More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Let us explore the link of becoming a little more. We and the world arise together through the link of becoming. The feeling tone provides the inception point, the tear in the fabric of the formless, through which we and the world of form emerges. We come out naming and forming, with body and senses fully functioning, and a consciousness filled with content and states of mind - all thoroughly convincing "us" that we are someone interacting with "something." This manifestation needs to maintain momentum or it would be only a momentary fluctuation of personhood. Thought provides that continuity allowing ignorance to misperceive the sense-of-self as continuous. Thought establishes time and time and memory build a past and future whereby the sense-of-self can substantiate its existence. Thoroughly exploring thought allows a natural quieting that begins to disassemble the mental construction of "I."
With the link of Becoming the sense-of-self is now fully alive within the dynamics of the mind. It does not exist outside of the mind as it likes to believe but as a working confluent whole with the other links of Dependent Origination. The sense-of-self wants to assume the "someone" who is receiving the desired object so it can chase after them, but to do so it has to spin the deception that it is the owner of the mental phenomena. To be perceived as the owner, the sense-of-self fractures the perception into the subject and object: me and my mind, or me and the object I want. Once the deception is complete it must continue to think in terms of past and future to keep the illusion going. If the mind becomes quiet, the past and future ends and the whole of the mind falls into the present where sparation cannot be maintained.
When the energy of self-formation moves through desire to clinging, there is a dramatic change in intensity. The grasping feels like a compelling need of the organism. We may feel that we must have this experience in order for life to be worthwhile, and we are usually willing to do whatever is needed to obtain it. The energy is very tightly bound to the sense of survival. The Buddha grouped the areas of clinging in four broad categories: (1) pleasurable experiences, (2) views and opinions, (3) rites and rituals, and (4) belief in self. When we see the ferocity of our need to procure and defend our right for pleasure, our personal and political opinions, the indoctrinated beliefs in our religious views and practices, and the obstinate way we defend our self-image, we begin to understand the entrenched positions our egoic state stands upon.
We think of desire as a spiritually undesirable state of mind. Because it holds such power over our actions and thoughts, we are reluctant to thoroughly take it on and explore what it is. Desire is not just one simple state of mind. It is the composition of all the links that preceded it in Dependent Origination, the confluence of ignorance, mental formations, consciousness, name and form, six sense base, contact, and feelings. It holds all of that and the idea of "me" as well. As an analogy, think of snow as being the composite of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, etc. Snow seems like something separate and different from the conditions that form it, but it is those conditions. We can enter and examine the energy of desire through any of these composite conditions. Encouraged by our thoughts, desire also has a strong sense of becoming something, something essential to us. But when we look at desire, it is a future thought holding the wish of a different life. Sad, is it not? When properly seen, we can you feel the grief of the unfulfilled desire?
Each feeling tone has a body posture and pose that reveals its occurrence. As pleasant feelings emerge and shape themselves into a psychic force, the body starts literally leaning into the experience with expectations. This can be noticed as a hurried pace, and a forward leaning tilt. Aversion is just the opposite. The avoidance occurs as a kind of backpedaling, a leaning away and tilting back in contraction or a sudden change in direction. Delusion is harder to pin down but is spacey, airy, and glazed over, often only tangentially connected to the earth. Delusion has lost the ground of its experience and because of that is usually more difficult to notice physically. There is of course the vertical stance that is upright and open to whatever comes that the homework is meant to address.
We are now entering the feeding frenzy of Dependent Origination. Once contact is made, the following links condition the manifestation of the sense of someone very quickly. This someone is the one who is perceived as receiving the sense data. How did this someone get there? He or she was not present prior to the contact, now suddenly, like a magician's trick he or she appears. If we slow the process we see a very important link at the heart of this formation, and that is feelings. Feelings are the pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral tastes that the contact conveys. These tastes awaken the conditioned sleeping giant of ourselves, and we come out hungry. As the feeding moves from a taste to wanting more, the volume of our noise increases considerably. The lines of definition are starting to form as the person builds itself upon all the similar tastes stored in memory. I first the person starts out simply hungry (desiring) but within the right conditions that hunger grows in magnitude to become ravishing (grasping).
