The Secret Life of Thoughts

If anything of importance is to be discovered through spiritual practice, it will depend on one’s attitude.  Here we need to consider our attitude not only in the sense of emotional responsiveness but also in the mechanical sense of a conscious cognitive trajectory. For the most part, Dzogchen teachings are to be found in the context of Vajrayana Buddhism and therefore, by extension, as presented by contemporary Vajrayana Buddhist teachers.  If one learns the Tibetan language very well it then becomes possible to study original Dzogchen texts.  Correctly comprehending Dzogchen texts however, even for native Tibetan readers, is not an easy task because Dzogchen has its own jargon.  There are many Tibetan terms that Vajrayana Buddhism and Dzogchen share but that have very different connotations.  It is in these connotations, the actual implied meaning, that the real value resides.  Although I am not in any way an expert on either Judaism or Islam, I have be told by various mentors that a somewhat parallel linguistic situation also exists with Judaism/Cabala and Islam/Sufi.

Even if a comprehensive Dzogchen dictionary/glossary existed, the fact remains that words are symbols.  In order to really know what is being symbolized by all those words, transmission is required.  To say that it is required does not mean that there is a rule that one has to follow whereby the student must receive transmission from a master.  It means that without transmission, we could never be certain about that which is being symbolized.  In the Dzogchen method, certainty is one of the main principles upon which the teachings function.  It is extremely important to understand that in Dzogchen, certainty does not mean faith or conviction. Certainty refers to concrete experience — like the certainty we have about our ability to identify the taste of pineapple.  No amount of technical data about the botanical history or chemical composition of pineapple will make us certain of its taste.  Even if we have already some experiential knowledge of other sweet fruits, merely knowing that pineapples have a high sugar content still brings us no closer to the unique certainty of actually having a taste of it.

The style of Buddhism is to be regulated by Buddhist precepts until one’s system becomes self-regulating.  This can be accomplished by purifying impure vision.  The Dharma of precept can thus become the Dharma of realization, and the Ten Precepts can thus metamorphosize from the contrivance of “good behavior” into genuine spontaneous appropriateness. The style of Dzogchen is to practice drenpa and she-zhin. These two terms refer to a special mode of deliberate self-awareness.  Drenpa is a conscious state of presence in the context of continuity. This involves the mechanism of memory in a special way.  In fact, the Tibetan word, drenpa, literally means to remember.  However, in this special Dzogchen use of the word, remembering involves integrating moments of presence not only from past and present, but also in connection to the future. This probably warrants more explanation. Normally, when we consider the concepts of past, present and future, we habitually conceive these as discreet periods of time, landmarked by specific, multi-sensory images. However, our only real access to the past is in the present through what we normally refer to as remembering. Since remembering happens in the present, what we call past can actually only “happen” in the present moment of remembering. The future likewise only happens in the present moment of anticipating, wishing, planning, etc. Since most of our time is spent in either remembering or anticipating, we mostly don’t experience the present moment at all. If we do manage to really be in the present moment, we find that state of mind to be timeless. The practice of drenpa is a practice of bringing the state of presence into the present moment by “remembering” the state of presence that was aroused by the master’s transmission. This “presence-in-thought” can therefore also be accomplished in the future. She-zhin is a conscious state of contemplation that is atemporal. It is also a state of presence but relates directly to the present moment as such. So, these two awarenesses subsume the experience of time altogether, as one cuts through time and the other remains outside of time.  The practice of drenpa and she-zhin comprise a unified mode of contemplation, not pursued separately. (Beyond this state of presence-in-thought that can thus be developed, there is the state of pure presence which is called rigpa).

Since bad behavior is the ignorance-reflex of feeling trapped inside of time, the practice of denpa and she-zhin obviates the need for regulatory precepts.  Nevertheless, if we find that it is not so easy to maintain denpa and she-zhin, we can certainly make good use of the comprehensive Buddhist precepts. Realizing that we are free to make use of whatever is necessary is like knowing that we can have a safety-net under the tight-rope if we choose. Following and maintaining the Buddhist precepts is the ultimate safety net, and can lead one back to the rope itself.  The experience of actually being on the tight-rope is however very different from the experience of being in the net.

There is an apocryphal teaching attributed to Jesus (Mark 2:27) that goes like this: One day, the Pharisees observed the disciples of Jesus harvesting grain on the Sabbath day and confronted him critically about this infraction.  Jesus responded, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

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