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The four formlessness – Part One

Inspired by the Diamond Sutra. (Intermediate level)

  • Formlessness of “I”
  • Formlessness of Others (people)
  • Formlessness of Sentient beings
  • Formlessness of Life (existence)

The Buddhist realization is not a knowledge but a personal experience. It is difficult to describe a unique experience. Yet without words, it is impossible to teach or guide others. However, all these words are mere descriptions or signages. With this in mind let’s start this journey for those who wish to walk along with me..

1st stage of realization, is to realize that the “I” or “me” that we cling to and treasure so much is just an illusion. A mistaken perception. If you feel alarmed, it is normal because it seems like asking you to deny your existence. This notion can be frightening and it feels like a monster wanting to tear you apart spiritually.

BUT, NON-‘I’ is not NOTHINGNESS (this is an important signpost)

‘So WHAT AM I? Who am I?’ We asked.

Well, according to Sabbasava Sutta, such question is wrong and leads to confusion. When we ask such a question, it is like asking our science teacher, “what is the magic incantation that makes the light bulb bright?” when we are trying to understand how the light bulb works. or asking “when will the stork bring me my baby?” when we wish to be parents. Both the magic incantation and the stork is non existing to begin with. Therefore, how can it be answered?

Since realization is not a knowledge, what is the point of asking? I guess, it is because we are alarmed by the notion that the precious “I” is just an illusion? We just cannot wrap our heads around that….

It is normal for us to turn our back and walk away from this implausible idea. It is okay that we are not ready yet. But if you dare to and are open minded about it, here’s what needs to be done.

We have to train our mind (by chanting or meditating) so that it is not cluttered by thoughts. Then we can examine ourselves properly and see the Truth of our existence. When we feel a sting, we check and examine that part of our body to see what is wrong. In this case, we have to examine our mind and familiarize ourselves with the followings. (inspired by Silavant Sutta: Virtuous )

  • Our Body (physical form) – a living organism that functions when the conditions are right. When cold, it will feel cold. When it needs to sneeze, it will sneeze. It coughs without permission too. Sneezing and coughing in public attracts frowns and stares nowadays. (Sigh) This body is not “I”
  • Our senses and perceptions – entirely depending on functioning body parts and brain and mind. (shaping our experience that we think is unique)
  • Our feelings and emotions – experiences and reactions to our senses, conditioned by education and social conditioning and habitual inclinations from our past. We enjoy this or dislike that and we think that is our personality.
  • Our thoughts and mental activities- flashes of ideas that are input or triggered by senses, or flashes of memory or flashes of imaginations. Creating a false sense of continuity, a past, a now and a future….A SOUL?
  • Our consciousness – this is a tough nut to crack. A cognition, or that self-recognizing awareness but this is not independently existing on its own too because there is such a state as being unconscious and arising from that unconsciousness.(again depending on various factors)

We just need to see how all the above interact and understand how they play a part in the creation of the illusional “I”. A false sense of being. Our persona, our ego, our identity. The practice is being aware and mindful of how these psychological events take place constantly and how we fall into that illusion of an ‘I’.

“I am a Buddhist. I am Chinese. I am upright. I am hot-tempered. so on and so forth.” Have you ever see how a child react when you ask them to describe themselves for the 1st time? Do you still remember your own experience then? Perhaps we knew better then, until this ignorant world forced the illusion upon us.

Ultimately, we realize that there is nothing inherent in our identity. Our persona is just a misperception. Like the illusion of a fire ring created by a twirling firebrand.

When we realize that, we are free from that false identity and we are free. There is no longer an I that can be offended. There is no “I” aging and dying (heart sutra). There is no one being trapped in our body to begin with.

AGAIN, It doesn’t mean NOTHINGNESS.

Then we enjoy being kind hearted because it is pleasant and soothing. Not burning. (that is another sign post)

We also have better appreciation of Karma too. When we do not interpret karma and take it personally, we see a new ‘logic’ in it. We automatically refrain from harming others or creating negative karma (another sign post)

We recognize the Buddha’s message and is no longer confused by the various teachings. We understand why the various masters said what they had to say back then. (another sign post)

All this is our homework and we need to practice daily. Just like how we learnt walking. But the window for learning is limited because our human body is limited. Our current unique experience as a human being give us a special advantage to realize this Truth. Therefore, we need to be diligent and practice correctly. And Quickly.

But if you are still terrified by the face of “Non-I”, it is okay.

Continue to do meritorious deeds and continue meditating / chanting to be peaceful and stress-free. No problem. Once you enter the Dharma Door, you will arrive at Nirvana one day.

May all be well and happy.

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