The Precipice

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rajagaha on Mount Vulture Peak. Then the Blessed One addressed the monks thus: “Come, monks, let us go to Inspiration Peak for the day’s abiding.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” those monks replied. Then the Blessed One, together with a number of monks, went to Inspiration Peak. A certain monk saw the steep precipice off Inspiration Peak and said to the Blessed One: “That precipice is indeed steep, venerable sir; that precipice is extremely frightful. But is there, venerable sir, a precipice steeper and more frightful than that one?”

“Those ascetics and brahmins, monk, who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering. This is the origin of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the way leading the cessation of suffering’—they delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, aging, and death; they delight in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. Delighting in such volitional formations, they generate volitional formations that lead to birth, aging, and death; they generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. Having generated such volitional formations, they tumble down the precipice of birth, aging, and death; they tumble down the precipice of sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. They are not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.

“But, monk, those ascetics and brahmins who understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering. This is the origin of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the way leading the cessation of suffering’—they do not delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, aging, and death; they do not delight in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair; they do not generate volitional formations that lead to birth, aging, and death; they do not generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. Not having generated such volitional formations, they do not tumble down the precipice of birth, aging, and death; they do not tumble down the precipice of sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair. They are freed from birth, aging, and death; freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair; freed from suffering, I say.

“Therefore, monks, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the origin of suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the cessation of suffering.’ An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’

— SN 56:42, V 448-50

From In The Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon, edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications, .

Hakuin Ekaku on letting go…of a sheer precipice

“At the bottom of the great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully you will awaken fully.”

If you wish accordance with the true, pure non-ego, you must be prepared to let go your hold when hanging from a sheer precipice, to die and return again to life. Only then can you attain to the true ego of the four nirvana virtues.

What is “to let go your hold when hanging from a sheer precipice”? Supposing a man should find himself in some desolate area where no man has ever walked before. Below him are the perpendicular walls of a bottomless chasm. His feet rest precariously on a patch of slippery moss, and there is no spot of earth on which he can steady himself. He can neither advance nor retreat; he faces only death. The only things he has on which to depend are a vine that he grasps by the left hand and a creeper that he holds with his right. His life hangs as if from a dangling thread. If he were suddenly to let go his dried bones would not even be left.

So it is with the study of the Way. If you take up one koan and investigate it unceasingly your mind will die and your will will be destroyed. It is as though a vast, empty abyss lay before you, with no place to set your hands and feet. You face death and your bosom feels as though it were afire. Then suddenly you are one with the koan, and both body and mind are cast off. This is known as the time when the hands are released over the abyss. Then when suddenly you return to life, there is the great joy of one who drinks the water and knows from himself whether it is hot or cold. This is known as rebirth in the Pure Land. This is known as seeing into one’s own nature. You must push forward relentlessly and with the help of this complete concentration you will penetrate without fail to the basic source of your own nature. Never doubt that without seeing into your own nature you cannot become a Buddha; without seeing into your own nature there is no Pure Land.

(trans. Heinrich Dumoulin; alternative from Norman Waddell here)

Anthony de Mello, One Minute Wisdom

“To a disciple who begged for wisdom the Master said, “Try this out: Close your eyes and see yourself and every living being thrown off the top of a precipice. Each time you cling to something to stop yourself from falling, understand that that is falling too ….”

Tissa the Waverer

[The Ven. Tissa tells the other monks:] “As you see, friends, my body has become as if drugged, I have lost my bearings, the teachings are not clear to me,[152] my heart is beset with sloth and torpor,[153] I take no pleasure in the holy life and I have doubts about the teachings.”

[The other monks advise Tissa to see the Buddha, who, after catechizing him, gives this simile:] “Suppose, Tissa, there are two men, one of whom does not know his way,[154] and the other does. And the man who does not know his way asks the other to direct him. He replies: ‘Yes, friend, this is the way. Go on for a while and you will see that the road forks. Don’t go to the left but take the right-handed path. Go on for a while and you will see a dense jungle. Keep going, and you will see a great sunken swamp. Keep going and you will see a steep precipice. Go a bit further and you will see a delightful stretch of level ground.’

“I have made this parable, Tissa, to help you to understand. This is the explanation. ‘The man who does not know his way’ denotes the worldling.[155] ‘The man who knows the way’ is the Tathaagata, the Arahant, the Fully Self-enlightened One. ‘The road-fork’ is the state of wavering. ‘The left-hand path’ is the false eightfold path, that is: wrong view… wrong concentration. ‘The right-hand path’ is the Noble Eightfold Path, that is: Right View… Right Concentration. ‘The dense jungle’ means ignorance, ‘the great sunken swamp’ denotes sense-desires,[156] ‘the steep precipice’ denotes anger and despair, ‘the delightful stretch of level ground,’ Tissa, denotes Nibbaana. Cheer up, Tissa, cheer up! I am here to advise you, help you and teach you!”

So said the Blessed One, and the Venerable Tissa was cheered by his words.

— SN 22.84

From: “Samyutta Nikaya: An Anthology”, by M. O’C. Walshe. Access to Insight, June 7, 2010.

Gateless Gate 5. Kyogen’s Man Up A Tree

Kyogen said, “Zen is like a monk hanging by his teeth in a tree over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another monk asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China from the West?’ If the monk in the tree does not answer, he misses the question, and if he answers, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?”

More from Ordinary Mind. And particularly recommended in the context of “Zen Comments on the 12 Steps”

Always for the first time

There is
By my leaning over the precipice
Of your presence and your absence in hopeless fusion
My finding the secret
Of loving you
Always for the first time

—André Breton, last six lines from “Always for the first time” in The Air of the Water (1934)

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