We are endowed with this precious human existence,
and have met with the Dharma.
The world and inhabitants
are impermanent, like a water bubble.
At death, only my dharma practice
will be of any benefit.
At death, there is no freedom,
and the winds of karma take their course.
Therefore I shall devote myself
to abandoning negative acts
and cultivating positive ones.
All the illusions of samsara
entrap my mind with the three poisons.
Realizing the faults of conditioned existence,
may I practice renunciation and strive for enlightenment.
When we think about the motivation to meditate and pursue spiritual growth, what is it precisely that motivates us? Obviously we want to be free from suffering- pain, anxiety, stress- much less anger, jealousy, and the collection of afflicted emotions. Of course we want happiness- peace of mind, contentment, inner well-being, a sense of purpose and a long, healthy life. The thing is, we don’t really know the causes of happiness, much less the causes of suffering.
Where have we gone astray?
If we look at the current model, the American Dream as it were, we are told and often made to believe that if you get a good education, a good job, make some money, buy some stuff, fall in love, buy a house, start a family, be successful and eventually- if everything goes just right- you will be happy. Now of course, we don’t need to look very far to see that this is not the case. We have lots of very successful people- doctors, lawyers, business executives, celebrities- who have the outer trappings of happiness, but they also have a lot of inner distress. They constantly need to maintain their image, wealth, protect against dissenters, people suing you, the list goes on. It is a flawed model, I am not saying that those things are bad, we need a good education, good job, personal responsibility, but we need to recognize that those things can only be a support for happiness, the means and not the end.
That is the gross level, on a more subtle level we all think, ‘I can be better, I can do better, I can do more.’ But this thinking creates a split in us, our current self versus some future ‘better’ self. We think that if we can just do this or that, then we can be happy. The problem is that as soon as we make that split we never have the chance to get there. There is a math problem that children do in school, a rabbit is chasing a carrot and each time he cuts the distance between himself and the carrot in half. The paradox is that the rabbit can never actually get to zero, he can never actually get the carrot because there is always some distance separating them, no matter how small.
So the main problem with all of this is that we continuously place our refuge outside of us. I want to use the term refuge because it gives the feeling of safety, protection, a place free from suffering. The mistake that we make is that by placing our refuge outside of us, we instantly take away our power and give it to something else, someone else or even some future version of our self. We may not recognize it, but we make ourselves deficient by placing our refuge outside, made to believe that we are lacking something.
The reason that this is the case is that we continue to invest in conditioned existence. Conditioned here means that it depends on causes and conditions, just as a tree depends on good soil, sunlight, and adequate water to grow properly. But, by investing in conditioned existence, we are investing in things that are going to change, things which by their very nature are impermanent- children die young, couples separate, jobs are lost, disasters occur, problems happen. If we put our happiness, contentment, and peace of mind outside of us, then when bad things happen we have no place to go, no solid ground on which to stand. We have no inner refuge, so everything around us seems fixed and concrete. It is kind of like running on a treadmill. At first we aren’t doing too bad, first half-mile, mile. But then our legs start getting tired, we are a little out of breath, but we keep pushing through- two miles- everything hurts, keep pushing. Eventually, whenever you stop, three miles, ten miles, a hundred miles, you have given all that effort, time and energy- but you are in the exact same place you started. This is exactly what we have done since beginningless time, we have exuded a lot of effort, accomplished a lot of goals, spent a lot of time, but still we have this inner discontent, this questioning, doubting, anxiousness.
In Tibetan, there is this term, rangdrol. Rang means self or natural, drol means liberation, so we have self-liberation or naturally liberated. That is what we want. The metaphor commonly used to describe this is two-fold. The first is like meeting an old friend, as soon as you see them you recognize them. There is no doubt, no uncertainty, as soon as you see your own true face you recognize it. Still there is a little split here, your ‘better’ true self and you, but at least here you have an inner refuge, you know that it is there.
The second metaphor is like a snake uncoiling from its resting place, it doesn’t tie itself in knots. We can’t do the same, try coiling up an extension cord and then pull it apart- I guarantee that you will have lots of knots and lots of frustration. But snakes don’t have this problem, they can be coiled up and then easily just slither away, naturally liberated.
So instead of investing in conditioned existence, we want to invest in unconditioned existence. What does that mean? We want to invest in the nature of phenomena, and on a personal level the nature of the mind. Just as water is wet, fire is hot- there is not some water that is more wet, or some water that has a better or worse wetness- it is just wet. So too, we have the mind and the nature of the mind. That nature is fully evident, fully manifest, never better or worse and not to be improved upon. So we need to recognize and abide in the nature of the mind, make that our refuge. That inner refuge, the nature of the mind, is unchanging, just as the wetness of water is unchanging.
Then whenever we encounter suffering, stress, hardship, we have that inner refuge. If we have that inner conviction then we can continue to remain open, reflexive and work with the situation at hand, rather than closing down and shutting out the world around us. No matter what we do in life, good or bad, everything becomes an expression of our energy. We become like a painting, a beautiful form or maybe even a weird distorted sculpture that doesn’t really make any sense, it doesn’t matter, because our life is an expression of our energy and the world that we create around us.
So that is why we meditate, we need to understand the mind and we need to recognize the nature of mind, abide in the nature of mind.