Four Noble Truths

The strange myopia of Buddhist teachings on suffering

woman having caesarian section

I wanted to draw attention to a strange myopia that affects many people who comment on the Buddha’s teachings about suffering.

In the four noble truths, the first truth is that of suffering (dukkha), and it’s described in the following manner:

Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the disliked is suffering, separation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories of clinging objects.

Here the Buddha lists a number of occasions for suffering that arise in life. Some, like birth and death, don’t happen in our lives very often. Others, like sickness, are quite frequent. Some, like separation from what we like and being in the presence of things we don’t like take place multiple times in the course even of just one day.

The first instance of suffering that the Buddha gives is birth. It’s a natural place to start, perhaps.

What I find curious is that many, many writers on Buddhism interpret “birth is suffering” solely in terms of “being born is suffering.” This is a long-standing tradition. Fifteen hundred years ago, or so, Buddhaghosa, in his treatise, “The Path of Purification,” listed several ways in which birth is painful. He tells us it’s painful:

  • to be confined in a womb
  • to be physically jarred in the womb when your mother moves around
  • if your mother has a miscarriage
  • to be forced through the birth canal
  • to have your sensitive skin touched after you’ve been born

You’ll notice that this is all focused on the one being born.

Was your birth painful? I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember. Presumably it was traumatic at the time, but my brain wasn’t developed enough to commit the details to memory.

Now, would your mother say that birth was painful? Probably! She experienced much more pain than anyone else involved. Was it psychologically painful for her? Probably. It’s a worrying thing to give birth.

Was it painful for your father? Not physically, but he was probably anxious about the health of your and your mother.

Lots of other people were probably anxious too, and relieved when you were born, hopefully healthily.

The Buddha was of course born at a time and place where birth was much more dangerous than it is for most of us reading these words. His own mother is supposed to have died not long after he was born, presumably from complications of childbirth. In many parts of the world, death during or just after childbirth is still common. In fact both of my adopted children’s birth-mothers died this way.

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For me, the most bizarre part of Buddhaghosa’s list is the bit about miscarriages. To consider the suffering involved in such a thing and not give any thought to the experience of the mother is just bizarre.

Buddhaghosa remains an important influence on Buddhism to this day. A lot of Buddhist teaching is essentially what I call “warmed-over Buddhaghosa.” And so his myopia becomes the myopia of contemporary Buddhist teachers — or many of them, at least. Just today I listened to a teaching on suffering by a very talented contemporary teacher who explained “birth is suffering” as “being born is suffering.”

Probably because Buddhaghosa was a man who had lived all his life in cultures where men were the focus of attention, he just didn’t give much thought to the experience of women. And he was talking to men. But even those men had mothers and sisters who gave birth, so there’s a kind of misogyny, or at least myopic gender-bias, in operation.

Part of what’s going on here is how people tend to pass on presentations of the Buddha’s teachings in much the same way they had first learned them — including the mistakes and the myopic omissions. So you learn from a book or a talk that “birth is suffering” means “it’s painful to be born,” and that lodges in your brain. And then having learned what this, you stop thinking about the subject. You don’t reflect on it. You don’t compare it to the lived experience of people around you. It’s just a “factoid” that inhabits your brain, in some way isolated from everything else you know.

This lack of reflection on what the Buddha taught bothers me. Not connecting what the Buddha taught to your own lived experience (a teacher may not have given birth, but they’ve surely heard women say how painful it is) bothers me. And of course ignoring the painful experience of half of humanity bothers me. Aren’t empathy and compassion meant to be part of the Buddhist path?

Buddhism is about suffering, and responding wisely and compassionately to suffering. And yet most of the suffering around the topic, “birth is suffering,” gets ignored. That’s kind of weird.

Similar things can be said about death, although that’s a less gendered topic. There’s a form of myopia where “death is suffering” becomes “dying is suffering.” But it’s not just dying that’s painful. It’s painful to have a loved one die. It’s painful to think that one day they will die.

There are many other ways in which Buddhist teachings are passed on from generation to generation in a habitual, unreflecting way. In another article here I tackled a few recurring myths about the Buddha’s life. I’ve written about another mistaken teaching about suffering that is commonly passed on. I could write a book full of these.

All of these repeated misconceptions weaken and dull the teaching of Buddhism. The less teachers (and their students) are able to connect Dharma teachings to their lived experience and to the experience of others, the more abstract the teachings seem. They exist as the “factoids” I mentioned, floating in the mind, untethered to our real lives.

So the next time you hear a teacher talking discussing “birth is suffering” purely in terms of the suffering a fetus and baby go through, I’d suggest that you gently bring up the topic of all the others involved in birth who suffer in more significant ways — the mother above all. It might end up changing Buddhist culture in the west.

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The Third Noble Truth – the Noble Truth of the end of suffering

buddaThe Third Noble Truth comes directly from the Second one: The end of suffering comes with the end of clinging.

As Achaan Chah said, “If you let go a little, you’ll have a little happiness. If you let go a lot, you’ll have a lot of happiness. If you let go completely . . . you’ll be completely happy.”

You can do this at the macro level, in letting go regarding lights turning green, or payments arriving, or your teenage children giving you a hug. Sure, you’d like things to turn out well, and that’s fine. You take practical steps toward them turning out well, and that’s also fine. But you can simultaneously have a peaceful, accepting attitude about however it turns out.

And you can let go – practicing non-clinging – most fundamentally at the micro level, with moment to moment experience.

For example, when you observe your experience, you will see that there is always a feeling tone automatically associated with it – a tone of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. That tone – called “feeling” in the Pali Canon (distinct from emotions) – usually triggers craving, which is the seed of clinging.

But if you can simply be mindful of the feeling tone without reacting to it – then you can break the chain of suffering!

In the short-term, we can’t do much about the feeling tone. So you’re not trying to change the feeling tone itself. But you are trying to not react to it via one form of clinging or another.

The epitome of non-clinging is equanimity — which is not, according to a teacher, U Pandita, “. . . insensitivity, indifference, or apathy. It is simply nonpreferential. . . . One does not push aside the things one dislikes or grasp at the things one prefers.”

He goes on to say:

“The way to bring about equanimity is wise attention: to be continually mindful from moment to moment, without a break, based on the intention to develop equanimity. . .

In the deepest forms of insight, we see that things change so quickly that we can’t hold onto anything, and eventually the mind lets go of clinging. Letting go brings equanimity; the greater the letting go, the deeper the equanimity. . . .

Freedom comes when we begin to let go of our reactive tendencies. . . .

In Buddhist practice, we work to expand the range of life experiences in which we are free.”

When we do this, much of what we see is how we fall away from equanimity, from perfect balance, again and again. But seeing that ever more deeply and precisely . . . slowly but surely helps us tip over less often.

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The Second Noble Truth – the Noble Truth of the cause of suffering

mountain riverThe Second Noble Truth describes the principal cause of suffering. It is clinging. . . to anything at all.

The bad news is that we suffer. The good news is that there is a prime cause – clinging – that we can address.

There are lots of words that get at different aspects of clinging. For example, the original Pali word is “tanha,” the root meaning of which is thirst. Here are some related words, and you might like to pause briefly after each one to get a sense of the experience of it: Desire. Attachment. Striving. Wanting. Craving. Grasping. Stuck. Righteous. Positional. Searching. Seeking. Addicted. Obsessed. Needing. Hunger.

As a general statement, clinging causes suffering by causing it to arise in the first place or to increase further, and by blocking factors that would reduce or end it.

The inherent suffering of clinging
For starters, any moment of clinging – in all of its forms, gross or subtle, and regardless of its objects – inherently contains suffering in two ways.

First, as you’ve probably noticed, the experience of clinging itself – in all of its forms – is unpleasant. It feels contracted, tense, uneasy, and at least a little stressful. And this is true even if what we crave is enjoyable: the craving itself robs the enjoyable experience of some of its savor.

Second, as the Buddha observed, one of the three fundamental characteristics of existence is impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing of mind or matter lasts forever. Every single moment changes instantly into something else.

That’s the absolutely universal nature of outer reality and of inner experience. But what is the nature of the human mind?

The mind evolved to help us survive, and it does so by trying to figure out stable patterns in the world, and in our life, and to develop lasting solutions to life’s problems. As a result, our mind is forever chasing after moments of experience or moments of reality — trying to hold on to them to understand them, to get a grip on them, to control them.

At the most basic, microscopic level, it is the nature of mind to cling. As a strategy for passing on genes, it has worked spectacularly well. But Mother Nature doesn’t care if we suffer; she only cares about grandchildren!

Because, unfortunately, by the time the mind has gotten mobilized to pursue a moment of experience in order to make sense of it and figure out a plan for dealing with it . . . . POOF! It’s gone!! Moment after moment . . .

Truly, we live life at the lip of a waterfall, with reality and experience rushing at us – experienced only and always NOW at the lip – and then, poof, zip, zap, it’s over the edge and gone.

But our mind is forever trying to grab at what has already disappeared over the edge.

As the 8th century sage, Shantideva put it:

“Beings, brief, ephemeral,
Who fiercely cling to what is also passing
Will catch no glimpse of happiness
[In this or any life].”

Four objects of clinging
In addition to the two ways that suffering is inherent within the very fabric of clinging, the Buddha described how suffering arises from the four main targets of clinging:

  • To sense pleasures – which includes resisting unpleasant experiences
  • To the notion or sense of self
  • To views
  • To routines and rituals

Systematically developing insight into your clinging in terms of these “targets” will really help reduce your suffering. As an extended example, let’s explore the first one.

The suffering of clinging to sense pleasures
First, life inevitably has lots of painful experiences. There is no way around them, no matter how much good fortune we have.Things like death, old age, illness, trips to the dentist, kids leaving home, traffic jams, etc.

Whenever we resist an unpleasant experience – including desiring a better experience – boom! right there our suffering increases. Let’s say you’re in the dentist’s chair: wishing you were somewhere else just makes it worse.

In addition to what is happening in the moment, we resist painful experiences by fearing them before they begin, and by dwelling on them after they have occurred.

Of course, it’s natural to have other preferences when you experience pain. But when you get attached to those preferences, that’s when suffering begins.

Second, desires get awakened for pleasures we cannot or will not get to experience, and that’s frustrating, disappointing, sense-of-futility-creating . . . in short, suffering.

Consider these common examples: success or fame or beauty . . . attractive people to be with . . . fabulous vacations . . . fame . . . promotions . . . hugs from surly teenagers. . . etc.

Shantideva again: “O foolish and afflicted mind, you want, you crave for everything.”

Third, even if we attain them, most pleasures are actually not that great. They’re OK, but . . . Look closely at your experience: is the Oreo cookie really that mind-boggling? Was the vacation that outstanding? Was the satisfaction of the A paper that intense and long-lasting?

Fourth, even if we attain them and they’re actually pretty great, many pleasures cost us much pain. Alcohol and drugs and certain sexual relationships may be good examples here. But also consider the possible “collateral damage” of career ambitions, winning arguments, needing the house to be “just so,” and so on.

If you look closely: what is the cost/benefit ratio — really?

Fifth, even if we attain a pleasure, and it’s actually pretty great, and it doesn’t cost too much – the gold standard – because of impermanence, even the most pleasant experiences inevitably change and end.

For example, one day we will be separated from everyone we love by their death or our own. Ouch: but no way around it. The cookie will be eaten: all gone! as the little kids say. We’ve got to get out of our warm and cozy bed for work. Time to leave the nice hot shower. You turn in the big report and the boss and everyone else sings your praises for a day or two and then it’s over and on to the next thing. The orgasm lasts just a few seconds!

As the Buddha said, everything that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing. Period. No way around it.

Since pleasant facts and experiences will inevitably end, it’s both doomed and painful to grasp after them.

When the heart grasps what is painful, it is like being bitten by a snake. And when, through desire, it grasps what is pleasant, it is just grasping the tail of the snake. It only takes a little while longer for the head of the snake to come around and bite you.

Ajahn Chah, A Still Forest Pool

Enjoy pleasant experiences, yes, as they pass through, as long as (A) you do not cling to them, and (B) your enjoyment does not fan the flames of desire for them – a possible but very challenging thing to do. You really have to be on top of your game for that, with lots of mindfulness.

Pretty grim, huh? But it’s helpful to remember that the point of developing mindfulness of and insight into the causes of suffering is to become free of them – and thus relatively (and perhaps even absolutely) free of suffering itself.

