Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's your Poison?

One familiar grouping of emotional obscurations in Buddhism is the five poisons - greed, hatred, pride, jealousy and ignorance. I was reflecting this morning that my predominant poison has changed from what it was 6 months ago ... so ....

Let's 'name and shame' !!!!

angerMy predominant poison at present is hatred. (It's the desire to push things away, to reject aspects of experience and seek to move away from them).

6 months ago it was Pride. Previous to that, I was predominantly craving or greed.

Hmm .... interesting the change. Nothing stays the same ... all that arises ceases.

I always remember a teaching that the Buddha gave in the Pali sutta's, of how the person with anger is like someone with a red hot coal in his hand, who is trying to throw it at someone else .... but, the coal just stays in your hand. Likewise, your anger, which seeks to harm another, but actually primarily harms yourself, (as well as them).

Let me focus on and watch Anger, and see how this is ....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Deepening Compassion

I thought I'd therefore share some further reflections on Gampopa's threefold classification of Compassion (from The Jewel Ornament of Liberation).

White TaraGampopa's first category - 'Compassion with reference to Sentient beings' is simply the desire to help beings when we see that they are suffering. However, due to our level of understanding and practice, we ourselves suffer alongside those who wish to help. Our compassion, (but lack of wisdom and skillful means) leads us to pain, as we don't have sufficient understanding to help without causing ourselves pain. It's worth noting that this wouldn't be a reason for us to not help! It's still important as a means to develop further compassion and wisdom, and also to actually alleviate suffering, that we do reach out to others, even if that causes us pain :-)

The second form of Compassion that Gampopa notes is that of 'Compassion with reference to the Dharma'. Here we have a deepened level of understanding. As a result, we 'understand' something of the causes of suffering, due to our increased 'understanding' of Dharma. So, when we see suffering, and our desire to help arises, we know that this suffering arises from causes. We know the suffering arises from attachment, from craving and ill-will, and ultimately, from ignorance (of how things really are). We understand something of the Four Noble Truths, and we know something of causality - of Dependent Origination. As such, when compassion arises, and we seek to help others, we suffer less, as we are less inclined to attach, or to crave whilst helping.

For example, we don't get so caught up in results, in needing to 'solve' the others' problem. So we can help, to our utmost, but let go of results, let go of having to take things through to a solution. Sometimes it's not possible to solve the other persons problem (they might have an incurable illness, for example) and in this case, we can help to our utmost, without causing ourself suffering at not being able to control the outcome.

Another aspect here is that now that we've generated some understanding of how suffering comes about - its causes and conditions - we sense that those we see suffering do *not* know what is causing their suffering. We see that they live life only wishing to be happy, but that their very actions are the cause of their suffering. As such, that recognition of their situation is the cause for a much stronger compassion to develop.

The third form of Compassion Gampopa talks about is that of 'Compassion without Reference Point'. This is where we have developed sufficiently that we see something of the true nature of things. We have some experience of Shunyata, of Emptiness, and therefore we no longer cling to the notion of person, of illness, of helping as solidly existent 'things'. As a result of seeing the play of mere appearances in mind, we don't attach to these illusory notions, and therefore we don't suffer whilst helping alleviate suffering. We see this play of appearances, which are ultimately empty, but at the same time, we recognise that the 'person' before us does not see this.

We also see that the difference between seeing things as they are, and of grasping onto the solidity or reality of things, is, in a sense, razor thin. The difference is so slender between seeing, and not seeing.

When the experience of emptiness arises, we see that seeing how things are, and seeing with ignorance is the most subtle shift, in a sense, (and yet the most enormous shift, in another sense!!!!). We see how easy it is to lose this 'view', both during, and between meditations. We slip into it and out of it so easily. So, we have an appreciation of how small a shift it is, in a sense, and how 'easy' it could be for those suffering beings to see in accordance with the nature of things, to act in accordance with the nature of things, and therefore not suffer. That recognition of how 'easy' it would be for them to not suffer becomes the cause for a great compassion to arise in us. The recognition of how unnecessary that suffering is, indeed, how unnecessary and how easily thrown off.

Further, the recognition from the previous stage (and classification) that we ourselves self-cause our own suffering is deepened here - with the addition of now seeing the potential 'ease' of throwing it off.

At this stage, our compassion arises without having an object, as we no longer 'see' any being to be the object of our compassion. Indeed, we no longer see 'ourselves' as being compassionate, nor see the 'act' of compassion either. We see the play of empty appearances - and yet, and yet ... we act. How is this? How can we act, when we no longer see sentient beings, as such? Well, from my very limited experience, this Compassion is the natural response, the natural outpouring of the mind that sees things as they are. It's as if when we take all this mistaken understanding and seeing out of the way, what lay beneath - the sun behind the clouds - can pour forth its energy, which had been previously obscured and dammed up.

- an attempt to clarify in my own mind my own confusion, and previous potentially confusing post ... in the hope it might also be of help to others -

may we all give rise to the Compassion that has no reference point ...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections on Gampopa - Compassion with Reference to Sentient Beings, Reference to Dharma, and without Reference Point

In a sense, what distinguishes the three types of Compassion that Gampopa sets out in 'Jewel Ornament of Liberation' is the development and level of our Compassion *and* our Wisdom.

