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Nonduality Highlights: Issue #3331, Sunday, October 26, 2008, Editor: Mark
The River and the Clouds
Once upon a time there was a beautiful river finding her way among the hills, forests, and meadows. She began by being a joyful stream of water, a spring always dancing and singing as she ran down from the top of the mountain. She was very young at the time, and as she came to the lowland she slowed down. She was thinking about going to the ocean. As she grew up, she learned to look beautiful, winding gracefully among the hills and meadows.
One day she noticed the clouds within herself. Clouds of all sorts of colors and forms. She did nothing during these days but chase after clouds. She wanted to possess a cloud, to have one for herself. But clouds float and travel in the sky, and they are always changing their form. Sometimes they look like an overcoat, sometimes like a horse. Because of the nature of impermanence within the clouds, the river suffered very much. Her pleasure, her joy had become just chasing after clouds, one after another, but despair, anger,and hatred became her life.
Then one day a strong wind came and blew away all the clouds in the sky. The sky became completely empty. Our river thought that life was not worth living, for there were no longer any clouds to chase after. She wanted to die. "If there are no clouds, why should I be alive?" But how can a river take her own life?
That night the river had the opportunity to go back to herself for the first time. She had been running for so long after something outside of herself that she had never seen herself. That night was the first opportunity for her to hear her own crying, the sounds of water crashing against the banks of the river. Because she was able to listen to her own voice, she discovered something quite important.
She realized that what she had been looking for was already in herself. She found out that clouds are nothing but water. Clouds are born from water and will return to water. And she found out she herself was also water.
The next morning when the sun was in the sky, she discovered something beautiful. She saw the blue sky for the first time. She had never noticed it before. She had only been interested in clouds, and she had missed seeing the sky, which is the home of all the clouds. Clouds are impermanent, but the sky is stable. She realized that the immense sky had been within her heart since the very beginning. This great insight brought her peace and happiness. As she saw the vast wonderful blue sky, she knew that her peace and stability would never be lost again.
That afternoon the clouds returned, but this time she did not want to possess any of them. She could see the beauty of each cloud, and she was able to welcome all of them. When a cloud came by, she would greet him or her with loving-kindness. When the cloud wanted to go away, she would wave to him or her happily and with loving kindness. She realized that all clouds are her. She didn't have to choose between the clouds and herself. Peace and harmony existed between her and the clouds.
That evening something wonderful happened. When she opened her heart completely to the evening sky she received the image of the full moon - beautiful, round, like a jewel within herself. She had never imagined that she could receive such a beautiful image. There is a very beautiful poem in Chinese: "The fresh and beautiful moon is travelling in the utmost empty sky. When the mind-rivers of living beings are free, that image of the beautiful moon will reflect in each of us."
This was the mind of the river at that moment. She received the image of that beautiful moon within her heart, and water, clouds, and moon took each other's hands and practiced walking meditation slowly, slowly to the ocean.
There is nothing to chase after. We can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Allspirit
To Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself
The journey of awakening happens just at the place where we can't get comfortable. Opening to discomfort is the basis of transmuting our so-called "negative" feelings. We somehow want to get rid of our uncomfortable feelings either by justifying them or by squelching them, but it turns out that this is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. According to the teachings of vajrayana, or tantric, Buddhism, our wisdom and our confusion are so interwoven that it doesn't work to just throw things out.
By trying to get rid of "negativity," by trying to eradicate it, by putting it into a column labelled "bad," we are throwing away our wisdom as well, because everything in us is creative energy - particularly our strong emotions. They are filled with life-force.
There is nothing wrong with negativity per se; the problem is that we never see it, we never honor it, we never look into its heart. We don't taste our negativity, smell it, get to know it. Instead, we are always trying to get rid of it by punching someone in the face, by slandering someone, by punishing ourselves, or by repressing our feelings. In between repression and acting out, however, there is something wise and profound and timeless.
If we just try to get rid of negative feelings, we don't realize that those feelings are our wisdom. The transmutation comes from the willingness to hold our seat with the feeling, to let the words go, to let the justification go. We don't have to have resolution. We can live with a dissonant note; we don't have to play the next key to end the tune.
Curiously enough, this journey of transmutation is one of tremendous joy. We usually seek joy in the wrong places, by trying to avoid feeling whole parts of the human condition. We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves. However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness. This combination of honesty, or clear-seeing, and kindness is the essence of maitri - unconditional friendship with ourselves.
This is a process of continually stepping into unknown territory. You become willing to step into the unknown territory of your own being. Then you realize that this particular adventure is not only taking you into your own being, it's also taking you out into the whole universe. You can only go into the unknown when you have made friends with yourself. You can only step into those areas "out there" by beginning to explore and have curiosity about this unknown "in here," in yourself.
Dogen Zen-ji said, "To know yourself is to forget yourself." We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves - at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are - we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. Somehow all of these walls, these ways of feeling separate from everything else and everyone else, are made up of opinions. They are made up of dogma; they are made of prejudice. These walls come from our fear of knowing parts of ourselves.
There is a Tibetan teaching that is often translated as, "Self-cherishing is the root of all suffering." It can be hard for a Western person to hear the term "self-cherishing" without misunderstanding what is being said. I would guess that 85% of us Westerners would interpret it as telling us that we shouldn't care for ourselves - that there is something anti-wakeful about respecting ourselves. But that isn't what it really means. What it is talking about is fixating. "Self-cherishing" refers to how we try to protect ourselves by fixating; how we put up walls so that we won't have to feel discomfort or lack of resolution. That notion of self-cherishing refers to the erroneous belief that there could be only comfort and no discomfort, or the belief that there could be only happiness and no sadness, or the belief that there could be just good and no bad.
But what the Buddhist teachings point out is that we could take a much bigger perspective, one that is beyond good and evil. Classifications of good and bad come from lack of maitri. We say that something is good if it makes us feel secure and it's bad if it makes us feel insecure. That way we get into hating people who make us feel insecure and hating all kinds of religions or nationalities that make us feel insecure. And we like those who give us ground under our feet.
When we are so involved with trying to protect ourselves, we are unable to see the pain in another person's face. "Self-cherishing" is ego fixating and grasping: it ties our hearts, our shoulders, our head, our stomach, into knots. We can't open. Everything is in a knot. When we begin to open we can see others and we can be there for them. But to the degree that we haven't worked with our own fear, we are going to shut down when others trigger our fear.
So to know yourself is to forget yourself. This is to say that when we make friends with ourselves we no longer have to be so self-involved. It's a curious twist: making friends with ourselves is a way of not being so self-involved anymore. Then Dogen Zen-ji goes on to say, "To forget yourself is to become enlightened by all things." When we are not so self-involved, we begin to realize that the world is speaking to us all of the time. Every plant, every tree, every animal, every person, every car, every airplane is speaking to us, teaching us, awakening us. It's a wonderful world, but we often miss it. It's as if we see the previews of coming attractions and never get to the main feature.
When we feel resentful or judgmental, it hurts us and it hurts others. But if we look into it we might see that behind the resentment there is fear and behind the fear there is a tremendous softness. There is a very big heart and a huge mind - a very awake, basic state of being. To experience this we begin to make a journey, the journey of unconditional friendliness toward the self that we already are.
- Pema Chödrön
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