Lojong #14 – Seeing confusion…

Lojong #14

Seeing confusion as the four kayas

Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

This is among the Lojong slogans that I love most. It carries deep and profound meaning and can be a powerful key to awakening, but it is also one of the most obscure of the slogans.

The clarifying insight – the message – of this Lojong is at the heart of why we are practicing. Its essential teaching is that observing the process of the mind in response to life’s challenges is one of the best ways to experience the liberating insight into the wisdom that everything is empty of separate, abiding existence.

To explain how that comes out of these few words requires some translation and background.

The four kayas are the four ‘bodies of emptiness’: dharmakaya, sambogakaya, nirmankaya, and svabhavikakaya. Without going into the theory of these too much, suffice it to say that they describe four states of mind that one goes through in the process of perception. They are simply translated as confusion, clarity, relating the two, and seeing the whole.

Careful observation of the mental processes reveals this process. When one is confronted with something new, confusion and bewilderment reign. After some experience, clarity about what is being perceived begins to dawn. Then one relates the new understanding to the original confusion, and finally one’s comprehension begins to see the totality of the whole, ‘total panoramic experience’, as Chogyam Trungpa says.

Watching this happen often enough finally leads to the perfect understanding that whatever happens, this is the process. We are not stuck at any stage, not stuck with our thoughts, not stuck with our selves. Trungpa explains that in svabhavikakaya, one has transcended the notions of the birth, subsiding and dwelling of thoughts. The idea of protection is that this understanding can free one from clinging to the self and its thoughts; indeed, when one realizes the truth of no self, it becomes clear that there’s nothing to protect!

We all are suspended in shunyata, suspended in the emptiness of the phenomenal play. When the deep implications of this are internalized, it is very freeing.

Trungpa says that this liberation comes from

understanding your mind by studying and watching yourself and by practicing shamatha and vipashyana. By practicing those disciplines, you being to realize that the essence of your mind is empty… That realization can only come about when you are sitting on the cushion. Only on the cushion can you see that your mind has no origin.

(Shamatha is basic mindfulness/concentration meditation, the first stage in the meditation process. Vipashyana (or vipassana in Pali) is meditation aimed at insight into the true nature of reality. By ‘on the cushion’ he means during meditation practice.)

Mind and thoughts and all of the phenomena we experience have no origin; they are unborn, as we saw in Lojong #3. This means we can be free of much of the worry and stress and driven behavior that plague our lives. It can all be seen in a very playful, relaxed way because we understand that we are always engaged in continual awakening.



Authentic Living #5

Authentic living begins with recognition of the illusions that dominate our thinking. We have all been programmed.

The more solid, affluent, and stable your upbringing, the more effective your programming likely was. All those rewards and punishments… all those sweet succorings… piles and piles of bullshit heaped on your head so that your thinking now stinks with the profound and deep corruption and degradation of it all.

And the name of all that programming is simple: separation.

As I outlined in the previous essay, we are taught, nay, conditioned, to believe that ours is a realm of ultimate dualities: mind and body, matter and spirit, good and bad; the idea that we as humans and as individuals are separate from nature, from each other, from God, even from the very universe itself. Separate in some kind of very special way that allows us to be as nasty as we like to each other, to the Earth, to other species – with impunity.

This cultural programming leaves us incapable of compassion and locked into some notion of spirituality as obeisance to a being outside of the natural order, subservience to some wholly ‘other’ deity who lives in a realm beyond matter. Outside this spirituality, we are left with meaningless lives in a meaningless universe of blind accident and rigid causation. This duality has driven us insane.

It drives the shallow, fearful, materialistic lives we lead, it engenders our selfish justifications of our poor treatment of others, it fosters endless violence, war, and genocide, and most recently it has produced the conditions that are the continuing ruination of the biosphere.


Our survival as a species, and likely the survival of the biosphere itself, depends on transcending this conditioning, this hammered-in notion of our dualistic nature in a dualistic universe.

Charles Eisenstein, author of several books on the insanities of modern civilization – most recently The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible – articulates the need for deep change as eloquently as anyone I’ve read. Eisenstein identifies a number of fallacies in the ideology of control, which is our dominant cultural feature and derives from the belief in our separate, discrete existence.

Speaking of ecological problems as one example, he says we tend to think we can fix things by identifying the ‘cause.’ “Fine,” he continues, “but what if the cause is everything? Economy, politics, emissions, agriculture, medicine  …   all the way to religion, psychology, our basic stories through which we apprehend the world? We face then the futility of control and the necessity for transformation.”

And how is this transformation to be realized? Eisenstein says:

We need to rediscover the mind of nature, to return to our original animism and the ensouled universe it perceived. We need to understand nature, the planet, the sun, the soil, the water, the mountains, the rocks, the trees, and the air as sentient beings whose destiny is not separate from our own.

In language reminiscent of Matthew 25:40 – And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me – Eisenstein says this transformation must reach deep. “We and Earth are one. As above, so below: what we do to each other, even to the smallest animal or plant, we do to all creation.” Including ourselves. This is transformation that goes deeper than most of what passes for ‘alternative’ or ‘radical’ strategies; it is a transformation of our deepest knowing.

Eisenstein also invokes the concept of “interbeing”, which I first encountered in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen monk whose Buddhism is strongly influenced by the Theravada tradition that dominates in southeast Asia.

Interbeing – as the neologism suggests – is the idea that everything that exists is intricately and intimately interconnected at the level of its very existence.

This idea is drawn from ancient Buddhist teachings about impermanence and emptiness. Buddha described existence in terms of paticca samuppada – a Sanskrit term which in simplest translation means “the dependent co-arising of phenomena.” In other words, everything has come into being in ways that are dependent on everything else. Nothing exists separately, independently, discretely. The deeper implication is that we don’t live in a universe in which things can be divided up into sacred and profane, holy and worldly, spiritual and material, but rather, everything is sacred, and we are all spirit.

Writer Joanna Macy says that paticca samuppada is what the Buddha awoke to; it is the content of his enlightenment.

This notion is also inherent in Christian teachings, though it has for the most part been lost. A primary Christian doctrinal proposition is that Christ was (is) “wholly human, wholly divine.” And Christ said, “I and the Father are One.”

This concept appears in the later, more philosophical Buddhist teachings as the idea of ‘emptiness’ – which means, as I presented in the original post on this blog, that “everything in existence, including you and me, is void or ‘empty’ of an inherent self-nature because everything is so intricately and inextricably linked with everything else that there is really only one thing and this is it, you are it, God is it, I am it, your toenail clipping on the floor under the bed from last week is it, and so… absolutely anything and everything that exists or happens or appears was, is, and will always be infinitely and completely wonderful, exquisite and delightful.”


Clearly this is not a concept that one can arrive at very easily through our normal logical processes, and certainly not when one is as strongly conditioned as most of us have been to see the world in a dualistic way. In order to have a strong, clear understanding of interbeing, it seems that some kind of deep transformational experiences are required, the kinds of experiences that come from long, deep meditation and other intense spiritual practices.

But the experience of this notion in a direct, undeniable way will transform your thinking and your very mode of being in the world.

It is this transformation, not some bland experience of calm peacefulness, which is the point of the kind of meditation the Buddha describes and what has been taught in the few Buddhist traditions that have preserved Buddha’s original intent.

It is this transformation that is required to truly live authentically in the world as it exists today.