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Number 10 - June, 2005

Standing Outside of the Realm of Description

Standing outside of the realm of description is a good practice to help you find your roots in pure awareness.

"Standing outside of the realm of description" means simply that you stay present but don't describe what you are aware of. You don't describe whatever you are aware of with words in your mind (or out loud, for that matter). You are aware of what you are aware of without inventing any dialog, labels, or captions to go with it. Don't evaluate, judge, form opinions, or rehearse what you might say about what you are aware of. Just be aware of the naked feed.

You actually are always outside the realm of description, so you should approach this practice that way, recognizing the wordlessness of your native state. Often we are not conscious of this, but it is always true anyway.

If you are familiar with Dogzen, you may be aware of the "6th consciousness" (see Dogzen Email Newsletter Number 4) . With this practice, you de-identify with the actions of the 6th consciousness. You step outside the domain of the 6th consciousness, and let the cloud of descriptions in your mind dissipate, leaving an open place for pure awareness. This gives you the opportunity to directly experience the natural emptiness of pure awareness.

People vary a lot about how much they internally describe what they are aware of. I talked to a person just the other day who said he could not even conceive of not describing what he was aware of. He didn't know even how to start to do that. I think there are many people who aren't too familiar with being aware while empty of thought. This practice is especially beneficial to them.

This isn't something you do, it is something you stop doing. You just let go of the automatic internal description of what you are aware of. For example, often people judge themselves, especially after they did something that they imagine is wrong or stupid. To do this practice, you would simply take a moment to consciously not judge. Or, suppose you always name things. Some people name everything. It is as if they feel they aren't aware of something unless they can name it. This isn't true. You can be aware of something without naming it. In fact, you can know it more intimately if you don't name it because you don't overlay it with concepts and words and all the associations those words connect to. The thing just stands on its own legs within the field of awareness.

[Aside: this article is a description. This is just a description of standing outside of description!]

Standing outside of the realm of description is a part of being in contemplation. You can't really be in contemplation if you are mentally describing things (or at least, it is difficult). Mentally describing things brings in all sorts of mental and verbal associations, previous experiences, and the like, that make it hard to just directly get the suchness of the thing you are aware of at this moment. Standing outside of the realm of description immediately clears the mind of this material and what remains is a simple state of naked awareness, uncluttered by verbal mind. It takes a little practice, that's all.

Your words don't make things what they are. Descriptions aren't even the knowledge of what things are. Descriptions and other overlays do have their place, but it is also good to be able to stand outside of the entire realm of descriptions so that you just nakedly experience what you are experiencing. As you get used to doing this, your describing mind quiets down a bit and there are moments of emptiness, which are refreshing and help you to re-sync to the base.

We here in Buddha land want to be grounded in a state outside of the process of describing things, at least now and then. This state should be easily accessible in any situation or circumstance. When something "strong" comes along, we'd like to be sort of transparent to it, letting the energy flow through without getting stuck and causing distress. Not automatically labeling goes a long way towards not getting stuck in things.

"But what about dyads?" you might ask. [Aside: for those unfamiliar with the dyad, it is the contemplative practice used in the Enlightenment Intensive. See for details.] In the dyad, the first part is contemplation, so this is where you stand outside the realm of description and just be open to experiencing the truth directly. During that time, you do not chase after thoughts about what is real and what isn't, or about what is the true self and what isn't, or about what has occurred that is you or not you. You stand outside of the whole realm of description and just experience directly, without seeking the concept or words that describe what you are experiencing.

Sometimes you have to intentionally hold off thinking for a little while or you can't get into contemplation. The Kagyus (a lineage of Buddhism in Tibet) even recommend that you tense up your body and kind of force your thoughts to shut up. I've done this in Intensives and it works pretty well. You can alternate it with being very relaxed and just resting in emptiness a bit. That way, you don't get too rigid or get blinded by the forcing.

After a few minutes of the contemplative state, in which you are empty of description, you then let the impression generate a concept. You try to capture what it is you are experiencing and then formulate how you would describe this to your partner.

During the contemplation part, you don't enter the realm of description, but then, during the communication part, you do. You try to keep these separate. You want to avoid just thinking thousands of thoughts without ever being silent enough to catch pure awareness just being itself without a fog of mind-stuff obscuring it. You can more easily experience awareness of self (or whatever your contemplative target is) without concepts in the way because the direct awareness of self is not just having a clear idea or concept of self. It is the fundamentally empty self-nature reflecting itself into consciousness.

Once you have practiced this for a while, you will find that you can remain in contemplation while thinking thoughts. You don't automatically lose contemplation while communicating. You can see the concepts coming into existence right in the moment, right as they do it. And, you can see the nature of the communication as you flow out to the other.


That's it for this time. Fond regards,