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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
fall 2007| 38 |buddhadharma doctor. We may earn a license or certifi- cate that certifies our competence in the relevant skills, but the certificate doesn’t really make us a musician, teacher, or doctor. We become that when we play music, teach students, or treat patients on a regular basis. In this practice, we start with a seed of direct experience and then we cultivate it through our commitment, approaching all experience as the com- mitment being, and we do so day after day, month after month, year after year. Down the road, something happens. An understanding or awareness arises: we know what it is to be a teacher, musi- cian, or doctor. Something relaxes and opens inside. We notice a confidence that wasn’t there before, and we practice our profession in a different way. We aren’t caught up in all the rules and regulations. We know what they are for, but we also know their limitations. We realize that we do know how to teach, or we know how to make the music sing, or we know how to diagnose and heal. It’s the same in this approach to practice. At some point, an intelligence or awareness arises and we just see the world this way. Concerns and fears about who we are or how oth- ers see us evaporate. The sense of being awake becomes alive in us. We’ve stepped into open awareness. This shift signifies the arising of the awareness being (Skt., jñanasattva). With the arising of the awareness being, we are freed from the polarity of subject-object fixation. Everything that arises as sight or sound is now experi- enced differently, not as something “out there.” In the simple experience of “I see a red car,” we know that every element in the formulation is a construction. What does “I” actually refer to? What is “see- ing”? And “red car” is only a phrase used to convey a whole set of associations. Experiences arise like the appearances in a dream. The energy of our commitment and the presence of awareness enable us to experience this dream with extraordi- nary clarity, knowing it and everything in it to be empty of independent existence. The awareness being and the com- mitment being have come together, just as the commitment to being a teacher and the understanding of the profession come together. We continue to approach the world as the embodiment of awake compassion, or pride, or whatever we are using, but now it comes naturally. In both formal practice and our daily life, we maintain a sense of being the union of the commitment and awareness beings and meet everything that arises accordingly. This approach is not without its dan- gers. If, when resistance arises, we don’t know how to stay present in the awake expression, we run the risk of becoming a cosmic gorilla, tearing up or consuming the universe because our reactive patterns are running amok. If we are unwilling to stay present in the emotional turmoil, this practice will, at best, do nothing. At worst, the energy generated and released through our efforts will feed and power habitu- ated emotional reactions. We will end up worse off than we were before. Tra- ditionally, Vajrayana practice is likened to a snake entering a bamboo pipe. The snake either goes up or it goes down. We, too, have only two ways to go: up, open- ing into progressively higher degrees of awake presence as the energy generated in practice is transformed into attention; or down, falling into progressively stron- ger reactive patterns as energy decays into emotional reactions. To guard against these possibilities, we need to receive instruction and guidance on how to meet resistance, decide with an appropriately trained teacher what deity (or “personality”) to use, and make sure we have had a direct experience of its awake expression. Tradition and the Post-Modern World This description of yidam, or deity, prac- tice is based on notes from my teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, comments from Chö- gyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the writings of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, and my own limited experience. Traditionally, in doing yidam practice, one uses a form that symbolizes the awake ideal or the reactive emotion. These forms have been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. But once we genuinely know the principles, you could, as Kong- trul famously said, use the personality of a clay cup. Teacher and student, in the ceremony of empowerment, create conditions for the student to have a direct experience of the deity; that is, the union of the quality of the deity and the empty awake mind. The commitment being and the aware- ness being are generated through a ritual practice known as a sadhana (method of practice) in which one works, as it were, from the outside in. You first imagine the form of the deity as clearly as possible, then bring in an appreciation of qualities represented in each aspect of the deity’s form, and then cultivate an unshakeable confidence that you are this expression of awake mind. As you follow the ritual of the method of practice, you die (sym- bolically) to your ordinary life and are reborn as the deity; you then live your life as the deity, die (as the deity), and come back to your ordinary life, which, in deity practice, is regarded as a bardo, an intermediate state between successive lives (i.e., practice sessions) as the deity. Mantra repetition transforms the energy of speech into higher levels of attention, and other techniques generate and trans- form emotional energy into attention and awareness. Using these energies, you progressively internalize the experience of the deity, until the experience of being the deity has replaced your fragmented habituated personality. This form of practice plays a central role in Vajrayana practice in the Tibetan tradition. Yet many people today have experienced difficulty understanding how to approach it and place their hopes in just doing it as best they can. Yidams, in traditional societies, were living presences first and symbols second. For many West- (#294)redtara(detail),collectionofrubinmuseumofartwww.rmanyc.org