Monday, March 20, 2017

Is there a “Self?”

Fabrication? Or real?
We humans have a big problem: language. We have invented words for everything regardless of whether the thing is ineffable or not. The opposite of a “thing” is “no-thing/nothing.” A thing is perceptible and nothing is not. When the words we employ relate to perceptible matters there is less of a problem, but even then words mean different things to different people. I’ve written previously concerning this dilemma in a post: Does suffering have a positive side

All humans imagine they have a unique identity or personality which is, in part, the constituents of a “self.” When we imagine ourselves we draw together composite components, such as how we think others see us, and what we think of ourselves. We dress this ego-self up with variegated clothing of profession, education, relationships, and many other factors of considered importance, and end up with an internally perceptible “self-image” (ego). What should be apparent (but remains obscure) is that all images (self included) are neither real nor the nexus of perception. The logic of this is peerless  and we have been educated to know the difference between a perceptible object and an imperceptible subject (the ineffable person we imagine ourselves to be).

It is our nature to label everything and in the case of our true, subjective selves, we apply the name of another self (now we have two, both fabricated). There is the perceptible, objective ego/self and an ineffable subjective Self. But we only apply the label of Self due to our inability to articulate or define pure consciousness, otherwise called “the Mind.” 

This matter is conflated due to seemingly conflicting Buddhist teachings. On the one hand it is standard Buddhist teachings that we have no self (anattā). And on the other hand there are Buddhist Sūtras that teach a higher Self, such as the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtras, (one of which The Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra—contrasting these two selves). In Chapter 3 (On Grief) of this Sūtra the Buddha taught, about what he called “four perversions.” He said that the true Self signified the Buddha, the eternal signified the Dharmakāya (the Mindliterally “truth body), Bliss signified the lack of dukkhā and Nirvana/the Pure, signified the Dharma. He went on to say that to cultivate impermanence, suffering, and non-self has no real meaning and said, “Whoever has these four kinds of perversion, that person does not know the correct cultivation of dharmas. Having these perverse ideas, their (the lost) minds and vision are distorted.” He continued,“If impermanence is killed, what there is, is eternal Nirvana. If suffering is killed, one must gain bliss; if the void is killed, one must gain the real. If the non-self is killed, one must gain the True Self, O great King! If impermanence, suffering, the Void and the non-self are killed, you must be equal to me.”

In this same Sūtra , the Buddha said, “Seeing the actions of body and mouth, we say that we see the mind. The mind is not seen, but this is not false. This is seeing by outer signs.” In other words, we know the mind is present by virtue of actions.

Often times this seems confusing, but after much study you come to realize that the labels of “Mind” and “Self” are used interchangeably. In any case, (depending on your preferences) neither the Mind nor the Self can be seen simply because these are arbitrary words for consciousness: the nexus of all perception. In fact, the Self is just another name for Buddha-dhatu/the true immaculate Self—the only substantial, yet unseen reality.

In a recent post (Our overturned world) I spoke about the writings of Patañjali who lived in India during the 2nd century BCE. He is credited with being the compiler of the Yoga Sūtras, an important collection of aphorisms on Yoga practice. Patañjali wrote about what he called kleshas (afflictions: causes of suffering), and maintained that there are only five of these. According to him we have what is called an ahamkara or “I-maker” (ego). It is a single thought form, the delusional image of individualized existence. This premise is fully embraced within Zen and is the foundation upon which the conviction of “no self” is based. 

In the end we must recognize the limitation of words and, as Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.” The word “Tao” was the same word the Buddha used for “the Mind/Self.” The clue should be, that a name is not the same as what the name represents. Names are expressions of substance but they are nevertheless mental images intended to point to substance, and in the case of a self, the substance in question if ineffably indefinable. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Little Red Hen, Redux

According to Wikipedia The Little Red Hen is an old folk tale, most likely of Russian origin, that was used during the 1880s as a story that offered a transition to less blatant religious and moralistic tales while still emphasizing a clear moral. I have taken the liberty of reframing the tale in order to illustrate the spiritual evolution that raises one from selfishness to awareness of the Higher Self and unity with all. Following is the recast tale.


Once upon a time there lived a little red hen. She called all of her spiritual  neighbors together and said, “If we plant these seeds, we shall eat the bread of truth. Who will help me plant them?”

“Not I,” said the cow.
“Not I,” said the duck.
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Not I,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen, and so she did. The wheat grew very tall and ripened into golden grain.

