In the reality of overwhelming anxiety and fear, what if the life affirming response? To be compassionate, to be present, to give assistance to those in need in whatever way you can. Together, all beings, we are this world. Together we can revitalize this world. One breath, one presence, one world.
In trying to help friends overwhelmed by anxiety in this tumultuous and fearful time I wrote a short bit of meditation advice called Facing Distress
I was walking towards the front door of the bank to make a deposit and I looked up in the the wide canopy of the ancient monkeypod tree. That great living expanse always reminds to return to being present, to remembering the oneness of all things. It inspired a new photo haiku and a short essay. Blessings for a wondrous new year!
Dear Friend, Other than that I am doing well. Minus a torn ligament in my lower abdomen from overly strenuous tree pruning. That still hurts. Cleaning shrines and statues every Saturday. Studying Dharma texts every week. That important core of my life is growing deeper and deeper and bringing me a sense of presence and gratitude. And growing compassion for all beings. Though I still tense up a little when “problem patrons” walk in to the library. But I am working on catching that negative reaction early and remembering compassion, equality, equanimity, and clarity. We are the great ocean of oneness, dharmakaya. I feel that strongly enough and frequently enough now that I realize that if this the reality of the world, then I should act like it. That ultimately requires nothing less than being compassion and responsive wisdom incarnate. That is our nature. It is something we can all actualize. Just have to keep clearing off the dirty windshield of ordinary mind till we see clearly enough to fully open our hearts and keep them open.
Contemplating the profound teachings in Precious Treasury of Pith Instructions by the 14th century Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam inspired the haiku above. The deeper you dive into the reality of your true nature the freer and more joyous you become. In meditation I get concerned about the distraction of arising thoughts.
Longchen Rabjam has a different take on those thoughts : “The transformation of thoughts into timeless awareness should be your primary meditative experience and realization.” (p.92) … “When any thoughts whatsoever arise, see them as serving only to clarify your experiences of timeless awareness (p.98-99) … “Whatever stirs the mind, maintain awareness of how, like a bird in flight, it leaves no trace” (p.112) … “whatever arises in the mind … see it as the display of awareness, and so experience the way things actually are … consider the very essence of thought” (p.148). Precious Treasury of Pith Instructions by Longchen Rabjam
Like adversity is transformed into practice and positive qualities in mind training, the arising of seemingly pesky thoughts while meditating can be transformed into insight into the true nature of all phenomena.
It was in this space that I came upon an article in The New Yorker (4/2/18, pgs. 62-73) entitled “Mind Expander”. The article profiles a philosopher and cognitive scientist named Andy Clark. Dr. Clark studies how the mind “extends into the world and is regularly entangled with a whole range of devices”(p.62). He focuses on how we are truly not separate and independent, but thoroughly interdependent with all beings. His review of perception research has led him to “Perception, then, was not passive and subjective but active and subjective. It was in a way, a brain-generated hallucination : one influenced by reality, but a hallucination nonetheless” (p.69). That sounds a lot to me like the Buddhist teaching on the dreamlike nature of phenomena. The article continues : “He wrote a book on the subject titled ‘Surfing Uncertainty’, and surfing was his metaphor for life : yes the waves that the ocean threw up at you could be wild and cold and dangerous, but if you surfed over and over again, and went with the waves instead of resisting them, and trusted that you would be O.K., you could leave your self-conscious mind behind and feel a joyful sense of oneness with the world” (p.70). Transcending a limiting sense of separate self is a key to higher realization for Buddhists. It’s encouraging when cognitive scientists come to a similar understanding. The article ends with “the structure of the brain itself … was not one indivisible thing but millions of quasi-independent things, which work seamlessly together while each had a kind of existence of its own. ‘There is something very interesting about life’, Clark says, ‘which is that we do seem to be built of system upon system upon system … I’ve become more and more open to the idea that some of the fundamental features of life really are important to understanding how are mind is possible.’ ” (p.73)
A sense of oneness with the world. It’s what has kept we strong in times of doubt and fear, has pulled towards the light when darkness beckoned. It’s where you are journeying to on the path. The path with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The path to remembering you are the oneness, that your very essence is timeless awareness. The rest is the spontaneous arising of the dharmakaya. Liberation lies in remembering that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. That you are a wave on the ocean, while simultaneously being ultimately one with the ocean. Why then would the waves of arising thoughts have the power to deter your meditation? Look deeply into the essence of those thoughts – they arise from the ocean of dharmkaya, dissolve back into that ocean, the ocean you are.
It has been raining a lot in the last month and a half. Not so great for going to the beach, but the orchids growing on the plumeria trees in my yard have really liked it as they have bloomed in abundance. The silvery moss you see in the photos is known colloquially as hinahina or Pele’s hair, but is actually Spanish Moss. I applied Picasa’s HDR effect to one photo and it seemed to make the photo pop. dt
Got lucky enough to get decently in focus photos of an albatross (Moli in Hawaiian) gliding above the Kilauea Point Lighthouse. Albatrosses are large seabirds, with wingspans over 6 feet, that glide effortlessly on the updrafts at Kilauea Point. Very centering to watch them.
I am engaged in a Tibetan Buddhist mind training course (Lojong) at present. The last two mind training slogans were : Patience of certainty in the nature of phenomena and the Nature of the Four Kayas is the unsurpassed protection of emptiness. The second is focused on recognizing that all the myriad appearance in our dreamlike samsaric existence are the spontaneous arising of the Four Kayas, meaning their nature is emptiness. The course’s teacher, Khentrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche, writes “when a disturbed mental state such as anger occurs, an emotional reaction does not develop … our minds remain undisturbed because we recognize the true nature of our irritating circumstance, person, or our very own disturbing emotion”.
Contemplating these mind training slogans and Rinpoche’s teachings on them got me really watching myself during the day, and when I felt anger, irritation, or aversion start to arise, I stopped by remembering the ultimate empty nature of these negative emotions. With practice a really bad habitual tendency can be remade into a positive, compassionate response to life challenges. Unwanted circumstances can be transformed into wisdom and positive qualities like patience and generosity of spirit by engaging them in a mindful way. Contemplating these mind trainings also got the Beatle’s song Strawberry Fields Forever running through my head. The song’s lyrics include : “Let me take you down ‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields Nothing is real And nothing to get hung about … Always, no, sometimes think it’s me But you know I know when it’s a dream” . Remembering the empty nature of relative existence reminds me that there truly is “nothing to get hung about”.
My meditation of these teachings led to a new photo haiku which I share below. May all beings be free of suffering and enjoy ultimate happiness. dt
Another photo catching the fire of the setting sun on the ocean undulations. Using the cover of an ironwood tree catching the golden blast of the setting sun and a sunset cruise boat. And a mother and child Moorish Idol pair munching on algae or coral.