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Take A Breather Print
Shambhala Sun | May 2001

Take A Breather

By:
Everybody who lives in a big city knows it's essential to get out of town now and then. It's not just the noise, the overcrowding and the lack of nature. It's the air. When we urban dwellers get a chance to inhale country oxygen, we greedily expand our lungs and loudly exhale giant Ahhhh's. We savor fresh air like fine wine, feeling drunk and cleansed at the same time. Deep breathing gives us the sense of health, well-being and spaciousness we tend to lose in the crush of metropolitan living.

Every time I go to the seashore, I am awed by the great power of the ocean. Each wave rolling in is completely new and different from every other wave, and this observation inspires me to wake up and relax into the vastness in front of me. Yet as soon as I step off the sand and back into the parking lot, I forget all about the ocean. But whether I think about it or not, it's still there, rolling in and out, wild or calm, with undercurrents or white caps.

In the same way, even though we don't notice it, we are always breathing, and just like the waves on the shore, each breath is unique. The act of mindfully watching our breathing can have as profound an effect as watching the ocean waves-it can help us feel alive and expansive.

Some yogis say we are given a certain number of breaths per lifetime, so it's recommended that we breathe slowly and deeply, as well as pay close attention to every breath. While we might not be able to attend to every single breath, we can start the process by doing the breath observation and breath manipulation exercises called pranayama. Pranayama means extension (ayama) of life force (prana). This life force can be found in sun, water, earth, plants, animals, people, and wind or breath.

Even just the slightest hint of breath awareness can begin to change your life. When you get tense, are stuck in traffic, or receive an unexpected letter from the IRS, you will notice that your breath changes. And just as when you go to the country, you can pause and consciously balance your inhalation and exhalation, which will immediately ease your nervous system.
This is called taking a fresh start and it's available to us every moment. The only problem is that we forget about it. How can we develop the positive habit of taking a fresh start on a regular basis? We can begin by introducing ourselves to our body's breathing anatomy. Try this:

Sit or lay down and touch the front of your bottom ribs. Trace the shape of your ribs around the sides and as far toward the back as you can reach. Then feel the second rib up from the bottom. Now explore the area between the bottom and second rib. The muscle between the ribs is called an intercostal and it allows the rib cage to open and close like a bellows as we inhale and exhale.

Continue your investigation all the way to the top of your chest. Notice how your ribs are shaped, how they are like a ladder that goes under your armpits, how they go up your back all the way to your neck. Take time to feel how your ribs move more in some places than others. Are there areas of your rib cage that seem tighter or freer? Are there places that are more or less sensitive? Can you direct your breath into the tight or dead spots?
Now that you have met your rib cage, here is a short yoga program to expand the skin and muscles of this area, enabling your breathing to be fuller. These exercises include twists that will spread the back muscles, shoulder and chest openers that support the lungs, side bends to stretch the intercostals and a lion that will cleanse and stimulate the throat chakra-good for avoiding colds and balancing speech. Feel free to touch your ribs again during these exercises. Imagine you have nostrils in the tight places and breath deeply there.

Twist Lengthen your spine and inhale. Then on the exhale, turn your belly to the right, making a spinal twist. Place your right hand on the floor behind you and tuck your left hand-palm up-under your right thigh. If your hand doesn't reach under your thigh, place it on top. (If you feel as if you will tip over, place a cushion under your right hip.)

Side Stretch Unravel from your twist. Extend your left arm to the floor and your right arm up to the ceiling. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, begin to bend to the left. Try to find length on both sides of your waist. Feel how your breath moves into the accordion of your right rib cage. Come back to vertical on an inhale.

Cow Shift forward onto your hands and knees. Align your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. On an exhale, lift your sitting bones, chest and face up, making a U with your torso. Let your spine soften and absorb into your body.

Cat Inhale and reverse the U curve, curling your spine up as you tuck your head and tailbone under. If you like, you can repeat cow and cat several times before moving on to the next twist.

Proposal Twist From hands and knees, step your right foot forward and lift your spine, moving into a kneeling position, as if you were going to propose marriage. Place your left hand on your right knee and lengthen your right arm upward, extending long through every single finger, then inhale. On the exhale, twist to the right and reach your right behind you, directly opposite your right knee.

Chest opener and Lion Unwind and sit down on your calves. Place your fingertips on the floor behind you and as you inhale, lift your chest and face up to the ceiling. Try to maintain some length in the back of your neck. On your exhale, open your eyes and stick your tongue way out, saying "Ahhhhhh." Lift your eyes up to the point between your eyebrows and try to touch your chin with your tongue. You can repeat the lion several times.

Open Child's Pose Inhale and lift back up to vertical. Keep your toes together but separate your knees. Walk your hands forward and ripple through your spine as you fold forward. You can place your forehead or your chin on the floor. Send breath into your hips and let your back sink toward your chest.

Curl Up Use your hands to help you as you round up through your spine. Try to feel each vertebra on the journey back to sitting tall. Shift your weight over to your left hip and repeat the entire sequence to the other side.

Many people think of yoga as just stretching. But if we only try to get bigger and go out, out, out, it would be like taking a huge breath in and never exhaling. That's not stretching; that's grasping. Without a connection to the breath, yoga is just a series of frozen shapes that solidify whatever opinions we already have about who we are and what our bodies can do.

With proper understanding and a little pranayama practice, your yoga can be a seamless process of extending and gathering, of falling back to center and radiating out, over and over again. When we experience this natural rhythm in our yoga practice, we begin to feel a connection to the changing seasons, the movement of night and day, the flow of the tides and the heartbeat of all beings. We begin to make yoga-union-with all of nature.
Whether we're in the country, the city or the burbs, we can take refuge in our breath. Whenever we remember, we can take a fresh start. Try it now. Close your eyes and let your mind take a ride on your breath, like a raft gently floating on the waves.

Cyndi Lee is founder of the OM Yoga Center in New York and co-creator of OM Yoga in a Box, available at www.omyoga.com.

    Take A Breather, Cyndi Lee, Shambhala Sun, May 2001.

http://www.shambhalasun.com/Archives/Columnists/Lee/may_01.htm

In a Word, Dharma Print

In a Word, Dharma

By .

According to Reginald A. Ray, dharma is a fascinating term because it integrates several levels of experience, from our first moment on the path to the achievement of full realization.


The Sanskrit word "dharma" is without doubt the most important and most commonly used term in Buddhism. Among the three jewels of buddha, dharma and sangha in which all Buddhists take refuge, the dharma is pre-eminent. It is a realization of the dharma that produces buddhas and it is the dharma that provides the pretext for the sangha (community) and binds it together.

But what does the word "dharma" actually mean? This is a particularly fascinating terms because it includes and integrates several levels of experience, from our first moment on the path to the achievement of full realization.


The Eternal Dharma


In the early Theravadin texts, Buddha Shakyamuni is reported to have remarked that the dharma is always present, whether or not there is a buddha to preach it or a sangha to practice it. Dharma in this sense is the underlying, substratum of reality-of our lives and of our world. It is the ultimate and primordial fact of who and what we are.

It is the goal of all Buddhists to uncover this "true nature," as it is called-not just to glimpse it, but to be able to rest in it, identify with it, and forget any other "self" that we may have imagined. In such a realization, we see that what we most essentially are has no beginning and no end, and expresses itself in universal love.

Is this eternal dharma inaccessible to us ordinary people? Not at all. In fact, it is always hovering at the periphery of our consciousness, whether we are Buddhists or not, or whether or not we have any apparent interest in spirituality at all.


Dharma as Phenomena

The Buddhist scholar Th. Stcherbatsky wrote an early, influential book entitled The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word "Dharma." In this work, the author tells us that dharma is the basis of our ordinary existence-of the multitude of thoughts, perceptions, and occurrences that make up our experience as human beings.

Here, a distinction needs to be made between our concepts of what ordinary reality is, our preconceptions and wishful thinking, and its raw, implacable facticity. Dharma in this second sense is what is so in our lives, whether we like it or not, whether we wish for it or not, whether we expect it or not. Sudden illness, the breakdown of a relationship, and unexpected death are all expressions of the breakthrough of dharma in this sense. But so also are the light that fails to go on when we flip the switch, the unanticipated phone call, the surprising joy of seeing a newborn child. And so is the sudden shock of seeing someone else as more-or less-than we thought.

All such events bring us up short. They reveal just how much we have been locked up a dream of our own making, a dream of who we are and what the world is like. They wake us up, if only for a moment. It is in this sense that the great Tibetan master Atisha tells us that, "All dharma agrees at one point." All that occurs, when seen in its own light and from its own side (dharma), proclaims the unreality of our fixed notions of ourselves and our world. The dharma as phenomena is thus finally not distinct from the eternal dharma. The nakedness and starkness of phenomena, as they are, represent the breakthrough of the eternal dharma into our lives.


Dharma as the Path

How we respond to the disruption and destabilization caused by the eternal dharma, as it shows up in the experiences of our lives, is a matter of choice.

For example, we may fall into avoidance and denial, seeking to reconstitute our solidity, comfort and security. Or we may see in the dharma a harbinger of ultimate reality, and turn to it as the path. The first approach leads us to deny what we have seen and to pretend things are otherwise. This results in to further bondage, to increased confusion, negative karma, and suffering. The second leads, to recall the words of the Theravadin meditation teacher Ayya Khema, not to the elimination of suffering but to the gradual dissolution of the one who suffers.

In the beginning, the path is difficult and painful: through meditation and the other Buddhist disciplines, we train by bringing ourselves back again and again to the uncomfortable edge of the dharma, to the ambiguity and groundlessness of the present moment. In time, however, we find in such returns solace and relief. At this point, in Trungpa Rinpoche's felicious phrasing, the path of dharma begins to unroll naturally and effortlessly beneath our feet.


Dharma as Teachings

Finally, in its most concrete sense, the dharma is the teachings delivered by the Buddha and added to by countless generations of accomplished and realized men and women. This dharma describes, points to, and evokes the eternal dharma as it appears in our unadorned and uninterpreted life experience.

Originally and most essentially, the dharma teachings were the words spoken and sung by the realized ones. Sutras, the words of the Buddha, always begin "Thus have I heard" not "Thus have I read." In the same way that one could not expect to become a world-class pianist simply by reading piano manuals or a cook simply by reading cookbooks, one must receive the dharma teachings by hearing them from a teacher. To learn the dharma, we must hear the nuances and subtleties; we must experience the eloquence and the flights of those steeped in living understanding and realization.

It is said that the Buddha and the later teachers tailored their discourses to the specific needs of their listeners. They spoke the reality of dharma in a form that could communicate to their listeners. This "tailoring" was not, we may be certain, particularly deliberate or self-conscious.

When teachers give voice to dharma nowadays, they often draw on textual tradition. But at the same time, the words that form in their minds, the images, analogies and logic, are drawn from the atmosphere, they are reflections of and address everyone in the room, and they express the unique configuration of reality that exists in that moment.

The spoken dharma is infinitely more nuanced, evocative, and communicative than anything written could be. It carries an abundant and pregnant burden of meaning that is instantly received in its totality by the listeners. Hearing Sri Lankan, Zen or Tibetan monks chant a Buddhist sutta is an entirely different experience from reading it in print. Through the recitation, a world is suddenly opened and we are immesed in an atmosphere and a feeling that are complete.

In listening the dharma, it is not so unusual to hear a teacher describe a scene, say, from the life of the Buddha, and to find ourselves, before the description is half begun, feeling the coolness of the Indian night and smelling its rich, sweet and pungent scents. It is true that, beginning the in the first century BCE, the dharma began to be written down and now exists in tens of thousands of pages in the various Asian canons. At the same time, it is important to remember that the dharma as teaching is most fundamentally a spoken truth, of which the written word is an analogue and a support.

Particularly for Western Buddhists, the written word is often the initial gate to the vast world of dharma within. Often a book leads us to encounter a Buddhist teacher from whom we may hear the dharma in oral form. Often that teacher encourages us to undertake the path, engaging in the practice of meditation. This, in turn, begins to lay bare the raw and rugged character of our ordinary lives. As we make a fuller and fuller acquaintance with our lives, we may begin to sense the background of awareness that runs like a thread through all our experience. As our sense of this awareness-known as buddhanature-deepens, we begin to realize that, more than anything else, this is who we most fundamentally are and always have been.

