Abre tus ojos.
Yolie is headed west to pick up the boys and bring them back out here in the desert for a Thanksgiving visit. She’ll be two days out and back so I’m going into retreat in the silver spaceship until her return.
My practice focus will be on Chenrezig, or Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion.
I’ve turned the Airstream into a mobile retreat center, with a spacious and beautiful altar for candles and offerings, and my practice space on the floor in front of it with my cushion and a low table for my practice texts. Incense fills the air, my chants and prayers fill the air, my mind fills the space, my body both is and dissolves, and the very air is full of limitless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, teachers, lineage holders, friends, enemies, strangers, beings from the six realms, and anyone who wants to attend.
I sit and pray. I give thanks and offerings. I offer all that I am. I am utterly present, and utterly transported- to this exact place.
Perhaps it is an indication that practice has taken hold in me. I understand little, and am easily misled, but I am devoted. I both believe in and long for immersion in practice as something key to my development. Not that there is something to achieve, or something to become other than what I intrinsically already am and have. But like a dog loves to chase sticks I love to practice. Throw a stick for me and I will chase it until I collapse. Not to get the stick. I know there isn’t any stick to get. But for the joy of chasing it. For what I am when I am in practice. Which is exactly what I am when I’m not in practice. Except that I can’t say I’m ever not in practice, if you know what I mean.
So much of the Dharma makes perfect sense to me. Train the mind, settle the mind, open the mind. Be ethical in my conduct and I’ll cause less harm to myself and others. Cultivate kindness and compassion. Think of others before myself. Try to help. Try not to judge. Don’t feel sorry for myself, but have deep feeling for the suffering of others, which is in every way vaster and more plentiful than my own small sorrows. Let go of wanting things to be some other way than they are. Be open and curious about what’s revealing itself in this moment. Attend to what is and give less to what was and what might be.
These are all things that you’d be hard pressed to argue against.
But Dharma also includes things that make no sense to me. I can’t really talk rationally about them and I’m not certain that I should, that there’s any benefit to it. But practice includes aspects that fundamentally unhinge my rational view of what is. Experiential phenomenon that defy explanation and yet continue to manifest. The teachings advise me to pay little attention to these phenomenon, so I don’t make too big a deal about them. I don’t chase them and I don’t cling to them. I don’t assign any importance to them and I keep my nose to the grindstone as it were and continue my work. I have seen others who leap up at these occurrences and run off after them. And I have seen these people get utterly lost. So I am cautious. I am prudent. I retain my focus.
But I don’t deny them, either. I welcome their coming and I feel a bit wistful when they go. And although I do not court them or cling to them( to the best of my small ability) they nevertheless exact a powerful change in how I perceive this reality- the only reality there is. Like an acid that dissolves duality and solidity wherever it is found, these experiences undo the glue that holds together a rationalist, mechanistic view of the nature of mind and of reality. What the teachings say is that these things manifest and that’s fine, that’s an indication, if you will, of progress, but they are not to be trusted in their own right- they are artifacts and not the thing in itself. Don’t be fooled, the texts explain.
In what ways can you use this in your own life? You are doing something good, something right, something important. You work hard at it and things around you begin to shift. The world opens up for you in a way it never quite did before. Important things happen.
I think that’s what we can take from this. Don’t stop doing what you were doing that caused all of this wonderful new shit to come to light! Don’t take the consolation prize and run off and quit the game. Put the little blue-haired gnome in your pocket if you want, but then roll up your sleeves and redouble your efforts. You’re on to something.
My Chenrezig Sadhana booklet is growing ratty and care-worn. But it was blessed by my teacher Shamar Rinpoche the last time I saw him just weeks before his death. His name is scrawled in it. I know that physical talismans are not “things in themselves” and that no thing is “a thing in itself.” Everything is truly everything and there’s only this moment and what what what. But also I know that he touched this book and gave it his blessing for me, for my practice, for my path, for my Buddhahood. His compassion ignites the pages of that small booklet and catches the very fabric of my mind on fire because of it. This little blue book ties me to him in a timeless, limitless way. He is with me still and I am with him, no more so than when I am practicing.
In the desert a couple of weeks ago I met this remarkable human being I call “Big John” and he quoted to me the whole of the Velveteen rabbit quote as follows:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
That comes pretty close to how I feel about my little blue Chenrezig book. And how I feel about my teacher. And how I feel about you. And about myself.
Big John is one of those things that happen that can’t be explained. You are out in the middle of nowhere and a big bearded man comes up to you in the dark and whispers this to you.
What can you say about that?
Again and again I love and fail. Again and again I give myself to the big, wheezing contraption and say “do what you will.”
I will spend myself on all of you nor will I stop doing so.
Do open your eyes. Do so. We need you now more than ever.