“Who will help me reap my wheat?” asked the little red hen.

“Not I,” said the duck.
“Out of my religious field,” said the pig.
“I’d lose my affiliation,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my comfort,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen, and so she did.

At last it came time to bake the bread.

“Who will help me bake the bread?” asked the little red hen.

“That would invade my spare time,” said the cow.
“I’d lose my right to quack,” said the duck.
“I’m a dropout and never learned how,” oinked the pig.
“If I’m to be the only helper, that’s discrimination,” said the goose.

“Then I will do it by myself,” said the little red hen.

She baked five loaves and held them up for all of her neighbors to see. They wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen said, “No, I shall eat all five loaves.”

“Unfair!” cried the cow.
“Outlier!” screamed the duck.
“I demand an equal share!” yelled the goose.
The pig just grunted in disdain.
And they all painted picket signs and marched around and around the little red hen, shouting obscenities.

Then the farmer (The True Self) came. He said to the little red hen, “You must not be so greedy.”

“But I earned the bread,” said the little red hen.

“Exactly,” said the farmer. “That is what makes our free will system so wonderful. Anyone in the barnyard can earn as much as he or she wants. But under our exclusive (an impossibility) earthly regulations, the productive workers must divide the fruits of their labor with those who are lazy and idle.”

And they all lived happily ever after, including the little red hen, who smiled and clucked, “I am so grateful, for now I truly understand. When I eat, everyone eats with me. Before I have been the cow, the duck, the goose and the pig.”

And her neighbors became quite content in her. She continued baking bread because she joined the “game” and got her bread free, which she ate with her Self, who just happened to be her united friends. And all the side-liners smiled. “Fairness” had been established and they came to know themselves, in the Little Red Hen.

Individual initiative had died, but nobody noticed; perhaps no one long as there was free bread that the indiscriminate hens planted, reaped, baked and ate together.

So I end my reframed tale with voices of my own: Moo, quack, honk, grunt and cock-a-doodle-do. Ive been them all and just perhaps, so too have we all.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Surrendering from inflexible positions.

Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as t...
Moving mountains.
The Buddha said we all suffer because we attach ourselves to ephemeral things: here today, gone tomorrow. Attachment to inflexible points of view seriously constrains our ease and compassionate responsiveness to life. We all encounter people who are absolutely convinced that their way is the only way of viewing reality regardless of the fit between such views and wise judgments. Often times the zealot is held in high esteem as a champion of justice who’s self-appointed mission is to defend a particular perspective. Human history spills over with the blood of those on opposing sides of impacted positions.  Glaring examples stand out, ranging from the crusades of 10th and 11th centuries, to the blood baths and wholesale slaughter of both Muslims and Hindus when the British set the Indian Sub-Continent  free. Examples continue down to the present day in Washington and around the world between opposing factions clinging to positions of self-righteousness. In the meantime the people everywhere suffer with no new relief and ripple effects of their unwillingness to compromise are felt across the earth.  All of this suffering is over alternate and inflexible points of view.

Such examples are easier to see in others than they are within our own ranks. Take, for example, opposing points of view within the ranks of Buddhists regarding form and emptiness or self and Self. These disputes have been sustained for centuries within the Buddhist community. One side says there is nothing but form; emptiness is a myth. The opposing side says form and emptiness are the essential partnership upon which dependent origination rests. One side says the self does not exist and can quote scripture to prove their position. The opposing side says yes the 
“ego self does not exist but there is a higher Self, as another example of dependent origination, and can quote scripture to prove their position. Extremists within all religious conclaves rule the days.

The Buddha’s wisdom says to speculate about nothing yet trust life and the eternal presence of your own mind. That is a formidable challenge when one feels passion arise. It is not easy to release ourselves from deep convictions, yet suffering occurs if we don’t. Others argue that suffering occurs if we do. Likewise Jesus said we need to let go of inflexible ideologies. In the book of John he is quoted as having said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, that statement doesn’t track so well in English and may be one of the all time greats of misunderstanding and for justifying self-immolation. What it means (as written in Greek) is there is no greater love than to surrender your ideas: a very Zen-like prescription. The English word here “life,” in the Greek, is “psuche” which means an expression of the mind. If the Washington politicians read Greek (instead of balance sheets) we might all be in a better place. The ultimate criterion is this: what position best establishes compassion for all and moves away from egocentricity. It is best to always be clear that we are connected in an interdependent web with all of life where there can be no my way or the highway simply because there is no me without a you—the prime example of dependent origination.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hitting the bullseye.

