Notes for Training In Compassion,
March 2, 2017
Our first Lojong slogan, Train in the Preliminaries, was all about getting started. Setting an intention. Carving out time. Taking risks with our precious routines. Committing to establishing a new practice or rededicating ourselves to an existing practice. The second slogan, See Everything as a Dream, encouraged us to lighten up a little by being aware of the impermanence and interconnectedness of all things out there. Things out there aren’t as they appear. Nothing is as fixed as our discursive minds try to make it be. So we can relax a little, and in the process, we will free up energy that we can use to make life a little better for all beings. That is one of our vows, Beings are numberless, I vow to free them. That’s a pretty tall task already without being tangled in our own definitions about who those beings are. And so we See Everything as a Dream not to escape; we do so to bring our hearts to bear (and boy does our world need for each of us to be wholehearted).
This brings us to our third Lojong slogan: Examine the nature of awareness
So nothing is as it seems out there and everything is a memory even as it registers and you can’t really grasp anything before it shifts to something else. And think about this. The average age of all of the cells in your body is between 7 to 10 years. In fact, to get a little weirder, “skin cells live about two or three weeks. Colon cells have it rough: they die off after about four days.” So, if my whole body is in a constant state of remodeling, what makes me 50? For that matter, what makes me Vaughn? What makes you you? Are we our stories? If so, since our stories were literally formed by another being that’s since been replaced at the cellular level years or even decades ago, whose stories are we living? Who is me? Even if one says, well, we’re obviously our DNA, who made that DNA? Who made theirs? Can I ever really say that this being is me or that this sense of being aware is mine?
Examine the nature of awareness
Here’s another experiment for us to explore tonight by way of Norman Fischer’s book Training In Compassion. As we sit, “find a yourself. Find a definite, concrete, identifiable somebody there within your awareness.”
“I think you will find this is not so easy to do. You can find plenty of thoughts and emotions, sensations, opinions, sense experiences, but I think it’s very difficult to find an I. If suddenly, for no reason, your mind were to become very, very quiet and there were only a sound, maybe the sound of silence or the sound of wind or water or machinery, and simply a feeling of presence, and there is nobody complaining and there are no stories going on in your mind, there is only awareness—an experience you may well have had in a meditation retreat or maybe any time, in nature, or in spontaneous repose—that in that moment there isn’t anybody there to congratulate you for it. And as soon as there seems to be someone to notice or congratulate, the experience passes and the inner dialogue resumes. If you should experience a moment like this, it will become instantly clear to you that awareness is something very profound and extremely mysterious and that we really don’t know where it comes from or what it is at all. It’s powerful, vivid, and very alive, but we don’t know what it is. We have a word in our language—consciousness—but no one knows what this word means. It’s a word that simply covers over our confusion. To recognize this fact and train in it is the burden of this slogan [Examine the nature of awareness].
Recent brain science corroborates this point. There is, in fact, no brain area, [and] no combination of brain areas, [which] corresponds to a sense of “me”. Though the sense of “me” does seem to occur subjectively, it is not an experience and does not exist in a location. It emerges somehow from thoughts and emotions that can be seen in brain scans, but it itself cannot be seen or measured. It both exists and does not exist at the same time (Fischer, pp. 20-21).”
So, tonight, and for the next few weeks, maybe before or after you meditate with the koan, No, I invite you to examine, really get curious, about the nature of awareness. Try to “find a yourself. Find a definite, concrete, identifiable somebody there within your awareness.” With each part of the me that you encounter, you might ask yourself, “Who is it that is hoping x, or feeling y, or remembering z?” You might even find it helpful to ask yourself, “Who is it that is aware of this?” or, “Who am I?”
Examine the nature of awareness.