At this point, we have journeyed from seeing that dharma as an interesting book to discovering the eternal dharma as the final truth of our own inherent nature. The entire path, then, is encompassed and summarized in this single word.


Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D., is Professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University and teacher in residence at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. He is the author of Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet.

Originally published in the May 2001 issue of the Shambhala Sun.


http://www.shambhalasun.com/Archives/Columnists/Ray/may_01.htm

To Enter the Vajrayana Start at the Beginning Print

 

To Enter the Vajrayana Start at the Beginning

By

"It doesn't make sense to grab at the highest teachings and reject the rest," says Tsoknyi Rinpoche. "It is the kindness of the buddhas to provide us with a complete path, and the preliminary practices are part of that path."
  


All great teachers of the past have taught the identical message: "Gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, and receive the blessings of a qualified master." In the tradition I represent, the preliminary practices are very, very important. I don't think that the buddhas and all the past masters have created them just to lead us astray.

The vajrayana vehicle contains many methods and few hardships to reach enlightenment. Some of the easiest are devotion and compassion, along with the recognition of mind nature. Combine these with the preliminaries and you will progress quickly. Dzogchen, the highest teaching of the Nyingma school, is the pinnacle of the vajrayana vehicle. It doesn't make sense to grab at the highest teachings and reject the rest. It is pointless to invent some personal idea of Dzogchen to train in. If you do, then Dzogchen becomes something fabricated, something you have made up. Calling your own theories Dzogchen is a foolish pretense which has nothing to do with the genuine, authentic teachings.

You see, Dzogchen is not made up of bits of information that you can collect and take home. Dzogchen is about how to be free. It is not sufficient to only receive the teachings; you must apply them, live them. Right now, we are still enveloped in deluded experience. We have created a cage for ourselves out of our own emotions and duality, and here we sit, day in and day out. We can remain in this cage or we can use the Dzogchen instructions to break it open and become free.


With the openness of devotion, the blessings can enter our stream of being. When we fully let go, with deep trust, it is possible to recognize the state of original wakefulness. This practice is not some new philosophical position, a new concept that you acquire, but a way of fully letting go of all conceptual attitudes.


To arrive at thought-free wakefulness is not impossible or necessarily very difficult. However, it does require the accumulation of merit, purification of obscurations, and making a connection with a qualified master. These three are extremely important and repeatedly emphasized.


Sure, we can be told, "Sit down and let go completely, just be natural." But can we, really? We try to let go, but actually we don't, we are still holding on-holding on to the letting go. We hold on to something else then; again, we try to let go. We are always holding on to something, putting up some resistance. Actually, we do not really want to let go. It is against our nature, so to speak. We prefer to retain ego control and it's a very strong habit. It doesn't matter how many times we are told to drop everything and be one hundred percent uncontrived and natural, we still hold on to the letting go. Holding on to what we are recognizing, "Wow, now I recognize the nature of mind." Clinging to the natural state, holding on to the concept, "This is it."


In other words, although we try to let go, a part of us is still holding on. Therefore, it is never the genuine natural state. So something is needed to completely shatter the conceptual attitude, to smash it to pieces. One essential way is provided by the circumstance of devotion. When we thoroughly open up in the moment of devotion, it's like all the peels of our philosophical ideas, all of the wrapping, all the concepts that we use to compartmentalize reality is totally stripped away. Being full of genuine devotion is one of the purest conceptual states. Then, if we have received the essential instruction of recognizing mind essence, we can recognize self-aware original wakefulness.


This is also possible when full of compassion. When you feel sincere empathy towards all sentient beings, such purity disperses conceptual mind. Simultaneous with that your mind becomes wide open. And again, in that moment, there is the opportunity, if you have received the essential instructions, to apply them. You can recognize self-knowing original wakefulness and arrive in the natural state, genuinely and authentically.

Otherwise, it appears that we just do not want to actually be in the natural state. Our habit is not to be and that's a very hard habit to break. So, that is why there are many practices to facilitate the recognition of mind nature-to break the normal habit of conceptual mind and ego. However, heart-felt devotion and compassion are the foremost facilitators for arriving back in the original state.

Through the preliminary practices, it becomes easier to recognize and train in the nonconceptual meditation of Dzogchen. The general preliminaries are the four contemplations on precious human body, impermanence and death, cause and effect of karma, and the defects of samsara. The special preliminaries are taking refuge, arousing bodhicitta, the recitation and meditation of Vajrasattva, mandala offerings, and guru yoga.


If we feel that it is difficult to simply let be, the preliminary practices are a method to make it easier for us. Also, when we arrive at Dzogchen itself, we need to rely on our own intelligence. But few of us have such a capacity and so a method is required, and that is another place where the preliminary practices come in.


Accumulating merit or using conceptual methods are like making a candle. The Dzogchen pointing-out instruction is like lighting the candle. You need to have both-the candle and a match-together to illuminate the darkness. With inadequate merit, maybe you can recognize mind essence, but instantly the recognition disappears. You cannot concentrate; you lack the candle. It is like a match in the darkness; it will quickly flicker and die. There is no way to even light the candle, if you do not have enough merit.


Many positive conditions must come together to be able to practice the dharma. Some people really aspire to practice, but their lifestyle makes it very difficult. Others wish to spend three years in retreat, but they don't have any money. Still others have plenty of money, but cannot get any teachings. Sometimes people have a very good teacher and teachings, but their situation is complicated: they are always fighting with their spouse, with not a moment of peace in their home, or their job takes up all their time. So, you need to change your circumstances, but to do so you must have merit and for that there is no better method than the preliminary practices.


It is the kindness of the buddhas to provide us with a complete path, and the preliminary practices are part of that complete path. Often students refrain from doing them because they do not understand their purpose. Some students even think the preliminary practices are some sort of punishment. However, this is not a punishment meted out to torture people, not at all. Your laziness might say, "Oh no, the preliminary practices are so difficult. They must be meaningless. I don't want to do them." But you have to smash that lazy tendency. The main obstacle to practice is laziness. If you crush it from the beginning, your laziness will get scared and run away, "Ooh, I cannot go near these people; it is too much for me." Prostrations will chop up your physical laziness and mandala offerings will chop up your attachment.


