Notes on a Buddhist path

The Abyss

January 18, 2020 By | 4 Comments

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
COME TO THE EDGE!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.

        ~~Christopher Logue

It’s been nearly five years now since I left the world. I still recall the look on my friends’ and co-worker’s faces when I told them that I was heading off to live at a Buddhist monastery. Visiting what many people would consider an antiquated vestige of the middle ages in this day and age makes you a little weird to begin with. Most people can’t spell “monastery” let alone know what this spiritual enigma has to do with modernity. But to move to such a place, well, that borders on the furthest most fringe of transcendent insanity.

Yet for those who actually step off of the world’s precarious existential predicament and seek the end of all that is known, they may come upon a glimpse of peace and resolute sanity. And, if you stick with it, there is even the prospect of unmitigated freedom.

Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss.

~~Dhammapada, Verse 174

Those “realms of bliss”, that boundless freedom, is Nibbana, or Nirvana, the end of all suffering. The Buddha tells us that we suffer because of ignorance and our unrelenting thirst for more. More sensual hits through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental stimulation. More craving for existence and getting what we want: the next new job, new relationship, new way of being. And finally craving for non-existence and pushing away what we don’t want: quitting that job, getting a divorce, abandoning those schemes that seemed so brilliant a few years ago. The Buddha urges us instead to cultivate dispassion for the five aggregates or “khandas” (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness) that drive these insatiable predilections and compose the make-up of all sentient beings. Yet the very idea of abandoning all hope for more of this illusory world brings many people to the brink of sheer terror.

Why are we so afraid of letting go of this temporal realm? So afraid of losing our nebulous desires? Not to feel the highs and lows of our transient emotions? Not to be lost in a tidal wave of righteous indignation and our maniacal belief that we can somehow control the universe? Why does the concept of Nibbana, the cooling of the fires of desire, elevate our fear levels to the point of embracing a credo of existential annihilationism?

D.T. Suzuki wondered that as well. He read the work of existentialists and came to the conclusion that “They stand at the edge of the precipice and look down, afraid to jump right into the abyss itself.”

Yet the abyss is where peace can be found, if we’re willing to jump. Willing to let go of all that we thought we knew and allow for a space of free-falling into the unknown. Stepping out of my mundane life and settling into the solitude of this forest monastery has been a pilgrimage towards that unknown. Here is where the wise reside, where the 2,500 years of the Buddha’s teachings can come to fruition. Here is the precipice and a view of freedom just at the tip of our mind’s reach.

Come to the edge. You may fly.

Quote from “Selected Works of D.T. Suzuki, Volume 1: Zen 1“, by Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, University of California Press; First Edition, New edition edition (Nov. 7 2014)

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Comments

  1. Donna White Steele says

    Sadhu, Piyadhassi!

  2. Piyadassi, flying towards the boundless realms of bliss and contentment. What an amazing and inspiring image. And one which brings mudita to the heart.

    As I approach my 65th year in a few days, your enlightened missive further inspires me to creep closer to that edge. My path will now be more clearly lit by including a re-reading of these words in my morning ritual.

    Thank you, once more, for your wonder-filled transcendent insanity.

    • David, my friend, may your birthday be one of peace and bliss. Thank you as always for your kind words. We transcendently insane beings do have a way of finding each other…:-).

  3. Thank you for continuing to write, and for sharing your perspective on what a glimpse of peace looks like. It is truly inspirational. You are missed and loved – and celebrated.

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