On Sunday 12 March 2018, I had an interactive hour on screen with participants worldwide.
Organised by Realize Media (www.realizemedia.org), this course consists of a deep exploration of the Goal of Dharma/spiritual practice.
Participants can put a question to me in the hour-long exchange. You will see below a transcription of the questions and my responses. Occasionally, there is a little modification to make the responses clear for readers.
Each of the four modules engage in the integration of and consummation of the teachings into daily life.
- Freedom from Clinging
- Freedom and Truth
- Freedom and Love
- Freedom and Emptiness of I and My
A core purpose of the course is for each participant to have a ‘lightbulb moment.’
The Goal of all spiritual practice might be much closer than you think.
Link to video of Session 4
Good evening everybody
This is the fourth session of this interactive process that we are engaged in.
A very big thank you to Amy, Giles and Martin of Realise Media. Amy and I were speaking a few moments ago before the session started. We expressed our appreciation for this kind of technology, which makes this event possible. It was barely conceivable a decade or two ago.
We are now we in the fourth session. Here is a quick reference to what we engaged in in the previous three meetings. In the first meetings, we explored freedom of life through the dissolution of attachments and clinging – meaning the end of the inflammation of the situations around the self, views, opinions, forms, methods, techniques and the field of pleasure. Those are the primary areas of clinging, which the Buddha pointed out.
We also then addressed our relationship to truth. We explore the need for precision of truth in language. What do we see? What do we perceive? What is the way we think and write about truth? We try to be as truthful and precise as we can be. Truth and freedom are intimately close together. The understanding of Truth might appear to be inexpressible because of the depth and vastness of truth. Yet as human beings, we have the remarkable capacity to reflect, to speak of truth, to use language around truth.
We stay truthful to the potency and the power of language.
Thirdly, we addressed matters of heart. We know the great significance of love in life. Love is expansive. Love has an intimacy with the expensiveness that is vast, such as looking up at the night sky. That expensiveness of the heart frees us up from problematic life. This evening for this hour-long period we will explore the emptiness of I and my.
To explore emptiness, I would like us at the beginning to take four or five minutes together, as we did previously in the other meetings. We will have a short meditation and reflection. The first principle of mindfulness and reflection are two of the links in the body of the Dharma for awakening. Mindfulness is includes being mindful of the present, of stillness of silence. These are expressions of mindfulness. With the application of mindfulness, we give some reflection to moments in the world of I and my when I and my does not oppress us. The formations do not have an impact, not tight, not controlled. We are not boxed in.
We are not narrow, flaky or living in a daydream. We give mindfulness to the living present, to the silence and the stillness. As the mindfulness develops it becomes a meditation. In the quietness of the being, we engage in a reflection to any time during the day when we have not been obsessing, projecting or preoccupied with I and my, not thinking about me and my life or what am I doing with my life or facing problematic mind states.
There is the recognising and knowing moments in which our being is not preoccupied with the world of I and my. These formations ay be very light or absent. There is a sense of just being. I am my is not wrapping itself around the being. Let us have another minute in the meditation and the reflection with the absence of preoccupation with I and my. Thank you.
We have some questions. Amy mentioned we can have an exchange as well. Let me look at the corner of the screen. The question.
There is the understanding of Truth And the way we speak and write about things. We are as truthful and precise as we can be. Truth and freedom are intimately close together. Then there is the understanding of Truth which might appear to be the inexpressible. This is due to the depth and vastness of Truth. Yet, we have this remarkable capacity to reflect, to speak the truth. We can use language as a real interest in truth. We must stay truthful to the potency and power of language. Thirdly we explore the matters of the heart. Love has great significance n life. It’s expansive. One example is looking up at the night sky. The expansiveness is a clear reminder to us of beyond I and my. The expensiveness of the heart frees us up from problematic life.
The question is the burning house again. It is not about whether it is my house or the house of the neighbour. It is not about realising that I am at first relieved that the burning house is not mine. I feel I really care about the situation as if it were concretely concerning myself. I do want to stress the point that is it maintaining a calm attitude under all circumstances? Meaning to call it ‘tragic ‘is already adding something to it. Is that possible?
