On my recent meditation retreat, I was meticulously scanning the vedanā (sensation) inside my body when I reached the top of my head. At that moment, departing from the instructions, I felt compelled to sweep my awareness down over and through my body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, in one smooth motion.
In the technique that Gotama Buddha discovered and taught, there are an infinite number of different ways to survey the sensations. Everyone does it slightly differently, and the process is continually changing. However, there are major classes of technique, and Mr Goenka explains how and when they are usually most effective. The full-body sweeping approach that came spontaneously to me is usually introduced in the instructions later in the ten-day retreat. Being an “old student,” of course, I have learned and used it before.
The pali word dhamma (dharma in sanskrit) is not easily translated into English, and is considered to have many meanings in those ancient languages. Dhamma is often used to refer to the teachings and technique of Gotama Buddha, the way to liberation, or the path. Dhamma also means the truth, the reality of what is. During this retreat, I came to understand the meaning of dhamma more deeply, and to appreciate how well marked the path of dhamma is.
Essentially, what Gotama Buddha taught was a technique to increase awareness of, and equanimity with, reality as-it-is, as directly experienced within the framework of the body. Liberation comes from increasing the awareness and equanimity until the entire universe is continuously both experienced and allowed within the framework of the body.
At the core of the technique is reality, and reality is the essence of dhamma. When we “take refuge” in the dhamma, we trust in reality, and we let it show us the way. Our personal reality, the dhamma, is continuously staring us in the face, prodding us from the inside of the body with a trillion tingling points of energy. Dhamma is all there is, and dhamma is continuously trying to wake us up.
When you go for a hike, you get a map and find the trailhead. Then you go to the trailhead, and you follow the trail. Most trails have already been blazed, if not with sticks and stones, then at least with brightly colored pieces of cloth or plastic sheeting. Even when a trail has not been explicitly and consciously marked, it will be discernible from crushed vegetation, bare and compacted dirt, or boot-prints.
The path of dhamma is also blazed. It has been blazed by people like Gotama Buddha, but it is also fundamentally self-blazing. Once you have learned the basic tools and techniques, such as how to recognize when you are on the path or not, and how to get back on it when you stray off it, the path of dhamma guides you in the same way that a blazed trail does.
When we hike, we’re not continually looking at the map, nor do most of us have a “hiking coach” or navigator with us. Instead, we use our eyes to follow the trail. We stay between the markings, and when we see a bend ahead, we follow it. The path of dhamma unfolds in the same way. The reason that the path contains the directions is that it actually contains the goal with in it. Dhamma is all there is, and dhamma, our personal dhamma, inherently wants us to walk it, and to discover the end of it.
We have been spending so much effort and energy trying to ignore dhamma, trying to wander off the path and get lost. But it keeps drawing us back. When we find ourselves tangled in brambles, or tumbling down a scree-filled slope, a part of us, even if it’s not a conscious part, appreciates the ease and tranquility of that beautifully marked trail, and we long to get back on it.
Please join me on the path of dhamma, on the path of paying attention to, and not fighting with, reality.