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The purpose of this meditation is to become familiar with the true nature of reality – its emptiness of real or inherent existence.
I began the meditation by considering how my ‘me’ or ‘I’ appears to my mind. When I glance at a rose, a rose appears clearly to my mind. It is a rose – a single discrete entity. But when I spend more than a moment looking at the rose it vanishes completely, and all I can see are its parts – its petals, stem, thorns etc. The same happens when I try to find my ‘I’. It appears so strongly to me normally, when I am talking to others. It appears very strongly when I am being criticised, or when I feel embarrassed. But as soon as I try to look for it, it vanishes like the rose.
I tried not to look too hard, but to see my ‘I’. I wanted to try to see it clearly, but not look too hard at it. I slowly gained an impression of an entity which had the physical shape of my body but embodied everything about me. It took a long time to come, and it was not very clear, but I definitely got something. I tried to hold it in my mind without examining it further, to gain familiarity with it.
May all living beings find the door which leads out of samsara – the door of emptiness, and attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Practice in the meditation break
I will try to perceive how my ‘I’ appears normally to my mind and do my best to remember the appearance so that I can use it in future meditations.
I began the meditation with some words that struck me in the text from The New Meditation Handbook: ‘Since we cannot find a beginning to our mental continuum…’. I decided to start by looking at my mental continuum to see what it looked like.
I was expecting to find some sort of thread in my head. But when I checked I found that my mental continuum is not located in my head. My mental continuum is a series of thoughts one after the other. It is also the appearances that I perceive, one after the other. In fact my mental continuum is my stream of experience moment by moment. Far from being a separate thread of something, it is everything!
I realised that the whole of my world is a series of appearances passing through my mental continuum – from birth to death. But then I realised that my birth and my death are also just appearances to this mental continuum, and that the continuum continues after my appearance of death, and way back before my appearance of birth.
With this in mind, I remembered that in every past lifetime (and in this one), I had a mother who gave birth to me. Where are all these mothers now? They are the living beings I see around me now. Their appearance has changed from those lives, but they are still my mother. It is like we are the same cast of actors every life, with one of them playing my mother each time.
I decided that this was a mean trick for samsara to play on me. If I could recognise them and they could recognise me, we would treat each other so kindly. But as it is, we do not recognise each other, and we treat each other like strangers who do not care about each other.
I decided that I would not be deceived any longer, and despite appearances, I will recognise all living beings as my mother from now on. I felt a strong wish to do this, and I settled on this determination for the rest of the meditation.
I began this meditation by looking at how other people appear to me. Some of them appear attractive, whereas others appear unattractive, and most appear somewhere in between. Then I thought about how my mind reacts when I come into contact with these people. For attractive people, or people who do nice things for me, my mind leaps around, doing somersaults of excitement. For unattractive people, or people who give me problems, I develop unhappy, unwelcoming attitudes of dislike.
I considered that the appearance these people normally have for me is deceptive, and causes my mind to swing from happy to unhappy – out of my control. I realised that if I want to develop minds of universal compassion and love for all living beings, I am going to have to bring my mind under control and not be swayed by these appearances.
Some odd imagery came to mind: Instead of my mind being like a ball, bouncing around being hit this way and that by the appearances of others, it should be like a massive sponge, which maintains a stable inner core, and the appearances of others can crash against the outer surface, but they are quickly absorbed and don’t disturb the inner peace inside. It was not literally a sponge, but the feeling of that quality of a sponge, that was in my mind.
I realised that I can come into contact with people who I find attractive and unattractive, and maintain a warm and friendly attitude to them all, regardless of what they are doing or saying. I felt a warm friendly feeling to all living beings – that they were all equal in this attitude. I felt like warm sunshine was shining on my heart, and this warmth flowed out to all living beings equally.
I stayed on this feeling for the rest of the meditation.
During this meditation I realised that there is a difference between disagreeing with someone and disliking them. I realised that normally if we disagree with someone, the feeling of dislike and aversion arises immediately and seems to be the same entity. But in fact we do not have to dislike someone just because we disagree with them. The two are quite separate.
Through this meditation I realised that if someone is acting in a way we disagree with, it is quite easy to maintain a warm friendly feeing to that person without any hint of dislike. In this way our mind is protected from delusions and their effects. And when the person changes their actions (or we change our view) there is no ‘dislike’ to work through before we can start liking them.
Another image came to mind in the meditation. I realised my mind had the nature of a clear openness, and in that spacelike emptiness, the appearances of others simply passed through it, without coming into contact with it at all. (Instead of ‘bumping’ into it like the sponge). This worked in terms of the idea of stability, but I lost the sense of warmth and friendliness. Bearing in mind that the feeling of warmth and friendliness is the object of this meditation, I decided that this line of thought was not good for this meditation, and I returned to the idea of the sponge, to get the feeing of contact back.
It was lovely to spend an hour mixing my mind with my spiritual Father today, on Father’s Day in the UK. Thank you Geshe-la, for everything you have done for me. I will try my best to put your instructions into practice every moment of every day.
I began this meditation by recalling the fact that when this life is over, I will take rebirth in either this realm again, or in another realm. I have done this repeatedly for a very long time. I remembered that when Buddha was asked: “When did time begin?”, he looked with all his omniscient wisdom into the past, and even he could not see its beginning. So, I recognised that since beginningless time, I have been trapped taking countless rebirths in samsara.
And then I thought that each time I have been born in the human realm, I have had a mother who has given birth to me, just as in this lifetime my current mother gave birth to me. So where are all these mothers from my past lives? They died too, and took rebirth. Since I have had countless births, I have had countless mothers, and these beings are the living beings alive today all around me. Their appearance has changed so I do not recognise them and they do not recognise me, but they are definitely my mother.
They may have been my mother many years and lifetimes ago, but that still does not change the fact that they were my mother. Simply because a long time has passed does not alter this fact. If I were separated from my mother at birth, and only found her again 50 years later, she would still be my mother and I would treat her as such.
So following this thought process, I settled on the notion that all the living beings around me are my mother just as the mother of my present life is my mother, and focused on this recognition. It seemed to me that everywhere I looked I recognised everyone as my mother, and I felt a smoothness and uniformity to my recognition of others.
I remember distinctly the first time I read this meditation. I was on a train from London to Liverpool, and when I looked up from the book, instead of seeing a carriage full of strangers, I saw a carriage full of my mothers. It instantly transformed how I felt about all these people. And although I did not change my behaviour, in my heart I was different, and it felt wonderful.
In the New Meditation Handbook Geshe Kelsang says that this recognition is so beneficial that we should adopt it without hesitation.
And we shouldn’t forget that our mothers from past lives do not only appear as other humans – all the animals and insects we see have also been our mother in the past. For very useful and effective ways of how to think about this, see Luna Kadampa’s blog, Kadampa Life.
It is raining outside the cottage today, and the weather has been cool and damp – not what everyone was expecting. I don’t really mind, because I know my happiness is not connected with whether it rains or shines. I am in a cottage full of living beings who I can practise regarding as my mothers! What more could I want!