Openness clarity sensitivity: ground path and fruit

There is a way in which openness, clarity, sensitivity are intrinsic to what we are. We already have a certain openness, a certain way of relating to space, even if it is just the idea of a crude external space; you must have that to be a human being, to be any kind of being in fact. Since perceptions do appear to us in some way or another, we have a certain amount of clarity as well. There is also something intrinsic about having emotions like desire, hatred, love, genuine empathy and so on; we all have that kind of sensitivity to some degree. Some people do seem to have more of these qualities than others and they can appear in distorted forms, but nevertheless you don’t actually have to be anything or do anything to have a certain amount of openness, clarity, sensitivity. So there is an intrinsic basis of these three qualities which is just given, you could say you are born with it. But then there is also the sense in which you can cultivate those qualities. These two ways of looking at the three qualities can be expressed in terms of what is called ground, path and fruit.

The reality of what one is, what the world is, what the nature of things is, is actually ever-present and immediately before us, not hidden and not obscured. The trouble is, although it is not really covered over, by choosing not to look at it we have been able to ignore it. This not wanting to look at the truth before us corresponds to the ground and is the place where we start from; it is the way we are most of the time as ordinary people going about our ordinary activities. Although our experience of the world actually comes from a tremendous aliveness, a real and genuine awakenedness that we already possess, which is very meaningful and significant, we don’t see it like that. We don’t even have the idea that there is some genuine reality there which is covered over; our ordinary confused experience is just taken as given, and we might spend a lot of our time complaining that things aren’t going our way or things could be better or whatever.

So you find yourself faced with the situation of your own pain, your own sense of incompleteness, and maybe a feeling that there is something to discover, experienced rather crudely perhaps as the feeling of, “My life is hectic and unsatisfactory, I would like something to calm me down or relax me”. For various reasons, maybe a response to one’s pain, maybe something more positive like a genuine curiosity about the mysteriousness of the world of experience, you might turn to Buddhism as a way to relieve your pain or to discover something. One way or another, expressed by different traditions in different words, you are told that it all comes down to the fact that you have to learn to be open, you have to develop clarity or awareness, and you have to allow yourself to be genuinely sensitive and responsive to situations beyond the usual and immediate egocentric reaction to circumstances. This possibility of change within us because of openness or spaciousness, clarity or awareness, sensitivity or responsiveness, corresponds to the path.

The path of the Buddha is simply cultivating these three qualities of openness, clarity, sensitivity, but then what does that mean? Especially as we have already said that those qualities are intrinsic. Because we have the impression that they are covered over (although they aren’t really), the path is simply that which reduces the thickness of the covering; it cannot be something which alters the intrinsic three qualities. You cannot make yourself more open, clear or sensitive than you already are in your fundamental nature. So we practise and try to cultivate these three qualities, and because those qualities become more and more evident, it seems like we are cultivating them. We use the language of cultivation because that is what seems to be happening, but what we are really doing is removing the obstructions that block them out, that prevent them from coming through.

The further you go along the path the more important it is to realise that the three qualities are simply being uncovered, they are not being increased; you are revealing something you already have, you are not acquiring something you don’t have. Later on in the practice, exerting a lot of effort doesn’t increase the three qualities, it may even muddy the water and create a problem. Knowing that the three qualities aren’t going to disappear makes a big difference to the way you practise; it means you can afford to be more relaxed than you might have thought. The trouble is, we think we know what being relaxed means, but in fact we don’t. As Trungpa Rinpoche said, it doesn’t mean putting your feet on the table, lighting up a cigarette and entering some kind of fug, which is just indulging yourself in unawareness; that is like trying to have a holiday from your own experience, which is forever impossible. There is another form of relaxation connected with becoming clearer and eventually having the full realisation of the nature of things. This is like making a full recovery from smallpox, after which you can never catch the disease again; never again will you fall into dullness and confusion.

As the apparent overlay of confusion is removed, it doesn’t just change the way you view the world; the fact that you perceive the world in a different way means you also act in a different way. If you are genuinely more open to situations and to people you can afford to be bolder, more honest and forthright in the things you do. At the end of the path is the fruit, which is the realisation that confusion never was from the very beginning. At that point you become Buddha with the special qualities and activities of Buddha, which are simply those things that shine forth once you have the total confidence that openness, clarity, sensitivity are now completely exposed with nothing whatsoever in the way.

One of the mysterious things that happens as you follow the path is that when you are treating openness, clarity, sensitivity as qualities which can be developed, then those qualities seem like objects you could be aware of. For example, you might look at yourself and think, “Well, I am not a very open person, but I could become more open”, and you could perhaps detect yourself becoming more and more open. The only problem with that is one’s suspect notion of the self which is aware, that is the thinker, the feeler, the doer and so on. Through the practice you begin to see the non-solidity of that sense of self, and even more, you have an increasing sense that the three qualities which appear before you actually come from a mysterious place beyond anything you could focus on or be aware of. As you trace those qualities back to their origin, that origin becomes increasingly mysterious.

You can say, “Openness, clarity, sensitivity that is what I am”, and yet you can never be aware of those qualities in themselves. You can be aware of some of the effects that openness, clarity, sensitivity produce, but those are not the qualities themselves, they are what in one’s confused state one tends to call openness, clarity, sensitivity. Maybe there is also something behind the idea of the self that is aware, that acts and has volition and so on; eventually there is a sense in which the origins of all these qualities begin to merge into a place which is completely beyond definition and finally seem to vanish altogether. That place which is beyond any words or thoughts and beyond time or space, is the Indestructible Heart Essence., Prabhasvara Vajragarbha, Ösel Dorje Nyingpo in Tibetan. Ösel means clarity, the fundamental or primordial awareness. Dorje means what is indestructible, what can never be affected by anything. Nyingpo means the heart or essence of one’s being. One could afford to rely on that Indestructible Heart Essence.

There is another way in which this notion of ground, path and fruit can be described using the image of mother and child, where the child has wandered away from the mother and become lost. The mother is the genuine nature of the way things are in themselves, the qualities of openness, clarity, sensitivity beyond any notions one might have about them. The child is lost, orphaned, without a mother, because the mother (reality) is completely overlaid by confusion; that is called the ground. When the child realises it has become separated from its mother and starts to look for her, that is called the path. That is the practice of removing the things that get in the way of the three qualities, and of linking into reality in a genuine and relaxed way. The meeting of mother and child begins with the mother calling to the child, the child’s eventual response of moving towards the sound of the mother’s voice, a sense of recognition at a distance, running towards each other, and finally the joy of mother and child really meeting, embracing, and the child jumping into its mother’s lap. This then is mother and child becoming one. That final moment of realisation, when there is only what is truly there beyond confusion, is called the fruit.

In the end, when there is a merging between the real openness, clarity, sensitivity and your version of those qualities which you seem to have been practising with and improving, you realise that there never was any improvement and you never actually did anything. Reality was always there like that, you just didn’t recognise it. When you are practising there seems to be a lot happening because you are going from total confusion to less and less confusion to zero confusion, but when you hit zero confusion you realise that the reality you experience at that point was ever-present. There is something very special about that final moment when it seems there never was any confusion, and in the final recognition no realisation was necessary or even arose.

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