Going to the root cause.
In light of the recent explosion of potentially catastrophic events around the world, it’s tempting to speak reactively and directly to these matters and avoid, what may seem obscure to many. I do so only  because I’m persuaded that until (perhaps an unrealistic long-shot) we plunge to the depth of our human essence we will never cease to find ourselves in collective nightmares. Far too often we treat symptoms (that never end) instead of finding and ripping out the root of woe. The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) said, “The mind is the root from which all things grow if you can understand the mind, everything else is included.” Such a thing seems apparent, but what is ordinarily considered the mind, turns out not to be, It is indeed worth the investment to plunge to that root and if we did (collectively) we wouldn’t be chasing our tails. So I carry on, trying again and again to identify and communicate, with as many as I can reach, concerning the core of all catastrophes.

I’ve lead an eclectic life and been exposed to many different cultures and perspectives. One of my stops along the way was a career in the advertising business. A lot has changed since those days but some of the vital principles have remained guiding forces. There are fundamentally three that count the most: (1) reaching the people with whom you want to communicate, (2) with messages that are considered relevant and compelling by those people, and (3) do it time and time again with a variety of connected messages. Two of those are matters of media (reach and frequency) and the third concerns message.

Back before, and during, the 80s, the advertising business was influenced by the guru of the moment, Marshall McLuhan, (a Canadian philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual). He is best known for his philosophy of communications saying: “The Medium is the Message.” The Internet, as we know it today, was just beginning when McLuhan died but his principle still stands and the ability to locate your intended audience, while critical, is very different.

Now, due to multiple points of global contact (blogs, ebooks, social media in various forms, email and multi-media such as YouTube) we have entered a new era that enshrines, more than anything else, generating a demonstrable “Like” response. It ain’t what it used to be. Now, more times than not, the message in sometimes bizarre and air-headed forms, drives the process and those who are interested can find you through search engines. I know this personally since over the ten years I’ve been posting to Dharma Space, the vast majority of my readers have found me, rather than me finding them. After eight years, over 47,000 spiritual seekers have become followers of Dharma Space (a mere pittance compared to hundreds of thousand of “Likes” on a single day from superficial, frivolous material, which is disturbing to me). However, I guess I shouldn’t despair but rather follow the wisdom of Mark Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Even though, I’m troubled by having no clue who these seekers are. They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks but just maybe if I learn a few, I can generate “Likes” for something more profound than bathroom popularity.

Thanks to Google Analytics, I know where Dharma Space readers reside (continent, country, province and city), how often they visit, how long they stay, their gender, and even the genre of postings to which they are most attracted. However, I also know that only a tiny few ever respond or comment (and I don’t think I’ve ever received a “Like”) so consequently I am left to guess about many important matters: backgrounds and levels of spiritual maturity; why they are attracted to Dharma Space and to whom they refer Dharma Space posts; how frequently they prefer to receive my messages (some have told me they look forward to them every day while others say they are annoyed when I do) and are my readers intellectual dilettantes or serious folk? These and many other important bits of knowledge, if I knew about them, could make my communications better and enable me to find and hit hearts of arising empathy and compassion. However, short of such information I must use my judgements to deliver what I do and hope that a positive force results.

Honestly I wish I didn’t attract dilettantes for entertainment sake. If that is the motivation in mulling through Dharma Space articles, people could do a lot better spending their time watching “Days of our lives” or some idiot sharing YouTube videos of their daily hygienic habits.

At times I’ve said that I think of myself as a sort of Johnny Appleseed planting spiritual seeds, most of which may grow (hopefully) into maturity, unbeknownst to me, long after I’m gone. I write as the spirit moves me or about unfolding life, problems we encounter and how to deal with them. Lots and lots of different seeds but with one common denominator of unity of an unconditional, indiscriminate spiritual consciousness, designed to separate us all from the destructive force of an alienated ego and awaken us to our unseen, true nature. But unlike Johnny, I plant not only apple seeds but a variety of seeds with that common spiritual  denominator. Some times I write short ones like “The Deep,” “Finger pointing at the moon,” or “Today you are you!” Some are whimsical such as “Rushing backwards,” “Birds do it,” “Monkey see, monkey do,” and “You.” I write about politics: The suffering of Silence, “The last train out,” “Justice for all? andAtlas Shrugged Redux?” and many other topics that emerge as the flow of life changes. Some admittedly require some seriously deep thought such as, Ideas and what ideas are about,” “The destination. Far away? and “Thinking.” All told there are now over 300 posts which anyone can read.

