A Big Pair of Dharma Balls

A Big Pair of Dharma Balls

change 3

Today, perhaps more than ever before, it is easy to be drawn into what we call the cycle of soap-opera living. Soap-opera living is, unfortunately, rather common. A person caught up in soap-opera living is like a piece of plankton in the ocean that is continuously driven in different directions by the changing currents and tides. Despite being under the impression that they are making independent decisions, people living a soap opera do not have their eyes open enough to be able to truly to take control of their lives.

Individuals living a soap opera are highly influenced by whatever beliefs, behaviours, and pastimes are trending in society. Because the majority of individuals around them spend their time worrying about money, reputation, career, and relationships, the individual living the soap opera believes that they should do the same. If there is an atmosphere of stress at work because of a deadline approaching, or at university because exams are looming, the individual immersed in soap-opera living is drawn into and contributes to this stress. Because others are obsessed with what their friends and peers think of them, so is the person following the path of soap-opera living. They are pulled along by their own unregulated thoughts and desires, and by the thoughts and desires of those around them.

Walking an authentic spiritual path – Buddhist or otherwise – takes warrior-like courage. It takes courage because the spiritual practitioner has to break free of the cycle of soap-opera living when almost everyone around them is consciously or sub-consciously enticing them to remain firmly stuck in it. It takes courage because the spiritual practitioner has to leave behind the world that they have become accustomed to and enter unchartered territory. It also takes courage because the type of warriorship that fosters spiritual awaking requires the practitioner to blend together an attitude of fearlessness, with one of unwavering love and compassion for individuals who choose to remain stuck in the mire of soap opera life.

Leaving behind soap-opera living is easier said than done and should be seen as a life-long endeavour. As people move from the realm of the soap opera to that of awakened perception, there is a tendency for them to continuously try to find reference points or footholds where they feel safe. For example, they may have previously considered themselves a ‘businessman’ or ‘businesswomen’ but now they see themselves as a ‘Buddhist’ walking the path of Dharma. However, in order to progress along the path, the spiritual practitioner should try to avoid attaching labels to themselves. They have to let go of their old self and embrace a new self, but then they have to let go of the new self as well. Eventually, the spiritual practitioner has to find the courage to let go altogether – they have to let go without seeking to reinvent themselves.

Nothing in life is certain and all things change all of the time. If we try to create a ‘fixed self’ under such conditions, we are inevitably going to become unstuck. We need to be able to adapt to, and flow with, the changing conditions around us. From the spiritual practitioner’s point of view, this means seeing the teachings in a completely new way each day. Where the spiritual path once led them to embrace solitary meditation or a life of renunciation, it may at a subsequent point require them to fully immerse themselves in society and relinquish the notion that meditation is something that is ‘practiced’ rather than ‘lived’. Where the path of Dharma once required them to be a penniless mendicant, it may subsequently require them to rule a kingdom. Where it once required them to practise non-reactivity, it may require them – in the interests of compassion – to assume a more wrathful demeanour. Embracing such changes and challenges takes real warriorship as well as conviction in one’s chosen path.

In short, to walk the Buddhist or any other spiritual path effectively, the authentic spiritual practitioner must remain unattached to their current circumstances. They must come to understand that with every breath or footstep taken in awareness, they venture into the unchartered territory of the present moment. In short, being an authentic spiritual practitioner and leaving behind soap-opera living requires having a big pair of Dharma balls. Embracing life itself as the spiritual path and continuously letting go of who we think we are takes tremendous courage. However, with perseverance, this fearless approach to embracing reality yields unconditional happiness and profound spiritual insight. This is the path walked by all those who have attained Buddhahood in the past, and all those who will attain it in the future.

 

Ven Dr Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Fearlessness on the Path of Meditation

Fearlessness on the Path of Meditation

Fearlessness1

Some people are of the view that in order to enter the spiritual path one has to forget about the world and everything we know. However, rather than forgetting about or turning one’s back on the world, a true meditation practitioner is a person that completely surrenders themselves to, and becomes fully immersed in, the world. In order to surrender ourselves to the world we first have to abandon hope and fear. When we have hope, we leave ourselves exposed to suffering. We suffer when our hopes and expectations are not met. Wherever there is hope, there is also fear – the fear that our hopes will not be realised.

Many people think that in order to be happy they need hope. But this kind of happiness is very conditional and is reliant upon the presence of external factors. Relying for our happiness on external factors will never lead to lasting happiness because situations and phenomena are changing all of the time – there is no way we can control them all. By always hoping to be somewhere else, be someone else, or have something else, we effectively turn our back on the present moment and deep spiritual peace can never take root in the mind. This is not to say that we should not make efforts to improve our current situation, but we should do so in such a way that we do not allow the mind to intoxicate itself with hope that our efforts will bear fruit. In other words, if we wish to change or improve our current circumstances, we should do so with absolute focus to the task at hand but remain completely unattached to expecting that we are somehow going to gain something or get somewhere.

It is by engaging in, yet remaining completely unattached to, all that we experience that we create the correct conditions for gaining our first taste of unconditional fearlessness. When they have become adept at abandoning hope and desire, absolutely nothing can shake the meditation practitioner’s confidence. Without trying, they begin to emanate strength, courage, and contentedness. They remain centred and un-phased by any situation. People can’t help but notice the fearlessness that exudes from the person walking the path of meditation. However, because the meditator’s fearlessness stems from a place of calm, compassion, and non-attachment, people invariable feel reassured and safe in their presence.

Of course, there will always be some people who feel threatened and unsettled in the presence of a person that has wholeheartedly entered the path of meditation. However, rather than actually being afraid of the meditation practitioner, it is more the case that such people are afraid of themselves. Due to being free of hope and the idea of being somewhere else or being somebody else, the mind of an accomplished meditator is calm and completely clear. When others encounter this clear awareness, it acts as a mirror and reflects back upon them that which is prominent in their mind. Therefore, upon meeting a genuine meditation practitioner, some people are forced to face up to the fact they are living a meaningless soap opera and that they are effectively devoid of spiritual awareness. Understandably, this is a difficult pill to swallow but having it pointed out is a good thing because it gives people the opportunity to examine their life choices and to make changes where appropriate. However, it is often the case that people don’t want to admit that there is no substance to the self they have worked so hard to create. They become angry at themselves and at what is reflected in the meditation practitioner’s mind.

As referred to above, the quality of fearlessness that arises naturally as part of walking the path of meditation stems from a place of wisdom, compassion, and having abandoned all hopes. Consequently, it has absolutely nothing to do with being macho or deliberately trying to be courageous. These types of fearlessness are very much reliant on the presence of a ‘me’, a ‘mine’, and an ‘I’. The fearlessness that exudes from the authentic meditation practitioner is what is left after the ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘I’ are removed from the equation. For this reason, the fearlessness that the meditator experiences is completely devoid of aggression and is without a personal agenda.

An important source of the authentic meditation practitioner’s fearlessness is absolute commitment to the path that they are walking. They do not make a distinction between spiritual practice and time at work or time with the family. Whatever they are doing and wherever they find themselves, they strive to perfect each breath, moment, and activity of their lives. This unremitting commitment to their chosen path provides them with access to an immense resource of spiritual energy. It is the energy of the present moment that flows through and connects all phenomena. By tapping into and nourishing themselves in this energy, the authentic meditation practitioner is able to respond with fearlessness and take whatever happens in their stride. Everything that they encounter forms part of their practice. It doesn’t matter if they are seen as a national hero or if the whole country despises and rises against them – a person that has truly entered the path of meditation has absolute confidence in what they are doing. This is a beautiful and invigorating way to live.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chah, A. (2011). The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah. Northumberland: Aruna Publications.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of Meditation: Training the Mind for Wisdom. London: Rider.

Khyentse, D. (2007). The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Nanamoli Bhikkhu. (1979). The Path of Purification: Visuddhi Magga. Kandy (Sri Lanka): Buddhist Publication Society.

