Be Here Now

Be Here Now

Monday, 27 December 2010

Bringing the mind home

To bring the term ‘religion,’ into a conversation these days, is a sure way to end that conversation and possibly the friendship to boot! Religion is firmly fixed in most people’s minds as dogmatic, traditional and boring. Yet, there are, within Buddhism, paths where even the most die-hard atheist would feel at home. For Buddhism isn’t a ‘way,’ that depends upon a god. It denies the existence of any supreme being.

One of the most accessible of methods within Buddhism, and probably most effective is the practice of ‘Dzogchen.’ The following piece was written by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

A natural state of being.

Dzogchen is the natural, primordial state or natural condition of the mind, and a body of teachings and meditation practices aimed at realising that condition. Dzogchen, or "Great Perfection", is simply a natural state of mind. 

Dzogchen is the highest and most definitive path to enlightenment, and the everyday practice of Dzogchen is simply to develop a complete carefree acceptance, an openness to all situations without limit. We should realise openness as the playground of our emotions and relate to people without artificiality, manipulation or strategy.

We should experience everything totally, never withdrawing into ourselves as a marmot hides in its hole. This practice releases tremendous energy, which is usually constricted by the process of maintaining fixed reference points.  Referentiality is the process by which we retreat from the direct experience of everyday life.

The naked mind.

Being present in the moment may initially trigger fear.  But by welcoming the sensation of fear with complete openness, we cut through the barriers created by habitual emotional patterns.

When we engage in the practice of discovering space, we should develop the feeling of opening ourselves out completely to the entire universe. We should open ourselves with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind. This is the powerful and ordinary practice of dropping the mask of self-protection.

We shouldn't make a division in our meditation between perception and field of perception.  We shouldn't become like a cat watching a mouse. We should realise that the purpose of meditation is not to go "deeply into ourselves" or withdraw from the world.  Practice should be free and non-conceptual, unconstrained by introspection and concentration.

Vast unoriginated self-luminous wisdom space is the ground of being - the beginning and the end of confusion. The presence of awareness in the primordial state has no bias toward enlightenment or non-enlightenment.  This ground of being which is known as pure or original mind is the source from which all phenomena arise. It is known as the great mother, as the womb of potentiality in which all things arise and dissolve in natural self-perfectedness and absolute spontaneity.

All aspects of phenomena are completely clear and lucid. The whole universe is open and unobstructed - everything is mutually interpenetrating.
Seeing all things as naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realise. The nature of phenomena appears naturally and is naturally present in time-transcending awareness.  Everything is naturally perfect just as it is.  All phenomena appear in their uniqueness as part of the continually changing pattern.  These patterns are vibrant with meaning and significance at every moment; yet there is no significance to attach to such meanings beyond the moment in which they present themselves.

This is the dance of the five elements in which matter is a symbol of energy and energy a symbol of emptiness.  We are a symbol of our own enlightenment.  With no effort or practice whatsoever, liberation or enlightenment is already here.

Everyday life.

The everyday practice of dzogchen is just everyday life itself.  Since the undeveloped state does not exist, there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond what you actually are.  There should be no feeling of striving to reach some "amazing goal" or "advanced state."

To strive for such a state is a neurosis, which only conditions us and serves to obstruct the free flow of Mind.  We should also avoid thinking of ourselves as worthless persons - we are naturally free and unconditioned.  We are intrinsically enlightened and lack nothing. When engaging in meditation practice, we should feel it to be as natural as eating, breathing and defecating. It should not become a specialised or formal event, bloated with seriousness and solemnity.  We should realise that meditation transcends effort, practice, aims, goals and the duality of liberation and non-liberation.   Meditation is always ideal; there is no need to correct anything.  Since everything that arises is simply the play of mind as such, there is no unsatisfactory meditation and no need to judge thoughts as good or bad.

Therefore we should simply sit. Simply stay in your own place, in your own condition just as it is.  Forgetting self-conscious feelings, we do not have to think, "I am meditating."  Our practice should be without effort, without strain, without attempts to control or force and without trying to become "peaceful."

