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Lions Roar : May 2018
also has the power to sober us up when we get caught up in ego- istic tendencies, such as escapism, denial, false transcendence, or grasping onto beautiful illusions that do not take us anywhere. Even happiness itself can become a burden. When we experience false bliss, it can be easy to hide out in our own happiness and become self-centered and narcissistic. In Buddhist texts, this is called the demon of elation. This feeling can be delicious, just like sugar. But like sugar, it is unhealthy. To reflect on impermanence at such times is akin to eating a balanced meal. It undermines the tendency toward escapism, false transcendence, and denial. Impermanence is universal and timeless. Live Like a Dead Man The mahasiddhas, eighty-four great enlightened masters of India, described transcendence as the feeling of being dead. That may sound strange, but imagine you could live your life as a dead person. Because you would have nothing to lose, you’d probably be quite happy. You wouldn’t care what people said about you. You wouldn’t care how you look. You would never look in the mirror in the morning and think, “I have too many wrinkles on my forehead.” Once, while reading an English dictionary, I came across the word “mortify,” a derivative of mors, the Latin word for death. It suggests someone is embarrassed to the point of dying. The example sentence said, “She was mortified to discover wrinkles on her forehead.” I found the example sentence very funny. None of us will be mortified by anything when we’re dead, least of all a few wrinkles. Although they were very much alive, the mahasiddhas lived their lives as though they were dead. Like dead men and women, they lost their fear and self-vanity, and lived in joy in each and every moment. They didn’t need anything. They didn’t need praise. They didn’t need recognition. They didn’t care about criticism and blame. Nothing perturbed them. This metaphor is not only extraordinarily useful, offering us a visual and original way to understand transcendence, it also points to the strong connection between the truth of our mor- tality and enlightenment. We can find true transcendence in reflecting on the ephemeral nature of things. Such reflection is not about escaping from your life, but rather a deep immersion into everything: life, existence, birth, death. Insecurity as Transcendence The loss of our retreat center in Big Sur was a profound teaching for me, even more profound than the Buddha’s own words. When we find ourselves completely powerless in the face of nature’s wrath, there is nothing left to do but surrender to the truth of things, to give in to a state of not knowing. This is the profound side of insecurity. If we let go into the truth that nothing can ultimately be relied upon, that no one thing in this universe lasts forever, even our own bodies, there is something left. It is a kind of groundless ground, the emptiness that pervades the fullness of things. The Buddha called it dharmata, the spacious expanse. In the Prajnaparamita Sutra, this idea is expressed in the phrase “Emptiness is form.” That means we can find spacious- ness, transcendence, right within the realm of form. We can find liberation, dharma, awakening right within the imperma- nent manifestation of our lives, in our fleeting existence. The forms that are so impermanent and transient invite us—by virtue of their inevitable demise—into a relationship with free- dom and spaciousness. We don’t have to wait for enlightenment to come to us. We don’t have to create it. We can enter into enlightenment simply by allowing everything to fall apart, until all that’s left is spacious- ness. If we have enough confidence that “this too shall pass,” we can begin to live as though it already has. We can surrender everything before it’s gone, until no hope and no fear remain. ♦ ANAM THUBTEN is the founder and spiritual advisor of Dharmata Foundation and teaches widely in the U.S. and abroad. His books include Embracing Each Moment. After the fire, only the chimney remained of the caretaker’s house. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 67