“Up to a certain point, the self seems able to accommodate itself to questioning that might lead to new knowledge. As long as it remains the owner of experience, it can enjoy the prospect of new adventures…”
Tarthang Tulku, Love of Knowledge
Ironically, the key to new knowledge, to awakening, seems to be egolessness, not having a solid owning self. This is why people sometimes say the path is ‘not about self-improvement’ which I have found irritating, even disingenuous. I think that’s accurate, though. If you’re improving a self, your practice tends to be limited to a self.
That’s the theory, anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who were ‘self-improvers’ who were compassionate. It’s not impossible. On one level, the idea is that on a large scale, self-improvement is problematic, and limited.
Last post I wrote about thoughts, specifically the idea and practice of thoughts as insubstantial, and the somewhat bizarre idea of thoughts as living beings.
One thought I had about this since I wrote it is that you’re looking at thoughts as space (insubstantial), or energy (living). This is a convenient way of categorizing the two approaches, but it oversimplifies the second part. Actually it makes the second part somewhat sterile, too.
At this point, I think the most coherent I can be when talking about thoughts as living is to bring in the drala principle. Trungpa Rinpoche presented this teaching in the context of Shambhala training. He wrote/talked about drala as living energy, elemental, vivid.
He relates drala to the natural world, to a sense of order, to the elegance of art and design, to beauty itself. Drala is also a natural force, and according to these teachings, ‘almost a separate entity’. That is to say, no entity is separate, so drala, and dralas do exist (insofar as ‘things’ ‘exist’).
Drala or dralas can be seen in presence of something vivid in the world. It can be sensed as something present, although having trained in meditation is important. I think having some kind of mind training is important so that your perceptions can tune in. It is possible to fool yourself when it comes to the spiritual, and mind training is one very effective way of decreasing the likelihood of fooling yourself.
I think the experience of interacting with drala is somewhere between seeing the world as full of spirits, little energy beings, and seeing the world as entirely mechanical. It’s not a matter of anthropomorphising everything. It’s a matter of tuning into various living shades of experience, which involve nonhuman being, or presence. I’ve heard it called ‘natural presence’.
Trungpa Rinpoche writes that at the level of realization, meditators become ‘living drala’ or ‘living magic’. They are able embody the teachings, and transmit the teachings. I think this is a relative/ultimate moment. Everyone is, in some capacity, already living drala.
So this brings it back to thoughts. Thoughts are a kind of drala. In mindfulness meditation, thoughts are just events, or happenings. But off the cushion, thoughts are drala: vivid, with their own energy. Actually, thoughts are drala during meditation as well, but the practice of mindfulness doesn’t work on this angle directly. I think that’s actually one of the amazing things about shamatha/vipashyana meditation: somehow the indirectness of the technique is what makes it effective. It’s like sleight of hand.
But back to thoughts as drala. If thoughts are somehow a living thing in your experience, what does this mean? I don’t really know. It may take me a while to work on that one. I do think it means that meditators have one more technique at their disposal in terms of working with the experience of thoughts: thoughts are drala, and can be seen as such.
What about thoughts as linear, based on the past, branching out to the present experiences of the senses, our desires, concepts, patterns? I think that’s still there. One thing that’s attractive about thoughts as drala is:
a. The view of the self as composed of limiting patterns, and problematic emotions gets frustrating after a while. It makes me feel guilty too.
b. The view of drala-thoughts also helps account for the alienness of thoughts, and the wildness of thoughts.
As for (b), I mean: sometimes I have thoughts that don’t seem to come from any place in me that I understand. These thoughts can be creepy, or plain, silly, a whole variety. And often they seem to hang on. I don’t intentionally give them permission to keep playing in my head, but there they go, playing over and over. Seeing this as drala lends an interesting angle: they are alive, like music, or the weather.
Well, the title is ‘TSK’ but the content had little to do with TSK at all. But this was a long post, so I’ll end it soon. In terms of Time/Space/Knowledge, I’m working on the idea of second level time, as well as the setup I found of unity/practicality/timing. The latter appears in a discussion of second level time. So I’ll go back to that next time.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing.