Monday, May 28, 2018

Toxicity and emotional septic systems.

When examined closely, there is a very curious correspondence between how a septic system works and different states of consciousness. More than likely city dwellers don’t know about septic systems since they’ve never lived in locals where city services aren’t provided. So for these folks, a brief explanation is required.

Let’s begin with what the word septic means. It is taken from the Greek that means “putrefaction” and has a couple of significant uses. Septic systems are located in the country where there are no city services to accommodate discharged waste from houses. This waste flows into a large tank that ideally contains adequate bacteria—microorganisms that break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The “cleansed” water then spills over and runs into a leach field in the yard where the liquids evaporate. So long as there are adequate bacteria in the main tank, all goes well. But when the quantity and quality of the bacteria are depleted or weakened, the solids don’t break down which then spill over, enter the leach field, backs up into the main tank, and over time the tank fills up with too much solid waste and the system fails.

Our consciousness system is quite similar to a septic system. Think of repressed traumatic stress as emotional shit that is suppressed into our subconscious. The “bacteria” that is supposed to bleed off this build up are stress-reducing activities. Among the most valuable forms are breathing exercises, meditation (particularly Zen), guided imagery, exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and odd as it may seem: sex (which releases a hormone called oxytocin that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain). Unless these activities become integrated into our every-day routines the emotional shit builds up, bleeds into our conscious state and gums up the works, just as occurs in a septic system where bacteria is compromised. The unfortunate result is a limited ability to handle minor, ordinary stress and this becomes a downward spiral that can end badly.

People who become gummed up with infection can, and do, die from septic shock. The death rate for those so infected is between 25-50% and results from a compromised immune system. Diseases such as peptic ulcers, cardiovascular disorders, migraines, and hypertension have been associated with persistent distress, with medical care professionals estimating that nearly 70% of doctor visits are directly related to ongoing stress. Septic shock (as well as these other consequences) is a serious condition that is indirectly related to accumulating stress. How that occurs works like this: Stress is an everyday experience that suppresses our immune systems. Why does stress buildup occur? Often times, in attempting to get on with necessary functioning, victims of trauma, suppress the experience(s) and related emotions into their subconscious where they leak out in the process of living. The capacity to handle building consequences of stress seems to be limited. And unless we work hard to develop lifestyles that allow us to vent emotions associated with building stress, we become both emotionally and physically putrefied which leads first to impacting our normal functioning and on to death.

The idea that our mental/emotional state and our physical state being separated is, fortunately, being recognized as an archaic notion and scientists are finally coming to realize that there is no such division. The mind/body is a single entity with a clearly defined feedback loop. What affects us emotionally, affects us physically and vice versa.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Is Buddhist compassion the same as Christian love?

The high bar of excellence.
The answer is, “it depends.” Unfortunately we rarely thoroughly examine colloquialisms, and pretentiousness has become rampant. Duplicity and deceit are so socially acceptable now they are nearly synonymous with contemporary life. The terms “compassion” and “love” have become so misused they are now cliches, lacking in true understanding. In some Asian cultures the issue of “face” is of such significance that being two-faced is integral to the culture, causing societal members to be continuously on guard for the potential for saving or losing face. To them, it’s a matter of their reputation, dignity, honor, their prestige, and integrity. But this preoccupation is not limited to Asian cultures. It is prevalent throughout the world, wherever duplicity is found.

The concern stands in conflict with spiritual principles, particularly in matters where surface and social expectations (the face presented to the world) diverge from internal convictions (the internal face). The Buddha said, “The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways, the greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances and the greatest effort is not concerned with results.” These principles reflect an attitude that transcends social expectations and platitudes concerned with duplicity. To live in duplicity reflects neither genuine Christian love (agape) nor genuine Buddhist compassion, both of which are near mirror reflections of one another.

Compassion is often thought of as akin to pity, but whereas pity may be condescending, compassion springs from a sense of the equality, unity, and interconnectedness of life. Genuine compassion is about empowering others, helping them unlock strength and courage from within their lives in order to overcome their problems.” And this human quality arises through true awakening to our inherent true nature that fills us with the experience of unity and becomes so powerful as to render duplicity impossible. 

