Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Shamans See

"The teacher is me, the dharma too is me.
The gathering and the listeners are me.
The teacher of the world and the practices are me.
The worldly and the nonworldly are me."

Once upon a time, I took a class entitled 'Observation and Description.' The instructor explained that the skill of observation is predicated upon one's ability to accurately describe what one sees; hence, to be a keen observer, one has to increase one's descriptive vocabulary. This seems true, at least conventionally speaking, and is in any event a normal enough supposition to preclude much argument for or against.

However, ours is not a normal forum, and here the subject of labeling, by whatever means, is a fit topic for constant dissection.
"Labeling takes place in confusion, for what is nonexistant is taken to exist.
Given that the nature of things is similar to that of dream images, which have no basis,
how exceedingly strange it is to fixate on samsara and nirvana as though they existed in their own right!" -- Longchenpa
Above, is a photomicrograph of two human cancer cells, seen just before they divide into four cells, viewed at 100X magnification. The photo was taken by Dr. Paul D. Andrews of the University of Dundee, in Scotland, and comes to us courtesy of Nikon Small World.

If you could interdict the division process, right at this very moment, then you could stop a cancer dead in its tracks.

In the shared belief we call Vajrayana -- which becomes less a belief and more an observation the more we share it -- we have numerous examples of the visualization and manipulation of structures very similar to the structures seen in the above photomicrograph. Just as an example -- and it is an example from the open literature -- take Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche's description of a particular protection wheel employed in White Tara practice:
"In an instant, from the state of emptiness a white wheel with ten spokes appears. Unlike the wheel that you have been visualizing in your heart, this wheel is not flat and it does not have a rim. In fact, it is probably better not to think of it as a wheel at all, because that word is misleading. It might be better to think of its shape as something like some of the satellites we send into space, which are round with various spikes sticking out."

"Imagine the hub to be a very, very large sphere of white light. Though it is said to have ten spokes, there are only eight spokes evenly spaced around the horizon. The hub is hollow and round except that the top and bottom are slightly pointed. They are therefore referred to as spokes, making ten spokes altogether. The eight spokes around the horizon are like ribs, and taper to a point. There is no break between them, but there is an arch between them like between the bones on the top of the hand. The spokes go all around, and the whole thing would be therefore appear circular if viewed from above. Inside the wheel and spokes it is hollow and inconceivably vast and spacious. The wheel is almost invisible because it is spinning very fast. The eight spokes are turning so fast that they are just a white blur, so you can only see a tentlike ball. This is the reason why we call it a wheel. It spins clockwise. The upper and lower spokes are turning in place. They are like an axis."
Now consider, for just a moment, that you are infinitesimally small, and inside your own body, trying to describe the behavior and appearance of cells you see around you. Might not your description of what you observe be very similar to what Khenpo Karthar has given, above? By the way, that description was from his book, The Wish-Fulfilling Wheel: The Practice of White Tara (2003), which is very highly recommended.

We don't have to visualize ourselves inside our bodies. Instead,we can just go outside and look at the stars. The above animation depicts all the asteroids orbiting the sun, as we have discovered them in the past thirty years.

Finally, since we have looked inside and outside the magic theater, we can use our x-ray vision to pick up the scenery, and look inside that. Here is a picture of what agate looks like under 4X magnification: 

So, we can look into spaces that we consider external to ourselves, internal to ourselves, or adjunct to ourselves, and as we deconstruct what we see, we find it all quite similar.

And all quite empty, for as we delve deeper and deeper into these self-similar spaces, activities, and patterns, we find more self-similar spaces, activities, and patterns. What is the difference between this asteroid striking the sun, as seen in the below video, and sperm fertilizing an egg?

For more years and in more places than we find what we have nowadays agreed to call Vajrayana, there have been shamans -- of greater or lesser realization and purpose -- and these shamans have -- for altruistic good or otherwise -- flown into spaces, activities, and patterns, employing a particular vision. In some senses, what they see, and how they see it, eventually came to be refined, and codified into systematic expositions like the Kalachakratantra, or the Hevajratantra, but that does not -- and should not -- imply ownership.

What we are examining is fundamentally human. It "belongs" to all of us.
"Mind itself is a vast expanse, the realm of unchanging space.
Its indeterminate display is the expanse of the magical expression of its responsiveness.
Everything is the adornment of basic space and nothing else.
Outwardly and inwardly, things proliferating and resolving are the dynamic energy of awakened mind.
Because this is nothing whatsoever yet arises as anything at all,
it is a marvelous and magical expression, amazing and superb."
Longchenpa wrote that, and when I read what he wrote I begin to wonder. Maybe the reason why we have not yet found a cure for cancer is because we are seeking a material solution to a non-material circumstance.

How can we proceed without proceeding from the foundation of the recognition of the true nature of phenomena?


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2 reader comments:

J.Crow said...

as always, spot on

me said...

Perhaps by asking what function "cancer" serves?