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Are Rainbows “Real”?
Mon, March 12 2012

Are Rainbows "Real"?

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RainbowsI left off last week’s post quoting Joseph Goldstein, where he says that some people think the recognition of suffering makes for pessimism. Then he says: “Actually, it is quite the reverse.” I guess that sounds as if we’ll be all joyful if we only see our suffering. My teacher, Sokuzan Bob Brown nudged me on this. I shouldn’t have stopped Joe before he finished. He goes on to say that if we deny the truth of impermanence, for example, we live our lives in delusion and enchantment (being under a spell, not seeing what is the truth). It isn’t a matter of separation into joy/suffering. It’s a matter of living authentic lives that contain—and do not contain—both.

So, the point seems to be that we can’t discard ANYTHING. It is not a matter of either/or. It’s a matter of both/and, neither/nor. We have these long-developed (and inherited) tendencies to shut off what we don’t like, to stop-action so that things appear to be more or less permanent. But we KNOW they’re not. Hence, suffering.

The first paragraph our local sangha read on Sunday was so packed we could have stayed with it for weeks, but Goldstein only intends an overview. His purpose in One Dharma is to show how all Buddhist teachings have a common core. He’s talking about non-clinging. In this paragraph, he says that:

1. The Buddha repeatedly teaches just one thing, suffering and the end of  suffering.
2. Suffering is the five clung-to aggregates.

My husband says, “Why do Buddhists use that word, suffering? It sounds so dire. There are people who really suffer, but most of us just have pains, annoyances, troubles, not elevated to a level we’d call suffering.” I say that if we sit still for a while, we begin to see and to feel the deep struggle inside us to continue to exist, to hold onto our children, our successes, to be perfectly loved and loving, etc., and to recognize that we are losing that battle. As Goldstein puts it, it’s “like trying to hold water in a butterfly net.” That feels like suffering to me.

Goldstein says that suffering is clinging to the “aggregates”? We’ve studied this (khanda in Pali, skanda in Sanscrit) in more detail in Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It’s a way to talk about how we create a sense of “self” by adding (heaping up) our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness to what we first experience as bare material elements.

We see that things are conditioned to arise as they do. Goldstein uses the analogy of a rainbow. It arises out of moisture in the air. It produces what our eye/brain interprets as colors. It disappears. We call it a “rainbow,” using that concept which fixes it in time and space for us, allows us to recall it, to tell a friend what a great rainbow we saw.

What is it, really? Frank said that what Goldstein says proves rather than disproves the existence of “rainbow.” Which seems to me quite true. There is “rainbow.” And there is not “rainbow.”

So, frankly, who cares? And what does this have to do with sitting on a cushion? It seemed good to come back to why we’re here, sitting together. I answered my own question this way. (You might answer differently):

We initially sit because we’re stressed, anxious, or in some way aware of our own suffering. As we sit, we gradually see deeper into our minds, into our projections. We see that things are not ONLY what they first appear to be. Goldstein calls it a “clarification of self and self-less-ness.” We are a self and we are not a self. Loosening our bonds to permanence, giving up the fight, allows us to be in harmony with what is. We relax. We start to function accurately.

Goldstein quotes Jocelyn King, a meditation teacher, “It’s better to stand on the firm ground of emptiness than on the quicksand of somethingness.”

Fleda Brown's picture
Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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