14. Seeing confusion as the four kayas is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

With this slogan, once again we are joining what we usually consider as undesirable with practice. In this case it is confusion.  At first glimpse, this slogan seems rather obscure and even esoteric.  What kind of confusion?  What are the four kayas?  What is shunyata, anyway, and what form of protection can it provide? Protection from what?

In everyday experience, it is often hard to pin down what exactly is happening and why.  Whenever we begin to figure things out, there is always some kind of slippage. Things begin to make sense, but just almost and not quite. We keep trying to chip away at our confusion, to straighten it out, to get rid of it, imagining ourselves somehow coming out on the other side, into a nonconfused state where everything is workable. But according to this slogan, rather than getting rid of our confusion, what we really need to do is to examine it and in doing so transform our view of it. We need to look below the surface to how we perceive reality altogether.

Basically, the point here is that if we really look closely at the way our mind works, even in the midst of confusion, we alway find the same process: one of continual awakening. This process is described in terms of what are called the four kayas or “bodies.”  Through careful attention and meditative practice we begin to see how every perception begins with uncertainty and openness (dharmakaya); then starts to come into focus (nirmanakaya); then develops energy and begins to come together (sambhogakaya), and finally clicks, synthesized as immediate present-moment experience (svabhavikakaya).  It is as though confusion is awakening in disguise.

This pattern of continual awakening (seeing confusion as the four kayas) is paired with one of continual letting go (supreme shunyata protection). So in this slogan, not only do we transform how we view confusion, but we also see that although it may seem solid and intractable, fundamentally it is empty (shunyata). Combining all this, when we see everything as empty and awake, we have no ground to defend and nothing to protect—which is the most excellent protection of all.

Today’s practice

In your sitting practice, pay attention to the arising and dissolving of perceptions. Notice how your sense of self seems to arise simultaneously with each perception, ready to respond to any threat; notice the subtle undertone of fear.  What are you actually protecting?

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