By Jack Varden
My heart beats for her, but what does it know?
Stupid thing only gets me into trouble.
It beats for a dream—an impossibly perfect world. Life has been a long unburdening of fantasies. Life itself is the greatest fantasy of all. Life is a story I tell myself about emptiness. It’s hard to make decisions without the narrative, but it can be hard living with it too.
So, we come to meditation—the unraveling of our tall tales so that we can see things as they are, if only a glimpse.
When I see her face, and gladness moves me, these eyes are making contact with light and visual consciousness appears. The sight feels pleasant, it’s perceived as her face, and I want to hold her.
When I hear her laugh, and it makes life worth living, I see it as ears meeting vibrations, giving rise to auditory consciousness. It feels pleasant, it’s perceived as her laugh and I want to live forever. When I think of her and how she loves someone else, mind is coming into contact with a thought, and thinking consciousness appears. It feels unpleasant, it’s perceived as a lonely thought, and I want to die.
This same formula applies to all of the senses. The experience of her face and voice, even the thoughts I have have no essence apart from this process. They’re empty of actual existence. They’re virtual appearances, like an RPG—a mirage or the Matrix.
Sitting by her on the couch, my butt is touching the solid seat—solid like my body and the Rocky Mountains. I’m breathing air, the same air that she is—air from plants and countless beings. My blood is liquid, just like the rain and sea. Hers is the same way.
We’re both piles of elements, inseparable from the rest of the universe. All of these elements were around before us, around since the Big Bang. With each moment, the outside pours in, and the inside rushes out.
So, our bodies are empty of actual existence too. There’s no boundary between us and everything else. Ignoring this, I see us as independent beings. Then I crave her and cling to her as if she stands alone. I feel lonely, jealous and envious, full of self-loathing, doubt and confusion. She’s my best friend. She loves me, but she’s not in love with me. She can never know because then she’d feel betrayed. A lot of men have fallen for her. I won’t hurt her. Like I said, we’re best friends.
That means I have to work with my thoughts, emotions and desires. I have to see our true nature, or else the anguish is going to go on and on. I need to double down on Buddha practice.
In the situation I wrote about earlier, I used mindfulness (sati) and analysis (vicaya) to break the experience down into the Four Elements, Five Aggregates and Eighteen Dhatus.
The goal is to see that things aren’t the way they seem. Whereas we usually perceive a world of objects, Buddha asks us to see it as a world of interdependent processes and systems. This makes it harder to cling and crave, which means it decreases suffering.
You’re reading these words on your electronic device of choice. That’s what seems to be happening. Really, eyes are making contact with light, so there is seeing (eye-consciousness). Your device is solid, part of natural systems that include all other solid things, including the body. There’s a feeling-tone to these words, and it’s pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The mind is responding to the patterns of light and darkness by creating shapes that it turns into words with meanings. Reading makes you want to do something, like continue or stop reading. Attention is focused on the words, but it’s also taking in other sensations in the background and flipping between them at times.
Throughout it all, there’s a sense that you are you and that you’re separate from the words and the world around you. That’s an illusion that mindfully analyzing things lessens over time. All things are nondual (advaya).
From one perspective (called the imaginary nature), I’m a 36 year old male who is in unrequited love. From another (the dependent nature), there’s a psychophysical system snatching up data and transforming it into dynamic conscious experiences.
When we contemplate and experience that second perspective to the point that we lose ourselves in it, that’s awakening (perfect nature).
We don’t have to incorporate multiple phenomenological lists like I did. Just pick one and be mindful of it in day to day life. It’s relieving. In the beginning, it’s like you’re outside of the things you’re contemplating. Eventually, that illusory barrier collapses. There’s no longer an analyzer and analyzed—there’s just analysis.
That’s called Suchness (Tathata).
This method is genuine Vipassana, not the diet version we got in the West. It’s an active, engaged practice that you can do at anytime, though seated is best.
The more you study, and the more lists you can memorize, the more in-depth Vipassana will be, but not everyone needs that. I do. Vipassana helps us cultivate mindfulness, analysis, determination and concentration—four of the seven Factors of Awakening. We also need to nourish joy, tranquility and equanimity. For that, we need Samatha practice.
The instructions are simple: pick something and focus on it for as long as you can. When you get distracted, or space out, gently bring attention back to it. The goal is to move through the Jhanas until you enter samadhi, which is when you and the object are no longer separate.
We can flip between Samatha and Vipassana during a sit, or practice them both at the same time, whatever works for you. When I get distracted, I’ll usually analyze what distracted me before focusing on the breath or mantra again.
Or we can let attention float to wherever it wants. Whenever it grasps onto something, analyze it and see that it’s empty. We might notice that consciousness seems to shimmer and flow. Then the flow will slow until disappears altogether. Then our minds will seem like space, boundless and clear.
But I can’t just let everything be empty without slipping into apathy or cold detachment. I still want to be her best friend; I just don’t want to be hung up on her anymore.
That is where Buddha-nature (Buddhata, Dharmakaya, Tathagatagarbha, etc.) comes in. Beneath all of her characteristics, both the ones I see and her own, there’s a Buddha covered in dust. The same goes for me, you, and all beings.
This is one of the hardest teachings for me to believe because there’s no logical reason to believe it. Logic leads to nihilism.
How can I take that leap into faith?
It feels good when I contemplate Buddha-nature. Maybe that’s all the evidence I need. The dust that covers it is empty, and it’s originally empty of it. It’s the luminous mind. The dust isn’t just our afflictions—it’s all things. Sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings all conceal Buddha-nature from ordinary consciousness. To experience it directly, we have see that everything’s empty, and/or we have to clear it all away.
What I really love about her isn’t empty; it’s her true nature, the light that shines from her. It’s the unique ray that she embodies that light.
Not only do I love it, but I can let myself love it. I can be mindful of it and attend to it. Maybe, if I stick to practice, I can take refuge in my own light and finally get some rest.
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