Relatively Absolute

Today I arrived at the prison after a five week absence. It was like coming home. It was great to see everyone again. For a few minutes we talked about various Buddhist class business and then did the morning Shambhala chants. We meditated for about twenty minutes which included a brief guided meditation.

We began our discussion with the reading of one of the stanzas in the “Supplication to the Takpo Kagyus” chant. The stanza reads:

Awareness is the body of meditation, as is taught.

Whatever arises is fresh– the essence of realization.

To this meditator who rests simply without altering it

Grant your blessings so that my meditation is free from conception.

We focused on the “meditator who rests simply without altering it.” One of the guys mentioned that “without altering” is a non-doing mind. We talked about how we can treat all internal experiences such as positive and negative thoughts and emotions as temporary and impermanent, with no need for us to fixate on what we like and reject what we don’t like. We agreed that gently Leaning Into and resting on these temporary experiences with bare naked mindfulness is another way to say “without altering it.” There is nothing we need to do, manipulate or control with these experiences. We agreed that we simply become mindful of letting be with them. Then we moved on to thinking about different external circumstances that we encounter. This led to a lively discussion about doing and non-doing. One guy said that when we are engaged in the world we have to do things and make choices and that we can’t just leave everything unaltered! He said for example that if we are freezing to death outside we come inside to warm up. Another guy said that we could choose to do something in the world or not, but either way it could be done with a mind that is not fixated on or distracted by the circumstantial experience. I added that if we are not distracted by these temporary experiences, we can choose to help others with doing-actions in any way that helps relieve their suffering and allows them to recognize their non-doing minds.

This discussion led another guy to offer his view of the Buddhist middle way. He said that the Theravadins express the middle way as the union of egolessness and impermanence. The Mahayanists express the middle way as the union of emptiness and form. And the Vajrayanists express the middle way as the union of absolute and relative. I don’t know were he got this from, but no way was I going to “alter” his insight! He went on to say that “doing” is the impermanent, form and relative side. And egolessness, emptiness and the absolute is the “non-doing” side. When these two are united there is seamless harmony between doing and non-doing. He also said that there was no difference between these three versions of the middle way. By the way, this guy is from Southeast Asia and considers himself a Theravadin yet is open to all of Buddha’s teachings.

We ended with the dedication of merit chants. After the chants I explained that the reason for dedicating any merit we may have gained as a result of our practicing and studying together is to reduce our pride and self-smug sense of achievement or superiority over others. We offer whatever we may have gained for ourselves to all other beings.

We said our goodbyes and agreed that we are all looking forward to this Saturday’s day-long meditation retreat.

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