August 15, 2007

Practicing Peace - Natural Openness

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness, and the cause of happiness. May we be free of suffering, and the cause of suffering.

With these lines, repeated three times, we opened every talk and every guided meditation session. During these times together Pema spoke about three innate qualities every human being possesses and four practices to uncover these qualities from where they have been buried.

We all possess a natural openness which can be found when we pause for just a moment, when we drop the story line and existing fully in the present moment. This natural openness is what allows us to feel the groundless nature of our existence. Even though we are frightened of groundlessness, it is the inescapable nature of reality and we can learn to be open to that.

The first of the four practices introduced during that first bright, hot afternoon, was, of course, shamatha. Richard Reoch led us through the posture, of connecting with both the earth and the heavens, finding our seat, and watching the breath in the body. He led us through the vagaries of mind with precious humor. I have received shamatha instruction many times before and I believe this to be the best presentation I have yet heard. By being fully present, we cultivate stability, familiarity with our mind, and our natural openness.

The second of the four practices was the pause. To pause for two or three conscious breaths, it is as simple as that.

“It’s not a project,” Pema told us. “Don’t try to keep it going. Don’t sit around and talk about your pauses. You can’t not do it right. You’re not trying to make a gap, you’re just allowing one to occur.”

It is hard to remember to do this. Pema suggested many small reminders which could help us - every time you open your computer, the phone rings, you walk into a room, etc. Once you start it nurtures you. It is also a way to work and communicate with people. Just pause, allow your natural openness to be, and then go on. Silence can help settle things and bring us closer to our citta, our mind/heart. (Pronounced chee-ta.)

In Tibetan, and many other eastern cultures, the mind and heart are one. They are not separate. When we practice prostrations, bowing with hands in anjali, we first touch them to our forehead, throat, and heart, to represent our body, speech, and mind respectively. Our mind is our heart.

This citta, mind/heart, is the same as that which we cultivate when we speak of bodhicitta, or awakened mind/heart. Bodhicitta is the principle quality of the bodhisattva, of the buddha.

“We are not buddha tomorrow,” Pema reminded us, “we are buddha today.”

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