From bestselling author and beloved teacher Lama Surya Das comes a thorough, engaging, and user-friendly guide to the teachings of Buddhism.
Lama Surya Das is one of the most well-regarded Buddhist teachers and scholars in America today. His books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and his seminars and retreats are continually in demand. In part, it is his straightforward, accessible, and humorous approach that audiences react so strongly to-and in The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword, Surya brings that unique approach to a comprehensive guide to the most essential Buddhist teachings.
For beginners and experienced practitioners alike, Lama Surya Das outlines his Six Building Blocks of Spiritual Practice and offers insight and advice not only on how to find and develop a spiritual center, but how to integrate it into your daily life. From daily meditation and yoga to creative work, journaling, volunteering in your community, and finding teachers in unexpected places, Buddhist practice can and should be part of everything you do. The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword is a practical guide to using the teachings of Buddhism to live a happier, healthier, more enlightened life.
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Three Rivers Press
August 23, 2009
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Excerpt from The Mind Is Mightier than the Sword by Lama Surya Das
THE POWER OF NOWNESS
This morning, I went for a walk in the gentle rain. Mist partially hid everything--trees, pond, and houses--in a soft cloud, reminiscent of dreams. There was absolutely nowhere else I could have preferred to be. This is the place! I felt like the right person in the right place at the right time, the right moment. Suddenly I realized: It is now, or never--as always. For an incandescent, transparent moment, I was totally awake, attuned, fully present. Heart warm, eyes bright, senses wide awake, and breathing freely. I have rarely felt more alive. Eventually, after becoming soaking wet, I returned to my cabin, changed clothes, and sat on the porch rocking chair, blissfully feeling as I'd retired to the blessed Buddha fields--just hearing the rain and listening to its pattering on the foliage melodiously washing everything away while savoring the indescribable feeling of just being. It was a spontaneous, natural meditation. I could not have fabricated it myself.
Natural meditation means fully inhabiting the present moment. Meditation is finding yourself in that natural state of wakeful pure presence or lucid contemplation where you discover your authentic condition, and where everything is part of meditative awareness. This is the essence of nowness, beyond past and future, and even a little outside or beyond the present. In Tibetan we call it the fourth time, the transcendent, timeless moment of nowness, the atemporal eternal instant--the essence of beingness. We are naturally present and accounted for, although we so often overlook that fact. Like sleepwalkers, we stumble through life, wondering why there are stumbling blocks in our path and who put them there, why we keep stubbing our toes and having other so-called accidents. Mindfulness and awareness practice help us wake up, smell the roses, see through everything, remain calm and clear, and be free. When I teach natural meditation through a brief guided process, it involves three simple things: natural body, natural breath/energy, and natural mind. We can learn to rely on these three inner meditator's jewels. We learn to breathe and smile inwardly, to center and relax, and to focus while letting go into letting be. Furthermore, as we develop these practices just slightly further, we learn to settle, intensify, and then release into allowing--the three phases of basic meditation practice.
First, we have to let ourselves arrive, relax, and just settle down. Relaxing, stilling and settling the body, is the first step. Natural body is Buddha's body, nirmanakaya, perfect embodiment, just sitting. Second is breathing naturally, and just letting the energy go, come, and go in natural flow. Natural breath and energy is Buddha's breath, sambhogakaya--pure energy, just breathing. The third step is just being. Natural heart and mind is Buddha's mind, Dharmakaya, ultimate reality--just being, and aware of it: aware of physical sensations in the body; aware of emotional feelings and energetic movements; and aware of whatever momentarily bubbles up and presents itself in the mind or field of consciousness. This is the sole focus of natural meditation; present awareness, alert presence of mind--attentive _moment-to-moment mindfulness, rather than mindlessness and distraction. Nothing more need be done. As we learn to relax more and more into the simplicity and depth of this natural awareness, letting things come and go as they will in the panoramic, transparent expanse of total awareness, we become free of clinging and grasping, reacting to and against whatever arises, and simply appreciate the sublime view of things just as they are. There is nothing more to do than remain in this view: enjoy the view, open and inclusive, nonjudgmental, appreciating the majestic, expansive totality as it is. There is nirvanic peace in things left just as they are. This is natural meditation, homegrown natural Buddha.
The essence of meditation is the intentional use of attention in the present moment, the heart-mind transparent to itself. One of the best natural ways for most of us to painlessly effect this change in consciousness is by connecting with nature. I myself love to sit by any body of water, alongside the ocean waves, a river or waterfall, or even a swimming pool. I love looking out my window over the still, placid face of the lake near my house, in which I see reflected--or perhaps sense intuitively--the fact that everything is at peace and perfectly in place. I like losing my solid sense of time and place and personhood in the gently coursing ripples. My favorite place is near the ocean, where I can just listen to the waves and let them meditate me, washing everything out of my mind while the ocean itself just breathes in and breathes out--long, deep, rhythmically--relaxing and freeing me of all mental preoccupations and physical tension. To try to meditate and concentrate by the ocean seems like extra busywork; why not simply let the waves spontaneously meditate you? This is the essence of natural meditation, when it just happens. Knowing how to place oneself in the right time and place helps. I am totally at ease and at home as self-appointed Surveyor of Waves.
