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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 40 |buddhadharma resting there, we ask ourselves, what is the essence of this physical pain? We are allowing the experience of pain to register within the field of awareness and checking to see what it is. Does physical pain have any substance, any heart, any essence that would mark it as “physical pain”? What we may discover is that what we thought of as pain – which from within dualistic conscious- ness seemed so real and problematic – actually has no defining feature at all. It is empty of anything that would mark it as physical pain. this is known as discovering physical pain as dharmakaya. Lama thubten Yeshe had a serious and pain- ful heart ailment from which he eventually died. he used to comment that using the Mahamudra instruction to work with physical pain eliminated all the feeling of “problem” or even of “pain.” he said, “You won’t ever have to go to the doctor to get pain medication.” he wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t be treated for medical conditions, but that through these practices we eliminate the iden- tity of pain itself, which causes us to be so closed down to it and so preoccupied by the “problem” it presents. When his holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa was dying of cancer in a hospital in Zion, Illinois, his deteriorating physical condition suggested to the attending medical staff that he should be in agoniz- ing, incapacitating, absorbing physical pain. Yet all reports depicted him as fully present to others, concerned only about how everyone else was doing. I have often thought that he must have been embodying a high level of mastery, discovering physical pain as dharmakaya. there is a Mahamudra exercise you can do in order to train in this approach to physical pain, even if you are not within its grip at the moment. rest your mind in the natural state and then assume a posture – such as squatting slightly – that will shortly cause physical distress. as the dis- comfort builds, you will find yourself beginning to think about it. then return to the natural state and, when you are resting there, check to see if there is anything you can locate and define as pain. If you are injured or ill, then you already have the physical pain that you need to do this practice. by doing this practice, you can use physical pain to experience the freedom and fulfillment of the dharmakaya. Physical Pain as Sambhogakaya Physical pain, seen from within the natural state, is not simply empty of any essence; it is also charged with unusual vividness and clarity. When there is nothing in particular going on in our relative expe- rience and we rest our minds in the natural state, the field of awareness will be empty and open but it will not necessarily have much charge to it. however, if there is some strong relative expe- rience going on with us, such as physical pain, when we return to the natural state we will find the awareness greatly heightened. When our relative experience – in this case, physical pain – is very strong, we may find it more difficult to let go into the emptiness of the unborn mind. that’s because relative experience, partic- ularly when it is especially intense, functions as an almost irresistibly seductive reference point. Whether that intensity is experienced as negative or positive is immaterial; it gives our ego-conscious- ness something strong to feed on and maintain itself. Given that situation, it can be more difficult for us to let go and release into the formlessness of our primordial mind. but if we do let go when we are experiencing physical pain, we may discover that the intensity of our awareness is greatly heightened. It can feel strong and immovable, almost monolithic. We may find unique possibilities of letting go of any grasp on the boundaries of awareness, or even on awareness itself. It is as if the awareness can more easily burn through any possibilities of holding on that may arise. Discovering this intensity of awareness is known as discovering physical pain as the sambhogakaya. Physical Pain as Nirmanakaya one of the central discoveries made by Vajrayana practitioners is that nothing occurs in our life with- out rhyme or reason. In other words, any relative experience appears with complete timeliness, accu- racy, and appropriateness to our immediate situ- ation. until we have attained the liberation that does not decline, we are caught somewhere each moment of our lives. though we are not aware of it (if we were, we would cease to be caught), we are always hanging on to our reference points, to our limited self, in some way. We cannot free our- selves by ourselves; we need outside intervention. according to the Vajrayana, what appears within our experience at such moments always provides the needed intervention. Whatever occurs is a catalyst of freedom; it exactly addresses our bondage as it exists right now. In a most apt and personal way, it cuts through the place where we are caught. this is the meaning of “sacred outlook” or “pure appearance” in Vajrayana: every phenomenal experience that arises exactly addresses our entrapment, cuts through it, and liberates us on the spot. the challenge, of course, is to recognize the liberation and surrender to it, instead of reconstituting our “I” unconsciously and immediately. the appearance of physical pain is no excep- tion. When we experience short- or long-term pain, it always addresses our particular situation. In this ©KiKismiTh,CourTesypACewilDensTein,neWyorK.phoToBy:D.JAmesDee/CourTesypACewilDensTein,neWyorK