Why am I writing this post? Because I want my readers to know that regardless of how discriminate we are on the superficial, perceptible level, at heart (where it matters; in the real mind spoken of by Bodhidharma) we are One: as different as individual snow flakes on the outside but essentially indiscriminate snow on the inside, and my sustained motive is to spread the dharma as broadly as possible. As you go about your complex and anxiety ridden lives, try to bear this single thought in mind. United we stand, divided we fall. And a closing note: being air-headed is not such a bad thing, since emptiness (Śūnyatā) is a close, kissing cousin, and that my invisible readers is the point of the whole “Megillah Gorilla.” Google it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The bucket rule of politics and economics

There's a hole in our bucket

I tried to teach our daughter about economics, at an early age. And my device was an old bucket. I punched a few holes in the bottom of the bucket and then she started pouring in water, which of course ran out the holes. Then I punched in more holes and she again poured in more water. This time she had to pour in more water at a faster rate. Eventually I completely removed the bottom of the bucket and she discovered that no amount of water could be used to fill the bucket; it ran out as fast as she could pour it in. Then I said to her, “Water is like money. Unless you balance what you pour in with what comes out the bottom you’ll never succeed in having any money left over.” She got the lesson. Our government never has.

Right now the spigot that regulates the flow is severely restricted. What used to supply our needs—tax revenues from the middle class—is disappearing at an alarming rate leaving only one source: those with money, to pick up the tab. And this restriction is coinciding with a bucket with ever-growing holes. Republicans are crying fowl and claiming class warfare. But I have a simple-minded question: Who pays? It requires lots of water to pour into a bucket with a disappearing bottom. The poor can’t pay. The middle-class is rapidly shrinking, so that leaves only those who can pay.

There are presently lots of naysayers who say that the wealthy will just pull up anchor and flee to more favorable shores. Indeed they may and they have. Nothing can stop them except only one thing: A sense of public responsibility. For far too long just about everyone, from the wealthy down to the chronically poor, have shed a sense of public responsibility and milked the system for every drop. Now we face a serious emergency and it remains to be seen if anyone, rich or poor, will change course and do the right thing. If not, then our way of life will end rather quickly.

Presently congress is in the process of making a bad situation worse by creating policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. They take pride in saving money by insuring the death of millions. Does this have anything to do with Zen? I think it does and here’s how: The essence of Zen is to bypass delusion and see clearly—things as the are, not as we wish them to be. Wishful thinking got us all into this mess and now we have lots of holes, not enough water and are on the verge of disaster. 

Another parallel is the understanding that we are all connected. The super wealthy may desire their exclusive independence, but such a thing is not possible. In a civilized society we share lots of things: The air we breathe, the water we drink, a common infrastructure that either allows prosperity or sinks us all, a food and money supply, and many others points of intersection. The notion that anyone can milk the system and get off scot-free is delusional. Individually and collectively we create karma either for the good or for the bad. We have no choice except to live with what we create together. And to continue with the ideological logjam while people are starving is madness. The resources of our nation do not belong to politicians. We supply these resources through our blood, sweat and tears, and for the people in Washington to withhold what we have contributed is outrageous. We elected these people to represent us, not kill us. It’s 11:59 and unless we collectively wake up, midnight and the nightmares that come along will soon be here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The sea of bliss.

The heart of darkness and light.
Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is. 

To one trapped in a bondage of the mind, there is a darkness to move beyond that can cloud our sense of being and our capacity to love.  The idea of moving beyond seems to imply movement toward a goal: something not present. There is, however, another way to understand this obstruction: this darkness that impedes our capacity to love.  A drop of water, dark or not, taken out of the great sea, is certainly divided from it’s indiscriminate source but when it returns to the source, it becomes absorbed and can’t be found. It is then lost in the sea of love.
This is an easy example that displays the difference between duality and unification. Bodhidharma illustrated this by speaking of the body of all truth, where everything is One. His commentary on the Lankavatara Sutra teaches there are two aspects of life: the discriminated, perceptible and the unified, ineffable — bound together in a manner too marvelous to understand. He says, “By tranquility is meant Oneness, and Oneness gives birth to the highest Samadhi which is gained by entering into the realm of Noble Wisdom that is realizable only within one’s inmost consciousness…The beginning chapter of this sutra concludes in this way... “In this world whose nature is like a dream, there is place for praise and blame, but in the ultimate Reality of Dharmakaya (our true mind) which is far beyond the senses and the discriminating mind, what is there to praise?”

