Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Openness, Clarity & Sensitivity (Lama Shenpen Hookham)

Openness, Clarity & Sensitivity
Based on a talk by Lama Shenpen Hookham

What is it about the heart that it is central to every spiritual tradition? How can we discover the heart of the matter, the heart of Buddhism, the wisdom of the heart, the path with heart? We are motivated by a search for meaning. We could call this dukkha, but it’s more like a wish, a yearning. It is the knowing of the heart that answers this call for meaning. It gives us a sign, but it cannot be grasped. It appears as an elusive sense of right-ness, a feeling that we had when we started, but we often lose sight of. “Oh yeah!” How can we get that back?

If we stay too much with heart, then it may seem not genuine, overly sentimental. Why is that? We are habitually shallow, but when we say heart, we mean it with depth, sincerity.

We learn how we are impermanent and samsara is terrible suffering. Is this it? Isn’t there anything else? Something free from impermanence and suffering. The word for mind in Buddhism is citta, which unlike the Western notion of mind is associated with heart. There are two kinds of knowing, one resembles the thoughts that arise and pass, and the second is a deeper kind. If we use the analogy of the mirror of awareness, there are the reflections that appear on the surface, and then there’s the surface itself. We just get attached to the images.

To illustrate how there is this second way of knowing, just pick up a glass of water. Did you know how you picked it up? You didn’t need to think about it. If you did think about it, it would make it terribly complicated. We use a second much more efficient way of knowing. We can increase our awareness of the sensation, but we can never perceive how that knowing takes place. Isn’t it amazing how I can transfer the glass from one hand to the other? There’s such enjoyment in this simple act done with awareness. I just do it. If you just give me a glass with water or not, I could be entertained all evening just moving it from one hand to the other. And then you might be wondering what I’m drinking!

Artists and scientists often have moments of insight, and these moments come always when thinking stops. Later the insight may be formulated with thoughts, but the insight itself involves a different sense of knowing that is without thought. The purpose of meditation is to open up, to uncover this second deeper sense of knowing. It’s terribly hard. And the more we practice, the harder it seems to get. That’s why we’re called practitioners… because we still need more practice. Only when in desperation we get behind the purpose of the meditation does the insight break through to you, sometimes all at once, sometimes bits at a time. We can never have or get it, it just breaks through. Instead of the usual form of knowing, it awakens in us. Any meditation practice has as its goal for us to find what’s wrong with it, why is the practice not working and get behind it to the something deeper. And each insight you get, it seems so obvious. It’s almost embarrassing one didn’t know it before. I always think enlightenment, if we can ever get there, must be the most embarrassing moment of your life.

Two obstacles to practice are laziness and fear. It’s useful to meditate at least for five minutes at the beginning and end of the day and at some specific point during the day which will remind you, such as on the toilet, or walking back from lunch. This breaks up the day, and can have a very powerful refreshing effect. In a busy lifestyle, it may be difficult to find time, so remember that life itself is our practice. If we pass a certain door, a certain place in our routine, let it be a remembrance, to meditate or make an intention. I’ve been amazed by people who have achieved the same insights that I had after years on retreat within the context of ordinary life, so it is possible. If you have doubts, this is where it is useful to have a teacher and to be part of a community. Even at times when we do not seem to be on the path, the teacher can encourage you and tell you that everything is fine and indeed you are on the path. At moments in the practice when we are really close to a deeper sense of being, fear can suddenly arise. The ego fears the end of samsara, because it’s the end of the ego. At these times, it’s important to remember to take refuge. It’s so easy to forget and get lost in the fear. Try to remember.

The path of practice involves cultivating openness, clarity and sensitivity. These three qualities are intrinsic and fundamental to your nature. It is a process of curiosity and enjoyment and to some extent, struggle, to uncover them. We are called practitioners of the path because we still need lots more practice. But the further you get, the more important to realize that it’s not a process of increase, but one of removing obstructions. As you progress, effort becomes less helpful. It may even muddy the waters. Knowing that they are always there, you can relax, but this is very different from the relaxation of unawareness. As you begin to feel more open, clear and sensitive, the nature of these qualities and the self become more elusive. One can only perceive their effects. Sensitivity for example may be felt as a movement of energy or responsiveness. The origin of these qualities merge into a place beyond definition, beyond time or space, an awareness. In the end, you realize there was never any improvement and you never actually did anything. Reality was always there, just you didn’t recognize it. At the moment of zero confusion, the reality you experience is found to be ever-present and you realize that no realization was necessary. How embarrassing that must be!

The Tibetans have a great sense of joy in the joy of others, believing that if you see another do good, then by joining in their joy, you yourself earn the same merit as the one who does the good. So, for example when I said I was a vegetarian, they would say “Oh, how wonderful!” though they would keep eating meat themselves. This way of taking inspiration from others, rather than letting the progress of others devalue you or your own progress, is really a beautiful attitude.

This was originally posted on Buddhist Travellers in 2010, and followed on from this talk by Krishnamurti on truth & reality which I had posted the previous week.

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