Monday, May 19, 2008

An Introduction to Buddha Space

Wesak: lighting candles in honor of the Buddha

Welcome to Buddha Space, a space for exploring modern Buddhism, as it says in the header above. As today (19th May 2008) is Wesak, or ‘Buddha Day’, it seems both appropriate and perhaps fortuitous to launch Buddha Space today. For, the point of this blog is to examine the nature of the Buddha, of space, and of awareness itself via experience, as opposed to academic or philosophical means. This doesn’t mean that scripture, books, and other sources of wisdom are to be rejected, but that their value will be in how they relate to the central point above. Posts will be scheduled to be published on every Uposatha Day (a kind of Buddhist sabbath), on the Full, New, Waxing, and Waning Moons of each month. Hopefully, pontification will not appear here…too often!

As the heir to my previous blog Forest Wisdom, this one continues in the vein of everyday reflections on the Dharma, as well as broader ruminations on the nature of ‘Buddha-nature’ itself. Unlike its predecessor, Buddha Space is not written from the viewpoint of one particular branch of Buddhism, rather taking the basic teachings of the Great Teacher and using them as tools for reflection. In this spirit, both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism will feature here, with such teachers as the Chinese Zen Master Xu Yun and the Thai forest monk Ajahn Chah. Non-Buddhist teachers will not be ignored either, most notably the British ‘Seer’ Douglas Harding. Anyway, welcome!


“When you’re in harmony with Mind,
arms and legs operate on their own.”
(Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693)

Sitting at this desk, typing words into the computer, there are two ways to experience the present moment. Firstly, there is the ego-based perspective, seeing these fingers as my fingers and these words as my words, being attached to them and experiencing dissatisfaction if they fail to communicate my message as intended. The second viewpoint is to see everything that’s arising, whether sights, sounds, words, thoughts, or feelings, as occurring within awareness itself. Not my awareness, you understand, but this awareness; an awareness that’s without personal perspective or bias or suffering.

This may sound like a tall order, something that can only be achieved after years of meditative or ascetic practice. True, it is an extremely hard task to maintain, a fact that has hit home in some dramatic ways over the years, but an initial glimpse of the space that lies at the heart of life isn’t as difficult to experience as one might think. And there’s the barrier right there: thinking. Thought, in the form of beliefs, is a powerful barricade against experiencing spacious awareness, the backdrop to all that is seen, heard, and, indeed, thought. The way to break through this mind-made wall is to bypass it with a new perspective, for even the briefest moment, for in such a moment lays the gateway to eternity.

This breakthrough can be achieved right here and now. We don’t need to wait for ‘the right moment’ as such, which may come after years or even lifetimes of spiritual endeavor, for the only ‘right moment’ is right now. If you don’t believe this, and consider these words as so much pontification – the very thing I undertook to avoid in the introduction above – please follow the instructions below, and see what you make of them, if anything.

  • Look at the computer screen in front of you. Note its color, size, shape and solidity. It’s an object in a world of objects.
  • Next, look at your hands and arms, noticing their particulars of color, size, shape and opacity. They are objects, too.
  • Now, turn your attention around, to look back at the one that is doing the looking. What does he or she look like? On present evidence, can this ‘looker’ be called a he or a she, in fact? Is there a face here, or a head, even? Or is that which is aware better described as naked awareness, no-thing, or emptiness?

Looking back at that which looks, I find no ‘I’ as such, but a collection of what Buddhism calls the aggregates – body, feeling, perception, thoughts, and consciousness. Whatever ‘I’ was previously experienced here is lost, broken up into its constituent parts. And this includes beliefs, those thoughts which dictate how one usually confronts the world as a separate, individual being, with all the idiosyncrasies and foibles associated with an ego. All of the desire-born sufferings that come out of attachment and aversion fall away with the vision of a self-contained self to be found here. In truth, there’s nobody home.

Of course, this is but a glimpse, the door of awakening quickly slams shut, pushed by all the old attachments and habits that arise out of identification with the personality, and one is left slumbering with the dreams of ego. The Buddha is not to be caught so easily, for he is like a playful child disappearing behind a bush in a game of hide-and-seek. This shouldn’t lead to despair or self-criticism however, for these are simply more ploys used by the mind to deceive itself, to retract into its shell like a scared tortoise. If the Buddha is to be known, patience is a quality we need to cultivate in abundance, along with the determination to achieve true freedom.

In the meantime, we can approach the abode of the enlightened by taking note of space, which is a kind of freedom itself. For, in space, we are free to roam, to explore, to gain knowledge and grow in wisdom. Noticing the space within one’s apparent self can loosen the bonds that it ties itself up in, and the cracks in its construction begin to show; the gaps between body and feeling, or memories (perception) and thoughts. Space not only encapsulates all experiences, but separates them too, if one is able to look with the calmness and insight needed. But for now, let’s finish with one more thought:

“When one has a spacious mind,
there is room for everything.
When one has a narrow mind,
there is only room for only a few things.
Everything has to be manipulated and controlled;
the rest is just pushed out.”
(Ajahn Sumedho, ‘The Mind and the Way’)



JD said...

I enjoy Buddha Space. This whole "awareness" practice is something I've been trying to work on more as of late. I'm starting to see the value of it more then I used to. Thanks for reflecting on it enough for me to try it out more often. May you be well in your practice.

G said...

Ajahn Sumedho has been a big influence with his emphasis on the cultivation of awareness. This, along with the Zen focus of present moment awakening & the 'in-seeing' techniques of Douglas Harding have been the inspiration for my practice over the last quarter of a century. Hence, 'Buddha Space'.

I hope that 'Buddha Space' can help to promote the development of awareness in people's lives (including mine!). The more aware we are, the less we will blindly create more suffering, and Awakening will become more possible.


The Geezers said...

Wonderful beginning to the new blog, G. Awareness is a great subject for contemplation and meditation.

This understanding that awareness is an inherent property of space was pretty life-changing for me. You've done an excellent job of describing it.

In my experience, it's attachment that most interferes with our experience of awareness. Or maybe more properly stated, it's a fear of surrendering those attachments.

G said...

Fear coupled with attachment is a lethal combination, isn't it? Fear of the unknown along with attachment to the conditioned prevents an experience of the unconditioned. And what is the unknown unconditioned? Nothing but our own innate Buddha-nature! What silly creatures we are!


Wade M | The Middle Way said...

Hi Gary,

Great start to the new blog. First post already pulling the rug out from under the I.

Congratulations on getting of on such a fine start. I look forward to watching this blog grow.



G said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Wade.

I like the image of pulling the rug from under the 'I': nice! Mmm, now where did that 'I' go all of a sudden?!


They call him James Ure said...

I finally got you up on my blog roll. Sorry it took a bit.

I really look forward to this new endeavor. :)


G said...

Thanks for putting 'Buddha Space' on 'The Buddhist Blog' blogroll, James. Hopefully, when this blog has got going, it will direct traffic to your blog & vice versa.

Bowing, too...

G :)