Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gampopa Variations — Line 4

Let’s start with a traditional translation:

May confusion arise as timeless awareness.

We sit in this mass of confusion and, seemingly without our doing anything, there is suddenly an infinite expanse of knowing, with no center or periphery, and the confusion seems to have evaporated, vanished, like clouds disappearing in the sky.

(I’m using timeless awareness to translate jñana (ཡེ་ཤེས་) to avoid the problems associated with the word wisdom, not the least of them being that wisdom does not refer to an experience but a quality we ascribe to others.)

Next, a looser translation:

May confusion become timeless awareness.

Strictly speaking, this rendering is less accurate, but my aim here is to put the emphasis on transformation. That transformation doesn’t come about through an act of will. It isn’t something we make happen. We sit in the mess, and something changes. Where there was confusion, there is now an open awareness. Where there was anger and irritation, there is now an experience of mirror-like clarity. Where there was prejudice and judgement, there is now an experience of balance. 

Both these translations imply that the confusion goes away. That idea consistently introduces a willful intention in practice — get rid of the confusion and find timeless awareness. That intention inevitably puts us in a box, which I have written about here.

My latest variation then is:

May I find clarity and peace in the difficulties I experience.

This is not really a translation. I’ve replaced the technical term timeless awareness with the more experiential phrase clarity and peace. Instead of confusion, I put difficulties I experience. Difficulties are only difficulties because they elicit confusion in us. And I’ve moved away from the vocabulary of arising and transformation to the vocabulary of discovery.

This variation is based on my own experience. I have found that as long as I retain the slightest wish to be rid of an unpleasant or difficult feeling, the reaction mechanisms stay firmly in place, rather like Milarepa’s demons in The Tale of Red Rock Jewel Valley

The journey to acceptance, however, I find far from easy. That is why I choose now to write “May I find clarity and peace in the difficulties I experience.” In effect I am praying for the courage, strength and patience to go into the depths of my own resistance. There I know I will meet a pain or fear that I do not want to experience. Whether it’s pain or fear, it leads me to view those who provoke the feeling as “enemy” or as hurting me or causing me harm. It moves me to want to cause them pain and difficulty in their lives. That unpleasant feeling is at the core of my judgement, criticism and cynicism. As long as I resist or refuse to experience it, I want to act in way that cause others to experience it, in subtle or not so subtle ways. But that pain or fear is mine to experience. It’s not any one else’s. Often, it is so brutal in its intensity that, when I am finally able to touch it, I wouldn’t want anyone else, even my worst enemy, to have to experience it.

Even so, I cannot say that I decide to experience it. I can only keep facing it, and I do so by resting in all the different experiences, the physical sensations, the emotional storms and the often conflicting narratives, it throws up. At some point, something changes, but not because of an act of will or anything “I” have done. Rather, it’s when the “I” gives up, which is definitely something I don’t decide to do. Then there is a peace and a clarity in the confusion, in all the difficulties. The difficulties don’t go away. The pain or fear doesn’t necessarily go away, but it’s possible to be completely clear and at peace in those feelings. 

At the risk of being a bit technical, let me connect this seeming paradox with the three kayas, dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. The experience of the pain or fear, physically, emotionally, is nirmanakaya, expression in form. The utter peace and clarity, inexpressible, indescribable, present, yet nothing at all, is dharmakaya. When both the pain and the peace are present at the same time, experience takes on an exquisite quality, and that is sambhogakaya.