“Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate” #1

I received this translation of the “gate” mantra from Dan Brown who is a Tibetan Teacher:

From the end of the Heart Sutra:

Gate, gate – beyond thought
Paragate – beyond personal identity
Parasamgate- beyond constructions of Time
Bodhi – awakened awareness gone beyond individual consciousness
Svaha – ohh, ah, wow!

I went to a Dan Brown Retreat about three years. Dan Brown is a Tibetan teacher. That retreat produced a great change in me and was very clarifying of the teaching and of what I’m trying to do.

The above is an explanation of the classic mantra, “gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi, svaha.” This meaningful, short unpacking of the famous mantra incorporates many of the teachings and development of enlightenment in Buddhism.

Going beyond thought .

This is the essence of concentration or Samadhi. We are training the mind to still itself and be at ease. We want to interrupt clinging or believing in a solid sense of story. We learn that our stories are the mind’s constructions. Even though there is a historic, karmic through line in our lives, strickly speaking, that through line is a mental construction. The true reality only arises in this very moment. In order to realize this, our mind’s have to be quiet and quite clear, like the sky. How do we get a clear mind? We learn to let go of the unnecessary chatter, and to be at ease with the moment that is actually happening. In order to succeed at quieting the mind, at first, there needs to be a great effort to concentrate. Once our minds have learned how to place itself or the mind has stabilized, then we can begin easing up. We can sit quite relaxed with a quiet mind.  This is what our teachers mean by training the mind and staying with the present moment. Within the present moment the “whole works” is expressed, both historic and universal perspectives simultaneously. But we can’t stay with the present moment if our mental constructions are out of control. We are constantly going up into our heads to evaluate things and figure life out. If we move to a place of an open, restful mind, then we can, with direct contact, experience our life.

“Think of not thinking. How do we think of not-thinking. Non-thinking – what kind of thinking is that? Non-thinking.

— Dogen, Fukanzazengi

Going beyond personal identity

One very deep and existential koan is “Who am I?” Or what is the self? Consensus reality fosters the belief that there is a centralized self or even a “soul”. Much of Buddhism is deconstructing this belief and opening up to the nature of inter-being. We are not an independent unit; solid and isolated. We are, in fact, as Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully puts it, made of non-self elements. The more we investigate the self, we cannot find one solid self. The more we investigate the stories of “our” life, we realize that the past is gone and the future has not been produced, so only the influences of our stories remain in the now. It’s ironic that when I think about “my” past, what I notice is my selective memory. I construct the past or who I am, caused by my history, through the use of this very limited memory. We see our life through the lens of what we consider to be our personal identity. Katagiri Roshi used to say, through a very narrow telescope. We see things always circulating around or self-centered ideas. What’s good for me? We see things through a system of our self-centered desires.  At a certain point in practice, that self-identity can drop away and be replaced by a sense of participating in the whole. The boundaries of self start to include others like a parent when a child is born. All of a sudden, the world swirls around the baby not you. We begin to go beyond ourselves. We can begin to act from the big picture and not just through the screen of our personal desires.

Going beyond constructions of time.

This has been a wonderful contemplation for me. For the past several years, I have been studying Uji, Dogen’s fascicle in the Shobogenzo on Time. I have studied the commentaries by Katagiri Roshi and Okamura Roshi and then really started to practice it in my day-to-day life. Time is a construction of the mind. The present moment is the true reality. All though we have heard this since the moment we walk through a door of a Buddhist Center, the actualizing of this understanding has taken me a long time. It continues to help me release my delusions about life and return to this very moment. It is a way to interrupt my habit patterns of worry, anxiety, fear, anger etc, by realizing that the constructions of the stories can be let go of and a determination on what to do in this moment is the real practice. How should I react to the karma of this moment.

Awakened awareness

Awakened awareness is a clear mind that can access the present moment. It is the true merging of subject and object; to become the activity itself without evaluation. Katagiri Roshi used to say – without poking your head into the experience. Awakened awareness is what Katagiri Roshi would call “just do” or “be completely the experience. The present moment is experienced just as it is without the consciousness of a time line. It is the ability to welcome each moment exactly as it is, as life itself.

Beyond individual consciousness

How can we enter the teaching that there is no centralized self? This is slightly more then letting go of our individual desire system like the phrase, beyond personal identity. That is a psychological realization that we now can see through our desires as just what they are and not be reactive. Going beyond individual consciousness is an even deeper level of knowing the universal perspective. In this level of wisdom, what I would call the existential level of wisdom, we can discover this unbounded openness of the universe. Katagiri Roshi had two ways of looking at this.

  1. 1. The first level or degree as he called it, is knowing the emptiness of an abiding self through studying impermanence and realizing that our lives are based in transiency.
  2. 2. The second degree of emptiness is the actual absence of our own being. We need to taste that emptiness is not produced nor is it stopped. It does not appear nor does it disappear. It is not understood by the mind and consciousness. In order for me to touch this, I have to completely relax my anxiety about being and producing. Perhaps this is why Dogen says “ Don’t have designs on becoming a Buddha”  Implicit in the word “design” is an object, the “I”. To get to this level of understanding, you have to relinquish any designs and any sense of “I” and its accomplishments, both spatially and temporally. It is a complete letting go of mind and a sense of independent being.

Ooh, ah, wow!

Which leaves us, over and over, with the question, “How can we live our life, moment-to-moment, with the basis of operation being this teaching of the true reality? This is called the great activity of practice that continues endlessly.