The highest love agápē (ἀγάπη) is found only in the New Testament and is translated as “unconditional love.” Love that is unconditional is not discriminatory or influenced by changing phenomenal conditions, but is instead steady throughout all conditions. The best expression of agápē love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-12, which says, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails, but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes (genuine awakening), the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

These genuine Buddhist and Christian expressions, however, while being the gold standards, are not universally embraced. Just because we know what is the standard, does not guarantee we comply. There are numerous examples in today’s world where hypocrisy, denial, and egotism flourish, most especially within the sphere of politics. It’s a rare individual who, while lost within the grip of ego delusion, can rise above the influences and temptations of greed, anger, avarice, and possessiveness and “do the right thing.” Sadly our interpersonal, social and political systems have become rife with concern for preserving “face,” currying special favors that align us with power and ignores the high bars of true compassion and love. Probably the best depiction of hypocrisy I have seen was displayed in the television series “The West Wing,” when the president (Martin Sheen) puts a faux-Christian in her place. The example stands in stark contrast to the behavior of true compassion and agápē love characteristic of a bodhisattva, who lives by a vow.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

What’s there?

Seeing through the fog of delusion.
“Look straight ahead. What’s there? If you see it as it is You will never err.” These were the words spoken by Bassui Tokushō, a Rinzai Zen Master just before he died in 1387 in what is modern-day Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. You might say these words were his chosen epitaph that summed up the essence of his life.

“Seeing what’s there” sounds incredibly easy. How could we not? We all have the same eyes and the world we see is the same world. Yet if we all saw the world “as it is,” instead of the way we would like it to be, or a way that confirms our preconceived beliefs and biases, it would be like Shunryu Suzuki referred to in his famous book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

There’s a fresh or innocent perspective when we see as a child sees: an honesty that is neither right nor wrong. In such a state of mind there is no axe to grind, imbedded beliefs to defend, nor convictions to uphold. Things just are, as they are. 

The Buddha referred to himself as the Tathāgata, a compound word composed of “tathā” and “gata.” Various translations of this Sanskrit word have been proposed, one of which is called reality as-it-is. In this case, the term means, “the one who has gone to suchness” or “the one who has arrived at suchness”—the quality referred to by Zen Master Bassui and Shunryu Suzuki: “Seeing what’s there.”

While apparently easy, in fact, to see things as they are requires moving beyond the ideas we hold of ourselves and others, pride of ownership in positions to which we become attached, bigotry that colors clarity, fears of ego threat, and preconceived beliefs, all of which serve as clouded lenses through which we see. These ideas swirl around the ego, like a wheel swirls around a central axel. When these ideas are removed, the world appears just as it has always been. Here is how Ch’an Master Hongzhi put this to verse:

“Right here—at this pivotal axle,
opening the swinging gate and clearing the way—
it is able to respond effortlessly to circumstances;
the great function is free from hindrances.”

The challenge is to stay at this central core as the world swirls and changes around us. What IS easy is to become trapped in the allure of holding fast to dogmas of inflexibility, defending our points of view and responding in kind to insults, and attacks. The hard part is staying fully present in the ebb and flow like balancing on a surfboard, leaning neither to the left nor the right. You can read an expanded version concerning such understanding by clicking here.

There are times, given their extreme nature, that dictates actions we might not see as virtuous. “Expedient means” may seem to violate teachings thought to be fundamental to our convictions, but as a prior politician once said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” He was no Zen Master but he did articulate the essence of seeing things as they were and calling for expedient means. After all is said and done the best advice for steering clear of conflict and getting sucked back into ego defense comes from Mark Twain: “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” All of us can be stupid when we lose sight of what’s there.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Here, there and everywhere.

I confess: For a long time I’ve been fascinated with how things work, particularly how our mind works and how, if possible, to explain this by merging spirituality with science, which introduces this post. 

