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  • Dharma Talk with Ikushun Desiree Webster: Right View and the Three Doors of Liberation

Dharma Talk with Ikushun Desiree Webster: Right View and the Three Doors of Liberation

  • Sunday, August 06, 2023
  • 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM

Dharma Talk with Ikushun Desiree Webster: Right View and the Three Doors of Liberation

This talk explores how we can use the tools of emptiness, signlessness and aimlessness in our practice of developing Right View.

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August 4 th , 2023 Right View—and the Three Doors of Liberation

Hello Dear Friends, Thank you for joining me today. Today’s talk is going to be what Gil Fronsdal refers to as a “Dharmette!” It is pretty short—but we’ll have a good amount of time then for group discussion after. I want to talk a bit about Right View—the first of the subjects of The Noble Eightfold path laid out by the Buddha. While there is no “order” to the facets of this path, truly—they are all totally inter-connected—Right View is what I believe a fundamental ground on which the others can spring from.

Right View does not mean “correct view.” It doesn’t mean “right” in the sense of good or bad, or moral or immoral. It means a clear view of how things are at a deeper level than our thoughts about the world, deeper than our imaginings and deeper than our habit perceptions and concepts. It is important to understand the truths of existence—the Three Dharma seals of impermanence, no- separate-self, and a reality deeper than our notions and ideas.

Some of the deepest offerings of the Buddha include these three Dharma seals, also called the Three Marks of Existence. The Buddha also taught about the “Three Doors of Liberation.” For me, all of these are tools help me bring awareness to the characteristics of my humanness—my perceptions, my concepts, my picking and choosing—and be able to also see another dimension, at the same time. They allow me to bring a transparency to my way of seeing the world, they offer an alternate view to the one I may be used to; a way of holding two truths, at the same time. So, what are these Three Doors of Liberation? They are “emptiness,” “signlessness” and “aimlessness.” Let’s take a look at these and examine how they offer guidance on Right View. We speak about “emptiness” a lot, and, as Edie was saying in her talk recently, it is also a word that can bring a lot of confusion. Emptiness? Empty of what?? Empty of a separate self. As my root teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh always said, if something is empty of one thing, it is full of something else. In his explanation, if something is empty of a separate, individual self, it is full of everything else. When we look deeply, we see that we are made of everything—our parents, the sun, calcium from the stars, nutrients from the earth. This is not a theory, this is reality. Thich Nhat Hanh would often say that a “self” is made of all “non-self” elements. This is the nature of reality, the

great manifestation of everything—and it is always changing. Even though I am living in a world of self and other, of things that appear as separate entities, I can also train myself to recognize this other truth—the truth of no separate self and interbeing. As I am functioning in this world of individuals, I can recognize the self that is made of non-self-elements. I can see how the food I’ve eaten is assimilated into “me,” I can note my mother’s gestures or my father’s way of speaking in me. Another facet of emptiness is that nothing is permanent, and nothing continues in the same form. It is wonderful to remember this as I’m grasping on to something in this moment. Everything changes; if it is something that I don’t like, I realize that it won’t last forever. If it is something that I love, I need to appreciate it for its fleeting existence. Often, as parents, we think of a child—a time in his or her life that we wanted to last forever. But, if that were the case, how could he/she grow up to become an adult? I think of my son and how I loved each stage of his development. Now I am enjoying seeing him as a young adult—so passionate about his music and his life of music. What if he stayed a young child before this love even developed and blossomed? I know that he will grow older, and life will change, and the world will change—and of course I will change—and won’t be here at some point, so I try to remember those things and soak up the wonder of what he is doing right now—in this present time. It is a

comfort to me that his growing up, living, and dying, are all no different than anything else in this great mysterious unfolding. I think the ability to see the impermanent nature and the interconnected nature of things is so important. There is a balance that we maintain around right perspective—Right View. Everything comes and goes. There can be a deep grief when something is lost or someone we love dies. Thich Nhat Hanh talked about his grief for the loss of his mother until he deeply penetrated the truth that she was everywhere and present in everything. This is the truth of interbeing. I’ve often struggled and felt the need to act in a moment when seeing another life that is suffering. I try to have an appropriate response, but, for instance, I used to feel compelled to move all the worms that I saw off the sidewalk after a rain. How could I remove all the worms off the sidewalk? How did I even know that this was beneficial? It was a perception in my mind. There is a balance in knowing that it is alright to grieve and care for something AND to recognize that we can’t save everything in the way of moving the worms. That is not right view. Everything is constantly being born and constantly dying; constantly changing form—and yet—on a deeper level, all things are still here. This does not mean that we should not take action, as appropriate, but it does mean that we need to hold things with clear understanding. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that every cell in our body is in flux—coming into existence and dying away. He reminds

