To reach enlightenment, your meditation practice will, and must, lead you down a path where you wrestle with physicality, feeling, thought, volition, and consciousness. Only when you have become increasingly unattached to each of these aggregates do you reach the ultimate source of courage, compassion, and wisdom.
Becoming unattached is not a clean process, taking two steps forward and one step back with your practice, understanding, and lived experience based on your insights. These aggregates are sticky accumulations that may continue to bounce back or boomerang despite having been pulled off and apart numerous times. And yet I would hesitate in using the word or the concept of “removing”, “banning”, “trashing”, or “getting rid of”. Not only is there a kind of violence associated with these terms and actions, but their reactive energy can pounce on you with equal force (which only makes things even more stuck). Even a subtler form of violence toward yourself such as suppression can enhance your progress but nevertheless must be recognized and adjusted so that it doesn’t ultimately harm you. Work with, or through, the aggregates by untying knotted emptiness that hardened into what you perceive to be material.
And I hope practitioners don’t try to pretend they don’t have physicality, feeling, thought, volition, or consciousness, for instance, but trying to live out or act out states that are portrayed here and in other posts. Just as you may cough to feign a cold but not actually be under the weather, you would probably be better off focusing on your actual practice than to conduct yourself as if you were more advanced. In any case, it would be a strange way to live.
One final note. These graphic descriptions of what may be experienced with each aggregate are material from the Shurangama Sutra. I consult additional exegeses on this text and try to relate some content in language that’s hopefully more understandable in today’s world. Please read these sacred texts in their entirety when you are so inclined.
Here is the next aggregate:
- By repressing certain feelings, you become so sympathetic toward creatures that you can’t help but cry at the sight of them, such as perceiving flies like they were your children.
If you recognize that you are over-exerting yourself and have not yet reached sagehood, then experiences such as this will dissipate in time. If you consider yourself a sage, your compassion may overwhelm you in your every interaction with everyone, to the point that you entertain strange ideas that lead you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- You are so grateful for having worked through the form aggregate and in seeing the forms that are revealed that you become overly bold. You over-reach by setting goals as ambitious as that of Buddhas, believing that you can transcend three great eons in a thought.If you recognize that you are over-exerting yourself and have not yet reached sagehood, then experiences such as this will dissipate in time. If you consider yourself a sage, you will brag about yourself with extreme pride, to the point that you dismiss the Buddhas above and people below, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- Having lost your home in the form aggregate, you struggle with the feeling aggregate as there are no new insights. If you would just continue to maintain your practice in meditation and wisdom, you will touch the source of enlightenment later. For now, you are more dense than usual because you don’t quite perceive the fundamental emptiness of feeling. You don’t recall objects and you have forgotten all about your senses. Your mind state feels dry and stagnant. You mistake such overemphasis on focus as diligence. Wisdom is missing to balance your concentration.This state is not a problem if you recognize it for what it is. If you consider yourself a sage, you will be stuck on one memory 24 hours a day, to the point that you entertain strange ideas, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- Your wisdom supersedes your focus. Seeing how wondrous your inherent essence is, you regard yourself too highly and even wonder if you are Vairocana Buddha. You neglect to evaluate the gulf between the Buddha’s virtues and yours. If you realize that your virtues and abilities cannot possibly equal to that of a Buddha since you haven’t even let go of all five aggregates, then it is not yet a problem.If you consider yourself a sage, you will tell everyone you meet that you have attained the foremost purport, to the point that you entertain strange ideas, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- While in meditative absorption, you see that your form aggregate has vanished and your feeling aggregate more clearly, though you have no further insight. At this point, you become extremely sad as you survey both form and feeling aggregates with a mind that has ceased to be, worrying about the possibility that you will lose this state. You want to die and you ask to be killed; living is like sitting on a bed of nails or tasting bitter toxin to you. If you realize that you have lost your way in attempting an expedient, this is not a problem.If you consider yourself a sage, you may become overwhelmed by sadness, slicing your own flesh with knife in hand or journey into mountains or forests to avoid people, to the point that you entertain strange ideas, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- You are elated with a joy that overflows. There is nothing wrong with this state unless you over-indulge in it. If you think yourself a sage because of this meditation experience, you may giggle at everyone, dancing and singing nonsensically in public spaces, believing that you have accessed salvation.
- You think you don’t need to study with teachers out of utter arrogance. You are conceited for at least one of seven reasons: a. You consider yourself wiser and more virtuous than others. b. You level of wisdom and extent of virtue are on par with others, but you consider yourself superior. c. Your level of wisdom and extent of virtue are inferior to others but you consider yourself superior. d. You consider yourself superior because you are you. e. You think you have reached sagehood when you have not. f. You consider yourself inferior to others but you don’t need to ask others for anything, so you treat others with condescension. g. You misinterpret everything and become attached to the notion that you are to be arrogant.
Having seen the wondrousness of the inherent essence, your arrogance surfaces; however, were you probe into your inherent essence you would realize impartiality toward all beings, hence you are not to be conceited toward anyone, not to mention toward sages. If you recognize your issue, then there is no issue.If you consider yourself a sage, you may refuse to pay reverence at temples or even set out to wreck sutras and images. You may tell patrons that these are mere materials made of metal, soil, wood, tree bark, or flower petals, that it is ludicrous to worship soil and bark when before you is a living Buddha. Those who really believe you will damage sacred artifacts and bury them. You mislead people so they plummet into the hells. You entertain strange ideas, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- Tapping into the essence through meditation, you see the minds of Buddhas like images that show up in a mirror. Your wishes are all granted, in that you may see what you wish to see; there being no barrier. You experience infinite ease. Self-satisfied, you claim yourself a sage.You experience a lightness of being due to wisdom that enlightens. When the form aggregate is released, your body and mind feel as weightless as clouds. But this is only a temporary state of satisfaction, which is not a problem if you recognize it.If you consider yourself a sage, you may become overly self-content. Resisting further learning and knowledge, you are likely to mislead others toward hell realms. You may entertain strange ideas, leading you to what is considered a downfall in transmigration, such as to a lower realm.
- You are attached to annihilation and deny the law of cause and effect. If you consider yourself sage, you may start to slander those who uphold the precepts. You eat meat, drink alcohol, and engage in sexual activity. If this goes on for long, you may even consume urine or feces, transgress various Buddhist precepts, and mislead others into doing the same.
- You are overcome with boundless love, which is desire once to a point of extreme. Nothing is wrong with a sense of peace but without wisdom to guide you, you may erroneously follow your libido. If you consider yourself a sage, you may start to teach laypeople that sex is the way to enlightenment.