Monday, May 3, 2010


"I don't know who I am any more. Nothing makes sense. I don't know how to go on. What do I do?"

A couple of months ago, I was leading an informal question and answer session, and after the meditation period, a young woman posed this question. She was clearly in distress about something, a loss, perhaps, a betrayal - she didn't say. Because it was a public forum I didn't ask for any details. Instead, I talked with her about how to meet experience.
Later, she asked, "Is there a way of out of the bitterness?" "Yes," I replied, "but if you look for it, you won't find it." She sat quietly for a few minutes, and then said, "So I have to experience it." "Yes," I said, "you have to experience it and not believe it."

Whenever a powerful experience arises, whether positive or negative, it triggers associations of all kinds, including deep longings and deep fears. The power of the experience says to us, "This is how things are" and we tend to believe it. If the experience is one of transcendence or insight, we may feel that we are one with the world, that we know the ultimate truth, that everything is love, that our search is over and our longings have come to an end, etc. If the experience is one of darkness or depression, we feel disorientation or despair, that all is hopeless, that we are forever alienated from the world, and we will never know joy, happiness, or love. The experience may even trigger both kinds of reactions at the same time. It's easy to fall into belief here, believing what the stories and feelings are telling us about the experience.
Instead, open to the experience and be where you are. Be aware of your body and your surroundings. Know that what is arising is an experience, nothing more, and nothing less.
A student excitedly told his teacher that he had had a vision of the buddhas of the ten directions gathering in the sky, initiating him into the mystery of life, while countless bodhisattvas and their consorts made offerings, sang songs and filled the sky with rainbows.
"Ah," his teacher sighed, "it's been many years now since I've been fooled by that kind of stuff."
As Rangjung Dorje wrote, in Aspirations for Mahamudra,
Since perception is experience and emptiness is experience,  

Since knowing is experience and delusion is experience,  
Since arising is experience and cessation is experience,  
May all assumptions about experience be eliminated.