Some time ago, while visiting the eye doctor, we had a conversation about how sight functions in the brain. I had read that the entire world is actually seen upside down, projected onto the primary visual cortex at the back of the brain, and then inverted right side up again. Not only that, our brain turns what is otherwise a 2-dimensional image into a 3-dimensional one. In effect, never suspecting, what we are “seeing” is a hologram. And then I began to patch together some otherwise seemingly disparate pieces of information I had come upon over the years.

The first of these pieces was from The Śūraṅgama Sūtra“All things in all worlds are the wondrous, fundamental, enlightened, luminous mind that understands, and that this mind, pure, all-pervading, and perfect, contains the entire is everlasting and does not perish.”

Then there was this from The Dalai Lama: On Buddha Nature“Every sentient being—even insects—have Buddha nature. The seed of Buddha means consciousness, the cognitive power—the seed of enlightenment. That’s from Buddha’s viewpoint. All these destructive things can be removed from the mind, so, therefore, there’s no reason to believe some sentient being cannot become Buddha. So every sentient being has that seed.”

Don’t see the connection yet? For the defining link, watch this video concerning a debate within the world of physics about the seeming conflict between General Relativity (held by Steven Hawkings), Quantum Mechanics (argued by Leonard Susskind) and resolved by Argentinian theoretical physicist Juan Martín Maldacena. The topic of debate? The holographic principle. And while you are watching, bear in mind some fundamental Buddhist principles which overlay the discussion: Dependent Origination, The egothe illusion of the true Self and the reality of the Self, and The One Mind (non-dual). 

If you’re good at connecting dots, given a proper grasp of these fundamental Buddhist principles, and digesting the basic physics discussed, I suspect you might come to understand the essence of The Śūraṅgama Sūtra: We exist within The One Mind as a holographic projection of the truth that lies beyond articulation. 

“Things are not what they seem; nor are they otherwise.”The Śūraṅgama Sūtra

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The way we think.

Now that the Buddhist conception of the mind has been thoroughly delineated we turn our attention to something we do continuously and determines the nature of our world—what the mind produces: thoughts. Given the critical nature of thinking, it’s imperative to properly grasp what thinking is all about and how thinking (properly understood) leads us all to our true nature or perpetuates misery. So let’s take a stroll together down the reality road and examine the goal of seeing things as they are, without distortion or delusions. For our stroll, we need to begin with an agreement—to remove customary lenses, with which we are habitually comfortable. For the duration of our stroll, we make a pledge to set aside all preconceived views and be open to a new way of seeing.

First, let’s describe the terrain in Buddhist terms. What we are going to see in our minds-eye must be considered from within the framework of how Buddhists define reality, and once we establish this framework we’ll accept this definition until the end of our stroll. Following our stroll you may, if you wish, return to your ordinary way of looking at life. And in taking our stroll we will use an analytical tool called dependent origination (in Sanskrit, Pratītyasamutpāda) to pin together logic of a special kind.

Buddhists don’t accept the notion that conditional things exist separate and apart from an unconditional basis. To imagine that they do exist in such a manner is considered a delusion. All conditional things are dual in nature; they are clearly mutually polar. That said, conditional duality exists within a non-dual, unconditional framework—the ground of all being. Neither conditional nor unconditional aspects have any independent reality. They are glued together, irrevocably. 

This beginning premise has vast repercussions. The correct view is that nothing has an independent nature which is exclusive and uncaused. Another way of saying this is that things arise together—are originated interdependently and are caused by other things or events. Thus a thinker only has meaning in terms of what a thinker produces (thoughts) and the converse—thoughts require one who thinks. Thoughts have no independent nature and neither do thinkers. These two arise together simultaneously. Thoughts are causally linked to perceptions, which in turn are causally linked to consciousness. Without consciousness, there would be no perceptions, without perceptions, there would be no thoughts and without thoughts, a thinker could not exist.

But words are devices which themselves have no independent nature. They too arise together with one who writes, speaks or hears. Words are mere devices used to extract and communicate about something. All of the words you are now reading only exist in your mind where they will bear the fruit of imagination. They are not the something itself. Words are reflections or abstractions which join my mind with your mind. Words have no intrinsic self-nature. They too are causally linked to thoughts.

