Thursday, September 27, 2018

East meets West meets East

Merging East and West
Some years ago I wrote in a post (Journey thru Hell to Heaven), “I stand between the two worlds of East and West and my challenge is to fuse the two just as they were for me…” That comment created a misunderstanding of my intent causing some to think I was deprecating either the East or the West, with some responding that the movement from West to the East had corrupted the East (and some the reverse). My response was that it wasn’t a matter of who started what since my intention was to promote unity without concern for the initiation of the exchange. What few seem to recognize is this exchange is nothing new. The truth is it began as far back as the 6th century BCE following the death of The Buddha, due to the Diaspora of Buddhism out of India along the Silk Road to the West (and also throughout Asia). What even fewer recognize was the influence Buddhist thought had on the development of early Christianity. Today I want to put this issue into the proper framework by connecting a few important historical events of this exchange.

The latest archeological discovery of the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal (the birthplace of the Buddha) establishes The Buddha’s life in the 6th century BCE. When he died his teachings moved out of India to the West along the Silk Road, through Asia Minor, Central Asia and eventually as far to the West as the Balkans. At that time in history, the Balkans included ancient Greece and philosophers who accompanied Alexander the Great during his conquests to the East carried Buddhist thought back to Greece.

Alexander’s conquest ended in India at the battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BCE and he died three years later. During his eastern conquest several Greek philosophers, such as Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus, were allegedly selected by Alexander to accompany him and thus the exchange commenced. Pyrrho then returned to Greece and became the first Skeptic and the founder of the school named Pyrrhonism.

Upon the death of Alexander, a struggle for succession of power began ending when General Seleucus defeated his adversary in 312 BCE and started the Seleucid Empire that lasted for 259 years, ranging from northern India to the Balkans. The nature of the culture in this empire was a blend of Greek philosophy and Buddhism known as Greco Buddhism. Meanwhile, Buddhist thought was being well established back in Greece and is documented by quotes from philosophers of the time:

“Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention, and nothing is in itself more this than that” (Diogenes Laertius IX.61)

Another of these philosophers, Onesicritus, a Cynic, is said by Strabo to have learned in India the following precepts: “That nothing that happens to a man is bad or good, opinions being merely dreams. The best philosophy is that which liberates the mind from both pleasure and grief.” (Strabo, XV.I.65)

The Allegory of the Cave (also known as Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave) was presented by the Plato in his work The Republic: a major work that reflects the fundamental understanding that perceptible life is like a shadow whereas real life occurs by those perceiving the shadows.

The next critical step along this path of exchange occurred between educated Jews and the syncretic blend of Greco Buddhist thought. The Apostle Paul, more than any other person is responsible for the writing of the New Testament and because he was reared in a Greek and Roman environment, he received a thorough education in the Greek language, history, and culture. It is highly unlikely that he didn’t absorb this blend, even though he may not have been aware of the roots. By the time of his life, the syncretism had become common coin.

What has never been established is the impact this had on Jesus but what has been established is the effect on the emergence and proliferation on a branch of early Christianity known as Gnostic Christianity. During the nascent development of the official church, the Gnostics were considered as a heretical threat to the political development and eventually were destroyed. However, before their movement was brought to an end they hid their scrolls in a cave which were then discovered in December 1945, in the Upper Egyptian desert by an Arab peasant. The discovery has radically changed our understanding of the early Christians and shown the correspondence between what Jesus was recorded as having taught and fundamental Buddhist tenets. It is thus not surprising to grasp that the essential message of Jesus was the same as that of The Buddha: Unconditional, non-discriminate love.

It is a gross mischaracterization of basic Christianity as being different from basic Buddhism since they both teach the same thing. What has unfortunately occurred is for modern Christians to have blended a distorted understanding of the teachings of Jesus with Old Testament Judaism resulting in a mismatch between an “eye for an eye” conflict versus universal acceptance and brotherhood among all people.

