Tag Archives: Buddha

Deep Observation

Observations lead to interaction. We need a deep sense of observation to perform healthy interactions; and more observation to  fuel reflection and further action.

The Buddha talks about penetrating the objects of observation; diving into them and observing the body in the body, the perception in the perception; only so we can know the object. From observation comes insight; from insight comes knowledge. In the end it is deep observation that leads us to an interaction based on understanding. The interaction closes the loop; an interaction based on insight or true understanding creates meaning.

“When you practice deep looking and master yourself, you dwell in peace freedom and safety.”~Thich Nhat Hanh

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Mindfulness

Facing East, I’m calling the element Air into the circle, asking for the power of the sun, sharp precision and focus in my undertakings. I find peace through clarity, the innocence of the infant as the wind blows through the deepest valleys of my being. May purity and truth guide our inspiration and intuition in every moment, in every step.  

It is a miracle to walk on water. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real miracle is to walk on the earth. We all can do that, can’t we? But have we ever actually been present walking on the earth? How do the feet feel on the ground, the wind on our skin? Have we ever been aware of that… and appreciated it? Are we aware of the sensations that a smile brings to our bodies? Have we ever fully listened to one of our fellow human beings, our friends, our children? Have we ever eaten a tangerine?

Adding a handful of loving kindness and compassion to awareness gives us mindfulness – the Buddhist dharma of being lovingly present in every moment and in whatever we do. Visiting Buddhist temples inThailandandCambodiawe often encountered stair steps that are leading to the Buddha statues double or triple as high as the ones in a normal house. Why? I asked. It is not an easy walk to reach the highest, the Buddha, I was told – it is a walk done in full awareness and participation. Every step is a step in mindfulness as we climb the steps of realisation. Every step is of equal importance, is the next possible step, the present moment, … every step is peace.

Only in realising the universality, the interconnectedness of every step in life, only when we put our feet in front of each other in full awareness, in full participation, we’ve actually done a step.

In this way mindfulness is not an idea that is practiced in meditation alone – mindfulness is the tool that lets us be, that makes us live in every moment, that connects us to our surroundings, the world and the people. We can practice mindfulness in every moment: when we breathe, breathing in, I know I’m breathing in, breathing out, I know I’m breathing out; breathing in, I’m here in the present moment, breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. It is the breath that in a subtle way connects us to the outside world, from the moment we’re born until the moment our body passes away. We can practice mindfulness while walking: I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out, I have arrived and I am home, in the here and in the now, I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out.

When the Buddha explained the idea of mindfulness to a group of kids, he gave them a tangerine and made them feel it with their hands while peeling it, feeling the sensations on their tongues while eating it, every sensation in the mouth and through the body. How does it feel to eat a tangerine in full presence and participation?

Another way to practice mindfulness in the modern world is through listening – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening. Deep listening is practiced by his followers and others all around the world. In our modern world of distraction and individualism can we really deeply listen to each other? Are we able to hear what another person is telling us without building our personal opinion in our heads, already thinking of what we’ll say next? Can we hear what our friend says, can we hear what our bodies say, what the earth says with every movement she makes? To listen is to understand. Can we breathe in understanding, walk in understanding, be in understanding? Can we walk the earth in peace, reconciling with every step we make? Can we be in loving awareness, in full participation, in mindfulness?

‘A Rose is not a Rose’

The Buddha said to Subhuti: “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.” – Sutra 5, Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

The other night, full moon on the Thai island Samui, my family and I saw a more or less informal fireshow. Afterwards, we sat with the artist who turned out to be a slide of hand magician. The morning after, I woke up, realising I dreamt that I was present in a Sufi prayer ceremony; something I had never (at least not knowingly) witnessed before.

I don’t know how the slide-off-hand magician and the Sufi ceremony are interrelated, but yet the two incidences have something in common: they are both showing aspects of our minds; limitations and creativity resp.

The slide of hand magician uses his finesse to deceive our perception of reality, bringing us out of our usual thinking patterns: our minds, conditioned in a particular way is unable to classify these new experiences into one of its pockets and leaves us marvelling with wonder. Once we realise what is actually happening it feels like a leap in consciousness when in reality it is a simple insight, a quick restructuring of the patterns. In the dream I must have found refuge in a part of myself that hides in the subconscious and is far more creative and sophisticated than my mind in the waking state; still, in the end it must have been my mind that reorganised, restructured, or reinvented available patterns to reconstruct a conception of an already existing perception.

The Buddha in this little verse from the Diamond Sutra talks about the ‘signless nature of signs’. What he mentions is the emptiness of our preconceived concepts and ideas (signless nature) in the perception of objects, people or experiences (signs). Only by seeing this emptiness in all things, we ‘can see the Tathagata’ (‘coming from nowhere and going nowhere’). Our mind however is used to categorise all different perceptions according to previous experiences. The language that is used verbally or by the thinking mind is a static one, simple, insufficiently sophisticated to describe an ever-changing world of process, complexity and interrelations. (Rosenberg 2003)

In different situations, we call people lazy, stupid, bad or good; all judgements that say very little about who the persons really are and have little relation to the situation that made us cast this judgemental evaluation. In the same way we call people cooks, maids, diplomats or policemen; some of these generalisations like the latter one are often connoted with negative judgements that don’t need to be said, but are often heard. What these static labels, or the expression of these apparent signs don’t do, however, is express the totality of another person’s being. (Rosenberg 2003) In this regard, Thich Nhat Hanh describes, in his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, our perception based on signs as inaccurate and erroneous. The reason why they lead us into deception is the conceptualisation that takes away from reality and fails to describe the interrelations, the interbeing of everything. When we evaluate our observations or our perceptions, people tend to hear criticism instead of the intended message because they don’t feel sufficiently or rightly represented in our expression. (Rosenberg 2003)

Looking deeply into another person, we see that he/she is not self-existing. He/She is the environment, the culture, education and heredity that he/she was born in. There is an uncountable number of things that contribute to someone’s being. Only when we are able to see all of these interconnections we can say that we truly know a person. (Nhat Hanh 1992)

When we observe what we see, hear, or touch in the spirit of signlessness we are able to confront people and situations without evaluation them; then we can express clearly what affects us in a descriptive way based on time and context; say what actually happened instead of deliberately labelling perceptions; we can protect and cultivate the good qualities in us and in others. The slight of hand magician can leave us in wonder but not deceive us and the reality in the dream becomes the wonder of reality.

‘When the Buddha sees a rose, does he recognise it as a rose in the same way that we do? Of course he does. But before he says the rose is a rose, the Buddha has seen that the rose is not a rose. He has seen that it is made of non-rose elements, with no clear demarcation between the rose and those elements that are not the rose. When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualisation to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C, or D.” But when A is looked at in the light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D and everything else in the universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone. When we look deeply into A, we see B, C, D, and so on. Once we understand that A is not just A, we understand the true nature of A and are qualified to say “A is A,” or “A is not A.” But until then, the A we see is just an illusion of the true A.’ – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond that cuts through illusion – Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond