Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

Being dumped and left behind, completely forgotten by a great Romantic Love, feels much like being forsaken by a deity. On some level, this is precisely true. Love as great object of inspiration has forsaken you, left you alone to find your way in existence without it. Here echoes the existential dilemma of Sartre: alienation. You’re on your own in finding your meaning in life now, and your choices no longer involve the creation of a shared meaning with another person.

This feeling of forgottenness and abandonment has been biting at me for months. Social media hasn’t helped. I’ve seen the contacts I once had slowly forget my existence. Such is to be expected and is not anything wrong on their parts, but it just emphasizes the feeling of alienation even more. The constant reminder of this in the noise of social media babble has, along with a few other motivations, pushed me to close my main social media account for now. In a strange way, it’s been liberating. I feel that I’m taking up the solitary path that is discussed in the Dhammapada; like the well-trained elephant, I’m learning to take on the trek through the jungles by myself, relaxing in the journey yet staying on course.


Recently, I did a particular meditation for the first time in months. In it, you center for a few minutes while holding your hands over your heart with your thumbs and pointer fingers together in the shape of a triangle. After breathing and centering for some time, you ask yourself, or rather, plant the question: “If I planted my heart, what would grow?”  You then sit with whatever answer comes to form in your mind, not forcing, not judging, just observing. The last time I did this, I had some intense yet interesting experiences (you can read about them here). This time’s experience of the meditation was also intense but very different from the last.

My question first met with a blank, and then, a stalk with a pink flower popped out. At first, it was the bleeding heart flower but became a larger, bell-shaped flower.

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From this:

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To something closer to a single one of these:

Then, another and another popped up. Eventually, they started to lean down and crumple. I had a sudden fear that they were withering and dying from some blight, and indeed, they soon disappeared. However, the ground then gave birth to green leaves, like those from orchids, coming out of the ground by the hundreds, spreading out and out and out. I was struck by the abundance of this–an overwhelming sense of compassion and generosity.

I was almost in tears of gratitude as I came out of this meditation. I realized again, that the problem of this kind of pain only bites and tortures when focused on “me“. The question isn’t what I can, should, or will do for myself. That will continue the focus on the pain that is here, never getting beyond it and keeping the story locked in my orbit, reinforcing that story even. Instead, how can I give to all? If my focus becomes about abundance outward, I’ll find lushness throughout existence. Then, it’s not about me. It’s about the universe. It’s about All.

Identification born of ignorance is a source of grief, and its fading a move toward freedom, as I learned in the days following the death of my only daughter, Ona. She had been congested; her doctor failed to notice her swollen ankles and pale complexion. She was a cherubic child, and we, too, were slow to appreciate the extent of her listlessness. A trip to another physician led to a rush to the hospital; Ona died that night. Her heard had a hole in it and could not keep up with the increased burden of pneumonia.

Days and nights followed in a blur of emotion. Relatives wept with us, visitors came and went, sleep was elusive. The pain made a home in my body and lived there. I had never known such grief. Yet, sometimes, I was able to experience this grief in a nonidentified way, noticing feelings rise and fall, as I did in meditation. And I began to detect a pattern. Whenever a telephone call came–yet another person expressing sympathy–my grief erupted anew. Emotion welled up from my belly through my heart, my head flushed with sensation, my eyes filled with tears.

Watching this time and again, I saw how, at the moment of contact with the caller, an image formed in my mind: the father who lost his child. Instead of experiencing the shifting emotions of the moment–now sadness, now disbelief, now compassion for my wife–I inhabited the image of someone overwhelmed with grief. I identified with that fabricated image, stepped into it as if boarding a train, and became overwhelmed. The immediate suffering was compounded, distorted, and amplified. Knowing this was freeing. Once I discovered this pattern, I was able to watch the train come into the station but not board it. I still felt grief: Ona was of my heart; her absence was confusing and painful. But when I stopped stepping into the mental-emotional construction of “the grieving father,” that pain became less sharp and turbulent because it was not proliferated into a “second arrow” of suffering.

Insight Dialogue:The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, Gregory Kramer, pp. 65-66


Later on in the evening, I read the following in Matthieu Richard’s “Happiness” before falling asleep.

As the pain that afflicts us grows stronger, our mental universe contracts. Events and thoughts continually rebound off the walls of our circumscribed inner prison. They speed up and gather force, every ricochet inflicting new wounds. We must therefore broaden our inner horizons to the point where there are no walls for negative emotion to bounce off of. When these walls, built brick by brick by the self, come tumbling down, suffering’s bullets will miss their mark and vanish in the vast openness of inner freedom. We realize that our suffering was forgetfulness of our true nature, which remains unchanged beneath the fog of emotions. It is essential to develop and sustain this broadening of the inner horizons. External events and thoughts will then emerge like stars that reflect off the calm surface of a vast ocean without disturbing it.

One of the best ways to achieve that state is to meditate on feelings that transcend our mental afflictions. If, for instance, we gradually let our mind be invaded by a feeling of love and compassion for all beings, the warmth of such a thought will very likely melt the ice of our frustrations, while its gentleness will cool the fire of our desires. We will have succeeded in raising ourselves above our personal pain to the point where it becomes almost imperceptible.

Exercise: When you feel overwhelmed by emotions
Imagine a stormy sea with breakers as big as houses. Each wave is more monstrous than the last. They are about to engulf your boat, your very life hangs on those few extra yards in the rushing wall of water. Then imagine observing the same scene from a high-flying plane. From that perspective, the waves seem to form a delicate blue-and-white mosaic, barely trembling on the surface of the water. From that height in the silence of space, your eye sees those almost motionless patterns, and your mind immerses itself in clear and luminous sky. The waves of anger or obsession seem real enough, but remind yourself that they are merely fabrications of your mind; that they will rise and also again disappear. Why stay on the boat of mental anxiety? Make your mind as vast as the sky and you will find that the waves of afflictive emotions have lost all the strength you had attributed to them.

After reading this, I lay there in bed and started winding my mind into sleep. As I closed my eyes, I saw the image of a statue of an elephant’s head facing me. It was ancient, long forgotten in some lost glade of the Indian wilds. It was overgrown with grass and hanging vines, although only partially–his regal head was still clearly visible as well as the details of the carving. The foliage hung gently, emphasizing his calm majesty, and the light green was punctuated at the crown of his head and along the edges of the ears with light pink flowers–the same that I had seen in my meditation. His calm warmth inspired me and reminded me that the selfless path to nirvana is described in the Dhammapada as the training of the elephant. This ancient wisdom is still here to calmly inspire and point out the path, overgrown as the symbols may be, even in the darkest times of our lives. That smiling, beautiful tranquility is right here to be seen. I drifted off with this serene joy.

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Something like this guy, but just the head from straight on–face to face, and much closer…


At a retreat about 2 years ago, the shaman in charge told all of us that the point of what we were doing was to get beyond the head and into the heart. He was completely correct, but maybe, it was in an even deeper manner than he realized.

Mahayana Buddhism urges practitioners to rouse bodhicittaBodhicitta is translated usually as awakened mind or awakened heart and sometimes as noble mind or noble heart. The point I want to pull out here is that mind and heart are not clearly distinguished as separate in this Sanskrit word. When we Westerners say “mind”, we generally think only of the intellect, but ultimately, mind is all of our experience. All experiences we have in our lives are filtered by our mind. Our emotions, our thoughts, our perceptions, all take place within our receptive engagement with the universe–consciousness: mind. If anything, part of our problem as Westerners is that our usage of these words has tried to split out emotions, “heart”, from what we’ve made into a more idea-laden space of “mind”. However, psychology would show us that even emotions are tempered by our concepts, (hi)stories, and social constructs. Our experience of heart is not separate from our experience of mind. It really is Heartmind (inspired by Sanskrit’s lack of clear distinction between the two).

