THE STORY OF MY LITTLE MIND

monkeyMy little mind has been running the show for a very long time. Like a spoiled child she believes to be the center of the universe and tries to control it unsuccessfully. She makes me do foolish things and rarely listens to the wise counsel of big Mind.

Unaware of her power she can manifest paradises and hells whimsically and plunge me in the deepest despair or elevate me to heavenly realms.  Sometimes she appears like a wild beast lurking in the darkness ready to catch me unaware. Then I am at her mercy and have vivid dreams of old stories I thought forgiven and forgotten long time ago. At other times she is  sweet and loving but, unpredictably, she can lash out with anger, greed or jealousy at any moment. Like a magician she shape-shifts into scary monsters or mesmerizing gods but as soon as I fall in love with them she breaks the spell.

My little mind is always busy like a hyperactive monkey who never stops chattering. I have kept company with this mind for a long time and know that she does not like to be crossed  or ignored so when I want to calm her I listen patiently without rejection, approval or judgement.  I just wait quietly and then…  in  those intimate moments she allows me to take a peak at the treasure she hides jealously in my heart and that is when we become the best of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE FOUR STAGES OF LIFE

All knowledge is composed of theory and practice.  In the spiritual traditions of India, the ancient Vedic science presents the theory and the systems of Yoga are the practice. Veda itself means knowledge, spiritual knowledge, and Yoga is the practical application of that knowledge. As practitioners of Yoga it is important not to overlook the wisdom of the Vedic science of consciousness. First, it gives us the knowledge to gain the true goal of life which is  self-realization and spiritual liberation. Second, it provides the means to harmonize our lives with that spiritual purpose and this means how to take care of our physical body and our society including medicine, astrology, psychology, the arts, etc…  Vedic society was  an agrarian society in contact with the elements and the cycles of nature and the seers or mystics encompassed in their teachings all forms, levels and stages of life.

At a time when modern science is breaking through more subtle realms of mind and matter all the time we can begin to see the value of a spiritual science, outer and inner, a science of the eternal and the infinite, a sacred science.

According to the Vedas human life was seen as not different from the seasons in nature. What grows in Spring will not grow in the Autumn.  The action which is appropriate in the Summer is out of place in the Winter.  The span of a normal human life was regarded to be eighty-four years, not so far off from our present life expectancy. It consisted of four stages.  The first twenty-one years is the Brahmacharya period, a time for the youth to learn which requires a certain discipline, guidance and purity for its full flowering.

Then comes the next twenty-one years, till forty-two.  The householder phase, a time for raising children, working and fulfilling our role in society.

The third period, till sixty-three, is the hermitage or retirement stage, a time to return to contemplation, guiding of society in the distance and starting to simplify and relinquish ambitions.

The fourth and last stage is the Sannyasa or renunciation period. As an elder the goals of life are inwardly renounced.  Ideally, his experience and spiritual knowledge allows him to be a source of counsel and teaching but he no longer partakes in social or political concerns. More advanced beings may go directly to this stage as swamis or monks, regardless of their age. Less advanced beings may not even qualify for the first stage and they may never develop the innocence, purity and humility of the Brahmachari.

We see that in this vision of life only twenty-one years are dedicated to the outer duties of life and that three quarters are devoted primarily to spiritual pursuits. Unfortunately, our present society is based mainly on adolescent values.  Even the elderly are expected to act and dress like the young pursuing sex, sports and money. Such a society is one-sided and out of balance and denies the older person his natural movement towards detachment, meditation and spiritual development.  As the elderly begin losing interest in the outer goals of life we tell them that they are old or sick and encourage them to remain active and worldly seeking not allowing them to grow in wisdom and become true teachers. We do not respect them and they feel we have abandoned them and as we live longer this problem becomes more acute.

David Frowley, Vedic scholar and yogi,* believes that a society that does not recognize the stages of life cannot flourish for long , “just as a farmer cannot be successful if he only knows the plants that flourish in one season. Nor can any individual be happy if he only follows the needs of a stage of life which is no longer appropriate for him.”

It is true that if we lack the dimension of spiritual growth we can have a distorted perspective on our existence but Vedic values can aid us restore the inner dimension of society and that of our individual existence. It is that power of aspiration which gives true meaning to our human life and allows us to appreciate the different stages of development regardless of our age.

 

* David Frowley, From the River of Heaven

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THE INNER LIGHT

Imagine that within you there is a projector that shines light on a huge screen where images and thoughts are displayed.  Sometimes they are happy images, sometimes horrible but they all come from your inner light. If I am in charge of the projection room I can choose what film to watch without ever forgetting that I am the one who plays or  stops the movie.

If I became an expert projector I would not be blown away by the ever-changing winds of the outer and inner worlds; I would not have to choose from relative concepts like good and bad, pure and impure; I would not have to apply imagined antidotes; I would not have to implore and pray. I would be the boss of the projection and never be fooled by the movie. Yet when I look out the window I see trees, roof tops and sky that seem to exist independently, outside of myself.  When I see something pleasant I go after it like a puppy and when I see something unpleasant I turn my back on it. But then again I remember my inner projector and see the landscape as it is, beyond likes and dislikes. I imagine that the inner light dwells in the deepest recesses of my heart and that it connects with the windows of my eyes that illumine what I see.  What a radical view! What a total change of perspective!  I am not any longer alone in a unpredictable world that needs to be controlled, tamed or embellished.  I am back in the projection room and I am the creator of my own movie.

There is a beautiful image in the Dzogchen teachings* of the body seen as a house. It’s dark at night but someone inside turns on the light and we see light coming out of the windows which illumine the surroundings.  In the same way our inner luminosity colours and shapes everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and think. Again, how is it possible that something as intangible as light can create that which looks so concrete like trees, houses, etc…  This question has always opposed materialists and spiritualists.  To make these views even more difficult to reconcile Dzogchen tells us that the true nature of all phenomena is luminosity-emptiness. The Prajna Paramita says, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form…” Emptiness is also described as the Mother which manifests as light and energy. The emptiness issue has been long debated through the centuries in the East. Is there a soul or not? And what is this emptiness anyway? May be it is just a matter of semantics. “Emptiness” is a word trying to describe the inexpressible, the source without beginning or end, but there are other words like” consciousness” and “soul” that also try to describe, in a futile attempt, the same concept.  And it is a concept as long as “it” is not experienced.   However there is something very scary about the concept of “emptiness”  because it puts us face to face with the abyss. But regardless of the word we use we have to deal with the issue of nothingness eventually.

I like the image of the house, luminous and empty, sending out shafts of light through the windows of the eyes moist with compassion. It is a beautiful image that helps me in meditation. However I keep forgetting again and again that the light comes from the inside and I get caught in enticing visions and enchanting sounds and lose my hold on the ground.  But I do not despair because this forgetfulness, this confusion, is another way the Mother, luminosity-emptiness, manifests. How could it be otherwise? Never, for even an instant, have I stopped being her daughter. So confident of my heritage, aware and at ease, I keep watching the unfolding of the show which leaves no traces on the screen.

 

  • Very ancient teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist and Bön traditions, originators of The Bardo Todhol or Tibetan book of the Dead.
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THE BODHISATTVA OF EQUANIMITY

antique_buddhas

In Buddhism a bodhisattva is a being who vows to work for the enlightenment of all beings before attaining his or her own liberation.  It is the ultimate sacrifice beyond giving up one’s possessions, bodies or ideas. I remember the first time I took this vow I was awe-struck by its profundity. I try to honour this vow by putting into practice the spirit of enlightenment for the benefit of all beings but my efforts at cultivating love, compassion, joy and equanimity are weak and I struggle specially with the aspiration of equanimity,

“May all beings come to rest in the great equanimity beyond attachment and aversion to ‘friends’, ‘enemies’ or ‘strangers'”.

My continuous choosing between likes and dislikes, good and bad, pure and impure keeps me bound and unsatisfied.  How to be even-minded and see the oneness of everything in all occasions? Choosing and picking is deeply ingrained in me. The pleasant keeps me safe and the unpleasant might be a threat so I stay away from it. This mechanism of preservation has served me well many times but under the cover of pride it has also contaminated everything I think, do and say. Perhaps to get rid of that bad taste I have always been interested in meditation and the possibility of being free from the tyranny of duality.

When I meditate I try to become one with my practice but when an unexpected sound, sight, thought or emotion appear I feel I have gone stray, away from the goal. This is when I am in hell trying to get to heaven as if  these where two separate destinations. But where can I stray?  Everything comes from mind, everything is mind. The goal, the thought and the practice are all mind, that which sustains me and the entire universe. So what to do?  Not pushing away, not holding on, not naming, not thinking. Just trusting and resting in deep infinite relaxation. Then thoughts, sounds and forms appear and disappear like visions, apparitions or dreams, sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant but always even, undifferentiated and luminous. At that moment there is no split between heaven and earth and I can choose or not choose but in both cases there are no traces left like the path of a bird in the sky. This land where I stand becomes the pure lotus land and this very body the body of the bodhisattva enjoying freedom in even mindedness.

You may ask if there is no difference between heaven and hell, right path or wrong path, why to be good instead of bad since everything is That. Yes, indeed, everything is That, but it is also true that the cause and effect of positive and negative actions, thoughts and words is absolutely certain. This is a very important question which takes us to the importance of the proper teaching and the proper teacher. The proper teacher is one who is a bodhisattva, of whatever tradition, whose only mission in life is the spiritual welfare of all beings.  He or she embodies compassion and wisdom and understands the laws of karma.

May this explanation serve to choose the right teacher and may your choosing come from your equality wisdom beyond attachment or aversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MY QUEST FOR FREEDOM

When I left my parents’ home in my early twenties my mother called me an ‘adventurer’.  That word in the fascist Spain of the sixties meant many things, all of them unbecoming for a young lady. At that time in Spain freedom was the enemy of the regime and education was in the hands of the Church.  Yet, in spite of that state of affairs my father decided to send me to a French private school where I received a very liberal education.

My first escape from Spain was to work as an “au pair” in London taking care of a lovely family of four children.  The excuse was to perfect my English but the real reason was to enjoy the freedom that London had to offer me. But after one year of glorious independence I received my parents’ ultimatum that it was time to go back home.  I remember I cried the day I left.

Back in Spain I found a job with an airline and so again my thirst for freedom and travel was somewhat quenched. It was inevitable then meeting my husband in a far away country, Canada, which is now my adoptive country.  There I had the good fortune of meeting very special beings, first my Zen teacher Roshi Philip Kapleau and then Swami Vishnudevananda, the founder of the Sivananda organization.  I took my meditation and yoga practices very seriously attending numerous retreats while at the same time taking care of my family and a successful career in an international bank. It was a very hectic time and the traveling I did for the bank kept my illusion of freedom alive.  As I visited many countries I struggled with the ethics of the banking system and the high interests that were being charged. These practices came into full collision with one of the precepts of the Buddha: right livelihood.  I finally resolved my moral dilemma by resigning from my job.  Now I was free to live in accord with the higher values I was learning from my teachers.

Although I went back to work as a part-teacher my lifestyle changed considerably.  There was a lot of reducing, simplifying and slowing down as well as more time to be with my young daughter and pursue my spiritual practice. I was starting to realize that running here and there and making more money was not giving me the freedom I was looking for.

Now in my seventies I even have more time and no pressing business to attend but I am freer than ever to move in any direction.  How wonderful! To finally slow down and yet to fully enjoy what presents itself. In my search for freedom I had forgotten that I had always been free and what looked like a search for freedom was none other than an inner call for liberation, a call to go back home.  Now as I go about my life I know that every move I make is an answer to that call.  So what need is there to go here and there? I am always home playing the game of searching for my true home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ON FOOLING OURSELVES

For the last week Tulku Sheldor of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has been giving powerful teachings at the Yoga Retreat.  Yesterday he asked the question, ‘what is distraction in meditation?’ The first thing that came to my mind is something to avoid, a sign that I am not meditating properly.  And yet, when that thought that I call distracted appears where does it arise from? Where does it go to? Has my innate nature been diminished or modified because of that distracted thought? My attention has changed from an object to another but the source of that attention has remained untouched.

Pointing to the source of our awareness is what teachers in their compassion keep bringing to our attention. Distraction is forgetting that all thoughts, words and actions arise from that source or ground of being. Some of us suffer from deep amnesia and live in a state of confusion, of false identification.  And so when I forget that innate awareness I fool myself and take a false identity.

Every time I lose myself in anger, greed or fear, I fool myself.  Every time I become attached to goodness and happiness, I fool myself.  Every time I discriminate between good and bad, I fool myself.  And every time I close my heart, I fool myself. How to stop this foolishness and constant forgetfulness? It is like taking reality for an ongoing dream or the shadows for the real thing.

Fortunately, there are wise and kind teachers that keep reminding us to remember and acknowledge our birthright and encourage us to take our seat on the throne as wise kings or queens that cannot be fooled by their subjects.

The meditation technique that Tulku Sheldor introduced is an open unfocused eye meditation where ears, heart and the entire being is receptive, relaxed and awake. Not rejecting anything, not hanging on to anything. This technique, once mastered, allows us to remain in that meditative state even in the middle of activity but even more important to open the door to unimagined possibilities. Continue reading

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UNITING HEAVEN AND EARTH

How to be in this world but not of this world?  This question has been pondered through the ages in many spiritual traditions. How to reconcile the absolute with the relative or as the Tao puts it, how to unite heaven and earth. We become immersed in worldly affairs and we lose touch with our divinity or we lead a spiritual life and forget our humanity.

We live immersed in paradoxes. Our mind leans towards the right when our heart yearns towards the left. How to integrate the best of both worlds? This is what yoga is all about. In the Bhagavat Gita Krishna presents to Arjuna different paths to arrive at that union but all of them require awareness,  clarity of purpose and commitment. Then when we stop making noise, inner and outer, we come in contact with our true face or as a Zen koan puts it, ‘our face before our parents were born’. And in that silence wisdom and compassion manifest and the integration of apparent opposites is clear and spontaneous. Daily we are presented with situations that require the union of our ‘little mind’, our thinking relative mind, and ‘big mind’, the spacious empty pool of infinite potentialities, the consciousness of Vedanta.  For example, how to set limits for others while remaining kind and loving, how to enjoy life fully while not getting lost in pleasure, how to become fully involved in our life’s circumstances and yet not to forget our immortality.

There is a story I heard from my Zen teacher about a couple that goes to see a Master about their marital problems.  First the woman complains about how her husband is treating her badly and the Master says: “Yes, yes, you are right”. Then the husband has his turn and complains about his wife, and the Master says: “Yes, yes, you are right”.  The confused couple asks: ” how come you agree with both of us?  We cannot be both right.” And the Master answers: “You are right, you are right”. The Master out of his kindness had to give an answer to both of them without taking sides and he succeeded beautifully.

The practice of integration, of reconciling duality is constant and requires alertness, intelligence, discriminating wisdom and compassion, these last two called the two wings of the Buddha, and as we become more skillful at this balancing act we can soar higher and higher while keeping our feet firmly on the ground.

 

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