|The realm of reality.|
Without knowing, we live in two realms at once: The realm of rational conditions (the mortal one) and a realm beyond conditions, where immortality lives. Think of the realm of immortality as the ground from which our mortal lives grow. It is very much like growing a garden. If the immortal soil is full of nutrients, then the odds are better, the mortal produce will be nutritious.
The realm of mortal conditions is our ordinary realm, where one thing stands in opposition to another. Mortally we have a beginning and an ending. In this realm, differentiation is the criteria and is based on the senses that tell us how we are all different. Our sense of sight says to us, light is different from darkness. Our auditory sense tells us that sound is different from silence, and so on—each of our senses discriminates one thing from another different sensory thing.
The immortal realm is the realm of unity, where everything is the same. And unlike what grows, the immortal ground has no beginning nor end. That’s the good soil and is the unconditional realm of the spirit: the ground of all being—the well-spring of all. And these two realms are irrevocably joined together in perfect harmony. Should one realm disappear, the other would disappear. When one appears, the other appears. They define one another, and without an opposite, neither can be understood, just as without light, darkness would have no meaning. One is an abstraction—an illusion that appears to our senses as real, whereas the other, while invisible to the senses, is reality itself.
To our collective misfortune, the ordinary realm (e.g., the conditional) is what governs our world and is the root of all woe. It is because we imagine our life will end that we fear death, never realizing that genuine life never ends. Mortality segues into immortality, and life goes on. However, when we think we get only one shot, we see ourselves as distinct, separate, and different only. Then the mortal realm becomes a place where tribal wars of opposition rule the day, where nobody genuinely “reaches across the aisle,” and compromise becomes impossible, except as disingenuous lip-service.
It is within the silence of the mind where we discover our true, immortal worth. When all thinking ceases, it is there we find our true nature. Yet, as The Buddha taught, in emptiness, there is no mind and no self, so we call them both by abstract names to become aware. Without abstraction, only silence prevails, but it is within silence where we become enlightened to that which is the source of all awareness.
To most of the western world, Zen is a strange and confusing matter, most often utterly misunderstood. The founder of Zen (Bodhidharma) defined Zen as “not thinking.” And the great master Huang Po taught: “Whatever the senses apprehend resembles an illusion, including everything ranging from mental concepts to living beings. Our Founder—The Buddha, preached to his disciple's naught (e.g., nothing) but total abstraction leading to the elimination of sense-perception. In this total abstraction does the Way of the Buddhas flourish; while from discrimination between this and that a host of demons blazes forth!” — The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, (The teacher of Zen Master Rinzai).
If westerners had lived in the eastern world, Zen would not seem strange. Instead, the odds are favorable that Zen would be understood as the means The Buddha employed to experience enlightenment. Many in the western world have become aware of the practice of mindfulness meditation in helping to quiet the mind, leading to less stress and improved health. However, what has not yet become well established is the next stage beyond mindfulness. Quieting the mortal mind is a sign-post on the way to what follows. First, the chatter must be regulated and brought under control. Then, and only then, is it possible to move on to the deeper stage of Samādhi attained by the practice of dhyāna (e.g., the ancient name given to the practice of Zen—the last step in the Eight Fold Path, otherwise known as Right Concentration). The preceding step (the seventh) was known as Right mindfulness, the level that is now so popular. There is nothing wrong with mindfulness. But there is more beyond that sign-post on the way, but following that, the going gets tougher.
The great Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa said, “My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.” The beginning would be more aligned with Right mindfulness, whereas Right Concentration is more aligned with finishing up the journey.