You can encounter an insight hundreds of times without it really catching hold in your mind–like a burr catches hold of your pant leg as you tramp through the autumn fields. And even a burr doesn’t hang on forever; since its function is to travel to another place and seed a future for itself.
Anyone who reads a bit in the writings of Eastern spiritual traditions, which have blown across the Pacific Ocean like seeds carried on the trade winds of time, will encounter the idea that our knowledge will be limited as long as we view the world, outside, as different and separated from the one inside (since when we view the world as objectively real and at a distance from ourselves, we guarantee that intimacy and comfort will remain fleeting exceptions to our daily frustrations).
“It is through your subjective demands in the wake of the loss of intrinsic awareness that you are drifting in this world of fictitious being . . .” Kindly Bent to Ease Us.”, Longchenpa
In the writings of Longchenpa, which have winged their way from the 14th century to the 21st, the phrases “subjective demands”, “intrinsic awareness”, and “fictitious being” are elaborated in considered detail. One of those details is that when we try to investigate a “subject” placing “demands” on “intrinsic awareness” we can’t avoid relying on this familiar “fictitious reality”, since every statement we make involves a subject acting on, or verbalizing about, an objective, pre-established world. We seem condemned to always reduce the profound to the ordinary–the moment we open our mouths or pick up a pen.
Just as a horse’s subjective demand for grass makes him bend his head down and thereby turn away from the vast canopy of blue sky above him, so do I treat all and everything that presents itself to my awareness as food for my senses and tasks assigned for my mind and hands.
Of course, any spiritual tradition worth its salt doesn’t leave us stranded in the limitations that it exposes.
It’s not as if there is an intrinsic problem with being someone who inhabits and places “subjective demands” on the greater Being (“intrinsic awareness”) in which we all live. It’s just that this dynamic gives us a distorted image of the wholeness of this greater Being. And like someone in a gallery of “fun mirrors”, in which strange, distorted versions of our familiar body image makes us laugh, we are not obliged to ignore what we know of this inherent wholeness, just because an elongated image with a balloon head is waving back at us.
A little laughter may well be the best medicine when we find ourselves campaigning for a position amidst the vast cloud banks of greater Being–without which we could not see, act or even be.
If a horse eating the grass beneath his soft, nubbled mouth, should hear an apple fall from a tree at the edge of the field, he may not have a Newtonian insight about gravity, but he will appreciate its delicious flavor. How could he not? Horse, grass, apple, blue sky above: they’re all bobbing along in concert and cannot help but carry the flavor of the greater Being in which they drift.
Like earth, air, water, and fire, just so do subject and object, “intrinsic awareness” and “fictitious being, self and world arise in the greater whole that is their true nature. And we will continue dancing in this greater whole as long as we are living beings with mind and hearts, interests and loyalties. It’s a dance among the stars and all living beings are invited to join in.
Sometimes, like an apple setting sail from a tree at the edge of a field, we will start a new and unpremeditated journey, as we stumble from some frozen delusion and find ourselves resting face down upon the earth.
Boris Pasternak, in one of his Zhivago poems, quotes a Russian proverb: “To live your life is not to cross a field.” But perhaps during our lifetimes we are crossing a field—not to get to the other side, but to sample the grass and enjoy the apples that come our way. And at each moment we are free to realize that we are not other than the spring flowers which drink in the rain and turn their faces to the Sun.