So much for the history lesson concerning the exchange between the West and the East. The whole point is not who started what but rather to be aware that the foundation of both is a view of life that acknowledges an imperceptible, transcendent unity. It is the reality of the seer (e.g. consciousness) not the seen that should govern our lives. At that transcendent level, everything is indiscriminate and unified. We are all that unconditional consciousness that lies hidden beneath the perceptible dimension of relative life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Power of Deception.

A couple of days ago, The Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit was convened at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The President of the Family Research Council (Tony Perkins) introduced the keynote speaker, Vice President Mike Pence, and said of him: He understands himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican,” in that order.

Yet Pence’s speech was as far away from the essential nature of genuine Christianity as one might be. His chosen venue has been designated as “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and what he said affirmed that description. If you wanted to sum up the speech into a nutshell it would be “look how great we are under Trump—chest-thumping and ideological superiority (e.g., us, the white-hats against them: the black-hats). Nothing about his speech promoted unity and caring for our fellow man but instead promoted the opposite.

Following a panel titled “How Gender Ideology Harms Children,” which included Dr. Michelle Cretella from the American College of Pediatricians, (also designated a right-wing quasi-religious hate group) Pence echoed the panel’s perspective that those who define themselves as LGBT are just sick individuals who are determined to break God’s intentions, are sinful and need to change their ways. According to the Family Research Council’s website, the Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to “provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, the sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.” 

Cretella has been excoriated by The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) with a response, titled: “I’m a Pediatrician. How Transgender Ideology Has Infiltrated My Field and Produced Large-Scale Child Abuse,” saying that Cretella pushes a perspective of “political and ideological agendas not based on science and facts”. SAHM destroyed her position showing how she cherry-picked bad science to reach her conclusion. Nevertheless, Pence continues to endorse Cretella’s conclusion with his own bad theology and in so doing destroys his own view of himself as being “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican.” And why might I say such a thing? To answer that question we must first define some theological terms and say what it means to be a real Christian instead of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

To the second issue (e.g., a real Christian) one must abide by the essential teaching of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you”. It is specious to claim the title without abiding by the essential teaching of the founder. And to the first issue (e.g., Theological terms) when Jesus taught that sort of love he was referring to a term found only in the New Testament. The term, in Koine Greek, is ἀγαπάω (agapē ) and meant “unconditional love”, or if you prefer “love with no strings attached—be they gender, race, ideology or any other means of discrimination”. So the concluding question here is whether or not Pence, and his puppet master Trump, are in fact promoting genuine Christian unity and love amongst all people, or a faux Christian wanna-be agenda that promotes division and one-up-man-ship? 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Paradox of Non-Choice

Some months ago I wrote a post called, “The high price of choice: winning battles, losing wars.” In that post I spoke about making choices based on perceptual differences. This post is an extension of that one, which I’ll call The Paradox of Non-Choice.

For nearly forty years I’ve tried, and failed, to articulate an experience that transformed my life. The reason for my failure concerns words, which by definition are reflections of matters that can only be expressed in reference to something else. The other thorny dilemma that has contributed to my failure is there are some things that can never be adequately explained, and this was one of those. But this morning I awoke with a sort of pictorial vision that perhaps gives me a way of describing that indescribable experience. I can, however, describe the picture which you can imagine in your minds-eye, and if you can assimilate the essence of the picture, there’ll be a reasonably good chance of grasping my experience beyond words I’ve struggled to describe for these many years. And this in turn can give you hope of realizing the goal of peace and harmony—unity with all things.

Picture in your minds-eye a three dimensional ball with an empty core. To help you see that, imagine “Wilson” the soccer ball that became the sole partner of Tom Hanks in his movie Cast Away. For those who didn’t see the movie, Hanks was a FedEx employee stranded on an uninhabited island after his plane crashed in the South Pacific. Everything was lost except a soccer ball made by the Wilson sporting goods company. To keep from going insane Hanks developed a “relationship” with Wilson and that kept him from losing all hope.

