Six Words of Advice

Contemplating Six Words of Advice, a famous teaching of Tilopa (988–1069). The advice consists of only six words in Tibetan.

The translation to English (by Ken McLeod):

  1. Don’t recall.
  2. Don’t imagine.
  3. Don’t think.
  4. Don’t examine.
  5. Don’t control.
  6. Rest.

Some people prefer the longer, explanatory translation:

Let go of what has passed. Let go of what may come. Let go of what is happening now. Don’t try to figure anything out. Don’t try to make anything happen. Relax, right now, and rest.

On a grey Sunday in July in Amsterdam, I decide to contemplate the six advices. What follows are the six advises one by one, with that which came up contemplating each.

Let go of what has passed

Sometimes a memory is so good, we hold on to it dearly. We like keep it for future reference. That perfect day at the beach where I felt connected to world, the cosmos and everything else; that one life-changing meditation session during a retreat two years ago; the sex that night with the beautiful stranger. We try to hold on to the feeling that the past event gave us, relive it again and again. Scientists have found that, as we do this reliving we actually alter the memory, and store the altered memory for the next time we want to revisit it. The original feeling is already gone, with the original event.

We also do the opposite: holding on to past feelings that hurt. We try not to relive a painful past, we try avoid thinking about it altogether. It hurts to face the pain, and we bottle it up. We do not let go, we try to ignore or deny the pain that exists.

Don’t recall, or letting go what has passed, is looking at how we have attached ourselves to our history, and gently dissolving the attachment.

Let go of what may come

What may come is everything we fear, everything we want to happen, and everything we try to ignore. We create stories for ourselves about what may come.

You have a meeting planned where you know a certain topic is discussed. You know who will be attending the meeting. You may have a strong preference on the outcome of the meeting. You assume or know at least one other person attending the meeting has another preference. The story continues in your head what you will say, the counter arguments of the other person, ect. This all may come, it may not. I am not saying it is wrong to prepare for a meeting. I am saying holding on to what may come will –in this example- stop you from listening and reaching the optimum decision.

We paint our reality with a red filter for the things we fear, with a green filter for things we like to see, and black out the rest. The stories we create about what may come are these filters, and they’re not very helpful. We have to try to let them go, and if that’s too hard –be aware of our colored reality.

Let go of what is happening now

What is happening now passes in the blink of an eye to become part of what has happened. Yes. Ok. How can I not let it go? What does it mean to let go what is happening now?

What is happening now comes to us through our senses. As I contemplate this, a car drives into the street where I live. The car has an open top, and loud, very loud music is playing. It’s so loud that I feel the bass tones tremble my stomach. This sound is completely dominating my experience for a moment, I can no longer think. I feel my senses blinded by the music coming from the car. I am irritated being distracted from my contemplation without prior consent! What is happening now, is that I make separation between me and the rest of the world. I am not accepting the noise as it is, but trying to get rid of it. The short version of “Let go of what is happening now” is “don’t think”. This advise of Tilopa concerns letting go our reaction to what is happening now. We have to let go of what we define as now, the present, to fully appreciate and live it.

Don’t try to figure anything out

This is a tricky one, contemplating this. At least it is for me, now. I look up the word contemplation in a dictionary, as it can’t be the same as figuring something out. Ok, contemplation, the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time, is not the same as figuring out something.

Let’s stick to my first thought for this advice of Tilopa:

Trust your innate wisdom. There is no need to figure anything out.

Don’t try to make anything happen

Goals. What kind of goals do we set ourselves? This reminds me of a Google Talk I saw a few days ago, given by Lodro Rinzler. In the Q&A (46:50 minutes in the video) he describes giving two people who just graduated the same question: “What’s next, do you have anything planned where you want be in a couple of months?”

One graduate answers: “I want to be a sales manager in two years. My first step is to get a sales job in a successful company.” The other graduate answers: “I don’t know, I only know I want to do something that is of benefit to the world. In a few months I will probably still be thinking about how to accomplish this.”
The first graduate has a clear goal that will be or won’t be reached. What will happen when the goal is reached, or when it is clear it won’t be reached? A new clear goal? When trying to make a specific goal happen, the world narrows down with fewer and fewer options.
The second graduate has no specific goal yet, but there is intention. Options will always be open. This will give more flexibility, more room for happiness, as the graduate will always be able to adapt to change while keeping the intention.

“Don’t control” is the short advise here. Be aware of clear goals, is my contemplation here. Look at your intention, that’s where you’re coming from.

Relax, right now, and rest

Finally we can relax, right now and rest. The best advise ever. Makes me think of a story I read in a book called “The Road Home” by Ethan Nichtern. He recounts when a famous buddhist teacher, a Tibetan lama, was staying at their home, and his father asked the teacher: “you are traveling and teaching all over the world. Is there any place where you feel at home?” The lama answers: “I live in the center of my awareness.”

I do feel if we follow the 6 advises of Tilopa we all can live in the center of our awareness.


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