I've been interested to explore the following abstract question with participants, using the insight questioning method of Symbolic Encounters. The starting point is a metaphorical question:
What is on the other side of dukkha? (a Buddhist concept: suffering)
‘On the side of’ introduces a non-logical metaphor which confuses rational thinking and forces direct engagement with experience-- direct seeing -- in order to come up with any kind of response. Ideally you are guided by someone, but you can try it yourself with a very quiet mind, relaxed but alert, such as after a meditation practice, and without any time constraints. You pose the question to yourself, and keep questioning the responses you generate with simple queries like ‘what kind of…? Or ‘anything else about…?’
Here are some guidelines:
The first issue to take up is what you understand by ‘dukkha’. Possible understandings may include: ‘suffering, unsatisfactoriness in the nature of all created ‘things’, material creation itself’. In other words—all things.
Then the illogical metaphor: What kind of ‘side’ could it be on?— A wall? Some kind of boundary? If so, what could possibly be on the ‘other side’ of it?
Responses to the latter usually embrace a sense or vision of ‘emptiness, ground of being, the boundless, dark, the intangible’. And so a strange abstract image is created in the mind, some version of every-thing on one ‘side’ and no-thing on the other.
The next question is the important one: so where are you looking from?
This forces the insight that there is a third point, not part of the duality created by the image. The third point can be explored further with the same simple questions. It cannot be described exactly, but it can be known.
The result is to produce a realisation that our inner map is necessarily a duality. However we conceive of what some call the ‘Beyond, or the Other, the ground of all being, the intangible, God, emptiness, nothing, the imperceptible etc’, this conception is the mirror image of what we know as ‘everything perceivable, the mundane world, normal reality’.
But, crucially, we are not ‘in’ either of these. We look from a third point. If you set up this inner scenario, the realisation is inescapable.
What are the characteristics of this third point? Is it accurate to call it Love, Peace, Joy or anything else? Or are these just labels, qualities we impose upon it from our library in dukkha? Does it have qualities? Are they emotional?
And finally, is there something beyond even this, a fourth point? A source? Continue exploring……..
THE HUMPTY MYTH
I will share the whimsical image which arose for me, as an illustration of the profundities which can be hidden in spontaneous metaphors:
I saw a wall with All Created Things on one side, and potent No-thing on the other. On that wall sat Humpty Dumpty, his skinny little legs hanging down on the side of creation—(where else?). But of course, he takes a great fall and smashes on the rocks of suffering, of dukkha, and all the noblest creations and concepts cannot put him together again.
What is this Humpty? He is my conceptions, my ideas, my view of reality or of myself at any one time. And he falls-- over and over again he falls. He is fragile, as are our thought-creations. He is, in fact, an egg, round and full of the potential for life, but with only a delicate shell, easily smashed. He may have arms, but no distinct head; his being is simple, ovoid. And his destiny is to fall; he is unlikely to be sustainable on that wall of Between.
But where am I? Where am I looking from? I see him, so I am not Humpty. I see the wall, I see two sides. I am none of these. What characteristics do ‘I’ have……….?
Warning: It was interesting to note how readily those with whom I shared this image identified themselves with the tragic little figure on the wall!
For example, the automatic association revealed by comments like: ‘Yes, I often feel that I am falling…….’ Or ‘Like Humpty, it feels like I’m on a wall….’
The identifications and habits of a lifetime creep back, even immediately after the exercise, and even when the realisation of seeing from a third point is still fresh! Hence, the exercise, like the great fall, needs to be repeated until there is no need.
So be aware: You can see Humpty. Therefore, you are not Humpty!