When his experience came to me in my meditation the next day, I realized that he had stumbled upon an important truth. Dispassion is the key to clear vision. Indeed, when commenting on another's teaching or his own, the Buddha's first criteria was whether it "leads to dispassion." That was the first in the list of stages that lead to enlightenment.
One could say that this is no different from what I and others have taught about being free of the intervention of our ego thinking-mind, of seeing one’s life and the world around one through the eyes of your true Buddha nature. While that is true, I have always felt that how one presents something, the words one uses, can make a big difference as to how it is perceived, accepted, and implemented. I think there is something of real potential usefulness in focusing on dispassion.
First, let’s define what we mean by “dispassion.” To be dispassionate is to neither romanticize nor demonize something. It is to view something impartially, free of bias ... objectively rather than subjectively.
This definition is consistent with the Buddha’s statements when he set rolling the wheel of the dharma,. He described the path he would define in the dharma as “the middle way.” The path would avoid the two extremes of the pursuit of pleasure in sensual desires on the one hand and self-mortification on the other hand.
It is just as important to state what dispassion is not in this context. It does not mean to be devoid of personal feelings. It does not mean to be emotionally uninvolved.
For example, it is possible for you to love someone dispassionately. This may seem like an odd juxtaposition, an oxymoron, but it is not. To love someone dispassionately is not to be uninvolved emotionally, it is to love someone and not be attached. To be able to say, “If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too.” It is to love someone from a place of equanimity, not from craving. It the same as the difference between a skillful desire and an unskillful desire (see my post, “How To Desire Yet Not Crave”).
The interesting thing is that in English, certainly in our culture, to be emotionally involved implies that one is biased, that one is attached to something or a point of view. The reason being that people generally can’t separate themselves from their emotions. But that does not mean that it is not possible.
The point I’m making is essentially the difference between the attribute/skandha “feeling” and the clinging attribute/skandha “feeling”. The former is not a problem. It is the latter, the attachment to feelings, that the Buddha said was the source of cravings and suffering.
So being dispassionate does not imply that one is a cold fish, that one has no feelings. It just means that one doesn’t attach to ones feelings, that one views all things with equal mind, something that certainly requires great discipline.
With this definition in mind, let me proceed. What is useful about the concept of dispassion is that it defines in an accessible, understandable way what it means practically to surrender one’s ego to your true Buddha nature, to turn your life and your will over to your true Buddha nature, to be free of the intervention of your ego thinking-mind.
These last phrases, which I have certainly used consistently and are correct, do not give the practitioner much to wrap their heads around as to what exactly is meant. Especially since one can never be free of one’s ego or thinking mind; it’s always there, one just has a choice not to follow it. And how do you know if you are doing it? It’s easy to be fooled.
But to be dispassionate is a concept which I believe is easier to grasp and can be easily applied to practical, everyday situations. Also, it is much easier to “call yourself” on not exercising dispassion, as opposed to not following your true Buddha nature, or of following your ego thinking-mind. The distinction is much clearer and thus more easy to be aware of.
The more I have meditated on being dispassionate, the more I understand that it truly is a stand-in for turning your will and your life over to your true Buddha nature, surrendering your ego, experiencing things without the intervention of your thinking-mind, exercising nonattachment. As such, to be dispassionate about all things is the co-condition with being present to accepting your life and the world around you as it is at this moment, and abiding in a place of equanimity from which one can practice the Five Precepts and the Six Paramitas.
As in several other instances I have discussed in posts, the question may be raised which comes first, being dispassionate or being present, accepting, and abiding in equanimity. As for being present, it is both a pre-condition and a co-condition. One cannot turn your will over to the care of your true Buddha nature and be aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas without being present. You cannot go deep within yourself without being present. Thus you cannot view things with dispassion, at least initially, without being present.
However, once one has received this awareness, it is possible to view things with dispassion without being present, hence the apparent contradiction of being dispassionate and yet the mind is still applying labels and presenting "what if" scenarios. Thus being present and being dispassionate are co-conditions to accepting and abiding in equanimity, being free of labels and your thinking mind, to being free of fear and anxiety, doubts and confusion, anger and negativity.
“O.K.,” you say, “but how does one achieve the state of dispassion?” For the answer, stay tuned to the next post.