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This blog is created by a Buddhist living in Singapore. He embraces the Mahayana spirit of Bodhicitta, deeply respecting all Buddhist Traditions as expressions of Kindness guiding us on the path towards human perfection ~ Buddhahood.

He likes to post stuff that he had read or think is good to share here, sometimes he adds a little comments here and there... just sometimes..

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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”

~ Amitabha Sutra

When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.

~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sustaining Present Awareness

by Lama Surya Das

Tonight I'd like to talk about how to practice Dzogchen sky-gazing and the essential point of it. I will introduce this by reading to you a poem, a pith-instruction from the first Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche, who lived 100 years ago. It is called "View and Meditation of the Great Perfection." Jamgon Rinpoche was one of the greatest lamas of the last century, who helped spread the Rimé (nonsectarian practice) renaissance in Eastern Tibet.

There are many techniques to help us ease into Dzogchen practice, this naked awareness practice called cutting through, seeing through, or sky-gazing. Techniques like breathing, opening into the natural awareness, devotional practices, chanting, shouting P'et, and so on. But don't forget-all of these are just like the doorway, the threshold at the door to cross over, to return to the natural state. If and when we are in natural awareness, we don't have to cross over. Then we don't have to turn the mind upon itself with the self-inquiry question: Who or what am I? We don't have to do a devotional practice. We don't have to surprise ourselves with P'et and awaken pure awareness. But when we are slightly distracted it is very helpful to do those practices, which are like introductory practices to help us come home again to the present awareness. But it is the present awareness that is crucial, is primary. That's the main practice. That's the heart of the matter, the heart practice. That's what this poem is about: That present awareness, which is the heart of the practice, and how to maintain it.

(Photo source: flickr.com)

View and Meditation of the Great Perfection

Homage to the Guru, the teacher.

The View and Meditation of Dzogchen can be explained in many, many ways, but simply sustaining the essence of present awareness includes them all.
Your mind won't be found elsewhere.
It is the very nature of this moment-to-moment thinking.
Regard nakedly the essence of this thinking and you find present awareness, right where you are.

Why chase after thoughts, which are superficial ripples of present awareness?
Rather look directly into the naked, empty nature of thoughts; then there is no duality, no observer, and nothing observed.
Simply rest in this transparent, nondual present awareness.
Make yourself at home in the natural state of pure presence, just being, not doing anything in particular.

Present awareness is empty, open, and luminous; not a concrete substance, yet not nothing.
Empty, yet it is perfectly cognizant, lucid, aware.
As if magically, not by causing it to be aware, but innately aware, awareness continuously functions.
These two sides of present awareness or Rigpa-its emptiness and its cognizance (lucidity)-are inseparable.
Emptiness and luminosity (knowing) are inseparable.
They are formless, as if nothing whatsoever, ungraspable, unborn, undying; yet spacious, vivid, buoyant.
Nothing whatsoever, yet Emaho!, everything is magically experienced.
Simply recognize this.
Look into the magical mirror of mind and appreciate this infinite magical display.

With constant, vigilant mindfulness, sustain this recognition of empty, open, brilliant awareness.
Cultivate nothing else.
There is nothing else to do, or to undo.
Let it remain naturally.
Don't spoil it by manipulating, by controlling, by tampering with it, and worrying about whether you are right or wrong, or having a good meditation or a bad meditation.
Leave it as it is, and rest your weary heart and mind.

The ultimate luminosity of Dharmakaya, absolute truth, is nothing other than the very nature of this uncontrived, ordinary mind.
Don't look elsewhere for the Buddha.
It is nothing other than the nature of this present awareness.
This is the Buddha within.

There are innumerable Dharma teachings.
There are many antidotes to many different kinds of spiritual diseases.
There are many words in the Mahamudra and Dzogchen nondual teachings.
But the root, the heart of all practices is included here, in simply sustaining the luminous nature of this present awareness.
If you search elsewhere for something better, a Buddha superior to this present awareness, you are deluding yourself.
You are chained, entangled in the barbed wire of hope and fear.
So give it up! Simply sustain present wakefulness, moment after moment.
Devotion, compassion, and perfecting virtue and wisdom are the most important supportive methods for completely fulfilling this naked, nondual teaching about present awareness, the innate Dharmakaya.
So always devote yourself to spiritual practice for the benefit of others and apply yourself in body, speech, and mind to what is wholesome and virtuous.

Sarva mangalam.

May all beings be happy!

This is the heart teaching of Mahamudra, of Dzogchen, of Zen, of all the nondual teachings: Sustaining present awareness. Recognizing the Buddha-nature through the present moment, this very moment of awareness. If it's awareness taking the form of thinking, recognize the present awareness component of the thought. If you are remembering the past, recognize the present awareness component of the memory. You're not in the past. How could you be in the past? It is present awareness remembering. If you feel distracted when remembering, bring the mind back to the present awareness. You don't have to stop remembering. Recognize present awareness, which is remembering. If you are dreaming, fantasizing about the future, about what you are going to do when you leave here, how you are going to tell everybody how wonderful it was and how great Dzogchen view and meditation is, that's fine-recognize present awareness fantasizing, planning, dreaming. Recognize who or what is doing that present awareness. Know the knower; see through the seer; go beyond me and mine, and be free.

Even if you're not in the past or in the future, even if you are just here-very present-watching your breath or sky-gazing; who cares, really, about the breath? Who cares about the sky? That's just a pretext, a form, a method. It's just the means; it's not the end. Who is doing that? Recognize present awareness while sky-gazing. We're not sky worshippers. We are watching the breath, but are we breath worshippers? Or are we, rather, getting to know the heart-mind and how this body and mind work? Notice it is just present awareness that is watching the breath. If you are watching the breath very one-pointedly, that's great, but that's just the means. It's not the end. What if you are watching the breath, and the mind is jumping around like a wild monkey in a tree's branches? Recognize present awareness that is jumping around. It's present awareness. It's no worse than staying in one place. If the monkey is just sitting in the corner of the cell or jumping around all four corners, it's still a monkey. Or for that matter, the Buddha. Monk or monkey. One nature. Like water and ice-the same nature in temporarily different states.

