Noticing ways we delude ourselves: noticing Avidya and Mara

A student writes:

I’ve noticed that sometimes when I read about something of significance in the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism books, (course books in the Living the Awakened Heart Training) I either think it’s nothing really or the answer is straightforward or I’m too tired to really do anything with it.

Lama Shenpen:

This is interesting isn’t it?

It is great that you are noticing this tendency because it’s hard to spot. Avidya* is so clever that it deceives us into believing that when we think “it’s nothing really” that is true! And as you say, avidya tries to fob us off with ‘Yes well I know that’ – or as you say ‘I am too tired to really do anything with it’.

This is Mara** at work – not wanting us to go there because it senses that if we did it would topple him.  It is almost a gut reaction.  Something in us is so deeply entrenched we don’t want to disturb it – or rather it doesn’t want to be disturbed.

It might also be a coping mechanism we developed in our early years that has out-lived its usefulness. It is time to give it a shaking up!

This can often account for why sometimes we find ourselves drifting off instead of really focusing in an awake and alive way when we are meditating.  We really have to look closely to see what that is all about.

It might be something as simple as having a sense that somehow we have to know the right answers to everything. Maybe it’s the way we were brought up that has left us with this fear of being shown up even to ourselves as not knowing the right answer.  Or it could be any number of different things.

Then when we try to explore our experience for what we really know, and start moving towards a kind of uncertainty – a not knowing:  an alive and intelligent sense of opening into something that not only we don’t ‘know’ in our habitual sense, but sense that we do ‘know’ or could ‘know’ in another more intuitive sense – we switch off and as you say, make up excuses – such as “ it isn’t anything really” etc.

We have to learn to recognise these moments as moments of awake, as openings that we have to train ourselves to come back to again and again with interest and a willingness to let go of our habitual responses.

These places are strangely obvious in a way, and yet it is not where we usually spend time, so why not?  Go back there and explore more. Our excuses are just thoughts so don’t let them rule you!

Lama Shenpen Hookham


*Avidya (Skt), Ma Rigpa (Tib.) – ignorance, wrong view – basic, most fundamental ignorance of our true nature which is the basis for all other afflicting processes and emotions that create suffering.

**Mara (Skt.), Du (Tib.) – personification of our samsaric habits and tendencies; all obstructions to Enlightenment. Sometimes used in plural – “maras”.

(Please note that in this context Lama Shenpen uses both terms (avidya and mara) more or less synonymously.)

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