Thursday, October 15, 2015

Pico Iyer on Loss of Self

[Here is a wonderful and beautiful article on self-forgetfulness. With thanks to Mark.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

More From 'Turning Confusion into Clarity'

p. 202 We must start where we are and with what we know: form, image, sound, movement. So first we use these conventional manifestations of relative reality, and then we practice with emptiness.

[no special sequence required of these practices] [visualization: no problem if fluid and wavy, or even not there…”The most important thing is to feel that the buddhas are here. If you cannot imagine al the forms and colors it doesn’t matter.”]

p. 204 …My father was trying to break this attachment to both grasping and to perfectionism. He was trying to teach me that what I wanted was only attainable once I let go of wanting it so much, and to show me the benefits of letting go of grasping. I also learned that when I could not construct the mental image, to simply practice shamata without an object, and sometimes the image would just appear effortlessly.

p.206 By the end of the common foundation practices, we aspired to be free from suffering but we didn’t have a clear sense of our destination. Once we made a connection to reliable sources of protection, our destination coms into view. We begin to discover the missing piece in our pursuit of happiness, which had eluded us because samsaric refuges do not last.

This connection to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha is not like a rigid, concrete bridge that connects one side of the river to the other and is designed to last for a thousand years. It’s more like an enchanted rope that slowly but inevitably draws t he two shores closer together until they merge, until we realize that samsara is nirvana; and that the outside buddha and the inside buddha are the same.

p. 209 The Four Immeasurables

1. May I have happiness and the causes of happiness.
2. May someone (be specific) I love have happiness and the causes of happiness.
3. May someone whom I feel neutral about have happiness and the causes of happiness
4.May someone I actively dislike have happiness and he causes of happiness.

Then free from suffering and causes of suffering
Then May I never be parted from the sublime joy free from suffering
Then May I rest in equanimity free from aversion and attraction to those near and far

In each case, we start with ourselves in order to confirm the truth of this feeling through our own experience. Then we expand this aspiration to someone we love, then someone about whom we feel neutral, and finally to someone that we dislike.

p. 212 The four exercises for happiness are intended to develop a better understanding of the essential qualities we share with all beings, and to confirm that this commonality outmatches the differences between us.

[This exercise is used to develop gratitude. Keep it simple and humble. If you have feelings of jealousy for example, be grateful for this feeling that allows you to reveal your self to yourself]

p. 217 May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.

Here we let go of the four separate objects of loving-kindness and include all sentient beings. It’s important to understand “all” in a literal way. When you work with the boundless aspirations, there are no exceptions—not the dog that killed you cat, not the drunken driver who killed your son, not the dictator who ordered mass killings. Not the torturers, child molesters, or rapists. No exceptions, no loopholes, no picking and choosing…We hear the essence of compassionate action, which recognizes the suffering of both oppressor and victim. To take revenge on our enemy by becoming the enemy leaves all of us victims. Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”…218 Impartiality does not overlook, deny, or condone the negative activity of the aggressor. This would confuse compassion with approval. It is not approval. But we wish that those inflicting harm find freedom from their destructive patterns; we wish for them to find happiness through helping, not harming others.

p.221 While aspiration bodhichitta is oriented toward the end point of the path—the complete enlightenment of all beings—application bodhichitta works with the causes and conditions to bring about this fruition. The practical means for helping all beings discover their true nature are the six paramitas. Paramita means “perfection,” and includes six behaviors that transcend samsara, go beyond samsara, and that aspiring bodhisattvas like us apply in daily life to perfect our inherent enlightened qualities and to cross over from confusion to clarity: [222] generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. Once we encounter the paramitas, ngondro becomes relative bodhichitta practice.

p. 224 When we speak of absolute bodhichitta, we point to a completely awakened mind that has moved beyond all concepts, beyond all dualities, beyond samsara and nirvana. Used in the absolute sense, bodhichitta becomes another way of referring to Buddhahood, awakening, enlightenment, recognizing emptiness and realizing boundless, indivisible, sky-like reality.

p. 225 With the union of emptiness and compassion, we are not entrapped by the relative reality of suffering, nor are we analyzing it. We are not using our limited, conceptual intellect to figure it out. The intelligent heart responds with compassion, while at the same time wisdom recognizes the true emptiness of the situation. We do not have to become entangled in the story line that people use to explain their unhappiness. We ma be able to analyze how they create their own suffering; we may perceive the delusions that make their confusion appear fixed [226] and immutable. We recognize the insubstantial nature of the situation, but we still see people trapped in destructive habits, and we respond to people’s inability to step away from their own confusion.

