37 practices: verse 3, part 2

Verse 3: To rely on solitude, along with class notes for part 1, is here.

Commentary: Dilgo Khyentse advises us: “If you wish to concentrate entirely on the Dharma instead of being constantly tossed hither and thither by waves of attachment and aversion, give them up and go to a solitary place.” As we discussed last week, and as the verse states, if we simply isolate our body and mind from disturbance and distraction—if we just sit down every day in our practice space and apply ourselves to study, contemplation, and meditation for an allotted time—the rest of the path will unfold naturally. We have Togme Zangpo’s word for this, and Dilgo Khyentse’s; in fact, all our teachers tell us the same thing. Waking up is so simple. We just have to roll up our own sleeves.

But wait! Many of us find it challenging to engage in formal practice even when we have time on our hands, and for that reason I suggest we ask ourselves, honestly and without judgment: Do I wish to concentrate entirely on the dharma and disengage from the endlessly fascinating waves of emotional turbulence?

What actually happens without the constant influx of storylines and emotional adrenalin, when I sit down on my chair or cushion and let go of thoughts as they arise, and there’s nothing else to do but follow the breath or recite mani’s? Is this what I really, in my heart of hearts, want to do?

Lama Norlha gave me a compassionate look, many years ago, and said, for no reason I could discern at the time: “Samsara is very sticky.”

If emotional freedom is not what we really want, or we’re not quite sure, or we’re just not actively pursuing it despite feeling that it’s our top priority, the next question is: why not?

Is it simple procrastination — just can’t sit down and do it? lack of interest? fear of boredom? fear of missing the highs and lows of our addictions? fear of losing our identity? fear of the great unknown?

In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (page 200), a student asks Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche “Why is it that so many of us have such a strong tendency to not see things as they really are?” His reply: “I think largely because we are afraid that we will see it.”

Contemplation: Really give this question some thought, and try experimenting with what the absence of attachment and aversion might feel like. If you find yourself watching a sports event (is Wimbledon over?), can you still enjoy it — even just for a few moments — without being invested in who wins? What does that feel like? If you’re listening to or reading a political debate, can you be open to both sides by letting go (at least momentarily) of any preconceptions of who is right? If you need to express a point of view, can you step back and do it without attachment, anger, or a need to win? What if, during a movie, whenever you find yourself getting drawn in emotionally, you remember these are actors in a fictional situation and it doesn’t matter, even if they “die”! It’s all a magician’s illusion, a dream, a bunch of pixels. Does this awareness make the experience less enjoyable? If so, congratulations: more time for study, contemplation, and meditation!

Dilgo Khyentse continues his instruction: once you’ve decided you’re in, and placed yourself in solitude, “Turn your mind inward, identify your defects, rid yourself of them, and develop all your inherent good qualities.” More on this is coming up in verse 6, but for now, if you’d like more instructions on how to go about identifying and taming your strongest emotional affliction, Gampopa offers them in the meditation paramita chapter of Ornament of Precious Liberation.

We also talked in class about Dilgo Khyentse’s observation that “the essence of learning is reflection, and the essence of reflection is meditation.” Tibetans seem to use the word ngo.wo, or essence, more often and in different contexts than we tend to in English, so it’s a word that is sometimes hard to unpack. What is meant here? Among the ideas from class participants: study naturally leads to contemplation because we naturally think about and analyze what we read or hear; and contemplation naturally leads to meditation, because at some point we run up against the limit of intellectual analysis, and the mind naturally quiets to let our experience sink in. Similarly, contemplation deepens our understanding of what we read or hear, and meditation deepens our understanding of what we contemplate. One participant suggested the analogy of wringing water out of a washcloth—contemplation “wrings” the meaning out of what we study, and meditation “wrings” the meaning out of our contemplation. We don’t know if this is exactly what Dilgo Khyentse meant, but –based on verse 3 itself — with continued study of this sentence (reread his words), contemplation (through analysis), and meditation (quiet our mind, rest in awareness, and let the meaning, along with our own nature, reveal itself), it will naturally become clear.

Study: Review verse 3 and its commentary again, then go on to verse 4 and its commentary.

Contemplation: Verse 3: See above. Verse 4: Pay attention to reminders of impermanence as you encounter them throughout your day. Gampopa suggests we tune into the cycles of day and night, the changing seasons, and moment-to-moment impermanence. What might you do to lessen attachment before death — the Great Reminder – inevitably comes (with or without warning)?

Meditation: If this powerful verse and its commentary haven’t yet inspired you to seek the solitude of your meditation chair or cushion every day, well, keep studying and contemplating. One student pointed out that it is sometimes easier to meditate while walking outside, either as a supplement to sitting meditation, or if you just can’t get yourself to sit down…yet.

Silent pop quiz: Who wrote the 37 practices, and what century did he live in? Answers here.

Silent pop quiz 2: What are the first 3 practices of a bodhisattva (name of each practice only)? Answers: practice 1, practice 2, practice 3.

Next practice: Verse 4: to let go of attachment to this lifetime

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

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

Encouragement: “Indiana Jones

How to set up a daily practice: “Location, Location, Location