Santideva. (1997). A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. (V. A. Wallace, & A. B. Wallace, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Tsong-Kha-pa. (2004). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Vol. 1). (J. W. Cutler, G. Newland, Eds., & The Lamrim Chenmo Translation committee, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Trungpa, C. (2002). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambala.

Simply Being With Nothing to Be: A Commentary

Simply Being With Nothing to Be: A Commentary

Simply being

Over the course of the last six months or so, we have been gradually populating the ‘Spiritual Songs and Poems’ section of this blog. Included in the ‘Spiritual Songs and Poems’ section are what in Buddhist language are known as ‘vajragitis’. Vajragiti is a Sanskrit term that comprises the word vajra which means ‘indestructible’ or ‘diamond’ and the word ‘giti’ which means song. So the vajragiti is a form of ‘diamond song’ that can be used to transmit what are often very profound and essence tantric teachings. Within certain Buddhist traditions, and as is the case with the vajragitis composed by ourselves, these songs often reflect the spontaneous expression of a person’s understanding or realization in relation to an aspect of the spiritual path. Given that such transmissions are generally intended to be digested at the intuitive rather than the ‘academic’ level, their intended meaning may not always be apparent. Accordingly, and in response to a number of requests we have received for further elucidation in relation to several of our own vajragitis, today’s post takes the form of a commentary upon the four-verse vajragiti called ‘Simply Being with Nothing to Be’. The full 16-line vajragiti is presented first followed by a commentary on a verse by verse basis.

 

Simply Being with Nothing to Be

 

Nowhere to go, nothing to do
No reputation to build, none to defend
No possessions to amass, none to protect
This is fearlessness born of Apranihita.

Simply here, simply now
Simply birth, simply death
Simply content, simply aware
Simply abiding, simply being.

 

No space, no time,
So no here, no now.
No self, no other,
So no attachment, no aversion.

 

Letting go with nothing to let go of
Practice with no path to walk
Simply being with nothing to be
This is the all-pervading wisdom of Dharmadhatu.

 

Commentary

 

Nowhere to go, nothing to do
No reputation to build, none to defend
No possessions to amass, none to protect
This is fearlessness born of Apranihita.

The first verse of this vajragiti is concerned with renunciation. In order to enter the spiritual path we need to renounce unskilful paths. Renunciation of unskilful attitudes and behaviours is therefore a prerequisite for entry onto the spiritual path. Many people believe that spiritual renunciation means forgetting about the world and everything we know. However, this represents a mistaken understanding because rather than forgetting about or turning one’s back on the world, true spiritual renunciation means completely surrendering oneself to, and becoming fully immersed in, the world. In order to surrender ourselves to the world we have to let go of all our attachments and all our aversions. We have to let go of hope and fear. If we harbour hopes then we leave ourselves exposed to suffering. Hope means that we are not content with the present moment and that we wish to try and change it. However, the only way to really change the present moment is to immerse ourselves fully in it – hope stops us from doing this. If we have hope, then we automatically have fear. We are fearful that our hopes will not be realized. Many people think that in order to be happy they need hope. But this kind of happiness is very conditional and is reliant upon the presence of external factors.

When we completely surrender ourselves to the world, and when we completely surrender ourselves to ourselves, then life becomes much less of a struggle and grind. When we renounce the path of always wanting to be somewhere else, be someone else, or have something else, then deep spiritual peace can take root in our mind. It is at this point that we can make the present moment our home. There is nowhere else we need to be and there is nothing else we need to do. If we have a good reputation, that’s just great but if we don’t then that’s great too. It really doesn’t matter. The same applies to material possessions and wealth – if we have them then it’s really marvellous and we can enjoy them – but if we don’t have them it’s just the same. Because we are not attached to things like wealth, career, or reputation, then we don’t have to spend all our energy being stressed and worried about these things. A lot of people are so caught up with these things that they never get to know who they really are, and before they know it they are old, at death’s door, and full of regret at having allowed their life to fly by meaninglessly.

