The Classical Approaches to Liberation

 

Many refer to the various Buddhist practices, as well as the eastern non-Buddhist practices, as the classical approaches to Liberation. In many cases, this is seen as the only way. The primary tool, along with morality and wisdom, in reaching the reward in these classical approaches is the practice of meditation. Meditation allows one to go within and begin the work needed to better understand what is happening with the mind and body. Throughout the Buddhist discourses, we can find teachings that point to ultimate reality. This ultimate reality is the understanding of Anatta or non-self. In an early Buddhist discourse called the “Anattalakkhana Sutta” [SN 21.59], translated as non-self characteristic, the Buddha clearly points out that there is “no self” or no ownership of the body, our feelings, perceptions, thoughts or consciousness. He made it clear that if we actually owned these things, we would be able to control our emotions and also have the ability to fully control sickness as well as stop the aging and death process of the body. Since everything is in continual instability, impermanent, and in a constant state of change, there cannot be any control outside of being free from the desire to be in control in the first place.

In the “Anattalakkhana Sutta” the Buddha said the realization of non-self brings about a series of mental events that lead to Liberation. This results in freedom from the desire for control. This Liberation is our freedom from suffering. The Buddha stated that once non-self is seen, there is disenchantment with the body and mind. This turns into a dispassion that produces a release. This release is the un-fettering or un-chaining from the very things that have been preventing freedom. This is the release from the attachment to the self. With the ending of the attachment to the self, comes the ending of striving for completion or for the personal fulfillment to become something other than what we presently are.

There is a simple saying that goes like this: “No self, no problem.” This is a true statement in the respect that when problems arise and are confronted with an absence of self, these so called problems are seen more as a situation and furthermore as simply an experience and nothing personal. The result is that it is much easier to be a part of this thing called life.

The Buddha obviously wanted everyone to realize non-self and to see through the illusion of the self. This was his life’s work. He did this work for fifty years. He had many methods of pointing this out to people. He knew some people had to sincerely practice meditation to help them see this realization, and he also had his very effective direct approaches. It is mentioned in the “Bahiya Sutta” [UD1.10] that at one time while the Buddha was in a hurry, he was approached by an ascetic called Bahiya who had asked for a teaching that would liberate him. The Buddha then quickly said only what was necessary to awaken Bahiya.

"Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

 

In the Buddha’s quick instructions is a method for realizing non-self. Through hearing these words, Bahiya was liberated. He got the “push” that was needed at the proper time. Getting the push at the right time seems to be the key for many practitioners. People are “Waking Up” as if they were on a razor’s edge, teetering between confusion and Liberation. Many people only need a push in the right direction to fall onto the side of clarity and truth and a realization of who they are or are not.

Each of us has a duty to fulfill. This duty is to move toward Liberation from the bindings of the identity with the self and the problems this false identity causes. This can be a part of whatever practice you currently have. Meditation is a wonderful method to prepare one for Liberation. It seems to clear the way for selfless reality as it unfolds. Many long-time meditators report “Waking Up” quickly and suddenly by the mere insight that arises from that push in the form of a proposed question or during a dialogue. The practice of meditation seems to help the process, but some feel it is not essential since people have “Woken Up” without any prior practice of formal meditation.

Contemplation and inquiry, whether in or out of formal meditation, seems to be very beneficial, and there are likely many other practices not mentioned here that help prepare one for Liberation. It must be said at this time that the biggest deterrent; the greatest thing that prevents Awakening, is the belief that it cannot happen right now! With this false belief, you will not stand a chance.

Liberation, it can happen. It is happening, and it is available NOW!