The thing about heroes is that they are relentless in their focused efforts to achieve their goal — something which is bigger and more important than themselves. That’s the part we hear about. As to how they do it, well, usually they just seem superhuman in some undefinable way. But what if they are not? What if they have chanced upon, or been taught, a secret way of making themselves impervious to all the hinderances that normally keep us from achieving our goals, of being heroes in our own lives?

A very long time ago, there was a man named Avalokitasvara in India who became the avatar for the manifestation of heroic progress, for individuals who wanted to be like him. Over time, his name was changed, his identity morphed into both male and female versions as it spread through parts of the world, and his practice technique fell away into obscurity, even though he described it in great detail, including both what he did in the practice, as well as what benefits came to him — and to anyone else who followed his example — at each step. And although the title of this article might make it seem like the effect I am going to talk about is something that will take a big investment of time and energy over many years, it’s actually a side-effect of the very earliest, and relatively easiest, steps in his practice.

This practice description that I am referring to, exists in a Buddhist “sutra” (a record of a talk the Buddha had with his cousin, Ananda, and some other friends) called the “Surangama Sutra,” which, in addition to many useful discussions about meditation and what “mind” means, as well as the meditation technique used by Avalokitasvara, it also has a rather prolonged discussion about why his practice should be used by everyone who finds themselves in difficult times, like those we are facing today.

And the name “Surangama” means ‘Heroic Progress.”

There is even a prophecy that exists in which the Buddha asserts that all of us in the world today — actually during 2026 thru 2032 (yes, specific dates)–should learn this practice and use it to remain impervious to the difficulties we are going to experience due to a pandemic(!), increasing volcanic activity(!), widespread environmental destruction(!), and the subsequent failure of governments. Oh, and a very large meteor that will kick up a lot of dust.

Maybe you don’t believe in “prophecies.” I’m agnostic about them, but since the man who compiled this prophecy died in 1959, you can think of him as a “futurist” instead. So rather than prophesying the future, it would be more accurate to label this “prophecy” as the writings of a “futurist” who has studied contemporary trends in the mid-Twentieth Century and projected them into the future in order to make predictions based on those trends current at the time he was writing.

Of course, it’s written as a prophecy foretold by the Buddha millennia ago, and he was a completely realized being who would be able to see these things, so either way, it’s worth looking at what was written, in my opinion.

But perhaps the most telling standard to use is simply whether or not the events foretold are representative of the period of time we are in now, and that seems to be unequivocal. And from my perspective, the most important event in that prophecy is the Buddha’s call to practice “Great Responsiveness Meditation,” which is only today being reintroduced to the world. So the practice prescribed in the prophecy as the means to reduce or eliminate the suffering of all of us in this time, seems, then, to be of great importance for us to take a look at.

So, why did his practice fall into obscurity? The usual: politics, name-calling, slander, and fake-news (and we thought these were modern inventions!). The good news is that all of that is now finally being ignored (after many centuries — memes die hard!) and the Surangama Sutra is being more widely studied and quoted. This sutra has always been held in high esteem in Ch’an and Zen Buddhism, though, so it’s still a living tradition there.

And before you start thinking this is a Buddhist thing, and not of interest to non-Buddhists, you should know that this technique was known throughout human history, and can be found in every culture, until the advent of modern science. Why did it end then? For two reasons: the first is that modern scientists, for the most part, don’t accept ancient wisdom as true knowledge, unless it is first put thru the grinder of the scientific method — that is, they assume it hadn’t been — and the second is: that modern Science has a worldview — a paradigmatic understanding of how reality works — that specifically excludes the ‘active ingredient’ of this practice from the realm of actual things. In fact, modern Science today says it’s the symptom of a disease (although they don’t know ‘yet’ what the disease is), so they haven’t ever spent any time on discovering what it truly is, nor verifying — one way or another — its effect on those that use it, even though it is estimated that 14% of everyone alive is ‘bothered’ by it. But perhaps they are bothered by it because they have been told that it is a disease.

The interesting point of all this, is that the reason this technique was known and used throughout human history is because it was scientifically researched and proven by ancient humans. But it was a different union of scientists, and today’s bunch don’t accept the work that was done back then. Plus there is that worldview problem…

If you’re ever at a party and want to have some fun, find a scientist and start asking them about their worldview. Chances are high they’ll claim they don’t have one, and they might even get indignant about your asking about it. But everyone has a paradigmatic understanding of reality and how it works. Everyone. And, for the most part, these understandings are never verified, validated, nor supported by any kind of scientific or even philosophical proof.