Like Hanks, anyone can perceive the outside of a soccer ball but no one can perceive the inside (except through imagination, and imagination became the friend of Hanks). In order to perceive anything (and understand what is perceived) requires certain conditions, one of which is contrast. For example if everything is the color white and the surface of the ball is white, the ball couldn’t be seen. The outside of that ball then is properly called conditional—one thing contrasted with (or conditioned upon) another different thing. That being the case we could label the outside “relative,” or “conditional.”

Now we come to the inside of the ball which is empty or hollow. It’s invisible for two reasons: first, because it is hidden by the outside surface, and secondly because its empty, meaning nothing is there (except air, which can’t be seen). We could properly label the inside unconditional since emptiness, by definition is a vacuum lacking limitations or definition (except when seemingly confined, as in the case of the outer surface of a soccer ball). If we were to remove the outer surface, what was inside (nothing) would be the same as if there were no surface. It wouldn’t go anywhere since it was nowhere (yet everywhere) to begin with.

Now we can describe the ball entirely: the outer surface is relatively conditional and perceptible, while the inside is unconditional and imperceptible. Thus the ball is constructed within the framework of three dimensions: the outside with two dimensions and the inside with another. And (importantly) the outside is completely opposite from the inside (and in that sense also relative): neither the outside of a ball nor the inside could exist without the other. But when the inside core is isolated it is wholly unconditional. However, it can only be that way when confined within the outside conditional surface of the ball.

Now take the next step and relabel the ball as a living organism (one of which is a human) and this living organism is constituted in exactly the same way as the ball with only one addition: consciousness. Consciousness is a two-way street: there is an unconditional source that functions through perceptual mechanisms which are outwardly oriented to perceive relative things that are conditional. The one dimension that consciousness can’t perceive is consciousness itself since it is an unconditional, non-relative non-thing (no-thing/empty). And furthermore, anything unconditional is everywhere at once—outside as well as inside and completely lacking detection.

Since the function of consciousness is perception, it remains the source, wholly complete, and undetectable (empty). As such we remain unaware of its presence. We are aware of only things that are detectable and composed of two dimensions of differing natures. And unfortunately, we differentiate (or discriminate) these things into judgments of good/bad, right/wrong, black/white, up/down and on and on.

The problem here is that we conclude that everything is either this or that and go unaware that at the core everything is united into an unconditional, indefinable non-entity. Enlightenment is the pure sense is self-awakening (the experience of) penetrating through the outer surface of differentiated things and into the core where we experience/realize that everything is actually constituted as nothing (meaning emptiness). We then “know” our true, fundamental nature and at the same moment as this dawning, we realize we are neither good nor bad, white or black, or any other this vs. that. And with this dawning, we come to realize that everyone is exactly the same at that fundamental level—all united and unconditionally the same. 

So the next time you’re tempted to judge yourself, or another, just remember Wilson the soccer ball and know that your true self is just as empty (and thus the same as everything else).

Friday, September 7, 2018

Politics of fear.

I first wrote this post some years ago. Conditions have changed significantly since then. From time to time I revisit my posts to see if any have legs that continue to walk. This one does so I’m reposting to remind myself and others of the basic issues at stake.

My primary focus in writing is spiritual, and purists resist the notion of mixing that focus with political commentaries. I’m not a purist but rather of the opinion that if spirituality is of any worth it must integrate with changing conditions otherwise, it will remain a matter of navel-gazing, good for the gazer but not much beyond that. I am committed to sharing the wealth and honoring the responsibility of a Bodhisattva.

So what are the basic issues at stake? In a few words: freedom, liberty and equal justice. Those are the principles that underpin, not only our republic but are also the principles that all freedom loving people desire, wherever they live, throughout time. Without those principles, it is questionable if any form of spiritual practice can prevail for very long. Historically religious and spiritual leaders have been the keepers of moral standards that must guide any ship of state to ensure it steers clear of the rocky shoals. 

