The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction however and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail. The Way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. In- deed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things. Live neither in the entanglements of outer things, not in inner feelings of emptiness. Be serene in the oneness of things and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity, your very effort fills you will activity. As long as you remain in one extreme or the other, you will never know Oneness. Those who do not live in the single Way, fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial. To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality. The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know. To return to the root is to find the meaning, but to pursue appearances is to miss the source. At the moment of inner Enlightenment there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness. The changes that appear to occur in the empty world we call real only because of our ignorance. Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions. Do not remain in the dualistic state, avoid such pursuits carefully. If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion. Although all dualities come from the One, do not be attached even to this One. When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, nothing in the world can offend, and when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way. When no discriminating thoughts arise, the old mind ceases to exist. When thought objects vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes, as when the mind vanishes, objects vanish. Things are objects because of the subject (mind); the mind (subject) is such be- cause of things (object). Understand the relativity of these two and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness. In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable and each contains in itself the whole world. If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine, you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion. To live in the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult, but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute: the faster they hurry, the slower they go, and clinging (attachment) cannot be limited: even to be attached to the idea of Enlightenment is to go astray. Just let things be in their own way and there will be neither coming nor going. Obey the nature of things (your own nature), and you will walk freely and undisturbed. When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden, for everything is murky and unclear and the burdensome practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness. What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations? If you wish to move in the One Way, do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas. Indeed, to accept them fully is identical with true Enlightenment. The wise man strives to no goals, but the foolish man fetters himself. There is one Dharma, not many; distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant. To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind is the greatest of all mistakes. Rest and un- rest derive from passion; with Enlightenment there is no liking and disliking. All dualities come from ignorant inference. They are like dreams or flowers in air: foolish to try to grasp them. Gain and loss, right and wrong: such thoughts must finally be abolished at once. If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease. If the mind makes no discriminations, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence. To understand the mystery of this One essence is to be released from all entanglements. When all things are seen equally, the timeless Self- essence is reached. No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state. Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion, both the movement and rest disappear. When such dualities cease to exist, Oneness itself cannot exist. To this ultimate finality, no law or description applies. For the unified mind in accord with the Way, all self-centered striving ceases. Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible. With a single stroke we are free from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing. All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind's power. Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value. In this world of Suchness, there is neither self nor other-than-self. To come directly into harmony with this reality, just simply say when doubt arises, "Not two." In this "not two" nothing is separate, nothing is excluded. No matter when or where, Enlightenment means entering this truth. And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space; in it a single thought is ten thousand years. Emptiness here, Emptiness there, but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes. Infinitely large and infinitely small; no difference, for definitions have vanished and no boundaries are seen. So too with Being and non-Being. Do not waste time in doubts and arguments that have nothing to do with this. One thing, all things: move among and intermingle, without distinction. To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection. To live in this faith is the road to non-duality. Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind. Words! The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.
the Journey Into Chan
Enter the heart of Chan practice
I. What is Chan?
Some people ask, "What is Chan?" The Buddhist sutra clearly states, "Chan is the mind of the Buddha; the Scripture is the mouth of the Buddha; the Precept is the body of the Buddha." Chan is the Buddha's mind. All of the Buddhist sutras and scriptures, i.e., the Twelve Canons in the Tripitaka, or the recorded words of the Buddha, as well as all of his actions, originate from this very mind. With the scientific advances of today, most people tend to revere or worship science without realizing that science is the crystallization of human wisdom. To generate wisdom, we need to have a mind of purity and clarity; the mind should be peaceful and serene, at ease and tranquil. The ancient sages have taught, "In simplicity we see our aspirations. In calmness we attain far-reaching realization." If we wish to have wisdom, we must maintain this mind of purity, clarity, and awareness.
Chan is the mind of the Buddha. When we study Buddhism and cultivate the Way, we must strive to walk with the Buddha. The ancients have reminded us,
No matter how high the mountain,
we aspire to reach it;
No matter how far the journey,
we aspire to walk it.
We admire those of lofty character
We follow them as far as we can;
Although it may not be attained,
Our mind can aspire to it.
Thus, we must learn from the Buddha's wisdom, compassion, samadhi (or concentration mastery), as well as his blessings and virtues, his countless merits, and his supernormal powers with their subtle, wondrous functions. Yet where do these qualities come from? They are generated by the mind. This mind is not the scattered mind that most people experience every day. It is not a mind of greed, hatred, ignorance, or pride; nor is it a mind of jealousy and vengeance. Then what kind of mind is it? It is the Chan mind, the true mind of the Buddha. Chan tells us how to obtain a mind of samadhi, purity, and awareness. Based on this understanding, Chan is wisdom, the wellspring of life. If we wish to have a meaningful and fulfilling life, we must use the methods of Chan practice to achieve the goal.
Chan is also right mindfulness, right samadhi. Right mindfulness is the mind that is free from delusions and confusion, and always in control. When this mind is lucid and pure, it has samadhi power and is at ease and free from vexations. Then our will, our spirit, and our wisdom will be of great help to us in all circumstances. On the other hand, if this mind is unstable and worrisome; if we do not understand the real principles of life; if we only see the riches before us; if we only pursue the mundane, or pursue extravagant and decadent pleasures, or pursue fame and fortune; this is an ordinary mundane existence, without much meaning. Why? Because living a life of material-grasping and pleasure-seeking and thinking that death is the end of it all is a misunderstanding of the true meaning of life and reality. Further, it is a life of superficiality and vanity. In contrast, if we realize that this mind harbors infinite wisdom and countless merits, then this mind is an endless treasure-house. When we recognize this principle and practice diligently, we can realize this Chan mind, and then this mind of ours is a pool of living water. At all times, our wisdom, all of our strength, and even all of our various merits are inexhaustible. Thus, this is a life filled with joy.
Chan is not lofty and unattainable. We only need to realize this very mind, our inherent Buddha nature; then, whether we are walking, sitting, sleeping, hauling wood, or carrying rice, we will realize that every action is Chan. As long as we let go of the mind's vexations, delusions, and attachments, that is Chan.
II. The Importance of Chan Practice
Practicing Chan can calm the body and mind and help us incorporate the Buddha's teaching into daily living to improve our lives. When we realize this mind, in all our actions, whether we are walking, staying, sitting, or lying down, we will be at ease. We will feel nothing lacking, have no delusive thoughts, and not be confused. It is like discovering a wide open road that we can walk firmly on forever.
Our vexations arise mainly because of the delusions that cloud or obscure our original mind. The aim of Chan practice is to realize this originally pure and lucid mind, and to realize that this pure and lucid mind is present at every moment. We will then be at ease. We will also realize that everyone possesses this inherent Buddha nature, and hence, we will not feel that we are insignificant or lacking or worthless.
In our present society, most people seek and emphasize material things. Unfortunately, no one gains satisfaction from these worldly pursuits. If we understand that Buddhism offers us another possibility, another world of the spirit, then no matter whether we are rich or poor, noble or lowly, we will understand that vexations can be transformed to Bodhi, which is awakening or enlightenment, and that peace and stability of body and mind is available to everyone.
When people with high receptiveness can understand Buddhism, they can use their minds of compassion to help all sentient beings and use wisdom to serve society. If those who are less receptive can understand Buddhism, their minds will be free from vexations and envy. People in our present society often have feelings of envy and hatred. When they see others with wealth and power, their minds tend to lose their equanimity. If they can understand the Buddhist principle of causality, realize this clear, pure original mind, and constantly abide in this mind, they can serve society without discriminating between self and others. Purity and clarity of the mind are true wealth. The mind is filled with endless merits and treasures.
Chan practice enables us to understand that the inner realm of the mind is our true refuge and that we no longer need to seek blindly for external things such as fame and fortune, and also practicing Chan facilitates the awareness that we no longer need to envy others. When we reach this understanding, then we can fully manifest our inner compassion and wisdom. If people from all levels of society have this understanding in common, we will have peace and stability in this world.
Because most people have vexations and delusive thoughts clouding their minds, they do not experience higher spiritual understanding. If we can let go and eradicate our vexations and sever our attachments, then this mind will be like a pool of still water, unperturbed by the slightest wind. It will be like a mirror unstained by any impurities and at this time one truly experiences true wisdom and supernormal powers because supernormal powers and true wisdom cannot be sought from the outside, they are the mind's original ability. This mind harbors infinite wisdom and power. Chan practice seeks to discover this hidden wisdom and power. As the Chan patriarchs have said, "Realizing the mind is seeing the true nature; seeing the true nature is becoming a Buddha." If we can let go and get rid of our vexations such as greed, anger, ignorance, and pride, and thus uncover our inherent wisdom, then we will turn knowledge into wisdom and realize perfect enlightenment. After vexations are eradicated, the mind becomes calm and tranquil; the body naturally becomes healthy. When we practice in this direction-toward discovering our inherent wisdom-it is the Way; it is Chan. Chan is samadhi, perfect absorption; it is right concentration; it is what the Diamond Sutra refers to as the "mind of non-abidance." When this mind becomes peaceful and tranquil, being at ease and like a pool of still water, that is the true meaning of Chan practice.
III. The Wondrous Functions of Chan
The Chan patriarchs have said, "Hauling wood and carrying rice, this is no different from the wondrous function of supernormal powers." This is truly realizing the Chan mind. Chan is like the water's source. When we find this source, this water is inexhaustible. This is living water; it is not stagnant. When we discover our original mind, it is like discovering the water's source.
The inherent wisdom and merits in the minds of sentient beings are exactly the same as those in the Buddha. The Buddhist sutra states, "It is not a bit more in the sage, nor a bit less in the ordinary person." When one becomes a Buddha or Bodhisattva, this mind does not increase the least bit. In all sentient beings, even in insects and animals, this original nature is not decreased the least bit. If we wish to open up this mind that has long been entrapped by our defilements, we must follow a method. The Buddhist sutra says that there are 84,000 dharma doors. It is like having 84,000 keys. Each person's mind is imprisoned by different defilements. Therefore, we need 84,000 different keys to open the doors of our distinct minds. When we understand this principle, we realize that it is worthwhile for everyone to seek the truths of Buddhism. The meaning of Chan lies in purifying and elevating this very mind-from opposites to the absolute, from a coarse mind to a fine mind. The Buddhist sutra says, "The mind of a sentient being is the coarse within the coarse, the Bodhisattva's mind is the fine within the coarse, the Buddha's mind is the fine within the fine.," Because it is the fine within the fine, the Buddha's mind can understand clearly every problem.
Most people do not know how to use this mind. The Doctrine of the Mean states, "When we unleash the mind, it contains the whole world; when we constrict the mind, it becomes hidden." This means that when we open up our mind, it contains the whole dharma realm, the whole universe. When we constrict our mind, no one can find it-thieves cannot steal it, robbers cannot seize it. The Buddhadharma also says, "When we expand our mind, it contains the whole world, when we constrict it, it is only a dust mote." The wondrous working of the mind is indeed unfathomable. When this mind is awakened, it is Buddha; when it is deluded, it is a sentient being; when erroneous views arise, then it is Mara or the devil. If we understand this principle, we not only can become the "master of the country," but the "master of the whole universe." Then, isn't our life in this world filled with great blessings and honor? When we think this way, our mind is indeed at rest, and life becomes more fulfilling and meaningful. This is the doctrine of Chan.
The famous poet Tao YuanMing wrote the following poem:
Living simply in the mundane world,
Yet not hearing the clamor of horse and carriage,
I ask you how one achieves this:
[You reply] when the mind is unattached,
This place is naturally secluded.
I gather chrysanthemums beneath the Eastern arbor
And leisurely view the Southern mountains.
The atmosphere of the mountain is beautiful at dawn and dusk;
Flying birds return in succession:
There is true meaning here;
Wishing to describe it one is at a loss for words.
This poem describes the realm of Chan. What is the "atmosphere of the mountain" spoken of here? What is the "flying bird"? The flying bird is the freedom of this mind and the atmosphere of the mountain is the sphere of this mind. "There is true meaning here"-true meaning is the True Mind spoken by the Buddha, it is the mind at ease. "Wishing to describe it one is at a loss for words" means that when we try to speak about it we lose its meaning, yet it does not restrain us from attempting to describe it.
There is both a profound and simple meaning in Chan. The simple implies a lower level of understanding; the profound a higher level. It is like going to school-from kindergarten to elementary school, all the way up to college; it also involves different levels of comprehension. The ancients have taught, "A hundred great enlightenments, a thousand small enlightenments." This teaching denotes the levels of the enlightened mind and the various breakthroughs in the understanding of life and universe.
How can we harmonize the mind with the environment? That is exactly what Chan can help us to do. When we are awakened to Chan, we will be in perfect harmony and be at ease at all times. Whether we are hauling wood or carrying rice, receiving or sending off guests, every act is the Way. Although our outer environment undergoes myriad changes and transformations, our mind's realm always dwells in suchness and is always knowing and clear. This is the subtle, wondrous function of Chan.
These days there are people who go to temples just to seek help from the Four-sided Buddha. People have heard that the Four-sided Buddha is very responsive; therefore they vie with each other to go and pay respect to him. Think about it. Where is the Four-sided Buddha? We should know that all Buddhas are equal. All dharmas are equal. Amitabha Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, Medicine Buddha, and even all Buddhas of the ten directions are all the same; their wisdom, supernormal powers, merits and blessings, samadhi, and compassion, are all at the highest level. When you understand the mind of Chan, you will be able to observe and understand even the tiniest things in the world. If you can do this, you are now the Four-sided Buddha. This is what the broad meaning of Chan implies.
Yet with respect to the narrow definition of Chan, it is this very mind. For example, if we chant the Buddha's name until the mind becomes unperturbed, that is Chan. Chanting the sutras, the mantras, practicing concentration and meditation, studying Chan, these are all different methods; they are meant to help us to turn our conceptual understanding to nondualistic wisdom, to unify body and mind, and to arrive at the realm of the absolute of this very mind.
No matter whether the meaning is broad or narrow, Chan cannot be separate from this very mind. If we do not deviate from our original nature and are masters of our minds at all times, then this is precisely the wondrous manifestation of Chan.
Following the example of the Buddha, the Buddhist tradition has generally rejected asceticism as an extreme practice that has no benefit. People should follow the Buddhist path in order to transcend suffering, and so it makes no sense in a Buddhist context to seek liberation through painful practices.
Asceticism in its various forms is basically painful;
And, at best, the reward of asceticism is heaven.
But all the worlds are prone to change,
And so the efforts of the hermitages are of little use.
Those who forsake the relatives they love and their pleasures
To perform asceticism and win a place in heaven
Must leave it in the end
And go to greater bondage.
A person who tortures the body and calls it asceticism
In the hope of continuing to satisfy desire
Does not understand the evils of rebirth,
And through much suffering goes to further suffering.
All living sentient beings are afraid of death
And yet they all strive to be born again;
Since they act in this way, death is inevitable,
And they are plunged in that which they most fear.
Some suffer hardship for mere worldly gain;
Others will take to asceticism in hope of heaven.
All beings fail in their hopeful search for happiness
And fall, poor wretches, into great trouble.
Not that the effort is to be blamed which leaves
The lower and seeks the higher aim.
But wise people should work with an equal effort
To reach the goal where further work is not needed.
If it is proper to torture the body
Then the body's ease is contrary to what is proper;
Thus if, by doing what is proper, joy is obtained in a future life
Dharma must flower in non-dharma.
The body is commanded by the mind,
Through mind it acts, through mind it ceases to act.
All that is needed is to subdue the mind,
For the body is a log of wood without it....
Those who try to purify their deeds
By bathing at a place which they hold sacred
Merely give their hearts some satisfaction,
For water will not purify people's wrong-doing.
Heart Jewel of the Fortunate"
Dudjom Rinpoche's Personal Advice
on Dzogchen Praxis
Taken from Counsels from My Heart by Dudjom Rinpoche
Shambhala: Boston, 2001
Homage to my teacher!
The Great Master of Oddiyana once said:
Don't investigate the root of things,
Investigate the root of Mind!
Once the mind's root has been found,
You'll know one thing, yet all is thereby freed.
But if the root of Mind you fail to find,
You will know everything but nothing
When you start to meditate on your mind, sit up with your body straight, allowing your breath to come and go naturally. Gaze into the space in front of you with eyes neither closed nor wide open. Think to yourself that for the sake of all beings who have been your mothers, you will watch awareness, the face of Samantabhadra. Pray strongly to your root teacher, who is inseparable from Padmasambhava, the Guru from Oddiyana, and then mingle your mind with his. Settle in a balanced, meditative state.
Once you are settled, however, you will not stay long in this empty, clear state of awareness. Your mind will start to move and become agitated. It will fidget and run here, there, and everywhere, like a monkey. What you are experiencing at this point is not the nature of the mind but only thoughts. If you stick with them and follow them, you will find yourself recalling all sorts of things, thinking about all sorts of needs, planning all sorts of activities. It is precisely this kind of mental activity that has hurled you into the dark ocean of samsara in the past, and there's no doubt it will do so in the future. It would be so much better if you could cut through the ever spreading, black delusion of your thoughts.
What if you are able to break out of your chain of thoughts? What is awareness like? It is empty, limpid stunning, light, free, joyful! It is not something bounded or demarcated by its own set of attributes. There is nothing in the whole of samsara and nirvana that it does not embrace. From time without beginning, it is within us, inborn. We have never been without it, yet it is wholly outside the range of action, effort, and imagination.
But what, you will ask, is it like to recognize awareness, the face of rigpa? Although you experience it, you simply cannot describe it - it would be like a dumb man trying to describe his dreams! It is impossible to distinguish between yourself resting in awareness and the awareness you are experiencing. When you rest quite naturally, nakedly, in the boundless state of awareness, all those speedy, pestering thoughts that would not stay quiet even for an instant - all those memories, all those plans that cause you so much trouble - lose their power. They disappear in the spacious, cloudless sky of awareness. They shatter, collapse, vanish. All their strength is lost in awareness.
You actually have this awareness within you. It is the clear, naked wisdom of dharmakaya. But who can introduce you to it? On what should you take your stand? What should you be certain of? To begin with, it is your teacher who shows you the state of your awareness. And when you recognize it for yourself, it is then that you are introduced to your own nature. All the appearances of both samsara and nirvana are but the display of your own awareness; take your stand upon awareness alone. Just like the waves that rise up out of the sea and sink back into it, all thoughts that appear sink back into awareness. Be certain of their dissolution, and as a result you will find yourself in a state utterly devoid of both meditator and something meditated upon - completely beyond the meditating mind.
"Oh, in that case," you might think, "there's no need for meditation." Well, I can assure you that there is a need! The mere recognition of awareness will not liberate you. Throughout your lives from beginningless time, you have been enveloped in false beliefs and deluded habits. From then till now you have spent every moment as a miserable, pathetic slave of your thoughts! And when you die, it's not at all certain where you will go. You will follow your karma, and you will have to suffer. This is the reason why you must meditate, continuously preserving the sate of awareness you have been introduced to. The omniscient Longchenpa has said, "You may recognize your own nature, but if you do not meditate and get used to it, you will be like a baby left on a battlefield: you'll be carried off by the enemy, the hostile army of your own thoughts!" In general terms, meditation means becoming famiIiar with the state of resting in the primordial uncontrived nature, through being spontaneously, naturally, constantly mindful. It means getting used to leaving the state of awareness alone, divested of all distraction and clinging.
How do we get used to remaining in the nature of the mind? When thoughts come while you are meditating, let them come; there's no need to regard them as your enemies. When they arise, relax in their arising. On the other hand, if they don's arise, don't be nervously wondering whether or not they will. Just rest in their absence. If big, well-defined thoughts suddenly appear during your meditation, it is easy to recognize them. But when slight, subtle movements occur, it is hard to realize that they are there until much later. This is what we call namtok wogyu, the undercurrent of mental wandering. This is the thief of your meditation, so it is important for you to keep a close watch. If you can be constantly mindful, both in meditation and afterward, when you are eating, sleeping, walking, or sitting, that's it - you've got it right!
The great master Guru Rinpoche has said:
A hundred things may be explained,
a thousand told,
But one thing only should you grasp.
Know one thing and everything is freed-
Remain within your inner nature,
It is also said that if you do not meditate, you will not gain certainty: if you do, you will. But what sort of certainty? If you meditate with a strong, joyful endeavor, signs will appear showing that you have become used to staying in your nature. The fierce, tight clinging that you have to dualistically experienced phenomena will gradually loosen up, and your obsession with happiness and suffering, hopes and fears, and so on, will slowly weaken. Your devotion to the teacher and your sincere trust in his instructions will grow. After a time, your tense, dualistic attitudes will evaporate and you will get to the point where gold and pebbles, food and filth, gods and demons, virtue and nonvirtue, are all the same for you-you'll be at a loss to choose between paradise and hell! But until you reach that point (while you are still caught in the experiences of dualistic perception), virtue and nonvirtue, buddhafields and hells, happiness and pain, actions and their results - all this is reality for you. As the Great Guru has said, "My view is higher than the sky, but my attention to actions and their results is finer than flour."
So don't go around claiming to be some great Dzogchen meditator when in fact you are nothing but a farting lout, stinking of alcohol and rank with lust!
It is essential for you to have a stable foundation of pure devotion and samaya, together with a strong, joyful endeavor that is well balanced, neither too tense nor too loose. If you are able to meditate, completely turning aside from the activities and concerns of this life, it is certain that you will gain the extraordinary qualities of the profound path of Dzogchen. Why wait for future lives? You can capture the primordial citadel right now, in the present.
This advice is the very blood of my heart. Hold it close and never let it go!
Counsels from my Heart, Dudjom Rinpoche. Chapter 7.
Jewel Rosary of an Awakening Warrior
Byang-chub-sems-dpa' nor-bu'i phreng-ba
the great Indian pandit
Homage to great compassion.
Homage to all spiritual masters.
Homage to the deities of devotion.
Abandon all doubts and cherish
exertion for accomplishing the practice.
Abandon sleepiness, dullness and laziness
and always exert enthusiastic effort.
5 With recollection, alertness and watchfulness
always guard every door of the senses.
Three times during the day and night, again and again
investigate your mental continuum.
Proclaim your own faults
10 and seek not mistakes in others.
Hide your own good qualities
but proclaim the good qualities of others.
Reject acquisitions and honours
and always reject desire for fame.
15 Desire little, be content
and repay acts of kindness.
Meditate on love and compassion
and stabilize the awakening mind.
Avoid the ten unwholesome actions
20 and always stabilize your faith.
Conquer anger and arrogance
and possess a humble mind.
Avoid wrong livelihoods
and live a life of truth (dharma).
25 Abandon all worldly possessions
and be adorned by the gems of superiors.
Abandon all frivolities
and abide in solitude.
Abandon all senseless talk
30 and always control your speech.
When seeing your master or teacher
perform services with respect.
Towards a person having the eye of the doctrine
and towards sentient beings who are beginners
35 develop the recognition of them as teachers.
When seeing any sentient beings, develop
the recognition of them as parents and children.
Abandon misleading friends
and rely on virtuous spiritual companions.
40 Abandon minds of anger and unhappiness
and wherever you go be happy.
Abandon attachment to everything
and abide free from attachment.
