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.



Partners in Crime

Yesterday afternoon I got word that a friend and long time Buddhist practitioner Rita Frizzell died of cancer. Rita and I were dharma friends, having first met as board members of the Nashville Buddhist Festival back in the early 2000’s. Rita was always ready to offer her time and talent, giving so much to establishing Buddhism in Nashville. She even designed One Dharma Nashville’s beautiful logo as a dharma gift. After many years affiliated with the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, Rita broke away to begin her own sangha, Luminous Mind. She created a dedicated community of practitioners who met every Friday at her home. I know Rita’s sangha will deeply miss her guidance and love of the dharma.

 A couple of years ago, shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer, Rita and I met for lunch and shared notes about our sanghas, upcoming retreats and Buddhism in Nashville. As we parted, I’ll never forget the sly grin that came over her face as she said in a conspiratorial tone, “You and me, we’re partners in crime.” Thinking of that moment today brought tears to my eyes.

In Rita’s honor I decided to meditate at dusk. As I began my meditation, I reflected on her life and journey through cancer over the last 18 months. Just three weeks ago she was optimistic after getting some good news about her one of her tests, which gave hope that the cancer was diminishing. But it wasn’t to be; she had a sudden decline just two days before she died. Gone so fast, I thought as a tear trickled down my cheek. Where did she go? But the question dissolved into the sound of frogs singing and rain falling softly on the trees. Love, just like this.

Rita with her beloved rescue dog Stella

Rita with her beloved rescue dog Stella