Yesterday, I mentioned that The Endless Further is described on a Best Buddhism Blogs list as “The concept that the spiritual journey’s destination is just an illusion.” That’s close, however it’s not really a concept so much as it is a state of mind. I’ve blogged on this subject recently, but here is an opportunity to share some more thoughts, from a slightly different angle. It really is an important understanding to have. So much so that an entire sutra is dedicated to discussing it.
The Diamond Sutra is a teaching derived from the much larger Maha-Prajna-paramita (“Great Transcendent Wisdom) Sutra. The full title of the sutra is Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra. Also known as the “Diamond-Cutter”: Transcendent Wisdom, the diamond that cuts through ignorance, delusion and attachment.
Here, Thich Nhat Hanh explains the sutra’s theme:
In the Diamond Sutra the Buddha advises us to consider four notions: the notions of self, of humanity, of living beings, and of life span. He also advises that the practice of removing these notions from mind is not difficult; anyone can do it.
In the sutra, Subhuti, a foremost disciple, asks the Buddha what one must do to attain Annuttara-samyak-sambodhi or Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenment, and how to keep one’s intention strong. The Buddha replies that he must abandon all appearances and concepts; be free from any notions of beings, self, others, and even dharma or teachings. When Subhuti asks the question again later on, the Buddha realizes that he had not yet grasped the full meaning of the words he previously spoke. Specifically, Subhuti was clinging to the idea of “intention”, despite that he had already attained the high stage of “arhat”, and theoretically, had abandoned appearances and concepts. The Buddha tells him that to be completely free, he should realize that the “intention” to attain Enlightenment was also nothing more than a concept.
Dr. Yutang Lin, explains it this way:
Buddha attained liberation in the absence of duality and realized all are in fact in limitless oneness. In this oneness there is no longer the bondage of conceptual differentiation, nor limitations due to sensual perceptions. The essential principle of the Diamond Sutra is to point out that names and concepts are artificial means without any substance to exist on their own and thereby leading its readers to approach the original purity that Buddha attained through renunciation of all sorts of grasping, and to indicate the correct path to make lively application of names and concepts in one’s Buddhist practices and in activities beneficial to others.
Abandoning intention also means to give up expectations. In the beginning, we all have expectations that our lives will improve or have more quality if we do this practice. However, as our practice deepens, we begin to let go of things, and the earlier we can let go of intentions and expectations, the easier it is abandon the idea of self , unhealthy desires, and to cease grasping at appearances. When our minds are open enough that we can seriously cultivate a sense of emptiness, then we can abandon concepts. We then realize that even Unexcelled Perfect Enlightenment is empty. I think then we understand that enlightenment is just living in this state of mind. It’s nothing special. Very natural. And we practice because we practice and our only intention or expectation is to keep practicing.
I truly feel that spiritual wayfaring is not traveling to complex truths, but rather revisiting simpler ones.
Ultimately, the spiritual journey’s destination is just a tool.
Subhuti asked, “Will there be anyone in the future who, when hearing this sutra, will be able to understand the truth of these words when it is expounded to them?”
Buddha replied, “Do not speak this way, Subhuti. In the future, there will be many living beings, skilled in virtuous acts, who will be inspired by the words of this sutra and will understand the truth of this dharma. They will not have known one Buddha only, nor will they have planted roots of virtue under only one single tree of awakening. They will have known many hundreds of thousands of Buddhas, and will have planted roots of virtue under many hundreds of thousands of awakening-trees. The Thus-Gone One through his awakened knowledge will know them; his awakened eye will see them; his awakened mind will understand them. If there be anyone, Subhuti, who, even for one second, has confidence in these words, their happiness will be immeasurable.
And why is this? Because that kind of person will not try to hold onto the concepts of self, beings, independent existence and life-span. They will cling neither to dharma nor non-dharma. They will not seize on signs or marks. Thus this teaching has been taught with a hidden meaning: This dharma is like a raft, once it carries a wayfarer across the sea of suffering to the other shore, it can be abandoned. So much more so for that which is non-dharma.
In 1930, the great Indian poet, musician and playwright, Rabindranath Tagore gave a series of lectures at Manchester College, Oxford, later published as The Religion of Man. In these lectures, Tagore spoke of civilization’s “constant struggle for a great Further,” referring to the instinct that motivates us to go beyond, to break out of our shell of limitations, our thirst for knowledge. Tagore called this Endless Further our “ceaseless adventure.” It is endless because knowledge is endless. No one can ever know everything.
Tagore also knew that our spiritual journey has no destination, there is only the journey itself. As we set out on the road to liberation, we might think that we will eventually arrive at some destination, a final horizon. However, that is just an illusion, a concept in our minds.
We see a beautiful horizon before us and yet we know that it can never be reached. The horizon will always be ahead. This does not lesson its beauty nor does it deter us from walking on. That is wayfaring to the Endless Further.