The significant offering of the Buddhist teaching lies in what we call non-dualism. Its the 'neither-nor' approach to philosophical questions. Monistic religion tends to talk about the One, the One God, or the Whole or the Buddha Nature, or the One Mind, and that's very inspiring. We turn to monistic doctrines for inspiration. But inspiration is only one level of religious experience, and you have to outgrow it. You have to let go of the desire for inspiration, or the belief in God or in the Oneness or in the One Mind or the all embracing benevolence or in the universal fairness.
I am not asking you to not disbelieve in those things either. But the non-dualistic practice is a way of letting go of all that, of seeing attachment to the views and opinions and perceptions, because the perception of one's mind is a perception, isn't it? The perception of a universal benevolence is perception which we can attach to. The Buddha-Nature is a perception. Buddha is a perception. The one God and everything as being one universal system, global village, all is one and one is all and everything is fair and everything is kind, God loves us: these are perceptions which might be very nice, but still they are perceptions which arise and cease. Perceptions of monistic doctrines arise and cease.
Now what does that do, as a practical experience, when you let things go and they cease? What's left, what's the remainder? This is what the Buddha is pointing to in teaching about the arising and cessation of conditions.
When the perception of self ceases and all the doctrines, all the inspired teaching, all the wise sayings cease, there is still the knower of the cessation. More views. And that leaves us with a blank mind. What is there to grasp? So the desire to know, to have something to grasp, comes up. We can see a kind of panic in our minds sometimes: we've got to believe in something! 'Tell me about the universal benevolence!' But that's fear and desire operating again, isn't it? 'I want to believe in something! I need something to believe in! I want to know that everything is all right. I want to attach and believe in the perceptions of oneness and wholeness.' And so there is still that desire operating which you may not notice and may still be attached to. So that's why the religious experience is one of despair.
In the story of the crucifixion, the most impressive statement Christ made was: 'Father, father why hast thou forsaken me?' What happened to that Father that was protecting Jesus? Even God left him. That's an anguished cry, isn't it? The one perception 'me' could count on suddenly dissolved in his mind. And after that of course is the acceptance and then the Resurrection, the being born anew to be free from all that illusion, from all that attachment to God, attachment to the doctrine attachment to the highest ideas, and to the finest values.
All these things are still very good, praiseworthy. But it's through attachment that we suffer, because if we attach to any perception, we are not realising the truth. We are just attaching to symbol, and grasping the symbol to be the reality. If I said, 'You see the Buddha sitting up there on the shrine? That's the real Buddha. That is Buddha'. You'd think, 'Ajahn Sumedho has really gone off'. Yet we can still attach to a perception of Buddha as Buddha, can't we? We are not at the stage where we are going to believe that the vast statue is Buddha, but we can be very attached to a view about Buddha. And it might be a very nice view also. Just like that Buddha-rupa, it is a very nice Buddha-rupa, isn't it. I like that Buddha, it is very beautiful. It doesn't mean that we have to get rid of it, because Buddha-rupas do not delude. What is dangerous is our attachment to a perception, of self, of others, of Buddha, of God, of Oneness, of wholeness.
When you can actually free your mind from attachment then all these particular angles are valid. We are not condemning monism as a wrong. But attachment to monistic doctrine is limiting and blinding. Just like attachment to non-dualism. The purpose of non-dualism is really a tremendous pointing at attachment. But if you are just a philosophical non-dualist then you can be attach to a kind of annihilation attitude.
I am not asking you to attach to a position of non-dualism but I have asked you to not try to inspire your mind or to read about inspired monistic teaching and various other religions during this retreat because in order to really learn how to use this particular tool, you have to do what it says and observe the results. And it can seem pretty barren but we have to let go of that need for inspiration right up to that point of despair. We have to learn to accept that emptiness, that silence, the cessation, the loneliness, the lack of warmth and not ask for benevolence and kindness. We have to open to the silence and contemplate it, learning from it rather than run away from it and look for a nice warm mother, or a nice safe father. Then one way you can describe this Holy Life is a growing up of an individual being to that maturity, where we no longer linger in the warmth of adolescence or childhood, or in the pleasures of the world.