For those who don’t have time for a one hour webcast, here is the gist of the free online presentation that I did last Thursday. I purposefully approached the Buddha’s insights and their application to conditioned life in a non-traditional way. May it be of service.
Siddhartha Gautama left the life he had (wife, baby, that which he owned, and that which was expected of him) and went on a search. He sought to understand suffering and why all in existence seems to experience suffering, dissatisfaction, or discontent. There is an obvious other half to that question: the consideration of why satisfaction, contentment, and happiness are temporary, inevitably leading to continued discontent and suffering. After several years of rigorous contemplation, Siddhartha experienced something. Within the experience was the answer to his question about suffering and, as a bonus, about everything else. He experienced the nature of Mind as it IS: pure Awareness. Awareness not needing to be aware of anything, not engaged in any process (positive or negative), just simply the fundamental nature of Mind-Awareness.
That experience sustained itself, and did so specifically because Awareness was not engaged in a particular process. The experience and its sustained period was pure peace, pure radiance, continuous – being uninterrupted by any motion of thinking mind, emoting mind, chasing mind, or repulsing mind. There was nothing to label, thus no labels arose, thus there were no arisings. Also, nothing ceased because there was no cessation to cause.
After years of rigorous practice – physical and contemplative – Siddhartha allowed the very nature of Awareness to simply be. With Awareness being simply what it is, Reality and all existence were also experienced as simply waves of continuous energy appearing and disappearing as this or that, without the labels that anyone or anything places upon the wave of energy that seems to be a tree or a bird, a piece of coal or a person. Without the labeling of the mind, then person, coal, bird, or tree are free of name, free of function according to the name, therefore free to be.
As Siddharta experienced allowing Awareness to simply be Awareness as Awareness IS, then all existence received the same allowing, and he awakened to the nature of the simplicity of Awareness as Reality.
Is there a teaching in this story that you and I can apply in our lives? Yes, there are a few.
- We work really hard to figure things out. Then we work harder to justify or coerce others (including animals, Nature, and people) to the what we have figured out. Then life and others exert force to justify their existence as it is. There’s a lot of hard work going on, just as the Buddha did with years of rigorous practice trying to answer the question of suffering. The teaching? Realize force. Realize how pervasively it is being used by one’s self in one’s mind, one’s emotions, one’s physical existence, as well as in likes and dislikes, attachments and avoidances. With that recognition, soften and open. Allow. Allow things to be what they are, or at least stop and realize that you might be trying to force something that is against its nature. For example, water will always run down hill. If you want to keep something dry, don’t put it at the bottom of a hill. The first rain will show you why, and the hill and the rain are not in error. They are being according to their nature.
- Labels are just that. Realize that the label that one places upon something might not apply. A rainy day is simply a rainy day, a mosquito is simply a mosquito. Like the Buddha, we can begin to notice the layers of meaning within that the labels that we use on everything in existence. Then, we can realize that those labels and their layers are not what the something would probably say about itself. Once again, if we soften and open, smile and take a long, slow, deep breath, it is possible to allow the someone or something to be as it is. For example, if a person is sharing your moment, then be fully with the person. In that moment, maybe fear or doubt is driving a behavior or words. If we, reactively respond to the behavior or words, we might not notice that this person is actually afraid of something. We might be able to help address the fear or concern.
- In that allowing, we can experience something akin to the Buddha. In the allowing something to be what it is for a moment, we experience something other than thinking, worry, or labeling in our mind. We experience space, clarity, and luminosity. And if we experiment with sustaining the lack of labels or lack of mental and emotional processes within that recognized clarity, we will experience that the space and clarity is continuous, non-interrupted. There is no label or thinking process to interrupt the spacious clarity, the empty luminosity.
The Buddha sat for weeks like that. He sat as pure Awareness – uninterrupted, unlabeled thus unnamed, thus unwordable, completely pure but not separated from labels, interruptions, or impurities. He simply sat as pure Awareness.
The truth of why there is suffering and discontent was apparent. It is because we, and all within existence, interrupt, name, and label everything else as this or that. Yet that label or definition only applies in the current circumscribed context. A rainy day is a blessing if there has been no rain for a week but will be deemed otherwise if there has been a week of rain.
Also, discontent arises due to this naming because to identify anything is to mentally remove it from the interconnectedness of which it is an implicit part. The rain is positive or harmful according to the how it interacts with life – thus when the last rain was and what the life forms require.
Temporary happiness and temporary value arise the same way, and just as easily change Therefore, as the Buddha sat in uninterrupted, unwordable pure Awareness, he was also aware that the bird in the tree labeled bug and worm, that the wife and son he left labeled their sadness at his leaving, that the people he had met in his life had their life of ups and downs, hardships and happiness. Knowing this, he interrupted the state of simply sitting in order to report to others the discovery of innate already present Awareness while able to remain in pure Awareness.
What is the teaching to apply to our lives?
