The result of this—trying to realize emptiness within a free-wheeling life—means that we then have the challenge of realizing the emptiness of the despair and depression that comes from following those desires. People are free to take on the challenge!!! But it's a related thing; we can't just absorb into pleasure without getting the other side of it as well. It's as if we're holding onto the wheel as it goes up the pleasure side, but we're still holding onto it as it goes down the other side. I'm not saying these things as a put-down but, having done this quite a bit myself, I realize that we just don't have the presence of mind to let go at the top! It's the way we'd like it to be but it doesn't operate like that.
At the beginning of the retreat everyone took the Refuges and Precepts. This symbolic act is to refresh our aspiration toward being a Buddhist, toward being Buddha. It's not a ceremony that one goes through to ... become a Buddhist, like baptism. It's much more that it's up to us to refresh our aspiration within ourselves. Externally, we can adhere to a form, to a tradition, to a pattern but if we don't eventually internalize that, if we don't bring that within ourselves and make being Buddha, being The-One-Who-Knows the aim, then any amount of external dedication to a particular form or tradition will not avail us very much in the long run.
One final point that we tend to not understand is that: if there is no self, if one is aiming to come from this position of ultimate wisdom, then why do we bother with things like spreading metta [loving-kindness]? If there is nobody here and nobody there, then why go through all the trouble of sending metta ... across the universe? Or the sharing of merit: you know there's no one here ... and there's no one there ... , so what's the point? Wouldn't we be better off saving our energy and doing something else? This is important to understand—how the different levels of our life interplay with each other—because even though at some moment we might be seeing life from the level of pure wisdom, from that place of timeless-spaceless-selfless awareness, the rest of the world is not necessarily seeing things from that point of view. What you have within Buddhist practice is a way of tying together all the different levels of our being.
The Buddha used conventional forms, he used personal pronouns. When people asked him questions such as, "If there's no self, why do you refer to yourself as an individual? Why do you talk to other people, why do you name people?" And the Buddha said, "Even though fundamentally there is no self, I use common speech in order to communicate things to people on a level that they can understand." So, when we are thinking about things like spreading metta ... , creating good karma, sharing the blessings of our life, one puts forth the effort to do that. You put your heart into spreading loving-kindness. You do ... it.
We set up monasteries, we put effort into creating opportunities and environments for people to learn from. We teach, offer guidance and support and instruction. But, having brought those forms into existence, then one dissolves any attachment to them.
We bring forth wholesome principles and energies into people's lives, but we do not give them a sense of ultimate substantiality. We see that they are merely shapes, forms, patterns of consciousness. The sounds that I say, these are ear-consciousness, sounds that you all are aware of. There is the expression that the Buddha was the supreme weaver of dreams in order to wake up the dreamers. His teachings, his words and actions, are a system of dreams: dream stuff. But the mastery of the Buddha was that he created dreams which enabled the dreamers to awaken; to lead us out of the dream world into real life, into the true world.
As an example, for many years I had no feeling at all for devotional practice. " Anatta [no self]... , that's what it's all about!" Every morning and evening, as we did our traditional chanting I would go along with it, try to stay in tune and so on, but basically I felt it was all pointless. Then I began to realize that I was missing the spirit of the whole thing. If we have right understanding, then we can bring forth those energies into words, bring forth kindness and benevolence, bring forth things which are useful and helpful into the world, but then not own them, leave them as they are—that is the great art and it is also the greatest blessing. You can see why the Buddha taught in the way that he did. It wasn't for him ... It was to provide things for those of us who would come after: forms, patterns, traditions, ways of living that help to spur us on; ways to encourage us, to inspire us to wake up, to break through the illusions that bind us so that all can experience the true joy of liberation.