buddha nature

Mindful presence: Open space mindfulness

In Part Three we did a little mindfulness meditation to “tune-up” our mindfulness and concentration skills.

Now we are going to distill that mindfulness meditation down to its very essence: abiding as awareness primarily, with little involvement with or even sense of the contents of awareness, almost indifferent to them. The focus is on the open space of awareness itself – which is the name often used in Tibetan Buddhism for this sort of meditation.

By the way, profound forms of this meditation go very very far, and are sometimes associated with the viewpoint that the primordial essence of awareness is “Buddhanature,” “stainless and pure and unconditioned,” and perhaps even mysteriously Transcendental.

Mindful Presence Series

  1. What is “Mindful presence”?
  2. Why develop mindful presence?
  3. Mindful presence: A mindfulness tune-up.
  4. Mindful presence: Open space mindfulness.

We are not aiming so high here – instead pursuing the everyday skill of being aware of awareness itself, and being able at will to rest – for at least seconds at a time – in such a way that awareness is the bulk of what one is experiencing, rather than its contents.

A few seconds spent abiding primarily as awareness are great! In the beginning, it is normal for that sense to “crumble” and for the field of experience to become dominated, as it usually is, by various thoughts and feelings, desires and plans, etc. With practice, the duration of your abiding as awareness will lengthen, but for tonight it’s just fine to go into and out of it.

You’ll also note that I keep using the word “resting.” Abiding as awareness is rooted in a deeply rested feeling – which is of course the epitome of the experience of the parasympathetic nervous system, whose motto is “rest and digest.” (Even more fitting, perhaps, is the motto of the Turtle Club: “Start slow and taper off.”)

In fact, a traditional instruction for open awareness meditation is to imagine how you would feel at the end of a long day of good work, and you come home and just sit down and rest. That sense of abandoning yourself to resting deeply, with a related feeling that it is healthy to do so, is a doorway to abiding as awareness.

Since you are taking your home in awareness itself, the contents of mind don’t matter much. This includes perceptions such as sights and sounds. That is why people are encouraged, as they become more practiced with this mode of meditation – actually, this mode of being – to do it with their eyes open.

Since sight is such a central sense – literally about a third of the cerebral cortex is devoted to visual processing – if you can become relatively disengaged from what you see through being deeply invested in awareness itself, then you’ve come a real way. You can experiment with this yourself during the brief meditations we are about to do, and try them sometimes with eyes open and other times with your eyes closed.

A couple more tips, and then we’ll try it:

  • Some people find that it helps to bring to mind the spacious or luminous quality of awareness, though sometimes the effort to sense spaciousness or luminousness simply turns them into more contents of mind, when in fact you want to disengage from contents.
  • You may find that when you are resting in awareness, that thoughts and feelings come and go almost out of sight, as it were. That’s fine. To quote Mingyar Rinpoche again: “The real point of meditation is to rest in bare awareness whether anything occurs or not. Whatever comes up for you, just be open and present to it, and let it go. And if nothing occurs, or if thoughts and so on vanish before you can notice them, just rest in that natural clarity. How much simpler could the process of meditation be?” The Joy of Living, p. 131
  • Don’t worry if it seems hard at first. Awareness is completely natural: you’re aware right now, right? In open awareness meditation, you’re simply abandoning involvement with everything except awareness itself. Since awareness is your natural home base, your natural resting state, Mother Nature is on your side as you settle more and more into simple awareness.
    But keep in mind that resting in awareness is a skill like any other, and therefore takes time to practice. Try not to be frustrated or angry with yourself if this doesn’t come easily for you. If you bump into difficulties, there will still be benefits, since you will be gaining a good deal of insight into the activities of mind that carry you away from simple awareness.

Instructions
Let’s try this for a few minutes at a time.

To repeat, get a sense of resting deeply, not trying to do anything at all, with your body deeply relaxed – especially the trunk of it – and simply have most of who you are in the moment be just awareness.

OK, here we go.

[Take a minute to focus on the meditation]

How was that? Let’s try it for three minutes.

[Focus on the meditation]

OK, how did that go? Now let’s try it again for a few minutes, but this time, how about trying it standing up with your eyes open?

[Maintain your concentration]

Alright, how was that? Were you able to maintain your mindful awareness?

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this series on developing a more mindful presence.

Try to be as mindful as you can in daily life, and see what that’s like. Try to take your sense of mindful presence from exercises like those in this series, or from your meditations, and bring that out into the world. Enjoy!

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Taking refuge in the Buddha

As a teacher I’m often asked: What does it mean in Buddhist practice when you agree to “take refuge” in the Buddha? Does this mean I need to worship the Buddha? Or pray to the Buddha? Isn’t this setting up the Buddha as “other” or some kind of god?

Traditionally, there are three fundamental refuges are where we can find genuine safety and peace, a sanctuary for our awakening heart and mind, a place to rest our human vulnerability. In their shelter, we can face and awaken from the trance of fear.

The first of these is the Buddha, or our own awakened nature. The second is the dharma (the path or the way), and the third is the sangha (the community of aspirants).

In the formal practice of Taking Refuge, we recite three times: “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the dharma, I take refuge in the sangha.” Yet, even though there is a formula, this is not an empty or mechanical ritual, but a practice meant to expand our understanding and intention.

