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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 44 So I tell him, “this is a great secret, which I’ll tell you after a short break.” With all the dignity I can summon, I get up off the chair where I’ve been sitting, slowly pass through rows of people bowing, and finally get to a bathroom. now, peeing may not be anyone’s idea of an enlightening ex- perience, but I can tell you that once I empty my bladder, I recog- nize that the deep sense of relief I feel in that moment is a good analogy for the third noble truth: that relief was with me all the time as what you might call a basic condition. I just didn’t recog- nize it because it was temporarily obscured by all that water. But afterwards, I was able to recognize it and appreciate it. the Buddha referred to this dilemma with a somewhat more dignified analogy in which he compared this basic nature to the sun. though it’s always shining, the sun is often obscured by clouds. Yet we can only really see the clouds because the sun is illuminating them. In the same way, our basic nature is always present. It is, in fact, what allows us to discern even those things that obscure it: an insight that may be best understood by return- ing to the question raised just before I left for the bathroom. tWO tYpeS OF aWaReneSS The essence of every thought that arises is pristine awareness. — pengaR jampheL SangpO Short Invocation of Vajradhara, translated by maria montenegro actually there’s no great secret to understanding the difference between pure awareness and conditioned awareness. they’re both awareness, which might be roughly defined as a capacity to recognize, register, and in a sense, “catalogue” every moment of experience. Pure awareness is like a ball of clear crystal—colorless in it- self but capable of reflecting anything: your face, other people, walls, furniture. If you moved it around a little, maybe you’d see different parts of the room and the size, shape, or position of the furniture might change. If you took it outside, you could see trees, birds, flowers—even the sky! Whatever appears, though, are only reflections. they don’t really exist inside the ball, nor do they alter its essence in any way. now, suppose the crystal ball were wrapped in a piece of colored silk. everything you saw reflected in it—whether you moved it around, carried it to different rooms, or took it out- side—would be shaded to some degree by the color of the silk. that’s a fairly accurate description of conditioned awareness: a perspective colored by ignorance, desire, aversion, and the host of other obscurations. Yet these colored reflections are simply re- flections. they don’t alter the nature of that which reflects them. the crystal ball is essentially colorless. Similarly, pure awareness in itself is always clear, capable of reflecting anything, even misconceptions about itself as limited or conditioned. just as the sun illuminates the clouds that ob- scure it, pure awareness enables us to experience natural suffer- ing and the relentless drama of self-created suffering: me versus you, mine versus yours, this feeling versus that feeling, good ver- sus bad, pleasant versus unpleasant, or a desperate longing for change versus an equally frantic hope for permanence. the truth of cessation is often described as a final release from fixation, craving, or “thirst.” however, while the term “cessation” seems to imply something different or better than our present experience, it is actually a matter of acknowledging the potential already inherent within us. cessation—or relief from suffering—is possible because aware- ness is fundamentally clear and unconditioned. Fear, shame, guilt, greed, competitiveness, and so on are simply veils, perspectives in- herited and reinforced by our cultures, our families, and personal experience. Suffering recedes, according to the third noble truth, to the extent that we let go of the whole framework of grasping. We accomplish this, not by suppressing our desire, our aver- sions, our fixations, or trying to “think differently,” but rather by turning our awareness inward, examining the thoughts, emo- tions, and sensations that trouble us, and beginning to notice them—and perhaps even appreciate them—as expressions of awareness itself. Simply put, the cause of the various diseases we experience is the cure. the mind that grasps is the mind that sets us free. phOtOSBYLIzamattheWS