Gampopa's classification of CompassionWith the first, Compassion with reference to Sentient Beings, we see beings suffering, and we feel a response to that suffering which is our compassion. At this level, we tend to suffer ourselves with that response. We see them suffer and tend to get attached to taking that suffering away.

With Compassion with Dharma as objects, we again see other beings
suffering, but this time we no longer suffer ourselves as a result, even though we may not be able to directly relieve our suffering. We understand something of the nature of things, of dependent origination, of suffering, and the cause of suffering, and therefore can help in a less 'sticky' or attached fashion. We are less attached to our ignorant ideas of how things are, and less attached to 'making things right'. We are able to help more, and let go.

At the level of Compassion without Reference Point, we no longer see things as solid and permanent as we would ordinarily have done. As a result of our developing practice, we see that these beings we have before us are actually all manner of sizes, shapes, colours, smells, etc, arising in our minds. We see that we don't really know where these sensations arise from, nor where they go to. We see that we cannot place or grasp any of those sensations, let alone the 'person' that we assume we see before us. Life begins to take on something of the nature of a dream, rather than the seemingly self-existent solid drama that is somehow 'out there'.

As we begin to see the play of our minds, we become less attached to our ignorant views of what we believe to be actually existent.

As we ourselves begin to loosen the bonds of our suffering, through no longer grasping at our deluded understanding of appearances, we notice how those around us make the same mistakes as we have continually done. We see how they cause there own suffering, through believing in the permanence and solidity of the world, and wanting/not wanting all that passes through it.

As a result of our newly found tendency to let go of this grasping, and causing of our own suffering, we see how they too could let go of causing their own suffering. We see how easy it is, in a sense, to not cause suffering for themselves. Even though this ability has been very hard won for ourselves, and we know full well how easily we lose this ability, we also see how easy it is to not cause self-suffering. It's easy in the sense that in a moment, just one moment, we can either give rise to attachment, or we can just let go. It's just a choice in one moment.

So at one and the same time, we hold a lighter grasp on life, through not grasping at experience as though it was solid, real, and self-existing. And yet we clearly see the suffering of those before us, self-caused suffering, and the natural desire to help them arises.

We see no-one before us, just dreamlike mere appearances, yet we feel strongly compelled to help others to loosen the bonds of suffering, just as we've loosened them.

We we hold these two things, the ultimate and the relative, the view of the dreamlike nature of things, yet the compassionate desire to help dreamlike beings be free of their suffering, then we tend not to suffer ourselves through this compassion.

This is the sense in which I believe Gampopa sets out this classification of Compassion. When we fully believe in the fixed selfhood of ourselves and of others, then we suffer through our compassion. When we see things as they are, with a direct apprehension of appearance and emptiness, then we feel the strongest urges to help relieve that suffering, yet that doesn't become the cause of suffering for ourself.

In those moments, we simply do what needs to be done, without rigid conceptualisation, without attempting to force things, but just a simple outpouring of spontaneous action, with no thought of self or other.

Seeing phenomenon for what they are, we act with compassion, naturally, and most effectively.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chod Aspiration Prayer

Machig Labdron
Similar to the sun as it rises in the sky,
may this sacred Chod practice that cuts demons
Flourish in all directions and at all times.

Drogon Karma Chagmed

These words, which come towards the end of my Chod practice, always resonate deeply, seeming to come from deep within, and seeming to connect with something vast, which resonates beyond time and space. Useless words, trying to describe the indescribable!

I sometimes wonder how many people practice Chod in England.

And yet, when I practice, such questions seem meaningless, as meaningless as places, separate beings, time, and all other illusory appearances that fleetingly display.

How beautiful this Chod practice, which cuts through the demons of self-hood.

How fortunate this being, who has received these precious instructions.

May illusory beings seemingly without number realise the state of Mahamudra, and dwell in the great Bliss.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Self Liberate Even the Antidote

(The third slogan of the Seven Points of Mind Training).

This slogan is the third of the points on the actual practice - the cultivation of Bodhicitta.

Let even the remedy subside .... The antidote will vanish of itself .... Even the Antidote Itself is Liberated in its own Place ....

These Blue/Yellow skies have been symbolic significance for me ... Mahamudra
I guess for me this slogan has several aspects, or levels. What is the remedy or antidote?

Well, clearly it's Emptiness, that which frees us from clinging to a mistakenly solid sense of the world we inhabit, and a mistakenly solid sense of ourselves. Looking deeply at both, we see that our experience is dream-like, ungraspable and illusory. We see that the 'I' that looks is the same, the dream-like gossamer of mere appearance.

What is the nature of that recognition?

It's the emptiness, the ungraspable, mysterious and diaphanous nature of what is. As we look and let go of ignorant projection, the veils of solidity drop away, as does the polarised sense of self and other.

All that is is dream-like appearance, never resting, never staying, never able to be grasped. As we rest in that awareness of how things are, a sense of Emptiness comes into view.

Whether we can rest in that sense of Emptiness is the question. Usually, we either slide into thoughts, or we slip back into dualistic projection of solidity.

But when we do rest in the nature of mind/things, we experience a profound shift. Without forcing it, or grasping after it, this view may visit us awhile.

