Achalanatha and distraction

This article is a version of the talk that was recently given by myself after the Achalanatha Festival.

Achalanatha has various  attributes. There is the sword, for cutting through delusion, a lasso which represents the Buddhist Precepts and a chain which ties him to the rock upon which he is standing. His body is blue and of course he stands admidst the roaring flames which don’t touch the body. All these things help show us elements of faith and if called upon allow us to work with that which comes to us.

Distraction seems to be at the top of many peoples agendas today. We can see the modern digital social network joined up world as a potential source of dissatisfaction. It has many benefits but also can pose just as many ,if not more, potential harmful aspects. This can be very helpful in starting to see how the mind jumps around and tries to grab what is always just out of reach. This isn’t new of course but does have the potential to throw us around a lot more if we allow it to. This is the nub. Allow it to.

What if we can be fully focused all the time? Is that even preferable? What response does that bring forth? If this being in the moment is forced, is seen as an ideal it can become hard and unyielding. Just being aware though can have a softer more pliant expression which is less self conscious.

Take the scenario of your phone beeping and pinging regularly with alerts. When it does that and catch us unawares what should we do, what do we do? Do we find ourselves jolted out of where we are and responding immediately? The sound of the alert is no different to the sound of anxiety in our heads. A sudden thought which grabs us and we are off in that direction leaving the place we have just been in. Like being ambushed and carried away. We are probably all familiar with something along those lines. As in meditation we are free not to respond, to not follow that movement away. When a thought arises in zazen do we say ourselves ‘I must get this’ or do we allow ourselves a moment to settle and come from a different space and place. It may be that it is good to respond yet that fraction of a moment when we can go in one direction or another is what I’m pointing to. So here we have Achalanatha not leaving his sitting place. The sitting place does not restrict movement yet it is the residing place of the non-dual. I am speaking of awareness of body and mind. This what cuts through tenacious attachments of body and mind

Much teaching is about following. When the bell rings follow. Is there a difference here. It seems to be saying the same thing, doesn’t it? Watch the difference though when we respond with the heart rather than a panicked head response. Looking here we can see that one  thing leads into another having its own own place. The other mode is  a pushing out of one thing and a levering in of another. We now start to see than when we are distracted, or more pointedly,  distracting ourselves, we don’t have to be run around in maybe the way we feel weare led to. If we sit down and watch the telly and it is good to do, that is different to hiding away in it with the hope that our problems are hidden for awhile.This adds to our uneasiness because we are turning away and not towards. Life is put on hold and that is unsustainable. Achalanatha shows how we can be in the flames one pointedly and not be burned. The flames ‘which have been created by clinging to name and form, -a self identity, – the five skandas and the six senses, – and the eight distractions‘. So we attach to a false sense of what and who we are. Identifying with what we see as a solid self rather than an everchanging amalgalm of thoughts and feelings. When we make the movement to turn towards we see that we have  what we need to climb Mount Sumeru. The Buddha sitting atop the altar is not separate from us. We bow to the altar because we are giving up ourselves and not denying the potential we have.

If any human being prone to entertaining despair, – beset by hopelessness, the person should meditate on the ever vigilante One, – and thus learn to stay rooted in the present moment’

The sections in italics are from ‘ In Praise of Achalanatha ‘, which part of the OBC liturgy, and was sung at the Achalanatha Fesival.