Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Line 6: let confusion resolve itself

Send me energy to let confusion resolve itself.

Translation points:
As I have done in the other newsletters, I'll discuss the translation points first, then the meaning, and then the role of prayer.

Again, translated literally, the line might read:

Send me energy to let confusion resolve on its own ground.

Here we enter one of the more challenging aspects of translation: what to do with idioms. Some translators favor translating idioms literally, but that doesn't always work out. Try translating "Hit the road, Jack" into German. Here the idiom is on its own ground or in its own place (Tib. rang.sar). It's a wonderful expression and a lovely image -- surges of confusion arising and resolving themselves, like waves in the ocean, perhaps. The point is that confusion is not and cannot be resolved by an outside force. Confusion is just a distortion (admittedly, a distortion with significant consequences) of the natural knowing that is mind itself. It arises in and from this natural knowing and can only return there.

While I like on its own ground, the phrase has a slightly different meaning in English (e.g., meet someone on his or her own ground = an area that someone knows well). Further it suggests the idea of ground of being (in English, at least -- the Tibetan does not carry that meaning because there is a different word for the philosophical notion of a ground of being). Thus, I prefer to keep the English simple and just say, "Let confusion resolve itself." This rendering avoids any possible misinterpretation and accurately reflects the essentially reflexive construction in the Tibetan, but it does lose the metaphor of ground or place.
What does it mean?
One the one hand, as Gampopa points out in the beginning of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, confusion does not resolve itself. Reactive emotions trigger reactive emotions. Patterns of behavior are laid down that perpetuate themselves because we see and experience the world through the projections of these reactive emotions. Self-reinforcing feedbacks loops form. There is nothing in their operation that leads them to dissolve. Yet here we are praying for energy in order to let confusion resolve itself. Are we praying for the impossible?

The answer to that question is no, because in the context of this prayer some form of attention is assumed to be present. No explicit mention of attention is made, but it is the factor that makes the difference. Attention has two qualities -- stability and clarity. When you rest in stable attention, you aren't taken over when thoughts, feelings or sensations arise. You aren't lost in them. You have free attention over and above what you are experiencing. Because of the clarity component, you know thoughts to be thoughts, feelings to be feelings and sensation to be sensations. You don't take thoughts to be facts. You experience your feelings but you don't necessarily believe what they are telling you. And you know sensations are sensations, that they are dependent on multiple conditions and that they do not point to entities that have an independent existence in their own right. That knowing makes all the difference.

For instance, when a thought arises, if you are not completely consumed by it, you have a chance of recognizing it as a thought. When you do, it has less hold on you. If you then look directly at it, it usually goes poof! and disappears. With practice, this process becomes second nature. 

What determines whether you are caught by a thought or not? What determines whether, when you look at a thought, it goes poof! ? It comes down to the level of energy in your attention. When your attention is consistently at a higher level than thoughts, you do not fall into confused thinking. The same holds for feelings and sensations. Thus, you are praying to develop a level of energy that enables you to know thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings and sensations as sensations. With that level of energy, when subject-object confusion arises, when reactive emotions arise, you know the confusion itself to be movement in mind. This is a direct knowing, not a rational conceptual knowing. And in that knowing, the confusion does not perpetrate itself because you do not fall into conceptual thinking, which is a duller and less stable state of mind. Confusion arises and dissolves by itself in the knowing. 

The role of prayer
Prayer is powerful method for raising the level of energy in your system. It is essentially an ecstatic technique, one in which you open more and more completely to your teacher, the prayer, the feelings of awe and devotion, and to everything you experience. In prayer, you are directing attention to your teacher or to whomever you have decided to pray. This attention is based in an emotional connection, but the emotional energy of awe, devotion and joy operates at a higher level than the emotional energy of reactive emotions. In the course of prayer, again and again you come up against patterns of emotional reaction - doubt, neediness, anger, envy, guilt, pride, etc., etc. The practice of prayer puts you in touch with these patterns while it gives you a way to stand with and in them as they play themselves out. The result is that you experience these waves of emotional reaction without being consumed by them. In this process the energy of emotional reactions is transformed into attention, which then becomes available to you to take prayer deeper or to power your meditation practice. For some, this is truly a joyous journey. For others, it is difficult and challenging beyond comprehension. You don't have a say in how it is (or might be) for you. Like any journey, once you decide to take it, you receive and work with whatever comes. Before you do so, however, it may be a good idea to remember the Tibetan saying: perhaps better not to start, but once started, better to finish.

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