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Simplicity - Nature the Elements and True Nature

by Kamalashila

... to life. Of
course it’s something very subtle and awkward to get at. It’s hard to recognise our ego grasping, because we
don’t want to let it go. But when we start noticing the suffering it causes everyone – not to mention ourselves –
we start getting genuinely interested in liberating ourselves from it. Once we get genuinely interested, we start
seeing it much more often. And once we start seeing it, we’ll naturally want to let it go.
What do we actually see? This is very interesting. There's that grasping I’ve just mentioned, grasping at an
artificial ownership of things for the sake of an artificial sense of security. But we only have to stay with that
realisation for a little while to see that things can never actually be grasped in the first place. This is the magical
aspect of emptiness. Actually, things in themselves are completely free. A house is just a house. Trousers are
just trousers. Food is just food. There is never anything extra. If we relax the tension we bring to every
situation with our ego grasping, it is already liberated. And this is something that is both totally amazing and
totally ordinary.
Now wait a minute, you may think – my relationships with those things may be empty, the relationships may be
messy and painful sometimes, but at the same time… they are my life! They are everything to me. So does
Buddhism want to take my life away from me? No, of course it doesn’t – what it’s saying is that the more we
grasp, the more our life becomes artificial and dysfunctional. Ego grasping is what turns life into samsara. But
life doesn’t have to be like that. Life can be nirvana, liberation – we can come to see that the whole of
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Simplicity - Nature, the Elements and True Nature
11/22/2006 02:24 PM
existence is intrinsically free in its own nature.
So we can start to realise this by looking at the little incongruities the pop up all over the place, and seeing how
they point out the nature of things. That’s, if you like, the indirect method. But there are also more direct ways
of seeing emptiness.
This is the second approach I had in mind. We can learn to look at anything, anything whatsoever, and simply
see, directly, its free and spacious nature.
For example earlier on we were discussing the wind element, the element of movement in the universe, and I
said, well the mind also moves, there are winds in the mind. The mind is sometimes relatively still, perhaps in
deep meditation it becomes totally still – certainly the winds become very subtle. At other times there are
breezes, gusts, gales - even whirlwinds and tornadoes coming our way. We can be overwhelmed by the power of
thoughts and perceptions. We usually take them to be very concrete and real somehow. But they are not. They
are just empty. You can look at all these moving thoughts and perceptions and see directly how empty and
spacious it all is.
You can try doing this as I speak. At least, I find that when I’m listening to a talk I’m fairly aware of my
thoughts. Sometimes I’m thinking about what the speaker is saying… sometimes not… I get involved in my own
responses. For the purpose of this exercise it doesn’t matter at all what the thought is – what matters is that it’s
there. Now, don't you find that when you look into the actual thought, it somehow disappears so that you wonder
- where did it go? Isn’t there an elusive, transparent quality to our thoughts, so they somehow seem to slide out
of one’s grasp?
There may have been some content to the thought, content that one could perhaps express in words. But in the
actual experience of a thought, where exactly is its content? This is very interesting to look into. You start to
wonder, was it ever actually there? What was there? And what would it have meant, for it to be there? I mean
where would it have been… where is this all happening? I hope you don’t think I’m trying to confuse you. I find
that if I really try to stay with the actual experience of thinking, the more I have to abandon my assumptions
about what is happening. Thoughts don’t stop being meaningful – one’s experience is not reduced or negated at
all. But the actual display of meaning in our thoughts is never concrete – we can never get hold of it. What
would get hold of what?
If you’ve ever tried to write thoughts down, you’ll know that actually, what you write down is never thoughts.
What we write down, obviously, is words. Words are something quite different.
So in all these ways, thoughts are what Buddhism calls, for want of a better word, empty. They just cannot be
taken hold of. We can’t even say they really exist – but at the same time, it’s absurd to say that they don’t. And
this is a reality that we can experience any time.
It’s the same for all other objects of consciousness – feelings, emotions, and our entire perception of the material
world. They all have this elusive, ungraspable quality. It is their magic quality. They are there, yet not there.
Isn’t this amazing? That existence is so unexplainable. That even though we seem so much in control of things,
we have so little idea of what things are.
This magic empty quality is the nature of all things. Emptiness is, in fact, the ultimate element, because even
mind, even consciousness, the most inclusive of all the elements, the element in which all other elements take
place, is itself embraced by the nature of emptiness. Emptiness, the unobstructed freedom of everything, is
nature – it’s the real nature. If we could see that consistently, we’d really be living naturally. That naturalness
would be what Buddhism calls nirvana.
The Buddha described nirvana in just these terms. The natural state of nirvana, he says in the Udana, is where
the elements of water, earth, fire, and wind find no footing at all, there’s no place for them really. They are
totally ungraspable.
So on that note, we can bring our meditation to an end. But before we finish, I think we need to return to earth
- though of course, we never really left it.
So let me briefly recall our theme of natural living in the ordinary, not-yet-enlightened sense. Surely it would
benefit us to live in less artificial ways. How to do it will require a lot of consideration, but I mean the
artificiality of our present culture is really quite extreme. Sometimes in this country we hardly go outside a
building - or a car - for weeks on end. We are using machines to do every conceivable task, even to clean our
own teeth. And because we do less and less physical work, we are either overweight, or we’re investing lots of
extra time on special exercise regimes. I don’t have anything at all against machines or technology – I mean, I've
got a car, a mobile phone, and two computers - but I do think it can be much better used.
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For me, Buddhafield somehow symbolises this whole issue. I don’t see Buddhafield as a crude escape into a kind
of romantic primitivism, a place where you just take off your clothes and bang drums. Some people might do
that; I do do that. But that is nothing in itself – it’s only a step on the way. That word ‘primitive’ comes from
the idea of primacy, what is primary, what comes first, what’s essential – what is elemental. It is an attempt to
find true simplicity. True simplicity is whatever allows more space, more awareness, more room for compassion
and for wisdom. It doesn’t mean you live in the town or in the country, in a house or a tipi or even a cardboard
box. The ideal of simplicity is a search for what is truly important. And what is truly important is enlightenment
or liberation from tunnel vision (as it’s sometimes called). That liberation is all I have been talking about this
morning. The liberation of becoming more natural, more in tune with our true nature, our enlightened nature.
And the ways we can dissolve the artificiality in our lives, especially the practice of awareness of the universal
elements of the earth, the water, the fire, the wind, space and consciousness.

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