Listening

We are universally enjoined by the expressions of Dzogchen teachers to regard all phenomena as the simultaneous appearance of both deluded mind (samsara) and the natural or essence nature of mind (nirvana). We are always ‘here’ and ‘there’ in every moment. This guidance applies to everything at all times, even, dare I say especially, to the expressions of those teachers themselves.

When we listen to the words of a teacher, using innate cognitive faculties to convey conceptual information, which is then apprehended by our own cognitive faculties, we have thoughts, interpretations, memories and visceral experiences in response. As we all know, this is no less a continuing cascade of mental and emotional activity in the presence of a teacher as it would be under any other circumstance.

Beneath those words, completely integral to them, coming from an equally expressive locus of the inner world of that teacher, not only from the thinking mind but from the natural mind as well, is the reality and experience of emptiness. Like a carrier wave, that inner experience is not separate from the teaching nor can it be separate from any other experience. It is a manifestation of both oneness and difference in every moment.

The words themselves are the path of knowledge and contemplation. The carrier wave is the path of direct experience. The words emit from the direct experience of the teacher, but they are a derivative, not the experience itself.  The words are as much a reflection in the pond as the reflection of the moon itself. They are, as the moon itself, mere appearance, not their meaning nor any of the internal responses we may have to conceptual interpretation.

How we listen to those words can, but may not always, happen on two different levels: one, by way of the intellect, by which we receive and interpret and assimilate the meaning we attribute to them; and the other, by which we have a direct experience of meeting them as they touch some other locus of gnosis other than merely the cerebral.

These two ways of listening are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to assume they are would be a primary strategic error, a fundamental misunderstanding of our encounters with the teachings and with their teachers. If we are to have any chance of assimilating teachings in a manner congruent with their intent, we must activate our capacity to listen in both ways at the same time.

These two ways of listening are inseparable. It is often said that we must listen to teachings for their outer, inner and secret meanings.  But in reality, listening in two ways activates a direct and immediate experience of duality and non-duality, of both awareness in time…and of timeless awareness that characterize teachings regardless of their inner, outer or secret meaning.

We can learn to recognize our error by observing our inner process. We can lean in one of two ways. We can pride ourselves in listening and recording with our intellect, making notes, committing portions of what we hear to memory, keeping a record of our engagement for consideration and possible regurgitation at some later date when we believe it will matter.

Or, we can listen with the subtle body, the inner ear, the ear that knows there is no cognitive meaning to which we can cling, much less retain. There is only one message, the same message at all times: the unity of appearance and emptiness, the unity of time and timeless awareness, the indivisibility of duality and non-duality. That is the experience of Dzogchen.

True enough, every moment is an opportunity to enter that experience. But sitting in front of a teacher is a special invitation to listen in this way.

All of the Buddhist teachers in the West, at least all the Dzogchen teachers I’ve encountered, are very well practiced in transmitting to their students. We in the West are so well suited to hearing them because we place such a high cultural value on and rely more on our cognitive faculties. That is our default mode. We are good students in the Western mold of being a student. And our teachers have done a very good job of learning our language and expressing themselves in ways that speak to our default approach to learning, the rational use of logic, the collection and storing of conceptual knowledge and ritual practice.

But ultimately, that approach is not what we truly need. Insofar as we automatically rely on that approach, we learn little, and slowly, because no student can truly arrive at the Dzogchen experience without an empirical experience of The Great Perfection.

It is the direct seeing of the inseparability of the kayas. It is the direct knowledge of dharmakaya, the immediate, timeless and complete mutuality of absolute oneness and absolute difference, the union of the relative and the absolute, perpetually folding into and creating each other, becoming one another without beginning or end.

 

Emptiness Dancing

I’ve been very distressed lately. A thread running through much of what I do is to either seek approval from an outside source or aimlessly follow an illusion of enlightened purpose, commitment, responsibility, idealism or creativity. Who I “am” becomes a shifting mirage, subject to changing conditions at any moment, like a passing vehicle temporarily catching the attention a sleeping dog. We all know what happens next. I become the dog, obsessively running after every model passing my way. Sometimes the distractions even look new. But on closer examination, none of them really are.