With each repetition, we allow ourselves to open ever more deeply to the living experience behind the words. As we do, the practice leads to a profound deepening of our faith: The more fully we open to and inhabit each refuge, the more we trust our own heart and awareness. By taking refuge we learn to trust the unfolding of our lives.

The first step in this practice, taking refuge in the Buddha, may be approached on various levels, and we can choose the way most meaningful to our particular temperament. We might for instance take refuge in the historical Buddha, the human being who attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree 2500 years ago.

This doesn’t mean that we are worshipping the man who became enlightened, or setting him up as “other” or as “higher” than ourselves, but bowing and honoring the Buddha nature that already exists within us. For instance when the Buddha encountered Mara, he felt fear—the same painfully constricted throat, chest and belly, the same racing heart that we each experience when fear strikes our heart.

By willingly meeting fear with his full attention, the Buddha discovered fearlessness — the open, clear awareness that recognizes the arising and passing of fear without contracting nor identifying with it. Taking refuge in the truth of his awakening can inspire us on our own path toward fearlessness.

At the same time, those who are devotional by nature might seek safety and refuge in the living spirit of the Buddha’s awakened heart and mind. Much like praying to Christ or the Divine Mother, we can take refuge in a Being or presence that cares about our suffering.

In taking this first refuge, I sometimes say, “I take refuge in the Beloved” and surrender into what I experience as the boundlessness of compassion. When I am feeling fear, I surrender it to the Beloved. By this, I am not trying to get rid of fear, but rather letting go into a refuge that is vast enough to hold my fear with love.

In the most fundamental way, taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge in our own potential for liberation. In order to embark on a spiritual path we need faith that our own heart and mind have the potential to awaken. The true power of Buddha’s story, the power that has kept it alive for all these centuries, rests in the fact that it demonstrates what is possible for each of us.

We so easily believe limiting stories about ourselves and forget that our very nature—our Buddha nature—is aware and loving. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we are taking refuge in the same capacity of awareness that awakened Siddhartha under the Bodhi Tree. We too can realize the blessing of freedom. We too can become fearless.

After taking refuge in the Beloved, I turn my attention inward, saying “I take refuge in this awakening heart mind.” Letting go of any notion that Buddha nature is something beyond or outside my awareness, I look towards the innate wakefulness of my being, the tender openness of my heart.

Minutes earlier, I might have been taking myself to be the rush of emotions and thoughts moving through my mind. But by intentionally taking refuge in awareness, that small identity dissolves, and with it, the trance of fear.

By directing our attention towards our deepest nature, by honoring the essence of our being, our own Buddha nature becomes to us more of a living reality. We are taking refuge in the truth of who we are.

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The nuns’ life: enlightenment without TV (Star-Telegram, Texas)

Tim Madigan, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas: Inside the new temple, the floors are covered by lush gray carpet, the walls painted a vivid yellow, but the focal point, of course, is the huge statue of Buddha at the head of the room, surrounded by flowers, fruit offerings and a fluorescent halo (behind the statue’s head).

Each day begins here for the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery nuns, who at 4 a.m. walk from the small buildings where they sleep, moving through the darkness like apparitions in their gray robes. One of them lights incense, another rings the large bell near the altar. The nuns prostrate themselves toward the statue three times, then move to their separate mats, facing outer walls. For the next two hours (and again for 90 minutes in the evening), they sit with their legs crossed beneath them, as still as the Buddha statue itself.

But they are not in trances as they sit, as many Westerners might assume. Meditation is not a form of self-hypnosis, the nuns say, but the practice of emptying the mind while remaining aware. For beginning meditators in the Zen tradition, that typically means sitting quietly and focusing on breathing, while calmly trying to banish any intruding thoughts.

Such is the central practice of one of the world’s oldest religions, one handed down from Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born six centuries before Christ. As a young man, Gautama renounced his wealth to become a wandering ascetic. After years of study and suffering, Gautama is said to have attained enlightenment while meditating beneath a ficus tree, henceforth becoming known to history as the Buddha, or “awakened one.”

Greatly distilled, Buddhist teaching comes to this: Life is an unpleasant cycle of birth, death and rebirth that continues until a person achieves enlightenment. The chief cause of the ubiquitous suffering is the chaotic, ego-driven human mind, which hops maniacally from thought to thought “like a monkey in a tree,” as the Zen nuns say. Meditation is the Buddhist antidote.

“You say to your mind, ‘I am the boss,’ ” the nun named Cinnamon said one day, smiling.

By calming the mind through meditation, a person’s “Buddha nature” (the Christian equivalent, perhaps, to the Holy Spirit) is allowed to emerge. Enlightenment, the full and permanent understanding of transcendence, is only rarely achieved, Buddhists say. But recent research shows that even a few minutes of meditation a day is beneficial to the meditator’s physical and mental health.

At the Quang Chieu Zen Monastery, the nuns say they can sit for hours, with thoughts only occasionally flitting by like wispy clouds in an otherwise blue sky. But in Zen, they say, meditation is about more than sitting. It also is about living in the moment. As such, the nuns say they meditate while walking, while eating, while watering the flowers.

“You think of only water and flowers,” the abbess, Princess Snow, explained one day, waving her hands across her face. “Nothing else.”

Original article no longer available…

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