To summarize, for all the reasons we’ve discussed, any experience is incapable of being completely satisfying. We have been looking for happiness, security, and fulfillment in all the wrong places.

So, what’s the right place?

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The first noble truth – the noble truth of suffering

Buddha portraitThe Four Noble Truths are the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha. Deceptively simple, they actually provide a profound explanation of human unhappiness, both gross and subtle, and how to attain increasingly positive states of mind, from stress relief in daily life to an unshakeable calm happiness and a selflessly compassionate heart.

With regard to the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha has been likened to a physician who diagnoses a condition, explains what causes it and what will end it, and then lays out in detail its cure.

The Noble Truth of Suffering
The first Noble Truth is that life contains inevitable, unavoidable suffering. (Some translators use the word, “stress,” to convey the broad meaning of the original word used by the Buddha in the Pali language: dukkha.)

This suffering encompasses the gross forms of pain, illness, and trauma we can all imagine, such as a broken leg, stomach flu, grappling with the devastation of a hurricane or the violent death of a loved one — or getting the diagnosis of a terminal disease.

It also includes milder but common forms of discomfort and distress, like long hours of work, feeling let down by partner, a headache, feeling frustrated, disappointed, hurt, inadequate, depressed, upset, etc.

And it includes the subtlest qualities of tension in the mind, restlessness, sense of contraction, preoccupation, unease, boredom, blahness, ennui, sense of being an isolated self, something missing in life, something just not fulfilling, etc.

What People Do with the Fact of Suffering
Because suffering is uncomfortable, we may suppress or minimize it in our own lives. And because it is unpleasant – and sometimes guilt-provoking – to see it in others, we sometimes turn away from it there, too.

We also live in a culture that tends to cast a veil over the everyday suffering of poverty, chronic illness, draining work conditions, aging, and dying while – oddly – pushing intense imagery of violence in everything from the evening news to children’s TV. Simultaneously, our media present an endless parade of promises that you can avoid suffering through looking younger, upgrading your internet connection, drinking Bud Lite, getting Viagra, losing 10 pounds, etc.

It can almost make you feel like a failure for suffering!

Personal Reflections
What are some of the kinds of suffering that exist in your life?

Can you accept the fact of your suffering? What gets in the way of doing that?

What happens inside you when you accept the universal truth of suffering, that everyone suffers? In a way, it becomes less personal then, and easier to handle. It’s just suffering. It doesn’t have to be a big deal that we suffer. It’s just what is. It is indeed true that we and everyone else suffers.

You have opened up to a truth . . . a great truth . . . the First Noble Truth.

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Looking for the silver lining of our dysfunction

“A mess in process”

One of the indisputable realities about being human is that we all have weaknesses. No one escapes this.

Some of us are able to acknowledge these less attractive aspects without being unduly fazed. Others tend to cultivate strategies to help hide the cracks. Yet others convince themselves that their weaknesses are inherent aberrations, with this view then becoming a rationale for indulging in aberrant behaviour. It is the last of these views that I tend to work with in addiction.

Some of us convince ourselves that we are such a waste of space that really, we should commit ourselves to a life of substance-induced mayhem or simply rid the rest of the world of our miserable presence by killing ourselves. This is true suffering.

The Buddha could well have been the best Alcohol and Drug clinician the world has ever seen. His First Noble Truth states that life involves suffering, discontentment, disgruntlement, disillusionment. He then tells us in his Second Noble Truth that suffering (dukkha) has a cause and that that cause is craving.

Wanting things to be a certain way is suffering because it precludes openness to what is, now, in this moment. Not getting what we want involves suffering because we want it so much. Even getting what we do want involves suffering because then we are fearful of losing it. Also, often we realize it isn’t what we wanted after all and now what are we to do once we have married our heart’s desire and find that the beloved has turned into a cold, and rather clammy, green frog?

The Third Noble Truth states that suffering can cease. If we acknowledge that everything that comes into being must, one day, dissolve, we learn to not clutch onto life with such desperation. If we acknowledge that such grasping is tantamount to grabbing a handful of water or holding onto a rainbow, we may reduce this habit of clinging and free our hearts from suffering.

When we embrace the truth of impermanence and even begin to enjoy the ephemeral, fleeting nature of it, we move from desperado mindset to butterfly mindset. We can say ‘no’ to that contracted, grasping human, clutching our booty, hiding out in an emotional desert. With a meditation practice under our belts, we can begin to loosen and lighten up, psychically alighting gently on a leaf, ready to move to the next honeysuckle. Hence we move from contraction and limitation to expansiveness and new possibilities.

Problems arise when not only do we expect changeable, fleeting processes to stay the same but when we also imagine our painful emotions to be permanent, especially when we are lost in them. But in reality, our emotions are even more fleeting than our thoughts. It is often our attitude to our emotions that cause us the suffering. That is probably why the Christians talk of eternal damnation in hell. When we are in hellish states of mind, even a minute feels like an eternity. When we are in heaven, it goes in a flash.

“The First Truth is Sorrow. Be not mocked!
Life which ye treasure is long drawn out agony:
Its pleasures are as birds which light and fly;
Only its pains abide.”
Sir Edwin Arnold The Light of Asia

Why do we perpetuate this fixed view of ourselves as fundamentally flawed, as a complete failure, as incapable of fitting in with societal mores? If we begin to relate to ourselves as a process, we start letting go of the pain. A friend, when first warming up to this concept, referred to himself as “a mess in process.” This is the beginning of true liberation.

Part of the deconstruction of a habit pattern of the mind is in listening to what Behavioural Therapists call Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATS). These can be deconstructed further to reveal core beliefs we cherish deep in our hearts. Albert Ellis, the founder of RET — Rational Emotive Therapy — exhorts us to DISPUTE such distortions.

For example, we might have the negative thought, “I always screw it up because I am so impulsive!”

Ellis tells us to first of all replace the ‘always’ with “sometimes” so we could pathologize ourselves less by saying:

“I sometimes make mistakes because part of me has a habit pattern of the mind that leaps into things without due consideration.”

Let’s take a good look at the silver lining of our alleged dysfunction. For example: What are the benefits of leaping into life without due consideration? Impulsive people have the novelty seeking gene, which scientists attribute to mutation; people with a deficit of Monoamine oxidase enzyme (MAO) live more dangerously than the more balanced amongst us. Even though it may kill us, humanity benefits from people willing to take risks because they don’t take the time to consider the consequences.

