Saturday, July 27, 2013

Direct experience

It's said that studying the dharma, the Buddha's teachings, without putting them into practice is like
reading a recipe but not preparing it. Reading the recipe doesn't alleviate hunger – if anything, it may
intensify it. To satisfy hunger, you have to follow the recipe. And once you've made it and tasted it, you may decide it would taste better if you tweak it a bit, adding more of something to increase the nutritional value or throwing in a complementary ingredient.
Then it has value to you.
Study it, contemplate it, try it out, and see if it holds true. And if not, what are the aspects that seem wrong or uncomfortable? Is it an old resistance or habit of thought, or is something there that's not right?
Buddhism offers tools to facilitate this direct experience, specifically many methods of meditation. It's said that the Buddha taught 84,000 ways to meditate in order to reach as many people as possible.
The first step, though, is always to make contact with the moment, which means dropping your stories about what is happening in the moment or what should happen in the moment, what happened before this moment began, and what will happen 20 moments from now.
Finding the breath – which takes place in this moment and no other – is a handy way to do that. More broadly, being in your body (without judgments or comparisons) anchors you to the present moment and its transcendent mysteries. You can let your thoughts settle, like mud in water,
to reveal the natural clarity of your being.
To find a moment, start by becoming still in whatever posture you want (sitting, standing, lying
down). Feel the parts of your body, the parts that are in contact with the earth or things on the earth, the parts that are held up by your skeleton, the parts that touch clothing and the parts that touch air. Just notice.
Then find your breath – see if you can locate a point where you're most aware of it – and observe it.
What is the quality of it – long, short, deep, shallow? How does the air feel in your lungs? What is it like to be a body breathing, just breathing, with no particular effort?
Maybe you can feel the transcendent wonder of the fact that all of the very complex internal systems in your body are working right now, without your effort. That your life, and all life, goes on within and without us. Maybe you want to open your eyes and look at your surroundings – you can connect with the wonder of nature without praise or blame (you can add those later when you analyze; now you're investigating).
Even in an office, the computer becomes a marvel of science, not “this outdated piece of garbage.”
Your coworkers become marvels of transcendence in their own right, breathing the same air and
using the same light but coming to different conclusions than you because of the causes and conditions that brought them here.
You'll find what you find, not what I or the Buddha tell you to. It's your experience, after all. And that's what you should believe.

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