To truly progress in dharma practice, you also have to develop the proper motivation, "I want to engage in meditation to purify my obscurations, particularly my main enemy, ego-clinging, and benefit all sentient beings." If you have that kind of motivation, you will progress towards enlightenment, not towards building up a strong healthy ego.


While generating this kind of motivation, ego might kick up a fuss and try to create doubts in your mind. Just ignore it. Ego might say, "This can't be true. How can you help all sentient beings? How can you purify yourself?" When this happens, please be careful, do not listen. In other words, our progress is completely dependent on whether our motivation is pure. Dharma practice is dependent on mind and that means our attitude or motivation.


Often when people come to my retreats, they do so to be free of suffering. They think, "I need to be free of unpleasant emotions, so I am going to do Buddhist practice." This is one type of motivation. Another is, "I want to help all sentient beings recognize their self-existing awareness." That is being motivated by altruistic kindness. However, the best is to be motivated in a true unfabricated way. But as that often isn't possible, we must instead begin by fabricating it with the bodhichitta resolve. Remember, proper motivation ensures that our actions will head us in the right direction.


These days many people have a problem of low self-esteem and normal worldly aims are not enough. Somehow, ego is tired of the ordinary and needs different fuel. If you take spiritual fuel and give it to your ego, your ego will become stronger and you can go back into worldly life. Yet, this is not the purpose of spiritual practice. Quite honestly, for many, their normal ego is already fed-up with worldly society. They want to pump up their egos, but normal fuel is not good enough. When they hear that in the mountains, there is some spiritual fuel from Tibet, then they think, "That will pump me up. If I can get some of that, then I will be better, even while walking through Times Square." So, they head off to the mountains, to get some Tibetan fuel to pump up their egos. That attitude might be okay to bring someone into contact with the teachings, but it will not serve the true purpose of dharma.


Ego-clinging is very subtle. Everything we do seems to be another way to feed the ego. The ego bribes us into assuming a path that seems to be a genuine spiritual practice, but then our ego usurps it. Even chanting Om Mani Padme Hum can be appropriated by the ego. You sit down on your meditation cushion and assume the posture, but it's because of ego. You light incense and prostrate before your statues in your little retreat room, but it's still all for your ego. We need something to break free from the ego's grip and that is the accumulation of merit and the purification of obscurations, in conjunction with devotion and compassion.


If we do not know how to initially motivate ourselves in the true way, dharma practice may be nothing more than another way of popping our daily vitamin pill, one to make "me" strong and healthy. When spiritual practice is a dietary supplement, you apply it when you feel a little low on energy or a little upset. You sit down and practice to feel better. You try to balance yourself through practice and later return to your normal activities.


Some people have this attitude, believe me! They tell themselves that they need spirituality in their lives; after all, it is not politically correct to be totally materialistic. So they give themselves a little dose in the morning and another in the evening. They apply the gloss of spirituality to put a shine on their normal lives. This is a particular trend and some so-called teachers teach in this way. They tell their students that if they sit and meditate for a few minutes, they will be much happier. They are trying to make spiritual practice easier, more appetizing, more palatable; trying to bend the dharma to fit people's attitudes. But that is not the true dharma, so don't make the mistake of confusing this type of practice for the real thing.


Even if you only practice a little bit, try to do it in a genuine way, with a true view, meditation and conduct. Even if it is only for a short while, let it be real. Otherwise, it is better to give it up all together, because you may wind up using the dharma only to further ensnare yourself in confusion. To pretend to be a spiritual person and wear a rosary on your wrist is useless unto itself. If it happens naturally, fine, no problem. But if your intention is to be respected by others, to create a better image because you meditate or are spiritual, you are merely being pretentious.


Nor should you apply dharma-polish, the type of spiritual practice that can make our deluded state appear prettier, more pleasant. One can advertise the value of spiritual practice, like advertising an exercise machine: "Use it two times a day for three weeks, and your confusion is guaranteed to clear up!" It sounds nice, but it doesn't work.

Really, to do dharma practice, you need to be honest with yourself and be able to appreciate what it is you are doing. True honesty and appreciation give you confidence in life. Do not cheat yourself. If your practice is only to boost your ego, then dharma becomes nothing more than a mask. You are simply fooling yourself, which is useless. You might as well not bother. But, if your motivation is pure, you won't fool yourself.

Actually, who knows whether we are fooling ourselves or not? Karma does. Karma stays with you continuously; it never closes its eyes. Even when you are in the bathroom, karma is watching. So be careful! No matter what you do or where you are, karma never sleeps. Karma is a witness to all you do, now and in the future. Whether other people acknowledge your actions or not really doesn't matter; karma and the buddhas will. Trust yourself; trust your pure motivation and the good actions of karma. Pure motivation is not so difficult to understand, really; take it to heart and live it. Don't be like the person who comes to me with a cup containing water, ten spoons of sugar, ten of chili, ten of oil and many other things. They say, "Rinpoche, this doesn't taste so good. I want it to taste better. Can you do something?"


So I say, "Sure, I'll try." And I start to pour some of the water out. The person jumps up, "Oh please, don't pour any water out! I don't want to take anything out." So, wondering what I should do, I ask, "Can I add more sugar?" Again he objects, "No, no. I don't want to add anything. Just make it taste good. I don't want to change anything, except the taste." So what is one to do? For me, it is very easy, I say, "Fine, fine, I will pray for you." Because there's nothing else for me to do, except pray. Actually, people like this don't want to change, let alone let go of ego. Yet, they still want something to happen. They are waiting for a miracle which will never come, so all I can do is pray.


Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche, son of the famed Dzogchen teacher Tulku Urgyen, was recognized as an incarnate teacher (tulku) at age eight. He is the author of Carefree Dignity. When not on teaching tours, he resides at Ngedön Ösel Ling, his monastery in the Kathmandu Valley. This teaching was compiled and edited by Marcia Binder Schmidt, with Michael Tweed, and translated by Erik Pema Kunsang.

To Enter the Vajrayana Start at the Beginning, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, May 2001.
 

http://www.shambhalasun.com/Archives/Features/2001/may01/tsokni.htm

Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist Print

Taking Refuge: The Decision to Become a Buddhist

 

Taking refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha is something more than a ritual, wrote Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. By taking refuge, we are committing ourselves to freedom.