So where is the source of hope and tranquility? Our hope lies imperceptibly beneath impermanence at the heart of decay. And what is that heart? Huang Po (Obaku in Japanese; 9th century China) was particularly lucid in his teaching about this. In the Chün Chou Record, he said this:

“To say that the real Dharmakāya of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya ... they are one and the same thing.... When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

This perspective, however, is a bit like looking in a rear view mirror that reflects darkness once you’ve found light. While in the darkness, no light is seen. To go looking for the void beyond darkness takes us into the sea of nondiscrimination where compassion and wisdom define all. And once there, in this eternal void: the source of all, we fuse together with all things and realize that dark and light are just handles defining the seeming division between one thing and another. We are then absorbed by the vast and endless sea of bliss and tranquility. We are in a home we never left.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Little Bear and Lily Pads

Many years ago I had an experience, which irrevocably changed my life. When it happened I knew it was transforming but I had no idea to what extent, nor did I have any contextual framework into which to fit the occurrence. It took me years more before I fully comprehended what had taken place and the impact on my life. It is hard to speak of the experience in terms, which can be understood, but I’ll give it my best shot since I know how important it is to share what happenednot for my benefit but for those who may read this. 

In metaphorical terms, the floor of my bucket collapsed and I fell through Alice’s rabbit hole into a vast and unknown realm. I had lived 40 years by then with no clue that my sense of reality was questionable. It wasn’t what I hoped for but I never thought there was any other possibility. I was living just like everyone else, based on the notion that I knew who I was. I had a name, a career, relationships and a long history. I functioned in all of the ordinary waysin short I had a well-defined identity and I was fairly miserable even though by any conventional measure it appeared as if I was successful. 

I eventually reached a point when I took a serious look at the life I had fashioned and asked myself a hard question: Did I want to spend the rest of my days doing more of the same, and getting the same result? I decided that I didn’t but by then I had a lot invested in a bad game with no idea what the alternatives might be. In spite of this dilemma I saw that if I was ever going to find the answer, I had better begin again with the time I had left. So with that realization I cut loose from my moorings and plunged into foreign waters.

Through a convoluted set of circumstances I soon found myself living in a Zen monastery, which I first thought of as a halfway house to give me time to chart a new life course. Little did I know that this choice would open the door to a wholly different realm, which would radically transform how I looked at the world and myself. When I say, “the floor of my bucket collapsed” what I mean is that my floorthe foundation of my life up to that point: my imagined identitywas blocking discovery of my real, true nature. It was like wearing a coat that obscured my naked and real self. 

I had not been at the monastery very long and can’t explain why the collapse happened so soon. I have since read many stories about Zen monks spending years in dedicated practice before experiencing this metamorphous. I don’t know why it happened to me as it did. All I know is that when it happened it felt like I was being flushed down a toilet and when it was over “I” no longer existed. The “me”the identity, which was my floor, died there. And I was transformed from an isolated individual into an integrated sojourner and I joined the world for the first time, spiritually fresh, clean, naked and raw.

As I look back over what I’ve just written it looks unbelievable and strange. I know that, but I also knowafter having lived 37 years beyond that magical momentthat it is worth the risk of possible scorn to share it. If even a single person believes this story, they will know that it is possible for them too. And if that means they will take a similar risk to cast aside what they think is real and discover the same reality that I did, then a good outcome will have resulted. You might be tempted to think this experience made me special. It had the opposite effect. I realized that we are all the same; none any more special than anyone else. In fact I now realize that this whole wish to be special is a major obstacle to waking up to who we really are.

I am not a Zen master. I did not spend years of dedicated practice to achieve this transformation. There is no reason whatsoever that it should have come my way. But it did. And if it happened for me it can happen for anyone. What I have learned since that moment of transformation is this new and unknown realm is neither new nor unknown. It is like a story I used to read to my daughter when she was very youngthe story of Little Bear, who discovered that he didn’t need to wear a coat since he already had one. It is exactly like that. We too don’t need the extraneous cloak of an ego. We already have a true nature, which is always there beneath the cloak. I can only tell you that my true nature is infinitely finer than the extraneous one.

