Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Invent Your Self(-Nature), by Shang Rinpoche

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageModern science and every bit of convenience we enjoy in daily life without exception all stems from the dedicated, painstaking efforts of inventors. Yet it must be understood that this kind of achievement can be attained only through applying oneself and nurturing appropriate habits from a young age. The famous Italian physicist Luigi Galvani is the forefather of the Internet and cellular phones. If you really wanted to trace the history of all the personal devices at our fingertips, it would have its origins in the unintentional observation Galvani made of a frog in his laboratory. One day when doing experiments, he noticed that when the frog’s leg touched two different charged metal plates, it would cause the leg to spasm involuntarily. Inspired by this concept, Galvani threw himself into his research which served as the beginnings of transoceanic long-distance telephone calls. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, telegraph cables ran overland; once they were installed on the ocean floor, national boundaries no longer posed barriers to communication. If not for these advances, people would have still been relying on post horses changing at relay stations to deliver messages. Prior to the 18th century, some places still relied on the system of flag semaphores to convey information. Gradually, through further developments, the use of static electricity was discovered as a means to transmit information; then the Morse Code was invented. Development of telecommunications continued, and in 1857, telegraphic cables were first laid along the English Channel, linking England with Europe. The advances continue to this day, giving us e-mail and text messaging technologies which, with their far-reaching influence, have become essential aspects of our lives. Who could have known that this evolution would come about from the inference made by an Italian physicist observing a frog’s leg?

This story had a profound effect on me, as I realized that in every detail of our lives, whether we are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, if we can focus on our mind and observe the distracting and delusive thoughts, we would be sure to gain so much that it defies the imagination. Countless enlightened Chan masters in the past also applied themselves to single-minded observation in order to understand the grand questions of life and death and arrive at enlightenment by seeing their true nature. Some of these masters underwent long years of single-minded focus, diligently persevering in their practice, and building on this foundation for further advancement until suddenly in an instant they awakened to the Ultimate. Some wrote hundreds of Buddhist verses in a night, some could suddenly recite the entirety of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures by heart, others could instantly look into the minds of all sentient beings, still others could communicate with any and all animals, while some developed unwavering faith completely beyond any shadow of a doubt. This process is in fact what Galileo went through as a young man, when he suddenly became fascinated by a small oil lamp which was swaying as it hung in a church. For a full fifty years he toiled until he succeeded in inventing the pendulum. Ordinary people would just gloss right over a detail such as a swaying oil lamp hanging in a church. Yet, anything can be achieved if one resolutely puts one’s mind to it.

This often reminds me of the story of two great Chan masters: when they first met, Master Huairang used the analogy of grinding a brick to create a mirror to remind Mazu Daoyi of not becoming attached to any form in his pursuit for Buddhahood. It was an important turning point for Mazu Daoyi whose eventual attainment was also achieved by single-pointed concentration. Ordinary people can start by attentively observing the signs, nature’s tiny hints, just as Columbus saw sea grass bobbing on the waves and grasped the opportunity to tell his discouraged crew, “Undiscovered land is before us, gather your spirits!” Renunciate practitioners see the innate nature of afflictions in their incessantly galloping delusive thoughts. Another step and one will reach a state where the sky shatters and the earth collapses. The difference between gifted and ordinary inhabitants of the human realm is that some extraordinary, gifted beings can put all their attention on one point. Similarly, Chan masters have been able to transcend the world because they are constantly reflecting and examining their self-nature until their minds are completely free from affliction or attachment, at which time they progress into a state of omniscience and a kind of omnipresence--the luminosity of this pure mind, when unearthed, pervades the entire world; it speaks through the words of the Buddha and through all of existence; the pure mind’s delicate workings manifest everywhere in nature, whether in the form of a daisy or of the green leaves. Human beings need only diligently pay attention, and whether they live a worldly life or one of a renunciate, all can surpass the highest peaks, transform from within, and give birth to the divine that lives within these ordinary mortal shells.

This is I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, combining modern scientific ideas with methods for awakening consciousness, in a conversation I had with students interested in Chan.

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