"I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the dharma.
I take refuge in the sangha."

In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom.

There is a general tendency to be involved in all kinds of fascinations and delusions, and nothing very much ever takes root in one's basic being. Everything in one's life experience, concerning spirituality or anything else, is purely a matter of shopping. Our lives consist of problems of pain, problems of pleasure, problems of points of view—problems about all kinds of alternatives—which make our existence complicated.

We have allegiance to "that" and allegiance to "this." There are hundreds and millions of choices involved in our lives-particularly in regard to our sense of discipline, our ethics, and our spiritual path. People are very confused in this chaotic world about what is really the right thing to do. There are all kinds of rationales, taken from all kinds of traditions and philosophies. We may try to combine all of them together; sometimes they conflict, sometimes they work together harmoniously. But we are constantly shopping, and that is actually the basic problem.

It is not so much that there is something wrong with the traditions that exist around us; the difficulty is more our own personal conflict arising from wanting to have and to be the best. When we take refuge we give up some sense of seeing ourselves as the good citizen or as the hero of a success story. We might have to give up our past; we might have to give up our potential future. By taking this particular vow, we end our shopping in the spiritual supermarket. We decide to stick to a particular brand for the rest of our lives. We choose to stick to a particular staple diet and flourish on it.

When we take refuge we commit ourselves to the Buddhist path. This is not only a simple but also an extremely economical approach. Henceforth we will be on the particular path that was strategized, designed, and well thought-out twenty-five hundred years ago by the Buddha and the followers of his teaching. There is already a pattern and a tradition; there is already a discipline. We no longer have to run after that person or this person. We no longer have to compare our lifestyle with anybody else's. Once we take this step, we have no alternatives; there is no longer the entertainment of indulging in so-called freedom. We take a definite vow to enter a discipline of choicelessness—which saves us a lot of money, a lot of energy, and lots and lots of superfluous thinking.

Perhaps this approach may seem repressive, but it is really based on a sympathetic attitude toward our situation. To work on ourselves is really only possible when there are no side-tracks, no exits. Usually we tend to look for solutions from something new, something outside: a change in society or politics, a new diet, a new theory. Or else we are always finding new things to blame our problems on, such as relationships, society, what have you. Working on oneself, without such exits or sidetracks, is the Buddhist path.

By taking refuge, in some sense we become homeless refugees. Taking refuge does not mean saying that we are helpless and then handing all our problems over to somebody or something else. There will be no refugee rations, nor all kinds of security and dedicated help. The point of becoming a refugee is to give up our attachment to basic security. We have to give up our sense of home ground, which is illusory anyway. We might have a sense of home ground as where we were born and the way we look, but we don't actually have any home, fundamentally speaking. There is actually no solid basis of security in one's life. And because we don't have any home ground, we are lost souls, so to speak. Basically we are completely lost and confused and, in some sense, pathetic.

These are the particular problems that provide the reference point from which we build the sense of becoming a Buddhist. Relating to being lost and confused, we are more open. We begin to see that in seeking security we can't grasp onto anything; everything continually washes out and becomes shaky, constantly, all the time. And that is what is called life.

So becoming a refugee is acknowledging that we are homeless and groundless, and it is acknowledging that there is really no need for home, or ground. Taking refuge is an expression of freedom, because as refugees we are no longer bounded by the need for security. We are suspended in a no-man's land in which the only thing to do is to relate with the teachings and with ourselves.

The refuge ceremony represents a final decision. Acknowledging that the only real working basis is oneself and that there is no way around that, one takes refuge in the Buddha as an example, in the dharma as the path, and in the sangha as companionship. Nevertheless, it is a total commitment to oneself. The ceremony cuts the line that connects the ship to the anchor; it marks the beginning of an odyssey of loneliness. Still, it also includes the inspiration of the preceptor and the lineage. The participation of the preceptor is a kind of guarantee that you will not be getting back into the question of security as such, that you will continue to acknowledge your aloneness and work on yourself without leaning on anyone. Finally you become a real person, standing on your own feet. At that point, everything starts with you.

This particular journey is like that of the first settlers. We have come to no-man's land and have not been provided with anything at all. Here we are, and we have to make everything with our own bare hands. We are, in our own way, pioneers: each is a historical person on his own journey. It is an individual pioneership of building spiritual ground. Everything has to be made and produced by us. Nobody is going to throw us little chocolate chips or console us with goodies.

If we adopt a prefabricated religion that tells us exactly the best way to do everything, it is as though that religion provides a complete home with wall-to-wall carpeting. We get completely spoiled. We don't have to put out any effort or energy, so our dedication and devotion have no fiber. We wind up complaining because we didn't get the deluxe toilet tissue that we used to get. So at this point, rather than walking into a nicely prepared hotel or luxurious house, we are starting from the primitive level. We have to figure out how we are going to build our city and how we are going to relate with our comrades who are doing the same thing.

We have to work with the sense of sacredness and richness and the magical aspect of our experience. And this has to be done on the level of our everyday existence, which is a personal level, an extremely personal level. There are no scapegoats. When you take refuge you become responsible to yourself as a follower of the dharma. You are isolating yourself from the rest of your world in the sense that the world is not going to help you any more; it is no longer regarded as a source of salvation. It is just a mirage, maya. It might mock you, play music for you, and dance for you, but nevertheless the path and the inspiration of the path are up to you. You have to do it. And the meaning of taking refuge is that you are going to do it. You commit yourself as a refugee to yourself, no longer thinking that some divine principle that exists in the holy law or holy scriptures is going to save you. It is very personal. You experience a sense of loneliness, aloneness—a sense that there is no savior, no help. But at the same time there is a sense of belonging: you belong to a tradition of loneliness where people work together.

So taking refuge is a landmark of becoming a Buddhist, a nontheist. You no longer have to make sacrifices in somebody else's name, trying to get yourself saved or to earn redemption. You no longer have to push yourself overboard so that you will be smiled at by that guy who watches us, the old man with the beard. As far as Buddhists are concerned, the sky is blue and the grass is green—in the summer, of course. As far as Buddhists are concerned, human beings are very important and they have never been condemned—except by their own confusion, which is understandable. If nobody shows you a path, any kind of path, you're going to be confused. That is not your fault. But now you are being shown the path and you are beginning to work with a particular teacher. And at this point nobody is confused. You are what you are, the teachings are what they are, and I am what I am—a preceptor to ordain you as Buddhist persons.

