Resting Resolutions

Until I wake up to full presence,
Through all my lifetimes, birth after birth,
May not even the words for defilement and suffering be heard
And may I enjoy the wealth of oceans of happiness and virtue.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Translated by Ken McLeod.

Today is a day when society tells me I’m allowed to take the day for myself. I was taken from my warm comfy fetal position and shot into this colorful existence – my birthday. And that’s the first thing that happened. I was sent from a place of rest into a place of utter restlessness. So on this day, I find it fitting to examine how taming the habit of restlessness might be possible.chilling

The idea of rest as a positive concept is rather foreign to me. Growing up, every time one of our household members was caught resting, or just hanging out, my kind mother would put on her most disapproving face and admonish us: “Go do something! At least look busy, goddamn it!”. So naturally, it took a long while until I realized that guilt free relaxation is a necessary and even compulsory skill for spiritual progress. The ability to truly do nothing. The first time I found myself actually experiencing total rest, there was an almost immediate emotional/intellectual reaction, a deep unease and even fear, and that was the first time I realized that my habitual self-centeredness (a.k.a the ego), was not going down without a fight. So if I’m going to tame the habit, it is going to take real work.

While the nature of beings has always been full enlightenment,
Not knowing this, they wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
May overwhelming compassion be born in my being.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

Firstly, we have to develop sufficient attention in order to notice that restlessness is indeed a habit. concentrationIt is interesting that in the beginning of meditation practice, people often experience an increase in disturbing mental activity, which in traditional Vajrayana Shamatha meditation instructions is called the stage of “mind like a cascading waterfall”. In reality, there is no such increase in activity, but rather it’s simply that the endless incessant ramblings of the intellect are being noticed for the first time. Developing our attention in this way allows us to notice the wild monkey/clueless puppy/rampaging elephant that is our intellect.

The waves of subtle and coarse thoughts return to their source.
Undisturbed, the river of mind flows naturally.
Free from the contaminations of dullness and torpor,
May I establish the still ocean of shamatha.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

So first we spend some years developing this capacity, and mind you, that’s quite a commitment, as the work of developing stable concentration is often rather tedious and demands determination, persistence and effort. At this point, we start to relate to our intellect’s noise not as the primary mode of experience, but rather as the byproduct of our mind. A good way to think of it is like any other bodily process – the pancreas produces insulin, the intellect produces thoughts (which are approximations of sensory experience, vague reproductions of images, sounds, smells etc.).your-own-tedious-thoughts-next-200-miles-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9183358-8419447

All experience is the manifestation of mind.
As for mind, there is no mind; mind’s nature is empty.
Empty and unceasing, mind arises as experience.
By looking into mind deeply, may I be clear about how it is.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

Even with this new-found ability of recognizing intellectual fabrications, the habit of attaching to thoughts, or cognitive fusion as it’s known in the west, is still incredibly powerful. In certain Buddhist schools, there is a very strong emphasis on certain experiences, i.e. “After you’ve had this and that experience, everything will take care of itself”. Well, to me that sounds dangerously close to taking refuge in experiences, and nowhere can I find any references to this being a good idea. enlightenedTraditionally, we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, or the wise teachers, the truth of their teaching and those who work joyfully and earnestly to preserve these teachings. But definitely not in experiences.

The great bliss of non-attachment is continuous.
Sheer clarity without fixations is free of obscurations.
Passing beyond intellect, non-thought is naturally present.
May these experiences continually arise without effort.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

So this leaves the question of putting in the hard work of taming the habit. This means that in all our activities throughout the day, we work to open our scope of attention to include as much of our experience as possible. Rather than the usual “spotlight” attention which is directed mostly at the contents of our thoughts, we strive to be fully present with whatever arises in our field of experience, or as my kind teacher Shi YaoXin recently told me – “taste it fully!”. Another teacher of mine, Ven. Beishi Guohan, calls it “applying non-abiding awareness as the guiding concept”.

Look at objects and there is no object: one sees mind;
Look at mind and there is no mind: it is empty of nature;
Look at both of these and dualistic clinging subsides on its own.
May I know sheer clarity, the way mind is.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

In this matter, having gone through certain experiences can definitely be helpful, because ordinarily people don’t notice their own mind, and thus getting stuck in “narrator/storyteller” mode is more or less the default.vast-space Being aware of what the Mind is can be very helpful in redirecting attention away from the black-hole-like suction of a disturbing thought or emotion, into the wider scope of the totality of experience. This can be scary, and disorienting at first, and that is exactly why the Tibetan word for meditation (“Gom”) in English means familiarization.

When one looks again and again at the mind which cannot be looked at,
And sees vividly for what it is the meaning of not seeing,
Doubts about the meaning of “is” and “isn’t” are resolved.
Without confusion, may my own face know itself.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

And that’s basically it- the whole farce of the self-improvement project, which is actually an attempt of the ego to win a medal, has to be thrown out of the window, and we have to become familiar with the totality of our experience, until we feel comfortableWuWeiFeature2 experiencing each experience exactly as it is. Then, maybe some true qualities like compassion, generosity, patience and the rest of them can actually manifest.


Not knowing it, I circle in the ocean of existence,
Knowing it, buddha isn’t anywhere else.
“It is everything”, “It isn’t anything”: none of this.
Pure being, the basis of everything, may I see any misunderstanding here.

Apiration Prayer of Mahamudra, HH 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

Or as the Zen poet Ryokan put it:

Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!

 One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan

So for this birthday of mine, I wish all of us will rest totally, face the sublime magnificence of reality fully without fear, and establish a true society of perfect functioning right here, right now. Sarwa Mangalam!


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