, a purity of speech and action, a gentleness, a harmlessness and simplicity. The Buddha's response to his enlightenment, being totally free and beyond any suffering, was not to pursue physical pleasures or seek intoxication. His response was to live incredibly carefully and modestly, using the things of the earth with frugality. He could have conjured up anything he wanted, but he chose to live as a barefoot renunciant, a peaceful, harmless being.
One can see that some Buddhist traditions over the centuries have become caught up in this problem, whereby the principle is attached to and then taken as an identity—"I am a Mahayana Buddhist," or "I am a Theravadan Buddhist," or "I am a Vajrayana Buddhist." That's like wearing a badge that gives one a certain credential, rather than seeing that the terms referred to are attitudes of being. For instance in England, at the Buddhist Society summer school every year, one group would go and have their evening meetings down at the pub, ostensibly because they "had got beyond form." So, they would have their evening Dharma Discussions down at the pub, which is all right; they are free to do what they want. The Theravadans just sit around, chatter and drink tea. But you could see that the attitude was, "Well, we're of the Supreme Vehicle. We don't need to be bothered with the petty concerns of Sila [moral discipline]; we respect the ultimate Buddha nature of all beings." And one could see that a lot of their inspiration and noble energy was getting side-tracked into justifying the simple quality of preference: that they found it enjoyable to have a drink or two, fool around and have an unrestrained time. Again, they are free to do as they choose, but it's a sad mistake to label this as the practice of Buddha-Dharma.
To be continued