On Being Splendid

Carolyn and Ian at the transmission ceremony

On Being Splendid – Fish Lake, Orlando, December 2012                                                           Ian Prattis

When a friend asks “How are you?” we tend to automatically reach for a standard descriptor such as “Fine”; “Not too bad” or “Could be worse.” Our automatic pilot rarely delvers uplifting, generous responses. Something is in the way of replying “Splendid” or “Absolutely Marvellous. If we should make such a response, we would not really believe it. Let me begin by breaking “Fine” down into an acronym.

F – Freaked out

I – Insecure

N – Neurotic

E – Elsewhere.

It is possible to choose other somewhat depressing words, though I choose the Buddha’s Four Clay Pots metaphor as a starting point for this investigation.

The Buddha categorized his listeners into four different kinds of clay vessels. The first clay pot has holes at the bottom, so whatever is poured into it goes right through. No matter what wise skilful teaching or practice is offered to clay pot person number one, absolutely nothing is retained. The second clay pot is one that has many cracks in it. If water is poured in, it all eventually seeps out. The teachings may be retained for a short while, yet sooner or later they are completely forgotten. The third clay pot is one that is completely full. Water cannot be poured into it because it is already full to the brim. A person with characteristics of this vessel is so full of views, self-righteousness and wrong perceptions that they cannot be taught anything about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then there is the fourth clay pot – an empty vessel without holes or cracks, empty of views and attitudes. At different times we occupy the first three pots and strive to move to pot number four. How can we do this?

To be completely empty, as the fourth clay pot, is what our mindfulness practice leads to- ie being empty of a separate self. On the way there we are bound to have views and attitudes, but may be significantly empty to take in the teachings and practices that can move us along the path of awakening. Step by step we let go of clinging and attachment to views and re-build our minds so that equanimity and peacefulness arise. We discover that the art of Being Present is what all of the Buddha’s teachings, practices and trainings lead to. From this vast tool kit of transformation we then use intelligent awareness to work with strong emotions and let go of all clinging and their damaging consequences. The trio of Mindfulness, Concentration and Insight becomes our best friend as we step into freedom from brainwashing.

What does it take before we can relax into our inherent goodness and be authentically “Splendid”? In the teachings brought to the west by Chogyam Trungpa there is a strong emphasis on Shambhala warrior training. The fifth and final level is the sense of splendidness. It is preceded by four interconnected levels:

  1. Being free of deception by recognizing afflictive emotions and discerning habit energies.
  2. Truly entering the freedom of being present in each moment.
  3. Embracing the vision of sacredness of ourselves and the world.
  4. Bringing mind and body together because we are grounded and in harmony with the world around us. (Sakyong Mipham 2011, Shambhala Sun November 2011)

In the fifth level, building on these prior steps, we attain confidence in our inherent goodness and simply radiate the energy of splendidness. The visceral sense of unyielding trust in our inherent goodness, of being splendid enables us to become spiritual hubs and beacons of an extraordinary nature. All the great spiritual masters emanate this sense and shared it without deception or ego. All of this power of transformation from a place of steady well-being, strength and confidence in our ability to be brilliant and to shine in the face of any adversity. A lack of splendidness simply attracts sorry-ass individuals to be complicit with our hiding patterns. It makes better sense to have the lucidity to train ourselves to be splendid rather than close down and hide.

Ian Prattis is the dhamacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate Sangha in the west end of Ottawa. Teachings every Thursday and First Saturday of each month. www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm

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