How to Wake Up

Tradition has it that once the Buddha went to stay in Sakyan country, which happened to be the country of his birth.   The Buddha had turned his back on his home and his life of wealth and power–he was to be the lord or warrior prince of the Sakyans–to live the life of inner and outer homelessness.  No outer trappings of success.  No inner attachments and identifications.   He was not actually dropping out but tuning in to his life–doing away with all distractions so that he could pay close attention to life, to every breath, until he woke up to the nature of reality and the cause of our suffering.   To a Sakyan named Dandapani, however, the Buddha looked like a kind of hippie bum.   This Sakyan came upon the Buddha while he was out walking for exercise in the Great Wood.  The Buddhas was sitting at the root of a sapling, having finished his daily begging and meal.  After a little amiable small talk, Dandapani leaned on his walking stick,  a very slouchy, disrespectful posture, and let the Buddha know what he really thought of the way he turned his back on his own people:  “What does the recluse assert, what does he proclaim?”   In other words, what are you all about anyway?  What is this whole act about?

“Friend,” answered the Buddha (kind of like saying “Dude,” treating his questioner a bit like he himself was treated) “I assert and proclaim [my teaching] in such a way that one does not quarrel with anyone in the world…; in such a way that perceptions no more underlie the brahmin who abides detached…without perplexity, shorn of worry, free from craving for any kind of being.”

What the hell kind of strange, obscure kind of thing is this to say (or write in a blog)?  Indeed, after hearing it, Dandapani “shook his head, wagged his tongue, and raised his eyebrows until his forehead was puckered in three lines.  Then he departed, leaning on his stick.”   You get the picture.

Later, the Buddha explained to his monks that what he was talking about was the way perceptions and notions come to limit and control a person.  Thoughts proliferate.  The moment we receive an impression, a feeling about it appears.  It is pleasant or unpleasant; we like it or dislike it.   This colors our perception, and then we think about what we perceive.  And the thoughts proliferate, coloring and limiting our future perceptions–even our past perceptions.    The Buddha saw that we are almost always lost in thought.   We wake up for a nano second, only to have a thought like “Hey, I’m awake”…and away we go again.

How do we wake up?  How can we break through this fog of thought and perception so that we can be touched by the Higher.   According to the Buddha, the trick is to stop delighting in, welcoming in, and holding on to our thoughts. Make that those that flow from the underlying tendency to crave things or want to push away other things, from an underlying tendency to be ignorant or aggressive, to want to be this or that.   Those thoughts that flow from an incessant preoccupation with “I, Me, Mine.”

You know what else might underlie us, support us?  Another kind of question or wish or prayer…to be open to something higher or finer or greater than ourselves.   Also there could be a kind of will that is not a kind of pushing but a willingness to try to see what really is and to be seen.   It takes courage.   But otherwise, a person could end up like that Sakyan, walking away, wagging our tongues, chuckling to ourselves, impervious to the fact that the Awakened One was right there, offering the way out.

22 thoughts on “How to Wake Up

  1. The bridge to the highest, emptying ourselves and being present to the moment without judging or making it about myself. The Buddha’s sense of being fully present in the moment is such a wonderful thing to work towards. I find myself this time of year just walking down the streets and being astonished at the beauty of trees in blossom against a clear blue sky. I have been blessed to be present as a wind from the Dead Sea brushed across my face at the Dead Sea and to smell flowers and sighing trees above the Sea of Galilee on the Mount of Beatitudes. I am struck by the wonder of Creation and am deeply appreciative that I can still myself and be in that wonder. What a grace!

    I also, as a Christian, have been blessed to be attentive to the Spirit’s moving in our world. I relayed the story of the butterfly not too long ago. Other things have been happening as well. Last fall I was talking to a young woman who had left the seminary for awhile due to personal problems. This was the first time I had seen her in a year and we were exchanging pleasantries. She was facing me and the sunlight was playing across her face through a tree behind me. Dappled bits of sun moved across her face as the tree moved in the breeze. Suddenly the movement stopped and a spotlight of sun fixed itself in the center of her forehead. Like the butterfly, it was a moment outside of time, the sun stilled upon her face. I knew God was present and he wanted to use me. I opened my mouth to speak and out came words that were not mine…how good it was to see her…how we had all missed her so much…how good she looked. She broke into a big smile and came over to me and hugged me. I had a very clear sense of the Spirit speaking love through me to this young woman.

