Jumping off the Precipice of Concepts into Space

At a stage, more towards the end of the path than the beginning, one reaches a crucial point which unites prajña (wisdom) and sraddha (faith, confidence, certainty), in a very clear way. The circumstances are a bit scary, for they involve a leap into the unknown, a leap without any security.

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At that point it is as if you are walking along a road and you find yourself on the edge of a precipice. It is as if you are walking along your concepts, as if your conceptual mind were a part of the earth, part of the thing that has been holding you up. Now you have reached the end of that, but you haven’t actually made any transition yet. You are still standing on the edge of the precipice as it were, you are still buoyed up to some extent by your conceptual mind, your conceptual framework. But you have a view of something very spacious, very wonderful, very awe-inspiring, but quite frightening really, because it seems just like space in front of you. The earth of your concepts has disappeared if you step over the edge.

So prajña, wisdom, has given this vision, it has brought you to this point. And then if you are going to go beyond, to enter this vision, you have to pass beyond concepts into this freer world, but it is a world I don’t know anything about. I know the world of my concepts, I have just come from there, and I am still on the edge. But now if I take a step, I am in space, and I don’t know anything about that. I have the feeling that I might fall down somewhere, I have got a feeling I am going to fall. What do I mean by fall? I mean I am going to lose my concepts, and these are the things that I know, that are my world.

As Trungpa Rinpoche used to say in this kind of context, it is like at that point you feel as if you are going to lose ground in samsara, conditioned existence. You do think you know conditioned existence, you have carved out a place for yourself in it, by the mere fact of being alive for twenty, forty, sixty years or whatever it might be. You are not really very willing to give that up, because you know that, and it has a certain feeling of security about it. But if you step forward now from this point, you have to give it up. Well, if you step you won’t be able to step back again, that is the whole point. It is not as if you can experiment, unfortunately. You can’t experiment with jumping into space, and say, “Wait a minute, I didn’t quite mean it that time, I’ll just step back again!”. It is one-shot deal. You go over the edge and that is it, and you had better be right.

So what makes you do such a foolish thing which is against all common sense? It is not prajña. Prajña has given you the vision that makes you realise what it is going to be like. The kind of natural intelligence which tells you this is the last chance, this is the last step. The prajña tells you all this. It might also give you some conceptual hint that it is all to do with emptiness, it is all to do with what is beyond concepts. That all sounds very fine, except when you are standing on the brink and all that kind of language doesn’t cut ice really. It is just another way of saying you have no idea. It amounts to, “I am standing on the brink, and I have no idea what happens next”. And yet somehow there is a sense that maybe even just the sense of movement, “I have gone from there, I have come here, the next step is over the edge”. It is not common sense, but it seems to be the next step. What would make me feel that is the next step? It doesn’t seem to be prajña, it seems to be something else. It seems to be that which in Buddhism is called sraddha (Sanskrit), confidence, certainty, or whatever.

But the interesting thing at this point is that it cannot be contrived. It really is uncontrived faith or uncontrived confidence or uncontrived certainty. You can’t crank yourself up to step over the edge, you just can’t do it. It has to be something which comes from somewhere else to carry you over the edge, and maybe you could call it jñana, not that that means anything actually, especially if you are standing on the brink. Saying, “Oh I won’t call it prajña, I’ll call it jñana”, won’t help you very much either. Somehow something arises, something genuine and something true and you feel that is the next step, and somehow, against all your egocentric inclinations, it is actually possible to leap into that space. I can’t tell you how, I can’t tell you why, but I can say the kind of things that Buddhists would say: it is reliance on the Guru, on the lineage, you have had lots of connections from the past and so on, all that kind of thing. All this is yet another way of saying this is quite mysterious.

It seems to arise, it is a spontaneous act in the sense that I was referring to before, but it does have a ground. The ground is that you walk to that point, the ground is that you have the vision, the ground is that you have done the practices associated with the development of confidence and so forth, which might indeed be training yourself to rely on the Guru and on the lineage. But having done that, another element enters into play, which is that spontaneous something about which one can say nothing. It is said, interestingly enough, in some texts that you keep coming back to this point and maybe you don’t go over the edge. Then nothing proceeds further, and your mind as it were goes round again. It is almost like you turn around, walk back a little, and then walk to the same point again, and another opportunity is presented to you. And then it is a question of whether you go over or not, and if not, then again you go round. The text never suggests how you could possibly go over that point, it just says that you are presented continuously with this situation, until this special inspiration that comes from nowhere arises that enables you to step over. And that is all you can say. So I hope that gives you some idea of the final level of the balance of prajña and sraddha, wisdom and confidence, because at that point they have come together truly.

Funnily enough, when you have leapt you can’t come back because there isn’t any back, there is only a thing to leap from and a space to leap into when you haven’t leapt. But when you are in a state of leapt, there is no precipice, if you see what I mean, because the precipice and jumping off are both associated with conceptual constructions. There is the idea of the firm ground that isn’t really firm ground, it just seems like that and then there is the sense of vast space that is a bit scary. But in a way both are wrong. There isn’t really a vast space. The vast space suggests it is some kind of foreign element, this vast space and this solid ground. But actually if you were in this vast space, you would realise it always was like that anyway. When you were on apparent solid ground, you were actually in the space, you just didn’t think you were.

So there is some sense in which the whole thing is a kind of confidence trick and nothing ever actually happened. But it is no good trying to convince yourself of that prematurely, because you don’t believe it. In fact you feel very much it is not true. It is only in hindsight that you think, “Oh wasn’t I really stupid, there never was anything other than this that I am in”. And the apparent fact that there is something I seem to be in isn’t even a possible discrimination, because you would have to then discriminate something where you weren’t in. But you always were there, so therefore the there isn’t anywhere, if you see what I mean. It only means something when you have the notion there is something different. And that fact that you think there is something different makes the thing that you eventually will be in actually seem to be different from what it will be (laughter). I think we’d better stop there.

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