So then we come to the matter of before or after. Do spiritual leaders have an obligation to influence captains, crew, and occupants of the ship before it ends up on the shoals? Or must they act only once the ship is wrecked? And what obligation, if any, do the occupants have to the captain, or to the ship? Those are penetrating questions that must be thoughtfully considered. Human history shows examples of both the before and the after, but perhaps the most poignant statement came from Edmund Burke, the 18th century Anglo Irish political philosopher“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

As you will see from the link provided above, some question remains about the exact wording of that quote and who said it but the spirit is the same. Today good men and women are being bullied and subjugated into cowardice conduct by a man who is incapable of leading the free world, but is talented in divide and conquer. He is a master of instilling fear, not only into the hearts and minds of the occupants of the ship but also the lieutenants who are critical to keeping the ship off the rocky shoals.

 Unless you’ve been away on a distant planet, out of communications with people here on earth, you know that as of yesterday an equivalent of “deep throat,” from within the Trump administration, has warned of the hazards of his leadership. In effect, this amounts to an administrative coup that could very likely make the man even more paranoid than he is already, increasing the hazards instead of the opposite.

Years ago another New York Times article appeared written by Tom Edsall—professor of journalism at Columbia University and political commentator writing on events inside and outside of Washington. He grappled with controversial perspectives from a cross-section of social scientists who are researching the matter of “genopolitics”: the premise that we are hard-wired to see life through defined prisms that determine our political perspectives and affiliations. His article was inconclusive but ended by saying, “With so much riding on political outcomes—from default on the national debt to an attack on Syria, to attitudes toward climate change—understanding key factors contributing to the thinking of elected officials and voters becomes crucial. Every avenue for understanding human behavior should be on the table: how do we evaluate our goals? How should we judge trade-offs? And just how do we actually make decisions?” I couldn’t agree more. Indeed every avenue for understanding human behavior should be on the table, and that takes me to the focus of this post.

So long as we remain ignorant of the fundamental basis of being human, genopolitics or not, will make little difference and I (and many others) will continue to spin our wheels. The only relevant question is this: What is the fundamental basis of being human? And the related question: What happens when we fail to understand this central issue? The answer to that last question is painfully obvious: We continue on with the same failed behavior, dictated by fear, as always—we fight over differences, to our mutual destruction. All of us are riding in the same boat, enlightened together with the unenlightened. There are not two boats, only one, and how we collectively behave determines the outcome of us all. And to the first question, the fundamental basis of being human: Unity. Underneath all is our unity. As wise men have noted in the past—when water is subjected to the freeze of negativity, it turns into divided ice crystals. Heat ice with the warmth of unity and it turns back into indivisible water. We are all fundamentally water. After that, nature and nurture can and does shape us into divided conclaves.

We are the only animal on earth that has to learn how to be human. Ducks know, without being taught, how to be ducks. The same for every other animal, except us. We have to learn what it means, from the depths of our souls outward what it means to be “good men and women,” and until we do, evil will reign.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Perpetual host; Holy ghost.

The Spirit arises
This is going to be a risky post since adherents to different faiths get disturbed with connecting dots of similarity. Nevertheless I’ll willingly choose to go where “angels fear to tread” since my topic is of utmost importance. The best way to begin is with a quote from Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name smells as sweet.” His point, and mine, is while the name may change, the essence stays the same.

I’ve danced around this burning bush numerous times trying to convey the essential point that our human nature is like a constantly eroding house within which lives a permanent resident (with no name or status). Such posts as “Back to grammar school: the ghost of you and me,” “Guests and Hosts,” “The Watcher,” “Transcendence and the Middle Way,” “Nature of mind and the desire for liberation,” “Already, not yet,” “Separating wheat from chaff,” “East meets West meets East,” “If it walks like a duck…” and others, all address the point of this post but all by not reaching across the aisle. Now I will.

