Keeping Philosophy Juicy
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche urges us to become scholar-practitioners. At the same time, Rinpoche and other lamas, khenpos, lopöns and the texts themselves often warn us against becoming merely “dry scholars.” The tri-fold approach to studying philosophy that is urged upon as at RYI—listening, contemplating, and meditating—is precisely a method to bring vitality to study, to make it into lived experience.
One of the texts that we study is Ju Mipham Rinpoche’s Gateway to Knowledge. It is easy enough to imagine that this compendium of abhidharma, tightly packed with taxonomies, categories and lists, would be a dry philosophical text. As a phenomenology of all that appears and all that we experience, however, I find the more I study it, the more I think about it, the more it is on my mind, then the more the text comes alive and presents itself in life, as life, as if I can read it there everyday, everywhere.
For example, suffering—the first noble truth (which Mipham details according to different systems of categorization)—is omnipresent. In New York City, the first noble truth even rides the subway, putting the three types of suffering on vivid display. That homeless man there in the corner, the suffering of suffering; that polished woman, just across the way, shining with the gleam of expensive clothes and make-up, her glow of self-assurance embodies the suffering of change, for even these peak experiences, when all is well, can’t help but ensure decline. And here, as I look around the subway car in wonder, even just shifting in my seat and absentmindedly picking at my fingernails, always reacting, I display the suffering of conditioned things, what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls “basic anxiousness,” which is expressed by “the way we gaze at the wall or the mountains or the sky, the way we scratch, the way we timidly smile, the way we twitch our faces, the way we move unnecessarily—the way we do everything.”
In saṃsāra, the very way I look around the subway car and describe my fellow travelers already reveals conceptual mind, looking to categorize, narrativize, make sense of. The way I react emotionally and intellectually, even the rise and fall of my bodily tension, stillness and jitteriness, all of this dynamic reaction to my environment works together to fabricate the story of who and where I am, and what I am doing, and why, and thus reveals the everyday mechanism of saṃsāra, the kleśas that initiate and support every action, karma, in a cycle without beginning or end. Mipham Rinpoche’s text teaches us to discern and understand samsaric experience and this understanding helps transform perception, and eventually (causes and conditions coming together, of course!) experience itself.
In this way, I understand texts themselves to be the dynamic expression of reality the way it is without the confusion of conceptual grasping. The texts we study not only point the way, but can come alive in the realm of appearances by supporting the transformation of our perception and experience of this world in which we live, both on and off the meditation cushion. I am grateful to be constantly reminded to infuse our learning with the juice of practice—to listen, contemplate, and meditate.
~ Shireen from USA