“You fight others all the time for your survival as a separate body-mind, a particular name and form. To live you must destroy. From the moment you were conceived you started a war with your environment – a merciless war of mutual extermination, until death sets you free.”
By virtue of merely being born into this realm, we are told by the preachers that we have inherited various sinful and undesirable qualities as part of the total human package – nasty companions riding along on our shoulders, disturbing our peace, and poisoning our experience. Perhaps they come in the form of negative traits and tendencies carried over from our poor performances and failings in previous lives, as some religious stories would have it. Then again, maybe they arise as the result of an “Original Sin” caused by a regrettable decision made long ago by the progenitors of the human species, as other religions hypothesize. In any case, we are told that we are stuck with this primordial calamity, a spiritual infection that resembles a kind of malignant software program that in turn needs to be purged from the system if we are to have any chance of lasting peace.
Certainly, we had better “do something” to rid ourselves of this apparent affliction! We are encouraged by the authorities on sin and karma to embark on some sort of purification process or pursuit of redemption in order to attain the peace which is inherently lacking. Thus begins the endless internal conflict where the mind is divided against itself in a war zone of its own making, featuring opposing camps of light and dark, good and evil, grasping and aversion, and the ensuing elaboration of an all-encompassing struggle in life and relationships.
This never-ending battle manifests as the felt sense of chronic discomfort and dis-ease, self-doubt, neurotic ambivalence, and for many, the more clinical psycho-pathologies. To these, all sorts of methods, schemes, and life-long strategies are systematically prescribed by the priests and doctors as remedies against the projected nemesis. In fact, the preachers have been kept in perennial business by promising via all manner of propaganda that their cult or scheme is the best one for the job of pacifying the mind and heart, even to the point of waging physical war with other cults over which one is superior in producing peace (regardless of how ironic that might seem to an outside observer).
So, how does the conception of this disease become reified in our psyche? From where does the dissatisfaction stem? Upon sincere and thorough investigation, we can recognize that it arises from ignorance – ignorance of our true nature and condition. To begin to understand the root of this ignorance, we need look no further than our own mind, since this misunderstanding is nothing but a state of consciousness. When we stop and break it down, we can observe that there appears to be a steady stream of thoughts which we take to be ours, apparently infected with all manner of bugs and bothersome critters, so that we can never truly and deeply rest. In the course of our cognitive development, we become so habituated to this state of chronic disturbance that we never even question it. We just assume that it is the “normal” condition of being human – “normal neurosis”, in psychological parlance.
To complicate the matter, we tend to imagine that we are independent entities, separate from the world of myriad sentient beings around us. In our struggle to acquire and maintain what we believe we need to survive and flourish , we engage in a perpetual state of competition and conflict with these perceived “others”. Of course, such a paradigm of virtual war precludes the experience of any true compassion. Moreover, such a state of precarious consciousness is reflected back to us in all our relations, because everyone is under the spell of a similar delusion. Ignorance is self-reinforcing, rendering us all suspicious of each other. We walk the earth — a threatened, restless “stranger in a strange land” – alienated not only from others, but also from ourselves. It’s a literal nightmare, a horrible dream!
The wise, rather than merely accepting and even fueling this fabricated struggle, will instead turn attention around and trace back to the beginning of the conflict itself, eventually recognizing through inquiry and consequent insight that whatever appears is mind, and that mind itself is essentially a shadow. Attempts to catch it and control it are futile. That’s just shadows chasing shadows. One can’t control or eliminate a shadow by running after it and trying to grasp and manipulate it. As the great Adept Milarepa noted: “When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick. Every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”
There is a famous line in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13) that reads: “For now we see through a glass, darkly . . .” Indeed, whatever is seen, felt, thought, imagined, or remembered is not really so. Upon thorough inspection, we can see that it all amounts to mere fantasies of interpretation on perception. Furthermore, we can recognize that the conflict itself is essentially our own creation — stress and suffering we’ve been perpetrating on ourselves, based on second-hand beliefs and dysfunctional programs we have been incorporating into our system since we were children.