For example, the scientific community has never verified the Verificationism that underlies the modern scientific method (this is the believe that to be true, something must be verified — by scientists — to be true). Ideas such as these are just what we have been inculcated with by our parents, teachers, and culture. They intuitively seem right, like Verificationism, but they are not evidence that other views are wrong. Unfortunately, that last bit is not widely accepted by those who will not accept other views.

The specific understanding that modern Science works under, that marks this technique that Avalokitasvara used as being based upon something that doesn’t actually exist, is their belief that everything that happens in the universe is the outcome of interactions that are governed by universal laws that guarantee a coherent outcome to every event — except one. The first one. Because in the modern scientific worldview, there is always necessarily a first event in the chain of events that remains mysterious because everything happens in time, in a determinate way, except that first one, which somehow mysteriously explodes on the scene — in a creative and spontaneous fashion. Of course, modern quantum physics is throwing a monkey wrench into this rigid causal law-like understanding, so much so, the scientific community hasn’t yet discovered a way to join the common understanding of reality — the modern scientific worldview — with what they are discovering about the quantum realm.

Avalokitasvara had a different worldview, one in which everything that happens is a creative and spontaneous response to what is actually the case in the present moment, and what is coherently possible in the next moment, based on the actions or movements of everything and everyone in the local context up to this moment — and, most importantly, what they are paying attention to (there! I gave it partially away) in the present moment. It’s very much like how quantum physical phenomena work when being ‘measured’, only this is on the level of everyday human activity as well. And we all know this to be true!

Say you want to become a scientist. How do you do it? Do you wave a magic wand in the air and mumble some unintelligible formula, snap your fingers, click your heels, and pronounce that you are now a scientist? Or do you prepare yourself so that you can hopefully get into a good school, where you will have to work hard, study long hours, and make social connections, that will hopefully make it possible for you to get a degree and a job in the field that interests you?

While I am being hyperbolic in my examples, the fact is, the first way I described is how we think physical reality works today: certain actions produce definite effects every time, according to rules that can’t be broken. While the second example shows that we intuitively know that in reality, all we can do is create the conditions that are necessary for what we want to happen. After that, it’s a matter of luck — which is the name we give to the obviously creative and responsive nature of reality.

Scientists do not accept this understanding, but even they have to contend with it. Engineers who design modern computer circuits will tell you that they have to contend with the stochastic behavior (seeming random, but actually coherent activity — with a twist of creative spontaneity) of all quantum level phenomenon while they design each new chip. That’s why a computer has a “clock-speed”. The computer clock is actually like the hortator of an ancient galley, the guy beating the big drum, to keep the many rowers in sync, or else the ship will turn in unwanted ways. It’s just like when you go canoeing with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or spouse. If you both don’t keep in sync (on opposite sides), your canoe will meander all over the place. If the components of the computer chip can’t be kept in sync, then the chip will not output valid results — except by pure random chance. Our lives work this way too.

So there is this creative and spontaneous responsiveness to reality, and that is what I must turn to next. And just to foreshadow what is coming, Avalokitasvara is the avatar of this responsiveness, which is also referred to as selfless loving compassion. Why is it called that? Because over time, multitudes of human beings have noticed that what does happen in their lives is neither random, nor fixed, and neither predetermined, nor incoherent. Instead, it is responsive, and responsive in a positive way, so it’s called loving compassion. And because there is no evident actor involved, it is called self-less, meaning that there is no intentional being behind this activity. But even people who believe there is a supreme being that they call God or Allah, or any other name, hold to the understanding that this supreme being is always imbued with the quality of being selflessly loving and creative.

This activity that is described as being creative and spontaneous responsiveness is not a thing. It’s just the activity that we experience in every moment of our lives. And the shorthand that I use is to call it the naturing of everything — including you and I, your pet cat, and my fig tree. What is beyond what we can actually experience is just that — beyond intelligibility. There are some things that we can infer about that which is beyond this intelligible world, like that this naturing is spontaneous and creative, and most importantly that it is responsive to current conditions — including our desires, hopes, and dreams, as well as everyone else’s, which are part of those conditions. But beyond that is speculation, interpretation, or divine revelation.

