KTC Jacksonville, October 2009
"The buddha in front dissolves into light and merges into oneself."
From the Amitabha sadhana
For the past 2 months I have been spending my Saturday mornings at Karma Thegsum Choling, a Tibetan Buddhist Center in Jacksonville, practicing silent sitting meditation and learning more about the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
I noticed during mantra recitations that most of the practitioners, including the presiding Lama, would keep their eyes open as they held their prayer beads close to their hearts. After making this observation, I sought out some literature and found an article in a Tibetan Buddhist publication which stated that keeping the eyes open was best in order to avoid distractions. This was contrary to what I had learned and practiced in my yoga training, where we normally meditate with the eyes closed in order to enhance awareness and shut out external forces. To be honest, I had become attached to keeping my eyes closed during meditation because I felt more awareness, opening and bliss when I did, so I figured I was doing something "right."
I inquired of the resident Lama in an email as to whether there was a "right" or "wrong" way of maintaining the eyes during prayer. I thought I would get a response email answering my question, however the Lama decided to use it as a way to start off her lecture after practice (which made me feel less silly about asking the question). Lama indicated that generally, there is no correct or incorrect way of keeping the eyes, however there are certain tenets that must be in place in order to meditate properly (specifically, the Seven Dharmas of Vairochana). She also stated that since Buddhism is highly influenced by Indian yogic traditions that the "drishti" or one-pointed focus is similar in that closing the eyes halfway and looking slightly downward was recommended (virtually the same drishti that is used during padmasana in ashtanga). Practicing this drishti aids the mind to rest in its own true nature - which I recently read as being described byYongey Mingyur Rinpoche as a state of "non-meditation," where there is no distinction between stillness or movement, simply basic cognizance.
Referring to a state of bliss that one may experience in meditation, Lama urged caution. Specifically, she said that what "you are getting is a 'high' and you want be careful that you are not chasing something while you meditate." This was very profound for me because I had never looked at my meditation from that perspective. I believed that the more I shut myself off to my surroundings, the deeper I could go within myself and seek mindfulness. There had been times during meditation where I would want to escape and enter my own dreamland, a place where there was no pollution, crime, billboards or noise...I would create a little vacation inside my head. But similar to how an addict may want to reach for that cigarette or cocktail, searching for that state of euphoria during meditation apparently is also a form of attachment......great. Just when I thought I was practicing non-attachment by meditating, I was given a spiritual reality check. Lama advised that one cannot continuously seek some kind of rush when they come to the cushion to meditate. The experience and the way it is carried out may be good on one occasion and not so good on another...it is what it is at that moment and it must be let go of each time.
I am grateful to KTC and its Sangha for their generous welcome, kindness and compassion and Lama Tsultrim Khandro for her patience, guidance and teachings.