Categoriearchief: 2023

Aspects of practice: Cultivating the Culture of Awakening.

Start with a willingness to do sitting meditation and to go into “seclusion” and to “leave home”. In other words: be willing to sit and go deep into yourself (seclusion) and to give up notions, opinions, conventions, convictions, beliefs, identities and hope (leave home). Try to be open. This will simplify your life tremendously.

Listen to the guides and study the teachings. Try to comprehend that you and all beings really are:
Anatta – Without Self,
Anicca – Without Permanence,
Anutpada – Without Origen (Birth),
Animitta – Without Sign (Significance),
Apranihita – Without Need/Wish (fully complete),
Annamu – Without Name (Labels),
Sunyatta – Completely empty of any solid separate aspect (you are “without”), so in fact just pure “interbeing”.

Contemplation is important. Contemplate Sunyatta. It helps to understand and know this to be true, even if it is only intellectually. Put your faith in the dharma and trust the guides and teachers. Be their student. Learn to listen to, and trust the inner resonance you can feel with the teachings. There, in the inner resonance, you will find interbeing of student and teacher, of guest and host, of the unique and myriad forms and their movement and the eternal, unmoving formless.

Dare to go deep into suffering. The experiencing and witnessing of suffering (of self and others) opens our hearts and expands us. Try not to resist or escape. All suffering is mine, there are no “others”.

Do not try to free yourself from yourself. Instead, study the self. See the barriers and limitations that the self imagines and imposes on itself. That is how the self defines and solidifies itself. Dropping these imagined limitations, barriers and separations makes us see that the self, that we imagine to be so small and limited, actually reaches beyond the stars and lies within even the tiniest particle. The vast eternal truth is not hidden behind the forms and phenomena, it is within them, within me and directly accessible. It is me. I am presence, and I am present.

See this, experience this, for yourself. And acknowledge the mystery. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. The teachings, teachers and guides (if they are any good) always point you back at your own experience, back at yourself. There, you will find no final, definitive answers. But you will be able to drop many answers. Eventually you will find your truest teacher and true tuition within yourself, you inner teacher, your intuition.

Deepen this by sitting meditation. But also by walking, working, eating, cleaning, etcetera. Meditation does not have to end when you get up from your sitting. It can continue in any form. Make practice the core of your life. Make remembering this the core of your life. Learn to listen to the silence always present within everything. You can be silence even as you speak.

Share what is given with all who seek, whatever your task and position. Make your life revolve around remembering and always deepening your own practice and around the kindness, love and compassion you can generate and share with all beings without preferences and judgements. Embody Sunyata and manifest kindness and compassion. Be love and express love.

Don’t think you’re special. All beings are Buddha. And all Buddha’s from time to time forget that they are.

The practice of dealing with pain and suffering

As human beings we are all of us very familiar with pain and suffering. The first formal teaching of the Buddha was about the Four Practices for Noble People (usually called the “Four Noble Truths”) of which the first was to look deeply into the pain, the stress and the discontent, that seem innate and unavoidable in our lives as human beings. The other three look at the cause of suffering and the ways in which we can reduce the suffering. Today, I would like to point out some practical aspects and ways of working with the pain and suffering that we encounter every day.

Being aware of suffering

The first step is to see and identify suffering. This would seem so glaringly obvious as to be superfluous to even mention, but in fact it is often the greatest barrier to working with pain and suffering. We are so keen on avoiding pain and suffering that we have developed amazing abilities and strategies to not see the obvious.
So a first step could be this practice:
Contemplate this daily: Everyone you meet is (exactly like you) going through hardship and suffering, the details of which you know nothing about. But we all of us know suffering and pain, one way or another. Know this to be true and recognise the common shared experience of suffering and pain.
My pain I know, because it is mine. Your pain I know too, because it is my pain also.
Because of this recognition, because we allow ourselves to expand so that all the suffering really is our own, awareness of suffering and pain are immediate gateways to a tremendous reduction of self-centeredness, a deep sense of interconnectedness and to the continuous practice of loving kindness and compassion.

Express the wish to reduce suffering

Recognise (and whenever appropriate and possible express) the wish that you and all beings may be free from pain and suffering. In “The Path of the Bodhisattva” Shantideva, the eight century Indian Buddhist monk, gives these vows:

“May I try and become at all times, both now and forever
A protector of those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship or a bridge for those with oceans or rivers to cross
A refuge for those in danger, or who lack shelter
A light for those in darkness
A medicine for those who are sick
A servant to all in need
For as long as living beings remain
May I remain too, to dispel the suffering of the world.”