One scientific theory is that, had a bunch of Africans with this mutant gene not gotten into their canoes without a clue where they would end up, we may not have been as global a species as we currently are.

Instead of grabbing our dysfunction to use as a weapon to bludgeon ourselves into self-pity, it can be helpful to ponder the more colourful, even beneficial elements to it. How can you be mad at a gene?

If we contain a kindly and light-hearted view of ourselves as a “mess in process” it means we can begin to feel more confident about ourselves and therefore work to align ourselves more with our values. If we see our profound dysfunction in less black and white terms, we can gradually transform our weaknesses into strengths. This moves us away from the pitiful, over-identified, victim mentality which keeps us, inextricably, stuck in the nasty old Slough of Despond.

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The Fourth Truth: There is a path that leads us away from suffering

I used to be confused about why the third truth came before the fourth. And I realize now that if I could not accept or believe that there was an end to suffering, I would not have trudged the path. After all, I would not have known what would be at the end of the path—or if there would even be an end. If somebody had described to me the path that would lead me away from suffering before telling me that there is an end in sight for suffering, I would have most probably had an attack of horrified anxiety. And convinced myself that the life I was living was much more manageable than stepping on to the path that would supposedly lead me away from suffering!

The path that continues to lead me away from suffering is the threefold path of ethics, meditation and wisdom.

Threefold PathEightfold path
Ethics/VirtueRight Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
MindRight Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
WisdomRight View
Right Intention

Ethics/Virtue

I cannot say how contented I have become, how much simplicity there is in my life, and how much stillness, too, since I have become more ethical. The five Buddhist precepts opened a door in my heart. They gave me tools to begin living my life differently. I remember becoming a mitra (a friend of the spiritual community) in my tradition. During my ceremony, I took on the five spiritual precepts. I knew as I recited them that they had given me a way to purify my heart. I took them on seriously, and recited the positive and negative forms daily for almost 5 years. Since my ordination in 2005 I have recited ten precepts daily. They have been the principals that have trained me to live my life with mindfulness. They are some of the tenets of right speech, right action and right livelihood: These are the five training principals that are universal to all lay Buddhist traditions. Many monastic communities can have as much as a 100 or more.

  1. I undertake to abstain from harming life. With deeds of loving kindness I purify my body.
  2. I undertake to abstain from taking the not given. With open handed generosity I purify my body.
  3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct. With stillness, simplicity and contentment I purify my body.
  4. I undertake to abstain from false speech. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
  5. I undertake to abstain from taking intoxicants. With mindfulness clear and radiant I purify my mind.

(The positive and negative precepts appear as cited by Urgyen Sangharakshita.)

Mind

After a week of learning to meditate, I walked out onto the street and thought the whole world was changing. I had “beginner’s mind.” I paused and chuckled to myself as I realized it was I who was changing and that there was no going back. I had a glimpse of seeing things as they actually were. Meditation caused a revolution in my physical, spiritual and emotional self. I began to walk, think and pray differently. The practice of metta, cultivating loving kindness for (a) myself, (b) a friend, (c) someone I do not know, and (d) an enemy, continues to revolutionize my life. People I thought I would never speak to have come back into my life, because this meditation allowed me to forgive my enemies in the fourth stage (d). The fourth stage cultivated compassion in my heart for my enemies. As the hatred melted away, my self-hatred also melted away, and I am a much happier person. However, after my beginner’s mind began to fizzle, the real work began. I had to apply right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration to develop my meditation practice. I committed myself to the path of transformation. I began TO study, took up a daily meditation practice and went on retreats. In 2005 I effectively went for refuge, hence placing the three jewels at the centre of my life. The ideal of enlightenment (buddha), the teachings of the buddha (dharma) and spiritual community at the centre of my life (sangha.) I had a lay person ordination into the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. I was named Vimalasara (she who’;s essence is stainless and pure), took on the Bhodisattva vow, the ten precepts, and a visualization practice. My mind had most definitely changed; no longer were my decisions based solely on my sexuality, skin colour or gender. My decisions more and more are based on my going for refuge to the three jewels.

Wisdom

This part of the path, right view and right intention, brings me back to the fourth truth. I continue to develop my understanding of these truths. The Buddha says everything we experience has three characteristics, which are known as the three marks of conditioned existence. He says all life is (a) unsatisfactory, (b) impermanent, (c) unsubstantial, and nothing is fixed at all. These three marks have impacted my identity. I am not so attached to my female self, black self, or queer self. I used to experience everything through these filters. Hence I was often not open to others who were not female, black or queer. I was often judgmental and reactive. Although they had been part of my raft to help me along my recovery, if I was to continue to grow I had to let go of my fixed identities. They were at the centre of my life, and one could say I went to refuge them to them.

Letting go of identities meant I had to forgive those people who discriminated against me. Let go of those people who tried to label me with black stereotypes such as ‘intimidating, loud, aggressive, chip on my shoulder, athletic etc.’ I continue to learn to have compassion for those people who continue to discriminate against me. Without forgiveness, there is no room for wisdom. We must let go of fixed identities, thoughts and grudges. Integrate self and let go of self. Wisdom stops me from settling for the life I live now, which is much better than what it was 15 years ago. Despite how far I have come, I am committed to further understanding the truth. Training my mind, opening up to the possibility of real insight, letting go of self, practicing forgiveness and cultivating transformation, for me is a life time service.

Since stepping onto the path, the three jewels have become what is at the centre of my life. The majority of my decisions are based on going for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha.

The Path

So I am on a path that leads me away from suffering. But sometimes I fall off, I stumble, and sometimes I choose not to walk it. But I always get back on. Fear can eat away at my faith and keep me off the path. But my faith can also eat away at my fear, and keep me on the path. There is no vacation from the spiritual life—I must strive on. If I reflect on the day I first walked into a Buddhist centre 23 years ago I know there is no alternative to the path. The Buddha made it simple with the eightfold path: live by these principals and we will gain insight and, perhaps even enlightenment.

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The Second Noble Truth

When I first read the second truth, I had goose bumps, because I knew my life was heading in the direction of suffering. All the choices in my life were on the path of suffering, and all the things I was doing in my life too, kept me on the path of suffering.  At age fourteen I had chosen to live on the streets. I had gone off the rails. Eighteen months with my biological mother from the ages of eleven to twelve and a half had taught me to self medicate. No adult could tell me what to do. I was going to take complete control of my life. And so I had made my choices, with clarity. I chose to live on the streets, and when I realized I had made a wrong decision I didn’t know how to make a new decision. My only way out was the hope that I would be caught for my unskilful actions. This choice led me to be locked up by the age of fifteen.