But before that reaching, my spring board will be a quote about a towering giant in the long line of Zen Masters: Huang Po

“The text (e.g., The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On The Transmission Of Mind) indicates that Huang Po was not entirely satisfied with his choice of the word ‘Mind’ to symbolize the inexpressible Reality beyond the reach of conceptual thought, for he more than once explains that the One Mind is not really MIND at all. But he had to use some term or other, and ‘Mind’ had often been used by his predecessors. As Mind conveys intangibility, it no doubt seemed to him a good choice, especially as the use of this term helps to make it clear that the part of a man usually regarded as an individual entity inhabiting his body is, in fact, not his property at all, but common to him and to everybody and everything else. (It must be remembered that, in Chinese, ‘hsin’ means not only ‘mind’, but ‘heart’ and, in some senses at least, ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’—in short, the so-called REAL man, the inhabitant of the body-house.) If we prefer to substitute the word ‘Absolute’, which Huang Po occasionally uses himself, we must take care not to read into the text any preconceived notions as to the nature of the Absolute. And, of course, ‘the One Mind’ is no less misleading, unless we abandon all preconceived ideas, as Huang Po intended.”—Commentary by John Blofeld (Chu Ch’an): The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On The Transmission Of Mind

That’s a safe segue onto the other side of the aisle, that addresses the Christian principle of The Holy Ghost who/which resides in “born again Christians”. The rose smells as sweet but the name changes, as do the presuppositions. In the case of Buddhism, the host (True man of no rank, according to Master Lin Chin/Rinzai; Huang-Po’s student) was the eternal “REAL man, the inhabitant of the body-house”

The obvious difference between the teachings of orthodox Christianity and Buddhism, concerning the indwelling Spirit, is that Christian dogma says only those who confess Christ as Lord will be “born again” and receive the Holy Spirit. However, this dogma contradicts another fundamental aspect of Christian teaching which says that God is eternal and omnipresent. Consequently there is a fly in this ointment, that was addressed by Meister Eckhart (Christian mystic)“We shall find God in everything alike, and find God always alike in everything”.

Mystics (all) have plunged the depths to the essence of their natural being whereas those who remain unenlightened see the surface and not the depths. For these, “…the great majority of people, the moon is the moon and the trees are trees”.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Chop wood; Carry water.

Before and after.
“Enlightenment, when it comes, will come in a flash. There can be no gradual, no partial, Enlightenment. The highly trained and zealous adept may be said to have prepared himself for Enlightenment, but by no means can he be regarded as partially Enlightened—just as a drop of water may get hotter and hotter and then, suddenly, boil; at no stage is it partly boiling, and, until the very moment of boiling, no qualitative change has occurred. In effect, however, we may go through three stages—two of non-Enlightenment and one of Enlightenment. To the great majority of people, the moon is the moon and the trees are trees. The next stage (not really higher than the first) is to perceive that moon and trees are not at all what they seem to be, since ‘all is the One Mind’. When this stage is achieved, we have the concept of a vast uniformity in which all distinctions are void; and, to some adepts, this concept may come as an actual perception, as ‘real’ to them as were the moon and the trees before. It is said that, when Enlightenment really comes, the moon is again very much the moon and the trees exactly trees; but with a difference, for the Enlightened man is capable of perceiving both unity and multiplicity without the least contradiction between them!”The Zen Teachings of Huang Po: On The Transmission Of Mind

Laying down one’s life.

Yesterday the world watched as friends and family eulogized the life of John McCain. It was a testament of sacrifice for fundamental principles that, for him, rose above partisan politics. His life and mine were forged in the blast furnace of Vietnam. Forever after, he faced the challenges of living without giving in to fear. In his own words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.” He knew that in the marrow of his bones. Five and a half years in Hanoi’s main Hỏa Lò Prison (“Hanoi Hilton”), changed McCain from an irreverent, cocky renegade into a man who would dedicate the rest of his life fighting for those fundamental principles by not yielding to the fears of ordinary men and women.

John McCain was a warrior compatriot of mine. The war changed us both but our subsequent vectors were different. He went down one path, and I went down another. You know where his led, but mine led me on a spiritual journey trying to find solace from the demons that entered my mind and soul, causing a never-ending psychological and emotional maelstrom that has continued to plague my entire adult life.

