CTSM 12, 13, 14: Belief is labeling the mystery • 12 September 2010

Strange that this happened so slowly – I thought we would read and digest CTSM in a week or two. Most of you did do that, and I apologize for starting with a surge and then leaking out the posts so gradually that some of you lost track of your original responses by the time there was space to discuss. I don’t know why, exactly, but I’ve digested CTSM maybe thirty times more slowly than I do most yoga and Buddhism books—which are churned up and superficially assimilated on contact. I also don’t know why the (0v0) voice has gotten so thin this month – something about being silenced by sincerity toward the better messages of the book, but also about going dormant while Owl Whisperer giggles at me from even higher up the rafters. Anyway. Finally, here is an overview of the penutimate chapters of CTSM. Before I comment on their substance at all, I’m so interested to know how it all concluded for you.

Meantime, some dark history this September 11th. And renewals in most religions—Eid, Rosh Hashanah, Ganesha Chaturthi, new moon; a dive in temperature; Mercury’s endless last day of retrograde; and the whole town downshifting as our population doubles with undergrads. Acorn squashes rolling around the farmers’ market, collective waves of anxiety in the lumbar, cops everywhere, bizarre football rituals, the last of the dragonflies, a ludicrous B-school conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, and parties of vulnerable, tipsy professors.

Tomorrow I’ll leave Ann Arbor/Detroit for the second time since March. International ashtanga reconnaissance mission. Quivering with all this movement, driving for the borderlines.

12: The Bodhisattva Path

We begin to appreciate the clear simplicity and precision of our lives. This inolves “[c]utting through the busyness and speed of discursive thought, the cloud of “gossip” that fills our minds.” (196).

Next, emotions come to the fore. We begin to see pattern of fantasies rather than being immersed in them, and thus need not struggle so much with our projections. Without having to maintain (defend) the ego, “we can afford to be open and generous. Seeing another way of dealing with our projections brings intense joy” (197). This is moving toward the “bodhisattva path,” the open way, the path of warmth and openness.

CT describes meditation as awareness of space between us and objects. “We are not imposing our conceptualized ideas, names and categories on experience, but we feel the openness and space of every situation…. Awareness becomes very precise and all-encompassing” (198).

This kind of meditation means allowing things to be as they are. It is spontaneous. It happens for those who are not (1) intellectual people interested in the idea of spirituality or (2) people compulsively watching and controlling themselves, but rather to those who do not question the why or when, but just open. “It is a beautiful thing, it has already happened to someone else, why not to you?” (199).

The boddhisatva is not necessarily fully awake, but is “willing to walk the path of the awakened ones”. This path consists of 6 transcendental activities which take place spontaneously. These are the paramitas (the translation means arrived + other side + river): transcendental generosity, discipline, patience, energy, meditation, knowledge.

These qualities transcend centralized notions of ego. “The bodhisattva is not trying to be good or kind, but he is spontaneously compassionate” (200).

Generosity – is not about the callousness of just being kind to those to whom you are superior. (211). It is more strong and powerful. It is communication. Communication that repels some aspect of world, is “irritated” by others… the irritated attitude “is the complete opposite of transcendental generosity.” Without this generosity, efforts to communicate become self-defensive and are full of running away.

This is a “willingness to open without philosophical or pious or religious motives, just simply doing what is required at any moment in any situation, not being afraid to receive anything…. [it] could take place in the middle of a highway…. [unafraid] that other people’s hatreds and passins will overwhelm us. If we attempt to judge… our experience… to decide to what extent we should open, to what extent we should remain closed, then openness will have no meaning at all” (202).

Discipline – this not a matter of binding onself to fixed laws or patterns. It does not create turbulence or destructive chaos. Its action is flowing, not rigid. Like an elephant walking through the forest – with unwavering, solid, definite steps. (205)

Patience – never expects anything. Thus one is neither desiring nor fascinated by situations. There is, again, a flowing relationship with the world, no fighting or surprise. (206)

Energy – it is simply joy, not the energy of working hard from obligation. Joy comes “because we are completely interested in the creative patterns of our lives.” We are seeing the sameness behind all the little distinctions we make, with a “panoramic” point of view which leads to taking “a great deal of interest in life as it is” (207).

 “If we never tire of situations, our energy is joyous. If we are completely open, fully awake to life, there is never a dull moment” (208).

Meditation – again, this is meditation without a “central authority. The boddhisatva’s “action is always meditation and… meditation is always action.” (209)

Knowledge – It is a sharp sword cutting through confusion. The intelligence to guide armies. This seeing allows for dealing with situations in “as balanced a way as possible.” It can cut through “any kind of awareness which has the slightest inclination toward separating ‘that’ and ‘this.’” (210).

