Pointers, Doors, and Openings
Writings | Basics
Writings | Basics
In these notes I want to point out the relationship between the three marks of existence (the pointers), the three doors to freedom, and the three aspects of meditative experience (the openings). The three marks (change, suffering, and non-self) can be viewed as pointers, aspects of our experience that point to three doors of understanding (no definition, no aspiration, emptiness). When we go through these doors, certain experiences open up, hence, the three openings (clarity, bliss, and non-thought).
ChangeLet’s start with the first pointer, change, which, when you really come down to it, means our mortality. Death is inevitable. No matter what we do, we will not survive. Everyone dies. No special ability prevents death, not strength, not beauty, not courage, not even spiritual awakening. Death presents us with an extreme paradox. On the one hand, it is absolutely certain each of us is going to die. Yet in our culture we have chosen to try to avoid this certainty as much as possible. On the other hand, there is no certainty when we are going to die. Again, we try to ensure through safeguards that nothing can possibly happen to us to interrupt our lives. Yet people have died and do die at all ages. This presents us with a dilemma. How do we live knowing that we are going to die and not knowing when? Uchiyami Roshi, says: …in this world of impermanence we have no idea what may occur during the night, maybe there will be an earthquake, or a disastrous fire, war may break out or perhaps a revolution might erupt, or we, ourselves, could very well meet death. Nevertheless, we are told to prepare the gruel for the following morning and make a plan for lunch. Moreover, we are to do this as tonight’s work. In preparing the meal for the following day as tonight’s work there is no goal for tomorrow being established, yet our direction for right now is clear; prepare tomorrow’s meal. In other words, we do whatever is next with full attention but without any kind of expectation. When we embrace life this way we find ourselves going through a door. The door is that experience is essentially ineffable: we can not say what it is. We can arrive at that door through meditation practice, by progressively seeing impermanence more and more deeply in our experience. We start with the observation that we are going to die, this life is going to end, I am going to cease to be as I am. We observe that in some way I am constantly ceasing to be. I am not the same person as when I was twenty years old or thirty years old. We begin to notice that changes occur on a daily basis and eventually on a moment-to-moment basis. We begin to see that there is nothing in our experience that we can say, this is it, this is me. It doesn’t matter where we start. In Eastern thought we tend to see awareness as what is real and that physical experience is a manifestation of that awareness. In the West we tend to look at things the other way around and say what is material is real and awareness is somehow added on to that. It doesn’t make any difference. We still end up with the ineffable nature of experience itself. This leads to a dissolving of the relationship to habituated reactions. We break the relationship between what is arising in experience and reacting to it immediately. In Buddhism, these two are clearly differentiated. As that link is broken we find ourselves opening to the clarity and the vividness of experience, the clarity and vividness of being. This comes because we begin now to accept experience without categorizing it, without putting a label on it.