Embracing the Sacred and the Mundane
As many of us recognize, at least intellectually, the sacred and the mundane are one and the same. The sacred is this material world, freed from the prison of conceptual mind. What makes this world seem imperfect and difficult (i.e. mundane) are our incorrect perceptions. The world has its own way of unfolding and it doesn’t conform to our fantasies.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Understanding Our Mind (first published as Transformation at the Base) consists of Vasubandu’s Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness with Thay’s commentaries. I offer one verse that goes to the heart of this talk. “Interdependent manifestation has two aspects-deluded mind and true mind. Deluded mind is imaginary construction. True mind if fulfilled nature.” The sacred is always available, no matter the external circumstances. It is our interpretations that distort and generate emotional turmoil.
That’s why we are taught to go back to our breathing. Conscious breathing can take place in the ultimate dimension, giving us a break from the relentless and exhausting (but ultimately futile) efforts of the conceptual mind to help us feel safe and in control.
When we watch the activities of the thinking mind, insights may dawn. One is that thinking is very closely related to emotion and that emotion is directly manifested in our bodies. Another is that thinking is not going to get us where we want to go.
In a recent conversation with others from Sangha, we discussed techniques to lighten our grasping, especially related to our children when they are suffering. We agreed that watching our children suffer definitely keeps us entangled in the historical dimension. Those who don’t have children find other attachments to keep themselves similarly in bondage. But we learn that one of the advantages of having problems in life is that we are motivated to practice deeply. This was true for both Dipa Ma and Thay who experienced great suffering.
It is true that the teachings of the Buddha are all about suffering and the transformation of suffering. To transform suffering we place our attention more on the sacred perspective and less on the mundane. One way to do this is to look at the three dharma seals: impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. I get a lot of relief from a difficult life situation by viewing life as a dream. If we could see our lives sped up, we would realize they are just like longer-lasting dreams.
In one hundred years, none of us will be individuals in these forms any longer. The dissipation of all compounded things demonstrates the dream-like quality of life in the historical dimension, samsaric life. I view this samsaric life as a field of lessons to be learned on the path to awakening. This way of perceiving, which is the dharma seal of impermanence or insubstantiality in relation to time, helps me to embrace a broader, more sacred perspective.
Another dharma seal, non-self, is insubstantiality in relation to space. This is the teaching that we are all made up of non-self elements. I like to envision all our atoms and molecules moving and changing all the time. Such a fluid viewpoint is one in which I am less likely to get stuck.
The third and final dharma seal is Nirvana. Nirvana is our usual world free of concepts. I hold an image of a figure sitting on a cushion. At first, the figure is blurred and shaky. This is us, distracted by our incessant thoughts and feelings. As the figure settles down into simplicity, the blurriness is less and less. Finally, the figure is clear and still. That’s us, when we touch Nirvana, which is about as sacred as it gets.
– Excerpts from a talk by Lisa Glueck
A meeting of SnowFlowers looking into Engaged Practice will take place on February 8, 2020 at Barriques on Park St. Please RSVP here if interested.
Communi(tea) Time – Tuesdays from 6:15-6:50 at Friends Meetinghouse: Enjoy a delicious and informal cup of tea and conversation before the weekly Tuesday gathering
Tea with Susan Pearsall: Quiet Conversation and Turkish Tea in Susan’s home. Contact Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday and Friday Sangha Gatherings: The Friends Meetinghouse, 1704 Roberts Court, Madison, WI. 7:00 – 8:30pm.
Wednesday Daytime Sangha Gatherings: Locations Rotate, 1:30-3:00 pm – Refer to Wednesday listsrv emails for location information and updates. For more info, email email@example.com
Sunday Morning Sangha Gatherings: Locations Rotate, 10:00 – 11:30 am. Refer to Sunday listserv emails for location and topic. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org