It is letting go of our attachments that allows us to truly experience spiritual freedom and taste what it means to abide in fearlessness. This newfound fearlessness is completely unconditional and even extends to concerns such as death. We experience the spiritual fruit of fearlessness because we have absolute contentedness and are totally without desires. The Sanskrit word for ‘desirelessness’ is ‘apranihita’ – it means we have renounced worldly ways to such an extent that if need be, we are actually free to wholeheartedly engage in so-called worldly activities.

 

Simply here, simply now
Simply birth, simply death
Simply content, simply aware
Simply abiding, simply being.

 

Being without fear and desire means that the mind is left with no alternative other than to dwell in the here and now. There is nowhere else it can go and nowhere else it would rather be. There is nothing left for the mind to do other than be present with itself and with the unfolding present moment. From the state of authentic renunciation, we can sit with total contentedness at the centre of all universes and observe the birth and death, the becoming and dissolving of all phenomena. We can observe the beings who are born and who pass away – one moment they are present but the next moment they are gone. One moment they are happy but the next moment sad. One moment they are in the company of friends and family but the next moment they are all alone. We see that beings come and go, planets come and go, and even the universes come and go. We observe the passing of time and the passing of space. Ah la la, what joy to abide in the present moment!

 

No space, no time,
So no here, no now.
No self, no other,
So no attachment, no aversion.

 

Although being able to maintain an unbroken flow of present moment awareness means that we can truly taste great spiritual peace, there are still subtle levels of ignorance and attachment associated with the state. So the third verse of this vajragiti is where we completely leave behind and transcend relative concepts such as the present moment. This is where we fully realise that time and space are nothing other than man-made concepts, and that consequently, there can’t exist a here and now. It is also where we fully understand that ‘self’ and ‘other’ are also concepts born of ignorance, and that accordingly, even notions such as attachment and aversion must be rejected. The mind that transcends notions such as attachment and aversion dwells in total equanimity and sees the all as one. At this point, all things are equalised in the expanse of unconditioned truth. There is no good and there is no bad. There is no self and there is no other. There is also no non-self.

 

Letting go with nothing to let go of
Practice with no path to walk
Simply being with nothing to be
This is the all-pervading wisdom of Dharmadhatu.

 

Having transcended all concepts including that of a spiritual path, we can enter the path of no-path. This is where we realise that there never was a path to walk, nor was there a fruit to obtain. It dawns on us that, all along, we were the Buddha, that every sensory object we have ever experienced was the Dharma, and that every being we have ever met was the Sangha. We understand that the only thing that kept us from experiencing this was our own mind, and that we only need undergo the slightest shift in perception in order to become a fully-enlightened Buddha.

When we try to let go, we see that there is nothing to let go of, and nobody to let go of it. This is because an inseparable part of the whole can’t let go of the whole – however much it tries the wave can never separate itself from the ocean. When we try to practice we see that there is no path to walk – we already are the path. And even if we let go and just try to ‘simply be’, we see that ‘simply being’ also constitutes an implausible concept. We find ourselves with no alternative other than to relax into the all-pervading wisdom of ‘Dharmadhatu’. The Sanskrit word ‘Dharmadhatu’ means the realm of truth or the realm of unconditioned truth. By simply being with nothing to be, not only do we enter the realm of unconditioned truth, but we actually become it. Our awareness pervades the entirety of existence and becomes the very fabric of reality. There is no more action and nothing left to do. Compassionate activity manifests effortlessly wherever there are suffering beings. Finally, we have returned home.

 

 

Further Reading

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of Meditation: Training the Mind for Wisdom. London: Rider.

Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Khyentse, D. (2007). The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Sogyal Rinpoche. (1998). The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. London: Rider.

Trungpa, C. (2002). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambala.

Tsong-Kha-pa. (2004). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Vol. 1). (J. W. Cutler, G. Newland, Eds., & The Lamrim Chenmo Translation committee, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Urgyen Rinpoche. (1995). Rainbow painting. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications.