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1: The Nature of the Path
Buddhism is a personal journey into the depths of one's heart and mind—an exploration of who we are and what we are. The teachings of the Buddha show us how to rediscover that essence and come to a full realization of that reality. Among all Buddhist paths, the lineages of Mahamudra and Dzogchen represent the heart essence of the Buddha's teachings. Undertaking the practices of either of these two paths opens the way to a profound journey. These are the lineages that provide us with the most skillful means to experience the fully awakened state and directly taste the reality of our mind and environment.
Yet the spiritual journey can be very tricky. It can start with great power,
energy, intellect, skepticism, and inquisitiveness. Nonetheless, it can ultimately result in nothing more than a kind of religion based completely on blind faith. That is the principal danger for Buddhist practitioners. It is easy to fall into this trap without really noticing it. We think we are being very skeptical and inquisitive. Then suddenly we find ourselves in a totally blind tradition of religious dogma. We find ourselves in the midst of a great darkness—still walking, but not knowing where we are going.
There is a tremendous need to reflect again and again on the nature of our spiritual path. What is our purpose in being here? What is the basic motivation that brought us to this path? Is it a genuine interest in awakening, in enlightenment, in freedom? Or do we have other reasons? Every now and then we have to remind ourselves of our purpose and motivation. We have to go back to the most basic questions: Do I really want to attain enlightenment? Am I really willing to achieve that? It is not a question of how difficult it is or how long it takes to become enlightened. The question is, Do I really want to wake up from this dream?
From the perspective of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, we can wake up right now. When we wake up from our confused state of mind, that is enlightenment.
There is no difference between this moment and enlightenment. The nature of our mind is fully awakened right from the beginning, and this awakened state is nothing other than our ordinary experience of emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. If we can genuinely see our emotions, senses, and thoughts just as they are, without trying to change them or improve our way of seeing them, then we can see the basic state of wakefulness. The state of fruition is simply the recognition of this nature of mind. That is what we call "nirvana,"
or "freedom from samsara." There is nothing more.
At the same time, there is a sense of making a journey, undergoing a gradual process of evolving our consciousness. This journey is the mutual effort of teacher and student. It is a process of developing the qualities of faith,
trust, and confidence in an atmosphere of total openness. Such a relationship can develop only when the student has thoroughly examined and processed the teachings and has developed a clear, precise foundation of knowledge. At some point, as practitioners of these lineages, we must go beyond the level of conceptual experience in order to open fully to our guru and the lineage. This is the experience of devotion, which is the intense and powerful experience of the naked reality of mind. The experience of devotion is not blind faith.
Rather, it is deeply rooted in wisdom and knowledge. Genuine devotion arises when we develop a firm ground of trust and confidence in our own enlightened heart. Ultimately, our commitment is to the nature of our own mind.
The science of mind
the path of Buddhist spirituality is not a religion per se. Rather, it is a genuine science of mind that uncovers the very nature of the mind and the phenomena that we experience. It is also a genuine philosophy of life—an approach to life that deals with its meaning and helps us understand how we can overcome the suffering of the world. To say that Buddhism is a science does not mean the dry science of analyzing material things. It is something much deeper.
It means going into the depths of the reality of our inner world, which is the most powerful world. The teachings of this tradition show us the pure reality of both our own mind and our environment.
There are parallels between the inner science of mind and the outer sciences. For example, in the outer sciences, we bring our concepts and ideas into the laboratory for testing. Those tests produce certain results, which are the fruition of our ideas. In a similar way, we might hear or read about a concept taught by Buddha. From a Buddhist perspective, we then examine this concept using the inner science of mind. We analyze it thoroughly in the lab of the mind. The result of our analysis is an experience of meditation that reveals to us whether the concept was accurate or not. We can say, "Yes, this is accurate" or "No, it is not true." Thus, as a science of mind,
the path utilizes the skillful means with which we explore the intrinsic, true nature of our mind or consciousness. Then, our ensuing understanding of mind itself brings us greater clarity about how to lead our lives effectively and meaningfully.
Buddhism is relatively new to the West, it is finding its place in the modern global cultures of the twenty-first century. However, when something becomes a part of popular culture, its form changes. To genuinely understand the teachings of Buddha, we have to go beyond any trappings of culture and language. This truth that Buddha taught, known as the Dharma, can be likened to pure water, which we are trying to pour into various cultural containers. We can pour this water into an elegant, beautifully crafted Indian pot, a decorative silver and gold Tibetan cup, a beautiful European crystal glass, or a North American paper cup. The water will adopt the shape and reflect the colors of its container, whether it is made of ceramic, gold, crystal, or paper. The reflections of colors in the water are similar to the languages and social forms of each culture. Although the water might come to taste and even smell a little bit like its new country, the pure essence of the water does not change.
When we reflect on this variety of containers, it is crucial for us to contemplate the nature of the pure essence of the water and not merely the container in which we find it. This essence is beyond all language and form. Moreover, the process of bringing this pure water from one culture and language into a new culture and language requires tremendous precision, mindfulness, compassion,
and patience. There is a tendency for the new culture to become obsessed with the old container—to become fascinated by its beauty, novelty, and freshness.
However, if we become trapped in an obsession with the cultural container, then our attachment to that form can become so strong that it blocks us from achieving any realization.
we should approach the path of spirituality with discrimination. Buddha said that people should examine his teachings like a merchant who wants to purchase genuine gold. When you purchase gold, you do not want to buy something that merely resembles gold. You want the real thing. In ancient India merchants had a process to determine whether or not a piece of gold was genuine. First, they would burn the gold, then cut it, and finally rub it. In a similar way, we should examine the Buddha's teachings thoroughly. Buddha said that, after this process, we should either accept the teachings, practicing them until we achieve full accomplishment, or leave them alone. He said that we should not accept these teachings solely because they were taught by a personage of high rank or wide acclaim, such as a prince or a buddha. We must analyze and examine them ourselves to find out if they are beneficial. It is up to us.
Buddhism teaches that there is no creator outside our mind. There is no external source of our suffering, our pain, our pleasure, and our happiness. The good, the bad,
and the ugly that we experience in our world are purely the creation of our minds. There is no outer force, energy, or supernatural entity that has power over us or controls us. Not even buddhas have the power to control our world.
It is entirely the creation of our individual and group karma. Therefore, there is a sense of total, individual responsibility and complete freedom and power on this path. This becomes the basis of our personal journey—our path of working with our mind and actions.
Because we are making this journey to discover who and what we are, we have to start where we are. On the Buddhist path, starting where we are involves a certain degree of courage and fearlessness. It takes fearlessness to look in the mirror and see one's own face. We might have to look in the mirror in the early morning when we first get up, before we have taken a shower; or we might have to look at ourselves after an accident. Nevertheless, we have to cut through any fear of looking at that reality. Whatever is reflected in the mirror,
whatever is reflected in our experience, we can be courageous enough to explore that reality further, accept it, and start the journey from that very spot. In
Buddhism, that is the beginning. We cut through all our conceptualizations,
expectations, projections, and fantasies, such as, "Oh, if I were that person, I could do much better on the path." This is not a healthy way to begin the journey. The main requirement is to be who we are and start where we are. That is the simplest way to begin our journey, and it is the most direct way to discover our mind and its nature.