‘Every decision is a good decision; you can always make a new decision’ says my teacher the Venerable Sangharakshita. I was resistant to the pain of my bad choice. I could not face the pain of knocking on a social worker’s door and admitting I had made a stupid decision by living on the streets. And so I numbed my pain with more shoplifting. I got a high out of it, and it made me feel good. So many things had been stolen from me as a young child: my virginity, my spirit, my voice and my feelings. I resisted the pain of this, did not even know how to come into relationship with it at such a young age. So I self-medicated through the buzz of “taking the not given” from shops.

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I fitted neatly into Shinzen Young’s formula S=PxR  (suffering equals pain times resistance.) I was not aware that my resistance to my pain during my adolescence was rooting me quite firmly on the path that leads to more suffering. Unbeknown to me I was just multiplying pain every time I resisted it with my addictions of self-hatred and shoplifting.
 
Shoplifting and pickpocketing were my second addictions, that covered up all my toxic and messy feelings. I knew I couldn’t continue living this life, and I thought I needed something else to cover up my feelings. I had learned during the brief time with my biological mother not to show or express one bit of emotion or feeling. If I did I was sadistically punished. I had learned to take immense physical pain without flinching. And I was not going to let go of that power. She stole my spirit and it took everything I had inside me to survive her brutality and not leave my body forever. I learned self-hatred, and hatred of her. Self hatred was my first addiction. It was the place of self-pity I fled too. Self-pity rendered me helpless and on the path that led to more suffering. I was passive, I didn’t ask for help, just hoped that Jesus Christ or God would rescue me.

I got out alive. God didn’t rescue me — my school friends finally did — and I was taken away by the police. However I was spiritually dead, with a heart full of hatred. I was unable to speak of my experience for years. I numbed the pain, and on the surface appeared the most together, happiest and sorted adolescent in the orphanage — and I was drowning inside.

I became anorexic/bulimic. I had found an acceptable way of dealing with my feelings. Eating and throwing up. The only feeling I had was the physical pain of collapsing on the floor, the battering of my stomach, the hoarseness of my throat. But it soon became unacceptable, and I became an extreme bulimic. All other feelings were stuffed down and then purged out. I had become so skilled at not feeling that I was not aware of the fact that I was suffering. Some say ignorance is bliss, but in retrospect, my ignorance was a delusion. I knew I was unhappy, but all I had known my whole life was unhappiness and, so, I had nothing with which I could compare my unhappy life. And so, in my times of unhappiness, I felt a false happiness, most probably stimulant or alcohol-fueled.

The origin of suffering is attachment. What was I attached to? I had spent a whole lifetime in my late teens and early adulthood running away from all the attachments in my life—or so I thought. I ran away from all the orphanages I was placed in. As soon as something difficult came up I was out of the door like a flash of lightning, and lived on the streets. I had no possessions, just a heart full of toxic luggage. I had become attached to not feeling; as soon as a whiff of sadness arose, I pushed it back down so that I would not have to feel it. I was only allowing myself to feel the highs in my life, but even when I felt good, I  would squash that feeling too. It was too scary to inhabit such exciting feelings. The smile had been beaten off my face, and trampled into the ground by my biological mother. I was not allowed to be happy or sad. Pushing down all feelings had saved my life. Ironically this was my path that led me to more suffering.

Of course there are many other things that can put people on the path of suffering. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our minds are attached to impermanent things. We are not aware of the fact that our desire, passion, pursuit of wealth, or prestige, striving for fame, and desire for popularity are all paths that lead to more suffering. Why should we not strive for these things? If we are to live life in the present, accepting the impermanence of all these things, living an ethical life, some of these things may naturally occur as a result of our insight. The reality is such that there is no way to happiness. Rather, happiness is the way. Happiness is what people like Tom Maggliozzi and Rakesh Sarin call reality minus expectations.

I most definitely did not find my way by anesthetizing myself from life’s dramas, nor did I find it through the use of stimulants either, or in night clubs. Instead, I found it deep inside myself. The resentments, anger, fear and hatred in my heart muddied my happiness. I was unable to let go of the expectations of my reality, of things that I thought should have happened in my childhood. It was too painful to accept what had happened, and so I felt rage, anger and blamed. I had to do what Pema Chödrön advises, and lean into the pain, stop fending it off with my addictions and feel the pain. I had to learn that in pain there is joy, and that in joy there is pain. I had to empty myself of my addictions, and sit in the gap.

Learning to be with the emptiness of our lives, with the meaningless, the unknown, and the questions of what life is about, is a practice of patience. How many of us are patient, prepared to sit in the gap and reflect on these questions? It is easier to reach for something to put in our mouths or in front of our eyes, and to distract ourselves from the fact that life is fleeting and out of our control. Distractions and mood-altering substances point us in the direction of the path of suffering, and also the denial of impermanence leads to more suffering. Our denial, our distractions, are all part of the resistance that multiplies our pain. Letting go of our thoughts before they become thinking can help us step off the path that leads to more suffering.

We are the maestros of our suffering. We can determine how much suffering we create for ourselves and how much we want to get lost on the path that leads to more suffering. And it is possible to be happy without the addictions many of us have. To say we have no addictions is a delusion. Addiction can be when you cling onto something to such an extent that its cessation causes suffering or severe trauma. Living can become an addiction: we are attached to life, our health, our youthfulness. In that realization, there is much insight.

We can also meditate for positive emotion and integration, and become attached to this state of being. Or we can step on the path of spiritual death and spiritual rebirth that will truly take us to a place of enlightenment. Suffering can bring us to this realization. There is hope for the addict. Some psychotherapists say that some addicts are experiencing a spiritual emergency. Whatever the addict is going through, the fact is that it can be through the recovery from our addictions that we can turn our lives around. We can move beyond recovery and tread on the path of irregular steps to take us beyond self clinging and liberation. We can step onto the noble eight fold path.

