Thursday, September 3, 2020

From Ken McLeod's Unfettered Mind newsletter:

On your own, stay empty and relax.
In a group, keep knowing clear and sharp.
Knowing’s nothing, not a thing at all—
Goal there's none, but stand right there you must.
Empty knowing—that is hard to catch,
Work at it and it becomes a friend.

The lines come from Jamgon Kongtrul's Creation and Completion: Essential points of Tantric Meditation., and I have read through the words many times since I first came across them in Ken's newsletter. My mind is still working with them.

Ken writes: "This piece of advice is especially important when the world is in turmoil—whether because of fires, hurricanes or other natural disasters, because of incompetent leadership in a crisis, or because of civil unrest, the rise of ideological factions, or other political tensions. Turmoil in the world triggers emotional reactions in us, reactions based on survival, basic emotional needs, and our sense of who we are. If we are not careful, we can be swept away by the reaction and confusion around us and become unthinking reactive participants in the turmoil."

If ever there were times of turmoil, these are they. And in such times Kongtrul's words are great advice for one who seeks to lead a healthy and harmonious life. "Relax"  as he instructs in his first line, is a good start. It's easy enough to understand, if sometimes less easy to practice. But how to "stay empty"? Empty of thought, empty of judgment, empty of past and future, memory and anticipation... Empty of wants and needs. Empty of likes and dislikes. What he does not mean, surely, is "vacuous"--empty of wisdom, discrimination, tolerance. This kind of emptiness is not empty-headedness, in the negative sense, but rather a different kind of fullness, an at-peaceness with one's self and the world. It is also not passivity, which, in Ken's formulation, " is insidious. It kills your mind (your attention, your intention, and your will) without you knowing it." 

So, when with others "in a group, keep knowing clear and sharp"--even though "knowing's nothing, not a thing at all." A paradox? So be it. Conflating the two, Kongtrul writes of "empty knowing"--a concept that, he concedes, is "hard to catch." If I'm right about what he's saying here, this "empty knowing" is easier to feel and experience (in meditation, say) than it is to understand or, still less, explain. My take is that it's the kind of knowing that is neither right nor wrong; as I heard elsewhere the other day, "everything I think is wrong"! It's the kind of knowing that has no goal, and no intention. It is inarguable but also indefinable, utterly clear but at the same time impenetrable. Knowing without knowing.

I like the idea that if I work at it, "it becomes a friend." In times of turmoil, it is good to have a friend I can rely on. Essential, even. To have a friend means not to be alone, to have someone to turn to. It's good, particularly, at such times, to have a friend who offers me a yardstick for my truth, who keeps me honest, keeps me in integrity with myself and others. Someone I can "come home to" at moments when the turmoil threatens to overwhelm. 

There's food for much more thought here. This is just (another!) start...

1 comment:

Marie Smith said...

Food for thought. “Empty knowing” is a challenge I am not sure I could attain. Maybe the real challenge is overcoming your own mental block.