Within the essence of totally pure awakened mind,
there is no object to view or anything
that constitutes a view –
nor the slightest sense of anything to
look at or anyone looking.
There is no ordinary consciousness
meditating or anything to meditate on.
Due to spontaneous presence,
without any duality of goal and conduct,
there is not the slightest sense of any fruition to achieve.
—Choying Dzod (pt. V), Longchenpa
Spontaneous Presence ( lhun grub, effortlessly realized, uncontrived fulfillment) is a term found in early Dzogchen teachings on the nature of reality, but especially in the Seven Treasuries of the great 14th Century master, Longchenpa. It refers to the nature of all phenomena, including the nature of mind, arising spontaneously from a timeless, infinitely dynamic source-less source.
It resolves the spiritual paradox of perpetually constructing a goal-oriented incremental path requiring effort, based on a premise of insufficiency, leading to a distant objective of awakening, with the innate capacity to realize the fruition of our efforts in this very moment.
Our development depends on how we each comprehend and resolve this paradox in our thought and action. We are usually unaware, and often painfully so (life is suffering, after all!) that our attention on ourselves and on the future—a separate “personal” future —obstructs direct realization in this moment, and thereby in the imagined future as well. Were we to realize the true nature of reality in this moment, there would be no need whatsoever to envision any future at all-or even anyone to realize it.
Since most of us are not realizing our true nature in this moment, we seek tools and practices to rely upon in moments of stress. They become the antidotes to our confusion. We attempt to be good people, notice our faults and flaws, apply various antidotes to correct them, all with the idea that we are transforming ourselves on a long moral arc to attain an ideal that we have been forming for decades. And with that effort we carry the suffering and shame of realizing that when death comes we will almost certainly be incomplete. We will have fallen short in some way.
Yet the antidotes themselves are of equally insubstantial nature, not to mention the thoughts we have about them and the plans we make for their use. All of this is conceived for the purpose of becoming someone we would like to be, more of what we think we are, or perhaps even something we are not. But still, we pursue a vision that is imminent and implied, as if the evolution of all of humanity is involved and depending on our success.
Dharma tells us our true nature is always present; obscured, perhaps, but never in doubt: pristine and indestructible. Our true nature is none other than the pure, fully realized non-dual awareness of Buddha himself. Rather than trying with great effort to dress ourselves in attributes, we would do better to discard the accumulated conceptual matrix of IT and relax into what is already IT. The fullness of being, at least in theory, is always available to us. We have only to regard our true nature in the essence of mind capturing our attention in the moment. Everything is IT. There is nothing that is not IT. Even when we think we have lost IT, that too is IT. Since the resolution of this paradox is always present, yet not always accessible, we have an opportunity to open to a spontaneous emergence of the clarity and presence that our true nature implies.
Spontaneous presence is not calculated. It is not the product of conceptual undertakings or planning according to any regimen or belief. It does not happen on any schedule or depend on a sequence of events. Spontaneous implies an absence of preconceptions, personal conditioning, the automaticity of our ego structure that seeks security and refuge in concepts and reference points that together construct the identity we cling to so tenaciously. It is an infinitely refreshing emergence, perfectly improvised response in the moment; the recognition that every moment is timeless, having no antecedents, without consideration for and independent of any future goal or objective. Striving is antithetical to spontaneity.
Yes, saying that every moment is timeless seems oxymoronic, not to mention that we are typically collecting and constantly evaluating the antecedents of this moment, formulating strategies for acting in the next moment. Yet if any moment is timeless, that is the only moment there is. There is no other moment arriving or on its way or just passed in any respect at all. There is only an unchanging presence. And since all conceptions and conditions as well as an immersion in the endless process of cause and effect are continuously shed, timeless presence has no qualities or characteristics whatsoever. It has no labels and no objects of contemplation.
The universal objective of life seems to be the creative pursuit of happiness. How each person defines happiness may differ, but the fundamental nature of the object of our pursuit is an imagined perpetual state, unending sublime ease. Isn’t this the objective of life — and also a universally recognized illusion? We know that the opposite of perpetual bliss is the case: happiness is all too fleeting, interspersed with varying degrees of difficulty, pain and suffering.
