Sunday, February 9, 2014

Stillness and Motion: On Resting in the Nature of Alaya

Rooms by the Sea, 1951, Edward Hopper
I sorta kinda maybe actually have a handle on self-liberating the antidote. Weird, I know, since I usually start these posts by saying something like, "Um, yeah. Not so much on last week's tenet." I'm placing all the credit for my sorta kinda maybe success with my newest source of lojong commentary. Judy Leif gave a specific exercise for working with that teaching, and that specific practice really moved me along. 

So what's my antidote? For me, it's all about planning. It's my answer to everything. Of course, letting go of planning is going to be hard, since you've got to plan if you want to get anything done. However, I think if planning is a small part of my day-to-day, instead of my whole existence (which it sometimes can be, almost like an addiction) that it's okay to plan. Thus the "antidote" is being liberated, because now I'm aware of it.

Anyway, onto the fifth lojong slogan:
Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.
That's a bit boggling, since I'm very familiar with a homonym of alaya, aliyah, which comes from the religion in which I was raised. Undeterred, I moved on and read's translation. They present the fifth slogan as: "The essence of the path: rest in the basis of all experience." (Source.) The slightly different perspective this presents helped me. Then their explanation was even more illuminating:
"You are clear knowing that is beyond intellect, empty clarity in which experience arises unceasingly. This is buddha nature. When you recognize it, rest right there and do nothing." (Ibid.)
Finally, I spent some time looking at my new source of commentary, and I found one more quote to help my thinking about this tenet fall into place:
"The alaya, or essence, is the open unbiased expanse of mind. It is stillness. It can be envisioned as an expanse, or simply as a gap in our ongoing preoccupations, activities, and concerns." (Source.)
Okay, enough with the quotes already, right? Get with your own thinkin', Jessica! Well, since you asked so nicely...

The first thing that sprang to mind after I was done reading and researching the fifth lojong teaching was the work of one of my favorite painters - Edward Hopper. I know what you're thinking, or at least I think I know. You're wondering how the guy who painted Nighthawks, of all pop culture points of reference, would be the one to come to mind when I'm thinking about Buddhism. The thing is Nighthawks is actually my least favorite of his paintings [pause for the audience to gasp]. Instead, his seaside paintings, such as Rooms by the Sea up there, are my pop culture touchstone this week. There's always such a sense of stillness in Hopper's work, stillness even when things are obviously in motion. And it's that stillness, even when in motion, that seems to me to be the embodiment of alaya.

So that's what I'll be doing this week - working on staying in those moments of stillness, even as I rush through my days.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Ground Is Not Solid and There Is No Spoon: On the Antidote

I skipped writing last weekend because I'd been away from home most of the week and on Sunday, when I normally write, I needed some time to just be. The break was fortunately timed, though, because I was still stuck on trying to get at the nature of unborn awareness. I'd read commentary beyond's explanation of the third lojong teaching, but the source of that voice inside my head and trying to figure out who is really observing was elusive. I can handle looking outward and seeing nothingness, but I got stumped at turning my examination inward.

Then there's the fourth teaching, which complicated and muddled my brain even more:
Self-liberate even the antidote. wasn't helpful. They translate this tenet as, "Let even the remedy release naturally," and then go on to explain by saying:
"When thoughts about emptiness or non-self arise, look at the thought itself. It releases and you return to your original nature." (Source.)
I'd had no thoughts of emptiness nor of non-self. The little bit of sense I'd made of "unborn awareness" came from my understanding of Hindu ideas about God and the soul. Apparently I'd gotten off track. Trying to realign my thoughts to where they were supposed to be made my head hurt. All I could think was...

Instead of getting caught in a never-ending loop of confusion, I took a deep breath and used my Google-Fu to find further explanations about self-liberating the antidote. I'm glad I did, because I hit the jackpot. Turns out that Tricycle: The Buddhist Review has some in-depth commentary about the lojong teachings, and they even include practical exercises you can do to work with the concepts embedded in each tenet.

I read Judy Lief's piece multiple times, and the thing that stood out the most is this sentence that made so much sense to me:
"The need to find solid ground is so strong that you can even make the groundless nature of inner and outer experience into some kind of ground." (Source.)
I read that and it clicked.

Talk about "Thick Thick Thickity Thick Face From Thicktown Thickania." I'm exploring lojong, and Buddhism in general, because I'm trying to make sense of things. I want to understand the nature of unborn awareness, but that's the point of unborn awareness - it is unborn and therefore cannot be grasped. The ground is not solid and there is no spoon.

And, just in case you are foolishly reading this blog to better understand lojong (and if you are, let me remind you I'm such a freakin' novice with all this that I sometimes feel uncomfortable labeling myself as a Buddhist), I want to share one other part of the Tricycle piece:
"The point of self-liberating the antidote is that you don’t need to do anything to liberate it. You just need to realize that there are no antidotes. When you do so, the antidote liberates itself. It is because we keep trying to latch on to each and every meditative experience, realization, or insight that arises that this slogan is so important. It is a reminder not to do that." (Ibid.)
Not that I don't have my work to do on this, but now it feels doable.

Until the next time, namaste and all that.

P.S. Hope you'll forgive me mixing my pop culture references once again, but The Matrix and the 10th Doctor just seemed a natural fit for this post.