“Incline the mind towards the Deathless”

said the Buddha

 

By Christopher Titmuss

 

 

A Dharma friend wrote to me recently the following:

“Do I meditate with the aim or expectation of passing beyond samsara and into Nirvana?

On the one hand this seems quite a wise approach, a non-grasping open-ended view that does not seek to elicit some sort of spiritual pot of gold at the end of the Buddhist rainbow. Additionally, it appears rather unlikely that I would ever attain Nirvana, so surely in effect not worth worrying about. On the other hand, I wonder sometimes if without the conscious aim of Nirvana am I selling myself short or missing the point of spiritual practice entirely?On inquiry it seems like I have two slightly contradictory (or perhaps complimentary?) views of Nirvana.

I have not attained Nirvana, nor do I for the great part really seek or expect to attain Nirvana. Notwithstanding, given that the Buddha clearly laid out the path from samsara to Nirvana (of which mental culture or meditation is one key part) and furthermore, dedicated his life to teaching this path - am I not missing something here? Or have I missed the point entirely Christopher? Truth be told, I am still not even any nearer to explaining why I actually meditate, other than to say I love it and that I find it both practical and wholesome when it’s applied in my life. Any thoughts most welcome."

 

There is an important injunction of the Buddha, often overlooked in Dharma teachings and insight meditation (vipassana) tradition. In a meeting with Malunkyaputta (Middle Length Discourses MN64), the Buddha stated:

“Whatever exists therein of material form, feeling, perception, thoughts and consciousness, he sees these states as impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. He turns his mind away from those states, and directs it towards the Deathless. “

 

 

It is worthwhile for every dedicated yogi to take this powerful and unambiguous statement to heart. We can easily fall into the habitual trap of “practice, practice and practice” and never turn our attention to liberation, nirvana, the Deathless. It is hardly surprising that some truly committed yogis, who make enormous personal sacrifice for their practice, can feel the limitations of practice, practice, practice and find themselves turning away from practice but not towards the Deathless but towards other traditions that ignore practice. In the Buddha’s discourse, The Way to the Imperturbable (MLD 265), the Buddha explained exactly what he meant when he used the term the Deathless. “This is the Deathless, namely the liberation of the mind through non-clinging.”

I fully support the wish of yogis to such to turn away from practice but it is not necessary to towards another methodology, whether satsang, guru devotion, advaita or grasp onto insights into disillusionment. There is no need to look outside the Triple Gem, nor confuse the limits of the Theravada tradition with the words of the Buddha. It makes me smile when I hear such voices as “I attended satsang with a wonderful Advaita teacher (non-dual teacher). I experienced enlightenment in his presence. But how do you meditate?”

In March, 2010, we held our four day Dharma Facilitators Programme in at the Pauenhof Centre, near Dusseldorf, Germany. Klaus-Peter gave a precise summary of the Buddha’s teachings to Malunkyaputta. In the two hour workshop, Thorsten and Gesine led groups on aspects of the discourse. I found the session insightful. The workshop reminded me of the importance of this statement of the Buddha. When I arrived home, I went on a search through the suttas of the terms the Buddha used for the ultimate. I had thought there were about 30. I found 100. I have listed near the end of this article.

The Buddha met with Malunkyaputta in Jeta’s Grove, where the Buddha engaged in the annual rains retreat (a three month period) for more than 20 years. In the previous discourse (MLD 63), Malunkyaputta said he found himself caught up during his meditation in speculative views about the world, the self and whether one who has gone beyond exists or not after death. He said that he if did not get clear answers he would give up the Dharma life. Malunkyputta’s voice continues to rebecome 2500 years later. There is still much misunderstanding about the Buddha’s refusal to decline to be involved in the metaphyscis of the world, life, matter, origins of existence and whether one who has gone beyond exists or not after death. Did the Buddha know and did not say or did the Buddha not know? We forget these speculations have nothing to do with the Dharma of liberation.

It seems to me that it is as much a metaphysic to cling to the unknown and to assume that there is only a single, self-existent life and death and denial of rebirth. Incidentally, there is no concept “rebirth” or “reincarnation in the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha only used the word “rebecoming.”

I have no experience of a self existence. I can see through my experience there is dependent arising, rebecoming and liberation. This we can see and know. There are Dharma teachers who make a virtue about living in the unknown, who claim a freedom in not knowing about the way things or the way things have become. Such a view again misses the point since it confirms an ignorance, not a virtue or a release. Realisation dismisses settling for such a view so that we see and know the eye of the Dharma, of the emptiness of self existence and understand dependent arising.

The Buddha used the analogy of the surgeon whose take the arrow out of a wounded man rather than speculate about the origin of the wood used in the bow and arrow. “I have left these speculative views undeclared. It does not belong to the fundamentals of the spiritual life as it does not lead to awakening and nirvana,” the Buddha told Malunkyaputta. He spoke to Malunkyaputta of freedom from of the five lower fetters . In ending these fetters, the yogi is no longer obsessing or enslaved to a view of his identity, to doubts, rules and observances, desire for pleasure or negativity. Seeing the Deathless ends these fetters. It is useful to note that the Pali word for fetter is samyojana. The middle syllables come from the root “yug” like the word yoga. You can interpret this rather freely as a reminder to yogis, to practitioners, that nothing whatsoever is worth becoming yoked to

The fetter of rules and observances becomes important one for meditators, as well as religious believers. The Pali is sīlabbata paramasa. Sila means rules, laws and perceived virtue in the way of doing things. Vata includes forms of practice, rites and methods. Parāmāsa means holding onto and being under the influence of. For the meditator holding onto a particular practice, seeing virtue in it above everything else is a fetter, a hindrance to liberation.The Buddha also explained that a “young, tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion of ‘identity’ yet the underlying tendency to identity view lies with him. An untaught ordinary person, no regard for the noble ones, unskilled an undisciplined in the Dharma, abides with a mind obsessed and enslaved by identity view.” It has become habitual, uneradicated in him and obsessed and enslaved. The same principle applies to all the fetters.

The Buddha then spoke of ways to dissolve the fetters through the depths of meditation or through seeing the suffering of any or all of the fetters. He employed strong metaphors. “Regard the fetters as suffering, a disease, a tumour, as barbed wire, and also non self in terms the fetters are a calamity, as disintegrating, as empty.. He turns his mind away from these states and directs it towards the Deathless element. Thus, this is peaceful. This is sublime. This is the renunciation of all grasping, all fuelling. This is Nirvana. With the destruction of the five lower fetters, he abides in the realm of the Gods from where he attains final Nirvana without ever returning from that world. In this pure realm, we abide with happiness, content and love.

Dedicated practitioners need to give dedicated attention to the depth of this discourse from the Buddha to yogis. Incidentally, scholars usually translate the word “savaka” in the texts as “disciple.” The word savaka actually means “the hearer (of the Dharma), the listener.” It would thus appear from the texts, there are savakas who come to a liberating wisdom through listening to the noble ones and others through practice (noble path, meditation etc). Ariyasavaka is one who listens to a noble one. Savakasangha is the community of listeners. The Buddha emphasised the profound importance of listening to the Dharma to see and know the truth for ourselves as he challenged the religious culture of gurus and disciples.

At the end of the discourse Ananda, the Buddha’s personal attendant, asked the Buddha why there was a difference between the two types of liberation, gradual and immediate. Gautama said it was due to the “difference in faculties.” Some yogis intentionally developed their receptive faculties, including listening, through practice that eventually culminated in liberation of mind. While others had mature faculties that enabled a liberating wisdom to establish immediately while listening to teachings on the Deathless.

What does it mean to “direct the mind to the Deathless?”

There are times when we neither obsess nor feel enslaved to any of the fetters, nor to various mind states, whether happy or unhappy, shallow or deep. With confidence, we focus on the Deathless. We make this turning of attention to the Deathless our first interest, no matter how abstract, vague or intellectual, it may first seem. It would not be a waste of time to spend a year and a day, or much longer, whether in retreats, sangha dialogues, meditation and other times, abiding with a mind directed as much as possible to the deathless with unwavering interest. We have much to address to awaken to clear seeing and knowing the Deathless element.

