maanantai 30. huhtikuuta 2018

Buddha and Awakening

Buddha and Awakening

I was listening to a dharma talk given by a zen teacher. In the talk she gave an account of Shakyamuni Buddha's life, his search and his struggles.

"He searched for 6 years. He studied with three profoundly important teachers of the time. He studied various meditation techniques, he struggled with the ascetic tradition, he wondered from place to place, he had a few friends who were also on the path with him, and he became quite discouraged because he couldn't seem to break through his question which was why do we suffer, and what is the mystery of suffering, and how do we end suffering."
 - Enkyo O'Hara Roshi

Listening to this bit got me wondering of this like many times before. Shakyamuni, before his awakening, had the problem that despite of his utmost efforts he was doing wrong practices, practices that wouldn't and didn't get him awake from his suffering. As the story goes he studied with three masters of the time and came to master various states of meditation but these states would come and go without any permanent change on his mind. Also, Shakyamuni was neglecting his body by meditating too much and by not eatingand sleeping. He had studied with all the greatest yogis of his time but he just couldn't get to a place where the knot of his confusion would untangle. This is the problem I had and many others have.

So Shakyamuni sat down to concentrate and swore to sit as long as it would take him to break through. And it happened to him through sitting for a week. On the eighth morning as he lifted his gaze, as he was finishing his concentration exercise, he saw the star Venus in the sky. That simple and yet direct moment of seeing the bright star penetrated his sense of self. Through this awakening experience he had a shift from the self-based mind to selfless mind. And it set him free.

There are similar stories of awakening. One zen roshi I know woke up by seeing a tree leaf being touched by a gust of wind, after he had finished his meditation. Another zen roshi woke up by hearing the sound of his piss splashing in the urinal after his zazen. Awakenings through these kind of incidents happen. It happens but it is random.

I wonder if Shakyamuni, before his awakening, ever knew why he had the yearning to seek. I wonder if he knew exactly why he was pursuing the ascetic path and then the yogic path until he woke up. I don't assume he did because had he understood that his suffering was caused by his sense of self, or me-ness, he would have been able to tackle it head on. But he didn't, his path testifies that. Apparently his ascetic masters didn't really know either why they were doing all the things they did because otherwise Shakyamuni wouldn't have needed to leave them to find the answer on his own.

Many meditators of the modern day share the same problem Shakyamuni did: I need to wake up but it just isn't happening even though I am doing everything according to the instructions of the tradition. Shakyamuni sat for 6 years, I sat 8½. I know people who sat up to 10, 20, 35 years (long days!) but were not able to break through. Many modern meditators have the same problem Shakyamuni did *2500* years ago. It is a valid question why it is so random.

There is no way to avoid suffering, or existential confusion, living as a human being. But there are definite ways for extinquishing the fire of self-delusion. We need to have an understanding what exactly is the matter. When we understand that we have to have a technique, an exercise, to tackle the issue. And thirdly it is very helpful to receive instructions from someone who is already there.

I hope that in another 2500 years techniques for awakening, like the Two-Part Formula, are a household name so that the future generations don't have to suffer the way we did.

- Kim Katami, 30.4.2018

The Two-Part Formula:

perjantai 27. huhtikuuta 2018

Pointing the Staff at The Old Man's Heart by Padmasambhava


While the great master Padmasambhava was staying at Great Rock Hermitage at Samye, Sherab Gyalpo of Ngog, an uneducated 61 year old man who had the highest faith and strong devotion to the master, served him for one year. All this while Ngog didn't ask for any teachings, nor did the master give him any. When after a year the master intended to leave, Ngog offered a mandala plate upon which he placed a flower of one ounce of gold.

Then he said, Great Master, think of me with kindness. First of all, I am uneducated. Second, my intelligence is small. Third, I am old, so my elements are worn down. I beg you to give a teaching to an old man on the verge of death that is simple to understand, can thoroughly cut through doubt, is easy to realize and apply, has an effective view, and will help me in future lives.
The Master pointed his walking staff at the old man's heart and gave this instruction:

Listen here old man! Look into the awakened mind of your own awareness! It has neither form nor color, neither center nor edge. At first, it has no origin but is empty. Next, it has no dwelling place but is empty. At the end, it has no destination but is empty. This emptiness is not made of anything and is clear and cognizant. When you see this and recognize it, you know your natural face. You understand the nature of things. You have then seen the nature of mind, resolved the basic state of reality and cut through doubts about topics of knowledge.