My pilgrimage took me onto the path of Zen because it claimed to be a means for alleviating suffering. It did what it claimed, and then, I continued on to seminary where I learned how to read both ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek, the latter of which was the original language of The New Testament. As a result, I became aware of those concepts held by the ancient Greeks about life. They saw life in three aspects: two that made up our human vessel and one that made us into sentient beings sparked by the breath of our creator. These three aspects have now become known as our biological being (βίος), our psychological being (ψυχν), and our spiritual being (ζωή). All three were represented in those words from Koine Greek, and yesterday during John McCain’s eulogy, the significance of those different principles came out in a reading by Senator Lindsey Graham.

John was a man who lived a life of high principles so I imagine neither he nor his family would be offended by my rectifying a misunderstanding—a meaningful and significant misunderstanding that is both needed now more than ever within our political sphere and should be embraced by all people throughout all times and all places. The misunderstanding of which I speak concerns those three different words for “life” rendered in Koine Greek

The passage read by Senator Graham was John 15:13 which has been translated into English and reads: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The common way of understanding this passage means to sacrifice one’s bodily being (to die biologically) as an act of supreme love. But that is not what the passage meant when written in Koine Greek. And to grasp the true understanding, we need to see it in the original language which reads as follows: “μείζονα ταύτης γάπην οδες χει, να τις τν ψυχν ατο θ πρ τν φίλων ατο,” and came to be understood as stated above. I don’t expect many, if any, to read Koine Greek so a bit of guidance is required. I have highlighted in red the keyword ψυχν.

The standard, universally accepted translation manual for moving from Koine Greek into English is Strong’s Concordance, and when we turn to Strong, we find the true meaning for “ψυχν”. It means, among various concepts, that which determines the personality of a person, in this case, the mind, and is the basis for our grasp of the psyche (e.g., psychology).

If that passage of John 15:13 meant what Senator Graham conveyed (e.g., to die biologically), then the passage would have been written this way: “μείζονα ταύτης γάπην οδες χει, να τις τν βίος ατο θ πρ τν φίλων ατο,” yet it was not.

Properly translated this passage means “ Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s ideas for one’s friends.” In other words, to set aside one’s ideologies as the supreme act of love. And when you consider what divides us more than anything else, it is clinging to our ideas and rejecting those of others. Thus, the supreme act of love conveyed by Jesus had nothing to do with dying biologically. Instead, Jesus saw the source of hatred as ideas that divide us, and, therefore saw the solution to hatred as love—setting aside dividing ideas. It is hard to imagine a time in human history when that message is more germane than now.

And perhaps the most surprising realization of all is that this true understanding of love is almost identical to that expressed by the father of Zen—Bodhidharma, who defined Zen as “not thinking.” When you don’t think, what remains is a purity of mind. The Japanese form of Zen considers the mind and heart not as two different matters, but as ONE (heart/mind). “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bandaids and fish.

The hidden root.
We live with an unfortunate protocol as the standard for treating pain and suffering, which is easily articulated by an analogy of a bandaid covering a festering wound. Determining causes, by necessity, takes us beneath the surface to find the root. Unexpectedly, the world of medical science is now playing catch up and turning to some surprising spiritual sources that don’t fit within scientific orthodoxy, but work nevertheless.

We’re all familiar with the Chinese proverb of, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The proverb seems to imply an either/or. The problem with the either/or sentiment is it assumes the man will stay alive long enough to learn to fish. In the world of today that is not a luxury we can afford. We must do both or the patient will die before the learning. Many millions around the world die daily waiting for the fish to arrive.

In the Breakthrough Sermon, Bodhidharma said, “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.”

The Buddha spent his life ferreting out the root cause of suffering and began his diagnosis with the first of Four Nobel Truths: Life is suffering. That observation took place more than 2,500 years ago but until recently his diagnosis ran under the radar of medical orthodoxy. Pathfinders have always made inroads by bucking the tide of conventional wisdom and this is certainly true for Dr. John E. Sarno, previously Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at prestigious Institute of Rusk Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University Medical Center.

