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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Verse 2.1 — Ground, path and fruition in dzogchen

Wonder of wonders!

My nature is great completion.
Complete — all experience, patterned or free, is free of anything to discard or attain. 
Complete — the essence of all spiritual instruction is utterly natural release.
Complete — the essence of all outlook is no conceptual position.
Complete — every path of practice ends in making no effort.
Complete — all guidelines end in no do’s or don’t’s.
Complete — the essence of result is to be free of hope.
And this term “complete” is just a concept, too.

Having pointed out the ways we fall into problems no matter how sophisticated, subtle or potent a practice we pursue, Jigmé Lingpa now turns to the non-practice practice of dzogchen or “great completion”. The term dzogchen རྫོགས་ཆེན was initially translated as great perfection, but as Westerners gained more experience and understanding, they came to appreciate that the perfection described here was more a sense of completeness than a sense of an ideal. Thus, most translators now use the term completion rather than perfection.

Line 1: My nature is great completion.
Samantabhadra speaks in the first person now and describes how experiences arise for him. This is important to remember as this kind of writing is primarily descriptive, not prescriptive. Over the centuries, people have often taken it as prescriptive and turned it into instructions, philosophies and moral guidelines. In effect, they took a description of a result as an instruction in method, rather like taking "being fit" as a method for exercise.

My own reading is that Jigmé Linpga, using the literary conventions of his day, is expressing his joy and wonder at this way of experiencing life and describing how things appear to him — including, as in the first section of this poem, the folly of trying to make anything happen.

When I read passages such as these next six lines, I marvel at the richness and intricacy of this poetry. What seems like a simple series of negations actually has a definite structure that leads the reader through two carefully interwoven frameworks. The first framework is ground, path and fruition, and applies to lines 2, 3 and 7. The second framework is outlook, practice and behavior, and applies to lines 4, 5 and 6. The two converge in line 7. In line 8, in a gesture worthy of Zen, the whole idea is thrown away.

Line 2: Complete — all experience, patterned or free, is free of anything to discard or attain.
Patterned experience is a free translation of samsara — how we experience the world when we are in the grip of emotional reactions. Free experience is a similarly free rendering of nirvana, those moments when not only are we free of the grip of n emotional reaction, but our experience of life is so vivid and awake that a sense of fullness overwhelms any feeling of self or individuality. Ordinarily, I find myself trying to push away emotional reactions and hang onto those special moments, but the radical perspective of Great Completion teaching is that each moment of experience, whether reactive or not, is complete, in and of itself. In other words, everything we experience is just an experience. This is the ground of no-ground in Great Completion. In Theravadan teaching, this ground of no-ground is expressed in the phrase, “‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not what I am.” It sounds so simple, but to live and practice this is not easy.

Line 3: Complete — the essence of all spiritual instruction is utterly natural release.
As for path, we don’t do anything. We allow experience to resolve itself. 

Put a cushion or a chair in the middle of a room or outside, wherever you choose. Sit down and let your body settle comfortably. Let your breath settle, too. And your mind. Now just sit there, and don’t do anything. Thoughts arise, of course, and they catch you. As soon as you recognize that you have been distracted, take a breath, come back and start again. A puff of wind, the sound of a siren, the pattern of light and shadow before you — these also catch you. When you recognize that, take a breath, come back and start again. Last night’s dinner with friends, a harsh word to or from your partner, a mistake at work, a pat on the back — these also catch you. Come back and start again. You feel inadequate, that you should be doing more — come back and start again. You feel utterly at peace, what a relief! — come back and start again. Experiences of clarity or bliss or non-thought may also arise. Come back and start again. They are often accompanied by a feeling that you are finally getting somewhere or other feelings of pride, achievement, relief, joy, awe, devotion, etc. Come back and start again. 

Bit by bit we find that we can experience patterns of emotional reactions — thoughts, feelings, associations — just coming and going. We aren’t caught by them, even when they are powerful or intense. Bit by bit, you can let experiences of emptiness, transcendence or immanence come and go, too. Every experience it seems, whatever it is, forms and dissolves, like a patch of mist or a rainbow in the sky. 

This is how we let experience resolve itself.

Line 7: Complete — the essence of result is to be free of hope.
For some reason, many people find this idea depressing. Perhaps it has to do with the way different languages are structured? Maybe it has something to do with psychology? I don’t know. For me, the possibility of living without hope is a freedom, because it means that I live without fear. It also means that I live in peace, because I stop wanting (hoping) things to be different from what they are. When we can just accept how things are (even if they are pretty awful), something relaxes in both mind and body, and an unnameable exquisiteness arises, even in the midst of pain, tragedy or devastation. This is one of the central principles of Buddhism, I think, because it illustrates vividly how suffering comes to end.

When I stop wanting things to be different from what they are I am more able to notice and be in the actual experience of life, right now, just as it is. In other words, I’m more likely to stop and smell the roses or just be with a friend in pain. This doesn’t stop me from working at things, such as writing this book, but the meaningfulness of any action or activity is not based in the results that might be achieved but in the fact that  life is calling for this activity right now. The challenge is to find the balance in all the different pushes and pulls that make up one’s life. For that, I have found that the best method is to open to everything that is calling to me in my life, all of it. I don’t try to sort out the flood of desires, demands, challenges, hopes, fears, aversions, longings and ideals. I just sit in the whole mess, until the next step becomes clear. This approach works for me, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Yet I have seen that others have also found their own way to engage just what their life is calling for, remarkably free from hope and fear. That is what counts.


Anonymous said...

EHAHO! This verse moved me to sobs and tears. Everyone says what this practice leads to cannot be described and yet Jigme Lingpa and you have done it. I want to have this verse tattooed on the back of my hand so I can apply it directly to my forehead. But, of course, the last line relieves me of even this notion. I also thought of memorizing it and had to laugh at the idea . . . in the great completion, this verse both exists and doesn’t exist in each moment, directly available and perfectly forgettable. I marvel that the verse adds no baggage. I attribute this to your choice of words that closely match the experience of this completeness. I don’t read Tibetan but I am betting that a direct translation of the words would be heavy going for English speakers.
My teacher and I often talked about the beauty of Shaker furniture. I had watched a documentary on their life style. When they wanted to create space in a room they simply hung up all the chairs on pegs high up on the wall. This gave them space to move about or dance. He and I marveled at the freedom this provided and applied it to mental stuff that gets in our way. I think this is what you would call patterned experience. What if we could just hang it up on the wall until we needed it, using the space instead of the furniture? We revisited this image during several talks and one day he said, “Yes, and then the pegs come out of the wall and the walls disappear.” This verse reminded me of that moment.
Thank you so very much for this work. May you experience all the joy this verse has brought to me.

Diane de Ford said...

"wonder of wonders!"
I am so moved by this beginning line, and would like to know the actual words that Jigme Lingpa used. I want to be able to say these words too!

The commentary on line 1, people's tendency to take "a description of a result as an instruction in method" clarifies a lot. What a relief to just be with things as they appear.

I have been reflecting on "let experience resolve itself", bringing this line with me wherever I go. So much effort can go into trying to resolve things myself. Again, what relief to just read this line. Together with having the patience to allow things to come clear on their own, seems like a life's work.

Thank you for this!

Ken said...

Dear Diane,

The first line in the Tibetan is ཀྱེ་ཧོ་or kyé ho. It has two meanings: a form of address to someone who is superior and an expression of joy, awe, amazement or wonder. The latter meaning is the more likely here and the only English I could come up with is "Wonder of wonders".

Chris Forman said...

When I was sixteen, I visited the tomb of Nikos Kazantakis on Crete. As I recall, written on his tomb is "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." I've never forgotten that.

Kaz said...

" the great completion, this verse both exists and doesn’t exist in each moment, directly available and perfectly forgettable."

For me 300% of what Anonymous said--except for the tatoo part.

Anonymous said...

Etymologically, perfect is "to do completely", or "to complete". It is not an ideal.
In "all guidelines end in no do’s or don’t’s" there is a "no" which is a don't. How about using "all guidelines end without" or "all guidelines leave out"?
Your explanation finds a voice that is both natural and more intimate. Use of "I" makes it so.

dpopovic said...

I just wanted to offer one thought. You wonder why many people feel the idea of having "no hope" to be depressing. I think that a lot of people confuse the idea of having "no hope" with the idea of having "no trust" in the way their experience is unfolding. This type of trust is, I think, what you refer to as "faith." I think that most people normally feel open to their experience when they are relaxed, and they are usually relaxed when they think something good is coming (as in, they're sitting on a beach in Hawaii and they have the expectation that it's going to be a great, stress-free day full of pleasure). When people think something bad is coming (e.g. a meeting with the boss where you might get fired), then they tend not to be very open to experience at all, but rather to shut down. This means that people associate having hope with having that openness to experience. When they hear that they should have "no hope," they imagine being grimly shut down forever, and this (obviously) doesn't feel good. I think most people can't imagine being fully open to their experience without any regard whatsoever to what it is that is arising in experience. This is why they find the idea of "no hope" depressing. For them, "no hope" means "no openness" to experience, "no faith."