If you take the time to read Zen literature you’ll find this underlying, true nature called many namesBuddha-Nature, the One Mind, pure consciousness, True man without rankthe names don’t matter. Call it what you choose. Maybe the best name is Lilythe flower of life. The water lily grows on a pad floating on water, rooted in the muck, which is hidden in the deep. In many icons the Buddha is shown sitting on that pad. What we all would be wise to not do is to gild our lilies, or put coats on bears who already have one.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting to the other side

EnlightenmentImage via Wikipedia
If I were wishing to cross a river to the other side I would need some means to get there. Maybe I would choose a boat and some oars and propel myself across. But before I went to the trouble of obtaining the boat and oars, and expending the effort to cross perhaps I might consider why I want to cross in the first place. Maybe someone has told me that on the other side it’s a better place than where I stand and I decided that they might be right.

The point is that we do things like moving from point “A” to point “B” for what we consider to be good reasons. We can’t know for sure whether or not our reasons are valid until we make the trip. THEN alone can we know because we then have an actual experience of the other side to compare against the opposite shore. We refer to this as “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

But as we all know, often times the grass is not greener and then we have an embarrassing conundrum to deal with. Do we acknowledge this error in judgement and attempt to come to terms with how we made the error in the first place? Or maybe we take another tack and pretend that the other side really is greener (when it is actually not) to justify our actions. Many people are remiss to acknowledge error, feeling the pain of a diminished ego and humiliation. Rather than take the hit they choose to deny reality and continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Does this sound familiar? It should since we are living in a time when error upon error is being made, with no admission of wrong doing.

This line of thought is leading to a discussion on crossing the river from carnage to a better place and the presumptions we use to support the making. In standard Buddhist practice the presumption is that we move toward enlightenment by embracing a given set of precepts which we believe will purify our being and thus facilitate an experience we think of as enlightenment. If we have never crossed over we can only guess about the turf on the opposite shore. Maybe it will be greener and maybe not. But how would we know until we actually cross over? Perhaps the presumption is correct—that precepts produce the desired effect. But of equal value is to question the trip and the means to get across.

The Buddha probably wrestled with this predicament and learned through experience that his presumptions were flawed. His own prescription didn’t work. The more important question is a matter of order. Did The Buddha’s enlightenment come following the formula OR did the formula follow his enlightenment? This question is rarely considered but it is THE question. Is it possible, for anyone—The Buddha included—to manifest ultimate goodness while enslaved within the grip of an ego? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Or does genuine goodness and the evidence arise together?

The presumption of cause and effect leads us to examine in this way—Goodness (cause) and enlightenment (effect) or, Enlightenment (cause) and goodness (effect)? One side of the river is a corrupted nature (an ego) which may desire to do good but is lacking the capacity, and on the other side of the river is the well-spring of goodness, but is lacking the arms and legs needed to propel us across. So long as anyone thinks in this divided manner they will never be able to move, much less across the river. Why? Because motion—any motion, and particularly the motion of enlightenment—is not a function of division but of unity.

The Buddha’s enlightenment occurred once he had surrendered from the Gordian Knot—the insolvable conundrum which demanded this choice between cause and effect. Should he choose the side of ultimate goodness (Atman)? Or ultimate depravity (anatman)? That dilemma still stands as the ultimate challenge and there are no options to solve it today that didn’t exist in the time of The Buddha. The answer today, as then, is let go. It is not now, and will never be, possible to untie this Knot by traveling a path other than The Middle Way. Goodness and the well-spring of Goodness arise together and disappear together. We are both at the same time, or we are neither. Not cause AND effect but rather cause-effect. We can’t earn goodness from the center of self because self serves self alone. When we exhaust this center, goodness bubbles to the surface naturally. It can’t be forced upward through the filter of ego. That plug is too strong to allow passage. When it is removed the flow begins, and until that happens the only movement which can happen originates from the ego.

And then we discover that enlightenment is not one shore against the other shore. Enlightenment is both shores and the river and all of life. It is not a destination but rather an experience of goodness which flows naturally but only when the obstacle is removed.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“Vision without execution is hallucination.”—Thomas Edison

Forwards or backwards?
Two related issues: Vision and execution. One assumes vision comes first with execution following. There is, however, the opposite notion: First execution then vision. This is clearly the difference between engineering and reverse engineering. The common coin presumption is that engineering depends on vision, and without that nothing can be created.

What would the other way around look like? It happens all of the time. Someone finds something and wonders, “How was this thing made?” Then begins a disassembly process, piece by piece, until the investigator finds out how the thing was made in the first place. But, you might say, “Yes but someone had to engineer the thing in the first place in order for reverse engineering to take place.” True enough, but the one doing the engineering doesn’t necessarily need to be another human being. If that was the case there would be no such thing as the science of physics, biology or any other area of scientific investigation. Nature is full to overflowing with marvelous things being made, but not by humans.

So why am I pointing out this relationship? And what does this have to do with spirituality (which is the central focus of my writing)? The short and simple answer is because nothing is more concrete than a transforming, spiritual experience whether or not it can be explained, which it can’t. Everything I have been writing about for the past 10+ years is an attempt to do the impossible: To explain a spiritual experience that utterly transformed my life. It can’t be done, but I try nevertheless. It is akin to a dance around a fire without being consumed.

It took me nearly 30 years of concentrated study beyond that life-changing experience to reverse engineer it, and the best I have ever been able to do is like pointing to the light of the moon. The moon is real, not a hallucination, but it is not my finger either.

The Big Bang and immeasurable silence.

Singularity and the void.
Roughly three years ago the story of Stephen Hawking was playing in movie theatersThe Theory of Everything. Recently I watched the biographical documentary film on his life. He has been credited with the “proof” that nothing beyond naturally occurring physical conditions contributed to the Big Bang and therefore concluded there was no God. In his view (solely based on a universe governed by physical, conditional matter) there was no before and no space beyond the moment of singularity. Accordingly everything we know, including time, began with the Big Bang.

What Hawking did not consider was the context of the void within which the Big Bang occurred, that according to all scientists has no limitations or boundaries. Earlier cosmologists argued that the expansion of the universe would eventually slow, come to a stop and then begin to collapse back to the beginning: a sort of Cosmic Breath, resulting in an eternal continuing series of black hole/singularities with expansions and contractions.  However, contrary to orthodoxy of the time, no evidence has been found to support this process. Instead there is evidence to the contrary: expansion is speeding up into the unconditional void.

One of the preeminent foundations, upon which Hawking’s conclusions rest, is the definition of space as understood within the field of General Relativity. Einstein argued that physical objects are not located in space, but rather have a ‘spatial extent.’ Seen this way, the concept of empty space loses its meaning. Rather, space is an abstraction, based on the relationships between objects and without objects (due to the confluence of space and time) there would be neither space nor time at the point of singularity. The development of quantum mechanics complicated the modern interpretation of a vacuum by requiring indeterminacy. In the late 20th century, this principle was understood also to predict a fundamental uncertainty in the number of particles in a region of space, leading to predictions of ‘virtual particles’ arising spontaneously out of the void.

The scientific conclusions don’t address the limitless void since there is nothing to measure in a vacuum. However, to those who subscribe to the precepts of Zen, the void is everything yet nothing. According to Zen Master Huang Po:

“To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence, which is no existence, a non-existence, which is nevertheless existence. To the ancients, to find the true essence of life, it was necessary to cast off body and mind. When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha.”

In similar manner Bodhidharma stated: “To say that the real Dharmakāya of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya ... they are one and the same thing.... When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

It isn’t necessary to grasp either the highly technical nature of theoretical physics or the higher spiritual nature of Zen to understand the dimensions of The Big Bang, the context within which it occurred and that of the infinite nature of the Void. All that is necessary is to understand a relatively simple matter: dependent origination, which says that everything that exists arises and ceases along with an opposite dimension. 

A simple example will suffice. “There is no up without a down. There is no in without an out. There is no phenomenon without noumenonAnd there is nothing conditional without an unconditional dimension.” Thus to prove anything regarding the beginning of the universe (which Hawking later recanted) without considering the void, is like proving the existence of fish without considering water. His latter perspective was that the universe was unconditional (no beginning, no ending, no limits of any kind), which is precisely the position held by enlightened individuals. 

At Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in 2011, Hawking said that, “philosophy is dead,” and further, “philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science;” that scientists “have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

Stephen Hawking was awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in 2006: America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the Russian Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012. It is easy to agree with Hawking that there is no God, since “God” is a simple handle we use to speak of the ineffable source of everything. That, however, doesn’t really address the essential issue. With all due respect for his amazing insights and accomplishments, until the scientific community deals with the void and the Mind, the work will remain incomplete.