While preparing for a trail hike through old growth forests, expansive fields under wide skies, leading to incredible vistas, we encounter things that clutter our imagination about the experience we think that we are going to have. They may come in the physical form of old shoes, no water bottle, a tweaked knee, that may or may not be remedied easily. Then there may be the things that we have no control over, weather, the trail closed for maintenance, last minute needs that must be attended to immediately. During the process of attending to these situations, our aspirations for the hike may dwindle or become clouded with frustration, doubt, even fear. We may give up entirely.
Looking carefully, there seem to be two different experiences that may be impediments to the hike and likewise the practice of the paramitas; the obstacles that impede the actual hike or practice and the obscurations of the aspirations that have led us to hike or practice and keep us on the trail or in the practice. Obstacles usually have pretty clear remedies, and they can be removed or not, before the hike or during. New shoes or water bottle, physical therapy or knee replacement. Similarly, adjustments of the physical environment or the sense experiences can be made for obstacles to the practice of the paramitas.
Obscurations are much more subtle, and we are often unaware of them, or the causes of them. there is often a sense that nothing can be done about them. They are like clouds veiling the sun, or dust in the wind, a rainstorm on the mountain trail. But if we watch closely we notice that the clouds are changing or the wind and storm are passing. We can see the light of the sun through them and eventually they dissolve or move on. The trail still exists and we can continue the planning and taking the hike.
This is similar to the obscurations that may show up as we plan to practice and also may show up on the path of the practice. They are made up of thoughts or emotions that have an unknown origin. They distract and dissuade us from the practice. We come up with what seem to be solid reasons for not continuing or not needing to practice. When we stop and take time to attend closely to these obscurations we may see that they are, like clouds, ephemeral and impermanent. And what seemed to be an unmovable obstacle begins to dissolve and lose it solidity. The image or memories of the obscurations may echo in our experience but we have an understanding of their nature as impermanent and maybe even unreal. And in the same way that the trail itself remains after a rainstorm, we notice that the paramitas, as the practice and expression of goodness, also remains after a storm of thought or emotions.
Obstacles and obscurations will always be present in our experiences and our practice. Both are likely to occur once we set out on the trail or any other endeavor and also once we commit to the practice of the paramitas. Developing the skill to discern the difference between obstacles and obscurations will help bring ease and increase flexibility of mind when we meet them and discover the appropriate approaches to their remedies. With practice, obstacles and obscurations may eventually be realized as the thresholds, the doorways and the paths that lead to permanent awareness of the truth of the nature of reality as goodness.
Buddhist teachings refer to that which prevents us from experiencing our true nature and the nature of reality as transcendent, perfect, pure goodness, as an obscuration. Some of the similes that are often used to describe these obscurations are clouds impeding the light of the sun or the luminescence of the moon, mud or pollution in water that prevents us from experiencing the clarity of the nature of water, dust that fills the air so that we cannot breathe freely or see clearly, gold encrusted with filth, a treasure underground.
Take some time now, to let the body, heart, and mind experience the qualities of these phenomena of obscurations. Use one or more of the above phenomena to stimulate the experience of obscuration or veil in you, and explore or rest in that experience. Notice the sense of obscuration. Perhaps there is a reflection of it in the physical body, or memories that arise, or overall sensations, when you hold these images of phenomena in your experience. Stay with that for several minutes. See what shows up. Each time some memory or physical sensation presents itself, sense into the quality of the experience. You may notice that there are thoughts, judgments or emotions about what you are experiencing. Check those out like you might when looking at a cloud. See what they are made of. Notice if they change or remain solid under the gaze of your attention. Then as you go about your daily life see what happens when you apply this practice to any experience of resistance, constriction, or suffering. Perhaps asking is this obstacle or obscuration, or both? And then as usual, just see what shows up.
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.
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than sitting 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:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6 AM Pacific Time
- Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
- Monday and Thursday. Contemplation and meditation. 4:30 PM Pacific Time
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789
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