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No Such Thing as a True Story by Pema Chodron

The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron Chapter 8: No Such Thing as a True Story

In Taoism there’s a famous saying that goes, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the ultimate Tao.” Another way you could say that, although I’ve never seen it translated this way, is, “As soon as you begin to believe in something, then you can no longer see anything else.” The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.

By the way that we think and by the way that we believe in things, in that way is our world created. In the Middle Ages, everyone accepted the idea, based on fear, that there was only one way to believe; if you didn’t believe that way, you were the enemy. It was death to all forms of creative, fresh thinking. Many things that people had been able to see, people just couldn’t see anymore because they didn’t believe in them. Once they began to think and believe in a certain way, there were all kinds of things that they literally couldn’t hear, see, smell, or touch, because those things were outside their belief system.

Holding on to beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn’t mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these cause the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.

Nowadays, some people are stepping out and exploring, but other people are becoming more entrenched in their beliefs. A polarization is occurring, and as a result, for example, we have some Christians getting hysterical about the film The Last Temptation of Christ because someone dares to say that Christ is not what a lot of people want to think he is. When a belief system is threatened, people may even become so fanatical that they kill and destroy.

An example is the response of Muslims to Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses, in which he suggests that Muhammad was not what they believe he was — and for that they would condemn Rushdie to death. Actually you see this situation everywhere. Protestants are killing Catholics and Catholics are killing Protestants. Hindus are killing Buddhists and Buddhists are killing Hindus. Jews are killing Christians and Christians are killing Jews. Muslims are killing Christians and Christians are killing Muslims. There are wars all over the world because people are insulted that someone else doesn’t agree with their belief system.

Everybody is guilty of it. It’s what is called fundamental theism. You want something to hold on to, you want to say, “Finally I have found it. This is it, and now I feel confirmed and secure and righteous.” Buddhism is not free of it either. This is a human thing. But in Buddhism there is a teaching that would seemingly undercut all this, if people would only listen to it. It says, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” This

means that if you can find Buddha and say, “It’s this way; Buddha is like this,” then you had better kill that “Buddha” that you found, that you can say is like this. Contemplative and mystical Christians, Hindus, Jews, people of all faiths and nonfaiths can also have this perspective: if you meet the Christ that can be named, kill that Christ. If you meet the Muhammad or the Jehovah or whoever that can be named and held on to and believed in, smash it.

Now we get to the interesting part. How do you do that? Although this approach sounds pretty aggressive, when we talk this way, we’re actually talking about the ultimate in nonaggression. People find it quite easy to have beliefs and to hold on to them and to let their whole world be a product of their belief system. They also find it quite easy to attack those who disagree. The harder, more courageous thing, which the hero and the heroine, the warrior, and the mystic do, is continually to look one’s beliefs straight in the face, honestly and clearly, and then step beyond them. That requires a lot of heart and kindness. It requires being able to touch and know completely, to the core, your own experience, without harshness, without making any judgment.

“When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha” means that when you see that you’re grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it’s called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself.

It’s said in the teachings that if you hold on to your belief there will be conflict. There’s a wonderful story about this. There was a god who knew how men and women love to believe things to be true and make clubs and religions and political systems with the people who agree with them. They just love to make something out of nothing and then write its name on a big banner and march down the street waving it and yelling and screaming, only to have people who believe the opposite come toward them with their banner, yelling and screaming. This god decided to try to prove a point about the human condition so that people might, in seeing the absurdity of it, have a good laugh. (A good laugh is the best way to kill the Buddha.) He constructed a big hat divided right down the middle, the left side of which was brilliant blue and the right side flaming red. Then he went to a place where many people were working in the fields on the left side of a road and many other people were working in the fields on the right side of the road. There the god manifested in all his glory; no one could miss him. Big and radiant, wearing his hat, he walked straight down the road. All the people on the right side of the road dropped their hoes and looked up at this god; all the people on the left side of the road did the same. Everybody was amazed. Then he disappeared. Everyone shouted, “We saw God! We saw God!” They were all full of joy, until someone on the left said, “There he was in all his radiance and in his red hat!” And people on the right said, “No, he had on a blue hat.” This disagreement escalated until the people built walls and began to throw stones at each other. Then the god appeared again. This time he walked in the other direction and then disappeared. Now all the people looked at each other and the ones on the right said, “Ah, you were right, he did have on a red hat. We’re so sorry, we just saw incorrectly. You were right and we were wrong.” The ones on the other side said, “No, no. You were right. We were wrong.” At this point they didn’t know whether to fight or to make friends. Most of them were completely puzzled by the situation. Then the god appeared again. This time he stood in the middle and he turned to the left and then he turned around to the right, and everyone started to laugh.

