Buddha and Queen Maya
Many of the techniques of nature shamanism are paralleled in the advanced Tantric meditation methods of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly those of the more ancient and less monastic Ningmapa school which still follows more closely the pre-Buddhist Bonpo animistic and shamanistic practices. This complex underlay of ritual shamanic features distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from Zen and the Mahayana schools of South East Asia. Although many Tibetan buddhist practices revolve around elaborate ritual, ritual in itself was decried by Buddha as one of the principal impediments to enlightenment. Indeed all such rules are acknowledged as constructive only in so far as they lead to enlightenment - the experience of the cosmic mind as void.
Just as the distinctive flavour of Tibetan Buddhism owes as much to Bön as it does to Naropa Marpa and Milarepa its founding Buddhist sages, so Buddhism as a whole owes an incalculable debt to the tradition of Indian mysticism. Buddha neither invented karmic law nor the unfathomable nature of the Buddha mind. Although Buddhists hasten to distinguish Buddhism from the Vedantic notion of Self insisting Self is an illusion, this is a semantic trick. For self-read Buddha mind and the Upanishads are the Dharma.
Nevertheless as you cross the stix it may be wise to take the advice of Buddha (who is said to have died after eating mushrooms) about this paradox (Oprey 1984 146). There is no self. There is no mind, which is the mirror bright. It is in the void that we find the still point of the turning world, so that in death, the dew drop slips into the shining sea - the hieros-gamos of the bardo:
Buddhism represents a pinnacle of understanding of the cosmic mind and an expression of human equanimity unparallelled in the other paternalistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam or partriachal Hindu.
However somehow it is still missing the vital emergent creative spark of evolution. Tthe Path of the Seed is in a sense evolutionary Buddhism. The equanimity of suffering in the endless round of death and rebirth, in which the cosmic no-mind is realized as the still point of the turning world is complemented by that primal creativity of evolution which makes possible that crowning respite from suffering - the Great Becoming. This is however the domain of the feminine, Maya falsely subjugated by Buddhism to the level of mere illusion and suffering.
Morality is adhered to only in so far as it is consistent with the path of realization. Devotees are forbidden to depart from Buddhist conventional morality unless their conduct truly proceeds from the desire to maintain experientially the voidness of opposites. Subject to these conditions, advanced adepts are permitted to do what seems appropriate, regardless of the normal rules of conduct. To consider abiding by the rules as necessarily good or transgressing them as necessarily evil would be to tie themselves down with the dualism they have set out to transcend.
Tantric Buddhism is a science of dynamical mind control which produces levels of consciousness deeper than conceptual thought. The form of the practices revolves around techniques of visualization and stopping the internal dialogue and may include sexual union, meditataion on death, including drinking from skulls and sleeping in graveyards, and periods of isolation, both in mountain caves and in the wilderness inhabited by wild animals.
The unity of the universe is represented in the mandala of the wheel of life forming a fractal representation of reality as cosmic mountain. Symbolic ritual instruments and the mandala deities are used only as tools to achieve deeper levels of meditation. The Tibetan cosmology contains several strange realms including that of the living world and also those of the peaceful and wrathful dakinis or deities. Buddhism is however essentially atheistic in the sense that there is no creator god. The deities are mere projectionsof the cosmic mind evoked by the meditation.
In visualization meditation, one of these, or a Buddha form are chosen for the initiate as their yidam or personal meditation deity. Meditation consists of several interlocking methods, including the use of a mantra such as om-mane-padme-hum to interrupt the flow of the internal dialogue and concentrate the mind on the voidness of being, each syllable being imbued with mystical meaning. The deity is visualized in splendour and detail, accompanied by actions such as the drawing in of evil forces and scattering of good forces back into the universe. A mudra or clasped hand position combined with yogic breathing or prajnayama provide additional components of the meditative concentration.
The yidam has a parallel role to the shamanic power animal, and stories have also been told of yidams projecting themselves into the real world as vizualization becomes more adept, or perhaps even engaging the meditator as a consort. The dakini differs from the awakening of kundalini in that it is a vehicle to enlightenment rather than ecstatic trance which is itself a consumation of samadhi. Some of the deities adopt a cosmic hieros gamos in which a profound state of realization is reached. In the rite of yab-yum, sexual union with a consort constitutes an advanced part of the sequence of meditations, forming a pinnacle of meditative realization rather than the worldly distraction of lust. It is also essential to practice forms of losing self-importance involving conquering the grasping and ignorant drives of the ego. These include the development of compassion for all beings and discriminating wisdom.
"In the vajrayana tradition, yab-yum symbolizes the unity of the masculine principle, or skillful means (upaya), with the feminine principle, or wisdom (prajna) [in the] ... unity of worshipper and the object of worship, the union of over and beloved. The anuttara-yoga tantra is the most sophisticated and involves very advanced, very precise visualizations of one's own death and reincarnation toward the end of developing greater wisdom and compassion." (Occhigrosso 1996 118)
The more advanced practices lead into deeper parallels. Complementing the long or right-handed path of gradual attainment through virtue and conventional practice is the short or left-handed path, a more precipitous route which uses all aspects of existence as a catalyst for reaching beyond duality to the void, samadhi and enlightenment. This path takes the very forces of illusion and uses them to aid discovery. The practitioner may adopt any action from meditating in graveyards or desolate places to debauchery as long as it is with the undiminished intent of self-discovery. The tonal and nagual are parallelled by the realms of samsara and nirvana, illusory form and the formless void.