So what of this third slogan?

There are ways that we can slip off the path, so to speak, at this point.

Grasping after this experience of Emptiness, we can seek to find Emptiness everywhere, not allowing it to open, but grasping and hunting for it. This isn't the correct antidote, and can be let go of.

Similarly, we can lose the experience of Emptiness, and in it's place give rise to the idea or concept of Emptiness. Worlds apart, but easily done, this conceptual idea of Emptiness is not the antidote either, and can be let go of. We can look into those thoughts of Emptiness, and see that they are themselves empty in nature, Shunya.

With our taste of Emptiness, we can mistake it's nature, and arrive at the viewpoint that as all things (including our own self) are Empty, then nothing matters, it's all the same, morality doesn't exist, karma doesn't exist, etc, etc. Mistaking Emptiness for this nihilistic viewpoint, we slip into 'the poison of Emptiness'. It is said that this is even worse than the original ignorant grasping at appearances as being solid and real.

We can take our glimpse of Emptiness, of Shunyata, and grasp after it such that we seek a refuge in it through reification. The first slogan encouraged us to look at our experience of life, of the world. We found it to not only be as solid as we thought, but utterly dreamlike and illusory. That cuts through our foundations, our sense of placement in the world, and undercuts us greatly. It takes the ground out from under our feet.

The second slogan turned our attention onto us, our self, and again, cut the rug out from under our feet. Ourselves too, are dreamlike and illusory.

So there's nothing to cling to there, either 'outside' or 'inside'. That's a big shock to the system, when that's experienced (rather than thoughts).

So what do we tend to do next? We find something to grasp after, some ground to put back beneath our feet ... and that attempted ground is emptiness itself.

We can take our glimpse of emptiness, and imagine that *this is it* ... this is how things are, and this is the ground that therefore I can rely on. Once again, a ground to our being. But is shunyata like this?

Emptiness itself is empty, it's without characteristics. There's nothing there for you to grasp onto, or to give any ground beneath your feet, as it were. Rug pulling number three! Whatever 'answer' we've come up with to the riddle of life, to the nature of mind, ourselves, reality, whatever you wish to call it ... the answer itself is also empty, and without anything to give us security.

Hmm .....

Let go.

Just let go.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What is Life? Who am I?

What is this thing called life?

When I look at what I experience ... what do I see?

Things and people I interact with? .... actually, colours and shapes and sounds that arise in experience.

When I look for them ....these people and things ... where are they?

Nowhere. Only shapes and colours, and sounds ....

When I look for these shapes and colours and sounds .... where are they?

Nowhere. Nowhere that I can be certain of, anyway. I can't say they are outside, or inside of me ...where is this thing I call experience taking place? Where is the world?

As I look for it .... it melts away. Nothing I try to focus on is stable and can be found for certain.

My life, the world, reality, whatever you wish to call it .. experience ... nowhere to be found ... and yet it's there!!! really there! bang your head on the wall there! .. but nowhere to be found.

Like a dream .... I seem to inhabit this life, this world, with things that cannot be found ... that seem utterly real ... yet do they exist in the way I *think* they do? .. no ... like a dream. Dreamlike .... a dream. An illusion. As if ... like this ....

Regard all Phenomena as Dreams

(from the Seven Points of Mind Training).

So if life is a dream .... then who am I who experiences this dream?

What is experiencing the dream?

I ask that question, and watch.

A space opens out ... no thinking, no labelling, no analysing ... but a knowing. A knowing of what is ....... who am I?


There's nothing there.

Where is this me .... the body ... sensations that appear to arise and cease .. yet they are nowhere to found. Where do they come from ... these sensations of body? Nowhere. Where do they go? Nowhere. Nowhere to be found, coming from nowhere and going nowhere.

Hmm .....

I think about that .... thoughts!

Where are they? ....

Nowhere. Seemingly arising .. yet not actually there .... and not coming from anywhere I can find, or going anywhere I can find ..... like a dream, these sensations of body .... these thoughts.

Emotions too .. memories ... all that I think of as 'me' ... like a dream .. nowhere to be found. I not that ... so what I am ....

What of awareness .... this that is aware of all that seems to arise?

Is that me?

Where is it .... I turn to it .. and watch .....

Seemingly there ... seemingly.

When I experience a sound ... seemingly awareness is there as I experience it.

But what is there beyond the sound ... the seeming experience itself? Nothing lying *behind* it ... beneath it ... beyond it? ... Nothing that I can find.

What is there of me then, if awareness arises ... as experience arises ... and seemingly goes again ... to where, I don't know?

Am I not stable .. continuous?

Dreams that come and go .. seemingly.

Awareness that comes and go ... seemingly.

What is this *I* then ..... but seeming illusions .... that I can't pin down.

This awareness .. this awareness/experience-ness ... that arises together ... simultaneously, co-existently .. where is it?

I can't find it.

Where did it come from?

I can find an answer .....

Where does it go?

I don't know ... it doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Not existing, no coming from anywhere, not going anywhere .... I am not.

Yet I am. I experience this life, this dream ... I bang my head on the wall .... I experience it!

I am nothing ... yet I seem to experience the dream ...

Examine the Nature of the Unborn Mind

(from the Seven Points of Mind Training).

