Be A Spark Unto Yourself

This past week, I’ve been noting how the desire to be this or that, the desire to have this or that.  I’ve been noting what the Buddha called ignorance.  The Buddha gave a teaching on how suffering arises and is perpetuated.  It is called “dependent origination,” and it describes the factors that condition and drive our heart and mind.  Ignorance is the first link in the chain, and it is always activated by a conscious or unconscious desire.  In other words, our craving blots out the sun (or Son, for my Christian friends) by placing an imaginary self smack in the center of the solar system.    Out of ignorance comes volition, the impulse to do.  We are vessels of the life force and we are always creating, but as we are conditioned to be we are not participating in Creation but preoccupied with creating a self in our own or another’s mind, puffing ourselves up or tearing ourselves down.  What if instead we chose to create a better, wiser attention.  What if we chose to stop and look at ourselves and the world around us?   But what really conditions–limits–the way we see?  According to the Buddhists, as we ordinarily are, we take in impressions and have feelings  that are not just based on sensory data, but on craving and clinging–and ultimately on the willful ignorance it takes to insist on being an imaginary someone or becoming someone.  This craving and clinging leads us to take birth in one state or another (I must be with this person, have that car, etc.) and all births inevitably lead to aging, death, sorrow, and the rest.

BUT!  BUT! BUT!  There is a way to stop the blind bus driver from driving us mad.  There is a way to just stop and see the sun (Son) and all the rest of life without our own huge imaginary selves blotting out the view.   I used to think that “cessation” meant something very nihilistic–barely living, being a wandering sadhu.  But now I think it means holding an activity or impulse so it can be known–touched, even for a nanosecond.    In English to suffer means to hold, to bear, and the promise in Buddhism is that we can hold our thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. in the light of attention.  What I’m learning to appreciate more and more is what it means to know, to suffer intentionally or voluntarily.  I hope I’ll have more to say about this, but one thing I know already:  love and compassion–towards what we see and experience–are essential.  Compassion is a saving grace.  It invites us to be part of a greater Whole.  We wake up with the help of something greater than ourselves.

19 thoughts on “Be A Spark Unto Yourself

  1. I really like this statement … in the light of attention.

    “In English to suffer means to hold, to bear, and the promise in Buddhism is that we can hold our thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. in the light of attention. ”

    The whole concept of dependent origination and arising is so critical to our understanding of self, and that the self arises out of the relationships we have with others and the world.

    Here of course, is another poem that tries to touch on this.

    You could also say that “Dependent Origination” is why Jesus taught the following …

    “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

  2. “the primal depths of the heart drive the mind”

    if only this were true we would all live exemplary lives in a state of bliss.

    the truth, before imagination tidies things up, is just as gurdjieff tells us. we are broken machines. why can’t we just admit this and start at the real beginning?

    answer: because seeing impartially is beyond any state we can experience without special conditions. and there are so many ways to choose from. lives will be spent following ways which do not lead to awakening.

    all of this bowing to religions (religions which have failed to bring peace to the world) is so passe’. new experiments are needed to bridge this gap of perception. not retrying the old ideas.

    gurdjieff says that conscience is unaffected by all the baggage of ideas and faiths. in other words, you cannot tell people what to do… what is right or wrong objectively, and that’s the real world rolling along without higher guidance.

    i can say this but i am under the same spell as everyone.

    1. Scott, if we were collectively admit this, it would destroy the New Age movement as well as secular Interfaith. It would mean becoming open to the humility to start from the beginning. It means inviting hell only few are capable of.

      “Only the descent into the hell of self-knowledge can pave the way to godliness.” -Immanuel Kant –

    2. I agree with you, Scott. Indeed, after sitting with a great group of people yesterday evening–and talking a little about the Buddha’s teaching on Dependent Origination–I was filled with the question “what do I know?” What really belongs to me–not Buddha, not Madame de Salzmann–just me. It became clear that there is one thing, one “attainment” (it seems the opposite–a stripping away). I know how to bear things, to endure or suffering–and I know what it feels like to refuse, to seek distraction, to be anywhere but here. I agree with what you say about impartial seeing. But the primal depths of the heart also include an unknown capacity to be like a mother lion–to fight to the death for her cubs, etc. In other words, what is up to me is not what comes from above but my ability to sit with what comes from below–the onslaught of Mara, the savagery of my own grasping at the life force. Neither denying or indulging it, just bearing witness. I can know myself, and knowing myself–it’s like the Buddha touching the earth and acknowledging his right to sit under the Bodhi tree.

      I don’t look at other traditions like Buddhism for answers so much as company on the way. Also, learning new languages wakes up my old brain.

      As do these comments,


  3. “I used to think that “cessation” meant something very nihilistic–barely living, being a wandering sadhu. But it means arresting an activity or impulse so it is seen clearly–even for a nano second. In English to suffer means to hold, to bear, and the promise in Buddhism is that we can hold our thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. in the light of attention.”

    After you have meditated for a period, have seen your own mind suffer the Three Poisons (aversion, desire and ignorance), have generated intention and bodhichitta to see your own and others suffering with compassion and love, you begin to change the world.
    Ron Liefer discusses this process in The Happiness project and Vinegar into Honey

  4. Thank you, Lew. and after reflecting more, I edited my post to be not seeing but knowing. suddenly, it occurs to me that what’s really possible is not to see from a detached distance but to participate in a new way, to contain the suffering consciously. and that does generate compassion.

  5. Hi Tracy

    I agree that we need the spark. The trick is in admitting that at the beginning it is all we are capable of. For example from Beelzebub′s Tales:

    One day while instructing some of his closest initiates, Saint Buddha spoke in very precise terms about a means for the possible destruction in their nature of the consequences of the properties of the organ kundabuffer, transmitted to them by heredity. Among the things he said to them was this:
    ′One of the best means of rendering ineffective the predisposition in your nature to crystallize the consequences of the properties of the organ kundabuffer is “intentional suffering”; and the greatest “intentional suffering” can be obtained in our presences by compelling ourselves to endure the displeasing manifestations of others toward ourselves.′

    Simone Weil wrote:

    the virtue of humility is nothing more nor less than the power of attention.

    Humility is attentive patience.

    “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.”

    “Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him.”

    It seems as though humility that can arise as a lawful result of practiced attention can lead to genuine compassion as opposed to acting.

    It is often thought that the ego is the problem. Yet it is the ego that can consciously connect our inner world with the external world. It is this ego that makes Socrates wish a potential:

    “May the outward and inward man be at one.” Socrates

    Jesus asserts that the lilies of the field are superior to Solomon since their outside reflects their inside. Solomon as an expression of the human condition lacks this normalcy.

    This always seems to be the problem for me. It is the assumption that I am normal and the concern is just in doing the right thing or in acting in the right way. Yet I can experience that the problem is my corrupt ego that is incapable of consciously connecting my inner world with the external world. The conscious connection is replaced by satisfying habitual imagination. Compasion is normal for human being. Yet it is the fallen human condition that denies normalcy.

    I often work during the day as a musician/entertainer in nursing homes and senior centers. In nursing homes I am paid to create good times, a form of escapism. It is necessary for some going through hard times and I am appreciated for creating these good times.

    There have been times where I would try and put myself into the position of another, externally consider, or “give attention.” It is very hard for me to do since something in me does not want to be this real.

    But the spark is a necessary beginning, It seems that it is through experiential humility, or consciously opening to reality, that it becomes possible.

  6. It is in singing or playing an instrument (I think) that it is said that we pray twice.
    You have a gift, and it’s good to hear that you share it.
    Music always speaks to my soul, and renews it with the elderly
    I’m sure the fee that is paid is nominal!. And I’m sure that you are showing love and compassion by doing this.

    1. Actually Liz, I’m not all that wonderful. I have to be practical as well. Bills have to be paid and they are not all that altruistic.

      For me not to be paid a fair amount, I would need to be doing something else during the day to pay these cold hearted bills and would not be able to give as I do.

      But that isn’t to say music doesn’t serve its purpose just because I have to admit practical necessities.

      I’m trying to get the hang of dealing with the truism that I must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Not so easy.

  7. Humility–suffering the unpleasant manifestations of others and in general trying to be harmless and compassionate, not always expressing my views and opinions. I’ve been working with this lately and I’ve begun to see that it is not unrelated this other subject, being paid for your work. Being humble does not mean cowering. It means (as you indicated Nick) extending a compassionate attention to others and to yourself. I believe Gurdjieff speaks of this–not being lower than others or placing yourself above them, but being equal, seeing eye to eye.

    1. Hi Tracy

      I believe Gurdjieff speaks of this–not being lower than others or placing yourself above them, but being equal, seeing eye to eye.

      I see it best expressed in his distinction between internal and external considering. Can we be capable of external considering, putting ourselves into the postion of another, without first surrendering our slavery to internal considering or being dominated by the opinions of others?

      1. a crucial effort…and first we have to see how much craving to be this or that, to be valued, to be seen as this or that, goes on…amazing how we spend our precious days.

  8. Humility can also mean, becoming a servant to all, but not in a subservient way. The greatest teachers we’ve known, are people with an attitude of humility who truly serve others through their teaching and example. The Dali Lama would be a good living example, as would Bede Griffiths, or Mother Teresa who answered “the call within the call.”

    I like the word humus which is connected to humility; meaning “from the earth”, or “humid”, since it derives in turn from humus (earth).

    Would you desire warm and humid heart, or a dry and cracked heart?

    Some of the modern day Secretary-Generals of the United Nations would also qualify in this sense it seems.

    Dag Hammarskjöld and U Thant

  9. Thank you for that link, Ron. Humility does have to do with being down to earth–and with touching the earth as the Buddha did just before he was enlightened–and with the extraordinary quality that Mother Theresa had (not to mention Jesus, come down to Earth). It’s intriguing that it’s the opposite of self-abasement. In a way, it’s agreeing to take the truly human place, between the angels and animals.

  10. Hi Tracy

    a crucial effort…and first we have to see how much craving to be this or that, to be valued, to be seen as this or that, goes on…amazing how we spend our precious days.

    This is one reason why I am so wary of loveliness. It often justifies the slavery of internal considering by psychologically believing it to be the freedom of external considering.

    It isn’t pleasant when I witness it in myself.

  11. Nick’s last comment makes me think of the word sublime.

    I’ve heard soldiers speak of experiencing moments that are sublime in the very midst of war or in the middle of a fierce battle or firestorm. They describe it as a moment in which they feel some disconnection from themselves, like they are looking at the situation from outside themselves.

    But, it is also a feeling of being intimately connected with the moment as well, with an intense sense of awareness that transcends where they are, even opens them to new possibilities. It’s like a sacramental moment, one that is a very much a paradox.

    Beauty and loveliness too, can lead us to states of the sublime. We may run across it in meditations, or in listening to a piece played by a master like John Coltrane.

    It seems like it can be a moment of cessation and arresting all movement, both inner and outer.

    I once hit a hole-in-one playing golf, that was almost a sublime moment, certainly an unbelievable one.

    You’ve probably have all had your share, but I think they are rare moments that we can see as gifts of grace perhaps. Haiku’s may be sublime — or they may at least arrest a single moment — now.

    Night, and the moon!
    My neighbor, playing on his flute –
    out of tune!

    No one travels
    Along this way but I,
    This autumn evening.

    On New Year’s Day
    I long to meet my parents
    as they were before my birth.

    The only language
    I really know, is the
    language of poetry.

  12. Ron.
    Have you ever tried using a haiku for a reading of scripture???? I do that in the morning as I read my Daily Mass…Just three lines to sum up for me how scripture is speaking to me…and then one word to carry with me from that haiku to remind me during the day of my time with the Lord.

    1. Wondeful idea Elizabeth – the Psalms or Psalter are great for this.

      Psalm 51 – Verse 7

      For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
      and will make me understand wisdom secretly

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