May 10, 2018 § 4 Comments
The other night I dreamed of a woman who dissolved into the right side of my body. As she did, she transformed into razor sharp saws and scissors that began to cut away at my stomach from the inside out.
I’ve had similar dreams in the past in which normal people turned into fearful monsters and others in which I had been attacked by vicious animals with razor sharp teeth. It was only with this latest dream that I looked at these nocturnal events in light of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, © 1973. In it I found the following passage concerning Peaceful Deities and Wrathful Deities.
“By fleeing, through fear, terror, and awe, (you) fall over the precipices into the unhappy worlds and suffer. But the least of the least of the devotees of the mystic mantrayana doctrines, as soon as he sees these blood-drinking deities, will recognize them to be his tutelary deities, and the meeting will be like that of human acquaintances. He will trust them; and becoming merged into them (italics mine), in at-one-ment, will obtain Buddhahood.” (p. 132)
There are forty-two mild or Peaceful Deities and fifty-eight angry or Wrathful Deities associated with the intermediate states between life and death known in Tibet as the Bardo. If they have heard of it at all, most people believe the bardo to be the Tibetan version of the after-life. There are, in fact, six intermediate bardo states, only two of which are associated with the after-life. A third refers to the actual state of dying and the other three to, a) existence in the womb, b) a state found in deep meditation and c) the bardo of the dream-state. (Ibid. 102.)
In spite of their fearsome appearance, Wrathful Deities are actually disguised Peaceful Deities who come to you to help. Regardless of which of the six states they are found, they act to awaken you to the fact that all people and objects encountered in the bardo, including the Deities themselves, are nothing but reflections of your own consciousness.
In Western terms Wrathful and Peaceful Deities are what the psychologist Carl Jung called archetypes of the collective unconscious. Archetypes may be thought of as universal ideas that exist in the unconscious as empty concepts until they are fleshed out by personal experience. Within their culture Tibetans have specific images of these deities while Westerners would be more likely to imagine Wrathful Deities as, for example, Satan or the Devil; and Peaceful Deities as, perhaps, angels. In my own bardo dream state, Wrathful Deities take various forms but all seem to be monstrous or have a razor component that identify them as the same wrathful dream character.
Dreams and dream interpretation have been an interest of mine for a long time. Over the years I’ve learned that the dream consciousness isn’t something that disappears when I wake up. Often what I dreamed the night before may still be found in the periphery of my consciousness after I awake. There the dream imagery and dream characters follow me around, so to speak, appearing as vague feelings or subtle mental images that influence my behavior as I go about my day.
Sometimes it is the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities that accompany me through the day. When they do, according to the Tibetans, they come to show me that something I believe to be real is really nothing more than a reflection of my own consciousness. Understanding this may be easier if looked at it through the Buddhist lens.
Buddhism states that everything we experience exists in a state of constant change. There is nothing that exists underneath any experience that is fixed or unchanging (i.e., has self-existent). All is impermanence. In our hearts we know this to be true, which means we also know that this fundamental fact applies to the self, as well. The self that we like to imagine we are, the one that thinks and acts, doesn’t really exist. This makes the core of our being seem to be apparent nothingness. And that scares us.
Believing our true nature to be nothingness, we run from it towards the world of appearance. Even though that world is also empty, we try to make it real by clinging to whatever fills the void and avoiding what might bring us face to face with our apparent emptiness.
Enter the Peaceful Deities come to tell us that if we let go our attachments we will find our true nature, which is not nothingness but Fullness and Light. Yet because we believe our true nature to be nothingness fear kicks in, distorting these peaceful messengers into wrathful demons come to throw us into the proverbial fires of hell.
In my dream the woman was a Peaceful Deity who became Wrathful due to my own clinging and aversion (not shown in the dream but taking place in my waking life). Her turning into razor sharp saws that cut away at me from the inside was an obvious symbol of my own suffering. At the same time it was a symbol of her attempt to sever my attachments. She was not the author of my suffering. It was my own clinging and aversion that wrote that chapter of my life.
As can be seen from my own dream experience, we do not have to wait for death and dying to come to use the teachings of the Bardo. Right now (and more so for practitioners of the Way) we are all in an intermediate state where Peaceful and Wrathful Deities are working just off-stage to help release us from attachment. We may know them as thoughts and images that pop into our minds during the day that cause us to be afraid, angry or sad. When they do, our task is not to turn away from these unpleasant feelings but, in the words of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, meet them like “human acquaintances,” for they are valuable allies in our effort to uproot attachment.
