Monday, May 22, 2006

Shangpa Rinpoche's teachings on Chod

Shangpa Rinpoche

How often it's stuck me over the years that I am ultimately blessed to have received the teachings on Chod from Shangpa Rinpoche!

So often I'm at a particular place in my sadhana, and gratitude and joy flood through my mind, realising what an extraordinary thing this is, this Chod of Mahamudra practice. So often I have this sense that what I am doing is echoing down through the ages, with countless beings having practiced this very same profound and so very precious text that I have before me. So often I feel that this echoing comes from beyond time, from beyond anything that makes sense to me, and which seems incomprehensible to the rational mind.

I feel the blessings of this practice, which arises like the sun to illuminate beings with the warmth of its rays, and sense the presence of Rinpoche, guiding me in my practice. Inseparable from any of the great Beings, or of any of the masters who've taught the Chod.

Inseparable from Machig Labdron, who created this Chod ...

.... how can one value something such as this, or repay the debt of gratitude one feels?

Words seem inadequate, somehow, in trying to express this.

Yet it feels like something worthy of attempt ....

How blessed indeed!

Machig Labdron

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blossoms on the Buddha

I was sitting in meditation yesterday on my bench in the garden. A light wind stirred the tree above me, and cherry blossoms gently floated down all around me.

I was reminded of the Buddha, on the night of his Enlightenment, turning the arrows and weapons of Mara into flower petals.

How poignant .....

How blessed .....

How wonderful indeed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Three Types of Suffering

In the 'Jewel Ornament of Liberation', Gampopa (as do other teachers of orthodox Dharma) asserts that there are three types of suffering, which are:

1 - the suffering of suffering
2 - the suffering of change
3 - all-pervasive suffering

In brief, the suffering of suffering is simply the stuff that really hurts, immediately and directly. So if you cut your finger ... the pain is the suffering of suffering. Or if you get angry, the suffering you feel from that is the same. It can be great sufferings, down to pretty subtle stuff ... but the important thing is that it is directly experienced as unsatisfactoriness.

The suffering of change is the subtle awareness that even though you are feeling good at this particular moment, you know that these conditions cannot last .... and that whatever it is that you are experiencing as pleasurable - well, it cannot last. So in a sense it's a grasping after whatever you are enjoying, aware of it's transience.

The third catagory, the all pervasive suffering is more subtle, and a bit harder to pin down. It is sometimes described as the suffering that comes from simply having the 5 skandhas, i.e, from simply having body and mind. It means that through having a body and mind, there is always a subtle pervading sense of dis-ease in your experience. In a sense, you can't have the six sense organs, and experience sensory input without having this subtle dis-ease. One way to look at it is it's the dis-ease that comes with having a 'you' .. with having a personality. Whatever your personality is ... your current set of 'you', things are always much too fluid and complex to be accommodated by that 'you' .... so there is always this underlying sense of imperfection to experience.

I thought I'd note a couple of points in passing.

Very interestingly, Gampopa goes through these three types of suffering in the reverse order to what I have done. Usually it would seem that people start with the one most people can directly relate to (and agree with), and moves on to the others in order of subtlety. Yet Gampopa reverses this. Does this make it harder for one to understand the all-pervasive suffering without being 'led to it' through the other two?

One thing about these 3 categories is that it makes clear that the experience of samsara, and therefore the spiritual life, is not just about somehow going beyond the direct experience of suffering in the here and now, as the sufferings of samsara are described as being much more subtle than just immediate and direct suffering.

And, more challenging still, Gampopa (and all those who've taught the sufferings of Samsara in this traditional way) asserts that suffering is all-pervasive within samsara. So *all* our experience is suffering, until and right up to the point of Enlightenment itself! That's pretty strong stuff, especially to anyone who gets caught up in any pride in following some 'higher' vehicle, with all the teachings on Buddha nature etc .... and experiencing the bliss of the natural state of mind, etc in Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

So how can this be understood, this samsara is filled with all-pervasive suffering. Well, one aspect of it is that our experience is always unsatisfactory *when compared with* or *relative to* the experience of a Buddha. In other words, it's a relative term, not an absolute term. It means that the way we experience the world is always characterised by a lack of perfection of happiness and satisfaction *compared to* that of the experience of a Buddha.

That seems to me to make sense, and makes sense of Gampopa's description of how those highly realised Bodhisattva's experience more of this all-pervasive suffering when us not very realised beings seem to miss out on experiencing it.

From my own limited experience, when on longer retreats, I've experienced a sense of suffering or dis-ease as being in the nature of my having mind and body .. at least being in the nature of how I currently experience them. At that goes even when I am experiencing bliss in meditation! ... .there's still a sense of something not absolutely perfect, if your awareness is subtle and strong enough to see it.

So one final note .... in a sense, as our practice and awareness develop, then our sense of and awareness of suffering also develops! We become aware of more subtle forms of suffering! And yet we most likely experience less suffering as we go on .. because we grasp less, become attached less, through realising a little of the nature of how things are .... so that suffering doesn't *hurt* so much ... it becomes more of the nature of just movements in mind, waves on the ocean ..... ripples or a play of light in the field of awareness. And so just something of note, something noticed, rather than something to be 'hooked' on .... or impaled on.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Reflections on All is Mind, from Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra


Appearance is mind and emptiness is mind.
Realisation is mind and confusion is mind.
Arising is mind and cessation is mind.
May all doubts about mind be resolved.

from 'The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra'
- HH3 Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje

How radically different this view is to how my mind often gravitates .... into seeing solid appearances 'out there', and a solid 'me' in here. When meditation is weak, and the view is weak, then I begin to believe that a real, solid 'I' operates in relation to a 'truly existent' and solid 'external world out there'. It feels like a polarity, a polar relationship, between these twin locii of simply 'given' objects - me and the rest.

