Our ‘Set Point’ of Spirituality

Our set point is the level at which
we ‘set’ or fix our standard.
It is a level at which we ‘work’.
It is our yana.

We usually talk about the two aspects of enlightenment: awareness of our true nature and the exhaustion of all our habitual, karmic, reactional imprints in the mind that obscure that pure nature. This requires resting in empty essence, and the continuity of that in daily life by not being controlled by our karmic imprints – our conventional programming.

However, this is a very dry way of existing, and lacks warmth because it’s still all about ‘me’.

To raise our set point – to raise our level of awareness – we need constant reminders. Monks and nuns wear special clothing, take vows and engage in rituals. We, as householders, use whatever we find suitable, and it is here that we have a special advantage; interaction – the expressing of essence love.

Our spiritual set point is the point at which we set our standard of response – what we can cope with. How much we can cope with will depend on our understanding of the needs of others. There are four levels of empty awareness (‘rigpa’ in Tibetan Dzogchen): essence, expression, display and adornment. Empty awareness itself is dry. Expression, display and adornment are various levels of joyous confidence. Of effulgence – to shine brightly!

This activity relates to relative and absolute bodhichitta, our altruistic attitude of loving kindness. We probably think we should first act through loving kindness from a relative/conventional level, but it actually works the other way round. It’s not until we understand absolute loving kindness that this can be applied to our conventional life. Otherwise it’s as Trungpa Rinpoche said; “It’s just grand mother’s compassion”. We stick a plaster over problems. Absolute bodhichitta is knowing the true nature of all sentient beings, and that they haven’t recognised this yet. One is not judging the person, but the degree of cloud surrounding that person.

So to raise our set point, we have to engage and be interested in others’ problems, and not just be ‘set’ in a bunch of theories and dogma.

Funnily enough, we can use desire and aversion as our path. Our reminder may be that which increases our desire for enlightenment, or (and surprisingly) aversion to all that is happening around and within us. As a “householder”, this approach can be very useful.

I’m going to say something that is not for everyone’s ears:

Tibetan lamas do surround themselves with ‘agreeable’ people. This can create a facade, as no one ‘extends’ the lama/teacher, or cross-examines them. If we feel we have to keep running to the lama/teacher for answers…we will never know!

It’s not until we let go of the teachings we’ve learned that we begin to experience them in the raw, and this is very uncomfortable. It is then that we see how it all works because we’ve tested it under many conditions.

This is when confidence arises.
We are then no longer a follower in the sense of running to the granny
– but we are a follower of the teachings.
We may have learned many theories,
but if we don’t manifest compassion, these theories are pointless.
It is empathy and compassion that raises our set point.

NB. At the Academy of Art we had ‘crits’ twice a day, when a teacher came round to guide our work. If you then wanted to apply to a another school, guided work is not accepted as proof of ability because you haven’t made it your own yet. Your ‘set point’ is someone else’s!

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  1. crestedduck says:

    My testing by way of exploring to see and experience what’s on both sides of the middle path leads to personal confidence and shows me exactly where I am at with the ability to cope and express compassion for myself as well as compassion and understanding of all the others. It is good for me to be adventurous and test capabilities while knowing it is always possible to get back onto the middle path quite easily .

  2. Hey Tony, are you an artist? I am and I Am. That was a great piece of writing. The four levels of empty awareness reminded me of Castaneda. Thank you again for this blog.

  3. pureprocess says:

    Hey Tony, are you an artist. I am and I Am. The four level of empty awareness reminded me of Castaneda. Thank you again for this blog.

  4. marcel says:

    Fascinating Hieronymus Bosch! The fragment above was taken from the third pane of a triptique, representing the end of times. Now, take a close look at the guy in the middle, the guy who is staring you right in the eyes, the guy with legs like trees, balancing on 2 small boats in the middle of the chaos, it’s the 15th century artist himself sending you his greeting through time.

    Here Bosch’ version of the wheels of time..

    • tony says:

      Yes, he is sending messages!

      The constant struggle of good and evil.
      Our constant confusion and chaos.
      Our constant hypocrisy of playing a part-pretending.
      How we are constantly distracted.
      Painted in such a unique and beautiful way.

      To be honest I’ve never been attracted to later periods -too fleshy, too over beautiful. Nudes are great to draw and study, but artists get too obsessed with them and their own skills.

      Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.


      • marcel says:

        Bosch presence is felt in the first painting with his autoportrait in the middle of the samsaric world. He is manifesting himself through the painting. It is like he IS addressing his message to you in a very personal and direct manner. It’s a timeless message with an infinite capacity to retransmit the message to the outer bounderies of the cosmos, to anyone with ears to hear. Always new, alive and fresh. A remarkable and timeless piece of art. Kind of magic taken place here. It only takes the right eyes to see, and there it IS, right on the spot, in front of your eyes..

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