Day 2: Summoning the World to BuddhahoodOn Sun, 19 March, 2023 - 21:59
Today we moved to chapter 5: The Guarding of Awareness.
At 10.30 we listened to all 109 verses of this chapter on mindfulness before hearing a commentary from Nagabodhi.
There is something remarkable about listening to Dharma being read out loud. When I lived at Taraloka in the 90s we sometimes recited texts all night! I learned then that there is an art to listening to Dharma texts. The mind goes through many phases as the words relentlessly go on and on - and on! Firstly, a determination to concentrate has victory (regrettably, often only briefly in my case), then the mind gets tired and starts wandering, then boredom arises, maybe frustration with the length of the text (!) but eventually something gives way and relaxes. The words enter the heart more directly as the conceptual mind simply gives up trying to ‘understand’ rationally and lets go of grasping.
I think it is a little like the experience marathon runners describe: at a certain point they ‘hit the wall’ and then they are able to run much more freely. I’ve never run a marathon so I don’t know this from personal experience, but I have ‘hit the wall’ listening to Dharma and then been able to receive it much more directly once my small mind let’s go of trying to understand every word and simply relaxes into the flow. Usually, a vivid sense of non-conceptual inspiration arises and today was no exception as I listened to this remarkable, inspiring and challenging chapter.
This is the second retreat led by the Adhisthana Teaching Community where we have included listening to Dharma read aloud. Last November we held a retreat on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and each morning was devoted to listening to sections of the text – hearing the entire book over the week. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is quite a long work and the retreat was very immersive. For the days in the bardo between death and rebirth the shrine room was blacked-out so we heard the words emerging into a dark, mysterious space. In the afternoons Subhuti gave a commentary and, like this retreat on the Bodhicaryavatara, the evenings were devoted to meditation and puja.
I am personally so happy that this is becoming a practice at Adhisthana for some retreats. It is a traditional way of engaging with Dharma and brings a level of intensity. Sitting listening we enter a timeless realm imagining all the millions of monks, nuns and lay people who have heard these profound teachings down the millennia*.
Going back to today: In Nagabodhi’s commentary on this chapter on mindfulness he skilfully emphasised key points about the crucial role mindfulness plays in the process of awakening for the sake of all beings, as well as sharing many stories and anecdotes from his long years of practice and his connection with Bhante, who of course exemplified deep mindfulness in so many ways. [See my notes from the day here]
To conclude this blog, let’s end with the words of Shantideva in verse 108 at the end of the chapter: “In brief, this alone is the definition of awareness: the observation at every moment of the state of one’s body and one’s mind”.
*The Tibetan Book of the Dead is being repeated this year 27 Oct - 3 Nov