More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
Birth and aging inevitably lead to dying and death. The Buddha suggests this pattern can be broken by waking up to the sequencing of Dependent Origination. We cannot prevent the body from dying but we can opt out from the paradigm in which "I" die along with it. When we live encased within the idea of "me," with the "me" as real as the physical form we embody, then as the body ages we will fear our death. Interestingly enough, by eliminating everything that lives within the cycle of birth and death, we find our way out of death. Investigating what remains after death or what cannot be born or age can begin to move us away from dependency on form. We cannot rest our answer on the visible world because all we see will be taken away. If _what_ we see dies, perhaps the invisible _seeing_ itself holds the deathless. What is it that sees out of our eyes? Again, not what we see, but the seeing or awareness itself. Awareness gives us the capacity to see, but awareness cannot be seen. Though awareness cannot be seen, it can be intimated through a felt-sense of the body.
As we move from birth to aging, the sense-of-self is dragged along in time, and we begin to notice the effects of memory and accumulated experiences on consciousness. Aging can create a burdened and heavy toll, but when used correctly this maturation process can culminate in wisdom and help us understand Dependent Origination. Maturation brings perspective and when coupled with dharma practice, it reveals the limitations and struggles inherent in our desires and aversions and begins to free us from many of our youthful oppressive states of mind. It can also slowly season our intention toward moving into the here and now. But aging can also be a time of great protest and bitterness. Our life did not turn out the way we wanted, and we now see only death in front of us. We must close this bitterness gap quickly, or it will define our later years. If bitterness arises, ask, "In the present what is left unfulfilled? What is left to do? In the present, how has the past betrayed me?" Our bitterness cannot enter the present, because the present sees the past and future as thoughts arising in the present. Here then is the final step of our maturation. Do we want to carry ourselves through time and arrive at our death with all the scar tissue time gives us, or do we want to enter the timeless present and leave ourselves behind?
Becoming, the previous link in Dependent Origination, is not continuous; it moves from birth to birth to birth as the necessary conditions come together that foster its arising. It is useful to get a sense of the birthing experience of self and what the conditions are that bring this about. Instead of trying to catch your origin, which is a little like trying to observe the first moment after your mind wanders, get a sense of how you inflate, relative to the strength and intensity of the thoughts you have. Notice in times of relative quiet how the egoic sense of you is markedly diminished, and at times of reactivity or heightened enthusiasm, the sense of you is large and noisy. Don't explain this away by saying that "you" became noisy and self-righteous because you care about the issue. Take the personal out of the observation and just notice your relative size as a phenomenon related to the noise of your thoughts and emotions. As this increases, so does that; as this diminishes, so does that. Now contemplate this question: how does the noise of your inflation move in accordance with desire and clinging?
Let us explore the link of becoming a little more. We and the world arise together through the link of becoming. The feeling tone provides the inception point, the tear in the fabric of the formless, through which we and the world of form emerges. We come out naming and forming, with body and senses fully functioning, and a consciousness filled with content and states of mind - all thoroughly convincing "us" that we are someone interacting with "something." This manifestation needs to maintain momentum or it would be only a momentary fluctuation of personhood. Thought provides that continuity allowing ignorance to misperceive the sense-of-self as continuous. Thought establishes time and time and memory build a past and future whereby the sense-of-self can substantiate its existence. Thoroughly exploring thought allows a natural quieting that begins to disassemble the mental construction of "I."
With the link of Becoming the sense-of-self is now fully alive within the dynamics of the mind. It does not exist outside of the mind as it likes to believe but as a working confluent whole with the other links of Dependent Origination. The sense-of-self wants to assume the "someone" who is receiving the desired object so it can chase after them, but to do so it has to spin the deception that it is the owner of the mental phenomena. To be perceived as the owner, the sense-of-self fractures the perception into the subject and object: me and my mind, or me and the object I want. Once the deception is complete it must continue to think in terms of past and future to keep the illusion going. If the mind becomes quiet, the past and future ends and the whole of the mind falls into the present where sparation cannot be maintained.
When the energy of self-formation moves through desire to clinging, there is a dramatic change in intensity. The grasping feels like a compelling need of the organism. We may feel that we must have this experience in order for life to be worthwhile, and we are usually willing to do whatever is needed to obtain it. The energy is very tightly bound to the sense of survival. The Buddha grouped the areas of clinging in four broad categories: (1) pleasurable experiences, (2) views and opinions, (3) rites and rituals, and (4) belief in self. When we see the ferocity of our need to procure and defend our right for pleasure, our personal and political opinions, the indoctrinated beliefs in our religious views and practices, and the obstinate way we defend our self-image, we begin to understand the entrenched positions our egoic state stands upon.
We think of desire as a spiritually undesirable state of mind. Because it holds such power over our actions and thoughts, we are reluctant to thoroughly take it on and explore what it is. Desire is not just one simple state of mind. It is the composition of all the links that preceded it in Dependent Origination, the confluence of ignorance, mental formations, consciousness, name and form, six sense base, contact, and feelings. It holds all of that and the idea of "me" as well. As an analogy, think of snow as being the composite of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, etc. Snow seems like something separate and different from the conditions that form it, but it is those conditions. We can enter and examine the energy of desire through any of these composite conditions. Encouraged by our thoughts, desire also has a strong sense of becoming something, something essential to us. But when we look at desire, it is a future thought holding the wish of a different life. Sad, is it not? When properly seen, we can you feel the grief of the unfulfilled desire?