Spirituality begins with becoming a refugee…
Here is the dilemma we all face: Consciousness revolves around some sense of self. Therefore, it is ego-centric. In order to establish some form of lasting security, ego must produce solid ground, as the very existence of self is dependent upon constant validation from other. To achieve this end, ego attempts to freeze or conceptualize experience. However, this proves to be an impossible task. There is no hope in trying to suspend the continual stream of change that is life. Since the very existence of ego is dependent upon pausing life, and freezing life isn’t an option, we are plagued by disappointment.
We will never know genuine happiness, the simple joy that spontaneously emerges upon true surrender, until we give up trying to neatly arrange life around this old bag of hopes and fears that we call the ego.
If we are ever to know deep peace and contentment we must see through this chaotic operation. We have to move beyond the delusional and self-centered projects of ego. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “Repent; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Repentance simply means, to change direction and this change of direction is a necessary prerequisite for realizing the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Buddhist world, this pivotal point in which we change our course is called refuge.
There has to be a drastic change in the way that we see and experience the world we live within. Having realized that our belief in a solid-central persona was the origin of our dissatisfaction, a type of revulsion toward the ego-centric position begins to emerge. This revulsion inspires us to renounce the self-centered pattern of thought that has given rise to all of our troubles. We have realized that all of our problems have an internal origins. So, we disengage the search for external distractions, and turn within to look for internal solutions. This sort of shift in focus begins with our resignation, with becoming a refugee.
A refugee is someone who flees their familiar environment in order to escape the destructive dictates of an oppressive regime. For someone to pick up and leave everything they’ve ever known, things have to be pretty corrupt. There has to be a real sense of despair… We must be poor in spirit. This sort of desperation emerges once we have realized that the whole ego-centric project is hopeless and futile… That it is doomed to disappointment.
Strangely enough, this air of desperation is our ticket to freedom; it is a powerful and direct message from basic intelligence pleading with us to look inward. It is our true nature saying, “You are looking for me, and I am not out there. You’re lost… Turn around and look within!”
Persuaded by cyclic disappointment, we begin to seek refuge elsewhere. This new land has to have promise. It has to provide hope. There has to be a sense of freedom in exile. Most importantly, it has to be practical. It has to be an entirely new way of seeing and experiencing the world and it has to be accessible.
Fortunately, there is such a land. There is a world that goes beyond the anxious and competitive world with which we are so accustomed. It is a state of simplicity that transcends all of our neurotic fears, outrageous expectations, and petty squabbles. A world that isn’t revolving around us, so life doesn’t seem to be some terrible thing that keeps happening to us. It’s a world where we are neither the administrator nor the foreman. We are not charged with the task of overseeing or managing every single little detail. In this world, the purpose of Life is Life itself. We get to retire from the burdensome task of playing God and actually live. This world is constantly being made new, so every moment is a fresh start.
The name of this world is reality!
Luckily, this new land is not some far-off distant place. In fact, it is closer to us than we can possibly imagine. We do not have to trek across high mountain passes or set sail across shark infested waters on a small piece of plywood to reach it. All we have to do is come back to this moment— right here-right now. Wake-up!
For the sake of this discussion remaining sensible, let’s call this new found land a room, an inner-room. This inner-room has three doorways, and these doors serve as our refuge. In truth, it is this inner room that is the ground of being; the very thread that runs through the whole network of life. But it is through these three doorways that we are able to gain access to this inner-room. From the outside, these doors appear to be separate and distinct, but from within it is discovered that all three doors converge on the same point. This point of convergence is your original face. The three doorways or refuges are: Original Mind, Suchness, and Being.
Having realized that suffering is a pattern set in motion by a misunderstanding, the situation becomes very workable. Furthermore, this infers that there is something beyond our confusion. In other words, we realize that we have been asleep. But if you realize that you are asleep, you have also discovered the possibility of awakening. We start to realize that there is a great intelligence, which up until this very moment we have ignored. Taking refuge is essentially learning to trust this intelligence.
Beating within each and every one of us is the heart of enlightenment. Taking refuge in this heart is the essence of spirituality.
“Ultimately speaking, devotion is not directed outside our mind. We direct devotion toward ‘ordinary mind,’ which is the Mahamudra mind, and to the genuine heart of enlightenment that is within us and within our emotions. We direct devotion to the mind of enlightenment that is right within our fear and hope. There is no Mahamudra mind outside these experiences.” ~ from Wild Awakening by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Everybody, without exception, has the capacity to discover genuine happiness. This capacity is present, because Original Mind is present. It is original mind which serves as the very seed of enlightenment. This inherent state of sanity is the very basis of meditation practice. It is because this natural form of intelligence is present and fully operational that the possibility of enlightenment even exists. Taking refuge in original mind is not about becoming a better or more perfect human being, but about radically accepting the totality of Humanness.
