Digesting the Dharma 2 by Simone Moir
This is part two of Eating the Dharma. How do we digest a talk like last week’s talk? We’ve been studying the Pali canon, some of the earliest texts dished by the Buddha. The Buddha is proposing an experiential and experimental approach as opposed to believing in a set of proposals or dogmas. How do we do this? How can I teach people not to believe me, but to try things out?
Usually our thinking is prophecy or memory – we’re in the future or in the past. But the dharma is concerned with this moment, with what is happening in this present moment. The dharma says that none of the futures or pasts that preoccupy us are actually happening, those are extra veils or attachments we are bringing that work to obscure this moment. Dharma doesn’t follow the me-centered path, the world as a place that gives me what I want. What’s in it for me? The dharma is founded on this radical principal: that the world hasn’t been invented so that I can experience it. But at the same time dharma is very personal, it’s something we have to experience for ourselves.
When we’re in the womb we have our first experience of digestion. We digest before we see. Our mother breaks down most of the food, but we still have to assimilate something other than ourselves and break it down. Eating becomes the model for how we receive people, ideas, experiences. How do we allow others to become part of us? How do we digest them?
When we look at the way we eat, we can also see our relationship to our teachers. Our teachers are versions of our parental units. It’s a tricky thing teaching the dharma, because it’s about being your own authority. The Buddha continually returned to this question: how to empower people so that they can trust their own experience?
Lost or Not Lost Enough
There comes a moment, a period, perhaps again and again, when we feel lost. We might become childlike and dependent. We contrast/compare our experiences with others, and might try to find someone who is doing the right thing as we imagine it, and then copy them. This is what happens when we don’t know how to digest and break down experience for ourselves. Some people are on the other side: they don’t let anyone touch them, they stay in their own cabin in the woods. They want to live outside the system. Either: I’m going to eat like someone else or I’m going to refuse to eat.
Buddha: “This dhamma I have reached is deep, hard to see, difficult to awaken to, quiet and excellent, not confined by thought, subtle, sensed by the wise. But people love their place: they delight and revel in their place. It is hard for people who love, delight and revel in this place to see this ground: this-conditionality, conditioned arising.”
How to turn the wheel of the dharma? How to create a practice, a way of life even, out of this radical insight: that the world hasn’t been made so that I can experience it? The Buddha came up with a toolkit of what the dharma is, and how to digest it. He called it the three pillars: shila, samadhi, prajna. Shila is often translated as discipline, it refers to committed action, clear intention. In shila we show up. If you don’t show up, nothing happens. In sitting practice shila is the discipline of sitting still, we look at whatever is arising, whatever is showing up. Beginning shila means emulating someone else. Copping a riff. We borrow someone else’s practice and try it on. After awhile some of these habits might grow to be our own pattens. Hey, I can sit up straight, I like sitting quietly, or listening with my whole body. Shila develops via experience, we find out something about ourselves, we find something that belongs to us.
Samadhi is traditionally translated as absorption, being fully here. Often we’re thinking of the future or past, or we’re busy exercising our preferences. I like it, I don’t like it. Samadhi means being all here, not sitting safely in the judge’s chamber. During sitting practice we try to let go of our traditional thought patterns and obsessions. We’re not afraid to be all here, watching whatever arises.
Prajna means intellect or insight or discriminating awareness. It means clearly seeing without our preferences, without adding anything. During sitting practice we don’t move because we don’t need to add anything to this moment, not one thought, not scratching an itch, not adjusting our seat or reaching for a drink. The moment is fine just the way it is. When we’re not meddling with experience, we can see clearly, we can see with prajna. Because we have created an environment with shila and samadhi, prajna comes through. Prajna is the unadultered suchness of a colour, a sound of any phenomena without the reference point of the self. We don’t need to turn what we perceive into anything. We can have a direct relationship without any conceptual overlay. This is prajna, direct sharp clear knowing. It cuts through deception.
Find a partner. Bring shila (discipline) – showing up for your partner. Be samadhi: to have the intention of being fully here. You may be distracted by a pain in your knee, but try to drop that and show up for your partner. Be prajna: whatever they’re going to say, or however they say it, there’s no need to judge. They don’t need to be right, and you don’t need to be right. They don’t need to entertain you. Let them be whoever they are. For two minutes each please address this question: what ideas have you consumed recently that you are presently chewing on? What do you know?
*photo credit: brian auer*