July 7, 2013
Erika and I went to hear Anam Thubten. He was described as a Tibetan monk who has “gone off the ranch” – he was open to non-Tibetan approaches to spirituality. More importantly, he was reported to have very deep understanding. As my meditation practice flirts with cessation, I have been looking for teachers in the area that might be inspiring.
His organization, Dharmata Foundation (Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.), bought an old wooden church on a back street of Point Richmond. More than 100 of us packed into the made-over sanctuary. We sat for an hour, took a break for tea and snacks, then listened to him speak for an hour.
I was delighted his topic was non-self. He seemed to speak from direct experience. His style was sweet and sprinkled with stories from ordinary life. It was charming to hear his heavy accent as he spoke of the movie The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. He noted that the Grinch was not able to attend a Christmas party because of a calendar conflict: he was scheduled to practice self-loathing at that afternoon. Thubten reflected how busy people’s calendars are these days and how much self-hatred people practice. (As an aside he said that when asked for some good Buddhist movies he says, “All movies are Buddhist because they speak about the human condition.”)
He went from these folksy vignettes to subtle descriptions of consciousness and pure awareness.
In the midst of listening to him I had an insight about enlightenment. As we move into fuller awakening, our personality doesn’t disappear. Our preferences and quirk remain. But who is running our body-energy-psyche system changes from a sense of personal self to something else. I’d been trying to put a finger on what this “something else” is. It’s not a “higher self” or “divine being.” Those are way too small. But I couldn’t sense what runs the show as self dissolves.
Listening to him speak, it became clear that awareness itself guides the system. As we get quieter and the mind-heart become clearer and less distracted, a bright, clear, spacious awareness becomes more obvious. It is very intimate and completely impersonal. It has no personal agenda. It has no ego and point of view to sell. Therefore it’s wise and loving: it just sees what is without distortion. It has no want for or aversion no aversion to anything. It is dispassionate, pure awareness. It is made of nothing but itself.
So, with enlightenment, this awareness with it’s clear seeing and lack of an agenda is in the drivers seat. It can be a little scary: the old sense of self that has worked so hard to navigate the world has lost its job and even lost its existence. Freedom is sweet and lovely. But it has its cost.
This is not exactly what Thubten was talking about. But listening to his mind-heart space, these insights arose. So I was glad we had gone.
I happened to sit next to a guy who had also driven out from Sacramento – he says he comes as often as he can. It’s a three-hour round trip drive, so I doubt we’ll go in often. But it was a nice spot of freshness to discover.