OPEN HEART, OPEN MIND
Awakening the Power of Essence Love
Tsoknyi Rinpoche with Eric Swanson
In “Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love”, Tsoknyi Rinpoche- the Tibetan teacher of Buddhist meditation-mentions the Buddhist path aims at encouraging people to “live more openly, wisely, generously toward themselves and others”. To meet that target we need both understanding about our basic nature, the patterns that prevent us from our basic nature and the methods to work with these patterns and practice to uncover the layers of misidentification.
People around the world, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche is not an exception, are in suffering from being born but always desire to move on, to recover, to love themselves and others. He says that we are lived in two dreams, one we do every night, one we experience everyday reality: fear, vulnerability and so on. These experiences or “patterns” staying in our mind and body. To work with our patterns we need to be friendly, tender and courage look at our life to realize “we are beyond the stories we tell about ourselves”. And then, we can see our patterns “real but not true” because they doesn’t base on true situations but base on memory experience in the past. From that, we are able to change our heart and mind to experience essence love, to avoid the conflict between patterns and the attempt to push them away. It means we are pursuing the light to see the reasons and results of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and to heal the world. That light which Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls “the spark” is known as Buddha nature. It exists from our birth and includes three aspects: emptiness, clarity and love. First, emptiness is some “sort of empty space” that extends to most part of us and allows for anything to build home. It goes beyond our ability to perceive with our sense and doesn’t mean “nothing exists” or “nothing has meaning”. Emptiness is the ability to be anything. Rinpoche give us the practice of emptiness through “objective shinay”-calm from stimulation. We don’t need to focus on a particular object, just lightly be aware of whatever we are experiencing, do not try to stop or stick into these experiences. Straight spine, relax the rest of body, open eyes and breathe deeply and we can see these experiences “less solid than we think they are”. Second, clarity is the ability to see, be aware anything we experience. It enables us to “recognize, identify and distinguish our thoughts, feelings, sensations”. Emptiness and clarity are inseparable. This awareness involves resting in our natural clarity through another “shinay” that focuses on the breath. Third, love which is translated as “compassion” is the ability to experience anything. It consists of unprejudiced “openness and intelligent” to understand the suffering of people and willing to “help them without conditions or preconceptions”. Love is the feeling of warmth, well-being and content. Tsoknyi Rinpoche tried to translate “the basic tendency of the heart to open unconditionally”. And he found “essence love”. Essence love is the essential aspect, the crucial ingredient of our basic nature-like tea in a cup of tea. It stays in every humans and can not be ruined because of the inseparability of emptiness and clarity which are uncreated. A deeper and active caring for all things is “boundless love”. We do that by send out positive energy and take or feel other’s pain. It involves finding a restful position, rest in “objectless shinay”, breath and imagination. And we can feel realization, relief, open heart. The author also states the highest level of love: “bodhicitta”- fully awake, fully able to do what we can do to stop wars and start an era of peace and contentment. Bodhicitta includes two levels: “absolute” (totally awake, we all free from suffering through recognizing our basic nature) and “relative” (more accessible than “absolute”, we dedicate to help people to become free from suffering). “Relative bodhicitta” has two aspects: “aspiration” (strong desire to help, to awaken people) and “application” (take steps to help, to awaken people). And active effort of relative bodhicitta involves the application of “perfection”-the most open, kind and intelligent qualities that results in absolute bodhicitta. “Perfection” includes: generosity (giving food, money, protection, understanding), discipline (doing no harm to everyone), patience, diligence (dedicate to help people), concentration and wisdom. Moreover, Tsoknyi Rinpoche remind us that the reason why we’re still unhappy and hurt others is “forgetting who we’re and openness, clarity, love”. And the basic nature of us is hidden by many layers which are formed in our everyday life. These layers make distinctions about ourselves and the world around us no matter how bad they are. When our minds create a sense of self-“I”, we are creating an ignorance and making ourselves confused about the nature of things. That’s the first layer of “self”: “Mere I” or “Almost I”- a stream of experience. We become susceptible to whatever pass through our experience and understand the distinction of “I” and “not I”. And Tsoknyi Rinpoche believes that when we begin to think such distinctions as true, we move from “mere I” to “solid I”. As we apply tighter, harder “labels” to our mind and body, we develop a “thing-like” quality. The more solid the sense of “I” is, the more powerful and complicated the identification is. We become suspect, tension starts and love becomes conditional. The third layers of identification is the “precious I”-only focus on things of and about myself which are over and above others’. This layer prevents us from realizing our potential. Because we feel lonely, we want to hold our picture about ourselves even they are useless or unhealthy. And the result is, we try to seek something stability in “the world of changing”. It can be more serious when “precious I” evolve to “addicted I”-we feel need something beyond the essence love. Another layer of self we develop on dealing with people is the “social I”. We define or measure ourselves according to the reactions of other people. These various layers of “I” develop in separated stages of time but “evolve and support others in continuous process”. However,sometime these layers of “I” are useful. For example, a very lightness of “mere I” leave space for essence love and openness to flow. Not only claims about these patterns and layers-challenges we face in life, Tsoknyi Rinpoche also suggests some methods to deal with them and get rid of our