Monday, March 15, 2010

Letting Go Of Letting Go

There was a title to an Awareness Through Movement workshop called "Falling Awake". This title emphasized the effortlessness of being aware. It is as transforming as the effortlessness in which we often fall in love with someone. When we fall in love with someone, there is a joy, attraction, positivity, and acceptance that naturally arise. We are simply happy in the sensory presence of someone and flow with this happiness. In a similar way, we fall into enlightenment. Some effort is required in the beginning, but no effort is required in the end. If there is some effort, then we have not yet relaxed into our true nature and have not yet simply learned to abide there. In terms of the Prajna Parmita formula, it might be worth modifying it slightly to include this insight:

let go, let go
really let go,
totally let go,
even letting go
of letting go,

What this means is that unconsciousness is ultimately an effort we are making against simply and naturally being aware. In the beginning, it seems that we are trying to make a positive effort to get something that we do not have, that we need to do something to go from "unconsciousness" to "enlightenment". It seems, too, that it must be some kind of supereffort, because the consensus reality is that very few become enlightened. It seems that enlightenment only happens to a heroic Buddha who spends 7 years going through all the yogas of Hinduism and then concentrating on meditation for 40 days for 24 hours per a day. Zen Buddhism, arising out of a fusion between Taoism and Buddhism, has asserted that enlightenment can happen instantly, effortlessly, and easily, if something is simply seen and understood. In Dzogchen Buddhism, there are four barriers to overcome in order to become enlightened: (1) It is so close to us that we will search too far away (2) it is so effortless that we will strain too much to get it, (3) it is so obvious that we will overlook it, and (4) it is so simple that we will make it too complicated. Bankei asserted and taught that enlightenment was simple and easy. He likened the early enlightenment heros like Buddha to be explorers who hunted through a deep forest, travelled a long time, endured many hardships, and went a long distance, and through this search found an elixir in a lake. They then took this elixir drank it and experienced something wonderful. They then put the elixir in their canteens, came back home, and offered it to others. When the others drank it, even though they had not made the same effort, they experienced the same wonderful effect.

This simple story has many meanings. The wisdom of the story is that it separates the process of getting enlightened that people have undergone in the past from what enlightenment is. When the Buddha became enlightened, his first discovery was that all sentient beings had the same enlightenment nature within them, that they were naturally endowed with "wisdom and virtue". This enlightenment nature was somehow obscured within a sentient being, but it was already there.

In the Pure Land tradition, the Buddhist sects that chant to Amida Buddha and allow the blessing energy of Amida Buddha to liberate them and enlighten them, this understanding has also matured. Many spiritual traditions teach liberation through "joriki" (self power). In these traditions, you embrace the ethical precepts, live a pure life, and practice meditation every day until you get enlightened. In Kriya Yoga, Babaji taught that it takes 8.5 hours a day for 3.5 years (which translates to 1 hour a day for 25 years). In another Kundalini Yoga system, they simplified this down to 2.5 hours a day for 40 days, after you are able to sit in a Lotus posture and do a specific neck lock (to avoid energy getting stuck there). They taught chanting "Eck Ong Kar Siri Wha He Guru" (eight bija mantras to activate 8 inner centers and raise kundalini from root to crown). During this time, a person is meant to be celibate so as to contain and not dissipate the energy. There are some challenges with these kinds of paths, because you do have to be ready to do them and to move through the "kriyas" (the karma cleansings) that arise. These can be intense waves of emotions that can be so overwhelming that we can forget to practice through them or so intense that we will start unconsciously changing the practice so that it does not work as well.

The time difference between the Kriya Yoga tradition of Babaji and the Kundalini Yoga system, by the way, is related to what level of enlightenment is awakened to. I have shared that there are different kinds and degrees of enlightenment. The Kriya Yoga of Babaji moves all the way to the light body level, while the other one only opens up the crown chakra into deep fullness.