Attachment will never procure you a happy rebirth;
45 it kills the life of liberation.
Wherever you see practices (leading to) happiness,
always exert effort in them.
Whatever you have started to do,
accomplish that very thing first.
50 Do everything well in this way,
otherwise nothing will be achieved.
Always be apart from liking evil.
Whenever a pompous mind arises,
flatten such arrogance.
55 Recall the teachings of your master.
When a cowardly mind arises,
praise the sublimity of the mind.
Whenever objects of attraction or aversion arise,
meditate on the emptiness of both;
60 view them as illusions and emanations.
When hearing any offensive words,
view them as an echo.
When your body is afflicted by harm,
view this as your previous actions.
65 Abide well in solitude, beyond town limits,
like the corpses of wild game.
Be by yourself, conceal yourself
and dwell without attachment.
Always stabilize (awareness of) your yidam and,
70 whenever laziness or lassitude arise,
enumerate these faults to yourself
and feel remorse from your heart.
If you see others,
speak calmly and sincerely.
75 Avoid a wrathful and frowning expression
and always remain cheerful.
When seeing others, continuously
be pleased to give without being miserly.
Discard all jealousy.
80 To protect the mind of another,
avoid all conflict
and always have patience.
Do not be a flatterer or fickle,
but always be capable of remaining steadfast.
85 Avoid belittling others and
remain respectful in your manners.
When giving advice to others,
have compassion and thoughts for their benefit.
Do not disparage spiritual doctrines
90 and be intent on whichever you admire.
Through the door of the ten dharma practices,
exert an effort throughout both day and night.
Whatever virtues are collected during the three times,
dedicate them for the unsurpassable great awakening.
95 Distribute your merit for all sentient beings.
Always offer the seven-limbed prayer
and great aspirations for the path.
If you act in this way, the two accumulations
of merit and wisdom will be accomplished.
100 Also, with the eradication of the two obscurations,
thus fulfilling the purpose of having gained a human form,
unsurpassable full awakening will be achieved.
The gem of faith, the gem of ethics,
the gem of generosity, the gem of hearing,
105 the gem of consideration,
the gem of shame and the gem of intelligence:
these are the seven supreme gems.
These seven gems are never exhausted.
Do not tell this to non-humans.
110 Examine your speech when amidst many people.
Examine your mind when living alone.
This has been composed by the Indian master Dipamkara Shrijnana, the Glorious
Illuminator, the Essence of Primordial Awareness.
Translated from the Tibetan by Sherpa Tulku and Brian Beresford, for Wisdom
Nine Stages of Training the Mind
by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
As the lineage of meditators sat on their cushions and worked with their minds, they saw the same unfolding process: nine ways that the mind can be true to its inherent stability, clarity and strength. In their descriptions of nine stages of training the mind through the practice of shamatha meditation, or "peaceful abiding," they left us signposts of that process. These guidelines are helpful because the mind is so vast that if we're left to our own devices, we'll usually just wander in thought. These nine stages are a map of the meditative process.
The first four stages-placement, continual placement, repeated placement and close placement-have to do with developing stability. Stages five and six-taming and pacifying-have to do with developing clarity. And the last three stages-thoroughly pacifying, one-pointed and equanimity-have to do with building strength.
Placing our mind on the breath is the first thing we do in meditation. In the moment of placing our mind, it's like we're mounting a horse: we put our foot in the stirrup and pull ourselves up to the saddle. It's a matter of taking our seat properly.
This moment of placement starts when we extract our mind from its engagement with events, problems, thoughts and emotions. We take that wild and busy mind and place it on the breath. Even though we're placing our consciousness, which isn't physical, placement feels very physical. It's as deliberate as placing a rock on top of a leaf.
In order for placement to be successful, we have to formally acknowledge that we're letting go of concepts, thoughts and emotions: "Now I'm placing my mind upon the breath." What happens in that moment? Our attachments are uprooted. If we can even attempt such a thing, our discursiveness is greatly reduced. At the same time, by placing it on the breath, we're gathering the mind that's spread thin all over.
For beginning meditators the first stage is where we learn how to balance the focus on breathing, recognition of thoughts and holding the posture. It's a grace period during which we develop good meditation habits. As we continue in our practice, placement is always the first step. It's that moment at the beginning of each session when we recognize and acknowledge that we've begun meditating. Because it establishes our attitude toward the rest of the session, it's the most important stage. The moment of placement gives our meditation a crisp, clean start. If we begin in a vague or ambiguous way, then our meditation will only continue to be vague and ambiguous. Like placing a domino, how carefully we place our mind in the first stage will directly affect the development of the next.
After that first moment, each time you choose to recognize and acknowledge a thought and return your consciousness to the breath, you're learning placement. It's such a small act, so innocuous, but it's one of the most courageous things you can do. When you recognize and release that thought, you can take pride in yourself. You've overcome laziness. You've remembered the instructions. You can feel happy coming back to the breath. Don't worry that you're going to have to do it again-you're going to do it thousands of times. That's why this is called practice.
Each time you remember to place your mind on the breath, you're moving forward. Just by letting a thought go, you're extracting yourself from concepts, negative emotions and bewilderment. You're letting go of the need to be endlessly entertained and consumed. You have to do it again and again and again. Change happens one breath at a time, one thought at a time. Each time you return to the breath, you're taking one step away from addiction to discursiveness and fear and one step forward on the path of enlightenment, beginning with developing compassion for yourself.
I love golf. I play it whenever I can. No matter what kind of game I'm having, I can hit only one ball at a time. Each ball is the only ball; my mind has to be fresh every time. If I think of the balls I've hit or the balls I will hit, I'm not really hitting this ball. I'm only ingraining bad habits. It's the same with placement. If you're not crisp and fresh in recognizing and releasing thoughts, you're not really meditating; you're ingraining sloppiness. Those thoughts will gain power, and eventually you won't be meditating at all. You'll just be thinking.
Recognizing, acknowledging and releasing a thought is like reaching the top of a mountain. It's worthy of the warrior's cry, "Ki ki so so!" What we celebrate is leaving behind the self-indulgent fantasies that will rob us of our life unless we work with them properly. Inspiration, view, effort, trust, mindfulness and awareness support us in this.
The more we're able to gather our attention and focus, the stronger our mind becomes, the stronger the experience becomes and the stronger the result becomes. We know we're able to place our minds properly when we can hold our focus on the breathing for roughly twenty-one cycles without our mind becoming enormously distracted.
Placing our mind on the breath is now fairly easy. We've learned to mount the horse, and now we feel comfortable being in the saddle. The horse is walking along the trail. We're experiencing how it feels to be on the breath, to be continually in placement. When discursiveness and distraction take us off the trail, by and large we're able to implement placement and get back on. What allows us to do this-continual placement-is further development of mindfulness and awareness, lack of laziness and remembering the instructions.
Another reason we're able to successfully place our mind on the breath is that we have confidence in the reasons why we're meditating. We do it with enthusiasm because we know it will bring us peace. We see the futility of outside concerns, fantasies, thoughts and emotions. We're willing to give them up at least for the period of our meditation because we see the benefits of doing so. Placement has become a reasonable thing to do.
When resting our mind on the breathing and relating to our thoughts with ease becomes the norm, we're coming to the end of this stage. A benchmark is that we're about to rest our minds for roughly 108 cycles of the breath without being caught in distraction. Through 108 breaths, in and out, we can be mindful of the breathing. Although we may experience some discursiveness, the thoughts aren't bothersome or large enough that we lose mindfulness and forget the breathing altogether.
At this stage our mindfulness and stability last only so long; then our mind drifts off. But when the mainstay of our practice is that we can stay on the breathing for 108 breaths, giving ourselves a little wiggle room in that we will be neither completely still nor completely distracted. Then we've graduated from the second to the third stage, which is known as repeated placement.
We might feel like we have been doing repeated placement since the beginning. But the landscape of meditation is vast, and the stages progressively subtle, because they describe our experience, which becomes more and more refined. The Tibetan word for this stage is len, which means to retrieve, to gather, to bring back. We've learned how to place our mind and how to continue to place our mind, but occasionally a thought still breaks out like a wild horse galloping across the plains. In the first two stages this happened incessantly. By the third stage it happens only occasionally.
During the second stage, we learned to enjoy the ride. We're delighted that we can stay in the saddle and enjoy the scenery. In the third stage we become more confident. But the horse will have spontaneous moments of excitement and wildness. Now and then it rears or bucks or leaves the trail. We have to bring it back. We practice occasionally retrieving it throughout the third stage, and by the end we do it less and less. Our mindfulness is maturing into stability.
Now we're able to focus on our breathing, on being present. When the mind departs, it's usually to chase fantasies of little pleasures, from food to better weather to romantic adventures. This is elation: we're holding our mind too tightly. We're focused on the breath so hard that the mind suddenly departs. As this stage progresses, the speed and efficiency with which we retrieve our mind increases. By comparison, the way we extracted ourselves from thoughts in earlier stages looks messy. Sometimes it was like quicksand-the harder we tried to get out, the more we were embroiled. But now, because mindfulness is so strong, we're able to remove ourselves with precision. By the end of this stage we've achieved one of the milestones of shamatha: stability. Mindfulness is so potent that we're able to remain on the breath without ever being fully distracted. Awareness is also becoming more astute. We're beginning to catch thoughts before they occur.
Our meditation isn't as clear and vibrant as it could be, but it feels good and peaceful because we've stabilized our minds. Throughout the course of a session, our mind always remains in the theater of meditation. This is an admirable accomplishment. In Tibet it is likened to a vulture soaring high in the sky over a dead animal. This bird now always keeps its eye on the food. It may drift a little to the left or right, but it never loses sight of the food. Similarly our minds may drift here and there, but never away from the breath.
Before the end of the third stage, sometimes we were present for our practice and sometimes we weren't. Now we're there for all of it. This is stability. It didn't happen because we hit ourselves over the head with an overly simplified meditation technique. We achieved it gently and precisely through repetition, consistency, view, attitude, intention, proper posture and good surroundings.
The entry to the fourth stage, which is known as close placement, is marked by nondistraction. We always remain close to the breath. That's when we know we've crossed the border. This is stability. We know that even though the horse will wander here and there, it won't be leaving the trail.
Our meditation now takes on a different twist. Previously our main concern was not to be distracted from the breath. We were worried that our mind was going to be sucked back into everyday problems. We were always wondering if we'd be strong enough to return to the breath. Now we're more relaxed. We're no longer wondering if we can stay on the breath because we know we can. We're no longer concerned about outside influences pulling us away from meditation because we know they won't. Our confidence is heightened. Now we're concerned about the quality of our meditation-the texture, the experience. Before we were worried that we couldn't get a cup of coffee; now we want a mocha cappuccino. How can we make our minds stronger, more vibrant? This is our new priority.
By and large, we've overcome the obstacles of laziness and forgetting the instructions. These obstacles were bad because they kept us from meditating. By the end of the third stage and into the fourth stage we're dealing with the obstacles of elation and laxity. Either extreme has distracting results. However, since by now we're always remaining at the scene of our practice, these are considered good problems to have.
In Tibet we're warned that at the fourth stage we might be fool enough to think we've achieved enlightenment or high realization-the mind feels so strong and stable and good. Because the struggle with our mind has been reduced greatly, there's a quality of joy and ease. But if we enjoy the stability of the mind too much, it will become too relaxed. We might not reach the other stages. Hence the obstacle of laxity. Our mind is stable but not clear. The bird can't land on the meat; it can only fly around it. We need awareness to hone in, sharpen sensibility, pull our mind in tighter.
Even though the accomplishments at the third and fourth stages are heroic, there's further to go. In the fifth stage we're able to tighten up our meditation by bringing in more clarity. This stage is known as taming because we begin to experience the true fruits of a tamed mind, something that we began to cultivate long ago in the first stage. Taming here is the experience of lesu rungwa, being able to make our mind workable. In the fourth stage, we might still feel awed by the fact that we've tamed the horse. But now a strong, stable and clear mind feels natural. Our mind is not perfectly still. We still have discursive thoughts. But we're feeling true synergy with the horse. We're feeling harmony. We're no longer struggling.
The harmony and synergy create joy. A traditional metaphor for what we experience at this stage is the delight of a bee drawing nectar from a flower. Meditation tastes good, joyous. If you've ever had a hard time and then suddenly felt the pressure lift, you might have briefly known such bliss and liberation.
The sixth stage is known as pacifying. A great battle has taken place and there is victory. We're seated on the horse surveying the field. We know we've won. We feel tranquil and vibrant like mountain greenery after a thunderstorm. Everything has been watered and energized. There is tremendous clarity.
We're still working with a mind that is sometimes tight and sometimes loose. In our practice we still have to make many little adjustments. But in making these adjustments we're no longer frantic, as we might have been in the first few stages. Then it was questionable that we would ever make our mind an ally, and now the peace we feel tells us that we have. Our meditation is joyous and clear. We begin to experience not only mind's natural harmony, but also its inherent strength.
At this stage we also feel excitement. We begin to see the possibilities of what we can accomplish with our tamed mind. Before, this relationship was a burden, but now it's full of possibilities. The wild horse has been tamed.
The battle may be over, but there are still a few little enemy soldiers running around in the form of subtle thoughts, mostly about pleasure. We may be slightly attached to how good meditation feels. There are little dualistic rumblings. Although we know that they're not going to disrupt our meditation, we can't just sit back and ignore them. In thoroughly pacifying, we don't dispel the thoughts as we did in stage four. Now we seduce them, like snow falling into fire. Our meditation is becoming so strong that when thoughts and emotions encounter its heat they naturally dissolve.
Remember the waterfall of thoughts we felt when we first sat down on the cushion to tame our minds? It's become a lake with only a few little ripples.
By the eighth stage, known as one-pointed, the remnants of discursiveness have evaporated. We're sitting there completely awake, clear and knowing. This is possible because we're no longer distracted. Our meditation has developed all the attributes of perfection, which is what we will accomplish at the ninth stage. The only difference is that at the beginning of meditation we still have to make a slight effort to point our mind in the direction of the breath.
Our meditation has come to perfection. When we sit down we engage with the breath in a completely fluid and spontaneous manner. Our mind is strong, stable, clear and joyous. We feel a complete sense of victory. We could meditate forever. Even in the back of our mind, there are no traces of thoughts. We're in union with the present moment. Our mind is at once peaceful and powerful, like a mountain. There's a sense of equanimity.
This is perfection. Like a finely trained racehorse, our mind remains motionless but alive with energy. The mind has actually grown-in strength as well as size. We feel magnanimous, expansive. This is the fruition of peaceful abiding. Now we have a mind that is able to focus in any endeavor. We feel centered and confident.
SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE is holder of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage established by his father, the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., from Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. 2003 by Mipham J. Mukpo.
From Shambhala Sun, March 2003.
Sharp Sword of Prajna
by Judy Lief
Mahayana is referred to as "the great vehicle" of Buddhism because it is vast and challenging and open to everyone. At the heart of the mahayana path are compassion and wisdom, or prajna. For the practitioner, the challenge is how to bring these two together.
Prajna is a Sanskrit word literally meaning "best knowledge," or "best knowing." Prajna is a natural bubbling up of curiosity, doubt and inquisitiveness. It is precise, but at the same time it is playful. The awakening of prajna applies to all aspects of life, down to the tiniest details. Our inquisitive interest encompasses all levels, from the most mundane, such as how do I turn on this computer, up to such profound levels as, what is the nature of reality?
Prajna is symbolized in many ways: as a book, a sun, a vase of elixir, as a catalytic spark. One of the main ways prajna is symbolized is as a sword. When you think of a sword, it may make you feel a little uncomfortable. A sword can be dangerous and if you do not handle it properly, you can get hurt. So depicting prajna as a sword points to knowledge that's threatening.
Why is prajna threatening? Because prajna is the means by which we perceive emptiness, or shunyata, it undermines our very notion of reality and the limits we place on our world view. Opening to the vastness and profundity of shunyata requires us to let go of our petty-mindedness and self-clinging completely.
Many sutras deal with the topic of prajna. One of the most beloved is the extremely concise and elegant exposition known as the Heart Sutra, which is recited daily by Buddhists of many traditions. In such famed and provocative phrases as, "No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path no wisdom, no attainment, no nonattainment," the Heart Sutra, step by step, precisely and systematically-almost surgically-removes any and all barriers separating us from the vivid experience of shunyata.
The sharpness of prajna cuts at many levels. In the mundane sense, prajna represents a sharpening of perception and inquisitiveness. As we go about our lives, and particularly as we enter a spiritual path, we are always raising questions. We are always trying to understand. Instead of just accepting a superficial understanding, we think deeply and ask, "What do I really understand? Does any of this make any sense whatsoever?" Prajna has this quality of creative doubt-not just accepting things based on authority or hearsay, but continually digging deeper.
In addition to being sharp, swords have sharp points and they are able to puncture. The sharp-pointed sword of prajna punctures all sorts of delusions, all sorts of self-deception, all sorts of false understandings and false views. This puncturing quality of prajna is abrupt and immediate. It catches you by surprise. Perhaps you are a new practitioner exploring the dharma, studying these interesting new things and starting to practice meditation. Suddenly prajna sneaks up on you and you feel skewered. You are caught. Prajna has caught you in the act, whether it's the act of self-absorption, the act of being bloated, or the act of lying to yourself. Prajna is a lying-free zone. Whenever we try to remove ourselves from the present, immediate reality of things, we're setting ourselves up as a target for this puncturing quality of prajna.
You could say that prajna is a defense mechanism. If we keep bloating and bloating, at some point we are punctured by prajna and the whole thing collapses. That's good, but at the same time, this sharpness and puncturing quality can be seen as a threat. We are threatened by the possibility of being found out, but since prajna is our own inherent insight, who are we being found out by? By ourselves! It is not that someone else is going to say, "Oh, I know your number." Through prajna, deep down we actually know what's going on: we know our own number. To continue to fool ourselves takes effort. If we don't work to keep fooling ourselves, pretending that we don't really know what is going on, then sooner or later we are going to be skewered.
You could view all this as a bit of a warning: as soon as you enter the Buddhist path and start practicing meditation and studying the dharma, you are picking up this sword of prajna. Now that you have this sharp thing, this sword that skewers and cuts through ego trips of all sorts, you have to deal with it.
The sword of prajna has two sharp sides, not just one. It's a double-bladed sword, sharp on both sides, so when you make a stroke of prajna it cuts two ways. When you cut through deception, you are also cutting through the ego's taking credit for that. You're left nowhere, more or less.
The more mindfulness you develop, the more powerfully the sword of prajna cuts. Once you have this sword, it cuts every possibility of escape. But no one is doing this to you-it is your own intelligence, not some cosmic boogey man. The stroke of prajna is like hara-kiri. As you are holding the sword, you take your back stroke, getting ready to attack-and you find you've sliced yourself in two. Prajna never stops cutting. If you are pruning a plant, you can just say, "I'll just prune, prune, prune and then I'll have this little twig left over to grow back." But prajna keeps cutting and keeps cutting, so there's nothing left over, just this sword, slicing and slicing.
Prajna does not allow us to make a credential or ground out of anything. We could create credentials out of anything we do, including spirituality or the Buddhist tradition or the practice of meditation. We could use any of those things in our usual, conventional way of building credentials, building identity, trying to be special. We could say, "Now I'm a spiritual person who does blabbady-blah-blah." The response of prajna is, "Well, that's fine. You can say that, but you know that it doesn't hold a lot of water. You know that it's not all that solid." The sword of prajna cuts through our clinging to solid ground.
Another image for prajna is the sun: the sun of prajna is illuminating our world. If we're inquisitive, if we're attentive, a kind of natural illumination happens. There is light shining on the dark corners and a sense of being under the spotlight, totally exposed. What is funny is that we actually think we can hide. How could we think that? How could we think that we actually don't know who we are? But a lot of times we take the approach of not really wanting to look too closely at ourselves or at our lives. We just look the other way and move on. However, there's no corner where the sun of prajna isn't shining. Prajna is like having a sun shining all around, everywhere, never setting.
Once you open up to prajna, to this fundamental inquisitiveness, it tends to burst into full flame. It is like a little spark dropped into a pile of dry leaves. Once there is that little spark, that little bit of insight, that little bit of suspicion we actually know more than we think we do-it explodes, it's all consuming.
Prajna is represented iconographically by the feminine deity Prajnaparamita and the masculine deity Manjushri. Prajnaparamita is depicted as a beautiful feminine deity with four arms. Two arms are folded on her lap in the classic posture of meditation, and her two other arms hold a sword and a book. Through these gestures, she manifests three aspects of prajna: academic knowledge, cutting through deception, and direct perception of emptiness.
As the masculine deity personifying knowledge, Manjushri is also depicted holding a sword. Sometimes he also holds a vase filled with the elixir of knowledge, which symbolizes direct intuitive insight. The sword is the activity of prajna and the vase is the receptive aspect of learning. Sometimes Manjushri holds a book and a flower. The book symbolizes scholarly learning and the flower represents the organic unfolding of prajna, which like a flower, naturally opens and blossoms. It does not need to be forced.
Prajna has to do with cultivating inquisitiveness of mind, cultivating deep understanding that is not a mere credential but transforms who we are altogether. How can prajna be cultivated? The process of deepening our understanding is referred to as the three levels of prajna, or the three prajnas. These are called hearing, contemplating, and meditating.
The first prajna, hearing, is based on being open to new information, gathering knowledge, and really trying to listen. Although it is called hearing, in addition to listening with one's ears, it also includes reading and observing through all our senses. When you hear the dharma or listen to the teachings, you are supposed to be like a deer in the woods. You hear a noise-footsteps on leaves-and you don't know if that noise is a hunter or a mountain lion. At that moment your senses perk up completely. You are focused and ready to leap from danger, if need be. You are absolutely alert and absolutely tuned into the environment. That quality of refined alertness and attention is the quality of hearing. You need to listen to the teachings as though your life depended on it. That is the proper way to go about the first prajna.
However, at this point, we see knowledge as something that's separate from us, an object out there that we are trying to figure out how to deal with. To go deeper, we turn to the second prajna, contemplating. Once we've heard or read or experienced something, contemplation means really chewing it over. We continually question what we have heard, looking at it from different angles, taking time to explore it. I remember my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, saying that if you really understand the teachings, you should be able to describe them to your grandmother in a way that she can hear it. That's pretty challenging-you can't just march in and lay out your cookie-cutter talk or your many layers of lists and terms. You have to have chewed things over and really thought it through. You need to get to the point where you can express the teachings in your own words, your own images. You need to find your voice, and that takes time. That is the idea of contemplation.
Studying the Buddhist teachings is not like going to school, where you take one course after another. In the Buddhist tradition, you take one or two things and you study them over and over and over. You take a topic and you come back to it and come back to it. You work with it your whole life. Over and over you come back to a few basic ideas, and each time there's a deepening of your understanding. The process of contemplation is a long-term relationship, like that of an old married couple. It does not happen quickly; it takes time.
The third prajna is called meditating. This is the point where you have studied something so thoroughly, looked into it so completely, that it's not separate from you anymore. It is part of who you are, down to your very bones and marrow. The prajna of meditation means that you have actually digested the teachings. There's no need to try to call the dharma down from somewhere, or make an effort to reconstruct it, because it's already there. It's in your cells and your DNA.