Sitting before a blazing hearth is also helpful for this purpose. We might think, "This natural meditation is not for me," or "I don't know how to do this, it's too unstructured," or "I need further instruction." Further instruction can certainly be given, and we will feed that habit, for now. However, further instruction in the direct-access Dzogchen style is to point out what we already know. For instance, who doesn't remember as a child lying outside in the grass looking at the sky--not falling asleep, as we would do now--but just innocently lying out in the grass, looking at the clouds, seeing the faces in the clouds, and gradually forgetting ourselves, becoming the grass and the earth, dissolving yet remaining awake and in subtle delight, naturally part of and one with all of life. At that point in our young lives, we certainly had never heard the words contemplative skygazing or Dzogchen meditation, but this is genuine natural meditation. So right here is the delicious principle: we already know how to do this. Dropping our body, relaxing totally, just being there without falling asleep. Not even thinking we're doing something special, getting enlightened, or accumulating spiritual merits and good karma out of it. It's not homework that we're supposed to do. It's not church or synagogue we are obliged to go to on the weekend or schoolroom classes we have to attend during the week; and yet, for some strange and inexplicable reason, we find ourselves just doing it. Lying there like the grass itself, absorbed in this timeless, primordial, natural meditation, we find ourSelves. It is part of us, part of our natural spirituality. This is natural meditation, spontaneous meditation. Who doesn't know how to do it?
I wouldn't want to overidealize this by saying, "It's part of the natural spirituality of children. Aren't they cute, blessed, fantastic!" Of course they are, sometimes--often, even; but more important, this natural ease and relaxation is an inherent part of our natural spirituality. That untrammeled, childlike, innately pure and complete little Buddha or inner spiritual child is still in us, in all of us, underneath it all, regardless of and deep beneath our personas, our defense mechanisms, self-concepts, beliefs, and hang-ups. So of course we already know how to do this natural meditation. Maybe we could find ourselves in that way on a lawn chair or a beach chair in our yard, or on our tenement's fire escape, or at the beach or swimming pool, lying in the sun like a lizard while the kids are swimming or playing. We don't even have to make a big deal about it. No, we don't have to cross our legs and look like a freakish Buddha statue sitting cross-legged at the public swimming pool. But we could be doing this natural meditation; it might even come to us if we let it. Yes, you can wear sunglasses. You can wear a hat, sunscreen. Yes, it will still work for you, if it does--if it fits for you, this natural meditation. Try it and see. Posture doesn't matter much; it's all about present awareness.
Perfectly suited natural meditation is like your own personal mantra, like your own breath, your own inner tide or heartbeat. It could take the supportive form of the sound of the ocean's waves just washing everything away, or lovely music, or whatever moves and transports you beyond your habitual consciousness and out of your ordinary, dualistic, self-referential and preoccupied, reactive state of mind. We could hear wind as music, as mantra--mantra wind, breath mantra, all and everything as what we call in India shabda, sacred sound, celestial mantra. I'm sure we all experience that at some time or another. Connecting with beauty is and can be a transformative natural meditation--seeing a flower, a painting, a gorgeous sunset, sitting in our fragrant garden at night, or some other natural outdoor scene that so moves and transports us that we unexpectedly experience a sharp intake of sudden pleasure, and we are no longer pedestrian, but uplifted on wings of delight, and all else temporarily falls away. Nature often does that to me. However, I don't want to overemphasize the nature part of natural meditation, because it doesn't have to be something outdoorsy in nature per se. Everything in the world is a part of nature, actually, including the skyscrapers and bridges. Who doesn't feel a sharp intake of breath when you see an infinite number of lights spread out twinkling below as you come over a city in an airplane at night, perhaps for the first time, or when driving over a rise and spotting the gorgeous span of the Golden Gate Bridge or some other _human-_made wonder? It is all radiant--God's creation, to talk in English. Beauty is another way that transports us beyond our finite egoic self to another, more transpersonal kind of love and oneness, an inexpressible otherworldly dimension of authentic connection, belonging, and truth hidden right here within the ordinary here and now. This is the secret magic and the grace-full blessing of nowness, which opens up into a more reverential and cherishing sacred outlook on life.
When we talk about this kind of direct, unmediated, experiential contact with the immediacy of isness, this moment is all there is. It is beyond space and time, and it is who we are, eternally. Here is the inexpressible union of oneness and noneness, the incandescence of pure being as yet unmediated by conceptual frameworks and interpretations.
