By MATT DOBBINS
What happened in those three days was nothing less than an elucidation of the very "parts that make a person," their sequential exploration, and
the dismantling of illusion within each.
It was in the recent retreat, "Loosening the Bounds of Self: Exploring the Five Aggregates of Clinging," led by Angie Parrish, that this dismantling of illusion and resulting ungluing of what we call the "self" came to pass.
Very patiently, so warmly, and rather gracefully we were given a path, a means by which to unfold layers of assumption, remove habitual seeing, and look -- and experience Reality. A key to transformation was shared with all of us.
What makes a person? A body? I described the Charnel Ground Meditation as shockingly disturbing, as I was guided to witness the natural stages of decay to my form -- from waxen to bloated, fetid and feasted upon, through parched bone and then dust, carried away by wind, chalk erased from the board. Ultimately, there was an appreciation for the miraculous, the magic of animated form.
The Five Aggregates, or Skandas, or Heaps, as they are sometimes called:
Embodied Form -- All bodies arise and disappear (like foam on water).
So, if it is not a body, what makes a person? A mind?
Feeling Tone -- The briefest of immediate experience of a sense object (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) arising and disappearing (a bubble).
Perception/Recognition -- Is it true? Is it a deception? Arising and disappearing (a mirage).
Mental Formations -- Thoughts, feelings, seeds manifesting, inclining the mind to wholesome and unwholesome ends, arising and disappearing (a hollow tree).
Consciousness/Cognizance - Awareness of what's present to the senses; what's getting attention? Arising and disappearing (a conjurer).
No inherent self is to be found in any of these "parts."
Observe, observe, observe, to know and remember, "not clinging to anything in the world."
How important is this? The Dalai Lama wrote, "Buddha pointed out that without knowledge of the emptiness of inherent existence of self there is no possibility of attaining freedom from our miserable state."
The lasting impression, the take-away for me, something that can breathe on its own after the nutriment rich air of retreat disappears, is watching the arising of the sticky self. It adheres to the identity of a form, a form that believes it has lasting values and accurate perceptions, concerned about and paying attention to...itself.
I will watch and recognize the arising of self in these dynamic ingredients, these empty Heaps, amalgamations, Aggregates. I'll watch it form, and I'll practice watching the self...thus loosening its grip.
Matt Dobbins, of Ocala, formed an interest in meditation in the 1980s, was introduced to the works of Thich Nhat Hanh in the 1990s, and most gratefully joined FCM a few years ago in the 21st Century.