Sunday, January 22, 2012

Precious Energy

from Tricycle:

Precious Energy

The Ninth Zen Precept: Not Being AngryNancy Baker

  Anger is a natural human emotion; it lasts only 15 seconds. So said the grief expert Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross in an interview I once read. Unfortunately, when the human ego is involved, anger tends to last far longer. One of the most famous examples is the “wrath of Achilles,” the mega-anger that begins Homer’s Iliadand remains a theme throughout the epic. A recent translation calls Achilles’ anger “sustained rage.” It’s the sustained part that’s the problem. But shouldn’t we also avoid, or control, or suppress even the natural, 15-second variety? It all depends. Aristotle tells us that “he who cannot be angry when he should, at whom he should, and how much he should, is a dolt.” This suggests that in certain circumstances, anger is appropriate, justifiable—even necessary. But before we look at what those circumstances might be, it would be good to consider how our cultural and psychological prohibitions against anger can cause us to misuse the ninth precept.

Working with any of the precepts is not about engaging the super ego. The Zen precepts are moral principles in a sense, but they aren’t “out there,” separate from us, to be held up as standards with which to criticize ourselves when we fall short or, even worse, to criticize others when they fall short. Nor are the precepts moral straitjackets for controlling our own behavior or anyone else’s. Instead, they express what the realized person does naturally. As Bodhidharma puts it, “Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous. In the dharma of no self, not postulating self is called the Precept of Refraining from Anger.” Self with a capital S, the Self of Self-nature, is in reality “no self”— Buddhanature, the realm of no separation. But until we reach that stage of realization (if there is such a thing as reaching it once and for all), how do we work with the ninth precept? As with all the precepts, we need to work with it in a way that liberates rather than confines us. And that means not using the precept to reject any part of ourselves. Because anger is so universal, frequent, and varied, it serves as a particularly useful model for this. 

First of all, it’s important to move beyond an oversimplified picture of what anger is. Anger takes many forms, and it’s good to explore its subtle and not-so-subtle variations so that ultimately each of us can find out precisely what works for us as a practice. Think of all the words there are for anger: nouns like rage, outrage, wrath, fury, resentment, annoyance, irritation, displeasure, indignation; modifiers like ticked off, pissed off, boiling mad, stewing, annoyed, simmering; verbs like blow up, snap at, hit the ceiling, see red, get under someone’s skin, lose it. In addition to all the different kinds of anger are all the different things we do with anger. Some of us suppress it, some of us act it out, some of us disguise it as something else. Some of us get very angry, even at ourselves, and some of us haven’t the vaguest idea that we are ever angry. Some of us even get angry at things. How could one get angry at things, you may wonder. Well, try the computer. Some of us get angry at computers and other objects much more often than we get angry at people. I once had a boyfriend who during a particularly difficult week became so angry on discovering that money had fallen out of his back pocket that he ripped the pocket right off his pants—while he was wearing them! I’ll never forget how angry he was. Actually, “enraged” is a better word for his state.

Because we imagine anger is never a good thing, it is easy to think we should practice simply not being angry. But that approach is too general and abstract. It’s important for each of us to be precise, to be real, to be personal and honest, to find out exactly what my anger is. To do that we need to ask ourselves lots of questions about its actual nature. [See “Practice: Working with Anger”]

The first step, then, in working with the ninth precept is to discover my own particular version of anger. Once I’ve seen the quality of my anger, the next step is to get to know it intimately. Like many emotions, anger has both a cause and an object. Its cause might be that my best vase was broken through carelessness, but the object of my anger is you, the one who broke it. Getting to know my anger means turning my attention away from its cause and its object, and all my stories about it, to the anger itself. Getting to know my anger means not having any judgments about it, compassionately allowing it, and being curious about it. Suppressing anger is one obvious way of avoiding getting to know it, but so too is acting it out. In the latter case the anger is like a hot potato—I can’t get rid of it fast enough.

