Article: What is Adhistana? How do we connect and open to Openness, Clarity & Sensitivity?

The Mahayana Buddhist tradition teaches that the three inseparable qualities of Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity are actually the nature of the Universe itself. It is true, up to a point, that we have only our own Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity to rely on, but actually our Buddha Nature is not some kind of isolated entity separate from the Universe and everyone else’s Buddha Nature.

Although we are distinct individuals, our nature is the same Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity. So as we open our hearts, as we Awaken, we are actually suffused with the Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity of the Universe.

Awakening is beyond any of our usual notions of me ‘in here’ and the world ‘out there’; our idea of what we are is infinitely too limited, and our idea of everything and everyone else is infinitely too distanced. So the Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity that as practitioners, we see is unfolding within our hearts and waking us up, is not merely our Openness, Clarity Sensitivity, it is, in fact the true nature of reality, the Awakened World, drawing us into itself.

Thinking of Awakening as something alive from its own side and coming into us enables us to open out to it in a somewhat different way. It cuts through any tendency to think of Awakening as a kind of ego success story. Rather it is truly the surrender of the ego. There is nothing for the grasping mind to do.

Awakening dawns from its own side and has a power from its own side. This is quite wonderful but also a tremendous shock. Instead of feeling in control of the process, we have to simply remain open and let Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity unfold, revealing a world beyond our present ideas of inside, outside, self and other, time and space.

As we move along the path, our old ideas of  what we are and what the world is, begin to crumble in the face of the sheer mysteriousness of our direct experience. Sometimes it is as if Awakening is coming to us and sometimes it seems to rise within us, but either way is simply a way of talking.

This power coming from the Awakened world that enters and influences us, causing Awakening to happen to us, is called adhistana in Buddhism. Adhistana is a general word for influence and possession, but in this context it refers specifically to what is coming to us from the nature of reality itself, the Awakened World. It comes to us from its own side, not something we make happen; a power or an influence. You could think of it as something we are possessed by.

This adhistana is working on us all the time, but it is not until we open to out that we feel its effects. It is rather like electricity that pervades everything, but which has no particular effect until harnessed in a current. As with love and compassion (which are actually none other than the true nature of reality, the Buddha Nature), if we do not open to them, we do not feel they are there. When we let down our defenses and give up our pride, then we feel them almost as a tangible force in the world.

Adhistana works on us in all sorts of ways and on all sorts of levels. Simply to sit in Formless Meditation, giving our best shot at resting in the Awakened Heart is to open ourselves to the adhistana of Awakening. The more we relax and turn towards our experience, the more we are opening to the adhistana of Awakening. In a sense it is seeking us out when we sit in meditation, as if we are laying ourselves open to be taken over and possessed by it.

In theory all we need to do to access the adhistana is simply to open to it. Openness, Clarity and Sensitivity are our very nature, so we have the most direct connection with them we possibly could have. As they are also the nature of reality and of all beings, we are also connected, with incredible intimacy, with everything and everyone.

The Awakened World is right there in our heart, never separated from us for a second, even by a hair’s breadth.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

An excerpt from the book ‘Living the Awakened Heart’ that explains the themes and details of Lama Shenpen’s experiential training (of the same name) in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. Find out more about the training here. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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