Claudia Ghetu WELLness

The Wisdom of Ancient Science for Advanced Healing and Transformation


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Samaya: Taking the ‘Sacred Oath’ and Committing to Sanity

To me committing to sanity means committing to making a decision – choosing a path, and staying the course. How many well-meant resolutions have been broken? How many times did I swear I would finish something I’d started years ago? Or get up early to meditate or practice yoga? Why is it so hard to commit to something, or anything at all?

In vajrayana  Buddhism there is such a thing known as the  ‘samaya bond’ where a bodhisattva’s experience is completely bound to ‘the path’ – the path leading to enlightenment – which is only attainable through the relentless commitment and observance of sacred rituals and practices. On his journey the bodhisattva reaches the point where he is ready to enter into a sacred samaya relationship with his teacher. When this agreement is struck, an unconditional oath is taken between guru and pupil – whereby no matter how difficult one or the other may be, or regardless of how mixed up the student may turn out, the teacher will never abandon his protegé or vice versa. It’s an unbreakable commitment that binds the two together, almost like a marriage.  Inevitably, through this ‘for better or for worse’ life-long journey, they both learn from each other and attain enlightenment together. This is their samaya bond. It’s the opposite of divorce, or running away, of opting out. Samaya in this context means making an unbreakable commitment. Making a decision without ever entertaining the possibility of taking an escape route. The vow is sacred; it is as if written in stone.

Samaya is translated as ‘sacred oath’ or ‘sacred commitment.’ As Pema Chödrön describes it, it’s more or less  “a commitment to sanity – to indestructible sanity.” What does this mean? After all most of us don’t go about our lives thinking that we are insane. Yet the actions we take and the decisions we make in our everyday lives are not always in our best interest. In the course of a lifetime, most of us spend a significant amount of time and energy doing harm to our minds and bodies, rather than healing and nurturing ourselves. We harp on things we have no control over and avoid making decisions that might otherwise ground us or propel us forward.  I can only speak from experience. How often have I told myself, ‘just make a decision, and stick to it?’ I think most of us struggle with committing to something. It seems to me that most people are more adept at breaking commitments rather than making them. This appears to be more the norm. After all, we live in a disposable world. Everything comes with a short shelf life. Plus, there is always a new and improved version around the next corner. Wait, that means there might be a new and improved version of me somewhere! That’s not such a bad thought. Ohhh…but it might imply that thing with a ‘C’. Somehow I have foolishly misled myself to believe that lack of commitment equates freedom. It’s the ‘one foot out the door,’ hanging on that tad bit of false security that has wrecked some havoc in my otherwise yogi aspiring life. If I take an objective look at my own thought patterns colored by pestering ‘what if’ pre-suppositions,  insecurities, and fears – I can see with indiscriminating clarity how often I have disrupted my own sanity, putting my mind through a relentless tug-of-war.  Should I do this…should I do that, or should I do nothing at all?? To be honest, I have always looked for exit signs to make myself feel more secure. But through my ever evolving yoga practice where I get to connect with my conscience and maybe even have a cup of tea with it, I am coming to realize that indecision and lack of commitment are unacceptable. Just like having escape routes lined up at every corner undermines any sort of real progress. And there can be no progress made to get to wherever we need or want to be without taking that sacred oath, applying steady focus and discipline – like a yogi in training striving to connect with his true, higher self or Atman, and dissolve into the supreme, pure consciousness of Brahman.  Once that vow has been taken, it all comes down to embracing samaya wholeheartedly without looking for any exits.  It’s about making a CHOICE – choosing a path – and committing to staying on course no matter what the circumstances.  That is sanity.

But there’s a delicious, paradoxical twist to this conclusion. We’ve had that CHOICE all along. What? It’s true. We never ever had to make a choice, because everything, every breath, every circumstance, every decision has been intrinsically rooted in choicelessness all along. We were never meant to struggle with making choices. As Pema Chödrön wisely puts it: “Samaya is a trick because we think we have a choice about whether or not to make this commitment to sanity, but the fact is, it’s been choiceless all along. It’s a compassionate trick, a trick to help us to realize that there really is no exit. There really is no better time than right now; there is no higher state of consciousness than this one. It’s the kind of trick that vajrayana teachers devise in their spare time for their thorough, complete, and utter enjoyment: ‘How can we trick these confused, bewildered, untamable beings into realizing that they’re already awake – and that it’s choiceless?”

