Bringing heaven forever down to earth
Everything we experience, although it has its origin in the world, is in our mind. All our experience is subjective. The Dhamma concerns this subjective experience. The world of suffering (saṃsāra) and the world of ultimate happiness (Nibbāna) are essentially not places but states of mind. Which one of these we experience depends on the relationship between the mind and the world. The truth of the Dhamma is that which makes our subjective world perfect in every sense, which makes it free of suffering through creating the proper relationship of our minds to the world.
This relationship is one in which the mind first of all finds its way to heaven on earth. We do not have to go somewhere else or wait until we die to experience heaven. We can find heaven in the blissfully empty mind (samādhi). Samādhi is the natural result of having the kind of virtue that lets go of our own desire. For it is just desire that fills our minds with all the things of the world. This heaven will not just be ours either. Our virtue will bring a little bit of heaven to anyone we come into contact with. Imagine a whole world that kept moral precepts, no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, drink or drugs. This is making the world into a kind of heavenly abode, albeit an impermanent heaven.
This is very different from thinking of heaven or a higher happiness as somewhere else. This can lead to a negative judgement and desire to get away from the world or a restlessness. In this respect it can really help us to reflect that ultimately, whether we want to go to heaven or not, there isn't anywhere completely separate to go. There isn't anywhere that is not somehow connected to this impermanent world because everything within this universe is interconnected in a causal web. The stable emptiness of the mind that can become our refuge, right here and now, is as far as we can go. Even this emptiness is connected to all the objects within it. This emptiness, this empty mind, has to realise the proper relationship of detachment to the things of the world in order to remain empty - it has to be an emptiness we let go into not one we reach for, not some kind of spaced-out state.
Finding this detachment, this light touch on life, is a matter of seeing clearly, with the wisdom that can help us let go. Yet we also need a quality of compassion or appreciation that helps us to stay with the world and not try to go somewhere else. This balance exists within the mind, in the material world and in the relationship between the mind and the world which, coming all together, I often compare to a kind of spiritual aesthetics that can appreciate the sense of a harmonious relationship between form and space - spiritual art or architecture can evoke this sense. Furthermore through this we may form a picture of our spiritual qualities in the world to sustain a unified experience – samādhi as like the sun, wisdom like the sky...
Ultimately, the relationship of detachment can become permanent, natural. This state of detachment is enlightenment, Nibbāna. This too we can realise before we die, through the wisdom that helps us let go. Nibbāna is the emptiness we let go into, it is the result of letting go of our attachment. Then, when we die, we can remain in this state after death. This is our 'original mind', the mind's most natural, stable state. It is the state that the mind abided in before it was born into the world of saṃsāra and returns to when saṃsāra ceases. Therefore no effort is required to sustain this once it is fully realised.
This is bringing heaven firmly and forever down to earth.