Sunday, June 15, 2014

It Must Be Indicative of Something Besides the Redistribution of Wealth: On Examining Confusion

This week's tenet is a doozy:
Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.
Lolwut, right? Kayas? Shunyata? Huh? After reading the slogan, I immediately navigated to, which gave me a different translation - "The ultimate protection is emptiness; know what arises as confusion to be the four aspects of being." - and that made me laugh. A slogan about confusion is confusing? I'm not even vaguely surprised. The explanation provided by added a little, but not enough:
"All experience is empty, vivid, and the two together heighten awareness. These three qualities are inseparable. Experience your life this way."
So there I was, confused about confusion. Going to a meta level about my emotions and mental processes is nothing new to me: I've been anxious about anxiety many times. But being familiar with the phenomenon doesn't make it easier to tame. So, as you probably know if you've read this blog before, my next stop was Tricycle and that was exactly what I needed.
"Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we always find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or 'bodies.' Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya). It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise."
And that's when it started to click. Examining shunyata, or emptiness, is the way to live a life. Not just the confusion but the examination of the confusion, and finding the emptiness underneath, is the point. And Lief's advise for acting on this tenet was the moment when I understood completely:
"In your sitting practice, pay attention to the arising and dissolving of perceptions. Notice how your sense of self seems to arise simultaneously with each perception, ready to respond to any threat; notice the subtle undertone of fear.  What are you actually protecting?"
Once I understood it, my mind immediately turned to one of my favorite films, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (the title of this post is a quote from one of the earliest scenes in the movie). In that film, two minor characters from Hamlet become the main characters. They are trying to figure out why they are there, trying to control their paths, but inexplicably drawn along with the plot of the play regardless of all their efforts to the contrary. The movie is confusing and hilarious, and the best way to enjoy it is to let go of trying to understand the plot. So, yes, I'm going to "pay attention to the rising and dissolving of perceptions," but I'm also going to let go and try to enjoy the confusion.

Until next time, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nourishing the Flower in You: On Being Grateful to Everyone

The next lojong tenet embodies a concept with which I've been working for a while: gratitude.
Be grateful to everyone.
The translation at is identical to the text I'm using, but their explanation adds depth:
"Every encounter with another person gives you an opportunity to practice mind training and presence, whether the encounter is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral." (Source.)
The Tricycle piece about this tenet is behind a paywall, so I've grabbed a little more than normal for you:
"Conventional gratitude is based on distinguishing what we like from what we do not, good fortune from bad fortune, success from failure, opportunities from obstacles. By practicing conventional gratitude, we may begin to better appreciate times of good fortune and opportunity. But what about all the obstacles, unpleasant people, and difficulties in our life?

According to this slogan, we should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations, because without them we would have nothing to work with. Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion? It is by dealing with such challenges that we grow and develop. So we should be very grateful to have them."

After I got that famous "thank you sir, may I have another" Kevin Bacon scene out of my head, I remembered my favorite quote from another Buddhist writer, Thich Nhat Hanh: "And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you." This idea, of feeling grateful for the negative because it gives you an opportunity to push your practice, an opportunity to turn the negative into positive... this idea is what brought me to Buddhism more than anything else. So this is something I already do, but I'll be doing it more consciously and intentionally this week.

Until next week, namaste and all that.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Examining Assumptions and Blame: On Driving All Blames Into One

I've been trying to write this post for a week now. Recent events (especially the misogyny fueled tragedy at UCSB last week) have made it hard for me to wrap my mind around this tenet. I'm making myself sit down, though, because I need to get working with this teaching and I need to move on.

So, the newest tenet:
Drive all blames into one. has an almost identical translation ("drive all blame" instead of "blames"), so it doesn't add any depth. Their explanatory text isn't very helpful either:
"Reactive patterns bring about precisely what you try to avoid. When things go wrong in your life, blaming circumstances doesn't help. Look at the role your own patterns play in bringing about the problem." (Source.)
There's some of the same self-examination I've seen in previous lojong teachings, but for me their explanation doesn't line up well with what I know of driving all blames. As I always do, I turned next to the Tricycle piece by Judy Lief. If you want a fuller examination, and lots of wisdom, about this teaching please follow that link. The quote that hit me hardest, though, was:
"This slogan is quite radical. Instead of blaming others, you blame yourself. Even if it is not your fault, you take the blame. It is important to distinguish this practice from neurotic self-blaming or the regretful fixation on your own mistakes and how much you [are] at fault. It also does not imply that you should not point out wrongdoing or blow the whistle on corruption. Instead, as you go about your life, you simply notice the urge to blame others and you reverse it."
I am someone who tends toward self-blame as it is, but the juxtaposition of this tenet with the shootings... Wow, it brought things home. It's one thing to look for the causes of ingrained and socially acceptable misogyny, systemic racism, and the like, the things I know were at the root of the events last week. It's quite another to take the blame myself. This led me to thinking about the role I play in our racist culture. I can tell you that the moment I went from being a White Feminist to being a feminist who just happens to be Caucasian was definitely tied to me taking the blame, to seeing my privilege and how I've benefit from the systems in our country just because of where I was born and to whom.

But taking all the blame for everything isn't the point of this tenet. "The Middle Way," which is an important concept in Buddhism, talks about finding a way between extremes. It is more tied to navigating between a purely material and a purely spiritual life, but it's a philosophy I try to apply to other aspects of my day to day. So, yes, I will work with taking the blame no matter what it is, but I'll also work with not beating myself up for it. And I'll follow the advice with which Lief closed her piece about this tenet:

"Pay attention to how blaming arises and what patterns it takes.  See what happens when you take on the blame yourself. Notice what changes in your own experience and in what you observe around you."

Until next week, namaste and all that.