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Simplicity - Nature the Elements and True Nature

von Kamalashila

... anything infinite or boundless – all we can comprehend is the idea of
boundlessness. To really comprehend boundlessness, we’d have to be boundless ourselves, we’d have to have
become completely enlightened. And of course, as we know, we can in fact do that.
Anyway… finally there’s the sixth element, that of consciousness. While I've been speaking of earth, water, fire,
wind, and space I hope you’ve been able to make some kind of contact with each one. These elements all
manifest in space. Even air is a movement in space. But space itself, and the four great elements which take up
space, itself happens in an even more basic element. The four great elements and the space they occupy are all
experiences. They are all something we are conscious of: that is, they're all embraced within the element of
What is the element of consciousness? Is there a particular thing that it is? How do you measure consciousness,
how do you even catch hold of it… where is it? These questions are hard to answer, and that’s why this term
‘element’ is rather useful. It just refers to the ‘fact’ of consciousness. Whatever consciousness might be, it’s a
fact. Whether we are conscious of a thought or a feeling inside, or of something physical outside, it’s undeniable
that we are having that experience. Our bodies are something we experience. What we see through our eyes and
taste with our tongues are experiences. Our thoughts we experience; our feelings we experience. It’s all an
experience. Our whole life has been an experience; and even death will be an experience.
Thus everything takes place in experience, in the consciousness element. In this meditation practice we don't try
to work out what consciousness is, because we’d just end up with some theory; and it’s hard to experience a
theory. But it’s easy to experience consciousness. It is simply true always - that we are having - yet another -
experience. And that is the practice, to be fully aware of the reality of each moment of experience, as it comes
and goes, arises and disappears. We can then gradually start seeing into what experience really is.
So that is the start, at least, of the six element practice: experiencing the elements. And this is the point where
questions quite naturally arise, and we start asking things like ‘why am I doing this’ and ‘what is the point, where
is this leading’. This is good, that we start to question, because it shows the practice is starting to bite. We are
starting to go a bit more deeply into it.
We need to recall that the reason for any Buddhist practice is to develop liberating awareness. We would all of
us be of more use to others if we were happier, more satisfied, wiser, kinder, more patient and at ease.
Unfortunately we are all of us - at times and to various degrees - unhappy, frustrated, unwise, unkind, impatient,
and ill at ease. I’m sorry, but it’s true! And to that degree, we are only of partial benefit to others. Not to
mention ourselves. And it’s all because we are relatively unaware – because we do not give enough attention to
what actually happens. It is that unawareness that binds us into habit patterns that are frustrating, unwise,
unkind to ourselves, unkind to others. Of course we don't like being like that; no one does. But we are like that,
and sometimes we feel the trap we are in. We are trapped in a fuzz of habit. Developing awareness of what
really happens, just at a very basic, simple level, starts opening out – unsticking - all that fuzz. It unravels it; it
relaxes it. It is like when the sun appears – the morning fog and mist begins to disappear and everything just
becomes clear and straightforward.
So we need to understand that this is what the Dharma does. We need to trust it, otherwise we won’t be able to
let it in, we won’t be able to let it expose and transform our artificiality. There’s many a person has started out
on the Buddhist path and stopped short, at least for the time being, because they just couldn’t let the dharma
in. Indeed we’ve all done it – indeed, we often do it. But we can pick our confidence up again; and that’s how it
works. Buddhist practice causes radical change in our lives, and it’s natural sometimes to feel resistance. Often
we’ll need to pause, reconsider and rediscover our direction. There are times when we need to ask questions, do
necessary study, do research, do retreats, see teachers and have all kinds of conversations. We need all that to
establish and re-establish our confidence in the Dharma. Then we can go more deeply into meditation again.
The essence of any Buddhist meditation is realising the natural state of things and being changed by that
realisation. Realisation is the point of all our practices – mindfulness of breathing, metta-bhavana, sadhana – also
puja, study, and spiritual friendship. It should be why one does any Buddhist practice. But how do we recognise
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Simplicity - Nature, the Elements and True Nature
11/22/2006 02:24 PM
it, how can we have confidence that we have it? Well, that’s not an easy question. Realisation is something very
profound, and also very individual and personal, so it cannot properly be explained in words. But let’s try to see
if there is anything that we can notice is there in our own experience already. After all, we all have a mind. We
all exist. We are all real. Aren't we? This is happening – isn’t it?! The mere fact that we don't realise the nature
of mind or the ultimate nature of reality doesn’t obstruct that reality. There isn’t anything going on but reality –
it’s just that we don’t see it, don’t know it, don't recognise it, and so can’t have confidence in it. Obviously it’s
there all the time. We just don't know what to look for.
But we can learn. Over time we can train ourselves in looking into the nature of reality. It isn't so hard to
recognise, to some extent at least, what Buddhism calls the emptiness of things. In other words the spaciousness,
the magical elusive liberating quality of everything. We’ve probably all had some kind of glimpse, though we
may not have realised what it was.
There are many different ways into this, and I’m going to mention two of them.
One very good way is to take notice of all the inconsistencies, all the incongruities and irregularities that are
there all the time. These are opportunities for liberation, they create gaps, make spaces we can use in ways I’ll
show in a minute. Normally, we prefer not to look at inconsistencies. It’s more comfortable and convenient to
ignore them, or at least that’s how it feels. But then of course our delusions just continue causing us problems.
So let’s take a prime example of the kind of incongruity I’m talking about. If we take a serious look into our
experience, we’ll catch ourselves constantly thinking, ‘this is me’, or ‘this is mine’. This is totally normal. But
actually it is highly incongruous. It doesn’t fit reality at all. Things are never, ever like that.
Yet it’s how we always relate to things. My house, we say. My garden. My car. My trousers. My glasses. My
hair. My cheque book. My husband. My country. Of course there is usually a sense in which it’s accurate to think
in such terms. In the case of ‘my’ house and garden, it’s accurate in a legal sense. But in real terms, there is
just a person here and a house there. The relationship is purely legal. When we die, someone else will have just
the same relationship with it. Unless it’s a completely new house, there will have been many others who have
already had that relationship. So the way that it is ours is not firm and fixed, as we tend to assume. Our
assumption is incongruous; it doesn’t fit – it isn't true. We are pulling the wool over our own eyes. And the same
goes, not only for houses, but absolutely everything in our experience, including our own body. In what accurate
sense do you ‘own’ your body? Even legally? I know it feels as though you do, but in reality, who exactly owns
what? There’s a habitual notion there which we can open up and learn from. In truth, the idea is very
incongruous. What is happening just isn’t like that. How it is, is not easy to say! - but it’s not like that.
Now this, you may think, is a very strange pursuit. But the really strange thing is the delusion the practice is
exposing. It is truly strange, if we can bear to consider the issue, to regard things like our body as ‘mine’. But
the feeling is very strong, isn’t it? It is perhaps the strongest set of feelings we have. Indeed our notions of ‘me’
and mine’ are loaded with a huge potential for unclarity, confusion, and powerful emotion. We all become
enormously distressed, and enormously elated, when the feeling of ‘me’ is threatened or gratified. Of course we
do. But if, even for a few moments, we can relax that tendency to get emotionally aroused, and simply
experience the situation as it actually is, something relaxes. Life becomes simpler. Life becomes more
elemental, more natural, more real.
So here’s something already very much in our present experience, that we can use to bring the dharma to life. ...

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