― the 6th Lojong slogan
and become like little children,
you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
-- Yogi Jesus of Nazareth
Today was blog practice. I got up and sat down to the laptop to stare at a blank screen -- and waited.
And waited some more.
After awhile, I got up again, and walked over to the altar. There, I lit three LED candles (there are no flames allowed here in senior subsidized housing.) Then I turned to the four directions, gathering in the energies as I had learned from a Native American friend. Then, as I have done for decades of practice in the Zen tradition, I bowed to the zafu, then turned to bow to "the assembly." Then, I and took my seat.
Another, much more fulfilling, blank screen appeared.
Now, an hour later, I'm ready.
As the professor prattled on, demonstrating his vast knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, the master began pouring his guest a cup of tea. He continued pouring as the cup overflowed onto the table, then the floor.
No longer able to restrain himself, the professor shouted, "Stop. The cup is overfull! No more will go in!". Nan-in replied, "You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."
I first read that story in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones back in 1970. I now realize I had only glimpsed the rim of that empty cup.
Even as a 24-year-old, fresh out of college and engaged in my first year of teaching school, I certainly "got" that there is a difference between the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom. By then, I'd run into factory workers during my seven years of summer employment that appeared to have a much better handle on the Real Deal than most of my college professors. I also sensed from the story that intellectual arrogance probably wasn't going to cut it with a Zen master, a fact that I've had verified any number of times number of times over the years as I ran into brick walls with Aries male bravado.
Little did I know, though, that this teaching, like the coffee down at a local diner, was being served in a bottomless cup.
Then and Now
Several years ago, one of my CircleMates, knowing that I was an inveterate spiritual geek, encouraged me to study the Lojong Slogans and let her and the other folks in the Wednesday Evening Mindfulness Circle know what I'd come up with. I took the bait. I poured through five different translations and commentaries on this traditional Tibetan Buddhist system of mind training several times, taking notes, journaling, contemplating.
In my own inimitable style, I hit the books hard. Yet, it was clear that study and knowledge were one thing. Practice is another. It was time to let go and explore how each day's slogan felt, how it played against the fabric of my life at the time. So, for almost four years now, I've cast a slogan each day. I serve it up with a random number generator on my iPhone. (How 21st century is that?)
There are times that a slogan absolutely nails an issue that has presented itself in my life at that point. At other times, I've thought "Oh, I don't need that one anymore," to have a situation arise that clearly shows that I do. At still other times, its relevance escapes me. As always is the case in life, it is what it is. I continue to be amazed at how helpful they have been.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
I cast the 6th slogan of the Lojong Teachings: "In post-meditation, be a child of illusion." One of the most haunting of the 59 aphorisms that make up this system of mind training, it is also, perhaps, one of the most radical. It seemingly flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Rather than exhorting us to "grow up and get real," we are encouraged, instead, to recapture the open and spacious sense of wonder that characterizes the mind of the child as we arise from our meditation cushion to move through the day-to-day activity of our lives.
As Mindfulness Practice develops and we become more acutely aware of the fluidity and transparent nature of our own thoughts and emotions, the essentially ephemeral nature of "mind stuff"becomes more obvious. With Practice, our perspective widens and deepens, and in the vast expanse of deepened Awareness, something shifts.
At a certain point, we see for ourselves that "reality" is not all that solid, and that the boundary between imagination and perception are not as hard and fast as we were led to believe. In fact, much of what we experience is actually an inverted form of "make believe." What we believe shapes what we see -- and, with prolonged or repeated focus, tends to make it so.
Conditioned as our minds are by our upbringing in conventional society, what we "know" is not only limited by the organic limitations of our sensory apparatus, it is largely a function of the narratives about life that we have accumulated, consciously and unconsciously, throughout the course of our lives. Most of the time these belief structures operate subconsciously -- until we sit still long enough to see for ourselves how this operates.
With Practice, we come to understand that what we "see" and react to are often our interpretations of reality -- not Reality itself. As these subterranean narratives are brought to light, we find that these stories are no more substantial than fairy tales. In fact, the symbol systems of some traditional fables may more clearly point toward essential truths than our individual subterranean narratives; e.g. I'm unworthy. Nobody is to be trusted. I am separate and alone, etc.
With some time, effort and patience in our meditation practice, Reality Asserts Itself. We come to know that who we are is so much more than the ceaseless operation of our conditioning. In that moment, everything changes, yet nothing is out of the ordinary. We see for ourselves that we are the people we've been waiting for -- and this is the Promised Land. At that point, the most adult thing we can do, perhaps, is to be childish -- at least some of the time. Perhaps, childlike sounds a bit more appropriate, certainly more respectable, here in the world of language, but...my cup runneth over.
So, What Then?
We have access to a quality of consciousness that is open, free, and unfettered. We can choose to be mindful of and let go of our preconceptions and opinions as they arise, and be Present, moment to moment.
With a childlike sense of wonder, we can relax into the gracious spaciousness of this amazing universe. There, we can lighten up and play. Feeling what is in our heart of hearts, we can be imaginative with the fabric of our lives and weave a much more delightful tapestry.*
It just takes Practice.
* The visualization practices of Tibetan Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, like prayer, are mechanisms that harness the power of imagination to prime the pump of reality in the desired direction. In Lynn McTaggert's The Field, there appears to be more and more scientific research emerging that indicates that such "magic at a distance" actually occurs! How cool is that?