Instead of using a word like “thinker” we could easily substitute another name like “subject” and instead of using a name like “thoughts” we could substitute another name like “objects.” The relationship between thinker/thoughts is the same as between an ineffable subject/perceptible object, the point is that it takes a subject to perceive an object just as it takes a thinker to perceive thoughts, and perception depends upon consciousness.

So we could then say that since one-half of these relationships (e.g., thinker apart from thoughts, or subject apart from object) is an impossibility, that such a split is “empty” of independent existence. It would be nonsensical to speak of a thinker without thoughts and in the same way, it would be nonsensical to speak of a subject without an object. None of these halves possess a self-nature except conceptually. And all of the foregoing pertains to our stroll down reality lane. Why? Because such conceptual distinctions are not real, only imagined.

This manner of speaking has a name. It is called dependent origination and occurs within the conditional realm, which itself has no self-nature. Just as a thinker has no meaning without thoughts, conditional reality has no meaning without unconditional reality. Everything is subject to this interdependent framework.

So given this, what would happen if we did away with one of these sides? For example, let’s say that we did away with thoughts. If that happened, by definition, the thinker would cease to exist. But wait a moment. Where does this relationship of thinker/thoughts exist, except in our minds? Outside of mind, there are no thoughts and therefore no thinkers. Both thinkers and thoughts are manifestations of mind and mind exists within our bodies. So if we stop thinking (and the thinker disappears) what does that suggest about our identity? Is it possible for us to disappear when thinking/thoughts disappear? Obviously not. So it is clear that the real us can’t be the thinker, otherwise, we would disappear when thoughts cease, which is precisely the whole point. In fact, this non-thinking entity is how Bodhidharma defined Zen: Not thinking about anything is Zen, and that is who we truly are: A non-thinking ineffable entity that thinks thoughts, or no-thoughts. Sounds strange but when we cease conceptual thought what we are left with is The One Reality: Our True Nature.

So obviously the real us is independent of this thinker/thought arrangement. But if so, then this real us must exist outside the framework of conditional existence since a thinker/thought arrangement is a condition. Where does this stroll then lead us? It leads us into the unconditional realm which is known as the realm of the tathagatakaya (body of the Buddha Lankavatara Sutra) and accessed when we leave conceptual thinking behind...beyond thought and non-thought. To explain: The idea of thought is a thought. The idea of a non-thought is a thought about not-thinking. Both are thoughts and all thoughts are ideas about something but not the something which is thought about.

Why does this matter? It matters because when we become attached to what we perceive and think, and empower these images with notions (other thoughts) as being real we are subject to clinging to ephemeral and fleeting phantoms which produce suffering. Both things (and particularly thoughts about things) are fleeting. But the distinction between things and thoughts about things, is that things are just things (neither good nor bad—just what they are—suchness) but thoughts about things become judgments of good and bad. We like the good things (and try to grasp and retain them) and dislike the bad things (and try to resist them). Both grasping and resisting are forms of attachment to fleeting existence and attachment causes suffering.

Now let’s shift gears somewhat and come at this from a different perspective by thoroughly considering what is meant by unconditional. The obvious starting point is to understand that something which is unconditional is not dependent upon anything for existence. Anything would include (but not be limited by) time, space, circumstances, birth, death, form, emptiness—everything and nothing. Unconditional means transcendent to all conditions. No beginning, no ending, no circumstances, no form, no right or wrong. Every aspect or defining characteristic would have no place in a realm of unconditional reality, yet unconditional reality must be said to be empty of self since it is a form of complete emptiness and depends (yet it doesn’t depend) upon conditions through dependent origination. 

