Spacious Passion

Chapter 3 – Spontaneity


Intention and motivation arise out of view and manifest in tangible form in our lives. If our view is based in non-duality then everything that arises from view will be congruent with that realised perspective. The landscape of our lives will be coloured by the nature of view.

It is through view that we can directly experience the nature of our beginningless enlightenment. Non-dual view is recognition of the non-duality of emptiness and form.

The sphere of intangible appearance or vision, long-ku, communicates view. We may not even be aware that we communicate at the subtle level of the energy of our being, but the resonance of our intention to remain in realised view is communicative. When we develop confidence in view and learn to relax into direct recognition of non-duality, our speech, thought, sensation, emotion, and ideation become of the nature of meditation. The energy of our being is spiritual practice.

When view is open and clear, and the energy of our being is the energy of practice, activity naturally arises that is congruent with the realisation of non-duality. The manifestations of who we are in terms of our behaviour in the world and our relationship with our environment, create themselves out of the view of non-duality, out of the experience of the indivisibility of emptiness and form. Hence our practice affects the nature of tangible manifestation, and the nature of our physicality also becomes a manifestation of view. We communicate view by our presence in the world as practitioners. Our demeanour speaks to others of practice.

However, for the beginner, such potentiality is mere aspiration. To begin with we are only practising view, irrespective of the yana in which we base our practice – it has not become our natural state. While we are practising view, we are still subject to our neurotic patterning and the familiar emotions of stubbornness, aggression, compulsion, paranoia, and depression.

These patterns of distortion override their potential as equanimity, clarity, indiscriminate compassion, unimpeded activity, and ubiquitous intelligence through our habitual splitting of emptiness and form6.

We have a genuine intention of maintaining Dharma view in our communication and behaviour. We wish to maintain an harmonious attitude within the environment of those whose lives we touch, but in all honesty we are still at the mercy of the pattern of our emotions. We still find that our lives offer many opportunities to lose touch with Dharma view. However as we try to avoid the continual return to our neurotic patterning, gradually our meditation practice does enable such patterns to become a little clearer to us and less automatically stimulated. We begin to become more transparent to ourselves.

We attempt to remain as close as possible to realised view, rather than indulging in conceptual view. This is known as trying to live-the-view, or remaining in pure view. Conceptual view is a construct of neurotic patterning, expectation and projection. When I dwell in conceptual view and my energy and activity arise from this source, I create more causes for dissatisfaction. (This will be discussed in detail in the chapter ‘Sparkling Puddles’.) Realising that I do this, there is the danger of becoming too self-conscious and losing touch with spontaneity. I may become a little constricted in my behaviour. I may cramp myself through my awareness of when I stray from realised view. I could perhaps forget that spontaneity requires relaxation.

I may become so sensitive to my capacity to fail to dwell in realised view, that I lose confidence that I can relax into it. I feel I must watch myself continually and guard my actions. I develop a ‘policeman mind’ and continually watch myself. I develop a cramped and rigid mindfulness without possibility of openness. Spontaneity, and therefore any possibility of Dzogchen view, is lost.

When such cramping occurs, there is the danger that meditation becomes mediation. I add an extra layer of complication into my life because I negotiate between my feeling for realised view and the actuality of conceptual view. Once meditation becomes mediation, energy and activity can no longer be spontaneous and congruent, because I have cramped myself. I lose the capacity to act with spontaneous kindness and openness because every activity is examined for its congruency with realised view.

Dzogchen view is attractive. It is simple and direct. It is often heralded as the highest view and many aspire to its practice. However spontaneity cannot be mediated—the words themselves contradict one another—and it is important not to delude ourselves that we are practising Dzogchen view when in fact our practice is based somewhere else. To blurt out one’s referentiality and justify this as spontaneity is not Dzogchen practice. To impose one’s opinion on others or to be blatantly honest and direct to the point of unkindness, is not the spontaneous manifestation of wisdom and compassion.

On the other side, to control one’s anger and refrain from hurtful words and actions in an honest attempt to be aware and kind, is appropriate practice for a Dharma practitioner. However we must be clear that this is not the practice of Dzogchen. It is not the spontaneous realisation of the non-duality of the emptiness and form of the emotion.

