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The Dharma and Denial

by Manjuka

... that there is no conflict between ‘what one should be’ and ‘what
one is’ because ‘what one should be’ is no longer any particular content of awareness, not
any particular experience but rather a perspective on all experience. I have a particular
thought or feeling, say I am angry, and holding it in awareness I see that it is part of me, I
can accept the anger is there, but I am not identified with it, I do not see myself as an
angry person but as a person who is experiencing anger. In this way I am more than my
anger and without denying its presence I have a perspective on it that allows me to choose
what to do with it. This ‘more than’ is not any particular content of awareness, such as
being content or calm, but rather awareness itself, free and unrestricted by any
identifications. And yet this ‘more than’ is not removed from experience, it is not split off
but rather holds both a transcendence of experience while also inhabiting the experience.

Returning to our two descriptions of the Buddha, we can now place them together to
create a fuller picture of “what one should be”. The Buddha is a transcendent being,
detached from “the entangled world of sense impression”. Yet the Buddha is also able to
mourn the death of his good friends, “The assembly is empty for me now that Sariputta
and Moggallana have attained final Nibbana.” The Buddha is described as experiencing
grief, he feels fully and mourns the death of his good friends. Yet seeing the empty nature
of all phenomena the Buddha does not identify with this grief, he is more than his grief.
So as well as feeling grief the Buddha is also detached from the grief, although his
detachment is not a splitting of or a denial. The Buddha is not threatened by his grief or
any other experience and therefore has no cause to deny his experience. The Buddha’s
insight, the “what we should be”, is then neither the presence nor absence of any
particular content of awareness, but rather a perspective on all experience.

“Closing one’s eyes to what one is” will not make the demons that are our unwanted
experiences go away. These demon states when ignored will come back to haunt us, catch
us in off moments. Indeed they will hold more sway over us through being ignored. They
will leak out at the edges of our experience in seemingly invisible ways that allow us to
maintain our denial and the hold we have on our spiritual identification. Denied anger
will leak out quietly but destructively in passive aggression, ignoring people, being
distant, ‘forgetting’ to fulfil a promise – all in such a way as to perpetuate the delusion of
non-anger. “Closing one’s eyes to what one is” our Dharma practise then becomes the
denial of the trouble in our lives, our relationships, even our sangha. This is when we find
ourselves saying that we, “just want to get on with Dharma practise”. We
compartmentalise our spiritual life away from the rest of our life.

King Trisongdeutsen wanted to establish the Dharma in Tibet. He tried to build a
monastery but found that what he built by day the local demons dismantled by night.
Ignoring the demons of our unwanted experiences and trying to build a temple to our
spiritual vision our efforts are in vain.
The untamed demons, cast out as inimical to the spiritual life, come back by night when
our wilful vigilance is off guard. They mock our airy pretensions and tear down our
fragile constructs, our shaky sense of self, our limited identifications.

Realising a new approach is required and if we are able to we can put our pride to one
side. In our despair and anguish we cry out for help and if we are sensitive and open
enough to hear it an answer will come. Of course in the story King Trisongdeutsen was
fortunate because he had Padmasambhava to call on. Padmasambhava was not afraid of
these demons. He got his demon dagger out and pinned them down. But he did not kill
the demons or cast them out as inimical to the Dharma Life. He merely looked at them, he
merely dwelt upon them with his awareness and this was what was required. In bringing
the demons into awareness, by accepting their presence and not ignoring them, they lost
their destructive power and were turned to work for the Dharma. The monastery was only
then able to be built and completed. Only then did the Dharma flourish in Tibet.

In translating the Dharma into our lives and into the 21st century the temptation, as was
King Trisongdeutsen’s, is to import it smelling of sandalwood, uprooted and dirt free.
Enjoying the clarity of vision in our little pond we fail to put roots down into the mud.
This is the Dharma as a crude pseudo-transcendence of hindrances, a denial of
psychological hassles, a courting of bliss not affliction. This is Dharma as denial, a
closing our eyes to what we are. Without roots in the mud our Lotus like nature,
undernourished, is unable to reach up out of the pond to wider horizons. The challenge, as
I see it, for us 21st century Buddhists is to do what Padmasambhava did in Tibet. To look
at our own private and collective demons. To bring into awareness what has been denied
within ourselves and within our FWBO culture. To become what we can be by looking at
what we really are. Only then will our efforts to practise begin to produce lasting fruits.
Only then will the Dharma begin to root in our hearts.

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