Unconditional reality is a profound paradox. For it to exist, conditional reality must exist, but in itself, it is dependent upon nothing. Thus it is said to exist and yet not exist. It neither has a self (intrinsic, independent nature) yet it does. In Buddhist cosmology this unconditional realm is know as Tathagatagarbha which means Buddha Womb/Buddha Matrix and is explained by The Buddha in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra to refer to the True Self or Essence of the Self within all sentient beings—the unconditioned, boundless, nurturing, sustaining, deathless and diamond-like Self of The Buddha, which is indiscernible to worldly, unawakened vision, as a result of conceptual obscurations (e.g., thoughts), inappropriate mental and behavioral tendencies and unclear perception.

Such a composite can only be understood as both conditioned and unconditioned, which means the unified source of both: an aspect with defining characteristics and an aspect without defining characteristic which arises simultaneously just as a thinker arises with thoughts. The aspects of Buddha-Nature with defining characteristics is the nirmanakaya—Buddhist vernacular for our physical being... (Incarnate Buddha) and the saṃbhogakāya—subtle body of the limitless form: link to the Dharmakaya. Both of these are said to be subject to birth, death, and other conditions. The physical and psychic aspects of Buddha-Nature come and go. These aspects have form, but form and emptiness are a single riveted together matter. Form can’t exist without the context of emptiness. They arise together. An object (form) can only exist in space/time (emptiness). That form may be either physical or psychic. A thought is a psychic form—an abstraction, whereas physical forms appear to have substance and intrinsic/independent existence, but from a Buddhist point of view, not even physical form is real (meaning independent from emptiness).

From this point of view, all forms (physical and psychic) are manifestations of mind and lack intrinsic existence. The aspect which is without form is called the Dharmakaya (the true nature of the Buddha, which is identical with reality). This aspect can only be seen by a Buddha and those who have advanced to the highest state of consciousness since it is unconditional. What is conditional (anything with form) can’t see what is unconditional (emptiness—like space can’t be seen). This articulation is an attempt to understand the trikaya—the three aspects of Buddha-Nature. But this is a provisional attempt using form (words) to speak of something beyond all form so the attempt is flawed from the outset. As Lao Tzu stated, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.” The nameless is the Dharmakaya or Mind-essence. In truth, these aspects are a single, indivisible reality but for convenience sake, we speak of them as separate.

The Dharmakaya goes by many names. Often times the name One Mind is used. It is always present yet never found. The mind has no conditions nor limiting qualities yet is always present and functioning. Bodhidharma called it mind-essence which may be a better expression since essence has a connotation of infused transcendence. But names and handles are not important. What is important is the essence to which names and handles point; like a finger pointing to the moon. To transcend all names and thoughts (abstractions) and access directly what is, without condition is what tathagatakaya means. Tatha means thusness or suchness—things as they are in their fullness (both conditional and unconditional). Tathagata is an alternative name given a Buddha: one who sees things as they are without delusion

There is a story about the second Zen patriarch (Hui-k'o) who asked Bodhidharma to help him make his mind stop. Bodhidharma said, “Show me this mind of yours, and I’ll make it stop.” Hui-k'o responded, “I’ve looked everywhere for my mind but can’t find it.” Bodhidharma said, “There. I’ve stopped it for you.” The point is that mind/Dharmakaya is not to be found. The idea or thought of mind must be stopped to access Mind. When we look at objects (a thought is an object) we see just objects: the perceptible form; the abstraction, but we don’t see essence because it can’t be seen. The purity of mind is what sees, not the organs we call eyes. Objects are containers of essence but not essence itself and our eyes see objective things (but not essence). Meister Eckhart (famous Christian mystic) made this same point in distinguishing ideas from essence.

Each of us exists in fullness. We are not just decaying form. Fullness includes the essential dimension of Buddha-Nature—the Dharmakaya. Without this, no form could exist (because of dependent origination). When this is understood we see that we are both transient and eternal. We are both subject to beginning/ending and we are not. We are both subject to suffering and we are not. We both have no self/intrinsic nature and we do. Both subject and object fuse into a single thing. SELF and self are different yet the same. We and all of nature are the great mystery of life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I can’t find myself.