Hearing is like putting a morsel of food in your mouth. Contemplating is like swallowing that food and starting to digest it and seeing whether it gives you indigestion or not. Meditating is when you've already digested it and that food is a part of you. It cannot be separated from you; it is completely incorporated in your being. You have taken the essence and you've discarded anything that's irrelevant, the same as we do with the food we eat or the air we breathe. The whole process is as natural as eating.
Usually we think that knowledge means having all the answers, but the quality of prajna is more like having all the questions. The phrase Trungpa Rinpoche used over and over again was, "The question is the answer." We're looking in the wrong direction if we think some path or some teacher or some book or some practice is going to provide us with "the ultimate answer." What we really should be looking for is the ultimate question. We could learn to trust our questioning mind. We could learn to trust our insight without reducing it or pinning it down into our conventional categories. In fact, prajna can't be pigeonholed. That would be like trying to put the sun into a pigeonhole. It simply doesn't work.
What is this knowledge that can't be possessed, that we can't hold, that isn't our credentials, that isn't an object? What is this knowledge that seems to only appear when we're not trying to grasp it? What is that knowledge that seems to come from nowhere? What is this knowledge that is inspiring, but at the same time threatening? What is this knowledge that challenges us to recognize what we know but prefer to keep buried? What is this penetrating insight that leads us to the direct experience of emptiness?
Fundamentally prajna is big questioning mind. It is big questioning, not even mind.
Judy Lief is a senior teacher (acharya) of Shambhala Buddhism. She is the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality.
The Twelve Principles of Buddhism
Drafted by Christmas Humphreys, The Buddhist Society, London, in 1945
1. Self-salvation is for any man the immediate task. If a man lay wounded by a poisoned
arrow he would not delay extraction by demanding details of the man who shot it, or
the length and make of the arrow. There will be time for ever-increasing understanding
of the Teaching during the treading of the Way. Meanwhile, begin now by facing life
as it is, learning always by direct and personal experience.
2. The first fact of existence is the law of change or impermanence. All that exists, from
a mole to a mountain, from a thought to an empire, passes through the same cycle of
existence - i.e., birth, growth, decay and death. Life alone is continous, ever seeking
self-expression in new forms. 'Life is a bridge; therefore build no house on it.' Life is
a process of flow, and he who clings to any form, however splendid, will suffer by
resisting the flow.
3. The law of change applies equally to the 'soul'. There is no principle in an individual
which is immortal and unchanging. Only the 'Namelessness', the ultimate Reality, is
beyond change, and all forms of life, including man, are manifestations of this Reality.
No one owns the life which flows in him any more than the electric light bulb owns the
current which gives it light.
4. The universe is the expression of law. All effects have causes, and man's soul or
character is the sum total of his previous thoughts and acts. Karma, meaning
action-reaction, governs all reaction to them, his future condition, and his final
destiny. By right thought and action he can gradually purify his inner nature, and
so by self-realisation attain in time liberation from rebirth. The process covers great
periods of time, involving life after life on earth, but ultimately every form of life will
5. Life is one and indivisble, though its everchaning forms are innumerable and
perishable. There is, in truth, no death, though every form must die. From an
understanding of life's unity arises compassion, a sense of identity with the
life in other forms. Compassion is described as 'the Law of laws - eternal
harmony', and he who breaks this harmony of life will suffer accordingly and
delay his own Enlightenment.
6. Life being One, the interests of the part should be those of the whole. In his
ignorance man thinks he can successfully strive for his own interests, and this
wrongly directed energy of selfishness produces suffering. He learns from his
suffering to reduce and finally eliminate its cause. The Buddha taught Four
Noble Truths: (a) The omnipresence of suffering; (b) its cause, wrongly directed
desire; (c) its cure, the removal of the cause; and (d) Noble Eightfold Path of
self-development which leads to the end of suffering.
7. The Eightfold Path consists in Right (or perfect) Views or preliminary understanding,
Right Aims or Motive, Right Speech, Right Acts, Right Livelihood, Right Effort,
Right Concentration or mind development, and finally, Right Samadhi, leading to
Full Enligtenment. As Buddhism is a way of living, not merely a theory of life, the
treading of this Path is essential to self-deliverance. 'Cease to do evil, learn to do
good, cleanse your own heart: this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.'
8. Reality is indescribable, and a God with attributs is not the final Reality. But the
Buddha, a human being, became the All-Enlightened One, and the purpose of life
is the attainment of Enlightenment. This state of Consciousness, Nirvana, the
extinction of the limitations of self-hood, is attainable on earth. All men and all
other forms of life contain the potentiality of Enlightenment, and the process
therefore consists in becoming what you are. 'Look withtin: thou art Buddha.'
9. From potential to actual Enligtenment there lies the Middle Way, the Eightfold
Way 'from desire to peace', a process of self-development between the 'opposites',
avoiding all extremes. The Buddha trod this Way to the end, and the only faith
required in Buddhism is the reasonable belief that where a Guide has trodden it is
worth our while to tread. The Way must be trodden by the whole man, not merely
the best of him, and heart and mind must be developed equally. The Buddha was the
All-Compassionate as well as the All-Enlightened One.
10. Buddhism lays great stress on the need of inward concentration and meditation,
which leads in time to the development of the inner spiritual faculties. The subjective
life is as important as the daily round, and periods of quietude for inner activity are
essential for a balanced life. The Buddhist should at all times be 'mindful and
self-possessed', refraining from mental and emotional attachment to 'the passing
show'. This increasingly watchful attitude to circumstances, which he knows to be his
own creation, helps him to keep his reaction to it always under control.
11. The Buddha said: 'Work out your own salvation with diligence.' Buddhism knows
no authority for truth save the intuition of the individual, and that is authority for
himself alone. Each man suffers the consequences of his own acts, and learns
thereby, while helping his fellow men to the same deliverance; nor will prayer to
the Buddha or to any God prevent an effect from following its cause. Buddhist
monks are teachers and exemplars, and in no sense intermediates between Reality
and the individual. The utmost tolerance is practised towards all other religions and
philosophies, for no man has the right to interfere in his neighbour's journey to the
12. Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor 'escapist', nor does it deny the existence of
God or soul, though it places its own meaning on these terms. It is, on the contrary,
a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a way of life, which is
reasonable, practical, and all-embracing. For over two thousand years it has satisfied
the spiritual needs of nearly one-third of mankind. It appeals to the West because it
has no dogmas, satisfies the reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance
coupled with tolerance for other points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy,
psychology, ethics and art, and points to man alone, as the creator of his present life
and sole designer of his destiny.
Life Which is Wonderful and Evanescent
By Blanche Hartman
"One of the Buddha's most significant teachings is impermanence. But actually that is just how things are-anything, anytime, anywhere. To live in harmony with this truth brings great happiness."
If you think about it, it's awesomely, amazingly wonderful just to be alive! It's a wonderful gift, and especially on a beautiful spring day like today. But it took me several years of meditation practice and a heart attack before I really got it that just to be alive is awesome. As I was walking out of the hospital I thought, "Wow! I could be dead. The rest of my life is just a gift." And then I thought, "Well, it always has been a gift from the very beginning and I never noticed it until it was almost gone."
I think it is true of many of us that we don't notice what a gift it is just to be alive. How could we not notice? Well, we sort of take it for granted. But this gift is not without its problems. One of these problems is actually the very thing that made me realize how awesome life is, what a gift it is and how much I appreciate it. That is the fact that life is evanescent, impermanent. It is precious because we can't just take it for granted. When we realize this, we may wonder, "Well, if my life is a gift, how shall I use it, how shall I give it back, how shall I express my appreciation for it, or completely live this life which is wonderful and evanescent?"
In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki-roshi tells the story of the four horses. One of the horses starts to run just seeing the shadow of the whip, before it even touches him. The next one starts to run just having the whip touch the hair of its skin. The third horse starts to run when it really feels the pain of the whip on its skin. And the fourth horse doesn't really get going until it feels the whip in the marrow of its bones.
What is this whip? This whip is just that evanescence of life, just that teaching of impermanence. One of the Buddha's most significant teachings is to hold up impermanence for us to see, but actually it is just how things are-anything, anytime, anywhere. There is a Pali chant which expresses this:
All things are impermanent
They arise and they pass away.
To live in harmony with this truth
Brings great happiness.
If you see how things are, "things as-it-is" as Suzuki-roshi used to say, you see that they arise and they pass away. The trick is to live in harmony with the way things actually are; our suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are.
I don't know why those of you who came today for the first time came. Why are you here at a Buddhist center? Why is anyone here? Why I'm here is that I began to notice that all things are impermanent, including myself. I came to practice the first time I almost died. The second time I almost died, I really came to recognize what a joy it is to be alive.
Maybe that's like the fourth horse. I didn't get it until it really got to the marrow. But maybe it's not so bad to be the fourth horse because when it gets to the marrow, you've got it through and through. You don't think, "Well, maybe just some things are impermanent, maybe, but not me. Maybe I'll live forever, or maybe whatever I love will live for ever, or maybe impermanence is not really the truth."
So we may try to bargain with impermanence or get into denial about it. But somehow, if we're lucky, we do come to understand "things-as-it-is" and that this is actually the life we are living. Then the question of how we live it becomes really urgent for us. It's not going to last forever; I just have a limited amount of time to live in a way that feels satisfying to me, that feels right, that feels in consonance with the way things are. "To live in harmony with this truth brings great happiness," the Pali chant says.
When I first came to Zen Center I heard Suzuki-roshi say, "Just to be alive is enough." That went right past me and it may be going right past you. I just put it out there so you can take a look at it and decide what it means to you. But I do think that we become curious about Zen practice or any kind of religious discipline when we begin to run into some of the difficulties of life and the question of how to live with those difficulties becomes a direct issue for us. Or we may notice that how we are living doesn't feel quite right. Or that the familiar fixed ideas we have don't seem to hold up on closer examination.
The chant that we do at the beginning of lectures says:
An unsurpassed, penetrating and perfect dharma
Is rarely met with even in a hundred thousand million kalpas.
Having it to see and listen to, to remember and accept,
I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagatha's words.
Notice that it doesn't say that an unsurpassed, penetrating and perfect dharma is rare. That is just the truth of things-as-it-is and it is always in front of you every moment of your life. It is right here, nowhere else.
The chant ends, "I vow to taste the truth of the Tathagatha's words." This is a vow to taste the truth of how things really are, a vow to see directly. Taste is a very intimate sense-you get it right on your tongue, right here in your body. That is what my heart attack did for me; I got it right up close and personal. And each of us has some experience in our own life where the way things are is tasted directly, personally, right here. And that changes our life. We look at our life and we say, "This life is not in harmony with the way things are. That's why I'm always uncomfortable. So how do I bring myself into harmony with the actuality of this life?"
The Zen teacher Kobun Chino once said in a sesshin talk that when you realize how precious your life is, and that it is completely your responsibility how you manifest it and how you live it, that is such a big responsibility that "such a person sits down for a while"! He continued, "It is not an intended action, it is a natural action."
Some of you came here today for meditation instruction, for zazen instruction, for instruction in how to just sit. Now, why do you need instruction in how to just sit?
There was a wonderful young Danish man who came to Tassajara in the early days. He arrived at the gate and he said, "I want to come in and be a Zen monk." The person he was speaking to asked him, "Have you ever sat?" English was not his native language so he kind of took the question in and considered it for a bit, looking perplexed. Finally he drew himself up to his full height and he said, "All men have sat!"
So, why would you need to have instruction in just sitting? Well, just sitting doesn't mean merely sitting. It means completely sitting; not doing anything else, just sitting. You may have noticed that when you sit down intending to just sit, there is a lot going on! We don't really notice how active our mind is until we sit still with the intention of not deliberately thinking. Even though we are not deliberately thinking, a lot of thinking is going on! I had no idea how completely, incessantly busily active my mind was until I sat down with the intention of just being still and just being quiet and not grasping the thoughts that came along.
So one of the reasons we need instruction in how to just sit is that we need to know what might support us in letting some of that busyness just go along, without grabbing on to it. Something like paying attention to posture and paying attention to breath. Paying attention to what's happening right here and right now, which is this physical body, whatever sensations there might be, and breathing.
Most of the stuff that is going on in our mind is not about what is happening right here and right now. Check it out sometime and see: most of the stuff that is going on in your mind is either chasing after the past or chasing after the future. Or worrying about the future and regretting or chewing over the past incessantly. And figuring out who to blame for all our difficulties. It takes a long time to realize that there is no one to blame and to be willing just to be here.
I was invited recently to participate in a spirituality discussion group. My friend said the group was going to be giving attention to what we do in situations where there has been some real loss, where things are never going to be the same again. Someone you know and love has died; you have had a serious illness or an accident. Something has occurred that feels like a terrible loss that can't be recovered. How do you work with those circumstances?
Some of the people there had experienced losses which they could relate to the question, but the discussion was really about how our lives were going now and about how to arrive at a sense of ease or a feeling of composure in our lives. One person said, "Things are going pretty well for me now, but I just noticed today that even though everything is fine I have this kind of worried uneasiness, not about anything in particular, and it seems strange when everything is going fine."
The teaching that there is suffering in the midst of joy was right there in what he was saying-the worried uneasiness that although everything is fine now, something might happen and it won't be fine. Have any of you ever had that kind of experience? It is a very common human experience.
We have all kinds of ways of imagining the future that distract us from actually living in the present. What just sitting, what zazen is really about, is living in the present so that we can actually manifest this precious life in a way that feels right, a way that is consonant with our inner understanding of the dharma, of the truth. Shortly before he died, William Butler Yeats said, "If I had to put it in a single phrase, I would say that one can live the truth but one can really not know the truth, and I must express the truth with the remainder of my life." I can live the truth but cannot know it, and I must express it with the remainder of my life.
Dogen Zenji, the Japanese founder of this particular stream of Zen, said this about the precept "I vow not to disparage the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha)": "To expound the dharma with this body is foremost. Its virtue returns to the ocean of reality. It is unfathomable. We just accept it with respect and gratitude." It is unfathomable. We cannot know it. The inconceivable really is inconceivable! But we still try to find a way to grab onto it.
In his lecture in the San Francisco Zen Center's "Buddhism at the Millennium's Edge" series, Stephen Batchelor was talking about a willingness to live in perplexity, a willingness to live in the realm of not knowing. This is quite difficult. We can expound the dharma with this body, we can live the truth; we just can't grasp it. We can feel in our body when we are out of line with it. That is why Kobun Chino says it is such a big responsibility that naturally a person sits down for a while. We want to attune ourselves carefully to our body and mind so that we can notice when we are out of line with our deepest intention. We want to cultivate that intimate knowing without words and ideas-an intimacy with ourself-so that we can tell if we are living our life the way we really want to or whether it is just a little off.
We can do this by just tuning in with ourself, with our fundamental human nature, which is sometimes in Buddhism called buddhanature. Suzuki-roshi says a human being practicing true human nature is our zazen. Buddhanature is not something mysterious or arcane. Buddha just means awake; one who is awake. We find out how to be awake and to align ourselves with our true intention, with our true being, with the wisdom and compassion that is already inherent in each being, including ourself. No one is the one single exception to the fact that all beings are Buddha. We are not that special!
about Consciousness while Cutting in the Brain
Neurosurgeon Werner Doyle changes people's experience of life for the better by removing parts of their brains. Yet he knows that mind is not matter, cells are not consciousness. Novelist Joseph McElroy watches Doyle at work in the operating room, and together they ponder the mystery of brain and mind.
Not always, but often. We heal ourselves and are helped to do so, and we help others, and more than help. And often hardly know how it happens, though we have all this knowledge, some of which accumulates and grows and helps, not entirely predictably and often immeasurably. I know no more profound kind of medical intervention than the brain surgery that aims to do away with epileptic seizures, at the very least reduce their frequency, control them, give the patient, often young, a life. I am speaking of epilepsy on which drugs haven't worked. In Dostoevsky's day there were no effective drugs to prevent seizures-perhaps he took bromides. Treatment was speculative at best. In a letter of 1863 he complains that he got only contradictory advice from specialists in Paris and Berlin; in Russia there were no epilepsy specialists at all. The "flash of light in his brain," "of lightning," coming in the midst of "spiritual darkness" a minute before the epileptic fit-"the sense of life, the consciousness of self multiplied ten times," are fascinating as literature, but for the sufferer they are "nothing but disease" (The Idiot, 1869).
For epilepsy that drugs can't control, we now have, and have had for half a century, a remarkable range of surgical procedures. They are not without risk, even now with all the MRI's, the rest of the changing technology, and the teamwork between epileptologists and neuropsychologists helping to prepare for the operations which the neurosurgeon-with all the technical data and irreplaceable experience and I would say meditative concentration-will perform. Remarkable, too, because within the confines of our three-dimensionally mapped and thus not unfamiliar brain, and doubtless inseparable from it, exist the limitless-seeming space, unthinkably quick paths of branching activity, and power we call consciousness.
That is also what I sometimes imagine I'm looking at when I'm standing in an operating room at NYU Medical Center for hours. What I'm this close to. And may even speak of out loud. For the man I am watching do his work, Dr. Werner Doyle, has encouraged me to speak, to ask, to say I hardly know what, or, curiously, what is in and of, but somehow other, if not separate. For Aristotle, body is both different from and inseparable from what he calls "soul" (anima), which is the actual life of something that possesses the potential for life. A section of brain surgically removed loses that life.
I am so close physically to an exposed site of someone's consciousness, though it is only approachable through the signs and languages by which we manifest it, not by looking at a brain. Several years ago, after a conversation in which I had expressed some interest in learning about his work but had not mentioned that I'd written a novel about a brain, Werner invited me to observe his surgery. He was at another hospital then. I was struck by some conjunction of what can be repaired and yet remains virtually imponderable. We make use of what we can know in a region that contains what we do not know. I saw several operations and I filled half a notebook with what Werner told me and what I saw, or thought I saw. And events took over, and I wrote something else. And waited, I know, for a way to write about what Werner does.
Then in February of this year we happened to meet, and the way came to me, as I shall try to explain. And that is why, if I may speak in the present tense, I am here in this O.R. on a day in April. I'm this close. But to what? What pale cellular substance, what electrochemical reality, what potential seizures, feelings, perceptions, darknesses? For at the moment, the anesthetized patient is almost certainly without what we could call consciousness. Yet it will come back. From where? one may ask.
The spectacle of the operating room is pretty routine nowadays, if you count your home TV screen tuned to "ER" as providing an encounter this close. Yet this-the four or five assistants each with a job, and the anesthesiologist sitting surrounded by equipment and near the arm of the sleeping patient, who from where I stand is completely covered by a blue tent except for this small, exposed, brightly lighted opening into an area on the left side of her brain, where the surgeon, who I think is aware of everything in the room, is going to remove a section-all this is not primarily dramatic. It is work. It is attention. It is in many respects like other operations, like much that has been done before (except I, too, am here, in scrubs); and it does not pretend that this is not so.
It is not even an emergency, Werner has observed when we were talking in his office. You think, nonetheless, of what turns upon every move he makes here with his instruments. With a suction device the slow releasing of the perimeter of the brain matter he wants to take out in one piece; en bloc is the term. Retractor forceps holding back the skin. Lower fibrous layers of dura held back by being tacked and then sutured so they don't slip under the skin. Little bursts of steam-like smoke from a bipolar forceps used to cauterize areas of potential bleeding and operated by pedal. Electrodes seemingly printed on tiny strips inserted on certain areas of brain tissue during a previous operation after which, the wires emerging from the head with locations labeled, and the incision very carefully sewn shut and the patient returned to her bed on another floor, the electrodes will identify where subsequent seizures are coming from. Now in this second operation, the surgeon knows pretty well where he needs to section. He glances quickly back to the hand-sketched diagrammatic sector maps of numbered brain points scotch-taped to the glass wall behind me, and at the video monitor on a table at my elbow with the virtual patient MRI on the screen (a device with software Werner Doyle developed).
What can go wrong? Get too close to memory areas, to motor function where infinitesimal damage could paralyze facial muscles, arms, legs. Sometimes Werner will do an awake operation to get the patient's response to stimulus at particular points. The work is more and more my focus, I'm with Werner, and when sometimes the back of this person who's working three or four feet in front of me gets in the way and blocks my view, I can move around him, or I can check out three video screens strategically placed above us trained on the wound, the window on which, in which, this surgeon works, his extremely lean body rather concave-seeming, his movements quick, his bird-like hovering above the terrain of his work, quick, yet delicately slow, a workman. To be able to move freely around the O.R. is a strange privilege I mostly forget, though I mustn't get in anybody's way, trip over a cable, bump a table on wheels, touch a piece of paper with one of Werner's little maps on it with my ungloved hands. The surgeon answers my question: this is probably a three-stage case-electrodes are going to be left in; sometimes you go less far than you otherwise might for caution's sake; sometimes secondary epileptic regions are (as Werner says in an abstract for a neurosurgery journal) "expressed only after the primary focus is resected" (i.e. removed). You can take brain material out but you can't put it back in. Transplants not yet possible here; in any case less will be more.
I feel like I'm falling, but forward, wondering why I got into this. Am I understanding enough? For some reason I'm recalling the pretext for this neurosurgery piece-what Werner told me in February, this neighborhood friendly acquaintance father husband scientist doctor, who passed through a dark period himself.
I ask if the patient is experiencing any consciousness under anesthesia. No, nothing. One of the O.R. nurses asks the question again, as if my speaking has introduced a possibility of instruction or conversation to these proceedings. No, no sense of time passed. Nothing like Buddhist emptying of mind, I tell myself to bring up later-more like death as Lucretius so lucidly and calmly imagined it. We have discussed consciousness more than once-that emergent phenomenon whose sources and nature very little is known about and which, like mathematics (as Werner has pointed out), can't quite explain itself. Consciousness has become a huge sub-science but also rich philosophical ground in the past twenty years, its terms somewhat upstaging the old, no less profound body-mind problems not resolved either by Descartes' attempt to locate where the separately distinct mind or soul links up with the body, or by the seductive religious paradoxes of Pascal-most famously, "The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know." And I ask here in the O.R., with the patient's brain opened before us, what Werner thinks of the theories of Francis Crick and Christof Koch that would reduce the organizing of consciousness-and its products-to certain neural correlates, and as one may understand how sight occurs so locate also where Will is situated, or the highlighted illusion of its resultant decisions minus (conveniently) the memory of automatic computations that led to them. Doesn't this reduce one neural source of consciousness to its essence? I ask, knowing that static "essence" isn't quite the word. Werner agrees. For him the brain is holistic-Buddhism agrees, I interrupt-it develops as part of the whole organism, Werner continues; and he has seen too many examples of unpredictable or even unknown connectings, of surprising resilience, to say nothing of one part remarkably taking over for another.
So the process may not be simply reducible to certain neural correlates; the generative sources multiply. Which is not to dismiss Aristotle's patient conclusions about soul- (or mind-) body relations in his fourth-century bce lectures recorded in the notes of students and edited three centuries later. Nor, doubtless influenced by Aristotle, the propositions of Spinoza in the seventeenth century, who thought mind and body parallel attributes of one substance and from this derived an ethos of the emotions very like what Buddhism teaches.
