Tuesday, November 3, 2015

One ground, two paths

From an interview with Dzogchen master Anam Thubten:
There is a verse in one of the spiritual songs: “There is only one ground (the dharmadhatu or source or underlying truth of all things), only two paths and only two fruitions.” This is one of my favorite verses, because it says there are not three paths, only two paths, the path of awareness and the path of unawareness. Every moment we either choose to be on the path of awareness or on the path of non-awareness. So in each moment we are enlightened or not. When we really contemplate this verse, it shocks our minds. It is easy for many practitioners to think that even though they are not actually residing in awareness that somehow so long as they are doing the various practices they are making some kind of progress according to some invisible scale or record—because they are doing all the right practices they are going in the right direction. When you contemplate this teaching, it shocks your mind because you realize you are making the enlightenment choice in every moment.
There's another interesting way to look at this "one ground, two paths" idea. For this post to make any sense, you'll first have to agree with this axiom:
  • All you've ever wanted, in any moment -- ever -- is to be happy.
If you don't like the word "happy," choose another one. But you first have to see that what you ultimately want is for things to be fine; for life to be well; to feel okay; etc. It could even be that you thrive on turmoil, and if so, turmoil is your path... to happiness.

What's much harder to see is that in every moment, we have a choice: to be happy, or to be unhappy. And this choice is free, in the sense of being unconstrained by physical reality. You may think this is obvious (everyone's heard of poor people who are still happy), but when taken literally it has two profound corollaries:
  1. It is unconstrained by past moments. There's no "lag effect" whereby our choice in the "last moment" bleeds over into this one, so that our unhappiness yesterday, or even a moment ago, prevents happiness now. 
  2. It is unconstrained by neurology. Your neurotransmitters cannot be to blame (though believing so can certainly relieve a certain kind of pressure we sometimes unduly place on ourselves).
Of course, there's no reason to take the above seriously, since it seems to contradict what we've learned from science. I don't believe it actually does, but this post is meant to be practical instead of metaphysical, so let's look instead at how this choice actually plays out in real life.

You're sitting there and there's an alarm going off. Some thoughtless person has failed to notice it for some time, and it's becoming ever-more annoying. In any instant, before the annoyance has a chance to form, we discover two options:
  1. Choose unhappiness. This seems reasonable: I'm annoyed by the alarm, and my annoyance is what will enable me to fix the problem, thereby resulting in the happiness I seek.
  2. Choose happiness. This sounds stupid: I'll just end up being a dopey doormat or bum who doesn't make stuff happen. That sounds like a pretty unhappy outcome.
In short: I believe that by choosing happiness, I'll be unhappy, and that by choosing unhappiness, I'll (eventually, possibly even real soon!) be happy. Duh, I choose the second one.

But of course, the next moment comes around, I'm faced with essentially the same choice (though the details will have changed a tad bit), and because the same delusion is still in operation, I do it again.

And this is most of us do in every moment of every day, from cradle to grave. Instead of facing this intrinsic delusion head-on, we take a rain check and push away the only thing we've ever wanted.

Maybe you feel that the example is a strawman. Of course I can choose to be happy in the face of something so trivial, but what about real problems?

I maintain that the situation is always exactly the same. As long as you deep down believe that unhappiness can be the cause of happiness, you'll push away the only thing you've ever wanted.

I cannot prove any of this to you, but I can suggest that you consider it very seriously indeed.

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