Living in Spacious Awareness
The Essence of the Buddhist Practice
What is the Essence of Buddhist Practice? The Buddha taught how to open the casket of our minds, to the vast expanse inside and outside.
Instead of living in a cocoon of worries and anxieties about everything,
Instead of living a life of destructive emotions,
Instead of the futile hope of a god coming and fixing our problems,
Instead of the futile hope of the world outside fixing all our problems,
Instead of the futile hope of finding peace in the ravines of mind away from the world,
Instead of hopelessly falling into inaction and depression,
The Buddha showed, how
To uncover the vast spaciousness of mind where everything is resolved,
To unleash the mind into its very nature of clear awareness and bliss,
To live a life of peace, happiness and contentment in the spacious expanse of wisdom,
To experience the world vividly with all its fine links of interconnectedness,
Above all, to live a life of compassion and loving kindness
Where we not only remain free from our own suffering,
But, stand joyously and courageously to bring benefit to all,
To help others free themselves from their suffering.
All of these rely on a simple point. That is to be aware – clearly, openly and spaciously. In Buddhist practice, in meditation and beyond meditation, one cultivates mindful yet relaxed awareness. Observing our own thoughts and experiences, we can see what is wholesome and unwholesome. With clear awareness, we can see the confusions we hold, around which we give in to emotions and turn life miserable. With that awareness, then we cultivate wisdom to let those confusions and miseries dissolve in their own space.
The practice of Buddhism is not at all about learning new dogmas, but of unlearning and opening up to the freshness and immediate presence of our awareness. It is all about breaking beyond the misconceptions and habits we hold fast tightly as the foundation of all our miseries.
With the attitude of genuine and unbiased inquiry, Siddhartha, the prince who turned into a wandering inquirer to fix the pain of all, himself took such a path of awareness. He observed his own experiences, investigated and found the causes of happiness and suffering. He found how to overcome those. Then, he showed how we can make similar findings. He showed how we can befriend our own minds, get to know it closely, nurture and develop it. Above all, he showed how we can awaken our minds to its vast potential through gently getting to know it.
To be aware in view, meditation and conduct is the essence of the Buddhist practice.
The way he showed to go beyond suffering to limitless compassion, blissful living and perfect awakening all relied on simple and practical steps. This is perfectly within the reach of everyone. The Buddha did not prescribe any religious dogmas to do so. In fact, Buddhism is not at all about learning new dogmas, but of unlearning and opening up to the freshness and immediate presence of our awareness. It is all about breaking beyond the misconceptions and habits we hold fast tightly as the foundation of all our miseries. As we unlearn them we open up to the original perfection, the very nature of our minds – the ever fresh and clear nature of our awareness with its innate quality of being happy, peaceful and compassionate.
The way to unlearn
The entire learning and training of Buddhism is about unlearning those miserable misconceptions and habits. Now, how do you unlearn? There are so many ways that suits different individuals. No matter whether you are a house holder with so many other things to take care in life or a dedicated practitioner, there are ways for all. All these various ways boil down to cultivating clear awareness in three aspects that cover entire life – namely, view (dṛṣṭi), meditation (bhāvana) and conduct (carya). To be aware in view, meditation and conduct is the essence of the Buddhist practice. As we shall see, the openness and wisdom that come from each of these three end up supporting the other two, thus leading us gradually to the clear wisdom of perfect unlearning.
The view is the freshness that comes from unlearning misconceptions and habits, and from the widening and deepening of our perspective.
The view means the perspective of seeing ourselves and the world free from all prejudices. It is the panoramic openness that we cultivate where the attention to particulars do not blind us from seeing everything in its own place. The view is the freshness that comes from unlearning misconceptions and habits, and from the widening and deepening of perspective.
Genuine meditation should involve settling into an expansive view free from prejudices and tasting the strength of that expanse.
The view is also what helps us break the habitual barriers and see things clearly in meditation. If we do not develop that kind of a view, meditation will not have the juice of freshness to bring transformation. Often, this is the mistake that people make while trying to meditate. They either try to silence the mind, or simply keep wandering through the very patterns of misconceptions and habits that have been limiting them. Genuine meditation should involve settling into an expansive view free from prejudices and tasting the strength of that expanse.
The view begins to broaden while listening to the words of wisdom, as it reveals the fallacies in our way of thinking and makes us think in broader ways. As we reflect further on the meaning of those words, the view deepens. It brings freshness and depth to the perspective. Further, meditation and wisdom-conduct gradually eliminates old habits and we learn to settle into the comfort of ever-fresh openness of the view. The view, in turn, makes meditation meaningful. Also, the view leads to spontaneity in wisdom-conduct, bringing ease to the way we deal with the world.
Meditation with the correct view also puts us in direct contact with the basic goodness – our innately perfect qualities such as clarity, compassion and loving kindness – so that we learn to ‘see’ beyond confusion.