Except, there is something about this naturing that becomes easily apparent: this naturing has a voice, makes a particular sound, sings a song, mimics certain natural sounds, and even certain unnatural sounds, and it becomes the voice in our head that we call “thinking.” We can focus our attention on these sounds at a deep level to do something really very important — we can cutoff the normal fears, horror, pain and suffering, doubts, and most importantly, the debilitating thoughts that can overwhelm us and cause us great suffering during an extreme event in our lives, or just the current work project we are working under stress to complete.

I can attest to this result in my own life, such as when my wife and I were directly affected by the explosion of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center directly over our heads on our way to work in 2001 in New York City, feeling the strong shock wave of the explosion, seeing the flames and smoke, and seeing the debris and bodies falling. And again during the six weeks I cared for her before her death from cancer in 2014 here at our home in France.

In both cases, by focusing on this sound, I was able to be fully present without being overwhelmed by what was happening. In the case of my wife’s death, I was told by an administrator from the local hospital that the nurses, who visited each day to check on the two of us, had been continually astonished at how I never showed signs of being overwhelmed, while still being fully present and caring, during my wife’s last weeks.

That’s the result of this practice of Avalokitasvara. It’s why he became the avatar of selfless loving compassion for all beings in the world, for those who wanted to follow in his footsteps. And it is why the Surangama Sutra has that name — “heroic progress.” In Buddhism, a hero is called a “bodhisattva”. This is a person who dedicates their lives to helping lead others to safety and enlightenment.

And the result of this practice is also why you will be able to be invincible, and impervious to everything that can wear you down, block your way, or seemingly be insurmountable, while being completely present and high-functioning in any crisis — and at any moment — in your life. All you have to do is to learn the following technique:

First, you have to turn your hearing ‘around’. This means that you understand — or make believe that you do — that all sound arises solely in your mind. By this I mean that you do not take sound to be something you are hearing from outside of yourself, but rather that it is what manifests in response to conditions outside, or even inside, your body, that your ‘hearing faculty’ (ears, bones, nerves, and brain) sense, and to which your mind responds by manifesting the experience of sound. So sound only truly exists in your mind, everything else is just the necessary conditions for experiencing it. So you flip your hearing, no longer listening outside, but focusing within the ‘hearing’ of sounds in your mind.

Second, you place your awareness in the center of your chest at the height of your heart — focusing as if your attention comes from there, not from your head — and allow your thoughts and emotions to subside. You want to feel nothing but spaciousness, as if you are bigger than your body. How much bigger is up to you, but feel free to encompass the whole world and everyone and everything in it.

You then put your hands into the “Om Sound Gesture” (Vajrahumkara): The wrists are crossed over the heart chakra. The right hand crosses over the left at the wrist, palms facing inwards towards the chest. This gesture symbolizes the union of method and wisdom. “Vajra” indicates the responsive naturing of the world, implying endless Creativity and Potency (in the sense of containing the embryonic Wisdom that manifests all forms of being), as Great Responsiveness. “Hum” is the originating uncaused vibration that reflects this activity.

Note that it is easiest to maintain the Om Sound Gesture with your elbows held close to the sides of the abdomen. In this way, you are not holding your arms up, but rather letting your arms (and shoulders) hang down effortlessly, with only your forearms (and hands) folded upwards. In this way, you can maintain this gesture for very long periods of time.

The purpose of this gesture for this practice is that it is an aid to placing and holding your awareness in the center of your chest. But it can be more as well, which is explained next.

The third point is to fill that spaciousness that you created with love. This is not the “I love you” dualistic kind of love, nor the “I love ice cream” kind of love. This is the kind of love a parent feels for their child — as an inseparable part of the parent’s being, especially the feeling of love most often latent in the holding of an infant to one’s chest with your arms and hands supporting the child. Visualizing this kind of love, even the holding of one’s child to your chest, will, over time, produce a phenomenal heat emanating from your heart chakra. This facilitates the subsidence of thoughts, as well as any ‘play’ of emotions, because it is very hard to unseat this kind of love, and that aids you in taming your mind.

And smile — even a half smile will work — so that your body knows you are good (as in: better than ok). This is one reason why Buddhas are always smiling.

But if people start staring at you as you do this, just hold your cellphone up, as if you are looking at something on your phone. You don’t want to scare people!

When your thoughts have subsided sufficiently, you will hear a high-pitched sound coming from nowhere, and everywhere. This sound may seem like a metallic squeal, or a cymbal being bowed or scraped. Most importantly, this sound is the spontaneous and continuous sound of the very naturing of your being, including your thoughts and feelings, from moment to moment in your life. It’s the sound of the responsiveness of reality and has even been called “the Word of God.” It’s all these things and more — and it is always there, once you know how to listen for it.

