Prajnaparamita. The Eightfold Path. Upright Intention, Aspiration, or Thought

Dear Friends,

I have been reflecting this week on the translation of the Sanskrit word astaguna as “eightfold”. Another translation is “endowed with eight qualities” which stirs in me the sense of uprightness. But eightfold seems to me the more accurate of the two. Perhaps you can imagine the Noble Eightfold Path as a perfect square of origami paper that will transform into a crane  with sixteen steps and eight unique folds. We also might imagine the manifested crane as prajnaparamita. In the steps for the origami crane the folds are separate or unique but they each contribute equally and are completely necessary for the manifestation of the crane. Likewise, each quality of the Noble Eightfold Path contributes to and is essential for the manifestation of prajnaparamita.The subtle difference between an origami crane and the Noble Eightfold Path is that there is not a sequence or order of the qualities in order to manifest prajnaparamita. Each quality is simultaneous and contributive to the other seven and to the whole. Precise and unwavering attention to and practice of one quality reveals or unfolds each of the other seven and the whole. So, the practice of the Upright Eightfold Path for you might start with where there is resonance to or affinity for one of the eight and, in the same way that we return to a focus point in meditation (like the breath), throughout our daily excursions through life we return to attention and practice to that quality and see what unfolds.

The Eightfold Path.

Upright Intention, Aspiration, or Thought.

Just sitting (or standing, walking, lying down…) here and letting the five sense gates open wide to here and the consciousness gate open wide to thoughts, is the beginning of the practice of uprightness. We can use the analogy from Tenshin Anderson of  just sitting in the open field of awareness-of-here that seems to have at its perimeter a dense forest of darkness out of which thoughts and feelings join the present awareness in the field. If they are sparks of light that promote a sense of positive feelings we tend to want to name them and cling to them and make them a permanent part of here. If there are the little demons of lust, greed and hate, we want to name them and push them back into the forest trying to obliterate them from here

The practice of uprightness is to, neither move toward or away from the sparks and demons but, to see what they are made of, be curious about them and see if they are substantial or not. The invitation is to practice this to such an extent that we don’t even name them but just let open awareness experience them while noticing the habitual tendencies to name, cling, or avert from them. Then just see what happens without the hope or expectation of them changing or moving or going away, just see.

In the opening dharma talk of the 1994 fall practice session at Tassajara (link), Tenshin asks the practitioners, “What is your ultimate concern?” For me this encapsulates the practice and quality of “upright intention, aspiration or thought”. Sitting in the clearing of open awareness we ask “What is my ultimate concern?” It is not “What is the ultimate concern for all beings?”, “What is the ultimate concern of god?” or anything else. It seems that when we ask this question of ourselves all sorts of demons and sparks come out of the dark forest of our habitual ingrained mind stream. There is a tendency/habit of grabbing on to the most beautiful ones and calling them the “right aspiration” or taking up a sword of what we think “right intention” is and slaying the demons that have “wrong intention”. This approach to “right intention” is the primary cause of the polarization, aggression, war, starvation, consumerism in society today and throughout the evolution of human consciousness.

Instead, we might consider this practice of “upright intention”; that in the midst of the cataract of sparks and demons, we remain in the stillness of simple awareness and ask again, “What is my ultimate concern?” again and again, letting the habits of clinging, aversion, and delusion dissipate in this open ended question. Over time this practice may winnow out the intentions that are inspired by greed, hatred or delusion. Then there is the possibility of seeing the intentions, aspirations and thoughts that are behind all of our volitions, our willings and doings. There is the glimmer of seeing what brings us to practice, what draws us to compassion, what inspires awareness of understanding.

This question of ultimate concern then becomes like our breath. It is with us in all of the daily excursions of life. It shines like a crystal clear light  that enlightens awareness of the ways that our habitual thoughts and emotions inhibit or prevent the manifestation of our “upright intention, aspiration or thought” and reveals the ways that naturally manifest our unconditioned, untainted, “ultimate concern”. With practice the whole being is permeated with this concern. The body and the sense gates sing in harmony with the chorus of all Nature and alert us with disharmony, contractions or resistance when we slip. There may even be the dawning of “upright understanding” that this ultimate concern was/is/will be always here at the heart of and the cause of all sparks and demons, stillness and movement, the clearing in the forest and the dark forest. So dear friends, what is your ultimate concern?

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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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Hoh Forest Photo by Jim Ekstrand

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

If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”

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