Recognize this innate awareness, this renowned Rigpa, which is always with us no matter how far we may feel from it-this total presence, our primordial being, this untrammeled, never limited freedom-our true nature. And be free. Enjoy it however you like. You can't know it; it is not an object of the mind. It's not a thing. But you can be it, at ease in your own way, in your own life. You have it all; use it however you like. You are free to be as deluded and miserable, or as free and joyous and enlightened as you like. Use it however you like. That's the inherent freedom of being. That's the joy of meditation. That is why the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra gave twelve great Vajra laughs. Oh, the cosmic absurdity of all our schemes and melodramas! Yet we must live them through, til our lesson is learned.

It says in the Dzogchen teachings, whether our nature descends into Samsara or ascends into Nirvana, it is not ruined in Samsara and it is not improved in Nirvana. It is beyond both. Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable. I remember twenty five years ago, at Lama Yeshe's place in Kopan, Kathmandu, there were two very funky latrines, little huts with doors. The men's side said Sam. Right next to it, the women's said Sara. Get it? Sam-Sara! So even Lama Yeshe's toilets knew: Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable. That's what it says in the tantric teachings: inseparable. Not that we have to go from here to there. It's here. It's not what we think it is. Nirvana is not the Other Shore. It's right here. Of course, we are sort of elsewhere; that's the problem! But we come back here, we get a little more pickled in Nirvanic juices.

Yet, this takes time. We have to be patient. Of course, enlightenment is instant-in fact, it is not in time at all-but it is somewhat like the pickling process. Just putting a green cucumber in vinegar for one moment or one day doesn't make a pickle. It has to stay in it for a while. If you pickle a cucumber for six months or a year, then it gets totally pickled. Just dunking the cucumber in the vinegar doesn't pickle it. But after six months or a year it gets totally pickled. Then it can never go back to being just a cucumber. So even if you had some kind of enlightenment experience, as I always say, it is easier to get enlightened than to stay enlightened-at least in that sense of the word. So it is not the experience that counts, but the living of it. Living it, embodying it, and working out its implications in everyday life, which is where it counts. If it doesn't show up in daily life, what good is it? Enlightenment manifests as enlightened activity, as Buddha activity.

The Heart Sutra says:

No wisdom and no attainment.
Having nothing to attain, Bodhisattvas live Prajna Paramita.
And the mind is no hindrance.

(It is just the mind that overshadows the reality. I am casting a big shadow over my true nature. We are in our own way. So stand aside, and don't block the light!)

The sutra continues:

Far beyond deluded thinking, they enjoy complete Nirvana.

Beyond deluded thinking. That means right here. Present awareness, beyond concepts. Not on the far shore of a big ocean. Not after three eons. But beyond deluded thinking they attain Nirvana. Right here, right now. If it is not here, it is nowhere.

So this training, this practice path, is something we can actually do. It is up to us. As the Buddha himself said, "I just tell how it is. It is up to you to do it." It is a practice path called in the Dzogchen tradition Buddha in the Palm of Your Hand. It is up to each of us to use it. This awareness is like the Buddha in the palm of our hand. It is a lever, but we still have to apply the lever if we want to move the universe and remove all suffering and conflicts. Innate awareness is like a lever; the fulcrum is the present moment. Apply it precisely, and move the entire universe.

I have a lot of confidence in this practice. I'd like to point out to you that this is the heart of all the practices. I'm not saying this is the best practice, or the only way. What I am saying, I think, is much more significant than that, and it is much more nonsectarian. It is the heart of all practices, where all the paths converge. If you're doing bowing, if you're doing chanting, if you're doing walking meditation, if you're doing rituals, if you're doing devotions-who is doing it? What is doing it? There's nobody upstairs watching like a great tax collector, as if every time you would bow, you'd get one point. It is the awareness that we bring to it that makes the difference. It's our being that counts, not just the doing. The doing just helps us return to our being, our original being. Don't expect applause. Just do it. Practice is perfect.

I have tried almost every spiritual practice in the world, I assure you, not to mention other, lesser, things I've tried. And this is the heart of the matter. This vast View, this joyous way, this nondual outlook of the Great Perfection, of innate wakefulness, truly enhances every practice we can do. And not just religious practice. What's religion? Religion is just another kind of lifestyle. It is the spirit of the thing that really counts. So anything we do-chopping vegetables, milking the goat, or working at a computer screen, whatever-the spirit of this view can enhance that and make it into a spiritual practice, if we know who and what is doing it, if we realize our selves, if and when we apprehend who and what we truly are, and can be.

As all the sages say, Know Thyself. That's not a cheap platitude. It's very profound. And that truth will make you free. It's not doing something like paying taxes to the Buddha, when you are bowing or lighting candles. It is the truth that makes you free. Lighting a candle in front of the Buddha is just a symbolic example or reminder of offering light in the darkness. It is an external example of igniting innate luminosity, inner clarity. The luminous wisdom that guides through the darkness. You think the Buddha needs a candle to see, or to stay warm? I doubt it. Yet even just lighting a candle can be a very enlightening practice, if we bring such quality awareness to it. On the other hand, it can be a very stupid practice. It could help us be even more narrow-minded, telling other people that if they don't light a candle every day they'll go to hell. Don't laugh! It happens. There are a lot of superstitions in organized religions, in all groups, in fact. Most movements eventually go too far. That's why this basic understanding of the heart of it all, the awareness, makes the whole difference. Then we can do anything. Like Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, for example, who is a great contemporary Dzogchen master who lives in Italy. He was going around India with his students. When he came to the Hanuman Temple, the temple of the Indian monkey god, he would ring the bell and light the candle. He didn't care where he was. One of his students asked him why he was worshipping Hanuman, and he said, "I am practicing Dzogchen. I'm not ringing a bell for Hanuman. I'm just ringing the bell." Lighting the candle is just turning on the inner luminosity. It has nothing to do with the candle or the statue. It is a symbol of the inner light that shines everywhere. The same with offering flowers on altars and all the other esoteric symbols. Your outlook or view makes all the difference. It is the intention that really matters, more than the outer action.