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The first noble truth

The First Truth: There is suffering

Everything is impermanent. What arises will cease. When Shakyamuni gained enlightenment (insight), he became a Buddha, which means he attained an awakened mind. He awoke to what enlightened beings had seen before him. He rediscovered the path onto which we can return. The Four Noble Truths are part of the teachings that connect all Buddhist traditions.

The First Truth, that there is suffering, may seem pessimistic at first, as if life is hopeless. That is how it once appeared for me. Although I had suffered, I would have told you once upon a time that I had a great childhood, but once I stopped going for refuge to the nightclubs, to sex and intoxicants, the suffering hit me. I spiraled into an eating disorder. I was unable to cope with the reality that there was suffering. And if there was I was going to be in control of it. But acknowledging my own suffering connected me to every other human on this planet. I was not alone. I had suffered and so had everybody else I knew.

The light bulb switched on when in the same week, I had one friend grieving the loss of her mother, and another who was grieving the loss of her dog. The latter puzzled me, why was she so distraught? As that thought arose I could see that pain was pain. Suffering was suffering, the cause of it was irrelevant.

It was insightful for me to accept that in my life, and everyone else’s that there will be suffering. And even more insightful to learn how I created more suffering. I had lived my twenties anesthetized to my suffering. I had done everything possible to avoid suffering, so I thought. But I had to learn that there was suffering, and I could make it worse or easier for my self. The first truth was plain and simple, and I could not avoid the truth. From the moment I was born I was old enough to die.

By the fact we are born, we suffer. We age, become sick, and die. This gives us pain and grief. We lament, making such statements as, She was too young to die, He wasn’t meant to die, It is so unfair that I am sick, and Why does this happen to me? Yet, as the saying goes, once we are born, we are old enough to die.

Perhaps, we are born sick at birth, with a dis-ease, and our lives are about healing this sickness. The die-ease of life can be cured by the practice of renunciation.

Yet we live our lives attached to almost everything around us, unaware that, every day, we consciously or unconsciously renounce something in our physical, mental and spiritual lives. Ironically, we never seem ready for the final renunciation of our lives. So many of us are still sick when it comes time to renounce our bodies. This is suffering. It cannot change, and it will not change; we are always changing, whether we like it or not. Thus, to die well is to die with faith, energy, awareness, wisdom, and loving kindness.

Interestingly, death in some cultures is not such a painful occurrence. Some women know that their children will die before the age of five, due to poverty and sickness. Here in the West, a child dying before their parents is considered to be a most cruel occurrence.

Modern medicine has advanced the longevity and health of the physical body, but it has stagnated the growth of the mind and heart. We have become attached to our bodies, our health and our beauty. Ironically, the only guarantees in life are that we will age, we will get sick, and we will die! We do not know when these events will strike us, but we know they will happen. Nonetheless, many of us live our lives as if we were unaware of the fact that such mundane phenomena will happen to us.

The suffering occurs when our mind and hearts are unable to accept the first truth—that there is suffering. We are unable to see that everything is impermanent, that what arises will cease. When happiness or success arises it, too, passes, and something new arises when it ceases. And when unhappiness, difficulties and tragedies arise these, too, pass and something new arises. Suffering occurs, because we want happiness to last forever. We become attached to it, and when it passes and unhappiness arises, we move into aversion and hatred, wanting to push away our unhappiness, while craving for happiness to arise again.

We refer to a sunny day as “beautiful,” thus fixing our day and, so, when it rains, it becomes an awful day and we suffer. If we could simply refer to the sun as “shining” and the clouds as “raining,” we may begin to lighten our load of suffering. By extension, we may begin to see death as merely another part of the life cycle. Thus, there is hope.

My first step in recovery was to acknowledge that this human life will bring me suffering – and suffering is okay, if I don’t move away from it. It will arise and cease.

Detox Your Heart – Valerie Mason-John – Google Books

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Discovering the four noble truths

A Spiritual Crisis

I was brought up in Essex in an orphanage run by Church of England Christians. Many of them had given up their lives in the material world, to work for the Lord, and looked after poor orphans. There, I learned several Christian truths, including the following three:

  • There is a heaven, and if I am “good” I will end up there.
  • There is a hell, and if I “mess up” I will end up there.
  • I can repent, and the Lord will forgive me.

Reflecting on these three truths, coupled with praying to a God that never came to my rescue when I needed Him, initiated a spiritual crisis within me.

By the time I was 19, I had broken six of the ten commandments. I had killed insects, stolen, committed adultery, worked on the Sabbath, taken the name of the Lord in vain, dishonoured my parents by hating them, and had considered — for a fleeting moment — Hari Krishna to be a god. I had no idea how to repent, and I did not have the desire to repent, either.

I found myself in the Holy Land a year later, where I parted for once and for all with my childhood savior, Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem. I had hoped to receive a sign that I was on the right path. The bible was my savior during the time I lived with my biological mother between the age of 11 and 12 and half. I had grown up in foster homes and orphanages until the age of 11. Then came a new culture of thinking. Children should not grow up in institutions all their life, if they were babies they should be adopted out. If they were old like me and already living in an institutions social workers tried to track their parents down and place children back with their families.

Needless to say it was a disaster for many, I saw many leave with their single parent mother, and return in months. When my turn came I expected the same. My mother had been tempted with a two bedroom apartment. They would give her this if she took her daughter back. Of course she didn’t want to raise me, she had given her first two children away to grand parents in Africa, put me in an orphanage and the youngest was adopted.

How could she refuse such an offer? An immigrant from Africa living in awful accommodation for eleven years; she accepted. From day one I was abused, and am lucky to be alive to tell my story. I prayed every night to God to take me away from her awful place. I read the bible daily and found solace in the stories, while living a tormented and tortured life. Finally one day I believed God had answered my prayers. 18 months later I was met by the police and social workers at school, and removed, and she was taken to court. However God had come to late, I was already damaged. I had lost faith in humans.

I was angry. Why had Christ allowed so much suffering during my childhood? Surely, if he cared, he would have come to my rescue? Why hadn’t he come to the rescue of the people of Israel, Palestine?

I was disgusted with what I saw in Bethlehem. It was as if I was witnessing Jesus entering the temple courts, driving out all who were buying and selling there. I, too, wanted to overturn the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling candles and tack. I did not want a cross; I wanted Jesus’ love and compassion. Yet, I could not feel it. I returned home bereft, went off the rails for a while, and fell into spiritual drought.

