Being Right Here
A Dzogchen Treasure Text of
Nuden Dorje entitled
The Mirror of Clear Meaning

James Low
(Snow Lion)
I am an Eisenhower man. I'll do e-mail and fax and even, at times a microwave lunch, but I wouldn't be caught dead at a rave, listening to the music of Death Cab for Cutie, Planes Mistaken for Stars, The God-Awfuls, or The Scabs. To make matters worse, cocaine leaves me cold and pot makes my head pop open and clowns come out and it scares me.

Thus, it is for fun in the evening we do a video --- "The Thirty-Nine Steps," perhaps, or "Casablanca" --- along with my two faithful glasses of bad burgundy. With ice. In a Pyrex measuring cup, so I'll know exactly how much I have put away.

But sometimes I get carried away, drink three or four cups. At those times, I am truly in my cups. I also know I am doomed: that at one a.m. or two, I'll awaken, my heart going bang-bang-bang, shaking the bed and shaking me up, knowing that I am at death's doorstep, that soon the old kicker will be kicking out on me. Is it worth it? That extra fifteen ounces?

It must be. For it is after the third cup that eloquence takes me over like a mudslide. "Life is a river," I'll tell my companions, my face lighting up, my old wrinkles starting to shine. "Sometimes the river goes up, sometimes it goes down; sometimes it moves swiftly, sometimes it meanders. Sometimes it will rage --- at other times, it will be smooth, pacific. Yes," I say, pointing a finger at the heavens, my eyes filled with the light of burgundy-infused wisdom: "Life is a river."

Well, it turns out that life is a river. At least, according to Nuden Dorje. The mind is a clear flowing stream that has "been there from the beginning of time, being with us at every moment in all the lives we have passed through, has never been touched by any of these experiences that we think have been so heavy, so solidly real.

    Beneath all the accumulation of knowledge and experience there is nothing but a fresh awareness. Awareness is not touched, shaped, molded, limited in any way by any of the experiences which we can say it has.

James Low --- Nuden Dorje's translator and commentator in Being Right Here --- tells us that "the state being described is pure, untouched, virgin..." And Low, who's certainly more in touch with the world than I am, says we can get this ancient Buddhist wisdom from none other than Madonna who

    has quite a nice song about that. It is a very good song. If you read the words of that song, it can be a teaching on dzogchen: "In love for the very first time." Moment by moment the world is fresh to us. Our eyes are open. Our heart is open. Everything is wonderful. Everything is shining. Everything virgin. Eternally excited and yet quite calm. Not knowing what is going to happen and yet open and trusting.

"The proof of that dzogchen is actual is the fact that you can find it in popular culture," he concludes.

Low's commentary on the Buddhist master is highly accessible, sensible, and fun. At times, he comes across as the Holden Caufield of Tibetan lore. He speaks of the aspiration many of us have to "be good and help other beings." But

    If we put others first after awhile we will start to hate them. It is one thing to think about saving all sentient beings, which is a very beautiful abstract concept. But if you are sitting in the puja [group meditation] and you are trying to meditate and the person next to you is bumping your knee or singing out of tune or banging the bell in the wrong rhythm you might feel some irritation.

"The dharma," he tells us, "is just so many nice fairy tales when we pretend that we are all going to be good people and help others but actually we spend our time taking care of ourselves, and our fantasies."

This is worthy commentary for those of us with more than a little interest in the reality of Buddhism, especially the "five poisons:" stupidity, anger, desire, jealousy, and pride. All five of which manage to fuddle up our lives, sometimes competing with each other to make our day-to-day even more miserable.

Our lives, Low tells us, are made up mostly of story-telling. "We are good at being seduced by narrative and seducing other people with narrative," he says. But the reality is that we don't even know ourselves. We don't know where our thoughts come from. We don't know where they are going. Hell, we haven't even seen our own faces. In a lifetime of being with it, we may catch a reflection of face, even a photograph, but it ain't the real thing. Our own faces will always be hidden from us. When they say, "it is as plain as the nose on your face," perhaps they are telling us it is neither plain nor simple.

§     §     §

One of the joys of Being Right Here is that Low's truths come in bite size pieces, like the contents of a box of Cheese-Oh Snax. There are forty verses of the original teachings and Low spends a page or so parsing each of them. These forty lessons come off so naturally that if I could just shake this Burgundy "Life-is-a-River" business, I might journey to London and spend some time with him there in the public hospital where he works as a psychotherapist. We could get me, perhaps, a step or so up on this particular life cycle. Anyone who can call up Madonna, John Lennon, and the goddess Machig Labdron all in one breath has got something going for him. Especially when he tells of looking in the mirror, hoping to see ourselves, when in truth, "You are not something in the mirror; you are the mirror and its reflection, the stillness and the movement."

--- L. W. Milam
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