Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
by Shaun Bartone
The dharma is your life. The real meaning of “All dharmas are empty” is that in the empty space of the dharma, you are supposed to insert the complex fabric and experience of your life. There are actually very few concepts in Buddhism: non-self, emptiness, suffering, impermanence, mutual causality, karma, liberation, mindfulness, wisdom-compassion. Once you’ve beaten those to death 100 times, you start to realize that the really interesting thing, the thing that yields awe-inspiring insight, is your own life. Just like AA; there are very few concepts in AA. Not even 12; there were originally only 6 steps, but they split them into 12. Just stay sober, meditate, and find out what your life is teaching you. This is very liberating. I don’t have to “fix” my life with AA, just like I don’t have to “fix” my life with Buddhism. I have to understand the stories that my life is telling me, the dharma that is unfolding from my life. The rest of the dharma and the 12 Steps are just guides so you don’t go careening off into a ditch, and hurt yourself or others in the process. They are not the answer to your life. Your life is the answer to your life. To be a buddha is to discover and reveal the particular dharma that your own life is bringing forth. So just pay close attention to your life and what it’s telling you.
by Cathy Naugle
The fundamental ritual is not the one in which we use gongs, smoke, chanting and visualizations. The fundamental ritual is thinking – trying to figure it all out. We shall not cease from ritualizing our experiences whether they be Buddhist practise or brushing our teeth until thinking mind is at rest. Until then we will only see the finger, never the moon.
Rituals are symptoms of clinging, our struggle against impermanence. The repetition seeks to solidify our selves in place, to prove our existence. The debate itself is once again an attempt to apply definition, a concept to grasp, to finalize.
We will leave the room no further ahead. Everything will have changed and decayed while we were discussing it. The particles will have annihilated each other. We will have missed it again.
Enlightenment will be as elusive and mysterious as it ever was. If only we could have remained still long enough to feel it. And feeling is the answer. Feelings are the primordial state. They existed in our brains before thinking. But we will debate about that too. We’ll find a way to avoid them because we are afraid of them. They represent the primordial groundlessness we are so fond of dreaming about, but thinking mind is afraid of the freedom that exists there – the emptiness we are always trying to figure out. When we only feel, there are no labels, no communication with words or signs or figures. It is the pure experience that is my own, your own. That is why we “think” enlightenment is so difficult. It must be felt.
If you’ve been doing this for 10 or 20 or 40 years, please stop.
Stop prostrating, stop chanting, stop struggling, stop thinking. Feel.
Be afraid. It’s okay.
Did you feel that?
The Open Question
Our task as practitioners is to bring the teachings to life in a personal way. No one can tell us how to do it. This is the practitioner’s koan—the open question.
– Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, “The Power of an Open Question