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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
49 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly content of the teachings on meditation or on mind that fol- lows. But I don’t see miracle as being on equal footing with modern science. Buddhadharma: We seem to have clear disagreement on the validity of supernatural events. What about descriptions in spiritual texts that could be read mythically, or as allegory, but could also be taken literally? This is obviously a huge issue in Christianity, concerning the Genesis story, for exam- ple. In Buddhism, you have Buddha defeating the Maras. Does it make any difference whether we regard the Maras as existing beings or as a potent metaphor for mental events? Couldn’t different types of people derive equally beneficial effects coming from different worldviews? Glenn Wallis: It does make a difference. If we believe that this is a story about actual entities, it’s an ontological claim, and I would say that teaching has no relevance to me. I’ve never seen nor heard about any such actual beings. But if you leave it at the level of allegory, metaphor, or symbol, I can say that I do indeed understand these forces, these entities in my own life. Buddhadharma: But can it not be left unspecified, ambiguous, so that one person can see it as external reality and another as psychological? Glenn Wallis: In the context of the broader teaching of the Buddha, the psychological interpretation is consistent and makes sense. The other does not. Judy lief: I would call the nonmaterial language visionary. It comes to people who have vision and receive teachings in visions. They see all sorts of outrageous things, and they don’t necessarily describe reality per se, but there’s some kind of teaching conveyed in the images that thrive in people’s visions or waking dreams. Glenn Wallis: If you look at the Buddha’s meditation teach- ings, you need to just breathe in, breathe out, let go of the breath, be aware, and you will have a radical shift in your view of reality. The Buddha’s injunction to attend to reality might be just because of the endless possibilities that come out of speculating about what’s possible and entertaining or being open to the claims of all different people and cultures. Where does that lead us? The Buddha talked about “the All,” which he did in per- ceptual terms. What for you is the All is what you see, hear, think, smell, feel. Outside of that, there is no all. So, I’m suspicious of terms like transcendent and supernatural. If I see a tree sprite, that’s natural; it’s in the natural world, it’s just not something that I had included in the natural world previously. The supernatural and transcendent are by defini- tion not knowable. Once they’re knowable, they’re natural and immanent. If we start to speculate endlessly, like a friend of mine who is consumed right now with extraterrestrial life, it just leads us floating through space ungrounded. Judy lief: Of course, it’s a waste of energy to sit around specu- lating about what might be. Whatever is happening is going to be happening in this moment, this instant of perception. There is a middle way, though, between naive, gullible la-la land and a hard-nosed stance that what I see happening is the only thing that could possibly be happening. Glenn Wallis: What I see happening is what I see happening. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is the only thing that can happen. Judy lief: Nevertheless, there are two extremes. We’re not trying to be stupid, by fostering romantic fascination with extraordinary events. But at the other end, we could close ourselves off to perceiving fully what’s happening in this very moment, which may go beyond our experience to date and encompass what we would not have thought possible. We need to be open to whatever arises in our experience and not label it either extraordinary or ordinary. Beyond that, one of the main practice instructions is to be really careful to distinguish what you have only heard about from what you actually experience. We do have difficulty distinguishing between what we think is happening and what is really happening. We have difficulty pinpointing presuppo- sition as just that, or belief as just that, as opposed to direct immediate experience. Glenn Wallis: The Buddha said the seeker of peace should drop the bait of the world. There’s a lot of bait offered today as nutrition for the mind, body, and emotions, but it is not The things that appear to us are like appearances in dreams and, therefore, just as in a lucid dream, we can effect changes in the environment. Someone who has certainty in the view and realization through meditative experience can manipulate appearances in the outer world and perform what we would call miracles for the benefit of others. —Ari Goldfield ➤ continued on page 64 (Facing page) Guru Padmasambhava is said to have been born miraculously on a lotus, in the form of an eight-year-old child. Padmasambhava (The Lotus Born) (detail) Artist Unknown matthieuricard