Think of the senses as six channels that are constantly flooding the brain with raw data while the brain attempts to coordinate this barrage of input into a meaningful presentation of events. The brain selects what data it will focus upon and leaves the rest out. When the particular sense data is allowed to make its way into consciousness, we call that, "contact," which is the sixth link in Dependent Origination. After contact is made various formations of mind encircle the contacted sense impression with perception, recognition, and memory. Now the contact becomes connected to all the other data, and actions are taken in relationship to the definition the contact (now the focus of experience) is given. Is this significant or not, how does this fit within my worldview, and shall I approach or avoid? If there is unconscious contact, we will likely see unconscious action, and if there is conscious contact then the action will not come from the past conditioning of the mind but spontaneously from what is.
One of the questions answered by Dependent Origination is where our information about the world comes from, and what it is based upon. As we have seen, much of what we know is what the past allows us to know. By reflecting on the moment and commenting continually about it, we use past memories as our pathway to move forward. This imagined response (meaning these ideas we hold about reality are not based upon what is true here and now)is being organized by the brain. To show conclusively the difference, the Buddha in his famous Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23), stated that formed reality holds the six senses only: the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. "That is all (there is in form)," he said, "there is nothing that can be added or subtracted from this." The Buddha is specifically showing us that all our added responses from the past about the present are actually one of the six senses arising, as all the senses do, in the present moment. This arising of ideas in the present also includes the person who seems to be receiving those very sensations. Not spoken about in this sutta is the unformed, commonly referred to as sati or awareness. Awareness holds a direct wordless knowing, which does notrefer to the mental way we usually know something by giving it a name. There is space between this wordless knowing and the formation of words in the mind. Thoughts from the mind encircle this wordless knowing when, under the veil of ignorance, the two forms of knowing are perceived as one and the same. Ignorance enmeshes form with the formless, confusing the sacred with the mundane. Once this occurs we have only the sense data and our accompanying commentary to give us the information needed to navigate the world, the wordless discernment of awareness is no longer perceived.
Consciousness processes the mental formations by labeling and calling them something. Suddenly from a vague appearance arises the names and forms of life as we know it. Nama Rupa (name and form) arises from the fertile ground of mental formations and consciousness whose empty nature is confused by ignorance. To be called something, content requires information imparted about its nature. For example, we say an object is round, red, smooth, and small. Having recognized those traits through memory, we amass the data and call the object an "apple." The name we give separates it from the rest of the content before us. When we are hungry, "apple" rises to the forefront of all other forms. When we are not, it falls back and is barely noticed. The mental formations that encircle the words determine the object's importance to us. Consciousness is now ready to develop a narrative about the relative relationships between the objects, and where there is a story there will be a storyteller.
The third link in Dependent Origination is Consciousness. Consciousness springs forth from the fertile ground of ignorance and mental formations. We might think of this expression of consciousness as "egoic consciousness," the sense that "I am conscious of..." Different traditions use various definitions for the term, consciousness. In Buddhism there are different consciousnesses for each sense door. To get a sense of what this means, image you are standing on the ocean shore. If you focus exclusively on sight, certain memories and sense impressions will flood your mind, but if you concentrate exclusively on smell, there will be a whole new set of sense impressions and accompanying memories that may be very different from your visual consciousness. So too with each sense door - hearing, tasting, thinking, touching - each evokes a different set of memories and mental formations. The mind collates these separate consciousnesses into a single consciousness with "me" as the central casting figure. When each person speaks of "my consciousness or my mind" they usually mean the summation of all the separate consciousnesses falsely organized (ignorance) as a single conscious entity.