Are we hallucinating all this?!

it'll be fun

shoes on mountainI was on a walk the day Prince died, in the freezing/hot Colorado spring weather, which took me through no fewer than 12 snow-melty streams; and I didn’t see another person all day, not even a bear. And I got to thinking all philosophically about what’s life all about; so I thought I’d share some thoughts.

The aim of Buddhist practice and, if you ask me, the meaning of life, is to gain the realization of Mahamudra, the union of bliss and emptiness. This will obliterate samsara, freeing us and enabling us to free those connected to us, which is everyone.

And there are two complementary approaches (I was thinking on my mountain) into this. One is through the mind (aiming for the clear light of bliss) and the other is through the object (aiming for a realization of emptiness).

In The New Heart of Wisdom, Geshe Kelsang explains how all conventional truths are created by our mind of self-grasping ignorance (albeit not apprehended or established by it.)

In How to Understand the Mind, he says that everything appearing to our gross and subtle minds is hallucination. It would seem that of all ordinary beings’ minds, only our very subtle mind is not mistaken because it perceives emptiness, the way things are.

Yikes, we’re hallucinating all the time!
it'll be fun

Fooled again!

Taken together, it looks like we are always hallucinating, except when we can use our very subtle mind. All appearances to these gross and subtle levels of mind, and even the mind itself, are hallucinations that we need to learn to see through.

We end up with the union of these two approaches by practicing the union of Sutra and Tantra. We get closer to the very subtle mind by understanding its object, emptiness, as taught in Sutra; and we get closer to emptiness by learning to manifest and use the very subtle mind, as taught in Highest Yoga Tantra. It seems these realizations are symbiotic.

We can start practicing this union now by feeling that we are meditating with and on our own very subtle mind whenever possible, seeing all other minds and their appearances as simply waves from that ocean.

So, what can we trust?!trees

In the meantime, trapped in hallucination, how on earth do we function at all? How do we know what to rely on? How can we trust anything that doesn’t exist as it appears?

We can because some things have relative meaning, are relatively meaningful. Within our hallucinations we agree on some things, eg, we can sit on chairs, and that is relative or conventional reality (shared experiences arising from the similar perceptions/appearances of our collective karma). We can rely on it to a certain extent. It functions in the way it is supposed to, and we can have a relatively valid apprehension of it, with a so-called ‘conventional valid cognizer’.

One way to understand this is by using the example of a dream. As Geshe Kelsang explains in Modern Buddhism:

Conventional objects are false because, although they appear to exist from their own side, in reality they are mere appearances to mind, like things seen in a dream.

The world we experience in a dream is deceptive because it appears to have its own existence independent of the mind, and we discover this when we wake up. However, within the dream we can say that there are relative truths and relative falsities.

Within the context of a dream, dream objects have a relative validity and this distinguishes them from things that do not exist at all. ~ Modern Buddhism

Geshe-la gives the example of our stealing a diamond in a dream – if we confess to it, we are telling the truth, if we say we didn’t steal it we are telling a lie.

Another example – if in my dream I nod to the six-stringed instrument I am playing and tell you, “This is my guitar”, this is true, but if I say “This is my ukulele” (a four-stringed instrument), this is false. However, within the whole context of the dream both are deceptive because they appear to be real when they are not. (As I discover when I wake up and can no longer play either.)

flowers.jpgSo, it seems that everything in a dream is created by the self-grasping of the dream mind and is therefore deceptive; but within that experience some thoughts are ‘valid’ and establish the ‘truth’, relatively speaking, and some thoughts are not, namely our delusions, whose objects don’t exist at all.

I think we can say the same for conventional truths while we are awake — all conventional truths are ‘created’ by self-grasping, true only for self-grasping; but compared with non-existents they are relatively true, truths by convention or agreement, ie, conventional truths. A non-existent on the other hand is still hallucination, still projected by self-grasping, but has no validity at all. It is apprehended or established by self-grasping delusions. An example would be an object of anger, such as an inherently existent faulty person, who doesn’t exist at all. (The anger itself however does exist and is a conventional truth, as is every mind.)

Perhaps I will stick my neck out and say that conventional reality is collective hallucination?! But please don’t take my word for it, please feel free to debate this in the comments.

Given all this, how are we to navigate through these mistaken appearances and make our lives meaningful? Answers on a postcard …! And Part Two is here.

Mahamudra blessing

Mahamudra
DMV

Boring!

I just failed my drive test. I was sort of speeding without realizing it, so I guess I deserved that and don’t mind too much. (I also knew things didn’t bode too well when, unavailingly trying to woo the instructor with my suave in-control persona, the alarm went off as I opened the door … and, being as it wasn’t my car, I had no clue how to turn it off again.) More to the point, however, is why am I even having to take a drive test when I’ve already been driving for 30 years?!* But one may just as well ask, “Why do I have to take rebirth and go to school all over again? I already flipping well did that.”

I was asking myself just this while I waited the 50 unsettling minutes at the Denver DMV leading up to my failed test. Samsara is relentlessly monotonous and we keep having to do things we don’t want to do, not just once but over and over and over, ad infinitum. We keep having to take tests, even though I have only met about 3 people in my life who like them, and no one looked too exhilarated to be on their plastic chairs in the DMV. A friend of mine has to re-sit her whole psychotherapy exam just because she has moved to a new state, even though she has been a psychotherapist for hundreds of years. It’s annoying. And that is just in this one life. In samsara, we keep on having to re-learn stuff we already spent way too long learning and have no need for – I sometimes think the only thing I have retained from geography lessons, for example, is a rudimentary knowledge of ox-bow lakes, and I have yet to find a way to put that to any use.

