This dharma talk explores the intersection of delusion and Buddha Nature, how the awakened heart/mind is always available, even in the most difficult moments.
One recent morning while meditating, I was reflecting on the nature of delusion. 2017 started off as a difficult year for me, and having struggled with a multiplicity of challenges, I felt at times as if I were drowning in delusion. Then, a moment of remembering and I was at peace: the awakened mind is nowhere but here, right in the very midst of seemingly impenetrable delusion.
This is my reflection:
Delusion and Buddha Nature are not separate. Our human nature includes delusion and clarity. When delusion is fully seen and known, this is enlightenment. What allows this alchemy? Letting go of identification with a fixed “self.” A simple shift in perspective and the seeming duality of delusion and enlightenment dissolve.
When we think we have a self that we need to endlessly polish, hone and improve, we get caught in the illusion that awakening is elsewhere. Yes, we need our practice to help us remove what clouds the clarity of mind. As Suzuki Roshi said, “Enlightenment is an accident. Practice makes us accident prone.” Yet in the very midst of delusion, if we see it fully, we are free.
How does this happen? As the mind and heart become still, desire and grasping fall away and there is only this moment and no one needing to do anything, change anything or even see anything. Here there is no self to fix , no self to enlighten. Here is the place of peace. I’m reminded of a quote from Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy.”
Shortly after I wrote this reflection, I vaguely remembered this teaching from my very early years of practice in the Zen tradition. At that time, my understanding of this teaching was beneficial to me, but it only occasionally extended beyond my meditation practice into daily life. A google search brought me to Dogen’s Genjo Koan. Here’s a short piece:
“Delusion and enlightenment are originally inseparable. What is called delusion is as it is and what is called enlightenment is as it is. Delusion should not be detested and enlightenment should not be devoured. They are as they are and they do not get in the way at all. They are inseparable. This is what is reverberating beyond words and you should not overlook this.
If Buddhas recognize themselves as enlightened there is polarization of self and other. This is not enlightenment. You realize enlightenment through delusion and you are deluded through enlightenment. At the place of seeing, knowing perishes and the mind is stilled.”
by Frankie Fachilla
After completing my seventh One Dharma retreat in December, I have reflected quite a lot on the importance of retreats in my life. The retreats have varied in length from three days (4 of them), to five days (two of them), and one seven day. Every retreat is a gift to my own ability to cultivate peace of mind as I navigate the waves of my life. They are a training ground for this delicate and, often, nebulous task of being present with my own heart. Retreats allow me the time, space, and safety to make this journey to the core of things and stay there outside of the usual patterns of avoidance and distraction that sweep me along in my normal life routines. The more retreats I do, the more I think of them as essential for my mental well being and ability to live a fulfilling life.
Still, retreating from life is challenging as I disengage from my family, my work, my email, my phone. The process of letting go of all of this, even for a few days, feels to me like prying a young child’s grasping arms from her parents’ neck as she tearfully screams in protest at being dropped off for the first day of kindergarten. Once she’s in her classroom, though, she quickly begins making friends and learning about the beauties of this other existence… A world away from her usual comforts and routines but safe and secure under the watchful gaze of her teacher, with her basic needs provided for and more. So it is at retreat: I learn to sit and watch the anxiety come and go as I wonder what emails I might be getting that need attention. I watch the loneliness dance with me as I miss hearing my husband’s voice or hugging my cats. Then, I get to see what’s on the other side of those feelings, instead of merely feeling bound by a constant struggle to avoid emotions that are inevitable. Returning to life, I have a new confidence that I can touch what’s underneath the waves of pain and fear and “come home” wherever I am.
I already feel so fortunate to have a trusted dharma teacher live close by and offer retreats at an accessible location, and I feel even more fortunate that these retreats are sometimes offered for an extended amount of time. I find that, after the first day of a retreat, things get very interesting as my patterns take a backseat to noticing what is present within me. The more time I have at a retreat, the more I get to discover. Since the biggest challenge of retreat is always the initial disconnection itself (figuring out who will take my stepson to school, deferring tasks at work until I return, the anxiety of having no contact with my husband, etc), it seems like the opportunity to stay longer at a retreat offers much more gain for very little additional sacrifice. Once we’re there, why not stay for longer to get even more benefit and even more practice doing what is so hard to do in the thick of our lives? Why not give ourselves the gift of an additional day or two to connect more strongly with our heart-center, our core, the true nature of things? It reminds me of the choice to exercise or go to the gym: the hardest part is always getting started, but once those endorphins start flowing, we often don’t want to stop. I hope that others will choose to give themselves this additional practice time at our upcoming Spring retreat!
Frankie Fachilla has been practicing with One Dharma for 10 + years. She is a licensed professional counselor in the mental health field.
“What the hell is isolated samadhi?” you may ask. Currently we’re in a mindfulness meditation boom and samadhi is not emphasized as often in this practice. With mindfulness practice, we’re focusing on objects, such as breath, body, emotions and thoughts. We watch them arise and pass away, doing our best to see their impermanence moment to moment. This is a wonderful practice and helps us become more familiar with our minds, our habitual patterns and how we function in the relative world.
Samadhi is a state of meditative absorption where we access deep insights into the mind and heart and the nature of interconnection. In samadhi, our minds are calm, our meditation is effortless and often includes feelings of bliss, joy and equanimity. It has great appeal but I find many practitioners of mindfulness don’t reach this state often. Their concentration isn’t developed enough or the focus remains subject/object oriented. In samadhi, the subject/object separation disappears. That is, “self and other” cease to exist as a fixed experience. A strong mindfulness practice can lead to samadhi. But it takes commitment and adequate time devoted to meditation.
I began my practice in the Zen tradition, where samadhi was emphasized. Through rigorous practice, I quickly reached deep states of meditative absorption. I found it invaluable in helping me with intractable depression and grief; I was able to see thoughts and emotions as empty of any abiding reality. I found the courage to experience the grief and depression directly, which allowed them to finally pass through to their end.
But I also became aware that many accomplished teachers seemed lost outside of the meditation hall. They spoke eloquently of emptiness and seemed to have deep dharma insights. But their “everyday” behavior was puzzling and in some cases, inexcusable. Whatever clarity they gained through samadhi was lost as soon as they entered the everyday world. It was as if a barrier had been erected between the two, and no amount of practice penetrated the clouded mind of craving and addiction. I was on the receiving end of this craving with two Zen teachers and it shattered my trust in the path. I didn’t understand how such seemingly awakened men could be so blind in other parts of their lives.
I started to realize they had not developed their capacity to be mindful in daily life in a way that would bridge their insights and samadhi from the cushion. I knew I didn’t want to follow that route, so I took up Vipassana mindfulness as a counterbalance to samadhi practice. I had to let go of my pride of accomplishment on the path and approach this practice as a beginner. With its emphasis on ethics and compassion, and de-emphasis’ on holding teachers up as gurus, Vipassana helped me find a way back to the practice and to the dharma. This doesn’t mean I think one practice is better than the other. Both have merit and both need to be approached in a balanced way.
Many newcomers do best when they begin with mindfulness. But at some point they may need more. Mindfulness and meditative absorption are both important practices. I would not abandon one for the other, nor emphasize one over the other for the mature and committed practitioner. They are not mutually exclusive. Just enter the way with a good dose of compassion and find the path to your heart. All practices are like a finger pointing to the moon, as one saying goes. We don’t want to mistake the finger for the moon, and become attached to any one practice. Knowing when to let go is as important as skillfully developing these practices. When I let go of samadhi, I didn’t lose it, but gained another doorway into compassion and insight, especially in my everyday life.
This is a one minute contemplation on the breath and how our ideas of inside and outside are illusory:
by Lisa Ernst
Its like you’re throwing away your canoe and oars and are riding the waves of emptiness. Its scary at first, you’ve no control. You feel vulnerable and completely without knowledge of where you are going, or even where you are. So you have to surrender completely to the waves when they come. It may take a while. It may take weeks or months or years. You may ask, “what if I drown?” Then I ask you, “who and what drowns? What do you lose? And what might you gain?”
You may decide to climb back into your canoe if you can. But if you’re truly on this path, the water will draw you in again and again until finally you drown and then you’re riding the waves and those waves are you, and you are the waves, there’s really no difference any more, and you arrive exactly where you need to be, where you always have been, but just didn’t know it until now. You are home.
by Lisa Ernst
You’ve probably heard that before, right? It sounds pretty simple and maybe sometimes it is, but at other times, nearly impossible. Why? Because for many of us, certain thoughts appear as unassailable “truths,” specific stories about our lives, about ourselves and others. As long as these thoughts operate below our awareness as stealth narratives, they can’t be seen for what they are, impermanent conditions that arise and pass away. We remain bound by these thoughts and they may lead to significant suffering and even depression.
When we identify with a thought or emotion as “I” or “mine,” our boundaries of inside and outside remain intact. There’s me, and then there is the outside world. This is only a perception, but its so strong as to feel solid and real. Buddha taught that this idea of a separate, inherent self is the root of suffering.
As a practice, try asking yourself, “is this thought me; is this thought mine?” You can do the same with emotions. This exercise is not intended to suppress or push away thoughts or emotions, but to allow you to begin seeing them without personal identification. This opens space to perceive the thoughts and experience the emotions as they are. This practice, reflective inquiry, isn’t a form of analysis. You’re letting the question remain open ended, to allow experience itself provide the answer. As you do this, you are opening yourself to the realm of dharma, where customary ideas and everyday perceptions don’t apply. The good news is, you don’t need them as you experience your thoughts and emotions appearing and falling away. Here you can access the heart’s true wisdom.
“When Ajahn Chah said it was possible to learn as much from stupid thoughts as wise ones, that was such a radically different approach. A wise thought arises and ceases. A stupid thought arises and ceases. A painful thought arises and ceases. A painful feeling arises and ceases. A pleasant feeling arises and ceases. I realized I didn’t have to feel ashamed when there was confusion in the mind. Just let it be and know it for what it is. They are all just states of mind, coming and going. Rather than anxiously holding on or to try to make sense of everything all the time, I got a feeling for letting go and letting be.”- Kittissaro, Listening to The Heart.
Stilling Mind and Heart with Mindfulness and Lovingkindness
Saturday, June 13, 2015
9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Nashville Friends House
Led by Lisa Ernst
During the busyness and activity that often accompany our daily lives, this meditation retreat will offer a quiet time to slow down, mindfully connect with our bodies and extend kindness and compassion to ourselves and others. Slowly, in the simplicity and silence of the day, we will learn to let go of distractions and touch our experience with a kind and open heart.
Led by meditation teacher Lisa Ernst, this silent retreat is suitable for newer and more experienced meditators. It will include periods of sitting and walking meditation, practice instructions and dharma talk.
Retreat fee is $50. A reduced fee spot is available, please inquire to the email below. Paypal is here. If paying by check, you can find instructions on where to send it at this link. Be sure to include your email address. There will be a separate opportunity at the retreat to make a dana offering (donation) to the teacher.
For questions, contact email@example.com.