The practices pertaining to the path of form revolve around six great yogas. The yogas of psychic heat, of the illusory body in which reality is seen as an illusory projection of the mind, of the dream state in which dreaming and waking consciousness are unified, of the clear light in which the subject attains ecstatic illumination, of the bardo in which the transition from life through death to life again occurs without disrupting the stream of consciousness, and finally that of consciousness transferrence in which consciousness can enter another place, body or incarnation.
The yoga of the dream state provides access to the bardo by showing the adept the unity of dreaming and waking realities and hence how to die and traverse the bardo without losing consciousness. It is held that shortly after death every being beholds the Clear Light of the Void, which is none other than reality in its pure fundamental state - the pure Nirvanic consciousness of a Buddha! This can also be apprehended during life between the cessation of one throught and the birth of the next (not-doing) or when imagining, thinking, analysing, meditating and reflecting cease, thus leaving the mind in its natural state (stopping the internal dialogue), or finally on the boundary between sleep and wakefullness (dreaming). If the dying person cannot hold to the clear light, their consciousness will wander downward through the bardo driven by terror and karmic accretions until it seeks the shelter of rebirth. By contrast the adept can enter deep samadhi behold the clear light and await an incarnation which fulfils their purpose as a Bodhisattva to help bring all beings to enlightenment.
By contrast, the formless path casts aside the specific vehicles of visualization and psychic manipulation. In the yoga of the mahamudra, or great gesture, involves using complementary methods of mental tranquility and one pointedness of mind, inhibiting thought and allowing the strem of consciousness to wander free, alternate tension and relaxation. By abandoning subject and object, a higher stage of consciousness is entered in which voidness is realized through following the natural flow and witnessing the transcience of the present and the unreality of reminiscence and speculation.
The next step is to bring phenomena and mind into a state of perfect unity by discovering the identical nature of waking and dream experience, clear light and voidness, including even details of other incarnations. Non-cognition permits everything to be transmuted into the immaculate mind, the mahamudra. The yoga of the great liberation applies a similar catalyst by rejecting all dualistic attachments and beliefs, especially the ego, and realizing that mind as the originator and container of the cosmos unites all sentient beings. Now looking deeply into their mind they discover that all things are transient in its omnipresence, that mind, formless and invisible, is known through the forms reflected in it, that mind is primordial consciousness and liberation results from allowing it to abide in its own place.
The formless path resembles the natural simplicity of Japanese Zen Buddhism, in which the principal meditation is sitting, or zazen, in which the mind is emptied of thought, accompanied by meditative breathing, in a natural environment, often in conjunction with a koan or contradictory concept such as the 'sound of one hand clapping'. Realization or satori similarly has a natural simplicity without supernatural undertones, as direct as the fragrance of spring blossom in the snow, a prograssion of such satoris leading to enlightenment. Two features characteristic of Zen are teaching by an emphasis on the immediacy of will, and harmony with nature. Consciousness is an act of will which is never to be repeated, which ceases to be Zen the moment it is conceptualized or reasoned with. Thus teaching may take the literal form of a slap in the face in response to a deep philosophical question. Secondly Zen does not see nature as a bestial opposition to higher spirituality, nor an objective environment to be conquered by man, but perceives nature as sublime in a moral and spiritual aspect. Nature produces man out of itself; man cannot be outside of nature, man's being is rooted in nature, and nature sees itself through man. This is exemplified by the garden temple in which nature and meditative order merge in one harmonious reality.
Zen realization may include conceptual revolution. When Shen-hsiu, the favorite to be new patriarch, wrote :
Hui-neng (638-713) who was a mere rice-pounder replied :
becoming the new patriarch and initiating the Zen doctrine of no-mind.
Synchronicity and the Dharma
I took my refuge with the Ningmapa Lama Yeshe Dorje, a singular privilege because he was both a Lama and a shaman revered by the local community for stopping the rain, exorcizing madness, and other psyco-medical feats. He was completely selfless. He was a prolific family man and had seven children, unlike the monastic Lamas of the later Gelugpa and Kargutpa sects, and warned us against the teachings at the library of the Dalai Lama below, despite functioning as the cloud-clearer for the Dalai Lama on official occasions. He named me Yeshe Tenzin - primordial awareness doctrine-holder - after himself and the Dalai Lama. Some honour.