Finally, “becoming merged into them,” as quoted above from The Tibetan the Book of the Dead, has the same meaning as becoming attached to nothing. In the process of dropping our clinging and aversion we merge into that apparent nothingness that we feared lie at the core of our being. Only in this merging we find that it is not nothingness. Existence has not ceased. It continues completely free of all things. That is why the Book say, “becoming merged into them, in at-one-ment, will obtain Buddhahood.”
January 17, 2016 § 2 Comments
Whether sitting in meditation or practicing mindfulness, the alert mind may spin into daydreams or a state of dreaminess that is marked by a dimming awareness. At other times thoughts and images arise that arouse intense emotions of fear, anxiety or depression. These feelings mar the meditation by impelling the ego to defend itself against a perceived threat to its integrity. Where the first obstacle to practice is dreaminess, the second is illusion that involves a false version of the self and its relationship to the world. Examples of this latter state are the belief that one is being judged as bad or under threat when no actual threat exists.
To believe that dreams and illusory states are true representations of reality is delusion. However, dreams and illusion may arise without one being deluded as to their true nature. Just as it is possible to enter a lucid state while asleep and know that one is dreaming, it is also possible to be lucid during the day while daydreaming or suffering illusory thoughts. As in sleep, the range of this awareness may vary from pre-lucid states where one wonders if his or her thoughts are true, to full lucidity where one knows his or her version of reality isn’t real at all.
In one way we may say that Buddhist practice aims to create a state of unbroken lucidity where dream illusion has lost its ability to confuse and delude the practitioner with its false version of reality. However, this lucid state should not be confused with the truly enlightened state that transcends thought entirely.
Many begin their spiritual path when life’s obstacles start to get the better of them. It is understandable that in such circumstances much attention is given to stilling troublesome thoughts. There comes a time, however, when it seems that with each thought stilled, another arises. At this point the practitioner may feel like the child that plugs a leak in a dyke with one finger only to have two more open beside it. Experiencing this, the realization dawns that further tinkering with thought will not lead to true peace of mind.
Buddhism recognizes that the very nature of thought creates fundamental problems that cannot be solved by further thinking. Buddhist practice therefore aims to break the human addiction to thinking by having the practitioner focus on one point. Be it the breath, a koan or mindfulness all effort is made to attend to one object to the exclusion of all else. In doing so, as already mentioned, thoughts will seem to arise innumerably one after the other, however, the aim is not to engage these thoughts by trying to shut them down but simply to return the attention again and again to the meditation object. In this way thought is allowed to fade into the background just as outer sounds did at the beginning of one’s practice.
Through continuous practice all illusory thought and accumulated knowledge is cut away. Everything that muddies and obscures clear awareness is dropped. As extra thinking is let go your efforts come to fruition. There is no more illusion or delusion, no more heaven and earth, no more self. Just freedom. But this is still not the complete picture for then comes the return where your true self is actualized. As the poet Moritake wrote:
A fallen flower
Returning to the branch?
It was a butterfly.
June 22, 2014 § 2 Comments
The Buddha expounded the Dharma to show humanity how to overcome bondage to appearance. He is called the Fully Awakened One because he saw life as a fabric of dream illusions upon which we have become transfixed as if in a hypnotic trance. To Awaken is to break the trance and see the thoughts of waking consciousness as no more real than the images seen in dreams when asleep.
When we awake from sleep we know our dream to have been unreal. No matter how involved we were in its seeming reality, when we wake we do not check the bedroom for the people who were chasing us in our sleep. We put the dream aside to deal with the waking world.
To Awaken is to see that our day’s thoughts are no more real than the ones we had when we slept. It is like waking up from a dream, then waking up from our day thoughts.
To the unawakened, thoughts are not only seen to be true, they are seen to be real and powerful. There is a compulsion to act when a thought arises. There is a belief in the ‘this or that’ which creates irrational fear. There is a belief in the righteousness of political ideology and religious faith. In all of this there is, as the Buddha pointed out, a bondage to appearance as we are ruled by our thoughts instead of ruling them.
The Awakened one sees thought in the same way we see our dreams. There is no urge to act, just an option to act or not act. The ‘this or that’ that formerly created fear is now seen as nothing more than a mental image without substance. Any system of thought is seen as neither more nor less valid than any other. In seeing this, the Awakened one finds no reason to argue, no reason to fight or go to war. Having seen the reality of awareness, the Awakened one is at peace.
To be a Fully Awakened Buddha is to realize all of life is a dream illusion. The first step in this realization is to plant the seed of doubt in the accuracy of your thoughts about reality. The first step is to see how these thoughts, this appearance, holds you in sway. Once planted, the seed of doubt will take root and grow into a tree that will one day bear the fruit of your Awakening.
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