This week Dhagpo is closed for one of our twice-yearly vacation times. People head off to various corners of France and sometimes elsewhere to visit family or the ocean or spend some time in meditation retreat. I technically took my vacation time in April to visit my family in the States and it often happens that I take off at unusual times of year, so generally during vacation periods I stay at Dhagpo and keep doing what I normally do, while enjoying the general calm of the center.
But back in January, I made a choice that changes the landscape of these previously mellow weeks. I got involved in a study group connected with the Bodhi Path Centers, and we make a point meeting during Dhagpo’s off moments, in order to benefit from that same calm I usually experience on my own.
Eleven of us are camped out in the living room of the Lama House, poring over a transcript of one of Jigme Rinpoche’s teachings on meditation and working out what is its essential meaning and the subtle connections he makes between practice, daily life, and the traditional teachings that explain how to go about these two.
It’s masterful, really, how precise his teachings are while using simple language and often seeming to wander through a stream of stories and philosophical notions at random. When we sit down to pull out the main ideas and reference points, it reveals a very intentionally structured, detailed guide for progressing on the path.
Through the process, I am learning both the teaching itself, bit by tiny bit, but also, how to study and understand the teaching. It is a double lesson, and a precious one. It also underlines for me the importance of study on all levels, and particularly a solid background in the traditional texts, in order to be able to receive and apply instructions on how to practice.
My favorite nugget of wisdom for today is a clarification between two terms I have struggled to distinguish for aaages. The first is the Tibetan word sheshin, most frequently called awareness, and the second is drenpa, which is typically translated as mindfulness. Both have to do with being present, but in English any distinction we could make is very subjective and contextual. There is no agreed upon precise difference between these two.
But in Tibetan there is, and this shows the limits of translating the teachings. In any case, we have to learn the meaning, for the words as we understand them conventionally are practically useless in regards to Buddhist philosophy, other than as a reminder of the subject at hand. So, the aha moment for today:
Sheshin, what we call awareness, refers to the ability to be present to what arises in the mind. Drenpa, mindfulness, means being able to recall the teachings in this space of awareness. It’s the difference between just sitting around like a vegetable, watching the thoughts zip through our mind, and remembering how we are meant to observe and examine our mind in this state.
Anyway, this is my new understanding. But as always, let me remind you to check with your certified local lama, since I’m just a bum on a cushion with a transcript, trying to make sense of all this.
The other that comes to mind is just gratitude that my days can be useful. I’m still human and I still need vacation, but it’s cool to imagine a time when all my activities will be directly productive, as though someday, instead of just taking vacation at another time, maybe I won’t need time off at all. Haha, good thing I have my family to “force” vacation time on me because I kind of doubt that development is coming soon…