Reaching toward difference.
One of life’s most enduring themes has been to find ourselves. The quest begins early, reaches a peak during adolescence and tails off afterward, largely because of frustration. Defining our identities is thus a universal pursuit that rarely culminates in anything real. If it reaches a conclusion, at all, it travels down the road of ego construction and maintenance. More times than not nothing beyond ever occurs and we process what we think of ourselves in terms of how others see us, from moment to endless changing moment. One moment a “good” self-image, the next a “bad” one. Our sense of who we are dances on the end of a tether like a boat anchored in a turbulent sea. Rather than finding our true, united nature, the quest is driven to enhance our differences. In the words Asvaghosa: “In the all-conserving mind (âlaya-vijñâna) ignorance obtains; and from the non-enlightenment starts that which sees, that which represents, that which apprehends an objective world, and that which constantly particularises. This is called the ego (manas).” In contemporary terminology, we lust for individuating ourselves at the expense of uniting ourselves.

Scottish poet Robert Burns phrased the dance thusly: “O wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” (Modern English: “Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”) But poetic as it may be, that seeing is looking in the wrong direction. The “ourselves” expressed here is an exterior view when the true “us” lies beneath any perceptible view. What few ever realize is the perceptible dance of the self-image of us is tethered to that immovable anchor of the real unimagined us, yet it remains in our depths, unknown to all, awaiting discovery. 

Consequently, our sense of self remains fixed to the cause of all suffering: ego. The late, great Indian Buddhist philosopher and practitioner (e.g., Shantideva) noted: “All the harm, fear, and suffering in the world are caused by attachment to the self: Why should I hold on to this great demon?” Importantly, he also said, “Without contacting the entity that is imputed, you will not apprehend the absence of that entity”Bodhicaryavatara. Translation: In order to be able to deny something, we first of all need to know what it is that we are denying. And that profound observation points us in the direction of emancipation from the “great demon”. Nothing is more motivating toward a solution than to personally experience the results of egotism. Nobody wishes to be associated with a person who is angry, greedy and deluded. And those character traits define egotism.

Not only does the great demon create suffering, it is also the pathway out of suffering…“Every suffering is a buddha-seed because suffering impels mortals to seek wisdom. But you can only say that suffering gives rise to buddhahood. You can’t say that suffering is buddhahood. Your body and mind are the field. Suffering is the seed, wisdom the sprout, and buddhahood the grain.”―Bodhidharma. Suffering is, in essence, the driving force that compels us toward the solution of genuine Self-discovery, where the opposite characteristics of compassion, generosity, and wisdom reside.

A thorough and honest examination of which characteristics dominate contemporary life ought to tell us how to solve the misery of the world—Finding our true immaculate selves.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The suchness of Earth Day.

Seeing things as they truly are, without delusions or bias, is a serious challenge to world survival. The Buddha referred to himself as the Tathāgata, which is a derivative of the East Asian term Tathatā: the true basis of reality. Ordinarily, if we think of it at all, we think of spiritual awakening as some sort of magical state of mind. According to the 5th-century Chinese Mahayana scripture entitled Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, the state of suchness/tathatā manifests in the highest wisdom with sublime attributes and is thus the womb of the Buddha.

In the world of today, living in a state of denial represents a threat of massive proportions, not only to those who choose to stay blind, but to us all. Putting ones head in the sand of ignorance does not insure safety. On the contrary, closing our  eyes to the very real consequences of a warming climate accomplishes nothing more than insuring the ultimate end of a world that enables life. 

On this day (Earth Day) we have an opportunity to do our part to find our voice of courage and speak up to insure, not only our own survival but the survival of our own progeny, not to mention all sentient beings. What we all need to recognize is that every step of human progress, from the very beginning, has been contingent on having a livable environment. And unless we wake up soon we will find ourselves in an environment so hostile that life will no longer be possible. The signs of this progressing devastation may already be experienced as indicated in this article that reveals everything from growing allergies to ultimate destruction.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The One for whom we search.

artwork created by Hsiao-Yen Jones
Identity is something the entire human race seeks for their whole life, only to end disappointed in what they find. Traveling to the ends of time and space we hope to find springs of self-knowledge, thinking that by drinking of the elixir that bubbles forth, a dawning of unique personhood will quench our thirsty souls and change us into someone of unique self-worth. 

