Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reflections on Phukong Tulku Rinpoche - My only thought is of my Lama

My only thought is of my Lama.
My only prayer is to realize
Oneness with his Buddha mind.
I have no other practice
Than following the natural flow, freely enjoying
The sublime freedom of nonaction.
Meditation beyond fixation,
Aimless and free from all constrictions and limitations,
Mingling my mind with his
In the wisdom of Dharmakaya, naked reality.
All the intentions of the Buddhas are perfectly fulfilled.
This is the jeweled essence of my heart's pith instructions
Placed directly in your hand,
Like Buddha in the palm of your hand.

- Phukong Tulku Rinpoche

How extraordinary the difference has been for me, moving to Vajrayana practice. In a sense the Guru Yoga and Deity Yoga has totally transformed meditation for me. You could say that I'm doing same old Shamatha meditation, for example, but now with the context of Guru and Deity presence. Meditation, utterly suffused with devotion. Mediation embedded in prayer.

How different it's been invoking the blessings of the gurus and deities to every meditation and activity. Still me in a sense doing the work, yet with that 'something' extra - the field of blessings - suffusing the mindstream.

How wonderful to be graced with this precious blessing. How wonderful to have the great good fortune to have stumbled across these teachings and teachers! What great good fortune that so many things have come together in this life, so that obstacles are revealed as opportunities, and all that was called 'bad' is now a play of mind.

May all beings have the same great good fortune, and find the way out of this web of illusory suffering!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Faith and Emptiness

It seems that for many people the word `Faith' is problematic. For
many people, the reason why is become of the negative connotations
that they have with that term. For some, that is based on bad
experiences they had with previous religious affiliations, or contact
with those of other religions. For some, it is because they wish this
religion of theirs to be as different as possible from other
religions. For some, it's because they wish this religion to be as
`rational', and `empirical' as possible. Often, related areas such as
ritual, prayer, devotion etc, etc are also problematic.

So the notion of Faith is often dealt with in such a way as to allow
such people to `accommodate' this aspect of Dharma and the teachings.
We may set up things up to make it more palatable for us, and thereby
allow us to `take onboard' something of this part of the teachings.

I say all this not by way of criticism, but rather to point out
something that I seem to see happening at times, and with the
intention of trying to point out that we are not necessarily neutral
in our approach to the Dharma, or in opening to the teachings, but may
have a lot of `baggage' which influences how we receive those
teachings. Indeed, this is Karma and Dependent Origination.

One may find that over the years our views change, and that things are
not quite as black and white, or dualistic as we once thought, and the
neat differences between religions and approaches are not quite as
hard and fast as they initially appeared (or we might not!).

One example might suffice – the neat distinction between so called
`blind belief' and `faith' (in the Dharmic sense). It is said that
faith is very different from such blind belief. Yet how much blind
belief is their in our minds and actions every day? Do we assume that
the sun will rise tomorrow, or that we will wake up from sleep
tomorrow. Or that we won't die today, or that our next breath isn't
our last?

On what basis? Perhaps, on the basis that the sun came up yesterday,
for example? How do I know that? My memory? How do I know that is
accurate? How do I know that what appears to memory accurately
`records' that which actually happened? By what objective criteria
could I possibly judge?

What is a `memory', what is `what is actually happening right now'?

As we look deeply into things, we may find that they are not as solid
and certain as we once thought (again, we might not!). We might find
that things (things?) are utterly groundless ... utterly without any
centre, solidity or certainty. On what would we base ourselves then,
in certainty? Do the Three Jewels have solid and definite existence as
real, concrete objects that we can grasp? If so, they would be `selfs'
or non-empty, would they not?

Do they not appear a certain way, though ultimately are without solid
existence. Do we not find that though they are not ultimately solid,
we can depend on them, on the way they appear to us? Is it not because
of their emptiness, their utter groundlessness that we can depend on them?

