Thursday, August 07, 2003

Jamgon Kongtrul, Creation and Completion:

The clear form of the deity is the luminous appearance of your own mind
And the unclear, unsatisfying experience is also your own mind!
So also, mind is the one who desires clarity and tries again,
And mind is the wisdom deity and guru.
Everything is mind's appearance, and yet mind itself is uncontrived.
The beauty of this ultimate essential point of the approach of the two stages
Is that no matter which of the many creation stages you do,
If you apply clear awareness and mindfulness that is merely undistracted,
When the meditation is clear, it arises as clarity-emptiness, and when obscure, as obscurity-emptiness!

Ay! What does that last line mean? I take it to mean that if the visualization "works" -- if you see the deity clearly and vividly -- then you are correctly perceiving its emptiness (because if you are mindful and undistracted, and yet still can create this image, you must be able to perceive its emptiness. We'll leave aside for the moment the ugly question of "how do you know if you're undistracted?") But even if the visualization doesn't "work," you are still seeing your own mind, and what's more, you're seeing its emptiness. You can't possibly mistake the unclear unstable pictures presented by your confusion as innately real things, and you have to be aware (since you're working hard and failing) that they're productions of your own mind. So you're practicing the perception of emptiness in either case.

Very, very important to bear in mind the caveat that for this to be true -- for this lovely heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation to arise -- you have to be applying clear awareness and mindfulness. Which is why the grounding in Shamatha is essential.

I hope that's what it means, because my visualizations have been so obscure lately that sometimes they're barely there. But I think I'm still pursuing them with decent meditative concentration. So if I understand this right, I still am garnering the benefit of realizing "obscurity-emptiness"!

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

This is an email I sent some time ago to a chance yahoo-group-acquaintance who was asking my advice (on the eve of her wedding!) about how to talk to her Christian relatives about Buddhist morality. I don't know if it really belongs here.


I see. Well, really Christianity and Buddhism are both all over the map about these issues -- we just don't hear much about the more fundamentalist Buddhists here in the West, but they exist, and they're perfectly capable of telling people they'll go to the hell realms for a zillion kalpas for stealing or having the wrong kind of sex or whatever. And of course Christianity insists, tho not all Christians listen to it, that all sins are forgiven, which means that the critical part of Christian practice is not following the DON'Ts perfectly, but opening yourself perfectly to repentence and forgiveness (tho that's probably harder, anyway :-)

But I think the DON'Ts, the precepts and commandments, usually work really differently in the two religions. In Buddhism they're basically just advice about how to how to live a life that's calm enough so that you can get down to the business of removing the confusions that obscure your Buddha-nature. But in Christianity following the commandments is itself a spiritual practice -- regardless of the outcome of following them or breaking them. By trying to follow them you discover the ways in which you resist the will of God. In a way, in Christianity, it doesn't really matter what the commandments are: they could be something like "don't climb trees" or "always wear gloves" and they'd work just as well. They'd still make reference-points you could use to identify when you wanted your own will, rather than God's will, to triumph.

Which is why it's so important for many Christians that the rules be simply rules, given by God once and for all. If they were just advice, as they are in Buddhism, they'd be useless for that kind of practice in submission to God's will.

When it comes to judging others, though -- well, that's when the Church and political power start warping the teachings of Jesus. Jesus didn't think you should spend your time on other people's transgressions -- he thought everyone had enough of their own to absorb their full attention :-) Trying to impose obedience to commandments on *other* people was something Jesus obviously had no interest in at all -- but churches and states have plenty of interest in it!

I don't know -- did I help at all with all that?


As Ngondro sweeps along, one of its effects has been to reveal many of my worldly defects -- weaknesses I knew I had but had never thought of in Dharma terms -- as spiritual defects. How many days of work have I lost, anxiously clicking the "Check Mail" button, waiting for some kind of validation from some woman, a "yes" to a lunch invitation or a response to an enthusiastic email?. Or fretting about a date to come? Two this week, certainly: with my mind full of anxious hopes about j, I have gotten next to nothing done.