Meditation means settling mind in clarity and openness. With clear and stable awareness, meditation helps us to accustom with the view and deepen the exposure to the view in a direct way in our immediate experience. Thus there is the dawn of direct insight into the nature of our existence. In meditation, the view becomes a lived experience.
Meditation with the correct view also puts us in direct contact with the basic goodness – our innately perfect qualities such as clarity, compassion and loving kindness – so that we learn to ‘see’ beyond confusion. Thus, while the view helps us during meditation to settle and penetrate reality, meditation in turn opens us to a clearer view of reality. The clarity and stability cultivated through meditation is not limited to just meditation sessions. We extend that clear awareness and mindfulness as the conduct all through life. In a nutshell, meditation in Buddhism is not an escape route from everything else. Instead, it prepares and strengthens us to face the world.
Conduct is all about bringing the wisdom perspective to life. It is the awareness and mindfulness that we bring to every aspect of life.
Conduct is basically all that we do outside meditation. It is the way we relate to our world 24×7 in all our activities, no matter what we do in life. Conduct is all about bringing the wisdom perspective to life. It is the awareness and mindfulness that we bring to every aspect of life. The view, that is the unlearning of misconceptions and habits, is applied in every aspect of our lives through conduct. We try to do what makes sense from our wisdom perspective. In turn, conduct deepens view because it sensitizes us to the nuances of the world and makes us reflect deeper than just holding a bookish and dogmatic knowledge. Further, the right conduct strengthens meditation because meaningless distractions are naturally pacified.
The Harmony of View, Meditation and Conduct
As Guru Padmasambhava, the great master who took Buddhism to Tibet and preserved there, taught,
Maintain the view as spacious as the sky.
Yet, in conduct, regard cause and effect
as fine as grains of flour.
The practice leads to familiarizing ourselves with the natural harmony of view and conduct in our innate wisdom nature – the basic goodness. Then meditation is exhausted as there is no difference between meditation and non-meditation. One transcends beyond holding to any view, as one sees everything so clearly as if looking from the top of a mountain peak, seeing how different perspectives fall in their own places.
(See Carefree Expanse – Careful Conduct for an explanation to the above verse.) Go beyond all boundaries and limited religious thinking, beyond all sectarian doctrinal thoughts, to the clear expanse of awareness, of seeing everything in its own place. Relax and let go in that vast openness. Without parting from that space, apply discerning wisdom, apply attention to detail, and do what benefits oneself and others. Eventually, one frees oneself from all forms of limited system thinking. Yet, one does not simply blank out in a void openness. One gains the ability to work with any system, while fully knowing the limitations of every system.
As Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, a great Dzogchen master of recent times beautifully expressed (Magic Dance),
There is no communication in relative truth
Without understanding everyone’s system and ideas,
So may I adapt to everyone’s systems,
Wishing for everyone’s benefit.
There is no liberation in absolute truth
Without release from everyone’s system and idea,
So may I adapt to no one’s system,
Beyond benefit’s wish.
Meditation should harmonize the view and conduct, bringing the panoramic awareness of view and meticulous attention of conduct to every aspect of life. This is indeed the very essence of Buddhism.
The practice leads to familiarizing ourselves with the natural harmony of view and conduct in our innate wisdom nature – the basic goodness. Then meditation is exhausted as there is no difference between meditation and non-meditation. One transcends beyond holding to any view, as one sees everything so clearly as if looking from the top of a mountain peak, seeing how different perspectives fall in their own places. One also transcends all contrived adherence to conduct as the wisdom awareness naturally outflow in appropriate conduct. This is indeed the culmination of the any pathway of Buddhism.
The Buddha summarized his entire teachings into the following four lines (pratimokṣa sūtra – the Sutra of individual liberation)
Abandon negativity whatsoever.
Bask in the abundance of virtues.
Perfectly conquer one’s own mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.
Here, the first two lines relate primarily to the conduct. The third relates primarily to taming, training and perfecting one’s mind to its original abilities through the three aspects of view, meditation and conduct.
Various Ways of Practice
This short note was written as brief introduction to Buddhism for those who have no clue about what it is. The Buddha cuts through many misconceptions of worldly people to lead us to the ultimate fruition of perfect awakening. When some of these teachings are read out of turn, i.e., without building clarity on preceding points, it may appear beyond comprehension. There is nothing to worry. You can start with whatever is appealing and leave the rest away. Just develop that level of wisdom and openness through being aware in the view, meditation and conduct. And, as you develop appreciation for the remaining teachings, those aspects are cultivated precisely in the same style – through being aware in the view, meditation and conduct. That way, “The view, meditation and conduct”, is the framework from beginning to end, for all ways of Bodhi.
For example, the Buddha taught in many different scopes and some of them may be beyond comprehension at first.
- Wholesome Living – How non-harming and benefitting attitude leads to healthy minds and happy life.
