Gautama felt as though a prison which had confined him for thousands of lifetimes had broken open. Ignorance had been the jailkeeper. Because of ignorance, his mind had been obscured, just like the moon and stars hidden by the storm clouds. Clouded by endless waves of deluded thoughts, the mind had falsely divided reality into subject and object, self and others, existence and non-existence, birth and death, and from these discriminations arose wrong views—the prisons of feelings, craving, grasping, and becoming. The suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death only made the prison walls thicker. The only thing to do was to seize the jailkeeper and see his true face. The jailkeeper was ignorance. And the means to overcome ignorance were the Noble Eightfold Path. Once the jailkeeper was gone, the jail would disappear and never be rebuilt again.
The hermit Gautama smiled, and whispered to himself, “O jailer, I see you now. How many lifetimes have you confined me in the prisons of birth and death? But now I see your face clearly, and from now on you can build no more prisons around me, you shall build no house (for me) again. How can you? I have destroyed the very materials by which you build it. All your rafters are broken, your roof-tree is destroyed. My mind has reached the unconditioned (i.e., Nibbana); the end of craving (Arahatta Phala) has been attained. And I am eternally awake.
– Dharmacakrapravartana Sūtra
Our mind is the basis of everything, and from our mind everything arises, Samsara and nirvana, ordinary sentient beings and enlightened ones. Consider the way beings transmigrate in the impure vision of samsara: even though the essence of the mind, the true nature of our mind, is totally pure right from the beginning, nevertheless, because pure mind is temporarily obscured by the impurity of ignorance, there is no self-recognition of our own state. Through this lack of self-recognition arise illusory thoughts and actions created by the passions. Thus various negative karmic causes are accumulated and since their maturation as effects is inevitable, one suffers bitterly, transmigrating in the six states of existence. Thus, not recognizing one’s own state is the cause of transmigration, and through this cause one becomes the slave of illusions and distractions.
If, as in a dream, you see a light brighter than the sun, your remaining attachments will suddenly come to an end and the nature of reality will be revealed. Such an occurrence serves as the basis for enlightenment. But this is something only you know. You can’t explain it to others.
Or if, while you’re walking, standing, sitting, or lying in a quiet grove, you see a light, regardless of whether it’s bright or dim, don’t tell others and don’t focus on it. It’s the light of your own nature.
Of if, while you’re walking, standing, sitting, or lying in the stillness and darkness of night, everything appears as though in daylight, don’t be startled. It’s your own mind about to reveal itself.
Or if, while you’re dreaming at night, you see the moon and stars in all their clarity, it means the workings of your mind are about to end. But don’t tell others.
With thanks to Just Dharma Quotes
This is what the dharma practitioner needs to understand — that the whole of samsara, or nirvana, is as essenceless or untrue as that film. Until we see this, it will be very difficult for dharma to sink into our minds. We will always be carried away, seduced by the glory and beauty of this world, by all the apparent success and failure. However, once we see, even just for a second, that these appearances are not real, we will gain a certain confidence. This doesn’t mean that we have to rush off to Nepal or India and become a monk or nun. We can still keep our jobs, wear a suit and tie and go with our briefcase to the office every day. We can still fall in love, offer our loved one flowers, exchange rings. But somewhere inside there is something telling us that all this is essenceless.
– Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
The Reptilian Brain and the Buddha Mind
Putting all philosophical views aside, let’s look at our human experience.
The human animal evolved from much more primitive life forms. Many of the remnants of those earlier life forms remain in our anatomy. A fundamental aspect of our brain is controlled by the “reptilian-like” functionality known as the instinctual urges to survive and to reproduce.
The reptilian brain dominates our
limbic system in the lower brain. All the higher intellectual powers of the brain evolved only to further the survival capacities of the reptilian brain. The ultimate “boss” of our organism, especially when under stress and duress, is the ancient reptilian brain. It always looks out for its own survival and usually, possible mating opportunities.
All thoughts, concepts, thinking processes and emotional states are all sophisticated modes being used by the reptilian brain in order to accomplish its goals.
This accounts for our resistance to sitting in meditation because it doesn’t really fit into the overall reptilian plan of increasing wealth, security and reproducing. This is why many meditators report much sexual fantasizing and the like often occurring during long bouts of sitting practice. The “boss” is trying to get things back on the right track.
When we sit in an undirected, state of “observing” meditation, our awareness will begin to notice all the mental traffic. ALL the mental traffic ties into the overall goals of the reptilian brain, no matter how sweet and sugar coated those thoughts “seem” to be. Even kind and “compassionate” thoughts are only a regard for others of our own or our favorite species’, survival. Wanting to help and care for others to survive, is just part of the broader survival instinct.
The reptilian brain has its tentacles wrapped around all of our activities. It’s always a businessman in that even love is a transaction expecting some kind of consideration in return.
Now in stark contrast is our Buddha Mind. It’s not an organism, has no evolved anatomy and has no interest in survival or reproduction.
Knowing this, we can differentiate the mental activities of the reptilian brain from the empty and serene clarity of the Buddha Mind awareness during meditation.
Here is a partial list of the reptilian brain’s favorite topics and activities: thinking, conceptualizing, daydreaming, imagining, sexual interest, sexual thoughts, a sense of personal selfhood, desire, dominating, controlling, managing, accumulating wealth, wanting to reproduce, interest in drinking alcohol, doing drugs, watching porno, engaging in S&M, possessiveness, needing someone, wanting to hunt, anger, hate, hope, preferences, prejudice, tribalism, nationalism, being a capitalist, interest in enlightenment, pride, arrogance, maintaining a good reputation, revenge and having beliefs. (just a very small sampling).
In contrast the Buddha Mind has no thoughts, no concepts, no daydreaming, “no mind”, no dualism, no fear, no agenda, no goals, no interest in survival, is unconditional love, has no stress, is uncaused joy, is contented satisfaction, no money goals, insightful wisdom states of mind, no personal identity, and unchanging “presence” outside of space and time.
The life of the reptilian brain is always samsara. The life of the Buddha Mind is always nirvana.
Sitting in empty, alert and clear awareness, notice and ignore all the activities of the reptilian brain, with the instructional words of the Buddha; “not me”, “not mine” and “not my self”.
We need make no moral judgments regarding any of this. There are simply two paths; the way of the reptilian brain and the way of the Buddha Mind.
When in a state of rigpa, the reptilian brain immediately assumes a subservient position. Why does it yield its dominant position? It’s because it instinctually knows that rigpa will be a much better “captain of the ship”. The Buddha Mind has unlimited intelligence and power, where the reptilian brain has only the brain of a turtle with fox-like upgrades.
Seeing the truth as it is, is the goal as well as the path. Confused existence, or samsara, is a complex situation based on passion, aggression, and ignorance. Its essence is turmoil. But unless you relate to passion, aggression, and ignorance as the path—understanding them, working with them, and treading on them—you will not discover the goal. By discovering the truth of confusion, or samsara, you are also discovering peace, or nirvana—freedom from confusion. Truth does not depend on formulas or alternative answers, but truth is seen to be one truth without relativity.
– Chögyam Trungpa
from the book “The Path of Individual Liberation: The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume One”
“For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its own being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus to rediscover its connection to the whole”
– Richard Tarnas, 1996
More on ‘Ways of knowing: Separation and Participation’ see:
– Tenzin Palmo