I love to read and to think, but I’ve learned over the years that concepts and thought can only take you so far. Moreover, you just can’t believe whatever you read, or think either. But don’t take my word for it; check it out! Thoughts are a good servant but a poor master; the problem is that we are too often in their thrall. Awareness is far broader and deeper.
Over twenty-five hundred years ago Buddha stated that anyone could become enlightened through applying his awareness-cultivation teachings. And many have reaped these blessed results — Buddhist and otherwise. This is the fundamental premise and promise of the Buddha’s path of awakening, an illumined life. Total awareness is enlightenment.
We cultivate and develop this heightened awareness through remindfulness or remembering to remember: to recollect precisely what we’re doing in the present moment, as well as who and what we are. Not just self-consciously to remember yourself, but to remember to recollect ourselves and what we’re actually doing, here and now, as well as in the bigger picture.
Awareness is the alpha and the omega of the spiritual path. Parroting prayers or mindlessly practicing yoga, bows, or genuflections, while you are distractedly thinking of other things, is not much better than a praying mantis rubbing its little hands together over its prey.
Attention is the essence of the illumined life. This is precisely where the applied daily practice of mindfulness and present awareness, moment-to-moment sustained attention, proves invaluable. This effectively helps us to see deeper, live more closely aligned with our best selves and vital values, and catch ourselves and our priorities before other things catch us.
With this core practice of maintaining alert presence of mind, we can naturally begin to live in a more measured manner, slow down, and pay closer attention to things as they are — rather than as they are not, or how we would like them to be. We need to learn to savor the moments, rather than merely being caught up in our To-do lists, staggering forward on a treadmill of conditioning, mistaking mere movement for meaning. This is the main benefit of remindfulness, truly “a practice with benefits.”
Let’s look deeper, for everything we seek is within. How shall we truly recognize, realize, and actualize our best self, innate Buddha nature and divine life, here in this gritty world? Nine hundred years ago Tibet’s supreme yogi-saint Milarepa sang: “The ultimate view is to observe one’s mind, steadfastly and with determination.”
How can we carry this holy fire down from the rarified Himalayan mountaintops and integrate transformative spirituality into our daily lives, here and now? This is the purpose of what I lovingly call Applied Buddhism, to actually implement these liberating tools and techniques into our modern lives through our own enlightenment day to day.
Let’s consciously strive daily to bring the clear light of cosmic spirit into everyday life, in the form of Backyard Spirituality in all our relationships, at home, at work, in traffic and at play as well — for this is where the rubber really meets the road on the spiritual path.
Nowness-awareness is the Buddha-mind within each of us. One moment of total awareness is one moment of freedom and enlightenment, as the Dzogchen meditation masters of Tibet tell us. Be Here Now is an evergreen aphorism and timely wisdom for today and tomorrow, and it lives with its mate Be Love Now. (These are both book titles by my brother Ram Dass.)
Remember to center in the holy moment right now, take a breath break, and sink your roots deep into the good earth of this miraculous moment and imbibe its nutritious, delectable essences, never taking it for granted even for a minute. In Buddhist lingo, awareness is all.
One of my favorite poets, the mystic William Blake, sang:
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.”
It is right here and now, in the actual application of present moment awareness, wherever we may be, that we can find and experience the essence of Applied Buddhism, and enjoy living in what my new book calls Buddha Standard Time. “Learn to catch yourself before things catch you.”
Applying present awareness — AKA mindfulness, a lucid and nonjudgmental, objective presence of mind — to whatever arises in the body-mind field of consciousness, we learn to smell and even taste the juicy bait of sensual perceptions without necessarily reacting impetuously according to our habitual desires and swallowing the whole thing hook, line and sinker, thus being pulled out of our element and to our death, spiritually speaking.
I call this living in Buddha Standard Time (BST), that great time zone of the Flow, the sacred zone, wholly now and in the timeless dimension which suffuses every moment of linear time, past, present and future. We overlook it at our peril.
People often ask: How can I make time for (————), when there is no time? Do I just have to get up earlier and stay up later, work faster, or what? How to find space in the pace? The greater underlying question is more along the lines of, “How can I give anything up? Everything feels equally important. I’m about to burn out here, but it doesn’t feel safe to rest!”
Hmmm… I advise we do well to ask ourselves: What are my priorities? And learn to make some time for yourself, however brief. I myself manage to remember to take a breath, a breather; Take a Breath Break, and enjoy a Moment of Mindfulness many times, even throughout a busy day.
Present moment awareness is curative and the best natural medicine; it’s refreshing and rejuvenating as well as healing, harmonizing and wholifying.
Let’s learn to consciously exploit our own inner natural resources for a change and enter the realm of life in Buddha Standard Time. Turn the spotlight, the searchlight, inwards. All we seek can be found within. “Everything must be meditated.” to quote the enlightened Gyalwang Drukpa Lama.
Each moment can be a stepping stone to nirvana, heaven, the pure land or paradise, the higher ground within us all. Nirvana is right here in the here and now, in this very moment. Now is the only place to be.
This is why I try to live in Buddha Standard Time, the holy and entirely Now. Here’s the secret: it’s not time we lack, but focus, awareness and priorities. Simply applying present awareness is a homey yet potent, panacean practice, good for every occasion, not unlike blue jeans. So, pay attention, it pays off!
Beginning requires making a conscious effort to carry your mindful awareness practice into every activity; after a while, it starts to effortlessly carry you. Try practicing mindful eating, listening, walking, etc, along with mindfulness of bodily sensation and breath. This arm of our integrated mindfulness is the essence of Applied Buddhism. You can take this open secret to the bank or anywhere at all. This is the joy of meditation.
Lama Surya Das is a leading spokesperson for the emergent American Buddhism. The Dalai Lama affectionately calls him “the American Lama.” A Buddhist teacher, scholar and meditation master who leads retreats worldwide, he is also the best-selling author of Awakening the Buddha Within and founder of the Dzogchen Center. His most recent release is Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now. Visit his website at www.surya.org or follow his blog at www.askthelama.com