Between Drops, Between Thoughts

Waterfalls are glorious displays of nothingness. Water pours over rock precipices and crashes into the earth below, scattering shards of moisture and emitting a fine ethereal mist into the air. The space becomes vibrant with negatively charged ions and my body feels open and refreshed. Something about energy and spaciousness seems to remind me of my natural state. If I reverse the process from mist to torrent, my mind takes a journey from nothing to something. But I wonder, “Was there ever a something?” A meditation practice in Vajrayana Buddhism involving waterfalls suggests we witness the cascading droplets and experience what is in between.

I have stripped naked and entered waterfalls, feeling the force of apparently solid water battering my body. How is it possible to experience the space between when there is so much matter? But, if I stop to investigate the true nature of H2O, there is nothing to grasp. It is simply an expression of fluidity that can take infinite forms depending on causes and conditions. I am just glad I have the sanity not to stand under an icefall! It is not a matter of solid, liquid, or gas—it is noticing how the habitual mind assumes each state has a specific separate existence. If we pay attention, we realize there is no dividing line.

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s commentary on the Ngöndro practice is entitled, Cascading Waterfall of Nectar. It is a very apt symbolic reference to the paradox of terrifying erosive power and the subtle grace of a fine mist. Dharma practice does seem to batter us about until we experience its grace. The Old Testament has a beautiful way of expressing the paradox. In Hebrews 12:11 it suggests, ”For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit … to those who have been trained by it.” Longchenpa said, “When sorrows invade the mind, we discover Dharma and find lasting happiness. Thank you, sorrows!”

Accomplishing the Ngöndro, the extraordinary preliminary practice of Vajrayana, requires discipline—and that commitment surfaces all the illusory hardness of our conditioned self. When we are thoroughly trained, we experience the hardness melting away in a shower of blessings—a cascading waterfall of nectar. Our mind rests between the drops and between our thoughts. No longer caught in the mind’s movement, we experience glimpses of our true nature and discover contentment in all circumstances.

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