For us, as people sitting here meditating, as people wanting to live a good, full, unrestricted, adventurous, real kind of life, there is concrete instruction that we can follow, which is the one that we have been following all along in meditation: see what is. Acknowledge it without judging it as right or wrong. Let it go and come back to the present moment. Whatever comes up, see what is without calling it right or wrong. Acknowledge it. See it clearly without judgment and let it go. Come back to the present moment. From now until the moment of your death, you could do this. As a way of becoming more compassionate toward yourself and toward others, as a way of becoming less dogmatic, prejudiced, determined to have your own way, absolutely sure that you’re right and the other person is wrong, as a way to develop a sense of humor about the whole thing, to lighten it up, open it up, you could do this. You could also begin to notice whenever you find yourself blaming others or justifying yourself. If you spent the rest of your life just noticing that and letting it be a way to uncover the silliness of the human condition — the tragic yet comic drama that we all continually buy into — you could develop a lot of wisdom and a lot of kindness as well as a great sense of humor. Seeing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how it imprisons us in a very limited perspective of this world. It’s a chance to see that you’re holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that’s all it is — nothing more, nothing less: just your interpretation of reality.

The Perfection of Meditation

What is the perfection of meditation?

The fifth perfection is dhyana paramita — the perfection of meditation. What is perfect meditation? It is meeting each moment with a kind-hearted attention and embracing life as it is. 

The Sanskrit word dhyana translates as sustained attention in the present moment. Meditation practice helps us to cultivate the ability to touch the present moment, and stay with our experience without getting lost in thought.

Life is full of distractions. Our thoughts can take us very quickly very far away from the present, into remembrance of the past or into anticipation of the future. Thinking is not necessarily a problem. Perfect meditation is definitely not about clearing the mind from thought. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings about meditation. Meditation is about cultivating attention. In meditation practice we are taking attention and placing it in the present moment.

The breath is a great object for attention in meditation. There is no breath we could ever breathe that is not a present moment breath. Therefore, when we place attention on the breath, it brings us into the present moment and we become aware of everything else that we can experience through our senses in that moment.

Read more about starting a meditation practice here

Meditation and the Six Perfections

Meditation in the context of the six paramitas (or perfections) give us a practice for cultivating mindfulness of the present moment, as well as awareness of our thoughts, words, and actions, so we can use our mindfulness to be of benefit to others and the world around us. 

In the traditional Buddhist teachings, there are three aspects to the perfection of meditation. The first is to train the mind to peacefully abide in the present moment. This can be accomplished through the practice of Shamatha meditation. 

The second aspect of the perfection of meditation is to cultivate specific qualities like generosity, kindness, patience or joy, which are the first four paramitas. The practice of contemplative meditation helps us do this.

The third aspect of the perfection of meditation is using our mindfulness to benefit others. We practice this by taking the fruits of our meditation practice into our everyday lives and relationships. 

Through meditation we learn to meet each moment with kind-hearted attention and cultivate generosity, kindness, patience, and joy in our lives. 

Dakini Community Spotlight: Brooke Binstock

 

Name
Brooke Binstock

Where you live?
Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?
I have always been fascinated by the mind. I have struggled with varying levels of anxiety throughout my life, and became curious about how to alleviate my symptoms. In college, when my anxiety was at its peak, I took a class called ‘Intro to Meditation,’ but I couldn’t quite get into it, which felt discouraging. When I moved to Austin, I tried out multiple Sanghas (communities), following various traditions, but nothing ever really fit. It wasn’t until I met Kelly and began meditating with her that I really began to grasp the benefits of the practice. It was more human, accessible and allowing than any other experience I had previously and finally I feel committed.

What inspires you to meditate?
The busy quality of life, uncertainty, impermanence, and ultimately the undeniable suffering that accompanies being human. Meditation gives me more space to deal with the external world, as messy and chaotic as it can sometimes feel.

What does your meditation practice look like?
It is not daily, and often times it is not done in a formal seated position. However, when I do sit, I usually do so for 20 minutes. I usually focus on some facet of self-compassion. I find that I am meditating all the time. In traffic, when I am on the phone with my sister, when I’m practicing yoga with my eyes closed and when I am practicing presence in all things that I engage in.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
Movement first, then meditation. I find that moving my body before coming into stillness is key to dropping in. I also clean the floor and my space before sitting so that I can eliminate distraction, and lastly, if I meditate with others, it holds me accountable to practice.

How is your life different because of meditation?
I am far less impulsive. I feel like I have more space to decide things as opposed to just reacting to my first instinct. Generally, my life feels more grounded and less chaotic than it did before this practice came into my life…and it has also facilitated other healthy changes to support my body. I eat better, sleep more and give myself permission to just be me far more easily than in the past.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
Prioritizing sitting. I am naturally a doer and can get distracted easily. I am challenged to find a rhythm with my meditation practice that allows it to feel spacious enough to invite me in, as opposed to a rigid appointment time which I have a tendency to rebel against. So mostly, it is distraction and forgetting to prioritize.

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
Get a good cushion! Support your feet with a blanket. For the first several years of practice, my back hurt terribly simply because I was sitting in an incorrect, non-supported posture. Now that I know how to sit, it is far easier to maintain stillness.

