Monday, May 25, 2009

The Three Principal Paths

The Three Principal Paths (Lam-Tso Mam-Sum) is a very concise presentation of the entire Gradual Path (Lam Rim) teachings composed by Lama Tsongkapa (1357-1419). Tsongkhapa is considered one the greatest philosopher-contemplative-scholars Tibet has ever produced. The Three Paths of Renunciation, Spirit of Enlightenment, and Correct View of Reality—are the essential knowledges one cultivates to achieve full awakening.

The 12-week Gradual Path Towards Contemplative Living course taught at Tibet House is based on the Three Principal Paths; one month of four classes having been assigned to each of the three principals. The entire path from misery to complete freedom and happiness can be traced over the course of these 12- weeks.

Weeks 1-4 covered Renunciation, the abandoning of compulsive living that results in our experience of suffering. The Four Noble Truths showed how we suffer due to attachment and anger based on misperception of reality, and how happiness and freedom are possible if we adopt a contemplative life based on ethics, mental training and wisdom. The key skill taught during the first month was mindfulness meditation, used to calm the mind from its compulsive reactive patterns, in order to create the opportunity for choice in how to respond to experience with discrimination and care.

Weeks 5-8 covered the Spirit of Enlightenment (Bodhicitta), the wish to attain freedom for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Four Fold Exchange of Self and Other showed how we are fundamentally no different from all other beings, the downfall of our self-preoccupation and the joy of altruism. Through this framework we see how the cultivation of wisdom, particularly of interdependence, naturally gives rise to compassion for others. The key skills taught during the second month were loving kindness meditation (metta) and giving and taking meditation (tong-len), used to reverse self-centeredness into care for others. Here we used compassion as the ultimate medicine to destroy the misperception of separateness at the root of our own suffering, thereby allowing us to taste the happiness born of our interconnectivity.

Weeks 9-12 covered the Correct View of Reality, discussed negatively as the emptiness or lack of inherent existence in phenomenon and positively as the interdependence or co-arising of the appearance of things. The Seven-limb Prayer showed the possibility of growing past self-imposed limitations by exposing our minds and hearts to the optimal care of our mentor. The fact that we can learn, grow and change is possible because of emptiness, the lack of any fixed, inherently real notion of self or things. The key skills taught during the last month were the Jewel Tree and Mentor-boding visualizations. Here we exposed the mind to emptiness by dissolving ordinary appearance and reconstructing optimal guides and environments based on active imagination. Once in a safe healing environment and in the presence of our mentor guides we are able to project and introject our innate goodness, confidence and optimal healing capacity. For more on the psychodynamics of mentor-bonding see an earlier post.

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path
Fourteen verses written by Lama Tsong Khapa

Respectfully I prostrate to the Exalted Mentor.

