More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Dependent Origination is the way the Buddha understood the arising of individuated forms in the world. The question D.O. attempts to answer is how the world and the sense-of-self come into existence. That is, what are the causal conditions of separation? Why do we see the world as we see it? The first two talks in this series are overviews of the sequential unfolding of D.O. and the remaining talks examine each of the twelve individual link within this chain. Conditioned causality is the fact that many conditions conspire to allow a single internal or external event to arise. Western thought usually focuses on a single cause, but with increased insight we see that causal factors are limitless. No one person or one event "made us angry," the whole universe was the reason that anger arose.
Insights remain a dormant potential but not a formative actuality until they are put into action. Action validates the insight and establishes our intention to move in line with its truth. Action overcomes doubt and aligns our cognitive system with our spiritual transformation. It is the essential component for moving our spiritual journey forward. Too often our insights get lost within our conditioned habits and are never brought into the light of day, and therefore never fully position our mental and physical systems to the Dharma.
Many of us do not realize the accessibility of the heart. We think it is distant and attainable only through hard work. But it is as close as a pause in our thoughts, a hesitation in our busyness, and is the natural response of awareness to life. Our thoughts cover the heart with a foggy distraction, but when we interrupt the stream of our thinking the heart response with a gentle appreciation for living. In that moment life is acknowledging itself with gratitude. During this season of Thanksgiving, look deeply and silently to call forth this natural appreciation for living.
Fear is the dominating emotion controlling the world of formations and forms the edge between the ideas that hold us together as a formed entity and the ever-present universe of mystery and wonder. Inevitably consciousness will be confronted by the fears it harbors. Fear is fear of something and that something has been conditioned into our minds as a threat. The threat is held within a narrative and the narrative warns us that if we do not contract back on ourselves a tragedy will occur. We take this narrative as a literal truth and find ourselves avoiding the feared event. All of this maneuvering keeps us formed as a person and separated from all internal and external objects that are potential threats. By avoiding the threats we never grow beyond ourselves as a formed entity, and thus we perpetuate fear.
Love throws many of us off a little. Some of us would like our path free oftenderness and caring because love involves a part of us that is not logical orrational. Love puts the world together in a way that can't be calculated orreasoned. The mind wants everything organized and direct, nothing cloudy orconfused, but the spiritual journey is intuitive and not mentally derived. Atsome point we must leave the crisp edges and clear surfaces of the mind and moveinto the wonders and mysteries of the heart, and love is the path that does justthat.
One of the more common emotional responses to practice is that at times we feel like we are failing in meditation. Nothing seems to be going according to the instructions. We try diligently and then hear that striving will not get us anywhere. We want to like ourselves but are full of self-contempt. We would like to wish everyone lovingkindness, but we do not feel that in our hearts. All of this has us feeling like a spiritual failure. One way to sidestep the thought that our practice is not going well is to remember that our practice is about self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is always working. Like a mirror that always reflects what it sees, it may not be showing us what we want to see, but it is always reflecting back what it sees. The practice is to accommodate what we see, no matter what is reflected back. Just let the reflection show us the state of affairs. Now comes the hard part. Do not attempt to change, judge, or get over what we see. If we want to do something, relax with what we see. Let the built up tension be dispelled. If we try to get over a problem before we understand what the nature of the problem is, we will further complicate our struggle. Much of our struggle is arising from the sense of being a personal failure. In a culture built upon evaluations and comparisons, many of us feel like we are defeated before we begin. We lead with self-uncertainty and for a Dharma practitioner that is the worst possible assumption. Awakening needs everything from us, and self-uncertainty holds us back in timidity. We have to address this assumption head on to end its tyrannical rule.
Relax, observe, allow, and respond are the quiet R-O-A-R of the Dharma. These words place us in the proper orientation to life so that life can affect us. Notice this is not passivity, since responding is essential. These words set us up so that we are aligned with our spiritual intentions, each word offering a perspective on the ease and observation needed for our spiritual fulfillment.
We cannot talk about the fundamentals of Dharma without mentioning honesty. All we have to do is meet a truly honest person to know that honesty is infectious. We sense that it must take courage to live with honesty and integrity, but what it really takes is a love of the truth. Honesty in Dharma practice is simply the love of what is true. It is behind all of our inquiry and Dharma investigation. "What is going on here?" is the soul searching question that opens the doors of the heart. We release our deceptions for two reasons: first, it is painful to deceive, and second, we have a profound urge to know the true causes and motivations for our defensiveness. That urge, when properly honed, will be our vehicle for the completion of the spiritual journey.
Surrender is not something we decide to do. It is what is left after we have tried every way to avoid or surmount a problem. Surrendering is releasing your guard and allowing the experience into you without protection or defense, and therefore it is an activity of faith. Mostly we try to adapt our way through a difficulty, changing strategies according to the results, but surrender is not another response to a problem, it's the ending of time, distance, and separation from the problem itself.