Somehow -- the mechanism is opaque to me -- practicing Ngondro is what has pushed me to making the extremely simple and obvious connection: this is what all those old Buddhist texts are talking about, when they talk about overvaluing one's reputation and the good opinion of others. In my dull-wittedness I took that to be wanting to be a football star or to be a dazzling ace programmer or to be terribly good-looking -- took them to be talking about faults I didn't have, in other words. But this is the form it takes in me: continually lusting after the approval of women.

What's wrong with it? Well, in a way, nothing. It causes very little damage, ordinarily. What's really wrong with it is just that it absorbs my attention, keeps me riveted to worldly concerns -- so much of my time is spent in these lunges after approval -- planning them, making them, or fretting about them. It's time when I thoroughly subjugate myself to Samsara, and confine my mind to running a hamster-wheel of old, old, habitual thoughts -- thoughts so old and habitual that even to call them "thoughts" seems absurd, they have so little of newness or perception or understanding about them. And away trickles "this precious human existence" -- narrowed to the click of the "Check Mail" button and the rereading of old email.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Well. I have my practice opportunity. Lunch with j today. Plenty of spark. Fantasies start churning at once. This is exactly, exactly where I started with Marina. So this is my chance for do-overs. To be sensitive to the times of need, not in order to exploit them, but in order to back off, give room, cool down.

I want to have an affair. God, I so want to have an affair. I want *that* kind of validation, I want to be wanted, desired, thought special. And I want to be so special that someone will trangress for me, throw caution to the winds for me.

So there's two thoughts to carry carefully. The first is that this validation, which looks so solid and permanent in prospect, is in fact completely ephemeral, gone as soon as it comes. In fact I already have pretty much all the validation I would ever get from having the affair -- just in the sense of a mutual attraction. The sense that it's remotely possible. ("Oh how I ache for a part in a play I could say that I didn't want.")

The second thought to carry carefully, is that following out and having an affair would be nurturing, cultivating, the seeds of that validation's destruction. A real affair would become a matter of need and obligation and expectation -- all things that would eat out the heart of that validation, and leave me only hungry, hungry for more. To follow out would be to walk straight into the hungry ghost realm, where no food satisfies, no drink quenches.

Old enough, maybe wise enough.

Pray for steadfastness and clarity for me, O my reader.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Anger. I always take anger as a signal that there's wickedness afoot. What it really signals is that there's something about a situation that I don't understand. I had the wherewithal this week to go someone I was angry with and try to find out what I didn't understand. Within five minutes my anger had evaporated. Sure, I still thought she had acted foolishly. She thought she had acted foolishly too. But she was deeply hurt, and (as it looked to her) hitting back -- not starting something out of the blue. I already knew that the main person she was dealing with (I was just collateral damage in this) was also feeling deeply hurt. I tried to convey some of that, but I don't know if she could hear it. I suspect there's more still that I don't understand here.

Shamatha for an hour this morning, then walking meditation for a few minutes, and half an hour more of Shamatha. It was a mistake to let Ngondro absorb all my practice time. I've been missing Shamatha.

I've put myself on a program of "Ngondro conditioning." Feels weird to apply what I've learned about aerobic conditioning to a Dharma practice, but after all, the prostrations *are* an aerobic exercize. So I have a nice little system for working up to where I want to be, with a day or two of rest each week. One thing that does is quieten the little mosquito-buzz of thoughts about how many I should do in any given day, or how many I should be doing in general, when I'm practicing. I wonder how much of the precision of ritual, at which my mind is so accustomed to scoff, is there just to shut down the static of fretting about the details of ceremony. Not that it matters where the butter lamps stand in relation to the water bowls, but that it matters if your mind fidgets with the question when you want it to be contemplating the great kindness showered upon it by the sources of refuge.