1. As far as I am able, I shall explain the essence of all high teachings of the Awakened, the path that all warriors of love commend, the entry point for the fortunate seeking freedom.
2. Listen with a pure mind, fortunate ones who have no craving for the mundane pleasures of life, and who to make leisure and fortune meaningful, strive to turn their minds to the contemplative path, which pleases the Awakened.
3. There is no way to end, without pure renunciation, this striving for pleasant results in the ocean of life. It is because of their mindless yearning for life as well that beings are bound, so seek renunciation first.
4. Leisure and fortune are hard to find; life is not long; think of this constantly, that will cease compulsivity for this life. Think over and over how cause and effect never fail, and how endless suffering is for those living habitually; that will cease compulsivity for the future.
5. When you have meditated thus, and feel not even a moment's desire for the good things of mundane life, and when you begin to think both night and day of achieving complete freedom, you have found Renunciation.
6. Renunciation, though, can never bring the total bliss of matchless Awakening, unless it is motivated by the highest aspiration; and so, the wise seek
the the high wish for the Spirit of Enlightenment.
7. They are swept along on four fierce river currents; chained up tight in past deeds, hard to undo; stuffed in a steel cage of grasping "self"; smothered in the pitch-black of misperception.
8. In a endless rounds of habitual and mindless living, they are born, and in their births, are tortured by three sufferings without a break; think how all your countless mother beings feel; think of what is happening to them; try to develop this highest wish to achieve enlightenment for their sake.
9. You may master renunciation and the wish, but unless you have the Wisdom perceiving reality, you cannot cut the root of compulsive living. Make efforts in ways, then, to perceive interdependence.
10. A person has entered the path that pleases the Awakened when, for all objects, in the mundane existence or beyond, he sees that cause and effect can never fail, and when, for him, they lose all solid appearance.
11. You have yet to realize the connection between the mere appearance and emptiness of things.
12. At some point they no longer alternate but come together; just seeing this connection never fails to bring realization that destroys how you mindlessly attach to objects,
 and then your analysis with view is complete.
13. In addition, mere appearance prevents the non-existence extreme, while emptiness prevents attachment to inherent existence; and if you see how emptiness manifests in cause and effect, you will never be persuaded by extreme views.
14. When you have ascertained the essential points of each of the three principal paths explained, then go into deep contemplation, noble friend, make mighty efforts,
and quickly attain freedom.

Psychodynamics of mentor-archtype-bonding (guru-yidam-yoga)

Mentor Tsongkhappa

The following are three psychodynamic principals that describe some of the proceess involved in the mentor-bonding visualization. Typically these are unconscious processes or defenses that occur automatically outside of awareness in order to preserve the integrity of the ego. As all defenses they become overused or outgrown, and end up causing more suffering rather than relief. During the mentor-bonding these process are consciously implemented in order to cultivate the minds potential to learn, grow and change past rigidly defined limits or self-perceptions.

When an individual is unable to integrate difficult feelings, specific defenses are mobilized to regulate these unbearable feelings. The defense that helps in this process is called splitting. Splitting is the tendency to view events or people as either all bad or all good. When viewing people as ‘all good’, you are using the defense mechanism idealization: a mental mechanism in which the person attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to the self or others. The counterpart of idealization is devaluation: attributing exaggerated negative qualities to the self or others. When this happens unconsciously we can end up being disappointed with those we idealize or inappropriately alienated from those we devalue. In the mentor-bonding, we select a mystical or healing archtype to form a relationship with. We consciously exaggerate their positive attributes, filter out any negative qualities and expose our mind to our optimal or ideal qualities that we seek develop in ourselves. Here we are consciously feeding our mind all the nutrients without any toxins.

Transference is a phenomenon in psychology characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings of one person to another.
For example when a patient unknowingly transfers their unresolved anger towards their parent on to the therapist. In psychology these feelings can be positive or negative, but either way they occur outside of awareness.
In the mentor-bonding we consciously direct positive feelings towards the ideal mentor, accessing our inate resevoir of loving connection, hope and optimism, and feelings of being safe and cared for.

Psychological projection is a defence mechanism in which one attributes ("projects") to others, one's own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted subconscious impulses/desires without letting the ego recognize them. In the mentor-bonding we consciously project any positive, desired for aspects, onto the ideal mentor. Any love and care you've ever experience by someone, you direct them toward the mentor and feel completely connected and cared for by them.

Internalized introject
To introject is to unconsciously incorporate characteristics of a person into one's own psyche. In the mentor-bonding we consciously take-in or "reabsorb" any of the "nutrients" we have projected onto the mentor and the bonding relationship. The love and wisdom we initially ascrib to the idealized other, we take in and allow to become part of our own character. In fact it was always part of our psyche, but here we are consciously accepting and cultivating it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

7-Fold Mentor Bonding Process

Preparation Stage

Find a comfortable posture.

Reflect on the reliability of your mentor and teachers; the teachings and methods; and, the support of those committed to the contemplative life.