We are, in large part, shaped mostly by matters in childhood that send us on journeys trying to understand or validate those early messages in ways that resemble the game of pick-up sticks; the art of arranging pieces of wood into complete constructions without removing the very stick that brings the construction crashing down into a pile of ash. So we begin once more only to be forced to discard the initial elements and start with nothing but the ever-flowing river of life: fluid and morphing moment by moment into shadows and phantoms.

In our quest, we often allow ourselves to reduce the work by depending on others whom we assume must have done the heavy lifting. So we form shared identities that belong to those who radiate semblances of authenticity and seem to have earned what we long for. Yet after a time, we fall short of our desires, for senses of peace, tranquility, and fulfillment. But finding instead a belt too tight that squeezes out what constitutes our hidden internal truth. Thus we become as birds sitting side by side on telephone wires sharing common habits and shallow skins, never feeling real or satisfied.

Time after time we try and fail to discover the one we are truly so we can claim self-assurance as solid and immovable as the granite shaping the mountains that grow mere inches over the span of eternities. But instead, we often resign and become as dictated by initial configurations that belong to someone but not us. And there we remain precarious and fearful of what we imagine lurks in the depths of unknowing.

The fortunate, only after failures too vast to recount, realize that at the core is a nothingness around which is shaped, without any effort or attempt, the true person we are. There is no true identity that defines with limitations; only one that unites. For to be a fabricated somebody, simply results in isolation from others not like us, and means we will live forever in bondage as fabricated beings we invent to feel at home with others who likewise invent themselves as other beings just as artificial and hollow as we ourselves have become.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Where are we going?

Any road to nowhere.
When you cut through the extraneous and get down to the fundamental issue, knowing where we are and where we’re going is kind of important. And I’m not referring to your next business or vacation trip. I’m referring to the ultimate destination if there is one. That’s a rhetorical “if” statement. Obviously, we are here and just as obviously we will die, at least the physical house within which we live and have our being.

If we’re unsure of our ultimate destination then the Cheshire Cat (see image above) is quite correct: any road will take us there. On the other hand, if there is an ultimate destination then we are either heading for it by what we think and do or we aren’t. Many are persuaded there is no ultimate destination so it doesn’t matter. Any road will get them to nowhere.

However many are persuaded they will go either up to a heaven in the sky or down to the bowels of Hell. Consequently, these folks make an attempt to do what they can to hedge their bets against some nasty brimstone (call it an insurance policy against unknowing) by doing their best to be agents for good, which is not necessarily a bad thing but the motive is questionable. They kind of know they haven’t met the requisite conditions to get where they want to go, but just maybe it will happen anyway.

Such thinking overlooks the possibility that there is nowhere to go other than where we are. Yesterday is a dream and tomorrow is speculation. So the trip destination is like being inside a giant room, unaware that you are, and thus desiring to be in that room. Of course, this room is an unconditional one and as such can’t be either here or there, tomorrow, today or yesterday. And why would that be? Because it is beyond conditions (unconditional). And if it is unconditional then we don’t have to wait for the grave to get there. We’re already there. And why is that? Because its unconditional.

All sentient beings have consciousness—ever-present yet without any defining properties. It is always here, and there—everywhere yet nowhere. And the true nature of consciousness is Shunyata (emptiness). The ultimate nature of the mind is empty like it states in the Heart Sutra: “Likewise, consciousness is Empty, and Emptiness is also consciousness. So, natural Tathagatagarbha is the emptiness of the mind.” There is nowhere to go where it is not so why go anywhere?

Granted this perspective is not your ordinary view, which says that our earthly life is separated from both the good and the bad future places, and which way we go depends on thinking and behaving our way into one or the other. This view has a name: duality, which is the anathema of religious thought. Of course, this idea would contradict the fundamental dogmas of religions, which splits the matter into separate departments. This latter would indeed keep us separated from our source and make our union dependent upon the impossible task of never making a mistake, or miming a formula that has changed over time that requires you to admit that you’re a bum and incapable of satisfying the necessary conditions. So what’re your options? Letting our source do what it does.

