Saturday, February 16, 2019

Question: Does suffering have a positive side?

The unreal must die.
Someone very close to me asked this question and to give a thorough answer I must first define some terms. Suffering is a mental/emotional response to not getting what we want. And by positive I mean the perception of satisfaction. Next, we need to define who is experiencing this suffering and how this entity perceives a positive effect. Our ordinary way of answering this entity question is with the answer of me. Yet who is this me? And how is this me perceived or experienced?

By understanding the mechanics of perception we can better understand how this me becomes the core of corruption and sadness. Perception requires several dimensions. First, there must be a sensory system. We have five interdependent components of our system: sight, smell, auditory, touch, taste, and a thinking processor.  Signals from each component are transmitted from objects to particular registry locations in our brain where they are identified, merged with other sensory dimensions into a gestalt and coded into words and thoughts. For example, the object of a rose is fabricated into a mental image constructed from sight, smell and touch, which is then labeled Rose.

The second aspect of perception entails observation of objects. For objects to be sensed they must be distinguished from other objects, and to be understood they must be discriminated into two opposite dimensions. An object is defined as an observable thing. Observation can be either physical or mental. An idea is a mental image (or object) whereas a rose is a physical object that becomes a mental image. The idea of a rose is different than an actual rose and the word rose is different yet. Both the word and an idea are abstractions, or codes, to represent an actual rose and both enable imagination and communication. To be perceived and understood, an object requires contrast (or discriminate properties). For example the idea of up only makes sense given the opposite of down; in opposed to out, a rose opposed to a non-rose.

The third and most important dimension of perception regards one who perceives (an observer) and the understanding that a true perceiver can’t perceive itself, since this perceiver has no observable properties or limiting identity yet can perceive anything objectively configured. This perceiver is called a spiritual subject (versus an object) and is understood as the true, unconditional mind. The mind is the locus of all perceptions whereas the ordinary way of understanding mind is a manifestation of the true mind (mental images, thoughts, and emotions).

Now we return to this idea of me. The same process of perception is involved with this me, only in the case of self-identification there is no object to perceive except a physical body and a mental image of who we think we are: an ego or soul. This mental image is called an image of self (ego—the universal word for “I”) and it is a totally fabricated entity. Nevertheless, the image satisfies the requirement of being a conditional, discriminate object, which can be perceived by the one doing the perceiving. Thus there is an object of perception (self-image) and the one perceiving. It is important to not confuse two terms: self and mind. Both the true Self and the true Mind are used synonymously. Neither has any identifiable properties since neither are objects. However, we have ideas about both. We imagine that mind is the manifestation rather than the source. The distinction between a manifestation and the source is preeminent. The source of creation is vastly different from what is fabricated or created, just as a manufacturing plant is different from what is manufactured in the plant. The ideas we possess about ourselves are simply the product of imagination. Whether we label these ideas as ego/self-image or soul they remain imaginary. We imagine a self that is an objective fabrication rather than who we truly are: the unconditional source. And as with anything else, there must be the two opposite parts that allow perception to occur. Importantly these two (self-image and the self represented by the image) are opposite in nature, just as up is opposite from down. The ego/soul is perceived and we conclude, “that’s me.” But the ego is not the true self. It is a fabricated image to represent the self and this ego is completely unaware of the one creating and perceiving the image because the perceiver can’t be seen. The true self is not conditionally objective; instead, it is unconditional without a limiting identity, which means that the true self is identical in every sentient being.

We humans are superior problem solvers but we only solve perceptible ones and we say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If we are continuously satisfied there is no perceived problem and thus nothing to solve. People live their entire lives denying their own suffering, but suffering is unavoidable so long as we misunderstand our true, unconditional nature but instead see ourselves as a vulnerable and conditional soul or ego. Suffering then is the seed of motivation to learn both who we are not and who we truly are. The ego is continuously vulnerable to suffering but wrongly concludes that possessing one object (which when lost) can be solved by possessing another object to replace the one lost. Thus the ego is possessive and greedy. This never works since all things change. After experiencing this failing process over and over, the ego is overwhelmed, suffers continuously and becomes angry, hostile, blameful and often violent. This strategy ultimately implodes and the ego tries a very different strategy but is not quick to commit suicide and eradicate itself.

The problem all along is this process of perception and conclusion of judgmental discrimination, me and not me, good and bad all of which are concerned with objects and judgment. At long last, after endless suffering, the ego/soul begins to die and we pursue a path of true self-emergence and unity with our source, which has no identifying properties. This death of what is fabricated reveals what has been there all along, as a clear sky is revealed when clouds move away and are characterized within different spiritual disciplines in different ways. The Buddhist manner of addressing this process is nearly the same as the Christian manner. When The Christ was quoted as saying in John 12:24-25 (“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”) he wasn’t saying anything significantly different than The Buddha when he distinguished between the Dharmakāya (body of truth and source of all manifestations) and the misidentification of ourselves. Mortality encloses immortality.