Opening the heart and traveling into its depths then is both getting beyond the head AND awakening the mind–the heartmind. Really reaching into these depths of mindheart is stepping past all of our identifications and constructs. It’s finding the empty and open potential for all unfolding in this moment–sheer luminosity. We can call it creative force, Source, Tao, or buddha-nature, but opening to this emptiness behind/within All, shunyata, is the great spiritual journey of the warrior who seeks to awaken the heart. Seeing this, even briefly, goes beyond intellectual constructs of self and lights the abundant fire of compassion that is bodhicitta; it makes the awakened heartmind beat with abundance.


Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao, Loy Ching-Yuen, “On Tao: §3”

May this inspire other warriors to rouse bodhicitta and let their heartminds overflow with abundance. May the training of self, the harnessing of the process of walking the path–the trained elephant–act as a guide and inspiration on the path.

Gassho!

Grasping at Sand – The Pursuit of Happiness

We pursue happiness,
grasping onto desires–
Justifying this as wisdom, as nature, as fact–
Fulfillment + gratification = happiness!!!
Yet we don’t see…

The heart grasping onto desires
Is like a hand grasping
Onto grains of the finest sand.
No matter how hard we
Try to hold on,
It slips out,
And what remains
Tickles and scratches,
Holding onto the hand
Even if the hand lets go.
Yet we don’t see…

Sand flits out of the hand’s grasp
Blowing away in the wind
Lost, gone, vanished
Like a dream
As though the grains were never there
Just like this
Desires arise and disappear
Ephemeral phantoms taken as solid
Yet we don’t see…
Is there a better way to be?

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Without desire, without distress
we keep to our empty heart.
The beauty of the Way is that there is no
“way”.

No self
No this, no that

Everything, everything is simply emptiness.
– Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Tao, §10)

Desire that has no desire is the Way
Tao is the balance of wanting
and our not-wanting mind

Travelers know that steep cliffs mean a long, hard
climb.
Just so with Tao:
No smooth roads without first a few ups and downs.
-Loy Ching-Yuen The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao (On Enlightenment, §1)

May this help you balance your wanting and not-wanting mind, finding the desire that has no desire. May this help you slowly open the heart that grasps onto desire, one that seeks happiness in selfish fulfillment. May you instead find your way onto the selfless path that brings true happiness: an open heart of bodhicitta (have a look at my discussion of the first chapter of the Dhammapada for more on the selfish and selfless paths, and have a look at this one for more discussion of bodhicitta).

Gassho!

The Practice

We go through
Day by day
Expecting…
More of the same
Routines, comfort
–Both good and bad,
“The same” returns

Yet, Life is full
Of happenings
–Unforeseen,
Unwanted
Chaotic
In a word:
Change

In a moment,
All can turn
That is the Truth
Such is All
The Universe:
Impermanent
Flowing–in flux

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All changes. Practice embraces this.

The Practice:
To accept this
As Truth and Path
Without attachment
To the way things were
Or the way things could be
Find comfort in the
Emptiness
And show up
With Compassion
For it All
Impartial:
Bearer of
Awakened Heart
Fearless and open

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 5: Depression – Experience & Practice

My last entry was meant to focus on and express my experiences of depression in heartbreak, a particularly vexing set of painful emotions that keeps coming to visit, even after all this time. However, instead, I got into a philosophical examination of how depression alters our experience. This time, I’m going to focus on my experience and offer some tips/support for those readers out there who suffer from the same problems of the heart.

The world is barren. Nearly every day, I feel utterly lonely. It seems like there is no one who can hear me, no matter how hard I try to be heard. There’s no one who really cares–not really. People might show up on their own terms, but can any of them truly bear witness to me in my entirety? No. At least, I don’t know who that person is. Some days, I wonder who would care if I died tomorrow. My family, surely, but anyone else? Let’s stop here. Let me emphasize that these are feelings. Like I wrote about last time, I know that they are a particular alteration of perspective–a very pained one, curled up in a ball and wishing that the pain would end. Let’s not take these feelings to be truths, and let’s definitely not take them as blame on anyone who may be reading this. They’re my feelings, my reactions, and you hold no blame or responsibility for them. That being said, it has been particularly hard for me to move forward in recent weeks. I’m stuck at a job that irks me with false promises, poor pay for my responsibilities, and NO benefits–not even sick days, forcing me to expose my co-workers to illness out of my inability to afford missing a day. Furthermore, I struggle to find meaningful connectivity–something I’ve lacked throughout most of my adult life, despite my best efforts. Honestly, at this point, I’ve virtually given up. Who else reads philosophy for fun and yearns to learn as much as possible in this life? Who else is working hard at being an intensive practitioner of the Dharma? I don’t know such people, and they’re hard to find…

