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Lions Roar : March 2013
45 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 4. See Confusion as Buddha and Practice Emptiness The fourth slogan, See confusion as buddha and practice emptiness, requires a bit of explanation. This goes beyond our conventional or relative understanding to a deeper sense of what we are. Though conventionally I am me and you are you, from an absolute perspective, a God’s-eye view, if you will, there is no self and other. There’s only being, and there’s only love, which is being shar- ing itself with itself without impediment and with warmth. It just happens to look like you and me to us, because this is how our minds and sensory appara- tus works. This love without bound- ary is emptiness practice. See confusion as buddha and prac- tice emptiness means that we situate ourselves differently with respect to our ordinary human confusion, our resistance, our pain, our fear, our grief, and so on. Rather than hop- ing these emotions and reactions will eventually go away and we will be free of them, we take them to a deeper level. We look at their underlying reality. What is actually going on when we are upset or angry? If we could unhook ourselves for a moment from the blaming and the wishing and the self- pitying and look instead at the actual basis of what is in fact going on, what would we see? We would see time passing. We would see things changing. We would see life arising and passing away, com- ing from nowhere and going nowhere. Moment by moment, time slips away and things transform. The present becomes the past—or does it become the future? And yet right now there is no past or future. As soon as we examine “now,” it is gone. And we cannot know how or where it goes. This may sound like philosophy, but it doesn’t feel like philosophy when you or someone close to you is giving birth. If at that moment you are standing in the delivery room or are yourself, in pain and joy, giving birth—in that first bursting- forth moment, you are amazed. This small life you think you have been living, with its various issues and problems, completely disappears in the face of the miracle of visceral life springing forth in front of your eyes. Or if you are present when someone Mind Training for Today Norman Fischer on why 52 sayings formulated almost a thousand years ago are more relevant than ever. TIMES ARE TOUGH. We need a way to cope. Halfway measures probably won’t work. We need to really transform our minds—our hearts, our consciousness, our basic attitudes. Such transformation has always been the province of spiritual practice, but these days cognitive science also tells us “the brain is plastic.” Our personalities, our default tendencies, our neuroses—they are not as fixed as we once thought they were. We are not the inevi- table products of our genetics and child- hoods. We can change. The trick is that we have to work at it. Just as training the body takes more than proper equipment and good intentions—it takes repetitive work over time—training the mind/heart takes patience and practice. Compassion is the goal of such training. Surviving—and thriving—in troubled times requires compassion and the kindness, love, and resilience that it fosters. Caring for and working to benefit others is also the best thing we can do for ourselves. In the twelfth century, the Tibetan sage Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje composed a text on the lojong, or “mind training” practices. Based on the Indian pandita Atisha’s original list of fifty-nine pithy sayings for repetitive practice, this text has been taught extensively ever since, and there are a number of translations and commentaries now available in English. It has become one of the best loved of all Buddhist teachings for generating compassion. I decided to write a “Zen” commentary to this text for two reasons. First, because the plain-speaking tradition of Zen might lend some- thing to the power of the text, and second, because although Zen is a Mahayana school (and therefore based on compassion teachings), it is nevertheless deficient in explicit teachings on compassion. The great Zen masters of old focused on other things; they assumed the compas- sion teachings but did not necessarily discuss them. So we Western Zen students must go outside the confines of our tradition to find them. Of the many important teachings presented in the lojong text, none is more useful than those discussed under the heading “Turning Dif- ficulties into the Path.” As I often tell students, “If your practice only works when things go well—if you turn away from it when things fall apart, if you don’t know how to turn your difficulties into strength and wisdom—then your work probably won’t be very effective.” If, on the other hand, you are able to increase your forbearance and open your heart even more in the face of serious setbacks, you will have achieved the most prized of all spiritual accomplishments: the ability to continu- ously deepen your strength and love, no matter what happens. ♦