For the ease of communicating, I want to use one word to represent that which is an unbounded awareness, is peace and love inherent to our depth of being, is always around and about us, and interconnects all. Many refer to this as God, gods, Goddess, goddesses, higher power, the Divine, the One. Buddhists usually give it the name “mind-heart” that is an enlightened rediscovery of an innate state of boundless compassion and wisdom.
Until something else better comes to me, or if you have a better suggestion for me, I am squeezing all of the above descriptors into this expedient term: the Source. Actually, whatever word I end up using, language can always reify to the point that it distorts. Were I to say that the Source is this, or that the Source is in the heart or in heaven, my words would fail because language delimits and rigidifies the Source. Metaphorical language is often necessary precisely because the Source can only be experienced.
And now that I have the terminology (sort of and with all the caveats), I can ask the question I really want to ask: where is the Source? If the Source is a father figure God in the sky for you, you may resolutely proclaim that God is UP there. If you’ve been meditating to the point that you’re just blissed out and could careless about the world, you may lift your gaze from your navel and slowly utter the words, “In here.” If you’re a nature lover who is fond of hiking, the whistles of the leaves, and the sounds of the birds, you may claim that the Source is everywhere in nature, in creatures large and small.
What’s the right answer? Is there a right answer? Well, let me recount some incorrect answers for you first.
The Shurangama Sutra tells of the Buddha posing this question: where is the Source? He asked this of Ananda, Buddha’s younger cousin who has photographic memory and thinks like a brilliant lawyer, a student who is all intellect but little practice.
The exchange between Ananda’s seven posits of possible locations of the Source and Buddha’s rejection in each instance sheds light on the actual location(s) of the Source and insights about the Source itself.
- Is the Source inside your body?
Ananda was quick to jump to the first answer by exclaiming, the Source is inside! It’s in me!
The Buddha refuted his dear cousin kindly (you know how the Buddha is) but resolutely, explaining that: if the mind were inside the body, you would be aware of the inside of the body, such as being able to perceive your internal organs, muscles, tissues, etc. Do you see your innards?
Eew, thank goodness you don’t, and I don’t either. So the conclusion is that the Source is not inside the bloody intestines.
- Is the Source outside of your body?
“Okay, how about the Source as an external power, it is outside of me!” Ananda offered another possibility.
Think about it. And if I were the Buddha, I would probably be muttering “Idiot Ananda!” Thank goodness Shakyamuni is the historical Buddha and gently pointed out to his cousin: if the Source were outside your body, you would be aware of your outer appearance, such that you can see your own face.
Wouldn’t that be convenient! If you’re like me, you might think that’d be kinda fun to have the Source outside of the body! But of course we know that’s not how the mysterious Source works.
- Is the Source somewhere between inside and outside?
Being the clever guy that he was, Ananda got creative by combining the two most obvious answers that he gave and were rejected. He offered, “The Source is somewhere between the inside and outside!” He even supplemented his answer with an analogy for this suggested location of the Source, “It is like the Source is in a sense organ the way that eyes are behind eyeglasses but not in the interior of the body.” For anyone who’s worn reading glasses or sunglasses, you know that you can see through your glasses, plus you can see your glass frames.
Humm… And don’t worry if you’re not quite getting this answer – because it’s the wrong answer and hey, Ananda had to dig hard for this one.
Well, guess what the Buddha said? “No.”
If the Source were behind the eyes, when the Source perceives what’s outside the body, it would also perceive your eyes! The assumption here is that the Source is the all-knowing, hence the awareness behind all six of our senses (more on the 6 senses in the next blog post).
In short, since you can’t see your own eye frame, the Source can’t be somewhere between the inside and outside of you.
- Is the Source where it meets light?
Perhaps a little more hesitant by this time, Ananda ventured, “Uh, could the Source be where darkness comes to light?”
Given our assumptions and association between light and the force that is all kindness and wisdom, all goodness and for goodness, you may want to nod your head at this point – if you haven’t given up thinking through the logic behind these presuppositions. (P.S. if you have given up, it may be good news in disguise. You will want to notice the pause of your usually gyrating brain and its flurry of thoughts and just be with that.)
So what did the Buddha say? He remained patient and articulated that: if you presume that the Source begins or remains in the dark, then when you enter a dark room, the Source should float throughout the same darkness inside and outside of you. Does the Source fly about a dark room? No. The Source is not situated where it meets up with light.
- Is the Source where it meets with an object?
You have to applaud Ananda for trying, don’t you? And for the fifth time, Ananda posits: is the Source where it meets up with an object?
Oh poor Ananda, yet another rejection! The Buddha refuted: if you were right, it would mean that the Source only exists in response to outer objects — especially because you assume that the Source, not of matter, creates a new form of object whenever it is in contact with an object.
The conclusion again is that, Ananda, you’re too smart for your own good. The Source is located where it meets with some object is yet another overly-intellectual conjecture that makes no sense! Which is why, by the way, if you don’t get what Ananda is blabbering about, it’s perfectly fine.
- Is the Source in the middle?
Slightly dejected and scratching his head at this point, Ananda is having trouble coming up with an answer. Ding ding, lightbulb! A vague answer that lets the Buddha connect the answer to the right one himself: yes, the Source is in the middle somewhere!
If not wincing or glancing askance by this point, it would only be because the teacher here is the Buddha. So the Buddha actually states as a matter of fact: the “middle” is a seemingly random locale that could be inside or outside the body. Since you want me to help you with your answer, Ananda, let me extend and refine your argument by naming the two ends of that “middle” as subject and object, such as the Source and some object. How do you like that, Ananda?
How kind of the Buddha to help! Oh but wait. . .
Here comes Buddha with a tetralemma (fourfold pattern of logic):
- Is the Sources residing with the subject (A)?
- Is the Sources residing with the object (B)?
- Is the Sources residing with both A and B?
- Is the Sources residing with neither A nor B?
Since the response to all four inquiries is no, and since an affirmative to any of the four means that a middle cannot be established, the Source cannot be where a nonexistent middle is.
- Is the Source nowhere attached?
Ready to give up, Ananda throws up his hands and forces himself to guess: how about if the Source is nowhere attached, Buddha?
Beaming a loving smile at Ananda, the Buddha sees the light at the end of the tunnel for Ananda now. The answer is still a resounding no though. Buddha explains: does non-attachment exist? Since non-attachment exists, it cannot be a negation. That which is not negated contains certain characteristics; that which contains characteristics exists. Hence the aware, knowing Source is not a negation.
Phew, if you’re still reading, you have made it through Ananda’s seven misleading suppositions! Congratulations!
And double-congrats if you were ever stuck and couldn’t fathom Ananda’s answers or the Buddha’s explanations. The moment where you’re racking your brain for a response but nothing surfaces – that’s when the obstructions to accessing the Source and the location of the Source cease. When you stop struggling to climb out of that pause of not-knowing, the Source is revealed.
Go ahead and try it again. Re-read the article and whenever you are too frustrated to continue thinking, take a few minutes to breath and observe your thoughts and emotions settle, so the power of the Source may unveil itself.