This is the last article in a series of 10 devoted to presenting the little known Nirvana Teachings, the final instructions of the Buddha given from his deathbed. The series has looked at various fundamentals for all Buddhist practice: Buddha Nature; Emptiness; The True Self; Chunda and the possibility of anyone whether lay or monastic reaching Nirvana and going beyond it within their lifetime; the importance of the mystical; how to get to the Land Immovable; the importance of and truth about meditation; and the eternal existence of the Buddha’s teachings in the Dharmakaya, or Body of the Dharma. In this article, I would like to go beyond all duality to a situation in which all paths of faith unite into one enormous ocean, the great ocean of Nirvana, by alluding to my recent personal experience brought about by practicing the Nirvana teachings for the last 9 years.
We are often told by our masters to accept everything as practice. At first, it is impossible to understand this in logical terms. Should we walk away from injustice or unfairness? Should we lie down and get trodden on by bullies, corporate giants or dictatorial organizations? Should we tightly control ourselves and behave like robots? How can we accept everything and every situation when we are up to our neck in the delusions of samsara? When we look at this instruction logically it does seem enigmatic, but of course, it is connected to the mystical aspects of Buddhahood which range far outside any logic or reasoning.
Recently, through meditation training and dealing with everyday life as a lay practitioner, I have found myself in a difficult place, which is a challenge to describe, but I will try. The following may not be logical or comprehensible to your rational mind because it is based in the spiritual or tantric, but it may touch something in your heart.
We are taught that profound gratitude and humility are central to reaching Nirvana or complete liberation. Repentance and confession are also deemed important. We are also warned that we should continue to practice one teaching with one master. We can understand that constancy and mindfulness in every second of our existence will help us to overcome our shortcomings so that we can move closer to realizing the Bodhisattva ideal and releasing ourselves from all cravings.
All of these elements of practice are important, but I believe that one can easily become attached to practice and be unaware of it. In my case, I think that has happened recently.
When we have practiced in earnest a great deal there may come a time to be less self-conscious of our practice. It is important to remember that once the gods walked among us in the Golden Age of humanity. The divine spark in every being was burning brightly because we were pure and our karmic debts were as yet non-existent. We were spiritually awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions by becoming attached. The notion of practice in modern English implies doing or acting, but in post 15th century it often alluded to a profession, e.g. medicine or law, implying that a skill had to be performed repeatedly in order to perfect it. Gradually, the practical or ordinary human attitude prevailed as we moved increasingly further and further away from the divine. Finally, in our present degenerate times, we so-called developed people are so tightly wedged into secular lives that we have to obsessively practice in order to make perhaps faint contact with our remote higher selves, our connection with the divine.
In a way, the phrase ‘spiritual practice’ is a paradox because the word ‘practice’ implies human effort to acquire a skill or a practical approach, whereas the word ‘spiritual’ relates to the invisible world or some kind of universal truth. It is doubtful that spirit needs practice in the same way as humans do – using determination and physical power to overcome adversity, to acquire skills and knowledge which requires intellectual effort and often repetition. The spirit can transcend effortlessly through mystical connections. Spiritualis in medieval Latin meant ‘of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind or air.’ It relates well then with ‘aspiration,’ another term for religious effort. Aspiration implies breathing, raising; whereas effort is a human quality. Perhaps we aspire to instantly recognizing our true nature, our true spirit or energy, and we make efforts to live in a compassionate balanced way, aiming to create harmony in our communities.
So today, we must deliberately and self-consciously reposition the spiritual at the centre of our lives as it once was in order to excel as human beings or Bodhisattvas. In my case, I feel I have through dogged habituation reduced my ‘practice’ to human effort made from human motivation, so quite suddenly I found it necessary to stop practicing and to carefully examine my motivation. By ceasing my strenuous daily practice I immediately felt a huge release, which served as proof that I had in some way been practicing for practising’s sake.
Another factor in arriving at this watershed in my process of transformation relates to the Tibetan Spiritual leader, the Dali Lama. The last 20 years have seen a great deal of suffering among Tibetan practitioners as a result of the ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden, Dharma Protector, as spirit worship proclaimed by the Dali Lama himself. As a Tibetan Buddhist I briefly experienced this practice, and many of my friends are in turmoil as a result of it. This is without doubt a strong sign of the disintegration of the Dharma predicted by various Holy Beings over time, and it has deeply disturbed me.
