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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
44 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 1 3 is a story of Mulla Nazruddin, a crazy-wisdom teaching figure in the Sufi tradition. It seems that the Mulla was engaged in trade between his home city and the neighboring country. The customs officials at the border suspected that he was smuggling something, but whenever they examined his saddlebags, they could never find anything of value. Finally, one day, a friend asked Mulla how he was becoming wealthy. He replied, “I’m smuggling donkeys.” Sometimes we obscure the experience of bare knowing because we are conflating simple aware- ness with some unnoticed attachment or aversion to what is happening. This can happen when the various hindrances are strong or when there are subtler attachments to pleasant meditative states. In following the instructions of the refrain, we need to establish mindfulness to the extent neces- sary for this bare knowing of what’s arising and for its continuity moment to moment. The Momentum of Mindfulness The continuity of mindfulness spoken of in the sutta is established in two ways. First, it comes about through the momentum of previous moments of mindfulness. Whatever we repeat- edly practice begins to arise more and more spon- taneously; at this point, the mindfulness arises by itself. From the repeated effort to be mindful in the moment, there comes a time when the flow of mindfulness happens effortlessly for longer periods of time. There is an early insight into the nature of the mind-body process that both comes from this continuity of mindfulness and also strengthens it: it is the understanding through one’s own experience that in every moment, knowing and its object arise simultaneously. There is the in- breath and the simultaneous knowing of it, the out-breath and the knowing of it. A visual object arises, and in that very moment there is the knowing of it. This is true of every aspect of our experience. This insight is the first doorway into the understanding of selflessness, and in the stages of insight, it is called purification of view. We begin to see that everything that we call self is simply this pairwise progression of knowing and object, arising and passing moment after moment. And we also see that the knowing in each moment arises due to impersonal causes and not because there is some abiding “knower.” So we can say that knowing (consciousness) arises spontane- ously when the appropriate causes and condi- tions are present. Going even deeper, we see that the knowing faculty is not altered or affected by what is known, and this realization has liberat- ing consequences for both our meditation prac- tice and our lives. In meditation, as we go from painful sensations to pleasant ones, we see that the basic quality of knowing is not altered—it is simply aware of what is arising. One example of the profound consequences of this understanding is the description of Henry David Thoreau’s last days. He died of tuberculosis at the early age of forty-four. In a biography of his life, his friends described his frame of mind. Henry was never affected, never reached by [his illness]. ...Very often I heard him tell his visitors that he enjoyed existence as well as ever. He remarked to me that there was as much comfort in perfect disease as in perfect health, the mind always conforming to the condition of the body. The thought of death, he said, could not begin to trouble him. ... During his long illness, I never heard a mur- mur escape him, or the slightest wish expressed to remain with us; his perfect contentment was truly wonderful. ... Some of his more orthodox friends and rela- tives tried to prepare him for death, but with little satisfaction to themselves. ... [W]hen his Aunt Louisa asked him if he had made his peace with God, he answered, “I did not know we had ever quarreled, Aunt.” — The Days of Henry David Thoreau, by Walter Harding We build this momentum of mindfulness very simply. We can start with some primary object of attention, such as mindfulness of the breath or the sitting posture. Using a particular object to focus and calm the mind is common to many spiritual traditions. St. Frances de Sales wrote,