Then I realized, suddenly, to my great surprise and relief, that all of it, the emotional attachments to certain “favorable” outcomes, the appealing appearance of shiny new objects, the desire embedded in each decision to engage with them, or people, or to see conditions in a self-affirming way, even the moment by moment play of deciding if I am happy or not, being myself…or not…being “good,” being responsible, or ejecting myself from all of it, is all one thing and one thing only—that is not really a thing at all:  Emptiness dancing.

Not merely a dance of awareness or the dance of mind, but something within, the primary dance. Emptiness dancing is the name I give it. It covers any moment, every illumination, rabbit hole of awareness, every black hole of despair, every experience, whether of union, alienation, desperation, every blissful connecting embodiment, every ecstatic dream of pure detachment, including true non-duality, the Great Abiding in supreme Equanimity.

Emptiness dancing softens every edge, completes every unfinished aspiration, rounds every corner of uncertainty or disappointment, even lifts up every tragedy. It’s the poetry in every moment, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the ineffable, the laughing/crying never-alone reality of being alone. It’s the expanding heart of meditation. The dance with emptiness dancing is the drama of every life, every death and everything in between.

No, it’s not necessarily so simple to understand either term, emptiness or dancing. Their essence is not obvious. The expression covers the entire profound simplicity of the two truths, the artificiality of conceptualizing the relative and absolute as separable, and the truth that they are not “inseparable” either because even that implies two.  They are always and only one. Emptiness dancing is the effortlessness at the heart of every effort, the perfusion of every achievement. Emptiness dancing is the center of every arduous journey helplessly conceptualized by the materially-oriented mind. Emptiness dancing is the propellant, the inexhaustible fuel of all beings and all phenomena.

We may form intentions; we may pledge to follow a certain path. We may try to be mindful, compassionate, engaged, empathic, generous and follow every precept of the paramitas. We may believe in merit and diligently pursue opportunities to “collect” or generate merit. But merit is not that. It is not a thing. Merit as a thing merely perpetuates delusion. The banking of merit (as a thing) is thus also illusion, the accumulation of a karmic account can only be for one thing; and it’s not about the future. It is the capacity,…no, the surrender to falling apart now. It is the planting and the replanting of the seed of realization.  It is the realization of emptiness dancing, becoming the capacity to dissolve into that realization in every moment.

Such a realization cannot be bought or “brought.” It is not discovered through analysis. It cannot be engineered into awareness. It is not a realization to “have” or give or find. It is the inherent space beneath shamatha. It is the antithesis of analytical vipashyana. It doesn’t belong to anything. It doesn’t come from anything. The paramitas may become mere objects of awareness, but they too are emptiness dancing. Everything, all pleasure, all pain, all tragedy, violence, ecstacy, every loss and every gain are all the same….emptiness dancing.

Falling into emptiness is a relief. Every time. It’s a lesson relearned with amazement that the lesson can never be learned too many times, because every relearning is fresh, as if it is for the first time. And what comes with that relearning is expanding forgiveness and compassion for everything and everyone lost in the illusion of something. The something that I strive to be, the something in every moment that gives it–and me–substance. The something I can sink my teeth into, that becomes a new or deepening furrow in my gray matter.

I want to keep every one of those grooves, every memory, however fragile or remote. I want to feel it all again and again, as many times as possible, file it away indefinitely, bring it out again at the perfect moment, savor the pleasure and the pain, the entire luminous and terrifying journey, the impermanence of it, the death in every moment of it, the innocence of it, thanking emptiness dancing for all of it until poof! I disappear. That is the most confounding, confusing, maddening and astounding part of all. The disappearing, being subsumed into everything, connected but not bound. The humor of it, the throw your head back and laugh at the sky of it.

It seems Adyashanti has written a book by this title, which I did not know…or recall…when I started this. But let it fall open here, at random, repeating these words:

This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. Since the awakening, the brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child.

Oh. That distress. What was that about?

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