I want to ask if Werner agrees with a Buddhist view that consciousness is disorder-the monkey at the whim of impulse, a phantasmagoria of perception, a clutter which meditation, if we concentrate well enough, may fortunately dissolve; because that seems to nullify so much of my thinking, or anyway it seems too simple, a reduction of the brain/mind's plans, struggles, purposes, insight into tragedy, comedy, courage, idea, to say nothing of its use of memory, without which Samuel Johnson argued the mind is not engaged. For a second Werner, as if he's heard my thought, turns in my direction. I see the eyes behind the goggles, I know the face behind the mask; I don't need to look at him but at his work. He is suctioning carefully, cutting, cauterizing, determined to remove a small section of brain where he knows seizures have originated. And then it comes out, a pale, amorphous cube of spongy, damp material held up on the end of long, tweezer-like bayonet forceps and deposited in a labeled plastic container provided by a nurse.
How did we get to Buddhism? Werner brought it up in February-or did he? We were speaking of Iraq. He mentioned that he'd been through a critical depression a few years ago. Just like that. News to me. How had it affected his work? Not much. (Which sounds like Werner.) I wondered if that could be true. I supposed he meant the quality of his professional work. I wondered if this rough period had come out of nowhere. His life had taken a turn into depression. Into darkness, it seemed; into emptiness. Are these the right words? They're his. His wife confirmed it. I had known him for several years since this period (though not well), and he had never mentioned it. He's a friendly man, inherently but not obviously reserved; smiling, but not a party person; but a most interesting talker, widely informed, a generous polymath. We were off, but where were we going? What specific weight or momentum was I in the midst of? The desperate political situation wasn't what we were really talking about. The subject matter not unusual for New York, or for Werner. Our threatened society, physics, the vastness of space and time that surrounds us; the scale and process of black holes, and somewhere in this flurry of talk, the interest some Buddhist thinkers take in science-the Dalai Lama's discussions with Varela, Davidson, I put in (recalling that Varela worked at NYU in '78 and '79 and did important work on the prediction of seizures); and now we're speaking in that shared, synoptic way about 9/11. Though that must have been later than the depressions, I said, trying to keep track. (We both live a few blocks from the former World Trade Center. Had I talked to Werner since 9/11?) It had made him, like me, rediscover where he and his family were. I had written an essay about its impact on our neighborhood, though ultimately on what you make of your experience, a family person living in Tribeca or a terrorist flying a plane into a building.
I think I have a way to write about what Werner does. Seems OK to him; we'll be in touch. In response to my respect, he makes some compliment-I forget the words: writing a novel and all that that entails. Writing is always somewhere in my head, but not always as writing. Often as memory. More often as what happens to memory. Long ago I gave Werner a book of mine, and he mentioned a slight dyslexia he once upon a time thought he had. I made a bad joke about the left and right sides of But now my epilepsy notebook comes back to me. What's in it? Things Werner told me. What actually happens in the brain in a generalized seizure, i.e. on both sides? A lessening or dissolving of difference, a terrible, crashing mobilizing into stunning synchrony of the brain's normal elaborate choreography, turned suddenly into this lockstep of breaking waves, some wriggling animal inside your head. One evening after a long day-three operations, "very minor," the replacement of batteries in stimulators permanently implanted-Werner gets home late and phones and comes over. He mentions a boy he will operate on two days from now: a brain lesion, maybe a tumor, maybe developmental; he's had as many as twelve seizures a day. Werner wants to talk. He is a little like Chaucer's ecclesiastical student in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales: "gladly would he learn and gladly teach." Two New York guys, Irish it occurs to me, finding a late-night moment to talk about anything. Meditation comes into it. Neither of us seems to meditate in a regular way, but I'm not sure. I wouldn't say I meditate. Werner thinks you can meditate while you're out walking, sometimes even at work. I see him operating on a sleeping patient. Werner gets to the hospital before 7 am and often isn't home till the middle of the evening. He tends not to eat between surgeries. I bring up depression, his.
It was when he would come home at night to his family that it descended, spreading the totality of its unanswerable pressure upon him. I wondered if it was due to work. No, it wasn't work. What did he do about it? I ask. He prescribed Prozac for himself and it made him feel better. He took it in the morning. Didn't it interfere with his concentration operating? Not at all. But the depression It went on and eventually he came through it and everything's better now. He used to play music during surgery; no more.
Wait, I'm losing my way, I say to myself; I need to know how things happen. What did Werner come through to? It was when he came home at night?
Yes, he had always been a problem solver-from math, which he could get A's in but never felt he deeply understood, to computer software, to physics and organic chem and then biology. And general surgery, which interested him less than neuro surgery; and then a Yale fellowship in 1991, which almost by chance drew him into epilepsy surgery. He saw his work, his life, his family, as projects he would understand and deal with at a certain clear, engaged distance. Passing through painful depression seemed at last to dissolve that distance, that separation, between himself and what he had approached in order to solve as problems. He came to a new view. He was part of, not separate from, what he would live with, not just control.
The embrace of this view, as I hear Werner state it, is real and it is mysterious. A turn not simple to chart. Something in the words I grasp but don't get. Work you partly do on yourself.
I can come to surgery any time I like, though schedules aren't written in stone. I have a bunch of cellphone numbers for the office, the hospital-Ed Rivera, Werner's longtime assistant, who takes me to the men's locker room and I change. And at other times Werner and I talk in his office. Career details. He'd always had insomnia from the time he was at Columbia Medical School and before. He actually liked not sleeping. Insomnia is a drug, Werner grants. That period of depression stands between us as a subject: there but done with. The poet Rilke speaks of these dark periods as necessary to be gone through, not drowned out; as solitudes dizzying with "an abandonment to something inexpressible [that] would almost annihilate" you, where "all distances change," and to explain the state of our senses the brain would have to invent "a monstrous lie " I think often of what Buddhism has to say about displacing destructive emotions with a different focus. Good advice. Best thing to do with good advice is pass it on, Oscar Wilde quipped. At the time of the depressions, Werner's wife, Janet Standard, a psychiatric nurse now completing her studies to be a therapist, objected that Prozac wasn't what Werner needed.
In further talks pivotal for my sense of him, probably I wouldn't get all I wanted, not hear the whole story. If there is one. I wouldn't hear about-if they had occurred-moments of recovery, of vision, after which the craftsman who fixes brains, the explorer who doubtless clarifies consciousness the signs of which are only to be guessed at, finds himself again. Rilke sees our development moving "gradually-that nothing strange should befall us, but only that which has long belonged to us." I'm a writer. I experience doubt and distrust and I get over it, or even write about it. It's a pitfall of perception, of choice, of working transiently with others. There came a moment when I thought, Does this man, who I think is becoming my friend, really want me to write about him? He's not always sure. He has a right to be unsure. It is perhaps his way of being open, modest. Writing can move around in time, friendship too. This piece of writing will get done on time, seeing into the present as if it were a future beyond its deadline. Words, words; yet things get communicated. We're in Werner's office again, in a few minutes he's going to see patients in the consulting rooms.
"My brain is the same as theirs." A democracy of brains? But Werner has patients who were born with disabled brains from which he has removed as much as a whole hemisphere. "What do you"-I'm saying it awkwardly-"want to leave, or have done, when you retire?" Retire? No of course not at forty-eight, but would it be an invention like the virtual patient software?
No, it's he thinks all this hi-tech's beside the point sometimes, though technology is neutral; it's what you do with it. I reply that that's what Veblen thought. Werner says he could go into a low-tech situation in a developing country and work there. I mention that eighty percent of epileptics in developing countries, where the stigma is worst, have no access to medication. Werner thinks ancient doctors succeeded with what they had. Herbs, psychotherapy. "I got into this because I liked helping people." "I know you did." "That wasn't the only reason," he hastens to add. "It was science, problem-solving. You can manipulate the environment." Chemistry, physics, and at med school, biology. He wasn't happy at Columbia. Half the students were Ivy League. He was depressed there. Depressed? I ask. He tells me how later he did a rotation in neurosurgery, and a two-year general surgery, and then at NYU general neurosurgery before he got into this. I ask if epileptics get depressed. Oh yes. Same drugs for both. Probably some connection there, Werner thinks. "My life is no different from anyone else's. My brain is their brain. I'm living in my self." The only option. What one is capable of doing to expand this virtual reality that connects all of us.
I ask if it feels weird that I'm writing about him for a Buddhist magazine. "No, it makes complete sense." I the writer (with a 3 x 5 card and a ballpoint like a probe) don't pin him down; I know he reads in Buddhism, I don't know what. Janet has meditated for years. "I'm already dead," I hear him say. He says he says it to practice being this way-why not allow yourself to feel OK about it, and then get on with really living the fleeting moments that are left. If one were dead, how important is so much of what we value? He feels it more and more. The intrinsic value of something is what he's interested in, what's "best understood as irrelevant to my being alive."
I mention, with mixed feelings, Chogyam Trungpa on the subtle defenses of ego. I a long-lapsed Christian touched by the practice, psycho-medical tradition and humor in Buddhism, and a secular everyday bond I can't quite name. My fourteen-year-old son Boone had a sudden seizure when he was three. The terrifying absence in his eyes; he was gone, I thought. His mother holding him. Me in the street flagging down a car, a cab, though then the ambulance came; the terrible absence in his eyes, an emptiness, an emptying out, of I hardly dared think what. Seizures went on occurring in the hospital: he called it "a snake in my brain." The neurologist's word for this injury or trauma is "insult." By then we had passed through the initial onset. His courage, his young life. But at the end of a week in the hospital the seizures were diagnosed as his immune system's over-active, over-systematic counter-attack against a virus. The seizures were real; the cause was not epilepsy, not even what is called childhood epilepsy, which may pass. Though he remained on the drug Dilantin for several weeks.
On the way out of the office I see, framed on the left side of the door, the Tibetan Doctor's Prayer a patient gave Werner, and fleetingly I note one small part: "May all human beings interrelate fully, lovingly, compassionately and joyously with one another." Werner and I are not much on reincarnation. Yet it seems to him associated with the multiplying effects of karma-an extended life of our actions-in turn associated with an astonishing branching growth of complexity due to what is called in current theory-e.g., Stephen Wolfram's which we've both dipped into-sensitive dependence on initial conditions.
I see Werner operating on sleeping patients, their breathing of interest to him and to me as bridge between voluntary and involuntary. I hear him as he enters consulting rooms asking if the patient and the patient's family mind my sitting in; explaining in one room why a painful section of skull put back after an operation isn't sitting as snugly as it should but probably will; and in another why he favors a more "aggressive" second operation which will remove more brain, yet yield more life. Not easy, though, for the families to face. He is so good with them, the way he explains it all, the percentage of risk, five percent I've heard him say. Sometimes there's a pause in the conversation: he is simply with them. He puts an MRI up on the wall, he shows where we are going. He is like the seventeenth-century "physicians" attending John Donne sick in bed who "by their love are grown cosmographers." Where love means utmost attention, and the patient is a little world to be read as an explorer reads a map. "You'll be the same person when you wake up after the operation," Werner says to his patients. He says to me (his pronoun mysterious), "It's a way to understand it and bridge it to interact with someone else's virtual reality by surgery"-to have an effect on their "external milieu. Not their brain only that's influencing me; it's something else."
I ask Alyson Silverberg, a nurse practitioner who has worked with him for seventeen years, what Werner Doyle does. "He is the most compassionate surgeon I've ever known," she replies. Does becomes is. Perhaps as heal is cognate with whole; as well as with, though I am not competent to speak of them, holy and sacred.
Once more in the operating room, I see a tumor removed, not uncommon
for seizure patients. At the end, the suturing and stitching seem endless. Making
sure to seal the wound. Though depending greatly on the patient's immune system
to prevent infection. Werner turns to me at the end. "It's simple."
Sometimes experience seems a privilege. ©
Thoughts About Consciousness while Cutting in the Brain by Joseph McElroy, Shambhala Sun, September 2004.
the Dharma Gets Personal
by Judy Lief
Since the time I first encountered the dharma, I have found that my most intimate personal relationships-with my teacher, my husband, my parents and my children-have been my most powerful teachers. In books, Buddhism can seem abstract and coldly rational. My experience is that relationships, not words, are the basis of the Buddhist journey.
In a discussion of spirituality with a group of formerly homeless people, one of the participants put forth this view most eloquently, saying, "What spirituality means to me is my relationship with all living things." We are within a web of relationships from the moment we are born, and even in solitary retreat we carry our pattern of relationships with us. Of all these relationships, the most provocative and transformative in my own life has been my relationship with my teacher.
When I met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche I had not read a single book he had written and my knowledge of Buddhism was rather thin. I have virtually no memory of the content of the first talk I heard. It was not what Trungpa Rinpoche said but how he was that I noticed. When a grasshopper jumped on to his hand in the middle of his presentation, rather than shooing it away or even being startled, he broke into a smile. He took a real interest in the grasshopper and examined it slowly and carefully. After some time it flew away and he proceeded with his talk. During the course of the weekend, I noticed that same quality of delight, interest and presence in all his interactions.
Trungpa Rinpoche was continually creating relationships, constantly interfacing with the people around him. These personal encounters-whether the briefest of interactions, friendly socializing or love affairs-inspired many students to begin to practice and study the dharma. Through these many and varied interactions, Trungpa Rinpoche was able to teach the dharma in accord with the style and understanding of each individual student.
It was my personal connection with Trungpa Rinpoche that inspired me to become a dharma practitioner. No amount of study, no amount of reading, could have changed my life in the same way as meeting Trungpa Rinpoche did. A few weeks after I met him, I packed up all my books and put them on the sidewalk outside Hunter College with a big sign on them: "Free Books!" They were snatched up by happy students within minutes. Shortly after, I dropped out of graduate school and moved to Boulder to be closer to my teacher, to deepen my understanding of Buddhism and to enter more fully into the path of meditation. At the time, that decision seemed completely choiceless, a no-brainer, obvious. I had met a teacher I trusted and respected and I longed to connect further. I did not hesitate.
It is risky to enter into any relationship, and there are many good reasons we should think twice. Yet in many spiritual traditions it is thought that genuine teachers should connect directly with their students, heart to heart, that they should love their students without holding back. If a teacher really cares about students as friends, if there is a heart connection and if the students truly trust and love their teacher, that mutual trust creates an atmosphere ripe for teaching and ripe for absorbing the dharma.
The Tibetan tradition is filled with examples of powerful spiritual relationships, and pivotal encounters between practitioners and people they meet along the path-friends, lovers, teachers and even strangers. In the sutras, the teachings are conveyed dynamically, in the form of dialogues between the Buddha and his students. The teachings of the Buddha are transmitted in the meeting of a particular group of students with a particular teacher in a particular setting. And all along the path, as students ripen and mature in their understanding, they are provoked, guided, inspired and awakened by the personal encounters they have along the way. Countless intimate moments coax practitioners to dare to go forward on their journey. Whether a practitioner encounters reality directly in the form of a teacher or through someone else, a relationship is established and the practitioner is drawn out of himself or herself-at times gently and at times abruptly. Relationships bring the dharma from the head to the heart, from the theoretical realm of ideas to the reality of how we actually deal with one another as human beings. The dharma gets personal.
The image of student and teacher as lovers has appeared over and over again in many different cultures. The student as lover seeks out and seduces the teacher, the beloved, to transmit her or his knowledge and understanding. A good student seeks out the teachings as a bee seeks nectar. Likewise, when a teacher meets students who are ripe to learn, he or she does not hesitate to engage them fully and connect with them directly. The teacher is willing to fall in love with his or her students, to enter into their world completely.
At the level of the heart connection, mutual passion links the teacher and disciple. The heat of passion, the warmth of affection, links the teacher and student even when they are physically far apart. If they are in the same room, a mere glance may ignite this connection, and when they are apart, it is as if they were joined by a golden thread. In Tibetan iconography, this relationship is shown in a hidden way through symbols. For instance, a deity may embrace a staff, symbolizing that deity's continual union with his or her consort. Symbolically, one's lover is always with one.
Subtler still is the mind connection. At this level there is a complete mixing of minds between guru and student. Both are completely open, with no filtering, no resistance, no hesitation. Therefore the teachings can be conveyed in an unsullied way, without the need for words or gestures. The dharma does not need to be dressed up; it is the naked truth. In Tibetan iconography, physical nakedness symbolizes this naked unbounded state of mind. Here the meeting of guru and student is immediate and at the same time complete. There is absolutely no need for embellishment.
The guru-student connection sets an example for how we might work with our other relationships in such a way that instead of serving as entertainment or distraction, they push us or pull us to awaken. The relation of teacher and student can serve as the starting point for developing greater heartfulness, openness of mind and awareness in all our important relationships.
The Buddha set out on his own spiritual search alone, having abandoned his family and left behind his familiar world. He dropped the trappings of wealth and privilege and set off as a nobody, not as a prince with his retinue. Having escaped from the protected cocoon of courtly life, the Buddha replaced his old lifestyle with a new one, that of the wandering yogi. He entered into a period of intensive study and rigorous practice, working with a variety of leading teachers. In the end, when he had completed his studies, the Buddha reconnected with his own family and friends and established relationships with countless people throughout the region, both male and female, powerful and weak, of all castes and classes. He had discovered a middle way, free from attachment to either worldly or spiritual identity. And from this open ground, he taught and reached out to all sorts of people throughout his life.
Trungpa Rinpoche said, "In any nontheistic approach to spiritual discipline, you have to give up your home life to begin with. You have to go to a desert, or to a monastery, a nunnery or an abbey. You have to go to all kinds of places. That suggests giving up home, giving up parental figures. That is the first step of the nontheistic approach."
But this step of leaving home and giving up parental figures does not mean rejecting your parents or avoiding relationships. Leaving home does not mean simply replacing one home with another, or an old set of friends with a new set of friends. It is about letting go of our habitual attachments and expectations.
Many of our relationships are burdened by expectations, desires, hidden fears and unquestioned assumptions. The possibilities are endless. Some of us want to be taken care of; we seem to be in a perpetual search for the perfect parent. Some of us want to be in control; we seek out those we can overpower. Some of us feel empty; we seek to gather in friends to cure our loneliness. Some of us don't want to be bothered or hassled; we want to be left alone. Maybe we have been hurt, so we don't want to get involved and let ourselves be hurt again.
In order to loosen the hold of such patterns, first we need to see them clearly. In relating with the teacher, we try one stratagem after another, hoping that something will stick. But we find that nothing works-that a genuine relationship is not about strategy or trying to make something happen, or about gaining approval or avoiding disapproval. Relating with a teacher is provocative because it exposes our own particular neurotic patterns and mirrors them back to us.
Usually if two people are relating, both are contributing their own projections and distortions and it is very hard to see past that. But when you relate to a teacher, your own distortions stand out with great clarity. The teacher embodies openness, freedom and sanity, as opposed to self-protectiveness, fear and fixation. As such, the teacher serves to heighten the contrast between loving relationships that entrap us and love that draws us out of ourselves on to the path of awakening.
Letting go of our projections and preconceptions, we find ourselves in relationships that are open and uncapturable. This can feel incredibly fresh or incredibly intimidating or both at once. Any notion that our relationship has to be a certain way, in accord with our wishes rather than the way that it actually is, falls away. What is left is raw and direct. We are left with our heart exposed and nowhere particularly to go. There is very little to hang on to, neither a solid sense of who we are nor who the other person is. There is nothing to figure out.
This open ground is the home to which we return. And from this ground we can see people with new appreciation. This shows up in so many ways. Sometimes even a slight loosening of the many ideas and assumptions we have about those we care for opens us to qualities in them we never noticed. We tend to diminish ourselves and others tremendously, and it is very hard to take a fresh look.
The journey of leaving home-examining our patterns, dropping them and returning to open ground-is what I see as the journey of relationships. I used to think that I should try to develop some more perfect way of relating, one that would involve no pain. Compared to this ideal, my actual relationships could not measure up. However, through the teacher-student relationship, I discovered that underlying every relationship is the experience of open ground, free from attachment or rejection, where such measurements are irrelevant.
Acharya Judy Lief is the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. Her immediate relationships include her husband Chuck, her two daughters, Jessica and Deborah, and her dog Jasper. Judy currently lives in Colchester VT.
Five Buddha Families
By Irini Rockwell
"I always seem to be fending him off," Joan blurts out. She's hosting a dinner party while her husband out of town and she's aware of how little affection she shows him, while he is affectionate to a fault. Two of her guests, Andrea and Bill, laugh and then exchange quick glances. They're in a new relationship and are beginning to see where they get stuck. Andrea wants to engage in an open, unobstructed way; Bill prefers quiet time alone. Michael, the other guest, still wounded from a divorce, launches into a speech about the women in his relationships. "I always seem to fall for emotional women who can't communicate well," he says. "I like working with strong women who think clearly and get the job done," he adds.
We don't know the people at this dinner table, but we can learn a lot about each of them from the different kinds of energy they display. All of us express a unique mix of energy through our attitudes, emotions, decisions and actions. Although we often think of the world in terms of material existence, it is energy that's the vibrant aspect of being: the quality, texture, ambiance or tone of people and environments.
Of the many methods for understanding and working with the energies that pervade our existence, one of the most profound is the "five buddha families," an ancient Buddhist system of understanding enlightened mind and its various aspects. The five buddha family framework is an instrumental component in Buddhist tantra, a path of working with and transmuting mind energy.
The buddha families are traditionally displayed as the mandala of the five tathagatas, or buddhas. The mandala (from the Sanskrit for "circle") aids meditators in understanding how different aspects of existence operate together in an integrated whole. Each of the buddhas in the mandala embodies one of the five different aspects of enlightenment. However, these manifest themselves not only as enlightened energies but also as neurotic states of mind. The buddha families therefore present us with a complete picture of both the sacred world of enlightened mind and the neurotic world of ego-centered existence. We see that they are indeed the same thing; the path of awakening is what makes the difference.
Traditionally, at the center of the mandala is Vairochana, lord of the buddha family, who is white and represents the wisdom of all-encompassing space and its opposite, the fundamental ignorance that is the source of cyclic existence (samsara). The dullness of ignorance is transmuted to a vast space that accommodates anything and everything.
In the east of the mandala is Akshobya, lord of the vajra family, who is blue and represents mirror-like wisdom and its opposite, aggression. The overwhelming directness of aggression is transmuted into the quality of a mirror, clearly reflecting all phenomena. Vajra is associated with the element water, with winter, and with sharpness and textures.
In the south of the mandala is Ratnasambhava, buddha of the ratna family, who is yellow and represents the wisdom of equanimity and its opposite, pride. The fulsomeness of pride is transmuted into the quality of including all phenomena as elements in the rich display. Ratna is associated with the element earth, with autumn, with fertility and depth.
In the west of the mandala is Amitabha, buddha of the padma family, who is red and represents discriminating-awareness wisdom and its opposite, passion or grasping. The intense desire of passion is transmuted into an attention to the fine qualities of each and every detail. Padma is associated with the element fire, with spring, with façade and color.
In the north of the mandala is Amogasiddhi, buddha of the karma family, who is green and represents all-accomplishing wisdom and its opposite, jealousy or paranoia. The arrow-like pointedness of jealousy is transmuted into efficient action. Karma is associated with the element wind, with summer, with growing and completing.
