It’s truly difficult to write a good Dharma blog post. To say too much is to lose focus, yet the deluded mind wanders about its realms of familiarity looking for things to show off. So I’ll try to keep this focused on the original intent, to elucidate how there is a purpose and a method to practice. For this purpose I’ve cut away all kinds of other considerations on the use of power in intellectual history and a lot of other blah-blah-blah…instead I want to focus here on how and why perfecting the self is part of the process of transcending the self.
In the Rathavinita Sutra (which could be translated as “The Simile of the Relay Chariots”), Buddha Sakyamuni lays out the formula for why we perfect the self, along the lines of a simile of a chariot relay of a king (which here is a then-accessible simile for the self, or rather of what is at the root of the self) from one palace to another in a distant land. As one chariot is used and then left behind for a new one to reach a destination…
“So too, friend, the purification of virtue is for the sake of reaching the purification of mind; purification of the mind is for the sake of reaching perfection of view; purification of view is for the sake of reaching the purification by overcoming doubt [of the efficacy of the path of Buddhism]; purification by overcoming doubt is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path; purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of the way; purification by knowledge and vision of the way is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision [here we have the purified instruments of knowing and seeing, themselves–knowing directly, becoming a true ‘seer’]; purification by knowledge and vision is for the sake of reaching final Nibbana without clinging. It is for the sake of reaching final Nibbana without clinging that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One.”
To free oneself from the suffering of deluded seeing, we must learn to see clearly both the unfathomable depth of–and the true nature of–existence. This is what the path, and the jhanas, and all the other myriad complicated edifices of Buddhism are all aimed at making more visible to the practitioner. And when we can see as a Buddha, this we may call final and supreme enlightenment.
In reality, we don’t all take this direct sequence in order, and in Zen, we don’t normally focus on this except within the context of Dharma study and in reflection upon structuring our practice, but this is the combination that opens wide the locked door of samsara and reveals Nirvana, and for this reason, it merits our attention as Buddhists.
May this effort benefit all beings in all directions. _/|\_
Excerpt taken from the Majjhima Nikaya in the translation used here, published by Wisdom Publications, and also available at Amazon, as well as being freely available online at Access to Insight (dot) org.