A MAHAMUDRA ESSAY: I’ve Looked at Life from Both Sides Now
There is a popular song of the 60’s that, in recent times, caused me to undertake a contemplation on a before-and-after gnosis (knowing) sourced from the Treasure Texts with little to no emotional reactivity. That is to say, the conventional “I” reflected on how life was viewed before and after endeavoring practices of Anuyoga and Antiyoga, having transitioned from the Sutrayana view of Emptiness based on understanding Dependent Co-arising of the Abhidharma section to the Atiyoga of pure vision. In this case, it comes from meditative experiences only. As noted, the view changes dramatically. After all, our transformational practice is made up of living moments while breaking out of the mold of limitations; and, lest we forget, we are all nirmanakaya, the mental and physical manifestations of Buddha.
When lyrics are a form of art, we must remember that all art is supposed to increase our mindfulness—the ability of self-awareness and the capacity to reflect on experience and daily life. The name of the song as an object of meditation is “Both Sides Now,” by songwriter/singer Joni Mitchell. Her noetic lyrics will be interspersed throughout the essay as my contemplation unfolds. In several ways, the words send me on a journey of where I am, looking at both sides, in the now, throughout.
Here is a spoiler alert when it comes to the word “love.” As interpreted, it is not about the numerous failed attempts at karmamudra in which the final mind refinement (the very, very subtle mind) is actualized. Read this essay while recognizing that “in reality, each phenomenon appears vividly while recognizing that the essential nature of subject, object, and action are without inherent existence.” In effect, a quantum effect—it exists and does not exists at the same time in each moment of life. A more poetic way of explaining the quantum phenomena is that “it comes in the stillness, a wordless knowing of everything and beautifully nothing (nondual).”
Thus, we begin this journey of “Both Sides Now” together as we also attempt to recognize any of our cognitive biases.
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way….
Though the first stanza exists in the memory of sense objects, the imagery appeals to our sensual consciousness—they create a loop, especially of the eye- and intellect-consciousnesses. There is contact. There may also be a craving for forms, taste, and tactile sensations, including ideas. Nevertheless, the lyrics seem to recognize a wisdom that is inseparable from Emptiness.
The reference to “feather canyons everywhere” is a visual of the actual Feather Canyon located between Pulga and Keddie, California. It is known for its high winds (aka Jarbo Winds). For our purposes, we can recognize the prevailing winds as consciousness rides the breath (Prana)—the Wind Horse metaphor. Wind as Prana is everywhere.
But now they [clouds] only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way….
There is an awakening here, recognizing that, although the Clear Light is in everyone, it remains a common clear light that is hidden by a cloud or veil. In other words, it remains dormant, undefined, and ignored. Thus, when we speak about ignorance in Buddhism, we are really referring to the ignorance of the bliss, clarity, and non-conceptual awareness that is our birthright. In other words, as Dr. Ian Baker, explorer and author of Tibetan Yoga; Principles and Practices, states, “The recognition of mind’s innermost photonic nature to an all-pervading luminosity—’like a moonlit sky in autumn,'” is our natural inheritance. Moreover, the sun, when darkness (ignorance) is expelled, becomes the complete brightness of mind.
The awakening starts with the words, “so many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.” How do I see ’em clouds, let me count the way. No, do not bother. Phet! If I had known then what I know now, I could have gone beyond self-liberation….
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all….
How do clouds play illusions? I really do not know how they create illusions if not by recognizing that “(1) all appearances are mind; (2) mind is empty, (3) Emptiness is spontaneous presence; and (4) spontaneous presence is natural liberation?” All of existence is made up of dreaming while awake, dreaming in sleep, and dreaming the blending of both day and night dreams. The cloud of illusions is a teaching. This reminds me of a stanza in the Upadesha Tantra on the Great Perfection, The Secret Kissing of the Sun and Moon: Self-awareness transcends all obstructions | It is within the special quality of our place. | This itself is divided between the external and the internal. | So there is the measureless place of the precious citta.
