In the previous post, I talked about how it can take years for certain steps to be taken, even when things seem to be in place for progress to occur. Sometimes we are simply not ready. This is due in part to our conviction that the way we see the world is the only way to see it. No other perspectives exist, or if they do they are out of reach and out of sight, too easily dismissed or ignored in favour of the familiar. (A version of this occurs when two people vehemently disagree with each other’s view of the world.)
As a small boy, I assumed that all parents get divorced when the children are young, because that was my experience. That is all I knew at the time. We live our lives assuming that our experience is the only version of existence. Yes, there is curiosity in some, and there are many texts inspired by those who have transcended the physical world of senses and identity. But more often than not, there is compelling and irresistible evidence for seeing only what is in front us.
It’s like looking at the Necker cube. Most people automatically see one particular perspective. The other perspective is there, staring us in the face, but we simply don’t see it. Interestingly, when we do see it – because it is pointed out to us, or we are prompted to look more closely – our eyes rest on it only briefly before returning to the original, more familiar, more conditioned perspective.
That explains why, even when we make the kind of leap of progress I made during the recent silent retreat, day-to-day life soon catches up with us and our familiar view of the world begins to reassert itself. It takes some initial effort to overcome the static friction of habit and shift our perspective; and further effort to maintain that shift. The best way is through daily practice. Fortuitously, in the middle of writing this post, I found myself sitting in front of the finest example of daily practice and right perspective.
A friend invited me to accompany her yesterday on a VIP ticket to see the Dalai Lama in Rotterdam. I jumped at the chance, and sat listening to him and his translator speak about The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, and various other aspects of Buddhism. However, before everything, His Holiness explained, there are two truths: conventional reality; and the emptiness you experience when you realise that nothing is independent from you.
The first creates suffering; the second resolves it. We seem locked into the former, when the latter exists simultaneously. Before you even begin to delve into the complexities of Buddhist studies, he clarified, there is the emptiness. That is where you must begin. But when you do, he added, you must take the endeavour seriously and study.
He talked us through the Eight Verses for Training the Mind, which he learnt as a young child, and which he recites to himself every day of his life. Daily practice. At the end, he addressed us all in English, saying that two things have helped him become the person he is and that, as a human being, he is the same as us. If we practise every day as he does, we can embody his qualities. The first, he explained, is altruism. The second, is that nothing exists independently. All it takes to achieve a lightness of being, therefore, is a shift of perspective towards altruism and emptiness. Daily.
Eight Verses for Training the Mind
With a determination to achieve the highest aim
For the benefit of all sentient beings
Which surpasses even the wish-fulfilling gem,
May I hold them dear at all times.
Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.
In all my deeds may I probe into my mind,
And as soon as mental and emotional afflictions arise-
As they endanger myself and others-
May I strongly confront them and avert them.
When I see beings of unpleasant character
Oppressed by strong negativity and suffering,
May I hold them dear-for they are rare to find-
As if I have discovered a jewel treasure!
When others, out of jealousy
Treat me wrongly with abuse, slander, and scorn,
May I take upon myself the defeat
And offer to others the victory.
When someone whom I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes,
Mistreats me in extremely hurtful ways,
May I regard him still as my precious teacher.
In brief, may I offer benefit and joy
To all my mothers, both directly and indirectly,
May I quietly take upon myself
All hurts and pains of my mothers.
May all this remain undefiled
By the stains of the eight mundane concerns;
And may I, recognizing all things as illusion,
Devoid of clinging, be released from bondage.