Why do I mention this? Well, because when I think about dying and taking even a best-case scenario human rebirth, I think how much I dread having to go to school all over again. So then I think I want to get out of samsara quickly by accessing and purifying my very subtle mind, and how right now, in this precious human life, I have the opportunity to do so, lucky me. Which motivates me to practice meditation with an appreciative mind, with a good feeling of gratitude in fact.

Continuing from this article on Mahamudra.

An ocean of helpMahamudra

Whenever we practice meditation, especially meditation on Mahamudra, it makes a huge difference if we know that we are not doing this on our own. We are connecting to a lineage through our Spiritual Guide, through his or her Spiritual Guide, and so on, back through an ocean of practitioners to Buddha himself. Their minds are all on offer so we can connect to a vast reservoir of assistance. It is not us duking it out with our delusions on our own. Not at all. Receiving blessings may not come intuitively, we need to train. Why? One reason is that we are in exile in our head most of the time, and it doesn’t occur to us to go into our heart and connect.

First way to receive blessings

This is something I like to do before doing any meditation, and it works very well with Mahamudra.

We imagine we are receiving the blessings of Buddha and all holy beings in the form of blissful lights or rays of sunshine, coming from their hearts and filling our body and mind. This enlightened energy, enlightened mind, mixes with our mind like light mixing with light. We can do this after reciting some prayers, if we like, such as Prayers for Meditation or Heart Jewel, where “receiving blessings” is almost always indicated – but we can also do it anytime, anywhere. We are bathing in an ocean of delicious blessings, which are very interesting and also everywhere.

As explained more here, blessings, or “jin gyi lob” in Tibetan, means “transformation through inspiration”, and they are not that mysterious — we are affected Man walking through doorway with ocean, in desertby even ordinary  waves of mental energy so of course we can be uplifted by transcendent minds if we tune into them. This makes everything easier. We can receive blessings from any holy being we believe in, whoever works for us. Traditionally for Mahamudra meditation we rely on Je Tsongkhapa.

Why Je Tsongkhapa?

Je Tsongkhapa is the founder of our Buddhist tradition, the Kadampa tradition. He lived in the 14th century but his teachings are still flourishing because they have been carried from generation to generation in an unbroken lineage all the way, marvelously enough, to us. I believe that Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the latest in the line of fully realized adepts in this lineage, and he has made it his life’s work to help us gain these realizations. And Mahamudra (literally, the union of great bliss and emptiness) is the specialty of this tradition. Buddha Shakyamuni gave 84,000 different teachings, and the pith essence of all of them is Mahamudra. As one scholar, Gungtang, puts it (using Je Tsongkhapa’s ordained name, Losang Dragpa):

The emptiness that is explained in Buddha’s Sutra teachings,
And the great bliss that is explained in Buddha’s Tantric teachings –
The union of these two is the very essence of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings.
May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa flourish for evermore.

Now is the time

Oral InstructionsMaybe some of you have reached that place known as “over the hill” and things look very different from this perspective – if you’ve ever biked downhill, you know you speed up. So maybe, we think, maybe we better wait till next time round to attain enlightenment, we might have left it a bit late this time. But the truth is that the opportunity we have now will never get better. We can come under the care and guidance of an exceptionally qualified Mahamudra master. His new book, The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, published in Tibetan at the request of many Tibetan practitioners and now translated for us into English and other languages, is unbelievable. Geshe Kelsang is now regarded as the authority in this world on Mahamudra. Sometimes I think we have no idea how fortunate we are. “Kelsang Gyatso” means “ocean of good fortune”, and all the ordained Sangha are given the name “Kelsang Somebody”, meaning “Fortunate Somebody”.

Second way to receive blessings

In the second way of receiving blessings, we can imagine that Buddha, or Guru Tsongkhapa, comes to our crown and his body of wisdom light shrinks to the size of a thumb, facing the same way we face. There is all that Buddha power on our crowns, enlightened beings are all within that space; and then we can imagine Buddha entering through our crown chakra and flowing slowly and blissfully into our heart. As he descends, we slide down with him into our heart. Now he is a presence in our heart, and once again we can think that our minds mix. This helps us get into our heart and also appreciate that he is doing the meditation along with us. It’s not necessary to visualize him clearly, we just think he’s there with us in our heart. We can experience bliss, and then mix that bliss with emptiness or the conventional nature of the mind. Also, we can use that bliss in any meditation, and we can invite any holy being.

Hope you have fun with it!

*The technical, if not karmic, reason is that I let my Florida driving license expire. Like letting life expire before getting some stable, ever-lasting realizations, I guess.

 

Lamrim, Lojong, and Mahamudra

sky and clouds

sky and cloudsFirst I thought it’d be helpful to give some context for the clarity of mind meditation, and then share some thoughts on why it is so effective at pacifying our distractions.

The clarity of mind meditation is part of Sutra Mahamudra. And Mahamudra is the heart essence of the Kadampa tradition of Buddhism.

A Kadampa Buddhist is someone who:

takes all of Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and puts them into practice in their daily lives.

Buddha gave 84,000 teachings, so how do we pull that off?! By practicing Lamrim, a cycle of 21 meditations (or 14 meditations in How to Understand the Mind) that covers all the stages of the path to enlightenment. Pretty much all the meditations we will ever learn in Buddhism fit somewhere in the Lamrim cycle!

Also, as Geshe Kelsang explains in Great Treasury of Merit (page 18), Lamrim and Lojong (lit. “training the mind”, a powerful method for developing bodhichitta extracted from Lamrim and given particular emphasis) are both preliminaries for Mahamudra.

