“After this penetration, he overcame all pain.”
Penetration means to enter something, not just to stand outside of it. When we want to understand something, we cannot just stand outside and observe it. We have to enter deeply into it and be one with it in order to really understand. If we want to understand a person, we have to feel their feelings, suffer their sufferings, and enjoy their joy. Penetration is an excellent word. The word “comprehend” is made up of the Latin roots com, which means “together in mind,” and prehendere, which means “to grasp it or pick it up.” To comprehend something means to pick it up and be one with it. There is no other way to understand something.
If we only look at the sheet of paper as an observer, standing outside, we cannot understand it completely. We have to penetrate it. We have to be a cloud, be the sunshine, and be the logger. If we can enter it and be everything that is in it, our understanding of the sheet of paper will be perfect.
There is an Indian story about a grain of salt that wanted to know just how salty the ocean is, so it jumped in and became one with the water of the ocean. In this way, the grain of salt gained perfect understanding.
We are concerned with peace and we want to understand the Soviet Union, so we cannot just stand outside and observe. We have to be one with a Russian citizen in order to understand his feelings, perceptions, and mental formations. We have to be one with him or her in order to really understand. This is Buddhist meditation—to penetrate to be one with, in order to really understand. Any meaningful work for peace must follow the principle of non-duality, the principle of penetration.
In the Sutra of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Budhas recommended that we observe in a penetrating way. He said we should contemplate the body in the body, the feelings in the feelings, the mental formations in the mental formations. Why did he use this kind of repetition? Because you have to enter in order to be one with what you want to observe and to understand. Nuclear scientists are beginning to say this also. When you enter the world of elementary particles you have to become a participant in order to understand something. You can no longer stand and remain just an observer. Today many scientists prefer the word participant to the word observer.
In our effort to understand each other we should do the same. A husband and wife who wish to understand each other have to be in the skin of their partner in order to feel, otherwise they cannot really understand. In the light of Budhist meditation, love is impossible without understanding. You cannot love someone if you do not understand him or her. If you don’t understand and you love, that is not love; it is something else.
Avalokita’s meditation was a deep penetration into the five skandhas. Seeking deeply into the rivers of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, he discovered the empty nature of all of them, and suddenly, he overcame all pain. All of us who would like to arrive at that kind of emancipation will have to look deeply in order to penetrate the true nature of emptiness.
Source: THE HEART OF UNDERSTANDING by THICH NHAT HANH