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Practicing with Ignorance

By Tuere Sala

THU JAN 30, 2020

This week I will talk about the main, most fundamental thing about ignorance. Ignorance is the foundation of how we end up in suffering. The root of ignorance is not seeing greed, hatred and delusion. And so, everything we are trying to see is greed, hatred and delusion. In the West we think in terms of lists and learning this and that, but when practicing it’s all intertwined. You have to see something in order to then see it in a different way. I am pointing more directly towards how these three areas actually help us see greed, hatred and delusion. Pushing and pulling is greed, hatred and delusion. The thing of greed, hatred and delusion is it’s not any one of us in this room. Even though every one of us is doing it, it’s the nature of doing it, it’s the nature of being a body. My organism is going to continue to look for ways to make it feel better and get rid of things it doesn’t want.

Our bodies know how to take air in, translate it and send it back out again in whatever way it does, and we stay alive. If it stops working, we’re in trouble. It knows when the air is good, and the air is bad. It knows if there’s not enough oxygen in the air we’re breathing in. Food, too. We eat food and we eat what we like. How does it take the nutrients from an apple and send them where they’re supposed to go? It just happens, without any of our control at all. Whatever our bodies are made with, whatever conditioning or functionality is how our bodies are going to do this. It is how our bodies are going to operate.

It’s the nature of being human. Coming and going, coming and going. Intentions that our parents’ parents’ parents’ parents had are still in our DNA. That pushing and pulling is still in our bodies. This idea of ignorance is this humungous level of greed, hatred and delusion arising out of karmic implications from actions done as far back as 15 or 16 generations before we came along and we’re still feeling the effects of that energetic pull. Just like when we walk into a room after there has been a big argument. We can feel the energy, the intentions even though we weren’t there. We can still feel it. Kamma and intentions, good intentions, bad intentions, good kamma, bad kamma; we feel all of that in our lives and it’s pushing and pulling us.

The first thing to begin to see is this idea of blindness, we’re blinded to it. It’s not something seeable, not something we can touch or hold onto. It’s not like that. It is theoretical, energetic, subtle; we can’t really see it so we live in it, we’re humans, all humans are living with it. Like fish in water. We can’t see this subtle greed, hatred and delusion that’s happening all the time. You can begin to get a glimpse of why Buddha was awakened. It’s because he saw it. Not just saw it in a general sense, but flat out saw it and couldn’t not see it anymore. When you begin to see this pushing and pulling and how unrelated it is to you, you can see that a lot of what we’re doing in life and practice is to try and interrupt that impulsive nature. Not to be a better person, a good girl, a good boy, but more to just this sense of, can I interrupt this pushing and pulling that is occurring just because I’m human.

This means we can’t see the three characteristics. If we can see that all phenomenon is both impermanent, it is that impermanence that means it subject to change, which means it is subject to dukkha, and when it changes, we’re not gonna like it. If it changes from good to bad, we don’t’ like it. If it changes from bad to good, we want to hold onto it, so it never changes again. Because of that we suffer, it’s dukkha and it’s not even personal so we can’t even figure out a way to make it work for us. If we could see the three characteristics as a doorway to see the pushing and pulling, we’ll see the dislike to impermanence, begin to see how we don’t want change. This helps us see there’s a pushing and pulling. This is a doorway into this blindness where we cannot see this constant pushing and pulling that’s going on. When we go on retreat, we slow down and then we can see things we can’t see in our everyday life. But we can see if we stop. Just stop and stand there. Just say, I’m not moving until I see the subtle movements all around me. Just sit there, look out the window. Just sit there and wait and see and you are going to start noticing there’s all this movement that’s going on all the time.

The second way to look at this would be more in relation to understanding the 4 Noble Truths just to get this understanding of the inherent nature of suffering. It’s this idea that we can come into right relationship with the fact that we’re suffering all the time. It’s not random, you don’t have to wait until someone dies. We can wait 20 minutes, 10 minutes… “oh no I can’t sit here another minute, how long is this going to last???” Is there tension, tightness, holding? Look around me, see there’s a tension, a holding and tightness all over the world, everywhere I look. You can begin to sense into this tightness, tension, holding as suffering. This is what suffering is; it is a blockage to the flow of not wanting impermanence. The kind of way we hold onto things, so we don’t get stuck in this constant flow, this moving, moving, moving.  You can begin to see this suffering just by noticing when we’re around things that are uncertain, unfamiliar or unknown. Those are the three bads. Anything like that shows up, lots of difficulty. We live in a world where we think, oh, I’m not going to have any suffering because I’ve set it up where I know everything, I’m only in the certain world. Everything in my life is exactly the way I want it to be. But you know what happens, something messes it all up and then we get all upset about it.

The third way to see this is through misperception. This is the four distortions of mind and we will talk more about this when we talk about mental formations next month. This is one of the reasons why we cannot see impermanence. A way to think about this is, the earth is spinning and yet we don’t feel that spin. Part of why has to do with the way our minds make things seem permanent, solid and real even though things are impermanent. It goes against the natural understanding of things. Things that are not going to satisfy us at all, including food, drugs, alcohol, parties, they do not satisfy us but we think they’re going to satisfy us. I will not buy and expensive car because I’d have buyer’s remorse. Not a long time would go by before I wished I’d bought that other car. That’s how the mind is distorted. It thinks things are satisfying and they’re not, we think things are permanent and they’re not, we think things are personal and they’re not. We’re stuck in this idea that he whole world centers around us. One of my favorite misperceptions, that we don’t talk about much, is that the world should be lovely. But if you look at real nature, it’s every man for itself kind of energy out there. We look at the cute stuff, but there is a realness about the way wild animals are going to relate to each other and it’s not about being all nice and fuzzy. We don’t want to see the harshness of life. We just want the kind, loving, caring part. The greatest qualities we get come from the hard, difficult determination and courage to get though something. It will give us the greatest amount of liberation and freedom.

A suggestion for practice is to just note – begin to see how much of our thoughts are related to something we want or something we don’t want. Am I gonna get this, how am I gonna to get this? What am I thinking about and how much has to do with how do I go about doing this to make it happen the way I want it to happen and how much is about what I don’t want? How much of this is about you? That’s what we want to begin to see so we can see the other things.

~posted from a transcript of Tuere’s Monday night Dharma talk at SIMS