us that we can’t organize a funeral for every cell. So, for me, a continuing part of my practice is how to respond in each moment, with each different circumstance. I think having Right View is the ground for having an appropriate response. The second door of liberation is “signlessness.” What does that mean? Signs, here, mean to have an appearance, or be an object of our perception. For instance, we may see a “dandelion” come into our view. But, when we see this object, our mind may instantly attach a label to it—“oh, it’s a weed…” It may go on and give an action idea, like, “I need to pull that out!” Signs are instruments that we humans constantly use—some are useful—but they are not the absolute truth, and, are often deceptive. The Diamond Sutra says, “wherever there is a sign, there is deception…illusion.” Perceptions can often tell us much about the perceiver as well as the object of the perception. An example could even be around the car that we drive. It may have been more pertinent a few years ago now, but, if we owned a Prius, for instance, we may have chosen this (in our mind) as a symbol of environmental stewardship, but this perception could have contained a bit of aloofness and pride, and “being in the club.” Someone else may see my car and immediately have the perception of “snobbiness” and a perception of being a liberal and not caring about keeping American jobs, etc. I was in a restaurant a few years ago overhearing someone complaining about someone else who parked at a

trailhead in such a way that she couldn’t get her truck and horse trailer turned around. She had to note, “it was a Prius, ofcourse.” This immediately revealed her views and conditions in her life that led to her perceptions. We all do this. I have perceptions when I see a big, black, diesel truck coming at me. And, we see how much marketing preys on our perceptions from things like “anti-aging—anti- wrinkle cream to expensive gadgets and private trips to the moon. We hold some of our labels and views more strongly than others. There are blatantly obvious “signs” and some innocuous and helpful to allow our communities to flow more smoothly. Some can be subtle and hold information that is deeper than first appearance. I remember that I was always annoyed by a sign up the canyon in CO that said, “Land of Many Uses.” For many, this was a positive sign, of a land that was “useful.” For me, it reflected our societal view that we don’t value things for what they are—but only if they are useful to us in some way. Either way, it is good to recognize all of this—and recognize the elements in me that are influenced by what—and influence how I see the world. I can see the influence of other ancestors not only in the way I am physically, but also the mental habit energies that I have…I can recognize my concepts and ideas—perhaps a piece of racism, or an “I-centric” notion. I see communal and societal ideas that arise, I recognize a conflict between the part of me that is my dad and his frontiersman views vs the part of me that grew up liberal in

Boulder in the 70s. Sometimes these notions can be very subtle though but with the practice of awareness and mindfulness I can detect them easier. Why is this beneficial? It helps with the understanding of why I do what I do; it helps me to touch the truth of who I am, in a deeper way. Dogen says that to study the self is to let go of the self…to let go of the self is to be informed by a myriad of things. Without recognition beyond our intellectual thoughts and perceptions we are unable to see a deeper truth—the truth of impermanence, no-separate self and existence beyond notions and ideas. This awareness helps me to see the truth of a lack of an independent identity. It doesn’t mean that we are not also independent and separate, living and functioning also in this relative dimension—along with the absolute world, “the ultimate dimension” as Thich Nhat Hanh called it. We are not trying to get rid of the relative world, we are simply practicing recognizing and holding both. Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. The last of the three doors of liberation is “aimlessness” or “wishlessness.” It means that there is nothing that we need to put in front of ourselves to chase after. We can allow things to just be—including ourselves. Recognizing that we don’t need to run, to strive, or to struggle is freedom. Just to be is enough. If we truly believe that we are already buddhas, we can take the time to just experience. No where to go. Nothing to do. This aimlessness also helps with Right View because we are

not as pulled by the “signs” of power, achieving wealth or status. We are more able to see through the signs that our society and world have placed in our heads as things needed to have worth or value. Practice allows us to not only see through these things more clearly, but to have faith that we are enough, as we are. I am really liking this word, transparency. These tools I’ve been talking about are not tools to “get rid of” the way we are and the things are in our relative world, but they do really allow us have a transparency in our perceptions and notions, our ideas; to see where they arise from, so that, again, we can better water the seeds we want to grow, and not give the other seeds so much attention. They help us release the notion that our perceptions are solid and necessarily even correct. This awareness gives a better clarity to develop our “Right View,” a view that is informed by a clearer understanding of ourselves and of our deeper existence.

Thank you for your attention.

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