Recognizing emptiness closes the gap between self and other, and this manifests the union of emptiness and compassion. This explains why enlightened beings are capable of boundless activity, while the average social activist gets  burned out. If we bring our conceptual, quantifiable, ego-bound ideas to our good deeds, the work quickly becomes overwhelming…

Yet every concept about how significant and vital our work is, and about how we can or cannot achieve it, is constrained by the limitations of conceptual thinking. It’s as if our aspirations hit a wall—and that wall is made up of ideas, delusions, and preconceptions about who we are and what we are doing…both the work and the worker become objectified and quantified. This offers no immeasurability, and actually magnifies fatigue.

Immeasurability is made possible by emptiness. Once we bring emptiness into the picture, the whole situation loosens up. Experiences that once seemed real and substantial might now become dreamlike…[we work] without getting caught in the drama and without taking our actions and ourselves too seriously. We can work wholeheartedly for the welfare of others, while at the same time recognizing that the entire situation arises from the mind.

[Q: do you still suffer when enlightened? A yes, but the tears have no roots.]

Tears without roots. Once emptiness has been recognized, suffering cannot take hold. It does not arise from habits or neuroses, and does not perpetuate attachment to suffering or patterns of self-pity.

p. 227 If we lose sight of emptiness, then the bodhisatta commitment is not only inconceivable, but also unmanageable. For this to relly work, we must have some recognition of emptiness, even if it requires a leap of faith…

Once we understand bodhichitta, then all the practices become immeasurable and become an expression of the paramitas, of going beyond samsara…

[NB A Tibetan translator tells me: ‘Merit’ should rather be translated as ‘grace’.]

[dedicating merit] This is the most succinct way of reaffirming our intention to let go of ego-fixation and to practice for the benefit of others. If we do not give away our merit it may grow in our own mind like barnacles that stick to a boat, until we are pulled down by the weight of ego-pride. By giving the merit away, we make sure that we do not misuse our dharma practice in order to put another hat on our head.

Dedicating the merit is also a way of “sealing” the benefits of the practice. Without this, whatever meritorious action we perform will have a very short term effect and can be lost very easily. This sends [228] forth our aspirations so that the benefits of our practice will multiply for others as well as ourselves.

Dedicating the merit is one of the most profound aspects of our practice, but it is not confined to formal practice sessions. We can dedicate the merit after any positive experience. …It can also come after performing…for others, or writing a poem, or taking a swim in a mountain lake. The point is not to keep the merit or the effects of positive experiences for ourselves, and not to allow self-satisfaction or pride to increase our obscurations. If we hold on to the merit, we are taking one step forward, one step back. Dedicating the merit, on and off the cushion, keeps us going forward.

p.229 External images of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha put us in touch with our true refuge, meaning our own buddha nature. Having identified the causes and characteristics of suffering, we expand our aspiration for liberation to include all sentient beings. With this magnified motivation, we wish to dissolve everything that stands in the way of recognizing our innate purity, to cleanse every bit of dirt that still obscures the diamond….We must purify our ignorance about the fact that we are inherently pure…we supplicate Vajrasattva, a buddha who specializes in removing obscurations.

In my lineage, all the buddhas merge into Vajrasattva…p. 230  When we sincerely take these practices to heart, nothing in our life, past or present—nothing at all, no matter how awful—cannot be purified…

p. 231 …Our strenuous efforts cannot defeat the emotional burdens that we carry. Past events can harden into pockets of fear and trauma, guilt and remorse, which stay stuck inside of us. It does not help to say, “Oh, but they are ultimately, inherently empty.” Emptiness is not an idea, but a lived experience, and these knots of tension that remain in our mind and body block our awakening.

Like the refuge vow, Vajrasattva practice encompasses a conventional/relative aspect and an ultimate/absolute aspect…232 Much of what Vajrayana uses what we have—even our bad karma—as an invaluable source of transformation. Once we really comprehend that nothing in our life needs to be discarded, or swept under the rug, or cut out like some kind of spiritual surgery, then the path becomes quite joyful.

From the absolute view, the practitioner has no inherent independent identity—nor does the objet of that person’s supplications, nor does the action. Ultimately all of us and all of our activities are emptiness. Vajrasattva is emptiness, and our suppications and prayers are emptiness. Ultimately there is no past and no future. Understanding the essential emptiness of form offers the best purification. However, as long as we live in the relative world and relate to our life from the relative perspecdtive, we benefit from the relative practice. Still, it’s important to hold some idea, however faint, of the absolute view, because to be enlightened we must purify our view that we are not essentially empty and pure.

During the practice session, Vajrasatta sits directly above our head. We may begin with a dualistic sense that “I am supplicating him”. Yet this dissolves into an absolute nondual union of Vajrasattva and ourselves. In the practice, we imagine becoming the deity that we supplicate. This is not a temporary union that occurs during practice. This union manifests the true, continuous inseparability between the impure form of our relative self with the pristine purity of our absolute self.