Now say to yourself — and mean it — “I am not other than this naturing.” The “naturing” being evidenced by the sound you can hear, which has no cause in the external world, nor even internally in your body. It is uncaused and ever-present. And then just let yourself rest there as the origin of the sound you are hearing. That’s it. Those are the first steps of Avalokitasvara’s practice — and the only ones you need to perform to become invincible.

It is good to do this every day, and as many times you want during the day. You don’t have to go off somewhere quiet, nor do you need a cushion to sit on, or high-priced clothing. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and in any situation. With sufficient practice, you will find this inner (within your mind) spontaneous sound will always be there when you turn your hearing around and focus in your central chest area at the height of your heart.

When it becomes continuously present when your turn your attention to it, you will be able to focus on it at will, and not even have to place your awareness upon that central chest area. It will spring forward as soon as your intention to pay attention to it arises. It is at this point that you will benefit most, as you will be able to turn your attention onto the sound in any situation — being fully present, functioning at your highest ability, and not experiencing negative emotions or thoughts. Why does this work? Because you are focused on what truly matters — that which is real — and not the drama going on in your head in reaction to what is happening around you.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

And for those of you reading this who are Buddhist, or are familiar with Buddhist doctrines, the point of this practice is that it suspends samsara. Recently, my Dharma friend, Erik Pema Kunsang was teaching this practice and mentioned that his teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, had said exactly that.

This practice suspends the suffering of samsara for at least the duration of time that you place your attention on this sound, which Tulku Urgyen called “Vajra Sound” because it is continuous and always there for you to focus on.

After your ability to focus on the sound increases, you will find that the effect of suspending samsara begins to stick around for a while afterwards, even though you are no longer focusing on the sound. That’s how I remained present and indefatigable while caring for my wife during the last six weeks of her life at home.

Now that’s something worth doing — and worth sharing, so please share this article with everyone you’ve ever bumped up against. Seriously. They will thank you for it.

We are entering a period of great suffering in the world. This technique can reduce that suffering for everyone. You can help by helping others find this simple way to lessen their suffering in the years ahead. Just a few words from you might open their hearts enough to allow them to try it out.

Of course there is much more to Avalokitasvara’s practice than just this. If you are interested, you can learn more about it in the book “Tranquillity’s Secret” here on Medium. The book contains a great deal of detailed information, including philosophical background, historical use of the practice across time and cultures, practical instructions, important insights, and general commentary, I suggest these articles to start:

Introduction to Sound — We are conflating physical phenomena with mental experiences when we use the same term for both, as we commonly do with “sound.”

Why Inner Spontaneous Sounds are not Tinnitus — Tinnitus is the name of a symptom, not a specific disease. The word means that sounds are experienced, but have no identifiable source. By reducing mental chatter, momentary voids are left during which we can become aware of various inner spontaneous sounds that have no source, starting with the silence of those voids.

Overview of The Inner Spontaneous Sound Practices — Part I — Great Responsiveness Meditation and the Yoga of the (Inner Spontaneous) Sounds of the Four Elements

What is Experience, Where is Mind, What is Consciousness, and What About Time? — Explaining A New Paradigm For Science And Spirituality

The Quintessence of the Great Responsiveness Path — A mantra of sorts, useful for keeping you on the path, or just clearing your mind as your focus your attention while doing this practice.

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö’s Prophecy of Things to Come — The prophecy that I spoke about, written by Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, which is notable for its recommendation of a specific practice using inner spontaneous sound.

The Surangama Sutra, in case you’d like to read and/or study it by yourself is here: Surangama Sutra (Top level menu) — In which Avalokitasvara Bodhisattva’s Spontaneous Sound Meditation, which brings all sincere beings to enlightenment, is described, and Manjushri recommends its use by people like us.

And a few more for a little deeper look at these practices:

A Universal Direct Path to Enlightenment — Showing how Plotinus, Jigme Lingpa, Xu Yun, Avalokitasvara & the Buddha described the same necessary meditation moves to reach enlightenment

Between Reality and Existence Lies The Limit Of Intelligibility — The liminal event horizon between Reality and Existence results from the limit of intelligibility.

Great Responsiveness Meditation — The Meditation Path Of Avalokitasvara In Detail

Thank you for listening — to the inner spontaneous sound… the Vajra sound.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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