Night clubbing, intoxicants and sex became my spiritual path. Through intoxicants I experienced states of being that transformed me momentarily, but blew holes in my brain. Through sex I experienced a surrender I was unable to do in any other part of my life, but that was because I was always under the influence of something. Dancing saved my life, I lived for night clubbing, it was through the freedom of dance without intoxicants that I experienced something greater than me, I glimpsed integration……..

The lesbian, black, and dance communities filled the void. I sought refuge in each of these communities, placing them at the centre of my life. I chose my friends and social life from this pool of people and activities, but still, there was something missing.

Feminism, Womanism, Leftism, Separatism, Pan-Africanism, and Afro-centrism clearly were not the answer. While aspects of the theories and lifestyle spoke to me, I still found myself alienated from my spirit. I had become emotionally impoverished as a black lesbian, because the world in which I grew up denied my existence. Black people weren’t queer, neither were we feminists or separatists, that was what white people did. It did not exist in African/Caribbean communities, that was the claim. And so I could not bring all of myself into black political organizations, through fear of being physically attacked. This was the early 80s Britain.

However neither the communities in which I found myself, nor the theories I studied, spoke to every part of who I was. The black lesbian community chastised me for having white lovers, because it was considered sleeping with the enemy. The black heterosexual community were in denial about homosexuality. The white feminist and lesbian communities often denied the black experience. We were even denied entrance to some night clubs because of our skin colour.

I knew I needed to heal, but I did not know how. I knew I needed something that could make sense of the life I was living, and why I was living it. Banishing people from my life because of their sexuality, gender, race, or class was not the answer. Separate spaces where I could be all black, all lesbian, or all woman helped me to heal some of my wounds, but I needed more. I wanted to go out into the world and be all of me at the same time.

I was fortunate to have friends who meditated with the Triratna Buddhist Order, formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. And within this sangha, or spiritual community, I found I could attend separate retreats for women or lesbians, and people of colour. I’m not sure I would have come across the four noble truths if I had not discovered the sangha. Unconsciously, I was an angry black lesbian woman, and I needed a safe space where I could take off some of my armour. These retreats for different aspects of me allowed me to heal, but I needed to integrate myself take of my armour full of labels and learn to trust.

When I first heard the four noble truths, tears came to my eyes. They resonated within me and presented me with the opportunity to work with my life differently. The truths and meditation also changed my life profoundly. They shook me awake. They were the most exciting things I had learned in all my years of education. The four noble truths turned everything around in my psyche. They made sense of my life. The truths taught me that I was interconnected with all beings, not much different from anyone else. I was no longer alone with my labels that I had become so attached to, that had become my fixed false self. I realized that although I had experienced my fare share of suffering from the reality of the conditions I was born into, I had also piled a whole lot more suffering into my life, from the choices I had made. The truths presented a freedom from that suffering. For the first time in my life, I could see a way out of my suffering. I could step onto the eight fold path.

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“Never Turn Away: The Buddhist Path Beyond Hope and Fear” by Rigdzin Shikpo

Never Turn Away, by Rigdzin Shikpo

Title: “Never Turn Away – The Buddhist Path Beyond Hope and Fear.”
Author: Rigdzin Shikpo
Publisher: Wisdom Publications, Boston (2007).
ISBN: 0-86171-488-1
Available from: Amazon.com.

Tejananda, Buddhist practitioner, meditation teacher, and author of The Buddhist Path to Awakening, gives an overview of a new, fresh approach to translating the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism into a western idiom.

Rigdzin Shikpo (Michael Hookham) was one of the earliest Western students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Trungpa, who died in 1987, was a brilliant yet controversial figure. But whatever his flaws, he was undoubtedly one of the key figures in transmitting and translating Tibetan Buddhism for the western world: not so much translating in the linguistic sense as being prepared to take risks in creating new forms and expressions out of the 1000-year-old Kagyu tradition in which he was reared from early childhood, in “honest collision” with western culture and values.

Trungpa was also trained in the older Nyingma tradition, the heart of which is the Maha-Ati or Great Perfection (Dzogchen) teachings, and it was these in particular that he transmitted to Rigdzin Shikpo during his period in the UK between 1963 and 1970. Trungpa Rinpoche is still very much Rigdzin Shikpo’s root guru, a fact clearly reflected in Rigdzin Shikpo’s deep devotion to his teacher.

It also is clear in the content of this book, which frequently makes reference to Trungpa’s Dharma teachings. At the same time, it’s obvious that Rigdzin Shikpo has assimilated these teachings deeply, and they come across in his own voice and manner.

The book expounds the four Truths, traditionally the Buddha’s first, and certainly his most fundamental, teaching: suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path or way (which enables the cessation of suffering). The book is more concerned with practice than with doctrinal exposition, with Rigdzin Shikpo discussing each Truth in relation to a significant area of practice.

The first and the underlying theme of the whole book, is openness, in relation to the truth of suffering (duhkha). According to Rigdzin Shikpo, Trungpa Rinpoche “always emphasized direct experience and mostly had students work with the single instruction of openness.” This “provides the basis for greater awareness in meditation and everyday life … it is the combination of openness and awareness that lays the ground for seeing significance in our experience.”

 The fundamental attitude of Dharma practice is always “turning toward” whatever life presents to us… 

But significance can’t be learned from words, even words about Dharma. Its the qualities they “point” to that have to “affect our guts … hit us in the deepest part of what we are.” This is the import of the book’s title: “Never Turn Away.” In other words, the fundamental attitude of Dharma practice is always “turning towards” whatever life presents to us. Not going into denial, not blanking out with intoxication –- any kind of intoxication –- but simply being open to life, just as it is.

Of course, what we want to “blank out” is pain and suffering. Bearing with pleasure is not a problem for most of us! But always to be shying away from pain and attempting to prolong pleasure amounts to our manufacturing a “reality” which is itself painful and unsatisfactory. This “seeming reality” in which most of us live “is fundamentally false.”

The first step towards seeing through this delusion is — never turn away. “Openness is a way of learning about the world that enables us to relate to things properly and act skilfully.”

In practice, learning the “skill” of openness is best served by meditation. What kind of meditation? Rigdzin Shikpo notes that “meditation, by itself, is not necessarily helpful” and can even be harmful, because it “can powerfully reinforce our world view.” So, it’s vital that meditation is done on the basis of right view.