So whatever spiritual practice we do-whatever we do actually-if it is informed by such authentic awareness, this present awareness, then our life is a rich life, not an, unconscious, brutish life. As Henry David Thoreau said, the unreflected life is hardly worth living. He was referring to going through life like an automaton or an animal, without self-consciousness or introspection. That's why Buddha said, one moment in a day of recognizing the truth of impermanence makes your life meaningful; it is more meaningful to live one day like that, than 100 years as an automaton.

It's all about awareness, about attention, mindfulness, spirit, love, whatever you want to call it. It is about presence of mind, not wandering around being dazed and absent-minded. It's about really fully inhabiting ourselves and what we're doing. Do we want to be dissociated from ourselves all the time? Was it perhaps too painful when we were growing up, so we dissociated and distanced ourselves emotionally and psychically from where we actually were? Mom and dad were always shouting perhaps, so we dissociated? Pretended that we were somewhere else? Anybody know about this? Maybe some of us are still pretending we are somewhere else. But we don't have to get stuck with that old-news strategy, that outdated childish coping mechanism. We're grown up now. Why pretend we are somewhere else? Why close off and shut it out? We are mom and dad now. We're not children. Let's inhabit this place, this way fully. Let's make ourselves at home here, in our world, in this marvelous universe. And not just inhabit our job or work. But let's also inhabit and embrace our emotions, our feelings, our fantasies, our negative sides also, our shadow sides. Not dissociate ourselves and be absent all the time.

One day when we were teaching together in California, my friend Jack Kornfield was saying that the point of Buddhist practice is to be absent (he was explaining anatta, not-self). I said to him that that sounds very good, but it is too abstract. We should be telling Americans to be present, not absent. We've been too absent for too long. We should be more present and simply just doing what we are doing. That would be totally in tune with the Buddhist truth of anatta. Being totally present and inhabiting whatever is isn't ego, because there is no separation in that, self and other. Self depends on other, and vice versa. Without that action and reaction, self and other, that duality, there is no self. There is just things as they are. Impermanent, selfless, dreamlike phenomena rolling on like waves, ungovernable, without a controller, without needing us to do anything about it. Jack and I had a good laugh about that. As in the slogan, you have to be present to win!

So let's look into this present awareness, rather than being absent-minded, disassociated, avoiding and denying, ignoring. What are we ignoring? Ignoring others, ignoring our feelings, ignoring what we really want. "I shouldn't want that. I should want all beings to be enlightened." That's bullshit. It sounds nice, but it does not quite ring true. Let's look at what we really want. Do you want a new car? Well, consider it. Maybe that's the answer to your problems. Check it out. Maybe it is. Until you've checked it out, how do you know? That's what we call inhabiting our lives, rather than being dissociated, out to lunch. I'll tell you frankly that spiritual groups are full of that. It's one of the best places to cultivate that kind of ungenuineness. Everybody's out to lunch all day. And I've been there too. I know this from inside. There's a lot of misunderstanding about this. So let's not use the Dharma to further deceive ourselves, to become less than genuine. That would be turning gods into demons, as the Mahayana Mind Training warns us about.

This present awareness is all and everything. It is called the Buddha within, the true refuge, the inner or mystical Dharma. It is the Sangha too. Those who are absent-minded are not the Sangha. They're not really totally here, so how can they be counted? That is why it is said that awakened body, speech, and mind are the true Triple Gem of Sangha, Dharma, and Buddha.

In Dzogchen, we generally talk about not just presence of mind, but rather pure, pristine awareness. Not necessarily awareness of something, which is dualistic, but pure awareness, pristine awareness, primordial awareness, pure presence. Like before you knew you were different than your mother. Can you get back to that stage before you were even born, and just float there without knowing anything, without wanting anything from anyone outside? Without outside there is no inside. Can you just get in touch with that? Float there, be there, be that, before you were born? Before you separated out of the batter, before you became someone or something. Before the thoughts of self and other, "I want, I don't want," arise. If you do some kind of rebirthing, if you go into a sensory deprivation tank or hot bath and float, you might find that in the present moment you can be as you were before you were born. You can even do that here in meditation. That's part of this pristine awareness. Be before you had those parent problems that you sometimes feel so victimized by. So, what were you before your parents were born? That's available right here in this present awareness before your thoughts. Please think on this. Enter into that state, that primal expanse. Dissolve into pure, primordial being-the natural state.

Before there were subject and object relations, what are you? Can you find that in the present moment, before thoughts and concepts create self and other? Can you float in that primordial soup, as if in total sensory deprivation, before you know anything, or sense anything? Before your parents are born even? It's available. It is extremely deconditioning. It is totally free and untouched by concepts of any kind. It is untouched by conditioning. That's why we say this Rigpa, this pristine awareness, is Dharmakaya, Nirvana. Our share of Nirvana is Rigpa, this nondual awareness. We can actually tune into that, right here and now. In Zen they say what is your face before your parents were born. Before the mother and father, subject and object, get together and make you, procreate duality, which keeps happening every moment-before that happens, what are you? It is very revealing if you can go be with that for one eternal moment. It could be utterly liberating, totally, radically transformative.

All of this is in this simple yet profound present awareness practice. Not gazing at the sky, not looking out at anything, but just being. Not seeking anything. Not looking inside for anything. Not getting fixed in between, either. Simply sustaining this innate, pristine awareness or pure presence. This is the heart of all practices. I hope you can take it up and penetrate it, soak in it, get pickled totally in this hot bath of Dharma vinegar, which is so very sweet. A natural high, as one of my friends likes to call it. Be high now! Roll-your-own reality! I am joking. Enjoy it. We'll get serious again, soon enough.