Ten Reflections for the Deathless

1. Do I have any experiences, especially in recent times, hours, days, months or year or two, not being bound up with self and other? We might refer to these experiences as “transcendent” to the ordinary, everyday conventional mind when consciousness has become involved in content. Do I have an authentic sense of the timeless, and emergence of awe and wonde?

2. If not, why not?

3. What steps can I take to get out of certain habits, adherence to ways of doing things, self preoccupation and other fetters. Be very clear and very specific about this.

4. If I have had such “transcendent” experiences, reflect on their significance. Squeeze the honey out of them.

5. Why are they important? What is revealed? What is uncovered? What is the realisation about?

6. At the end of the article, I have listed more 108 terms the Buddha used for the Deathless. Are any of these terms in accordance with your experiences, insights or realizations?

7. Reflect on the liberating element in these perceptions. How does the liberating element reveal itself in your daily life. Do you experience a daily sense of liberation (Deathless) or is it occasional or very occasional or not at all?

8. Keep turning your attention to liberation that is not bound up with self, nor sense objects, yet not outside of them in some metaphysical realm.

9. Meditate, reflect and read very slowly and consciously statement on ultimate truth. You need only a few verses for awakening to truth, to reality that knows no boundary.

10. Make your interest in liberating truth your primary interest and draw regularly on profound moments, experiences and insights. Remember any practice is a preparation. Direct interest to the Deathless right into the foreseeable future.

Two years ago, I formed an idea to write a book on the ultimate teachings of the Buddha. I felt concern that far too many Dharma teachings in all the Buddhist traditions make too little reference to the Buddha teachings on liberation. There are senior Buddhist teachers who have taken up the view that the Buddha barely made reference to nirvana, the Deathless and other similar terms. It left me wondering whether such teachers actually read the Pali suttas of the Buddha.

I began going through the 5000 discourses of the Buddha to highlight passages with reference to the ultimate. I also asked Lila in Jerusalem, Jenny Wilks and Asaf Federman in England to send to me location of such passages. We put together a formidable collection of statements on the deathless. Lila also completed a university thesis on the Buddha teachings on non-duality. I then started to write a commentary on these passages that would form the basis of the book. I felt the Theravada commentaries, mostly written in the sixth century AD, failed to capture the breadth and depth of these profound passages, and the way they serve as a resource for inspiration and insight for dedicated Dharma practitioners. I had written several thousand words of my book when I started work on another book about the development of a Western Dharma tradition, its strengths and weaknesses. I finished working on that book early last November, 2009 and sent it off to Shambhala Books, a Buddhist publisher, in the USA. Emily Bower, editor of Shambhala Books expressed a keen interest to see the manuscript. The manuscript runs to around 350 pages. At the time of writing, I haven’t heard back from her.

In February, Shaila Catherine, Dharma teacher, based in California, kindly sent me a copy of “The Island, An Anthology of the Buddha’s teachings on Nibbana . Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro wrote the book. (Abhayagiri 2009 Publication for free distribution only. Go to www.abhayagiri.org. Pasanno and Amaro shared the same appreciation as myself about the significance of the ultimate teachings of the Buddha. Passano reported at the beginning of their book that his involvement with this book began with “jotting down a variety of sutta quotes which I had found inspiring.” Amaro said he “had hardly heard a word spoken about this (ultimate reality, Unconditioned, Unborn, Nirvana). He and Passano put together a “small compendium of the essence of the teachings of the Buddha. He added that these teachings are for those who “rejoice in the liberation of the heart.” Clearly, Passanno and Amaro and myself took an interest in a similar line of inquiry. The two monks have put together this remarkable anthology with commentary on the Deathless.

I read “The Island” – one of the concepts the Buddha used to describe the ultimate. I realised I would be covering much the same ground, though there are many ways to shed light on the Deathless. Amaro and Passano had not engaged in a pre-emptive strike, as if such monks could even think along those lines (!), but had spent years selecting and preparing these sections from the suttas with further commentary. The two Ajahns have divided their 350 page into four major sectiona.

1. Introduction.

2. Seeds, names and symbols (meaning of nirvana, associated words (English and Pali) and some important quotes from the suttas and use of cool element for nirvana.