By earnestly investigating its smoke parade and inquiring into the nature of this conditioned and conflicted mind, we can notice that attention becomes quiet, supple, and fresh when freed from any fixation on the mind’s streaming contents. If we persist in that attitude of “non-dwelling” – grasping at no provisional identity based on the sense of separation and opposition — we can let go and relax into the ensuing dynamic stillness.
Sitting, standing, walking, lying down – we stay with this stillness, refraining from attaching to whatever arises in mind, surrendering any effort to manipulate thought forms. Even if demons or angels appear, discard them. Let go, let go, let go. Ultimately, surrender even the one who would surrender, the apparent witness of mind. As the Taoist sage Lao Tsu noted, “To a mind that is still, the whole world surrenders.”
Persisting in this practice, we can recognize something that is, after all, rather obvious. That is, regardless of any effort or non-effort, there is not a single thought that we can hold on to. Thoughts automatically become self-liberated. As Nyoshul Khenpo writes in his “Letter in Praise of Emptiness”, “In this there is not a thing to be removed, nor anything that needs to be added. It is merely the immaculate looking naturally at itself.”
One thought arises, and then before the next thought arises, there is an empty space. That empty space is the native natural state — fully, nakedly revealed. The thinking mind is absent in that space. All we need do is simply relax into that, remaining free of all focus in that transparent, sky-like spaciousness. The practice then is just returning to that unfabricated aware space as often as possible, even in the midst of activities, rather than chasing after and being run around by thought forms. It’s brilliantly clear, awake, and “knowing” without the need of thinking, because it is always between two thought events.
The sense of self — the feeling “me” — is a thought event, a mental construct, that appears in the space of awake awareness like a cloud appears in the empty sky and vanishes in the next moment. It’s just another thought. It is not ours, not who we are. We are the awake-ness that knows itself as itself. Resting in the spaciousness of one’s own primordial state, we can recognize that the same energy which was manifesting as thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations now appears as the pure delight of our own innocent nature.
In the course of this natural ease of being, we may notice that we are not even really “located” in any fixed space, whether between or somewhere beyond thoughts. Rather, everything appearing is recognized as our own omnidirectional display, the display of a holographic projection of mind, expressing itself as the immense vastness of the celestial heavens, as well as the humble weed flowering between the sidewalk cracks. Spirit manifests subject and objects to infinity, while remaining unidentified with and un-implicated by either. Timeless, motionless, inconceivable.
Awareness and experience are not two — there is no distance between them. Each moment, however it manifests, is the perfect form of our self-expression. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, higher or lower form. All forms are recognized as the quicksilver shine of the light behind the veil of mind – luminous and transparent. That is the “second birth” — spirit baptism. This clear radiance will illuminate and clarify all, including the empty nature of both self and phenomena. In the process, loving kindness and compassion are also realized to be inseparable from emptiness.
For those who might imagine that this realization leaves one floating in some cloud of spiritual bliss, oblivious to the mundane world of pain and suffering, nothing could be further from the actual reality. Rather than leaving one standing aloof and detached, it brings the whole spectrum of experience vividly to life, as if one had been sleepwalking, and is now fully awake. Moreover, in such brilliant clarity, a genuine empathy for all of life arises naturally, because the illusion of separation has been directly seen through and dissolved. At such point, loving one’s neighbor as oneself is simply the right thing to do, because one realizes that the appearance of separation is a hoax we may have once fallen for, but in light of this recognition, it becomes utterly clear that our neighbor literally is our self. Now, living a life of simple integrity, while refusing to indulge the poisons of greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance, is joyfully embraced as the natural way we were meant to live and express our true nature.
At last, even emptiness and fullness are revealed to be mere conceptual designations by the light which shines beyond both. When this light is joined with one’s living experience and “embodied” in conscious relationship to all, then life becomes spontaneous and actually very simple. Somehow, this heart has found its way back to itself – not as some independent “I” — but as That which lives me. The war with oneself is ended. Shanti, Shanti Om.
“Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.”