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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Verse 3.8 — the treasure at the world's end

Stop all your reactive checking, 
Managing and goal-seeking.
This direct knowing, unappreciated and dismissed,
Stop distorting or altering it. Let it be.

In almost every tradition I’ve studied, there is a story about a person who travels far and wide, searching the world for wisdom or secret treasure. He fails to find it, no matter where he goes, no matter whom he seeks for advice. The last sage he visits tells him to tend to a tree growing in the garden behind his own house. With nowhere else to go, no one else to see, he returns home and finds that the tree is ill. Something is wrong with its roots. Digging in the soil, he uncovers an ancient scroll or a treasure of gold. His search is over. What he was seeking was in his own garden all along.

This story, and stories like it, I find simultaneously helpful and infuriating. They are helpful because they remind me that what we seek, whether we call it freedom, enlightenment, buddha nature, direct awareness, God or whatever isn’t “out there”. They are infuriating because, even when I feel I understand the story, the story doesn’t tell me what to do. I could never find the tree. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t even know where to look.

It’s all very well to say, “Stop checking or tracking your experience. Stop managing it. Stop your goal-seeking.” Personally I find it hard to give up those tendencies. They are deeply ingrained. Maybe some people can let these tendencies go through an act of will. I can’t. Any attempt to exert an act of will just puts me back in the box (verse 3.6 et al). 

By now, I know that checking my experience, or tracking, analyzing or trying to make sense of it (by appealing to any of the different logic schemes available to us — psychology, sociology, neurology, biology, astrology, etc.) is pointless. Those perspectives may be helpful for problems in other contexts, but for the direct awareness that Jigmé Lingpa is talking about, they are worse than useless. Like the person in the story, I’ve journeyed to the ends of the world trying to find the fabled wisdom and I’ve come up empty. Nevertheless, I still check my experience, track it, analyze it or try to make sense of it. The difference is that now, as soon as I notice that I’m doing any of these, I stop, take a breath, and start again. 

There are two points here. One is that I had to reach the point where I knew that these approaches were fruitless and pointless. The second is that, even with that knowledge, I still have to cut the pattern of checking, again and again. I am practicing a different way of relating to what arises in experience. While on the one hand this new way is utterly natural in that it just lets experience be what it is, in the beginning it is not at all natural. No judgment, no appraisal, no story — it’s a very different way of relating to what arises.

The same holds for managing my experience, the constant and pernicious tendency to want things to be just a little different from what they are. In meditation, I find myself tweaking this here, adjusting that there, and before I know it, I’m completely involved in making my experience conform to my expectations. Again, the same principle holds. As soon as I recognize what I’m doing, I stop, take a breath, and start again.

In some ways, I find goal-seeking the hardest. One would think with all the disappointments and defeats, I wouldn’t pay attention to small victories in the quality of attention, but again and again, the thought pops up, “Ah, I think I’m getting somewhere.” Now, when that thought pops up, a rueful smile of recognition arises too. I stop, take a breath and start again.

There’s an old joke about fish. One fish asks another fish, “How's the water?" The other fish replies, “What the hell is water?" Like the fish, we swim in water but the water we swim in is a subtle absolutely clear awareness. We don’t notice it, we don’t recognize it and we don’t appreciate it.

Everyone knows the example of the glass of turbid water. The water becomes clear when it is left undisturbed and allowed to become still. What we may overlook in this example is that we are not watching the water. We are the water. 

Mind is not a thing we watch. Everything we experience is mind. If we are watching the mind, watching what we experience, we are already one step removed. If we are trying to change our experience, analyze it or track it, we are more than one step removed. Every movement, whether it is checking our experience, managing it or anticipating it (goal-seeking) stirs up the water, along with all the sediment. The treasure is there, but we won’t know it as long as we keep stirring things up.

The natural clarity of the water is unnoticed, unrecognized and unappreciated because it is transparent. We see right through it. We don’t see it. No one has ever seen it. It is often likened to a mirror. The natural clarity of the mirror is transparent. We don’t see it. We never see a mirror. We see only the reflections in the mirror. We take the natural clarity for granted. In the same way, we easily miss this subtle clear awareness. We don’t see it. We see right through it. It’s too ordinary! 

Many of us, it seems, have to take that long journey, work through many, many challenges and endure just as many hardships before we really and truly give up, return home and see for the first time what has been there all along.


Diane de Ford said...

The key words for me here are "practice a different way of relating to what arises in experience". This is what the practice and training continue to ask of me. This is the place I keep bringing my breathe back to.
This is where I sometimes find a great sense of freedom, and sometimes I find myself pacing inside the box!

These are potent teachings.... thank you

Stargazer said...

I remember reading a Zen aphorism somewhere which said: 'Everything is The Way.' So there's no need to select or delete any part of experience. No attraction; no aversion. Then the 'person' falls away, because there are no walls or boundaries or definition. Being doesn't fall away, though. People mistakenly think non-self means unconsciousness or self-annihilation or non-being, and they become frustrated for never reaching that end. 'Emptiness' needs to be understood conceptually as well as experientially, so that when the experience of emptiness comes, the individual will recognize it. Peace!

Mri said...

Hi Ken
When there's no checking, tracking or goals - how do purpose and meaning come into play?
Do you no longer need to check your intentions? Do you no longer have a particular purpose in your life?
Perhaps at this very high level of practice you are pointing to, bodhicitta just manifests spontaneously, creatively, through actions and behaviors. You're beyond having to think about manifesting bodhicitta in your actions(?)
Marie R.