It seems that our age of seething diversity and the gratification of the senses mentioned above, has become compounded by this unjustifiable and high-handed behavior of one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time. The inflicting of such a breach on good Buddhists, of leaving them high and dry without their protector, is harsh and intolerable and I believe meant to shake all our foundations of faith. Can one of the chief exponents of the Buddha Dharma defy his own gurus and actually intentionally destroy it? Such acts force us to look at our faith, to place ourselves on one side or the other of the arguments. They test our unconditional compassion and our pacifism as Buddhists.
To try to see clearly, I went on brief retreat at the beach full of a mixture of my new freedom and my concerns for the survival of the Dharma. There where the sky and the ocean meet I realised that everything was one and I too was one with it. It was a remarkable moment during which everything and everyone in my life suddenly merged into one, which I recognized as the Dharmakaya, or God, or the Universal source, call it what you may. In this state, there was no separation at all, and no questions. I deeply understood that I was not separate from or different to my gurus, especially the Dali Lama, or the range of my spiritual teachers across the religious gamut, and that I was deeply loved and blessed by all the holy beings exactly as I was. I no longer had to arduously strip away all the badness and imperfections, but simply rest still in the great silence. In that state, I could see clearly that the Dali Lama’s behavior was my behavior too.
The vast ocean of Nirvana was there before my eyes, and all the rivers of the faiths I have been connected to in my life filled with diversity, were flowing freely into it. I have never been more convinced that all faiths are one and should become one again as they once were. Imagine all the people of the world as divine beings of one faith, one heart, one mind, with united sacred missions. This is how people lived in the Golden Era long before the deterioration into diversity and secularization that we witness today, and long before the Buddha Shakyamuni or Tibetan Buddhism’s foundation.
In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches the importance of observing the Holy Precepts (laws of moral discipline), of entering into Holy Meditation, and of acquiring Holy Wisdom by first stating what they are not – an approach fashionable among religious teachers in India at that time:
Holy Precepts are not practiced:
- for your own happiness
- for the sake of profit or worldly affairs
- out of fear that you may fall into the lower realms of suffering
- to avoid encountering danger or unhappiness
- to avoid being punished
- to avoid damage to your reputation
Holy Meditation should not be practiced:
- for your own enlightenment and benefit
- for your own safety
- to avoid negative things such as greed, being free from impurities, etc
- to avoid disputes and physical violence
Holy Wisdom cannot be acquired with the following thoughts: If I become wise I shall….
- be able to liberate myself and escape the suffering realms, as no human can liberate all beings from the sufferings of birth and death
- be able to become enlightened quickly, eliminating all delusions now I have encountered the Buddha, which is as rare as the blooming of an udambara flower (blooming once every 3000 years)
- be able to overcome the agonies of birth, aging, sickness, death and shine a light on my spiritual darkness
When we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, (a repository of holy relics) integral to our ancient unconscious minds. Through sincere practice in each moment of our lives combined with the ripening of past karma I believe we may reach a point where the massive storehouse of all our experience of visible and invisible worlds, outside the limitations of the artificial concepts of time and space, is purified or transformed to enable our foundations to no longer be undermined. That day on the beach I had the sensation that the tiniest grain of gravel preventing my foundations from sinking squarely into the earth was removed. I felt the unwavering heart of eternity beating in my chest along with huge compassion for the Dali Lama, his exiled people and all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism across the world..
I believe that in my busy householder’s life I had practiced intermittently in form only with the vague idea that as long as I completed the ‘targets’ of my practice, I would not fall off the path or from grace. This is an entirely human way of practicing. I had forgotten my solemn vow as follows, and misplaced the joy of living a life filled with the blessings of all holy beings.
‘As one with wisdom I wish to carry the burden of the inexpressible agony of all beings on my shoulders. I wish to remove people’s poverty, crudeness, insidious wishes, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not to be bound by their desire to have a good reputation and respect. I wish to free people from the cycle of birth and death, but will stay in that cycle myself to guide every last one to Nirvana. I wish every sentient being to attain perfect universal enlightenment, and to recognize and cherish their divine origins and missions.’
So, through the ever-presence I have once more experienced the flooding of pure joy into my being. My divine spark is flaming steadily again, and when I do practice it is done with my total sincerity. In other words, my practice is not separate from me, and it is for the most part formless as I go about my busy life.
With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, an awakened one, here in the centre of the moment. We are each flawless, inspirational and universal beings. We should look no further, for we are the divine. To make our Buddha or True Nature shine for the sake of others should be our true mission.
The next series of posts will be called ‘Beyond Dualism’ and will explore the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) – Indian philosopher; Moshe Feldenkrais(1904-1984) – movement specialist; and F.M.Alexander (1869-1955) – body re-education specialist, in the light of Buddhism. They were three free thinkers who glimpsed something beyond duality and greatly touched my life and my faith.