I actually feel that when we get together to do this kind of thing, whether it is for a month, a week, or even a day, or an hour, it's unbelievably significant. It's the most important thing in the world. I love to do it. I never get tired of doing it. It is really the only thing to do. It doesn't mean you have to stop doing other things; you can mix it right in. Like wine: you can cook any kind of dishes with it. Just mix it right in. Integrate it with everything. French cooking delights in it, relishes it. You can too. Why be square about religion? Be a wild, free spirit; it's more delightful.

I'll stop here. Anyone have a question? Please feel free.

Asks about spontaneity and just letting things be.

To tell you the truth, before I came in here, I had no idea what I was going to talk about tonight. Tonight I was at dinner, playing around with the staff until 7:29, then I just came right over here. I had not thought at all what I was going to talk about. That's a good example of just allowing things to happen and trusting. I never talked about this. I want to get a copy of the tape, because that's how it comes. And it's not just about talking or words, but you can actually run your life that way. We're grownup and whole. There's nothing wrong. We know what to do. We don't have to plan every moment of every day, do we? No one knows what's going to happen anyway. Let the Great White Spirit speak through you, as they say. I trust that. You can too, if you like.

I was walking the street today with Uta, our host here at the Engl House, and this car came whizzing along and almost killed Uta. It was so close. It happened so fast we didn't even know it until it was over. How can you plan for anything? Who knows what's going to happen? But we can trust. Things are perfectly fine, just as they are.

Someone asks about Surya Das's retreat experience and why he seems to look askance at monastics.

I don't want to say anything bad about monasticism; I was joking before. But Milarepa sang that monasteries are places where driftwood piles up; far better to go to the mountains. He sang, "When I am alone in the mountains, I am with all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. I am always with my Lord Guru Marpa, my spiritual father." The monastery is like being in a teeming anthill. Why would I give up a small family, with small domestic problems, for a huge family, with huge domestic problems? Mila said, "When I am alone in the mountains, I am never alone. I am never separate from my spiritual father." Dharma centers today can become places where we breed mediocrity and dependence, if we are not careful.

That's why I love meditation practice. Going to mountains, in the deep forest, by the sea, is like meditating with all the Buddhas, with our gurus, with It. We are with it; we are not against it. Everything is it. Nature breathes and radiates it. We usually overlook it.

No, I don't regret my long years in cloistered, monastic retreat. I have actually been out to lunch for eons, so what's another eight or nine years? It's another part of the experiment. I wasn't just thinking about the three-year retreats when I questioned the relevance of monastic life for us today. I was more thinking of my life when I questioned the relevance of monastic life for us today-giving our life away, thinking someone else was going to do it for us, that simply being with the guru is enough, or simply being an ordained, shaven-headed monk is enough. Or like it's better to sit on the floor than on the chair. How about sleeping or thinking or daydreaming while we are supposedly meditating, or waiting for the retreat or meditation period to be over, waiting for the sound of the gong to end our boredom or misery. It's just wasting time. There are so many ways of not paying attention fully, of holding back from life, of being afraid or withdrawn.

What if I make a commitment to someone and get married, or make a commitment to some career or to living and working in some place? How many of us are afraid of commitments? What are we afraid of? We are missing a lot by being uncommitted. We spend so much time as if out to lunch, dissociated from our bodies and our feelings and from authentic inquiry, afraid to ask the real questions, afraid to really be honest with ourselves. So we ask, "Rinpoche, what is the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism? What's the difference between tathagatagarbha and sugatagarbha?" It's a bunch of bull. Then you go out the door and slam the door on your thumb. Shit! Who did that? Meanwhile, we are sometimes getting stoned and drunk and having feuds and fights and divorces and alimony, while saying everything is Dharma, it's all practice. That is a rationalization. That is total bullshit!

My friends who I haven't seen for 20 years, they all come now because they want to know the secret of Dzogchen. Many of them haven't meditated in 20 years. They've been stoned on drugs, sex, and money-making for 20 years (and, of course, also trying to do good works in between, I don't deny that). They say that it's all practice. "Sub ek" ("all one") as Neemkaroli baba used to tell us. That's the new mantra: It's all one. But I am sorry to say that it too often seems to be little more than self-justification, rationalization. You can't just get an airplane ticket, fly to India, and find out: "Ah, I can just go home. We are all God. I can be an enlightened drug dealer." I don't know about your friends, but some of my friends are still doing that. And they give some of the money to Tibetan refugees or other worthwhile projects, and they feel happy about it because they are supporting poor, disenfranchised refugees. What kind of contradiction is that? It's a form of psychological dissociation. Then they say to me, "But you seem to be so ordinary. Why don't you wear robes at least so everybody can know what you've done?" If I wear robes in America, everybody on the street says, "Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna!" Better transform the heart than change our hairstyle and clothes!

So that's why I feel it is very important these days that we create a functional, family-like, Buddhist sangha, not a dysfunctional sangha. It must be warm and welcoming, with a lot of genuine friendship and easy entrance to those who are drawn to it. Not everybody looking up at some high guru and looking down their nose at everybody else, stepping on each other's head, pushing them out of the way, with all the women in love with the male guru and all the men trying to be the guru's main assistant. Is that what we joined, to become the main assistant of the boss? Or to become a walking encyclopedia of esoteric, Oriental information?

As I see a more Western-style Buddhism, a contemporary Dharma, an American Buddhism, emerging, I am very happy. Of course, it has its own problems. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Eastern teachers. We owe a lot also to ourselves to carry it on in a sane way. As the Dharma has moved to different countries, hopefully it keeps its essence but it changes its forms. We must keep the spirit, the essence, of Dharma alive while letting the forms die and be reborn in accordance with current conditions. We must ourselves-each of us-give birth to a Buddha! Don't expect the guru to do it, please. This is a Do-It-Yourself Dharma, as the Buddha indicated.

