A retreat with Anam Thubten, January, 2013

Thanks to a recent comment by Sara Lier, I have the correct attribution for one of my favorite quotes.  It was Muriel Rukeyser, the American poet and activist, who said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

I think Anam Thubten Rinpoche  would agree.  In his latest book, The Magic of Awareness 2012, he says enlightened consciousness is available any time we can let go of our story lines.  He talks a lot about meditation as resting, as a cessation of effort including all efforts to meditate, to get enlightened, or collect any other spiritual goodies:

“Deeply resting is the point where we are no longer looking for anything else.  As long as there is an act of searching for God or truth  or eternal self, it is not only that we haven’t found it; we are actually moving away from it with great speed.”

The magic of awareness cover

We can all remember moments when we were “no longer looking for anything else.”  They are often our most joyous moments.  Anam Thubten’s teaching centers on this experience, on the deep truth and joy it contains.

The illusion of separation of self and other, self and the world, lies at the heart of all our troubles according to Buddha’s teaching, which Anam Thubten restates for the 21st century.  Good or bad, any concept of “I” leads to a friend-or-foe, fight-or-flight relationship with the world.  Yet “this ‘I’ is a fictitious entity that is always ready to whither away the moment we stop sustaining it…All we have to do is simply sit and pay attention to our breath, allowing ourselves to let go of all of our fantasies and mental images.” (from No Self, No Problem, 2009).

There’s nothing dumb about statements like that, since the teachers who make them never confuse the relative and ultimate levels of truth.  This is my car and that one is yours, and things work out better between us if we remember which is which.  The problem comes if I decide your car is better than mine.  If I conclude I’m the kind of person who never gets what he wants.  Maybe I’m undeserving…

The ego, the sense of a separate self, can spin such stories forever.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to glimpse the alternative vision.  “Try this,” says Anam Thubten.  “Pay attention to your breath in silence.  Look at your mind.  Immediately we see that thoughts are popping up.  Don’t react to them.  Just keep watching your mind.  Notice that there is a gap between each thought.  Notice that there is a space between where the last thought came to an end and the next one hasn’t arrived yet.  In this space there is no “I” or “me.”  That’s it.”  That, he says, is our ultimate and eternal nature.

Ideas like this do not demand belief, just consideration and perhaps later exploration.  The books listed here are a good place to start, as well as the website for Anam Thubten’s Dharmata Foundation, located in Point Richmond, California.

Einstein once said the only important question is whether or not the universe is a friendly place.  It is, according to Anam Thubten, as soon as we let go of our conditioned ideas that it is something else.  That realization, or at least a glimpse of it, is always closer than we think, no matter who we are and what we are doing.

9 thoughts on “A retreat with Anam Thubten, January, 2013

  1. OH Love….I Love. This. A Lot. And as a tool to engage the Ego…b/c it is not always possible to Let Go, as our Human side(survival instinct) is ego-propelled…I encourage people to stop and imagine only that feeling of pure joy of kinowing The Best Thing has happened in any situation, without any picture of how our Minds Think things should occur in getting there. This act will attract more supportive and positive energies into our lives. Great post, thank you for sharing….This has been a magical, wonderful day for me and this post being the first thing I saw when I sat down to post is affirmation that it is as important a day in my life as it feels. Have a great weekend!
    Those spaces are the places where we can make choices to react differently to the “automatic” reactions that come to us first many times. Just love this!


  2. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed the post. Certainly ego, and a strong ego, as the psychologists say, is essential at the level of survival – to balance a checkbook, drive on the right side of the road and all of that. “But wait, there’s more!” as the late night TV commercials say.

    I think you’ll like this – it’s the first session of an online retreat on Tricycle.com that Anam Thubten led in 2012. Be warned however – only the first session is free. You need an online membership to watch the other sessions and other retreats. It sounds like you might really enjoy it (I have no connection to the magazine or website).

    Thanks for your comment!


  3. This seems like a very helpful read. Thank you for steering us toward it. Paying attention to symbolism during those pauses has been helpful to me. Images inexplicably come to mind. As I ponder them, they reveal a depth of direction and encouragement amazingly relevant to whatever I need. So they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. For example, during one such pause I glimpsed a bumble bee. I knew it meant, “Get busy” on the plan I had just formulated. I appreciate your blog!


  4. Sounds like an interesting book. I will check it out at some point. I have read many things that elaborate on the basic concept that you explain here, but few that do it well. It seems like letting go is such a simple idea, but it’s so hard to discuss in a way that actually makes sense & is useful.


    • I find it very difficult to discuss Anam Thubten’s ideas, in part because he does keep them so simple. Ironically, it’s easier to write about complexity (at several times I’ve heard him discuss how much the ego loves complicated things).

      It might be easy to write off as more new age babble, except that he ties it to concrete results and practices. His retreats, for instance, divide talks and contemplative practice half and half. Experiential glimpses of what he is talking about are accessible.

      Once I heard him say that most people who report some kind of enlightenment experience say it was not what they were looking for and was almost an accident. He then said, “However, it seems that meditation makes us accident-prone.”


      • Honestly, I think the main difference between new-age babble and a whole lot of valid & interesting things is whether there’s any real-world value. Meditation certainly has that, although you are right that it’s difficult to communicate about it. I suppose since it is essentially the act of becoming wordless (giving up your storyline, I think it how you put it) it is logical that words wouldn’t quite work for describing it.


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