Sarno’s most notable achievement was the development of his diagnosis, and treatment of tension myoneural syndrome (TMS), which is currently not accepted by mainstream medicine. Nevertheless according to Sarno, TMS is a psychosomatic illness causing chronic back, neck, and limb pain which is not relieved by standard medical treatments.

Dr. Sarno noted in his practice that back surgery wasn’t working; it was failing to bring effective relief to his patients. He also noted unsatisfactory results from physical therapy, as well as from steroidal injections, and all the other therapeutic techniques being commonly administered. He instinctively felt that there had to be something else going on with back pain. So he began to look more deeply into his patients’ charts where he noticed that his back pain patients also had many other things going on with their health. In addition to back pain, many had bouts of shoulder and hip pain, knee pain, foot and hand pain, skin problems, anxiety, depression, migraines, ulcers, irritable bowel, heartburn, frequent urination, and allergies, etc., and Dr. Sarno shrewdly noted that where there’s smoke there’s often fire.

After having lived forty years with the belief that I was unworthy, I stood at the abyss of such despair that I seriously considered suicide. It was at that critical point that I left the world behind and lived in a Zen monastery and discovered, that the cause of my suffering was rooted in my mind. What I had previously believed was a lie and the product of cultural myths, judgements and misinformation. It took me quite a long time to root out the poison that existed in thought only.

Thankfully, while there I ate a few fish, lived and then learned to fish. And then I came to a surprising realization: If I could pass on both the eating and the learning then just about anyone could as well. After all, the wisdom of The Buddha was not mine to selfishly posses. It belongs to the global community.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Beacon on the Hill?

The shades that color our vision

Just prior to the last U.S. presidential election I wrote this post, which I think may be germane again. I wrote, “In a few days the American citizenry will go to the polls and vote to elect the next President of the United States. Most people have already decided how they will vote and little between now and then is likely going to alter their perspectives. Thus this message will undoubtedly have little if any effect on their future choices. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say something concerning vision that could make a small difference.” Sometimes (rarely) a tiny message can have a huge impact. Little things are not always insignificant. For example, the Botulinum toxin is possibly the most acutely toxic substance known. Four kg of the toxin, if evenly distributed, would be more than enough to kill the entire human population of the world.

Some years ago my teacher said, “A single drop of rain, waters 10,000 pines.” His point was that something as tiny as one drop of rain has the potential to bring about significant growth. The words I offer here are like that drop of rain: tiny but intended to stimulate expanded spiritual insight that will bring about fragrance as pleasant as a pine. I am not so delusional to imagine that this message will come close to that potency but I offer it anyway with the hope that goodness will result.

How any of us sees the world affects the choices we make. Few people are even aware of the nature of their own biases and distortions that shape their vision, but we all have our own versions. We just assume that our views are correct without realizing that we are looking through lenses colored by these erroneous perspectives. The great Zen Master Bassui Tokushō instructed his students to first awaken the mind that reads and then they would understand what they were reading. Of course, that advice took root in few then and even fewer today. We all assume that our visions are clear and we see things as they truly are.

I make no claim to perfect vision. I know I have much of value to learn so in a certain sense my vision is no better or worse than anyone else. But I have lived a long time and been exposed to parts of the world I never imagined as a boy. I have lived with many people, both rich and poor, from all walks of life and read the wisdom of great poets, prophets, and sages. All of that has entered my mind as a chef might throw together ingredients into a pot to create a tasty meal.

If I had to reduce the teachings of great sages down to a short sentence it would be that we are all one, none better or worse than anyone else and how we understand ourselves determines everything. In the words of Jesus, what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and suffers the loss of his own self? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?