If so, faith is based on something that is not solid. If so, our every
act is based on appearances that arise, but ultimately are found to be
without solidity at all. If so, and this is my point, our response in
terms of faith/belief is something which isn't a solid thing relying
on a solid thing, but more of the nature of a skilful means which
takes something as it is, as something empty yet appearing, and which
therefore doesn't yearn for the solidity of certainty which is the
solidity of selfhood.

The act of faith is not solid, and neither is that on which the act of
faith is based. The experience in which faith is grounded, which gives
us confidence, is not solid, and cannot be found when searched for.
And yet neither is it non-existent. Faith isn't therefore a certainty
based on something solid and real, and neither is it a blind belief
based on something which doesn't exist for us. But instead, it is
something which shimmers somehow between the two seemingly dualistic
poles (faith as confidence vs. blind belief) ... something which is a
resonance and response to what is, something which is drawn out of us
in many different ways … But always on the basis of what is 'deepest'
or `truest' in us resonating which what is 'deepest' or 'truest' in
the nature of things. When the bell tolls, the heart responds. And
that response is 'faith'; however you describe it, or translate the term.

(a recent post to a Dharma study group)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Reflections on Rainer Maria Rilke - On Hearing Of A Death

We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world's stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

This poem has really struck me this last few days. The images of ourselves, our egos, playing out roles like an actor playing to an audience. How we adjust our actions to create an effect on the world, yet this ego which is constantly adjusting and 'acting' doesn't truly exist.

and then, onto the stage, comes death, who truly cuts through all this acting - a dose of 'reality', if you will. How deeply the knife of death cuts, and strips away all the acting and pretense. It seems as though death has a reality which this ego does not, and so the actor of ego leaves the stage, at least temporarily. Death appears with the passing on of a loved one, their physical presence missed, though their 'presence' continues. How extraordinary that our actor drops his mask, ego drops away, and we 'get real', still 'acting' yet no longer 'acting', if you see what I mean?

And yet, when we look deeply, death has no more reality than the ego does. Both seem to appear, yet have no actual substance.

and yet, this illusory death has the effect of stripping away the unnecessary, and revealing the essential, 'playing our actual lives, instead of the performance, forgetting the applause'.

How extraordinary, this seeming loss and gain ...

'But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.'

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness

Because of the unobstructed nature of the mind, there is a continuous arising of appearances.
Like the waves and the waters of the ocean, which are not two (different things),
Whatever arises is liberated into the natural state of the mind.
However many different names are applied to it in this unceasing process of naming things,
With respect to its real meaning, the mind (of the individual) does not exist other than as one.
And, moreover, this singularity is without any foundation and devoid of any root.
But, even though it is one, you cannot look for it in any particular direction.
It cannot be seen as an entity located somewhere, because it is not created or made by anything.
Nor can it be seen as just being empty, because there exists the transparent radiance of its own luminous clarity and awareness.
Nor can it be seen as diversified, because emptiness and clarity are inseparable.
Immediate self-awareness is clear and present.
Even though activities exist, there is no awareness of an agent who is the actor.
Even though they are without any inherent nature, experiences are actually experienced.
If you practice in this way, then everything will be liberated.
With respect to your own sense faculties, everything will be understood immediately without any intervening operations of the intellect.
Just as is the case with the sesame seed being the cause of the oil and the milk being the cause of butter,
But where the oil is not obtained without pressing and the butter is not obtained without churning,
So all sentient beings, even though they possess the actual essence of Buddhahood,
Will not realize Buddhahood without engaging in practice.
If he practices, then even a cowherd can realize liberation.
Even though he does not know the explanation, he can systematically establish himself in the experience of it.
(For example) when one has had the experience of actually tasting sugar in one's own mouth,
One does not need to have that taste explained by someone else.
Not understanding this (intrinsic awareness), even Panditas can fall into error.
Even though they are exceedingly learned and knowledgeable in explaining the nine vehicles,
It will only be like spreading rumors of places which they have not seen personally.
And with respect to Buddhahood, they will not even approach it for a moment.
If you understand (intrinsic awareness), all of your merits and sins will be liberated into their own condition.
But if you do not understand it, any virtuous or vicious deeds that you commit
Will accumulate as karma leading to transmigration in heavenly rebirth or to rebirth in the evil destinies respectively.
But if you understand this empty primal awareness which is your own mind,
The consequences of merit and of sin will never come to be realized,
Just as a spring cannot originate in the empty sky.
In the state of emptiness itself, the object of merit or of sin is not even created.
Therefore, your own manifest self-awareness comes to see everything nakedly.
This self-liberation through seeing with naked awareness is of such great profundity,
And, this being so, you should become intimately acquainted with self-awareness.
Profoundly sealed!

