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.

Pure Ghost

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.

Dear friends of the Dharma Underground,

Thursday, July 30, 2015, around 11:00 a.m., while sitting on retreat, I attained MCTB fourth path, or what in the Mahāmudrā model/map is awakened awareness. Awakened awareness matches almost exactly Daniel’s MCTB2 criteria for fourth path, and I have commented here on the specifics, and I’ll extract and retrieve later for a Mahāmudrā thread.

The last of four shifts on this retreat happened as I was gazing on the beautiful mantel/altar, which was in a shaft of morning light and ablaze with flickering candlelight and white daisies alternating with butter-colored carnations. I’ll never forget that sight. I think I will always commemorate this moment, that day, with bunches of white daisies and butter-colored carnations.

Later that day, during the ancient oral transmission, into which John interwove modern poetry, I will never forget how, after he called in the retinue of ancestors, lineage masters, and protectors, I literally felt light and warmth blasting through my chest cavity and skull. I felt other beings pass through me, in my head, heart, and body.

John said the following: “You can always recall this moment. It is always right here. The Buddha is under the bodhi tree. Christ is on the cross. Right here.” This was the most moving event I can remember ever having experienced. I was not by any stretch of the imagination expecting a retreat to be this or anything like this, this life-changing, this profoundly magickal and intimate. I was reduced to a quivering puddle of weeping surrender beyond surrender. And that is really what it takes in the end: Surrender and supreme faith. A great teacher will lead you to both, inexorably, and you shall follow.

Going into the Mahāmudrā retreat, I already had what the Mahāmudrā maps call Nondual Awareness, which we have inaccurately been calling luminosity. Luminosity is one metaphor for this Nondual Awareness, the one that goes with the sight sense door. There are other metaphors for the other sense doors–silence coming through sound (sounds within sounds, too) and vast space-like stillness for feeling. The problem that remained for me in what I now know for sure to have been third path was that, even though I was an experiencer of this level of nonduality, called “two oceans mingling,” which is a perfect description of the relationship in luminous experience, it was still an experience that I, as subject, was having. What needed to deconstruct at a higher level of obscuration was the center-point, central processor, central comprehender, the subject.

What I needed and didn’t have were the following:

  • Emptiness-of-Time practice to show me the lack of of arising, passing, enduring, and not enduring that characterizes awareness itself and sets up what is called “the view,” which is a continuous meditation on awareness itself–awareness itself sees itself continuously
  • One practice that broke down the boundaries between the five senses (this was actually made up by Johnny, not part of official Mahāmudrā, but effective)
  • Sealing-Emptiness practice, which involves increasing the speed and range of arising phenomena seen as empty immediately upon arising
  • Automaticity of holding the view and or seeing all as empty (on and off the cushion)
  • Emptiness-of-Totality practice, which identified the last holdout “core process” running in the background and preventing the final deconstruction–mine was doubt in my ability to notice Everything in the Emptiness-of-Totality practice (ha)

What the Pragmatic Dharma community, although not Daniel himself, tends to overlook in getting from third to fourth is the centrality of trust, love, faith, surrender, compassion,  and the God-function–all of which are real although unfindable, empty of inherent essence. You have to take these on as your working hypothesis  at a very, very, very, very deep heart level that goes well beyond your own effort and technical skill, or there will be no full awakening. Along with extremely precise, mapped, stage-specific, realization-specific technique, this is what the Mahāmudrā gave me. In short, rigpa was crucial.

Mahāmudrā, which translates as the Great Seal, which has multiple meanings, including the notion that all is “sealed” with emptiness before or upon arising, has twenty-three steps to follow to awakening, technical map precision that is simply unmatched. If you do the specific meditations for each stage and bring awareness into the heart and radiate it out powerfully to all beings, you will not fail to awaken. It is remarkably easy, so when you are tired of fooling around and want to actually finish, I strongly recommend a Mahāmudrā retreat, with this superb teacher in particular.

As I stared at the floral offerings on the mantel, doing a practice to correct for perceptual “particularization” in the event field, I felt a spin, had a blast-like collapse into Fruition, experienced as I did in August radical decentering of awareness and then layering back into being via Dependent Origination–except faster and therefore not as clear as the one from last August. This time, when the layering back into being was happening, I remembered what Daniel said to do if this was seen again: Don’t resist the layering back into being; instead see those links in the chain of becoming as empty. This I did, and when it was done, the subject was completely gone and still is: Awareness can still focus on particular objects in the field, but without losing the integrated vastness of rigpa and without these objects’ referring back to, implying, creating a subject.

The result is strange and wonderful beyond words. Duality is gone at all the levels I’ve been able to discern. Artificial activity is gone. What happens happens, but the Looker is gone, the Looking is gone. Even if the gain fades or reverses, which I doubt it will, I know exactly how to get it back:

Saraha: So long as you set up the mind’s real nature and this awareness is unobstructed, the Fruition stays…. You won’t fail!

Please, please, please not believe anyone on AwakeNetwork or the DhO, nor any self-styled dharma teacher, who says that fourth path doesn’t involve radical changes in perception. It absolutely and unequivocally does. It involves so much more than those, but the deconstruction of perception is what is most noticeable, at least at first. I asked John point blank, and this was his answer. Ask your teachers to describe their perceptual and other changes phenomenologically. If your teacher can’t, or vaguely says only that the changes are subtle, then he or she is not realized: Find a teacher who is.

Please accept no substitutes; get the real thing, the one Daniel describes in his criteria. An unrealized teacher cannot lead you to realization. Don’t screw around with teachers having only second path or even third. Get a truly qualified teacher, at least on retreat. This attainment is rare, but that is not at all because it is difficult. Find the best guidance, work out your salvation with diligence, stop being so grim about practice, stop conceiving of attainment as loss of the self or loss of anything else but delusion (it isn’t), and then help others to do so.

Back when I wrote this text, after returning home from retreat, I drew the card Temperance. This card indicates my having passed though the death of an important relationship and great work, but it heralds the beginning of an unparalleled period of serenity and joy, a new beginning. It advises me to refrain from bold action but to be restrained and let what unfolds simply do so. The angel wings indicate, too, that Great Protectors are watching over me as the sequela of my recent hard losses continue to unfold. It indicates a happy ending to what currently seems a sad situation. May it be so.

I close with a Rumi poem that I dedicate to Daniel Ingram:


Love has taken away all my practices
And filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating
No Strength but yours,
But I couldn’t.

I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?

I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
and quickly reduced to smoke.
I saw you and became empty.

This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence.

The sky is blue. The world is a blind man
squatting on the road.

But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.

A great soul hides like Mohammed, or Jesus,
moving through a crowd in a city
where no one knows him.
To praise is to praise
how one surrenders
to the emptiness.

To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.

So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where!
Just to be held by the ocean is the best luck
we could have. It’s a total waking up!

Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We’re groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the buoyancy.