I've fooled myself a lot in my life, haven't you? So I really appreciate having teachers and spiritual friends and so on. Partners. Intimate relationship is one of the best gurus. It really gets you where it counts. Not just up here in the head, but where it counts, where you can really feel it. You can't just say my guru is the Dalai Lama, he's coming back to my town in 1996. Relationships get you every day. Intimacy shows you where you are fucking up, like in a mirror. That's why Patrul Rinpoche of the Dzogchen lineage always used to say that the best guru is the one that presses on your sore points, the one who really pushes your buttons. That doesn't mean he makes fun of you because you are fat or dumb. It means wherever your hangups are, your self-deceptions, that's what he teaches to, that's where he pokes you and presses you. Not like he is just some great scholar giving you more studies to cogitate and excel in. It is hard to be so strict and provocative with yourself. The teacher is a very good mirror. You can see yourself better. Mirrors are revolutionaries. They can transform your life, if you let them. You don't have to collect lots of different kinds of mirrors. Even a dirty puddle will do. A car window. Just see what's there. Wherever your reflection appears, regard it directly. Why turn away from ourselves?

Without self-inquiry, without looking into things, spiritual progress is not assured. Sitting in the meditation hall can be just like sitting in a bank. Just being there doesn't make you rich. Just being in a bank doesn't help. It depends what you are doing there, doesn't it? And when we come to meditation, just waiting for it to be over will not do the job. I know all your games! I have played them myself. Some of you probably don't even know those games yet, you are so pure. But I've done them all too. Why come here to do that? You can sit at home in your armchair more comfortably and drink wine or beer, listen to music, watch TV, read poetry, surf the Internet, or play with yourself. Whatever! But why waste time in pretending?.

In the questions of King Melinda, one of the ancient Buddhist scriptures, King Melinda of Bactria, the first Western arhat, said to his master, Bhikshu Nagasena, who walked from India on foot, "What is the main factor in enlightenment?" He meant, what is truly transformative? It says in the sutras that there are seven factors of enlightenment. The Bhikshu Nagasena said the main factor of enlightenment is investigation into things. He didn't say quieting your mind. He didn't say prayer, faith, or meditation. He didn't mention joining a group. He said investigation, checking it out. Like the renowned Zen practice, "What is it? Who is it?" Asking that again and again was the whole teaching of our Zen master in Korea, Master Kusan. Of course, he talked about a lot of things, but his main koan, which he gave to everybody, is this question: What is it?

What kind of Buddhism is that? There's no Buddhism, there's no anything in that. Just go around asking the question all the time, What is it? What the hell is it? What's this? What is this, presenting itself right now? Instead of saying "Why me? What are they doing to me?" Ask "What is this?" Investigate each moment: What is this? Of course, we do this naturally somewhat when we are growing up, until the schools start to interfere with that and tell us what we should learn about. But this is still part of us, this intense form of inquiry. What is this pain? What is this thought? Even, what is this bliss? What is my life? Is there any purpose or meaning? What the hell is this!!!

That's the main Zen koan, self-inquiry. Not thought-stopping meditation. If you sit down on the cushion and just try not to think, you can get good at it. I can not think for an hour sometimes. But what's the point? I was in India for a long time. I did a lot of Vipassana courses with S. N. Goanka, two dozen ten-day intensive meditation courses. He was constantly telling us to quiet our minds. So if you do that for 10, 20, or 30 days in a row, you get good at not thinking. Of course, he had a lot of teachings; he is a good teacher and a Bodhisattva, but we Westerners took up that side a lot. Quiet your mind. Don't think. But after an hour, you start thinking again, don't you? Because the mind is supposed to think. It's just like your body, which is supposed to feel and sense. We don't want to stop that. There's a logic and intelligence in that. Thoughts are a good servant, but a poor master. So we want to know when to think, how to think, and how to use the tool of analysis and intellect. Not to be used by the tool. We want to be masters, not victims of the thoughts. Just sitting there trying not to think is not wisdom and compassion. It's not insight meditation. It's just mind control. It is like mental calisthenics; no big deal, really.

I think the genius of Buddhadharma is that it really provides a workable path to do this inquiry through. Anybody can do it. Even if you can't memorize anything. It is a do-it-yourself, liberating Dharma.

One of my favorite stories is about the Arhat Chunda. He was quite stupid. When his brother became a monk, Chunda just wanted to do what his brother did. So he went to Ananda, Buddha's attendant. But holy Ananda said, "Sorry. You're too stupid." Ananda thought this kid was too stupid to become a monk because he couldn't remember the rules, the chants, the teachings. So the elder brother and his stupid little brother went to the Buddha, for the Buddha was extremely wise, kind, and compassionate. He scanned the past lives of this young, stupid boy, Chunda. He saw in there one tiny root of merit that could help him get enlightened. He said it didn't matter how dull-minded he was. It didn't matter that he couldn't memorize anything. It didn't matter if he could remember even one rule. The Buddha said to Ananda, "Ananda, you're not the Buddha, so you couldn't see that this kid can get enlightened. But I'm the Buddha and I'm going to ordain him because he can get enlightened. He has one good root of merit from a past life. He can do it, too. Watch over this little child." (This story always brings tears to my eyes.)

So Buddha ordained the kid. The kid couldn't remember even one rule, or how to wear his robes. You know, it's complicated to be a monk. All the monks were studying and memorizing. There were a lot of teachings. There were 253 rules of monastic ordination. But the stupid, youthful Chunda couldn't remember anything.

