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dukkha

Living with the One Reality that Demonstrates Two Truths

Study & Arts, Sitting & Ritual, Service & Engagement, Sangha & InclusionGuiding TeacherComment

Emily:

Do you have any suggestions for how to continue to benefit from the Heart Sutra's view of utter liberation: that “there is nothing here that threatens, there is nothing to be defended,” while following the imperatives of ethics, while caring for the body-mind of self and others involved for now in this karmic process? I can see that both views are true in theory, but they strike me as contradictory in practice--I seem to be able to focus on only one view at a time. So how to resolve, or investigate, what I experience as this tension between compassion that leads to the desire to prevent or alleviate suffering in the world of mundane specificity (form) and the movement of compassion, as embodied by Avalokitesvara and the Heart Sutra, to free human beings from our (biologically generated (?) and profoundly embedded) mistaken perceptions of “our” relation to those forms?

My replies:

The short answer to your excellent question is this:

The precepts are themselves a description of the way karma and the other principles of reality really work.

To say more:

When you know that the thing you think is your self is merely an aggregation of elements and energy, then you also know that you are literally what you think, do and say in any given moment, and you are the consequences that unfold from that. So you take care because you know how the body and mind and karma really work. Yet you are also free of that, because you can live in absolute harmony with it, not pushed and pulled.

To add a bit more:

When you taste a bit of the three marks of existence - impermanent, empty, and fundamentally unsatisfactory (dukkha) - then a strong sense of compassion naturally wells up for yourself and others who are entangled by these principles without fully seeing or understanding them. You want to help the clarity to develop and the dukkha to stop. This turns you deeper and deeper toward practice, which happens in the midst of a mundane world, which itself is the expression of the principles.

To see it this way is to see that the precepts and concepts and meditation experiences that we're studying are themselves describing a way of living that cares for the body as a vehicle for clarity, and cares for self and others by not enacting harm, and cares for the world by being aware of consequences. These practices keep turning your mind and body toward the insights that keeping generating compassion, and so on, and so on. Finally, when you fully realize the principles and drop the illusion of self, there is total clarity about the nature of interconnection, even while the need to define one's self relative to others has gone away.

Reflections on the Human Experience

Study & Arts, Sitting & RitualGuiding TeacherComment

The nature of human experience is to reflect on and react to the human experience. That is, human beings are constantly noticing their thoughts, feelings, and bodies, and having thoughts and feelings about them. In fact, one could say that this is one of the defining features of humanity. We are born with the ability to observe ourselves and, typically before two years of age, we become aware of ourselves as individuals. Have you ever stood with someone in front of a mirror? The immediate recognition of self and other is so familiar that it probably wasn’t something you thought about.

Humans have the capacity to imagine our place in a context, whether physical or mental, and to consider who and what we are within that context. It’s called being self-conscious or self-reflective. What we notice can be the simple observation of a small detail of experience with little impact, or something intensely painful, or a profoundly uplifting experience as vast as the cosmos. The reflection can be so quick that it seems automatic or that it is assumed to be present before we notice it. At other times, it takes decades to form around an experience long past. In myriad ways, human beings spend quite a lot of our time and energy reflecting on ourselves.

resting Buddha.jpg

Practice is an effort to bring to awareness that capacity for self-reflection, using Buddhist principles and teachings, and to turn self-reflection into a source of clarity, calm, and deep inspiration. In particular, the practice of zazen or meditation can be about clear and positive self awareness. Even the word “self-conscious” can have a negative connotation, an implication of discomfort, unease, and awkwardness. Yet my experience of many years of the practice of self-consciousness has been incredibly valuable and healing, leading away from unease. So, I am suggesting that you can reframe this term, and learn the usefulness of this powerful mental ability that we all share.

Consider, for example, what happens when you hear a sound. Perhaps you think, “Why is that garbage truck ruining my silence so early in the morning?” or “Isn’t it lovely how that bird is singing me a song?” Can you notice the constructed self that is implied in those thoughts? Can you see how those events actually don’t belong to you, or say anything about you? Can you allow them to come and go without clinging to some idea of wanting less of that, or more of that? There is so much to work with on the cushion. and there is plenty to work with off the cushion too.

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This kind of practice can go a step further, too. If you examine deeply, in detail, the components of the experience, perhaps using the framework of the five aggregates or skandhas (body ~ feeling tone ~ perception ~ volition ~ consciousness), then you may begin to see the constructed nature of hearing itself, the way that the experience of hearing is a group of conditions that depend on one another for an instant, and then shift in the next moment. Perhaps you can begin to dismantle some of the sense of continuity and permanence, and begin see the fleeting nature of life. Life is as brief and insubstantial as a mirage. This kind of awareness begins to get at the reason why the self is not actually referenced by events, and it begins to loosen our grip on the wanting and wanting, or not wanting and not wanting, that causes us so much difficulty. Look deeply at the conditions and their relationships, their presence and absence. Notice whether that begins to soften your ideas of how things ought to be, of how you ought to be. Because, after all, having a look at yourself is the most natural thing in the world. And what you will see, if you are honest and persistent, will wake up a whole new you.

Understanding Dukkha ~ A Foundational Buddhist Teaching

Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas recently participated in a panel discussion for the Buddhadharma magazine. The panel included Venerable Thubten Chodron, Bhikkhu Bodhi, and Reverend Mark Unno, and covered a wide range of issues related to the teaching of "dukkha" which means dissatisfaction or suffering. It's always a pleasure to have these kinds of talks with Dharma friends, a reminder of how vast the Dharma truly is.

You can find the Buddhadharma article online here.