To renounce one’s anger in order to cultivate a less harmful response, is the practice of Sutra. To transform the energy of the emotion through the implementation of symbolic method, is the practice of Tantra. These are valid and valuable practices that are available to the practitioner who has the courage to be genuine about their relative condition. The continual alignment with kindness and awareness will encourage the spontaneous manifestation of realisation. Only the spontaneous experience of the non-dual energy of the emotion is the practice of Dzogchen.

Through saturating myself in practice, and continually immersing myself in communication with the Lama, I can have moments when I actually live view, when I discover the spontaneous presence of the non-duality of emotion, and it can flow as natural energy. This can only be achieved by constantly familiarising myself with view, through repeatedly discovering presence, and through continually engaging with opportunities for direct introduction to the state of spontaneous presence. Through openness and active appreciation, through being spontaneously present in the moment, I can remove the process of mediation and discover the spontaneous energy of my being.

I once wrote a short article for vision7 magazine entitled ‘Conceptual view, mediation, and inaction’. I reproduce this here as a simple example of how a shift even in mundane view could radically change the same situation:

I wake up. Seeing a cold cup of tea beside me, I realise that it must be late. There is such a lot to get done today; I wish they had woken me. I go into the bathroom. The children have obviously been washed, as there are towels and pyjamas all over the floor. Irritated, I pick them up and tidy them away, wondering why I always have to do it. I go downstairs. They are all watching Children’s Television. They ignore me, so I ignore them. I go and get my breakfast. When the programme has finished they all come in and say “Good morning!”, but I am irritable and snap at them, “You left a terrible mess in the bathroom and why didn’t you wake me when you brought me a cup of tea? You know we’ve got a lot to do today and now it’s so late…”
I wake up. Seeing a cold cup of tea beside me, I realise that it must be late. There is such a lot to get done today; but it was really good of them to let me sleep in. I go into the bathroom. The children have obviously been washed, as there are towels and pyjamas all over the floor. I pick them up and tidy them away. How kind it was that my husband did all this while I slept. I go downstairs. They are all watching Children’s Television. They do not hear me come down, so I call out “Good morning!” and get my breakfast. When the programme finishes they come in and say, “Good morning!” We all smile at each other, and I say, “Thank you for washing the children and letting me sleep in. I really appreciate that!”

Our perspective colours our response. (We shall look at this in detail in the chapter ‘Quelling the storm’.) To remain in realised view, a sense of humour is essential. When we lack a sense of humour we are not really human. When we lack a sense of humour we are no longer really practitioners. Even in the worst possible scenario—a day when absolutely everything has gone wrong from the moment we wake up—there is still the possibility of appreciating how bizarre and ludicrous this is and simply laughing out loud. I remember once sitting in a traffic jam on the way to a Buddhist event. I was with Venerable Tsültrim Zangmo8, and we had sat there for quite some time, mostly quiet, but occasionally chatting to each other. Suddenly we both started to giggle. We had both been seized at the same moment by the silliness of sitting in a metal box completely surrounded by other people sitting in metal boxes, going absolutely nowhere! Surely the greatest joke of all time is that we are all beginninglessly enlightened, yet we struggle, moment by moment, day by day, to maintain the illusion that we are not. This is crazy – but this is what we do.


6. It may have been noticed that several times I have given a five-fold list of distorted emotion or realised emotion. This refers to teachings based on the elements. ‘Solidity, permanence, separateness, continuity, and definition’ and ‘insubstantiality, impermanence, inseparability, discontinuity, and lack of definition’ relate to the five elements: earth water, fire, air, and space. The first set of five relate to form and the second set of five relate to emptiness For a full and inspiring explanation of the method of exploring our neurotic response, and the possibility of liberated response, refer to Spectrum of Ecstasy, Ngakpa Chögyam and Khandro Déchen, (Shambhala Publications, 2003).

7. Vision was published by the Confederate Sanghas of Aro and made available to ‘Friends of the Aro Tradition in the West’. For details of how to become a ‘Friend’, please look at the Aro Community website to which there is a link on the home page.

8. Venerable Tsültrim Zangmo was a Western nun ordained into the Kagyüd lineage. She and her mother, who was also ordained, lived at a Buddhist centre at the time of this story. This Centre—which became a Gélug Centre—was my first experience of Buddhism, and I used to attend regularly to receive teachings. She was a warm and inspiring practitioner.