The Five Certainties & the Power to Gather

It’s quite something, isn’t it? We are here on this path, as members of the Awakened Heart Sangha to do something about the suffering in the world and the ultimate way to remove the suffering of beings is to Awaken and Awaken them. Everything else is temporary – some sort of temporary fix – but ultimately, we have to Awaken. So that’s what we are here for. We are here to gather as a sangha. It’s not simply that we come in person or online to hear teachings, but that we are gathering together.

In some ways, we are quite a strange sangha in the sense that we’ve gathered from all over the place, through the internet. I’ve been thinking about this – the teaching occurs because of the five certainties: the certain time, the certain place, a certain teacher gives a certain teaching to a certain audience.

In the Awakened Heart Sangha, there’s the teaching, and, of course it has to come from a teacher, and there’s a time. But if the teacher teaches at one time and it’s recorded and transcribed, then it’s like it’s happening over a long time. It happened at one moment, or at one event, but then it actually kind of reverberates.

If you then think about the nature of reality, and about time… is time real? If it’s not real, then actually all the reverberations are happening at the same time. So the time of the teaching is the whole time that it lasts until it stops reverberating, it’s one time. That’s a very inspiring thought, isn’t it?

And it’s happening in one place…So okay, we think we are in all these different places, but we are in the same place because we are in the same mandala of that time and that place, that teaching and that teacher, and we are the assembly, even if we are in our different places, in our homes, in different time zones.

When we eventually can come together again in person after gathering together for events online, if that’s already become powerful, then when we come together in person the connections are even more concentrated. So that makes it very special. That we can come together at all to receive a teaching is a concentration of connections.

So where does that power to gather come from? If you look at time and you look at space, thinking about what emptiness means, and what our perceptual world is, in terms of time and space, if that’s not real, how are we actually connected? And what is the significance of us actually connecting online together in this way?

When we come together, it’s not just about a fleeting moment when we all happen to be somewhere at the same time. There are these deep connections, and they are deep Dharma connections that we actually have – they must be deep Dharma connections because this is about Dharma. We have these connections and somehow it’s not to do with superficial impermanent changing things, but is to do with the nature of reality, the Dharmadhatu*, we might say.

I think it is important to have a much deeper sense of what we are as beings to appreciate the significance of us coming together online, to hear the Dharma together, to meditate and recite liturgy or to work for the Dharma together. To meet each other as Dharma friends and Dharma companions, and the nature of those connections that are being made.

It’s very common for Tibetan teachers, when they are addressing people who have come for a Dharma teaching to say “this is very auspicious.” Sometimes that’s translated as ‘this has happened because of the coming together of causes and conditions’. I’m always very sorry that the choice in English is ‘auspicious’, which can sound like ‘that was lucky’ or a coincidence that this has happened, and that it’s about causes and conditions and just about to fall apart.

What is actually being said is something totally different. It’s more like we have met together here because of our connections, our deep connections in the nature of reality, in the Dharmadhatu, and what we are seeing is the sign of that.

So it is auspicious. It is a sign that these deep connections are there. It isn’t just that we happen to be here, but this is an important Dharma event and a teaching is being given, or we are meditating online together, and we have the good fortune to be here. Then those deep connections will be here, you can be sure.

So let’s be happy about that. Our coming together is an auspicious sign of those connections being there, and we can and are reinforcing them, we are making them stronger. And these are connections that defy time. You could say that they are out of time, but they are beside time. In our usual idea of time it would just be a moment that came together and collapsed again, but the connections are not in time. The connections are the real part.

In a sense this is what we intuit when we talk about the heart. There’s some heart connection here that goes deeper than what you see on the surface, and this is something we can rely on, something that we can trust. And it doesn’t change when the moment changes – collapses – that connection doesn’t change. That connection has been reinforced in some way by our coming together, and by putting our energy into creating the situation.

This is understood in the Buddhist tradition generally, that yes, it’s the power of the Truth of the teaching that is important in the teaching, but it’s also the whole occasion that has been created. It could almost be a symbolic teaching. For instance, perhaps a monk goes to give a teaching somewhere and he represents the Buddha, the Buddha assembly. He has taken vows that have been passed down the generations, and now there’s a connection there that is deeper than just the superficial connection, it’s like a real living connection to the Buddha’s followers. He’s taken the same vows, and the power of the vows is the same.

In our case, we would say the power of our Bodhisattva vow is the same as the vows of all the Bodhisattvas, so that we are a living representation of that and we are being honoured by people who are really connecting to that. So the person, like myself, might take the seat. In order for the Dharma to be proclaimed, there have to be those people who are open and who have that connection to draw it out.

So it’s like a real, living reinforcement of those connections, and then that’s dedicated, and prayers are made that that should reverberate throughout the universe. And that would be a Dharma teaching. Which is not the same as receiving a bit of information is it?

When we come together for a teaching on the internet, sometimes we do tend to focus on the information side, don’t we? But we don’t have to. We could actually really enter into the spirit of it, and think this isn’t just information, this is Dharma teaching. This is a certain time, a certain place, a certain teacher, a certain assembly, in a very special way. But you have to work a bit harder at it, you’ve got to put in more from your side and in a way it’s not such a rich situation as you get in a living situation, but it is something, it is very important. It doesn’t just happen by itself either. It is auspicious in the sense that it is a sign that there is a deeper connection there, and we can use it to reinforce that.

Although we are now only meeting online, when we have events that people can come to in person, we encourage people to participate in them and not to think this is being run by somebody else. It is being run by those people who come, who are making it happen, and there’s a job rota list and ways of learning how to do the jobs. The jobs are really integral to the whole thing, because that’s what this is – it is a moment of the teaching happening in a certain time and a certain place. And for that to happen there has to be a whole structure of support to make that happen and how to do that more and more effectively and efficiently.

How to communicate that and apply that, now that people are coming to us from the internet, and we’re gathering together online? It’s a new situation, isn’t it? In the past before the internet, a sangha would probably start from one place, whereas it’s almost like we are starting from everywhere and coming to the centre, rather than starting from the centre and going everywhere. Although it is a movement both ways, isn’t it?

Obviously it starts with me and goes out to a few people at first. But there is that sense that a mandala always has that dynamic of an energy moving out and coming in, that live energy. So we are really thinking now more than ever, about how to help that connect up in a very strong and living way.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

* Dharmadhatu (Skt. Tib. chö ying): Literally ‘the essence or expanse of phenomena’ or ‘all-encompassing space’.

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