The fourth fundamental certainty is the ’phag-lam yan-lag gyèd,15 which comprises the eight modes of the path of alignment. The path of alignment touches on every aspect of our being in the world and aligns us with the beginningless nondual state.
The path of alignment is a way of opening to the world rather than attempting to manipulate the world. To open to the world in a non-strategic way, we need to create enough experiential space to become aware of the process of distracted-being. We need the experiential space of meditation in order to observe the ridiculousness of having ourselves created the elaborate mechanistic mannerisms that cause us distress.
The path of alignment comprises: whole-hearted perception, whole-hearted intention, whole-hearted communication, whole-hearted conduct, whole-hearted vocation, whole-hearted effort, whole-hearted attention, and whole-hearted presence.
Yang-dag pa’i tawa 16—whole-hearted perception—concerns opening out our view of life – liberating our perception from the compulsive habit of inter-related labelling phenomena. Dualised perception ordinarily operates in terms of anticipation, preconception, conceptualisation, preoccupation, and judgemental discrimination.
Dualised perception has fixed boundaries. From within these boundaries, people come to be recognised and graded as idols, lovers, friends, acquaintances, those we like, dislike, despise, loathe, or hate. Once labelled, these people are frozen according to the rôles ascribed.
Having encapsulated others in terms of what they signify to us, we register these impressions for future reference – and then relate to people as if they were the ciphers we have categorised them as being.
Perception can thus either be open or closed. When we open our perception, we do not feel constrained to anticipate events or people’s possible reactions. We stop registering every being detected by our perceptual sonar in terms of our preconceptions. Perception then begins to expand beyond its set boundaries. Once perception has begun to open we’re led naturally toward the liberation of our responses, which is known as whole-hearted intention.
Yang-dag pa’i tog-pa 17—whole-hearted intention—is about opening our responses to the phenomena of our perception. Because our perception has opened, our responses naturally begin to flow from that free source, and motivation becomes less constricted by the need to establish ourselves as solid, permanent, separate, continuous, and defined. We become able to relate to life as it actually is.
Our responses to stimuli become more appropriate. When our responses open, we become aware that there is a more direct and real communication taking place.
We are capable of making more direct contact with the texture of experience. We jettison the filters, protective gloves and goggles, and this naked intercourse is known as whole-hearted communication.
Yang dag pa’i ngag 18—whole-hearted communication—is concerned with opening our intercourse with the phenomenal world.
Because our intention has opened, the intricate problems we had about our honesty and dishonesty dissolve. We realise we have no need to be devious or deceitful. We can be forthright and direct about how we happen to find ourselves. This is extremely profound and subtle, but a corollary exists in terms of the development of maturity in human beings. Many people—in their adolescence—become concerned with self-image in a certain way that causes difficulties.
If I have an image of myself and I wish others to relate to that image rather with the reality of what I am – I will experience a wide variety of interpersonal conflict. I will also feel a high level of anxiety. I will feel undervalued, underrated, held in low esteem, slighted, snubbed, affronted, and insulted. As soon as I allow everyone to relate to me as I am – I feel relaxed and confident about who I am. The problem with wanting people to see me as better than I am is that I actually insult myself by so doing. What we are has to be fine – for the moment. We can always have some idea of improving. but we have to respect the base, the moment now. That is where we always begin. That is the point from which we grow. As soon as we begin to relax about who we are and how we are – we see that our deliberately contrived fictions had built barriers between us and the phenomena of our perception. These fictions insulated us from the texture of experience and denied us surface-to-surface contact.
With this understanding, speech becomes direct and open. We convey our intentions precisely without grandiosity, aggression, embroidery, deviousness, or ennui.
When communication opens, we experience less inhibition in our contact with the world. We become open to real involvement, which is known as whole-hearted conduct.