Finally, the brethren gave him the job of cleaning off the sandals of the monks. Chunda cleaned the sandals while the other monks were getting teachings. Since there weren't any books in those days, 2500 years ago in India, nothing was written down; the monks had to memorize the teachings. Chunda wanted to practice like the other monks, and get this enlightenment thing he heard about every day. So he asked the Buddha how he could get this enlightenment thing. The Buddha said, "When you're scraping mud and sweeping the floors, just think, 'Now I am purifying all the obscurations of the mind.'" So he gave him a little two-line verse. "With each cleaning of the sandals, I am cleaning off the obscurations of the shining, perfect mind." The Buddha asked him to repeat it. He repeated it. The Buddha said, "Can you remember that?" He said, "Yes."

Then dumb Chunda went out and tried to repeat the verse. "With each scraping of the dirt, I am cleaning..." And he couldn't remember it. But he had good karma and had gentle Ananda around to remind him of the verse. Still, Chunda forgot again. Then Sariputra the learned came out, and Chunda asked him to remind him. Finally, the Buddha came back and said to Chunda, "Are you cleaning the sandals?" He said, "Yes." Buddha asked, "Are you cleaning the dust off the floor?" Chunda said, "Yes." And Buddha asked, "Have you cleaned the obscurations off the shining, perfect mind?" Suddenly Chunda was enlightened! He realized that the sandals with the dirt are still the sandals. The floor even with the dust is still the floor. Everything is just as it is. He became an arhat, a fully liberated sage.

In those days, wherever the Buddha went, the people would always try to serve lunch, the main meal of the day, to him and the arhats. They thought if they gave Buddha lunch they would get the most merit, and if they gave the arhats lunch they would get almost as much merit. But if they couldn't catch any arhats, they would feed the ordinary monks and get a little less merit. Everyone knew how stupid Chunda was, and they didn't believe he was an enlightened arhat. But wherever Buddha went, he saved a seat for Chunda, because he said he was the purest-minded, least proud arhat. Purest-minded because he didn't know anything. And least proud because he was so simple, so humble, so undemanding and easy to be with.

Unfortunately, we are not that stupid. We know too much. Or should I say, we think so much, we know so little. If we could just be ourselves, and take the path that is genuinely for us, it would be so easy. Imagine if Chunda was trying to become a Buddhist scholar, he never would have gotten enlightened. But he was content to clean the monks' shoes because he loved his brother and Buddha and the other monks. And it had to be done, so he did it. And he had a little teaching, a little verse that fit into that. That's why Thich Nhat Hanh gives everybody a little verse. He has a little verse for eating, for waking up, for toilet, for going to sleep, because one little verse can be enough to fully awaken you to the fullness and richness of the present moment.

Spiritual life has nothing to do with how smart you are. In fact, being smart can be an obstacle. You can become proud and have more clutter in your brain.

There's another interesting story, about how Ananda became enlightened. Ananda was the only one left at the time of the first council of Buddha's own disciples who didn't become an arhat. He was Buddha's attendant. He heard every word that Buddha taught, and memorized them all, but he didn't meditate much because he was too busy. Some time after Buddha's death, there was a meeting of all the arhats, but since Ananda wasn't an arhat he couldn't go. So he kept meditating, trying at the last minute to become enlightened, and it got to be midnight, 2, 3 o'clock in the morning of the first council of Buddhist arhats, but still he couldn't make it, even though he was the repository of all of Buddha's words. All the other arhats wanted him to go, but he couldn't since he wasn't an arhat. Finally it got to be 3:45 in the morning, 15 minutes before the 4:00 wakeup call. Finally, Ananda just gave up and said, "Oh shit. I'm not an arhat." Then he got enlightened, because he saw things as they were. It was the end of the struggle. No more trying to become an arhat, and he became an arhat. Many Buddhist traditions teach this story. That says something to me. It eloquently speaks to being yourself, rather than to mere doing and self-improvement. It expresses clear vision, seeing things just as they are, rather than as we'd like them to be. It is a lovely, timeless story.

When I visited the place where that occurred, near Vulture's Peak, I was very moved and inspired. I felt, "I am just me, and I can afford to be just as I am. It's OK! Thanks, gentle Ananda, for your teaching and inspiration."

That's all I wanted to say tonight. Any questions or comments?

How do you relate to your mind day to day? Do you think, or not much? How do you practice pure perception vows and samayas if you have ordinary, deluded thoughts all the time? How do you relate monk's vows with Bodhisattva vows and tantric precepts?

Personally, I just think continuously all day. If you are a thinking contemporary American you can't avoid it. What comes up in the mind is not, however, my principle business; how I relate to it is. I think what you really mean is how do you deal with the incredible number of tantric samayas and things. Is that what we're talking about? Are we talking about the five precepts, Bodhisattva vows, how to keep pure vows, or pure Vajrayana samaya?

The Bodhisattva Vow, as you probably know, includes eighteen vows. They are not that important to enumerate here. The main Bodhisattva vow is the Bodhicitta vow of altruism, selflessness, kindness, unselfishness, putting others before you, love, and all that. For the enlightenment of all. That is a principle to live by. In one way, that's an ideal that is impossible to live up to. In another way it is an ideal that is very easy to keep in mind continuously and try to live up to. I think that is the crucial point. You can reflect upon all of your activities, and how selfish or unselfish they are. Reflect on your basic motivation; why are you doing each of the things you do? That's the basic point of the Bodhisattva Vow. So then everything you do can be seen on that scale, whether it is more selfish or more unselfish. In this way, we gradually refine our spirituality, cultivating the indispensable Bodhi-mind, the awakened heart of love and compassion.

As far as tantric vows go, Tilopa said, "He who keeps the tantric precepts, yet discriminates, betrays the spirit of samaya." So just listing the mantras every day for all those initiations one received and the samayas of those empowerments doesn't really accomplish the point. The point is to go beyond the dualistic mind and its prejudiced, partial discriminations. I think it's very important to practice tantra in a way that makes sense, and to have a real practice that you can do every day. If you had 900 initiations and have to say mantras for each every day, just rattling them off will not necessarily liberate your mind. Better just do one Vajrasattva practice, or something that includes all the initiation deities, and really work on the formless awareness level, rather than with a multiplicity of different forms. Have one main practice, like sitting meditation and guru yoga, and keep a pure connection with the teachings and the teacher. To see everything as perfect and relinquish dualistic attachment and aversion is more important than to rattle off all different mantras. That's the principle I try to keep, the practice of sacred outlook/pure perceptions-seeing the Buddha-nature in everyone and everything-and let go and let Buddha do the rest.