If we find that we are disturbing ourselves in any of these ways, we stop meditating and simply rest or relax for a while.  Then we resume
our meditation. If we have "interesting experiences" either during or after meditation, we should avoid making anything special of them. To spend time thinking about experiences is simply a distraction and an attempt to become unnatural. These experiences are simply signs of practice and should be regarded as transient events. We should not attempt to re-experience them because to do so only serves to distort the natural spontaneity of mind.
All phenomena are completely new and fresh, absolutely unique and entirely free from all concepts of past, present and future.  They are
experienced in timelessness.

The continual stream of new discovery, revelation and inspiration which arises at every moment is the manifestation of our clarityWe should learn to see everyday life as mandala - the luminous fringes of experience which radiate spontaneously from the empty nature of our being. The aspects of our mandala are the day-to-day objects of our life experience moving in the dance or play of the universe.  By this symbolism, the inner teacher reveals the profound and ultimate significance of being. Therefore we should be natural and spontaneous, accepting and learning from everything. This enables us to see the ironic and amusing side of events that usually irritate us.

Nowhere to be, just here.

In meditation we can see through the illusion of past, present and future - our experience becomes the continuity of nowness. The past is only an unreliable memory held in the present.  The future is only a projection of our present conceptions. The present itself vanishes as soon as we try to grasp it.  So why bother with attempting to establish an illusion of solid ground?

We should free ourselves from our past memories and preconceptions of meditation.  Each moment of meditation is completely unique and full of potentiality. In such moments, we will be incapable of judging our meditation in terms of past experience, dry theory or hollow rhetoric.
Simply plunging directly into meditation in the moment now, with our whole being, free from hesitation, boredom or excitement, is enlightenment.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

The first real insights I gained, as an early follower of the dharma, came courtesy of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his book, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.’ I’ve reread this book many more times over the years, and have recently come back to it once again.

There was no one better able to articulate the dharmic teachings thanTrungpa. He was a light, shining though the misconceptions and confusions many of us bring to the spiritual path. He cuts to the chase as it were, and warns those who wish to enter a religious path, of the pitfalls that luck around each turn. Many of us find it difficult to let go of ego even on the religious path. That is why Trungpa was, and still such a towering figure presence.

This is an exract from first chapter of the book, it sums up the essence of our approach to the teachings.

“The approach presented here is a classical Buddhist one - not in a formal sense, but in the sense of presenting the heart of the Buddhist approach to spirituality. Although the Buddhist way is not theistic it does not contradict the theistic disciplines. Rather the differences between the ways are a matter of emphasis and method. The basic problems of spiritual materialism are common to all spiritual disciplines.

The Buddhist approach begins with our confusion and suffering and works toward the unravelling of their origin. The theistic approach begins with the richness of God and works toward raising consciousness so as to experience God's presence. But since the obstacles to relating with God are our confusions and negativities, the theistic approach must also deal with them. Spiritual pride, for example, is as much a problem in the theistic disciplines as in Buddhism.

According to the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual path is the process of cutting through our confusion, of uncovering the awakened state of mind. When the awakened state of mind is crowded in by ego and its attendant paranoia, it takes on the character of an underlying instinct. So it is not a matter of building up the awakened state of mind, but rather of burning out the confusions, which obstruct it. In the process of burning out these confusions, we discover enlightenment. If the process were otherwise, the awakened state of mind would be a product, dependent upon cause and effect and therefore liable to dissolution.

Anything which is created must, sooner or later, die. If enlightenment were created in such a way, there would always be the possibility of ego reasserting itself, causing a return to the confused state. Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have merely discovered it. In the Buddhist tradition the analogy of the sun appearing from behind the clouds is often used to explain the discovery of enlightenment. In the meditation practice we clear away the confusion of ego in order to glimpse the awakened state. The absence of ignorance, of being crowded in, of paranoia, opens up a tremendous view of life. One discovers a different way of being. The heart of the confusion is that man has a sense of self, which seems to him to be continuous and solid. When a though or emotion or even occurs, there is a sense of someone being conscious of what is happening. You sense that you are reading these words. This sense of self is actually a transitory, discontinuous event, which in our confusion seems to be quite solid and continuous. Since we take our confused view as being real, we struggle to maintain and enhance this solid self. We try to feed it pleasures and shield it from pain.

