“In Jowo Valley there is a temple with a stone seat.
Are you enthroned there, Marpa?
If you are, I’d be very joyful.
Although my devotion is limited, I long to see you.
Although my faith is limited, I want to see you.
The more I meditate the more I long for my guru.”
In this short excerpt, Milarepa is thinking about his teacher. He does feel some devotion, this is clear. He misses his teacher. He also takes himself to task for not feeling more devotion, more faith. In Tibetan Buddhism especially, devotion to a teacher is considered important and worthwhile, more than in some other schools. Listening to the VCTR talk last night, he mentioned that devotion could take many forms. That’s what I’ll end with. It’s really fascinating, especially for me (!) as someone struggling with what devotion means. Trungpa said that devotion could take many forms, including being frustrated (I think) or angry at your teacher. He was not suggesting that you should hate your teacher, but the point is, I think, that devotion is not a simple thing, and can’t be narrowed down neatly into one specific experience.
Meditation somehow magically makes spontaneity more likely. This happens with perception, and with action. This means that when I practice enough, which is a lot for me, my senses clear up, like my nose clears up when I’m not suffering from allergies, and suddenly my breathing is better and I feel good. Also, what I say, the way I walk, how I open a door even, become less robotic, less clunky and the same as usual. This spontaneity is connected to the idea of dance. This kind of dance is spontaneous, at least a little bit.
- Ellen Emmet: The Yoga of Non-Duality (nondualityamerica.wordpress.com)
- How to Meditate Effectively (answers.com)
- Retreat reflections (smilekiddo.wordpress.com)
- Lifehack Presents: The Mindfulness Meditation Mini Guide (lifehack.org)
I attended a talk given by a man who’d converted to Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta. He’d been a Buddhist, and then found a remarkable Advaita teacher, and taken that path. He is a student of a man named Mooji. Maybe that name sounds a little funny to you, but actually Mooji is a teacher I’m fond of (having seen a number of his video taped talks).
Anyway, getting somehow to my point, this student of Mooji’s asked for some advice, some instructions on how to live. He was told “Don’t identify.” This was the instruction, the “pith instruction.” “Don’t identify.”
I take this to mean don’t identify as your personality, or your self. Don’t think you are your ego, your emotions, or your thoughts.
I think this is interesting. What if you do identify? Is it possible to identify with something bigger and better, like a “Self”?
I think one reason that Buddhists emphasize contemplating death so much is that the ego dies. The painful process of practicing and studying and having complications and annoyances come up in your life, the famous mishaps, is a process of ego dissolving away, even dying. I think we’re being told (Buddhists, not using the royal we) that death is acceptable largely because the kind of death you experience if you practice is not pleasant but it’s very very useful. That would involve getting over identifying.
I’ve been a meditator for a little less than ten years now. I’m a Buddhist. My experience and inclination lean this book towards Buddhist sitting meditation practice. However, I think it’s very important to say that I think “contemplative practice” includes lots of things, including lots of possibilities. By lots of things, I mean many practices from different traditions- chant, prayer, yoga, and so forth. “So forth” includes a lot, in this case, but not exactly everything. I pick my nose every day (so far, maybe someday I’ll get over this). That’s not really a habit that’s going to help me grow spiritually. In terms of practice, I tend to be biased in favor of more “traditional” approaches, but those aren’t the only good ones, or the only ones that work. By talking about lots of possibilities, I mean that beyond more traditional approaches, there may be other kinds of “practice” that could yield good results. I try to keep a somewhat open mind about that.
Two good examples of this less traditional approach might be the story of the sweeping man, and the Karate Kid. The Buddha had a student who wasn’t very smart, but who genuinely wanted to study and grow. The Buddha instructed him to sweep the floors around the temple, thinking as he was doing so, that he was sweeping away his confusion, his negative thoughts. This was his form of meditation. It’s said that the student did this, and his mind became signficantly stronger as a result. Of course, in the recent “Karate Kid” remake, Jackie Chan instructs his young, unruly student to put a jacket on a hanger over and over. He tells him precisely how to do this. His young student slowly becomes a little more disciplined. Little does the student know that he’s actually learning a martial arts form indirectly, by doing one thing over and over. As time passes, the student, the Jaden Smith character, became more disciplined, and learned how to do kung fu (without even knowing it).
My point is that, although I have a connection to the practice of sitting meditation (saying “I like it” doesn’t seem quite right, or honest), I think a lot of other approaches are available, or workable. It’s worth saying that, also, the teachers in those two examples were good teachers, because they had some insight into how to get their students to do a practice, and one that would create a variety of benefits for themselves and others. There was something a little tricky about this kind of teaching (which is, obviously, not the only kind), and something both subtle and simple. Maybe it seems like I’m making too much of these stories. After all, I’m not trying to explain the most refined philosophical points (which Buddhism, just like lots of other traditions has lots of). Then again, having experienced this kind of teaching in person, in my own life, I don’t think it should just be written off. That’s the twist, there: so often, the heaviest truths are so well known and encased in cliche that they fly under the radar. We’re surrounded by profound teachings, often in the guise of popular culture, cultural chitchat.
I think I said this already (I’m always saying this) but here goes again: there’s a gap often between ideas and actions, especially “aspirations” or hopes or high concepts and ordinary solid earth action. This is a thought I had while doing a practice called the “four reminders,” or the “four thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma.”
The dharma means the Buddhist teachings, or the “situation” as it is, or more generally, teachings themselves, of any stripe.
The thing seems to be that I can contemplate an idea or phrase, this is a form of meditation, to contemplate and focus on one phrase or sentence and see what comes up, and I can come up with “good ideas” very quickly, most times.
To me it feels like the instinct that you get instilled in you through being in school. Maybe that’s just part of it. What I mean is that you get trained in a way to think of intelligent answers to questions, quickly. I feel like I developed this in school, but there’s a glibness to it, a facility. What ends up surfacing is usually interesting or clever ideas, with no “meat.” It’s too much heaven, too little earth.
Is this enough of an insight?
Is it enough to notice that you can have good ideas about how to live, and then constantly fall short? I’m not talking about unnecessary guilt, per se. I’m talking about having the experience of thinking something like
“Life is short, so we should appreciate it.”
“Life and death happen all the time in your psychological state.”
Not completely profound, but somewhat meaningful. But then not only do I forget these insights, when I remember them, it seems impossible to realize them, to really appreciate, or to really see life and death. It could be that real insights are totally ordinary in life, and that I expect their appearance in my day to have some kind of feeling of surprise, shock, fireworks, etc.
As happens a lot, language seems to drag me off course. I get intoxicated by it. That’s something interesting in itself, in terms of contemplation. Maybe the intoxication of words is something to work with in contemplation.
At the same time, it seems like the initial problem stays unresolved. What I wanted to get to, earlier was a quote, or a phrase really, from Fabrice Midal, a student of Trungpa Rinpoche, and the author of an excellent book about him and his life.
“The basic hypocrisy of ego”
is the phrase. Somehow, the way ego works, it is basically hypocritical. It’s constantly posturing, constantly on stage, constantly off the mark. There’s a gap between seeming insight and actual growth, or whatever you’d like to call it. That seems like another intoxication- the drunkenness of insight, or egoic insight. “I really get it now!” with a feeling of breakthrough, and then somehow things just go back to normal, which is very comforting.
I’m going to share a very advanced practice with you. Ready?
Lie down in bed.
You could do this sitting, but it’s best lying in bed. The TV and music should be off.
Don’t meditate, don’t control your emotions, don’t practice. Just lie there, and think. Let your mind go.
If your thoughts go way off, into daydreams and so forth, come back a tiny bit.
In general, just lie there and think and relax. That’s it.
This is what some people call “simple but not easy.”
I’m one to advocate lots of practice, every day, whenever possible, but this one is really really good. I so often resist just relaxing, in a quiet room, and thinking to myself. BUT! whenever I do it, I’m glad I did. The hard part seems to be turning off the TV and leaving the email alone and not listening to music, that, and making yourself stop, and think.
Once you get there, it’s good to do it for five or ten minutes, or even more. Even more is better. A half hour is good.