Verse 27,
Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness,
Padmasambhava

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Effort and Letting Go

There is this profound play between application of effort, and letting go.

Sometimes, and in some ways, one has to galvanise ones energy, enlist ones desire, focus aspiration, and strive for the goal. Whether that is in terms of life overall, or a particular moment within it, there is the need to make an effort.

And then, there is letting go. Opening profoundly to what is, and allowing it to be, just as it is. How hard is it to see something, and not 'touch' it with the mind in a way that changes and transforms it?

I feel the Yin-Yang diagram models very acutely the ideal nature of awareness and effort.

Within the Yang of effort, lies a small circle of Yin, or letting go. And within the Yin of letting go lies the small circle of Yang, effort. So each contains something of the other within.

Is it truly possible to make the right sort of effort to transform ones mind, or just to be aware, without seemingly 'within' that an element or sense of letting go, of opening, of allowing to be?

And is it possible to let be, without somehow 'engaging' that (well not for me, who hasn't reached a level where such 'letting be into minds own nature' is a totally natural and continuous process).

Like gently holding a bird in ones hand, one holds dharmas in ones awareness. Moment by moment, one raises the effort of awareness, and allows that awareness to just be, with whatever it 'sees'.

Generation stage practice involves putting forth effort, yet there is letting be within that, like the Yin in the Yang.

Completion stage practice rests in what is, yet that lies poised on the wave of what has gone.

There's the spirit of inquiry which seeks to penetrate how things are, and the resting in 'not-knowing', which allows for non-holding, non-judging, and non-appraising. How do we penetrate the mysteries of how things are, without a profound effort to 'see' and 'know'? Yet all effort is 'fabrication', and alters that which is seen, so letting go allows for the natural unfolding of 'how it is as it is'.

This dynamic seems to be seen in many aspects of the spiritual life ... putting forth, and letting go, at one and the same time.

The question is not which is better, but how to you encompass both, and know which to emphasize when?

And that is answered in experience, through trial and error, through reflection and experience .... through the blind man groping along the path :-)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Clarity and Emptiness

How dreamlike is this life ....

Bringing experiences to mind from the past - they are like shimmering dreams, with a life of their own, never quite the same, and seemingly not like the experience in the present which seemed to inspire them.

And that experience in the present, which had previously seemed so solid and real - the more I come back to awareness, the less that which seems to appear in awareness has any solidity at all.

It's funny - you'd think that the more aware you were, the more crystal clear things would get, wouldn't you?

And yet it doesn't seem to be like that. Yes, there's a vividness to phenomena as the mind settles and things are more 'clearly' seen amongst the spaciousness of a still mind. Yet as you look, things melt away in that awareness, and shimmer and slide before the mind's eye. Like mirages, thoughts, sights and sounds seem more brightly there, yet present nothing more solid to awareness than dreamlike illusions.

It's a strange conundrum, that things appear more bright and clear, as mind settles, yet simultaneously they lose their assumed solidity. Simultaneously more there, and yet less there.

And all the criteria used to describe this, and analyse this ... also the same way ... the sharpness of the intellect, and vision, which brings things into focus, and the melting away of things once in that gaze ....

hmmm .....