3. The Terrain including dependent arising, conditions, consciousness, not made of that, attending to the Deathless.

4. The final section explores the gradual path and sudden penetration, path and goal and the nature of the stream enterer. Every chapter has the backbone of a full complement of quotes , plus an excellent concordance at the end.

The commentary from Passano and Amaro included quotes from authorities in the Theravada tradition, such as Ajahn and Ajahn Sumedho. The Island remains especially relevant for those deeply interested in full realization of the end of the path, rather than the path. I read the book with much appreciation for their noble work. I regard The Island as belonging to among the best commentaries available on a vitally important aspect of the Buddha’s teachings. There is nothing comparable in the history of the Theravada tradition.

To find out how to secure a copy of the book “The Island. An Anthology of the Buddha’s Teachings on Nibbana.” Go to www.abhayagiri.org. The book is for free distribution only. Bless them!

I had the impression that the important chapter on stream entereron the way to realizing the Deathless. I doubt this commonly held Theravada view. Stream entry reveals noble realizations with the dissolution of various personality issues. The Buddha made it clear the significance of the liberating element of stream entry with the end of the fetters of adherence to identity, doubts and clinging to rules and observance .In stream entry, the eye of the Dharma has opened, has not linked fully enough the experience and insights of the Deathless with stream entry. Some yogis might think that stream entry constitutes a vitally profound experience

Doubt in the ultimate teachings of the Buddha ends when the practitioner has seen and known for herself or himself the Deathless element. It is as obvious as light is to person with good eyesight - to use an analogy of the Buddha. The Buddha does not make a condition to realise the unconditioned the gradual and systematic dissolution of all the fetters. The remaining fiver fetters out of 10 consist of clinging to forms, formless, restlessness, conceit and ignorance (of conditions).

The book’s index runs to a very useful 17 pages . The index could have been two or three times longer using a smaller typeface. I had read passages and then wish to go back to the topic only to find the key words were not in the index. For example, elements, world, space and many other words used in the text have been omitted from the index. If this book runs to reprints, and I hope it will, then the authors might wish to extend the index.

The verses in the remaining two chapters of the Sutta Nipata (the earliest collection of suttas) have many references to liberation. “The Island” gives about 16 of them. I recall these two chapters very well because during my nine months in the cave in Thailand during my years as a monk, I took with me Suttas Nipata as my book for daily reflection. I am still giving the same encouragement to yogis to direction their focus to Nirvana 36 years later. In the concordance at the back of the book, no means intended to be exhaustive, there are numerous beautiful quotes from the Buddha on the consummation of the teachings.

This book can serve as an important reference for years for dedicated yogis. It forever puts to rest a common view in Zen, Advaita (Non-Dual) tradition, Dsog Chen, followers of Madhyamika tradition of Nagarjuna and even in the Theravada tradition itself, that the Buddha concentrated exclusively on the path and practice with reliance on the Abhidhamma for psycho-physical analysis.

Below are a handful of quotes on ultimate truth, I had selected out from the Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Many appear in The Island which contains literally hundreds of quotes, mostly addressing ultimate truth. The Buddha clearly encouraged the entire assembly of practitioners to incline towards nibbana - just as the River Ganges inclines towards the sea. (M. 73.14).

S 22.1 (p 855):

“And how, householder, is one afflicted in body but not afflicted in mind? Here, householder, the instructed noble disciple, who is a seer of the noble ones and is skilled and disciplined in their Dhamma… does not regard form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. He does not live obsessed by the notions: ‘I am form, form is mine’. As he lives unobsessed by these notions, that form of his changes and alters. With the change and alteration of form, there do not arise in him sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair.”

[Repeated for feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness.]

S 22.8 (p 867):

“And how, bhikkhus, is there non-agitation through nonclinging? Here, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple does not regard form thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self.’ That form of his changes and alters, With the change and alteration of form, there do not arise in him sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure and despair.”

[Repeated for feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness.]

S 22.36 (p879):

“If one does not have an underlying tendency toward form, then one is not measured in accordance with it; if one is not measured in accordance with it, then one is not reckoned in terms of it. If one does not have an underlying tendency toward feeling… towards perception… towards volitional formations… toward consciousness, then one is not measured in accordance with it; if one is not measured in accordance with it, then one is not reckoned in terms of it.