Later I had the good fortune to have several encounters with the last Karmapa, head of the Kargutpa sect, and renowned as one of the most realized of living Lamas. My first encounters were by folly and inference only. I had briefly walked into a Buddhist puja at Bodnath, just outside Khatmandu and had in my ignorance walked in ahead of Karmapa's party as he was about to enter to begin the ceremony. I then went trekking above Pokhara and was invited to stay at a Tibetan village where 'an important Lama' was going to give a Buddhist ceremony for the village. However I decided to press on up to Anapurna and the cloud forest. On my return to Khatmandu I was nonplussed to walk into the main square and immediately meet a German who had gone all the way to Pokhara to see the ceremonies and related a tale of Karmapa holding up a dorje or thunderbolt and thunder and lightning crashing across the sky. I felt I had missed out on an experience of power and resolved to go to Sikkhim where Karmapa's home monastery was. However this proved impossible and I ended up leaving India without fulfilling the encounter.
"The Kagyu (Tib. "Oral transmission") school has its roots in the Tantric systems transmitted by the 11th-century Indian master Tilopa. His teachings were passed in succession to Naropa, who for a time was abbot of Nalanda University. From Naropa they went to the Tibetan Marpa and then to Milarepa, the greatest of the Tibetan yogis, who is sal 'd to have put the Bardo Tbijdol into its current form and to have kept himself warm during the frigid Tibetan winters with the "fury-fire" yoga he had learned from Marpa. His many disciples dressed like him in only light cotton garments and sang the folk songs into which he put many of his teachings. As the first "ordinary" Tibetan believed to have achieved buddhahood in a single lifetime, Milarepa was a great inspiration to the common folk of that country." (Occhigrosso 1996 118)
After travelling overland to Europe and flying to New York, I was surprised to find that Karmapa was arriving in a week or two and would give several ceremonies. I was talking to someone in the street who told me about a Black Hat ceremony which was happening the next day. When it came time to go there I found myself in a virtual repeat of the previous experience. I had been to the Maimonides dream research laboratory investigating dream telepathy experiments. By the time I could leave it seemed probably too late to get to the Black Hat rite. I took the offchance and just as I turned the corner of the street I heard a blare of Tibetan trumpets and realized the crux of the ceremony was happening. I ran headlong up the street. A Tibetan man was walking in the door, but as I reached it, it slammed shut and locked! For a second time my predilection had shut me out. I finally got in in time to receive a braid which was placed on my neck with a look of resignation on Karmapa's part.
Afterwards I found that he was heading up to Boston and so took a trip up to try to make amends for such an intolerable history. I stayed at a Buddhist centre and finally ended up having an audience with Karmapa. I felt overwhelmed at this prospect, even in the next room. I took him nervously mala, or rosary, of bone beads from Tibet and asked him to bless it. I fully expected him to pass his hand over it in a sanctimonious blessing, but to my surprise he cackled an insane laugh and proceeded to crush the mala together again and again with explosive force.
A year or so later, while I was at a function. Without warning a drunkard walked up to me and assaulted me grabbing me by the scarf and the hidden mala and shattering the mala off its 100 pound fishing line with such explosive force that the Tibetan bone beads hit the plate glass walls of the building in all directions. I collected what I could. To my surprise when I got home, I found that a friend had coincidentally left on the mantlepiece a broken strand of almost matching beads.
Five years later I returned to New York and stayed with an old friend and to my surprise a letter came to me the very next day announcing that Karmapa was back and was going to be in upstate New York at Woodstock. There had been no other mail for me during the intervening years. Karmapa was by this time becoming terminally ill, but was still full of energy. Two of us approached him for a blessing as he was about to leave on an excursion. He looked at us with mischevious glee and grabbed us each in one hand by our bearded chins and gave our heads a sudden and surprising yank like a couple of billy goats!
The next time I returned to the U.S. I found that Yeshe Dorje was in Boulder. He held a seven hour pujah with a whole series of rites of exorcism, collecting names of people in distress, and the flour imprints of all our hands to later be made into a dedicatory holocaust. There were many many sessions of drumming and trumpet-blowing, alternating with the reading of long liturgies, making light fun of himself when he nodded off in the middle. As he was chanting with his bell and thunderbolt one of those evening desert storms blew up the mountain and lightning lightning burst out behind him. There was torrential rain. I knew he had to complete the pujah with a fire ceremony. It seemed impossible that he would get his holocaust holocaust for the offerings. But at sunset, under a rainbow he faithfully delivered the comsummation.
The Primacy of Mind
At the centre of the Buddhist view of reality is the primacy of mind. According to Dhammapada - 'all things are preceded by mind, led by mind, created by mind'. According to Buddha himself - 'within this body, mortal though it be, and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind is the world and the waxing thereof, and the waning thereof, and the way that leads to the passing away thereof'.
By contrast, the physical world is perceived as only sense aggregates ( rupa-skanda) of pure form (rupa) which also includes finer more subtle levels perceived only clairvoyantly, and which arises from the formless (sunyata). The happenings of the world are also perceived as being partly a psychological consequence of conscious attitude through the doctrine of karma. The body is thus clearly a product of consciousness but consciousness is only a product of the body in a limited way through the form of the sense organs. In the doctrine of impermanence all phenomena are transient. Indeed the self is seen as lasting only as long as the passing of a thought. The phenomena of the conscious mind are deemed to arise as archetypes from the subconscious stream of becoming in which all conscious experiences are stored since the beginning of time.
