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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
42 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 5 When things fall apart, we can only be as we are. We are not even comforting ourselves. It’s just total capitulation—we’re forced into non-grasping of inherent reality. then something else becomes possible. This is what emerges in the bardo—presence as the ground of being. What makes death and impermanence so pain- ful is our idea of the strict dichotomy between existence and nonexistence. Knowing something beyond that dualism is paramount. At the moment of death, instead of being caught between the ideas of existence and nonexistence, instead of this crisis of having everything that matters to us taken away all at once, something else can open up entirely; we shift our attention to the nucleus of being, to pres- ence itself, experiencing itself. But when we are not in crisis, recognizing pres- ence as our nucleus and grounding ourselves in the sense of experience itself is a difficult endeavor. The fact is that we are disassociated from our true nature. We experience it all the time—in little tastes, in the gaps between realms, between all of our many identities and roles, and even between thoughts—but since we don’t even recognize it, we don’t know how to be with it, to rest in it. We contract with our wounded sense of self and with frantic efforts to create something more ideal, more secure, more definite. In this way, we experience ourselves over and over as both confusion and wisdom—a treacherous and fantastic situation. We taste the ground here and there but can’t ingest it, which creates a dramatic friction, one that gives rise to all the mental poisons as a means of coping with this chronic cognitive dissonance between open ground and contracted being. Without some way of managing this experience, this unsettling discontinuity punctuated by occa- sional disruptions to the very idea of our being, we never know if we are going to show up in the next moment as a buddha or as a demon. We’re like gods is ultimate reality? Even the most shallow person yearns to know this point; it’s what we’re always looking for. It’s why we fight with people we love about petty little things—because this unanswered question drives us. If we lose that fight, what’s there? What becomes of us? If we lose this relation- ship, what’s left? Who are we? If I lose all my pos- sessions, my job, all my money, then what remains of me? If we don’t know the answer, then the ques- tion becomes a primordial anxiety that forms the background of all we say and do and think. And so the third principle we can learn about death, birth, and reincarnation is this: the extent to which we know what’s underlying everything—the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, that which we can control, that which we can’t—is the extent to which we can relax. To the extent that we know our presence of awareness as reality, it becomes bearable. As we gain intimacy with that ground, we can even have sanity when life is hard, even when knowing that an experience is going to be pain- ful. Think how willing we are to bear that pain for someone we really love. It’s how life begins, after all, with our mother, through love, enduring the pain of childbirth. Why should we be any less willing to bear the pain of death or loss or change? If we’re in touch with the ground of being, perhaps there may be ease and comfort even in dying. That ground allows us to walk the earth with a clarity that accommo- dates whatever arises. So when we have to lose, we can lose. And when we have to let go, at times of great loss or when we depart from this body, PemA KhAndro rinPoche is a tulku in the nyingma and Kagyu lineages. She is the founder of ngakpa international and the mahaSiddha center in Berkeley, california. harlemkunzangdorJelogan