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way….
The roundness of Ferris wheels and moons while June radiates with solar energy—such lovely and sneaky imagery. The fairies of Midsummer gather for the ritual of fertility come into play with the word “June.” This is how we mostly sense “love” in many cultures to perpetuate the existence of rebirth. It is a dizzying ritual dance.
But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em[,] laughing when you go
And if you can, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away….
A change does take place. When Shakyamuni Buddha was asked what he gained from meditation, he replied, I gained nothing, but I lost greed, hatred, and delusion.” This is what I see happening here. All that preceded in memory is likened to “just another show” of delusion/illusion. A comma had to be inserted before the word “laughing’ to make it clear that the object/subject is the one laughing, not her friends or not any reified idea. The clinging, craving, and feeling sensations dissipate, too. In caring, one shows oneself the courage to surrender one’s mind and ego to the realm of unknowing, at which point one glimpses many times over the nature of mind. The world of tantra is difficult and perilous enough to want to share it with anyone who simply could not understand.
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love at all….
To reflect on all the different types of loves experienced—as daughter, sister, mother, wife, divorcee, widow, and the like—there is all this give and take and confusion until one stands up, stamps the foot, and clasps the hand to exclaim, “I have had enough of this absurdity!”
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way….
Ah, the temporary disturbing emotions of tears and fears. They are illusions that will deceive and mislead. Instead, identify with your Buddha Nature. That is how “feeling proud” comes into play. Tears and fears are surpassed by Vajra Pride that encourages to continue cultivating Bodhicitta for the benefit of all others. Without Bodhicitta, there is no Mahamudra, Tantra, and much less Dzogchen Nyingthik (Heart Essence of the Great Perfection). The warning of Tantra is that an unbalanced Vajra Pride can lead to schemes of megalomania, like Rudra and the circus crowds he collected for his aggrandizement. So the practice of a Yidam is to be healthy and balanced.
Yet, the shooting out loud “I love you,” is loving oneself first for the purpose of healing. Bodhicitta is always for oneself and others, the immeasurable mind of equanimity.
One embarks on the knowledge and wisdom of what is termed relative, correct deceptive reality: There is a path of seeing that is realized awareness—the practice of cutting through the dualistic conceptual thoughts into the raw uncontrived primordially pure nature of reality. Everything becomes a mirage of dreams after dreams until it is gone—tathagate (as used here, one who has acquired perfect knowledge or who has attained liberation from karma).
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, and they say that I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day….
Yes, “old friends” is another loss. They just cannot see how you are wishing them Enlightenment in your samaya recitations. What is gained? a transformation into the Five Wisdoms of one’s own Alaya, not to be confused with the Alaya–vijnana.—the collective ground consciousnesses. Some songwriters have an inner vision that is clear-eyed.
O, I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know life at all.
They say, “Patience is the virtue of time.” As Toni Bernhard, former law professor turned Buddhist, once wrote, “Patience is an act of compassion toward ourselves, and it also gives rise to equanimity—that sublime state of mind that leads to peace and well-being.” For the tantric practitioner, it is pure vision and pure awareness turned into ‘pure awareness being primal purity.” The subject, object, and action become inseparable, recognizing itself. From a Buddhist perspective, patience is the ability not to be perturbed by anything. After looking at life from both sides, the gnosis cognizes the nonduality of Emptiness as immaculate as a cloudless sky and wisdom as the perfect discrimination of phenomena (all knowable things).
As a last thought, even the melody of “Both Sides Now” sticks to the ribs, affording a satisfying opportunity to lower the chest voice registry by an octave; it helps vibrate the Vagus Nerve to strengthen the immune system. Whistling the melody also helps strengthen the Vagus Nerve. Of course, there is always the mantra–OM MANI PEME HUNG HRI.
May all dream-like beings awaken from their illusory suffering, confusion, & fabrications....