In the early 1970's Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught the five wisdom energies to contemporary practitioners as a way of understanding who we are fundamentally: our personality, our emotional landscape, and how we relate to others and our world. He promoted the understanding that there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about the energy itself. He taught that to bring the wisdom energies to the path, we first learn to stay with them through mindfulness and awareness. Then we can work with these energies as they arise in our experience by applying loving-kindness. We allow them to express themselves openly rather than trying fruitlessly to manipulate and control them. The energies then become a way of celebrating our strengths and working with our weaknesses.
These energies are most easily identified by their colors, which hold the essence of their qualities. Just as light radiates, so does energy. The color of energy is like colored light. We can now look at the buddha families described in traditional terms above in terms of how they manifest themselves in our experience of ourselves and those around us, capturing both our wisdom and our confusion.
The buddha family radiates a white energy, spacious and peaceful. Buddha energy is an all-pervasive, peaceful space. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of Buddha energy, they are receptive, accommodating, easygoing and content with just being. Buddha can also be solidly immobile with the density of ignoring or denying. When people manifest the confused quality of buddha, they can be dull, lazy, stubborn and insensitive.
The vajra family reflects a blue energy like a crystal-clear mirror. Vajra energy reflects what it sees without bias. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of vajra, they are clear-minded with an intellectual brilliance, sharp and precise. They maintain a perspective and are full of integrity. Vajra also has a self-righteousness that can harden into cold or hot anger. When people manifest the confused quality of vajra, they can be overly analytical, critical, opinionated, authoritarian and demanding of perfection.
The ratna family exudes a golden yellow energy that encompasses and enriches everything. Ratna energy displays equanimity and satisfaction. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of ratna, they are expansive, resourceful, hospitable and appreciative. But ratna can also turn into greedy territoriality and puffed-up pride. When people manifest the neurotic quality of ratna, they can be arrogant, ostentatious, oppressive and emotionally needy.
The padma family glows with the vitality of red energy. Padma sanity is a finely-tuned intuition that discriminates subtle experiences without bias. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of padma, they are engaging, magnetizing and charming. This energy listens deeply and speaks from the heart. Padma also can have an obsessive desire to magnetize and grasp the most pleasurable and ideal situations. When people manifest its confused quality, they can cling to what gives pleasure, are overly emotional, and perpetually seek confirmation.
The karma family emits a green energy, swift and energetic like the wind. Karma sanity is all-accomplishing action for the benefit of others. When people exhibit the sanity of karma, they can be efficient, effective and practical. Full of confident energy, they act in timely and appropriate ways in synchronicity with the world. Karma can also be restless and speedy, and when people manifest its neurotic side, they can be power-hungry, competitive, manipulative, controlling and dominating. They fear failure, so they are paranoid and jealous.
Now, if we return to our dinner party, we can see how the party-goers exhibit the various wisdom energies. Michael, who displayed such strong opinions about the women in his life, manifests vajra clarity in his thinking, which sometimes gets fixated into rigid views about things. He also shows some ratna qualities in loving to hang out with family and friends sharing a big meal and life stories.
Andrea is all fun and engagement. People contact is very important to her. She has lots of friends and makes connections with people easily. She is dominantly padma but also loves the richness, expansiveness and caring for others that is her ratna side.
Bill, who rarely spoke during the party, is more inwardly directed. He radiates a spacious warmth and easy-going manner, and buddha qualities are quite strong in him. There is also a tinge of padma in his coloring.
Joan, who loves to cook for her husband but finds his physical affection a bit much at times, displays several qualities in equal measure. Fending off her husband is a vajra quality, which is also reflected in a general sense of propriety about what should and should not happen. Though she does not talk much in the group, her padma qualities come out in private conversations: talking about how she feels and always longing to connect more closely with others and situations. Wanting to keep busy is her karma side.
It is interesting to identify energies in others as we observe their behavior, but the wisdom energies are much more than a classification scheme. They can help us to work with our emotions creatively and openly, appreciating the basic energies and seeing the various ways they manifest in our everyday actions. When I first learned of the energies, they began to color my perspective in many aspects of my life. Why was it that one man brought out my intellectual curiosity and another my desire? Why did I feel at ease with one person and anxious with another? Why would I feel powerful in one situation but inhibited and frustrated in another? What was the energetic relationship between myself, these people and these situations?
Eventually I came to understand that we are a mix of colors. We are born with certain energies; others we learn as an enhancement to who we are; still others arise as we adapt to life. Some energy patterns are more dominant, others more background. When we become aware of our mix of colors, we no longer identify with just one energy. Defining ourselves as one or the other solidifies and centralizes our sense of who we are. By boxing ourselves in, we miss the play of totality. Rather than seeing ourselves as red or blue or green energy, we can perceive our experience more as a rainbow or kaleidoscope.
Working with the energies, we always bring our understanding of who we are back to immediate experience, rather than to our conceptualization of who we are. Through our thoughts and emotions, we experience the energy of our inner being; through our sense perceptions, we experience the energies of the outer world. All of these energies-inner and outer-are accessible to us at any time. They are an experience of a subtle level of being and communication with our world.
To work with energy, we first need to cultivate awareness, attending to the present moment by observing what is happening. We can train ourselves to do this. Mindfulness and awareness are the basic components of sitting meditation practice, which plays a key role. Through this practice we can stabilize our minds, which, in turn, brings clarity and an inherent mental strength. As well, sitting meditation acts like a lightning rod. It grounds overly volatile energy in the simplicity of just being there.
We all have moments when we feel synchronized with ourselves and our world. We experience a quality of openness, relaxation and inner strength. At these times our concepts drop away and we ride the energy of the moment. If we feel the sharpness and directness of vajra as we encounter our daughter's wild defiance, we can just let it be there. If we find ourselves filled with the wind of karmic accomplishment, we can just let it get down to business. Suddenly flirtatious, we can let the padma energy bubble and spark. Reveling in the earthy richness of possibilities, we can enjoy the ratna feast without gluttony. Simple and calm, we can let buddha reign. These are times when we shine and are the best of who we are. At other times we can't get out of our own way. We solidify and fixate, rather than ride the energy. We feel awkward at best or stuck in strong emotions at worst.
Usually we flip-flop between extremes of feeling good or bad about ourselves, and never find any real bridge or connection between these two states. The power of the teachings on the five wisdom energies is that they show us how we can find our wisdom within the very darkness of our confusion. Energy itself is neutral; it is our attitude towards it that determines whether we are open (sane) or closed (confused). When we are open to our own energy, we experience ourselves as warm and clear. When we are closed to our energy, we feel confused and stuck. Being open or closed determines how we view ourselves and consequently the world. In fact, it is when we experience intense emotion that wisdom is closest at hand. Fully embracing the emotions that bind us can liberate us.
When energy becomes heightened we need a very powerful tool-the tool of unconditional loving-kindness, or maitri-to allow us to be who we are unreservedly. Accepting ourselves as we are, in both our sanity and our confusion, is the key that unlocks our heart. It allows us to be in the present moment just as it is, without trying to cling or push away. Accepting ourselves fully is what stops our struggle, and only when we love ourselves in this unconditional way can we also love others. Only when we love ourselves can we be lovable. Maitri has a soft quality that is open, kind, relaxed, warm and inclusive. It allows us to be who we are and let all our colors shine. We breathe easily.
Maitri is not one-dimensional, but has various facets, each of which sharpens our understanding of how it works. First off, maitri has an element of familiarity. We know our habitual patterns like old friends, so they don't throw us off so much. Since maitri is accommodating, when we see the intensity of our closed energy we no longer try to avoid what's happening. We allow it to be and so expand our palette of acceptable energy states. Maitri also relaxes us and allows us to be gentle and kind toward ourselves. Our pain is still there, but instead of avoiding it, we care for it as we would care for an open wound. Working with maitri enables us to develop bravery, which means that we can touch our vulnerable, raw spots and still stay open. Maitri also allows us to see our life experiences are workable. When we encounter an unwanted circumstance, we don't contract and close but rather open ourselves to the situation. We see it not as a crisis but as an opportunity. Finally, the quality of friendliness toward ourselves is unconditional. We are friendly toward all aspects of our experience, especially the facets of ourselves that we like the least. We can love ourselves without reserve, with zero stipulations.
The wisdom, or brilliant sanity, of each energy is open, warm, clear and spontaneous. When the very same energy manifests neurotically it is frozen, blocked or constricted by a manipulating, self-serving and solidified sense of self. When we make friends with and become fully aware of the constricted quality of our neurosis we realize we are not connecting to the liberated aspect of the energy, but a distorted manifestation of it.
When we encounter an intensified emotion with these aspects of maitri, a transformative process occurs. We move from letting go to letting be. The pith instruction is to stay with the primary emotion we're feeling. Making friends with the essential nature of the emotion that binds us offers the possibility of liberating it. Both the storyline and the quality of the basic energy may differ, but the process remains the same. Each energy has an emotion associated with it that is transmuted into a particular wisdom.
When we use maitri as a tool, we find that we could either laugh or cry. At the point when we laugh or cry, the struggle is over. There is a sense of breakthrough. We have broken through our sense of constricted self. We have touched our heart. We have found the key to the wisdom within us, which displays itself as a colorful mandala of liberated qualities.
Irini Rockwell is the author of The Five Wisdom Energies: A Buddhist Way of Understanding Personalities, Emotions and Relationships (Shambhala, 2002). She leads workshops on the buddha families throughout North America and Europe.
Decision to Become a Buddhist
By Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
"I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the dharma.
I take refuge in the sangha."
In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom.
There is a general tendency to be involved in all kinds of fascinations and delusions, and nothing very much ever takes root in one's basic being. Everything in one's life experience, concerning spirituality or anything else, is purely a matter of shopping. Our lives consist of problems of pain, problems of pleasure, problems of points of view-problems about all kinds of alternatives-which make our existence complicated.
We have allegiance to "that" and allegiance to "this." There are hundreds and millions of choices involved in our lives-particularly in regard to our sense of discipline, our ethics, and our spiritual path. People are very confused in this chaotic world about what is really the right thing to do. There are all kinds of rationales, taken from all kinds of traditions and philosophies. We may try to combine all of them together; sometimes they conflict, sometimes they work together harmoniously. But we are constantly shopping, and that is actually the basic problem.
It is not so much that there is something wrong with the traditions that exist around us; the difficulty is more our own personal conflict arising from wanting to have and to be the best. When we take refuge we give up some sense of seeing ourselves as the good citizen or as the hero of a success story. We might have to give up our past; we might have to give up our potential future. By taking this particular vow, we end our shopping in the spiritual supermarket. We decide to stick to a particular brand for the rest of our lives. We choose to stick to a particular staple diet and flourish on it.
When we take refuge we commit ourselves to the Buddhist path. This is not only a simple but also an extremely economical approach. Henceforth we will be on the particular path that was strategized, designed, and well thought-out twenty-five hundred years ago by the Buddha and the followers of his teaching. There is already a pattern and a tradition; there is already a discipline. We no longer have to run after that person or this person. We no longer have to compare our lifestyle with anybody else's. Once we take this step, we have no alternatives; there is no longer the entertainment of indulging in so-called freedom. We take a definite vow to enter a discipline of choicelessness-which saves us a lot of money, a lot of energy, and lots and lots of superfluous thinking.
Perhaps this approach may seem repressive, but it is really based on a sympathetic attitude toward our situation. To work on ourselves is really only possible when there are no side-tracks, no exits. Usually we tend to look for solutions from something new, something outside: a change in society or politics, a new diet, a new theory. Or else we are always finding new things to blame our problems on, such as relationships, society, what have you. Working on oneself, without such exits or sidetracks, is the Buddhist path.
By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees. Taking refuge does not mean saying that we are helpless and then handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. There will be no refugee rations, nor all kinds of security and dedicated help. The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security. We have to give up our sense of home ground, which is illusory anyway. We might have a sense of home ground as where we were born and the way we look, but we don't actually have any home, fundamentally speaking. There is actually no solid basis of security in one's life. And because we don't have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak. Basically we are completely lost and confused and, in some sense, pathetic.
These are the particular problems that provide the reference point from which we build the sense of becoming a Buddhist. Relating to being lost and confused, we are more open. We begin to see that in seeking security we can't grasp onto anything; everything continually washes out and becomes shaky, constantly, all the time. And that is what is called life.
So becoming a refugee is acknowledging that we are homeless and groundless, and it is acknowledging that there is really no need for home, or ground. Taking refuge is an expression of freedom, because as refugees we are no longer bounded by the need for security. We are suspended in a no-man's land in which the only thing to do is to relate with the teachings and with ourselves.
The refuge ceremony represents a final decision. Acknowledging that the only real working basis is oneself and that there is no way around that, one takes refuge in the Buddha as an example, in the dharma as the path, and in the sangha as companionship. Nevertheless, it is a total commitment to oneself. The ceremony cuts the line that connects the ship to the anchor; it marks the beginning of an odyssey of loneliness. Still, it also includes the inspiration of the preceptor and the lineage. The participation of the preceptor is a kind of guarantee that you will not be getting back into the question of security as such, that you will continue to acknowledge your aloneness and work on yourself without leaning on anyone. Finally you become a real person, standing on your own feet. At that point, everything starts with you.
This particular journey is like that of the first settlers. We have come to no-man's land and have not been provided with anything at all. Here we are, and we have to make everything with our own bare hands. We are, in our own way, pioneers: each is a historical person on his own journey. It is an individual pioneership of building spiritual ground. Everything has to be made and produced by us. Nobody is going to throw us little chocolate chips or console us with goodies.
If we adopt a prefabricated religion that tells us exactly the best way to do everything, it is as though that religion provides a complete home with wall-to-wall carpeting. We get completely spoiled. We don't have to put out any effort or energy, so our dedication and devotion have no fiber. We wind up complaining because we didn't get the deluxe toilet tissue that we used to get. So at this point, rather than walking into a nicely prepared hotel or luxurious house, we are starting from the primitive level. We have to figure out how we are going to build our city and how we are going to relate with our comrades who are doing the same thing.
We have to work with the sense of sacredness and richness and the magical aspect of our experience. And this has to be done on the level of our everyday existence, which is a personal level, an extremely personal level. There are no scapegoats. When you take refuge you become responsible to yourself as a follower of the dharma. You are isolating yourself from the rest of your world in the sense that the world is not going to help you any more; it is no longer regarded as a source of salvation. It is just a mirage, maya. It might mock you, play music for you, and dance for you, but nevertheless the path and the inspiration of the path are up to you. You have to do it. And the meaning of taking refuge is that you are going to do it. You commit yourself as a refugee to yourself, no longer thinking that some divine principle that exists in the holy law or holy scriptures is going to save you. It is very personal. You experience a sense of loneliness, aloneness-a sense that there is no savior, no help. But at the same time there is a sense of belonging: you belong to a tradition of loneliness where people work together.
So taking refuge is a landmark of becoming a Buddhist, a nontheist. You no longer have to make sacrifices in somebody else's name, trying to get yourself saved or to earn redemption. You no longer have to push yourself overboard so that you will be smiled at by that guy who watches us, the old man with the beard. As far as Buddhists are concerned, the sky is blue and the grass is green-in the summer, of course. As far as Buddhists are concerned, human beings are very important and they have never been condemned-except by their own confusion, which is understandable. If nobody shows you a path, any kind of path, you're going to be confused. That is not your fault. But now you are being shown the path and you are beginning to work with a particular teacher. And at this point nobody is confused. You are what you are, the teachings are what they are, and I am what I am-a preceptor to ordain you as Buddhist persons.
Taking refuge in the Buddha as an example, taking refuge in the dharma as the path, and taking refuge in the sangha as companionship is very clean-cut, very definite, very precise, and very clear. People have done this for the past twenty-five hundred years of the Buddhist tradition. By taking refuge you receive that particular heritage into your own system; you join that particular wisdom that has existed for twenty-five hundred years without interruption and without corruption. It is very direct and very simple.
Taking Refuge in the Buddha
You take refuge in the Buddha not as a savior-not with the feeling that you have found something to make you secure- but as an example, as someone you can emulate. He is an example of an ordinary human being who saw through the deceptions of life, both on the ordinary and spiritual levels.
The Buddha found the awakened state of mind by relating with the situations that existed around him: the confusion, chaos and insanity. He was able to look at those situations very clearly and precisely. He disciplined himself by working on his own mind, which was the source of all the chaos and confusion. Instead of becoming an anarchist and blaming society, he worked on himself and he attained what is known as bodhi, or enlightenment. The final and ultimate breakthrough took place, and he was able to teach and work with sentient beings without any inhibition.
The example of the Buddha's life is applicable because he started out in basically the same kind of life that we lead, with the same confusion. But he renounced that life in order to find the truth. He went through a lot of religious "trips." He tried to work with the theistic world of the Hinduism of the time, and he realized there were a lot of problems with that. Then, instead of looking for an outside solution, he began working on himself. He began pulling up his own socks, so to speak, and he became a buddha. Until he did that, he was just a wishy-washy spiritual tripper. So taking refuge in the Buddha as an example is realizing that our case history is in fact completely comparable with his, and then deciding that we are going to follow his example and do what he did.
One of the big steps in the Buddha's development was his realization that there is no reason we should believe in or expect anything greater than the basic inspiration that exists in us already. This is a nontheistic tradition: the Buddha gave up relying on any kind of divine principle that would descend on him and solve his problems. So taking refuge in the Buddha in no way means regarding him as a god. He was simply a person who practiced, worked, studied, and experienced things personally. With that in mind, taking refuge in the Buddha amounts to renouncing misconceptions about divine existence. Since we possess what is known as buddhanature, enlightened intelligence, we don't have to borrow somebody else's glory. We are not all that helpless. We have our own resources already. A hierarchy of divine principles is irrelevant. It is very much up to us. Our individuality has produced our own world. The whole situation is very personal.
Taking Refuge in the Dharma
Then we take refuge in the teachings of the Buddha, the dharma. We take refuge in the dharma as path. In this way we find that everything in our life situation is a constant process of learning and discovery. We do not regard some things as secular and some things as sacred, but everything is regarded as truth-which is the definition of dharma. Dharma is also passionlessness, which in this case means not grasping, holding on, or trying to possess-it means non-aggression.
Usually, the basic thread that runs through our experience is our desire to have a purely goal-oriented process: everything, we feel, should be done in relation to our ambition, our competitiveness, our one-upmanship. That is what usually drives us to become greater professors, greater mechanics, greater carpenters, greater poets. Dharma-passionlessness-cuts through this small, goal-oriented vision, so that everything becomes purely a learning process. This permits us to relate with our lives fully and properly. So, taking refuge in the dharma as path, we develop the sense that it is worthwhile to walk on this earth. Nothing is regarded as just a waste of time; nothing is seen as a punishment or as a cause of resentment and complaint.
This aspect of taking refuge is particularly applicable in America, where it is quite fashionable to blame everything on others and to feel that all kinds of elements in one's relationships or surroundings are unhealthy or polluted. We react with resentment. But once we begin to do that, there is no way. The world becomes divided into two sections: sacred and profane, or that which is good and proper and that which is regarded as a bad job or a necessary evil. Taking refuge in the dharma, taking a passionless approach, means that all of life is regarded as a fertile situation and a learning situation, always. Whatever occurs-pain or pleasure, good or bad, justice or injustice-is part of the learning process. So there is nothing to blame; everything is the path, everything is dharma.
That passionless quality of dharma is an expression of nirvana-freedom, or openness. And once we have that approach, then any spiritual practice we might go through becomes a part of the learning situation, rather than merely ritualistic or spiritual, or a matter of religious obligation. The whole process becomes integral and natural.
This approach involves a quality of directness and absence of deception-or we might even say absence of politeness. It means that we actually face the facts of life directly, personally. We do not have to come up with any padding of politeness or ordinary cheapness, but we actually experience life. And it is very ordinary life: pain is pain and pleasure is pleasure. We don't have to use another word or innuendo. Pain and pleasure and confusion-everything takes place very nakedly. We are simply ordinary. With our friends, with our relatives, in everything that goes on, we can afford to be very simple and direct and personal.
Taking Refuge in the Sangha
Having taken refuge in the Buddha as an example and the dharma as path, then we take refuge in the sangha as companionship. That means that we have a lot of friends, fellow refugees, who are also confused, and who are working with the same guidelines as we are. Everybody is simultaneously struggling with their own discipline. As the members of the sangha experience a sense of dignity, and their sense of taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha begins to evolve, they are able to act as a reminder and to provide feedback for each other. Your friends in the sangha provide a continual reference point which creates a continual learning process. They act as mirror reflections to remind you or warn you in living situations. That is the kind of companionship that is meant by sangha. We are all in the same boat; we share a sense of trust and a sense of larger-scale, organic friendship.
So taking refuge in the sangha means being willing to work with your fellow students-your brothers and sisters in the dharma-while being independent at the same time. Nobody imposes his or her heavy notions on the rest of the sangha. Instead, each member of the sangha is an individual who is on the path in a different way from all the others. It is because of that that you get constant feedback of all kinds: negative and positive, encouraging and discouraging. These very rich resources become available to you when you take refuge in the sangha, the fellowship of students. The sangha is the community of people who have the perfect right to cut through your trips and feed you with their wisdom, as well as the perfect right to demonstrate their own neurosis and be seen through by you. The companionship within the sangha is a kind of clean friendship-without expectation, without demand, but at the same time, fulfilling.
So we no longer regard ourselves as lone wolves who have such a good thing going on the side that we don't have to relate with anybody at all. At the same rime we must nor simply go along with the crowd. Either extreme is too secure. The idea is one of constantly opening, giving up completely. There is a lot of need for giving up.
The discipline of taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma and the sangha is something more than a doctrinal or ritual thing: you are being physically infected with commitment to the buddhadharma; Buddhism is transmitted into your system. At that particular point, the energy, the power, and the blessing of basic sanity that has existed in the lineage for twenty-five hundred years, in an unbroken tradition and discipline from the time of Buddha, enters your system, and you finally become a full-fledged follower of buddhadharma. You are a living future buddha at that point.
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) was author of such classics as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, The Myth of Freedom, Born in Tibet and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. This article is adapted from The Heart of the Buddha, published by Shambhala Publications. ©1991 by Diana J. Mukpo.
by Karola Schneider
Every single person in the world is looking for happiness, but most people seek it in the outer world - in fame, career, partnership, etc. One cannot deny that these things give us pleasure, but since everything
conditioned will fall apart, these sources of happiness are not lasting. The following article is an excerpt of a lecture by Karola Schneider given during a course of Lama Ole Nydahl in 1995 in San Francisco, where over 400 people from the United States and Europe participated. Karola Schneider, who has been a student of Lama Ole Nydahl since 1979, was asked on this occasion to give a short lecture on the meaning of Buddhist refuge.
Taking refuge is something that all beings do. It is our search for happiness, security, for something we can rely on. For Buddhists, taking refuge is a constant practice, and is far more than a ceremony which takes place once. Rather, it is like a thread which weaves a line through our lives. Taking refuge is the gateway into the Buddhist practice. There are four levels of refuge: outer, inner, secret and absolute. These levels correspond to our more and more deepening understanding.
