It’s taken me quite a while to work up the nerve to write this article. I can talk a good game about following the right path and transforming myself into a healthier, happier person, but when the smoke clears and the dust settles, when I am left to my own devices, I find myself slipping, as if down a muddy bank of freshly melted snow. As someone who was raised to be a perfectionist, this is hard for me to face. I know I’m on a path filled with countless surprises to come, some good and some bad, and I’m starting to truly live life more intuitively, which is the goal when it comes to learning more about myself and learning to love myself, two things I realize lately that I’ve waited many years to throw my heart into. And to be honest, I’m not sure why.
What is it about me that I find so hard to love? Is it that I remind myself of my parents, both of whom I’d rather not be reminded of for the most part? Is it the residual guilt that builds up from times past, when I think I should have done or said something differently? Is it that I make mistakes, sometimes constantly, get emotional, sometimes irrationally, and act compulsively, sometimes giving into random desires?
I’m flawed, plain and simple. As complex as any of us are, we’re all still just human. We can strive and struggle and learn and wise up, but we will still fall, fail and screw up nevertheless. That’s the nature of the beast. Human nature.
Why then is it still so hard to slide down that muddy bank? Why is it so easy to fall into the pattern of beating myself up over insignificant details? How is it so easy to forget that hurting the feelings of others is the same as hurting myself, and that when I feel alone, it is because I have somehow isolated myself, though it always seems like the world has turned its back on me?
Newsflash – it hasn’t. The world will always be there. It’s just up to me to pay more attention to it.
It’s up to me to open new doors and peek into new rooms to see if I like the décor and ambiance. To see what feels right. To make new friends and try to keep the old, but to give up attachments for the sake of everyone’s benefit, including my own.
Follow me down to the depths of contemplation if you will. I implore you to join me, if for no other reason than to simply observe a story in which you might just find a little bit of yourself.
Amateur Buddhist Musings
I’ve been studying Tibetan Buddhism for the first time in my life and I’m fascinated to say the least. It’s the only theory referred to as a religion that operates as a philosophy which can enrich your mind and life in innumerable ways, more ways than I could ever list here. The book, The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects written by Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden, has been an eye-opening if not all-out superb ride of learning about Tibetan Buddhist philosophy based on ancient doctrines, texts and insights from the Masters of the oral teachings themselves.
This “new door” I’ve opened for myself does not come without its misgivings. Our world seems so real and yet Buddhism explains that it is not anything like we think it is. The relief of living life with the peculiar insight that none of it is real is surprisingly sublime. However, that feeling doesn’t last for the amateur who just started to understand Buddhism in the first place. I feel like I’m being pulled from two separate versions of reality, and indeed that is one way to view the conundrum I find myself in.
The irony of it all is that neither version of reality is arguably real in a Buddhist sense. Practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism will tell you that the moment you perceive something, it ceases to be real, because you have perceived it according to your numerous and unique biases. However, the twist here is that there is no real reality outside of that which we can perceive, because we cannot conceive the inconceivable. It’s a common paradox that students of Tibetan Buddhism will find themselves in. Something is both affirmed and denied simultaneously. It is both confusing and incredibly clear.
According to the Masters of the Secret Oral Teachings, the quickest and most useful way to learn more about what’s real is to meditate in order to bring about transcendent insight (in Tibetan, “lhag thong”) which will occur at the moment you least expect it, much like the best things in life tend to occur, illuminating Buddhism’s penetrating insight into the nature of human existence: we have a lot less control over ‘our minds’ than we like to think we do.
One cannot simply train one’s self to perform transcendent insight. One has to meditate properly and for enough time that one brings about the best circumstances for transcendent insight to penetrate one’s consciousness.
And that’s how it works. One day you glimpse a blade of grass, hear a note, catch a whiff of baking bread, step on a rock and BAM – it hits you – like a ton of bricks. You have a penetrating vision so strong yet it’s unseeable – you know something unknowable – you understand something incomprehensible, subconsciously, yet also somehow consciously.
Starting Over From the End
In the appendix of The Secret Oral Teachings, David-Neel does not hesitate to state that the mystical and iconic Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo of the 7th century, to whom the great historical doctrine, the Mani Kambum, is attributed, in his sermons offers one a conclusion that is at once startling and awakening:
“…the worthlessness of the doctrines and methods which claim to elevate us above our world of relativity [that which we perceive with our senses] is clearly denounced. Our world is limited, but its limits are not perceptible to us and, on our scale, it is practically unlimited. The more compactly we furnish it with the help of theories, opinions, imaginations, the more all these, acting as bonds, tie us down and keep us prisoners.”
It would seem at first glance that David-Neel is advising us to throw out the baby with the bathwater. After one hundred-plus pages of delineating the doctrines and techniques of the Secret Oral Teachings of the Masters of Tibetan Buddhism, she shows us how Gampo intuitively points out that every theory we use takes us farther away from the source, farther away from what’s beyond, farther from the goal of non-action. Each rule we memorize, each opinion we share actually binds us more to the world of relativity, even as we strive to free ourselves from it.
‘Going beyond’, understood loosely as using transcendent insight to gain intuitive wisdom (no easy process), and ‘non-activity’, understood not so much as being totally inactive, but more so slowing down the mind so that it is less indulgent in whims and desires and more focused on the task at hand, that task often being meditation, are heralded as tools through which we can gain mental freedom, or liberation, and ultimately Buddhist salvation, which according to the Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhism is a state of awakenment where we still perceive the relative world in which we live, but we remain detached, perhaps amused but never moved, and while we do not refuse to participate in this game of senses, we never forget to observe through transcendent insight and penetrating wisdom that we are indeed part of a game and what is beyond that is outside of our capability of conscious understanding as human beings.
Thus, through this transcendent insight and penetrating wisdom of ‘going beyond’, one begins to understand that one should neither feel proud nor humiliated at any thought, act or vision indulged by the self or by others. The most brilliant scientist and the most common laborer have ultimately achieved (or not achieved) the same things in their lives because, at the most basic level, they have each imagined all that they perceive throughout their lifetimes. One can never truly prove one’s self great nor terrible.
The Turning Point
David-Neel’s last two sentences of The Secret Oral Teachings end thus:
“In truth we have nothing to do, it is a question of “undoing”, of clearing the ground of our mind, of making it, as much as possible, clean, void. The Void is, here, for us always a synonym of liberation.”
In a Tibetan Buddhist sense, it is clearly not about doing ‘the right’ or ‘the wrong’ thing, as right and wrong have no definitive ground to stand on. On the contrary, it is about the challenge of not doing, of remaining still as possible in a tumbling world of relative energy that each of us perceives differently and that pulls us in a billion different directions all at once.
The glorification of busy is something that pervades much of modern society. Because I live within this modern society, I feel compelled to do, act, think, I feel required to always be moving, and I feel guilty when I slow down. But what if slowing down is the only way to get to where I need to go? What if everyone and everything that demands busy-ness from me takes me a few steps further from ever knowing my true self, or lack thereof?
I started this article by talking about myself because that is how each of us understands the world in which we live. None of us, though try we might, can conceive of the world in any other way than that which is purely and consciously, uniquely our own view.
I use the word consciously because dedicated as we are to relating to each other and adhering to the innumerable standard norms of society, each one of us knows deep down that we are undeniably different than every other person in the universe. We seek similarities and find plenty of them, but we can never be exactly the same and we can never perceive anything the same exact way with our individual senses.
Thus, we’re all in the same boat and all part of the same source of energy, or void, in a Buddhist sense, but we each have our own set of oars according to our own perceptions, a set of oars that never stops changing, that are at once a uniform part of the void and also completely unique to each of us.
Contemplating your existence may not be the most straightforward process, but the confusion and frustration of questioning your own feelings about yourself and everything you’ve ever thought to be true can bring some incredibly beneficial and eye-opening insights.
Slowing down and allowing the murky water to settle is the key to getting past the growing pains I think.
*Disclaimer: if I have misstated any of the teachings which I have attempted to outline for my readers, the fault is my own as I was not able to express that which was passed on to me.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Wonderlane.