Experience continually threatens to reveal our transitoriness to us, so we continually struggle to cover up any possibility of discovering our real condition. "But," we might ask, "if our real condition is an awakened state, why are we so busy trying to avoid becoming aware of it?" It is because we have become so absorbed in our confused view of the world, that we consider it real, the only possible world. This struggle to maintain the sense of a solid, continuous self is the action of ego. Ego, however, is only partially successful in shielding us from pain. It is the dissatisfaction which accompanies ego's struggle that inspires us to examine what we are doing. Since there are always gaps in our self-consciousness, some insight is possible.”

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), was the founder of Naropa University in Colarado, USA.  He was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tulkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. 

You can find out more about Trungpa here

‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materiamism,’  by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is published by Shambhala Publications

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The ceasing of notions

The world is awash with pain, suffering and frustration. We can witness its results daily when we turn on our TV’s, go on line, or open a newspaper

My master Tashi Thudrup wrote vividly about this ”We are sick! Our minds deformed and tortured by self-created delusion. The disease is everywhere, an epidemic of fear and confusion, crawling onto our streets, our homes and our places of leisure. It does not stop there, a great black hand of ignorance and self loathing, claws the face of our lovely planet. Delusion, greed and hatred rule the day as brother and sister injure and destroy one another and our animal brethren also, with the glazed indifference of automation's.”

Indeed we are sick, worse, we are fast asleep, creating nightmares for ourselves in the Biblical Darkness, the Maya of the Hindus, the Samsara of the Buddhist. So, how do we break out of this terminal tragedy, this groaning wheel of suffering? How do we wake up to what we really are? Simple, we do this by abandoning paths of darkness and placing our feet upon spiritual paths.

What's more, It’s perfectly possible to become enlightened, to realise our proper status as totally fulfilled, universally integrated men and women, and, it is possible in the here and now.

The problem though is that we have become too busy, trying to cram more and more experiences into our lives, to even begin to contemplate such a way out, we’ve been far too occupied with the notion of a ‘me,’ and fulfilling our desires, to even contemplate that there is the possibility of a cessation of our pain

Many of us hold tight to the notion, that the ‘self,’ this ‘I,’ we carry about, is a solid, ongoing entity. We never ever question this belief; it’s set in stone, unbreachable! ‘Of course I am real! What else thinks, breathes, exists?’ From our first waking moment, our lives have been filled with seemingly hard confirmation, that what we call the self, is real; we are given a name, nurtured, taught to read, to distinguish objects outside of this self. We learn to see ourselves as different from other beings. All of our life, this sense of identity is breed into us.

Yet it is just this sense of self that is the cause of all of the conflicts, wars and crime in the world, the reason, why the oceans are running out of fish, why the oil is running out, and why we cannot really get down to doing anything serious to alleviate the effects of climate change. It is also the cause of most of our illnesses, sufferings and frustrations, throughout our life.

So, how then does belief in an “I” and the whole neurotic process begin? According to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, whenever a perception of form (i.e. another person, a house a tree etc) appears, there is an immediate reaction of fascination and uncertainty on the part of an implied perceiver of the form. This reaction is almost instantaneous. It takes only a fraction of a fraction of a second. And, as soon as we have established recognition of what the thing is, our next response is to give it a name. With the name of course comes concept. We tend to conceptualise the object, which means that, at this point, we are no longer able to perceive things as they actually are. We have created a kind of padding, a filter, or veil, between ourselves and the object. This is exactly what prevents the maintenance of continual awareness. We feel compelled to name, to think discursively, which all the while, takes us further from direct perception. And what keeps us all tapped in the continuous round of pain and disillusionment is desire.

Desire is the thread that weaves the constant sense of self, into what we misunderstand as a solid and fixed state of being. 'self,' is nothing but a collection of the above stated tendencies, such as form, feeling, and perception. Self needs something to keep up the illusion of separateness, and solidness. That something is ‘desire,’ our constant inner drive that feeds constant images, to delight our senses.