The creation process is thus perceived as emerging from mind. In the Agganna-Sutta it says - 'In the past we were mind created beings, nourished by joy. We soared through space self-luminous and in imperishable beauty. After the passage of infinite times the sweet tasting earth rose from the waters. It had colour scent and taste. We began to form it into clumps and eat it. But while we ate from it our luminosity disappeared. Then the sun, moon and stars, weeks, months, seasons and years made their appearance. We were nourished but the coarsening of the food, the bodies of being became more and more material and differentiated, and the division of the sexes came into existence together with sensuality and attachment'.
The mind is percieved as one. Although it is classified into the skandas as a formative process consisting of sensation, feeling, discrimination (intuitive and analytic), will (conscious volition and karma) finally to full awareness, and the sense modes are classified into the five senses plus mental, it is clearly stated that the phenomena of mind cannot be objectively separated into their constituent components. 'In mind essence there is nothing to be grasped or named'.
The form of the mind is regarded as a junction between the individual empirical mind and the universal mind. The area of overlap, manas or the ego, has a dual nature either fragmenting the universal mind into the constructs of the world or uniting all phenomena in the selfless universal totality of mirror-like wisdom.
Differing Feminine Views on
Primacy of Mind in Buddhism
The problem of environmental destruction has brought a greater urgency to evaluate the primacy of mind in both Buddhism and patriarchal religions such as Christianity and to reach towards those aspects of Buddhism which stress the interconnectedness of mind and body, despite Buddhisms predominant emphasis on meditative training of the mind rather than world renewal.
Buddhist Deep Ecology - The Diverse
Voice of Joanna Macey
Deep ecology has a strong footing in Buddhism and Eastern mysticism based on the idea of reflecting or dissolving the self in the merging with the natural world and in the sentient one-ness of all beings.
The Dalai Lama on Preserving Biological Diversity
"Our ancestors viewed the Earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we now know is the case only if we care for it. It is not difficult to forgive destruction in the past which resulted from ignorance. Today however, we have access to more information, and it is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for and what we will pass on to coming generations. Our marvels of science are matched, if not outweighed by many current tragedies including human starvation in some parts of the world and the extinction of other life forms. The exploration of outer space takes place at the same time as the Earth's own oceans and fresh water areas grow increasingly polluted. Many of the Earth's inhabitants, animals, plants insects and even micro-organisms that we know are rare may not even be known at all by future generations. We have the capability, and the responsibility. We must act before it's too late." - Tenzin Gyatso 14th DalaiLama (Porritt)
Buddha and Queen Maya
Buddhism is a path of peace, a path of equanimity, a path of compassion and a path of natural mind science. By comparison with many religious leaders and prophets, Buddha has been a lighthouse of deep philosophical wisdom shining down the centuries.
Right: Queen Maya miraculouslly gives birth to Buddha from her right side, clasping the branch of the sacred sal tree in the manner of an Indian fertility goddess. She dreams that a white elephant descends from heaven and enters her right side. As soon as he is born, Buddha takes up a place at the centre ofthe world. Roaring like a bull he says "This is my last birth. There will never be another existence" (Cook pl 18).
Like all Eastern paths, Buddhism is founded on the path of renunciation. To care for the world and its biological diversity requires action in the physical 'real world' - not renunciation. Samadhi is but a sanctuary - a resource for action in real life.
Mind and Body are complementary, but Buddhism, like the dance of Shiva and Shakti, upon which it is based, asserts that the Buddha mind is supreme over Maya or the illusion and imperfect suffering of the physical world. This is in a sense as dangerous as Jesus' idea of the Kingdom without the Garden of Eve, because it is only through the marriage of Queen Maya and Buddha nature that the natural unfolding arises, not from the Buddha mind alone.
This frank imbalance is emphasized yet again in the three jewels of refuge - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha - that is the lord, the law and the order. Chaos is eliminated from the equation as illusion or confusion along with the feminine aspect of physical nature or gross matter. Dharma is very much the law of karma realized and the order is the priesthood.
Buddhists would probably claim that Mahayana - taking all sentient beings to enlightenment ius all inclusive - but that is still a means to take everyone to the Kingdom, without acknowledging the co-eval nature of the Garden. Enlightenment does not of itself save a single living creature unless the resulting vision is translated into material action to preserve the Garden.
One very difficult aspect of Buddhist teaching is the admirable injunction against killing any living being. This is similar to the Roman Catholic ban on contraception in that it prevents effective action to control exotic predators that devastate wildlife and native vegetation. Caring for the Garden requires a sense of balance in the upholding of the sanctity of life - the balance of Kali.
Buddhism rightly celebrates the hieros gamos of the genders in the crowning rite of Yab-yum, but portrayals of this rite make the male in a subtle sense the supreme creator. By contrast the female is a lesser consort, awash with cosmic light. Male power still leaves the realm of order subtly in control as is attested by the male line of Lamas. By the same token, coming to the still point of the turning world is finding one's way to the singular centre, the lingam-axis of the cosmos which escapes the cyclic chaos of Kali. Nevertheless Buddhism celebrates the Mahakali and the female Dakinis as visionary vehicles of meditative insight as demonstated in the above picture of dPal-ladn.
Two Feminine Accounts of Female Deities in Buddhism
Both of these accounts show that despite an earlier patriarchal history, later Tantric developments gave rise to a specific flowering of the Goddess within Buddhism in a form of wisdom similar to Sophia and Hochmah. They also explain the male activity in Yab-yum by contrast with Hindu Tantra where the male is the passive partner.
Karma and Causality
To provide a moral solution to suffering and evil, Buddhism invokes both karma and reincarnation to form a comprehensive model of causal justice. This requires a sentient being to reincarnate cyclically as a separate ego, so that injustice which is not corrected in one life time can be in the next (possibly as an animal) unless of course one takes the ego-less route of the Budda. There is no evidence that such a scheme operates in nature, in which the law of the jungle in all its fearsome aspects is the very foundation of the survival of the biosphere. The realms of the wheel of life are likewise perhaps a 'little unnatural'.
I have an open mind about reincarnation and responsive to the Tibetan Buddhist re-entry from the bardo, or out-of-body realm between incarnations but take equal solace from return to the shamanic 'undifferentiated whole' - the totality of being - the unformed abyss. This is Moksha. Isn't that what Buddha did? We may reincarnate - I may be Jesus, but why not simply merge again with the totality as the dew-drop slips into the shining sea? The shamanic roots are the abyss itself.
NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.
Balancing the Physical and the Mental
I have chosen these readings to emphasize those aspects of the Buddhist approach which I believe form a common core of enlightened practice universal to all spiritual paths and to the realization of our place in nature.
Buddhism traditionally is viewed as a path of renunciation in which mind is predominant or even exclusive. It is true that much of Buddhist practice is aimed at a psychological approach of mastering the grasping nature of the ego and achieving peace and escape from suffering.
This is one area in which I would like to see an evolution of Buddhist understanding, because there is another way of material engagement - that is this: Each of our actions contribute to the unfolding of life in the world. We do not simply exist in a void of grasping maya or illusion, but in a unique historical world in which human actions are becoming ever more critical in the survival or demise of not only humanity but life itself on our planet.
For me the real physical goals of saving the natural world are the motivation which naturally sorts out the problems of the ego. Sure the mental subtends all but with a vision of the natural order. By engaging in the real natural life we have before us many of the problems of suffering become secondary to the real challenges at hand, which of themselves are a powerful direct and Tantric route to spiritual enlightenment which bypasses the neurosis of the grasping ego.
I believe this involves a major change of emphasis for Buddhism from the sky-mind view to the lost feminine physical reality of Queen Maya. This is intimately acknowledged by Buddhist thinkers:
The Meaning of Personal Action in Life
Pivotal to this point of view is the idea that we are here to carry out a purpose, not necessarily a pre-destined one, but one which arises uniquely from the creative nature of our own existential condition. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying this is eloquently illustrated in the following quotation:
In the Sufi master Rumi's Table Talk, there is this fierce and pointed passage: "The master said there is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but were not to forget this, there would be no cause to worry, while if you remembered, performed and attended to everything else, but forgot that one thing, you would in fact have done nothing whatsoever. It is as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task. You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all. So man has come into the world for a particular task, and that is his purpose. If he doesn't perform it, he will have done nothing."
Realization is a Natural Condition of All
The good news that the Buddha brought us from his enlightenment in Bodhgaya, and which many people find so inspiring is his message which holds out tremendous hope - that enlightenment is within the reach of all. Through practice, we too can all become awakened. If this were not true, countless individuals down to the present day would not have become enlightened. It is said that when Buddha attained enlightenment, all he wanted to do was to show the rest of us the nature of mind and share completely what he had realized. But he also saw, with the sorrow of infinite compassion, how difficult it would be for us to understand.
The Nature of Mind
There are many aspects to the mind, but two stand out. The first is the ordinary mind, called by the Tibetans sem. One master defines it: "That which possesses discriminating awareness, that which possesses a sense of duality-which grasps or rejects something external-that is mind. Fundamentally it is that which can associate with an 'other'-with any 'something' that is perceived as different from the perceiver. - the discursive, dualistic, thinking mind, which can only function in relation to a projected and falsely perceived external reference point.
Ego, is the absence of true knowledge of who we really are, together with its result: a doomed clutching on, at all costs, to a cobbled together and makeshift image of ourselves, an inevitably chameleon charlatan self that keeps changing and has to, to keep alive the fiction of its existence. In Tibetan ego is called dak dzin, which means "grasping to a self." Ego is then defined as incessant movements of grasping at a delusory notion of "I" and "mine," self and other, and all the concepts, ideas, desires, and activity that will sustain that false construction. Such a grasping is futile from the start and condemned to frustration, for there is no basis or truth in it, and what we are grasping at is by its very nature ungraspable.