What makes us avoid getting to know anger itself, rather than focusing on its object? In some cases it is fear. Once, in a conversation about psychoanalysis, I asked an old friend what her analysis had been about. She thought carefully and said, “Not being afraid of my anger.” I then asked what she was afraid of. After a few moments, she replied: “Blowing up.” She wasn’t speaking metaphorically about having a burst of anger; she meant literally blowing up, in the sense of being annihilated. It was an existential fear. Another fear that can prevent us from expressing or even feeling our anger is fear of being rejected by the one with whom we’re angry. Then, too, some of us are ashamed of being angry and can’t face it or admit it. Others of us may have such a powerful self-image of not being the angry type that we deny having any anger to get to know.

Why is it important to know all this about my anger? Why not just not be angry? For one thing just not being angry is easier said than done. For another, there is no freedom in avoiding or suppressing it. Again, the precepts are about not rejecting any part of myself—in this case, the one who gets angry—but rather getting to know that part of myself and accepting it without any judgment. This is a very important step in working with any precept. The more we can truly accept who we are, all the way to the point of becoming one with it, the more we give the precept a chance to manifest naturally. Some of us need to practice not acting out our anger, and knowing when and how it shows up can be an enormous help in that regard. Others of us need to get in touch with our anger and not be so afraid or ashamed of it: here too, getting to know the anger, even welcoming it, is an enormous help, especially when we have the courage to admit to others that we’re angry. For those with a self-image of never being angry, it’s important to realize that a never-angry self-image postulates a self just as much as being angry does.

  Thich Nhat Hanh has a very beautiful thing to say about getting to know our anger:

Treat your anger with the utmost respect and tenderness, for it is no other than yourself. Do not suppress it—simply be aware of it. Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed. When you are aware that you are angry, your anger is transformed. If you destroy anger, you destroy the Buddha, for Buddha and Mara are of the same essence. Mindfully dealing with anger is like taking the hand of a little brother.

Perhaps the most important reason for getting to know our anger is that anger is actually a precious energy that becomes anger only when it is caught up in complex egoic patterns. As we’ve seen, those patterns include my stories about anger’s cause and object—the broken vase and the one who broke it, for example—as well as many deluded beliefs, not the least of which is the delusion of separation. This energy needs to be freed and transformed rather than distorted or destroyed. When we are unable to feel our anger, depression, collapse, loss of aliveness, dependence, and inability to be autonomous are likely to result. Years ago I was at a small party of dharma friends, and one of the hosts mentioned that he and his partner had very different ways of getting angry. Immediately, everyone was interested, and before we knew it, someone proposed that we go around the room and each say how we got angry or how we would get angry were we to really let loose. I sat there dreading the whole exercise, but when my turn came, I found myself happily announcing that I would be like Dr. Strangelove riding the bomb, ready to blow up the world! That I could even have such a destructive thought was a surprise to me, but incredibly freeing. Several years later, our small New York Zen group tried the same exercise. Given the age and rather staid nature of most of us, the images were hilarious—an ex-husband being shot in a restaurant; a huge flood drowning everyone; stabbings, suffocations, and, of course, Dr. Strangelove blowing up the world. What was fascinating was the effect this exercise had on us: our cheeks were beautifully flushed, our bodies were full of energy, and a wonderful vitality filled the room. We had released a life force simply by letting go of our shame and denial.

  To deepen this practice even more, we can try, in a spirit of simple curiosity, to get so close to our anger that we no longer know or feel it as anger. Cause and object, the self being angry, and the anger itself all drop away, and all that remains is the precious energy, freed at last.

