Poetry Is Method
Jhana versus the Natural State
I was too high after meditating last night to write about it, although what I’m referring to isn’t exactly the “afterglow” of jhana practice – although, whether jhana and the natural state are the same thing is a question that I continually pound my head against. My friend Barry and I agree that concentration without object does land us in the natural state, rigpa a-flaring, but is that because we have awakened awareness to begin with, or is it that jhana without sign, as they say, is “it”?
I guess what I’m calling jhana is when I take the jhana factors, or one of them, as object: I’m concentrating on the state as such; therefore it is temporary, special, fabricated, partly conceptual. By contrast, the natural state is always already here, so long as it is merely recognized. The emphasis is different, in fact opposite. As a technical meditator, I used to practice “calling up” the jhanas by number, in different orders, and then I would run insight experiments in them, as if they were little labs.
DreamWalker is adept at that kind of analytical and intellectual approach to “exercises” and their experimental “results.” But it hasn’t been my karma for awakening to unfold by shifts discrete enough for me to analyze individually. In other words, as John says, my journey has been fast.
Tibetan-y Metaphoricity and the Feminine
So here I am: back in the Tibetan-y realm, resting back into the lush metaphors, the evocations of poetry.
John tells the story of Mara, the reification of self, the embodiment of traumas. There is Mara with Mara’s armies of complicated complexity, and John tells how Mara asks Buddha, tauntingly, “Well, who is backing you up – why should I believe that you are completely free?” and Buddha, confronting all that constructed complexity, simply leans forward and touches the Earth, the ground, the mother – to show that he was no longer separate from that, no longer separate from the whole of reality.
That simple gesture, as told by John, the humility, humanity, and dignity of it in the face of towering edifices of greed, hatred, and illusion, always makes me weep. DreamWalker asks, “Why? I must not be emotional.” And I stand perplexed at his shrugging that poignancy off. That story is the meditation. At a certain point, awakening is not about “exercises.” And this difference that is poetry is what John means when he says the feminine is insufficiently appreciated in Buddhist circles.
Just so, in Bon Dzogchen language, there is the infant and the mother, open awareness and open ground. In full embrace, they are the groundless ground. John weaves these metaphors in and out, around and between, our breaths, the birds chirping into silence, the body’s energy fields buzzing and flowing into stillness. These metaphors open the heart, eschewing the intellect. That’s what archetypes do. Mother-infant is the primary archetype of human relationship, of what is relationally based on selfless love. We are the infant gazing into the eyes of the mother; we are the mother gazing into the eyes of her infant. Suffering and the soothing of suffering is intergenerational, interpersonal; it is a matter of love, not a matter of one’s “own” technical meditative skill. Time being empty and all, we heal our unborn children and we heal our sad lost fathers.
We love our enemies as our self.
Love Not Exercises
I understand distrust of religion, especially organized and codified religion. I have that disidentification going on now more than ever before, but that is not because these “Buddhist” or “Bon” metaphors are without potency; on the contrary, it is because they are so potent that they awakened me to emptiness, to the interdependent co-arising of even all these constructed poetic particulars. And that means religion is empty too. I’ve begun disidentifying as a Buddhist for the very reason that Buddhist method works.
For about the millionth time, I was rehearsing to DreamWalker this evening the four distinct shifts that I had during the Mahamudra retreat. I always make a point of emphasizing to him that the last shift, when the central processor (subject) dropped out, was not because of some mechanical opening of some sense door, but because of something emotional. Specifically, we had sealed everything at the speed of awareness as empty, but then we were read a list of limiting beliefs and asked to listen for the one that caused some “grab” in us. My own was “I must have missed something.” Well, all I “missed” was sealing this doubt, this victim-identity, this lack of faith, this fear that I wouldn’t awaken. And as soon as I saw that doubt and saw that it too was empty – BAM !– subject dropped out. And it hasn’t returned, not for an instant.
Before that point, we had sung with John and were exhausted, high, and weepy, puddles on the polished wood of the shala. He had worn us down over a week’s time to absolute surrender. The final shift was not because of any “exercise.” It was surrender. What opened where trying stopped? Love did. Love opened. Fear fled. Love boomed.
I told DreamWalker this story yet again, and he had a sort of aha – that the last shift I had on retreat was the release of the selfing process that is the fight-or-flight system. The aha was that this forms in infancy, or beforehand, as our first sense of self. He said, “Our first sense of this self is a fear of falling.” And I said, “Why do you think John has everyone lie down and rest into the ground/mother?” I asked, “Why do you think he keeps referring to the holding environment?” John is using the lingo of western psychology here – the opposite of falling is being held. This is love. This is love. This is love. And it is trust, faith, poetry, magic, universe, human relationship.
So. As I tonight rest into the chakras as field, as ground, as mother, I’m opening up to the vast expanse so deep within me. John always speaks of the “primordial youthful subtle body” that is revealed when the body’s energy centers open up. Tonight I especially noticed the second chakra, the sweetness – it flutters and beats just like the third chakra did when I was meditating on it for months. Beneath all the layers, all the constructedness of self-identity, is pure ghost, and that ghost lies contentedly as a perfectly glowing infant in the arms of her beloved mother.
Poetry, you see, is purest method.