When you realize everything to be your own mind
All that can be seen is empty, dharmakaya.
One is not fettered by appearance, but by attachment.
So cut your deluded attachment, heart-children!
–Shabkar Tsokdrug Rangdrol, Flight of the Garuda
I am sitting at my desk in a slightly dreamy state, having just arisen from a well-deserved and much needed nap. It was one of those afternoon naps in which one surrenders completely to a persistent drowsiness that simply says –Lie down now! It was such a good nap that it is taking me more than a few minutes to return to normal waking consciousness. You probably know exactly what I mean. Surrendering to a nap is just doing what is necessary, following an imperative. And though the waking might require some effort, the feeling of refreshment is sublime.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, after returning to clarity, I was moved to ponder the meaning of surrender. Spiritual practice is well-known territory of surrender. Years ago, a friend of mine questioned the meaning and suitability of bowing to a buddhist teacher. In this case, we were discussing the Dalai Lama. His orientation was that doing so would mean he was giving up some of his personal power.
I confess to having some of the very same reservations when I first began practicing and attending retreats. Bowing meant willingly surrendering some of my autonomy…or agency…to another person. Why would I want to do that? I did not understand it. Who is the Dalai Lama that he commands this type of deference? It’s one thing to kneel in prayer, but kneeling to a human being? No way. Bowing to an object, like a buddha, was even worse. It was like breaking the first commandment–Thou Shalt Have No Other God Before Me. It looked and felt too much like idolatry.
Now, with the benefit of a lengthening history of practice and study, I have a different view. It is customary in Buddhism to interpret stories, practices and prescribed behaviors from three perspectives. Each has its own value and interpretation to consider. From the outer, most superficial view, bowing is a gesture of respect. Not merely deference to an individual, but to the teachings this individual brings and the effort by which they were acquired. It is a gesture to every teacher that has brought these teachings forward, now in the person of a particular teacher in front of you.
The teachings did not magically appear and they are not magically sustained. Individuals have spent decades, whole lives in devotion to the dharma, taking vows along the way, maintaining the discipline to assimilate the teachings by authentic effort.
In some cases, they have undergone great personal hardship, even the risk of life itself, to sustain the teachings and transmit them to new students down through a hundred generations. So it is not merely to an individual that we bow. We bow to an unbroken process of dedication and discipline, to the accumulated intelligence and elaboration, preservation and transmission. We surrender to its power and to its truth as a gift that we pledge to preserve.
Bowing in respect does not necessarily mean one is giving anything up. In fact, it’s possible to appear to surrender something without surrendering anything at all; in an upward act of surrender, it is possible to cling even more tightly to whatever it is we are not ready to surrender. That is why we must look more closely at the inner meaning. A deeper view is that surrender softens the ego. Bowing and prostrations do the work of incrementally chipping away at the self-cherishing of egotistical thinking. Of course, doing so requires a high level of trust in the teacher and highly ethical behavior by the teacher.
Bringing oneself into service to the dharma begins the lifelong work of clarifying intention, unearthing the innate capacity for compassion and the development of the mind of enlightenment, turning toward service in life, realizing the subtle ways we get in our own way and continue to create our own suffering.
All teachers prostrate themselves in surrender in an identical way, to their teachers and to the lineage. They entreat us to offer (give away) all that we think we “have,” which includes all that we think we “are” in a moment of contemplating our true nature.
That true nature is Buddha nature. It is intrinsic. It has never been absent, only obscured. The chipping away of ego in the practice of surrender is like cutting a precious stone to reveal the jewel within. With discriminating awareness, we cut away the clinging, the obscuration, the confusion to reveal the wish-fulfilling jewel at its heart. We can always tell when someone we meet has been successful in this practice because light shines through them. We sense a permeability, a softness, an unruffled nature, an integrity of purpose and presence.
From the innermost or secret view, the view of Buddhamind, intrinsic nature, the luminous clarity of self-knowing awareness is no other than the realization of emptiness, dharmakaya. Beyond conception, we realize that the very idea of surrender is a conceptual fabrication founded upon a dualistic notion of self and other, subject and object.
Buddhamind itself is enlightened mind. We cannot call it a condition because such an inference would imply that some other conditions might exist. If enlightened emptiness is all there is, then there can be no self, no samsara, no nirvana, no inside and no outside, no one and nothing to surrender and nothing to surrender to. From this view, realizing that all objects of consciousness arise from emptiness and are themselves empty, including the teachings, there is no place or time except as they satisfy the appearance of material reality in which we so briefly reside, the idea of surrender completely falls apart.
And yet we are here. Or at least we appear to be here. We change and we age and we may be happy or sad and one day we will die. Even knowing all this does not deter us from surrendering for all the reasons already mentioned. But beyond them all, there is an overriding reason to surrender for no reason at all, to nothing and to everything because everything we know or think we know is both existent and nonexistent — as far as the mind can reach into infinite conceptual states.
If we were ever to fully experience the truth of enlightenment, of buddhamind, of luminous clarity and self-knowing awareness, we would experience all three of these states simultaneously, realizing their primary unity and inseparability: the devotional aspect of surrender to the dharma, the devotion to dismantling and surrendering all that we “have” for the benefit of all beings and to the simultaneous truth of being a separate self and also no such thing. We would know nothing of mind as a phenomenon distinguishable from body or senses. We would know all phenomena, everything we sense, as both mirrors and emanations of a sourceless source, without beginning or end, marveling at the mystery, the elation and utter magnificence of our very own breathing, the random dancing of conceptual mind creating and believing in the world as we know it. And the humor and wonder of it, the sheer hilarity of belief itself. The truth of emptiness and what’s more, the emptiness of emptiness, would bring us to our knees. Surrender to that!
Also, take a nap when you need one.