But if IT is unconditional (and hasn’t gone on vacation) then he/she/it lives within us, outside of us, beyond time and circumstances. And if that is true then we’re in for a very short journey because our destination is right back where we started.

As unlikely as you may think, this outlandish idea is precisely what the parable of the Prodigal Son, taught by Jesus says, or if you prefer the Zen version, it is what Hakuin Zenji, one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism, taught. The following is from his famous Song of Zazen

“From the beginning all beings are Buddha.
Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas.
How near the truth, yet how far we seek.
Like one in water crying, ‘I thirst!’
Like the son of a rich man wand’ring poor on this earth, we endlessly circle the six worlds.
The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.’”

So where are you going? And are you sure? In the end, it matters little whether youre sure or not because what we believe has no bearing on what’s real. But knowing certainly makes the non-trip more interesting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Things are not what they seem.

Baobab Tree 
One of the most challenging spiritual matters to comprehend is the relationship between matter—which is clearly discriminately conditional, governed by the law of discernment, and karma, with a beginning and an ending—and spirit which is unified, whole without a beginning or an ending, and not subject to karma. How, we wonder, are these two dimensions NOT dual? Obviously one is conditional and the other is unconditional. Two very different natures that are somehow joined into an inseparable, single reality of unity. 

The Gita helps us to understand by grasping the philosophy and language of the time when it was written. From that frame of reference, two words/concepts are important: Purusha, (spirit), and Prakriti, (everything else). Prakriti is the field of what can be known objectively, the field of phenomena (perceived through the senses), the world of whatever has “name and form”: that is, not only of matter and energy but also of the mind.

Purusha, on the other hand, permeates and infuses Prakriti. It is everywhere present but unseen. From that perspective, the notion of duality disappears since Prakriti emanates (grows from) Purusha. Think of the relationship between the two as the perception and functioning of the strange giant Baobab Tree from Madagascar. If ever there was an odd part of Prakriti that illustrated the relationship this tree would be the perfect example. The trunk is clearly not divided yet the branches are, and they grow inseparable from a unified trunk. Obviously, neither could exist alone, both grow out of an unseen subterranean root system, unseen, beneath the ground and the spirit of the tree (sap) flows freely throughout.

The illustrated example is close except for one thing: both are phenomenal versions of Prakriti. To complete the picture (still only approximate) we need to add a dimension of reflection. In the same way that the Lotus reaches upward, originating from beneath the mud of the unconscious, and emerges into the light from the shimmering waters as discriminate form, so too we can add the waters of graduating clarity. While we can’t see into the mud of the unconscious we know it is still a version of consciousness, and by penetrating into the depths we can release the spirit until it enters the world of Prakriti.

And how exactly would that penetration be accomplished? Here again, the Gita guides the way: Samadhi. Two schools of thought exist, sudden and gradual enlightenment. Ordinarily, samadhi can be entered only following a long period of meditation and after many years of ardent endeavor. But in one verse of The Gita (5:28) a significant word sada, “always” is portrayed. Once this state of deep concentration becomes established, the person lives in spiritual freedom, or moksha, permanently. 

The enlightenment experience is a singularly intense experience which tells one his or her place in the scheme of things. This is more often than not a once and for all experience which will cause the experiencer never again to doubt his or her relationship with or to the Self, others, the world, and whatever one may believe is beyond the world. This experience is enormously validating or empowering and is unlike any other experience one can have. 

Since non-dual reality cannot be divided into incremental parts, it cannot be grasped little by little as the gradual enlightenment approach implies. The non-dual must be realized all at once (suddenly) as a whole or not at all. As sada, is always present, once Purusha is experienced it can never again come and go, as Prakriti surely does. The right vs. wrong of Prakriti becomes right and wrong of Purusha. “Things are not what they seem; nor are they otherwise.”