    Another thing happened recently with another young woman I know who has had a difficult time. She has been separated from her husband for a couple of years. Her beloved father passed away a year ago and she misses him greatly. She had had her heart broken by another man who she thought she was going to marry. She was filled with anxiety and worry. We communicate on Facebook and she has a habit of typing single random words. She often just types “word” for no reason other than to be random. She did this to me last week and I sat I front of my computer and stilled myself…what should I type in response to her “word.” The word Jupiter came into my mind so that’s what I typed. Later I got this frantic response from her to call her. I called and she asked why I typed Jupiter. I said for no other reason than it popped into my head. She screamed at me that Jupiter was the name of her father’s cat. I stopped and smiled…Anna, this is God in work in your life. It is God, or your father, telling you that he loves you and that he is with you always. Since then, her anxiety has left her and she is slowly taking steps back towards a relationship with her husband and reforming her family that includes her three year old daughter.

    Now, I tell you these stories not to glorify myself but to glorify God. He is at work in all of our lives and it is up to us to be sensitive to the movings of the Spirit. I am a Christian so I see all this in the context of a Trinitarian God. I see the Trinitarian God as a relational God of love that seeks to love us and all those around us.

    I hope these stories give you hope and I also pray that you can all open yourselves to the stillness and the grace of God moving in your lives.


    1. These are beautiful stories, Scott. They do give me hope that God or the Highest can appear in our lives, if only we can be still enough to see it. Peace on Earth, Tracy

  2. Tracy, reading this most recent post I woke up to the fact that you’re a good writer and tell an old story very well. You make it fresh and alive for today’s mind. It is no wonder you have the position that you do. I didn’t see that when I first walked on to your blog. My eyes were on my own writing. Thank you for opening them wide enough to be moved by your words. Your question of how we wake up is perhaps the central question isn’t it? I think I follow you when you leave the Buddha’s perceptions and suggest that we could perhaps begin by stopping those thoughts that are aggressive and harmful, ones that make us crave for things or shrink from them, ones that make us the center of the universe. Surely beginning there would calm our thoughts down enough to begin to silence them altogether, since we wouldn’t be disturbed by the trouble such thoughts bring. My path in fact suggests this method, saying that when we are able to quiet the vital or life mind and the physical mind, terms used to denote what part of the being thinks such thoughts, we can then be clear and calm enough both to enter the mental silence and to see and feel the all-pervading presence of what we can but call the highest, since it is that and as well a mystery we cannot define.
    But my teachers warn of a readily available and well-grooved pitfall in employing this method: making morality, right action in thought and deed, the end and be all and not simply a means to an end. When we put morality at the top of our endeavor we open ourselves to having reactions that disturb both ourselves and the world in our climb to wakefulness. I’m speaking here of the moral reaction we have either in response to our own or another’s shortcomings. In the throes of such a reaction we become momentarily blind with guilt and humiliation at our fall or indignation and self-righteousness at another’s, making it much more difficult to feel the true remorse and sorrow that comes from the soul that sweetly and calmly enables us to pick ourselves up and move on or help another to surmount their evil. The harm that the immoral have caused the world is clear and evident. I myself can see the mess I’ve caused with the things I’ve done wrong. But the harm that the self-righteous have given to the world is perhaps equal to or greater than that of the evildoer, something that might become more apparent if we examine all the violence done in the name of right, from making war to killing bad people to giving someone doing something bad a condescending and judgmental look. In my own experience, it’s been looks like that have crawled around inside with my wrong, making it all the more stronger and more difficult to overcome. It is after all of the same essence of evil, a wrong response to the birth and death of things.

    1. I very much agree that morality can be a trap if we put it on top, and that enormous damage has been done by the self-righteous. The Inquisition! What I took from the story I mentioned, is that self-centered, grasping thoughts–and also perceptions–are more constricted and limited. And lead to yet more selfish, aggressive fear-driven thoughts. How to break out of that trap? See it, for starters.

  3. Perception is everything, oddly enough this a mantra used quite often in the business world, but it applies to the world in general as well. In business, not only do you want to be doing a good job, you want to be perceived as doing a good job. Toyota is struggling with all sorts of perceptions right now in relation to their corporate image. Stock prices in the market place rise and fall on perceptions and miss-perceptions.

