Monday, April 26, 2010

A Student Awakens

It is a rare privilege to help another being to awaken, and as a teacher, I have had this privilege many times over the years. Recently, a student in our Silver Lake class told about an experience at our last retreat that gave rise to one such moment of tremendous insight.

During the retreat, we explored the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These Foundations are mindfulness of the body and breath, mindfulness of the arising of experiences as they become known by the senses, mindfulness of the way the mind colors these experiences, and mindfulness of the Dharma in relation to our meditation practice. 

Mindfulness of the breath is a great place to introduce the doctrine of "no self," or anatta. The body breathes, but is not a self who is the breather. Breath and body are brought about by a continuous flow of interdependent causes and conditions. This concept caught the imagination of the student, and she began reflecting upon it during the rest of the day. Afterward, she had many questions about anatta and interdependent co-arising, so I referred her to a series of blogs I posted (12/2/09 to 12/5/09 ).

Here is an e-mail I subsequently received from her:
Good Morning Roger,
Just wanted to thank you again for sharing the information from your blogs yesterday, and for the weekend retreat. Learning about the co-rising causes/conditions theory seems to have been a major breakthrough for me. I was peeling garlic yesterday and couldn't help to "see the whole universe" in that garlic. Reflecting on the concept of "no self" created a mixture of feelings, from awe to melancholy, to happiness and sadness and finally to acceptance and a sense of peacefulness from knowing that we don't have to "know it all". Have a great day!

We discussed her insights a bit more on Saturday at the Silver Lake meditation class, and this experience of acceptance was particularly salient.We often have a notion that enlightenment means that we wander around in some kind of "blissed out" world experiencing some permanently altered state of consciousness. The true experience of enlightenment, however, is closer to the student's "garlic epiphany." We are at peace even in the midst of having to accept many different, and often opposite feelings. To be enlightened means that we can accept anything that arises with equanimity (the ability to "be with" the pleasant and the unpleasant equally).

Enlightenment does not mean the end of sadness, anger, fear, physical discomfort, and the like. It does mean that we can accept that these feelings, and any other human experience, with a spacious awareness that acknowledges the presence of these things, and allows them to be there without trying to change, fix, or get rid of them.

And meanwhile, there is still garlic to be peeled.
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. ~ Zen Proverb

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