This is to be realised. The Buddha said emphatically: ‘This is a Truth to be realised here and now.’ We do not have to wait until we die to find out if it’s all true – this teaching is for living human beings like ourselves. Each one of us has to realise it. I may tell you about it and encourage you to do it but I can’t make you realise it!
Don’t think of it as something remote or beyond your ability. When we talk about Dhamma or Truth, we say that is here and now, and something we can see for ourselves. We can turn to it; we can incline towards the Truth. We can pay attention to the way it is, here and now, at this time and this place. That’s mindfulness – being alert and bringing attention to the way it is. Through mindfulness, we investigate the sense of self, this sense of me and mine: my body, my feelings, my memories, my thoughts, my views, my opinions, my house, my car and so on.
My tendency was self-disparagement so, for example, with the thought: ‘I am Sumedho,’ I’d think of myself in negative terms: ‘I’m no good.’ But listen, from where does that arise and where does it cease?…or, ‘I’m really better than you, I’m more highly attained. I’ve been living the Holy Life for a long time so I must be better than any of you!’ Where does THAT arise and cease?
When there is arrogance, conceit or self-disparagement – whatever it is – examine it; listen inwardly; ‘I am….’ Be aware and attentive to the space before you think it; then think it and notice the space that follows. Sustain your attention on that emptiness at the end and see how long you can hold your attention on it. See if you can hear a kind of ringing sound in the mind, the sound of silence, the primordial sound. When you concentrate your attention on that, you can reflect: ‘Is there any sense of self?’ You see that when you’re really empty – when there’s just clarity, alertness and attention – there’s no self. There’s no sense of me and mine. So, I go to that empty state and I contemplate Dhamma: I think, ‘This is just as it is. This body here is just this way.’ I can give it a name or not but right now, it’s just this way. It’s not Sumedho!
There’s no Buddhist monk in the emptiness. ‘Buddhist monk’ is merely a convention, appropriate to time and place. When people praise you and say, ‘How wonderful’, you can know it as someone giving praise without taking it personally. You know there’s no Buddhist monk there; it’s just Suchness. It’s just this way. If I want Amaravati to be a successful place and it is a great success, I’m happy. But if it all fails, if no one is interested, we can’t pay the electricity bill and everything falls apart – failure! But really, there’s no Amaravati. The idea of a person who is a Buddhist monk or a place called Amaravati – these are only conventions, not ultimate realities. Right now it’s just this way, just the way it’s supposed to be. One doesn’t carry the burden of such a place on one’s shoulders because one sees it as it really is and there’s no person to be involved in it. Whether it succeeds or fails is no longer important in the same way.
In emptiness, things are just what they are. When we are aware in this way, it doesn’t mean that we are indifferent to success or failure and that we don’t bother to do anything. We can apply ourselves. We know what we can do; we know what has to be done and we can do it in the right way. Then everything becomes Dhamma, the way it is. We do things because that is the right thing to be doing at this time and in this place rather than out of a sense of personal ambition or fear of failure.
The path to the cessation of suffering is the path of perfection. Perfection can be a rather daunting word because we feel very imperfect. As personalities, we wonder how we can dare to even entertain the possibility of being perfect. Human perfection is something no one ever talks about; it doesn’t seem at all possible to think of perfection in regard to being human. But an arahant is simply a human being who has perfected life, someone who has learned everything there is to learn through the basic law: ‘All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.’ An arahant does not need to know everything about everything; it is only necessary to know and fully understand this law.
We use Buddha wisdom to contemplate Dhamma, the way things are. We take Refuge in Sangha, in that which is doing good and refraining from doing evil. Sangha is one thing, a community. It’s not a group of individual personalities or different characters. The sense of being an individual person or a man or a woman is no longer important to us. This sense of Sangha is realised as a Refuge. There is that unity so that even though the manifestations are all individual, our realisation is the same. Through being awake, alert and no longer attached, we realise cessation and we abide in emptiness where we all merge. There’s no person there. People may arise and cease in the emptiness, but there’s no person. There’s just clarity, awareness, peacefulness and purity.