Tuesday, October 06, 2009


 "It exceedeth the compass of conceit, to think that that wisdom which made everything so orderly in the parts, should make a confusion in the whole."
--William Drummond of Hawthornden

The other day, I promised a reader -- a Fulbright Scholar who likes rabbits -- that we would take up the subject of synchronicity.

Here is the Western philosophical definition of synchronicity:
"[T]he experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated, occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance."
You will of course immediately recognize that this is amusing to entertain in the context of interdependence. However, we don't want to waste time deconstructing the Western philosophical definition in terms of Buddhist philosophy. It isn't important to look at this is terms of what we think we know; rather, it is important to entirely put aside what we think we know. Better to observe the matter without any preconceptions, and let the thing deconstruct itself naturally.

When you, or me, or a thousand like us are indivisibly the same space; when mind ceases to be the subject of mistaken notions of ownership or positivity, and there is no longer any going to or  coming from, then you could say that synchronicity is not the interaction of separate events, but is instead the abiding expression of spontaneous wisdom.

Who is holding what?

What of the regular order of nature? Take the sequential order of calendars for example: although it seems that the calendars are describing the regularities of planets, perhaps while this is temporally the case this is not ultimately the case.

If we were to suddenly recognize the shimmer of planets as a reflection of our own shimmering, and erase the idea of time-based observation, a rather more profound irregularity might become exposed. If we take the idea of "control" out of the equation, and just let things be, then this regular irregularity would, again, no longer be a series of separate events that we record.

Emptiness swirls in emptiness? My favorite illustration is a clean, clear glass and a bottle of carbonated water. Pour the carbonated water into the glass, then watch the bubbles come to the surface and disappear. Try to pick just one bubble. Try to jump inside.

Our scholar wrote to say that she had been noticing rabbits, and then she noticed that I noticed rabbits, and she wondered if this held out some significance.

The only significance would be the significance that she attaches. She is the playwright, isn't she?

I have written about this in the past, in terms of a little game I played as a child, which, as it turns out, is also a particular meditation from the Kalachakratantra. Many of us have also played games of a similar nature, as when we decide to count red cars, and find ourselves amazed at how many red cars we see. Try this yourself. Pick a color -- blue for example -- and decide you will start noticing blue things. Very soon you will find yourself living in a blue world.

When I want to be funny, I call this "siddhi thinking."

In the sense our scholar raised the issue, her synchronicity is really an exercise in sequentiality.  Conventionally speaking, either one is observing common, temporal order, or one is trying to enforce order. However, to believe in order, one must also believe in explanation. To believe in explanation, one must also believe in view.

What of that which simply is? Why not leave it alone, and see what happens when there is no view, no explanation, and no artificially enforced order? We keep trying to map the heavens, but the heavens defy the limits of our pages.

For seven years, I lived with a woman who many people said was a dakini.

She charted every action in the course of her life by the feathers she found. For example: she would be walking along in one direction, she would spy a feather on the ground,  then off she would go in that direction. The feathers seemingly spoke to her. Sometimes she would retrieve one, and wrap it in silk, and keep it for a special purpose.

On one occasion, she found a feather which she told me was extraordinarily powerful. She kept this feather with the same reverence afforded to a wish-granting jewel.

One day, she gave it to Tarthang Rinpoche, saying, "I am giving you the world."

Thereafter, writing in the finest exposition of the sublime Ati ever written in English or any other language -- his magnificent book Time, Space, and Knowledge -- he began with the words:
"When a single feather and a thousand worlds
Are equally this Space,
Who can say which contains which?
Who can find limits
To life's richness?"
If you have that book on your bookshelf, open it up and look on the very last page. You will see a drawing of the feather that she gave him.

So, these planets; bubbles; red cars; rabbits; feathers; dakinis, and lamas seem somehow related to the notion that they are, equally, what we make of them, and what they already make of themselves.

A divine dialogue, something like a cloud's shadow on the ground? A naturalist's taxonomic certainty? Following some sort of narrative sequence?

If we want to pick on them, then they certainly do, and we can pick on them until the cows come home and make all sorts of pronouncements and connections, just as a palm reader does when she looks at the lines in your hand. Are these things happening to something or somebody? Or are they happening because of something or somebody? Are they happening at all, or are they merely a lantern-slide projection?

Baby steps.

There are, of course, giant babies who cross mountains in a single stumble. The toddler sons and daughters of great deities who fill the skies, drinking measureless nectars from endless skull-cups. Blessings fall like rain, so there really isn't very much else that needs doing.

Just meditate, and if you can't meditate, then just be kind. If you like, you can say OM MANI PADME HUM as many times as possible.

Congratulations, Professor, on your useful retirement. While I am also retired, I haven't quite developed the knack of being useful. I just lay around with the rabbits, smelling bad, while stars fall down in the meadows, and the sky's intimate dance with earth shows up the many faces of originally pure perfection. Sometimes -- times like these -- we write love letters and attach them to balloons, the color of dharmakaya, and they fly away in all directions.

I do not know where they go. I do not watch them when they leave. You see, it is quite enough to  simply let them sail away as they please.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

6 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

I am curious. Who was this dakini you mention?

TENPA said...

Lot of dakinis where you are there in Los Angeles, so why worry about this one?

Anonymous said...

The same line caught my attention, living with dakini.

I am sure we didn't live with the same dakini, but I'll bet we learned some of the same lessons.

They never really leave do they? We might even chase worldly dakinis just hoping...and discover something quite different up close.

Ah well. The dakini is one's own mind.

Great story Tenpa, I remember the feather for some reason. Tendril?

TENPA said...

Well, she also gave me the eagle feather which I in turn gave to the 16th Karmapa when we were up at Lama K's house in the hills, before we all embarked for SF and the Black Crown. As it turned out, that was an interesting feather as well.

If you truly understood that the dakini is one's mind it would be difficult to "chase worldly dakinis just hoping... and discover something quite different up close" because there wouldn't be that subject-object dialogue you seem to favor every time you write ... that cutesy little "I'm here and you're there and I bet you can't guess who I am" competitive thing you have going.

Just relax.

Anonymous said...

Not all palm readers are the same. I once met one who read "between the lines."

By the way, the "red car" exercise also helps one to focus when multi-tasking has gone too far. I learned that by having my children call out for their shoes when they couldn't find them. It helped them stay focused on what they were looking for so we could get out the door on time. It'll be in my bag of tricks to help combat my mind decaying in years to come. Then my grown children can "play" that game with me when I can't find my shoes....

Your piece was nicely written.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tenpa-la. I have also heard this referred to as "meaningful coincidence." Doesn't matter what we call it. There is meaning beyond meaning in every moment of every atom of the universe; it's just that sometimes we notice. I like your modification of my summary of my Rinpoche's advice: "Don't get distracted by what appears to be magic." Maybe it only "appears to be" magic until the bubble reaches the surface... I will continue to welcome the rabbits that appear in my continuum (the ones I notice...) with attentiveness and affection. And I will continue to take good care of my collection of feathers.