S 22.45 (p884):

“Bhikkhus, form is impermanent… feeling is impermanent… perception is impermanent… volitional formations are impermanent… consciousness is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees this thus as it really is with correct wisdom, the mind becomes dispassionate and is liberated from the taints by non-clinging.

“If, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu’s mind has become dispassionate towards the form element… towards the feeling element… towards the perception element… towards the volitional formations element… towards the consciousness element, it is liberated from the taints by non-clinging.

“By being liberated, it is steady; by being steady, it is content; by being content, he is not agitated. Being unagitated, he personally attains Nibbana. He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’ ”

S 22.58 (P 901) [from the Buddha’s second discourse in Sarnath]:

“Bhikkhus, form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’ But because form is nonself, form leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’

[Repeated for feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness.]

S 22.92:

Then the venerable Rahula … said to the Blessed One:

“Venerable sir, how should one know, how should one see so that, in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, the mind is rid of I-making, mine-making, and conceit, has transcended discrimination, and is peaceful and well liberated”

“Any kind of form whatsoever, Rahula, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near – having seen all form as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ one is liberated by nonclinging.

[Repeated for feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness.]

“When one knows and sees thus, Rahula, then in regard to this body with consciousness and in regard to all external signs, the mind is rid of I-making, mine-making, and conceit, has transcended discrimination, and is peaceful and well liberated.”

S 22.95 (p 952):

“Form is like a lump of foam,Feeling like a water bubble;Perception is like a mirage,Volitions like a plantain trunk,And consciousness like an illusion,So explained the Kinsman of the Sun.“However one may ponder itAnd carefully investigate it,It appears but hollow and voidWhen one views it carefully.”

S 28.1 (p 1015):

Sariputta: “Here, friend, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelt in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. yet, friend, it did not occur to me, ‘I am attaining the first jhana,’ or ‘I have attained the first jhana,’ or ‘I have emerged from the first jhana.’ ”

“It must be because I-making, mine-making, and the underlying tendency to conceit have been thoroughly uprooted in the Venerable Sariputta for a long time that such thoughts did not occur to him.”

We gather information on a variety of themes that the mind has a capacity to store and remember. Insight has a different quality making a truly beneficial difference to our lives. Liberation knowledge transforms our life. We meditate, reflect, inquire into dharma knowledge for liberation.

The sources for insight includes

a) meditation,b) mindfulness,c) inquiry,d) listening,e) speaking,f) reading,g) natureh) spontaneouslyi) receptivity

The difference between general knowledge and insight is rather like the difference between visiting the Himalayas and looking at postcards of these mountains. Insights make a difference to our lives, they open up consciousness, they wake us up from the sleep of existence. Invaluable insights come from experience, Liberating knowledge dissolved the fetters involved with our constructed world view. We allow ourselves to be available to fresh insights into the phenomenal existence, change and knowing emptiness of self existence. Realising the liberation element takes the suffering out of I and my. It is not enough to know what we suffer over. We llose ourselves in our picture of existence. We imagine that all that matters revolves around what goes on in our life or in the life of others, and how that affects us. At times, we can sense stillness, a palpable silence and an element unaffected through fluctuations and ripples in our life. We can uncover a sense of the timeless, a freedom from feeling bound to time and the stress bound up with time. We do not have to gain access to sub-atomic particles as the kind of building blocks of existence. Kalapas, the Pali word for sub-atomic particles, appears nowhere in the words of the Buddha. As the Buddha said, the liberating dharma is difficult to see but that should not discourage us from its exploration.

Udana 1.10

When, Bahiya, in the seen is merely what is seen…in the cognised is merely what is cognised, then, Bahiya, you will not be ‘with that’; when you are not ‘with that’, then you will not be ‘in that’; when you are not ‘in that’, then, Bahiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.” 

Now through this brief Dharma teaching of the Lord the mind of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was immediately freed from the taints without grasping…

Owing to our projections, we easily imagine that our failures, troubles and problems are the consequences of situations, inside or outside of ourselves, both or neither (God, karma, destiny, fate). The Buddha told Bahiya to see clearly the cognised as simply the cognised. Seeing clearly takes the problem out of situation, nor is there any necessity to look for liberation here, there or in between.