Again, we have Bodhidharma’s version of the ninth precept: “Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous. In the dharma of no self, not postulating self is called the Precept of Refraining from Anger.” What he is saying is that when there is no self, no selfterritory to defend or construct, and hence, there is oneness— no separation—then there is no anger. But what about Aristotle’s remark that an inability to be angry is actually a failing? Can we reconcile that with the Zen version? In other words, can there be anger that does not come from a postulated self, anger that is not defensive and based on the delusion of separation? The answer is yes. There is anger at a child who rushes into the street, endangering his or her life. There is anger at cruelty, and at carelessness that endangers others. My teacher once got angry at me when he realized that I had not thoroughly condemned the behavior of a fellow student who was making money by delivering drugs. These are the quick, 15-second kinds of anger. When the 15 seconds are up, it’s over. There is a kind of cleanness, clarity, and purity to this kind of anger because there is no territory of self. But there is also an anger that stays longer than 15 seconds—stays cleanly, clearly, and purely until something that needs to be remedied is taken care of. We all know stories about heroic whistle-blowers who were angry about chemicals being dumped in a river, or angry that information concerning the side effects of a drug had been withheld. We are grateful that these people persisted in their clean, pure anger. That kind of anger is not about defending the territory of self; it is for the good of all.

The kind of anger we’re used to, the kind that isn’t pure, can be a great teacher, as Bodhidharma’s version of the precept indicates. Since anger by definition involves separation, it makes no sense to imagine it arising in a universe of oneness. Thus when it does arise, it instantly reveals to us the delusive creation of “me” and “not me.” Anger shows us just how fast self can arise, especially when we least expect it. It can happen whether we react to someone or something with a flash of temper, or some ancient buried anger wakes up and slowly takes us over. In either case, the self is born again. But when the precious energy is released from the entrapment of self and our actions arise from Self-nature, it is then that we experience the oneness of self and other, and the arising of compassion. Rumi’s poem “Ali in Battle,” says it all:

Learn from Ali how to fight
without your ego participating.

God’s Lion did nothing
that didn’t originate
from his deep center.

Once in battle he got the best of a certain knight
and quickly drew his sword. The man,
helpless on the ground, spat
in Ali’s face. Ali dropped his sword,
relaxed, and helped the man to his feet.

“Why have you spared me?
How has lightning contracted back
into its cloud? Speak, my prince,
so that my soul can begin to stir
in me like an embryo.”

Ali was quiet and then finally answered,
“I am God’s Lion, not the lion of passion.
The sun is my lord. I have no longing
except for the One.
When a wind of personal reaction comes,
I do not go along with it.

There are many winds full of anger,
and lust and greed. They move the rubbish
around, but the solid mountain of our true nature
stays where it’s always been.

There’s nothing now
except the divine qualities.
Come through the opening into me.

Your impudence was better than any reverence,
because in this moment I am you and you are me.

I give you this opened heart as God gives gifts:
the poison of your spit has become
the honey of friendship.”

This is the Precept of Not Being Angry.

Sensei Nancy Mujo Baker, a dharma successor of Roshi Bernie Glassman, is the teacher for the No Traces Zendo in New York City. She is also a professor of philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College. Her article on the seventh Zen precept appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Tricycle.

Poem excerpted from The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition by Coleman Barks © 2004 by Coleman Barks. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers.

Images 1 and 2: Into a Delightful Illusion, 2010, 12" x 36", Japanese urushi on wood
Images 3,4, and 5: A Puzzling Statement, 2010, 12" x 36", Japanese urushi on wood
Homepage image: gforsythe

Practice: Working with Anger
To make the practice of working with anger personal and precise, it is useful to explore the following kinds of questions. (This can be done as a solo inquiry, or with another person asking you the questions, then silently holding the space while you answer.)

First, find out on what kinds of occasions you get angry:
• When do I get angry?
• What makes me angry?
• Do I get angry when I’m criticized? Ignored? Not getting my way? Do I get angry at someone who treats others badly?
• Do I ever displace my anger onto the wrong person, or take anger at myself out on someone else?
• What happens when I get angry? Does angry language pop out of me?

Next, inquire into the flavor of your anger:
• How do I typically get angry? Is my anger hot or cold? Is it quickly discharged or a slow burn?
• Is my anger suppressed, denied, or hidden?
• Do I walk around with simmering resentments day after day?
• How is my private anger different from my anger at public figures or institutions?