Giving up our adherence to an unattainable objective along with all our collected practices for attaining that goal, all our accumulated actions and remedies, giving up the conditioned and conceptual notions of who we must be, leaves us with an appealing ineffable alternative: non-action. After all, since “doing” inevitably takes us further from our “objective,” there is nothing to be done. And who is there to do it, anyway? What else is there to do but not-do?
Spontaneous presence might be a little more comprehensible if we recall that time is infinitely divisible. Regardless of how small an increment we choose, it is still divisible, eventually disappearing completely into an indeterminate quantum: a virtual timeless state. Is there really any substance to time at all? And if there is no substance to time, how could there be any immutable substance to anything else–either in the micro-moments of the biological matrix or in the vast spaciousness of mind? Nothing we see is substantial, nor anything we know by our senses, which are equally illusory and insubstantial.
So where (or what) is the “I” in all of this? Whatever “we” are as biological specimens, with unique individual and aggregate intelligence, a unique history and the capacity to reflect upon our actions, we are having difficulty reading the messages coming from the matrix of the biological world over which we (mistakenly) aspire to mastery, as well as the messages coming from the matrix of consciousness, which is also calling us to awaken from our delusions of separate individuality.
The true nature of both domains of emergence (consciousness and biology) is a perpetual stillness, an infinite evenness that subsumes everything, in which we may realize that we exist in a single seamless realm: a continuous creative unfolding that has no beginning and no end, no boundaries, no center or limits. A realm in which the very idea of a separate self is inexplicable; in which we realize that our movement and intentions within a unique place in the network of life which also holds all others, informs and is informed by all others. Chief Seattle said it best: what we do to others, and to the matrix of life, we do to ourselves. When both science and religion are saying the same thing, it’s time we heard the message.
No matter what arises, even if heaven and earth change places, there is a bare state of relaxed openness, without any underlying basis. Without any reference point–nebulous, ephemeral, and evanescent–this is the mode of a lunatic, free from the duality of hope and fear.
–Choying Dzod (pt. IX) Longchenpa
Hope is not a feature of spontaneous presence. It could not be, as it is incompatible with pervasive evenness. Hope relies on causal relationships in a universe that is without cause, or at least without a discernible cause. The universe is all effect. If we hope long enough or hard enough for a particular outcome, perhaps something will happen, something we desire. Unfortunately, such thinking exists in a narrow domain of linear causation that conflates intention with faith. Being neither intention nor faith, hope lies somewhere in between the possible and the impossible, between what we know is within and what is beyond our capacity. Hope also lies at the opposite pole of despair, a duality in which we oscillate back and forth. Without hope, there can be no despair.
Mastery lies in immersing our selves in our immediate experience, in the feeling level of our responses to our senses, without regard for their source and without preferring a particular outcome. Such immersion attains without labeling such experience, becoming neither attracted nor repulsed by any of it, without analyzing, meditating upon or turning any from it. In other words, without reifying it, without turning it into an object of interest or adding it to a collection of memories, neither categorizing, discarding, nor even believing it.
In so doing, we become immersed and detached simultaneously, watching from a vast view, yet also noticing, feeling and allowing right now. Since there is no need to review ideas or options, past or future, there is nothing to reflect upon.
Though the view should be as vast as the sky,
keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.
Sure, this is all highly idealistic. Could anyone possibly live this way for more than a few moments? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s not fall so easily into the cynical regard for anyone offering something radically different– such as not being solely and maniacally driven to enhance personal self-interest. Mainstream thought about the self, the pursuit of happiness, sanity and insanity is a closed orbit, exerting immense inertia on moments of awakening, lest they break the hold of conventional ego. And yes, whatever the actual expression of spontaneous presence may appear to be, since it must co-exist with the material reality of existence, it is nevertheless a condition that is subject to cultivation.
What, then, does it look like in the real world?