Yang-dag pa’i lé-kyi tha 19—whole-hearted conduct—is concerned with opening the characteristics of our actions in the phenomenal world. Because speech has opened, we’re able to commit ourselves more fully in terms of our relationship with the phenomenal world. We become open to real involvement with whatever our situation happens to be. This area is associated with morality, ethics, and discipline in Sutra. These are valuable approaches, but the terms themselves—morality, ethics, and discipline—can carry connotations for some people which are misleading. Morality, ethics, and discipline are not always entirely healthy – and where there is an awareness of this, people can reject methods that might serve them well. Morality, ethics, and discipline in Buddhism are essentially self-existent. They are ways of emulating the natural state rather than being laws that merely govern behaviour. Whole-hearted conduct involves not manipulating situations as if we were separate and unique. Whole-hearted conduct involves having an authentic respect for the environment. This translates as responsibility – and is known as whole-hearted vocation.
Yang-dag pa’i ’tsho ba 20—whole-hearted vocation—is concerned with opening our method of maintaining our existence in the world in the most realistic and appropriate way.
Because conduct has opened, we’re able to take responsibility for our situation. We realise that we’re responsible for our world and the countless sentient beings around us. We become aware that what we do—in order to maintain ourselves—is intimately inter-related with the condition of other sentient beings and their environment.
We need to expend sufficient effort to maintain our physical health, provide ourselves with food, clothes, and shelter, without causing problems for anyone else. We are ultimately responsible for our actions. We learn to balance relaxation and exertion so that we allow ourselves space and time, which is known as whole-hearted effort.
Yang-dag pa’i tsalwa 21—whole-hearted effort—is concerned with opening our participation with the phenomenal world. Because our vocation is open, we can let energy flow freely. We are committed to whatever we’re doing and therefore we’re open to complete participation. There is no hesitation, no holding back. With complete commitment, we’re able to exert ourselves. We develop endurance. Such complete application of energy is without distraction. Because we trust our open intelligence and are present in whatever we are doing – we can move with skill and precision. In this arena of expanded participation we discover the sense of space known as whole-hearted attention.
Yang dag pa’i ting dran pa 22—whole-hearted attention—is concerned with opening our awareness and our gaze. By gaze,23 I mean the open-eyed quality of all the sense fields. Once our effort is open, we can allow awareness of our whole situation to develop with all its attendant circumstances.
Our working situation softens and our involvement loses any sense of claustrophobia that might have remained as a residual self-serving propensity. The experience of space continues to expand – and makes our situation increasingly creative. We are aware of the atmosphere of our situation, and a sense of delight arises.
Our awareness is unrestricted by the considerations of self-defensiveness. We cease maintaining reference points, or investing in securing territory. Our attention is naked and direct, and we become free in a relaxed manner. This totality of commitment without attachment is known as whole-hearted presence.
Yang dag pa’i ting ngé’dzin24—whole-hearted presence—is complete openness. The phrase ‘ting ngé’dzin’ relates directly to the four ting ngé’dzin of Dzogchen sem-dé which are the fruitional phases of the four naljors25 – the ngöndro26 of Dzogchen sem-dé.27
This is the heart of the silent sitting practice in which we’ve been engaged together. So from that point of view, attention and gaze are completely open, and there is no dualistic division between: emptiness and phenomena; awareness and arising thoughts; meditation and meditator. Life becomes meditation and all our activities are natural, spontaneous, and free.
We experience self-liberation of whatever arises and are unconditioned by the phenomena of our perception. Every action is pure appropriateness; bewilderment has become wonderment. This is the heart of the silent sitting practice in which we’ve been engaged together.
15. ’phyag lam yan lag brGyad
16. yang dag pa’i lTa ba
17. yang dag pa’i rTog pa
18. yang dag pa’i ngag
19. yang dag pa’i las kyi mTha’
20. yang dag pa’i ’tsho ba
21. yang dag pa’i rTsal ba
22. yang dag pa’i dran pa
23. lTa stangs
24. Yang dag pa’i ting nge ’dzin
25. rNal ’byor bZhi
26. sNgon ’gro – preparation or foundation practices
27. See glossary