defined picture. The most effective method is “mindfulness”-a “set of practices to notice without judgment”. Mind is not a thing but a continuous moving event which works on different but connected levels: “relative level” (or normal awareness or relative mind) and “more expansive level” (or awareness of relative awareness). We become aware and have capability to discover our own inner speed limit-a balance between thoughts, feelings and physical experiences through the practice of mindfulness. Purpose of mindfulness is balancing our mind to simply notices without judging or interpreting. Tsoknyi Rinpoche holds the goal of mindfulness is “free all living beings from their patterns to experience essence love: the fully awaken heart”. Practice mindfulness also gives us the taste of “space”-the looseness of “the knots of identification”. To explain “space”, Tsoknyi Rinpoche tells us look at the area around us with all our sense open to awake all things then turn that awareness to the mind which perceive these things openly-look at inner space, and finally let the whole effort of looking off. We begin to see that inner space is wide open and clear, beyond concepts or judgments, to allow conditions to come together to create feelings, thoughts and behaviors. It also makes all distinctions between “the looker” and “what was being looked” disappeared. At the beginning, Tsoknyi Rinpoche advises us to maintain tender, warmth, “attention and alertness” on a particular area of experiences. We “can’t only be mindful, we need to be mindful of something-we need a focus”. There are “four areas of focus” or “four foundation of mindfulness”: Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Feeling, Mindfulness of Thought and Mindfulness of Dharma. First, we start Mindfulness of Body by enjoying we have a body. We notice to it without judging or identifying them and find a physical posture which is comfortable and stable to focus our attention. Tsoknyi Rinpoche gives us two approaches to physical posture: “seven points” (cross legs, straight spine, open eyes, relax the rest of body and breathe) and “three points”-informal one. The actual practice includes a few method such as scanning (bare attention to each area on our body), noticing (take note of first thing catch our awareness), moving (watch things move) and form (pay attention to all types of form). We can focus on where we feel most intensely in body, alert to it and experience a bit of space, openness in our body. We rest in that experience to have a sense of lightness, relief for our body. The author urges us to remember that practising Mindfulness of Body is to help us to “respond to the tendency to run, stop look at our Identities, cut through our stories”- which live in our subtle body. Second, to cope with emotion, we use Mindfulness of Feeling. We rest alert awareness on the experiences of emotions without judging them. We catch wind back to its home by a special breathing technique: vase breathing. To understand this kind of wind more deeply, author provides us a understanding of “subtle body”-where emotion emerges. Subtle body which is a “layer of experience” between physical body and mind is made up by three related features keeping subtle body in balance: “tsa”-channels or pathways, “tigle”-sparks of life and “lung”-wind. Wind flows through channel to carry spark of life. But there are two reasons for the subtle body imbalance to form patterns: “tsa” blocked or twisted after a shock; or “lung” disturbed because of the development of various layers of “I”. To reassure our subtle body and alert it to the “habit of connecting with and identifying as our feeling”, we practice Mindfulness of Feeling. We talk to “tsa”, notice and accept our feelings instead of trying to control or push them away. We use vase breathing to have space into subtle body: “open it up and release its compression”; to insert relieved breath into patterns. We feel a dissolving of whatever is bothering us. Third, Mindfulness of Thought or Mindfulness of Mind involves practices of noticing “the names and labels that we tend to attach to our experiences and make these experiences more solid than they might be”. It means we are alert and awake to our judgments, memories and ideas in our subtle body. The Tibetan teacher advises us to practice with few or no distractions, calm body, notice our breath, then notice our thoughts, rest on our experiences and just notice how fast our thoughts come and go. We become familiar with the activity of ordinary awareness-activity of the mind and less tend to identify with our thought to feel a distance-space between thought and mind which is aware of this thought. Finally, Mindfulness of Dharma (“Dharma” means truth, the nature of things) involves resting our awareness in “space”. We practice Mindfulness of Dharma by looking beyond the judgments, trying to focus on the open space and observe three immovability: Immovability of Body (use physical posture, open all physical senses), Immovability of Sensations (use methods of Mindfulness of Body and Mindfulness of Feeling to notice sensations passing through physical and subtle body) and Immovability of Mind (attentive and alert to the thoughts passing through our awareness). We are aware of what our sense are aware of and turn that awareness inward to experience the spaces between physical sensations, feelings and thoughts. Another method is breathing in as we raise our arms and breathing out sharply as we drop our arms to experience a wide openness. We rest in that openness then let it go. Tsoknyi Rinpoche also emphasizes that we can combine these methods of mindfulness to “work as a team” to uncover layers of “I”, reconnect to our basic nature, to a balance the subtle body and experience essence love. For example, we start by Mindfulness of Thought to examine a thought and find a gap; next we use Mindfulness of Body to bring awareness to our body; then work with subtle body by Mindfulness of Feeling; finally, letting go all the inquiry and rest in the openness and clarity of space. After all, “there is no failure”. Because practising mindfulness is a gradual process. The teacher urges to stop criticizing ourselves if we do not succeed immediately. We just proceed slowly, practice for very short periods many times a day like “drip by drip, a jug gets filled”
The last thing Tsoknyi Rinpoche conveys to us is trust-the most important quality needed to comprehend and practice the teaching of Dharma. Trust opens heart, offers possibility of opening mind and allows us to be as we are, to create space to other to be as they are.