If you have difficulty expressing anger or even recognizing that you’re angry, ask yourself:
• When do I have difficulty expressing anger?
• With which sorts of people am I reluctant to express anger? Family members? Friends? Men? Women? Employers? Authority figures?

Finally, ask yourself about any old angers you’ve been carrying around for a long time. (Sometimes we have to dig deep to uncover them.)

Your Mind is Your Religion

From Tricycle:

Your Mind is Your Religion

Lama Yeshe teaches the importance of regular mental check-ups.

WHEN I TALK ABOUT MIND, I'm not just talking about my mind, my trip. I'm talking about the mind Lama Yesheof each and every universal living being. The way we live, the way we think-everything is dedicated to material pleasure. We consider sense objects to be of utmost importance and materialistically devote ourselves to whatever makes us happy, famous, or popular. Even though all this comes from our mind, we are so totally preoccupied by external objects that we never look within, we never question why we find them so interesting.
As long as we exist, our mind is an inseparable part of us. As a result, we are always up and down. It is not our body that goes up and down, it's our mind—this mind whose way of functioning we do not understand—not just our body, but our mind. Therefore, sometimes we have to examine ourselves—not just our body, but our mind. After all, it is our mind that is always telling us what to do. We have to know our own psychology, or, in religious terminology, perhaps, our inner nature. Anyway, no matter what we call it, we have to know our own mind.
Don't think that examining and knowing the nature of your mind is just an Eastern trip. That's a wrong conception. It's your trip. How can you separate your body, or your self-image, from your mind? It's impossible. You think you are an independent person, free to travel the world, enjoying everything. Despite what you think, you are not free. I'm not saying that you are under the control of someone else. It's your own uncontrolled mind, your own attachment that oppresses you. If you discover how you oppress yourself, your uncontrolled mind will disappear. Knowing your own mind is the solution to all your problems.
One day the world looks so beautiful; the next day it looks terrible. How can you say that? Scientifically, it's impossible that the world can change so radically. It's your mind that causes these appearances. This is not religious dogma; your up and down is not religious dogma. I'm not talking about religion; I'm talking about the way you lead your daily life, which is what sends you up and down. Other people and your environment don't change radically; it's your mind. I hope you understand that.
Similarly, one person thinks that the world is beautiful and people are wonderful and kind, while another thinks that everything and everyone is horrible. Who is right? How do you explain that scientifically? It's just their individual mind's projection on the sense world. You think, “Today is like this; tomorrow is like that; this man is like this; that woman is like that.” But where is that absolutely fixed, forever-beautiful woman? Who is that absolutely forever-handsome man? They are nonexistent-they are simply creations of your own mind.
Buddha by Fredericka Foster Shapiro, Tricycle Summer 2000
Do not expect material objects to satisfy you or to make your life perfect; it's impossible. How can you be satisfied by even vast amounts of material objects? How will sleeping with hundreds of different people satisfy you? It will never happen. Satisfaction comes from the mind.
If you don't know your own psychology, you might ignore what's going on in your mind until it breaks down and you go completely crazy. People go mad through lack of inner wisdom, through their inability to examine their own mind. They cannot explain themselves to themselves; they don't know how to talk to themselves. Thus they are constantly preoccupied with all these external objects, while within, their mind is running down until it finally cracks. They are ignorant of their internal world, and their minds are totally unified with ignorance instead of being awake and engaged in self-analysis. Examine your own mental attitudes. Become your own therapist.
You are intelligent; you know that material objects alone cannot bring you satisfaction, but you don't have to embark on some emotional, religious trip to examine your own mind. Some people think that they do; that this kind of self-analysis is something spiritual or religious. It's not necessary to classify yourself as a follower of this or that religion or philosophy, to put yourself into some religious category. But if you want to be happy, you have to check the way you lead your life. Your mind is your religion.
When you check your mind, do not rationalize or push. Relax. Do not be upset when problems arise. Just be aware of them and where they come from; know their root. Introduce the problem to yourself: “Here is this kind of problem. How has it become a problem? What kind of mind feels that it's a problem?” When you check thoroughly, the problem will automatically disappear. That's so simple, isn't it? You don't have to believe in something. Don't believe anything! All the same, you can't say, “I don't believe I have a mind.” You can't reject your mind. You can say, “I reject Eastern things”-I agree. But can you reject yourself? Can you deny your head, your nose? You cannot deny your mind. Therefore, treat yourself wisely and try to discover the true source of satisfaction.
When you were a child you loved and craved ice cream, chocolate, and cake, and thought, “When I grow up, I'll have all the ice cream, chocolate, and cake I want; then I'll be happy.” Now you have as much ice cream, chocolate, and cake as you want, but you're bored. You decide that since this doesn't make you happy you'll get a car, a house, television, a husband or wife-then you'll be happy. Now you have everything, but your car is a problem, your house is a problem, your husband or wife is a problem, your children are a problem. You realize, “Oh, this is not satisfaction.”
What, then, is satisfaction? Go through all this mentally and check; it's very important. Examine your life from childhood to the present. This is analytical meditation: “At that time my mind was like that; now my mind is like this. It has changed this way, that way.” Your mind has changed so many times but have you reached any conclusion as to what really makes you happy? My interpretation is that you are lost. You know your way around the city, how to get home, where to buy chocolate, but still you are lost-you can't find your goal. Check honestly-isn't this so?
Lord Buddha says that all you have to know is what you are, how you exist. You don't have to believe anything. Just understand your mind; how it works, how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, and where emotions come from. It is sufficient to know the nature of all that; that alone can bring you happiness and peace. Thus, your life can change completely; everything turns upside down. What you once interpreted as horrible can become beautiful.
If I told you that all you were living for was chocolate and ice cream, you'd think I was crazy. “No! no!” your arrogant mind would say. But look deeper into your life's purpose. Why are you here? To be well liked? To become famous? To accumulate possessions? To be attractive to others? I'm not exaggerating- check yourself, then you'll see. Through thorough examination you can realize that dedicating your entire life to seeking happiness through chocolate and ice cream completely nullifies the significance of your having been born human. Birds and dogs have similar aims. Shouldn't your goals in life be higher than those of dogs and chickens?
I'm not trying to decide your life for you, but you check up. It's better to have an integrated life than to live in mental disorder. A disorderly life is not worthwhile, beneficial to neither yourself nor others. What are you living for-chocolate? Steak? Perhaps you think, “Of course I don't live for food. I'm an educated person.” But education also comes from the mind. Without the mind, what is education, what is philosophy? Philosophy is just the creation of someone's mind, a few thoughts strung together in a certain way. Without the mind there's no philosophy, no doctrine, no university subjects. All these things are mind-made.
Lama Yeshe © Carol Royce-Wilder, Tricycle Summer 2000
How do you check your mind? Just watch how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Observe what feelings-comfortable or uncomfortable-arise. Then check, “When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes; I discriminate in such a way. Why?” This is how to check your mind; that's all. It's very simple.
When you check your own mind properly, you stop blaming others for your problems. You recognize that your mistaken actions come from your own defiled, deluded mind. When you are preoccupied with external, material objects, you blame them and other people for your problems. Projecting that deluded view onto external phenomena makes you miserable. When you begin to realize your wrong-conception view, you begin to realize the nature of your own mind and to put an end to your problems forever.
