It’s a great blessing when we get to spend time with those who have been practicing longer and whose insight far exceeds our own. I had such an opportunity recently and spent a happy afternoon chatting with a senior Buddhist monk. I’m grateful to him because some of his writings supported the insight that inspired this post. And so the Dhamma flows on and on I suppose.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I have no teacher. I’ve never had a guide or teacher at any stage. That’s not to say you shouldn’t or that it’s a bad thing if you do, it’s just the way it’s worked out for me. I only mention it because some of you may also not have a teacher and be wondering whether or not you should. In fact, it’s not necessary. As Ajahn Chah pointed out, everything teaches us. At least, it can when we’re open to it. And that’s really what this is about.
Something about Dhammapada verse 91 caught my attention, though I didn’t know why at the time.
Alert to the needs of the journey,
those on the path of awareness,
like swans, glide on,
leaving behind their former resting places.
Upon reflection and further reading over several weeks the clues came together to create a clear picture. I’d failed to notice and therefore avoid a particularly sticky trap that can happen when one’s practice deepens, whether we have awakened or not, but particularly once we have.
When the ego structures of gain and loss, praise and blame, becoming and having start to fall away our life undergoes a shift in orientation away from a ‘me’ centred existence towards a more open flow, simply receiving and experiencing what is, without the need for trying to control or shape what comes next. However, a sticky trap awaits! Gradually our lives shift around to become more peaceful as we experience less resistance. We find greater contentment as striving and identifying drop away. Driven less by desiring this and needing to avoid that, we find strength in openness, accepting and responding from the heart, whatever the day brings. And without fully realising it, we can start to take refuge in that which arises, rather than the experiencing of it.
To put it another way, our lives become so okay we start to rest and abide in the outer again. Even writing this, I can’t quite believe I fell for it but I did. Even knowing this can never be perfect, is constantly changing, can never fulfil us, we have sufficient skills and resources to receive this and cope with it, so we start to take refuge in the content of our lives, the content of experiencing rather than experiencing itself.
But this ‘path’ is about non-abiding. There is no abiding, no resting place (in terms of where the heart takes refuge), and to try and find one in our newly peaceful life is a mistake. So we have to bring it back, we have to keep coming back to just this; this experiencing of the moment. To remind ourselves: there is no resting place and nowhere to travel to; there’s nothing to be or not be; nothing to gain or lose; no special relationship amongst all relationships.
You see, before we projected a past and a future in thought. We projected an ‘out there’ and an ‘in here’ to create a subject/object delusion. But even when the core of this, the sense of a separate ‘me’ is seen through and dissolves, the residue of it remain and we can find ourselves drawn into any of the thousand shards of the shattered mirror.
But our only true refuge is in the knowingness of this; just the knowing of this moment; the awareness of this present moment, not its content. Its content, upon reflection will also be seen as a projection. We constantly create the world but with wisdom we don’t allow ourselves to get drawn into it and lost in it however tempting that might be.
We all have our own temptations to become aware of and see through. Some are drawn to war zones, others to oases. Some to the crowd, others to solitude. But each and every experience passes away, they’re all only temporary. We don’t need to take any action around this we just need to see it. Seeing it trains the heart to develop the wisdom to not attach and to let go. Then all can be appreciated and learned from but not in a way that binds us.