Monday, January 20, 2014

We Are the Music Makers: On Unborn Awareness

"Roots Examination"
Not sure if I've gotten the hang of regarding all dharmas as dreams just yet. I understand that teaching in the academic sense of the word "understand," but I'm not living it yet. The truth is that I got wrapped up in my stress responses more than once last week. I am practicing my awareness and mindfulness, but it (like everything else about me) is a work in progress. So, even though I haven't gotten it mastered, I want to move on before I lose momentum.

As a sort of aside, my thought that I should wait until I've got a handle on one teaching before writing about the next is kind of laughable, even two weeks after I made that suggestion, since I know I'll never completely understand/live these tenets.

That means it's time to discuss the third lojong teaching:
Examine the nature of unborn awareness. gives the same translation as the cards I have, and then this explanation:
"Look at what experiences the dream. Don't analyze or speculate about it. Just look and rest in the looking." (Source.)
Is it just me, or does that not help at all? Now, I know that last week's, this week's, and the next three tenets all fall under the banner explanation of, "Awakening to what is ultimately true." But at first blush, it sounds like some more mumbo jumbo, Buddhisty-Wuddhisty talk. It does to me, anyway.

But after sitting with it for a moment, spending a little quality time with my cat, and coming back to it, I had the following conversation with myself: if I'm supposed to see all experiences as dreams, then isn't "what experiences the dream" me? My own consciousness? Should I be looking at my reactions and my triggers? Examining the roots of why I can get so stuck in my stress?

Next, because this is how my brain works, I realize that I do have context for examining the nature of unborn awareness: a quote I've long known by heart. Admittedly my exposure to this quote came via the lickable wallpaper scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but I know it's really the first couple of lines from "Ode" by Arthur O'Shaughnessy:
"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."
With that realization, things clicked into place a bit. So that means this week, I'll concentrate on watching without judging, this dreamer of dreams.

Until the next time, namaste and all that. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

If We Shadows Have Offended: On Dharmas and Dreams

Robin Goodfellow

Knowing that I'd half-promised you all and mostly promised myself that I'll write this blog weekly (or as weekly as I can) really helped this last week. It reaffirmed my determination to work through these teachings, and for that I thank you.

So, without further ado, the second teaching:
Regard all dharmas as dreams. translates this one as: "Look at all experiences as a dream," and then goes on to explain:
"Regard all that you see, hear, taste, touch, smell, think, feel, value, or believe, as if you were dreaming it." (Source.)
This is the slogan that first attracted me to lojong, it resonated so strongly. I've long ascribed to a constructivist philosophy of teaching, so the idea of my everyday experiences being a fabrication isn't too far of a jump for me. It's like that panic you get when you're dreaming you've been in a class all semester but never attended and today is the final exam. When I have that dream, I wake up, realize I was stressed about something else entirely, and get on with my day. I'm not saying that I think getting over the day to day stresses is as easy as waking up from a nightmare. Trust me when I say there are plenty of past experiences that I wish had just been nightmares instead of actual events. It's about the leaving the emotional upheaval behind.

Shakespeare, good ol' Willy, gave me another way to think of it. The parting monologue of A Midsummer Night's Dream, as spoken by the strange creature shown above, comes to mind when I think of this teaching:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
In my mind, this isn't really about convincing myself that my world is fakey fake, a la The Matrix. Instead, regarding dharmas as dreams is about letting go of my emotional attachments in each moment. So that's what I'll be working on this week, so cross your fingers for me that I won't have to seek redress with Robin Goodfellow.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Train in the Preliminaries: On Training and Determination

I've started this new blog as an outlet for my thoughts as I move through and try to learn/work with the 59 instructions/slogans of lojong. I'm not sure how often I'll post - one per week, maybe? Or a new post when I feel I've understood one slogan and am ready to move onto the next? I may even abandon this blog in the stream of a busy year. Only time will tell, as the saying goes. Since the point of the blog is a selfish one, I have a feeling the publication schedule (or lack thereof) will be similarly motivated.

Because of the selfishness, I'm not going to explain lojong to you from an academic perspective. There are better places for that, and people better equipped/credentialed. My understanding of this part of Tibetan Buddhism has come to me from my engagement with the teachings of Pema Chödrön, and lojong seem to me to be a way to use the noise in my head and my life to deepen my practice of Buddhism - a practice that is still relatively new to me, but established enough that I consider it part of my life philosophy.

So, now that I've gotten the whys and wherefores out of the way, onto the first instruction/slogan:
"First, train in the preliminaries."
According to the commentary I'm using to help my understanding (which translates this first slogan as "First, do the groundwork"):
"Groundwork is the development of the abilities and motivations needed to practice mind training: stable attention, mindfulness in daily behavior, appreciation that your life is yours and yours alone, determination to step out of pattern-based experience, and a genuine desire to help others do so, too." (Source.)
Part of me wants to complain: "It's my desire for that mindfulness and appreciation that brought me to lojong and Buddhism in the first place! And now you're telling me I've got to have that stuff first before I can move on to more Buddhist-y Buddhism stuff? What is this, some kind of Catch-22 style life philosophy?"

Once I get past that initial reaction, I realize that that the core of this slogan and how it should influence my practice is in two things I've included above:
  1. The word "train." It's kind of trite, but it's "my practice of Buddhism" not "my perfection of Buddhism." I don't have to get it right the first, second, fifteenth, or one thousandth time, but I do have to work towards getting it right. Some days I am going to be mindful, going to find time to meditate, going to appreciate my life. Some days I'm going to be out of my head with stress from deadlines and cranky undergraduates, so busy I can barely breathe, and lost in the details. It's all okay, so long as I get back to training.
  2. The phrase "determination to step out of pattern-based experience." As I said above, I have a desire for mindfulness and appreciation, and that means I have this determination in spades. This part of the preliminaries... I've got it covered.
So that's what I'll be thinking about for this week, about laying the foundations for further developments. Thinking about it as often as I can remember to, I should say.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

p.s. Thanks to John Pappas for pointing me towards the lojong commentaries I'm using.