What is being? What’s a being? Are we burdened? How do we unburden ourselves?
Being is presence, and a being is the one that’s present. A being without the quality of being is unconscious; being without a being is one way to look at enlightenment.
When we get right down to the root of our burdens, they all stem from being, well, beings. A being is born and dies, it gets sick, gets old, and loses other beings. By flipping the relationship between being and the being upside down (or right side up, depending on how you look at it), all those burdens seem to disappear.
Instead of us being alive, our perspective shifts to life being us. Our bodies and minds—the being—is like grass growing from the ground (Being). Most of the heaviness in life comes from thinking that we are the ground and that everything grows from us. Suffering is what happens when life shows us over and over again that that’s just not the case.
That “big flip” doesn’t come easily for most of us, so we generally work at gradually unburdening the being until we’re light enough to make that flip.
Our burdens define us. A being without burdens is no being at all. Beings are heavy—we’re all bundles of flesh, bones, memories, opinions, and expectations. We carry it all with us as we face day-to-day challenges. We can even get so heavy that we start to sink in the soft sands as we journey through the hourglass.
There are some weights we carry that we don’t even feel because we’re so used to carrying them. Only when they fall off is it obvious that they were there. Weightlessness is among the highest of life-goals imaginable.
In the book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, lightness is portrayed as the overall meaninglessness of life due to the fleeting nature of experiences.
Meaning is heavy, it keeps us clinging to the Earth. It gives the things we think, feel and do (and the things that are said and done to us) weight. But, no matter what, time always shows us how light everything really is.
Overcoming our suffering (dukkha) is difficult because suffering is what tells us that we’ve lost something heavy, something meaningful. But if we watch our minds closely, we see that our meanings change from day-to-day, hell, from moment-to-moment. The weight we give something depends on how much time, feeling and attention we’ve invested in it, but all of these things are also proven to be light in the long run.
The naked truth is that, in a way, we tend to enjoy our suffering, because suffering seems deep and significant. A life without suffering would seem to be a life without significance. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It isn’t the quality of being that makes something meaningful and significant, but the sheer fact of its being. The fact that the tree out front has the audacity to be at all is quite amazing, and the endless variety for forms that Being takes is utterly astonishing. It’s the rocks, rivers, and lakes, it’s the love and pain and joy. It’s you and me and us and no one.
I think a lot of us live with the false assumption that suffering is deep and peace is shallow. It’s actually the opposite. Being is as light as can be, but deeper than we can ever imagine. It’s suffering that’s shallow because the weight of suffering depends on us limiting our perspective. We latch onto one aspect of the moment, one way that we’re relating with it, and then take it as absolute, as the defining characteristic of our reality even though it never is.
We realize that when we drop that imaginary weight.
After three years, I finally fell out of love with a narcissistic friend. I didn’t see all the weight I’d given our relationship, and I couldn’t see how she abused that weight, until it was gone. Now it feels like I’m coming back to myself, I’m not carrying her with me anymore. I’m free.
There are many people, things, habits and ideas we have that we’d simply just be happier without, that we’d be lighter without. The more we’re able to let go of, the less we’ll sink as we walk our path through life. If ya get light enough, you’ll float along the road.
The Buddha points to a helpful hint in the Dhammapada.
“Is this essential? Do I need this? Why do I need this?” The more we practice, the clearer it gets that we don’t really need much for survival and well-being. It’s healthy to be very careful about that “something extra” we choose to carry. The Bodhisattva path shows us that carrying something for others is the only decent reason to pick up any burdens at all. To get a little heavier so that someone can get a little lighter is the most beautiful thing we can do in life.
The Bodhisattva does it because they’ve seen that Being is lighter than air, so it makes no difference whether they’re carrying something or not. That’s why grokking the nature of Being is the fast-track to Bodhi. Unburdening ourselves is called parting the Veil of Afflictions. Seeing that there’s never been a burden is parting the Veil of Delusion.
Parting affliction can lead us to Nirvana after several thousand lifetimes or so. It’s the path of Shravakas, Pratyekabuddhas and Arhats. Parting delusion reveals the emptiness (lightness) of Nirvana and samsara, and it’s the path of Bodhisattvas. When a Bodhisattva parts their delusions and then their afflictions, they’re a Buddha.
It’s much easier to deal with our afflictions when they already seem weightless.
So, Zen only encourages unburdening up to a point, just enough for us to get a sense of the lightness that is our True Nature. After that, the student is asked to unburden themselves of the idea of unburdening and take the big flip into Pure Being.
Since I practice Song of Mind Zen, an offshoot of the Oxhead school, I’m even stingier with unburdening methods than most teachers. I don’t want people to get addicted to letting go, I want them to see that what they’re holding is already light.
A simple step toward this is changing our relationship with our own minds.
First off, we call it, “my mind.” That phrase reveals our backwardness. We are products of “our’ minds. Our identities and self-concepts depend on the mind. According to most researchers, my cat isn’t as self-aware as I am, but there’s still Being in her, she’s still aware. The “am” in “I am” is there before the I is.
We’re guests at the inn. Who the fuck is the innkeeper?
Anshi is the pen-name for a Buddhist writer. If you know who Anshi is, please don’t tell anyone since these posts often have sensitive autobiographical info in them. Anshi is a Mahayana Buddhist priest at the Bodhisattva Process.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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