Is all this very new for you? It's not. Whenever you are going to do anything, you first check it out and then make your decision. You already do this; I'm not suggesting anything new. The difference is that you don't do it enough. You have to do more checking. This doesn't mean sitting alone in some corner contemplating your navel-you can be checking your mind all the time, even while talking or working with other people. Do you think that examining the mind is only for those who are on an Eastern trip? Don't think that way. Realize that the nature of your mind is different from that of the flesh and bone of your physical body. Your mind is like a mirror, reflecting everything without discrimination. If you have understanding-wisdom, you can control the kind of reflection that you allow into the mirror of your mind. If you totally ignore what is happening in your mind, it will reflect whatever garbage it encounters-things that make you psychologically sick. Your checking-wisdom should distinguish between reflections that are beneficial and those that bring psychological problems. Eventually, when you realize the true nature of subject and object, all your problems will vanish.
Some people think they are religious, but what is religious? If you do not examine your own nature, do not gain knowledge-wisdom, how are you religious? Just the idea that you are religious-“I am Buddhist, Jewish, whatever”-does not help at all. It does not help you; it does not help others. In order to really help others, you need to gain knowledge-wisdom.
The greatest problems of humanity are psychological, not material. From birth to death, people are continuously under the control of their mental sufferings. Some people never keep watch on their minds when things are going well, but when something goes wrong-an accident or some other terrible experience-they immediately say, “God, please help me.” They call themselves religious but it's a joke. In happiness or sorrow, a serious practitioner maintains constant awareness of God and one's own nature. You're not being realistic or even remotely religious if, when you are having a good time, surrounded by chocolate and preoccupied by worldly sense pleasures, you forget yourself, and turn to God only when something awful happens.
No matter which of the many world religions we consider, their interpretation of God or Buddha and so forth is simply words and mind; these two alone. Therefore, words don't matter so much. What you have to realize is that everything-good and bad, every philosophy and doctrine-comes from mind. The mind is very powerful. Therefore, it requires firm guidance. A powerful jet plane needs a good pilot; the pilot of your mind should be the wisdom that understands its nature. In that way, you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others.
I think you understand what I'm talking about. What I want is for you to check up. A simple way of checking up on your own mind is to investigate how you perceive things, how you interpret your experiences. Why do you have so many different feelings about your boyfriend even during the course of one day? In the morning you feel good about him, in the afternoon, kind of foggy; why is that? Has your boyfriend changed that radically from morning to afternoon? No, there's been no radical change, so why do you feel so differently about him? That's the way to check.
[Also] before you do anything, you should ask yourself why you are doing it, what is your purpose; what course of action are you embarking on. If the path ahead seems troublesome, perhaps you shouldn't take it; if it looks worthwhile, you can probably proceed. First, check up. Don't act without knowing what's in store for you.
Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-84) was educated at Sera Monastic University in Lhasa, Tibet. After fleeing Tibet in 1959, he began teaching Buddhism to Westerners at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu and in 1974 began teaching around the world. He was co-founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. This is an excerpt fromMake Your Mind an Ocean: Aspects of Buddhist Psychology (1999). Used with permission of Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Boston.
Image 1: © Carol Royce-Wilder
Image 2: Buddha, Fredericka Foster Shapiro, 48" by 42", oil over acrylic on linen, 1998. © Fredericka Foster Shapiro
Image 3: © Carol Royce-Wilder

