Herb's Notes for Tuesday January 31 2012
The next chapter in "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" introduces the six realms, sometimes called "styles of imprisonment." The development of ego creates a seemingly solid outlook on experience. At the most basic level, we filter everything through a test; is it for us or against us; is it threatening to the idea of a real me or does it confirm my existence. Strangely enough, pain is more reliable than pleasure as a remembered reference, maybe because we see that pleasure is impermanent whereas we can go back and relive the memory of a painful wound.
It is important that we should not somehow try to get rid of ego. We might try to overpower our entire survival mechanism by pretending that because we know about it, we can take on a you-can't-fool-me attitude. We might try to escape by adopting certain code words as a way of broadcasting our Buddhist shield. Sometimes we mistakenly equate karma with predetermination, again using a Buddhist concept in an attempt to confirm ourselves.
The teachings are pointing toward seeing reactions differently. If anger arises for example, what is our reaction to anger- to pride, jealousy, hatred, or shutting down? Do they refer to me? Are they the same as me? If we can provide space for our habitual rationalization, we can become familiar with each style of feeling stuck.
It is important to realize that it is hopeless to struggle against ego.
First we have to open to our experience, which means loosening the grip of prejudging it. Meditation makes it possible to see strong emotions come and go without assuming that they define us. We can begin to get the joke, that there is a vicious cycle of assuming that everything is about me. Once that assumption is made, we naturally suffer from unwanted emotions and try to get away from them so that me won't suffer. Trying to get away confirms that me is suffering.
If pain and pleasure occur naturally and the one is not punishment, nor the other a reward, then our working basis is false. They don't have me as a reference point.
This realization goes against the grain.
Once again the useful attitude toward the teachings is not to think that they will help my position, and second, to look at them in our own experience instead of trying to adopt them conceptually. As I said last week, first we may need to get used to this way of seeing. That process is often called learning the view. How do we know it is not just another system of wishful thinking? We don't. We hear the view. We contemplate it. And then we see that it applies or it doesn't, having been warned of the lure of spiritual materialism.
The six realms can be approached as psychological states of mind. Our culture is comfortable with psychology and we are used to considering patterns of behavior. (Just so you know, the realms are also taught as different states of existence, ie. there are hungry ghosts, that there is a hell realm etc..
It can be fun to mess around with the various styles of imprisonment, trying them out. Can you imagine dance styles for each realm? Presidential candidates? Makes of automobile? Food? It is a way to become familiar with their characteristics. I would be careful about applying them to your friends. That can be a way of trying to make others solid, whereas the teaching is that the realms are illusory and that we cycle through them, trapped by the idea that they are solid.
What keeps them solid is our desire to escape. Pema Chodron's first book was called "The Wisdom of No Escape." This realization is also the basis of her teaching that meditation is learning to stay. Staying is the opposite of being distracted and of seeking distraction. Once again there is a funny trick of ego that desires something different from whatever is happening, all the while pretending that what is wanted is unchanging satisfaction.
During sitting meditation, practice letting go, which really means letting be. Remember Ato Rinpoche's helpful advice. Don't think too much. Don't doubt too much. Leave it alone. And as a chant says,
"whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization, to this meditator who rests without altering it."