Sunday, August 3, 2014

Verse 1.3 Philosophers

What is it like when you turn your back on the natural path?
Because you are overwhelmed by mistaken beliefs,
You become puritanical, clinging to 
A single tenet of some flawed metaphysical theory —
How reactive, you irrational extremist! 

From the dzogchen point of view, all you have to do is sit, rest, and do nothing, and let all the confusion of mind sort itself out, until mind (the way you experience life) becomes utterly clear, empty and free of any restriction. This natural path sounds simple, but it is not easy, if only because the conditioning that prevents us from knowing this clarity and freedom is so very powerful. It is no small matter to develop the ability to rest at peace in whatever arises in experience. You need the willingness to do so, skill or know-how to meet what arises and the capacity to be present in what you experience without becoming lost in it. I've written about these three qualities and what it is like to do nothing, for even a relatively short period of time.

Ajahn Chah says, “If you want to practice meditation, put a chair in the center of the room. Sit in the chair. See who comes to visit.” Most of us don’t have sufficient willingness, skill or capacity just to experience the visitors, to the let them come and go like thieves in an empty house. We are flooded with ideas of what should or shouldn’t be happening, of how things are or how they should be. As a reaction to the chaos, we reduce everything to a single principle, a single perspective. It works as an anchor, a reference point or a way of organizing our experience. Here are some examples: “I exist throughout time.” “I think, therefore I am.” “I am one with the universe.” “I exist independently of what I experience.” “I am nothing more than the neurochemical processes in my brain and body.” “I am just an instrument of God’s will.” “I am an illusion.” “I am what I experience.” “I am the author of my life.” “I can attract whatever I need by an act of will.” None of these are true, of course, but every one of them (and many others) have been a fundamental tenet of one religion or another.

Each of these metaphysical views gives us something to hold onto, something to believe in, so that we know what we are and, just as importantly, what we are not. Anything that opposes our belief or calls it into question we see as a threat. Anything that reinforces or corroborates it we regard as “right” or “true”. Holding more and more to our idea of right and true, we become increasingly rigid and reactive, often relying on elaborate reasoning to establish, justify and defend our position. Most of the time we do not even see how irrational or extreme we have become, nor the prison we have built for ourselves.


In terms of practice, the way out is to notice whenever extremist thinking arises. Any time you here yourself use the words “never”, “always”, “must” or “have to”, you can be pretty sure that a pattern is doing the talking. Whenever you take an extreme position, you are in the grip of a pattern. As soon as you say “never” or “always”, you have shut down a possibility. In all likelihood, something has come up in you that you are not willing, aren’t able or don’t know how to experience. Your position is a reaction to that. Thus, whenever you hear yourself use any of those phrases, or anything similar, stop. Take a breath. Open to what you are experiencing, first in your body, then in your heart, and see what happens.

1 comment:

Kaz said...

I smiled when I read this because in my own experience, it is right on.
Re: “As a reaction to the chaos, we often reduce everything to a single principle, a single perspective.”
For a few decades, while between “spiritual” communities, my mantra/acid test was: Reality if it is reality, cannot be changed. Like this verse 3 and the commentary exposes, it was all I needed because it was truly right-thinking, always useful, and very comfortable.

One of the first shake-ups of this blissful state was when my teacher gave us the Ajahn Chah mediation to practice.