Sogyal Rinpoche writes so clearly of this grasping, but deluded idea of a ‘self,’ in his book, ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He defines ego as, "incessant movements of grasping at a delusory notion of  I,"

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Inner chatter

Do we ever just stop and listen to the inner chatter that relentlessly fills our minds, from dawn to dusk. Are we even aware of the constant, overlapping thought processes taking place there? Chances are, that most of us are so preoccupied, that we are not aware of this constant steam of idle chatter that forms a backdrop to out life. It does take some degree of experience and a lot of willpower if we are to deeply look into the minds workings. To view the chatter objectively, as it were, and break the stranglehold that thoughts hold us in.  Recognising the background pollution that fills the mind, is the first step of the process of decluttering the mind, and freeing us up, to reach our full potential as human beings  

According to the philosopher Descartes, ‘we are what we think!’ For centuries that old chestnut of a maxim, has formed the basis of our logical understanding of mind. We have all heard it uttered at one time or another. But like many old sayings and maxims we hear, it does not necessarily mean it is based on reality. How absurd you may think, what makes me qualified to pass judgment a center tenant of philosophy!  

It may be worthwhile to consider what we mean by the term ‘we’ or more explicitly, ‘me.’ If we dig deep we may have a hard time trying to explain what this ‘me,’ really is! Now this is getting even more absurd you may say. After all, why do I need to explain what I am? Isn’t it enough that I am here, that I exist? I have a body, I have sensations, I live in a house, I may have a partner, a job. All of which cements the fact that this is ‘me. We exist, therefore we are! It has been shown, in many of the worlds great religions, that what is taking place here, is a collection of sense experiences, form, feeling, perception, and concept come together and create a seemingly solid sense of a ‘me.’  I see an object, I then feel that ‘thing,’ I give it a name, i.e. a tree, or a car, from then on, it becomes solid in my view, I have conceptualised it. Without wishing to go too far into the psychology of the mind here, suffice it to say, that, it is just this attempt to solidify objects, that heightens this idea of a ‘me,’ looking out onto a seemingly ‘other,’ solid world.

What is vital though is that we give allow ourselves some inner space, from the never ending thought process and begin to understand the powerful grip our thoughts hold over us. As Karma Tashi Thundrup puts it: Some reflection upon the nature of our thoughts reveals that much of our conscious reasoning is devoted to the well-being and importance of ourselves, our possessions, our desires and aversions. The average mentality is awash with reasonings, the conditioned i.e. prejudiced rationalisations of social, cultural, political and ethical opinions, the important property of an equally important 'ME'.”
We are slaves to these thought processes, they wear us down, tear us apart. In our attempt to safeguard and protect what is, in reality, a non - existent self, we create the seeds of our own downfall. That in essence, there is no one to protect, that our attempts to find pleasure only keep us further trapped in  ‘the wheel of becoming,’ as our existence is defined in Buddhist literature.

Further more, by taking as real, the constant jabbering of thoughts processes; the opinions, concepts, strategies and plans, that we are always formulating, we become trapped caught up by their power over us, Chime Trunga likens these overlapping thoughts to the notion of a monkey, desperately trying to find its way out of a windowless house, the more it fights the to find a way out, the more solid do the walls become. Similarly, the more we fight to rid our minds of thoughts, the more solid they appear. We take thoughts as reality, their random generalisations of hope, despair, worry and desire, fixing us with their sense of purpose.

Sogyal Rinpoche has eloquently written about the problem of ego, “Lifetimes of ignorance have brought us to identify the whole of our being with ego. Its triumph is to inveigle us into believing its best interests are our best interests, and even identifying our very survival with its own. That is a savage irony, considering that that ego and its grasping, are at the root of all of our suffering. Yet ego is so convincing and we have been its dupe for so long, that the thought that we might even become ego less, terrifies us. To be ego less, ego whispers to us, is to loose all of the rich romance of being human, to be reduced to an empty, colourless robot, or a brain dead vegetable.”

So how to find a way out of the seemingly never-ending grip of thought? First a certain amount of dedication and willpower is required. The desire to not let your thoughts any longer rule you, any longer. Every time you think you are getting somewhere, a thought will pop up, telling you how well you are doing! It has been said that the ego, wants to witness its own funeral, it will use every trick at its disposal to attempt to hang onto its territory. Be aware thoughts coming and going; don’t try to cling onto any of them, neither try to rid them. Just observe their comings and goings. By letting them disappear from whence they came, they begin to lose their grip over you. By constant observation of your mind, the effect will be like a pond when a stone has been thrown into its water, after a while, the ripples die back, the water becomes calm again.