August 04, 2007

The Knife Which Cuts

“Okay,” was how it started. President Reoch, administrative head of Shambhala International, introduced the man in the gold tunic and burgundy robes sitting high on the thrown on the left hand side of the shrine: Dharma heir to the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Shambhala, best selling author, marathon runner, living incarnation of Mipham the Great, and renowned meditation master. It brought to mind the practice of victorious Roman generals to place a slave in their chariot whose only job was to remind them they were merely mortal. I supposed had I suggested it, the response from some of those in the crowd might have been to point out that he is in a fact a reincarnated tulka, therefore, not mortal. I wonder what he would have said to that.

“Okay,” was how Sakyong Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche opened his first talk of Enlightened World, with that quintessentially American word.

The Sakyong spoke to us about engaging in enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that happens to you, or even something you can cause to just come about, it is something which we all have the capability to do on a daily basis. The material world and the heart/mind world are the same. Even as we live in the material world we are, each of us, already enlightened, if we can just discover that and overcome all fear.

In doing this there are three steps, View, Familiarity, and Activity. View is intention and an understanding of purpose. Familiarity is the practice of meditation, both shamatha and vipassana. Activity is our conduct. Without View, he told us, without knowing what it is your are becoming familiar with, you can meditate forever and not get anywhere.

“You can’t just sit and hope for the best,” but out of the right motivation everything will come.

Each of the Nine Paths, two belonging to the Hinayana or Theravada, one belonging to the Mahayana, and six to the Vajrayana, has a larger and larger motivation, each built up on the other. The Hinayana begins with a small motivation, which is further divided into three (Tibetans do love their lists), small of small, medium of small, large of small…you get the idea. The smallest of these is seeking happiness for ourselves through worldly means, then through both worldly and spiritual means, then through spiritual means we start to look at the root of the problem and begin to see the workings of karma and our next lives.

The Mahayana is the path of medium motivation (which is also subdivided) in which we begin to see that all beings are in exactly the same predicament. We then develop loving-kindness and compassion.

“Compassion is the best motivation,” and it‘s free. Big motivation leads to big realization.

But samsara only gets worse, not better, the Buddha warned us. The world is speeding up. The Sakyong spoke of teachings he gives in Tibet, where there is literally nothing, but this year there were monks on cell phones. They bow with half anjali (prayer hands) because they are holding a cell phone to their ear. The world is speeding up, but this speed does not affect our enlightened qualities, it only means we have to be more proactive in bringing them out.

Meditation is proactive, he said. Not a word I would have used to describe it, but we all know of my problems with meditation. (There is a Zen temple in Omaha, so my friend Wendy asked me why I didn’t end up in the Zen tradition. “Are you kidding? Too much meditation!” I answered and she laughed.) The Sakyong spoke of how in meditation we are surrounding our mind with qualities we want to cultivate, thus Familiarity. The mind is like a sponge, he said.

Meditation is how you cultivate your motivation, using both shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha is calm abiding, the meditation on the breath which provides the mind with stability. It allows us to own our minds and build within them both strength and spaciousness. This must come first, but it can’t be the only part of our meditation practice. We must also use contemplative meditation. We should read or hear the teachings actively, contemplate on them, and finish with shamatha meditation, as part of our practice.

The mind is the root of all action. We must have a thought to have an action. When we are mindful, totally present, we have Lungta, or wind horse, a great energy that effects both the body and the mind. We need shamatha to learn to be present enough to raise Windhorse. We need the spaciousness in order to contemplate compassion during vipassana, so that thought doesn’t just get lost among all the others.

Compassion is a noble heart. To have true compassion we must have a mind which fully perceives. Then we will see that others act badly out of suffering. We understand and see others need our love.

After the talk was over and the crowd had broken up, I happened upon a conversation in the Dining Tent. “He never talked about contemplative meditation before.” I mentioned this later to some staff-mates. I had always thought it odd that the Dalai Lama and other traditions emphasize one third scholarly study, one third shamatha, and one third contemplative meditation, while in Shambhala it seemed all to be shamatha, shamatha, shamatha.

