Buddhism has many ‘models’ of what happens when ignorance ceases in the mind. These are often called ‘models of Enlightenment.’
One of them is that all suffering ceases completely. Another is that only compassionate actions can occur, another is that the body ceases and a rainbow appears in the sky. There are many others too, like abiding as endless bliss. I’ll come back to the rainbow in a moment.
From my experience there is a lot of superstition within Buddhism. I’d go as far as to say that Buddhism is riddled with superstition, I find this ironic given that Buddhism is supposed to be about suspending belief until there is personal experience to verify something . In relation to these ‘Enlightenment Models’ the classic cop out is this….’anyone with this attainment wouldn’t show it.’ Yeah right, how convenient. That could be said of someone who claims to be able to shoot fire out of their bottom but who says they won’t demonstrate it for superstitious reasons. They’d be laughed at, and rightly so.
Another very common misconception is that the task at hand is to get rid of something called the ‘self.’ To sort of extinguish it, kill it off, cut it out, starve it into non existence.
I now come back to the ‘no more suffering at all’ model as that is the one I will be addressing below.
The suffering that ceases when the appearance of an inherently existent self ceases (known in Buddhism as emptiness of self) is clear to see when it happens. It is a very specific part of suffering but is not all of it.
Like with the rainbows that appear in the sky but were never ever there and never will be, there is no inherently existent self to get rid of.
Rainbow can’t be removed from the sky because they were never there. What can be removed is the mind’s perception of a rainbow in the sky. Buddhism refers to this mistake perception as ‘ignorance.’
The rainbow does not exist, you can’t have one person near it in the air seeing it and one on the ground seeing it. The rainbow can’t be gotten rid of and in the same way there is no ‘self’ to get rid of.
Anyone who craves owning a rainbow might try and collect a piece of one in a jar. But they can’t. Because it never existed. They may get upset if someone criticises the rainbow in the sky or be delighted when someone praises it’s beauty. But it was never there. The problem is not a rainbow needing to be extinguished or enhanced, or transformed. It was never there. It’s the exact same scenario with the ‘self.’
This doesn’t mean that the rainbow didn’t appear to the mind. Because it did. But not more than that. Not more than that. ‘Rainbows not really being in the sky’ isn’t a belief, or a dogma, or a practice, or a sect, or a school of thought, or a tradition, or a sutra, or a tantra, or a British thing, or a US thing, or a Christian thing or a Buddhist thing, or a lower school thing or an upper school thing, or a Vajrayana thing or a non Vajrayana thing.
It’s just that if you think the rainbow can be grabbed and put in a jar but you just can’t get to it you suffer non contentment. If you think the rainbow shouldn’t be insulted you suffer non contentment. if you think the rainbow is under attack you develop non contentment. The same with the appearance of the self in the mind.
The rainbow was never ever there. This is the point. When this recognition is present the suffering of non contentment associated with the rainbow can’t possibly arise. No rainbow, no craving the rainbow.
In the same way, a mind that doesn’t have the appearance of a self in it doesn’t have the associated sufferings in it either. However the body can still be kicked in the balls or be headbutted and the physical pain will manifest. Also there may still be the personality of an arsehole or a really nice personality because personality is not owned by a self. The sky is not owned by a rainbow. Thoughts and feelings have no owner. We can’t say it’s the rainbow’s cloud….because there’s no rainbow up there.
In the same way ‘it’s my thought’ or ‘it’s my feeling’ are just thoughts.
There is specific suffering that arises because of the above mistaken mental construct. Other suffering doesn’t cease. The nervous system still functions. And there is contentment.
I’d like to now bring in the Vedanta model of Enlightenment.
Vedanta offers a deeper insight into stillness, where everything (including the sufferings of mistaking a real self) is accepted contentedly. This stillness can watch the mistake Buddhism addresses (ignorance) and can watch it not being there too if that happens (Buddhist Awakening.) Both are ok because that content stillness doesn’t need anything to be different from the way it is.
The mistake I see Vedanta practitioners make almost universally comes from the ignorance that appears within the stillness. This ignorance labels the stillness ‘self’ and deludedly thinks stillness has intrinsic self-ness imbued in it. It doesn’t. I’ve come across one Vedanta practitioner who is able to recognise this mistake and has moved beyond it. He was an old man on twitter and I’ve lost contact with him.
If manifest, this subtle ignorance within stillness declares consciousness/awareness/knowing or (whatever you want to call it) the true self. I refer to this as ‘ignorance hanging by a thread.’
This is why the experienced Vedanta practitioners I have come across have ignorance ‘hanging by a thread’ and Buddhist practitioners commonly can’t perceive their ignorance and wisdom from the unchanging stillness that everything appears within. Both systems on their own invariably lead to these small but crucial blind spots.
When both emptiness (Buddhism) and stillness (Vedanta) are manifest there is the following recognition of reality. There is general appearance within the stillness and then mind imputes ‘object’ onto bits of it and gives that idea a name. The mind then bizarrely decides it didn’t create the idea of the object and that it had been there all along waiting to be discovered.
The mind can appear infinite ideas, theories, beliefs, religions, faiths, and models of awakening and the mind can endlessly relate to them. This explains why there is so much Buddhist ritual, visualisation, dogma etc.
The crucial question is what is the nature of the things the mind experiences. And can the stillness that everything occurs within become the observation platform. The first is dealt with in Buddhism, the second is dealt with in Vedanta using the pointing method. Sometimes the merging of the viewing platform and the appearances occur, this is common with psychedelic experiences and some temporary awakening experiences.
Every ball of knotted string unravels differently so I’m not criticising any path, however what becomes evident is that the string and the knots have no owner.
A final note in this blog piece. In terms of Vajrayana/Tantra. It’s only Vajrayana/Tantra if the ignorance described above is turned off. If that ignorance isn’t turned off then it’s mental theatre; or at best training in correct view. Training in correct view will possibly bare fruit ie remove the ignorance. Training in correct view though doesn’t need any esoteric or special practice, it’s very simple.