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Monday, August 11, 2014

Verse 1.6 mahayana sophistry

Mind itself, always complete in its natural expression,
Rests in the womb of uncontrived original nature.
Caught up in logic and analysis, you sophists distort how things are
Because you believe in descriptions of the two truths.
How far away you are, you followers of awakening being philosophy!

I'm not going to explain what the first two lines mean. To do so would be a waste of effort. As Haruki Murakami writes, "If you can't understand it without an explanation, you can't understand it with an explanation."

No insult is intended here. These lines are poetry, though many people interpret them as philosophy and write endlessly about "uncontrived original nature" and "natural expression". When you read these two lines, don't try to understand them. Instead, let them speak to you. The language Jigmé Lingpa uses employs more than a few technical terms, making it a form of poetry which we, in this culture, are no longer used to. Even though we've encountered several of these technical terms already, let me give you a few pointers so that these lines can just speak to you.

Just sit for a few moments, open to everything you experience, everything in the room in which you are sitting, the chairs, tables, desk, carpet, walls, paintings, lighting, ceiling and floor. Open to all the sounds, the hum of appliances, perhaps, the sound of the furnace or air-conditioning, music if you have any playing, voices, and other sounds from neighbors or the street outside, the rustle of the wind, the patter of rain, the hush of snow. Open to all the physical sensations, too, the texture of your clothes, the pressure of the chair against your body, the texture of the fabric, any physical tensions or discomforts in your body. Include tastes and smells, too, if there are any. Then include all the thoughts and feelings that are there, too.

Rest in the field of everything you experience, and then pose the question, "What experiences all this?" Don't try to answer it. Just pose the question and see what happens.

You probably experience a shift. A knowing quality becomes more vivid, perhaps with a sense of spaciousness, too. Rest right there and then pose the question, "What knows this?" Again, you experience a shift (though it may last only a moment before your awareness and attention collapse into thinking).

In that shift, there is no thing, just knowing. It includes everything you experience. Everything you experience arises without restriction, naturally, nothing rejected, nothing missing. The whole is complete in and of itself and the unrestricted arising of experience feels completely natural.

You may also feel that this possibility is always there, that you don't have to do anything to this knowing. It is not something you bring into being or bring out in you. It is just there. It feels like this is what you are, this natural arising of experience that is nothing in and of itself.

Experiences of this sort arise in different ways, and to different degrees. Some people crawl along the ground to have even a glimpse of something like this while others swim in this sea and still others fly in this sky. It doesn't matter. Once you have tasted it, you know it, and the rest of the work is deepening and refinement, and that's what this poem is about.

You are faced with an amazing paradox. On the one hand, you know that there is nothing there, not a thing. On the other, you have the experience of the fullness of life -- thoughts and feelings and sensations that are vivid and clear.

This experience is so meaningful to you, you need to communicate to others. To do so, you feel you must establish it as true, as a valid cognition (to use another technical term). How do you communicate an experience that seems so paradoxical, yet it so vivid and clear? Your rational mind insists that you find a way to reconcile these two aspects.

In a moment of brilliance, you see that there have to be two truths, one that says there is nothing there, and one that says that things appear anyway. Done! And now you go to work, figuring out detailed philosophical explanations that prove that what you experienced is true and valid.

Alas, it doesn't work. Despite your carefully constructed arguments and flawless logic, something always seems to be missing. No matter how lucid your explanations, no matter how carefully you analyze perception and cognition, other people don't have the same experience, or understand yours. Yet you want to help them wake up to what you know to be true. You find new and more subtle ways to explain and justify your analysis. You debate your formulations with others, constantly refining them, but more and more you are caught up in logic, analysis, definitions, arguments. Your original experience now seems like a distant and vague memory. Was it a dream? You have your philosophy, but much as you value it, it has no power. You have lost your original path and now wander along the pathways of the intellect, adding argument to argument, constructing sophisticated lines of reasoning that go nowhere.

As with those who fall into belief, the road back for those who rely on their intellect is long and difficult. How did you end up like this?


EndlessRiver said...

Thank you, Ken. I like this verse a lot and your translation of it.

Jigmé Lingpa obviously knows the human mind all too well! Two lines telling us just to rest in uncontrived experience are immediately followe by two more telling us (as I see it) not to grasp onto explanations of experience as the truth and maybe even warning against taking 'uncontrived original nature' to be a thing.

It is so much easier to believe we have understood how things are than remain alive to newness in every moment, but far less rich. It is perhaps interesting to note that The Fool is seen as both the first and last card in a Tarot deck. Childlike wonder does not rely on philosophy.

Michele Miley said...

Greetings Ken,

Just a quick note of thanks. Your appearance in my in-box always seems to come at the right time.

Yes, once the life is graced with the taste of dharmadatu, there is never a not-knowing. The challenge is to continue in the embrace, breathing gently with gratitude and wonderment. Taking this into the intention of trondu, for the benefit of all beings circling in samsara and nirvana.

Tashi delek,

Jj Simon said...

I like the translation of this verse except for the term Sophist. I didn't know what this word meant so I looked it up. My understanding of the definition seems to sum up an expert. In some cases one who is wise.
The definition didn't equate it with the trap of intellectualism.
I tend to think of Western Philosophy as generally being concerned with deep thoughts. "I think there fore I am" etc. As opposed to bare experience which I feel is well described in this verse and the following commentary.
The addiction to thinking our way out of the "Problem" needs to be addressed again and again. I would assume that this has not changed since Jigme Lingpas time.

dwight said...

I am not an adept in Buddhist philosophy, nor would I consider myself proficient in western philosophy. I do appreciate your work, what little I have read.

It would seem to me in this entry of yours that there is an aversion to western philosophy, to the benefits of logical thinking. experience brings its own information. the observer is the observed, as Krishnamurti was fond of saying. logic permits us to contemplate and explore the depth of experience. logical negativity is a way to approach the otherwise inexplicable.

in my own work I am more at home in western traditions of logic. this does not infer an aversion to oriental thought. but i admit my understanding of things is limited. would you be kind enough to clarify if what i sensed has any merit in your eyes, that in being anti-intellectual you are favouring one ontology over another?

be well, dwight

Diane de Ford said...

The verse and commentary are both very potent. Thank you for the clarity.

I understand the paradox as needing conceptual mind to make sense of what appears, while getting out of my own way to see things as they are!

Much appreciation for considering comments in all forms...

Bob Freeborn said...

Thank you, Ken. Your words often take me to a place where words fear to tread, and this post especially so.

I love "Once you have tasted it, you know it, and the rest of the work is deepening and refinement..." Very clarifying and useful for me.

This quote from one of Jack Kornfield's teachers (I don't remember which one) seems apt here re: the amazing paradox:

"Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two, my life flows"

If I may:

nothing special,
like returning
to the womb

then it is,
and we slide
back out again

Kaz said...

Re: “As with those who fall into belief, the road back for those who rely on their intellect is long and difficult. How did you end up like this?”

“Falling into belief” is a very helpful reminder.
Even though I don’t think of myself at all as an intellectual, I think that since I do follow, and am very thankful for, the teachings and material presented in offerings like Unfettered Minds, then maybe…hmm… I do know that my road has been long but has had several ah-ha moments along the way. I think that it’s these ah-ha moments that compel me on.

Quite often those moments are triggered by poetry and the written word, I guess you could say, the intellectual stuff. One of those ah-ha moments came from this Nagarjuna poem which I found when I was following the bread crumb trail of “Two Worlds” (There is No Enemy session 2). I think gives another perspective of this verse 6 and commentary:

The dharma taught by buddhas
Hinge on two truths:
Partial truths of the world
And truths which are sublime.
Without knowing how they differ,
You cannot know the deep;
Without relying on conventions,
You cannot disclose the sublime;
Without intuiting the sublime,
You cannot experience freedom.
- Nagarjuna

Verses From the Centre (Stephen Bachelor)