    Politicians are always worried about peoples perceptions, and you will often see them shifting positions to adjust those perceptions for both the media and their constituents. It’s interesting isn’t, how we can trap ourselves by these perceptions.

    This is the great mistake at work in the world.

    From a Buddhist-Christian perspective you could say that sin or separation arises out of our suffering, our sorrow, our disappointments, and our clinging or attachment to our desires; what is called the “imagined pattern”. Where people assume that the images they perceive, by and in themselves, really offer something desirable for them to grasp after or cling to. This is the everyday delusion or the ordinary pattern by which the world works. The quest for money and power, rage for revenge, the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, sloth, jealousy, avarice, lust, and anger – or more concisely, the three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion.

    I see a pot of gold, I want it I take it; if I later lose it I’m angry. If a man sees a beautiful women, he desires her; if she rejects him, he is hurt. These are imagined patterns because the images do not represent reality. They are constructs of our own perception and are in fact transient, ephemeral – like bubbles in a spring, like the son of a barren woman, or horns on a rabbit, as the Buddhist say.

    The mind functioning in the imagined pattern is a lazy mind, that falls back again and again on habitual attitudes, which were formed in the past and continue to distort human thinking. So, in this sense, sin (what we cling to and desire) is an obstacle to living freely and fully.
    In this pattern, the mind fails to reflect upon or ask any questions about the images it perceives, and failing to gain insight into that image, follows a natural bent toward self delusion.

    The mind does not bother to ask how we process the images in our world, the sounds we hear, or the things we see. It accepts and acts on those images at face value.

    I want to talk a little bit about obstacles from a Christian perspective and I want to give you two different models that come from Fr. Thomas Keating, who I’m sure you know. They both have to do with the true self and the false self. The true self being your pure, beautiful, lovely, delightful soul that was created in God’s image; and the false self is this ego self that we created around it that gets in the way of us living our true self.

    One of the ways that we think about as Christians, of this false self getting created, is all of the labels that get attached to us from when we were very young. Some of those labels and names are lovely and some of the labels and names are not so lovely, starting in some playground somewhere. And we identify ourselves with those labels and with those names and we begin to think that’s who we really are. Can you hear the voice of someone saying, “don’t be stupid,” or “I need this or that.” or “I don’t have enough.” Whatever enough is, it is never enough, is it?

    If you think about it, so many of our miss-perceptions arises out of our own fears. This is the great mistake working overtime. Our fears drive us.

    And these fears push us to live in a sense of scarcity, that there’s not enough. I have to horde; I have to compete against other people to get as much as I can. I live in fear that I’m not going to have enough power and control or affection and esteem and I live in envy because someone has more than me. And I live in this terrible treadmill where I can’t ever feel heaven. And God’s just heart-broken.

    God’s not angry that I do bad things; God’s heart-broken that I’m paralyzed, that I can’t live freely, that I’m bound by these cravings and these addictions; that I’m paralyzed by this false sense of myself as “he who always says stupid things,” and I can’t live freely in the world, and I can’t walk freely in the world because I’m paralyzed by all of this.

    Now that’s the problem.

    We are fooled all the time by false perceptions and “the Great Mistake” as taught in the Yoga Sutra is in thinking that what we perceive is actually real. It is this mistaken perception that causes all the pain in the world. The most important day in our spiritual journey is the day we first stop the Great Mistake. The day we stop seeing things the wrong way. We do this through and on a journey of deep prayer and meditation.

    And it is a journey to see the way we really are: to see that we are not at all the way we always thought we were.
    In Buddhism we call our first contact with this ultimate reality, the Path of Seeing. Until the day we see, our life continues to follow after the tragic mistake our mind is making, turning things around the wrong way. Turning things around begins first with a change of heart, a heart that wishes to see beyond pain and illusion, into the very heart and mystery of God. There is a Greek word for this, Metanoia; meaning repentance or changing one’s mind.

    In Tibetan Buddhism it is called developing a Good Heart.

    What is the meaning of Metanoia; changing one’s heart and mind. Metanoia, denotes a change of mind or a change of heart, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of our vision of the world and of ourselves. It involves a new way of seeing and a new way of loving others and God.

    It implies “great understanding,” discernment. It involves, not mere regret of past evil or of a life that has been lived in fear and separation from God and others. But a recognition by ourselves that our vision of life is clouded and even a darkened vision, that we are seeing through a veil and live in a state of sin or separation and that we are reduced to a divided, inauthentic autonomous existence, deprived of natural joy and freedom.

    1 Corinthians 13 – The Gift of Love

    “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

    11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

    * Greek – in a riddle

    1. I’m glad you mentioned the heart. I do believe waking up starts (and ends) there. There has to be a shift in attitude, a wish to stop living for myself.

  4. The question of how to wake up seems timely. It is my question too.

    When sitting, especially, I am awake for a moment and then I fall asleep. I am not aware of falling asleep. I am only aware when again I am awake for a moment and see the ending edge of sleep in a thought, in an emotion in a physical posture of the face. I have reasoned that I cannot will myself to be awake always. Obviously work, efforts toward awareness of one’s self, helps in this direction. But I see clearly that I often do not work. Even believing in the power of the higher doesn’t help. I must work at seeing what I am and give up sleep in the many forms of which I am made. What can remind me more often to remember to look at how I am?

    My state of attention can change the world as Scott seems to have also discovered.

    While it is true that we spend a great deal of sleep in both thought and emotion the advice to let thought go, drop it, can be taken wrongly. In an ordinary way this cannot be done. It is like trading at the flea market. Swapping one piece of junk for another.

    Yet we need to extricate ourselves from the sleep of thought and emotion if we are to have an attention that can received finer impressions, give us glimpses of higher worlds. So we come back to the question of how to wake up? The more real, the more urgent this question becomes for me the more possibility for understanding the way.

    1. I also think there is an attitude of questioning that helps me unclasp the grip of thought….or an attitude of willingness. I just heard the Pali word for “effort” is the same as the word for “courage.” We have to be willing to be seen.

  5. When you say waking up I take it you mean an actual change of consciousness, in this instance into a state known by many names: Buddha consciousness, enlightenment, pure awareness, realization, liberation, static Brahman, silent mind, the no-self state, consciousness without an object, etc.? If you do mean that how do you personally balance or suggest others balance the aspiration towards that with the fact that it looms so large upon the horizon one and the same time the next natural step we are to take and some remote possibility much too big for who we are now?

    1. I’d like to suggest that this change in consciousness isn’t that hard, since every time you change your mind, you are changing consciousness. By simply bowing our heads in prayer we invoke such a change of mind.

      Fr. Thomas Keating and others teach that this does not take effort, but rather consent. As soon as we give that consent, God is there, God is always there anyway. God is always in the same room with us, we just need to stop looking right through him/her and see the divine presence before our own face. Jesus once said it this way.

      John 14

      Jesus the Way to the Father

      14‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’

      I think we know and remember where God dwells and when we enter into prayer, we are entering into God. That place has already been prepared for us, we simply have to enter into it.

  6. Ron in your poem it seems to me that you’re reaching for the essence of poetry. Few poems do that with any power. The last verse especially, in my opinion, is an ample ray of that splendor. In response to your comment I’ve written a few lines:

    Often while we are dreaming
    We get up from this couch.
    We have some wakefulness,
    A golden glimpse
    Into a capacity we know we do not yet fill.
    It’s larger than words understand.
    That’s our calling.
    There is our horn.
    Rummage through your pockets.
    You couldn’t find it.
    I’ve sent sadhana a letter:
    High touchdown.

    1. Thanks for the poetic response Donny, nicely done.

      My poem actually came from a conversation I had with a visual artist friend, who said that each artist must develop their own language. It struck me then that this is quite true, and that our job as artist, writers, and poets is to develop a new language.

      It’s like we are bringing all the different parts together into one body, an arm from Jesus, a leg from Buddha, a heart from Rumi, a hand from Eliot and Julian of Norwich, a finger from Plath or Sexton or Dickinson, hope from Blake, enlightenment from Herbert; you get the idea.

      We are piecing it altogether’ it’s like we have already done the very hard work of deconstructing and are now bringing all the pieces back together as one, with one voice.


  7. Here is poem from Vassar Miller, whose living room I once sat in over 20 years ago. Learning and Learning and Learning. She loved poetry so very much. Vassar was a hoot, with a little dog named Cricket who looked just like Toto from the Wizard of Oz. He was smart too!

    To Jesus on Easter
    By Vassar Miller

    You see the universe, as I see daylight,
    opening to your heart
    like fingers of a little child uncurling.

    It lies to you no more than wood to blade,
    nor will you tell me lies.
    Only fools or cowards lie. And you are neither.

    Not that I comprehend You, who are simpler
    than all our words about you,
    and deeper. They drop around you like dead leaves.

    Yet I can trust you. You resembling me—
    two eyes, two hands, two feet,
    fives senses and no more—will cup my being,

    spilling toward nothingness, within your palm.
    And when the last bridge breaks,
    I shall walk on the bright span of your breath.

  8. Ron’s blog and Tracy’s Parabola blog, first pardon me for coming on like such a know it all, a challenger, a person just wanting to get a point across in our beginning communications. I have a common malady to those who walk the spiritual path, the spiritual ego. I am, however, in contact with my soul well enough to surmount it, but as long as I am still in ego consciousness that involves adjustments to every new situation. In making those compensations for surpassing the ego’s, in this case the complicated spiritual ego’s, attempt to carry the day, I try to rely more on the intuition than on the rational mind. It’s a practice, a discipline really, to maintain and strengthen my connection to the divine, which I feel the soul has some substance with, but I’m getting into details here that could provoke. I can sum it up by saying that the only thing I do know is that I am not “on the other side” in terms of consciousness or awareness or whatever one would call it. I am in ego consciousness.
    The part of me putting me to the higher, to the divine, to God, to the One, is calling on me to be quite conscious in this instance of breaking a practice of my path. I’m learning to be as silent as possible inwardly and outwardly so to be focused only on my image of the highest. I have to say that I am not very silent, but I manage to make my daily rounds keeping some connection at least in the mind if not in the heart to the divine. My path teaches that it is possible to make one’s way even in the hump and trump of life and be silent, speaking and taking and only for necessity’s sake. It’s a way of calling on that state that we can describe in so many ways, the one that has been in our conversations. There are states on my path beyond that state and as well that can coincide with it, so the practice would change if you were on that other side in the silence and still reaching for something higher I’d imagine. Maybe the practice then would be to reconnect with the material and personal realm but in a liberated state. You’d have to make noise to do that it seems to me, getting that deeply into life, but I’m far into and over theological lines, discussing theological points, and so let me return to the personal communication I’m trying to make from the point of view of a poet.
    In an attitude of silence I heard the word theologian in my inner spaces, followed by something not relevant to what I’m saying here, and the voiced ceased by telling me that it was my choice. It’s so typical of divine guidance I find, to give me the choice. So I’m choosing to leave off these communications with yours and other blogs and allow my poetry to be that part in me that talks at the world, if the public ever hears any of it. Most of us don’t get listened to very much or very long by the world, if at all. And everybody wants to be heard sometimes. So with my public voice, if that were to ever sound, I’d rather be a poet than a theologian. See, I am squarely in ego consciousness with my preferences and divisions, but in this case, it’s not so foolish. Thank you for being an instrument for teaching me that. Here is a bit of inner verse that coincided with these communications:

    We need to fight cause we’re thirsty.
    As high as a ground bird,
    As swift as molten lava,
    That’s our call to one another.
    I’m really looking at the terrorist problem,
    Our own.
    It’s ourselves we fight.
    I’m not different from anybody else.
    Skies we’re on.
    I could
    Do it
    Much better.
    Oh, what do we got here?
    Sure you come.

  9. “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
    Through the unknown, unremembered gate
    When the last of earth left to discover
    Is that which was the beginning;
    At the source of the longest river
    The voice of the hidden waterfall
    And the children in the apple-tree
    Not known, because not looked for
    But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
    Between two waves of the sea.
    Quick now, here, now, always—
    A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flame are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one.”

    T. S. Eliot – with a touch of Julian of Norwich

    “Often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not hindered: for then, methought, all should have been well.” “Sin is behovable—[playeth a needful part]—; but all shall be well

    But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; (Synne is behovabil) but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

    (56) And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth (i.e. truth, an actual reality) that sin is the cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well.

  10. Can anybody translate that for Tracy ? I want to communicate a very simple wake up call :
    ” simply be ”

    Die Erde ist die Mutter die mich nährt
    der Himmel ist der Vater der mich lehrt.
    Ich bin aus beiden, bin ihr Sinn,
    we ich ihr Kind und auch ihr Meister bin.


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