Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Practice of the Week
Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.

The previous three [of the practices adapted from Fischer's Training in Compassion] -- Turn All Mishaps Into the Path, Stop Blaming, and Be Grateful for Everyone -- fit together. Grateful to everyone and everything, we are willing to acknowledge whatever happens as an opportunity, which we accept with complete responsibility and receive with joy. Moreover, these three depend on a conventional understanding of beings as we usually conceive of them, self and other, you and I, them and us.

"Put it in context" entails a deeper sense of what we are. The context we're talking about is not just one more relative context. Rather, this practice involves going beyond conventional or relative understanding. The isolated self of our concepts does not and could not exist. The distinction between self and other is an empty illusion. From an absolute perspective, there is no self and other. There's only Being, and there's only Love, which is Being sharing itself with itself without impediment and with warmth. It just happens to look like you and me to us because this is how our minds and sensory apparatus works.

"Put it in context" means seeing your situation and what you are experiencing in the context of -- indeed, as a part of and an integral manifestation of -- this love without boundary. "It" includes all the disturbances of your life -- all your confusion, which is to say, your resistance, your pain, your fear, your grief, your frustrated desires, and so on. Usually we hope any such emotion or reaction will eventually go away and we will be free of it. Instead, by placing it in context of the absolute, we take a different perspective, and we take it to a deeper level. We look at its underlying reality. What is actually going on when we are upset or angry? What is happening? If we could unhook ourselves for a moment from the blaming and the wishing and the self-pitying, and could look instead at the actual basis of what is in fact going on, what would we see?

We would see time passing. We would see things changing. We would see life arising and passing away, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. Moment by moment, time slips away and things transform. The present becomes the past -- or does it become the future? And yet right now there is no past or future. As soon as we examine "now" it is gone. And we cannot know how or where it goes. This may sound like philosophy, but it doesn't feel like philosophy when you or someone close to you is giving birth. If at that moment you are standing in the delivery room or are yourself, in pain and joy, giving birth -- in that first bursting-forth moment, you are amazed. This small life you think you have been living, with its various issues and problems completely disappears in the face of the miracle of visceral life springing forth in front of your eyes. Or if you are present when someone dies, you know then that this emptiness is not just philosophy. You may not know what it is, but you will know that it is real. And that this reality is powerful and makes you see your life, and the whole of life, quite differently in that moment. A new context emerges that is more than thought, more than concept. When you view your daily human problems in the light of actual birth and actual death, you are putting your experiences in absolute context.

Every moment of your life, even (and maybe especially) your moments of pain or despair or confusion, is a moment of your own inherent wholeness, your inherent perfection. This is a fact, whether you see it or not. Learning to see it is the path of wisdom.

Attend births and deaths whenever you have the chance. Accept these moments as gifts, opportunities for deep spiritual practice. But even when you aren't participating in these peak moments, you can remember and reflect on the ultimate context within which all your concerns and anguishes occur. And when your mind is confused and entangled, you can take a breath and try to slip below the level of your desire and confusion. You can notice that in this very moment time is passing, things are transforming, and this astonishing, inconceivable fact is profound, beautiful, and joyful -- even as you continue with your misery.

For Journaling

Describe the most confusing -- sad, annoying, upsetting -- moment of the past 24 hours. Then describe your feeling in the context of the ultimate.

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from Judith Lief, "Seeing Confusion as the Four Kayas is Unsurpassable Shunyata Protection," Tricycle:
With this slogan, once again we are joining what we usually consider as undesirable with practice. In this case it is confusion. At first glimpse, this slogan seems rather obscure and even esoteric. What kind of confusion? What are the four kayas? What is shunyata, anyway, and what form of protection can it provide? Protection from what?

In everyday experience, it is often hard to pin down what exactly is happening and why. Whenever we begin to figure things out, there is always some kind of slippage. Things begin to make sense, but just almost and not quite. We keep trying to chip away at our confusion, to straighten it out, to get rid of it, imagining ourselves somehow coming out on the other side, into a nonconfused state where everything is workable. But according to this slogan, rather than getting rid of our confusion, what we really need to do is to examine it and in doing so transform our view of it. We need to look below the surface to how we perceive reality altogether.

Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we alway find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or “bodies.” Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya). It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise.

This pattern of continual awakening (seeing confusion as the four kayas) is paired with one of continual letting go (supreme shunyata protection). So in this slogan, not only do we transform how we view confusion, but we also see that although it may seem solid and intractable, fundamentally it is empty (shunyata). Combining all this, when we see everything as empty and awake, we have no ground to defend and nothing to protect—which is the most excellent protection of all.


In your sitting practice, pay attention to the arising and dissolving of perceptions. Notice how your sense of self seems to arise simultaneously with each perception, ready to respond to any threat; notice the subtle undertone of fear. What are you actually protecting?
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

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