The question becomes, how to get rid of the conditional illusions or images we hold of ourselves and merge with our unconditional selves? How is this pragmatically accomplished? And the answer is to stop the process of abstract thinking (imagining) at least long enough to realize our true nature. The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) defined Zen as not thinking. Thinking in simple terms is the perception of virtual ideas and images. When we don’t think, what we are left with is the true self-perceiver (Mind) that is unified and unconditional (no discriminate properties). This true self-perceiver is who all of us are unconditionally and without limited identity. This is the essential conscious energy that permeates all life and is the place of constant peace and tranquility. This part of us never changes. It was never born, doesn’t die and is without judgment. There is nothing to discriminate or judge since it is unconditional, unified and whole.

Bodhidharma pointed out that we must accept suffering with gratitude since when we suffer we are compelled to reach beyond misery to find the way to bliss and eternal joy. He said, “Every suffering is a buddha-seed because suffering impels us to seek wisdom. But you can only say that suffering gives rise to buddhahood. You can’t say that suffering is buddhahood.” He is right when he says that even suffering has to be gratefully accepted because it is the very seed leading to the way to our true nature. If there were no suffering, we would never search for the truth. It is anguish and agony that goes on impelling us to go beyond. This entire dawning of genuine, unified, self-awareness (soul-awareness) could not happen without solving the problem of perceived suffering. Suffering alone provides the engine of motivation and that is the value of suffering.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Journey thru Hell to Heaven

I didn’t grow up with any religious or spiritual inclinations, at all. I didn’t have any desire to ponder what I considered un-useful speculations. It was only after I was 40 years of age, having traveled far, suffered much and stood at death’s door twice that I began to reach into the unreachable for a practical reason: I wanted to live but knew there was something very wrong with the way I had lived thus far.

At that juncture I chose to leave “the world” behind and close myself off from one dimension and close myself into to another, and my choice was Zen. I chose that path because it held out the hope that I could learn to get beyond the horrors I had experienced that dwelled in memories too egregious to live with. These horrors occupied my unending thoughts and Zen was all about cleansing my mind by suspending thought. I lived in a Zen monastery for nine months during which time I joined hands with Dante and walked through the bowels of the Hell I had created. When my journey came to an end I had drained myself of the infinite swamp of corruption that dwelt in memory only and cleansed my heart and mind of contamination.

I discovered something very rare and special during that time: when all cognitive processes are gone, what remained was emptiness—the face of God. By the time I arrived at seminary I had seen that face and knew that God was the source of everything. So I began to construct a new life blending thoughts with no thoughts: God in my heart and thoughts in my head.

Seminary was a most curious experience for me. Theology is all about words, thinking and objectifying what I knew could never be adequately expressed in words. The study of theology was thus most frustrating as I grappled to fuse my ineffable experience with an abstraction of the same thing. It was a process that took me years beyond to assimilate the two with some continuous and serious academic study. I found myself in constant conflict with people who wanted to do what I had rejected: fill their heads with words and abstractions of an experience I knew was a road to nowhere.

However, one of the most helpful of all words came from Zen Master Bassui Tokusho, who said: “One moment seeing your own mind is better than reading ten thousand volumes of scriptures and incantations a day for ten thousand years; these formal practices form only causal conditions for a day of blessings, but when those blessings are exhausted again, you suffer the pains of miserable forms of existence. A moment of meditational effort, however, because it leads eventually to enlightenment, becomes a cause for the attainment of buddhahood.”

Nevertheless I realized that if was ever going to be able to convey the experience I had been graced with I had to travel the path they had chosen. It took me 30 years more before I was ready. I suppose it was like a pianist who must practice until the music comes out of them naturally.

There was a message spoken by Jesus in the middle of the beatitudes that says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Mat. 5:8) The passage is not well understood but it spoke directly to me. I had to read that passage in Koine Greek: the language used to write the New Testament, to really grasp the essence of that statement and when I did I found the key that unlocked the bridge between Zen (the discipline transcendent to words) and Christianity (a religion of words). To Zen, words are reflections: illusions of matters too deep to grasp with our true mind—dreams that dance on hot pavement and create heat waves. To the ordinary Christian the heat waves are all there is.

So what was the key contained in that passage (Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.)? First it’s necessary to understand what the authors of the New Testament meant by the Greek word λόγος (Logos, English translation for The Word). Unlike our contemporary understanding of words, λόγος meant the embodiment of meaning expressed abstractly of the ineffable: the very matter that bent my brain for years on end. What Jesus intended in that statement of purity was to cleanse our hearts of an admixture of thoughts, whether good or evil.

When Western man imagines heart they think of the organ that pumps blood. But to the Greeks the heart was the center of life. However, to people of Zen, there is no difference between the heart and the mind and was known first by the Chinese as “xin” and later by the Japanese as “shin,” and there is a profound statement in both Chinese Zen (Chan) and Japanese: “Mu shin, Shin.” The little “shin” means that admixture of thought that affects our hearts, whether good or evil. When the admixture is gone, then “Shin” arises: the face of God—that space of emptiness out of which emerges our true nature and everything else. Shin is the unity between our corporal selves and the source of all and these two, as it turns out, are really not two. They are the two bound together aspects of life (embodiment): one part limited and objective and the other part eternal. Shin IS the embodiment of God within this limited body and when anyone experiences that fusion the world is changed forever.

So now I stand between the two worlds of East and West and my challenge is to fuse the two just as they were for me, and neither the East nor the West seems to have any interest with fusing with anything not like them.