What is Life?

Who am I?

Nobody dreaming.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Abandon any Hope of Fruition

I thought I'd just share this teaching from Pema Chodron on one of the slogans of the 7 Point Mind Training. This one cuts really deep for me, and has had a profound influence on my practice.

It's such an interesting area ... this tension between trying to get somewhere (other than where we are now) ... and being able to truly open up to what we experience and allowing ourselves to come to rest in peace and compassion ....

Our next slogan is "Abandon any hope of fruition." You could also say, "Give up all hope" or "Give up" or just "Give." The shorter the better.

One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you're wanting yourself to get better, you won't. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

One of the deepest habitual patterns that we have is to feel that now is not good enough. We think back to the past a lot, which maybe was better than now, or perhaps worse. We also think ahead quite a bit to the future - which we may fear - always holding out hope that it might be a little bit better than now. Even if now is going really well -we have good health and we've met the person of our dreams, or we just had a child or got the job we wanted-nevertheless there's a deep tendency always to think about how it's going to be later. We don't quite give ourselves full credit for who we are in the present.

For example, it's easy to hope that things will improve as a result of meditation, that we won't have such bad tempers anymore or we won't have fear anymore or people will like us more than they do now. Or maybe none of those things are problems for us, but we feel we aren't spiritual enough. Surely we will connect with that awake, brilliant, sacred world that we are going to find through meditation. In everything we read -whether it's philosophy or dharma books or psychology- there's the implication that we're caught in some kind of very small perspective and that if we just did the right things, we'd begin to connect with a bigger world, a vaster world, different from the one we're in now.

One reason I wanted to talk about giving up all hope of fruition is because I've been meditating and giving dharma talks for some time now, but I find that I still have a secret passion for what it's going to be like when-as they say in some of the classical texts, all the veils have been removed." It's that same feeling of wanting to jump over yourself and find something that's more awake than the present situation, more alert than the present situation. Sometimes this occurs at a very mundane level: you want to be thinner, have less acne or more hair. But somehow there's almost always a subtle or not so subtle sense of disappointment, a sense of things not completely measuring up.

In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, "I don't know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you're never going to get everything together." I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head. But I've always remembered it. He said, "You're never going to get it all together." There isn't going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up. Even though it was shocking to me, it rang true. One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the spiritual level or at the level of mental peace.

Nowadays, people go to a lot of different places trying to find what they're looking for. There are 12 -step programs; someone told me that there is now a 24-step program; someday there will probably be a 108-step program. There are a lot of support groups and different therapies. Many people feel wounded and are looking for something to heal them. To me it seems that at the root of healing, at the root of feeling like a fully adult person, is the premise that you're not going to try to make anything go away, that what you have is worth appreciating. But this is hard to swallow if what you have is pain.

In Boston there's a stress-reduction clinic run on Buddhist principles. It was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Buddhist practitioner and author of Full Catastrophe Living. He says that the basic premise of his clinic-to which many people come with a lot of pain-is to give up any hope of fruition. Otherwise the treatment won't work. If there's some sense of wanting to change yourself, then it comes from a place of feeling that you're not good enough. It comes from aggression toward yourself, dislike of your present mind, speech, or body; there's something about yourself that you feel is not good enough. People come to the clinic with addictions, abuse issues, or stress from work-with all kinds of issues. Yet this simple ingredient of giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing.

That's the main thing. As long as you're wanting to be thinner, smarter, more enlightened, less uptight, or whatever it might be, somehow you're always going to be approaching your problem with the very same logic that created it to begin with: you're not good enough. That's why the habitual pattern never unwinds itself when you're trying to improve, because you go about it in exactly the same habitual style that caused all the pain to start.

There's a life-affirming teaching in Buddhism, which is that Buddha, which means "awake," is not someone you worship. Buddha is not someone you aspire to; Buddha is not somebody that was born more than two thousand years ago and was smarter than you'll ever be. Buddha is our inherent nature - our Buddha nature - and what that means is that if you're going to grow up fully, the way that it happens is that you begin to connect with the intelligence that you already have. It's not like some intelligence that's going to be transplanted into you. If you're going to be fully mature, you will no longer be imprisoned in the childhood feeling that you always need to protect yourself or shield yourself because things are too harsh. If you're going to be a grown-up -which I would define as being completely at home in your world no matter how difficult the situation-it's because you will allow something that's already in you to be nurtured. You allow it to grow, you allow it to come out, instead of all the time shielding it and protecting it and keeping it buried.

Someone once told me, "When you feel afraid, that's 'fearful Buddha.' " That could be applied to whatever you feel. Maybe anger is your thing. You just go out of control, and you see red, and the next thing you know you're yelling or throwing something or hitting someone. At that time, begin to accept the fact that that's "enraged Buddha." If you feel jealous, that's "jealous Buddha." If you have indigestion, that's "buddha with heartburn." If you're happy, "happy buddha"; if bored, "bored buddha." In other words, anything that you can experience or think is worthy of compassion; anything you could think or feel is worthy of appreciation.

