By John Lee Pendall
I was standing outside on lunch, and then down they came, fading into view out of the featureless void above. “Just like this,” I whispered to the night, “everything.”
Concentrating on the space between flakes, their descent seemed to slow, and their subtle characteristics seemed to pop out. My exhalations plumed forth, a fog flowing through the spaces and then dispersing out of view. The flakes weren’t just falling, but dancing: spirals, zigazags, pirouettes, and promenades. “Just like this,” I declared again.
Catching rays from the nearby lot lights, they shone like diamonds. In the shadows, their color decayed into an ashy gray. “Just like this.” Each floating on their own paths but moved, altogether, by the same wind; the chaos of the one fitting perfectly among the order of the whole. “Just like this.”
One by one and altogether, they landed softly on the asphalt, benches, buildings, and trees. There they swiftly began to melt, bathed in the day’s warmth that was still stuck to the ground. Melting, they dematerialized into an undifferentiated sheen of water. By morning, the landscape was dry; the vapor having risen back into the atmosphere where it will once again transform into clouds and fall to the earth.
“Just like this.”
The thing about the Dharma is that it’s universal. It’s the law that gives rise to reality itself and all that appears therein. There are uncountable books and articles on Buddhism, but really the teachings are conveyed by every experience we have, everything we observe. That’s because the Dharma is uniform. The principles at work behind wind, water, thoughts, corpses, living beings, the universe and snowflakes are the same. That’s why Shunryu Suzuki said, “When you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything.”
When we focus on a meditation object like the breath, it not only centers us but begs us to examine it. The nature of my breath is identical to the nature of everything else, so if I can come to understand just my breath, then I can come to intimately understand the way of all things.
So, really, you don’t need any teachings to practice Buddhism. The only thing that’s essential is the method and the effort we put into practicing that method. The rest takes care of itself.
“If all of that’s the case, then why are there so many teachings?” Because, in the beginning, people lack confidence in themselves, in their own nature. They think the Buddha is someone or something outside of themselves, something abstract and apart.
In the beginning, it’s impossible to see the Path, so people look for it in teachings, teachers, lineages and ceremonies. They go on long retreats, travel the world, and engage in demanding ascetic practices. But the Dharma has been with them the entire time. We’re staring the teachings in the face 24/7. We don’t need to go anywhere or to anyone to find them—they’ve always been wherever we happen to be.
Sometimes, a person realizes this: they’ve always been on the Path, that they’re in fact, inseparable from as is everyone they meet and everything they experience.
If you’re pressed for time or don’t have the energy or patience for formal practice, the culminating insight of Buddhism is really quite simple and underwhelming: inside and outside are the same. There’s no inner world that contains your thoughts, feelings and identities. There’s no outer world that contains everything else. There’s just The World.
If inner and outer were separate, I should be able to make my thoughts behave differently than those snowflakes I was watching. A snowflake arises dependent on conditions, it needs moisture and cold. If my mind was separate, I should be able to create a thought from nothing—without language, without neurons, without life.
A snowflake is also impermanent. So, if my mind’s nature was different than the snowflake’s, then I should be able to make a thought last indefinitely. Now, I’ve never explicitly tried to do that, but even if I could stretch a single thought to occupy the day, it would probably stop when I went to sleep.
This is why inner and outer are the same, because they’re both equally expressions of the Dharma.
So, if you can fully observe and understand the nature of just one thing—if you can understand the way it is—then you’re a Buddha. It doesn’t matter what it is you focus on. It could be the breath, a mantra, a word, the body, a visualization, a pile of leaves or the sunlight reflecting off a pond; it’s all the same.
Here’s a little meditation technique to wrap this up:
- Use whatever relaxation technique you enjoy, they’re all good.
- When you’re relaxed, focus on something; it doesn’t matter what it is. I usually focus on the body (the consciousnesses).
- When you’re somewhat able to maintain concentration for a time (it doesn’t matter how long), think, “Just this. Just like this.” Then return your attention to your meditation object for as long as you want to. Then think, “Just this. Just like this,” again.
- Every now and then, I like to throw in a, “May all beings be at ease. May all beings be enlightened,” as well. I’ll also toss in a huatou and start a dialogue at times. “This is awesome!” “Who thinks so? What is it that’s awesome?” I call this sort of thing Dynamic Meditation. There’s no one method, but a bag of them you can pick up and set down as the moment calls for it.
- As you use these techniques, you might feel joy, bliss, empathy and peace rise up. When you notice them, just return to the method and let them be. Once one of them (or all of them) increase and become relatively stable, then shift attention and make that feeling your meditation object, following the same alternating pattern you were before.
- When the feeling seems to peak, ditch the sayings altogether and open up to your surroundings. Simply be with whatever arises. Then… it’ll happen, though maybe not while you’re on the cushion. You’ll feel the “just this”-ness of something and directly witness and understand universal Dharma-nature.
P.S. This method works best if you aren’t an asshole. Assholery hinders concentration.
(This article was originally posted in John’s Blog: John’s Mind)
Editor: Dana Gornall
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Feel free to check out his Facebook page, his blog "Salty Dharma", and/or his non-Buddhist poetry at "The Writer's Block."
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