Thursday, May 21, 2015


Having recently spent a month sitting and serving at a vipassana center, which teaches the dharma of the Buddha in the tradition of S.N. Gunk, I have been asked to write a short piece explaining what I did it for, and what I got out of it.  I am happy to answer these questions, but before doing so I must acknowledge that less is more, and thus the fewer words I use, the more truthful I will be.  in this spirit, everything I could possibly convey in paragraphs and pages is best summed up in one sentence:

The teaching of the Buddha is profound.  Come, and see for yourself.

And having said this, which is really all there is to say, I will now say more, language being the map which describes (but is not equivalent to) truth.

I've heard it said that silence is golden, but who has ever experienced it?  We sit on a cushion, and the mind holds conversations with itself.  The mind is loud, and sometimes offensive, like a wild elephant pulling our attention away from the breath and the present moment.  With diligence and great discipline we pull our mind away from its addictions to past and future, placing it squarely back upon the breath, only to discover in the space of 1/100th of a second that whoops! its off again, on some tangent of passion or aggression, fantasy or regret.  If we are not the masters of our minds, then we are the slaves of our desires, which leads to the present day world of intercontinental aggression and unprecedented gluttony.

And as we see out in the macrocosm a world enslaved by desire, we discover the great impetus to remain on the cushion and master our minds, so that our minds do not master us.  We continue to sit, and observe with humble awe the insane chaos by which thought replaces thought, despite our best attempts to be thoughtless.  We discover with terrible chagrin the noise of our own inner workings, the incessant chatter of our minds.  The mind is a tv and we are sitting on the remote - the channels change too fast for us to even figure out what we are watching.

And there is no escape; there is no reprieve.  The hours and days stretch out interminably before us, we are not allowed to talk or even make eye contact, so the pressure builds.  We must retrain the habit pattern of the mind - there is no other way.

So again and again, moment after agonizing moment, we pull the mind away from its habitual patterns of craving and aversion and bring it back to the breath and the present moment, inhaling and exhaling.  And the moments stretch in to minutes, and the minutes stretch into hours, and the hours stretch into days, and ever so slowly, ever so tortuously, we retrain the habit pattern of the mind.

And eventually, long after we have lost hope, we stop listening to ourselves.  The mind still chatters, like the tv nobody ever turned off, but we are not watching it anymore, we are in a different room, and we can hear the tv but we are busy watching the breath.  The tv is broadcasting garbage, anyway, and the breath is very peaceful and calming.  We find that we prefer the breath to the incessant noise, and are grateful to be in the other room, far away, where the tv is easier to ignore.

Then a moment comes, when no one is looking, and the tv is no longer on.

We have died.  The ego has succumbed, and just for one moment, we experience a taste of freedom that leaves such a deep imprint on the psyche it is like chiseling into granite.  And of course, the ego resurfaces like a caged lion, roaring and waging war, but the silence cannot be undone, and we now know that we are not who we think we are, we are not thought at all, Descartes was wrong as wrong could be and the entire world is built on a great falsehood, and that thinking cannot ever lead us to truth.

To mix a metaphor of Chogyam Trungpa:
'I think, therefore I am,' is the dying gasp of the western sun,
while the dawning eastern sun proclaims,
'I think BECAUSE I am.'

Thinking is now seen to be the very problem it is meant to solve, for the mind cannot find peace:  Peace returns to letting go mind.

Thinking is suffering.  We yearn to be rid of it.  Meditation retreat has been referred to as 'the thinning of the 'me''.  We are pure beings, and thinking just gets in the way.


After ten all-too-short days we resurface, and find ourselves too familiarly similar to who we were when we arrived, but something within us has changed, something beyond language, beyond thought.  Our personality is less fixed, it now has options.  The ego may try to remain master, and we may let it, but this ego has been forever humbled and will never again believe it itself the way it used to.

And so, out of gratitude for this transformation, we stay on the for the next course, and serve others, watching in awe as they slowly and quietly revert to the innocence of children, egoless, radiant, and innocent.  Then they, too, resurface, and don the accoutrements of their former personalities, trying hard to believe that it is the real 'them', and we commiserate, for it is our process too, and freedom from the habit patterns of the mind is a long journey.

But the map is not the territory, and this language you are reading is not the truth.

The teaching of the Buddha is profound.  Come, and see for yourself.

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