Delusion and Buddha Nature Are Not Separate

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.

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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.”

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2015 Spring Renewal Meditation Retreat Recap

One Dharma just completed our fourth Spring Renewal Residential Retreat at Bethany Hills. Each April I especially enjoy our time in this beautiful and natural setting where our hearts can open in tandem with the flowers and leaves after spring rains.

Ferns by the Pond at Bethany Hills

Ferns by the Pond at Bethany Hills

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Altar Flowers by Frankie Fachilla

I appreciate all of nature’s seasons but spring is my favorite. In my twenties, during some of the darkest, loneliest years of my life, immersing myself in spring each year gave me a sense of possibility that my life could be more than the sadness and grief I lived with daily. As I witnessed newly leafed trees growing greener each day, purple wild iris opening along the water’s edge, and birds breaking into a melodious but raucous symphony every morning as the sun rose, I allowed my heart to open completely, to release my armor and touch the warmth and vulnerability of new life. This tenderness of heart nourished and fortified me through this otherwise long and lonely season of my life. Slowly, as the years passed and I reached my 30’s, the possibility of renewal that had once seemed so removed from the rest of my life blossomed at last. This awakening enabled me to live my life more fully, to move through my grief and find friends and love again. Thank you spring for sustaining and warming my heart when I had no other way to touch this moment with love and gratitude.

Double Web

Double Web

These two lovely poems, speak to the retreat experience of opening heart and mind in this moment. Both were written by attendees at our spring retreat.

Water Meditation

Water extinguishes fire
Takes away the angry,
burning desire to eat
everything in its path.
Be water,
drown in this moment.
Watch the world and its stories
pass like waves.
They aren’t yours to grab.
Try to grab them and
they disappear like
scattered stars,
reforming later, still
constellations of emptiness.

Instead, let the waves
crash over you,
their powerful fingers
tear at you then recede
into foamy nothing.
Crash and recede, crash and recede.
Nothing to do
but feel the sun.

– Andrea Hewitt

Cattails by Pond

Cattails by Pond

The retreat ended, rain stopped.
The geese have landed at the lake,
Sun shining thru clouds, I see clearly.

– Jeff Miller

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Clear Skies Reflected in Pond

Residential Retreat: Awakening a Spacious Heart through Lovingkindness Meditation

I’m excited to be leading this residential retreat at the beautiful Flowering Lotus Retreat Center in Magnolia Mississippi, May 15 – 17. I hope you’ll join me!

With an emphasis on lovingkindness, this silent retreat will focus on cultivating what the Buddha called “the immeasurable states of heart and mind” – the Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes. These are the qualities of love, compassion, joy and equanimity that reside in us all.

Our innate lovingkindness will be strengthened and enhanced through learning the formal practice of metta, along with brahma vihara instructions, sitting and walking meditation and dharma talks. As our hearts awaken through lovingkindness, we will discover a deeper sense of self-acceptance, self-confidence, openness and interconnection with all of life.

For more information and to register go here.

It Changes Not

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Something there is, prior to heaven and earth,

Without form, without sound, all alone by itself.

It has the power to control all the changing things;

Yet it changes not in the course of the four seasons.

– Fu Ta-shih

True Nature, No Nature or Buddha Nature?

“The luminosity of the mind, the nature of clarity of the mind, is something that I cannot simply explain in words to you. But if you undertake this kind of experiment on your own, you will begin to understand.” – Dalai Lama

After practicing meditation for 25 years I rely less and less on words to describe the awakened state, such as “Buddha Nature” or “True Nature.” In reflecting on this, I find I’m not satisfied with any word that conjures up an idea of this unconditioned, unnameable experience. There is often some taint of fabrication that tends to accompany these names. That’s inevitable as its how language works: words and ideas mingle and no matter our best intentions, create an inevitable separation from our actual experience.

So what happens when you experience deep peace and interconnectedness, when you encounter incomparable clarity and luminosity? Usually the mind will quickly weigh in with names and labels or try to create a context for the experience. That’s what the mind does; it usually happens so fast we don’t even see it until the clarity and luminosity are obscured. This is actually a matter of capacity – when we first encounter this luminosity, it is so far from any previous experience we’ve had that our mind quickly veers into fabrication. Only after practicing for some time can we simply dwell in this unobstructed peace without trying to label or contextualize. Our capacity to abide without words or labels grows.

“If you’re primed to look for innate natures, you’ll tend to see innate natures, especially when you reach the luminous, non-dual stages of concentration called themeless, emptiness, and undirected. You’ll get stuck on whichever stage matches your assumptions about what your awakened nature is. But if you’re primed to look for the process of fabrication, you’ll see these stages as forms of fabrication, and this will enable you to deconstruct them, to pacify them, until you encounter the peace that’s not fabricated at all.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The key is to be alert to the mind’s tendency to construct and conceptualize. This is another, more subtle stage of mindfulness, to see when we obscure our experience with ideas about Buddha nature or emptiness. As your practice deepens, you’ll begin to see how readily the mind creates names and fabrications, even for that which can’t be named or classified. The awareness will help you to release any clinging to words or explanations and abide in this mind, clear and luminous beyond words.

 

 

This Place of True Love

My offering so small, incomplete

and stained with tears

Is embraced by this moment

by the songbird

A wide open place

for a heart

imperfect and broken

But welcome and given

 room to be just what it is

This, the place of

peace, of true love.

– Lisa Ernst

Blackbird in Lotus - photography by Lisa Ernst

Blackbird in Lotus – photography by Lisa Ernst

Penetrate Everything

What happens when you resist? Have you spent some time in your practice cultivating true intimacy with your mind and body in a state of resistance? You probably know where you hold your tension, where your body contracts and how your mind seeks diversion. But the true payoff comes when you take an even closer look. Can you become truly intimate with the tension in your body? Get to know it like a mate or a best friend? Open your heart and mind wide enough that it penetrates every cell, every infinitesimal particle of time and matter. When you can do this, you will taste complete freedom. This is where transformation occurs; in a moment of full surrender, when your resistance dies, you die.  But your great nature, your true self that embraces all and leaves nothing out, remains. What is this true nature? You can only find out for yourself. Just let your Bodhicitta, your inherent desire to wake up, guide the way.

– Lisa Ernst