- Nirvana (Liberation) – How abandoning self-clinging leads to the supreme bliss and perfect peace,
- Sambodhi (Perfect Awakening)
- How selfless and boundless compassion to all beings makes our existence utterly joyous and meaningful
- How all our experiences are merely illusion-like and completely workable
- How we have the innate ability to be fully enlightened Buddhas in this very lifetime
And, all of these may not appeal to all, and that is perfectly alright.
As far as we gradually unlearn confusions and habits and open up to living in a spacious expanse in this way, nothing else is required. Without having to please any gods and without having to wait for newer technologies to fix our problems, we can easily tame our minds and find peace, happiness and auspiciousness.
May all find peace and happiness through such an open approach to transforming lives!
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6 thoughts on “Living in Spacious Awareness”
Wow, what an excellent piece of writing! My brains (not actually me) think this is an astounding piece of work, and my spirit (my glow of awareness, intentions & conscience/knowing) feels 100% comfy with all that was said and the complete presentation as a whole – this piece of work is as close to perfection as things get in this world. Praiseworthy in the least!
Teach me Dhamma Lord, teach me Dhamma! 🙂
Thanks for amazingly clear and all encompassing writeup.
I have few questions
1. In ‘ways to unlearn’ section – meditation is called as (bhāvana); why? I thought meditation corresponds to Dhyana? Can you please clarify?
2. In View,Meditation and Conduct diagram is there any significance to the colour of arrows?
3. You mention “Genuine meditation should involve settling into an expansive view free from prejudices and tasting the strength of that expanse.” what do you mean by ‘tasting the strength of that expanse’?
4. You mention “The practice leads to familiarizing ourselves with the natural harmony of view and conduct in our innate wisdom nature – the basic goodness.” Why you call it familiarising ourselves? Does that mean harmony, the basic goodness are already our nature and practise leads to out our nature? Why its called wisdom nature? and not just our nature? Does wisdom here refers to emptiness?
Would love to get clarifications on these.
Thank you for your interest and for your detailed questions. Answers below:
1. In Sanskrit, there are different words used for different aspects of meditation. When there is cultivation of meditation with right effort, it is called bhāvanā. It literally means, cultivation or bringing to being. Thus shamata and vipashyanā are actually called shamata bhāvanā and vipashyanā bhāvanā – because it actually means cultivation of calm-abiding and cultivation of insight respectively. Dhyāna (in Pali, Jhana) means the states of effortless meditative absorption that result from the cultivation of shamata. They do not by itself lead to wisdom, but may be used in the path. There is also another term samādhi, which means one-pointed state of mind. It could either be worldly samadhi or super-mundane samadhi depending upon whether insight is present or not. Coming back to the context, when we describe path as a combination of view, meditation and conduct, here meditation is bhāvanā, cultivation with right effort.
2. No particular significance for the colors. It was just for the visual appeal
3. Ordinarily, people take meditation to be just being absorbed (such as in one of 8 dhyana states, or in some level of relaxation and peace). However, to be effective in the path, it is not enough to just relax or shut off. Meditation needs to relate back to the view of unlearning. Instead of holding tightly to some form of one-pointedness or absorption, meditation should help in relaxing to the expanse of the newly cultivated view. The mind must be relaxed, yet clearly aware of the new expanse of view beyond previously held conceptual barriers. Thus, the expanse of view is tasted as a natural experience during meditation. That taste is strengthened as one habituates in meditation. Though the eventual goal is to unlearn all habits, in the path habituating with the taste of expansive view helps in overcoming mind’s habitual tendencies to grasp and distract from natural state into narrow views. When the taste of expanse is not strong, it is easy to be distracted.
4. Yes, basic goodness here refers to what is technically known as Buddha-nature (sugata-garbha). In deeper analysis we can see that the very nature of mind is that though there is nothing graspable as mind, it is still aware and responsive. The narrowness, confusion, inertia, dualities, etc. are not fundamentally limiting the nature of mind. They are just adventitious conceptual barriers. They come and go based on what we habituate. If one recognizes this original nature, there is no confusion. That is the perfect view. The perfect conduct is just the spontaneous responsiveness of that perfect view. So, view and conduct are perfectly harmonious. However, during the path, since the perfect view is not attained, there seems to be dichotomy. So, on one side, there is meticulous attention to details in terms of conduct. On the other side, there is spacious openness of view. In the beginning it may seem difficult to have attention to details and spacious openness together. As one progresses through view, meditation and conduct, one discovers its natural harmony. So, we are not building something new through the practice, but just letting confusion go, and discovering the natural state of perfection. Yes, ‘wisdom nature’ is just ‘our nature’. It is empty in essence, yet perfect in its natural qualities. Though there is nothing to grasp on to, it does not mean we reach utter voidness. Though empty, everything arises, and in the absence of confusion, they arise perfectly with clear awareness and compassionate responsiveness.