37 practices: verse 3, part 1 of 2

3. To rely on solitude

When I avoid conditions that disturb me, / Emotional afflictions lose their strength.

When there are no distractions to engage me, / My dharma practice grows to fill the space.

Awareness – knowing – rigpa clarifies, / And certainty in dharma dawns and thrives.

On solitude and silence to rely: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 3 chanted 3x.

verses 1-3 chanted 1x.

Verse 3!  I think this may the hardest challenge of all in our 21st-century lives so rich with technology and other distractions. We will spend another week on verse 3, so please continue your study, contemplation, and meditation on it.

The main point of this verse is that if we simply begin to remove ourselves from disturbances and distractions by relying on solitude and silence, our emotional reactivity will naturally begin to fade, paving the way for awakening to unfold in a natural progression.

Mipham Rinpoche echoes verse 3 in his “Advice for Beginners”:

“Still, since death is certain, limit idle plans and speculations,

Allow the teacher’s instructions to hit home and strike a chord,

And, single-pointedly, in solitude, seek perfect certainty of mind.”

So where do we FIND solitude and silence? This might not be quite the right question. A hint from the very first page of Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation, aka Jewel Ornament of Liberation (combining translations by Ken Holmes and Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen):

“”If you think that perhaps this confusion will disappear by itself, then understand that samsara is known to be endless….and that it is not self-dispelling.”

In other words, our confusion and suffering will not end on their own. Or, as Tai Situ Rinpoche puts it in the introduction to his commentary on The Third Karmapa’s Mahamudra Prayer: “Whatever it took Milarepa to become enlightened, it will take us, too. If we think we will become enlightened by taking a nice warm bath every day, watching television, going to different restaurants, and enjoying our life, this is a ridiculous notion.”

But (as Situ Rinpoche also tells us): no need to worry!

The good news here is that both Gampopa and Situ Rinpoche assure us that awakening is absolutely doable; it just takes conscious effort and perseverance. Even Kalu Rinpoche said we don’t have to cut TV out of our lives completely — if we can just cut our viewing time in half, voila! we now have a half hour — or even an hour! — free for dharma practice. In short, it is entirely up to each of us to intervene in this perpetual vicious cycle and bring it to an end through our own effort. It will not happen otherwise, but if we just get the ball rolling, the path will unfold naturally and we will experience awakening.

So, then…how do we MAKE solitude and silence happen?

Once we have internalized verse 2, really understanding that it’s our habitual, autopilot ways of reacting that keep us mired in confusion and suffering, verse 3 helps us take the first step: to actually remove ourselves from our “homeland”: emotional disturbance and habitual distractions. We can do this literally by leaving home occasionally for the physical solitude of extended retreats, but whether this is feasible for us or not, we need to consistently set aside time for mental solitude from worldly activity and distraction, and engage one-pointedly in study, contemplation and meditation. Ideally we do this every day like clockwork, for as little as five minutes or as long as an hour or two. If circumstances are conducive, we might also plan in advance for an occasional full- or half-day, weekend, or weeklong retreat at home, keeping other necessary activities, such as meal preparation, to a minimum, and banishing mundane tasks and distractions altogether.

What happens when we do this? Most translations treat each of the benefits noted in the verse separately. I tend to also see them as a sequence: if, as dharma practitioners, we place ourselves in solitude free from distractions and from people and situations who trigger our emotions, then, in the words of Togme Zangpo (from another text) quoted by Dilgo Khyentse : “In a solitary place….apart from taming your mind, what else will you have to do there, mani-reciters?”

Our mind having turned toward dharma practice because there’s nothing to derail our attention, awareness (aka, knowing, aka Tibetan rigpa) then becomes clearer because it’s less clouded by disruptive emotions and storylines, and as awareness becomes clearer, voila! we see more and more clearly the truth of the buddha’s teachings. Through that, a positive cycle completes itself and we want even more solitude and silence in order to engage in more dharma practice and experience more and more clarity. We have replaced the vicious cycle of samsara with a cycle of positive momentum toward awakening.

Study: 1) Keep rereading Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on verse 3 until you’ve absorbed all the meaning packed into it. Read it once a day, perhaps at the beginning of your meditation session. A dozen times would not be too many. Read Ken’s commentary again if you have it. 2) Start studying verse 4 and its commentary if you’re ready to go on.

Contemplation: 1) Solitude versus silence. All but one translator calls practice 3 by its literal Tibetan name: wen.pa, or solitude. Ken McLeod calls it silence, which he suggests is the true essence of the practice. How do you understand the difference? Does one work better for you than the other?  2) Do you really want to be free? Dilgo Khyentse says (p66), “If you wish to concentrate entirely on the Dharma instead of being constantly tossed hither and thither by waves of attachment and aversion…” I would stop for a moment and ask, do we wish this? In our heart of hearts, is dharma  practice really what we want to do? Is freedom from the endless fascination and intrigue of emotional turmoil really what we want for our life? If it is, what are we doing to make it so? And if not, why are we here? 3)  A puzzle to work out: Dilgo Khyentse says (p67): “The essence of learning is reflection, and the essence of reflection is meditation.” What does this mean? If you feel you don’t understand it (a perfectly reasonable reaction), what might you do to nurture deeper understanding? For the class’s input on this, see verse 3, part 2.

Meditation: You know the drill! To fulfill practice 1, we all need to do some formal meditation every day, at least 5 minutes. Refer to previous verses’ meditation homework for more encouragement if needed.

It may also be helpful to continue the contemplations on this verse from the homework for verse 2.

Next post: Verse 3, part 2

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.

From three-year retreat: “In the Presence of Silence