Original mind is mind without the unnecessary additive of confusion. It is not a created, contrived, or produced mind. It is simply Mind beyond all the pollutants— it is all natural. This natural mind is never infected with the epidemic of insanity that is constantly plaguing our individualistic existence. Original mind is complete openness— capable of seeing anything, as it is not governed by boundaries, preconceived ideas, fears, or expectations. It is without division, so there is nothing to fuel friction or conflict. Original mind is free of elaboration. It is complete or whole— needing no-thing and as a result, beyond discontentment. It is eternal; without beginning or end, and therefore without a center or self. Original mind is not organized around some central theme or persona. We do not need to invest any effort in the creation of an enlightened mind. There is no need to build or construct such a mind, as it has been there since the beginning. Taking refuge in Original mind is not about developing some new state of the art enlightened mind; it is a process of discovering and trusting our fundamental intelligence or basic sanity. We just have to excavate it from the rubble of ego’s insanity.
This Natural Mind is revealed as it reflects Suchness, things as they are. In this case, suchness refers not to the ‘things’ being reflected, but the reflective quality itself. Suchness transcends all of the superficial judgments and concepts produced by ego. Simply put: it is things as they are and not as we would have them be. It is truth; free of all the self-centered commentary, complex story lines, and plots saturated with drama. Naked awareness. Suchness is beyond explanation, ineffable, but it is eternally present. It is clear, sharp, and precise. Reality is not some thing that we can take hold of or freeze. It is now-ness. No one owns now-ness, but we all have the capacity to participate in it. This capacity is suchness or mind’s reflective quality.
Original Mind and Suchness (emptiness & form) are uniquely blended together in the eternal song of Life, Being (luminosity). Being is utter simplicity. It is a vibrant dance in which spaciousness and possibilities co-emerge as a single unit, primordial experience. Since Original Mind is pure or empty, it has the capacity to reflect reality in its infinite manifestations. One teaching says, “Existence and emptiness are of the same nature, space. Are the water and its waves separate?” This ceaseless play between emptiness and appearance is alive. In fact, it is the unified stream of energy we have been calling Life. We are not some body cut-off and separate from life, we are Life.
These three refuges: Original Mind, Suchness, and Being, are simply three aspects of one essence, Human-Nature. In other words, this awakened mind is our inheritance as human beings. Buddhist spirituality is all about discovering this awakened mind. Furthermore, they are viable refuges. They are practical, accessible, and consistent. They are three doorways that lead to who we were before we had a name, naturalness. In the famous words of Benjamin Rand, “Chauncey Gardner, you have the gift of being natural.” Everyone has the gift of being natural, and this gift is often called grace.
Grace is not something we can will around through prayer or somehow manipulate to our advantage in meditation. It is the effortless nature of our natural being in its utter simplicity— it is our capacity to be. It is something to be accepted and expressed. The type of radical acceptance required to accept this gift is surrender. We must completely let go of the need to control or seize life. We have to first relinquish the desire to become some one or acquire some thing, in order to discover that we have been complete or in need of nothing all along!
All we have to do is make the journey back to our home, back to the here-&-now. This journey is a bit of an odd journey, as we have to traverse backwards through the whole network of ego’s programs, shedding off layer upon layer of self-deception, only to arrive where we actually are.
So from here on out, all our discussions will revolve around this journey. We have outlined the path that leads to suffering and dissatisfaction. Now, we will walk backwards down this path as we move through the stages of meditation. We will begin by renouncing the ego-centric poverty mentality that suggests we are insufficient. We will do this by addressing our attitude and posture in meditation. Then, we will move beyond the inbred thought processes of ego-centric consciousness with calm-abiding practice. In the weeks that follow, we will pick through the solidified world of conceptualization, perception, and impulses with the practices of equanimity, loving-kindness, and compassion. Finally, we will learn to rest in natural simplicity by unlearning our tendencies to pursue happiness with the practice of natural joy.
My explanation of internal refuge may have seemed vague or difficult to grasp, but I assure you, the awakened mind is never far off. In our most difficult hours we are only one step behind it! Everyone has some basic experience of their enlightened potential, regardless of whether or not they have practiced meditation or read a bunch of books about spirituality. Everybody knows what it feels like to lay in the grass, and for a moment, as the sun hits your skin, there is no other moment. We have all been in the midst of chaos and saw clarity come shining through. Meditation is about discovering that capacity and familiarizing ourselves with it. Eventually, we become so familiar with our own enlightened potential that we begin to discover it in our relationships and daily affairs. This is the resurrection of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is our one true refuge— the heart of spirituality.