Living the View

a teaching by Khandro Déchen

The sensation of ambivalence is emptiness. The subject of the ambivalence is form. The practice of ambivalence is to allow the two to seamlessly partake of each other.

Living the view means living with the knowledge that Vajrayana is not separate from the stream of reality that you are living all the time. Vajrayana becomes life and life becomes Vajrayana.

Living the view is a practice which can change you as much—if not more—than formal practice (time spent sitting in front of your shrine on your cushion). This is because living the view provides you with a self-existent system of application.

It seems a little like the situation in which I found myself in 1973, when I had just finished a degree in nursing. In those days—in Britain—nursing degrees were quite unusual. Most people learned nursing within the job. They learned pragmatically and practically, and were often scornful of those who learned in the lecture theatre. I did not blame them. I was fairly green in my first post because I had never been taught how to apply knowledge. Somehow the lecture theatre and the ‘theatre of the wards’ were almost mutually exclusive.

It is the same in Vajrayana practice. You cannot be a practitioner if your meditative experience is left on the sitting cushion. You have to live the reality of the view of Vajrayana, otherwise you merely continue in the green state. You cannot compartmentalise – separating off practice from life. Living the view is more active than a merging of two compartments. To live the view, energy, drive, and passion must be present. To overcome the addiction to seductive behaviour patterns, you need a counter-pull – an energy drive which shifts you in the direction of reality. To live the view is an active engagement with life and Vajrayana at every moment. It has to become a pervasive aspiration to reach the stage of no choice.

To be a practitioner is claustrophobic. When we start to live the view it makes our games increasingly transparent, and we cannot enter into them with the same degree of gusto. We cannot pout with the same degree of lower lip strength. We cannot quite slag off those we dislike with the same degree of vim – or with the same degree of volatility.

Living the view enhances our formal practice, just as sitting practice enhances the manner in which we live the view. It is easy to delude ourselves—after half an hour’s daydreaming—that we have accomplished half an hour’s silent sitting. In terms of living the view, we are either living it or we are not. It is not so easy to delude ourselves in real life situations. We cannot compartmentalise it. We cannot say: ‘Right, for the next half hour I’m going to live the view.’ It does not work like that.

Vajrayana is based on emptiness. The path of Vajrayana is the unification of emptiness and form. The goal of Vajrayana is non-duality. In the realised state, there will always be both emptiness and form and we can perceive them dancing with each other. We can observe the continuous process of the dissolution of form into emptiness, its re-emergence, and its dissolution.

We stray from the non-dual state when we seduce ourselves with form as a web of interconnected reference points that appear to validate our existence. We seek to adhere to form by attempting to divide it from emptiness – somehow ignoring form’s inherent nature of dissolving and becoming emptiness. This is a process which we think will make us feel real, but which in fact makes us feel increasingly unreal and unhappy.

Living the view is living with the play of emptiness and form without necessarily grasping at every form that presents itself. We attempt to allow emptiness. We attempt to allow form to become empty without our usual massive protest. This is the mirror reflection of our practice on the sitting cushion, except—in terms of living the view—we are engaged with the emptiness and form of our lives.

One of the initial practices in living the view is to observe everything: life circumstances, objects, thoughts, and feelings – watching emptiness and form play in and out of each other. Like watching the coffee pouring from the cafetière. The mug is emptiness. The coffee is form. Then the mug full of coffee becomes form. Then the cafetière is empty. The last drop pauses before it leaves the lip of the cafetière – form. It drops into the mug and becomes empty in the form of the mug full of coffee. This dance performs endlessly. There are infinite patterns within the play of emptiness and form, and they perform contumeliously as the texture of our environment. I cannot tell anyone how to actualise this, as the perception of emptiness and form is experiential. I can only point. I can only suggest. One might perceive the form of the last drop of coffee as empty. It is both form and emptiness.

When we see this, it becomes magical. What we happen to be and the nature of our kyil’khor—the array of our surroundings—interact. They interact in terms of the emptiness and form of our sense perceptions and the sense fields we perceive. One moment we are form—our sense fields penetrating the world around us—the next moment the world is form penetrating our emptiness. We flip backwards and forwards in a self-danced dancing in which form becomes emptiness and emptiness becomes form.

If a relationship ends, it becomes empty of its previous form or appearance. The form as it was known dissolves. It might seem as if it collapsed, leaving emptiness. A new form has to emerge out of this emptiness – this womb of potentiality: ‘Where will I live now? How will we divide our joint property? What will my relationship be with this person with whom I have spent the last ten years? How do I feel?’

Emotions continually shift. Their forms become empty and they arise as other forms. Grief becomes anger and anger becomes grief. A sudden sense of lightness sparkles. Relief. Then guilt. It is a powerful practice to allow the change without manipulating it – to remain with the sense of fluidity, and to find out that we do not need to be totally identified with each passing emotion. They are empty because they change.