The mind has a tendency to project, to cast layers of itself upon the object, so then the object carries with it features of the subject. In this movement of the subject casting itself onto the object, we find it hard to distinguish what is going on in our mind and what the object itself reveals. We can never underestimate the determinant of the mind in the world and about the world.

There is a meeting of subject and object. There are points to be clear about.

  • The subject is not independent of the object.

  • The object is not independent of the subject.

  • The subject gives significance to the object

  • The object gives significance to the subject.

  • The object can be external to ‘ourselves.’

6. The object (of attention) can be ‘ourselves’ such as giving attention to states of mind, emotions and thoughts.

Realising that one is neither here, nor there, nor in between, reveals the end of the unrest, confusion and distortions.

Udana 1.10

THE ELEMENTS

Where neither water nor yet earthNor fire nor air gains a foothold,There gleam no start, no sun sheds light,There shines no moon, yet there no darkness reigns.When a sage, a Brahmin, has come to know thisFor himself through his own experienceThen he is freed from form and formless,Freed from pleasure and from pain.

Have you ever reflected on the reasons on why we love to spend time on a lovely day on a long, deserted beach, removed from all features of civilisation? Could it have something to do with the extraordinary display of the elements – earth, air, heat and water. There is the earth, namely the beach under our feet. There is the clean air filling up our lungs. There is the heat of the sun warming our cellular existence and the ocean of water lapping upon the sand. The four elements are extraordinarily distinctive at such a time while abiding amidst great space.

Of course, there is the possibility of a superficial appreciation of the lovely view and pleasant environment. We can approve and disapprove of the state of the beach or the air element – too windy, too little breeze – or heat element – too hot or too cold – or water element – too rough or too still. The perceived state of the elements gains another foothold in our consciousness so that our peace of mind seems to become dependent on the elements. We are never satisfied. We want our experiences, indoors or outdoors, to be as comfortable and pleasant for as long as possible. We resist living in the world and resistance to remembering that the world does not function to fit our demands.

Or, perhaps, we respond from a deep place within as we behold the wondrous elements and our participation in this remarkable process unfolding before our eyes. It is these deep responses that have the power to evoke an intimacy with the elements; a sense of something ‘spiritual’ comes to mind. It seems such a waste to use the beach for the primitive activity of sunbathing instead of exploring this meeting of consciousness with the bare elements.

When we have stripped away our roles and identity, as well as other preoccupations, there is accessibility to a profound sense of wonder about the meeting of heaven and earth. The deserted beach serves as one of those precious spots in nature permitting an absorption that speaks to us of oneness, of abiding in a unitive dimension. This is not the Deathless but a true confirmation of the unitive mind.

We respond in an affirmative way to the direct and immediate experience of the four major elements making contact with our consciousness. There is an expansive sense of things while knowing the dependent arising of the elements as one after the other of the elements stands out so clearly for us. We can describe such an experience as either exposure to the wonderful forms of nature or a formless experience.

If, however, the elements take a foothold within us, it means we would be clinging to the experience, wanting to repeat it, exaggerating it or undermining it in some way or other. When such an experience doesn’t take hold in consciousness, there is a depth of expansiveness that is as immeasurable as the very elements themselves. The Deathless is clear when nothing takes hold including the most sublime experience of solitude among the elements.

As human beings, we employ the elements to construct a seemingly limitless number of products. Living in the grip of the materiality, we lose ourselves in a magnetic attraction to consumer goods. The commercial world certainly seems to have gained a foothold in our lives. Yet the vast array of goods also emerges out of the same raw elements, nothing else.

Consciousness inter-acts with elements yet we have the potential to realise an awakening, not bound to the elements, not tied to the condition of the elements. Meditate on this. Reflect on this. Inquire into this.

