APPAMADA

 

This unutterable space that is the nature of things,

the apogee of view that is natural perfection —

listen as I explain my understanding

of this sole immanent reality. 

This is the way that the 14th century Tibetan mystic and mediation master Longchempa begins his poetic treatise on Dzogchen, the practice of the “Great Perfection.” These teachings point the way to absolute liberation beyond all concepts, similar to the radical teachers of Zen. This is the text we used in our recent [May 2014] Appamada residential Intensive. The text was divided into four “themes”: absence, openness, spontaneity, and unity. Longchempa goes into great detail to demonstrate the liberated view from each perspective, how to practice mediation from that view, how our conduct is shaped if we live our way into this view, and how ultimately one sees the unity of all phenomena by practicing in this way. 

Needless to say, these are powerful teachings that require ongoing study and practice to penetrate fully. On the final day of our retreat which was held at Red Corral Ranch, a retreat facility in the hills west of Austin, we walked the labyrinth together. As we entered the empty space of the labyrinth, we were not sure what would be released, revealed, or received. The only question was, “will you walk?” The way was open as each person stepped onto the path, each participant following another toward the center, the way in being the same as the way out. Spontaneously, we found our individual rhythms even as we walked as one. The experience of walking and navigating the way opened to each person in their own unique way, even though we were engaged in one shared activity. The Heart Sutra says, “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.” Practicing in this way we can realize that the solid beings we take ourselves to be are actually contingent, ever-changing, and temporary phenomena. At one point I stepped off the labyrinth for a brief moment and captured this image which seemed to reflect the undivided nature of form and emptiness. 

Many of the participants reported the experience to be deeply moving and revealing. Listening to their reflections I was reminded of the final lines of Marie Howe’s poem, Annunciation:

…only able to endure it by being no one and so

specifically myself I thought I’d die

from being loved like that. 

Each person was specifically themselves, and yet fluid and interdependent with everyone else, even as we engaged this ordinary activity of walking together under the trees in the cool early morning. And every ordinary activity can be an act of generosity and love when we awake to the natural great perfection of each moment.

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Appamada is not just the occasional mindful thought or attentive state of mind, it’s actually a commitment to being attentive. It’s more than just a meditative state of mind, it’s more than just being mindful. It has to do with that primary ethical or moral orientation we have in life, with which we bring into being whatever activity we’re engaged in. Whether in formal meditation, in our interactions with other people, in our social concerns, or in our political choices, it’s the energetic cherishing of what we regard as good.

—Stephen Batchelor

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