Tibetan Buddhist Class, Week Two

The class is growing more intense, or maybe my brain is filling up.  I am getting a glimmer of understanding, though.  It’s less necessary to suspend disbelief about the practice.  I just bring my teachers to mind.  It’s not even necessary to be in their presence.  Their experience of the world is different.  They’re kinder and happier.  I’m a little closer to understanding how they achieved that.  It’s hard work!

This afternoon, we go to Phakchok Rinpoche’s room.  He wants to see how we’re getting on and give us encouragement.  He asks each of us about something we should have learned.  First, the monk from New Zealand.  “What are the four nails?”  That’s one I could answer.  He says the first three but can’t remember the fourth.  Maybe I’m doing better than I imagined.  Next the monk from Colorado.  I can’t even understand his question.  I can at least partially answer the next few questions.

Now it’s my turn.  “What are the three samadhis?”  I’m utterly baffled.  I’ve asked about them and failed altogether to understand.  I don’t even understand what samadhi means.  First I do bad prostrations, now I can barely begin to answer Phakchok Rinpoche’s question.  “I have not yet been able to understand about samadhis, Rinpoche.  Maybe they are related to the three kayas?”  

Rinpoche is not fierce this time.  I think he realizes that while my sincerity is not as great as my ignorance, it is genuine.  He talks about something else while I pacify my agitation then patiently explains.  I still don’t understand.

Later, I remember binary arithmetic being explained in High School.  I couldn’t understand it at all.  Then I got a job as a computer programmer and it was immediately obvious.  Presumably, my mental block that makes samadhis invisible will also disappear.

We’re now starting a little before 9.  I have just enough time after the monastery gong wakes me at 4:30 to write up the previous day’s notes, meditate and have noodles and coffee.  We get a long lunch break then continue until around 7, ending the day by practicing the long version of the ritual.  By that time I have just enough energy to cook a few more noodles before conking out.

More detail is revealed each day.  Knowing when to do the hand gestures (mudras), remembering which one goes with what chant, even just remembering the sequence of movements for each one is hard.  I’ll do a simpler practice at home, a subset of what we’re learning, but I don’t yet understand enough to know which parts I will do.  I’m trying to learn them all, at least to some extent.

A most auspicious thing happens today.  We have a second session with Phakchok Rinpoche.  He blesses our prayer beads (malla) and mine break while he rolls them between his palms.  That in itself is auspicious.  Then he directs one of his lamas to restring my malla and add a “root bead” of the special kind.  Now I must use it only in private, so I will buy another one to use in class.

Rinpoche (it means Precious One) does not ask questions today.  He explains many things.  I listen with windows open, mind transparent, as clear as I can, anyway.   The Zen master said about his paradoxical teachings: “Just let it all in.  Don’t evaluate, don’t worry if you will forget, don’t think.  If you do, you will not hear. “

Pointing to his cup, Rinpoche says something about equality.  For just a nanosecond I glimpse what he is pointing out.  I’m so happy!

Tomorrow is the end of week two, our free day.  I’ll review my notes and try to clarify my questions.  Our translator will tell me the names of the mudras so I can annotate my texts with which one goes where.  She will also get us video of them all.  I may now have the visualizations that go with each chant clear enough so I can practice on my own but it’s very hard to remember what they mean while also remembering what to do.

2 comments on “Tibetan Buddhist Class, Week Two

  1. When I asked my friend, G, about samadhi he said: “Literally, it means ‘same as'”. In that moment I got a glimpse of what Rinpoche was pointing out. At least, I think I did.

    The kayas refer to the fundamental nature, manifestation and activity of everything. Samadhi is a state of mind where the sameness of those three is apparent and it is apparent that you are in no way separate from them.

    The fundamental nature of everything is empty, meaning nothing has a permanent nature, everything arises from and depends on everything else. Recognizing the truth of that results inevitably in universal compassion. When you know you are not separate, that there are no separate things, you must feel love for everything. The inevitable result of that compassion is action, you have no choice but to express loving kindness.

    The three kayas refer to three aspects of reality. Kaya literally means ‘body’. There’s one that appears to our senses and appears to take action – that’s the one we think of as our body. There’s also one we can’t see that motivates the actions. And there’s one that long spiritual practice enables us to sense, the one with no fixed properties that arises anew instant by instant in a process that involves everything.

    Samadhi, I think, refers to recognition of the kayas, seeing them as they truly are, not distorted by theories about what we see. It means seeing they are not separate but different things you can say about the same thing. It means realizing you are not a separate self. Inevitably, in that instant, you become selfless. Samadhi is realizing, yes, it really is like that!

  2. Martin, I’m fascinated by your quest into the nature of being and consciousness through Buddhist training. While I’ve never had any formal training in Buddhist thought – my imaginative insights come through introspection – I am amazed at how closely some of my musings are mirrored in some of the Hindu and Buddhist concepts. For instance, from my readings on Buddhism, I intuit that Samadhi is similar to the end point of the thought experiment I described in a comment on one of your earlier posts.

    I speculated as to what would remain if I gradually eliminated all elements of that which forms my awareness of the “world” and of “me”. What if I couldn’t see? Not just blackness, but no ability to visualize at all. Concept of sight doesn’t exist. No hearing or concept of hearing. No sense of touch or taste or smell. No language. No internal vocalization. No awareness of internal/external bodily parts/functions. No memory of what went before or what might follow.

    What is left? Somehow, I, the “me” that used all my bodily functions to perceive “the world”, still seems to “be”, but in a point source of timeless awareness. The difference from Buddhist thought being that I only tried to imagine what that final state of being would be like, I didn’t actually experience it as some Buddhist gurus claim to do. If I were to truly experience it, it would probably only be when I die.

    If this point source of timeless awareness is true of “me” it must be true for all of “us”. What then differentiates “us”? Is there a multitude of “us” with no differentiation? Or perhaps are we all really just “ONE” being peering out from many physical bodies? Each physical being has its own perceptions and memories that gives each the perception of individuality, but in reality we may only be ONE.

    If this speculation is real, where might this ONE being exist? Modern cosmology might have an answer. String theory and its various analogues postulate multiple dimensions beyond the three and time that we are able to perceive. Some theories speculate that the concept of “quantum entanglement”, where two electrons appear to exert “a spooky action at a distance” on each other, occurs because the two entangled “electrons” are actually the end points of a “string” that exists in a higher dimension. Entanglement has been observed to occur with huge numbers of electrons. Perhaps these perceived electrons are just points on a single string that impinge on our three dimensional universe. Taking it a step further, perhaps “we” actually exist within the confines of one of these higher dimensions and only perceive and act on the three-dimensional “world” through the senses of the bodies we animate in that world.

    I guess when trying to understand these exotic ideas, whether espoused by physicists or Buddhist gurus, we have to suspend our prior beliefs, at least temporarily, and accept the precepts underlying the new concepts, otherwise we will not be able to make the transition from our current understanding to what derives from a wholly different way of thinking.

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