This awakened mind of awareness is not made out of any material substance; it is self-existing and inherent in yourself. This is the nature of things that is easy to realize because it is not to be sought for elsewhere. This is the nature of mind that does not consist of a concrete perceiver and something perceived to fixate on. It defies the limitations of permanence and annihilation. In it there is no thing to awaken; the awakened state of enlightenment is your own awareness that is naturally awake. In it there is no thing that goes to the hells; awareness is naturally pure. In it there is no practice to carry out; its nature is naturally cognizant. This great view of the natural state is present in yourself: resolve that it is not to be sought for elsewhere.
When you understand the view in this way and want to apply it in your experience, wherever you stay is the mountain retreat of your body. Whatever external appearance you perceive is a naturally occurring appearance and a naturally empty emptiness; let it be, free from mental constructs. Naturally freed appearances become your helpers, and you can practice while taking appearances as the path.

Within, whatever moves in your mind, whatever you think, has no essence but is empty. Thought occurrences are naturally freed. When remembering your mind essence you can take thoughts as the path and the practice is easy.
As for the innermost advice: no matter what kind of disturbing emotion you feel, look into the emotion and it tracelessly subsides. The disturbing emotion is thus naturally freed. This is simple to practice.

When you can practice in this way, your meditation training is not confined to sessions. Knowing that everything is a helper, your meditation experience is unchanging, the innate nature is unceasing, and your conduct is unshackled. Wherever you stay, you are never apart from the innate nature.

Once you realize this, your material body may be old, but awakened mind doesn't age. It knows no difference between young and old. The innate nature is beyond bias and partiality. When you recognize that awareness, innate wakefulness, is present in yourself, there is no difference between sharp and dull faculties. When you understand the innate nature, free from bias and partiality, is present within yourself, there is no difference between great and small learning. Even though your body, the support for the mind, falls apart, the dharmakaya of awareness wisdom is unceasing. When you gain stability in this unchanging state, there is no difference between a long and a short life-span.

Old man, practice the true meaning! Take the practice to heart! Don't mistake words and meaning! Don't depart from your friend, diligence! Embrace everything with mindfulness! Don't indulge in idle talk and pointless gossip! Don't become involved in common aims! Don't disturb yourself with worry of offspring! Don't excessively crave food and drink! Intend to die an ordinary man! Your life is running out, so be diligent! Practice this instruction for an old man on the verge of death!

Because of pointing the staff at Sherab Gyalpo's heart, this is called 'The Instruction of Pointing the Staff at the Old Man.' Sherab Gyalpo of Ngog was liberated and attained accomplishment.

This was written down by the Princess of Kharchen, Yeshe Tsogyal, for the sake of future generations. It is known under the name 'The Instruction of Pointing the Staff.'


maanantai 9. huhtikuuta 2018

Al's Awakening Story

Al's Awakening Story
Read also:

In order for me to explain how I came to use the Two-Part Formula (2pf) I need to explain a little of my journey with Buddhism and practice first. In 2012, aged 23 turning 24, I found myself feeling increasingly affected by anxiety and low moods. In a constant striving for something better and rarely being able to experience or live in the moment, I had quickly climbed to a management position at work (working in complex needs supported housing). I was still unsatisfied, I was stressed and life seemed to be gleaming little of the rewards and fulfilment that I had thought it should. I had been married for a year and my wife were planning for the future, and I was happy. Or at least I had all the pieces in place that I thought should have made me happy, but I still did not feel fulfilled. I felt like I was always chasing something that eluded me.
I had heard about Buddhism and had been mildly intrigued by it having had a political interest in Tibet and the Chinese occupation for some years since my teens. I started thinking more about what I knew about meditation and Buddhism and, despite being a rather staunch Atheist, wondered if this religion/philosophy might hold some answers for why I felt the way I did. I moved to Stroud, Gloucestershire in 2012 and started looking for Buddhist  groups to see what it was all about. I didn’t like the look of some groups that I had heard about, this all seemed too religious for me. Eventually I came across a group called DharmaMind which had a weekly meeting in Nailsworth.
I sat with this group weekly for the best part of around 18 months thereafter. I introduced my best friend to the group and attended a few of the monthly retreats that the group held in Birmingham. I also went for longer silent retreats at the Theravadan monastery, Amaravati. I became familiar with the teachings of Aloka David Smith and committed as fully as I could with the practice. I felt deep and significant changes in my life, learning from Aloka’s teachings and coming in to touch with my own Buddha Nature. Buddha Nature or awareness has always made sense to me, I liken it to those glimpses of peace and ease that I have felt when on walks in the woods; feeling in touch with other things and comfortable with myself. I have always thought that this could probably be explained scientifically, like through the body’s natural release of endorphins or similar. Or you could explain it more spiritually. I have come to think that it probably doesn’t matter, but that we can all relate to that feeling, regardless of the language we use. Buddhism, I feel, gives some really useful language and tools to understand these things. Meditation being one of those useful tools.
In June 2014 I became a father after 2 ½ years of trying to conceive and had been through some really difficult times. I tried to keep the practice going but my commitment took a knock with the speed and trials of family life. But also I think I was more contented with life and didn’t “need” my practice as much (unwisely this was probably just as it bearing fruits for me!). Inevitably my practice took a knock though and I had only a little contact with the DharmaMind group until Aloka died in July 2015. I sat on and off after this and found it even harder to find space and time after the birth of my daughter in November 2016.
Come to November 2017 and my wife and I had decided to completely up our lives, give up our jobs and move from Gloucestershire to Devon with the kids, to be closer to family. This brought many of its own challenges, as can be expected, and once again I found my own wellbeing taking a knock. I felt many of the old patterns of behaviour and reactions returning like I felt back in 2012. This time though I had a bits and pieces of a practice established and a knowledge of good teachings thanks to Aloka.
It just so happened that in January 2018 I saw a post on facebook announcing that the DharmaMind sangha would be merging with Open Heart and taking on Kim Katami as a teacher. As I looked at Open Heart teachings I began to feel very insecure and angry; it felt so different to what Aloka taught. I also had a feeling of being let down; I needed DharmaMind again and took it for granted that it would be there still exactly as I left it.
However, something about the ideas I read stuck. The main thing that really stood out was this insistence from DhamaMind Sangha members that they had had awakening experiences by following the 2pf as set out by Kim Katami. I couldn’t believe that it could be as simple as it seemed to be explained, but I also couldn’t not try it out for myself. Awakening I thought was something that could only be attained by someone like Aloka. So I started giving this 2pf a go.
Essentially, after trying 2pf for a few days and feeling quite profoundly different, I had to contact Kim and ask to know more about his teachings and 2pf as a practice towards awakening – and I had to apologise for some defensive language I had use responding to DharmaMind-Open Heart merger announcement! Humble pie was swallowed as I explained to Kim that basically “damn, I think you might be on to something here!”
Kim began guiding me through using the 2pf via email contact; his messages and instructions seeming to know exactly where to nudge, where to call out nonsense and when to motivate. Initially I began to notice slight differences in my day to day experience after using 2pf, a slight lightness to my interactions and one morning in particular the strong urge to want to laugh at just about everything I came in to contact with. Physically, I felt a very interesting sensation building with pressure between the eyes. This grew with intensity I felt profoundly the difference between the first mode – sitting in open awareness – to the second mode – of reinforcing the self. In the second mode the pressure between my eyes grew and grew and other physical sensations; heat beating fast, tingling energy running from the middle of the body up to the head. I had never felt anything like this before in meditation. In the last year or so in fact my meditation before this time had become so stagnant, and I was so tired from life with the kids, that more often than not I simply fell asleep during meditation.
After just under 3 weeks of using 2pf and after around 5 days of having contact with Kim directly for instruction I felt a real shift. My sitting meditation started to become very peaceful and light - albeit with this pressure between the eyes - and during my day, at work and at home, I felt more at ease, calmer. Then sitting one Saturday evening using 2pf it changed; the pressure between my eyes expanded to the most intense that it had felt and I felt what I can only describe as a “rushing” sensation in my whole mind and body; like I was squeezing through a tunnel into the present moment. And then I felt blissful. And then I felt very fearful . I knew something had happened, something had changed, but after reading other people’s accounts which seemed only to describe bliss and peace, the fear was quite unsettling.
I contacted Kim even as the fearful feeling ebbed away in the hour after. The fearful feeling lingered in the background the next morning as well. Although in addition to that, I felt a great calm also. Kim explained that he thought awakening had happened for me, but that in addition, I had also “struck a vein of fear”. Kim explained that this was not strange and simply was moving through “subject self” that the 2pf looks at and gone into “object self” . Connecting with this fearful emotion strongly was not new to me, but I had simply not expected it at that time.
As the next day wore on the fear subsided entirely, and what grew then and over the next few days to follow was a peace and calm and clarity that was both wonderful to behold, but also was really fairly mundane! It felt like an old friend that was back. Life was not different and my day to day was not different, but yet at the same time there was a base level to how the world looked and how I felt that was very different. This initial phase felt almost like I was carrying a little light around.
As the weeks have moved on this has definitely changed, and this “honeymoon phase” has definitely subsided. My life has also hit some turbulent times and has been very difficult, financially, emotionally, and with relationships, because of the changes to our lives that my wife and I have made moving our family. However, there is a stark difference to how these difficult times have played out for me. I have not felt swept up as I would have in the past, I have not felt that the negative experiences (which have been real and out of my control) have been so globalising. I feel that this new way of being – which is also not new! – has enabled me to remain grounded. I have also noticed the ability to look at other people far more kindly, even when they have been difficult. I have felt I have more readily been able to thank them for their lessons. I have also felt more open to and aware of my own habits and reactions and better able to “see” them, even if I’m not always able to stop them. I feel more confident than I ever have in my life and more at ease and in touch with myself than I have ever been.
- Al


The Two-Part Formula:
Awake! -ebook, free:
How to Become Awakened-talks recorded in Dublin: Part 1 and Part 2.