There is a common misperception that the Buddha concentrated exclusively on the path to awakening but avoided making much reference to awakening itself. “Words cannot speak of that beyond words” is a common rerfain from teachers and yogis. There is another condition as well. The Buddha warned about the danger of boasting about realisations about the ultimate, whether unintentional or a deliberate attempt to deceive. It is all too easy for the ego (“I” and “my”) to grasp onto such experiences and realisations, perhaps to impress others or to have a belief in personal accomplishment. Monks and nuns hesitate to speak about their realisations in case it sews the seed for sectarianism and division in the Sangha that could result in banishment from the ordained way of life. Dharma teachers and practitioners do not have to observe such a Vinaya (discipline) but have certainly inherited the same kind of cautious approach.

Those engaged in the fourfold sangha (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen) need to engage in the exploration of the Deathless, the ultimate, rather than constant attention of the journey from birth to death, impermanence and the path of practice. It is not easy. For example, some Buddhist commentators, path and present, have said the meditator makes the “Deathless element an object of meditation.” That is not possible. All are objects are subject to change, subject to birth and death.

The “experience” and “realisations” of the Deathless belong to a different order, different sense of things altogether. The world of objects belongs to the world of birth, change and death. Everything that arises makes a journey, short or long, towards ending. That is surely worth contemplating upon but we give priority to awakening to the Deathless. We have to bear in mind here that we cannot make the Deathless an object of meditation or mindfulness since all objects, without exception, remain tied to the three characteristics of existence, impermanence, unsatisfactory and non-self.

The Buddha has deeply appreciated the problem of language, as limited constructs that we might employ to convey the limitless. I have dug out of the Pali suttas more numerous terms and concepts to communicate the Deathless. We do not have to feel that we can connect intuitively with all of them.

In Chapter 9.43.14, in the second volume of the Connected Discourses, The Buddha gave a list of synonyms for liberation, for the ultimate. Elsewhere in his discourses, he used various words to describe the ultimate. It is important to appreciate that every word shares the same essential meaning. It may well be that one word, or more than word, brings a depth of inner response. The Buddha’s use of a wide range of concepts for ultimate realisation shows skilful means. Religious teachings on the ultimate are often become to a single word such as God, Non-Duality or Liberation.

The Buddha recognised that we simply cannot connect either emotionally or intellectually with some words but other words may elicit an inner response, perhaps due to deep experiences in the past or a sense of being close to an ultimate discovery. Read slowly and carefully through the list and see what word or words you respond to, Take the word or words to heart. Words have neither the power to hide truth, nor reveal truth. As has been state earlier, we give priority to the Deathless element. This list is not an exhaustive collection of the Buddha’s terms. He certainly generated a tremendous generosity of language in his determination to support the awakening of the sravakas and practitioners.

108 SYNONYMS OF THE BUDDHA FOR THE DEATHLESS AND KNOWING THE DEATHLESS

108 is a number for infinity in the Buddhist tradition.

In alphabetical order

  • 1.ABSENCE OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE (SAMSARA, NAMELY WANDERING ON FROM ONE THING TO ANOTHER)

  • 2.ALL LUMINOUS CONSCIOUSNESS (used only twice. M. 49.25 and D11.85)

  • 3.ALL THINGS MERGE IN THE DEATHLESS

  • 4.ASUYLUM

  • 5.AWAKENING

  • 6.BIRTHLESS

  • 7.BOUNDLESS

  • 8.BRAHMAN (God but not in the sense of a personal Creator)

  • 9.CESSATION (of poisons of the mind)

  • 10.CESSATION OF SUFFERING

  • 11.DELIVERANCE

  • 12.DESTRUCTION OF ATTACHMENT

  • 13.DESTRUCTION OF DESIRE (meaning gross or subtle problematic needs, obsessions, wanting.

  • 14.DIRECT KNOWLEDGE

  • 15.DISENCHANTMENT (with the mundane)

  • 16.DISPASSION

  • 17.EMPTINESS OF SELF EXISTENCE(SUNYATTA)

  • 18.EMPTY OF WANTING, NEGATIVITY AND DELUSION

  • 19.END OF CLAIMS ABOUT SELF ( I AM THAT OR ANYTHING ELSE).

  • 20.END OF ATTACHMENT (Pali word upadana also refers to grasping, clinging or fuelling)

  • 21.END OF BECOMING.

