There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about what dharma is and how it can be applied to the modern world.
New concepts like secular Buddhism, meta-dharma and pragmatic dharma have been at the forefront of this. Lots of strands of Buddhism don’t really make sense with our modern understanding of science and the world, so these are a response to this.
My experience is different to these new concepts. It is more direct than this – it is being sincerely present with what is here in each moment. In some ways it is the most profoundly simple thing and yet it is almost infinitely complex and incredibly difficult to bring into reality.
This is not a process that happens with a sudden realisation – it’s a maturing of the entire system expressing itself through you.
When people say things like ‘you are already awake’ or ‘ just be present with what is here’, that negates the huge challenge of what it takes to actually be fully present in this moment with everything that is here in experience, without pushing things away or rejecting parts of yours or other people’s experience.
It’s painful, confusing and takes a huge reintegration process of all the personal and collective parts of experience that are complicated and hellish. Reality can be a really strange, scary and painful place to be fully present in.
Any ideas you have about what reality is are essentially false.
Unless you have gone digging through the entirety of your experience, then there are parts of yourself and experience that you are rejecting. This doesn’t mean that you’re not being present at all – it’s obviously a sliding scale of how present we can be in any given moment – but it does mean that anything that talks about being present as an easy thing to achieve is silly.
Once you let go of this idea, that presence or truth can be discovered quickly, you can bring the resistance and struggle into the fold too. That is part of your experience that can be embodied also. And the part of you that wants that part to go away. Also part of your experience.
This doesn’t come naturally. We naturally close off to parts ourselves that we dislike or that others have rejected. It takes work and effort to be able to open ourselves to feeling what is really there. We do this by opening our hearts to embody a sense of compassionate presence for what we are really experiencing in this moment – it takes a lot of trauma processing.
This is a million times easier to do if someone is actively encouraging us to do this and accepting and welcoming these news parts of ourselves. When someone is holding this space for us, it can feel just like a pleasant relief that we are allowed to be ourselves.
The reward to doing this work is experiencing an immediate presence with what feels most true to you in this moment – the only place that truth can exist.
It also cuts through any concepts of solipsism or ideas that we can know truth in any fixed way. When we are sincerely present with experience we become aware of the interconnected nature of everything.
We realise that most of the information we are getting in any moment comes from our intuitive sense of the world, our proprioception of the environment around us, our heart’s knowing about how other people feel or the subconscious messages they are giving us or any other of the myriad of ways that we are inextricably linked to our external environment.
We can’t understand a truth from our minds or our inner worlds – we can only be an expression of what feels meaningful in relationship with the environment we find ourselves in in this moment.
Here is how this understanding fits in with other versions of Dharma, recognising that this model too is fluid and we will be moving between the different modes in different moments.
In this model I have translated the word ‘dharma’ to mean meaningful truth. This is based on the idea that there isn’t actually any fixed truth that we can land on – it is more about what feels most resonant and meaningful in this moment.