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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 68 world in all directions without any obstructions. that is what’s called the experience of the nature of mind. Freeing ourselves From ignorance If knowledge is the key to our freedom, then how do we move from a state of unknowing to knowing? the logic of the Buddhist path is very simple. We begin from a state that is confused and dominated by ignorance; by cultivating knowledge and insight through study, contemplation, and meditation, we free ourselves from ignorance and arrive at a state of wisdom. therefore, the essence of this path is the cultivation of our intelligence and the development of our insight. as we work with our intelligence, it becomes sharper and more penetrating; finally, it becomes so sharp that it cuts through the very concepts and ignorance that keep us bound to suffering. What we’re doing is training our mind to free itself; we’re exercis- ing, working out, pumping up our rebel buddha. Intelligence is not simply quantitative, a matter of how much we know. It is active; it functions. It’s the arms and legs of the wisdom to which it’s attached. It’s what gets us moving and gets us to our goal. When we begin to break through those conceptual barriers, we not only change ourselves, but we begin to change the world around us. It’s not always easy. It requires great conviction because we’re chal- lenging what is closest to us—our definition of self, both our per- sonal self and the self of others. Whether it’s a suffering self or a ty- rannical self, it’s what we know and have always cherished. But when you see the reality of your true self, you see it nakedly—stripped of all concepts. It’s one thing to say, “the emperor has no clothes,” and another thing to declare that and be the emperor yourself. The Myth of the Self Imagine that you look down at your hand one day and see that it’s clenched in a fist. you sense that you’re holding on to some- thing so vital that you can’t let it go. your fist is clenched so tightly that your hand hurts. the ache in your hand travels up your arm, and tension spreads throughout your body. this goes on for years. you take aspirin now and then, have a drink, watch tv, or take up skydiving. life goes on, and then one day you forget about it, and your hand opens: there is nothing inside. Imagine your surprise. the Buddha taught that the root cause of our suffering—igno- rance—is what gives rise to this tendency to “cling.” the question you should ask yourself is, “What am I clinging to?” We should look deeply at this process to see if anything is there. according to the Buddha, what we’re clinging to is a myth. It’s just a thought that says “I,” repeated so often that it creates an illusory self, like a hologram that we take to be solid and real. With every thought, every emotion, this “self ” appears as thinker and experiencer, yet it’s really just a fabrication of mind. It’s an ancient habit, so in- grained in us that this very clinging becomes part of our identity as well. If we weren’t clinging to this thought of “me,” we might feel that something familiar was missing—like a close friend or a chronic pain that suddenly disappears. just like gripping an imaginary object, our self-clinging doesn’t accomplish much for us. It only gives us a headache and ul- cers, and we quickly develop many other kinds of suffering on top of that. this “I” becomes very proactive in protecting its own interests, because it immediately perceives “other.” the instant we have the thought of “I” and “other,” the whole dra- ma of “us” and “them” develops. It all hap- pens in the blink of an eye: we cling to the “I” side and decide whether the “other” is for us, against us, or merely inconsequen- tial. Finally, we set our agenda: toward one object, we feel desire and want to attract it; toward another, we feel fear and hostility and want to repel it; and toward another, we feel indifference and simply ignore it. thus, the birth of our neurotic emo- tions and judgments is the result of our clinging to “I,” “me,” and “mine.” nor are we exempt from our own judgments. We admire some of our qualities and build ourselves up, disdain others and tear our- selves down, and ignore much of the pain we’re really feeling because of this inner struggle to be happy with who we are. Why do we persist in this when we would feel so much better and more re- laxed if we just let go? the true nature of our mind is always present, but because we don’t see it, we grasp what we do see and try to make it into something it’s not. such complications seem to be the only way the ego can survive—by creating a maze or a hall of mirrors. Our neurotic mind becomes so full of twists and turns that it’s difficult to keep track of what it’s doing. We expend all of this effort just to convince ourselves that we have found something solid within the insubstantial nature of our mind: a single, permanent identity—something we can call “me.” yet in doing so, we’re working against the way things truly are. We’re trying to freeze our experience, to create something solid, tangible, and stable out of something that doesn’t have that character. It’s like asking space to be earth or water to be fire. We think that to give up this thought of “I” would be crazy; we think our life depends on it. But actually, our freedom depends on letting it go. ♦ rebel Buddha continued from page 41