Then there is the very nature of mind, its innermost essence, which is absolutely and always untouched by change or death. At present it is hidden within our own mind, our sem, enveloped and obscured by the mental scurry of our thoughts and emotions. Just as clouds can be shifted by a strong gust of wind to reveal the shining sun and wide-open sky, so, under certain special circumstances, some inspiration may uncover for us glimpses of this nature of mind. These glimpses have many depths and degrees, but each of them will bring some light of understanding, meaning, and freedom. This is because the nature of mind is the very root itself of understanding. In Tibetan we call it Rigpa, a primordial, pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant, and always awake. It could be said to be the knowledge of knowledge itself.
Do not make the mistake of imagining that the nature of mind is exclusive to our mind only. It is in fact the nature of everything. It can never be said too often that to realize the nature of mind is to realize the nature of all things. Saints and mystics throughout history have adorned their realizations with different names and given them different faces and interpretations, but what they are all fundamentally experiencing is the essential nature of the mind. Christians and Jews call it "God"- Hindus call it "the Self,' "Shiva," "Brahman and "Vishnu"- Sufi mystics name it "the Hidden Essence"- and Buddhists call it "buddha nature." At the heart of all religions is the certainty that there is a fundamental truth, and that this life is a sacred opportunity to evolve and realize it.
Zen master Susuki Roshi said "If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
Mindfullness: The Heart of Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to awaken in us the sky-like nature of mind and to introduce us to that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death. In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature that we have so long ago lost sight of amid the business and distraction of our minds. Isn't it extraordinary that our minds cannot stay still for longer than a few moments without grasping after distraction; they are so restless and preoccupied that sometimes I think that living in a city in the modern world, we are already like the tormented beings in the intermediate state after death, where the consciousness is said to be agonizingly restless. ... Meditation, then, is bringing the mind home.
The practice of mindfullness, of bringing the scattered mind home, and so of bringing the different aspects of our being into focus, is called "peacefully remaining" or "Calm Abiding". Firstly all the fragmented aspects of ourselves which have been at war, dissolve and become friends. Second the practice of mindfullness dissolves our negativity, aggression and turbulent motives. Third this practice unveils and reveals your essential Good Heart, because it dissolves and removes the unkindness or the harm in you. ... You will see now why I call the practice of meditation the true practice of peace, the true practice of nonaggression and nonviolence, and the real and greatest disarmament.
The Tibetan name of the Buddha or' Compassion is Chenrizig. Chen is the eye, ri is the corner of the eye, and zig means see. This signifies that with his compassionate eyes Chenrizig sees the needs of all beings. So direct the compassion that radiates from your meditation, softly and gently, through your eyes, so that your gaze becomes the very gaze of compassion itself, all-pervasive and ocean-like.
Meditation in Practice
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you need to live, and die well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.
Meditation can be performed by three methods:
The first method is very ancient and found in all schools of Buddhism. It is to rest your attention, lightly and mind- fully, on the breath. Breath is life, the basic and most fundamental expression of our life. In Judaism ruah, the breath, means the spirit of God that infuses the creation - in Christianity also there is a profound link between the Holy Spirit, without which nothing could have life, and the breath. In the teaching of Buddha, the breath, or prana in Sanskrit, is said to be "the vehicle of the mind,' because it is the prana that makes our mind move. So when you calm the mind by working skilfully with the breath, you are simultaneously and automatically taming and training the mind. Haven't we all experienced how relaxing it can be when life becomes stressful, to be alone for a few minutes and just breathe, in and out deeply and quietly? Even such a simple exercise can help us a great deal. So when you meditate, breathe naturally, just as you always do. Focus your awareness lightly on the outbreath. When you breathe out, just flow out with the outbreath. Each time you breathe out, you are letting go and releasing all your grasping. Imagine your breath dissolving into the all-pervading expanse of truth. Each time you breathe out, and before you breathe in again, you will find that there will be a natural gap, as the grasping dissolves.
Many Tibetan meditation practices involve meditation on an object or mandala or visualizing a buddha or deity. An important aspect of meditation is thus the View.
One of the greatest of Tibet's many woman masters, Ma Chik Lap Dron, said: "Alert, alert; yet relax, relax. This is a crucial point for the View in meditation." Alert your alertness, but at the same time be relaxed, so relaxed in fact that you don't even hold onto an idea of relaxation.
Nature as Source
And if you find that meditation does not come easily in your city room, be inventive and go out into nature. Nature is always an unfailing fountain of inspiration. To calm your mind, go for a walk at dawn in the park, or watch the dew on a rose in a garden. Lie on the ground and gaze up into the sky, and let your mind expand into its spaciousness. Let the sky outside awake a sky inside your mind. Stand by a stream and mingle your mind with its rushing - become one with its ceaseless sound. Sit by a waterfall and let its healing laughter purify your spirit. Walk on a beach and take the sea wind full and sweet against your face. Celebrate and use the beauty of moonlight to poise your mind. Sit by a lake or in a garden and, breathing quietly, let your mind fall silent as the moon comes up majestically and slowly in the cloudless night. Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation. A smile, a face in the subway, the sight of a small flower growing in the crack of a cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth in a shop window, the way the sun lights up flower pots on a window sill. Be alert for any sign of beauty or grace. Offer up every joy, be awake at all moments, to 'the news that is always arriving out of silence."