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fruitless Labor

From Tricycle:

Fruitless Labor

Forming bad habits is hard work.
Gaylon Ferguson

MICHAEL S. WERTZ “Training” has many meanings—and our experience with training has a much longer history in our lives than we might realize. We can get physical training at a gym or yoga studio, professional training in a school, and training of the mind at a meditation center. But in a wider sense, we have also been training our body and mind just by living our life. When we were first taught to say “good morning” and “good night,” when we went to a childhood friend’s birthday party and someone suggested we take along a gift, when we went to our grandmother’s funeral and first experienced human grief—all these experiences were shaping our heart, our mind, our life. Since we were not born speaking a particular language or knowing the customs of our culture, these things are acquired knowledge, abilities we gain through learning and training. I still have vivid memories from my childhood of my mother’s and aunts’ wails of grief after my uncle was killed suddenly in a head-on automobile collision. It left a strong impression: this is how we mourn our dead.

In this wider sense, our entire life has been training. The question is: training in what? This question means: training in which direction? If we train ourselves to reach for a snack or pick up the phone to text-message whenever we feel frightened or bored, this is definitely training. The next time we feel uncomfortable we will also tend to reach for some comfort outside ourselves, eventually establishing a deeply ingrained habit, another brick in the wall of our mental prison. Are we training in how to distract ourselves from inner discomfort or anxiety? Are we training in numbing ourselves in the face of fear, or training in waking up? Training in opening the heart, or training in shutting down?

When we first sit down to meditate— and later when we return to the cushion—we can immediately recognize that we are not starting with a clean slate. If we’ve fallen in love, then the glow of passion and romance will deliciously perfume our meditation experience. If we’ve had a particularly stressful week at work, then our Saturday morning meditation session may have some of the irritating flavor of recent conflicts and disagreements. We may find ourselves replaying difficult conversations repeatedly—in a tape loop of irritation. A friend who worked as an accountant once told me that his discursive thoughts in meditation during tax season were often exclamations in numbers: “534! 63,000! 10, 10, 10!” Whatever the previous day, week, month, year, decade have brought—it is immediately clear that our minds are already in motion, already have movement and momentum in a particular direction before we sit down. Our experience when we sit down to meditate—whether we’ve been sitting for 30 minutes or 30 years—will often reflect our previous physical and mental “training.”

In other words, the wildness of mind that we experience when we sit quietly noticing our body and breathing for five minutes is the result of everything we’ve been doing before those five minutes. Frequently we discover that our minds do not rest in radiant contentment for the entire meditation session. Why not? Because we have been training for years in desiring, reaching, grasping, getting, and then wanting more, and then, of course, more—all reinforcing the underlying feeling that this moment is not enough. This pervasive feeling of something lacking, something missing (“not enough, not enough, when can I get something else, something different, something better?”) is itself a powerfully motivating force. This is what we notice when we simply sit quietly with ourselves for even a few moments: we experience the accumulated momentum of mental noise, booming and buzzing. We notice how strongly we are trained to want something different from what is happening. We notice that our minds are very well trained in dissatisfaction and distraction. Almost always our focus is on something else—not this. We seek another moment of greater happiness— not this moment. Contentment seems always elsewhere—never here. ▼

From Natural Wakefulness, © 2009 by Gaylon Ferguson. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications,
Image © Michael S. Wertz

Awareness Itself

From Tricycle:

Awareness Itself

Lama Surya Das speaks with His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa about the deceptively simple practice of not doing anything at all.

His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa is the head of the Drukpa School of Tibetan Buddhism, one of Tibet’s great practice lineages, and is a renowned master of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen lineages. He has monasteries and nunneries in India and Nepal, as well as centers in Europe and Mexico. This is his first interview in ten years. Lama Surya Das, a Western Dzogchen teacher, taught English to the Gyalwang Drukpa at His Holiness’s monastery in Darjeeling, India, in the early seventies. Lama Surya Das is the founder of the Dzogchen Center and author of numerous books, most recently Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss and Spiritual Transformation. This conversation took place at Lama Surya’s hermitage and sanctuary, Dzogchen Osel Ling, outside Austin, Texas, last November.
Your Holiness, what do you think is critical for dharma students today, in terms of understanding and practice? Meditation. But one must learn how to do it properly. It’s not just about trying to find a comfortable quiet corner to hide in. There is more to it than that. It is about wisdom awareness, knowing, seeing clearly. Meditative awareness in daily activity is important, not just in the practice of silent sitting.

Courtesy   of the Dzogchen CenterThere are many kinds of meditation, not to mention other contemplative practices. What do you teach? I instruct my students that the natural state of mind is the main thing: awareness itself. We should not limit that to any particular object of meditation or goal or physical posture, and it has to be brought into everyday life. Of course we try to meditate daily and so forth—sitting, chanting, praying. But I would say that not doing too much is the important thing. We tend to try to overdo everything. Such conceptual actions just create more karma. Consider nondoing, nonaction, for a while, and leaving things as they are. This can provide balance.