As a person in my position, I have a lot of practices to do every day and to keep up my commitments and samayas in the lineage. It's a lot of stuff. There are lots of prayers, sadhanas, and mantras. Yet they say, one moment of trekchod (seeing through) or rigpa practice includes it all. Even one 100-syllable mantra includes it all-all the 100 deities, the peaceful and wrathful deities of the mandala. So all the initiations are included in the Vajrasattva practice. I think it is good to have a personal, core practice, a heart practice that can include them all, and then you build around that. If you have more time, you do a yidam practice, you do a guru yoga, you add some chanting, breathing, and prayers, or whatever. But basically, a daily, heart practice that works will help us the most. This is my own experience.

The Buddhist teachings can be summed up in the most simple form: "To give up what's evil; to cultivate what's wholesome; to purify and train the mind. That's the teaching of the Buddha." You can apply this at all the different levels. At the tantric level the practice of the View is the best way to keep the tantric precepts. If you practice your yidam deity, that's the best way to preserve and uphold the samaya. If you practice guru yoga, if you are one with the guru/Buddha/nature/mind, that's the best way to keep the samaya. When you are one with the guru, with Buddha-nature, with pristine awareness, nothing more needs to be said or done.

Let's make it easy. Why make it hard? We all go to a lot of teachers, a lot of teachings, we have a lot of initiations. Every teacher says something different, and everybody says it in a different way. If you really find out what the principle is, you find out they are not so contradictory, all those different statements. Not so complicated. That's why I think this kind of teaching of the vast and profound View is really important for us today, so we can extract the principle, the kernel, of enlightenment from the husk of all the stuff around it. The culture and tradition, the whole rigmarole, beautiful and inspiring as it sometimes is, is external to the luminous heart of the Dharma. We don't need to make Dharma into a burden, so the whole top-heavy church seems to be sitting on our head all the time. That can be a bit heavy.

The heart of the matter is very light. We can carry it all the time. It carries us. It is not a problem. It is easier than we think, although it sometimes seems quite difficult. But we could be cheerful and optimistic; why not?

Could you talk about what direct introduction is?

"Direct introduction" is a translation of the Tibetan term "ngötreu." It could also be translated as recognition, identifying it, or seeing things as they are. It is almost like satori. Do you see what I am saying? "Introduction" sounds like someone, some master, has to give it to you. Somebody has to introduce you, you know? The other side of the meaning is identifying or recognizing it. It's almost like a discussion of self-power and other-power, which you hear about in Japanese Zen, for example. Does somebody else empower you, wake you up, or do you wake yourself up through practice? It has both sides, that's the point.

In the ritual sense of the Vajrayana teachings, direct introduction to the Buddha-nature of mind comes with an empowerment, a crystal or other clear symbol, a ritual, a master-to-disciple relationship. The master introduces the true nature of awareness, rigpa, to you. Still, whether or not you really get it depends on your karma, and the connection between yourself, the teacher, and the teachings.

Does it mean to discover this inner Buddha-nature intellectually or experientially, or just beginning to believe in it?

In this sort of discussion here, we can only intellectually say what is done and how. What happens experientially is your business, more inexpressible and hard to define. That's the point. If you don't recognize or identify it, it's like when the Dalai Lama gives an empowerment to a thousand people in Madison Square Garden, he says that really only a few people get it. Of course, everybody got it, you know, as a blessing. They didn't ask for their money back, they enjoyed it; but maybe they should! It is hard to legislate when such a spiritual opening or epiphany, like direct introduction, happens.

The alarm clock of awakefulness is always going off, always ringing. It's up to you when you take the pillow off your head and wake up. So the teacher is embodying the truth, which is the alarm clock, which is the direct introduction; and it can be more formalized, like showing you a crystal or chanting mystical mantras in your ear or saying something to you like "Wake up!" or playing Zen games, like ringing gongs and hitting you and cutting off your finger. Or perhaps scaring you with a mudra, shocking your mind, trying to drive you beyond yourself. But when you get it, when you recognize or identify it, that's when it really happens. So introduction doesn't mean an intellectual, theoretical explanation. If you go to a weekend that says Introduction to Dzogchen, you get some kind of theoretical orientation, but no one promises direct introduction to the essential nature of your mind.

Can you give an example of direct introduction?

If you read the biography of Tilopa and Naropa, it says-and this is a classical example of how it works-that the devoted senior monk Naropa apprenticed and slaved under Tilopa for twelve years. Tilopa, the crazy, riverbank yogi, put the marvelous, learned abbot Naropa through all kinds of unreasonable tasks and hardships for twelve years. Then one day, Naropa was kneeling down in front of Tilopa, who hit him in the face with his filthy sandal-and Naropa awoke! That's called the introduction to Mahamudra. That's what it really means. That's when Naropa awoke. It's not that you have to find a sandal in your face. But there must be a genuine opening or breakthrough. It is not a philosophical treatise or theory.

There's what is called the outer and inner and secret levels of these things. The outer ritual is the introduction, but when you actually get it, it is more like the inner or mystic recognition or identification of it. So it's hard to ask for it. You can go to teachers and ask them to teach you certain things, but it's hard to ask for that. It's like falling in love. It's hard to fabricate or strategize. As Shakespeare said, ripeness is all. That's an introduction about ripeness. When a qualified master and a ripe student meet under the right circumstances, things can happen.

It's usually associated with tantric transmissions like Mahamudra and Dzogchen. That's why you don't hear about it with some other teachings. It depends on the karma or ripeness of the disciple and the ripeness of the master-disciple relationship. There are many interdependent causes and conditions coming together when a spiritual earthquake like Naropa's occurs.