This teaching was powerful for me; it stuck. I would find myself in various states of mind and various moods, going up and down, going left and right, falling on my face and sitting up-just in all these different life situations-and I would remember, "Buddha falling flat on her face; Buddha feeling on top of the world; Buddha longing for yesterday." I began to learn that I couldn't get away from Buddha no matter how hard I tried. I could stick with myself through thick and thin. If one would enter into an unconditional relationship with oneself, one would be entering into an unconditional relationship with Buddha.

This is why the slogan says, "Abandon any hope of fruition." "Fruition" implies that at a future time you will feel good. There is another word, which is open -to have an open heart and open mind. This is oriented very much to the present. If you enter into an unconditional relationship with yourself, that means sticking with the Buddha right now on the spot as you find yourself.

Because it's a monastery, there's nothing you can do at Gampo Abbey that's fun, unless you like to meditate all the time or take walks in nature, but everything gets boring after awhile. There's no sex there, you can't drink there, you also can't lie. Occasionally we'll see a video, but that's rare and usually there's a dispute about what it's going to be. The food is sometimes good and sometimes terrible; it's just a very uncomfortable place. The reason it's uncomfortable is that you can't get away from yourself there. However, the more people make friends with themselves, the more they find it a nurturing and supportive place where you can find out the buddhaness of your own self as you are right now, today. Right now today, could you make an unconditional relationship with yourself? just at the height you are, the weight you are, the amount of intelligence that you have, the burden of pain that you have? Could you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?

Giving up any hope of fruition has something in common with the title of my previous book, The Wisdom of no Escape. "No escape" leaves you continually right in the present, and the present is whatever it is, whatever mood you happen to be in, whatever thoughts you happen to be having. That's it.

Whether you get meditation instruction from the Theravada tradition or the Zen tradition or the Vajrayana tradition, the basic instruction is always about being awake in the present moment. What they don't tell you is that the present moment can be you, this you about whom you sometimes don't feel very good. That's what there is to wake up to.

When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma (the Zen master who brought Zen from India to China) what enlightenment was, his answer was, "Lots of space, nothing holy." Meditation is nothing holy. Therefore there's nothing that you think or feel that somehow gets put in the category of "sin." There's nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of "bad." There's nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of "wrong." It's all good juicy stuff-the manure of waking UP, the manure of achieving enlightenment, the art of living in the present moment.

From Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron, Copyright 1994, Shambhala Publications.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Reflections on Anthony deMello - The Dawning of Enlightenment

Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.
Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

Anthony deMello, from One Minute Wisdom

Not sure who Anthony deMello is, but I can really relate to this quote. Not that I have any experience of Enlightenment! But simply that trying, doing, grasping after is so very fruitless. Getting out of the way of, letting go, opening is how it works for me. Not for everyone, maybe, and maybe not always for me, at all times. But right now, Let Go is where it's at.

The spiritual exercises, the meditation, the prayers, they all open me out and prepare me, make me a good and worthy vessel, as they say, for what flowers from within, for what has always been there, like the sun obscured by the clouds. Just keep doing what can be done, not to get somewhere, but just to do. Practice what can be practiced, and what can't be practiced will shine through.
You can't pull on the flower heads, to make the plant grow any faster, can you?

You can't force the world to be the way you want it to be, or yourself.

It's funny, it's like a sideshow, this polishing the mirror, this practicing what can be done. And yet, it's the real deal too.

When we do these exercises, where do we do them from? We open to what is, we open to our true nature, we open to our experience. And we practice from there, from that experience, on the basis and within and from that .....

It permeates our experience, like a memory, or resonance. It imbues what we do with the flavour of what truly is, our very nature, the nature of all ....

Allow the sun to shine .. step out of the way, with our dark clouds of desire and ill-will.

And see that the clouds are the sun itself :-)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Examine the Nature of the Unborn Mind

Second slogan of the 7 Point Mind Training.

What is this teaching pointing at?

Well, just like the previous slogan it emphasises the ultimate aspect of mind. Previously we were enjoined to examine the nature of appearances. What is the nature of what we experience, of all the phenomena which appear to our 'minds eye'? We found that they were empty, and lacking in any solidity or characteristic.

Now we are asked to look again, but this time at that which is looking. What is the nature of the mind, of the awareness within which all these phenomena or dharmas were appearing?

Step back or look deeper. It's not just what we thought was 'out there'. It's 'us' too! at our awareness itself, how is it? How does it appear?

It's harder to see, for me at least, than the 'things' that seem to arise within it. Turning attention away from those arisings, and looking at where they arise, we don't really find anything at all. I look for this awareness, and I don't really find anything. I look for that which looks, and I don't find anything. I look for 'me' and I don't really find anything.

Ultimately, not only does nothing truly arise, but there is nothing which is truly there experiencing this!

Hmm. That can be a little disquieting, at least to our small sense of self, our ego or 'me'.

It's a bit like we've been invited to do the work, to look at all that arises in our minds, and to see through it all, and therefore to be invited to let go at grasping all of that. And now, just when we thought it was safe to go back into the water, just when we've given the ego something safe to hang onto (that all that 'out there' is empty, but at least I'm here, and 'I' can see that!) ... well, no buddy, you're not there either! Take that!