Reflect on your spiritual aspiration: the humble aspiration to attain some measure of peace and happiness; the medium aspiration to achieve complete freedom from suffering; or, the highest aspiration to attain complete freedom in order to benefit others.

Begin breathing meditation to calm and center the mind. Purge your mind of afflictive emotions and tendencies. Let go of filters such as desire and clinging, anger and defensiveness, and alienation or shame-based isolation. Experiencing the taming of your behavior, opening of your heart and connecting to the vast potential of your mind.

Dissolving and Re-envisioning your Self-World

Reflect on the meaning of selflessness. Imagine that your ordinary self-sense as fixed, permanent and unitary, dissolves into its primal elements of earth, air, water, fire and space and merge into the natural flow with the rest of the universe. This helps to release attachment, ownership and identification of “I”, “me” and “mine” with the body and mind. Out of this dynamic, changing, interdependent, give-and-take flow, imagine that you arise in your “breath-body”, a person shaped bubble made of pure breath and awareness. This is a “virtual” or “meditative body”, similar to the one you have in a dream state because it’s made of subtle mind, rather than material. Your body takes on a light quality like a bubble floating in a sea of primal luminous energy. In your meditative body, you rise up above the stress realm of fear and alienation, feeling open, connected and free.

Now reflect on the meaning of Emptiness. Imagine that your ordinary view of the universe as fixed, permanent and unitary, dissolves into its natural flow of primal energy and luminance. Because the nature of the universe is empty of intrinsic reality, it is free, dynamic, changing and interdependent, allowing you to creatively reconstruct a healing environment of your choosing. Visualize a space in which you feel safe, supported and inspired to conduct your meditative practice and mentor dialog. There are no limits to the scene you can create, make the space as beautiful as your imagination permits.

Invoking your Mentor, the Ideal Healer

From the place of feeling light, clear and safe, call upon your mentor or ideal healer to join you. The mentor can arrive in full form spontaneously or in stages. If in stages, in the space before you, imagine arising out of the vast energy flow of the universe comes a luminous disk or cushion, like a moon reflected in a dark sea. Feel the presence of your mentor, like a friend sitting close with you in the dark. Out of the luminous disk arises the seed symbol, imbued with the affirmation, prayer or positive message, which captures the essence of your ideal such as: “you are safe to grow and change”, or “you are lovable enough or worthy enough”, “anything is possible” or “everything about you and the world is perfect as it is”.

Then imagine the seed symbol emits an aura that transforms into the actual form body of your mentor. Begin with the face and then pan out to include the body, filling in the details to heighten his or her presence. Breath into the image until it is fully constructed, appears to you as real, and feels like your mentor is right there with you. Recognize it takes time and practice to stabilize these images and to enhance their vividness.

Then invite the spirit of somebody real to inhabit the form of your ideal mentor. Think of an actual person that you admire, who represents some of the ideal qualities of your mentor. Identify someone who is “on their way” to growing towards that positive direction, who can act as a bridge to help you relate better to the ideal. Allow the energies and spirit of your real person and those of the ideal mentor to intermingle and become one.

7- Fold Mentor-Bonding Process

Now begin the inner therapy and dialog. Facing your mentor and feeling he or she are present for you…

Admire the positive qualities of your ideal mentor that you seek to cultivate in your own life, such as love, peace, wisdom, calm, equanimity and courage etc. Think, “how nice it would be if I had those qualities”.

2. Offering
In the spirit of generosity and admiration, imagine making offerings to your mentor by giving him/her flowers, precious items, your self and/or the world. Think, “what I would give to be like that”. Imagine your mentor accepts these gifts with gratitude. Feel close to your mentor and entitled to ask for support.

3. Confessing
Feeling close with the mentor, allow yourself to disclose any real or imagined limits, blocks, or insecurities. Unburden yourself of guilt/shame, unworthiness, and fear. Think, “Mentor, I don’t feel that I’m worthy of happiness or that it’s possible for me to change”. Sharing these secrets helps bring you closer to the mentor and exposes perceived limitations so that they can be removed. Experience a deep sense of acceptance by the mentor. Imagine that the mentor has a vision of you beyond any limitations, at the end of your spiritual journey, fully realized and at your best! Have a feeling that the two of you are more like equals.