  • 22.END OF BEING (this or that or an antology)

  • 23.END OF EXISTENCE AND NON-EXISTENCE

  • 24.END OF SUFFERING

  • 25.END OF THE WORLD OF NAME AND FORM

  • 26.ENDING OF BEING JOINED TO (YOGA) –Pali sam-joga-na means fetter

  • 27.ENLIGHTENMENT

  • 28.ETERNAL(endless)

  • 29.FAR SHORE

  • 30.FREEDOM

  • 31.FREEDOM FROM BONDAGE

  • 32.FULLY AWAKENED

  • 33.HIGHEST HAPPINESS

  • 34.IMMACULATE VISION

  • 35.IMMEASURABLE

  • 36.IMPERTURABLE

  • 37.INFINITE

  • 38.INVINCIBLE

  • 39.LIBERATION (also by trust, wisdom)

  • 40.LIBERATION from reckoning in terms of consciousness

  • 41.LIBERATION THROUGH DIVINE ABIDINGS

  • 42.LIMITLESS

  • 43.NEITHER HERE, NOR THERE, NO IN BETWEEN

  • 44.NIRVANA (NIR-VANA) extinction of fire of greed, hate and delusion

  • 45.NO LANDING OF CONSCIOUSNESS

  • 46.NOBLE PEACE

  • 47.NON CONCEIVING

  • 48.NON-ARISING

  • 49.NON-DEPENDENCY

  • 50.NON-SELF or NO SELF (meaning no inherent existence of anyone or anything)

  • 51.NOT BEING MADE UP OF ANY THING OR FROM ANYTHING (atammayata)

  • 52.ONE WHO KNOWS AND SEES

  • 53.OTHER SHORE

  • 54.PEACE

  • 55.SIGNELSS

  • 56.SAFETY

  • 57.SUPREME SECURITY

  • 58.TAINTLESS

  • 59.THE AGELESS

  • 60.THE AUSPICIOUS

  • 61.THE BEYOND

  • 62.THE BLESSED

  • 63.THE COMPLETION

  • 64.THE DEATHLESS

  • 65.THE DHARMA

  • 66.THE ENDLESS

  • 67.THE EVERLASTING

  • 68.THE HARBOUR

  • 69.THE INVISIBLE

  • 70.THE ISLAND

  • 71.THE MARVELLOUS

  • 72.THE PEACEFUL

  • 73.THE PROFOUND

  • 74.THE PURITY

  • 75.THE REFUGE

  • 76.THE RELEASE

  • 77.THE SECURE

  • 78.THE SHELTER

  • 79.THE SORROWLESS

  • 80.THE STABLE

  • 81.THE SUBLIME

  • 82.THE SUBTLE

  • 83.THE SUPREME

  • 84.THE TRUTH

  • 85.THE UNAFFLICTED

  • 86.THE UNAILLING

  • 87.THE UNBORN

  • 88.THE UNCONDITIONED

  • 89.THE UNMADE UP OF ANYTHING

  • 90.THE UNDIVERSIFIED

  • 91.THE UNDISINTEGRATING

  • 92.THE UNDISTURBED

  • 93.THE UNFORMED

  • 94.THE UNMADE

  • 95.THE UNPROLIFERATED (OF THOUGHTS, PROJECTIONS)

  • 96.THE UNSHAKEABLE

  • 97.THE UNSTUCK

  • 98.THE UNTRACEABLE

  • 99.THE VERY DIFFICULT TO SEE

  • 100.THE WONDERFUL, STRANGE

  • 101.TIMELESS

  • 102.TRANSCENDENT KNOWING

  • 103.TRUE KNOWLEDGE

  • 104.UNFATHOMABLE

  • 105.UNFORMED

  • 106.VISION

  • 107.WHAT HAD TO BE DONE HAS BEEN DONE

  • 108.WHERE ELEMENTS HAVE NO FOOTHOLD

We are blessed with the teachings of the Buddha, the true wealth of the Triple Gem, and an infinite number of expressions of what truly matters, suitable for every one, along with numerous open doorways to full and immediate realisation.

Incline the mind fully to liberation. There is nothing more important to incline the mind towards. The Deathless is closer to you than the tide of conceiving.

May all beings live know and see the Deathless