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  • Karl Thunemann

When Intuition Takes a Tumble

By a leap of intuition, I felt I knew the meaning of lojong slogan #3 at first glance: Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

I just knew what it meant. I could see its force in my life. Contemplating that force reinforces my capacity to believe that somehow everything that has happened or will ever happen is unfolding right now, within and around us.

Earthrise, as seen from the moon

A favorite instance sprang to mind. I have not always been a devotee of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god who is known as the Lord of Obstacles. I “discovered” Ganesha in my early 60s. Then, as a new devotee, looking back over my life I recalled several occasions when I was exposed to danger and escaped without serious injury. Perhaps Ganesha, sensing the arc of my life well before I did, had set forth this veil of protection, even when I was a child. I would be one of “his”! And so this wisdom had provided me a harbor long before it was “born.” And I knew when it was born, almost to the moment. Perhaps it required a little magical, mystical manipulation, but I was ready to sit down at the sloganeer’s table with a fork in hand and a napkin in the other. Bring it on.

As I duly read my Lojong “bible,” I was almost completely unaware that it made no sense to me. Later that day, I thought unblinkingly that I would have to read it again.

I turned zealously to the discussion of slogan #3 in my lojong bible, The Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion through Training the Mind, by Traleg Kyabgon. This would be great! The discussion is brief, from page 52 to 54, and stunning. I could not comprehend it. As I duly read, I was almost completely unaware that it made no sense to me. Later that day, I thought unblinkingly that I would have to read it again. Which I did, several days later.

Unborn awareness is not what I supposed. It is more of a state. It is called absolute bodichitta—the enlightened mind. My “bible” offers a short list of what it is not: Not a feeling nor an idea, not a sensation nor even an experience. There seem to be two aspects of awareness. One—relative awareness, is what we use to navigate everyday life. Most of the 59 slogans address these issues. But absolute bodichitta—the awareness that is called unborn—is different. It seems experiential, but experience comes and goes—but here there is “a vast, open, and clear spaciousness that does not come and go, that does not have a beginning, middle or end, which is why it is ‘unborn.’ It never enters the stream of time, turmoil or pain.”

My confusion lasts for weeks. I cannot say for sure that it has passed. Then it occurs to me that my source may have made the subject too complicated. I search the web for other commentary, looking for something simpler. What I find is generally simpler, but it seems to miss something that I cannot put into words.

I am the one who added to the complexity by trying to siphon unborn awareness through my experience with Ganesha. I have I set out to unravel the two, but I do not yet see how that is done. Finally I take refuge in the slogan itself: “Examine the nature of unborn awareness.” It’s not like going to Sunday school. Once I get used to this idea, I really can begin to examine it. Which, I suppose, means live with it.

A relevant practice

In my wanderings, I discover a helpful suggestion from Judith Lief, a prominent writer and editor who delves into Buddhist texts and ideas. May I give it a try for a few days and see where it leads.

Today’s Practice

When you become aware of a thought or an object of perception, notice how solid and separate the perceiver and what is being perceived seem to be, and the seeming solidity of this and that, here and there. Then look at the nature of the awareness itself, before the arising of “this” and “that.” Keep questioning. What is it exactly and where does it come from?


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