And your own meditation practice? 
When I go on retreat, I may have a particular practice that my guru gave me, but mostly I have a mission of not doing anything. My goal is not doing anything, ultimately. Just being. That’s it.

That’s a little hard for an ordinary person to understand. How can you accomplish not doing anything?
 Traditionally, one only tells one’s guru about inner experiences, Dzogchen practice, or even one’s dreams—so as not to give rise to pride and egotism. Humility and compassion is the main thing, isn’t it? Genuine lovingkindness. And nonharming. That is the essence of dharma. But we are usually harming, killing living beings, eating them, and destroying the environment also.
In retreat and in meditation I think the main thing is to rest in naturalness and pure awareness, the clear light of reality. The Three Jewels—Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and the whole of universal truth are all within your own mind. Nothing more is needed.
I really love to be in retreat. I have never done more than six months at once, because unfortunately I don’t have time. Once I was doing retreat up in a cave, and when I noticed that the time was up and I had to go down, I really felt like crying. It was really terrible. I just sat there day and night; I didn’t even sleep. I postponed leaving for three days. And then after that I postponed leaving for another two days. And then I postponed for another day. Even then I didn’t want to come down, but I had to. Maybe it’s an attachment, which is no good, but I felt that way.

What is the essence of retreat? What do you recommend?
 To me the essence of practice, wherever you do it, is developing yourself and your way of life—to really develop your happiness, your inner understanding, to deepen your wisdom and selflessness. You may have a grumpy face when you start, but when you come out of retreat, you’re very happy. And that happiness can be shared with everyone—maybe not all sentient beings, but a good number. Unfortunately, these days, people like us, who should really be practicing for the benefit of all, do not have time for solitude. This is a busy age, you know? The age of hurrying. Little time for anything, it seems. I try to use nighttime to meditate.
I think the essence of retreat is to make yourself more pure and content, self-realized, content just by being yourself, being alone, and thinking about the true nature of things.

So a better way of life through understanding reality? If you don’t understand life, then you become disappointed, depressed. You feel useless.

What is the essence of Buddha-dharma? What is most important to do?
 There are usually too many things to do, so many practices and much work also. Why should I give you more to do?
I don’t think you need to go around so much to so many different teachers and try to compare all the different teachers and teachings. People today seem to do that a lot, and it often gives rise to doubt and confusion. The teachings are simple; it is important to learn a little and to put them into practice.
What I would say is the essence of dharma is not to harm anybody. That’s it! Not to harm anybody actually includes everything. Of course I also want students to be happy. Genuinely happy, unconditionally happy. That’s inner happiness, regardless of material gain or achievement or outer conditions.

What do you mean by “happy”? There are so many levels to that.
 Realization is unconditional happiness, an indescribable inner joy. We are always seeking something, trying to see, to know, just like we try to get ordinary things and accumulate ideas, and that desire is endless. But not seeing is true seeing, not knowing is true knowing. Not finding can be finding the true essence also. It sounds like nonsense, but it is recommendable. It goes deep. Not just superficial smiling, or momentary sense pleasure. It is beyond the mind as we think of it usually. Words don’t reach that.
Happiness means including everything. Why not? There is a blissful experience in the empty true nature of everything, when seen through to the essence. That is radiant Mahamudra, the ultimate reality. That is Dzogchen, the natural Great Perfection.

I have a wonderful feeling of pure perception while talking to you about these things. You appreciate and enjoy everything, just as it is—without judgment, without shying away. Could you talk a little bit more about that? 
How can you like and enjoy everything, and not try to narrow it down to find the right place and then just go into that corner, that particular state of mind, and hold onto it? It’s not about trying to get into just the right way or corner. It’s the other way around. It’s embracing the bigger picture or totality of whatever you have in your life. Fresh and open. No problem. No attachment. Everything easy, equal. Big mind. Fearless.
Image 1: Courtesy of Dzogchen Center