  The practice of openness is a natural gateway into the area of wisdom… 

“View, in this sense, is a way of seeing that leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of experience, rather than holding a particular dogma or set of beliefs.” This view is nothing other than “an attitude of complete openness to whatever arises in our minds and daily lives.”

Much more than “calm” or “peace of mind” (a common motivation for taking up meditation), the practice of openness is a natural gateway into the area of prajna or wisdom, and helps us to “develop a robustness of mind that can work with any circumstances that arise” and “to develop as truly human beings.” In the next several chapters, Rigdzin Shikpo goes into a lot of useful detail on the basics of this approach to meditation practice.

The second Truth, the cause of suffering, is expounded in the context of “mandala principle.” Mandalas are often identified with colorful Tibetan thangka paintings of elaborate circular diagrams. But the mandala principle on which they are based is universal: “every aspect of our experience, both internal and external, can be understood in terms of mandala … everything in the universe expresses itself in terms of mandala and interlocking mandalas within mandalas.”

Every mandala has a center and a periphery, and “at the center is the basic organizing principle, which is something active and powerful.” Emanating from this “are various related subprinciples” forming the body of the mandala. These are often depicted as a sphere, with a boundary. “Whenever mandalas have to do with people and their concerns, the boundary is a very emotional place.”

What has this got to do with the second Truth, the origin of suffering? The answer lies in ego, or self-view, “which narrows our world and creates a closed and sometimes crushing mandala.” This “ego mandala” gives rise to suffering because of our “continually projecting expectations onto our experience,” especially in the relation between the conceptual structures we create, and our emotions. Consequently, exploration of and penetration into the significance of this relation is a vitally important element of meditation practice.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, Trungpa Rinpoche taught that negative emotions like anger or desire were not themselves really a problem: “Emotions arise in our bodies, but they don’t have to be expressed in external activity.” The problem lies not in the basic emotion but in the “negativity of the negativity” which refers “to the ideas we have about our emotions, the reasons we give to justify their presence and continuance.”

 Ego, or self-view, narrows our world and creates a closed and sometimes crushing mandala. 

So, it’s important to recognize the conceptual link between emotion and response. “Negative” emotions only grow because we dwell on them with thoughts. “We use concepts to narrow our vision and drive our hatred and desire toward some ego-centred goal.” To open and expand our vision through meditation, Rigdzin Shikpo recommends “treating thoughts, feelings and emotions as guests.” That is, you “greet” them by allowing yourself to experience them as clearly as possible, then “let them go and return to the breath.”

Importantly, “you never need to think of them as interruptions. They are all part of the meditation practice, part of the dance of your mind.” This advice seems particularly apposite to those developing a meditation practice, as it’s often assumed that “thoughts are the enemy” and somehow have to be got rid of.

There is a good deal of further meditation advice in this section of the book. What is particularly useful is the emphasis on principles and views informing meditation practice, more than details of technique. This is true of much of the book, which means that it will probably be of more relevance to those who have been meditating for some time than those who are just setting up their practice.

The third section, The Collapse of Confusion, corresponds to the Truth of the cessation of suffering. Confusion, the deluded view of the “ego mandala,” collapses when we see “the falseness of our old vision of the world” through meditative investigation. For example, all our basic assumptions about time, space and “objects” –- including “self” or “me here” and “other” or “things out there” -– can be investigated in direct experience and discovered to be just that -– assumptions that don’t stand up to investigation.

Rigdzin Shikpo stresses that when our assumptions do actually collapse, this can be “emotionally shocking” and even feel like “death.” But what “dies” is only the confused ego-mandala, or at least some aspect of clinging to the notion of “self,” and its collapse means liberation from suffering. However, this is unlikely to happen until our basic wrong assumptions are investigated, and this section offers some simple yet potentially far-reaching meditative investigations.

 Most of us might well prefer a familiar pain to an unfamiliar kind of bliss… 

As Rigdzin Shikpo writes, these can lead to “a real sense of emptiness, a state beyond concepts” which may sound “high and wonderful and difficult to accomplish,” but in fact, given dedicated application, confidence, is “difficult but not that difficult.” Encouraging words.

The final section examines the fourth Truth, the Path, as “The Pursuit of Truth.” Of course, the previous sections have been concerned with elements of the path too; this one is largely about deepening these insights. “Our biggest job … is to work with that fundamental emotional grasping itself: that grasping at things as real, and grasping at some solid ground to stand on.” This is why, for example “most of us might well prefer a familiar pain to an unfamiliar kind of bliss.”

From the point of view of the delusional ego, the unsatisfactory world that nevertheless confirms its “reality” is preferable to freedom. Hence, although freedom is directly available, we really, really don’t want to go there. One take on the path, then, is that it’s whatever is necessary to get us to the point of embracing this always-available freedom.

There’s a very useful discussion here around “form” and “formless” practice. In terms of the “inner tantras,” there is a “generation” or “form” stage (kye-rim) and “completion” or “formless” stage (dzog-rim) to any system of practice. Practice with form helps us “establish the sense of the presence of awakening and a strong sense of going for refuge, taking the Bodhisattva vow, or making offerings.” Formless practice allows “a vivid sense of formlessness which is not vagueness, but a kind of clarity beyond appearances.”

Eventually, as he points out, form practice can reach a point where “it seems to be getting in the way” of the actual experiences that it initially enabled us to contact. When this point is reached, we can “link directly into those experiences in a completely formless way,” and here they are “even more powerful, not less so” than they had been in the form stage of practice. However, he cautions “…we can’t approach this powerful level of genuine formlessness without first working extensively with form.”

I found it interesting to note the parallel with Sangharakshita’s system of meditation here, in which “practice” (e.g. mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana, etc.) is always followed by “non-practice” (just sitting) – clearly the same underlying principle is reflected. It’s noticeable that many people working within this system of practice tend to find increasing “formlessness” tending to emerge spontaneously, over the years and decades of practice.

Every section of the book goes into far more areas of practice than could be mentioned here, all very interesting and useful. Though clearly written to be suitable for those relatively new to meditation and Buddhism, the subtleties of what’s being discussed would probably, as mentioned above, be more helpful to more experienced practitioners. So, while the book can be warmly recommended to anyone who is interested in this approach to practice, if you are new to Rigdzin Shikpo’s writings, it would be better to start with his previous book “Openness, Clarity, Sensitivity.”

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