Monday, August 31, 2009

Contemplative learning Seminar 1

Preparation Paper 1

Contemplative Learning Seminar, sec. F


Mason Brown

Question: according to Trungpa, one cannot experience fearlessness without first experiencing fear. Why is this? What is “fearlessness” and how do we achieve it?

Since Trungpa's definition of fearlessness is “beyond fear”(35), it follows that to go beyond something, one must go through it. To get to the other side of a street we have to cross the street, being in it for a time. To get to tomorrow there is no way to avoid today. The reasoning seems sound enough. With fear, though, it's a little more complicated. Say we fear death. If we can't stop fearing death without going through death, Is it possible to ever get beyond that fear before actually dying? I would say the answer is yes. We can go through/be in the fear itself. If we practice meditation, we can experience, over and over again, the death of every single moment. We can slowly become more comfortable. We can see that our state of fear is not so terrible; just a mental state. Slowly we can become used to the fear, like someone we've known for a long time. We begin to relax. In that way, by going through the fear of death, it's possible to get beyond it.

I have experienced this kind of process many times in my own life. Applying to Naropa University is only the latest example. First there was a dissatisfaction with where I was and what I was doing. It seemed arbitrary and pointless. Though I had wonderful friends, a loving and supportive partner, and enough employment to survive, it still didn't seem workable. I had already decided to seek higher education, and was enrolled in junior college when I came to the realization that, at my age, I should waste no time in getting to where I wanted to be. In terms of education, that place had always been Naropa.

I was late in applying for this semester, so the process was rushed and intense. It took a month to finish the application in the midst of work and school. During that time, I had the fear that I would not be accepted; that I would not meet Naropa's standards. That fear, as I lived with and, as Trungpa suggests, “...acknowledged”(34) it on a daily basis, it slowly receded. By the time I was accepted, I was resigned to whatever happened. I had a “plan B” and I was perfectly willing to go with that. I had put myself into the hands of the universe.

After being accepted, however, I had something new to fear. What if I couldn't get enough financial aid to pay for it? I have always lived on the edge of poverty, and my family is of very modest means. So during the period of waiting for my aid to be packaged, I had another fear to get beyond. In the same way, As I sat with that fear, it gradually lost its power.

Now that I am at Naropa, I am afraid of failing; afraid of not being able to make it financially(I have never had a fear of academic failure), but I have confidence, inspired by past experience, that this fear too will pass. So getting beyond the fear; achieving fearlessness is an ongoing process. Like peeling the layers of an onion, there is always one more level. Trungpa says:

Fear evolves into fearlessness naturally, very simply, and quite straightforwardly. The ideal of warriorship is that the warrior should be sad and tender, and because of that can be very brave as well. Without heartfelt sadness, bravery is brittle, like a china cup. If you drop it, it will break or chip. But the Bravery of the warrior is like a lacquer cup, which has a wooden base covered with layers of lacquer. If the cup drops, it will bounce rather than break. It is hard and soft at the same time. (37)

I identify strongly with this. I feel both hard and soft; brave and tender. I am ready to face anything. As my teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa told me, “all we are doing is trying to accept everything as it is”. To me this is the same thing. If we are okay with reality, what is there to fear?

Works Cited

  • Trungpa, Ch√∂gyam. Shambala,the Sacred Path of the Warrior. Boston: Shambala, 2007. print.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

a New Naropa Student

Well, I am now officially a Naropa student. I just finished my first two classes: Buddhist Journey of transformation, a kind of "Buddhism 101", and Contemplative Learning Seminar, which is an introduction to the particular pedagogic style pioneered by Naropa University. We have heard the story of the school's namesake, the siddhi Naropa, and how, when he was a famous scholar at Nalanda University, circa 11-12 centuries, he was visited in his study by an alarmingly ugly old hag. The hag is said to have asked him:" Do you understand the words you are studying?" to which he replied in the affirmative. At this the hag broke out laughing and expressed great joy. She then asked:"Do you also understand the inner meaning of the words?"

When Naropa answered again, that of course he understood the deeper meaning, the hag's attitude changed abruptly. She began weeping and wailing uncontrollably, falling on the ground and clutching herself; expressing great sadness and despair.

Naropa asked "why were you so happy at my first answer and so sad at my second?"

The hag replied: "when you answered my first question, you told the truth, but when you answered the second question, you lied!" At this the hag dissolved into rainbow light and was gone. Naropa realized his understanding was insufficient, and gave up his place at the university and embarked on a years-long journey to find a teacher who could help him understand "the inner meaning".

I too, like Naropa, have studied and practiced for many years, and many people consider me a source of knowledge and experience. But, like Naropa, I don't know nuthin'! I am starting at the beginning and I hope I can accept everyone as my teacher. Even the ugly, poor old woman, or a child with bare feet.

With humility, I ask for the presence to pay attention every moment to the teachings that constantly surround me. My footsteps have led me back here after decades of seemingly aimless wandering, and I aspire to take what comes with equanimity.

My friend and Dharma brother, Hakubai Martin Mosko, Zenji has invited me to act as caretaker at his temple in Boulder, which is also a memorial garden for our teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa, Dai-osho and his daughter, Maya, who tragically died in 2002. I am honored and humbled to serve in that position, and grateful for the trust that Martin has shown in me.

I am also thankful for all the support that has come from my friends and family, without which this would be impossible. I am keeping you all in my heart.

So this is my first post as a Naropa student. I will endeavor to write regularly on my experience here. The writing requirements will be pretty heavy for classes: it's looking like I'll have to write 3-4 papers a week this semester, so I may cheat and recycle some of that for this blog. I'll keep you posted. Gassho!