This may sound stupid, but do you always know when you get it?

Yes. You might not know that that's the "introduction." I don't think Naropa thought, "Oh, that's the introduction to Mahamudra. Now they're going to write biographies about me!" But it is self-authenticating. It does not escape your notice.

It's not the kind of thing where a year later you realize, "Well, I did get it."

It's about recognition, so if you didn't recognize it, if nothing changed for you, then...? It's a subtle point you are raising, actually. You might, by hearing teachings like this, realize that when you were ten years old you had a similar experience. Many people realize later that they had spiritual experiences all their life, but it was never pointed out to us in school. That's a different level of this. You might say you saw God or had a breakthrough when you were a child or at some point in your life's journey. Since the path we are on is really a conscious technology of awakening, we are not any longer in that same position as the semiconscious children who are socialized to ignore or overlook those experiences when they occur. We are in a tradition that highlights those things, hopefully, so most people notice when they have satori or some kind of cosmic breakthrough. They notice. On the other hand, since it is such a mysterious phenomenon, I suppose it is possible to not know or to just assume you were spaced out that day, until later some teacher or insightful friend might give you some teaching that reawakens that in you, and you realize that that is what actually happened. For example, you might only realize afterwards that you were really in love with whoever it was that you broke up with, but you didn't know it then. These matters are mysterious in that way.

But it actually doesn't matter, whether you had it or not. It really doesn't. Everything's fine the way it is, so it doesn't matter what happened or what you call it. It only matters if you know how to work with the principles of truth. Not whether you experienced them, because the principles are always operating. Things are as they are, whether we always know it or not. Everything is fine, just as it is, and we can keep perfecting it all endlessly.

If you are avoiding what is harmful and doing what is wholesome, how does that relate to nonduality, to emptiness? It seems like a different dimension..

That's pretty enlightened. It doesn't matter whether you had "it." If you are in accord with the truth, it doesn't matter what you call it. It doesn't matter if you ever heard of Buddhism. And if you are not in accord with the truth, it doesn't matter if you know everything there is about Buddhism. Are you reflecting on a personal experience and wondering if something happened that Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche was talking about, while you were here? Is that what you are trying to get at?

What is your experience of sitting here? Is it different? Maybe I'm not a master. Maybe you need to go to Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche or some real Tibetan master so then you can experience it. They can zap you.

What's different is that I am more comfortable here.

Comfort and ease is one of the main principles of Dzogchen. What else would one want? Light bulbs dropping on our heads? Cosmic orgasms?

I wouldn't mind that, but it's enough to come here because it is comfortable.

Anyway, we don't have to figure out everything at once. Also, even if we don't get it all totally in this lifetime, so what? There's plenty of time. If we don't do it, somebody else will. It's fine. It doesn't matter if I get enlightened or not. We are all practicing dream-like practice to realize dream-like enlightenment.

I agree with you. But then I hear the teaching about how urgent it is, how hard it is to attain this precious human birth. I don't want to blow it this time. I might not get another chance. So that urgency is disconcerting.

That's why I'm presenting the other side. So you can relax and have a little ease and peace of mind, and then sense how things are within that spacious clarity. Then things might seem to be a little different. But, you're right. It is disconcerting to always feel pushed and pulled. However, let's not pretend that it's the Buddhist teachings that are pushing us. It is our own compulsion and conditioning that are pushing us. So let's relax a little and then see and sense a little more freely what's what. Have a fresh look. It might be very liberating.

I personally am quite sure that in one way it is just the same sitting here as it is sitting anywhere else. I sat in a retreat for three years thinking it was special, but then I found out later I was just sitting on that side of the wall and everybody else in the world was on the other side of the wall. But the wall was only six-feet high, while the world is so huge. It was a totally arbitrary distinction. We are all just living here on this spaceship Earth, pursuing happiness in our various ways, living for a few decades and then passing on.

On the other hand, deep spiritual life can be very special. I have been zapped by my gurus. I admit it. So I won't pretend that blessings don't exist. But they happen when you are ripe; you can hardly force it. You can't decide who the gurus really are or what they are going to do to you or how you are going to get zapped. So you just kind of schlep along and see what happens and try to enjoy it along the way. Don't take it too seriously. Affirm everything along the Way. There is a lot of joy and delight in that.

But I do take it seriously.

Yeah, we all do. My old girlfriend always used to call me Serious Das. She zapped me! That's the dakini principle in tantra. There's a kind of awakening energy that gets you when you are not really expecting it. You expect to be zapped from above by some guru or patriarch. But the dakinis get you from below, from behind, from within, where it hurts! Otherwise we'd never feel it, we'd never notice. We are so insulated and barricaded. Dakini doesn't just mean female. It's an energy of liberation. It has to get under the armor. We have these bullet-proof shells that we carry around. It has to get under somehow, to really move us.

I had read some other things about teachers turning around and somebody getting it.

That can happen, sure. Obviously. Teachers are aware of what's going on, but that doesn't mean they know everything that is going on. What has surprised me is how much teachers do know. For example, whether there is a karmic connection with the student and whether ripeness, zapping, and those kinds of irrational things are possible. I think that as we learn a little more to trust in our heart, our intuition, or, simply put, to open ourselves in the present to things as they are and really drop ourselves and our whole trip and just be present-we might sense all kinds of things that we wouldn't normally get. If we open all our senses and psychic centers and channels and scan intuitively, freely associating and trusting whatever comes up in the moment, we might find access to a lot more information than we usually allow in through our somewhat narrow doors of perception. It is all about being purely present and aware, beyond aims, biases, or projections. Then everything just happens, as if by itself.

October 6, 1994


1 comment:

  1. One of the first Buddhist books I ever bought was by Lama Surya Das. I had almost forgotten about him. This was nice. Be Well in your practice.


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