Sometimes it seems outlandish to me that I have ended up devoting so much of my current life to an arcane study from ancient India. I’m not a Buddhist monk and I’m not a Buddhist academic. I’m a lay teacher in Buddhism, but that’s because of this study and not the other way around. I feel like the 16 year old boy who explored for miles in the Wind Cave tunnels of South Dakota, with only a string and a candle in a can. I have no idea what I’m looking for in the folds of the mind, but I keep wandering.
Is the Abhidharma the candle or the string? I have good psychological training and 35 years of an extensive practice as a clinician, and nothing has captured those folds of the mind like this study. It’s as pure as water, no added prose or voice. And it’s as complicated as chaos, no limit to the proliferation of possible outgrowths of the system. It’s maddeningly technical, humorous, logical, uncanny and arbitrary. It both makes sense and requires faith.
In The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mary is furious at her cousin Colin for not believing that a Hindu god could swallow the universe and have it inside. That’s the tension of the Abhidharma. The mind takes in a view of the mind in a context outside of the mind. There are no pronouns, no stories of a person doing a thing. Wherever you enter, the mind is swallowed in the torus-shaped black hole of the truth of how mind meets mind plus world in motion. Like Mary in The Secret Garden, I can only stamp my feet when that whole crazy statement is met with incredulity.
But, step on in and I won’t leave you in the channels of the cave. Or I will because that is where we are. I just notice that when I work on it, something beautiful or joyful happens from some other direction. I’m not cured by my study like I wanted to be. I’m cured of the old idea of what cured is.