For over a week now it has been impossible for me to lie on my right side. Lying on the stomach hurts like hell. A little sneeze causes severe pain. I had thought my monastic lifestyle would keep me safe from this kind of injuries since it really takes some destructive force on the ribs to causes a real bruise.
I received my first bruised rip, accompanied by a burst open lip and a swollen eye after I had played Fight Club with my friend and colleague Alan. That was on the faculty day 2007, after we had finished off all the free beer that the Institute of Physics was willing to sponsor us. We were on the way to one of Berlin’s worst clubs, the Alte Kantine. Beneath the railway of the U2 it happened. We started to beat ourselves up. Fight Club turned out to be quite contagious. After I lost, Christian too had to fight with Alan and also lost bitterly.
After the wounds had healed only a alcohol blurred memory remained. In contrast to the rip bruise I got last year. On my bicycle, I took a curve to fast, fell and slid several meters on the asphalt. My whole arm was scratched open, looking white-red and dripping with blood. The rip bruise was my smallest concern. At least, I managed to drag myself into the next S-Bahn and get home safely without any help.
And now struck by meditation! Well, how the hell could that have happened? During meditation, don’t you sit on a cushion, on the floor, trying to move as a little as possible.
Well. It depends. Prostrations are an essential part of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. You have to throw your self at least three times on the floor when you enter a temple and some pilgrims are crossing Tibet while prostrating themselves every two meters. Compared to that, the Camino the Santiago is for amateurs.
As a serious practitioner I had to start to with prostrations sooner or later, too. After all, they are the first part of the Four Preliminaries you need to complete, called Ngöndro. Without completing Ngöndro you are not qualified to do Tantra. To bad, that every exercise has to be repeated 111.111 times. That really IS a lot.
If you leave it to 108 prostrations a day, it takes about three years. Meaning it takes twelve years to complete all four exercises. But doing 500, it doesn’t even take eight months. And apparently there are monks doing 3000 prostrations a day, completing the first exercise within one month. Anyway, I promised myself to complete as many prostrations as possible while being in Kalimpong.
So I started. Not really excessively, maybe doing 400 to 500 prostrations a day. One day, I hit the floor a bit harder than usual. There was a soft grinding feel and it hurt a little bit, but not so much that I felt concerneded. At lunch, I felt a little pain on ribs but that couldn’t stop me from throwing myself onto the ground another 200 times in the afternoon.
A serious mistake as I had to feel soon. Two hours later I almost couldn’t lift my arm anymore. At last the penny dropped. I’ve told, it isn’t my first bruised rib and I know that it can take up to six weeks until the pain disappears.
So, no more Ngöndro in the near future! Instead I had to look for another meditation against pride. Urgently, since my pride is definitely the source of this special suffering. Luckily, I had just read a book by Shamar Rinpoche: Lojong, the seven points of mind training.
And luckily, preparing for Lojong you also have to complete an exercise against pride. But the meditation is set up quite differently. I start by creating a mental selfie, imagining my whole body. Just the way I like myself best. But instead of posting it on Facebook or Instagram I slowly start to dissect it. Almost like a pathologist. But instead of searching for evidence of a crime I search for evidence of an Ego, an I.
Skin, Heart, Blood and Bone, every part is studied extensively. Where could it be? Maybe in the lungs? In the eye? Obviously in our brain some might think. But where exactly? And is our brain possible without the body? Where am I within my feelings, thoughts, within my consciousness? Am I my ability to see? My hearing? My love? My fear?
Nowhere an Ego to be found. The whole is more than the sum of its parts but there is not really a solid, unchangeable whole. I stay myself without the urine in my bladder, probably even without my arms and legs. Without my heart?
And I draw it further. Search in my cells, my neurons. My atoms, the elementary particles I am made of. And my genes. Don’t they make me myself? But a twin would be another person. And I share at least 99.9% of my genome with all other humans. 97% with mice. And my own body comprises ten times more “foreign” bacteria cells than my own. Without them I would die.
So is it really justified to speak of an Ego? Wouldn’t it be better to speak of an No-Ego or No-Self. That’s a core Buddhist believe. Science supports that view. In the end, the Ego may be nothing more than a mirage, an illusion.
Selfie dissection is a sure remedy against narcissism. And thereby it cures a lot fears and reduces misery. When I look in the mirror and I see the seamstress from Bangladesh, that sewed my trousers, the farmer who grew my food and a body composed of a lot of separate sentient beings, I stop taking myself to seriously. And am easily happy.
If you want to know more about my weekend at school, here.