The Q&A concerns seeing clearly, spontaneity, aggression and the clarity, effectiveness and beauty of acting without caring about the result.


Shunyata is emptiness, voidness, the absence of duality and conceptualization. (219) This chapter introduces the concept of shunyata in evocative, paradoxical ways, relying on both the Heart Sutra and Nagarjuna’s teachings to point out that it is possible—sort of—to speak about emptiness.

In the Heart Sutra, the Buddha did not impose his communication about emptiness, but by remaining mostly silent “created the situation in which teaching could occur”

It is said that emptiness is form, but what is emptiness? It is that which is before we project our concepts onto it. the original state of “what is here.”  It could be a maple leaf falling from a tree and landing on a rivier, full moonlight, a gutter, a garbage pile. Just what is. Things as they are are just forms. The emptiness in form comes emptying objects of our preconceptions and judgements. So, a maple leaf falls on a river, or it falls on a garbage heap. So it is. Empty the rive and the heap of preconceptions They just are.

But… emptiness is also form. “That is a very outrageous remark. It means that trying to see the objects as empty is also to clothe them in a concept. Form comes back.” (221) But one can feel the precise, rugged qualities of objects without superimposing emptiness as a kind of dogma, without trying to see everything “in the light of some sort of profundity” (221).

Analyzing objects does not add anything. There is no need to impose spiritual experience or philosophical ideas on things. One can relate to experience in a direct and literal way.

The end of the chapter introduces Nagarjuna’s middle way as a shunyata teaching. His premise is that existential reality cannot be described because “words simply aren’t experience.” His method was to take other philosophies on their own terms and reduce them to logical absurdity – on their own terms. He did this, for example, with the Yogachara or “everything is mind,” school of teaching (a sort of variation of Advaita); CT explains how (228-13). Ultimately, in this teaching “belief in anything is simply a way of labeling the mystery” (228).

Shunyata is an awareness that “transcends conceptual padding and… confusions.” (232) One is no longer fascinated by objects nor sucked in to experience as a subject. There is a sense of “freedom from this and that. Open space remains.” (232)

The question and answer section considers the “birth” of desire and wanting, the “umbilical cord” we keep attached to the ego, the limits of mental gymnastics, the technique calling off the search, and the following question: “I have some difficulty reconciling the concept of shunyata with what is going on right now. There’s a short revisiting of disappointment as key, the mind that is constantly planning for the future, karma as the creation of new lines of action, and animal minds.


 “Preconceptions are a form of security” (243); and this is also true for relating with emptiness and form. When the teaching on emptiness and form is taken as conceptual, it naturally sets up certain traps.

This chapter describes a certain state of being between the Mahayana path and (the last chapter) Tantra. Here the intelligence of prajna “is continuous and compassion no longer deliberate… [yet there is] still self-socnsciousness, some sense of checking and appreciating own actions.” This state of being is still very clear, precise and intelligent. “Compassions is very powerful, but it must be directed by the intelligence of prajna, just as intelligence needs an atmosphere of the basic openness of compassion. The two must come simultaneously” (244).

Compassion contains fundamental, generous fearlessness. There is no hesitation. “Ego would like to establish its territory, whereas compassion is completely open and welcoming. It is a gesture of generosity which excludes no one” (245). It is naturally warm and welcoming, not cautious or protective, free of “anxiety or fear that external agents will act as obstacles to your practice of meditation.”

Compassion manifests in real listening – not just to words but to quality of presence, the way a person self-presents to us. The energy and of another’s presence communicates much more than words.

In the state of intelligent compassion, or upaya, “a person’s actions are very skillful and radiate enormous energy.” This state just happens—just arises—and does not come from perfecting some kind of practice. it is direct, sometimes even outrageous from a conventional point of view.True compassions is not like a grandmother’s love. It is—in certain expressions—ruthless to the ego. It makes “no consideration of the ego’s drive to maintain itself” (248).

There is something more to life than being cozy and secure, protected in comfortable selfhood. “We have to be jarred” out of our regular, repetitive, and comfortable lifestyles. “The point of meditation is not merely to be an honest or good person… maintain[ing] security. We must begin to become compassionate and wise in the fundamental sense, open and relating to the world as it is” (248)… “The more we open to ourselves completely and fully then that much more openness radiates to others.”

The Q&A discusses the “fishy,” manipulative energy of conventional so-called “love,” the needy ways one can relate to institutions as if they are parents or children, tendencies to exaggerate our own experience, the ease of self-deception, andthe “nitty-gritty” of self-honesty.