Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on December 7, 2014

My comments on dharma and related topics have been absent of late because, true to my own words, I have myself experienced what I so often write about, the shattering of the common Self-image in times of stress or loss. In other words, we vacate (or see through) the self and find ourselves, as the saying goes, "beside ourselves" and on the outside looking in, instead of the usual vice-versa. I have just been there, and done that.

Wow! It is one thing to describe it and quite another to live it. In this case the point around which I lost or abandoned my usual self-attachment revolved around the family crisis and crucial situation of my little granddaughter who underwent a (for me) terrifying operation. And in that intense time I simply abandoned or vacated my normal attachments and reverted to living in the moment of that crisis. Certainly, ultimately, this has been refreshing.

Only now am I beginning to put my Humpty-Dumpty Self back together again and reanimate that mandala-construct of attachments, one by one. I used to help keep sea anemones in a salt water aquarium. When you touched them, they would withdraw within themselves, like a glove turning inside-out, and only later, very slowly, invert themselves back out again. My self has been doing that of late.

I lost for a time my desire to do just about anything, projects, ideas, etc. You name it. But as I seem to be reforming a Self once again, like Atlantis arising from the waters of Lethe, I seem to be remembering and finding parts of my Self all-over again, and it is more or less the same, but then changed too by the recent experiences. This, folks, is how we dip into the body of experience and gradually come out of it (out-of-the-body) with some knowledge of what we have been through. And what a trip!

I'm just saying… and now for a bit of what I am thinking about.

It came as a bit of a shock when I realized that the enlightenment that the Buddha points out to us is not equivalent to the Catholic heaven in which I was raised. How is that?

"That" is my being raised to believe that heaven was some place other than right here and now. When I got into Buddhism it was quite natural for me to transfer that affiliation from heaven to enlightenment, thus assuming enlightenment must be a better place than right here and right now, somehow a different place. I made the same assumption when I first considered "lucid dreaming," i.e. realizing you are dreaming when you are dreaming. I didn't get that just right either.

Instead I adopted (from the idea of waking in the dream state) the analogy that we could learn to wake up in our daily waking-life and we would be in a better place, some kind of Buddhist equivalent to heaven. Not true. Old habits are hard to shake.

Somehow I had been raised to consider only results or states rather than the enlightenment process itself. In other words, the "process" of change was not considered a "state" of change, even though we all say that change is the only constant, thereby a state. Go figure, because I never had.

I assumed that if the process progresses, the result of that process amounts to a different state than the process itself, when in fact we are always in a state of process and that "state" is never anywhere but right here and now, even way into the future.

The result of all of this is that I am never going to get "delivered," but will always be in the process of delivering… myself. And that is a scary thought. The venerable lama Chögyam Trungpa clearly said "No one is going to save us." That was his definition of non-theism. The dharma is entirely a do-it-yourself process and project. This means that I, and I alone, have to do it. That is asking a lot of me.

The concept is easy enough to understand, but to realize it is another matter, the idea that we are never going to get anywhere but right here and now. And that the only thing we will attain is greater awareness of what "Is," the here and the now. I mean, that is what the word "Buddha" means, "awareness," being aware. It was right before my eyes all the time, but I wasn't, well, "aware" of course.

In other words, what is so obvious now was not so obvious to me. I guess that is why the Buddhists state that the root downfall is "ignorance," the simple fact that we persist in ignoring the actual nature of the mind itself, in favor of all our distractions, etc.

My first dharma teacher would always say "Don't say that no one knows; just say 'I don't know." One of the real puzzlers of Buddhism is the declaration that any individual person, like me, not only does not know the true nature of the mind, but has never known that nature, not in all the time and all the lives that we have lived. That takes a bit of thinking about, in my opinion. We have never known.

So that is in direct contradistinction with the Platonic idea that we once knew, but have since forgotten, and must remember again. I have asked very carefully the great rinpoches, and they are very clear about the statement that we did not once know and have somehow fallen or lost that grace, the old garden-of-Eden shtick. The Buddhists do no say that we are sinners who were once pure and now need to repent and straighten up, and this point is key.

This key point has to be the root for some of what we call "compassion," that we are not sinners and should know better, because we once did know better. No, the Buddhists point out that we just don't know, have never known, and are deserving of kindness and compassion in our ignorance. In Buddhism there is no blame and no punishment other than our current state of not-knowing the nature of our own mind.

And that is something. Anyway, folks, Michael the dharma commenter seems to be reanimating himself, for better or worse.

[Here is a photo of a tiny rose that bloomed in one of the shrine rooms here at our center, in this case Margaret's.]