I really helps to create your own version of this (there are many available online) and remember and say it on a daily basis (you might want to shorten it a bit). Even if we can not do anything to practically alleviate suffering and pain, just giving rise to this intention can really change lives.

Create a (small) daily ritual

In combination with this, give yourself a daily ritual of kindness. Sit, meditate, go outside if you can, preferably sit or take a walk in nature if possible. Create some quiet and silence in yourself and around you. Do it every day.
It’s not at all about distracting ourselves from suffering and pain. It’s about remembering that all our personal drama, in which we can feel so lonely and lost, takes place in an endless, vast and beautiful “background”, a space that doesn’t judge, neither rejects or clings and that has no opinion about anything whatsoever. This space is around us and within us (in fact it IS what we are).

Perform small kindnesses

Practice small kindnesses, small acts of compassion towards others. Give small gifts, like a smile to someone in the street, a short conversation with a neighbour. Ask the check-out person in the supermarket how he or she is doing (and make sure that it is a genuine desire to know more about this person and not just a polite phrase). Pick up garbage on the beach, open a door for someone. These seem so trivial and hardly relevant but it is these small acts, these tiny miracles, that can change someone’s day, or week or life. It’s also really fun to do.
Make your heart as wide as the universe, make your acts small.
Also recognise that you probably actually do this already often, but without awareness. Be aware and eventually this becomes a continuous practice.

Be careful with comforting

Offering comforting words or “helpful” actions for someone in pain is often not helpful at all. Be aware of your motives for offering comfort or help. Often it’s done just to alleviate our own discomfort at witnessing suffering. In that case it only dulls the pain temporarily at best, but often it just deepens the pain and the loneliness of the one we try to comfort. It is often better not to go and help or offer comfort, but to be truly present for someone in pain.  

Look at those who have caused us pain

One of the most difficult aspects is to see that those who we feel have caused us pain and suffering, have suffered and/or are suffering also.
First, try not to hate. Then try to love. Then love everyone.
Know that this is often very, very difficult, so don’t blame yourself at all if you find this hard or even impossible to do. Just keep trying.

Notice the changes in you

Notice that practicing kindness and compassion brings about self-compassion, happiness and joy, selfless joy, naturally. It also leads to deeper equanimity. And the happiness, the selfless joy and equanimity as they deepen, in turn deepen our practice of kindness and compassion. It’s a circular process (with ups and downs) which widens our hearts all the time. It may be slow, but it works.

And rest

Rest in this spacious, selfless, open joy and the gentle inner calmness that it brings. And act with kindness and compassion coming from this natural wholeheartedness, that encompasses the entire universe, that lies clearly within us, that is our home, that is what we are.
Just remember that.

A fully furnished apartment

The perceiving mind, that actually thinks it is the inhabitant and owner of the body, is always involved in separating things, identifying things, and labeling things. And through this separation from the things it perceives, it creates and secures for itself a strong and dominating identity as the center and core of “My Life”, and as the “Me” within this body. And it is cramming itself full of thoughts and judgments and ideas about the forms it perceive, and about itself. The perceiving mind needs all these separations and attachments, to solidify itself as the perceiver, to give itself substance.
It’s like a room, an “apartment”, absolutely choc-a-bloc full of furniture. In fact so full that there is no room, no space to breath, no time to sit still and breath. And there’s no rest, because the perceiving mind is always busy with the inventory of stories, identities, certainties and uncertaincies, and always, always very busy to acquire more. It’s an addiction.

When we meditate, when we loosen our grip and reduce our intoxication with perception and the perceiver, we can actually begin to see the space that surrounds and accommodates it all. It’s like opening the doors at the back of the perceiving mind, like letting the walls of the apartment dissolve, become transparent, to reveal the expanding that is without limit. That is timeless and still. That is life and full of life. That is really me as well as home. We can call it Buddha-Heart-Mind, but any name will do.

The perceiving mind, with all it’s limits, separations and attachments, is not separate from this Buddha-Heart-Mind, so there’s no need to get rid of the perceiving mind. The only thing we need to do is to go through this layer of perception, without getting stuck there, and to open ourselves. To open our perceiving minds to its real size, its real self.

Opening the doors, dropping the separating walls, is liberation. It’s letting go of the limits of “Me-mind” and dropping into no-mind which I can embody here and now as Michel, as Plein Ciel.

And then I can simply accept and say yes, chose sometimes to say no, act and speak, sit still and be silent, and speak again as the moment requires. And I can sit on the furniture as I like and invite anyone to sit with me and love and explore it all.