Deep healing

8 mins & a video

An old friend of mine, a naturopath, has had a lot of success in healing people simply by telling them — confidently — to drop down into their hearts and feel they’re experiencing their own pure, peaceful natures, the restorative power of their own deep clear light awareness. He has been healing people like this for years, sometimes from intractable mental and physical problems that other medicines and therapies have not been able to touch.

beautiful heartExtraordinary, really, and it speaks to me of the importance of being direct and confident in our spiritual or meditation practice as well, not beating about the bush but heading straight for the source. So I thought I’d say a few things about that, starting with a little background.

The journey into the heart

We can travel all the way to enlightenment by learning to absorb deeply into our heart chakra, such that we manifest our own clear light mind. In fact, it is the only way to do it. As Buddha Shakyamuni says:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha. You should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

As the saying goes, the most important journey we will ever make is the journey into our heart.

It is inspiring to understand that inside us, at all times, is this indestructible potential for lasting happiness, healing, and freedom from all suffering. It is called our Buddha nature. Everyone has it.

There are different ways of talking about this potential – in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang says our compassion is our Buddha nature or Buddha seed because it is our compassion that will grow into enlightenment.

Elsewhere he says that our very subtle mind and body are our Buddha nature because these are the substantial causes of the mind and body of an enlightened being (rather as a rose seed is the substantial cause of a rose bush). In other words, we already have the actual ingredients for enlightenment inside us; nothing needs to be added, we just need to grow it.

Sometimes our Buddha nature refers to the emptiness of our clear light mind, which allows for everything and anything to appear and exist.

Through any of these explanations, we can understand that our mind is not set in concrete, however much it may seem like that some days; but can heal, purify, and transform completely. This means that we ourselves are also not at all fixed, but can and will one day become completely different people.

Whatever has happened up to now, if we go on this spiritual journey our future will be an entirely better story. We will end up completely free and blissful, day and night, life  radiate loveafter life, and able to bring others to the same state.

The goal …

The goal of Buddhist meditation is to use Tantric technology to deliberately manifest our very subtle mind of great bliss and use it to realize its perceived object, the emptiness of all phenomena. This bliss radiates eternally to all living beings as compassion, blessing them with mental peace. It mixes with the true nature of all phenomena, emptiness, like water mixing with water.

So cultivating bliss and emptiness, compassion and wisdom, are the way to go and the way to grow! And we also impute ourselves on this bliss and emptiness with correct imagination, thinking “This is me”, to attain enlightenment as fast as possible, even in this one short life.

Here is an illuminating extract from the teachings by Gen-la Khyenrab at the recent International Kadampa Festival in Portugal:

… is within reach already

Modern Buddhism emphasizes bringing this goal, or result, into the path. In other words, rather than laboriously working our way through all the stages of the path in a dualistic fashion — wherein we are over here all restricted and the realizations are light years away over there all transcendent — we can dip into them every day. Bathe in them, even.

Then we don’t have to wait forever to have them.

Try this for a moment if you like …

Gently close your eyes and imagine you drop from your head into your heart chakra (in the center of your chest cavity). Feel that your cloud-like distractions and worries have dissolved into an empty-like space in your heart, an inner light, like an infinite clear sky — just imagine. Feel your way into that peace, and think “This peace, however slight or relative, is my indestructible Buddha nature, my potential for lasting peace and mental freedom. It is who I really am.” It is also tuned into the enlightenment of all Buddhas. I can trust it. Believe that everything has dissolved away into the emptiness of this mind because nothing is as solid or as concrete as you thought. Bathe in that for a few moments or longer.

(By the way, if you’re not a Buddhist you can still do this — tuning into whatever holy or divine being works for you.)

reflection emptiness 2

So we dive or drop into our hearts and simply imagine, based on whatever understanding we have so far, that we are experiencing that bliss and wisdom right now. This is not make-believe going nowhere – as Gen-la Khyenrab says in that video above, imagination functions. All our thoughts are paths leading somewhere. Everything starts in the imagination. Then we can do all our step-by-step meditations in that context, not in the context of being an ordinary, deluded, inherently miserable person.

For the point is, the limited self we normally see and relate to doesn’t even exist; so there is really not much point in practicing Dharma, or meditation, in the context of that self, while believing in that self and buying into its limitations. It is far more effective and enjoyable to learn to practice in the context of feeling blissful, believing in and buying into the adamantine purity and goodness of our root mind. I mentioned this a bit before in an article where I explained how I like to meditate “backwards”, as it were.  

emptiness reflection 2I don’t think it matters how vague this bliss and emptiness are to begin with, it is still worth getting started. If we don’t take a few moments each day to dive in — to imagine dissolving ourselves and everything else away into this bliss and emptiness — our ordinary appearances and conceptions will for sure overpower us. We will go round continuing to assume that we are ordinary, others are ordinary, this world is ordinary. These ideas are not true, and both they and their objects are false hallucinations projected by the impure minds of self-grasping and ordinary conceptions. But they are so convincing and so deceptive that we can spend years lost in them.

I have met a lot of people who stop practicing meditation because they get immersed in appearances, too closely involved in the external situation as Geshe Kelsang puts it, like a dog with a bone; and in the “real” busyness of ordinary life simply forget to journey within. Only years later, when they come back to a meditation class or retreat, they realize, “I forgot who I really was! I forgot this alternative existed.” I think this scenario is something to watch out for because we are all subject to forgetfulness.

Healing ourselves, healing others

Now that we know that there’s an alternative to samsaric selves, places, and enjoyments, I think we owe it to ourselves not to forget. We can take a little time daily to taste the restorative, healing power of our own peaceful mind, for then we can regularly observe for ourselves that the neurotic or unlovable or unloving version of ourself doesn’t actually exist. So we’ll know for ourselves that we may as well stop right now trying to make that self we normally see happy or to solve its hallucinatory issues because it’s literally a fool’s game.

We can dive into our heart and experience the deeply healing power of truth, versus pandering to the barely existing but psychotropic projections that our ignorant mind takes to be concrete reality. We can let go of the thought and the labels “self”, “mine”, and “other”. “Stop grasping at labels” as Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in his Universal Compassion oral teachings. After all, everything is unfindable upon analysis. Everything is mere name. So why not rename ourselves?

No one is forcing us to keep grasping at a concrete reality that is not there. Believe me, no one needs us to be doing this.

Just as one drowning person cannot save another, however fervently he or she may wish to, so we cannot help others much if we are drowning ourselves. We need to be on at least some dry patch of reality.

I think that most of us could probably do with more confidence and directness in our approach to meditation. Bringing the result into the path is hallmark of our tradition, starting from the outset of our practice. We don’t need to skirt around the bliss and emptiness that is reality; we need to go for it as soon as possible — why not right now? We can trust it, take refuge in it. Then we can sort out our issues within the perspective of infinite space and freedom — and this process becomes so much more enjoyable, not to mention effective!

wings of a birdDharma teachings are not intended to make us all hung up on what is inherently wrong with us – there is nothing inherently nor permanently wrong with us, our problems and delusions are ephemeral clouds in the sky. (Check out these articles for more tips on how to overcome our faults and delusions without buying into them.)

We are not working our way up to blissful non-dualistic wholeness from a distant ordinary place, an OTHER place, a place of inherent lack. We are realizing that this is who we already are from one perspective, and we just need to gain this perspective. This is the quickest path to transformation.

Practicing as if no one is watching

And, by the way, while we’re working on getting enlightened we don’t need to prove anything to ourselves or to anyone else. Thinking that we do is just another elaboration, another ego game. It is another way we distance ourselves from our own wellbeing and reify our painful, limited sense of self by feeling alternately proud and/or bad about it. I personally like to practice as if no one is watching.

The second half of this article is coming soon, including some tips and tricks for getting quickly into our heart. Meanwhile, over to you … was this helpful or not? Anything to add?

Related articles

Enlightenment is reality 

Meditating “backwards”

Bringing the result into the path 

Start where you are 

Are we hallucinating all this?!

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.

Good night, sweet Prince

U turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin’ U somebody died ~ Sign o the Times

PrinceI wonder if celebrities everywhere are getting nervous?! But of course it was forever thus. None of us gets out of here alive, famous or otherwise. As a friend put it, rather well I thought: “We all have a shelf life. When our expiration date is up, that’s it. … We are all at the big funeral everyday.”

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life.

I liked Prince but wasn’t intending to write anything about his death – that is, until I saw this arresting Facebook post by the same person who wrote this last article:

What I Learned from Prince’s Death

* Death can come suddenly at any time – no one is immune.

* Fame means nothing at the time of death.

* Everybody loves you when you’re dead, but it’s too late then.

* It’s only when you’re dead that you would realise from everyone’s reactions what your life meant to them, but you’ll never see it.

Prince 1* Obviously, you don’t exist in a post-you world; everything and everyone has to go on without you, and they do, no matter how indispensable you think you are.

* When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.

* Whether you have lots of talent and are famous, or not, death treats everyone the same: extinction of ‘you’.