The polarity of pleasure and pain. Our usual view is that it is a polarity. We see pleasure as being the opposite of pain. We cling to pleasure and reject pain. I would like orgasm to go on and on and on. On the other hand, when you find that somehow your relationship has gone wrong under your very nose – that you are no longer in love and that there is no way to make it better . . . you might hate the miserable condition in which you found yourself. There is no way I want misery to go on and on and on. We would all want to end such terrible empty sad feelings.

Living the view requires that we accept that pleasure is not exclusively form. Pleasure has emptiness qualities. For a while orgasm engulfs my sense of being. Then it subsides. Emptiness. It was tumultuous form – then it dissolved into emptiness again and I want another orgasm immediately. This is why undue form-obsession leads to depression after love-making. This is why some people find themselves arguing acrimoniously post-coitus: the sensation of emptiness can be too uncomfortable, and further sensation is demanded – whatever its nature.

Becoming aware that each sensation we experience—either pleasurable or painful—has both form and emptiness qualities is crucial to living the view. If this is coupled with the knowledge that we cling to form and reject emptiness (by attempting to divide them) we can be a little more open-ended with respect to life situations. We do not have to identify completely with what we may be feeling at any one time. We do not have to allow any sensation to define us totally, and neither do we need to reject sensations simply because they do not conform to that which usually confirms us.

This does not mean that we live in a bland emotional twilight zone without peaks and depths. It means that we do not become involved in the kvetching and whining modes. We relinquish the ‘poor me – life is so unfair to me’ state of mind. We openly resist the tendency to sulk – the sheer physical urge to distend the lower lip. I am not advising repression – repression is the opposite of openness to emptiness. Repression is a means of control that we instigate in order to avoid the experience of emptiness. Repression is a massive blocking structure – a form with which we attempt to force the experience of emptiness into any supposedly reliable form. The problem here is that the more form we create to force emptiness out, the more emptiness arises. Form does not exist without emptiness. We cannot have one without the other.

Displacement is another form creation with which we attempt to avoid the experience of emptiness. We bury ourselves in work, which becomes an immense reference point – a mighty form structure with which we attempt to obliterate emptiness.

All these mechanisms fail because they have no kinship with non-duality. The more form we create, the emptier our forms become. Work becomes meaningless, lacks creative sparkle. Emptiness is inherent.

The way to experience pain, in terms of living the view, could be to have a good cry – maybe many good cries – but after each one, returning to the raw texture of life as it is. It is important not to manipulate pain. It is important not to hide from life. It is important not to play it too safely. It could be the last hour, month, or week of your life, and keeping the inevitable emptiness of death in mind is important in terms of living the view.

Living the view is not living half-heartedly. It is an openness to the reality of life – to the irritation and the ecstasy of life, and of not concretising them as antithetical. Finding the commonality of these sensations is a practice of living the view, and a means of approaching non-duality.

Maybe some of you will have had the experience of laughing whilst crying. It can be a non-conceptual experience. It is a complete unknowing of what we are feeling and why – but it is a valuable experience to which we can return. It is not something we can create purposefully – but it has something of the flavour of the commonality which can be experienced in sadness and happiness.

Living the view is the means of approaching non-duality through the ordinary and extraordinary modalities which constitute life experience. The core of living the view is ambivalence. The energy of wanting and not wanting at the same time is a force we can harness in order to allow the knot of duality to untie itself. Ambivalence and ambiguity are pervasive features of our lives. I want to sit / I do not want to sit. I want a relationship / I want independence. I want to eat the entire bag of cream cakes / I do not want to get fatter. I want to exercise because I will be fitter and stronger; because I will have a better shaped body; because I will be able to wear a shiny scarlet all-in-one body suit; because I will be able to perform springing tiger exercises looking like a high fashion glamour dancer; because I will be a good, disciplined person – but, I also do not want to exert myself. I do not want to feel physical exertion. It is yet another duty that has to be fulfilled each day. It is another smothering routine. It hurts. I get hot. My heart pumps uncomfortably. It is something I am going to have to do for the rest of my life and this somehow seems distressing. Sometimes I just want to be bad. I do not want to be the good person. But then again I do . . .

The practice of ambivalence is to remain on the cusp of the sensation of wanting / not wanting. In order to do this it is good to slow the process down. So I purposely lie in bed in the morning concentrating on the sensation of wanting to / not wanting to. This is best on the days where ambivalence is strong. Lying in bed thinking of reasons why—today—I really could take a day off. I had a bad night. But then I could push myself. I have a pain in my toe that ten minutes on the stair machine will only intensify. But then I know that this is just an excuse. But then it could be serious. But then I might be wrong. Am I lazy or am I masochistic? Such notions serve to intensify the ambivalence – then one simply remains with that sensation. Whether you eventually exercise or not is not important. The idea is to find the ambivalence in every situation and stay with it – know it, feel it, taste it.

The sensation of ambivalence is emptiness. The subject of the ambivalence is form. The practice of ambivalence is to allow the two to seamlessly partake of each other.
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