One of the greatest mystical poets of all time is Rabindranath Tagore.  Sadly, while he lived, he was little known outside of the Calcutta area, and not known at all outside of India, but he captured the essence of my journey when he said,

“The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.” 

Monday, February 11, 2019


The Impossible Dream
I admire smart people and try to profit from their words of wisdom. Shakespeare is one of my favorites and one of his quotes is a “go-to” for me: “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” 

Now for the topic of the day: The perfect is the enemy of the good. Many wise and famous people have said as much…

  • Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
  • Confucius: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
  • Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

I know; I’m repeating myself and thus beating a dead horse, but I can’t escape my past (e.g., education and experience in the advertising business). While working within that industry I learned an important and fundamental principle of persuasion: Frequency. The more a person hears the same message, the better the odds of breaking through barriers and making a difference. And this issue is important with significant barriers.

And yes, I am aware of the psychology of the “Backfire Effect,”—The tendency for us all to dig in and defend an opinion that appears to be at odds with, and contradicts, an opinion of our own. It is really tough to break through the barrier of tightly held dogmas for a simple reason: Egotism. It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature to admit error since it seems to threaten our egos. That barrier is what keeps us all locked in, hunkered down and ready to defend to the death (sometimes literally) our ideologies, preconceived notions, and biases. Those matters constitute adornments that define our egos: We become our ideas (or so it seems), and one of the most destructive, and instructive, ideas is this business of The perfect is the enemy of the good. That idea, without exception, leads to a lack of progress unless we can be persuaded that our pursuit is a Don Quixote quest of jousting with windmills and singing The Impossible Dream of perfection, or nothing at all.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


Rearranging priorities.
It’s time to add a new word to our contemporary vernacular. The addition is a simple adjustment to the word “ideology,” that reflects where our culture has arrived—in a prison of opposition with no legal appeal for release. We already have similar words  that approximate this new word, such as “Mexican standoff” or “logjam.” But the essence of this new word is only glancingly similar to those words. What the new word captures, sums up our current state of irreconcilability: a state of cultural and political “my way or the highway” stagnation where nothing gets done. The principle of compromise appears to be lost in the ash heap of time, and this state of mind is not limited to any one country. It is a global phenomenon that results in a preoccupation with the insignificant at the expense of the significant.

There is so much confusion occurring at the same time it is nearly impossible to arrange priorities. Even if we could, wait ten minutes and the entire deck gets reshuffled and we simply cease to think of what’s important and what’s not. Instead, we have fallen back into a time when legalism was abhorred by moral giants such as Jesus and The Buddha, both of whom fought to rectify the problem by pointing out what the laws of the time needed as a substrata—the spirit of the law. That focus as well has been lost, thus the need to establish this new word by recognizing what ought to be obvious but is not: We have fallen prey to dogmatic, inflexible positions of opposition where nobody but the rich and powerfulwho rig the system to their advantage, perhaps by design, to keep us all confused and distracted by what is happening behind the scene with what is happening in front of the scene—too much of insignificance to enable us to notice matters of ultimate importance.

The question is why is this happening. That’s a hydra-headed challenge but maybe it is simply a matter of too much comfort by the few at the cost of the many. Money and power are two factors not easily shared. Possessiveness is a stickler and the more a person has the more they seem to want. Maybe what we all need to do (and I’d suggest we begin from the top and work our way down) is go and live in places that aren’t so comfortable, where concern for your life is the common coin. There is nothing quite so transforming as your own experience of suffering. When you are starving, a single slice of bread becomes a feast and the ideology of the whole loaf or none at all descends into la-la-land, right where it belongs.

We have become imprisoned into camps of opposing ideas and values with no escape. It is long past time for us to realize such behavior is shooting everyone in the foot. Life always seems to follow the path we noticed in the Marines: Bad stuff flows downstream, never upstream. The tide needs to turn, and soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

“May the flawed prevail over the wicked.”

It may very well be that I’m writing this post for nobody but myself. Previously I participated in various social media sites, that helped to spread my words until I learned my personal information had been hacked and I withdrew. Undoubtedly this vastly reduced my readership but the price just became too high. Consequently here I sit writing concerning a matter that is important to me, and hopefully others who may never read these words.

So what’s the burning issue that draws me this morning? The headline gives you a clue and a part of my message came from columnist Kathleen Parker, writing for the Washington Post—a publication I admire, to which I subscribe—most recently about this issue of something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. Obama expressed the idea more eloquently than I in his speech following Katrina. He said, “Nobody gets to hold the American economy hostage over their own ideological demands.” My rendition of that idea is one of balance: We ought not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If that seems obscure I’ll put it is different terms: Who amongst us meets the criteria of absolute perfection (except of course the hypocrite who lies not only to others but most importantly him or her self)?

Far too often in today’s world, we ignore the majority of good a person does and paint them with a brush of minority flaws. Maybe that’s what sells newspapers: The sensational and lurid, but it ought not be what defines a person. What lies in a person’s heart and soul should count for more than their errors of execution. What leads us down this path to Hell is the flawed ideology of dogmatic inflexibility and self-righteous denial of our own flaws and the eager rush to judge others with a yardstick that measures only the impossible. When we toss aside the major good and dwell on the minor exceptions, we establish a standard that we will one day regret.

“May the flawed prevail over the wicked.”

Thursday, February 7, 2019


Addiction is at the top of the news feed. Today I listened to radio programs on addiction to three different sources—gambling, social media, and drugs. This post is thus particularly relevant in light of the present day problem of addiction to a wide variety of a host of objective “stuff.” Our common-coin manner of understanding addiction is too limited. When we think of someone addicted we see images in our mind of drug addicts or derelicts who were unable to overcome excessive opioid consumption. Maybe we’ll even go so far as to include someone who can’t control his or her consumption of food or sex. Whatever object is chosen—another person, drugs, alcohol, food, the greed for money or sex, becomes the god we must have to fill a sensed emptiness. Rarely, however, do we consider the average person exhibiting expressions of addiction, and that’s a problem.

Addiction, properly understood at the fundamental level is craving: an excessive desire. Everybody falls victim to that. We either crave what we like or resist what we hate. Both are forms of craving (excessive desire). To get to the bottom of this dilemma we need to ask, “which part of me is craving and why?” Someone who is complete doesn’t crave anything, so it must be the incomplete part of us—the part of us that says, “I need that to experience myself as complete and satisfied, and without getting that I will suffer.”

Meister Eckhart said, “To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God. Man’s last and highest parting occurs when for God’s sake he takes leave of god. St. Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god as well as all he might give—together with every idea of god. In parting with these he parted with god for God’s sake and God remained in him as God is in his own nature—not as he is conceived by anyone to be—nor yet as something yet to be achieved, but more as an is-ness, as God really is. Then he and God were a unit, that is pure unity. Thus one becomes that real person for whom there can be no suffering, any more than the divine essence can suffer.”

A while ago I heard a man say, “I can understand how Christ can be in me, but how is it possible for me to be in Christ?” Clearly, this person had a rather limited view of both himself and of Christ and apparently didn’t believe what his own scripture tells him about the nature of God. It says his own scripture that the nature of God is omnipresent. If this man truly believed this, the answer to his question would be clear: there is no place that God is not, so how is it possible for anyone to not be in Christ? The entire sea in which we swim is God. Fish are in the water and we are in God.

In our ignorance, we imagine that we are separate from the fullness of our creator, that we are not a unit and this, in turn, leads to a deep desire to become what we are already, thus we suffer. The Buddha also spoke in the Nipata Sutra about what happens due to ignorance.

“What is it that smothers the world? What makes the world so hard to see? What would you say pollutes the world and threatens it the most?’ ‘It is ignorance which smothers’ the Buddha replied, ‘and it heedlessness and greed which make the world invisible. The hunger of desire pollutes the world, and the great source of fear is the pain of suffering.” 

All people fear the pain of suffering and this makes us blind to the suffering of others. While locked in the grip of our egos, we think we’re the only ones at risk, and in that state of mind, we become greedy and uncaring. At the center of suffering lays this idea that we are separate and incomplete and that leads to the craving for what we have already.

The ancient Daoist admonition applies here, “Resist nothing and embrace everything today. The perfect day and night are within you. Let it all unfold like a blossom.” Picking and trying to retain only the good, while resisting what we imagine will darken our day, is the true addiction and that leads inevitably to suffering.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Bringing it home.

Initial dawning and ripple effects.
For those who may think Zen has no practical impact on their lives, guess again. How so? In spite of ignorance concerning this amazing practice, Zen is not a religion. Instead, it is, perhaps, the only means available for unveiling our truest nature and becoming aware that nobody is who they think they are; good, bad or in-between.

The Buddha’s “diagnosis” for unveiling this true nature was/is like a stone dropped into the water. Initially, there is only the penetration but then the ripple effects just keep on expanding like waves rolling outward from the source. His Four Noble Truths lay out the sickness and his Eight Fold Path reveals the remedy. And central to that remedy is what we now call Zen, but was then known as Dhyāna—absorption, so deep and intense that the imagined “you” simply (well not so simply) vanishes and the real “you” emerges, which in naked-relief is not a “you” at all. Instead, it is seen for what it is as “unity” with the rest of humanity (not to mention other sentient forms).

Why is this so critical and eternally important to all sentient beings? Because it eradicates that imagined self-image and replaces it with who/what we all are, and that removes all human conflicts. So, as in my own case, that self-image was one of hatred. Importantly any image (the self included) is not real. It is only imagined, as all images are. We would never delude ourselves that moving images we see on our TV are real, but we make that error all of the time with ourselves. Living with a sense of self-hatred is poisonous and nearly led me to commit suicide. At the other end of this ego spectrum lies the delusion of superiority. Any and all aspects of self-delusion (e.g., good, bad or in between) hides our genuine connection with the rest of humanity.

Attachment of every kind leaves one vulnerable to suffering when the object of attachment dies, which all conditional phenomena do eventually. That part of attachment is clearer than when the object of attachment is ourselves. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem since when we die we won’t experience anything, suffering included. How could we? We’re already dead and imagine we don’t suffer at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I can’t say for sure what we experience when we die (although there is an explanation) but I can say for sure how I suffered, thinking all the while I was a terrible person who deserved only one thing: To die. Until that bubble broke I was moving toward the brink of suicide. I am not aware of any other method for accomplishing this eradication of the unreal and unveiling the real at the same time. I certainly don’t know everything and maybe there is another method but if so such a method is “the best-kept secret” of all space/time. If that isn’t practical I can’t imagine what is.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Staying Present and non-discrimination.