So in the end, there are no exit signs to begin with because we were never trapped in the first place. We somehow devised confusing ways to trap ourselves. This is our insanity – or maya (illusion). Thankfully, we needn’t be ‘confused, bewildered and untamable’ beings because we’ve always been in possession of that magic key to unlock ourselves out.  I, for one, feel strangely more ‘awakened’ just knowing that now I can finally call it by a name. This somehow makes it more real.  It’s called SAMAYA.

What is the samaya vow that you are now ready to make?


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The Noble Truth of “Non-Striving”

Buddhist philosophy is founded on The Four Noble Truths, The Third Noble Truth being the truth of the goal, which is Non-Striving. Only in the absence of struggle are we able to start seeing the reality of things, including seeing through our delusions and our ego-driven, suffering inducing schemes. Our greatest pains and disappointments arise from those things we try so hard to grasp on to and secure. We are constantly struggling to achieve and possess ‘things’ which are outside our means, and ironically those very things we want, or think we want, don’t even in fact exist or satisfy beyond our illusions. They are just thought forms built out of the smoke of our ignorance. How many times did you think you might look good in a certain outfit, only to try it on and say to yourself: what was I thinking? How many times did you have a set idea or plan rooted in mind which once realized was not at all as great as you had imagined. We live in a world of a rampant imagination running wild and dictating our thirsty cravings, and a blurry reality which we must learn to befriend even in the face of our greatest fears. The perfect ‘this’ and ‘that’ doesn’t exist. Yet we convince ourselves otherwise and thus strive ad infinitum for those things which we can never possess; things we think we want but aren’t in fact sure we even know how or if we can handle. When we begin to cultivate a still mind through the Forth Noble Path, which is Meditation, we begin to embark on a transformative journey of awareness and calm which allows us to finally see the forest beyond the trees. No judgement, no attachment to outcome. In order to pacify our untrained neurotic minds we have to sit and observe our uncontrollable fears and impulses and face them head on. Buddhists believe that those who are not yet enlightened are afflicted by mental neurosis, which subjects them to delusional, obsessive, and impulsive thinking. Thus we begin to detach ourselves from those mental addictions, from those things we falsely and ignorantly identify ourselves with – wealth, power, beauty, perfection. When we reach the place where we can let go of striving to become a certain way, we are liberated from the exhausting pursuit of ‘achieving.’ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, ‘There is no need to struggle to be free; the absence of struggle is in itself freedom.’ When it comes to wanting to ‘better ourselves’ we have to be mindful and compassionate in our intention, and try to put all goals aside. Goals make us strive. Goals make us fail. Goals make us blame ourselves.

When we get guilted into changing something about ourselves, by others or by our own selves, we inevitably embark on a path that is counter-productive to our own growth and well being. Psychiatry still focuses on one’s mental affliction or illness and what went wrong/failed instead of one’s intuitive righteousness, mental strength, and innate intelligence. An individual goes on a diet believing there is something wrong and bad about how he or she looks, striving to root out something that must be eradicated. We are wired to believe there is always something or someone to blame – and that blame is often self-inflicted projecting the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ self. Where there is blame, there is guilt, and ultimately there will be punishment on some level. Sometimes we have to allow compassionate room for failure in order to succeed. We are already perfect as we are – it’s just a matter of becoming more aware of that fact, and being able to reconnect to our own perfect nature with pure, unconditional compassion, another pillar of Buddhist philosophy.

When we strive for something, or try to push or discipline ourselves to accomplish a particular goal, we tend to stand in our own way by taking an overly rigid and judgmental attitude toward ourself. That is why most people abandon their conviction that they can overcome something – because it is too hard to attain anything under those harsh self-condemning conditions. So if you want to truly get somewhere, don’t make a big fuss about it. Don’t try too hard to get there. Begin walking in the direction where you want to go, and the path will gently and unexpectedly unfold before you – leading you to a better-than-you-could-have-expected destination, beyond delusion and beyond goal reaching. Remember, it’s always been about the journey not the destination in the first place. You just never saw the forest for the trees, because you always tried too hard to see much farther.  When you stop trying, you get to where you need to be.

Ask Yourself: When was the last time I was overly judgmental and hard on myself? Are the goals I set for myself unrealistic, or self-sabotaging? How can I be more compassionate toward myself and others, and struggle less in my daily life?