Chapter 28: Awakening-Awareness Set Free
Let go of what’s to the front,
Let go of what’s behind,
And let go of what’s between!
Gone beyond becoming
With the mind released of everything
You do not again undergo birth-and-aging.
– Dhammapada 348
One of the most challenging aspects of Buddhism is its emphasis on the experience of Nibbana/Nirvana way of knowing that remains unswayed by the shifting conditions of life. Mindfulness practice helps us to connect to our lives honestly and intimately. But beyond that, mindfulness opens the possibility of an awareness that clings to or resists nothing. To experience this possibility fully is sometimes called Awakening.
Our awareness is often caught up with and controlled by our many pre-occupations with the conditions of life – for example, with our health, appearances, social relationships, security, employment, recreational opportunities, and opinions. However, life offers no guarantee that we can completely control these conditions, and if our happiness is dependent on how these are, then we are setting ourselves up for unhappiness. Occasionally being stripped of our control of these conditions can be a blessing, as we are challenged to discover a depth of experience that is independent of such things.
Buddhism points to Awakening to help us discover aspects of life that are usually overlooked, especially unconditioned awareness and unbounded love. To do Buddhist practice is to discover, appreciate, and strengthen the innate awareness that is independent of gain and loss, praise and blame, pleasure and pain, success and failure. Negotiating life’s conditions with grace and generosity is easier when we have tasted an awareness that does not cling to those conditions.
We know that space in and of itself is difficult to describe, yet it can be described through reference to the objects that delimit it. Awakening is even more difficult to describe, as it has no direct relationship to the subjective and objective experiences of the world. Awakened awareness has a clarity much like that of a window clean enough to be unnoticed as we look through it. As it is absent of greed, hatred and fear, it is closely akin to an all-encompassing trust in awareness. As it is free from all forms of conflict, Awakened awareness is sometimes characterized as peaceful. As it is without clinging, it is celebrated as the portal of compassion.
To take the path of Awakening is to be dedicated to mindfulness and investigation no matter what happens or what else we choose to do. It is to take refuge in mindfulness regardless of whether or not we are healthy, employed, wealthy, homeless, in a relationship, and so on. To practice attentiveness regardless of circumstances is to cultivate an open-mindedness in all situations and to notice compassionately and non-judgmentally where attention is caught or fixated.
When mindfulness matures enough that we are refreshed by Awakening, then we no longer take the conditioned world to be the center of our universe. The taste of the unconditioned offers a kind of Copernican revolution in awareness. This will naturally cool the fevers of the many manifestations of greed, hatred and delusion, and the compassionate heart will grow bigger-seemingly to include everything within itself.