The past is dead, the future is yet to come.
I know I made a formal, online pledge to begin speaking my own words and begin to cease speaking other people’s words. That remains my goal but the path of mortal life moves forward full of flaws. The key word of my committed vector toward immortality is “begin.”

That said, I have feasted on the wisdom of spiritual giants and from time to time I am drawn to their words for a simple reason: They are considered giants because of their wisdom and means of expression. Such is the case today and my sharing comes from maybe the greatest of all was Huangbo Xiyun (or simply Huang Po)—the teacher of Chan (Zen) Master Rinzai Gigen; the founder of one of two remaining strands of Zen. And the strand I studied, began, continued with and within that strand found my inner truth, which saved my life.

Huángbò’s most significant contribution, to the treasure chest of human wisdom, was his teaching centered on the concept of “mind.” If it were possible, to sum up (a profound dis-service) his teaching it would be, “It is as it is. It was as it was. It will be what it will be.”—with nothing added (perfection personified). Closely aligned with “things as they are” is what in technical terms equates with Suchness (or thusness). 

To adequately unpack that summary would be an entire dissertation. So I will leave that aside and get to the core root, which is that our thoughts are the engine of karma-producing actions, for the good; the bad or the in-between. Huángbò’s, and my, grasp of how this works in ordinary life is when we think, anything at all, we leave reality behind and substitute for it an abstraction, tempting the demons (metaphorically) toward judgments, biases and dogmatic, dug-in life. When we do that we get caught up in the whirlwind of attachments, not realizing that we already have the treasure we seek. And when that happens we are lost in the hurricane of samsara, (living hell) we move further and further away from the greatest of all treasures: The source of never-ending fulfillment, which is always with us, never leaves us, and becomes hidden beneath the soil of ever-deepening bad stuff, with some really nasty behavior and feedback.

Aha, you might say, but The Buddha said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”  True enough but what if we just saw life “as it is truly?” A central question is, to which world was he referencing? Or the flip side—which world was he not referencing? For sure he was not referring to the unconditional/ultimate realm since that realm has no defining properties and can’t be defined or thought of, so it must have been this conditional world that is made with our thoughts, for the good or the bad. 

I hesitate to say more since more words on top of other words leads us further and further away down the primrose path. However, I will justify my addition be employing another fundamental principle—that of Nāgārjuna’s Two Truth Doctrine, which in essence says we must use the vehicle of the artificial to expose the genuine article. One of these truths is our ordinary, conventional one, which we take to be the ultimate, but in fact is the exact opposite. Conventionally our perception is conditional where everything is contingent upon other conditional matters, which are also in constant motion. Without awareness, we are engaged in a never-ending tennis match of delusion. Ultimate truth, however, never changes, is always present, and is dependent upon nothing. And these two truths are inseparably bonded together.

So I can only point to the mind with words, but never find it since it is impossible to use the mind to find the mind. All things arise from the ground of all being (e.g., mind); stable as the rock lying hidden beneath the sands of the shore which are swept away by the surf. The notion here is quite similar to the parable told by Jesus in Luke 6:48-49—building our house upon the bedrock instead of the moving sands.

But alas I drift from the initial matter of “things as they are,” sans the addition of thinking (the abstraction of the real). I’ve said enough of my own words and will thus end with two quotes of Huangbo Xiyun: “Here it is—right now. Start thinking about it and you miss it.” and “The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see.” Think about that. Better yet don’t think, then you too will accept “things as they are,” and remain in the ever-present moment with no discrimination.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Traveling theatre

The masks we wear.
When I was much younger there was no television, only radio and it was referred to as a “theatre of the mind.” Unlike television, where we see visual performances on screens across the room, we saw performances in the imaginary theatre of the mind. In some ways, the imagination was more vivid and pictorial than watching images on a TV screen. Ours was an internal screen (actually our screen was the primary visual cortex located at the back of our brain). What none of us realized then with radio, or now with television, was that the ultimate screen remained, located in our brains rather than across the room.

We all look out upon our moving, conditional, changing world and see what we all take to be real. In fact what we are seeing remain images being projected upon that same screen—our primary visual cortex. Images all of the shadows of what’s real. And out of all of that, we form an idea of who we are; one self-image built upon other images and none of it real. Nevertheless, we take it (our egos/self-images) as real and become very persuaded, guarded and protective of that fabricated image, feeling insulted and inflamed when the role requires a different sort of performance. Some are fabricated out of harsh experiences and formed into negative self-images (hateful and hated) while others fabricate theirs out of more genteel material and fabricate loving self-images, with every step in between. Regardless of harshness, genteel, or anywhere in between, all of the end results are unreal simply because the material is unreal. The base material determines the end result. As the saying goes, “You can’t make filet mignon out of hamburger.”

The fundamental point here is that we all take our ideas of whom and what we are far too seriously, never realizing how conditionally unreal we are actually. How much better, for everyone if we all recognized this fact and lightened our emotional/mental load and became what we truly are—performers, acting out changing roles. And as performers, we adapt to changing circumstances with changing roles and play the part as circumstances dictate.