Mahamudra, a Sanskrit word, means “great seal”. In Sutra it refers to emptiness, and in Tantra to the union of great bliss and emptiness:

Mahamudra Tantra is defined as a mind of fully qualified clear light that experiences great bliss and realizes emptiness directly. ~ Mahamudra Tantra page 55

All Kadampa Buddhist meditations are explicitly or implicitly aiming at this realization of bliss and emptiness, which, when perfected, becomes omniscient wisdom, enlightened reality. With practice, we can use deeper and deeper levels of awareness to meditate, and the deepest is our very subtle mind which, when manifest, is called clear light. This mind is naturally blissful. Inconceivably blissful. Ridiculously blissful. Think of the most blissful thing you can imagine and then multiply that by infinity. More blissful than that.

Buddha seed

sky and clouds 2It is also our Buddha nature or Buddha seed – this clear light mind itself will transform into a Buddha’s mind when it is fully purified and developed. So, best of all, we already have the very subtle mind! This means we don’t need to add anything to our mind to become enlightened. We have the seeds of love, compassion, bliss, wisdom etc. – it is all there. All we need to do is grow those seeds — not add to them but grow them. And remove the obstructions that get in their way. Buddhahood is not out there anywhere. The beginnings are already right here, in our heart chakra.

As Buddha said:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere. ~ Mahamudra Tantra page 100

If we recognize and realize our own root mind or very subtle mind directly, we will definitely become a Buddha in this life!

Geshe-la looking at Pure LandGeshe Kelsang is always saying that we can attain enlightenment in this life. Numerous past practitioners in the Kadampa Tradition have already done this; and at the moment we have, by some karmic marvel, exactly the same methods at our fingertips. Our problem is that we don’t believe him half the time (any of the time?!)

There are many reasons for this – one perhaps being that we are not identifying with this potential but instead with a severely circumscribed sense of self. So it’s no wonder we don’t make that great of an effort, meaning we don’t get a taste, meaning we don’t develop an appetite. This meditation on the clarity of the mind luckily can also help with that! (More in a later article.)

Get control

The only hurdle right now is that we cannot access our very subtle mind, it is too deep. It manifests naturally in deep sleep and as we die, and it is even blissful when it does; but we can’t recognize or use it because, let’s face it, we can barely use our grossest levels of mind, our everyday waking consciousness. We find it hard to stay out of trouble even for one day! Because we lack mindfulness and concentration our mind controls us at the moment, not the other way around. Still, through Buddhism in general we learn to control our gross levels of mind, our more obvious delusions; and through Tantra we learn to manifest our own very subtle mind and use that. Once we can meditate with our clear light mind, we are almost there. We are almost enlightened.

You can read about all of this properly in Mahamudra Tantra, an enlightening book in the real sense of the word.

Sutra Mahamudra

Within Sutra Mahamudra, the meditation on the nature of the mind is the access point to meditation on emptiness. We take it as our object of concentration and mindfulness. It leads us both into emptiness, and one day into the great bliss of our own clear light mind.

Even if you are a beginner, this is where this meditation is headed.  Geshe Kelsang said in 2000:

Whenever we train in using our root mind as our object of meditation, it causes our realization of the very subtle mind to ripen. In reality, this is like the preparation for the Highest Yoga Tantra practice of clear light. It is very special.

It’s good to know what Buddha’s mind is and what our mind is capable of. One day, every single one of us will attain enlightenment because everyone has the potential and sooner or later everyone will learn how to do it – and this is how.

I sometimes think that if we are going to get enlightened anyway one day, why not go for it now? Haven’t we been hanging out in samsara way, way, way too long already? What are we waiting for, exactly?

I think that is enough background for now.

Pacifying distractions

sky and clouds 3The meditation on the clarity of the mind, explained briefly here, has many benefits, “incredible power and benefit” as Geshe Kelsang said in 2000. Unbelievable supramundane phenomenal benefits. Maybe some of you are thinking, “Here we go again! I know I’ve got to do this meditation, I just need to sort out my real issues and/or get through six seasons of The Wire first.” That’s why we need to keep thinking about the benefits and the faults of not getting around to this meditation.

These benefits are very precise, describing what we will experience if we meditate on the nature of mind, the first being that it pacifies distractions. And that is even for us modern people who, let’s face it, are a little distracted. I will say just a little more about that in this admittedly long article before you all get distracted.

I sometimes think of distractions as all those thoughts we don’t want to think but can’t help thinking, like thoughts of sadness, or annoyance, or feeling our life is meaningless, or dissatisfaction, or longing, or fear of failure, or … you know the kind of thing. They distract us away from our natural peace of mind – yet we have no choice but to think them because our mind is so out of control. One of the things we learn in meditation is to let the delusions settle or temporarily disappear so that we can then more lastingly transform our mind. Different ways are taught to settle the mind, the most common being some kind of mindfulness of breathing. However, clarity of mind meditation is even more effective. It can take us all the way to enlightenment, but already at a basic beginners’ level it enables us to more easily let go of our distractions.

Have you ever felt that your meditation involves a struggle with your distractions? “I fought the distractions and the distractions won” kind of thing? This meditation helps us adjust our whole relationship with distractions. It no longer need be one of combat. We no longer need to feel besieged or overwhelmed. We no longer have to push our distractions away.

A distraction is defined as:

A deluded mental factor that wanders to any object of delusion.

sunset cloudsWe really need to know how to pacify our minds as there is always something that is troubling us. Does a day go past when it does not? There is always something. And we try to solve our problems day by day by trying to swat away this worry, then that worry; but those worries just keep on flying at us. We need to go straight to the source of that trouble, ie, unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds, without which we’d never experience another moment of pain. We need to learn the art of letting go, we need to learn how to drop our distractions.

To know how this meditation works to overcome distractions, we can look more at the object of meditation and how to approach it in a skillful way to reap this benefit. Next installment is here. Your comments are welcome.

Postscript: about the illustrations in this article, an excuse for me to share my pictures of the Denver sky, thanks. We don’t need to fear our delusions and distractions – they are like clouds that cannot pollute, much less destroy, the clear sky of our root mind. We can learn to dissolve away our delusions by always identifying with our clear sky mind.

Happiness is here right now

valentine 3

Wrote this on Valentine’s Day but it works every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! How’s it going?! Feeling happy?! Feeling loved? Or feeling unloved?! Feeling disappointed?!

Whether we are having a great day or a depressing one is not whether or not we have a hot partner (or any partner!) to go to dinner and a movie with, but whether or not we are feeling loving and/or blissful inside. (Click here for articles on overcoming loneliness.)

valentine 3Is this true?: We try and make samsara work every day – not just on the macro scale, but even on the micro, organizing our kitchen cabinet, arranging the right date, etc. But it is never quite right. We organize our relationships and life and health and job, but we still have not quite found the right person or the right pair of shoes.

And on Valentine’s Day there seems to be an even bigger disconnect between trying to make things work and things not quite working. One problem with Valentine’s Day is that people set themselves up for disappointment by expecting things to happen – no surprise that calls to the suicide hotlines spike on February 14. (Someone just told me upon reading this today that Al Anon apparently refers to expectations as “pre-meditated resentments”…)

We can’t quite make anything work. We haven’t quite got it. But what we haven’t quite got is that it is samsara — the experience of an ordinary or deluded mind – that does not work. That cannot work. We need to understand the importance of going inside. And today would be a good day to understand the value of training in bliss.

Training in bliss

The initially imagined (but still functional) bliss that arises from dissolving everything into the experience of bliss and emptiness during Tantric generation stage and the natural bliss we get from the melting of the drops in the central channel once we are able to absorb our energy winds during Tantric completion stage leads to a Yogi or Yogini’s profound experience , as described in Tantric Grounds and Paths p. 141:

They feel that they experience a profound bliss mixed with emptiness, as if emptiness and their mind of bliss have become one entity… Once they have this experience they simultaneously perceive any objects such as forms that appear to them as manifestations both of emptiness and their mind of bliss.

We may not be able to do this yet, but nonetheless we can begin to incorporate the training in bliss into our life and it is important. Why? Because deep happiness and bliss ARE possible if we look in the right direction. And it is the experience of bliss mixed with the ultimate nature of reality, emptiness, that will finally set us free from attachment and all other delusions, and allow us to help others in the same way.

Arrows of attachment

Arrows of attachment

At the moment, unfortunately, whenever we experience a bit of happiness, from a sandwich or another person or a ray of sunshine on a cold day, we feel that the happiness is coming from an object outside of ourselves and we immediately develop attachment. “More of that please! I don’t want it to go away.” You’re out on a freezing cold day and the sun comes out from behind the clouds and warms your face, “Oh, that feels good!” Followed immediately by pain: “Nooo, here comes the cloud. Oh, come on!” Talking to a cloud.

Or you’re with a nice person having such a nice time – “Oh, you’ve got to go, so soon?” Pain. And that is what attachment does as it projects the happiness onto an external object or person, not understanding that the happiness is coming from within the mind.  Attachment comes and spoils it. It spoils everything. So we need a basic training in ALLOWING ourself to enjoy deeply while  recognizing that the enjoyment is actually coming from our mind.

So let’s say you are enjoying the presence of a person in your life. Enjoy it, but understand that the person is reminding you of the enjoyment that exists within your own mind. They are giving you a window into the fact that bliss is possible but only if you stay with the source of the happiness, which is not the person but your own experience.

bliss 1Instead of allowing our mind to go out and grasp, to try and hold onto this person who is walking out the door (even if it’s for the last time), we just move the mind inwards so we stay with the enjoyment and we recognize, “This enjoyment is like a surface manifestation of the bliss that is in my mind, like a wave arising from a blissful ocean, reminding me of the bliss that is the actual nature of my mind.” Thank you very much! You’ve just reminded me that I can generate great bliss, meditate on emptiness, and become a Buddha! In this life. And it is going to be fun doing it because it is so blissful. As Geshe-la says in Tantric Grounds and Paths:

If our mind becomes full of bliss, all phenomena that appear to our mind are mere manifestations of our mind of bliss, because besides this they do not exist at all – like things in a dream.

We begin to enjoy ourselves but in a pure way so that we extract the enjoyment and let it remind us of the potential for bliss and emptiness. Instead of grasping at the external sunshine or person, we let go. We enjoy it when the sun is shining, we enjoy it when the sun goes behind the cloud. We enjoy being with the person, we enjoy it when the person disappears. This is because we are enjoying hanging out with the pure nature of our mind, and allowing ourself love prisonerconstantly to be reminded of what is possible.

Don’t grab, let go!

So, next time you feel the urge to try and grab your object of attachment – physically, verbally, or mentally – pause a moment and do this instead.

We imagine or remember having fun with them. We generate bliss. We let them go, let them dissolve away. We abide in bliss, waves of bliss arising from the root mind at our heart. We remember that nothing exists from its own side, not even them, that everything is mere name, mere hallucination, mere projection. We dissolve everything into bliss and emptiness, with the compassionate wish to become a Buddha and destroylove cosmic everyone’s samsaric hallucinations right now.

We can do that as often as we want until it becomes second nature. Then we will really have transformed objects of enjoyment into the spiritual path, reducing our attachment and increasing our wisdom.

Here are some more articles explaining how to transform enjoyments/desire , as well as other things we can do with this experience. I hope you enjoy the bliss of your own mind today and every day.

Tantra: bliss boost

letting go 7

Carrying on with even more benefits of transforming enjoyments into the spiritual path with the help of the meditation on transforming enjoyments …

Bliss destroys grasping

graspingEven with this simple method of transforming enjoyments, we can learn to associate bliss not with grasping but with letting go. Generally grasping has been the name of the game in the past with objects of attachment – we grasp at the pizza or the body or the sex or the security, and it destroys the enjoyment. Attachment projects that the bliss is coming from the object, nothing to do with our mind, and as a result we grasp at it; and the stronger we grasp at it as pleasure existing outside our mind, the more elusive it becomes because that is not actually where the pleasure is. It is hard to grasp onto something that is not there, but we try. So we have a momentary high if and when we “get” our object, but it quickly fades, as the mechanism is all wrong, we have set it up all wrong.

I can’t get no satisfaction, and I try, and I try. ~ Mick Jagger

For example, think about the last time you had your favorite food or drink. We got some pleasure from the first bite or swig, and we tried to holdletting go 7 onto it, but we couldn’t because the pleasure was not out there. This grasping is coming from ignorance and the subsequent attachment – that thing exists out there AND it is capable of making me happy, therefore I have to have it, I have to grab it, I need it, I need you. And this grasping destroys our pleasure, so it is very short lived. And then we are onto the next thing because our grasping mind is like a monkey, wanting to grab at another piece of fruit. Or a donut after the pizza. Here in Denver people don’t mind lining up for 45 minutes of their precious human life out in the freezing cold for a Voodoo donut (especially if they have the munchies) – after a few mouthfuls of donut, however, it’s enough already, “What can I do now? I know, I’ll go find someone.” It is one thing after another, constantly seeking stimulation, we so-called “desire realm beings”.

When we realize that bliss and happiness don’t come from out there but from in here, we can relax, a lot. We start to associate bliss and happiness not with grasping and holding onto things, but with letting go. In the bliss boost meditation, for example, we developed bliss by remembering or imagining our object, and then we let it go, but the bliss carried on! Interesting. Perhaps the bliss even increased.

A friend and monk, Kelsang Pagpa, puts it this way:

One day we will realize that mixing our mind with the mere absence of the enjoyments that we normally see gives more pleasure than enjoying them with our senses.

Generating bliss

If we have strong concentration and familiarity, we can keep that bliss going for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, when we gain familiarity with generating bliss we don’t even need to remember or imagine something in the first place. We can simply generate bliss using Tantric techniques, for example mixing with our Spiritual Guide at our heart, generating as a Tantric Buddha, and/or meditating on our subtle vajra body.

(There is so much happiness in general to be had from Dharma – from faith, from compassion or love, from wisdom. And it works every time. As my favorite quote goes:

lotus 7Having rejected the supreme joy of the sacred Dharma
That is an endless source of delight,
Why am I distracted by the causes of pain,
Why do I enjoy frivolous amusements and the like?)

So it seems that bliss is already associated with wisdom – there is a natural connection between bliss and wisdom. As the bliss increases, the grasping diminishes — and the other way around, as the grasping diminishes, the bliss increases. So bliss and emptiness go together very very well indeed.

Actually, emptiness is naturally and always appearing to the very subtle mind of great bliss, like water mixed with water; and if we could only experience it, (which we will one day), we’ll discover for ourselves that this mind of bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena.

In ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. ~The New Guide to Dakini Land, p 151.

With Tantra, we can totally let go of external and internal attachments and finally enjoy ourselves. And that enjoyment is profoundly meaningful — leading us closer and closer to the bliss and emptiness of enlightenment, into which pure state we can absorb all living beings, freeing them at once from suffering.

Latest update — August 10th, 2016

Transforming enjoyments was just explained beautifully at the Summer Festival 2016. Here is the verse and explanation we can use if we wish, all taken from Ven Geshe Kelsang’s commentary to the Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

In the Temple of the body of myself as basis Heruka
Appear Heruka Father & Mother, the nature of my purified indestructible white & red drop,
Surrounded by the Heroes & Heroines of the five wheels, the nature of my purified channels & drop elements.
I offer to you, synthesis of all Buddhas of the ten directions,
All my daily enjoyments – eating, drinking, and enjoying any other object of desire.
May I quickly attain enlightenment and become like you so that I will effortlessly benefit all living beings.

While concentrating on the meaning of these words, we enjoy any objects of desire as offerings to the holy beings who reside in the temple of our body. This practice is a special method to transform our daily enjoyments into the quick path to enlightenment. This is Tantric technology.

**********

Tantric empowerments are given regularly at New Kadampa Tradition Centers throughout the world. Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments will be granted in Toronto, NKT Fall Festival 2016.

Tantra: bliss and emptiness

follow your bliss

In the previous article on Tantra, I explain a meditation for overcoming attachment and other delusions that is derived from Buddha’s Tantric methods. Now I want to say a few more things about why I think this meditation is so helpful, practical, and profound.

follow your blissBliss improves concentration

As the experience arising from this meditation is so pleasurable, naturally our mind likes it. When we are experiencing bliss, it is easier to stay concentrated because our mind naturally wants to stay put, to absorb. Ordinarily, it is the opposite – our mind wants to wander. Distractions are overwhelmingly interesting to our monkey mind (even paradoxically when they’re boring or anxiety-provoking), and so concentration is difficult. Now concentration feels easier and distractions relatively powerless.

Buddha understood very well that we like bliss – we love to be ecstatically happy. Our problem is that our bliss is very brief. Ordinarily, we achieve bliss through stimulating ourselves with sense pleasures, from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching beautiful things, and this bliss is fleeting. Yet, we build our lives around it. We chase that high, which is about as successful as trying to grab onto a mirage. If we can give the mind pleasurable feelings, or even bliss, by itself, the attachment within us becomes redundant. We have what we want, so we no longer crave external objects to get us there. Who wants to go chasing after a pizza or a yacht or a boyfriend when we already have it all? The bliss can last. It can cause us to enjoy everything that appears to our mind.

Bliss is in fact in the nature of concentration and a state of mind ­– so the source of our bliss comes from within the mind, not from grasping at external objects.

Once we can dissolve our inner winds into our central channel through Tantric completion stage practice, we experience an unparalleled bliss and level of concentration. As it says in Modern Buddhism p. 194:

The stronger this bliss becomes, the more subtle our mind becomes. Gradually our mind becomes very peaceful, all conceptual distractions disappear, and we experience very special suppleness.

photo 2Use a blissful mind to meditate on other objects

We can use our blissful concentration, at whatever level we are at, to focus on any object of meditation that we choose. For example, we can generate bliss through this method and then meditate on love for all living beings: “May everyone be happy.” And naturally we’ll be able to hold that mind of love much more easily than with an ordinary, crunchy, distracted, non-blissful mind. Most of our objects of distraction are in fact objects of attachment — we want to be somewhere else. What’s for supper? The mind is going somewhere else so we have to keep reining it back in, even when meditating on something as beautiful as love. It is much easier with bliss to stay on our object.

The object that we mainly use bliss to meditate on is the ultimate nature of reality, emptiness, the actual dreamlike nature of things. There are many levels of bliss and, at its deepest most qualified level it is free from mistaken or dualistic appearance and utterly undistracted. Buddha taught how to use this concentrated mind of bliss to meditate on emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, so that we experience the union of bliss and emptiness or Mahamudra. This mind of the clear light of bliss and its main object emptiness mix together like water mixed with water, they go together very well, they belong together. In fact, once you receive a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment we have the commitment to generate bliss six times a photo 2day and then use it to meditate on emptiness. I have wondered what there is not to love about a tradition that obliges you to feel blissful six times a day?!

You can find out more about this essential practice — perhaps the ultimate meditation of the Buddhist Kadampa tradition, the meditation to which all other meditations lead — in the incredible book Mahamudra Tantra.

Even more benefits next time…

What is Tantra?

Clarity

ClarityI wanted to say a bit about what Tantra is within the Buddhist tradition, and how accessible it can be.

Buddhist Tantra is known as the “quick path to enlightenment.” Judging by my local bookstore and a quick Google search, a lot of people might be misunderstanding what Tantra is — for example, it is not about middle-aged couples in Hawaii improving their sex lives. Buddha was a celibate monk and he taught Tantra to many monks and nuns as well as lay people; so Tantra is not what we do with our bodies, particularly our gross fleshy bodies, but with our minds.

Still, Tantra does involve generating a lot of bliss. There are many things we can do with a blissful mind, and a blissful life. Bliss in our heart is a very concentrated state of mind. We sort of know this already from the ordinary bits of bliss we have now from a lovely smoothy or nice romantic encounter — whenever we are experiencing bliss, wild horses can’t pull us away. All we really want is to be blissful, we’d like to be blissful 24 hours a day, at least I would. But our current bliss is exceedingly short-lived. “Desire realm beings,” as Buddha Shakyamuni called us, are constantly searching for the bliss high, the excitement, and then trying to hold onto it; but it is hard to find or hold onto it for any time at all. This is because we’re looking for bliss in entirely the wrong place, namely outside the mind, when in fact bliss is a state of mind.

There are many different levels of bliss, and in Tantra we are aiming at the deepest and most transcendent – the clear light of bliss — which is associated not with our five senses or conceptual thoughts but with the most subtle state of our consciousness.

blissThis blog often talks about our Buddha nature, aka our potential for limitless happiness, freedom, love, and wisdom, our natural kindness, our potential to improve ourselves to perfection … Our Buddha nature is analogous to a sky free from clouds, where our delusions are the clouds that are obscuring the clarity and purity of our mind. Get rid of these bad habits and we would naturally abide in contentment, peace, and purity – this is who we are, it is just that the delusions get in our way.

Our Buddha seed or potential is associated with our most subtle level of mental consciousness that goes from life to life, our root mind at our heart, that one day will become the omniscient mind of a Buddha. We all have this very subtle mind. At the moment it only manifests in deep sleep or when we’re dying, and we’re not mindful of it because it is too subtle for us, we can only deliberately use our grosser levels of consciousness. And the thing is that our actual Buddha nature — our clear light mind, our root mind, our very subtle mind — is not just naturally contented, but naturally blissful.

In Tantra we learn to access this bliss, deeper and deeper feelings of bliss. If we can do this, many good things happen — for one thing we have a blissful life because there is no life outside of our experience of life and we are experiencing bliss. We are also able to concentrate on any object we choose far better because we are enjoying ourselves. If you are blissed out, and someone offers you some worldly enjoyment such as a slice of pizza, you don’t need it, you can take it or leave it; but if your mind is in a state of agitation or craving, it’s like, “Give me something, give me that pizza!” We search outside ourself for happiness, we spend a lot of time waiting; but if we are happy inside, we’re already there.

TantraFor this reason, generating bliss is very helpful for concentration, very undistractable. We can mix it smoothly with any object of meditation, whether that be love, compassion, or indeed the ultimate nature of reality, which is what we mainly want to use our bliss for. Understanding the real nature of ourselves, our world, and other people — that things are not as solid and real as they appear — overcomes our ignorance, the root of all our problems. A subtle, blissful, concentrated mind mixes with emptiness like water mixing with water, so we are quickly able to realize the ultimate nature of things and transform completely into a pure being, someone who is completely free from obscurations and who has manifested and grown all their good qualities. We can quickly gain deep spiritual experience, which is one main reason why Tantra is called the quick path to enlightenment.

Another main reason is because Tantra harnesses the creative power of our imagination. More on bliss and imagination coming soon.

Where is that sound coming from?

Chisato Kusunoki reflection

Chisato Kusunoki reflectionA couple of weeks ago, in London, N and I were invited to a piano recital by an old friend of my parents, who is sponsoring the Japanese pianist Chisato Kusunoki. The elegantly attired audience were seated casually around tables in a dark and stylish lounge, though actually we were in the new (by London theatre standards) St. James Theatre; and Kusonoki’s virtuoso performance included works by Bach, Schumann, Medtner, Moszkowski, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff.

So, as you can see, I am a very cultured person 😉 But the real reason I am writing this is that the performance reminded me of the story of Sadaprarudita told in Heart of Wisdom, and how his teacher Dharmodgata explained emptiness to him using sound as a basis.

The Times said about Kusonoki’s performance: ‘wonderfully fleet and supple fingers, quick to locate the music’s inner voices, able to dapple and perfume.’ I don’t even know what that means, but I like it! Still, how are her fingers able to ‘locate’ the music?! How are they able to produce it? Where is it?

Chisato Kusunoki meditation pianoTo me, it sounded as if she had at least 20 fingers, there was so much noise coming from the piano, or wherever it was coming from, or, for that matter, ending up. But I could never point to the music even if I tried. Perhaps I could try pointing at it, but where would I start? I could point at her left forefinger, or her thumb, or the thumping key of the piano reflected in its shiny lid, or the waving of her elegant hands over the keyboard, or the smile on her face perhaps reflecting her inner enjoyment or astonishing creative memory, or to the composer’s mind, or the microphone, or the sound waves, or my ears, or the space traveled between the piano and the audience’s ears, or our ear consciousness (if it was physical), or… . For the music to appear to our mind, all these components, and more, are essential. Not one of them individually is the music, and yet take even one away and the music vanishes.

Where does each note come from? And where does each note go? What is that space between the notes? Where did one note end and the next begin? Trying to figure this out in St. James Theatre led me into a lovely reverie on the emptiness, or lack of inherent existence, of the music. The music was not ‘out there’ anywhere.

There is no real coming or going

Each elaborate piece was imputed on a stream of sounds, each sound coming from nowhere and going nowhere in order for the next sound to arise, and our minds imputing some kind of continuum on that, to end up with the haunting mellifluence of Chopin’s Nocturnes or the grandiosity of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes. (Ha ha, that’ll have to do for description, I’m not paid to be a music critic. You’ll have to read the fancy reviews for that. I watched a bit of Strictly Come Dancing for the first time yesterday evening and was mainly astounded by the florid verbosity with which the judges described each dance. I could just about come up with ‘That’s nice!’) But the point is, we describe a ‘thing’ as if it were really out there being a thing, we try so hard to label it and itemize it and make it even more of a ‘thing’ — when in fact it came from nowhere and went nowhere, and is completely empty of existing out there or from its own side.

rainbow and meditation on emptinessOn the train down from Liverpool yesterday there was a rainbow appearing out of the space of the sky. The reason it was appearing to me was because of the atmospheric conditions and the position of me, the observer. One moment of rainbow only appeared to cause the next moment of rainbow; that continuum was only imputed by mind. Moment by moment the rainbow was arising in dependence upon causes and conditions that were NOT it. So although it seemed as if the rainbow had a continuum from its own side, each moment of rainbow giving rise to the next moment of rainbow, that seeming continuum was projected only by my mind – in truth, each moment of the rainbow was appearing newly in dependence upon other causes, such as the sun and the moisture and me sitting in the train. None of these things was the rainbow, yet remove one and the rainbow would vanish. It is the same for the music. It is the same for EVERYTHING, even mountains and stars, even you and me. There is no inherently existent coming and going. We impute or project continuity on things with our mind, like perceiving countless still frames of a movie and projecting on them movement.

Where is everything?!

Dharmodgata asked Sadaprarudita:

Where does the sound of the lute come from and where does it go to? Does it come from the strings, from within the lute, from the fingers of the player, from his effort to play, or from elsewhere? And when the sound has stopped, where does it go?

Because Kusonoki’s music depends on things outside itself for its existence, it is empty of inherent, or independent, existence and is a mere imputation or projection of the mind. You cannot find it existing anywhere outside the mind, however hard you try. If you cannot find something existing outside the mind, or from its own side, you can know it doesn’t exist there. For example, we cannot find a dream existing outside the mind or from its own side, so we know it doesn’t exist there. So, where does a dream exist? Where does music exist? Where does anything exist?

Chisato Kusunoki

Where does she keep that vast memory?!

The power of effort and concentration

Everything depends upon the mind. Including of course, as N said during the interval, Kusonoki’s impressive mind. How amazing, he said, that she had managed to memorize every note of the composition and play it flawlessly for over two hours, oftentimes with her eyes closed. The sound flowed effortlessly from her fingertips (or wherever!); she didn’t need to ‘think’ it, more just ‘be’ it. It also made us think how, with familiarity, something beautiful that in reality has taken a great deal of effort and practice become entirely spontaneous and effortless – just like cherishing others or meditating on emptiness if we do it enough. Practice indeed makes perfect. Plus she was enjoying herself so much, even though we knew (from what her sponsor confided to my mother) that she had a head cold. Concentration gets us to this state of effortlessness too, reminding me of one of my favorite TS Eliot quotes:

music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.

A virtuous spiral

Although music is empty of inherent existence, it can still appear in dependence upon many causes and conditions and, when they cease, it can no longer appear. Therefore, there is nothing solid or objective about music – it is a manifestation of its emptiness, with no more concrete existence than yesterday’s rainbow appearing from the empty sky.

Understanding this makes listening to music all the more beautiful and blissful. And in general, the more blissful the mind, the more blissful the music becomes, proving again that the object depends on the mind. (Even without necessarily contemplating emptiness, I could tell that as the audience gradually got into the music, becoming more concentrated and relaxed, they enjoyed the music more and so it sounded better, even though it hadn’t improved from its own side.)

Emptiness and bliss in fact go together very well, like water mixed with water, enhancing each other in a virtuous spiral. But that’ll have to be the subject for another day.

At the end, I thanked Chisato Kusunoki, and said I hoped she’d be able to bring the joy of her music to many thousands of people. She smiled enigmatically. I made a secret prayer that everyone who listens to her accomplishes the realization of bliss and emptiness, and therewith complete mental freedom.

Meanwhile, to test this out for yourself, please do an experiment if you can: next time you listen to music, see if you can find it, and report back.

Blessings are not that mysterious

mysterious blessings

Blessings may be ineffable, but I don’t think they are entirely mysterious. It is possible for our consciousness to be affected by others’ states of mind; in fact it happens all the time.

Have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly hostile but not saying a word nor even making a face – they are just sitting there but their negative energy is practically palpable? Before you know it, you feel uneasy as well, and if you’re not careful you can become quite negative.

Alternatively, have you ever walked into a room where someone is feeling incredibly open and loving, and again they are not saying a word but you can feel their positive energy and it uplifts your own mind?

If we can be affected by ordinary people’s minds in this way, (I think some Western psychologists call it “resonant empathy”), perhaps it is not so hard to get a sense of how blessings work.  As described in What are blessings?, blessings are “transformation through inspiration” — how? By being affected by the infinitely creative, loving and wise minds of holy beings, which are not something we randomly run into but everywhere all the time. The function of a Buddha or enlightened being is to bestow blessings, it is as if they cannot help it! Blessing everyone is their job! My teacher Geshe Kelsang’s definition in Mahamudra Tantra:

Enlightenment is defined as an omniscient wisdom whose nature is the permanent cessation of mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow mental peace on all living beings (by bestowing blessings).

(BTW, anyone whose mind fits the definition above is a Buddha (Sanskrit for “Awakened One”), regardless of what tradition they appear in). Buddhas’ minds are always everywhere, they pervade all phenomena, including us. Why? A Buddha’s mind is inseparable bliss and emptiness free from all obstructions. Everything is always empty of inherent existence. The emptiness of all phenomena is always indivisible with the bliss of a Buddha’s mind.

It is also very helpful to remember that whenever you generate a positive mind, such as love or compassion or inner peace, this is no different to the inner peace of all enlightened beings, you are already mixing your mind with theirs. And recognizing this allows their blessings to pour into you effortlessly.

As mentioned in Blissings, we can receive the blessings of all enlightened beings through our Spiritual Guide. Our Spiritual Guide is able to appear as a person we can relate to — who can teach us or set a good example — but the actual or definitive Spiritual Guide is the so-called “Dharmakaya” (“Truth Body” or omniscient mind). This is described as the “pervasive nature of all things stable and moving”. This verse from Offering to the Spiritual Guide sent (nice) chills down my spine when I first heard it, and still does:

Pervasive nature of all things stable and moving,
Inseparable from the experience of spontaneous joy without obstructions;
Thoroughly good, from the beginning free from extremes,
O Actual, ultimate bodhichitta, to you I make requests.

(Ultimate bodhichitta from a Tantric point of view is the same as Mahamudra, the union of bliss and emptiness. There are different levels of this, and in this verse it is referring to the ultimate bodhichitta that is a Buddha’s omniscient wisdom, which is the Truth Body or Dharmakaya completely free from obstructions).

Everything is always empty of inherent existence, and where there is emptiness there is bliss. They are indivisible. Why?

Vajra and bell, always touching, symbolizing indivisible bliss and emptiness

There is no such thing as an object without a mind (or “object-possessor”) knowing it, and no such thing as a mind (object-possessor) without its object. The object emptiness is not inherently existent or “out there” independent of mind; like everything else its very existence depends on the mind knowing it. Which mind? It is the clear light mind of bliss that knows emptiness non-dualistically, that sees it directly free from any mistaken appearance, which is the actual object-possessor of emptiness. And this mind likewise cannot exist without emptiness as its object. They exist only in relationship to each other — just as you cannot have a husband without a wife or a wife without a husband.

Omniscient wisdom, the nature of bliss, is therefore always mixed inseparably with the emptiness or ultimate nature of all phenomena including you, me and everything else that exists. At the moment I have mistaken appearance that blocks me from seeing this, but it is true, and through blessings I can feel it. Eventually we will realize the union of bliss and emptiness for ourselves.

In this respect, does the Dharmakaya seem so different from my Grandfather’s understanding of a creative God?

I find even my limited and clumsy understanding of how bliss and emptiness pervade all phenomena is crucial to understanding the spiritual technology behind tuning into blessings. Wiser folks than me can make more comments on this in the box below and you can consult Great Treasury of Merit pages 189-91 for incredible commentary on the verse above.

Visualizing blessings as lights and nectars

Bliss is the same nature as love and compassion, and so it radiates eternally and spontaneously from all enlightened beings – hence, “blissings”. To feel that we are receiving blessings having asked for them, it can be really helpful to visualize them flowing from holy beings (or their minds) into us in the form of blissful lights and even nectars — clear light, white light, multi-colored lights, it doesn’t matter, whatever seems right. Different Buddhas are associated with different colors so you can find out about that whenever you want — for example, if you want healing blessings, believe you are receiving blue lights and nectars, for blue is the color of Medicine Buddha.

All traditions understand the power of blessings and anyone can experience them in this way. In fact Jon Dicks says on Facebook: “Maybe what we feel is a akin to the experience of Hildegard of Bingen when she had a vision: ‘And it came to pass, when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming….’  I put this in because many religions, in addition to Buddhism, talk about blessings and being blessed.”

And even if we don’t fully understand the spiritual technology, it still works.

For the previous articles on this subject, see What are blessings? and Blissings.

Your turn: please share your understanding or experience in the comments box below.

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