Prajnaparamita. The Eighfold Path. Upright Understanding or View.

Dear Friends,

I have been reviewing some of the posts and noticed that there is often a repeated pattern to the writing that basically says “If you do this you get this little present at the end.” Many of you have heard me say during the practice sessions, that “There are no promises in this practice”, “There are no reachable goals”, “There is nothing to attain”. So I am feeling a little hypocritical. I notice that when I am writing these posts that there is a deep river stirring in me that is made of the waters of wanting all beings to experience freedom from suffering. I also notice that I am conditioned, in this life, to entice people into things that I have experienced that have lifted some of my burdens of suffering. I think that the true intention in these exhortations toward freedom that speckle the endings of the posts is more like a child who, having seen their first pill bug, is filled with the awe of its capacities to roll up and expand and tickle the palm as it crawls, and wants that feeling of awe to be known by everyone! For in reality, one of the parts of this practice that most stirs my heart to continue is that there is no promise, no reward for good deed, no lasting diminishment for failure, no meditation that will permanently lift one out of the habitual conditioned mind to freedom. There is just an invitation to see things just as they are, just as each of you uniquely sees them, and then to be curious about them. What are they made of? How do they come about? To be still and see. Each of you who have practiced with the sangha have shared that there is, at some point, an experience that is present in the practice. An experience of a beingness, that for a moment at least, is open, easeful, and unburdened. Like seeing your first pill bug. It’s not a reward for good practice, it’s just what is. So I want to apologize for any thing that I have written that indicated an “if – then”. 

But, Shakyamuni Buddha presented the Eightfold Path or the Buddha Way. So is there is a way to get somewhere?

The Eightfold Path

Upright Understanding or View

In last week’s post (Here is the link ), I introduced Tenshin Reb Anderson’s concept of “uprightness” presented at a practice period at Tassajara Retreat Center ( available here). In brief, it is the practice of staying on the spot where you are like a tree deeply rooted or a whippoorwill singing on a branch; letting all of the elements touch, bend, fill, entice, slap you around, but not moving. This is a psycho-emotional uprightness. It’s bending with the weight of grief, letting it touch you and remaining in stillness. It’s the fluttering of the heart in-love penetrating the cells of the being and remaining still. This grief and this in-love will come and build and go and come again and uprightness is not following or grasping-clinging, to the wind or weight or torrent. Uprightness is to be still as it moves through and forms and cleanses .

Upright view or understanding is engaging all of our senses in what is here. In its full fruition, upright understanding is like seeing everything for the first time without name or condition. 

There is a story, told by some, of the arrival of the Portuguese in their massive ships at the Hawaiian Islands. The native people first called the ships dark clouds, then  great gods and some called the very pale beings that came from the ships, gods arriving on clouds and they met them with canoes filled with gifts and food to honor them. They had no name and no previous condition to explain these things other than the conditions already laid down in their stories and experiences. 

We are doing variations of this all of the time and as a result we bring a viewpoint or understanding about what we are sensing that is conditioned by the stories and habitual ways of conceiving that lay mostly hidden in our consciousness; in the dark forest. Based on that viewpoint and the stories that we are conditioned with, we act or think, or experience an emotion. We meet someone for the first time and they are wearing a deep purple top and it is our favorite color. Somewhere the habitual mind might be saying, “ I’m gonna love this person.” and you may not have any idea that it’s because of the color they are wearing. Then they speak and their voice is timid and withdrawn and somewhere there is a hidden memory of school and how everyone disliked this person who was shy and withdrawn and couldn’t speak up and all of a sudden the feelings for this person change to disdain. This is happening a trillion times in every moment that we sense into the world, even the dream world.

The practice of Upright Understanding or View, is developing the understanding that this habitual torrent of judgments, decisions, attachments, hatreds, urges etc. is a constant flow and that it is coloring the perception of reality, of just what is here. We are normally carried away by this stream and dropped off in a concept about reality that is based on these habitual imaginations. Practicing Upright Understanding or View is experiencing the stream, its pushing and tugging, and promises of something downstream where you can land, and not moving. It is piercing though the conditioned muck and seeing just what is here; a human who has a purple top and a quiet voice. “Nice to meet you! 

In practice, begin to look around, sense around, including sensing the thoughts about the thoughts and begin to notice not only just what is here but what is being brought to what is here. It is easiest to start with something obvious, like a person wearing a MAGA hat. No matter where you stand this will usually trigger a flood of conditioned preconceived ideas about that person. Sensing that through all of your sense gates and letting it wash through. Is there anything left? Can you step up to this person and see just what is there? Kind of like this: 

 “A human being with a MAGA hat. I am loaded with emotions and impulses that are swooshing around me like a swarm of wasps. I am noticing the swarm and how it stimulates aversion and fear or admiration and kinship. The body is tensing or agitated or reaching. Now there is some clearing  and the dust is settling. 

Hmmm, A person with a MAGA hat. Hi nice to meet you!” and you genuinely mean it. “Another human being in the swirl of suffering just like me. Ah, a companion to walk with if they would like that.”  (For a real life version of this, ask David Trainer about the parking guru. I’ll try to get a link to this story for posting.)

As you practice, choose more and more subtle concepts to work with. Things like “cement”, “this thought”. Or immensely broad experiences like “beauty”, “freedom”, “I”. These practices are not to get anywhere or to get something. They may be helpful to begin to understand how we currently think that we understand and may open up to an Upright Understanding or View about life’s experience.

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With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.

William

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Practice

Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome. 

 We practice on ZOOM:

Mornings

  • Mondays – Calm abiding. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
  • Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time 
  • Wednesdays and Fridays – Zazen Practice 7:00 AM Pacific Time.
  • Sundays – Paramitas. 7 AM Pacific Time 

ZOOM Link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789 

Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to wrgentner@gmail.com 

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Check-In

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