Much of the Dzogchen teachings and introduction to the nature of the mind is taking place in this particular orientation or dimension, which is seemingly related to time as we ordinarily perceive it. The direct experience of the innate or natural great perfection pointed out by the advanced Dzogchen teachings does not particularly occur in the ordinary space and time of the past, present, and future. Thus there's not a lot of discussion in the nondual direct-access teachings of the Great Perfection about how long it's going to take to get to enlightenment, or how long you should meditate each day, as there is in some other scriptures and systems that you may be familiar with: how many lifetimes it takes, or how many years it takes, or how many things you have to do to purify and uproot all the many obscuring kleshas and hindrances until you get totally there. The uncompromisingly nondualistic Dzogchen orientation is not exactly in that common sequential notion of time: past, present, and future. It takes place in a different time, the atemporal dimension of nowness, the fourth time. It involves the mystery I like to call "being there while getting there," every single step of the way. Being right here, now.
Physicists today say there are ten or eleven dimensions, and some of them are related mainly to time. The three-dimensional world we live in is seemingly progressing from past to present to future in horizontal linear time. We don't usually get confused about this. For example, we don't think the future comes before yesterday. Yet in another dimension of circular time, it may, such as in curved time or warped space or some variation of Einsteinian inconceivability! Past, present, and future are linear time, conventional time. Most of us don't think that time goes any direction except forward, even if we may occasionally have deja vu experiences that may momentarily confuse us before we get right back to our usual linear way of thinking.
Dzogchen practice--rigpa (naked-awareness) practice, to be more technical--takes place in what Tibetan masters call the fourth time, the timeless time. This is a special Dzogchen teaching rarely found in other traditions. The fourth time is the eternal instant, the holy now, the hidden context embracing the three times (past, present, and future). If linear time is horizontal, moving forward on a graph from left to right in horizontal fashion, then the fourth time is the atemporal ascendant dimension that intersects each and every moment of the three times. It represents the transcendent immanent immensity--groundless and boundless, indescribable, inconceivable, yet definitely experiencable and livable. Where is the fourth time on our theoretical chart, from the linear viewpoint of time's progressive movement from left to right? Envision a line right down the middle of our mental chart, from top to bottom: this represents the fourth time, the now, the holy now, the wholly now. It's always now, right? We can understand this. I don't think this is too rarefied or obscure. You all know that today it's the now, and tomorrow will also be the now when we get there. That's why we say, "Tomorrow never comes." It's always today. Kindly excuse the mumbo jumbo, but I'm just trying to teach poor old Dzogchen here. Be patient! Time doesn't really matter that much, anyway. We'll get there when we're there, as my late dad used to tell us rambunctious little backseat drivers. "We're going wherever the car goes," he liked to joke. And he was right.
The fourth time, the moment of Dzogchen--the nowness, the timeless dimension, Buddha's golden age--is not the same as linear time--past, present, and future--what we often call in Buddhism "the three times." In prayers, we pray to the Buddhas of all the three times--meaning past, present, and future Buddhas, meaning all the enlightened ones of all possible dimensions of time, space, and existence. Or we chant and affirm: "May we liberate all the beings of the three times and the ten directions, all the beings of past, present, and future in the ten directions: north, east, south, west, and intermediate northeast, southeast, and so on, and the zenith and the nadir." Ten directions means the whole, three-dimensional, all-inclusive kit and caboodle. The fourth time means the eternal now, the eternal instant, timeless time; it's beyond that time notion contained within time past, present, and future. This is what mystic poet and artist William Blake meant in his splendid stanza,
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Like my own dad, Blake was really on to something.
It is always the now, the timeless time, the golden eternity--the eternal if you want to talk in English, in Judeo-Christian terms. We don't think much in Buddhism about the eternal, but we do call nirvana, enlightened reality, "the timeless and the deathless." Even Buddha used the term deathless. "Deathless nirvana" is the term Buddha used for his own great peace, bliss, oneness, and spiritual enlightenment. That's the timeless dimension, the eternal now, the holy now. That's the moment of Dzogchen. That's the moment of rigpa; that is the heaven, the nirvana, the transcendent immanence that is within. That's our own birth right, our personal acre of nirvana, here and now, our secret inner pure land or paradise. That's the dawn of creation, in every moment, the Garden of Eden. That's the moment of rigpa practice, the golden age when Buddha lives: now, now, now. That's called the sacred fourth (in Tibetan the shicha, the fourth fraction). Shicha is the fourth time, the timeless time, the eternal now--which we can access in any moment through penetrating awareness, clear vision, profoundly insightful and far-seeing wisdom. Dharma friends, that's the secret. It's not that eternity is after we die, or heaven is elsewhere, as explained in some religions and in general exoteric thought--for instance, that after we die, we reach heaven if we're good and are abundantly rewarded in our own materialistic human terms.