Slowly you will become a master of your own bliss, a chemist of your own joy, with all sorts of remedies always at hand to elevate, cheer, illuminate, and inspire your every breath and movement. What is a great spiritual practitioner? A person who lives always in the presence of his or her own true self, someone who has found and who uses continually the springs and sources of profound inspiration. As the mod- ern English writer Lewis Thompson wrote: "Christ, supreme poet, lived truth so passionately that every gesture of his, at once pure Act and perfect Symbol, embodies the transcendent. To embody the transcendent is why we are here.
Reincarnation as a Conditional Process of Cosmic Consciousness
I have always had some difficulty with the notion of reincarnation, both because I don't see the necessity nor the virtue in an individual ego remaining distinct from one life to the next, nor the biological support for an ego of one species entering another, nor the idea that sins from a past life can continue to haunt us in this life. Part of the reason for this is a desire to build a comprehensive model of causal justice demonstrating that what does not come home to roost in this life may nevertheless do so in the next. Again this idea contradicts the diversity of evolution which includes bliss and beauty and pain, killing, disease and parasitism with impunity.
However at the root of the Buddhist idea of incarnation is a more flexible idea of the continuity of the root cosmic mind which is very close to the idea of the incarnation being a vortex of energies or a bundles of selves which become loosened and merge again with the cosmic mind between death and birth. The following accounts come very close to a wider view of mind common to shamanism, Buddhism and even quantum physics.
Most people take the word "reincarnation" to imply there is some "thing' that reincarnates, which travels from life to life. But in Buddhism we do not believe in an independent and unchanging entity like a soul or ego that survives the death of the body. What provides the continuity between lives is not an entity, we believe, but the ultimately subtlest level of consciousness. The Datal Lama explains:
According to the Buddhist explanation, the ultimate creative principle is consciousness. There are different levels of consciousness, What we call innermost subtle consciousness is always there. The continuity of that consciousness is almost like something permanent, like the space-particles. In the field of matter, that is the space-particles; in the field of consciousness, it is the Clear Light ... The Clear Light, with its special energy, makes the connection with consciousness.
The exact way in which rebirth takes place has been well illustrated with the following example: The successive existences in a series of rebirths are not like the pearls in a pearl necklace, held together by a string, the 'soul', which passes through all the pearls; rather they are like dice piled one on top of the other. Each die is separate, but it supports the one above it with which it is functionally connected. Between the dice there is no identity, but conditionality
The truth and the driving force behind rebirth is what is called karma. Karma is often totally misunderstood in the West as fate or predestination - it is best thought of as the infallible law of cause and effect that governs the universe. The word karma literally means "action," and karma is both the power latent within actions, and the results our actions bring.
Karma, then, is not fatalistic or predetermined. Karma means our ability to create and to change. It is creative because we can determine how and why we act. We can change. The future is in our hands, and in the hands of our heart. Buddha said:
Purifying the Negative
As everything is impermanent, fluid, and interdependent, how we act and think inevitably change the future. There is no situation, however seemingly hopeless or terrible, such as a terminal disease, which we cannot use to evolve. And there is no crime or cruelty that sincere regret and real spiritual practice cannot purify.
In Tibet we say: "Negative action has one good quality, it can be purified." So there is always hope. Even murderers and the most hardened criminals can change and overcome the conditioning that led them to their crimes. Our present condition, if we use it skilfully and with wisdom, can bc an inspiration to free ourselves from the bondage of suffering.
The Near-death Experience as a Catalyst
Everything in my life went by for review - I was ashamed of a lot of the things I experienced because it seemed I had a different knowledge... Not only what I had done, but how I had affected other people ... I found out that not even your thoughts are lost.
My life passed before me ... what occurred was every emotion I have ever felt in my life, I felt. And my eyes were showing me the basis of how that emotion affected my life. What my life had done so far to affect other peoples lives . . . I was the very people that I hurt, and I was the very people I helped to feel good.
It was a total reliving of every thought I had thought, every word I had ever spoken, and every deed I had ever done; plus the effect of each thought, word, and deed on everyone and anyone who had ever come within my environment or sphere of influence whether I knew them or not ... ; plus the effect of each thought, word, and deed on "weather, plants, animals, soil, trees, water, and air
The Nature of the Bardo
Bardo is a Tibetan word that simply means a "transition" or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Bar means 'in between, " and do means "suspended" or "thrown." Bardo is a word made famous by the popularity of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Since its first translation into English in 1927, this book has aroused enormous interest among psychologists, writers, and philosophers in the West, and has sold millions of copies. The title Tibetan Book of the Dead was coined by its translator, the American scholar W. Y Evans-Wentz, in imitation of the famous (and equally mistitled) Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual name of the book is Bardo Tödrol Chenmo, which means "The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo." Bardo teachings are extremely ancient, and found in what are called the Dzogchen Tantras. These teachings have a lineage stretching back beyond human masters to the Primordial Buddha (called in Sanskrit Samantabhadra, and in Tibetan Kuntuzangpo), who represents the absolute, naked, sky-like primordial purity of the nature of our mind. ... It is a kind of guidebook or a travelogue of the after-death states, which is designed to be read by a master or spiritual friend to a person as the person dies, and after death.
Because of the popularity of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, people usually associate the word bardo with death. It is true that "bardo' is used in everyday speech among Tibetans for the intermediate state between death and rebirth, but it has a much wider and deeper meaning. It is in the bardo teachings, perhaps more than anywhere else, that we can see just how profound and all-encompassing the buddhas' knowledge of life and death is, and how inseparable what we have called "life" and what we have called "death" truly are, when seen and understood clearly from the perspective of enlightenment. We can divide the whole of our existence into four realities: life, dying and death, after-death, and rebirth. These are the Four Bardos:
1. The natural bardo of this life spans the entire period between birth and death. In our present state of knowledge, this may seem more than just a bardo, a transition. But if we think about it, it will become clear that, compared to the enormous length and duration of our karmic history, the time we spend in this life is in fact relatively short. The teachings tell us emphatically that the bardo of this life is the only, and therefore the best, time to prepare for death: by becoming familiar with the teaching and stabilizing the practice.
2. The painful bardo of dying lasts from the beginning of the process of dying right up until the end of what is known as the "inner respiration"- this, in turn, culminates in the dawning of the nature of mind, what we call the "Ground Luminosity,' at the moment of death.
3. The luminous bardo of dharmata encompasses the after-death experience of the radiance of the nature of mind, the luminosity or "Clear Light," which manifests as sound, color, and light.
4. The karmic bardo of becoming is what we generally call the Bardo or intermediate state, which lasts right up until the moment we take on a new birth.
What distinguishes and defines each of the bardos is that they are all gaps or periods in which the possibility of awakening is particularly present. Opportunities for liberation are occurring continuously and uninterruptedly throughout life and death, and the bardo teachings are the key or tool that enables us to discover and recognize them, and to make the fullest possible use of them.
Uncertainty and Opportunity
One of the central characteristics of the bardos is that they are periods of deep uncertainty ... To live in the modem world is to live in what is clearly a bardo realm - you don't have to die to experience one. This uncertainty, which already pervades everything now, becomes even more intense, even more accentuated after we die, when our clarity or confusion, the masters tell us, will be multiplied by seven." ... What is really baffling about life is that sometimes, despite all our confusion, we can also be really wise! This shows us what the bardo is: a continuous, unnerving oscillation between clarity and confusion, bewilderment and insight, certainty and uncertainty, sanity and insanity.
In our minds, as we are now, wisdom and confusion arise simultaneously, or, as we say, are "co-emergent." This means that we face a continuous state of choice between the two, and that everything depends on which we will choose. This constant uncertainty may make everything seem bleak and almost hopeless- but if you look more deeply at it, you will see that its very nature creates gaps, spaces in which profound chances and opportunities for transformation are continuously flowering - if, that is, they can be seen and seized. Because life is nothing but a perpetual fluctuation of birth, death, and transition, so bardo experiences are happening to us all the time and are a basic part of our psychological makeup. Normally, however, we are oblivious to the bardos and their gaps, as our mind passes from one so-called "solid' situation to the next, habitually ignoring the transitions that are always occurring. In fact, as the teachings can help us to understand, every moment of our experience is a bardo, as each thought and each emotion arises out of, and dies back into, the essence of mind. It is in moments of strong change and transition especially, the teachings make us aware, that the true sky-like, primordial nature of our mind will have a chance to manifest.
The Dzogchen Tantras, the ancient teachings from which the bardo instructions come, speak of a mythical bird, the garuda, which is born fully grown. This image symbolizes our primordial nature, which is already completely perfect. The garuda chick has all its wing feathers fully developed inside the egg, but it cannot fly before it hatches. Only at the moment when the shell cracks open can it burst out and soar up into the sky. Similarly, the masters tell us, the qualities of buddhahood are veiled by the body, and as soon as the body is discarded, they will be radiantly displayed.
There is for example, a vivid correspondence between the degrees in subtlety of consciousness as we move through in sleep and dream and the bardos associated with death.
The essential point to understand about the bardos is this: By following the training of these practices, it is actually possible to realize these states Of mind while wt are still alive. We can actually experience them while we are here now.
The following practices have been included to give an indication of the direction taken by the Dharma as a path:
These purification practices, called Ngondro in Tibetan, have been skilfully designed to effect a comprehensive inner transformation. They involve the entire being-body, speech, and mind-and begin with a series of deep contemplations on
These reflections inspire a strong sense of 'renunciation,' an urgent desire to emerge from samsara and follow the path to liberation, which forms the foundation for the specific practices of
Like both Christianity and Islam, Buddhism has a future savior, Maitreya who forms the next in an endless cycle of Buddhas who shall appear in the cyclic round of universes without number which will appear and vanish throughout the boundlesness of space and time.
Maitreya is the 'loving kindly one' - Mi-lo-fo in Chinese, Miroku in Japanese, Maidari in Mongolian and Byams-pa in Tibetan. He is already waiting and teaching in the highest heaven, enrapturing the gods with his thrilling voice (Campbell 1988,100).
The sacrifice required however is a total one - abandoning the phenomenal world.