It isn’t easy to find a tradition that supports one’s temperament. Neither it is easy to find a teacher with whom one can connect, or find a teaching that will clarify one’s confusion, and not add to it.
Your experience may be different, but I started off in Buddhism within the Karma Kagyu tradition: the fruition is Mahamudra, and we sat for many years watching the breath and enjoying good company. Some rang bells and waved dorjes. For me, this wasn’t totally satisfying, and I didn’t know why. Wanting to know what Mahamudra was was referred to as “wanting the golden roof before the foundations were established”.
At the end of one particular retreat, the lama asked what teachings we would like next: I was fascinated by the word ‘Dzogchen’ but didn’t know what it meant, so I said, “Dzogchen!”. Other students accused me of being arrogant in requesting such a teaching, as it was considered to be the golden roof. We duly received the teaching – and I didn’t understand a word of it, and said so. It was obvious that I wasn’t fitting in (and maybe that’s the obvious reason that I was kicked out after 11 years).
My wife and I went to Nepal, and discovered the Nyingma tradition, the main emphasis being Dzogchen. In Dzogchen, you receive the pointing out instruction of the direct nature of mind – the golden roof. Having received this, it seemed to me that it was the foundation of practice, as one couldn’t even start one’s journey without knowing where one was going.
My confusion lay in how Dzogchen could be considered to be the golden roof and the foundation at the same time. How could I explain this to anyone else? And then I received the teaching of the ground, path and fruition: the ground is our true nature, the path is our confusion about that true nature and the fruition is the realisation that the path never existed and we were the ground all along. That is how the golden roof and the foundation are exactly the same.
It’s clear how confusing things may be if we do not have the complete picture. This reminds me of the story of several blind people each touching a different part of an elephant and trying describe the whole creature from their partial, limited viewpoint.
Our spiritual journey starts with dissatisfaction. We can all find that which we are looking for as long as we ask – and continue to ask – questions.
There are those who don’t ask questions and just join in, finding everything wonderful. It may be that we cannot talk to such people because they do not empathise with our dissatisfaction and confusion; their ready acceptance can be off-putting because their personal belief prevents them from investigating the nitty gritty of dissatisfaction. It is this dissatisfaction that is the motivation to refine our understanding and resolve that longing (even though we may not be able to put words to it) for clarity, happiness and satisfaction beyond doubt.
Once we understand the nature of confusion, this is the point of no more meditation.
Beyond thoughts, there is a knowingness that has to be clarified, and that is where empathetic support is necessary. In truth, there aren’t many teachers out there. There are those who read texts and make commentaries on these, but a teacher is one who checks whether people understand what has been taught. If a student does not understand, it is the teacher’s responsibility to clarify.
We have enough confusion of our own without adopting others’ confusing confusion…
Understanding clearly is realisation.
Realisation is being real.
It’s not an act of knowing;
it is the act of knowing.