And a part of this traveling theatre is the recognition that we are also real observers. So we play the roles, with a chuckle in our hearts, knowing full well that we can perform as the role dictates and at the end of the day leave the roles behind and go home to ourselves. It is important to us all to see conditional life as just a show. We are the players; all different. Conditional life is the stage, and the real us—all the same, are the observers: as different and distinct as snowflakes yet fundamentally just indiscriminate snow. Distinctive snowflakes melt into indistinct snow and that becomes the water of unity.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The lens through which we see the world

Artwork: Ego by Hsiao-Yen Jones

Bias; vested interests; preconceived ideas; discrimination: all forms of distortion that shape our view of the world and our selves. Birds of a feather flocking together against birds with different feathers, but underneath the feathers, all just birds with no defining labels. What do you have when you get rid of fleeting feathers? Birds. What do you have when you get rid of our own delusions? The real you and me: all humans, with no defining properties.

What we seem to be almost never aware of is that every single person is looking at life through the filter of a fabricated artifact we call an ego that is continuously distorting our view of the world around us. We think highly of ourselves and thus look down on others not like us. We reason that our views are right so other views must be wrong. We adore accolades so we play to the adoring audiences. When seen through this egotistical artifact we do so unaware of our bias and assume that world is in fact shaded by our rose-colored glasses. We are the center of us and the world conforms to our image. Love ourselves: love the world. Hate ourselves: hate the world.

Who is this self? Is that the one we truly are: the one that is dependent upon the votes of birds like us; who vacillates on the whim and opinions of others; who needs reinforcement to be whole and complete? Or the self, that is already whole, eternal, steady, loved and loves? The ego needs everything because it is always incomplete and unreal. Our true self is always whole, complete and needs nothing. In the 14th century a mystic by the name of Meister Eckhart said this concerning how one head stands in comparison to another:

“Humanity in the poorest and most despised human being is just as complete as in the Pope or the Emperor.” And we know what sort of clothing the Emperor wears—none.

Fundamental humanity is not flawed in any way. It is complete already. The flaw is what stands in the way of our human birthright that puts one head above another. The ego is the archenemy of our true, united selves and God. But at the ground level of our humanness, we are equal and good, whether Pope, Emperor, Buddha or an average person. Remove the enemy and our unity shows through.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Back to grammar school: the ghost of you and me.

Who's that in there?
I began posting to Dharma Space 10+ years ago, recognizing the task before me was an impossible one: trying to convey with words and images what can never be adequately accomplished in such a way. I chose this joisting at windmills for a very good reason: because I was (and am) persuaded that if I could influence just a few, with seeds of doubt that challenged preconceived dogmatic stances held by the majority, there was the possibility of making a substantial, positive difference in how we think about, and relate to, one another.

If you’ve spent any significant time reading and mulling over what I post here then you’ll know that I dont wed myself to any particular spiritual venue but instead take wisdom from wherever I’ve found it. My task is then to digest and synthesize these pearls and recast them in a way that a contemporary reader can grasp. I consider this an obligation since there are those who may not have been exposed to the breadth and variety of spiritual practices I have. So my methods are, by design, an attempt to simplify something that can be a bit daunting. Consequently, I employ frames of reference understood by an audience that are more than likely far removed from my subject matter. Such is the case in todays post.

Very often we learn something within a given context (like grammar) and don’t apply it to a different context. It’s a bit like becoming accustomed to a person in one context and then finding them in another. When that happens (if youre like me) you may find yourself saying,  “I think I know that person but for the life of me I can’t recall from where.” Our memories are constructed in such a way that we file data under particular headings and when we encounter something familiar, but out of context, we are disoriented until we can remember the file heading. Then we say, “Oh yes, that’s where I know them from.” Today’s post is one of those I can’t recall from where, déjà vu re-positionings, only I’m going to fill in the blanks for you. And the context takes you back to grammar school.

I wasn’t very interested in or good at grammar. All of those conjugations, parts of speech and diagramming left me cold. But there was one part of this discipline I did find intriguing: subjects and objects. The rule was, as you may recall, an object was a noun—a person, animal, place, thing or an abstract idea. And in a similar fashion, a subject was what (or whom) the sentence was about. 

To determine the subject of a sentence, the rule was to first isolate the verb and then make a question by placing “who?’ or “what?” before it—the answer to that question was the subject. Not so hard until you write a sentence like, “I see myself.” Now that was a thorny conundrum because it had to be based on the presumption that the subject and the objects were one and the same thing.

The clear and obvious conclusion was that if I looked in a mirror, what I would see was the objective part of me. But what part of me was doing the seeing? Was it not the subjective me? Later on (long after grammar school) I learned about this word “sentience”: awarenessa state of elementary or undifferentiated consciousnesswhich just happens to be universally distributed among all sentient beings in an indiscriminate, unconditional way. Then I wondered: can an object lacking sentience be “aware”? Unless there was something else to learn, regarding stones and other objects lacking sentience, it seemed fairly clear that the subjective part of me was the part seeing that objective me in the mirror. And furthermore objects lacking sentience can’t be aware of anything, much less themselves.

I must confess that putting these disparate pieces together was a moment of enlightening amazement. Obviously, inside of me and every other sentient being, was an unseen faculty of consciousness that should properly be called the subjective being—that was exactly like every other sentient being: the seer seeing objects, including sentient objects, but not necessarily sentient ones. All objects are discriminately unique and different yet subjectively there are no differences because sentience is a state of elementary or undifferentiated consciousness.

Ah Ha, I thought: I’m two people perfectly fused into a single being. Remove the sentient part and I’d turn into a stone, or remove the non-sentient part and I’d turn into a ghost. One part of me (the objective part) is 100% differentiated, unique and set apart from every other object, and the subjective part is 100% undifferentiated, just the same as every other subject. This latter is the basis of unity (what brings us all together) and the prior is the basis for discrimination (what pits us all against each other). And neither the objective nor the subjective me (or you) could possibly exist apart from the other. These are not two but rather one, inseparable entity. Now that is pretty cool: ghost and a non-ghost, at the same time!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Producer

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”—William Shakespeare

Today I want to paint a word portrait, in allegorical form, to illustrate an important point. Once there lived a person of enormous wealth, in the land of everywhere: a producer with great ideas for making movies. But he knew that making movies was an involved process, and he would need talented people with different functions to turn his ideas into a film. Since he was very wise, he knew he would need to hire the best talent for each function, give them all clear and adequate direction, equip them with the right tools, empower them with responsibility, and then not micro-manage the filmmaking process. He understood that to micro-manage the production would be futile and could clearly see that he’d need to pay big bucks to hire the best talent. He also knew that making movies was quite an involved process and didn’t want to manage just producing movies since he had many other demanding projects for which to care. He thought about this challenge and decided he first needed to hire a top-flight general manager.

Having given some thought to find such a person, he realized that what he wanted most in that position was someone cast in his own image. If he could find the right person, then his life would be much easier, because such a manager would be able to anticipate his needs without looking over his shoulder every few minutes. After some trial and error, interviewing various candidates, he found the person he was convinced was just right. Of course, the person didn’t come cheap, but in the long run, he reasoned it would better to pay the price than hire the wrong person, fire him when he didn’t work out, lose time and money and then need to start again from scratch.

After extensive contract negotiations, he hired the ideal GM. Now the two sat down and talked about the producer’s ideas and the need to find the rest of the crew. He told his new GM that money was no object: hire the best talent and get moving. The GM was excited and off he went to scout and hire the crew. Let’s see, there was a need for someone to write the screenplay and that person must have a vivid imagination and wordsmithing skills. An art director to work with the writer would also be needed, a camera crew, an editor, someone to write a musical score, arrange and orchestrate the music, a costumer, someone to scout locations, another person to find and cast the actors, a director, and of course someone to put together the work of all those people. Oh, and one more important matter—a theater would be needed where the film would be projected onto a screen. Better yet he wanted a theater enabled for virtual reality where the viewers could not only watch but smell and feel the production.

After what seemed a long time, everyone needed was found, hired, equipped, and given direction by the GM, and finally shooting began. From time to time, the wealthy producer would check in and review where the project stood. He watched the dailies and talked with the GM about any adjustments that seemed appropriate, but this was a delicate matter. People with the skill and expertise of the GM were not terribly comfortable with heavy-handed direction, and they were generally somewhat of a prima donna. So he needed finely crafted people skills to get what he envisioned without alienating the GM.

All went well for a while, but slowly and surely the GM started to resent the wealthy producer. Of course, he thought the producer was not aware of this developing situation because the GM was a crafty fellow. The GM had decided to plan a coup, intended to steal the entire production and take all of the glory for himself. He reasoned: Why should I have a boss? I am the one doing the work, so I should make all of the money. Being a wily person he pulled off the coup. But what he didn’t know was the producer knew this all along and intended for the GM to carry off the coup. Why would he allow such a thing? Because he knew that an arrogant GM was like a wild stallion and needed to be broken to be of much long-term usefulness. 

Talent seemed to come along with a big ego and he knew the project would flop under the exclusive reign of the arrogant GM. And when it did, it would be abundantly clear to everyone (most importantly to the GM) that the reason it flopped was that the wealthy producer was no longer running matters behind the scenes. The producer didn’t care if the project flopped since his wealth was vast, and he had a whole lineup of better film ideas awaiting production if a trustworthy and proven GM could take charge. So the producer allowed the coup to unfold with no resistance. And what was predicted happened: the show flopped and with anger in his heart and hat in hand, the GM had no choice but to see that he needed the producer after all. Before it wasn’t clear, the GM had a big head and imagined his independent greatness; he had to learn the hard way, by failure. NOW the real show could begin. NOW the pompous, self-righteous GM had been broken like a wild stallion, and NOW the two could make some really great films together. 

Are you wondering why I’ve spun this allegorical tale? The reason is that this story is what happens in our mind. What all of us need to know is that we are people of great wealth already, we tell stories and we make movies. True wealth is what we think we would buy one day once we have earned enough. So we spend our entire lives working to obtain that distant goal. We chase the rabbit of more, only to discover that there is never enough and the harder we run the faster the goal moves away. Then one day, if we’re extraordinarily fortunate, we stop and catch our breath long enough to realize an invaluable truth: the prize is already closer to us than our own breath.

