Calling a Spade a Spade: The Need for Authentic Meditation Teachers

Calling a Spade a Spade: The Need for Authentic Meditation Teachers

spade

Some time ago, we uploaded a post that featured a vajragiti that we wrote called Hearken to the Dharma. A vajragiti is a type of spiritual song or poem. The Sanskrit word vajra means ‘diamond’ or ‘indestructible’ and the word giti means song. Some of our vajragitis have been spoken or written spontaneously, while others have been written at the request of a particular person or for a particular occasion. Since the post was published, we have received several enquiries as to what some of the terms means. Today’s post provides information on the meaning of these terms, and on the theme of the vajragiti more generally.

Hearken to the Dharma’ is a four-verse vajragiti written in the style of the spiritual songs of certain yogic traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. In essence, it refers to the view of certain systems of Buddhist thought that we are currently in an era in which the Buddhist (and spiritual teachings more generally) are degenerating. More specifically, it refers to the fact that not all individuals who are currently teaching mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism have the ‘right intention’. When people with a selfish intent and who are without authentic spiritual realisation choose to teach meditation or Buddhism, it can result in negative consequences.

It could be argued that by writing a spiritual song such as the below, we are being judgemental. However, we wouldn’t agree with this because it is not judgemental to call a spade a spade. If things aren’t right, sometimes we need to speak up and raise awareness about the issue.

In the below vajragiti, the term ‘two accumulations’ refers to the Buddhist view that spiritual practitioners need to accumulate both spiritual merit and wisdom. Spiritual merit is accumulated by engaging in acts of generosity, patience, loving-kindness and compassion. Wisdom is accumulated by practising meditation, especially insight meditation. Spiritual merit and wisdom are necessary if we want to overcome the tendency of making our lives all about the ‘me’, the ‘mine’ and the ‘I’. Living a life that is always centred upon the ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘I’ is what is meant by the term ‘self-grasping’.

True renunciation’ means that we are no longer interested in mundane pursuits such as accumulating wealth or status. It means that we are aware that death is a reality that we will have to face, sooner or later. When we cultivate true spiritual renunciation, it is a liberating experience. However, it is important to remember that spiritual renunciation doesn’t mean that we turn our back on the world. Rather, it means that because we are free of selfish intentions, we can fully taste, enjoy and engage with the world.

In some Buddhist sutras, the Dharma is sometimes referred to as the ‘Law’. Therefore, the term ‘Law Holder’ means an authentic spiritual practitioner – somebody who has transcended the ego and given rise to a high level of spiritual awakening. A Law Holder could be a fully enlightened Buddha, or it could be somebody who is well on the way to attaining Buddhahood. A person who holds the Law of Dharma embodies and emanates spiritual awareness. They are not necessarily a Buddhist scholar.

In the context referred to in the vajragiti, our use of the term ‘Mara’ invokes the connotations that this term has with the notion of the Devil in Christianity. However, the term ‘Mara’ has several different meanings in Buddhism, which include negativity in its broadest sense. The ‘lower realms’ refer to realms of existence in which there are high levels of ignorance and suffering. The animal world is an example of a lower realm (i.e. when compared with the human realm), but Buddhism asserts that there are realms of existence that are lower than the animal realm (e.g. the hell realms).

The terms ‘View’, ‘Meditation’ and ‘Action’ in the final verse refer to the three components that comprise an authentic Buddhist spiritual path. For example, in the Noble Eightfold Path referred to previously on this blog, each of the eight individual components of the path are understood to be primarily concerned with the cultivation of either: (i) wisdom or a ‘view’ that transcends the notion of self and other, (ii) meditation, or (iii) ethical ‘action’. If each of these three aspects (i.e. wisdom/view, ethics/action and meditation) are present, then a particular Buddhist path can be considered whole and complete. The three path elements of wisdom, ethics and meditation are known in Sanskrit as ‘trishiksha’, which means the ‘three trainings’.

The term ‘three doors’ refers to the three ‘doors’ through which we interact with the world: (i) body (i.e. actions), (ii) speech (i.e. words), and (iii) mind (i.e. thoughts). Finally, the term ‘Mind as all’ refers to a view amongst certain Buddhist schools that existence unfolds within the expanse of mind. According to this view, waking reality is no more ‘real’ than what we experience while dreaming.

Hearken to the Dharma

All you great teachers and meditators,
Who mistake self-grasping and pride for the two accumulations,
In whom true renunciation and devotion never arise,
You, pleasure seekers, hearken to the Dharma that keeps death in mind.

Proudly claiming to be great Buddhists,
Judging others as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,
Spreading doubt and disparaging the Law Holders,
You, Dharma destroyers, hearken to the Dharma beyond all concepts.

Practicing sophistry you deceive the foolish,
Competing for renown like Mara princes,
Dragging your followers to the miserable realms,
You, evil doers, hearken to the Dharma of karmic cause and effect.

For View you delight in ‘self’ and ‘other’,
For Meditation you indulge in scheming thoughts,
For Action you mindlessly vomit through your three doors,
You, delusion revellers, hearken to the Dharma that knows Mind as all.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

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.