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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
68 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 ➤ objectify every form creates the real- ity of death, and that realization in turn nudges us closer to a paradigm shift. One final example of how practice changes when moving toward a form- less realization is the way we work with the paramis (paramitas in Sanskrit). Traditionally, the paramis allow selfless qualities to be nourished, and I believe their aim is to relax the muscle of self so that moments of self-relinquishment can be experienced and enjoyed. But herein lies the paradigm trap. Unless we are very familiar with the strategies of each paradigm, we will undertake a movement toward the formless only to find ourselves fostering and encouraging its opposite. The paramis are a classic example of this. The sense of self would like nothing better than to put these qualities under its control. To do so, the sense of self cultivates the paramis as if they were virtues that could be collected and directed by the sense of self. As soon as we apply the strategy of cultivation, the paradigm of separation reappears, and with it comes evaluation, a sense of distance, feelings of need, and a whole paradigm logic that convinces us to keep striving forward. From the view of nonseparation, we can also see the paramis as intrinsic to awareness. Then, when they are prac- ticed, they act to compensate for our conditioned tendencies while retaining the correct view. For example, patience offsets the mental conditioning of time, space, and distance; generosity counter- acts selfishness; renunciation compen- sates for conceit; equanimity balances the law of opposites; metta corrects the view of individuated appearances; and so on. Shifting paradigms requires a total lifestyle change, not a periodic medi- tation practice. All conditioning must eventually be challenged, but most students undertake this training in graduated steps. They may start by investigating control, then become interested in death, then be thrown back upon themselves and inquire into the nature of their own existence. There is a rich, organic inquiry that comes from students when they learn to trust their own interests. Within this new para- digm, interest—not effort—drives prac- tice. Like a bloodhound on the trail of a scent, our hearts pursue those areas of darkness and ignorance with curios- ity and passion until they are fully inte- grated and fully alive. All this reminds me of a Chinese finger trap. We instinctively pull our fingers apart to free ourselves from the trap, but this act of separation actually tightens the grip the trap has upon us. Moving our fingers closer together so they touch, however, loosens the noose and frees our fingers. This maneuver is counterintuitive—it usually requires a few missteps before we learn the direc- tion we need to take. Likely, there will only be a small number of students who yearn to real- ize and fully abide in selflessness. But there are a few, and those few must be served. I believe those few, in the years ahead, will carry the Buddha’s dharma forward. But even for those who do not seek full realization, selfless training offers an alternative to being stuck in a circular, self-centered pattern and can nudge our insights forward into a new and exciting domain. The key is to bring forth the intention to move beyond this self-sustaining pattern, but the intention has to be unequivocal; vagueness is an attribute of self-referencing. We have to live as if selflessness were true prior to its realization. We all believe in the Bud- dha’s words and sense the truth of the emptiness of self. Why not reframe our practice to question that conventional voice in our heads rather than to follow its commentary? The Buddha gives us a nudge in that direction when he sug- gests first inclining the mind toward full realization, then questioning every facet of our current perception. It seems to me that some of us, through the strategies we use, have been living and even encouraging a kind of self-made purgatory, stranded spiritually between aspiring for the truth and main- taining our separation. We are a kinder and better people for it, but it may be time for our fingers to meet.