Blog 5: Rest in the Nature of Alaya, the Essence

A Year of Atisha Slogans

5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

In this weary striving world, rest is hard to come by. A luxury. From time to time we simply flop from exhaustion, but in general we don’t have many chances to slow down or to stop the momentum as our life flies by.

Especially when we think of cultivating kindness, and the activities of a bodhisatta of compassion warrior, we think “Lights, camera, action!” We don’t think “Rest!” But bodhisattva activities are not like regular activities—they come from a place of rest.

The previous slogans undermined not only our fixed views of the substantiality of self and other, but also any attempt to hold onto that realization or even onto the realizer. Having broken though such falsely constructed reality, we reach a desolate but beautiful place. It is by acquainting ourselves with this place that we can prepare the ground for truly compassionate action.

The alaya, or essence, is the open unbiased expanse of mind. It is stillness. It can be envisioned as an expanse, or simply as a gap in our ongoing preoccupations, activities, and concerns. When we meditate, we tend to think that we are doing something, but occasionally we forget and find ourselves just simply at rest. And as that quality of rest expands it begins to swallow up the notion of anyone experiencing it.

The possibilty of resting in alaya is always present, and when it seeps into everyday experience, even in the form of a little pause or gap, it lightens the energy, making it much harder to be self-righteous or heavy handed. At the same time there is a bit of an edge, a tinge of fear, in that in this fresh state, habitual patterns have no support. So whatever direction we choose seems to come from a scary kind of no-man’s land.

Today’s practice

In your sitting practice, notice the tendency, even when you have seemingly stopped, to keep moving mentally, psychologically, and physically. As soon as you notice the impulse to move, let it go, relax, and return to stillness.