4. Rejoicing
After you’ve tasted vicariously the mentors acceptance and vision of you in your optimal state, allow yourself to celebrate! This marks a turning point in the dialog, when you have your first glimpse of actually achieving your highest potential for health and happiness. It is a wonderful vision, and the basis for motivating and guiding the rest of your life. Think, “how wonderful it is to know that it is possible for me to be like my mentor”. Commemorate and acknowledge the power of teamwork between you and your mentor. Recognize that in essense the mentor and you are made of the same stuff, that he or she is just a little ahead of the game than you. Imagine the heavens open with wonderful lights, sounds, rainbows etc. reflecting the celebratory nature of the moment.

5. Requesting Guidance
Now acknowledge that this is just the beginning, just a taste of possibility, and that your development along the path will take time, energy and guidance. Ask your mentor for the help you need to fully realize your optimal self, which helps to overcome shame for asking for help. Delighted to be asked, imagine the mentor sends from his or her heart all the blessings and intuitive realizations you need to actualize your potential. Envision rainbow waves of positive energy coming to your heart and filling you with optimism, energy and hope. Allow this energy to resonate in your heart, melting fears and insecurities, and then send this positive healing energy out into the ends of the universe and have it come back in rainbow waves of confirmation.

***** if we are meditating as a group, we pause at this juncture to receive and share actually teachings and guidance. Try to retain your vision of yourself in your meditative body and envision the actual teacher as your ideal mentor. The instructions during class represent the actual guidance you have requested along the path*****

6. Requesting Presence
Revive your vision of being in dialog with the mentor. Reflect on the teachings and guidance you have been given, so that they become metabolized. Now recognizing that the mentor is already enlightened, has completed the path, and could easily abide in their own happiness, ask for their continued presence in your life, that they stay with you. Request that the mentor never abandons you and is always available to you for support and guidance. Thrilled to be asked, and respecting your request, imagine the mentor begins to dissolve into pure light. From their crown to the tips of their toes, they dissolve inwards towards their heart, until all that remains in a luminous drop, like a tear for joy, that coalesces their entire being. Now imagine that that tear drop, floats above your head, passes into your crown, past your throat and slips into your heart. It dissolves there and mixes with your own inner chemistry, like a drop of water merging with the ocean. Imaging that the essence of your mentor dissolve inseparably with the essence of your own inner guide and healing intuition. Allow that merger to resonate with optimism and healing potential that inspires and uplifts you. The healing energy exudes out in a ripple effect from your heart out to the ends of the universe. It then ripples back like a tsunami of love, touching all the hearts and minds of beings in the universe, kindling their own sense of hope, and finally comes back to your heart where it dissolves again.

7. Dedicating
Now that you have tasted the power of hope and optimism provided to you by the mentor, and have recognized your own innate potential for health and happiness, commit yourself to achieving that potential and sharing it with all other beings. Commit your life and energy to actualizing your inner mentor and providing guidance to all those living beings in need.

Therapeutic Antidotes of the 7-Limbs:

Each limb provides and antidote that works to correct a negative quality in the mind.

Admiration => Pride

Offerings => Attachment

Confession => Shame

Rejoicing => Envy

Requesting Guidance => Hopelessness

Requesting Presence => Fear

Dedication => Self-centeredness

The Actual 7-limb Prayer:

Respectfully I prostrate with my body, speech and mind
I present clouds of offerings, actual and imagined
I confess all negativity accumulated since beginningless time
I rejoice in the merits of ordinary and enlightened beings
Please mentor, remain as my guide
And provide the teachings of reality until suffering ends
May I dedicate myself to awakening for the benefit of all living beings