Taking refuge in the Buddha as an example, taking refuge in the dharma as the path, and taking refuge in the sangha as companionship is very clean-cut, very definite, very precise, and very clear. People have done this for the past twenty-five hundred years of the Buddhist tradition. By taking refuge you receive that particular heritage into your own system; you join that particular wisdom that has existed for twenty-five hundred years without interruption and without corruption. It is very direct and very simple.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha

You take refuge in the Buddha not as a savior—not with the feeling that you have found something to make you secure—but as an example, as someone you can emulate. He is an example of an ordinary human being who saw through the deceptions of life, both on the ordinary and spiritual levels.

The Buddha found the awakened state of mind by relating with the situations that existed around him: the confusion, chaos and insanity. He was able to look at those situations very clearly and precisely. He disciplined himself by working on his own mind, which was the source of all the chaos and confusion. Instead of becoming an anarchist and blaming society, he worked on himself and he attained what is known as bodhi, or enlightenment. The final and ultimate breakthrough took place, and he was able to teach and work with sentient beings without any inhibition.

The example of the Buddha's life is applicable because he started out in basically the same kind of life that we lead, with the same confusion. But he renounced that life in order to find the truth. He went through a lot of religious "trips." He tried to work with the theistic world of the Hinduism of the time, and he realized there were a lot of problems with that. Then, instead of looking for an outside solution, he began working on himself. He began pulling up his own socks, so to speak, and he became a buddha. Until he did that, he was just a wishy-washy spiritual tripper. So taking refuge in the Buddha as an example is realizing that our case history is in fact completely comparable with his, and then deciding that we are going to follow his example and do what he did.

One of the big steps in the Buddha's development was his realization that there is no reason we should believe in or expect anything greater than the basic inspiration that exists in us already. This is a nontheistic tradition: the Buddha gave up relying on any kind of divine principle that would descend on him and solve his problems. So taking refuge in the Buddha in no way means regarding him as a god. He was simply a person who practiced, worked, studied, and experienced things personally. With that in mind, taking refuge in the Buddha amounts to renouncing misconceptions about divine existence. Since we possess what is known as buddhanature, enlightened intelligence, we don't have to borrow somebody else's glory. We are not all that helpless. We have our own resources already. A hierarchy of divine principles is irrelevant. It is very much up to us. Our individuality has produced our own world. The whole situation is very personal.

Taking Refuge in the Dharma

Then we take refuge in the teachings of the Buddha, the dharma. We take refuge in the dharma as path. In this way we find that everything in our life situation is a constant process of learning and discovery. We do not regard some things as secular and some things as sacred, but everything is regarded as truth—which is the definition of dharma. Dharma is also passionlessness, which in this case means not grasping, holding on, or trying to possess—it means non-aggression.

Usually, the basic thread that runs through our experience is our desire to have a purely goal-oriented process: everything, we feel, should be done in relation to our ambition, our competitiveness, our one-upmanship. That is what usually drives us to become greater professors, greater mechanics, greater carpenters, greater poets. Dharma—passionlessness—cuts through this small, goal-oriented vision, so that everything becomes purely a learning process. This permits us to relate with our lives fully and properly. So, taking refuge in the dharma as path, we develop the sense that it is worthwhile to walk on this earth. Nothing is regarded as just a waste of time; nothing is seen as a punishment or as a cause of resentment and complaint.

This aspect of taking refuge is particularly applicable in America, where it is quite fashionable to blame everything on others and to feel that all kinds of elements in one's relationships or surroundings are unhealthy or polluted. We react with resentment. But once we begin to do that, there is no way. The world becomes divided into two sections: sacred and profane, or that which is good and proper and that which is regarded as a bad job or a necessary evil. Taking refuge in the dharma, taking a passionless approach, means that all of life is regarded as a fertile situation and a learning situation, always. Whatever occurs—pain or pleasure, good or bad, justice or injustice—is part of the learning process. So there is nothing to blame; everything is the path, everything is dharma.

That passionless quality of dharma is an expression of nirvana—freedom, or openness. And once we have that approach, then any spiritual practice we might go through becomes a part of the learning situation, rather than merely ritualistic or spiritual, or a matter of religious obligation. The whole process becomes integral and natural.

This approach involves a quality of directness and absence of deception—or we might even say absence of politeness. It means that we actually face the facts of life directly, personally. We do not have to come up with any padding of politeness or ordinary cheapness, but we actually experience life. And it is very ordinary life: pain is pain and pleasure is pleasure. We don't have to use another word or innuendo. Pain and pleasure and confusion—everything takes place very nakedly. We are simply ordinary. With our friends, with our relatives, in everything that goes on, we can afford to be very simple and direct and personal.

Taking Refuge in the Sangha

Having taken refuge in the Buddha as an example and the dharma as path, then we take refuge in the sangha as companionship. That means that we have a lot of friends, fellow refugees, who are also confused, and who are working with the same guidelines as we are. Everybody is simultaneously struggling with their own discipline. As the members of the sangha experience a sense of dignity, and their sense of taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha begins to evolve, they are able to act as a reminder and to provide feedback for each other. Your friends in the sangha provide a continual reference point which creates a continual learning process. They act as mirror reflections to remind you or warn you in living situations. That is the kind of companionship that is meant by sangha. We are all in the same boat; we share a sense of trust and a sense of larger-scale, organic friendship.

So taking refuge in the sangha means being willing to work with your fellow students—your brothers and sisters in the dharma—while being independent at the same time. Nobody imposes his or her heavy notions on the rest of the sangha. Instead, each member of the sangha is an individual who is on the path in a different way from all the others. It is because of that that you get constant feedback of all kinds: negative and positive, encouraging and discouraging. These very rich resources become available to you when you take refuge in the sangha, the fellowship of students. The sangha is the community of people who have the perfect right to cut through your trips and feed you with their wisdom, as well as the perfect right to demonstrate their own neurosis and be seen through by you. The companionship within the sangha is a kind of clean friendship—without expectation, without demand, but at the same time, fulfilling.

