The How-to of it: Naropa 11

Naropa’s journey, like our own, is the Path to Enlightenment. Everyone one day, in an instant never anticipated, will experience that which could not be sought but has been desired since the beginning of time: liberation. Those who have experienced enlightenment have put words to the wordless no mind desirelessness of awakening, knowing that nothing could actually describe the indescribable. And that has been fine for each of them because the reason to write, speak about, or teach from the liberated state is not so that anyone understands the words but is pointed in the direction of the sky. The sky is a great symbol of the vast, empty, freeness of liberation. The flying mystics and dakini-sky dancers of India and Tibet, the ascension of Christ and saints, the winged serpent of the Maya representing the flight of wisdom-awareness all are pointing to the sky-like enlightened state. Tilopa who dances with the sky dancers is pointing for Naropa.

The Mahamudra practice and awareness that Tilopa is trained in and that brought his enlightenment, has a source: the great teachings on emptiness. At essence, what Tilopa is trying to teach Naropa is that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” This is why the repeated injunction to be released from a habit-formed mind. In other words and for practical application, nothing is only what we think it is. The word “emptiness” means both uncluttered or unobstructed as in the space of the sky and free of anything being able to clutter or obstruct as in the relationship with something has been fundamentally changed. For example, if 20 years ago you gave up red meat, then the smell of a good steak cooking on the grill wouldn’t mean anything to you. Or for instance, I stopped drinking when I was 22; that’s 34 years ago. Alcoholic anything has no pull or repulse for me. I have empathy for those who struggle with it, and understand why people enjoy it socially, but it is a non for me, no thought, no desire, no anything, empty. Tilopa is inviting Naropa to learn to have that freedom with everything thus experience the ultimate nature of all beings and all existence: enlightenment.

The Prajnaparamita upon which much of Tilopa’s teaching is based states: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness. In the same way feelings, discriminations, compositional factors, even consciousness are empty.”

Each time Naropa’s habitual feelings arise, Tilopa is inviting him to notice that they have, what they are, and if they are necessary or appropriate. Each time his discriminations, judgements, or by rote responses arise, Tilopa calls attention to his automatic process. Each time Naropa has let the outer appearances and factors that compose a situation determine his relation to the event, person, or moment Tilopa offers revelation through cryptic words and rainbows. Tilopa is trying to awaken Naropa from the sleep that humanity calls life, a set of desires and disappointments, a sleep walk, a dream time as the Native teachings say.

The Prajnaparamita further states: “No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. No sound, no smell, no taste, no object of touch, no phenomena.” This will be important as we journey with Naropa to his next encounter. Remember Tilopa told him, “Tomorrow I visit a freak show.”

Naropa felt dejected. He had met Tilopa, but by not eating the handful of lice had caused Tilopa to vanish. Walking along he comes to a wide plain where there are many one-eyed people, as well as a blind man with sight, an earless man who could hear, someone without a tongue who was speaking, a lame man running about, and a corpse gently fanning itself. Apparently nonplussed by the scene, Naropa asked if any of them have seen Tilopa. They have not, but gave him this advice if he wanted to find the Guru:

“Out of confidence, devotion, and certainty become a worthy vessel, a disciple with the courage of conviction.
Cling to the spirituality of a Teacher in the spiritual fold,
Wield the razor of intuitive understanding as the viewpoint,
Ride the hose of bliss and radiance as the method of attention,
Free yourself of the bonds of this and that as the way of conduct.”

This teaching is the first of two parts: this first describes the qualities or processes necessary as person committed to the Path of Enlightenment which serves all as well as self, and second (not given in this post) is the symbolic description of a person living in the world while being enlightened. I love this section of the book so much that I have taught whole retreats on it, have CDs for sale with lectures about it, and use it to support myself on the Path.

Naropa is being told with exactitude how to proceed.

  • confidence in himself and in the teacher, the teaching, the method, and the process. Doubt is a poison on the Path.
  • devotion which is equal parts dutifulness and cherishing one’s decision to become a free and thus better person, equally devotion to the teacher, teaching, and method.
  • certainty is born of the previous two. The guaranteed result is set in motion. There is nothing to doubt or question.
  • a worthy vessel as in sea-worthy not self-worth concerns. Become a vessel worthy of the liberated state, worthy of enlightenment, and sea-worthy such that you can live that  illumined awakeness in a way that fosters the well-being of Life.
  • with the courage of conviction is to know that daring will be required often.
  • Cling the the spirituality of a Teacher like a baby monkey clings to its mother’s fur, inseparably. Vulnerable yet strong, the baby monkey will die without the protection, nourishment, and attention of the mother monkey. In this way, having confidence in the Teacher and his/her teaching, devoting oneself to one’s inner vows of well-being, one is drawn to the teaching and Teacher that is appropriate for one’s current development. In the Buddhist tradition, you stay with a Teacher to learn and practice his or her specific lineage teaching and then you often move on. If the Teacher can serve you for longer it is because the teaching is serving your overall beingness thus assisting your effectiveness with the mundane things as well as the spiritual.
  • When our view of everything is through the penetrating razor of intuitive understanding then we are no longer duped by the outer appearances of the world or circumstances. We recognize that everything is describing the meaning, purpose, and causes from which that something or this moment is born. Our understanding gets wide and illumined.
  • As we learn to focus on the joyful, sparkly, spontaneous, and delightful then the negative, the worrisome, the depressing, and frustrating begin to disappear. Life is light. Everything is quarks and neutrinos careening through waves of bliss. As we learn to draw our attention to lightness then the natural radiance of space, time, and the humor of self all illumine.
  • As we chose wholeness and not duality, we delete the idea of this and that, either/or, right/wrong, can/cannot. Our abilities, our existence and that of everyone and everything else become the sliding scale of humanness. We are a spectrum of awareness with the choice to focus wherever we want along that gradient. Freeing ourselves from the shackles of this being this and that being that we begin to free our mind which frees our reality which is the beginning of liberation and enlightenment.

The Path is like cooking. Whether we follow a recipe or not is determined by knowing what we are doing. Yet, even those who wing it and usually create something delicious, they follow certain principles of cooking and taste which is why they have success. The spiritual Path is the same. Simply, the Teacher probably knows the principles.

1. Lecture CDs on the Tantric Path and these teachings are for sale. Contact me at

2. Free online meditation training in The Practice of Living Awareness begins October 1. See Spirit Fire for the free link to join live at 9 a.m. ET Monday-Thursday or check this blog (LivingAwarenessMeditation) for podcasts of the day’s meditation. Meditation supports you in every way. Create a practice! Join others online Monday, October 1.

About Donna Mitchell-Moniak

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