Honen, who rediscovered the chant to Amida Buddha, was a monk who was struggling with the precepts and failing miserably to live by them. He felt he was not going to be able to realize enlightenment by his own efforts and was almost giving up on the process. Then he found the Amitayus Buddha Sutra and realized that there was another power that he called "tariki" (other power). He devoted himself to this chant and to trusting tariki to liberate him. He very quickly attained a deep enlightenment and for the first in the history of Buddhism talked about the spiritual path being easy. His eyes were so radiant with joy that ordinary people believed his teachings and started chanting with him. One of the gifts of this path is that we can chant for each other and carry each other to enlightenment. We can join purpose by chanting together and moving together towards enlightenment. When I was helping a person who was dying of a mental disease, he was flashing into the bardo, the place between death and rebirth. To others, he was speaking in a kind of code that those around him could not understand. But I concentrated energy to him in a way that helped him speak a little better. I could feel some wires in his brain were not working well and he could not get his thoughts out so easily. I asked him where he was, and he said, "on a boat." I asked him what kind of boat, and he said, "made of music." I got from his few answers that he was on a boat, that had luminous rainbow colors, and that was made by the people in the boat chanting some mantra, and that he was not alone in the bardo, and that he was coming "home". In front of this boat, in the distance, was a kind of luminous radiant energy core shining in the vastness of space. This person was not a meditator, but a ordinary person who had gotten Parkinson's, and had painful trembles in his body. It had already affected him so deeply that he was in the choking phase and was barely able to speak. Internally, he was going through some deep process and already experiencing the bardo between death and rebirth. Conventional wisdom is that the bardo happens after we die, but the line between death and the bardo is not a rigid one, but a fluid borderland. Many people are having neardeath experiences and are experiencing the bardo before they "irreversibly die". People can go back and forth near the threshold of death. Some of them reach a place in the bardo that is called "the point of no return" and cross over, while others return and report what they had seen. More and more people are experiencing this threshold, because conventional medicine is evolving rapidly and is able to save more people with emergency medical intervention. In a paradoxical way, conventional science is supporting people having deep spiritual experiences.

After Honen teaches the easy path of chanting to Amida Buddha, Shinran, who also despaired by being liberated by joriki, finds that even the effort of chanting might be too much for people. He discovered that the blessing energy of Amida Buddha is so great that one single deeply sincere chant, even without faith that it will work, but just being open to whatever enlightenment might be, is enough to be liberated. Shinran taught that the first chant liberates and all other chants are merely gratitude.

At the apex of many spiritual paths is the idea that effort has a limit and that the final realization is effortless. In the beginning, some effort is needed. This is because the ordinary mind is very effort oriented and translates everything into a doing. It will even try to do "not doing" and think about "not thinking". It will try to be aware, rather than simply resume awareness. Even when flashes of enightenment happen, the mind will try to capture them through effort, rather than allow enlightenment to simply. When it tries to capture enlightenment, it loses the feeling of it. When the mind gets to this place, then it struggles not to struggle and produces a lot of tension trying to relax. The moment "really letting go" happens in Zen meditation if we are able to sit long enough and experience just how much tension our mind produces. At some point, we just get it and let go. Then we have a flash of enlightenment (kensho). When this happens, we have a direct taste of the fruits of the path. We are no longer running our spiritual life on the brilliant intellectual guesses of our thinking mind and having partial belief in our theories.

There are 12 Bodhisattva and Dakini phases that we pass through in Mahayana Buddhist evolution. They are (1) dana parmita (openness, generosity, curiousity), (2) ksanti parmita (patience, humility, and endurance), (3) virya parmita (energy, devotion, enthusiasm), (4) sila parmita (discipline, focus, ethical idealism), (5) dhyana parmita (meditation, concentration, relaxation), (6) prajna parmita (intuitive wisdom, telepathic sensitivity, direct seeing), (7) upaya parmita (skillful means, intuitive methods, higher psychological knowing), (8) pranidhana (surrender, deep letting go, completely giving up efforting), (9) bali parmita (trusting life completely, having miracle working faith, channeling energy), (10) dharma megasamadhi (communion with the mahasangha, feeling wisdom from the continuum, deep third eye awakening), (11) anutarra samyak samadhi (supreme perfect enlightenment, deep integration, pure being in peace), and (12) siddha samadhi (light body, quantum integration, resting in perfection, physical immortality). An 8th stage Bodhisattva or Dakini, is really beyond all the religions of the world, including Buddhism, because he or she sees that it is all about surrender, even the surrender of religion itself ("The raft is not the shore, when you reach the other shore, then throw away the raft."). Christians talk about surrendering to Jesus, Moslems about surrendering to Allah (Islam means "the surrender" and moslem means "one who has surrendered"), Judaism talks about "walking humbly with your god", Taoism about going with the flow, Hinduism about letting go of ego effort (ahamkar), and Buddhism in the Heart Sutra talks about "not clinging to anything at all, not even wisdom". Even an atheist can surrender to life or to evolution. The object of surrender matters less than the act of surrender.

When I understood this, I found it interesting that there were still phases 9, 10, 11, and 12 yet to go after this! Any parmita can move one from unenlightenment to enlightenment. The word parmita can be translated as "crossing over virtues". These are the attitudes that immediately move one from the sorrow unenlightenment into wisdom of enlightenment. Yet each eventually grows into the next one and then the next one, and then the next one. Every time we choose to meditate, we are choosing to surrender. One Tibetan Lama talked about conventional meditation practice, which is an attempt to get something, and is therefore still a subtle ego grasping effort, and the meditation (vipassana) that pleases the Bodhisattvas and Dakinis (surrender in and through practice). This surrender eventually happens in meditation, but it seems that the longer we meditate, the quicker we reach a place where we feel meditation is not really working and that we are tempted to give up. There is a kind of ego giving up and a deep giving up which is surrender. When the ego gives up, it is still a frustration of its grasping strategy, and even meditation can be and usually is just another strategy that the ego is trying. But if ego grasping is felt in all its horrible glory, seen to be the source of all sorrow, and let go of, then meditation has cut deep enough to transform us.

This seeing does not require any effort besides a willingness to see, a direction of attention to what needs to be seen, noticing how we cause our sorrow, and then letting go of doing sorrow to ourselves. This could take a long time for us to see, years and years of sitting and watching our mind, or it can take place in a single flash of intuitive wisdom. This is why one of the stanzas in the Heart Sutra is, "There is no sorrow, no cause of sorrow, no end of sorrow, and no noble path that leads beyond sorrow". This is the negation of the Eightfold Path stanza. It is the one that when Buddha chanted this stanza during the transmission of the Heart Sutra that caused many of the devoted Arhats (the worthy ones who earned inner peace through discipline and practice on the path) to get heart attacks. Taken the wrong way, this stanza can be an excuse for not starting to meditate. Taken the right way and at the right time, it can shift one into natural enlightenment. My feeling is that this teaching transmission first started about half way through the teaching cycle of the Buddha. He went from town to town speaking what needed to be heard in each town. He usually taught the four noble truths, but in the towns who early on received the four noble truths and devotedly practiced them, some of them were ready to hear this higher teaching. All these separate transmissions in each different town were considered one teaching transmission or one event.

The phase of letting go of letting go happens when we have passed through some experience of (1) practice letting go, (2) really letting go, and (3) totally letting go. We become subtly attached to letting go itself. We see it is the solution to everything, then we need to let go of the solution. This is because letting go is still seen as something we can do. In some sense it is. But letting go leads to a noneffort state that is the real healer, liberator, and awakener. There is a reversal that happens. Before we thought we needed a monumental effort to awaken, later on we see that we are making a monumental effort to be unconscious and that we simply need to end all this efforting and "fall awake". We simply need to resume awareness and let the momentum of unconsciousness dissolve within this radiance. We can, as Krishnamurti taught, "be attentive to our inattention" or "be sensitive to our insensitivity". In the beginning, it may require a "remembrance" to stay in awareness, a gentle returning back, and later on it will be a "faith" or abiding in awareness (bali parmita). I found when I had first merely resumed awareness that the kundalini rapidly and easily launched up the spine. What took a lot of concentration, intention, and effort to sustain as a rising of energy happened almost effortlessly in a single moment. I saw that the kundalini paths reached "resuming awareness" through an effort that ended effort, but the reverse was also true, that by ending effort, kundalini would easily, quickly, and spontaneously launch up the spine, through the deep central thread within the spine. The second path was easier, but it required a very deep and clear understanding and a unification of intention, attention, and radiant awareness (faith or bali parmita).

In this space, you have let go of letting go, you can notice all the grasping that is arising inside and simply notice it. This very act of noticing allows all the grasping to spontaneously calm down without having to even intend to let go of it. You simply stay in awareness and notice the selfless play of phenomena, both internally and externally, and simply do not get caught in it, or even notice "getting caught in it" as another selfless play. When you resume awareness in the right way, then this solves everything instantly and forever. We develop "faith" in our true nature and rest in this place, letting every solution merely happen.

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