SnowFlower Sun November 2020

Discourse on the Dharma Seal

from a talk by Jim Roseberry (Spring, 2013)

What is the essence of this discourse in which the Buddha identified the Dharma Seal as the Three Doors of Liberation: emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness. To answer this, and be liberated, we are asked to look beneath the surface appearance. Our notions are subjective. Our world is constantly changing. It is interdependent. Getting stuck in appearance is an invitation to suffering because it may lead us to make choices that run counter to the best and most compassionate understanding of our world.

To start with “Emptiness,” shunyata. The package with which we come to the world known as the Five Skandhas – body, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and (the container of all these) consciousness – all empty! It is easy enough to see how our senses deceive us and how our mind constructs notions that are incomplete and limiting. Without the Dharma Seal to guide us, we are clinging to the surface only, cut us off from deeper realities which allow us to nourish the good seeds which are the foundation of a joyful existence.

Take this chair I’m sitting in. It has a form: a simple object made of metal and cloth. It may incite a feeling: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. If I sit in it, I may have the feeling of being comfortable or uncomfortable. Perceptions may arise: the chair is utilitarian but not elegant. Mental formations yield a more elaborate narrative: Why did we buy it? Was it cheap? Finally, all this information comes via the seeds in one’s consciousness –that vast “storehouse” holding the seeds which were created by the activity of the other four skandhas. This might well allow us to spin a further tale about the chair. No, our thoughts are not new.

Why are these notions “empty”? As we peel away the surface, we may recognize that a different reality exists. In its core molecular structure, the chair is in constant motion. Imagine what it will look like in 500 years! That is why focusing on the surface appearance of the chair as if it were a permanent fixture, accurately described by one five-letter word, misses so much. We are asked by the Buddha to be guided by the Dharma Seal of the Three Doors of Liberation and to look deeper.

Signlessness” is the second door of liberation. Everything manifests by means of a sign, a marker, an appearance, and it is easy to get caught in that sign. Language is a highly useful tool for making sense of our world, yet words may become static representations of a dynamic and inter-related world. Start with words, but go deeper. Stop. Look deeply into appearances. Am I sure?

Wishlessness” is the third door of liberation. It means not grasping at things, not running after things, not wishing for this or that, rather than appreciating what is there, the wonders of the present moment.

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Day of Mindfulness on Election Day, November 3

Sponsored by Open Door Zen Community and Snowflower Sangha.
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