Again, we are delighted to present a pairing of entries focusing on the work of Buddhist teacher, writer and student, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. In Journal Entries 020 & 021 Elizabeth shared from her book “The Logic of Faith: A Buddhist Approach to Finding Certainty Beyond Belief And Doubt”, which the editors at Windhorse Journal find extremely relevant to all aspects of the mutual recovery process.
Digging deeper into that same book, we’ve printed here an excerpt titled, “Emerging From Not Noticing”. Pratityasamutpada, the Buddhist study of the interdependent nature of all phenomena and experience, offers us a perspective of awakening to the more subtle and complex relationships that give rise to our world and our perceptions of it. Ms Namgyel writes:
Interdependence offers us a new way of looking at things by drawing us out of the narrow tunnel of self-absorption into a broader awareness. It shows us the way to live in sane relationship to our world, in grace. This understanding is not only inextricably linked with our survival but with basic sanity and insight as well.
Elizabeth’s book offers everyday examples, challenging reasoning and and a series of guided contemplations on how to develop a deeper, more genuine appreciation of the interdependence of all things. We hope you find some interest and connection to the materials we’ve curated for Windhorse Journal.
Please stay tuned for the Journal Entry 047 which will be part 2 of our podcast dialogue with Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel and Windhorse senior clinicians Gretchen Kahre-Holland and Chuck Knapp.
Emerging From Not Noticing:
An excerpt from Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel’s “The Logic of Faith”
It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up—release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast true nature.
— Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
Although you may not think about it as you move about your life, you have an intimate and natural relationship with pratityasamutpada. You observe the persistent linkage between cause and effect as you head to work each day in order to pay your bills; you know that if you drop a glass onto a hard surface, it will shatter; and when your car breaks down and you have to get it fixed, you probably don’t think twice about that fact that it is made of parts. We all, at times, make careless choices without reflecting upon the consequences. For instance, we might subsist on coffee and doughnuts for years without conscious consideration of what it might do to the complex and responsive organism we call our body.
There is a Sanskrit term for this in Ayurvedic medicine: Prajna aparadha. Prajna aparadha might be translated as actions that “undermine prosperity” or could be loosely defined as “crimes against wisdom.” In certain spiritual contexts it refers specifically to breaking vows one has taken that keep one in the boundary of one’s intention to awaken. Fundamentally, prajna aparadha alludes to the choices you make that dishonor your basic intelligence: from the times when the world gives you feedback but you don’t pay attention, to the many moments you live in a state of myopia where you don’t recognize yourself as an integral part of a sensitive and lively interconnected matrix.
Because everything leans, the world gives you feedback. You might use terms such as feedback or karma to describe the connection between specific causes and their results. But if you closely observe the nature of dependent arising, you will see everything as the reverberating effects of infinite elements coming together and falling away in each moment. How you as an individual experience this continuous movement comprises the flow of events you call your life.
Chances are some of these events pan out according to preferences, and some of them don’t. When you don’t like where the chips may fall, you might pinpoint a singular source of your misery. But in the broadest sense, there is nothing to blame but the dynamic play of infinite elements—the activity of the great web of contingency, of which you are an integral part.
Once you understand that this world of appearances and possibilities is not limited to the way you perceive it, you might not get so hung up on your own truths. You may see firsthand how widening your lens works agains your habitual tendency to shut down around knowing anything in a fixed or determinate way and how this leads you toward a less reactive and more responsive approach to things. As you trace how your choices and attitudes shape your life, you gain keen insight into the subtle yet vital patterns that influence your experiences of suffering and freedom.
In this book, we will continue to ask many questions concerning how to live in harmonious relationship with the world around us. We will look at the mechanics of falling in, and out, of grace. It is a given that human beings long for a sense of ease and meaning in life—that is not in question here. But how we strive for happiness needs to be deeply examined because the way we live our lives is often at odds with our intentions.
In our quest for well-being we spend much time focusing on our individual needs, forgetting that our emotional and physical health is inextricably linked to the world in which we live. As we awaken from our self-absorption, we will see that there is no way to identify where we—as individuals—end and the world begins; we will see that we are, in fact, inextricably linked. As we begin to notice the world around us, our longing to let life touch us will increase, and we will respond naturally to others with a a sense of kinship and tenderness.
By observing interdependence we emerge from the complacency of not noticing. For instance, recently a plethora of dramatic elemental happenings have shaken us awake as a global society: resource scarcity, severe changes in weather patterns, environmental toxicity. Of course, there has never been a time when we haven’t experienced the consequences of our actions. But in a broader collective sense, these global challenges are ushering us into a new awareness of the delicate and undeniable bond we share with our planet and other beings.
Part of the growing concern for the environment emerged when humans witnessed, for the first time, images of the earth as seen from space—a recent gift of perspective. The first photograph of a fully illuminated earth was taken on December 7, 1972, and remains possibly the most widely distributed photographic image in human history. Because of its glassy appearance, the image became affectionately known as the “Blue Marble.”
Over the decades since the introduction of this visual reference, our relationship to the planet has changed dramatically. The image has revealed to us that the ground we stand on and the atmosphere that protects us from the powerful forces of the outer universe are more fragile than we had imagined. It has forced us to reflect upon the impact of human consumption and on the careless ways we have related to our surroundings. It continues to serve as an icon of a new global awareness that has energized an investigation into how we might protect rather than violate our relatively small and precious home.
The direct and undeniable feedback we receive from the imbalances in natural systems can change the way we understand human evolution. Rather than seeing evolution as a linear process of growth, we might consider whether human evolution may not have more to do with emerging from not noticing—a return to the wisdom traditions of our ancestors who recognized the intricate and reciprocal relationship they had with their world. Here I don’t just mean the physical world—our planet—but also the way we live our lives and how we relate to everything we encounter.
Interdependence offers us a new way looking at things by drawing us out of the narrow tunnel of self-absorption into a broader awareness. It shows us the way to live in a sane relationship to our world, in grace. This understanding is not only inextricably linked with our survival but with basic sanity and insight as well.
Elizabeth has studied and practiced Mahayana Buddhism, as well as the Vajrayana tradition of the Longchen Nyingthik, for over 30 years under the guidance of her teacher and husband, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. She has been intimately involved with Rinpoche’s work in bringing Buddhist wisdom to the West, in particular the development of Mangala Shri Bhuti, an organization dedicated to the study and practice of the Longchen Nyingthik lineage. She is also a founding member and teacher of the Wilderness Dharma Movement and on the advisory boards of Prison Mindfulness Network and the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival.
Elizabeth has an academic background in anthropology and Buddhist studies. After many years of solitary retreat, Rinpoche appointed Elizabeth as Retreat Master at Longchen Jigme Samten Ling, Mangala Shri Bhuti’s retreat center in southern Colorado. Elizabeth is the author of The Power of an Open Question and The Logic of Faith. She has edited Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s two books, It’s Up to Youand Light Comes Through, and teaches the Buddhadharma throughout the United States and Europe. When she is not traveling, she enjoys riding her horse through the vast planes of the San Luis Valley in Crestone, Colorado.