The outer level of refuge is taken by all Buddhist traditions. It is the refuge in Buddha, the Enlightened One, in the dharma, the Buddha's teachings, and in the sangha, the practitioners. They are called the three jewels, which means, that, since our wishes for happiness are granted, taking refuge in them is like finding a wish-fulfilling jewel. Refuge in the Buddha in this context means to understand his life story, which gives us a great inspiration for our own path. What made the young prince Gautama so determined that he gave up his royal lifestyle? He did it because he deeply understood impermanence - that everything conditioned would eventually fall apart. Due to this understanding, he persistently searched for something unconditioned, which he later explained as the "true nature of our mind." The word for biography in Tibetan is "nam thar," which literally means "complete liberation." By studying the life stories of enlightened masters we can understand the steps of the Buddhist path.
Buddha was a normal person before his enlightenment, like you and me. Like he, we have to ask ourselves what we want from life, which goals we have, and what we wish to build upon. Otherwise our activities are not goal-directed. The best attitude for our practice is the wish to liberate all beings from suffering and to give them the greatest happiness, the experience of the true nature of mind.
Taking refuge in the second jewel, the dharma, means not to harm others and to use the methods Buddha gave. Since he gave different methods for different students, there is a wide variety of skillful means to tame our minds. We can understand this vast range of methods like a big pharmacy. We do not need every method; we can just use the one that helps with our ailment.
The third jewel is the sangha. Sometimes sangha is explained as those practitioners who have already reached levels of liberation. But our friends whom we meet and work with in our centers are also very important for our path. How can we develop without friends on the path and without a center to go to? To come together and practice is something very precious. We can work together, learn from each other, and in this way we can train our qualities and learn something about our behavior. The people in the sangha mirror our distorted perceptions so that we can overcome them more easily.
The inner level of refuge is connected with the Diamond Way, the practice of the Vajrayana. It is the refuge in the "three roots," which are the lama, the yidams (buddha aspects), and the protectors. The lama is the root of blessing, the yidams are the roots of qualities and the protectors are the roots of activity.
What does blessing mean? It is the teacher's ability to give us moments of insight -moments where we can look through all the veils which cover our mind and "see what cannot be seen." This is possible only because we all have buddha nature. The teacher does not show us anything new, neither is he presenting us with insight. It is rather through the coming together of our own openness and the teacher's blessing that we can grasp the true nature of our mind. The teacher opens the door and then we can be amazed. Actually, the teacher promises a lot when he is giving refuge. He promises to guide us on the path and to use all his skills to liberate us from suffering. For us in the beginning, taking refuge is more like a gift, which we can take, or not. As Buddha Shakyamuni said, "I have shown you the methods that lead to liberation but you should know that liberation depends upon you." (From Journey to Enlightenment - The Life and World of Khyentse Rinpoche, Spiritual Teacher from Tibet). The teacher's skills are embodied in the yidams. "Yi" means mind and "dam" means bond. Through those buddha aspects we get a bond to the true nature of our mind.
When I am listening to lectures of my teachers, I often ask myself how I would answer certain questions. In most cases my own answer would be different. Here you can see the difference between master and student. On liberated levels you not only have compassion, but also levels of insight. That means the answer is given according to the student's needs. Sometimes the teacher will show himself as compassionate, sometimes as joyful, sometimes as peaceful, and sometimes as wrathful. These qualities are embodied in the different buddha aspects, the yidams. The protectors look very wrathful. They symbolize enlightened activity. With their blessing every single experience becomes a step on our path. They are surrounded by flames and hold all kinds of weapons in their hands. This means that they are cutting through negative emotions. From the skull-cups in their hands they drink blood, which is the blood of ego. When we take refuge in the yidams and the protectors we should not think of them as something separate from us, but try to understand them as an expression of the lama's mind, which is not different from our own mind. They are an expression of the mind being empty and vivid simultaneously.
With this we come to the secret meaning of refuge. Here we understand that the lama is the essence of the refuge. His mind is Buddha, his speech is dharma, and his body is sangha. That is why in the Diamond Way, the Guru-Yoga meditation on the lama is of such importance. There are many sources in the scriptures which stress the importance of this practice, where we ask for the lama's empowerment or blessing and then melt his mind with ours. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, the famous 19th century master, said, "If the teacher's blessing comes together with the openness of the student, you will meet your mind like an old friend" (from Cloudless Sky.) In this context we are taught to see the lama as the Buddha. It is easy to claim being able to perceive our teacher as the Buddha, but it is difficult to really do it. Actually, the ability to do so is proportional to our inner development. For a beginner it is of more importance to first check the teacher for his qualities. It is difficult for us to judge whether he is enlightened or not, but we can observe his compassion, how consistently he works for the benefit of others, and whether his teachings are meaningful for us. When we are satisfied we can ask him for refuge, which is the starting point for our own development. By taking refuge we connect ourselves with all Buddhas. We start to remove the veils which obscure the true nature of mind and slowly understand that the actual lama is our mind. In the refuge ceremony a little bit of hair is cut. This expresses our wish to follow in the footsteps of Buddha Shakyamuni.
If we understand that we are not separate from the Buddha, from our teacher, this is the absolute meaning of refuge. By logical investigation we can see that nothing is truly existent whatsoever, not even our mind. But with investigation alone we will not be able to realize the true nature of mind. We need a direct and clear perception of our mind. Otherwise it is like describing the taste of a banana, but never eating one. The absolute refuge is our mind itself. It is the only thing we can rely on. The mind is described as being empty, yet vivid.
"Without an inside, without an outside,
Awareness arisen of itself, as wide as the sky,
Beyond size, beyond direction, beyond limits -
This utter complete openness:
Space inseparable from awareness.
Within that birthless, wide-open expanse of space,
Phenomena appear - like rainbows, utterly transparent.
Pure and impure realms, Buddha and sentient beings
Are seen brilliant and distinct.
To remain, day and night, in this state -
To enter this state easily - this is joy.
(Shapkar, Journey to Enlightenment p.92)
In Buddhism we have efficient methods and there are no doubts about reaching enlightenment if we practice.
Normally everybody is taking refuge in something. Some in a Mercedes, others in their families, in being rich, smart, young, etc. But if we look for something lasting, something beyond coming and going, then we can only trust our Buddha nature. Everything else in the world disappears. You may ask yourself, "why are there so many levels of refuge? Why isn't just the absolute level explained?" The reason is that we cannot understand the absolute truth without having a strong basis. Therefore we undergo a step by step training in Buddhism. Practically this means first to practice the refuge meditation - repeating the refuge mantra 11,000 times. Through this daily repetition the meaning comes down from the head to the heart. Then we can do the Four Foundational Practices, where we first mentally develop the wish to liberate all sentient beings from suffering, then purify ourselves from physical, verbal and mental negativity and finally, after building strong positive impressions in us, we meditate on the Lama.
I hope with this information you become inspired to practice more. Beginners can start right away with the refuge meditation, which is available in our centers.
BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.4, 1998
Copyright ©1998 Kamtsang Choling USA
in the Boardroom
by Samuel Fromartz
at a large bank in the eastern United States begins meetings by ringing a bell.
It's not the start of meditation in any formal sense, but it reminds the participants
to practice conscious awareness of the meeting at hand-to listen mindfully and
to talk honestly, free of interruption, without anger.
This type of mindfulness practice isn't described as "Buddhist" or even religious. Rather, the purpose is to focus the group on the work at hand; it's part of a larger project to slowly change the atmosphere of the division, which studies risk. "My job," says Michael Pergola, the bank executive, "is to help people think together, minimize conflict and become aware of themselves."
He doesn't say a word about making more money. Of course, Pergola can justify his project because the immediate aim is to improve the way the division functions and thereby contribute to the bank's fortunes-something that has occurred in the two years since the practice began. But a greater degree of kindness and understanding has gone hand in hand with that.
The challenge for Buddhists, indeed for anyone who has a spiritual practice, is to find a way to bring practice to an environment often divorced from, if not in conflict with, spiritual life. The job-with its stresses, time pressures, demands, competition and conflicts-might prompt you to leave your practice at the door. But work can also present a context to explore Buddhism-in the way you conduct a meeting, walk down the hall to the copy machine, consider the place of your work within the world, or ponder the degrees of separation from your spirituality.
"There's really no difference between sitting on the cushion and doing work practice," says Norman Fischer, a Zen priest and former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, who helps run a retreat for business people called "Company Time" at Green Gulch Farm, the Zen center in Marin County. "If people want to do spiritual practice and they have a job, then they really don't have any choice but to consider the meditation of how to make that job into part of their practice. There's no other way."
Buddhists I talked to for this story bore that out. They manifested their practice in the ways they built their companies, approached conflict, set up or avoided partnerships, invested money, advertised, sold their products and went through their daily tasks. But they were clear that this is not an ideal world: outcomes don't always measure up to intentions and compromises are made.
Many come from backgrounds in the 1960's and '70's when "business"-especially when coupled with "big"-was a bad word. They have no illusions about the fact that business can be exploitative, inequitable and wasteful of the earth's resources. Or that it can often reward a single-minded aggressiveness that is at odds with spiritual practice.
But some of the people I talked to now regard business as nothing more than, as one of them put it, "relations between people." Others spoke of the way the workplace could enhance practice, simply by allowing one to be mindful in a chaotic environment. For many, bringing Buddhist practice to work didn't mean choosing a job from an appropriate list of careers and companies that met a rigid definition of "right livelihood," because such a list doesn't exist. Rather, right livelihood in the 21st-century might be better understood as "conscious livelihood"-being aware of what a company is doing and what choices and actions to take in this environment.
From the inception of soy products company White Wave in 1979, founder Steve Demos viewed it as a way to pursue right livelihood. He understood this at its most basic level as "doing no harm." Demos had spent three years in India in the seventies exploring a number of spiritual traditions and was strongly influenced by vipassana mediation workshops with S.N. Goenka. After he returned to the States, he became inspired by a business idea that came to him during a six-week meditation retreat in California.
"Maybe I should have been doing something else there," he says, "but I was thinking about soy." A complex source of protein, it could be an answer to the malnutrition he had witnessed in India. In short, it met his understanding of meaningful work.
Living in Boulder, Colorado, at the time, he borrowed $500 from an upstairs neighbor and began making tofu. Pat Calhoun-a friend who had traveled with Demos in India and has practiced vipassana meditation ever since-soon joined him. "I was a waitress and didn't feel good about serving alcohol," she says. "I wanted to do something the world was better off with, than without." She's now chief financial officer, or as her card says, vice president of spare change.
They serviced small health food stores, ran a deli, and over the years tried dozens of incarnations of soy to build a market. They nearly went bankrupt twice and didn't really begin to grow until the company came up with Silk brand soy milk in 1996. Sales rose from $10 million in 1998 to $80 million by 2000 and are expected to hit $140 million in 2001. The company is the largest producer of soy products in the United States.
Demos, 53, has been featured in Fortune and Forbes but those articles don't dwell on what he sees as the most crucial aspect of the company: its philosophy of business. Demos puts it this way: "We only sell things that are good for me, good for you, and good for everybody who touches it." But what's crucial is that these values aren't spelled out in a company primer, codified in a set of rules, or foisted on employees as required company jargon. Rather Demos tries to realize them through the decisions and actions of the company. And if the actions don't always measure up, that's part of the process as well. Spelling out the understated approach, Calhoun says, "We're not missionaries. We're not good at that. The only thing I can do is observe myself and how I act and know what my intent is."
Demos does set clear ethical boundaries, however. He refuses to take investment money in the private company from any entity associated with meat, alcohol, tobacco or weapons. "When we have meetings, the first thing I ask is, 'Where did your money come from?' Even if it's three generations removed, if it came from the wrong place I won't take it." But he calls himself a pragmatist, one who must compromise to make sure the business works. Although he has never had layoffs he says, "I would fire people, or myself, if it meant the survival of the business and the values it represents."
His goal now is to build the business, but without losing sight of the original intent. "The business could never be too big if it is rooted on the right principles," he says. In short, for Demos, bigger is not bad.
Marc Lesser admits he was idealistic when he decided to leave Tassajara, the Zen community in the mountains of Carmel Valley, California, to enter the business world in 1983. He didn't fully appreciate how much running a company would test the mettle of his practice, such as a recent crisis that almost forced him to shut down after 12 years in business.
When he embarked on his business career, Lesser had been a member of the San Francisco Zen Center for a decade, where he'd held a number of administrative roles, including director of Tassajara, and he wanted to build a business that reflected his practice. In some ways, he had already made the connection between the worlds of work and practice. During his administrative years at Tassajara, Lesser would rise before dawn, meditate for three hours, then remove his robe and work in the office. "It seemed quite seamless, the line between meditation practice and business practice," he says.
When he left Tassajara, he finished up his undergraduate degree-interrupted when he joined Zen Center-and went on to get an MBA. After returning to San Francisco and working in a recycled paper company, Lesser decided to form his own company in 1989. He sought to combine his knowledge of recycled paper, which he thought would be in high demand, with paper goods featuring spiritual content. He relied on friends at the Zen center to come up with the cards, calendars and other products that were at the heart of the "spiritual lifestyle" company. He named it Brush Dance.
Brush Dance grew from a catalogue operation run from his home into a successful wholesale operation, but when the Internet fever hit in the late 1990's, Lesser had another vision. He wanted to transform Brush Dance into a Web portal where people could buy products with a spiritual theme. Since he had already built a business in the field, expansion seemed logical and profits possible. Investors bought into the vision too. In March, 2000, he raised several million dollars, doubled his staff and hired a CEO.
A month later, the NASDAQ peaked and began its long descent. Funding for web projects quickly dried up and Lesser scrambled to revise his business model. "Could we overcome the financial difficulties and hurdles that were created by pursuing an Internet strategy and return to a wholesale model? There were huge obstacles to overcome," he says. By February 2001, with funding all but gone, Lesser cut the staff from twenty-four people to twelve. "It was a shock and very painful and there were lots of tears, but in some way it was not a surprise," he says. "It was essential to the survival of the business; we had to take steps to stop burning through money."
Lesser was stressed out. He wondered whether the company would survive. He also wondered whether this was still the spiritual quest he had set out on. "Is this the kind of activity I want to be doing? Was this nourishing?" he asked himself.
In the midst of it, he bumped into Norman Fischer, the former Zen Center abbot, and told him what a difficult time he was having. Fischer told him, "Well, the mind is definitely affected by conditions." At that time, he says, "I realized that part of me wanted to be in a place where my mind was not affected by these things. I was facing a difficult time-there was no way around it. Practice wasn't going to make it easier because practice isn't about making difficult times easy. Practice is seeing difficulty for what it is."
After the height of the crisis, when he had ended the Internet strategy, he fought to keep the business going. He won the support of creditors and suppliers, and the investors gave him money to revive the underlying wholesale business. The key, he says, was approaching everyone with honesty, openness and integrity-letting them know exactly what was going on.
The company is now expanding once again in its original form as a wholesale publisher, and Lesser says he has learned a lot from the whole process. "The world of business in many ways could be perceived as being as far as you could get from spiritual practice," he says, "but I think there are tremendous similarities."
Wealth and power are often thought of as the two common pursuits of business people. Addressing the lure of accumulation, Jim Rosen, a Tibetan Buddhist of 25 years and vice president at Internet company Netegrity in Waltham, Massachusetts, points out: "This can be a trap. Wealth doesn't make you happy; it brings its own burdens." Fischer says that money and responsibility go hand in hand: the more you have, the more time you must devote to thinking about how it is used. "It's a hard practice, very difficult," he says. "It's much easier to be a monk."
Wayne Silby, the founder of the Calvert Group, the largest family of socially screened mutual funds in the United States, is no monk. He was cautious about my interview request: "I'm not some blissed-out Buddhist," he said.
It turns out that Silby is less a practitioner than a sympathizer, one who has been involved with various Buddhist organizations over the years. He meditates on occasion, including in an isolation tank. In fact, he says, he's come up with some of his best business ideas in that tank as the chatter of his mind quiets. Given his profession and his inclination, Silby has thought a lot about money and has addressed head-on the issue of accumulation-what does it mean to have money and what should one do if one has it?
Silby has always been responsible for his own money-making, since he has never worked for anyone else. In his twenties, he started out with a partner in the then nascent field of money market funds. They quickly grew to manage more than a billion dollars, getting a further jolt when interest rates spiked and the funds grew popular in the seventies. But in 1979, he attended a conference on right livelihood in Vermont, and began to reconsider his work. "I realized that there was more to life than a few extra basis points," he says. (A basis point is 1/100th of 1 percent, but it can add up when funds are in the billions.)
After the conference, he started to think about a socially responsible investment fund. "It would be based on our values, the kinds of companies we liked to invest in, and we would make choices about these investments-they call them 'screens' today," he says. Although many mutual funds now offer some sort of socially screened investments, when Silby started to talk about the idea in 1980 he says, "People looked at you as if you were still on drugs."
He faced resistance in his own company-his management team tended to rule by consensus and veto his more outlandish ideas. "But I decided this was really something I wanted to do and told my partner I would throw a real tantrum if I didn't get this," Silby says. He worked with a small team to brainstorm about the idea, never really intending to create another large business. "It just seemed like it ought to be done in the world," he says. "We already had $1 billion in assets, so why not put our money to work in ways that are in sync with how we want to live?"
When Calvert Social Investment Fund was launched in 1982, the press picked up on it and before long it started to grow. Calvert finds financially attractive companies and screens them on their broader societal impact, through their record on the environment, labor, human rights, community relations, product safety and defense. The funds invest a small portion of their money in communities through vehicles such as low-income housing funds, community development loans and micro-enterprise loans. Calvert also backs start-ups, through a social venture fund. Altogether, it has $7 billion of investors' funds at work.
"I think about money as our promises-about the integrity of our promises," Silby says. "If you have money, you have a fiduciary duty for that wealth and you become a trustee for society." On that score, he thinks saving and investment are more important than consumption. Investment can help an enterprise expand and create jobs and a livelihood for people. As for consumption: "I have a problem with people building 5,000-square-foot homes that they use only once a year."
Social investment becomes a way to "take responsibility for your money and how you're creating the world," he says-not unlike the idea expressed by Fischer of the inseparability of money and responsibility.
Not everyone can own or work for a high-minded soy foods producer, spiritual greeting card maker, socially responsible mutual fund company or one of the many other businesses that try to make a living with a conscience. Nor will everyone become a social worker, work in a refugee camp in Pakistan or become a monk.
Lewis Richmond, a former Zen priest and owner of a small software firm, Forerunner Systems Inc., in Mill Valley, California, points out that we don't have to. In fact, the majority of people-especially people with less formal education and without many options-will likely end up working for companies that don't have an "enlightened" outlook.
With that in mind, Richmond, in his book, Work as a Spiritual Practice, explored how practice could be brought into everyday work life: how can you maintain awareness even when time and attention are not always under your control? Richmond's premise is that you can practice regardless of the context in which you work. Indeed, he has said that the enlightened business is really beside the point. Rather than create businesses that are overtly spiritual, business people should create businesses that work, and realize their practice in the way they treat employees, deal with partners and carry out their daily tasks.
Right livelihood, Richmond believes, is too often conceived in the rigid Judeo-Christian sense of "right" and "wrong"-What type of work is right to do? What should I avoid?-rather than in the sense of pursuing an "aware or conscious livelihood," which might well be more in tune with the original meaning of the term.
"Even if your business operates within the limits of the ethically acceptable, we always do harm," he says. "That's the dilemma." Or as Fischer puts its, "You know you're causing suffering in being alive, and with trepidation you do what you can to cause as little as possible."
A friend of Richmond's, who was a policeman and a Buddhist, struggled with the fact that he had to carry a gun. "But would I rather see him as a policeman or someone else? To have him confront criminals with a sense of awareness, well, that's very difficult and very great work," Richmond says.
Practice, then, isn't just a matter of looking for the list of the "right" places to work, or the "right" careers to pursue-it's doing the work itself, whatever it may be. "We all have to deal with the situations we're in," Richmond says. "And maybe if the ideals were less public, more sincerely integrated, they wouldn't be remain as mere ideals. They would be actualized."
Samuel Fromartz is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. specializing in business topics. He is a participant in the Capitol Hill Mindfulness Community.
Schell on the Choice We Face
An Interview with Jonathan Schell, author of The Unconquerable World
How much should the Shambhala Sun concern itself with politics? It's an interesting question, one we debate at the Sun and that, I think, divides our readers. Should a Buddhist magazine also address conventional political issues, subjects many other publications do, and may do better? My answer is no-and yes. No, we should not cover the conventional run of issues, policies and elections, the stuff of routine politics. Our job is to provide another viewpoint entirely. But also yes. I think we should address the biggest global issues, because these are spiritual issues. The future of humanity is a spiritual issue (which is only another way of stating the obvious truth that human suffering is a spiritual issue). On the big questions, whether political, psychological or moral, spiritual people must weigh in, and not least because often only spirituality describes the real cause and provides the answer.
My conversation with Jonathan Schell was about such questions, questions on which humanity's future depends. Schell is best known for his 1982 work The Fate of the Earth, in which he argues for the abolition of nuclear weapons before-somewhere, someday-they are used. His new book is The Unconquerable World. We started with the title. ~ Melvin McLeod
Melvin McLeod: The title of your book, The Unconquerable World, seems to be both a thesis and a call to action. What is the "unconquerable world"?
Jonathan Schell: It means that people in the world today are powerfully resolved to run their own affairs and have discovered the means to do so. More particularly, it means they have the will and the means to defy and defeat conquest from without. I think that in the modern age empires have become an infeasible project, whereas in the past empires could be built and last for many hundreds of years. Now there are new forces of resistance with a greater power to head off any imperial project in the first place.
Especially in the latter half of the twentieth century, people also demand to be free in the truer sense of not being subject even to a domestic dictator. We have witnessed the fall of a couple of dozen dictatorships and in almost every case the dictatorship was replaced by something freer-not true democracy in every case, but at least something that was freer than what had gone before.
It seems to me that what motivated you to write this book was your belief that we have arrived at a crucial historical turning point, which you compare to the period leading up to the First World War. You feel that if we continue to rely on military force as the basis of international relations, we will suffer a cataclysmic event comparable to World War I, one that will lead to a long period of global violence. In fact, you fear that if we continue on this path we will condemn ourselves to a twenty-first century even bloodier than the twentieth.
Actually I worked on this book for more than a decade, and the crisis was not as acute when I started the book as it was at the end. In fact the book was begun in rather a hopeful spirit, and I think it still has a hopeful foundation, because I try to describe underlying conditions for creating a peaceful world if only we would turn in that direction. But of course what happened was that we turned in exactly the opposite direction. At the end of the Cold War we were presented with almost a miraculous opportunity to turn slowly but decisively away from violence as the principal way of conducting international affairs. There were all kinds of historical conditions, including this impossibility of empire, that made this project far more feasible that it had been in 1919 or 1945.
I was trying to describe these hopeful developments, these positive foundations that had been slowly created, and lo and behold, as one century passed into another, it turned out that not only was the United States not going to seize the opportunity, but it was going to go 180 degrees in the wrong direction. So that's why the crisis is so acute. We seem to have decided to rely once again on violence as the principal means of securing our safety, and I think that's an even more desperate illusion than it was in 1914 or in 1939.