“Chogyam Trungpa never taught contemplative meditation,” Susan told me.

When the Dalai Lama visited in September, he told the Sakyong “teach them contemplative meditation.” It sounds like this has been something the Sakyong has been trying to introduce for some time, to varied forms of resistance. He spoke of practitioners who had been meditating for thirty years with no attainment. I think waves have been made here, but to me, they bring relief to a still pool which was in danger of becoming stagnant.

I understood when previous teachers told me shamatha was to stabilize the mind, but I always wondered “for what purpose.” It seems silly to me to sharpen a knife if all you are going to do is carry it around with you and never chop any vegetables.

I can’t say I’m not looking forward to seeing what “cuts” the Sakyong is going to make with his knife, even if some people don‘t like them.


Stuff said...

That's one thing I always wonder about - if some one says they're Buddhist, or this or that, goes through the motions of doing the rituals, meditations, reads the books, and after 30 years, has gotten no where - should they have perhaps stopped more often and had a hard look at what they were doing? Stop thinking for a few hours 'I am this, I am that, I do this, I'm so special, blah blah' and ask 'is this stuff actually doing anything or not?'

Quite honestly, I'm a bit sad to see some older people who have been practicing for a long time and who, to me at least, still seem to have so many problems. Maybe it's just my negative point of view of things, maybe they just have extremely bad karma and their practices have helped get them that far, or perhaps there is something else I'm missing . . . on the other hand, if I'm right, some people have been wasting their time, and it's a bit sad to me. I can easily see how it would happen to me too.

If anything else in life, I hope to at least be able to see through some of my own crap, and sort out what is actually working and what isn't, and avoid what isn't like the plague . .

I guess I sort of like the wrathful deities because they're supposed to have more of this harder attitude - 'Stop being a prick and practice!', which I think I need!

ten directions said...

You can not take the right action unless the mind is really in deep shamatha (samadhi).

Also, vipassana relies on being in deep shamatha because it's only then we can actually realize something vs. just experience something.

Having one without the other won't cut it!


Monica said...

Ah, but remember, 'Stuff,' avoidance or aversion is just the flip side of attachment. Avoiding things we don't like can be just as neurotic and damaging as lusting after the things we do like.

BTW - Miss you guys! Wendy was out this week. She said she was glad she came, you should too!

My thoughts exactly, Per!

ten directions said...

I think it was Master Dogen who wrote something like:
"Shakyamuni Buddha spent six years of intensive meditation, and Bodhidharma spent nine years, so considering the advanced level they've already obtained before that, how much 'effortless' effort do 'normal' people need in order to obtain enlightenment?"

I think Buddhist practice is quite radical regarding what is needed to let go of, and it is easy to get comfortable and let time just pass.

Yet again, we can not attach 'ourselves' to future goals anyway...


Stuff said...

True, but if some practices are not useful, why would I not want to avoid them?

My point was, from looking at others who have done a lot of practice, I'd rather not end up like some of them.

Thus, I feel that it's necessarily to stop and check my progress very often, otherwise I'll spend 30 years doing the wrong things, like you mentioned in your original post.

Now, if I knew the difference without checking, then that would be something wouldn't it!

But not being sure, I try to check. My feeling is that some people may not do this - and thus, waste a lot of time, which is very sad.

In my opinion, it's too easy to get swept away in a stream of doing this or that, feeling very good about ourselves, going along with everyone else - but not actually stopping to check if perhaps we're still doing things correctly . . .

I think that sounds fair. If not, then oh well.

ten directions said...

Yes, this is a tricky issue.

The only way to check is to have a teacher in the lineage, really tracing back from Buddha himself.

At least chan/zen rely only one a wordless transmission between teacher and student. I am not so familiar with the Tibetan traditions.

How can I then trust that my teacher is 'certified'? I suppose faith comes in here, as we can't know anything for sure?

If you don't have a teacher then it becomes very fragile, indeed!
I think being part of some group of people might help at least, but I have had negative experiences with that too.