Hmm. Examine. I take this to mean - bring to awareness 'mind' or 'awareness', and not think about it. We turn our gaze as it were to that which is gazing. It's a funny, subtle step .... one which most of us are not much attuned to. We look at the looker, we are aware of awareness itself. At first it's rather like trying to balance something on a needle tip, or razor blade ... we just keeping falling off, into thinking, or 'making sense of it'. But, gradually, we build up some sort of capacity to rest in that awareness, and hold awareness itself in awareness. We rest in minds own nature. For a while (in my case :-)

And we don't really then find anything, though there seems to be something there. Empty, yet seemingly there as we say. That's how it is, that's its Nature.

What of Unborn? Well, my awareness seems to arise and fall as I get lost in distraction or lack of awareness, and then jump back into wakefullness. So how is that not unborn?

Looking at that experience of seeming discontinuity of awareness, I don't find a start or end to awareness, I cannot 'put my finger' on it. There is no edge, no definite moment that I can truly identify when it is or isn't there. That's not to say that it does't seem to arise, or cease, but 'finding' that start or end is impossible. That is unborn.

but actually I think it means more than this, and that's something I don't experience yet.

I think it points to a deeper level of awareness, to a deeper level of mind, Original Mind, which I don't experience yet. That is awareness which doesn't rise or fall as my conscious awareness seems to. Which doesn't switch off when I get lost in distraction, and which doesn't diminish when I lose awareness in sleep. *That* is unborn, unborn in another sense.

But that is for another time, for discovery, not conjecture :-)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Regard all Phenomena as Dreams

'Regard all dharmas as dreams'.

This is the first slogan of the second section of the 'Seven Points of Mind Training'. It's the first of the slogans which emphasise the ultimate quality of Bodhicitta - that of Emptiness. I've been bringing this to mind the last few days.

I remember many years ago, when first practising Dharma I used to wonder about this phrase or teaching. I used to try to see things in this light, but to a degree, it felt like mind games. Experience was so vivid, so clear, and yet, I was being told it was like a dream. I took this to mean that it wasn't as real as I thought it was .... that somehow it was 'made up', that it was hazy and unclear, and that I would somehow 'wake up' from it. What would I wake up into? Well, somehow I imagined something entirely unlike 'this', whatever 'this' was that I was experiencing. Somehow it was going to be shiny and light, transcendent .... an entirely different plane of existence altogether!

Well, it always felt a little fraudulent, trying to take on that view, as I didn't truly experience it ... just hoped I would, or try to reach towards it, trying to find hints of it in my experience. And find them I did .... little hints or glimpses of what it might mean, this dreamlike state of existence that I was trying to wake up from.

Many years have passed, and much of my yearning for the dramatic and different has passed. Grand ideas of what this 'transcendence' was have given way to the gentle opening of experience, and something other than just ideas.

Though I have no realisation whatsoever, I sense growing experience of the things the teachings point at. And that gives great comfort and hope, that all this is not in vain, that the path can be walked, and that even a simple being with much difficult karma such as myself can open the heart and mind to the teachings.

All dharmas are dreams .... all phenomena are dreams.

What do we know?

We go around in the world, thinking we know things ..... we see something, and we label it in our minds, and 'know' it. We see shapes and maybe smells .. and we label it 'dog'. And we think we know that.

But where is the dog?

Where is this thing that we think we know?

from my experience there arises shapes and sounds, and colours and smells. From that .... I jump to something else. Dog.

And then I do all manner of things on the basis of my knowing 'dog'. I remember things about dogs. I act in ways that are patterns in relation to dogs. And I treat this that arises in experience on the basis of my thoughts, views, ideas and emotions in relation to dog. Yet where is the direct experiences in my sensory consciousness's? They seem to get lost and left behind in the rush to concept ... in the grasping after 'dog' and acting on the basis of 'dog'.

Same thing with my partner and kids .... same thing with work .... same thing with meditation ...same thing all round .... I experience sensory arisings ... and then I grasp after concepts to make sense of them. And then I pay a lot of attention to the concept and very little to the direct sensory experience.

So what? Well, the sensory experiences are very direct. They seem to arise in my experience directly. They are vivid and alive. What of the ideas that I impute on them? They are secondary phenomena which have not real existence in and of themselves ... only in my monkey mind, in my mind consciousness. And they could clearly be easily swapped for other ideas which would equally well describe and make sense of my sensory experience. So they are relative .... chosen on the basis of bias from my past experience and exposure ... and entirely fictional. They fit the sense data more or less .... but so would so many other concepts. And those other concepts would lead to different experiences, and different responses to the sensory data.

In a sense, those sense impressions are real. They appear to arise for me in my experience. There is an arising of a shape. They is no mind separate from that shape, and there is no shape separate from that mind that knows it.

In comparison, the concepts that I then automatically make up to make sense of those impressions .... are they real? They are like a dream. They are just imputed. They are 'made up'. They are interpretations ... which only make sense to me, if at all. No-one else, just me, at that moment, with my experience and history.

At least you could say that I have the sense of darkness. Of movement, of smells shifting. Of sound, loud or soft. In a sense.

Yet the concept dog .. that thing that I actually pay attention to, and swap with my direct experience .... that is a mirage, and a dream.

To the realised master ... why do they delight so in the simple things in life ... in the simple things in nature ... in the simple act of eating, or seeing a flower, or just walking? Why do they have a childs delight in those things? Is it because (in part) that they don't get lost in the concept .... the concept which includes the notion that we've seen it all before ... we know this thing, we know this concept .. and therefore are barely alive to what we experience, as it passes us by, as we rush to the next high, the next experience?

Delighting in the immediate .. delighting in experience, direct and simple .... what a joy that is :-)

And how different that is from being lost in our concepts ... our understanding .. our explanation of what we experience.

All phenomena are dreams.

When we look deeply, we see that these 'understandings' of things that we have .. these concepts and ideas with which we make sense of things ..... they are dreamlike and illusory, in comparison with the sense impressions we have .... and the emotions which arise on them. Yet we spend our lives grasping after them, and acting on them ... as the sense impressions slip away, forgotten and un-noticed.

Utterly habitual, and beyond the normal person's control. Only though the process of sustained awareness, of cultivating awareness, and seeing through our experience for what it is .... do we see that we've swapped the vividness and aliveness of what is ... our sense impressions and simple emotions .... and grasped after our complex ideas with all their 'castles built on sand' quality.

and yet .. and yet .... looking deeper still at these sense impressions .... where are they?

For sure they seem to arise ... in experience .. and vivid too.

Can we doubt that they seem to arise .. so fresh and alive they are to our minds?

And yet .. and yet .... where are they ... as we search for them ... how do we touch them in our minds ..... to grasp them .. or hold them .. .they just slip away too as dreams. Looking deeply, all sense impressions just slip away through our fingers. The act of looking dissolves them into mist.

Where are these direct sense impressions then, that we'd swapped for illusory concepts?

Like mirages too .... like dreams and illusions ... these impressions slip away before the light of awareness.

And yet ... they seem to arise.

Seeming to arise in experience, yet not to be found.

Seeing one ... we see the other ... inseparable. Seeming arising ..... and emptiness.

Seeming experience, yet lack of any solidity to it.

All phenomena are like dreams.

Concepts, sense impressions all .... untouchable, ungraspable, open and cannot-be-pinned-down-ness ......

yet seemingly there in extraordinary vividness and clarity.

The more I let go of concepts, the more vivid and clear experience becomes. And the more transparent too.

Vivid and Transparent .....


Luminous Emptiness.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Use the Blade to Cut the Blade

From a post to a Dharma List:

Is desire the same as attachment? Most translations of Buddhist terms will use craving or attachment interchangeably. They both are used for when we take an object and exaggerate the positive qualities of that object, and as a result, we feel a neurotic desire to have or possess that thing, whether mental or physical.

Footprint of the Buddha - however, you see these two terms used slightly differently. Sometimes attachment is used to refer to the stage of grasping (Upadana) in the 12 Nidanas, or 12 stages of dependent
arising. So attachment is seen as the next step on from craving (Tanha). Craving is the original desire for something, and craving is the act of moving towards that object, the action on that initial impulse in order to make it yours. That action results in the clinging on to existence or becoming.

Further to that .... both craving and ill-will are sometimes described as forms of attachment. In this context, attachment can be either the movement to pull something towards you *or* the movement to push something away. Either way, we are caught up with the object, as it were. So in that context, attachment includes desire and ill-will, rather than desire as distinct from ill-will.

But is all craving really bad? What about the desire to help others? This is indeed a very interesting question! After all, how could be follow a path, the path of Dharma, without having some sort of desire towards the goal of the path! If the goal of the path wasn't attractive, and we didn't desire it on some level, then what would impel us to move towards it, and make all the necessary efforts to attain that goal? Similarly, how could we help others without *wanting* to help them?

I was reflecting that there are a number of things going on here. One is that we refine our motivations throughout the path. In the beginning we are filled with desire. And our desire towards the Dharma is perhaps little different to that towards any other object. We grasp at it, and are very attached to it. In a sense, it is another set of clothing for our ego. It's perhaps what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to call 'Spiritual Materialism'.

We might be very attached to going on retreat, for example, or classes, or other things, and overlook the fact that we don't do the fair share of the washing up, or cooking and leave it conveniently to our partner.

We might be overly precious about Dharma objects, and actually respond to them with desire and attachment, rather than genuine devotion.

However, over the course of time, and practice, we gradually transform our minds and actions, and gradually we find that we are less attached, and more able to act from love and compassion and generosity. As such, there's less 'me' in all our actions. There's less concern for what we get out of it, and more concern for others. Beyond that, we become less concerned in a sense for others (in the sense of still seeing them as distinct objects) and just do what needs to be done ... just act, but without the sense of an 'I', an 'other', or the 'action'.

Along the way, we refine out the sense of self (and selfishness) and so our 'desires' if you call it that are more and more freed up from craving in the sense of trying to get something to make our sense of self feel better, or to validate its existence.

I think it's good to recognise that in the early days our motivations (which is what creates karma) is always going to be mixed. There'll always be a bit of 'me' in there amongst our concern for others. We don't need to beat up on ourselves for that, for not being perfect straight away .... isn't just how it is ... it's just where we are starting from. But, over time, those motivations will change if we practice correctly. And then we'll be less concerned with ourselves, our actions will be less impure and tainted by egotistic concerns, and we'll act more and more from love, compassion and generosity.

So we use the blade to cut the blade. We use desire ... our desire to walk the path, to attain to Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings .... we use that desire to bring about the transcending of our own little desires.

It does seem to me that it's useful to recognise that short of Buddhahood our actions are likely to have some 'me' in there somewhere. But, we have to act, and we have to travel the path. So we act as best we can, with the best motives we can, and trust that we will increasingly act from purer motives. To the extent that you desire something good for another, then you create good karma. To the extent that that desire is tainted by some sort of desire for our own self to gain out of that (perhaps by being seen to be 'good' or 'Buddhist'), then we create some mixed or even negative karma. But the extent to which there is no thought of 'I', 'Other' or 'action' at all (which is further down the path), then we create less karma at all, whether good or bad.

One of the epithets of the Buddha in the Pali Canon is 'he who leaves no track' i.e. he who creates no karma whatsoever.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Illusory Objects of Desire

I was reflection on the notion that attachment or desire is not just for objects, but also for our sense of self. We are not only attached to things of the material world, (and also to thoughts and emotions), but also to our sense of who we are too.

from of them we think of as existing in their own right, as being 'things' as it were.

Beyond this, we think of that 'thing' as having characteristics. And we typically exaggerate those characteristics of those things which we are attached to. We blow them out of proportion.

So there is the problem of not seeing something accurately in the sense of exaggerating its characteristics, whether that is of beauty, value etc. But deeper still goes the problem of actually thinking this thing is truly exist - it has a real existence with an enduring, unending lifespan.

Yet, as the teachings tell us, and we can see in our experience, nothing lasts, and nothing truly exists in that solid, unchanging sense as we believe. Everything that appears to our mind is like an illusion - it most certainly seems to appear, yet as we look for it, we cannot truly find it. It appears to abide nowhere, it appears to arise from nowhere, and we cannot see where it goes to. In short, it's an empty appearance.

So at root our desiring and grasping at things involves this miss recognition of how things actually exist.

The extent that we still feel there is an 'I' doing, a 'receiver' of our actions, and an 'action' itself, i.e. we haven't seen through the empty nature of all of these, then our actions will be tainted by ignorance, most likely manifest in desire and ill-will, and result in some karma.

But it's not an all or nothing. We start where we are .... and we do the best we can, and trust in the power of the path and teachings (and teachers) .... to allow us to develop and purify our actions .....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Covetousness - Craving

I was reflecting on covetousness, and the whole area of craving this morning. I was in particular wondering why my mind tends to focus in a particular way in relation to this. In a sense, it has a choice. It can either focus on what it has already got, or on what it is lacking or wants. Why is it that my mind so often gravitates towards what it feels it lacks?

This has been called the 'poverty mentality'. This is the sense that somehow, whatever we have in life, somehow we are lacking, or bereft. Whatever we've got, we seem to want more. However we are, we feel that something needs filling inside.

I noticed in my meditation this morning that thoughts about what I would do later that day, after meditation had close, were flitting up into consciousness. Why did I need to have 'goodies' lined up ahead of me. Why couldn't I let all of that just take care of itself, and reside where I was, content and at peace with how things are?

It was interesting reflecting on this later, as it struck me that this need to plan, to have stuff to do, to fill up my time, was symptomatic of this type of 'poverty mentality', where part of me focuses on what I feel I lack. It doesn't seem at all related to what I actually have, as I engage in this type of planning thoughts to fill my day irrespective of how well things are going, or what I've got. My craving in that sense seems to just be generic, to be a general pattern, regardless of my overall state of mind, or the state of my life.

Other times, I seems to reside in contentment, and this sort of neurotic craving is much abated. At those times, I seem filled with gratitude, and a sense of wonder at what is, and a true sense of appreciation. Yet even in the bliss of meditation, if I look deeply, there's still a small voice which yearns for more, which wants things to continue, or change, or somehow be arranged to a certain order.

So my mind can go either way, into contentment (relatively speaking), or this poverty mentality.

What else could be my general attitude with respect to covetousness?

One thing could be an appreciation of my Buddha Nature, of what my birthright is, as it were, and therefore a desire to generate positive mental states, and benefit for all beings. Rather than focus on what I am missing, or even what I have, I could focus on expanding my ability to walk the path, and transform myself and the world in the process.

In a way, that focus on the spiritual job at hand gets me out of either feeling I lack, or reviewing what I have got, and takes me into the realm of the lack of true existence of all appearances and phenomena. When I have this sense, that appearances are empty, them my craving and covetousness seems to totally drop away. So much so, that it seems impossible to imagine how such as covetousness could ever arise again. Of course it does arise again, as emptiness is only an experience for me, not a realisation. Yet for that time, I taste the world free of desire, and how blessed is that?

One of the interesting things for me at the moment with meditation, is remembering the perspective that invariably arises in the course of my meditation - that of how things are - bringing that into mind, in however residual a form, in the earlier parts of my meditation. It's always there, it's always timeless and part of what I am, yet often it seems lost to awareness, only to be discovered later in the meditation, as if newly discovered. Yet I can, if I incline, find the trace of that recognition, and bring that to the start of my meditation, so that meditation is more based on that recognition, a deepening of that recognition, rather than a path newly trod as it were.

Some ramblings and reflections on Covetousness .....