- There is a continuous nature to Awareness-Reality. It is uninterrupted until or unless we interrupt it. This applies to the continuous self-perpetuating nature of any state of mind or emotions, any habit or tendency within human beings, animals, or the waves in the sea. As human beings, we have to chose to change something. For example, if we want to eat more healthily, we chose appropriate foods. If we want to grow some of this newly desired food, we chose to change a plot of grass into a vegetable garden. The grass will keep being grass, so we have to remove it from the newly planned vegetable garden, because grass like you and I, will be uninterrupted in its habit until something interrupts and thus changes that life pattern.
- The nature of Awareness is clear, spacious, uninterrupted energy. As we interrupt either the clarity, or the spaciousness, or the continuous nature of the energy of Awareness, Awareness now takes on the new mode.
– This means that negative or troublesome states, like stress, greed, or worry, will also go unchanged as tendencies until and unless we apply a method that interrupts and therefore potentially changes the pattern. This is very important and helps us understand why suffering is a continuous cycle in our life and in the world around us, lifetime to lifetime. Samsara (this cyclic discontent) is the result of not interrupting or changing patterns that predictably will bring about only more of the same discontent. For example, to use fossil fuels will bring about temporary ease in people’s lives (temporary might mean 200 years) but will also bring predictable chemical pollution to the world. Humanity has not been able to interrupt the use of fossil fuels realistically because the habits of ease and entitlement would have to be changed. Nothing has adequately interrupted the temporary glamorous comfort that some of humanity lives adequate to change the pattern of desiring what fossil fuel use has given.
- In our life, habits of awareness will produce more awareness until eventually it is uninterrupted. Equally, habits of defensiveness or other negative states will self-perpetuate more of the same.
The Buddha was not the first to understand that change conditions all existence. Change is. This moment is not the one that was one moment ago, nor will any future moment be a replica of this exact moment. The Buddha’s realization regarding the nature of Awareness and Reality (being radiant/clear, pure space thus empty or non-conditioned, and continuous) applies to the changeable nature of existence. In fact, he realized that change or impermanence is also of the nature of Awareness.
How is this so, since that sounds like a contradiction? Isn’t change to interrupt? Isn’t pure Awareness uninterrupted and continuous therefore unchanging? Awareness is continuous like a wave, perpetually in flow, undulating, expressing its pure uninterrupted natural state. Flow is not changeless or permanent. In fact, flow – continuity – is the source of all change.
The Buddha realized that a significant component of humanity’s suffering is this contradiction in our mind. Flow is the source of all change. It is the mother of impermanence. Flow or continuity is the very nature of Awareness and Reality. Human beings suffer with a desire for stability. But what deeply underlies this is a not knowing of the continuous nature of one’s self as the continuum of Awareness. Thereby, do we grasp onto a form of self and ways to try to keep that self stable and unchanging.
We are not alone in that. Polar bears have evolved in an ecosystem that is changing. Evolution is the flow of change, but also moves with long-lasting continuity. Polar bears, like dinosaurs or mastodons and saber tooth tigers will likely pass on with the flow of climate change.
The Buddha’s insight into why we grasp at changelessness is significant and useful to our daily lives. Many of the ups and downs of unhappiness that we experience or create for others is because we want something to last. Yet this is impossible. This moment someone makes us happy, but will that perpetually be the case? If, in this moment, our health is a source of happiness – will that always be the case? Furthermore, Buddha reported that we cannot predict when change will happen nor what change will happen. Yet, we spend much force, thinking, and emoting on trying to control these things; thereby, do we perpetuate our suffering by simply not fully realizing that change IS. Ah, but, remember, that this too is a label – that change IS. Labels, statements, or definitions isolate something out of the interdependence of which it is a part. Therefore, Buddha reminded us that change IS because flow is part of the nature of Awareness and that we are that continuous, uninterrupted, clear, dynamic Awareness.
I purposefully have approached the subject of the Buddha’s insights in a way different than the classical method of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, precious human birth, etc. I have done that out of respect for the lamas and rinpoches who teach the Dharma, and also because the teachings that have come from the Buddha came from his direct experience of Awareness as it IS. That was his enlightenment, as it will be for any of us.
Awareness is radiant, always pure, spacious, empty, continuous, thus uninterrupted. On a daily basis, many times through our day, we can check in:
- Right now Is my mind or awareness bright and spacious, uninterrupted by my own thoughts? Are we labeling unnecessarily, contracting, dimming our light?
- Similarly, with kindness, goodness, warm-heartedness, ethical actions, and virtues. Am I living as and from theses? These express the continuous nature of human relatedness if non-interrupted by greed, or fear, or selfing in some way. Drop in and realize if the small self is running the moment. Smile, take a long, slow, deep breath and shift into the continuum of heart-awareness, goodness-awareness, and such.
- At any moment, how is physical, mental, or emotional energy being used? In ease and flow or with force? Are you experiencing your mind as forceful, your statements or emotions as forceful, or your actions as forceful? If any of these, smile with awareness, and release – soften and open. Spaciousness and force cannot co-exist.
Checking in with ourself, we can change the continuity of suffering, and the discontent that we live (ups and downs), as well as the suffering that we cause others. We are all related: a continuum of flowing awareness as one whole Awareness. As we become aware in any moment, we effect the whole of others doing the same. We can interrupt that which seeds perpetual suffering and realize perpetual Awareness.
Graphics from DeviantART: