For example, it may be a fact that someone doesn’t have much money or lots of things, but it is a cultural or family-based label that that person is a failure. Because such labels or thoughts have no independent existence in reality, they are not a reflection of what’s real. They may seem very real because they are supported by all the messages one receives from our culture or one’s family, but they’re not. Instead, we sense what’s real through our true Buddha nature, by observing without the intervention of thought.
As we walk the path, our meditation practice starts to open the window to our experiencing what’s real differentiated from the product of our thought, which is not real. It is for most of us a slow, incremental process.
But beware! Our thoughts, our way of looking at the world, are so deeply ingrained in us that even when we are deep in meditation and think we are seeing things clearly, think we are in touch with our true Buddha nature, we may in fact still be seeing things through our ego-mind ... it is that wily and strong.
The situation is less likely to develop regarding cravings or thoughts we have that are not socially acceptable because we have cultural support for distancing ourselves from these habit-energies. But for cravings and thoughts which are not just socially acceptable but are key ingredients of the cultural messages we are bombarded with, it is more difficult.
Let me give you an example. At one point in the past I moved back to Chicago. My goal was to get a job, find some meaningful volunteer work, and establish a close circle of friends (my old ones were no longer around). Now, each of these goals is totally reasonable and appropriate, both culturally and even spiritually ... they are consistent with the Five Precepts.
But I did not approach these goals with equanimity. I obsessed about them; they were cravings. And so when I struck out on all fronts ... I did meet some nice new acquaintances with whom I socialized, but building friendships, especially of the quality and depth that develops over 25 years, takes a long time ... I got disgusted with Chicago and decided to leave.
At this point in my life, I had been walking the path for 10 years, meditated daily, and had benefited from some very powerful teaching. I also had had a break-through retreat in which I discovered my oneness with all things. But despite all of that, I did not “see” that I was not seeing clearly regarding these goals; that I was wound up in my ego-mind.
It was only recently, when I was talking with a friend about the power of our ego-mind and it’s ability to trick us into thinking we’re observing without the intervention of thought, that this experience flashed through my mind and I had a “eureka” moment. How sad. But what’s past is past. My point in relating this story is to emphasize the traps that our ego-mind sets for us, even during meditation.
So how does one not fall into this trap if one is not enlightened? The answer .is that whenever you think you are seeing things clearly, without the intervention of thought, you must ask yourself are you really seeing things as they are. Observe whether you are in a state of equanimity; observe whether something is going on which is amiss, at odds with the teachings, your spirituality.
I did not do that back then with regard to these matters. Others that were recognized as harmful, yes. But not these. I’m sure if I had, I would have seen my goals for what they were ... cravings. I was not in a state of equanimity. I was constantly frustrated, which as I said in an earlier post is a red flag, our “canary in the mine.” And I would have meditated on accepting my life as it was at that moment because it’s just the way it was and focused on all the wonderful things in my life.
This is just one more example of the constant challenge of walking the path. Just as soon as you think you’ve got one aspect “under your belt,” you realize that there’s something else that needs tending. And on and on it goes. But the point is that you are always moving forward. Every moment you are aware, in conscious contact with your true Buddha nature, is a moment free of suffering. And as those moments build, the benefit of that state of mind affects you even when you are not aware.