True wealth is not on the horizon for a number of reasons. First, there will never be a distant goal. That’s an illusion that shimmers like heat dancing on the pavement, as we race across the desert toward the mirage of an imaginary oasis. It only looks real. There is no distant goal. There will never be anything other than now. That’s the first reason. The second reason is that we need to think more clearly about the nature of what we seek. What we all seek is to love and be loved, health, emotional and spiritual abundance, a sense of joy and amazement, happiness that arises like effervescent bubbles from our depth, quality relationships, having our basic needs provided, a lack of stress and fear, and a bone-deep knowledge that we are fine just as we are. These qualities constitute genuine wealth; they can’t be purchased at any price, and they will never not be here and now, because they exist within us all. They are the worth beneath our mistaken notions that more of the stuff that passes away moment-by-moment will ever be enough.

We are all geese who lay golden eggs. Only we don’t know because we get into such a rush chasing that rabbit that we never pause long enough to find our roots. When we stop, we can find this never-eroding treasure buried beneath the race to oblivion by our arrogant egos. We were, and always have been home, living in a castle of enormous wealth: our mind. That is our true nature, our only true nature. Everything else is an illusion, a dance of insanity. Nothing is lacking, and the race to obtain what is already ours is sheer madness.

But then there are those who will read this and say, He just doesn’t get it. If he only knew what I have gone through, he wouldn’t be such a Pollyanna. It is true that I don’t know what you have gone through, but I do know what I’ve gone through. We all bear the rigors. We all suffer. Everyone experiences terrible tragedies. None of us can escape the consequences of karmic adversity or simple living. I’ve had my own tragedies and suffered greatly to the point of utter despair. I stood at the edge of death a number of times. First in war, and later when I saw no reason for hope, I was ready to take my own life, but the grace of God spared me. I stepped away and I found that producer, and then I discovered my own treasure within, buried down deep beneath my own corruption. So don’t delude yourself with this idea, this victim excuse that mine is terrible and others aren’t. Suffering goes with the territory of living. Nobody escapes, and everyone is already wealthy, beyond the boundaries of our rational imaginations. That is why the true Self is known as being transcendent. Rational imagination is not our friend. It is a prison of the mind. And the not-to-be-found mind moves us away from fantasy and back to reality. 

The wealthy producer in the story is behind the scenes running the show, but nobody knows he’s there except the GM. The GM is our ego, a self image—self-righteous, talented, with a big head and of very little worth without being broken. And how does an ego get broken? By trial and error. Give it enough rope and it’ll hang itself. Try to force its hand, and it’ll resist. It’s a crafty creature and up to no good, until it learns how inadequate it is by itself. We are the real power behind our own throne—the wizard of the Oz we create, and our ego has to learn the hard way that the producer and our ego are an inseparable team. Until that lesson is learned, there is only chaos.

The rest of the crew are our various functions that collaborate to produce what appears to be a seamless rendition of reality. When the film is in the can and the audience assembled, the film is projected, but the screen is not out there―it is being projected in the theater of the mind. It is such a stunning movie that it is almost like being in the movie. What we don’t realize is that we are actually in the movie that we ourselves produce. We will never be outside of the movie, since the movie is us, only we don’t call it a movie. We call it our relative and conditional world, which, we imagine, is not us. We are the movie, the crew who produced it, the audience who watches, the GM, and the producer. It is all produced within a virtual realm, which we imagine is a real world. Everything produced is a virtual reality—all conditional and based on causes and effects. Even the unconditional producer is a virtual being. The entire assemblage is an illusion—a story we tell ourselves. This is our mind at work, which can’t be found.

As the movie (movement) unfolds, our mind comes into being. When the movie stops, our mind likewise ceases to exist. Our mind and the movies are one and the same thing. The only function of the mind is movement. When the mind moves, the world appears. When the mind stops, the world disappears. Zen masters and sages, even before The Buddha have said this is a true rendition, and now the science of neurology confirms it.

Is this just a fantastic allegory? Perhaps an interesting story, but no more? Granted, creative liberties have been taken, but fundamentally the story is an accurate portrayal of the way it is. This is the Dharma of true life. This is what The Buddha saw when he woke up. It may seem strange, incredible, and fantastic, but it is accurate.

So how must we understand this? Awakening can be confirmed only through personal experience.  We—our only substantial and true nature—is the unchanging and already the complete producer, who is lacking nothing but can’t be seen. Nothing can be added to, nor subtracted from, a complete mind, since the mind is everything (yet nothing). To try to do either (add to or subtract from) is an exercise in utter futility. Nothing is lacking. Everything is already present. Clinging to anything adds nothing to who we truly are. Our true identity is secure, and the rush to add to something that is already complete is a fool’s journey. The vector of wholeness does not come through addition. It comes through subtraction, and that is what we must do when we meditate: allow the virtual to vanish into the void and, when it dissolves, we find we’re home, right where we’ve always been. We are Buddhas, waiting to wake up from a virtual dream.

The mind is the root from which all things grow. If you can understand the mind, everything else is included. It’s like a tree. All of its fruit and flowers, its branches and leaves, depend on its root. If you nourish its root, a tree multiplies. If you cut its root, it dies. Those who understand the mind reach enlightenment with minimal effort. Those who don’t understand the mind practice in vain. Everything good and bad comes from your own mind. To find something beyond the mind is impossible.”—Bodhidharma; The Breakthrough Sermon