I’ve had an idea in my head for some time of returning to my ex’s city to live with some friends who stepped forward in my heartbreak and appeared as family to me. I’d love to show up and support them. However, each job I apply for comes to naught, and the other people I know there seem to be slowly denying or forgetting my existence. If I reach out and write something kind on one of their blogs or social media profiles, I get no response, but at the same time, I can see when they mention my ex and how great she is in whatever way. I guess she succeeded: in a certain way, I’m dead.

All of these difficulties have exacerbated those intense feelings I’ve expressed, and now, I’ve expressed them, both to let these feelings out and to let others know that they are not alone, not in the slightest. However, despite these feelings, I’m OK, and to explain that, let’s shift to how to deal with such feelings and such times in life. We all go through hard times, so let’s face these together with bravery, tenderness, and equanimity. The following are what I use to get through these feelings that could easily turn me into a blubbering mess; through these methods, I manage to have some grace, dignity, and joy in the wounds of heartbreak.

  1. Take care of yourself. You can’t continue with your life and show up for it if you fall into the abyss now (although there is no judgment if you crash at this point–no shame. Hang in there and recover). Taking care of yourself can make the unbearable a lot more manageable–not nice, not easy, but survivable. Not taking care of yourself will let it crush you. Also, taking care of yourself will give you the base of strength you need to excel with the other tips to follow. So–shower, exercise, continue to do things you like, reach out to friends and family to talk–don’t be afraid: others understand your pain and heartbreak, and the best way to feel loved is to reach out and find that others care, even if they can’t necessarily help beyond just listening. Personally, I had many of these self-care tools well-established this time from other bouts with depression, but this time, I learned that dressing well–that simple move of treating yourself with respect, with dignity–helped keep me positive and empowered day to day. This is not about being ostentatious or dazzling others–it’s about finding and holding your dignity. If you can find a way to do the same, do it. You could be wearing anything–your favorite band shirts and shorts. Just wear something that makes you feel that you matter and that you are embracing that.
  2. Be authentic. I’m not a big fan of the term as it is thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness. Here, I mean: show up for what’s happening. It’s easy to run away from such feelings or fall really deeply into them. Instead, try authentically showing up. These feelings show the depths of your heart. Let these feelings come up. Don’t fight against yourself or your emotion. Instead–gently be present. You’ll find that these feelings come and go, if you don’t grasp at them or fight against them. They’re just another part of your myriad possibilities of human experience. The brave, compassionate practice is to gently lean into them and surrender the fight against your emotional demons, finding that they, like a monster in your dreams, are part of you. It hurts, but it’s not good or bad: that’s just a reaction to that emotional experience. Don’t be afraid. Be brave, tender, and gentle towards yourself.

    Bringing awareness to depression works the same way. People often feel very bad about being depressed. When we don’t understand what depression is, it bears down on us. But when we get the hang of it, so to speak, we can allow more space around our depression and just let it be. Depression often comes when the hidden, dark corners we’ve tried to avoid actually surface. It may feel like a tight knot in our chest or an incredible sense of anxiety. It may feel like the earth has cracked open in front of us and we’re falling into some miserable lower realm. Or we may just feel blue. Depression is often accompanied by strong physical sensations. In the Tibetan tradition, this physical imbalance is called sok lung, or “wind disturbance.” But no matter what it feels like, remember that depression is just “experience.” And the experience of depression can be very valuable in coming to know aspects of our mind. When we come to know our mind, we feel much freer and less fearful. Whether depression is physical or conceptual, the important thing is to try and relax with it. Just relax with depression without feeding it by reacting–physically, mentally, or emotionally–with fear. There is no need to fight or identify with these habitual responses. This only makes them seem more solid and difficult to deal with. Initially the experience of depression is not such a big deal; it is more like a headache. If we bring awareness to depression. it won’t dominate our life. It is important to always return to the understanding that suffering is not personal. It’s an integral part of being alive and something that we all share. A great deal of understanding can come from bringing awareness to suffering, rather than thinking about or judging it. A quality of wakefulness comes with any sensation, which enables us to appreciate any experience. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, pp. 57-58

