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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 46 awareness as it is. Whatever you experience, you don’t have to suppress it. Even latching onto irritations—”Oh, I wish that kid next door could turn down his music.” “I wish the fam- ily upstairs would stop yelling at each other”—are part of the present. Just observe these thoughts and feelings come and go—and how quickly they come and go, to be replaced by oth- ers. If you keep doing this you’ll get a true taste of emptiness— a vast, open space in which possibilities emerge and combine, dance together for a while, and vanish with astonishing rapid- ity. You’ve tasted one aspect of your basic nature, which is the freedom to experience anything and everything. Don’t criticize or condemn yourself if you find yourself following after physical sensations, thoughts, or emotions. No one becomes a buddha overnight. Recognize, instead, that for a few seconds you were directly able to experience something new, something now. You’ve passed through the- ory and ventured into the realm of experience. As we begin to let our experiences come and go, we begin to see them as less solid. They may be real, but we begin to question whether they’re true. Experience follows intention. Wherever we are, whatever we do, all we need to do is recognize our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions as something natural. Neither rejecting nor accepting, we simply acknowledge the experience and let it pass. If we keep this up, we’ll eventually find ourselves becom- ing able to manage situations we once found painful, scary, or sad. We’ll discover a sense of confidence that isn’t rooted in arrogance or pride. We’ll realize that we’re always sheltered, always safe, and always home. Clarity The exercise described above raises another aspect of our basic nature, and now I’m going to let you in on a little bit of unconventional understanding. As mentioned earlier, according to many standard Tibetan translations, the syllable nyi means “ness”—the essential qual- ity of a thing. But I was taught that the nyi of tongpa-nyi, on a symbolic level, refers to clarity: the capacity to be aware of all the things we experience, to see the stuff of our experience and to know that we’re seeing it. This capacity is the cognizant aspect of our nature: a very simple, basic capability for awareness. This basic, or natural, awareness is merely a potential. Just as emptiness is a capac- ity to be anything, clarity is the capacity to see anything that enables us to recognize and distinguish the unlimited variety of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and appearances that contin- ually emerge out of emptiness. Without clarity, we wouldn’t be able to recognize or identify any aspect of our experience. It’s not connected with awareness of any particular thing. Awareness of a thing—in terms of a subject (the one who is aware) and an object (the thing, experience, etc., of which the subject is aware)—is something we learn as we grow up. This cognizant, or knowing, aspect of our nature is often described in Tibetan as ö-sel-wa, which can also be translated as luminosity—a fundamental capacity to illuminate, or shed light on, our experiences and, thus, to know or be aware of them. In his teachings, the Buddha sometimes compared it to a house in which a lamp has been lit and the shades or shutters have been drawn. The house represents the patterns that bind us to a seemingly solid perspective of ourselves and the world around us. The lamp represents our luminous quality of the spark of our basic nature. No matter how tightly the shades and shutters are closed, inevitably a bit of the light from inside the house shines through. Inside the house, the light from the lamp provides the clarity to distinguish between, say, a chair, a bed, or a carpet—which corresponds to our personal thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. As this light seeps through the shades or shutters we see other things—people, places, or events. Such experiences may be dualistic; that is to say, a tendency to perceive our experience in terms of self and other, “me” and “not me,” but if we take a moment even to appreciate such glimpses we can arrive at a deeper, broader experience of basic, or natural clarity. Meditation: Tasting Clarity To experience clarity it is often necessary to embark on another shamatha exercise, this time using a formal object as the focus of our attention. I advise using a physical object, like a clear glass, because that object is already clear and transpar- ent. Start off by setting such an object where it can easily be seen whether you’re sitting in a chair, on a meditation cush- ion, or on the floor. Take a few moments to rest in objectless shamatha, in order to open yourself to experience. Then look at the object you’ve chosen—no longer than a minute for a little while—a process that isn’t all that different from staring at a TV screen or a person ahead of us in a line at a grocery store. Then, slowly, slowly, turn your attention from the object of attention to the aspect of your being that is capable of perceiv- ing objects. Recognize your ability to simply see and experi- ence things. This ability is all too often taken for granted. When we first begin to rest our attention on an object, we tend to see it as distinct or separate from ourselves. The capac- ity to make such distinctions is, according to neuroscientists and psychologists with whom I’ve spoken, in part a survival mechanism that helps us distinguish between objects in our environment that can harm us and objects that can help us. This survival mechanism, in turn, influences our internal sense of “I” as uniquely defined beings—solid and separate from “not I.”