What does your heart most long for?
Pure, present, focused acceptance. To step into a place of self-love that is non-judgmental, non-conditional and rooted in the now.

 

Brooke is the founder of Open Circle Healing, where she offers sessions that include guided meditation, restorative yoga, and therapeutic massage.

Finding Peace Everywhere

“Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

A magnet on my fridge has reminded me for years that peace and stillness are available any time I need them. I value such reminders, especially during the holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season. For many of us, this is time of joy and connection. The holidays may also bring grief and longing for family members who are no longer with us or for failed relationships. The cooler weather and shorter hours of daylight may be difficult for some of us. The opportunities and challenges of the holidays invite us to come into stillness, a state of being quiet or calm.

A form of meditation called Shamatha Meditation offers us the opportunity to practice peacefully abiding or calm abiding. The root of the word Shamatha is sham, which means to be peaceful, and is the same root as the Sanskrit word Shanti, meaning peace.

In this practice, we cultivate inner peace by connecting with a stillness that is fundamental, all pervasive, and ever present. We are simply slowing down and settling into the stillness that already exists in and around us.

Stillness is not the absence of movement, it is the place from which movement is born. Stillness gives rise to movement, action, dance, life. The stillness we seek is not a rigid, unmoving state, like a rock or statue. It is open and receptive, like a tree, strong, yet flexible. In the practice, we are continually seeking a balance between effort and relaxation. It takes effort to be present, to pay attention, and to cultivate mindfulness, but that effort must be balanced with relaxation and acceptance of who we are and what we feel.

Relaxation is essential to stillness, and so we begin by finding relaxation in the body because outer stillness creates an environment that is conducive to inner stillness. This is why we take the time to focus on posture and alignment as a means of cultivating stillness. Finding the right meditation posture takes more effort in the beginning, but even after we become familiar with what posture works well for us, it is important to take the time to attend to the points of posture and move attention through the body consciously relaxing the habitual tension and tightness that we all carry with us. I recommend two general poses, seated and supine. I invite you to try both variations.

Seated Meditation

The first is traditionally called the 8-point posture of Vairochana. Here are the eight points:

1. The spine is long and upright, with its natural curves. Having just the right amount of support under the hips is essential here.
2. The shoulders are balanced over the hips and the arms are relaxed by the sides.
3. The hands are intentionally placed on the thighs or in the lap in a way that supports points 1 and 2.
4. The chin is slightly tucked to bring length to the back of the neck as the head balances atop the spinal column.
5. The forehead and jaw are relaxed, lips lightly touching, and tongue resting at the top of the mouth.
6. The eyes are either closed or open slightly with the gaze down at the floor.
7. The legs are either comfortably crossed, or if sitting in a chair, feet are planted firmly on the floor.
8. Breath flows naturally in and out through the nostrils.

Meditating Lying Down

The second posture is called the 10-point lying down posture. The ten points of your feet, buttocks, shoulders, elbows, low back and head are in contact with the floor. It is a good idea to have a yoga mat or blanket underneath your torso in this pose to cushion the back of the body. It is important that your feet are firmly planted, with the knees falling in toward one another so that the hips and pelvis and abdomen relax fully.

Once you settle into your pose, discover your breath. The breath is the primary focal point at the heart of this practice. When you notice tension returning to your body or that you have become caught up in a “thought knot” in your mind, rediscover your breath and let go with the outbreath. This is the practice. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to do this, just keep coming back again and again and again to the breath. You can pay particular attention to the grounding, settling, releasing qualities of the outbreath, and most especially the stillness to be discovered at the bottom of the exhale. This is a good place to rest your mind. Not holding the breath, just becoming aware of the natural pauses between breaths.

Why is stillness important? Stillness allows us to cultivate discernment by creating space between ourselves and our thoughts so that we are not constantly reacting to our life with a habitual reactivity. Pema Chodron wrote this about being still:

The practice of “remaining like a log” is based on refraining, not repressing. When you realize you’re thinking, just acknowledge that. Then turn your attention to your breath flowing in and out, to your body, to the immediacy of your experience. Doing this allows you to be present and alert, and thoughts have a chance to calm down. With this practice, it can be helpful to gently breathe in and out with the restlessness of the energy. This is a major support for learning to stay present. Basic wakefulness is right here, if we can just relax. Our situation is fundamentally fluid, unbiased, and free, and we can tune into this at any time. When we practice “remaining like a log,” we allow for this opportunity.

 

Learning to be still takes practice. For most of us, sitting still is difficult. It becomes easier if you practice a little every day. This holiday season, make a commitment to yourself to practice stillness for a few minutes every day. A formal meditation practice is wonderful, but I invite you to be flexible and to cultivate stillness while driving, cooking, or gathering with family.

Practice moving towards stillness by doing just one thing at a time. Can you stay right there with whatever arises in the stillness without moving to fix it or change it or turn away from it? Our practice is to be present for what is, without judgment or needing it to be any other way. That is how we can find peace everywhere.

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