Q. Lately I've been reading material by certain contemporary teachers (not associated with any particular religious tradition) who claim to have had ' awakening' experience s . They seem to suggest that 'consciousness' doesn't care about any single individual's needs, spiritual or otherwise. I may be incorrect, but I think I recall you saying similar at one of your talks. You said something to the effect that the Dharma doesn't care what any one person is looking for from their spiritual life. However, you also seem to suggest that consciousness does indeed respond to a seeker's need for assistance. You speak of bowing to this consciousness/divine, of asking for help and direction. From my own experience, there does seem to exist a dynamic, or an interaction between something in myself and something beyond me. But I wonder whether out of a deep need for security I am simply fooling myself! In an infinite universe, why should consciousness care about me! Do you know what I'm getting at? I wonder whether you might be able to say anything about all of this?
A. I find your question somewhat confusing but I will do my best to comment. First of all, I'm not sure what you mean by 'consciousness'. Let's assume you mean that which Buddhists refer to as Buddha-nature or Original-nature. Yes, I have said that Buddha-nature isn't interested in how you want practice to be, that you want to have it on your terms, or at your convenience. Our True-nature will respond when we learn to practise correctly, having the humility to surrender ourselves throughout all our everyday experiences of life, not picking and choosing the ones to open up to. It is possible to cultivate communion between yourself and Buddha-nature, but never imagine Buddha-nature to be 'out there'. It is your True Being and is within you. Yes, you can fool yourself, thinking you are communicating with Buddha-nature when in fact it is your deluded mind playing games. Communion can only take place over time, through cultivating wholehearted practice. Practice where you are prepared to engage yourself full time in all situations and learn through humility to give yourself up. Give yourself up to what? Give yourself up to your True-nature, that which is within all of us. If you call upon help only when it suits you, and consider it something of a convenience that will get you out of trouble, then this is an example of your delusion. There is a price to pay for the wholehearted relationship, and this is the surrendering of the self. If you want this relationship at your convenience, then it will never happen, you will be forever drawn into the deluded self's desire to have things on its terms. Your True-nature loves you as it loves all beings, and indeed all of life. It 'aches' to reach out and help because it cannot be any other way. It sees you not as something separate but as itself, as nothing is separate, but at one with Buddha-nature. There are not many Buddha-natures; this only appears to be so because of our inability to grasp the all-embracing reality of one Buddha-nature – the great eternal mystery that is never touched by time and space, that is the wisdom that is not separate from love. And because it cannot be known or grasped, our response can only be to bow our heads with humility.
Q. You often talk about working with strong negative habits, which may take years to soften and eventually break/transform. One of my own habits is finding porn on the net. Usually I 'go for refuge' to porn when I don't want to engage with my own experience. Even though the experience of porn is quite unsatisfactory, and I am aware of this to some degree, I often feel I can't resist the pull, and soon find myself lost in this 'hungry-ghost' realm. Usually after a few days of 'escaping' in such a way I eventually get sick and frustrated with it all (and also quite angry with myself). Finally I find the will and positivity to engage with those emotions I've been avoiding – often fear and sadness. At the moment I'm much more willing to engage with difficult emotions, but I know it's not the last time I will use porn to escape. How can I make friends with this side of myself and acknowledge my current weaknesses, but also work to transform them at the same time?
A. You can start the transforming process right now by learning to make friends with your habit. Making friends means to accept yourself the way you are and not to fall into negativity, reactivity and judgments. These all empower the habit and make it stronger. Accept that this is the way things are just now, this is what you lose yourself in. It's just the way it is. However, as you are practising the Dharma, you have now decided that it's time to turn away from a habit that isn't conducive to what you want to do and (un) become. First, learn to be aware of yourself when you succumb to this habit and be aware of all the strong feelings of attachment that go with it; start to see ever more clearly why you run to such activities in the first place. This is just to know. It isn't to judge and create a world of opinions around it, it is just to know. ' When you indulge in porn, know you are indulging in porn'. Next, learn to be kind to yourself because you are caught by something of great power. Certainly don't think that this particular habit is wrong and bad. Actually what you are doing is perfectly normal, but maybe it's something you would rather be not doing. Learn to become comfortable with what is a powerful habit. Develop awareness around the experience and learn acceptance around it. Finally, develop restraint when this habit comes to you, so that over time you slowly develop the ability to pull back from being caught and carried by your conditioning.
Q. In one of your talks, as an example of containing emotions, you give the example of holding back from shouting at your house-mate who has just used up all your milk, and instead, experiencing the strong emotions fully in the body. Is it not possible in such a situation to skilfully discuss the problem with your friend – perhaps later when the anger has gone? I have found this approach productive in my own experience, so long as it is done with kindness. Surely there is more to right-speech than silence.
A. I was referring to how to deal with the experience at the time, how we can send that habit of losing your temper into change through containing. You are absolutely correct to say come back to the experience with your friend and discuss the issue when the emotion has subsided. This way we are in a more rational, balanced human state, and it is from here we can skilfully deal with the situation.