When the way you are renders the ups and downs of life of no consequence,
The conventions of outlook, practice and action simply evaporate.
Yet because of your investment in intelligent and skilled behavior,
Behavioral tantra wears you out — doing when there is nothing to be done.
How tiring your chosen disciplines, you followers of behavioral philosophy!
It is no small feat to reach the point where you are not concerned with the ups and downs of life. The Zen story of the hermit accused by a young woman of fathering her child is the paradigmatic example. But the story says nothing about what the hermit experienced internally. It only records what he said and did. Aristotle’s idea that the truly virtuous person is not even tempted is wonderful, too. Such inner peace! In practice, however, these stories and examples often lead people to suppress their emotions and feelings in an attempt to conform to these ideals.
A friend of mine, a Zen teacher of many years of experience, told me that she felt her practice was incomplete because she was feeling more than a little anxious at the prospect of her husband’s coming brain surgery. She felt that she should be able to accept whatever happened with equanimity. Another colleague, again with many, many years of experience in practice and teaching and who has a delightfully wicked sense of humor, insisted that she had to give up her sense of humor for the sake of practice. Perhaps, but I see things differently.
We are humans and we love those close to us, we care about them deeply and we experience pain and grief when we are separated from them. We feel anger for those who would or do hurt us or those close to us. The teachings of mind training and other practices show us how to use those feelings and how to use adversity (as well as good fortune) to deepen our relationship with life itself. They don’t tell us not to have those feelings. They don’t tell us not to cry. And they certainly don’t tell us not to laugh. And, yes, it is possible to come to the place where we genuinely feel love and caring for those who hurt or harm us or cause great suffering for others. Yet that love and caring, while they open up extraordinary possibilities, do not blind us to what needs to be done when problems arise.
In the practice of direct awareness, mind is likened to the sky. What about the weather? The wind blows, clouds form and grow into thunderstorms or hurricanes. Lightning flashes. Thunder crashes. Winds howl Rain and hail fall, often with great force. At other times, fog forms and one can barely see one’s own hand. Then the sun shines and everything is bathed in its warmth and light. Through it all, the sky doesn’t stop being the sky. In the same way, the ups and downs of life stir up storms within us, bring us great joy and happiness, utter peace and heartache beyond bearing. The question is can you be in what is arising, experiencing it in all its intensity, and be the sky at the same time?
When you can, as Jigmé Lingpa says, the conventions of outlook, practice and action evaporate. Lines such as this are often misinterpreted and taken to mean that you are no longer bound by conventional mores, that everything you do is the manifestation of some sort of “crazy wisdom”. Not at all. To me, this line means that the conventional distinctions, the usual designations, no longer mean anything.
When you can be present in the mess of life itself, you no longer approach practice in terms of “This is the outlook that I hold, this is the practice that I do, this is the kind of action that supports and gives expression to the practice.” That way of practice is analogous to sounding out the words when you are learning to read. When you can actually read, you don’t sound out the words. You just read.
Whether the mess is wonderful beyond imagination or painful beyond belief, you are, at the same time, the sky. There is an openness and clarity in your experience that the conceptual mind cannot touch. You trust that open clarity for it is, as far as one can say these things, what you are, and you are prepared, even committed, to live it, to be it and receive whatever weather life brings you.
This way of being in the world, a way that is not concerned with happiness or unhappiness, gain or loss, respect or disdain, fame or obscurity, is not for everyone. Many people, when faced with the vast openness and utter groundlessness of such a life, of living moment to moment guided only by that open clarity, turn away. They use their practice, their chosen disciplines, to figure out the right action in each and every situation, employing intelligence on one hand and skill on the other, where intelligence is the ability to make appropriate distinctions and skill is the ability to sense and do what the situation calls for and no more. This is a noble way to live and much good comes from it.
These disciplines, however, are really intended to bring you in touch with your reactive patterns in such a way that you have to cut through their operation again and again, again and again coming into that openness and groundlessness. It’s a very different matter when you use those same disciplines to maintain your sense of yourself, to define your world and what is right and wrong. This is how you become emotionally invested in them. All that you do may be good because of the intelligence and skill you employ, but you are not free. You have to work at your life, more like the gardener who carefully waters the flowers than the rain that just falls from from the sky.