* Death shows there is no real meaning in this ordinary human life: everything you were ends instantly, unexpectedly and finally.

* Your wealth means nothing as it becomes someone else’s – even your clothes aren’t yours.

* Life is an unfinished story because it ends for you but not for everyone you know.

This got me thinking. And wanting to add something to these points in particular: “Everybody loves you when you’re dead but it’s too late then” and “When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.”

How is it that we keep affecting people after we’re dead? And I mean not just emotionally, but karmically? Prince is dead, yes, but he has not inherently ceased and still has a connection with the beings of this world, whose love and well wishes are having some effect on his mental continuum – that’s how transference of consciousness and other prayers for the deceased work too. His music will still give pleasure – so, providing he had the intention to give people happiness, he will still create some merit, or good karma, from it.

I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain.

According to Van Jones, his friend and a CNN commentator, Prince was a humanitarian but wasn’t allowed to talk about his numerous good deeds as he was a Jehovah’s witness. So news of these is just emerging now.

It’s not all over

Prince 3The dream that was Prince’s life is ended, for sure, but it is not inherently over, any more than yesterday or even the moment before this one has inherently ceased. Our life is a cause leading to an effect, not to non-existence. Of course there is no more access to his body or gross personality or the identity “Prince”, but Prince was only ever mere imputation anyway. We are still all connected to that living being, just as we are always interdependent with all living beings. We cannot separate ourselves out from others and they in turn are affected by everything we do. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:

It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness

And this truth spans life and death. We are each waves made up entirely of one another and all arising from the ocean of clear light, the very subtle mind. (More on this later.)

This is why love is the answer, as it is the natural response to reality; and why what Prince did does mean something, not nothing, though he most likely won’t remember. (As for the fame part, I agree that fame is meaningless after we die, which makes it meaningless now too, unless we are using it for good.)

Creativity

We need to make our lives count with our mental actions, for sure, because they are the most creative actions – with our thoughts we create our world. But we also make our lives count with physical and verbal actions, leaving something intentionally helpful and uplifting behind us too if we can, such as a temple or other tangible improvement in others’ lives. Geshe Kelsang says, for example, when talking about helping at Kadampa centers, “We are working for future generations.”

Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.

How we use our creativity as modern Buddhists is still new territory over here in the West – in Tibet, there was no art outside of painting Buddhas, no music outside of spiritual chanting, and so on; the culture was entirely different. But over here, to “remain natural while changing our aspiration” may mean that between us we need to hijack today’s culture to our own and others’ spiritual ends as much as we can. That’s why I am hijacking some of Prince’s lyrics and quotes for this article 🙂

The Forgetting Time.jpgMy take on it so far — and I am totally open to ideas in the comments — is this. The ultimate spiritual goal of human life is attaining enlightenment for the sake of all living beings because that is the way to fulfill all our own and others’ purposes. That is our main job, our main creativity. And making Buddha’s teachings accessible to as many people as possible by helping meditation centers and so on also seems important because if we don’t do it, who will, plus it is powerful karma. Within that, with an increasingly good motivation and skill, we can embrace and enjoy our creativity however it manifests — eg, film-making, painting, music, song-writing — and channel it into helping others. A lot of people are doing this already, it is I think inevitable; and I also think it will make Buddhist meditation relevant to more and more people — bring it into the global mainstream as an idea whose time has come. For example, this readable new novel, The Forgetting Time, is bringing the idea of past and future lives to a huge audience that possibly would never have considered it otherwise.

New world needs spirituality that will last. 

Good night and thank you

Wishing Prince a swift rebirth in the Pure Land surrounded by the celestial music of offering gods and goddesses. Or, to hijack the Bard:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Lamrim, Lojong, and Mahamudra

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.

What’s really going on in New York City?

Halloween 1We stumbled into a metamorphosized New York on Halloween, a veritable charnel ground, when we decided to watch the parade down in the Village. The altered reality started for me on the subway, people dressed in outlandish costumes and behaving larger than life, but I was not expecting the sheer torrent of ghouls, torture victims, skeletons, Playboy bunnies, Spidermen, Spiderwomen, Clark Kents, bananas, skyscrapers, and slices of pizza with eyes we encountered from the moment we exited a 6th Avenue subway and were herded in some strange dream down the sidewalk by a (genuine) New York cop. I saw another cop standing commandingly on a bench, and flinched as he turned to point his gun at me – turned out to be plastic, of course. (Thought you weren’t allowed to impersonate police officers?!) I saw a homeless person in a doorway – only he turned out to be “real”. I saw someone with folds of flesh hanging from his face – he sadly turned out to be “real” too. So did a couple of dogs, visitors from the animal realm, who were looking around in absolute bewilderment.

Halloween 2But although all appearances are deceptive all the time, sometimes it is even harder than usual to tell what is “real” and what is “pretend”. Wave after wave of vampires, bubbles, jellyfish, cuddly tigers, drag queens, schoolchildren, footballers, skeletons  – the sidewalk every bit as outlandish as the parade. We walked for miles with no let up, Gotham simply teeming with strange creatures, like some kind of Star Trek convention, only weirder. Me and my companion were wearing jeans, woolly hats, thick jerseys, and Patagonia overcoats (it was freezing, though try telling that to the Playboy bunnies and gay prostitutes) – the party-goers were probably guessing we were dressed up (maybe a bit too) convincingly as boring, straight, middle-aged friends from somewhere (anywhere) other than the coolest city on the planet, if they noticed us at all.

There is nothing fixed about us at any time. We tell stories about ourselves to ourselves and then believe them as the gospel truth, even though our sense of self changes from day to day, from hour to hour, and perhaps especially on Halloween, America’s favorite holiday.  So who were these New Yorkers? Who did they think they were for that one night only?! And could you really say that they were the “same” people we saw in their macs and umbrellas the following grey morning? Did they believe their own new identity, or after a few minutes were they having “normal” conversations based on their normal personas, forgetting they were Halloween 6supposed to be the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man? We did witness quite a few arguments, one ballerina screaming, “We were trying to have a good time, and you RUINED it! You ignored me! You are totally different with your friends!” (I wonder whether his friends are also Yetis.) Is she always high-strung, or was she relating to herself as a beautiful but half-starved neurotic dancer?! Is it easier or harder to have a good time in samsara when you are masquerading as some other samsaric being? Or are all worldly appearances deceptive and, sooner or later, painful? Is there happiness to be found as any being in any realm in samsara, from the scary denizens of the hells, to the spirits and ghouls, to the leopards, to the Hollywood royalty? I didn’t see anyone dressed up as a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Now, that might have worked. But I have to say that me and my friend were not finding it too hard in this surreal scene to self-generate as undercover Heruka and Vajrayogini in the charnel grounds of the Tantric mandala, and as a result had a pretty blissful, meaningful evening.

Halloween 3Appearance vs reality, I was thinking (amongst other things). Where were we?! Where are we?! What is really going on? Where is New York? Totally unfindable! The New York of Friday 31st bore no resemblance to the New York of the following morning, but what actually changed? Like a dream, Halloween minds ceased and their appearances simply disappeared, coming from nowhere, going nowhere. Where are you right now? Who are you? There is nothing actually there, which means we can be anyone and we can be anywhere, as long as we don’t grasp at any of it.  When we understand how all conventional truths are created by the mind of self-grasping, as Geshe-la explains in The New Heart of Wisdom, we know not to fully trust our senses or even what our gross conceptual thoughts are telling us. Appearances are deceptive … unless they are appearing as not other than emptiness. We are constantly hallucinating to a greater or lesser degree. We have gross or subtle inappropriate attention going on pretty much 24/7.

Halloween 4For ordinary beings, our minds and their objects deceive us, are more trick than treat. In which case, what can we trust? I think we can trust: faith in the possibility of transcendent, pure worlds, beings, and minds; renunciation for the samsara created by the hallucinatory minds of self-grasping and self-cherishing; compassion for dream-like suffering; love; bodhichitta; the first 5 perfections — any of the so-called “method” practices. We can rely on these states of mind, even more so if we are gradually imbuing them with the wisdom understanding that nothing is really there, meaning that trying to fix things just “out there” is like trying to move objects around in a dream or on a movie screen.

One day our direct realization of appearance and reality as being one truth will mean we can stay single-pointedly absorbed in the ultimate nature of reality while simultaneously emanating countless appearances to help others, vis-a-vis we will have attained enlightenment. But for this to happen, I think now is a good time to understand that the only object Halloween 5which exists exactly as it appears, or in other words is 100%  trustworthy, is the emptiness of inherent existence. (This is the absence of things existing from their own side, as anything more real than dream-like mere appearance.) Moreover, although love is essential, compassion is indispensable, and so on, the only mind we can trust completely is the very subtle mind of clear light, in which all the things we normally see have disappeared and to which emptiness/reality is always appearing.

Halloween in New York reminded me of all this, and how important it is to train and purify my mind, to break through all the phantasms and disguises, until I see the truth directly.