Q. Question for you. I have been meditating with my eyes open since December and I have found it very powerful. I have heard of the eyes as "gates", and keeping them open is a good way to open up and experience a breadth of awareness. Do you have any comments on sitting with eyes open versus shut?
A. In my view having the eyes half open is a superior way to meditate. We associate having our eyes closed with sleep, therefore when we close them to meditate that familiar association could well lead us to drop off. Meditating with the eyes half-open creates a new familiarity, one that we only associate with meditation. This association should be part of the commitment to being whole-hearted when we go to our cushion. To have the eyes half-open requires awareness and a willingness to do so. This has the added advantage that we can check whilst meditating whether our head is straight, through being aware of the line of light(whether it is straight or at an angle). Because we are committed to having our eyes half-open, our awareness will be present in our eyes, thus making them a "gate". Ideally our eyes should roll back naturally after we have settled and begun to concentrate. So we then look at the back or our eyelids (with the eyelids still half-open). With this achieved, as we begin to cultivate our particular meditation subject, we can stay present with more stability,
Q. In a recent posting to the DharmaMind forum, you mention that Dharma is a mysterious movement of the living Buddha, and something we should learn to open up to and become intimate with. Elsewhere, I've heard teachers talk of opening to 'Other Power'. In your book ROA, you speak of being guided and supported by the Buddha. I wonder how we can develop a sensitivity to the movement of the living Buddha in our own lives, how do we cultivate and deepen this important relationship, and how can we identify it at work? What is its nature?
A. We develop our relationship with our inner nature (other power, perhaps) through commitment to the eightfold path. This is embraced by going for refuge -in other words, by practising the Dharma. To answer your question more precisely, we need to focus more on the refuges, in this case, the Buddha refuge. The refuges represent more the spirit of, and commitment to practice. We need to be willing to open up to our inner nature (Buddha). Learning to nurture a relationship, through commitment and familiarity that will allow us to let go of our precious attachments. Attachments in which we invest so much of the sense of "me". As we live in our heads, blinded by the sense of self, we are for the most part estranged from our original nature. Separate and isolated from the whole, we live lonely and frightened. We need to learn to trust that which is beyond "me" and become sensitive to the truth that we are part of an inseparable whole that is forever in a state of flux. We need to turn our attention to that which lives "behind" the self, learning through practice to hand that sense of self back to its original nature. That sense of self has habits driven by the emotions. We are learning to contain them through practice, but we have the greatest difficulty doing this. By turning inwards and opening up to ourselves through containment we can hand that habit to the Buddha. Cultivate the practice of bowing and with your awareness focused inward ask him to help you with your burden. Admit you cannot contain this emotion on your own. You so much want to give this sense of self away and be free from its eternal bondage, but you cannot do it on your own. Bow down to the Buddha and ask him with the utmost humility to help you. Disarm yourself of your defences and conceit and ask him to support you in your time of need. Does this sound a bit God-like and Christian? The Buddha is not "out there", nor has he created you, nor is he a separate entity that comes to your aid, but your true nature that you live out of second by second and have done so since time began. He is eternity, everything, and beyond comprehension. But because his nature is one of wisdom and compassionate warmth, he "brings himself down" to your level so that you can comprehend and communicate with him. Learn to trust and over and over again, through containment and bowing, hand that precious "me" back. Back into the inconceivable warmth and love that yearns to help you. So that one day you will return and re-unite with the wonder of the Buddha, and your true home.
Q. Sometimes during meditation, when I'm concentrated, a 'dot' appears within my awareness that is lighter than its surroundings. I don't want to call it light, yet its colour is 'whiteish'. I wonder whether there is any significance to this, and whether, when it arises, it should become the focus for my concentration. Or should I remain attending to whatever it was that I was initially focused upon (say the rise and fall of the abdomen)?
A. Whatever you have been taught to concentrate on during your meditation should be the sole focus of your attention. All manner of things can come into the mind at these times of concentration and if we give these experiences our attention we will soon lose any sense of one-pointed meditation. If experiences such as these persist and are bothersome, then consult your teacher.
Q. What would you say is the aspect of Dharma practice that Westerners seem most disposed to getting wrong?
A. To think that mixing traditions and practices is a bona fide way to practise the Dharma. For the first time in the history of Buddhism we have (in the West) people putting together a "Universal Practice". A bit from this tradition and a bit from that tradition, etc., until we have a practice that we have assembled and decided is the best for me. We do this not realising that this desire to create our own practice is nearly always born of restlessness because we are unable, through lack of commitment, to stick with one way. This "pick and mix" approach is highly suspect if you are trying to commit to a serious practice. It is true that all branches of Buddhism are growing from the same trunk, but it should be understood that the practice of Dharma by its nature is a very narrow, subtle, and transforming path. Any part of a practice that doesn't harmonise with other parts will keep you off that narrow path, and because of the inherent subtlety involved it is likely that the disharmony created will not be recognised. Whilst sticking to the totality of a traditional way, rather than walling yourself in with your commitment, it could be considered helpful to show interest in other traditions alive in your land. Doing so may prevent conceit and intolerance. By all means show interest in the other traditions and learn from the richness of wisdom that is on offer. However, keep to one practice of one tradition, thereby ensuring you are on a tried and tested path of transformation, rather than being on one that you have, in your "wisdom", cobbled together.