Our self-understanding runs in one of two directions: either towards selfishness or selflessness. One way leads to increasing fear, alienation, hostility and greed. The other towards courage, equanimity, unity and goodness toward all. I don’t have much use for dogmatic religion even though I am an ordained Christian Minister, have studied and put into practice the words of great men. I don’t regard myself as a socialist or a communist either, but I do agree with Karl Marx who said that “Religion is the opium of the people.” And I agree because to most religious people I have ever known, their dogma has turned them into self-serving, self-righteous, unthinking robots more interested in cherry-picking their holy texts to serve their own predetermined agendas than shaping their lives around the teachings of their own pioneers. The new Pope offers some hope in restoring his followers to the proper place of paying heed to the teachings of Christ to love without discrimination. And the life of Nelson Mandela likewise serves as another beacon.

I fear, however, for our country at this point in history because we have become polarized robots who have run contrary to the advice of Jesus: we have traded away our souls for dwindling wealth. Instead of becoming more and more the United States of America we have become increasingly disunited, caring more for preserving and protecting selective hides than for becoming magnanimous. Our nobility of spirit, that made us into a shining beacon, is growing dim and we routinely waste our dwindling resources in such endeavors of fighting more and seeking peace less.

Maybe this small message, so late in the game, will crack the thin façade of greed and open the hearts and minds of many to what we are losing by our lust for ever increasing exclusivity. I hope so but my hope, like that shining beacon, is growing dim.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

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 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 object 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 me—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!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How high is the sky, how deep is the ocean of consciousness?

The depths of consciousness.
The Buddhist concept of 9 levels of consciousness gives a great template for living your life and for transformative change. The Buddhist teaching of the close interconnectedness of all living things shows also how changes you make for the better in your life leads to positive changes in others, as we are all connected like myriad cogwheels.

It is doubtful that anyone questions the depth of the first five levels of consciousness since we use these 24/7 to interface with the outside world in which we live. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are as deep as the vast majority go. And their world is understood based on these objective measurements. The next level is the commingling (gestalt) of these five and we know it as the ordinary mind of thoughts and emotions. For most, these first 6 levels of consciousness are where we spend most of our time in performing daily activities. 

Then comes a deeper level of consciousness that is inner looking rather than focused outwards. This 7th level is what we would call the discriminating mind, concerned with the sense of self (ego), and our ability to distinguish between good and evil. Here everything is separated, mutually exclusive, alienated between opposites, is based on the first six levels of perception and processing, like an upside-down tree with roots in the air.

Deeper yet is the 8th level where the seeds of karma from previous lives reside and is known as the alaya consciousness, or storehouse consciousness: the place where all the actions and experiences in this life and the previous lives generated by the seven consciousnesses are stored as karma. It is the only level of consciousness which comes along with every birth. This consciousness influences the workings of the other seven consciousnesses by coloring (biasing) the layers of consciousness above. Because of the karmic seeds contained in the alaya consciousness one may die a premature death, be stricken with unexpected disease or inexplicable misfortune, overcome by strong desires, aversions and obsessions, can think and do things that one should never even imagine, etc.. So strong is the influence of the alaya consciousness a person may not wish to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people. He or she is, in fact, referring to the influence of past karma contained in the alaya consciousness.

The base consciousness—the foundation of them all is like the ocean floor. It is known as the ground of all being and is free from the impurities of karma and is therefore called the fundamental pure consciousness. This is the ground level basis of all life and being free of impurities it is known as emptiness (Sunyata in Sanskrit), yet upon this base lies the deep and the waves of change. No ocean exists without both a base and the waves above.

The “how to” exercise of genuine awakening to all levels is a matter of going within, penetrating down and through the depths, through the darkness of alaya like the shaft of a lotus plant. Becoming aware of the entire fullness of mind entails first dissolving the artificial sense of individual existence, as a single drop merges with the ocean. When you are set free from knowing who you are not, then immediately you become aware, not as an image of self, but rather that which you truly are: identical to and merged with every other drop that constitutes the entire ocean.

Understanding our mind is essential to the discernment of our true nature, and without that understanding, we will remain vulnerable to the influence of the ignorant and despots. The father of Zen said this: “The mind is the root from which all things grow if you can understand the mind, everything else is included. It’s like the root of a tree. All a tree’s fruit and flowers, 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.”—Bodhidharma, The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma