Sunday, September 7, 2014

Verse 1.9: deity practice, working with symbols

No outside, no inside and nothing between — that quality of attention is
Mind itself, free from conceptual distortions.
When you think in terms of symbols, what is profound and clear is distorted.
How ineffective, you followers of union philosophy!

Over and over again we are told that all experience is mind, but many people have difficulty understanding what this means. 

Take sight, for instance. We see a flower. Ordinarily, we experience the flower to be outside us. It’s “out there”. Then we study Buddhism and we run into lines such as “When you look at an object, there is no object, you see mind.” And we try to figure out how to experience everything as mind.

A monk had studied for many years and felt that he had come to a good understanding. One day, he went to his teacher and said, “I’m ready to leave — to go wandering and to test my understanding with other teachers.” 

The teacher nodded and said, “Very well. I’m not so sure, but I’ll see you to the gate.” 

At the main gate of the monastery, they said their farewells. Then, as the student was about to set out on his way, his teacher asked, “Do you see that big boulder over there? Is it in your mind or outside your mind?” 

The student, confident in his studies, replied, “It’s in my mind.” 

“Ah,” sighed his teacher, “You are going to get tired very quickly if you have to carry that boulder on your journey. Perhaps you should stay and practice a bit more.”

The confusion here is about perception. One way to dispel the confusion is to turn attention from what is seen to the seeing itself. When you look at a flower, you see the flower. When you look at a boulder, you see the boulder. In either case, where is the seeing?  

When you look at the seeing itself, it’s very difficult to say where it is. It  doesn’t seem to be outside, and it doesn’t seem to be inside, either. It’s definitely not in between because you can’t figure out where that would be at all. These categories just don’t seem to apply. It’s very curious. We have the experience of seeing, but we cannot say where that experience takes place. (One might argue using a neurological explanation and say the seeing takes place in the brain. But that view is beside the point because we do not experience seeing taking place in the brain.)

When you look at the seeing itself, what has happened? Perhaps you noticed that when you look this way, thinking stops. You are just looking. If you have sufficient stability in your attention, you can rest in that looking. As long as you are looking at the seeing, there is no thinking. There is just knowing. This knowing is in the direction of mind itself — a knowing free from the conceptual distortions of thinking.

Union tantra (yoga tantra) is the transition from an external form of practice (working through ritual and behavior) to an internal form of practice (working directly with what arises in your experience). In order to facilitate this transition, the profound and clear openness or emptiness of mind is given symbolic expression as a deity. You form a connection with this openness through a set of practices (a sadhana or method of practice) based on your identification with this deity. This connection is experiential, not conceptual. You experience being the deity, appearance in form that arises vividly and clearly out of absolutely nothing and dissolves back into nothing, like a cloud in the sky.

Jigmé Lingpa points to a problem that often arises in this approach. Explicitly or implicitly, we come to believe in the magic of the deity and forget that it is an expression, a symbol, of what we are. That subtle attachment keeps us in the conceptual realm and renders our efforts ineffective. 


The way out is exactly the same as the way out with the flower or the boulder. Periodically, shift attention from your sense of being the deity to asking, “Where is this experience?” Thinking, even subtle thinking, stops right there and you find you are holding onto nothing — nothing whatsoever.

1 comment:

Kaz said...

This verse and commentary got me thinking about what are today's rituals, deities, and symbols that can serve as reminders to look at what-is-experiencing-this. Here are a few that resonate for me;
• Rituals: celebrations, memorial events, journaling, lighting a candle
• Modern day deities/role models like; Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Joan Miro
• Symbols as big as the “seven wonders of the world” (whatever seven you choose; original, ancient, modern, natural, etc.) and as close as a sentimental keepsake