I will take a little time to speak on emptiness, then address this important duality referred to in the question. Let us look at the past for a moment or two. In the Buddhist tradition, there are a lot of reference to emptiness. To put this into perspective: In the 10000 discourses of the Buddha, there are only around 10 or 20 references to emptiness (sunyatta in Sanskrit). Emptiness is not an absolutely keyword. It gained a significant momentum through the wonderful and precise teachings of Nagarjuna (the Buddhist monk-sage) in the second century. That is 600 years after the death of the Buddha. Nagarjuna’s showed that no position and no viewpoint is worth clinging to.
This includes all the constructions and formations of I and my. Nagarjuna pointed specifically to freedom, to liberation and wisdom through seeing the emptiness of all egotism. That means all the constructions which make life problematic. That is the key. From the teachings of Nagarjuna, the emphasis and priority has continued year after year, century after century. It is not easy to explore and understand emptiness. It is certainly not an essential for you to understand emptiness and what emptiness means.
The Buddha has used more than 100 words with regard to ultimate teachings. I searched through all the discourses to find the references to the ultimate such as deathless, birthless, truth, reality, unborn, unmade, unconditioned, unformed immeasurable, infinite, limitless and many more. The word God is used as well. In these teachings, one helpful and insightful aspect of this is understanding the emptiness of I and my. This understanding can come to us easily and naturally. We have recognised the mind has got caught up in some incredible story. A lot of fantasy and projection, hopes and fears, were enmeshed the story. Then some realisation and insights have come. We said to ourselves ” “What was all that about?” ”
That means we have seen the emptiness of it, the pointlessness of it and the excess of mentality, emotionality or both. We have just seen though the story. This is what it means when we see the emptiness of a situation. It has nothing to do with a despairing or negative view of existence. We have made a big fuss about something. We have seen through it. We have seen the emptiness of it. It frees us up. That is the understanding with emptiness. It is important to make it clear.
In coming to the question, there is a fire in the house. My daughter and her mother in the early 1990s experience in their rented home. A fire started in the High Street in Totnes in another building. Their 14-century building caught alight. My daughter and her mother lived in a small flat a few minutes’ walk from my home. Fortunately, they got out, but they lost everything. This may have happened to somebody you know. We hear about it. We read about it. There is a feeling of tragedy. It is important to recognise a tragedy. It is a terrible loss. It can be extremely painful. The mother lost her telephone numbers, diaries and poems which I had written to her and much more, during the years of our relationship.
There is a loss involved. In such situations, there is a tragic element in all of that. It is our heartfulness and clarity which makes us feel the loss. Our empathy and concern can express itself for others as well in such a plight. It is this recognition of tragedy and differences in the feeling level of oneself or another. We bring our mindfulness and awareness to the situation. I remember Gwanwyn saying to me that she said that she had an extraordinary feeling of losing everything, she said there was a certain freeing up in a strange sort of way. This freedom can take place as well. This is an extraordinary phenomenon. This can take place.
There are all these struggles with the senses. Why are we made that way? Is the concept of karma the answer? It is difficult to find any other reason. How can one be sure of karma? Should one wait for a personal experience, question or trust in the ones who say they know? I find it hard to have the belief system. I have no experience of my own in this big matter. Then again, it does not feel so important to know. Then I wonder again and again. I feel it is OK to not know.
Good question. Two responses here. One response is in the general level. The second is in the specific. I do feel there is a certain difficulty amongst many teachers and their teachings around the use of the word ‘karma.’ Some of you may have hardly heard the word used in talks or in the written.
I take the view it is one of the many keywords. It has to be used carefully and precisely and know it’s context. There is the danger of vulgar generalisations. Something happens to a group of people. …”this is their karma.” This is crude. This is obscene. When we speak of karma, we mean action. Action is the English word for karma. Karma means action with unsatisfactory influences in the movement of the inner life, which lands in the present and affects us. Karma is in greed, negativity, blame. fear, anxiety, worry and stress. That action, that movement, which you and I know in our experience, is karma. Something is unresolved . When that action lands in the present moment, you can feel it, think it and know it. This is called the fruit of karma.
This means that the old engages in a movement which lands in the present. There is the so-called making of good karma. Good karma is doing something to get a certain result out of it. The action of good karma can lead to dependency on things going well or fine. People can be engaged in the making of good karma for themselves or for others, but they get stressed, burnt out, exhausted while engaged in the action of doing good. Wisdom is to see the emptiness of identification, holding and clinging to karma and its consequences. T
To put it in another way: liberation is the cessation of karma. This means the unhealthy, and unskilful and unwise movement of the past of the conditioning finish. There are times from your experience you know you have had a habit, pattern or addiction. The inner wisdom or through association with the wise, has put an end to that karma.
There is wisdom to say, ‘no more.’ This action must stop. This wisdom puts an end to the karma. We are deeply interested in the influence of the past on the present. This interest is in the movement of karma (in the language of the Buddha). I hope this is clear. Please do not ever, under any circumstances, engage in in any generalization about karma and groups of people. This is prejudice. This is not love.
We do not need the authority, such as religious teachers, Dharma teachers, spiritual teachers to know and understand karma. We can refer to our own experiences. There are patterns, which have come to an end for us. These patterns no longer trouble us. In that respect about we have seen the end of that karma.
Liberation teachings have the potential to set us free. We can put hand on heart and know that we are not burdened with karma. This is the best.
When I practice with the sense of I me and my, I often find that they are often based on an unpleasant and underlying mind-state. Irritation and fear arises. The self settles on those states and produces a story. How would you suggest to work with these states? I experience difficulties in finding a cause and condition for their arising.
It is genuinely part of the challenge here. The connection with our feelings are important. For some, awareness and clarity say, “I notice often the unpleasant feeling gives rise to problematic mind states.” There are problematic mind states. If you want to see the emptiness of such state of mind, you do not see them as having any truth in them. You do not see them as a statement of what reality is. You see them as a distraction. You see them as a disturbance or an outburst in some way or other. You do not give an authority to them. You do not see the mind state as a true interpretation of you or events.
That clarity will show you the emptiness of the mind state all the way through. As the questioner writes: “You really need to connect with the feelings.” It is important to remember the vulnerability applies to the pleasant feeling as well. Pleasant feelings can easily lead to habits, problems, addictions, disappointment, hurt or whatever.
We are not trying to exhaust our feelings, nor are we trying to exhaust the neutral feelings between a pleasant and unpleasant. This ‘neutral’ feeling can lead to boredom, dullness, apathy and even depression. Know the feelings well. Stay quietly in touch with the feeling process. Recognise what comes out of our being or conditioning. Let us not be employed into feeding into problematic minor states. Freedom encompasses the feeling world. It does not deny it.
Is there a seeing that the ego is conditioned by education and society and made up opinions, which feeds patterns? I might not have to follow. Who is the one who decides not to follow? Who is mindful of thoughts and feelings? Is it a healthy part of the human being? Is it awareness, itself, in which everything comes and goes?
We look at ourselves. We look at other human beings. Perhaps, you and I work regularly with others and with ourselves. We might pick up and be clear about the institutional influences upon us. They might be called parents, education, politics or society and much more. There is the environmental world as well. There is an unfortunate tendency for the meditators in the Buddhist tradition not to address directly institutional impacts, such as education and society. We need to challenge institutions. There are problems with society. We can provide a Dharma perspective. We can apply the four noble truths, We can offer alternatives. We can offer enlightenment and liberation
We can explore words like enlightenment, liberation, happiness and love of the human being. We can explore these areas. We need to use our knowledge and skills to address institutional life. Education , religion, science philosophy, politics, health, social issues, environmental issue belong to an exploration. I wish to give some encouragement to all of us to see if there are ways we can find our voice and express it . This is important.
Some might conclude there is a pure Self or a true Self, which looks upon the false, deceptive self. This is problematic. Who on Earth is deciding that this is my true Self? Who is deciding that this is the Self which is constant? Rather than elevating into the true Self or the only Self or the real Self , then the problem arises of who is actually making the claim. It is easier to look at I and my, without claiming any perfect I and my. We see it’s manifestation.
Sometimes, I and my is light, inconsequential, a matter of speech. We can be extraordinarily vigilant is because we know I and my can become problematic because we see it feel it and think it. In response, we might use awareness, clarity, wisdom or freedom to give attention to.
We can give attention, so to speak, to the world of I and my. That is the way to go.
Question: We are very impressionable. We are impressionable creatures. This is either about the past the present or the future. This puts us out of touch with the ongoing, unfolding process. We are so impressionable. Emptiness is to end being so impressionable. This means we see the emptiness of iron my . this is a really important aspect of emptiness. When we see the emptiness of the situation, there is a certain freeing up going on with the being.
What is written is from one of my talks (laughing). Ah, sweet. Who am I to disagree? Can I make a shift over for the moment to the preciousness of being impressionable? While sitting in a coffee shop today, I engaged in some reflection. I took some notes from a number of books. These books have a kind of magic about them – spiritual, a fable, story, imaginative fiction. The kind of books I have in mind include The Prophet, The Snowman and The Little Prince and more. There are times when there is something precious about allowing ourselves to be impressionable.
I read Winnie the Pooh or Alice in Wonderland , who follows a rabbit down into a hole and finds herself in a wonderland world. She keeps meeting archetypal figures who keep appearing. They say profound and beautiful things. We, the wisdom element, can be impressionable. Something can touch us. There is a heartfulness and joyfulness which brings out some insights. The fiction brings out a truth, which reaches us. That is the value of imagination. We are imaginative creatures. We can appreciate the imagination of others. We appreciate the imagination not for itself but for the insight and understanding which can come imagination.
There are times when we are impressionable because we are oppressed. Past, present and future can seem to oppress us. Somebody comes in with a hard. oppressive conversation to harass us. We are vulnerable to this. Can we be clear about the event? Can we see if there are any residue of impression? Can we recognise it as an impression, so we do not carry it around afterwards? Then we do not carry a definition of this person or a definition of oneself?
We can know liberation from being impressionable in a problematic way. We can know liberation and a freedom to recognise the power of the imagination and its precious contribution to wisdom and understanding. A non-clinging to impressions shows the emptiness of I and my, so we do not wrap around either kind of impression.
A person would like to come on screen. This person is extremely welcome. Here is the invitation. Do come.
Thank you, Christopher I have a lot of pain in my body due to the state I have in all my bones. I have difficulties to move. This constantly throws me back to I and my. I feel I can’t do this anymore. My body is hurting. Conceptually and theoretically, I know that not clinging to my past identification, as I used to be as a father or as a man or whatever. I used to feel things with my left hand but now it’s done. I’m trying to let it go but I find it very difficult.
I appreciate your concern and feelings here. You have to bear in mind every day, this is practice. What does practice mean here? It means you are willing and have a quiet commitment, as often as you can, to remember this body with all its issues and all its pain and all the impact, is not me, not myself, not who I am. This has got to be your mantra. This is not me this is not myself this is not who I am. This is a body of elements, a body of dynamics, an evolution, a process, becoming, cells, DNA and formations. Remember this is not me, not myself, not who I am.
That clarity has to go as deep as possible. You may have to say it out loud to yourself regularly enough. You will have to be extremely clear in the times when the I and my is not preoccupied around the body. Know your world when it is bigger than the body. Be present for your kids, the support from your partner, your friends, the sky above and the earth below, the flowers, the trees, the books, films and more. During those times you are not focused around the body. In those times, the I and my has not landed on the body. Those times are really important.
There are plenty of times, and I have no doubt that means every day, you will have constant reminders of the condition of the body. This will bring tears to your eyes. It would be unlikely that it would not. Nevertheless, this formation of this body is born out of the elements, out of the nature. It belongs to nature and it stayed with the nature and it goes back into the nature. You have an immense undertaking to make it so clear that the I and the my is tired of landing on it. You will not be able to convince yourself with the thought that “I should be able to let it go.” This thought will not help.
Letting go is part of the spiritual language which circulates around. What is more important is the deep reminder that this is not me, this is not myself, this is not who I am. This is nature. This is an expression of the elements. Even when it is very quiet, the times when due to medication or a quiet period, and it is not so painful, you will still need the soft and steady reminder this is not me this is not myself not who I am. At the moment of enjoyment, whatever that might be, recognise that which is around you. Keep those moments and really recognise them. They are also part of your freedom. Is there anything more?
No. Thank you. It helps me a lot.
Don’t hesitate to drop me an email . Thank You. Lots of love to you. Thank you
I do not see any questions. I will speak to you little bit more on the theme. It is interesting to explore I and my. It is not a problem of itself. I and my is also a useful shorthand description. “I am sitting here. This is my watch. These are my glasses.” This is the framework of language . “I am here. You are there.” This is the descriptive world. It is fine to know a descriptive world . I call it the costumed truth. It is the world as it presents itself. We engage in this world. We are Dharma wallahs. We are not assuming this conventional world to be the ultimate reality. We are looking deeper.
Instead of believing “I am the body,” we are looking deeper. What is this body? It is elements. It is nature. It is an expression which has emerged. It is dependent arising. It is conditioned. We have the capacity to see in that way. This reduces the potency of I and my which reduces the suffering. This reduces the unhappiness. This gives us a sense of being intimate with events. It is not easy . There are situations which are a challenge to see the emptiness of I and my. We know when we see emptiness of a situation which was troublesome and difficult. We have passed through. In that passing through, the problematic aspects of it has gone.
I had a one-to-one with a person here in Totnes. He is very much attracted, and feels connected to, and in love, with another. There is a strong sense in his thoughts, feelings and heart of the self and the other. When the self starts to become more identified with the situation, the importance of the other also gets more important. “I and her.” . or her relationship to me.” When we cannot see through that build-up of desire, we cannot see the emptiness of it.
The view with desire begins to build more when that happens. The peace of mind then depends upon the other. He is giving authority to the other over his life. Be mindful of any kind of pressure or demand we put on the other. That is ego. I want something from you. The wanting of something from another will bring a reaction. To see the emptiness of I and my gives a person their space. There is freedom from demand. We feel more at peace and the other person feels more at peace as well. This is the freedom of I and my or I and you. Love, kindness, respect and friendship manifests. With that, there is no ego. It is an authentic, and undemanding response. We stay true to this.
Thank you for the kind messages. We are up to date with the questions.
Emptiness reveals no concern with I and my. Emptiness makes everything possible. If something has its own existence, including you and me, nothing could impact us or change us. We would be absolutely fixed because we have a self-existence. The watch or the glasses would have a self-existence, so nothing could change this watch or glasses. Emptiness of self existent glasses only shows a formation which has come together. A watch forms together from conditions. Emptiness makes anything possible because it does not possess I or my. Our love of emptiness arises because it makes everything possible. The good, the bad and the ugly are also included. The health and sickness and the big and the small are empty of self because the dynamics of everything affect everything else.
What we have to do is to look in the mirror from time to time. We look at the formations of the changing body. We can see and appreciate everything affects everything else. This body does not have its own existence. This body, heart mind consciousness does not have its own existence. It is worth remembering that.
On a personal note. After we have finished the session with you, I will have some rice and dhal at home. I’m going this evening to a concert given by the Torbay Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is led by the conductor, Richard Gonski, a friend and former manager of Gaia House in south Devon. The orchestra will play Mahler’s Symphony Number One. They will also play a piece of music (Dark Sun by Stephen Montague, commissioned in 1995 by COMA www.coma.org). This piece was composed to acknowledge the incredible suffering of the people of Hiroshima in Japan. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was perhaps the greatest war crime committed in a single day in human history.
We need the arts – music, poetry, literature and movement, which touches a deep place inside of us. It brings an inner response. Our response opens up our world. In the inspiration and realisation from the arts, we see the emptiness of clinging to I and my. We see the emptiness of living in such a small way. Out of our being, we know empathy and connection.
It is a pleasure to go to St. John’s Church in Bridgetown, about 10 minutes’ walk from my home, here in Totnes. It is a privilege to sit close to the orchestra. We can reach out and touch the musicians. We sit close to the Gods of Music. Let that deep sound touch something deep in our being.
We need this nourishment. We need the Gods of Music, the Gods of the Arts and the Gods of Culture. We need to respond in ways that expand our world because we know deeply the emptiness of I and my .
Thank you very much. Thank you very much for the evening together.
We are coming up to 8 o’clock in the evening. Do drop me an email if I can be of any support.
Do find time for meditations and reflections on the bus, train, in the market, at home and at work. Explore freedom from clinging. Explore truth and freedom. Explore love and its relationship to freedom. See the emptiness of I and my.
This frees up the being, so the fullness of our human being actualises into daily life.
Thank you. Namaste.