Describe specifically the scenario you fear we are heading into.
Obviously, our nuclear weapons are right at the heart of it. Surrounding those are biological and chemical weapons, although there are only a couple of the biological weapons that in my view deserve to be called weapons of mass destruction.
If the nuclear powers, beginning with the United States, insist on holding on to their very large nuclear arsenals, I don't think there's any hope of stopping proliferation of these weapons to other countries, and indeed we see that happening as we speak. Then we are heading into a condition of nuclear anarchy-multiple arms races running out of control, combined with shifting national rivalries of the kind we see between Pakistan and India or between Japan, North Korea and China. I don't believe in inevitability, but there is then the immense likelihood of the first use of nuclear weapons since Nagasaki. When you consider the power of the nuclear weapon, that disaster could easily outdo in destructiveness the entire First and Second World Wars in just a day or two.
Yet, using the World War I analogy again, you argue that as unimaginable as that tragedy would be, the greater and worse effect would be its subsequent impact on human history, as World War I led to the rise of the totalitarian states, World War II and the Holocaust.
If we go over the nuclear threshold it's hard to predict what would come next. Would that set in motion a spiral of violence, as the First World War did at the beginning of the twentieth century, which would last throughout the twenty-first century? Or is it conceivable that people would learn a lesson? I'm rather pessimistic about that, because if we were unable to be sensible about weapons of mass destruction in a time of peace-I'm thinking of the end of the Cold War in the 1990's-how likely is it that the world is going to come to its senses in the midst of inconceivable mayhem and destruction such as the world has never experienced? The use of even a single nuclear weapon would be a watershed in history greater than anything we can conceive or imagine.
War had become inevitable well before the actual start of World War I. You believe we have not yet reached the point where the spiral of violence is unavoidable. You think we can still step back from the brink. But don't many people around the world, including leaders on both sides, believe that we are now in a war, even that World War III has already started?
One of the great differences between the period before World War I and now is that once the decision to go to war was made in 1914 there was no pulling back. All of the armies of all of the greatest powers were condemned at that point to fight total war, to fight to the finish, and that's what they did. Today it's very different. Even though the United States has announced an intention to dominate the world with its unsurpassed military force, it actually does not now dominate the world in that way. The process of attempting to do so would involve many, many stages, and if it is true that an imperial enterprise is not feasible in the twenty-first century, then at each of those steps there is going to be unexpected trouble that will force reconsideration.
I think that's exactly what we're seeing in Iraq right now. It's turning out that overthrowing a regime is one thing and putting in a regime which we like and that supports us is a totally different thing. So far it looks beyond our capacity, for the reason that I set forth in The Unconquerable World; namely, that we're up against this force of the human spirit that wants to run its own affairs and not to be dominated by another power, no matter how benign-and we are not very benign as a matter of fact.
The key question is making a judgment about the character of this enterprise. My judgment is that the entire imperial enterprise of taking over other people's countries and trying to impose your own system of government is something that is bound to fail. If we lived in a world that was fundamentally different, in which it was possible to do all that, well, you might be for it. But the fact is we're living in the world we do live in, and we have to make judgments based on that.
So I expect the United States to fail. I take no joy in it. But I'm not rooting for us to win either, because I think the whole project is misbegotten. Edmund Burke, who opposed the British military campaign in the United States during the revolution, warned, "Our victories early on in the war can only complete our ruin." Now, did he want the British to lose? No. But he thought the whole thing was impracticable and that the more the British won, the bigger the defeat was going to be when it came. That's the way I see this situation.
You seem to feel that whether or not the U.S. pursues these imperial ambitions is the decisive factor. Aren't there more basic historical forces-north versus south, anti-modernity, divisions of religion, identity or wealth, degradation of the natural and human environment-that will determine the course of history more than a single political factor?
Even back in the 1990's when I started writing this book it was clear that the intersection of the spread of weapons of mass destruction with these unextinguished local fights, such as India and Pakistan, had the makings for major disaster. All the things you mention were out there during the 1990's. The difference was that there appeared to be wise and enlightened policies for dealing with these underlying difficulties. We could engage in concerted nuclear disarmament on a global basis. That is an absolute necessity, because I've always believed that it will be impossible to stop proliferation without disarmament by those who already have nuclear weapons. There could have been all kinds of assistance to poor countries, joining the Kyoto process, strengthening international law-all those good things that weren't going to produce miracles overnight but did certainly present a positive and sensible approach to these underlying problems. These kinds of policies were on the table after the end of the Cold War and before there was any September 11th.
But what I did not expect-and maybe I'm showing my naiveté here-is that at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United States would rear up as a world-menacing empire. I knew that we could be arrogant, that we were the only superpower and all that, but I did not imagine that we would conceive a scheme-which is clearly laid out in White House documents-for dominating the world through military superiority. This I did not imagine.
So you're absolutely right-there are underlying problems in the world that precede the threat posed by the United States. It's a very important point, because it means that it won't be enough just to stop the imperial drive of the United States, because that is really only a misconceived response to these underlying problems. You have not to just stop the misconceived response; you then have to craft the positive, sensible, enlightened response to those problems.
The hope you find for the world is in the power of nonviolent political action, which you argue became increasingly important relative to military power over the course of the twentieth century. It's the lesson we've learned repeatedly in the twentieth century, that in the long run an army cannot defeat a people.
That's it exactly. There's a wonderful quote I use in the book from George Washington, of all people, when he was en route to the military victory in Yorktown that ended the war. He had actually suffered a long string of defeats, but he understood that what was most important was not for his army to win battles against the British but to survive, to endure. Because he knew the British would eventually tire and leave. He summarized that in a comment he made to civilian supporters: "We may be beaten by the British, but here," he said, pointing to the crowd, "is an army they will never conquer." The army may be defeated but the American people cannot be conquered. It was a subtle distinction but a very important one, and it foreshadowed the whole development you referred to when you said that armies can not defeat peoples.
In your book you give a number of examples of the successful use of nonviolent political action. These are not minor; they are great, historical events achieved through political power, ranging from the nonviolent campaigns of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the collapse of the Soviet system, to the ending of European empires. Which examples do you feel are the most relevant and inspiring for our situation today?
As far as more hopeful and constructive efforts, above all there was the anti-war movement before the Iraqi war broke out. This involved the confluence of four factors that made it something without historical precedent. One was simultaneous demonstration all over the earth, organized very quickly. It was certainly the broadest antiwar movement that ever existed. Number two was the fact that public opinion polls all over the world revealed opposition to the war. You could actually say-and back it up with fact-that the human species was against this war. So the demonstrations were not, as is so often the case, protesting majority opinion; they were expressing it. On top of that, most governments in the world opposed the war too-not all of them but the great majority. Finally-and I think people have not made enough of this-all this opposition achieved expression in votes at the United Nations, where the United States was visibly unable to bully and coerce the members of the Security Council into supporting its war resolution.
So to me the rise of this movement, even though it failed to stop the war, was an immensely hopeful development. It holds the seeds of great hope for the future, because now that the war is going badly it has left behind a foundation that can serve us very well as we move into the next stages.
The other thing that I regard as a very hopeful expression of political power is the European Union. After all, it was Europe that dragged us into the two world wars of the twentieth century, but the wonderful thing is that they learned from the experience. They asked themselves, How can we stop this from happening again? And they came up with a very specific idea, which was to very gradually create a new, politically innovative structure, which has turned out to be the European Union. It's been a slow, very deep organic process that was specifically geared to bring peace in the most war-like region in the world. In the process they have established precedents that are of the greatest importance for the world as a whole.
Above all the Europeans have learned to live without full national sovereignty. Each of the countries has surrendered significant portions of its sovereignty to the union. It isn't a complete surrender, its not federalism like what we have in the United States, but it's a very significant surrender. To make these kind of hybrid forms-mixed sovereignty, limited sovereignty, pooled power, power sharing-work in one of the most prosperous and important parts of the world is something of huge promise for the future. And I think it's no accident that these very countries were the ones who opposed the American invasion of Iraq. They had a different idea of how the world should run, and a better idea.
In the book you write, "Jesus' counsel [to put down the sword] was rejected for political affairs, except among a few people, regarded by almost everyone as dreamers or fools, blind to the iron laws that govern the political world." On the other hand, you quote the great American diplomat George Kennan, who talked about the "naiveté of realism," and we can think of many examples of hard-headed "realists" who were blind to the importance of political factors. So who's really naive?
In political science, what's called "realism" is a school of thought that holds that force is the final arbiter in almost all political affairs. If you look at the history of the twentieth century, it's obvious that there was considerable truth in the realist view. Especially in the first half of the century, those who had more guns did win and did decide what happened next.
But at the same time, and less noticed, there were very, very important and sweeping events that taught another lesson. All of the empires that were standing at the beginning of the century had collapsed by the end, with the possible exception of the American. Was it military force which achieved that? No, the people who won their independence didn't possess a fraction of the military forces that their imperial opponents possessed. It had to be something else. It was another kind of power. It proved itself in the real world, and it was the power of nonviolent action.
I wonder if the decision whether to use military or political means doesn't depend on the situation. For instance, I would argue that the Palestinian cause would have been far better served by a Gandhi than an Arafat, that at least in the period since the Oslo Accord the use of mass nonviolent means would have been far more effective than terrorism. On the other hand is the case of Nazi Germany. The nonviolent domestic opposition to Hitler, such as the White Rose, was quickly martyred. Most of the German opposition knew the best chance they had was to try to assassinate Hitler.
I've longed believed that the Palestinians would have been better served by a Gandhi and nonviolent movement than by violence. But in writing this book I've had to acknowledge to myself that I am not a pacifist. To be a pacifist you have to be unable to imagine any situation in which you would support the use of violence. I can imagine such situations, and opposing Hitler, although I wasn't alive at that time, would in all likelihood have been one of them.
But part of my argument is that the world has changed historically. The shape of decisions is different now from the shape of decisions in 1939. Most notably, we live in the nuclear age. So the option of destroying a Hitler-type regime, which in our time would be a nuclear-armed regime, by military means is simply not open, just as it was not open during the Cold War. So I'm suspicious of abstract arguments, saying that just as I would have opposed Hitler in 1939, so I would oppose a totalitarian regime today. That overlooks these profound historical changes. I hope I don't overlook matters of fundamental principle, but my argument is very much rooted in an historical analysis, in what I see as a profound revolution that has occurred in the domain of force.
What is your opinion of the role of religion in political movements? On one hand, much of the aggression in the world today is at least partly motivated or justified by religion. On the other hand, many of the great nonviolent movements, such as Gandhi's campaigns in South Africa and India, the civil rights movement in the U.S. and Solidarity in Poland, found their strength, inspiration and central organizing principle in religion.
The question is the translation of spiritual principles, such as ahimsa, the principle of non-harm advocated by Gandhi, or Christian nonviolence to the political sphere. There have been two kinds of objections to the infusion of spiritual energy into politics. One is that it could breed fanaticism, and the other is that it will enfeeble religion-that politics is a realm in which the sword rules, so it's a mismatch.
I think that one of the most fascinating and remarkable things that happened during the twentieth century-and Gandhi was the key figure-was that people found new ways of introducing spiritual principles and energies into politics, ways that avoid the traditional objections. But this isn't anything that could be done simply or easily. It required a political and spiritual genius, namely Gandhi, to open the door. Others have been experimenting with and refining those techniques-"techniques" isn't the word I want-those practices throughout the twentieth century. Consider for instance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. That commission deploys a spiritual act, namely forgiveness, into the political realm. But it's very complicated; a process of translation, so to speak, has to occur. You have to tease out what religion means and what it doesn't mean in the political realm. And it turns out there are all kinds of difficulties, trade-offs, paradoxes. You have to surrender a measure of justice to get the truth. There's a tension between justice for the victim and forgiveness for the perpetrators, and those balances are very hard to strike. They're fully as complicated and messy as other political processes, but nevertheless the operation has been extremely valuable.
Likewise, the Eastern European movement against the Soviet Union in a certain sense applied the Christian principle of nonviolence, even though they weren't dogmatic believers in it. It is very hard to tell whether they were doing it for pragmatic reasons, because they didn't have the military force to challenge the Soviet Union, or whether they were doing it for moral and spiritual reasons, because they felt that the practice of violence would corrupt them and corrupt any regime they would found. I find it very interesting that when people have succeeded in bringing spiritual principles to bear in the political realm, it's a very subtle and difficult matter to tell how much is pragmatic and how much is spiritual. What I am clear about is that this is hugely refreshing and positive for the political light of the world.
By the way, I would argue with you about Solidarity. The Catholic Church was indeed important, but there was an amazing degree of spontaneity in the rise of the movement that occurred in the factories of Gdansk and later elsewhere in Poland. I do believe in spontaneous movements that then create institutions or find leadership. That's the way I think it works.
I feel some of the most significant political struggles in the world today are going on within the world religions. The debates between the fundamentalist and moderate wings of the various religions also revolve around issues of aggression versus non-aggression, and their outcome will have significant impact on world politics.
I agree with you completely. I think that's one reason interfaith efforts have a particular importance right now. Interfaith conversation, dialogue, is always a positive and noble thing, but now it's become a kind of political necessity as well. Also, if a movement of tolerance that goes across religions could develop and become prominent, it could be a counter-force to the fundamentalist tendencies that have grown up within each religion.
You've made a case for the vital necessity of choosing nonviolent means as the basis of both domestic and international politics, and not seeing military force as the final arbiter. I'd like to conclude by asking how we can put this into effect, individually and collectively.
As a dissident, Vaclav Havel espoused the principle of "living in truth." That meant living without espousing or supporting any of the regime's lies. Even if one lost one's liberty or property, one would have the greater satisfaction of living as a genuine human being, with honesty and values. In a dictatorship, that's a hard choice to make in practice, because of the severe penalties, but an easy problem intellectually, because the regime is so egregious that it's very clear what the lies are. But how do we "live in the truth" in a democracy, where the problem is the opposite-there are few penalties but it's hard to pin down the truth and the lies.
Let me try to address this. I have thought about it. You know, dictatorships invade the lives of their citizens. Havel gives the example of a brewer who was forced to make bad beer. The government came in and said, here's how to make beer. And it was bad beer. So that brewer's living in truth was to refuse to make the bad beer and to make the best beer he could. And in a sense that's easier, because the decision is forced upon you. Either you follow the command of the gentleman at your door, or you refuse it and you go off to jail.
In the West we have electoral systems that in effect leave us alone. They do not force political decisions upon us. Quite the contrary, the people in government are very content to go about their political business without any interference from the citizens, if the citizens will let them. So the situation of the citizen in a liberal democracy is far different from the situation of a citizen in a dictatorship.
Well, what to do? The existence of that electoral system is an opportunity, but what it requires is an exceptional degree of initiative. You could call it a failing that there's nothing in our system that forces the citizen to take political action. It's very easy in the United States or any of the parliamentary democracies to live an apolitical life. So, whereas what was required under a dictatorship was exceptional courage, what citizens in democracies have to do is overcome apathy and inertia. They have to hurl themselves into action and reappoint themselves as the sovereigns of their own country. In theory they already are, but in fact they are not because they're not doing anything. In a way it's terribly easy, but it must be very difficult at the same time, because it happens so rarely that people appoint themselves to assume these political responsibilities that are theoretically theirs but that have in fact lapsed.
And for that to happen on a large scale, there must be something around which people can organize and which inspires them, whether it's a leader, a religious belief, a platform or an injustice. If there is to be a mass political movement to take us in a different direction, away from the global catastrophe you fear, what could that rallying point be?
I can give you one that I think is worth organizing around and agitating about. It's the choice for the United States between empire and democracy. If the United States becomes an imperial power, I don't think it can remain a democracy. I think an imperial project will entail a domestic transformation in which we lose the republic. The Roman example, which was very much on the mind of the founding fathers, teaches that you can lose the republic if you turn yourself too much into an empire. I think we already see the beginnings of such a domestic transformation: weakening of the separation of powers, curtailment of civil liberties, the huge transfer of money from the poor to the rich, a system of centralized command, corruption of politics by money.
All of these things are part of a domestic transformation that is the homeland, if I may use that word, counterpart to the imperial drive abroad. So I would like to see a movement that is itself democratic in the United States arise to fight for democracy and against empire. That would be a very good principle for organizing and I see it beginning to happen.
So that's essentially a negative principle-to stop something bad from happening.
Also pro-democracy. But that's right, we have to stop this. And at the same time we should be asking, What is the right way to do this? What is the better way? What are the tremendous opportunities that history offered us, especially at the end of the Cold War, that we passed up but are still open? You know, the anti-war movement was a very strong foundation. I do see the beginnings of good things.
From "The Choice We Face," an interview with Jonathan Schell. Shambhala Sun, November 2003.
Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka school of Indian Mahayana, emphasized the centrality of the doctrine of emptiness in his philosophy. In the following verses he indicates that concepts are empty because language is simply an interconnected system of terms that do not capture actual things. They simply relate to other words. One who fully recognizes this fact becomes freed from the snares of language and attains correct realization, an important part of the path to liberation.
1. Though the buddhas have spoken of duration, origination, destruction, being, non-being, low, moderate, and excellent by force of worldly convention, [they] have not done [so] in an absolute sense.
2. Designations are without significance, for self, non-self, and self-non-self do not exist. [For] like nirvana, all expressible things are empty of own-being (svabhava).
3. Since all things altogether lack substance--either in causes or conditions, [in their] totality, or separately--they are empty.
4. Being does not arise, since it exists. Non-being does not arise, since it does not exist. Being and non-being [together] do not arise, due to [their] heterogeneity. Consequently they do not endure or vanish....
7. Without one, there are not many. Without many, one is not possible. Whatever arises dependently is indeterminable....
56. Consciousness occurs in dependence on the internal and external sense spheres. Therefore consciousness is empty, like mirages and illusions.
57. Since consciousness arises in dependence on a discernible object, the discernible does not exist [in itself]. Since [the conscious subject] does not exist without the discernible and consciousness, the conscious subject does not exist [by itself]....
65. But when one has understood by seeing fully that things are empty, one is no longer deluded. Ignorance ceases, and the twelve spokes [of the wheel] come to a halt....
67. Nothing exists by virtue of own-being, nor is there any non-being there. Being and non-being, born through causes and conditions, are empty.
68. Since all things are empty of own-being, the incomparable Tathagata teaches dependent arising with respect to things....
72. One with faith who tries to seek the truth, one who considers this principle logically [and] relies [upon] the dharma that is lacking all supports and leaves behind existence and non-existence and abides in peace.
73. When one understands that "This is a result of that," the nets of bad views will vanish. Undefiled, one abandons desire, delusion, and hatred and gains nirvana.
Is Here and Now
Mahayana thinkers often criticized their rivals for creating false dichotomies within Buddhism. In the following passage, drawn from the Descent into Lanka Sutra, Buddha tells his audience that cyclic existence and nirvana are non-differentiable. There is no true difference between them. Those who perceive reality under the influence of delusion and ignorance continue to be trapped within the round of birth, death, and rebirth, but those who eliminate them attain the state of nirvana. Since, however, ignorance has no substance of its own, and the mental afflictions are merely adventitious, there is no truly existent difference between the two states.
Those who are afraid of the suffering which arises from...the round of birth and death seek for nirvana; they do not realize that between birth and death and nirvana there is really no difference at all. They see nirvana as the absence of all...birth and the cessation of all contact of sense-organ and sense-object, and they will not understand that it is really only the inner realization of the store of latencies....Thus they teach the three vehicles, but not the doctrine that nothing truly exists but the mind, in which there are no images. Therefore...they do not know the extent of what has been perceived by the minds of past, present, and future buddhas, and they continue in the conviction that the world extends beyond the range of the mind's purview....And so they keep on rolling...on the wheel of birth and death.
Buddhist Monk Stresses Forgiveness... Again
The Chosun Ilbo[Sunday, October 17, 2004 22:24]
"Forgiving is the biggest discipline. Through forgiving others, I receive forgiveness. Everyday is a new day. One mustn't turn ones back on the new day, being stuck in a rut. If one unties oneself and becomes free, the world, too, opens wide."
The Buddhist Monk Rev. Pubjeong, who lives deep in the mountains of Gangwon Province and gives two public dharma talks a year, followed up his April discussion of forgiveness with another discussion on the topic Sunday. In his autumn dharma talk held at Gilsang Temple in Seoul's Seongbuk-dong amidst the fall foliage and cosmos flowers, Pubjeong stressed, "We must free ourselves of the poison stuck in our hearts through forgiveness." April was a time when social tension had grown sharp as a result of the presidential impeachment and general election. As if to strike the bamboo clapper once more for a mundane world that had yet to forgive or harmonize going into autumn, the venerated monk chose to devote both his lectures, which were given only twice a year, to the subject of "forgiveness."
Pubjeong started off his lecture by quoting Thich Nhat Hanh, who said, "If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper," and stressed, "Like how the clouds sprinkle rain, and through that rain the trees grow, and with those trees paper is made, all of existence is interconnected; independent existence cannot be found anywhere."
Pubjeong asked, "Last April, too, I spoke of forgiveness, but how well have you put forgiveness into practice?" After this, he recounted an anecdote from the recently published collect of conversations by the Dalai Lama, "The Wisdom Of Forgiveness." After about 20 years, the Dalai Lama had met a fellow monk who spent 18 years in a Chinese prison and was forced to issue self-criticisms because he stayed behind in Tibet after the Dalai Lama had fled to India. The Dalai Lama, seeing that the Tibetan monk had not changed a bit despite his many hardships over the years, asked, "Wasn't there a time when you were afraid?" The monk replied, "I was most afraid that I might come to hate the Chinese, that I might lose my sense of mercy." Pubjeong said, "If I were in that position, could I have had such thoughts? Perhaps not, I'm ashamed to say." He stressed, "We who live upon the land must learn the spirit of mercy and forgiveness in a land in which we accept all."
Pubjeong ended his lecture by saying, "Humans, no matter who they are, must stand before their own sunsets when the time comes. Before that, they must unleash themselves from that which binds them and become free... I hope you open up and live in this world that has opened for us such a fine autumn day."
Case for Contemplative Psychology
Han F. de Wit argues that spiritual tradition can be viewed as its own school of psychology. As such, it offers more effective techniques and profound goals than the "ordinary unhappiness" aspired to by conventional psychology.
Why is it that some people become wiser and gentler during their lifetimes, while others become more hard-hearted and shortsighted to the needs of others?
Why do some people develop the ability to cope with suffering, while others fall apart?
And what is it that causes some people to experience an increasing measure of joy in their lives, while others become more anxious and fearful?
These questions are central to contemplative psychology. They concern an inner flourishing-sometimes willed, sometimes not-that occurs in the depth of our being. Whether it is present or absent can determine our attitude toward life.
Although this flourishing occurs, in a certain sense, in the hidden depths of our heart, it is not something abstract and detached from our lives: this inner flourishing manifests in how we live our everyday life. Its fruit is visible in the specific way in which we relate to our environment, our fellow beings and ourselves-a way that deepens and elevates our own lives as well as those of others.
We all know people who, at moments or perhaps continually, radiate something-a certain warmth, an unconditional interest in their surroundings, a clarity of mind that is catching and inspiring. This is not necessarily because their situation in life provides them with a special opportunity or because these people are especially fond of us. Rather, these qualities appear to belong to their very nature.
