Archives for October, 2010
Anyone up yet for a Sun Salutation? Never mind: let me make a couple of points and go back to sleep... You've heard people say: there are many roads to Rome - meaning, many different means to the same end, many a path to get to one and the same destination. That's understood. What's a bit more confusing, however, is when you've got one road that leads to quite a few different places. Take the mindfulness practice for example. Say, you sat down to watch the river of your experience, to listen to this babbling brook of your consciousness... What's it all about? Where's this investment of time going? What's the goal? There is - as I understand - a fundamental difference between relaxation and meditation. While both may share the same road, the very same road seems to lead to rather different destinations.
Most weeks I pick up two or three random books (from a local store that sells used books). Some of them I read cover to cover, others – I skim. I find this routine of mine to be an essential part of my mind’s hygiene. Random informational inputs challenge and change my mindware (my assumptions, my fund of knowledge, my association networks). Here are two thought-notes (that I came across in my readings this past week) that struck a cord with me…
Ordinary perfection from Knut Hamsun:
"I have no mission, no places I must visit; I am just a wanderer setting out from a logger's cabin and coming back to it again; it makes no difference where I am. <...>
It is starting to freeze as I wander back home to my logger's cabin; soon the frost bites into moors and marshes, and makes the going easy. I saunter onward, slowly and indifferently, with...
My religion is kindness. Dalai Lama Get two glasses of water and an erasable marker. Label one glass “I” and the other glass “You.” Pour a couple of spoonfuls of sugar into the “I” glass and a couple of spoonfuls of salt into the “You” glass. Shake both glasses. Put them down. Watch sugar and salt swirl. Notice the differences between the two glasses. Wait till sugar and salt dissolve. While sugar water looks more transparent than salt water, recognize that the water hasn’t changed. Water is water. You can distill it back just like it was from either of the two solutions. Consider sugar and salt here as symbols of information.
In 1963 a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, performed a miracle of sorts. He didn't exactly walk on water but he came realistically close: he sat down, poured gasoline over himself and lit himself up. What's amazing - to me - is not the cause, not even the decision, but what happened after... Nothing happened: the man sat, in a lotus position, while burning alive. The skin of his face coagulating in flames... Burning alive... Dying calmly... The capacity for such amazing equanimity (while on fire) is evidence of what I call "lotus effect:" this man's consciousness knew what it was from what it wasn't even while its body was choking, charring and churning in agony. Thich, a "professional" meditator, knew that he wasn't his sensations of pain, that he wasn't his thoughts about dying, that he wasn't his disappearing body. He knew that he wasn't his mind-forms.
The reality runs on cause-and-effect. We are part of this reality. We run on motive-and-behavior. We run on reason-and-behavior. After all, we reasonable, rational, sentient, sapient beings. If we don’t have a reason (i.e. a motive) behind what we do, then whatever we are doing is mindless, meaningless, and reflexive. Selflessness – as unmotivated behavior – is a psychologically-toxic myth. A robot is selfless because it doesn’t have a self. A human has a self, and this self makes choices, i.e. expresses preferences, i.e. moves towards wellbeing. That’s how we operate. That’s natural. There’s nothing wrong with having a reason (i.e. motive) behind what you do. We tend to struggle to acknowledge our motives in fear that you’ll be accused of selfishness. But selfishness doesn’t have to be a bad word. Selfishness* is simply a pursuit of well-being, an act of self-care. It is our psycho-physiological imperative.
When I say – in my writings – that the present is perfect, I am not being metaphorical. I mean this in the most literal sense. Each and every moment of life is all that it can be, i.e. the best that it can be. That is perfection. No, not that theoretical, unattainable, hypothetical, imaginary, abstract, naively-idealistic perfection that we have been all conditioned to chase, but an immediate, concrete, practical, realistically-inevitable, ordinary perfection of all that is. Perfection, as I see it, isn't a fantasy of what could be, but a reality of what is. I am, of course, not alone in this worldview; I am not the first mind to have this sentiment. This perspective dates way back. Here's how it is phrased in Dzogchen Buddhism: Everything is pure and spontaneously accomplished from the outset Dzogchen (ancient teaching of "natural perfection"), according to Lama Surya Das, is "the summit" of all Buddhist teachings. Here's another Dzogchen proclamation about the perfection of reality, attributed to 14th century Dzogchen master Longchenpa: