synthetic zero

August 31st, 2010

In the online Buddhism conference I host, John Lehet wrote about his recent retreat experience:

This was “warrior’s assembly,” at Karme Choling. It’s a Shambhala thing, though it’s where the Vajrayana Buddhadharma starts to come in for real. All in all it was the most amazing 10 days I’ve ever spent.

I had a “realization” somewhat early in the program that transformed my experience altogether.

I was sitting and things were feeling pretty hard. It was hard in so many ways. But then a while later while I was sitting, it was easy. The contrast struck me, so I paid attention. What was easier? What had been so hard? And it hit me, sort of like those gestalt pictures — two black faces — no a white vase — no two faces; pick the way you want to see it, and you can see it that way, the vase or the faces.

From the perspective of Me, myself, I, conceptual thought, expectations, comfort orientation, agenda, plans — from that perspective the program was excruciatingly difficult. Two black faces. But from the gestalt of openness, flexibility, open mind, open heart, letting go — from that perspective it was very very easy. The white vase. So from that point on I was able to pick the white vase much of the time, though of course sometimes the two black faces picked me. This is very clear on a meditation cushion in a long program, but I think it turns out to be exactly the same as normal life. The same gestalts apply, to the same effects.

This is of course old news, but somehow it hit me in a bigger way.

I think both in contemplative/meditative practice and in life (they’re not really separated), there are obviously always these two alternatives; two different ways of working with our experience and our lives. But I think what really strikes me about John’s realization isn’t just that he was able to choose the white vase most of the time, but that his realization essentially consisted of seeing the faces and the vase at the same time. What’s really liberating isn’t escaping into heaven, but seeing heaven and hell simuiltaneously, two aspects of the same reality, both always already present. Liberation doesn’t come from escaping hell but from going beyond the division of heaven and hell in a way which encompasses both in pure presence which is always already present.

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3 responses to this post:
  1. Matthew says:

    In the context of meditation and spiritual practice, this seems exactly right. But is this kind of of equanimity, of “seeing both sides” really desirable in everyday life? Or in pragmatic terms, does it equate to something like relinquishing the urgency and importance of your singular existence in favor of a more “liberated” perspective?

    Call me narrow-minded, but I like the immediacy of my desires, even though they can also be a source of pain. It seems like the consequence of evacuating our desires is stagnation, self-abnegation, indifference.

    September 21st, 2010 at 6:30 pm
  2. mitsu says:

    What this is about is something far more radical than that. It’s about seeing heaven inside hell and hell inside heaven. It’s hard to explain in words, but it’s certainly not giving up or evacuating desires…

    September 21st, 2010 at 8:14 pm
  3. mitsu says:

    That is to say, it’s not about getting rid of desire or pain, it’s about seeing heaven right now, without changing anything or getting rid of anything, in the midst of hell, and vice-versa. This means you can keep your desire and your pain and longing and disappointment and triumph, but see that there’s more to it, even more, more vividness, more aliveness, more dimensionality, there’s timelessness in time and time in timelessness.

    September 21st, 2010 at 10:51 pm

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