  3. Move beyond “me”. You might notice that my expression in my story was all about I, me, and mine as well as how the world/others were not going in line with my expectations/desires. The suffering of samsara comes primarily from the grasping of self, and this is strongest with my attachments, especially in the stories of how I wish the world were. We fight very hard for these things, but in the end, they are impermanent–we lose them, and it hurts. OR we never get them at all, and it hurts because we want them so! We could discuss elaborate counter-plans of changing goals and such, but really, that just is a continuation of the same dynamic. It’s the same game with a different strategy to win. The real step forward as a brave spiritual warrior is to let go of the “me” game altogether. This sounds dramatic and incites immediate aversion, but it’s not the end of existence to stop staring at your belly button and look at the world instead. In this case, start small–engage in things that are about supporting others, even if that’s just doing things for a single friend. It can be as small as getting a plant or a goldfish to take care of and as major as volunteering to feed the homeless every week. Look your cashier in the eye–really see them, and thank them for helping you. There are truly opportunities everywhere. Small things spread positivity in the world and end up not only making you feel more positive but also getting you outside the miasma of your feelings.
  4. Engage, connect, process, and learn. There are so many resources beyond friends and family to help you feel witnessed, learn how to grow/heal, and take up your path as a brave warrior. Check out the book by Susan Piver that inspires these Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries: “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. There are many blogs here in WordPress to read with others’ expressions of their experiences, tips, and tricks. I follow one called: “How to successfully get out of depression… and never go back!” The author adds lots of new ideas regularly, and they are well-informed and practical. Check that one out for a start! Find a therapist or a spiritual community. Know that you are not alone in this experience and that there are many avenues to find help and others who know your pain.
  5. Finally–Try meditating. You might scoff at this, but there is no better way to find peace. We externalize so many of our reactions, and our minds often run willy-nilly without much ability on our part to find mental calm. We think that happiness will come from realizing all the desires of “me”. Meditation sees through this and finds the basic goodness of who we are. It offers the true path to a happiness beyond the constant games of grasping and attachment. Just a few minutes a day can change your life and pull all these other suggestions together into an empowered, present, tender, brave, and beautiful embrace of your life.

May this post help others find companionship in their experience of depression as well as give them some help finding peace through it. As in the quote below, may your heart be big enough to hold all of these experiences with courage and tenderness. Gassho


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In both Western and Tibetan cultures, having a big heart is associated with generosity, kindness, warmth, and compassion. In Tibetan culture, a person with a big heart is also someone with the ability and courage to hold even the most painful truths in his or her heart without becoming despondent. During difficult times my mother used to say, “You need to make your heart big enough to hold a horse race inside.” Working with difficulties in a compassionate way doesn’t necessarily mean we can resolve them. Samsara, by its nature, can’t be fixed. It can only be worked with and transcended–which means seen through. A traditional Buddhist image of compassion is that of an armless woman watching her only child being swept away by the raging torrent of a river. Imagine the unbearable anguish at not being able to save your child–and not being able to turn away! In the practice of bodhichitta, this is the unconditional compassion we try to cultivate toward all sentient beings, even if we’re unable to truly help them until we ourselves become free. The willingness to not turn away from our anguish as we reflect on the suffering of samsara is the bodhisattva path. This path is possible only because we have seen that the true nature of suffering is egoless, or empty. Not turning away from suffering doesn’t mean “toughing it out.” It means that, having seen the true nature of suffering, we have the courage to encounter suffering joyfully. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, p. 89

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 4: Depression’s World Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 6: Forgiveness

Compassion in Action

Pets and loving words
–to the mewling cat
Water, care, and joy
–to the potted plant
Stopping to help
–a lost stranger
Truly seeing and engaging
–all those you meet

Our days
Filled
With others
With opportunities
To realize:
Despite the millions
Of heartbeats & breaths,
My life
–Within a magnificent
Universe
So grand, vast,
And full of happenings
Each passing & flowing

The realization:
It’s not all about me

The opportunity:
To wake up
To take care of others
To awaken the heart

The enlightened path:
Lit by the lantern
Of this awakened compassion
–The lantern of bodhicitta
Yet still with the darkness,
Your own human limitation of vision,
All around
This is a journey
Not a destination

The deluded path:
Shuffling through blackness,
Never looking past
Your own toes,
Holding this vision
As the greatest Truth

A difficulty of understanding:
Compassion helps lovingly
Meaning–sometimes–
It tears down
The masks of ego
And games of self-involvement
Helping others,
Awaken too


Keep on Walking

Recently, I’ve questioned whether I should continue this blog. It has never been about me–I don’t care if I have 1 follower or 10,000. However, I’ve written every word of this in the hopes of engaging others, impacting their lives. The intention has always been to help others, calling them to see their lives differently. I’ve poured my heart into this recently, writing post after post–some quite challenging for me to write, as I’ve tried to balance difficult topics with a level of expression I hope will be readable for most everyone. Yet, my numbers in terms of views have been low, and I’ve started to doubt, to question whether these posts really make any difference to anyone out there.

Again, this doesn’t hurt my ego, as such accomplishment and feedback is not my aim. However, it has made me feel like it’s not worth the effort to post here if this is becoming an online journal. It’s precisely because I don’t want this to be a space of my self-aggrandizement that I wonder if I should stop. Luckily, I’ve had a couple friends respond to these feelings of mine, and I’m grateful for what they had to say.

One told me that if my purpose is to inspire others, I should take a long-term view. Perhaps the words I write will take time to find the right readers. I should keep writing for those readers, even if they aren’t reading yet and may not be for some time to come.

The other friend told me to keep posting and not worry about readers. Just write.

Both of these acts of support show true friendship: neither offered simple words about how smart or great I am, a little warming blanket of comfort. Instead, they called out the virtue of my efforts and reinvigorated my intention for this blog.

Finally, these words from one of the books I have read recently act as one more source of inspiration in this choice. They resonate well with my recent post about the way being in the heart. If you would like further understanding of bodhicitta, please see that post:

Rousing bodhicitta is an occasion for continual delight. We can hardly wait to raise it again. If we were the only person in the whole world to be generating love and compassion, we would generate it with fearless joy and delight until the day we die. Our aspiration to help others is so great that we would gladly spend an eternity in hell even to help a child be less afraid to speak in class. – Sakyong Mipham, Turning the Mind into an Ally, p. 207

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I keep offering my words here again and again: keep walking the Way.

May I aspire to such awakened heart myself, and may my words help all who need them.

Gassho.

The Way is in the Heart

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This simple mug, found at a local Ross for a few dollars, has a profound message. The way of an engaged and authentic human life is not to be found in the abstract ideals of dogma and speculations about eternal metaphysical systems. Rather, it is to be found in the concrete embodiment of this body, in the compassionate beat of your heart.

The opening of Jack Kornfield’s book, “A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life”, expresses this lesson deftly:

In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart. Many other visions are offered to us in the modern spiritual marketplace. Great spiritual traditions offer stories of enlightenment, bliss, knowledge, divine ecstasy, and the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Out of the broad range of teachings available to us in the West, often we are first attracted to these glamorous and most extraordinary aspects. While the promise of attaining such states can come true, and while these states do represent the teachings, in one sense, they are also one of the advertising techniques of the spiritual trade. They are not the goal of spiritual life. In the end, spiritual life is not a process of seeking or gaining some extraordinary condition or special powers. In fact, such seeking can take us away from ourselves. If we are not careful, we can easily find the great failures of our modern society–its ambition, materialism, and individual isolation–repeated in our spiritual life.

Of course, we are individuals, bodies with extremely sensitive nerves which intimately map all the pains and pleasures that the world offers us. We seek out the positive sensations that these senses perceive, and as such, of course we desire these higher goods, ultimate “goods” or the purest pleasures one might say, promised in spiritual pursuits. This is what gets us started. Otherwise, why would we begin? In any path, even if advanced, there will be some small shadow of that egoistic motivation. That’s why Dōgen, one of the greatest Zen ancestors, says: “Those who greatly realize delusion are buddhas. Those who are greatly deluded in realization are living beings” (Genjōkōan in the Shōbōgenzō). To put this as simply as I can, as embodied individuals with a limited perspective, we struggle to realize the greater picture of a huge, interconnected, flowing universe of which we are part (in fact, not “part” per se as this can imply separation–there is no separation). We create elaborate stories of “Me” and accumulate myriad possessions as “Mine”. One particularly cutting and separative term I’ve experienced many times of this type is “My Truth”. This individualizes and upholds the ego’s limited perception above all else, thereby glorifying the Self as spiritual ideal (what Chögyam Trungpa would call “spiritual materialism“) and misunderstanding the concept of truth as well (for example, while a schizophrenic’s experience of a hallucination is true insofar as we can believe that he or she experiences it, it is not true in the same sense as “Water freezes at 32°F.”). From our limited perspective, we can aspire to greater understanding, insight, and experience. This is why buddhas greatly realize delusion–out of their self-centered motivation, they begin practice. They are also living beings (a buddha is clearly a living being!), still feeling some sense of separation and individuality even when realizing the greater truth that all is one. Hence, they are greatly deluded in realization.

The danger here for Dōgen is as Kornfield mentioned. A path without heart can mean: “Furthermore, there are those … who are deluded within delusion.” Those are the practitioners of spirit who get trapped in their pictures of the world, their fabrications, and their value systems. They fall into their own fantasies of being heroes or heroines. Rather than compassionately and vulnerably opening their hearts to the universe, this is selfishly putting on armor to protect their ego, their persona, their “story”–it’s a security blanket.


I’ve said that a way with heart is embodied rather than abstract and openly vulnerable and compassionate rather than egoistic and self-protective. The Buddhist idea of bodhicitta is the perfect expression of this. It translates to “awakened heart” or “noble heart”. However, citta in Sanskrit means both mind and heart in English. They don’t have quite as clear of a distinction as we do in the English language. However, this is apt – the heart (poetically meant) has an understanding–a very visceral and experiential one that grounds more than the airy concepts of the mind (from our Western understanding of “mind”). The heart pumps life throughout our entire body day in and day out for our entire lives–taking the air and nutrients from the world and circulating it through our entire bodies, making that external stuff into our bodies and taking the waste of our bodies to be returned to the world. Last, but perhaps most importantly, the heart is the symbolic organ of compassion–with phrases like “opening your heart” or “have a little heart”. The heart chakra is a perfect example of this in the Indian energetic system of the chakras–the point of connection, compassionate connection rather than individuated separation, with all life and existence. It is the symbolic seat of being open to and aware of the sacredness and wonder of everything rather than the self-centered idea of “My Truth”. In fact, in some of my reading about the heart chakra, I’ve read that developing and focusing on the energy of this green, open chakra can be the most fundamentally beneficial energy healing practice, and this position resonates well with the symbol of Yin-Yang (actually called Tai Chi, meaning supreme ultimate or universal harmony) in the Chinese energy practices of Qi Gong and Tai Chi. My point is that bodhicitta, “the awakened heart”, is the open, tender connection of the spiritual practitioner to the universe. It’s the compassionate engagement that brings a gentle support of all people–recognizing their confusion, pain, and human ways, ways needing compassion and guidance without the self-certain way of dogma (which is basically rigid opinion) or the sterile and abstractly disembodied ideals of some belief systems.

Bodhicitta, the perfect example of a way with heart, opens us to wonder at the universe and to compassionate action towards all. Like Ganesha on the cup, bodhicitta removes obstacles in our way, giving us a path forward, without it being a pre-constructed one; rather, we create the path with each engaged step of practice. This is a way that is in the heart and protects us from Kornfield’s identified failures of ambition, materialism and individual isolation.

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To those seeking a path with heart,

Gassho