So we no longer regard ourselves as lone wolves who have such a good thing going on the side that we don't have to relate with anybody at all. At the same rime we must nor simply go along with the crowd. Either extreme is too secure. The idea is one of constantly opening, giving up completely. There is a lot of need for giving up.

The discipline of taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma and the sangha is something more than a doctrinal or ritual thing: you are being physically infected with commitment to the buddhadharma; Buddhism is transmitted into your system. At that particular point, the energy, the power, and the blessing of basic sanity that has existed in the lineage for twenty-five hundred years, in an unbroken tradition and discipline from the time of Buddha, enters your system, and you finally become a full-fledged follower of buddhadharma. You are a living future buddha at that point.



Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) was author of such classics as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, The Myth of Freedom, Born in Tibet and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. This article is adapted from The Heart of the Buddha, published by Shambhala Publications. ©1991 by Diana J. Mukpo. Click here to order this book from the publisher.



The Decision to Become a Buddhist
, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala Sun, May 2001.


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Buddhist Meditation is Relaxing with the Truth Print

Buddhist Meditation is Relaxing with the Truth

By

It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves as we are that meditation becomes a transformative process. The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. 


As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. To be encouraged to stay with our vulnerability is news that we definitely can use. Sitting meditation is our support for learning how to do this. Sitting meditation, also known as mindfulness-awareness practice, is the foundation of bodhichitta training. It is the home ground of the warrior bodhisattva.

Sitting meditation cultivates loving-kindness and compassion, the relative qualities of bodhichitta, which could be defined as completely awakened heart and mind. It gives us a way to move closer to our thoughts and emotions and to get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.

Gradually, through meditation, we begin to notice that there are gaps in our internal dialogue. In the midst of continually talking to ourselves, we experience a pause, as if awakening from a dream. We recognize our capacity to relax with the clarity, the space, the open-ended awareness that already exists in our minds. We experience moments of being right here that feel simple, direct, and uncluttered.

This coming back to the immediacy of our experience is training in unconditional bodhichitta. By simply staying here, we relax more and more into the open dimension of our being. It feels like stepping out of a fantasy and relaxing with the truth.

Yet there is no guarantee that sitting meditation will be of benefit. We can practice for years without it penetrating our hearts and minds. We can use meditation to reinforce our false beliefs: it will protect us from discomfort; it will fix us; it will fulfill our hopes and remove our fears. This happens because we don't properly understand why we are practicing.

Why do we meditate? This is a question we'd be wise to ask. Why would we even bother to spend time alone with ourselves?

First of all, it is helpful to understand that meditation is not just about feeling good. To think that this is why we meditate is to set ourselves up for failure. We'll assume we are doing it wrong almost every time we sit down: even the most settled meditator experiences psychological and physical pain. Meditation takes us just as we are, with our confusion and our sanity. This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri, a simple, direct relationship with our being.

Trying to fix ourselves is not helpful. It implies struggle and self-denigration. Denigrating ourselves is probably the major way that we cover over bodhichitta.

Does not trying to change mean we have to remain angry and addicted until the day we die? This is a reasonable question. Trying to change ourselves doesn't work in the long run because we're resisting our own energy. Self-improvement can have temporary results, but lasting transformation occurs only when we honor ourselves as the source of wisdom and compassion. We are, as the eighth-century Buddhist master Shantideva pointed out, very much like a blind person who finds a jewel buried in a heap of garbage. It is right here in our smelliest of stuff that we discover the awakened heart of basic clarity and goodness, the completely open mind of bodhichitta.

It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves as we are that meditation becomes a transformative process. When we relate with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception, we finally let go of harmful patterns. Without maitri, renunciation of old habits becomes abusive. This is an important point.

There are four main qualities that are cultivated when we meditate: steadfastness, clear seeing, experiencing one's emotional distress, and attention to the present moment. These four factors apply not only to sitting meditation, but are essential to all the bodhichitta practices and for relating with difficult situations in our daily lives.


Steadfastness

When we practice meditation we are strengthening our ability to be steadfast with ourselves. No matter what comes up—aching bones, boredom, falling asleep, or the wildest thoughts and emotions—we develop a loyalty to our experience. Although plenty of meditators consider it, we don't run screaming out of the room. Instead we acknowledge that impulse as thinking, without labeling it right or wrong. This no small task. Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt.

We're encouraged to meditate everyday, even for a short time, in order to cultivate this steadfastness with ourselves. We sit under all kinds of circumstances—whether we are feeling healthy or sick, whether we're in a good mood or depressed, whether we feel our meditation is going well or is completely falling apart. As we continue to sit we see that meditation isn't about getting it right or attaining some ideal state. It's about being able to stay present with ourselves. It becomes increasingly clear that we won't be free of self-destructive patterns unless we develop a compassionate understanding of what they are.

One aspect of steadfastness is simply being in your body. Because meditation emphasizes working with your mind, it's easy to forget that you even have a body.

When you sit down it's important to relax into your body and to get in touch with what is going on. Starting with the top of your head, you can spend a few minutes bringing awareness to every part of your body. When you come to places that are hurting or tense you can breath in and out three or four times, keeping your awareness on that area. When you get to the soles of your feet you can stop or, if you feel like it, you can repeat this body sweep by going from bottom to top. Then at any time during your meditation period, you can quickly tune back into the overall sense of being in your body. For a moment you can bring your awareness directly back to being right here. You are sitting. There are sounds, smells, sights, aches; you are breathing in and out. You can reconnect with your body like this when it occurs to you—maybe once or twice during a sitting session. Then return to the technique.

In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it's impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but also about what it is to be human. All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don't want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. There are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down.

The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we'll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say, "Stay!" "Come!" "Roll over!" and "Sit up!" but he will also be neurotic and confused. By contrast, training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn't become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure.

So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to "stay" and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What's for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can't stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.


Clear Seeing

After we've been meditating for a while, it's common to feel that we are regressing rather then waking up. "Until I started meditating, I was quite settled; now it feels like I'm always restless." "I never used to feel anger; now it comes up all the time." We might complain that meditation is ruining our life, but in fact such experiences are a sign that we're starting to see more clearly. Through the process of practicing the technique day in and out, year after year, we begin to be very honest with ourselves. Clear seeing is another way of saying that we have less self-deception.

The Beat poet Jack Kerouac, feeling primed for a spiritual breakthrough, wrote to a friend before he retreated into the wilderness, "If I don't get a vision on Desolation Peak, then my name ain't William Blake." But later he wrote that he found it hard to face the naked truth. "I'd thought, in June when I get to the top-and everybody leaves-I will come face to face with God or Tathagata (Buddha) and find out once and for all what is the meaning of all this existence and suffering-but instead I'd come face to face with myself, no liquor, no drugs, no chance of faking it, but face to face with ole Hateful . . . Me."

Meditation requires patience and maitri. If this process of clear seeing isn't based on self-compassion it will become a process of self-aggression. We need self-compassion to stabilize our minds. We need it to work with our emotions. We need it in order to stay.

When we learn to meditate, we are instructed to sit in a certain position on a cushion or chair. We're instructed to just be in the present moment, aware of our breath as it goes out. We're instructed that when our mind has wandered off, without any harshness or judgmental quality, we should acknowledge that as 'thinking" and return to the outbreath. We train in coming back to this moment of being here. In the process of doing this, our fogginess, our bewilderment, our ignorance begin to transform into clear seeing. "Thinking" becomes a code word for seeing "just what is"—both our clarity and our confusion. We are not trying to get rid of thoughts. Rather we are clearly seeing our defense mechanisms, our negative beliefs about ourselves, our desires and our expectations. We also see our kindness, our bravery, our wisdom.

Through the process of practicing the mindfulness-awareness technique on a regular basis, we can no longer hide from ourselves. We clearly see the barriers we set up to shield us from naked experience. Although we still associate the walls we've erected with safety and comfort, we also begin to feel them as a restriction. This claustrophobic situation is important for a warrior. It marks the beginning of longing for an alternative to our small, familiar world. We begin to look for ventilation. We want to dissolve the barriers between ourselves and others.


Experiencing our Emotional Distress

Many people, including long-time practitioners, use meditation as a means of escaping difficult emotions. It is possible to misuse the label "thinking" as a way of pushing negativity away. No matter how many times we've been instructed to stay open to whatever arises, we still can use meditation as repression. Transformation occurs only when we remember, breath by breath, year after year, to move toward our emotional distress without condemning or justifying our experience.

Trungpa Rinpoche describes emotion as a combination of self-existing energy and thoughts. Emotion can't proliferate without our internal conversations. If we're angry when we sit to meditate, we are instructed to label the thoughts "thinking" and let them go. Yet below the thoughts something remains—a vital, pulsating energy. There is nothing wrong, nothing harmful about that underlying energy. Our practice is to stay with it, to experience it, to leave it as it is, without proliferating.

There are certain advanced techniques in which you intentionally churn up emotions by thinking of people or situations that make you angry or lustful or afraid. The practice is to let the thoughts go and connect directly with the energy, asking yourself, "Who am I without these thoughts?" What we do with mindfulness-awareness practice is simpler than that, but I consider it equally daring. When emotional distress arises uninvited, we let the story line go and abide with the energy of that moment. This is a felt experience, not a verbal commentary on what is happening. We can feel the energy in our bodies. If we can stay with it, neither acting it out nor repressing it, it wakes us up. People often say, "I fall asleep all the time in meditation. What shall I do?" There are lots of antidotes to drowsiness but my favorite is, "Get angry!"

Not abiding with our energy is a predictable human habit. Acting out and repressing are tactics we use to get away from our emotional pain. For instance most of us when we're angry scream or act it out. We alternate expressions of rage with feeling ashamed of ourselves and wallowing in it. We become so stuck in repetitive behavior that we become experts at getting all worked up. In this way we continue to strengthen our conflicting emotions.

One night years ago I came upon my boyfriend passionately embracing another woman. We were in the house of a millionaire who had a priceless collection of pottery. I was furious and looking for something to throw. Everything I picked up I had to put back down because it was worth at least $10,000. I was completely enraged and I couldn't find an outlet! There were no exits from experiencing my own energy. The absurdity of the situation totally cut through my rage. I went outside and looked at the sky and laughed until I cried.

In vajrayana Buddhism it is said that wisdom is inherent in emotions. When we struggle against our own energy we are rejecting the source of wisdom. Anger without the fixation is none other than mirrorlike wisdom. Pride and envy without fixation is experienced as equanimity. The energy of passion when it's free of grasping is discriminating awareness wisdom.

In bodhichitta training we also welcome the living energy of emotions. When our emotions intensify what we usually feel is fear. This fear is always lurking in our lives. In sitting meditation we practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves and leaning into the emotions and the fear. Thus we train in opening the fearful heart to the restlessness of our own energy. We learn to abide with the experience of our emotional distress.



Attention to the Present Moment

Another factor we cultivate in the transformative process of meditation is attention to this very moment. We make the choice, moment by moment, to be fully here. Attending to our present-moment mind and body is a way of being tender toward self, toward other, and toward the world. This quality of attention is inherent in our ability to love.

Coming back to the present moment takes some effort but the effort is very light. The instruction is to "touch and go." We touch thoughts by acknowledging them as thinking and then we let them go. It's a way of relaxing our struggle, like touching a bubble with a feather. It's a nonaggressive approach to being here.

Sometimes we find that we like our thoughts so much that we don't want to let them go. Watching our personal video is a lot more entertaining than bringing our mind back home. There's no doubt that our fantasy world can be very juicy and seductive. So we train in using a "soft" effort, in interrupting our habitual patterns; we train in cultivating self-compassion.

We practice meditation to connect with maitri and unconditional openness. By not deliberately blocking anything, by directly touching our thoughts and then letting them go with an attitude of no big deal, we can discover that our fundamental energy is tender, wholesome and fresh. We can start to train as a warrior, discovering for ourselves that it is bodhichitta, not confusion, that is basic.


Pema Chödrön is a full-ordained Buddhist nun and the director of Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She is the author of The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. This article is adapted from her Shambhala Publications book, The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

Resting Completely, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, May 2001.

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