Furthermore, all of us experience moments in our lives which like a flood wash away our self-centeredness. These are moments of liberation that reveal new possibilities. Faced with a crisis, people often "rise above themselves": they abandon concern for their own private projects and ambitions and act from a much broader perspective. At such moments people experience freedom, strength and even joy, in a very fundamental sense. This is why, even in the most difficult of circumstances, they are able to encourage and inspire those around them.
We sometimes have the tendency to view people who act from this broader perspective as special and far above us spiritually, as people who possess a spiritual power that is beyond our reach. But the spiritual power and joy in life we recognize in them is not essentially alien to us. We ourselves also have moments when our attitude to life is like this-moments when our fundamental humanity is awakened and manifests itself.
The inner flourishing of which I speak concerns the uncovering of this fundamental humanity. The term "fundamental humanity," or "humaneness" for short, may sound quite pompous or theoretical, if not somewhat moralistic, but I use this term to refer to a very concrete and familiar experience. Let us take a closer look at humaneness and how it is visible in our own lives.
Because fundamental humanity manifests itself under circumstances of both prosperity and adversity, there is no single way to describe its qualities. In times of personal adversity, it takes the form of courage. Confronted with the adversities of others, it manifests itself as compassion. In times of personal prosperity or in viewing the prosperity of others, it manifests itself as taking joy in life.
In addition to these three forms, there is a fourth, clarity of mind. This clarity allows us to be realistic in our view of the world and ourselves. It is not so much an intellectual clarity; rather it resembles the inquisitiveness, sensitivity and interest that we can see in healthy young children. Yet age has little to do with it. This clarity is the universal human capacity and desire to learn, to see, to be aware.
In moments when we experience our humaneness we feel that we are "at our best"-not in the sense that we could make a top-notch job of something or that we feel happy, but rather in the sense that we feel that we have been born fully equipped for human life in all of its prosperity and adversity. At such moments we realize that we are born first and foremost as human beings, and not as "John" or "Mary." Experiencing our humaneness lifts us above individual identity and brings us closer to ourselves simply as human beings.
In a certain sense such moments go beyond, or lie hidden under, the satisfaction or frustration of our desires. It is as if the rich soil of genuine humaneness exists within us independent of our desires. We are aware of this soil sometimes in prosperous circumstances and sometimes in adverse circumstances. Yet more often, it does not manifest itself at all. Why is this?
Joy in Life Versus Satisfaction
When we are born we know nothing. We are naive, in a certain sense; our existence is veiled in darkness, unarticulated.
There are no instructions for life lying beside our cradle. But small and helpless as we are, we are not out of the game: from the very first we have an open, unconditional interest in and devotion to the world of phenomena. We are, apparently, born this way.
But look: with some people, this unconditional zest for life manifests increasingly in their lives, while for others it seems to disappear as they grow older. Even over the course of our lives there are periods in which it manifests itself in a greater or lesser degree. Why this happens is one of the central questions that contemplative psychology addresses.
Let me give a broad indication of the answer to this question by contrasting one of the four aspects of humaneness, joy in life, with the notion of satisfaction. Joy in life is a state of mind directed toward our life in its totality, and not toward certain circumstances. In contrast, there is a conditional form of joy called satisfaction, which we experience when we succeed in satisfying our needs and desires. Ordinarily we use the word "happiness" to refer to this satisfaction of our desires, and we can lose this kind of happiness, just as we can lose material possessions.
Viewing happiness in terms of satisfaction can be called a materialistic view of happiness, and this view is the soil for a life dominated by anxiety, by hope for gain and fear of loss. Then there is a spiritual view of happiness, understood as joy in life-the profound, unconditional quality of being in touch with one's humaneness.
When we live joyfully from the perspective of our humaneness, then the other three qualities-compassion, courage and clarity of mind-also manifest themselves freely and unconditionally. Whenever suffering appears we quickly jump to someone's aid. Whenever we meet with confusion or fear, our humaneness manifests as clarity of mind and courage. We do these things not because it is some sort of duty, but because we cannot do otherwise.
The desire to realize our humaneness fully is the basis of the spiritual traditions. It is precisely in the great spiritual traditions that we find all kinds of psychological insights into our humaneness and disciplines through which it can be cultivated.
In fact, the spiritual traditions contain a psychology in their own right, a contemplative psychology very different from our conventional Western psychology. This psychology has as its main objective to discover the dynamics that make our humaneness flourish or wilt. For that purpose, it looks at our human mind and designs ways to cultivate it.
The assumption of contemplative psychology is that human beings have a certain degree of freedom to shape their own minds. They have the freedom to imprison themselves within a state of mind, and the freedom to liberate themselves from it. And because our mind determines what we say and do, the way this freedom is used manifests in our actions and speech, which in turn is felt in our personal lives and our society.
When this freedom is continuously used to form certain egocentric habits, they become rigid patterns, difficult to change. Not only individuals but entire cultures can become so convinced of the inevitability of the formed patterns that they view them as absolute. When this happens they become part of our very concept of humanity: "That's how human beings are." This influences the way in which people raise their children, thus closing the circle. Within this vicious cycle it is very difficult to unravel what is the cause and what is the result.
Spiritual traditions are concerned with identifying and letting go of the mental habits or patterns that obscure the manifestation of our buddhanature, the working of the Holy Spirit in our heart, or whatever the particular tradition calls it. In the terminology of contemplative psychology, the spiritual path is directed toward opening a mental space in which our humaneness can flourish.
The Spiritual Disciplines
Why can the spiritual traditions be of so much more benefit to us than conventional Western psychology? It is because their psychology has an eye for the basic plasticity, or freedom, of the human mind. Traveling on the spiritual path involves working with this plasticity, molding the mind by means of spiritual disciplines. In fact, it is because of this plasticity that something like a spiritual path exists.
In analyzing the enormous wealth of spiritual disciplines and methods, contemplative psychology draws on a classic spiritual division: the disciplines of mind, the disciplines of speech, and the disciplines of action.
The mental disciplines are naturally concerned with cultivating insight into the nature of our mind. They are par excellence directed at the cultivation of inner flourishing by exploring our attitude toward life and allowing us to connect with our humaneness. The disciplines of speech and action are then directed at manifesting our humaneness through the cultivation of a decent, caring way of relating to our fellow human beings and our environment.
Within the range of the mental disciplines, contemplative psychology distinguishes two main groups: the disciplines of thought and the disciplines of consciousness. Simply put, we can think about our perceptions and we can perceive our thoughts.
The Disciplines of Thought: Intellect and Imagination
The disciplines of thought work with the creation and use of mental content-concepts, ideas, theories, representations, images and symbols. So the term "thought" has a very broad meaning here. Some of these disciplines are specifically directed at enlarging our intellectual understanding of the spiritual path, our mind and experience. This is like studying the road map. Other disciplines of thought make use of our power of imagination. They offer us mental images that can evoke a different, more humane way of experiencing reality.
The systematic use of our intellect and of our imagination are, psychologically speaking, two very different disciplines. So the disciplines of thought can be divided into the intellectual disciplines and the disciplines of the imagination.
Of these, the intellectual disciplines are the best known. Since ancient times they have been considered very important and have been widely used in the spiritual traditions. The strength of the intellectual disciplines is that they are very communicable, for they work with language and concepts.
The disciplines of imagination are less familiar to us. Although we make representations of everything and anything in everyday life, our culture-with the exception of a few modern cognitive psychotherapies-hardly values the systematic use of the imagination as a means of transforming our experience of reality.
The disciplines of imagination amount simply to the replacement of unwholesome images by images that have a beneficial experiential value. In general terms, they work with images that are at odds with our conventional egocentric mode of experiencing reality. Even though these are nothing more than images in our stream of thought, they can open our eyes to the qualities of our own fundamental humaneness. In fact, these images derive their effectiveness from being the expression of our fundamental humaneness, just as our conventional images derive their power from being representations of an egocentric mind. The visualization practices of vajrayana Buddhism are a good example of this discipline.
The Disciplines of Consciousness: Mindfulness and Insight
It is striking that the disciplines of consciousness are found in almost all spiritual traditions, and that the reasons given for practicing these disciplines are almost identical.
The first reason is that our minds are so scattered and fragmented. The second important reason is that our mind has the tendency to lose itself in a self-created and egocentric mental world that prevents us from seeing phenomena as they actually are. We are caught up in a consciousness that can no longer distinguish completely between illusion and reality. Thus we live in a hazy, imaginary reality and suffer from that.
The disciplines of consciousness allow us, first, to overcome our mental agitation, and second, to see clearly the nature of our mind and experience. Because of this double purpose, the disciplines of consciousness are divided into the disciplines of mindfulness and the disciplines of insight. The disciplines of mindfulness are mainly preparatory exercises for the disciplines of insight.
A familiar metaphor for the agitation of our mind is that of a wild horse. The horse seems free to come and go as it pleases, but precisely because it is wild, it is extraordinarily skittish: it takes only the flutter of a leaf to send it rushing off. This is the way our mind is when it is captured by the egocentric conception of reality: it only takes one ego-threatening thought to make it bolt. The mind is too high-strung, too vulnerable to unrest, to give itself the time to take a good look around.
Because of this, we are not fully conscious of our actual situation; we are "absent," not completely there. As many traditions put it, we are asleep, not awake. The purpose of the disciplines of mindfulness is to do something about this absent-mindedness. To this end, we practice focusing our attention on one point.
The discipline of mindfulness is simply a way to do this systematically. In many traditions, it takes the form of sitting meditation: we sit erect in quiet surroundings on a chair or a meditation cushion and focus our attention on, for example, our breathing. When we notice that our attention has got caught up in the content of our stream of thoughts, we turn our attention again to our breathing, the focal point for our mindfulness.
How is it that we are able to bring our mindfulness back to its focal point at all? The human mind is apparently shaped in such a way that moments naturally occur when we notice that we have been caught. These are the crucial moments in the practice of the disciplines of mindfulness. It is at such moments that we can choose to direct our mindfulness once more to the focal point. All disciplines of mindfulness make use of this ability of the mind, this natural wakefulness.
Then once mindfulness has been established, how do we practice the disciplines of insight? Is there a certain technique for training our discriminating awareness? The answer is typical of the disciplines of insight: the practice goes beyond every technique. Nonetheless, it is a very disciplined practice.
How are we to conceive of this? As the disciplined practice of open-mindedness itself, by which we mean a mind that is free from being fixated on or lost in the contents of thought.
Open-mindedness, which is the fruit of mindfulness, forms the basis for the disciplines of insight. This open-mindedness creates the space in which our discernment, our discriminating awareness, operates and can be active.
This discernment allows us to see the world of phenomena from the vantage point of unconditional open-mindedness. It penetrates and clarifies our egocentric experience of reality. We begin to recognize our self-created experience of reality for what it is: an illusion. At the same time, it gives us insight into reality and allows us to experience its qualities, which are none other than the qualities of our fundamental humaneness.
Gradually we discover that this open space is inhabitable, real and joyous, and not a spiritual myth or mystery. This gives rise to an enormous inspiration, one based not on hope but on experience. From an egocentric perspective this open space may appear groundless, deadly and lonely, but seen from its own perspective it is alive, clear and warm. It is the space from which our fundamental humanity can arise and flourish. It gives us insight into human existence, with all its shortcomings and suffering, and offers a perspective that makes us more caring, milder and wiser. Discovering this space and allowing it to embrace our experience is nothing other than the cultivation of the flourishing within.
Han F. de Wit is a leading European writer on the connections between science, religion and spirituality, and is actively involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. He is the author of The Spiritual Path: An Introduction to the Psychology of the Spiritual Traditions (1999) and Contemplative Psychology (1991) both published by Duquesne University Press.
Cannot Stop the Hail, But We Can be Awake
"One pleasure of discovering the teachings of the rare women we find in the history of Buddhism," says Bonnie Myotai Treace about the Japanese nun and poet Rengetsu, "is how they take up the tragedies in their lives and transform them. They remind us of the freedom no circumstances can take from us."
A scent of woodsmoke and incense, wind wrapping itself around a small hut, the quiet presence of a settled, generous spiritual friend: to sit with the poems of the Buddhist nun Rengetsu is to allow a teacher into the depths of one's mind. Over the winter, this has been my practice, taking up a few of Rengetsu's winter-inspired verses from the John Stevens' translation, Lotus Moon (Weatherhill, 1994), and staying with them, committing myself to let them inform whatever teaching happens during this time.
Keeping that commitment open hasn't always been easy. Some of Rengetsu's writing is so strong that it is immediately engaging, and stirs the sense of trust and humility that comes so naturally when excellence takes hold of one's attention. Nothing truer or finer beckons; restlessness slips away. But some of her verses, like many of the classic koans in the collections used in Zen training, lie a little flat initially and take more work to open up. Since commitment to any practice means not moving to something easier when it gets difficult, the challenge has been to stay with them and give even her harder-to-appreciate poems time to work on the heart and soften the impulse to reject them and move on.
Born in the late eighteenth century, Rengetsu lived what could have easily become a tragic life. She was the daughter of a courtesan and a samurai, but her natural father had her adopted by a lay priest serving at Chionji, Japan's head temple of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. Rengetsu's adopted father, Teruhisa, seems to have been devoted to her. He taught her martial arts, calligraphy and an appreciation for art and literature that later-in a certain way-would save her life. For several years she served as an attendant to the lord of Kameoka, a city near Kyoto, and was fortunate in being able to continue her classical education while there. Stevens writes, charmingly, "Rengetsu was just as capable of dismantling intruders and subduing annoying drunks as she was at making poetry and performing the tea ceremony."
But then the challenges began to roll in: she was married off, had three children who died in early infancy, and separated from a husband who abused her, and who also died shortly thereafter. She married again, and while she was pregnant with their second child, her husband became ill and passed away. Try to imagine, if you will, this woman's life: 33 years old, with two small children, having experienced more heartbreak and loss than most of us will know in a lifetime. If ever there was an excuse for feeling overwhelmed and depressed, her life certainly offered one.
One pleasure of discovering the lives and teachings of the rare women we find in the history of Buddhism is seeing how they take up the tragedies in their lives and transform them. They remind us of the freedom no circumstances can take from us. Because their stories are generally less accessible-and because the luxury of serious religious training was less available to them-finding someone like Rengetsu is a great gift. She faced this moment in her life when despair could have taken hold, when impermanence had pretty much whipped her to the bone, and somehow her heart sparked. She was ordained, taking her children with her to live on the grounds of Chionji with Teruhisa, and practiced in earnest. Still, death kept coming, and by the time she was 41, her remaining children and the adoptive father she had loved since childhood were all gone. Not allowed to remain at Chionji, she then had to find her way alone.
She walked into a world that attempted to limit her on the basis of her gender. It's said she considered whether she could make a living as a teacher of the game of Go, at which she excelled, but recognized that few male students would be able to muster student-mind with a female teacher. She soon realized that art would be her path, and began making pottery as a kind of moving meditation, inscribing each piece with a bit of poetry.
Over time her work became immensely popular, so much so that she found it necessary to never stay long in any one place, or crowds would begin to gather around her. Likening herself to a "drifting cloud," she was still incredibly prolific, with her work becoming one of the most generous, sustained offerings of deep spiritual practice in Buddhist history. Reputedly, she was able to raise large sums of money for disaster victims because of her ability to be as at ease intermingling with statesmen and great artists of her day, as she was meditating or making pottery alone in her hut. When she died in 1875 at the age of 84, she left a legacy of more than fifty thousand pieces of pottery, calligraphy, paintings and poetry. She is remembered not as a tragic figure, but as one of those rare human beings who drew from a seemingly bottomless well of strength and love.
The three Rengetsu winter poems that I'd like to introduce to you have a straightforward, unadorned quality, as does most of her writing. And although she did not organize them into the sequence in which they appear in Stevens' book, their progression struck me as expressing a spiritual journey itself.
I recently advised a friend of mine with writer's block to try the device novelists sometimes use to provide a frame for their stories: "Chapter 1-in which a man goes in search of a whale." So now I will give my own advice a try: "Three Poems of Rengetsu-in which a spiritual journey is indicated, though never baldly named; in which what is subtle and intuitive is immediate and uncomplicated; in which what is interior and private is also the exterior condition, the public expression."
Winter Confinement in Shigaraki Village
Last night's storm was fierce
As I can see by this morning's thick blanket of snow
Rising to kindle wood chips in lonely Shigaraki Village.
Shigaraki Village is where Rengetsu would go to get the clay for her pottery. This is such a beautifully simple poem-a woman enters a hut, she's come some distance, she's worked all day. Darkness comes. At dawn, she sees snow blanketing the hills and knows that there must have been a fierce storm in the night. She kindles the fire. In its thusness, it is just thus.
But as we stay with the poem, we might find ourselves reflecting on the journey we make to find the clay for our own vessel. We might begin to wonder about leaving home and coming to dwell alone. During our ango-our summer retreat-at the temple, each of us, for instance, is asked to leave our familiar patterns and intensify practice: to dwell peacefully in each moment's sufficiency, making our home there. When monastics ordain, it's the same deal: we become unsui, "clouds and water," letting go of the activities in our life that are self-securing, and giving ourselves to the journey that is itself our home. So when the poet makes her pilgrimage to Shigaraki, to go with her is to take that journey as well. Will we go, gather the clay for our real work and settle into the moment?
In Shigaraki Village, the poet is waking up. She's inferring from the evidence the realities of a night's storm. It's interesting that in the Buddhist tradition, night is often used to point to total intimacy, the reality of oneness, of not separating the self from things. In the night, or "darkness," there is no distinction, no separation between seer and seen. In the words of the Heart Sutra, it is the time of "no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind." What is that night? Of course, when many of us begin to sense the "fierce storm" of night in spiritual life, we may yearn for nothing but to be elsewhere. On the edge of it, we pull back, trying to hold on to something of ourselves.
Haven't you felt the resistance that thrives right on the cusp of breaking through? There, on the edge, most of us have some kind of argument. "I can't sit another minute," we say. Or, "I can't see this koan." Or, "I don't know how to love this person." The poem points to a kind of sweet constancy, the kindling of the fire. Just take care of the moment. Stoke the flame when it falters. The poet stirs the wood chips; we stir our life to find the warm center of things. What is that center?
Master Dogen writes, "When the dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it's already sufficient. When the dharma fills your body and mind, you understand something is missing." What is needed? The world has never depended more than it does now on those who will genuinely ask that question. Always encourage each other to go deeply into that inquiry. How might you serve? What remains to be seen?
Dogen continues, "To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be confirmed by the ten thousand things. To be confirmed by the ten thousand things is to cast off body and mind of self as well as that of others. No trace of realization remains, and this no trace is continued endlessly."
The fire of our freedom will always warm the hut, but somehow we won't feel it unless we kindle it. And that kindling of the fire continues. It's not on the clock, like a workday we can't wait to see end. It's loving, and essentially timeless. Practically, getting this point means we're relieved of feeling we're behind or progressing too slowly in our training, or that we're spiritually talented and should set our sights on becoming teachers. It's just time to kindle the woodchips: get over yourself.
In the hut where she's come to make the vessel, responsible for the fire, awake to the night's storm as it was revealed only in the light, the poet faces the day.
A Day of Hail
Will the paper
On my makeshift little window
Withstand the assault of the hailstones?
A poem in which a woman, alone in a hut, wonders if her small window made of fragile paper will be strong enough not to be ripped apart by a long day of pelting hail. Simple enough: the sound of heavy stones of solid water hitting and hitting and hitting, the paper window pocking with each hit, quivering, providing such a thin barrier against the storm.
What is this makeshift window-this temporary point of view, if you will? The poet takes us into a day in which the essential vulnerability of our position is a visceral reality. She invites us to feel and hear and taste the aliveness of right now. How do we live with impermanence? By adding another layer to the window? By praying for sunnier days? We cannot stop the hail, Rengetsu seems to whisper, but we can be awake. Awake and at peace.
How do you find that peace?
Be yourself. Be yourself, and live that boundless reality intimately, generously, freely. Usually, if you ask someone who they are, you're likely to get the list: "I went to this college, I'm married to this person, I know how to make soup, I'm good at this, I'm bad at that, I can do this, I can do that." We list all the aggregates, all the things that change, all the makeshift identities. But what is the real nature of the self? Noticing the thinness of the seeming barrier between inside and out, just experience that permeability. What are we protecting?
A monk asked Master Dongshan, "When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?" How do we live in this world of trouble, of suffering, of horror, of change, where we can't hold on to what's pleasant or completely get away from what's unpleasant? How can we avoid the heat and cold? Dongshan replied, "Go to where there is no heat or cold."
The monk then implored, "But how do I get to that place where there is no heat or cold?" Dongshan said, "When it's cold, the cold kills you. When it's hot, the heat kills you." In other words, kill the separation. Quit living in fear of what might be, and dwell in this.
But what about the assault of the hailstones? When what hits is not just weather but something that arrives with intent to harm, what then? I find it inspiring that Rengetsu spends none of the precious moments in her poem cursing the sky, or dissecting the cause of precipitation.
Why are so many people trying to kill so many people? Why is there such enormous greed? Why is there evil? Why did this happen to me? We should consider how a day of hail might be simply, utterly that: a day of hail. Not to be denied, not feared, not hidden from.
There's a story told about an old fisherman out on a very foggy day. Suddenly, this other boat comes and crashes into him. He spends the next couple of hours battening down his own boat where it's leaking, and cursing about how this sailor, who shouldn't even be on the water, ruined his day, ruined his catch, ruined his family's meal and his livelihood. Enraged, he works through the morning cursing as, gradually, the fog begins to lift.
Suddenly he sees that what hit him wasn't another boat-it was a rock. All at once, he regrets the hours wasted in such anger, the birds he didn't hear, the enjoyment he didn't feel.
Mountain Retreat in Winter
The little persimmons drying outside
Under the eaves of my hermitage
Are they freezing tonight in the winter storm?
This last of our three poems brings us into the hermitage again, with a feeling of the life under its eaves. Entering the hermitage, in a sense we enter the heart of Buddhism. We stop waiting for company. We stop needing others to show us what's normal, to know what we should do. We sit alone. That's the first teaching gesture of the Buddha: he stopped deferring and referring and looking for an authority. He just sat down-in his own life, in his own mind, in his own condition, with his own karma-and aloneness was transformed. The whole world wasn't excluded; when he sat, the dividing wall between his life, mind, condition and karma and that of the world was dropped. This is the hermitage heart that beats in each of us. We just need to stop being too afraid to trust it.
Practice is the journey to that trust. It begins when we stop waiting for someone to say: here's the plan, here's the right thing to do, here's the act of courage, of attention, of kindness, of wisdom that you can make. Each of us has that wisdom. Each of us, in fact, is that wisdom. Each of us can leap thoroughly into that hermitage heart and get on with it. We don't need another life, a different condition, a greater wisdom, a better personality. We just need to take care of the life under the eaves of this measureless hermitage.
How? In asking, we begin the journey home.
Bonnie Myotai Treace is John Daido Loori Roshi's senior dharma successor. She is vice-abbess of Zen Mountain Monastery and spiritual director of Zen Center of New York City.