Friday, December 28, 2007

Moment-by-Moment on the Dharma Path

December 28, 2007

Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

Sometimes one can be surrounded by dharma on all sides and have very non-dharmic "urges" bubbling at the center. Rather than simply rejecting these urges we examine them, because within them are the signposts to where our inner work lies.

That’s a reason people come to India, such an intense country, where one’s inspirations and motivations and inner knowledge smack up against the realities of personal fears and aversions and weaknesses and discomfort and inner horrors. (And may the best, purest wisest thoughts win!)

In Tibetan Buddhism, a mind-science of the highest order, our teachers explain it’s the clear, wise, compassionate thoughts that are always resident in our mind, while thoughts of anger, greed, fear, jealousy, etc., resulting from our ignorance of the nature of reality, run rampant in our “here and now.”

So we learn what is so logical: the clear wise thoughts are the ones that lead to actions that produce happiness, the ones that stem from ignorance lead to actions that are harmful and cause suffering.

Learning how to recognize and not “follow” the harmful ones, while generating, discerning and empowering the wise ones is, mechanically speaking, what dharma practice is all about.

Motivation stems from the understanding that the potential for manifesting wise thoughts is always present, an indestructible part of our mind’s clear fabric. The harmful thoughts -- described by Lama Zopa Rinpoche as “disturbing obscuring” -- while numerous and influential (in the same way poison can be influential), are just interlopers that, with practice, may be overcome and ultimately eliminated.

Mindfulness practice teaches us to be aware of what is occurring in our mind, and we soon learn there’s plenty of both “Wise Ones” and “Sufferers” and they come very very quickly, and in those moments when we’re aware that the “Wise Ones” have taken residence we take note and feel pretty good about it.

But look out, trouble ahead. We can’t take too much note or feel too good, because next up on the mindstream is a deep and familiar hole with a very slippery slope containing the ultimate Sufferer disguised as a Wise One. This one’s called “self-cherishing” and before you’re even aware you’re caught in it, you’re usually in pretty deep. In fact, it’s the state of mind in which we spend most of our time.

And the self-cherishing mind is a sneaky, seductive Sufferer indeed:

[Sufferer speaks:] "Ahhh, it feels good here, feels like “Me” tucked into my own Me bed, head on my soft Me pillow underneath my secure Me comforter. The thoughts and feelings that abide here are comfortable and safe and warm. Self-cherishing is where we feel special. Unique. At the center of our universe. And it feels wonderfully real. Out there it’s Me vs. Everyone Else, and when I’m here, in my self-cherishing state of mind, I AM the most important . . . I AM THE WINNER!"

The trouble is that self-cherishing, regardless of how good or comfortable or REAL it feels, is a hole nonetheless, and in its depths breed and grow all the sufferings we experience.

(And hey, psst . . . there’s nothing real about it, you’re smack in the middle of Delusion-land. But don’t sweat it, it happens to most everyone, and besides, none of that feel-good self-cherishing stuff could possibly be real in the way you’d like it to be, anyway.)


Dust and mosquitos. If you’ve ever wanted to know what’s in the Bodhgaya air, that’s it. Thick dust by day, thicker mosquitoes by evening.

The dust alone can make you ill, and can turn toxic if you have the flu-type chest congestion so many Westerners here seem to get. Many walk around with mouth masks, and the amount of dirt one sees in his/her mask after wearing it for just a few minutes in town is frightening.

But the mosquitoes, they’re a different type of problem

First of all, they are numerous and large . . . these are the kind with the thick bodies and long legs that just hang down as they float/fly around. But even though they’re large, you don’t feel them when they land on you . . . until you feel their blood-seeking pinch, even through your clothes.

Secondly, they swarm. Rest assured if you see one on your arm, there’s two on your neck and one on your forehead.

Thirdly, mosquitoes in India are dangerous. Malaria. Dengue fever. Diseases that kill. Enough said.

Here in the Indian state of Bihar the mosquitoes breed in the well-irrigated rice fields that circle the town. Hungry and thirsty, they begin swarming in the late afternoon.

Everyone hates mosquitoes, some people obsessively. The problem is, they’re sentient beings. Mind possessors. Just looking to have happiness and avoid suffering, exactly like all other sentient beings, including us humans.

And at the core of Tibetan Buddhism is the belief and practice is that we don’t kill sentient beings. In fact, we are taught to cherish them even more than ourselves.

So at this point the dharma path gets a little gnarled.

Because when one of these little mind possessors lands on us, we instinctively have that self-cherishing notion of squashing it, but as mindful little dharma students we KNOW that is a harmful thought . . . what do we do?

Is it alright to kill just in this instance? Is extreme self-cherishing really alright in this instance. How about if I do it casually, so no one else sees me do it?

Isn’t my own relief at being momentarily mosquito-free more worth more than the suffering of splattering-to-death for the mosquito and the imprinting of a deservedly negative karmic seed for us?

Or, do we go to the other extreme and graciously offer our flesh as a sign of respect, a recognition of the interconnectedness of all beings, an action of cherishing other more than self? After all, how much blood can a mosquito really take?

But if I do that, what about his buddies -- all the other mosquitoes who are watching this little drama take place, just waiting for the “safe to eat” sign.

A lot to think about and not much time in which to do it. I remember the old pre-dharma days when there would have been no thought, just a sharp slap and the satisfaction of seeing the dark dead blotch.

So, indecisive, I look at the mosquito and see it as scary and ugly – all wings and legs and a head that comes to a long sharp point. It likely came from a puddle of stagnant water that acts as “loo” to water buffalo, cows, goats and pigs. Maybe people too. It probably speaks only Hindi and hasn’t been on a body with blood as nutritious as mine in its entire life. And there’s a chance it’s carrying some miserable-to-humans disease. Maybe even two of them.

It's so easy to see the judgments that arise from the self-cherishing state of mind? Is wanting to squash the mosquito really a product of what Rinpoche calls a disturbing obstructing moment of mind?

And so the dialog goes, all in the space of a second or two . . .

[Sufferer speaks:] Don’t I have a right to squash it? After all, it’s only just a filthy mosquito, an insect, a bug, a sneaky, potentially lethal bug who is about to bite ME?

[Wise speaks:] Ok, but, what about my vow to not kill when I took refuge?

[Wise speaks:] Didn’t Atisha say “In every situation there is always something beneficial I can do”?

[Wise remembers:] And just today Rinpoche spoke about how our attitude must be that we are single-handedly going to lead all beings to bodhicitta.

[Suffer:] But it’s only a mosquito and I hate it, I don’t want it to bite me and I want to kill it before it does.

[Wise:] But isn’t my precious human rebirth, such an incredible opportunity, going to be cheapened if I squash it? And what about the bad karma I’ll create? All that mind-corruption.

[Sufferer:] Yeah, but, malaria . . .


Self-cherishing . . . Dharma . . . Mind possessors . . . Distrubances and obscurations . . . Wisdom occurring . . . Fear whispering . . . Me, myself and I . . . Equanimity and compassion . . .

It all leads up to this moment. And then the next . . .