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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 73 In the same way, when we look directly at a thought or emotion, it is hard to find anything solid. We may be experiencing strong anger, but when we look at those intense feelings of aggression, we can’t really pinpoint them. We can’t really identify what they are. We may not even be certain why we are angry. After a while, our anger dissolves. One moment, we can barely speak or breathe because we are so enraged. In the next moment, the fury is gone, leaving nothing behind. Even if we wanted to maintain our anger so we can continue tormenting our rival or foe, it is too late. Our empty-appearing anger is gone. In truth, it was never there in the first place. Ordinary Mind The actual point of all our efforts on the spiritual path, whether we are studying, meditating, or engaged in socially oriented activities, is to return to the genuine state of our mind, the inherent state of wakefulness, which is very simple and completely ordinary. This is the goal of all three vehicles, or yanas, of the Buddhist path. The Hinayana school calls this state egolessness, selflessness, or emptiness. The Mahayana school calls it the great emptiness, or shunyata, freedom from all elaborations, all conceptuality. It is also known as the emptiness endowed with the essence of com- passion, or as bodhichitta, the union of emptiness with the qual- ities of compassion and loving-kindness. Further, it is known as buddhanature or tathagatagarbha, the essence of all the bud- dhas, the “thus gone ones.” In the Vajrayana, it is called the vajra nature, or sometimes the vajra mind or heart, which refers to the indestructible quality of awareness. In Mahamudra, it is called ordinary mind, or thamal gyi shepa, and in Dzogchen, it is called bare awareness, or rigpa. The meanings of all these terms point to the most fundamental reality of our mind and phenomena, which is luminous emptiness. All is empty yet appears, appears yet is empty. While many different methods are taught to reach this ordinary state of mind, the methods themselves can appear to be anything but ordinary. In some sense they are extraordinary, rather than ordinary; abnormal, rather than normal; and complex, rather than simple. The Hinayana path of personal liberation, for example, is known for its many detailed instructions for practice and postmed- itation conduct. For monastics, there are the customs of shaving one’s head and putting on beautiful robes, which are rituals pre- scribed in order to lead the practitioner to the realization of selflessness. In the same way, followers of the Ma- hayana system for realizing the great emptiness undertake the paramita practices, the six transcendent actions of generosity, discipline, patience, dili- gence (or exertion), concentration (or meditation), and discriminating knowl- edge (or prajna). In the Vajrayana, there are many complex practices, such as the visualization of deities and mandalas, which lead to the realiza- tion of the vajra mind. So with all these practices, are we getting any closer to the nat- ural state? Since it is natural for our hair to grow, the Hinayana practice of continually shaving our heads seems unnatural. It is also not the normal custom of society. In the Mahayana, there are many highly conceptual and occasionally “counterintuitive” methods for purifying negative states of mind, such as breathing in the impurities of the minds of others in tonglen practice. In the Vajrayana, in contrast to the Hinayana practice of shaving off our hair, we visualize not only extra hair, but also we imagine extra heads, extra arms, and extra legs. Why do we do this, when such methods seem to take us further and further away from an ordinary, normal, and simple state of mind? There must be a reasonable explanation! The answer is simply that in order to reach the level of ordinary mind, to truly arrive at the basic state of simplicity, we have to cut through our habitual, dualistic pattern of labeling some things as normal and others as abnormal. If we have too much fixation on normalcy, on day-to-day convention, we have to cut through that to experi- ence our mind as it truly is. Therefore, in order to break through and transcend such solid, dualistic notions, we create “abnormal” situations to practice with on the path. In the deity yoga practice of the Vajrayana, you might be visualizing yourself in the form of an enlightened being with multiple heads, arms, and legs when you suddenly realize that you have no idea who you are—which is a wonderful expe- rience. We usually have too many preconceived notions about who we are and about the world “out there.” We are so caught up in the process of labeling that we never see beyond the surface of those labels to the nonconceptual reality that is their basis. When we work with profound and skillful methods like those of the Vajrayana path, they cut through the very root of our dualistic concepts. With these methods we rely on concept to go beyond concept, on thought to go beyond thought. A good example of this is a bird taking off from the ground. When the bird wants to fly, it has to either run a little bit or push down against the ground so that it can leap up. It has to rely on the earth to go beyond the earth—to leap into the space of sky. In the same way, we have to rely in the beginning on dualistic concepts in order to leap into the space of non-conceptuality or non-duality. This is what all these teachings do for us. Through words and concepts, they point out the nature of phe- nomena, which is emptiness beyond words and concepts. If, when Buddha realized the true nature of mind and the world, he had never spoken about it, never communicated his wisdom to us through words, we would have no way to enter this profound path. ➢ page 113 MAY 68-73.indd 73 MAY 68-73.indd 73 3/6/08 11:32:49 AM 3/6/08 11:32:49 AM