Yet when meditation deepens, and the view strengthens, then both these seeming solidities soften and blur, and they appear more like shimmering patterns, fluid and luminous. Along with this goes a loosening of the sense of a singular 'I', and a corresponding easing of attachment and identifying with both these more flickering aspects.

Yet when meditation deepens further, and the view becomes clearer, then even these light and airy polarities begin to evapourate, revealing not so much two less solid polarities, as a single field of display, which reveals aspects we commonly call us or not-us. One field remains, where us or not-us cannot be found. One field where appearances seemingly arise, flicker for awhile, then seemingly fade away. That field 'holds' merely appearances, not knowing in or out, us or not-us, internal or external phenomena.

Looking at that field, no field is found. No unitary phenomena called 'mind' can be found, and so nothing ultimately replaces the dualistic phenomena of me and the world. Just a shimmering of light, and flickering of seeming appearance, and a lack of anything anywhere that can be pinned down, named or owned.

Not that there's nothing there at all, not that value or meaning disappears. But as our view changes from us and not-us to a play of mind, then so follows a lessening of attachment, and a lessoning of suffering which poisons us and our 'mothers' in equal measure.

Oh to realise that view, to stabilise that realisation, to cut short this seemingly endless beguilement with appearances and thoughts!

Momentary experiences hint at what can be, and what lies ahead/within/already there.

May I and all beings lose our entrancement with appearances, and recognise the illusory display of mind!

May our aspiration be strong and unceasing, and our realisation correspondingly clear and stable.

Friday, May 05, 2006

It's All Good !

I remember very clearly my new boss at a company telling me (upon my finding out that he was a Buddhist and asking him what practices he does), that he doesn't practice, that he's taking a 'holiday' in this life, and that he'll practice in the next life. It struck me at the time that he was amazingly confident that he'd get the chance to meet with and practice Dharma again. Having come from a Christian upbringing, the notion of rebirth, and of karma, were still 'hot' topics for me, and in those early days I had the 'fervour' of a new convert! I remember my own criticism of him for being complacent, and of wasting this precious opportunity in this life. That would have been fine, but there was quite a bit of self-righteousness in me at that time, and pride too.

I guess looking back I still suspect that he was just rationalising his 'laziness' rather than being confident in a good rebirth, based on the knowledge of his ethical practice. But who knows?

For myself, it always strikes me when you read texts such as 'The Jewel Ornament of Liberation' how clear they are that being born as a Human or a God is a very rare occurance indeed. Gelug texts seem to especially emphasise this. I've yet to read a text which suggests that it's easy to be born human again without much effort in the practice of ethics and meditation.

Yet how often do I get sucked in to 'wordly' activities, and find myself thoroughly engrossed in them, accepting them as solid and real, and finding myself attached to those objects of the senses?

And all the while life ebbs away, the time of my death comes closer, and the time left to practice becomes shorter and shorter!

Underneath, there must be part of me that thinks that Samsara is not too bad, that my rebirth will be ok, and that I've plenty of time left to both indulge myself, *and* to somehow 'catch up' with practice :-)

Sometimes I'm involved in things, and I see them for what they are (at least to a degree anyway) ... and movements of the mind, swirling appearances which move and melt. And I let them lightly pass through, with minimal attachment. Yet other times I'm sucked in, and lose perspective .... believing all these mirages to be 'real' and then just play the game of 'want' and 'not want'.

Gampopa says that those who think it'll all be fine, and that they'll get a good rebirth for sure are simply attached to Samsara's pleasures.

What strikes me about this is two things ... firstly, that it's through being attached to aspects of our existence which 'seem' to be not too unpleasant, we then decide that actually we don't need to make so much effort, as it's not so bad here really! ... and then, secondly, that assuming it's fine, that we'll be reborn as a human or god, well that assumes again that those rebirths are good places in themselves to be, and that aiming for a good rebirth is a worthy use of this life (rather than aiming for Enlightenment in this very lifetime).

Perhaps my favourite aphorism in Dharma (I don't know where it comes from, or which master says it first) ... describes the pleasures of Samsara, and the attachment to them, as being like

licking honey off a razor's edge

How true!

All the time we grasp at pleasures it seems sweet indeed ... but we don't see what that does to us, and how ignorance grasping after seemingly solid objects takes us away from minds nature, and the state of liberation.

Hmm ... just some reflections .... as they come out ....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Waking Up?

The most amazing thing about my life .... is that after going to sleep at night .... each morning .... I wake up again!

When I really think about this .... no .... *really* think about this .... how extraordinary that life continues throughout my dullness during sleep, during my unconsciousness .... and somehow I stay alive, somehow my body keeps functioning, somehow my karma doesn't give up supporting this life ...... somehow ..... how? ..... somehow I hang on to this thread of life, this precious opportunity ....

which I then fritter away with petty distractions!

What an act of faith it would be to go to sleep, and to have faith that I will wake up tomorrow!

But it isn't an act of faith .... it's an act of ignorance ... ignorance of Impermanance and Death .... of blocking out how fragile life is, and how precious life is ....

Amazing to wake up each morning ......

Now, if I could only 'wake up' today !