Well, I did my body-scan meditation before writing- very refreshing. I also just wrote a letter to Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche himself, asking permission to try to publish these posts as a book. We’ll see what happens. I really have no idea what he will say. I could see him saying “great!” or “no, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” or not responding at all. We will see . I am nervous about it. When I lived and practiced in NYC, I had my little sanghas there, and occasionally I’d talk to teachers, but I am not in the habit of writing letters to famous and accomplished masters, which is what Rinpoche is. He was one of the first Tibetan teachers to come to America and take on students and establish centers.
So that’s that. I did also say before that I’d write about body-centered practice in the West. So I’ll write a tiny bit about that before continuing ahead with the commentary.
It’s a big topic, first of all. I don’t have tons of direct experience of it, second of all, although I have studied yoga, martial arts, a little qigong, and so forth.
The fact that those things are available to lots of Americans is one thing. It’s good in many ways, including just in terms of fitness. The fact that so many Americans are out of shape means that they might start trying these disciplines as a way to get in shape. That’s great, I think. The other side of this is the problem area: spiritual materialism, or maybe just materialism in this case.
For an unhealthy person, losing some weight could be a very good, concrete result. But beyond that, getting the perfect body could become a little crazy. It is for me sometimes. Since these disciplines often involve a spiritual side, there’s a lot of promise, but also the potential for people turning the thing into a trip, into something divorced from reality, an escape.
I do think that yoga, which I’ve just started doing recently, along with other disciplines, has so much power and heart to it that even when people misuse it, turning it into a trip, or making it just physical, it tends to infuse people with something anyway. It’s like the dharma- even if you take a teaching and misinterpret it, somehow that teaches you something. It’s that well-designed.
So I am very positive about the prospects of body-practice in the West. I’m also sure that people take it and turn it into egotism, and this will probably blossom in new and interesting ways in rich places like America, where people can do crazy things in the pursuit of happiness (which I love, at the same time).
I read an interview online recently, where one yoga teacher said that yoga is the link that allows spiritual practice to come alive, like the secret ingredient. I don’t agree exactly: I don’t think Indian hatha yoga, or the path of the yoga with its various elements is essential for other faiths. But I do think body based practice has some power in it to enliven faith, to enliven other practices. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that there tends to be a lot energy locked up or hidden in the body, and that this can be accessed, and then used for spiritual stuff. But I’m sure, at the same time, that ten or twenty years from now, the whole “body practice” discourse will seem painfully dated, limited, shortsighted. Maybe if first world countries encounter oil shortages and big disasters, they’ll have so little food that the idea of doing strenuous yoga will seem crazy.
Anyway, enough about my own doings, and the body centered side of practice. In the book, Rinpoche is discussing various TSK practices, the results of those practices, and the kind of knowledge that can arise from them, a new kind of perception.
“It is Great Knowledge that understands this…”
This begins a paragraph I’m fond of. I won’t include the whole thing, but it basically states that thoughts and experiences are space, and knowledge, so there’s no point in suppressing or trying to stop them. In spite of the fact that we are “assailed” by experience often, it is still space. In the case of being overwhelmed or suffering by it, it probably means lower space is in effect, thus the feeling of being trapped by thoughts.
“All these manifestations are Great Space, perceived by Great Knowledge. The tolerant openness of this space, and the silence and clarity of this knowledge, cannot be gained by a strategy of suppression.”
Whether you accept that openness, and a kind of perception that is silent and clear are results to aim for, or indicators of a kind of growth, is up to you. At the same time, the idea that suppression of thoughts doesn’t work as a way to meditate or grow is up to you.
On the other hand, just letting your thoughts run wild, or letting your feelings run wild, probably isn’t a good idea either. This is from personal experience.
Next, Rinpoche describes the exercises and their implications a bit more. Then we get some discussion of the idea that there is no separation between things, and “no partition.” I think this is another way of saying the same thing. This means that Great Space is related to or marked by unity. We’ve covered this a little before in terms of time. Here, in terms of space, we’re seeing the same idea. So, time, space, and knowledge are aspects of one unified thing, different sides of a coin, or of a jewel. The way TSK introduces that unity is by going into each of the three areas, and deconstructing and challenging and working through the various kinds of separation and identity and meaning that occur there.
“The Great Space dimension reveals an all-inclusive unity that, rather paradoxically, is not spread out over any region. Thus, we have an infinite form or totality that nevertheless lacks ordinary spatial extension and is therefore not a ‘thing’ which is infinite.”
The logic here seems startlingly simple and clear: that which is infinite can’t be a thing, because things are separate and limited: things are finite. Or things are infinite, but then they’re not really just things anymore: they’re Space.
What follows is a description of mind, as nonexistent or bottomless, or baseless, and Space. We’re approaching the end of the chapter. I find this material very exciting: vast, yet approachable, and a little adventurous. Again, Rinpoche tells us that mind does exist as a generator of thoughts, and has no solid existence at all. He relates this to space: mind is somehow a focal setting on space. Well, since mind is a kind of space, and space is in itself, infinite, this follows, I think. Mind is space, but somehow space limited in some ways. Normally, mind, doesn’t feel at all infinite or vast. My mind feels habitual, trapped, tossed about on waves of hope and fear, waiting for the next big high or big low. But it is space, and it is not solid. That much seems clear to me. It doesn’t exist. So what’s the problem: where is the line between infinite space mind, and limited crazy mind? I hope to explore that more in the last few posts on space.
Also, body practice comes into play: the body is such a big part of the mind, with all of its energy and habit and space. So maybe this is one reason to include a body-based practice in your schedule: the mind can be worked with, and the body is a big part of that particular field. It’s a big door.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.