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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 19 MUCH OF OUR EFFORT to avoid suffering involves making it manageable, which takes a lot of energy. The Buddha didn’t tell us to use a quarter of our brain to subdue suffering and the rest to enjoy our life. That’s not enlightenment. To accomplish our full potential, we need to use our mind in a different way. The Buddha pointed to four particular views that keep us from experiencing enlightenment: existence, nonexistence, both of those, and neither. These are called the “four extremes” that bind us to samsara. The four extremes obscure our wisdom and keep us suffering. Transcending them is called vipashyana, clear seeing. Before we are able to practice clear seeing, we need the mind- fulness that comes from peacefully abiding (shamatha) medita- tion. In shamatha practice we build confidence in our ability to recognize all kinds of appearances and discursiveness. We learn to stay focused in spite of agitations, concepts, thoughts, and emotions—all the mental events that pull us off track. We gener- ate the power to keep our mind on whatever subject we want. The qualities of shamatha are vital for investigating the nature of phenomena, which helps us cultivate clear seeing. In order to contem- plate impermanence, suffering, and selflessness, our mind has to be focused and present. We need the ability to stay in a state of mind that is leading us to answer the question, “What am I doing with my life?” Contemplating the nature of samsara gives us a perpetual motivation to engage in the practice of clear seeing. We think, “I have tried everything in samsara. I want to know exactly what causes enlightenment. What can I do?” When we know what is worth seeing, then we know what is worth experiencing, and the purpose of life becomes clear. Vipashyana is a superior form of seeing. By engaging our mind and looking at reality, we develop certainty about how things work. We learn to experience appearances, including ourselves, without fixation. How do we see the world without fixation? With the eyes of our true nature, which is emptiness and compassion joined. Vipashyana is the moment that we recognize this nature. We realize emptiness and compassion through hearing, contemplat- ing, and meditating. In vipashyana meditation, we take the four extremes as our object. First we hear about the four extremes, that phenomena in samsara are basically defined by the mind holding on to existence, nonexistence, both, and neither. We learn that these four buffer us from true emptiness and compassion. We do not try to learn about the four extremes all at once. We take one extreme at a time, beginning with existence. We are used to seeing appearances as real, and that’s how most of us en- gage with the world. Relying on appearances as if they were real and permanent goes against the grain of how things really are, and so we suffer. As the great teacher Tilopa said to his disciple Naropa, “Son, the basis of samsara is not appearances. The basis of samsara is fixating on those appearances.” Having heard about the view of existence, now we contem- plate it. We examine it with our conceptual mind, looking again and again at the possibility of existence. For most of us, the feel- ing of self is very expansive. Everything becomes self: my house, my vacation, my child. It’s slightly ridiculous, this experience of wanting the self to be something and somewhere, but we tend to hold on to it tightly. But where is this self that seems so real? If we draw the conclusion, “Maybe there is not a self,” we are developing insight into nonexistence. We’ve used our coarse conceptual mind to take us to a subtle place of truth beyond the first extreme. That moment of not finding the self is very pre- cious. Placing our mind on this insight, we rest there as long as it lasts. And when our mind begins to wander, we use the shamatha technique to bring it back. When we lose the insight totally, we investigate again. We ask, “The feeling of self, is it inside my body or outside my body?” Now that we’re looking at it, our faith in existence once more begins to dimin- ish: “Of course I’m not my head or my arm!” Again we have a definite The Only Way ’Round Is to See Through The Buddha described four extreme views that hold us back from enlightenment. To avoid these mental dead ends, says SAKYONG MIPHAM RINPOCHE, we must develop the insight to see through them. ILLUSTRATIONBYRAYFENWICK SEPT 18-35.indd 19 SEPT 18-35.indd 19 6/25/07 4:46:47 PM 6/25/07 4:46:47 PM