Monday, January 19, 2015

Gampopa Variations — line 1

In Tibetan culture, there was one overarching worldview, a characteristic of all medieval and traditional cultures. "The Dharma", the body of teachings, philosophy, ethics, and meditation instructions that Tibetan had brought from India was the central organizing principle of Tibetan culture. Although there is no equivalent in Tibetan for the English capitalization of nouns that have special significance, this body of teachings was held to be sacred. Thus, it would have made sense to talk about "The Dharma" in that culture. The culture also provided an overarching framework to understand the world and one's place in that world. My own teacher was very clear about this. From his point of view, the highest form of human endeavor was to practice the Dharma. If you weren't able to do that, then the next best thing was to work in the world and support those who could practice. And this was, essentially, how Tibetan society was organized.

However, in today's world, we have no single overarching worldview. In Western society, we place great value on individual exploration, valuing that on par or possibly higher than cultural cohesion. Further, unlike the traditional cultures of Asia where there were only one or two forms of Buddhism available, every major tradition of Buddhism is represented in every major city in this country. The vast body of teachings amassed over centuries in different Asian countries are now available to all and sundry on the web. 

Many of the people I worked with over the last 30 odd years came because they had hit a wall in their practice. When I asked them why they were practicing, they usually gave me stock answers. These were learned answers. The mind can engage all it wants, but if the heart isn't engaged, nothing happens. They were practicing according to what they had been told, what they had come to believe, what they had absorbed, but it didn't come from their hearts. As Stephen Batchelor once said, the power of the institutional answers to questions of the spirit overwhelms the stammering voice that asks the questions.

Thus, in my work with students I encouraged them to forget about the traditional formulations and, instead, asked them listen to the small voice inside them that had led them to practice in the first place. Why am I doing this? -- and then listen and feel, and feel and listen.

 Sooner or later, an answer comes, but I would encourage people to ask "Why?" again. And again. In this way, they would eventually come to a place where they felt something that they could not put into words. When they touched that, there was energy and vitality. They could feel it, in their hearts. Even though it could not be put into words, they knew why they were practicing.

 Thus, for the first line in Gampopa's Four Teachings, I moved away from the traditional 

May my mind turn to the Dharma.

to a rendering that reflected the emotional connection with practice, 

Let my heart turn to practice.

But now, I move away from the traditional view that there is only one goal or one path and make it completely personal,

Be as clear as possible about what you are seeking.


Sheri Mahoney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheri Mahoney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheri Mahoney said...