Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The dream of me.

Have you ever found yourself so engrossed in a movie that your emotions reacted to pure fantasy? On one level you know what you are seeing are just images from a camera projected onto a screen. On that level there is a disconnect between what you know is true and what you imagine is true. Or it may be something you see on TV but the response is the samedisconnect. And likewise the same happens in a dream: The dream seems real and we react as though it were.

As rational people we know the difference between fantasy and reality (or so we think) and yet here we are getting the two all mixed up. How can that be explained? What we don’t know when we see a movie, or watch something on TV, is if any of it is actually real. For all we know it might be a hoax or a mirage. It could be a reality TV show like the Apprentice or some other made up fantasy. The dream is another story. Yet we only know it is a dream once we wake up and then we say to ourselves, “That was just a dream.” Has it ever occurred to you that you are just waking up from one dream into another dream that we take as real? I have wondered about that very thing and recently listened to a podcast on Radiolab that explained this conundrum. You can listen yourself by going here. And after listening, if you do, then read this post.

Forever after you’ll think about thinking in a very different way. Perhaps then you’ll realize whatever occurs in your mind is just a story you tell yourself.

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

Once upon a never-time, in the land of everywhere, there lived a person of enormous wealth: 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 finding such a person, he realized that what he wanted most in that position was someone as nearly as possible like himself. 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 time of 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 and 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.

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. 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 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 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—it is called 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. 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— 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 a 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 fantasy? 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.

“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.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Poisonous Children

In Buddhist thought, a poisonous monster lives inside each of us and it has three characteristics—greed, anger and delusion. These three are the child of our precious ego, the mythical surrogate we all create to identify ourselves. I say “precious” with tongue in cheek because this is the mother of all sorrow. It appears precious until we understand its phantom nature. It is who we think we are and we defend it to the death. Different religions refer to ego death as the necessary condition for final liberation—being set free to experience fundamental humanity. Christianity calls this experience being “reborn” (sadly misunderstood) and the mystical arm of Christianity refers to this state as “the dark night of the soul,” the darkness everyone must pass through on the way to freedom.

Soul is a term, which often is used to describe ego. When Gautama was enlightened he realized his true nature and came to understand that the ego was not real. He saw it for what it is: an idea rather than something real, and along with his enlightenment, he understood the source of suffering—the idea of ego. If you wanted to reduce Buddhism down to a single statement (which would be a gross devaluation) you could call it the solution for overcoming suffering. I’ll explain:

We have a sight challenge: We can’t see our true, immaculate self. The truth is we can’t see each other either. What I see when I look at you is your outer skin—call it a cloak. And since that is what we can see we think of a person (including our self) as a body. But none of us is stupid. We know we are more than just a bag of bones. We know that there is someone inside that bag and we call that inside dimension by a name—our self. Unfortunately this “our self” is just another cloak, an inside cloak which conceals our true identity. So why don’t we see this identity behind the cloak? The answer is simple (but not so simple). We don’t see the real us because our true identity can’t be seen but it’s there in spite of our sight challenge. If it wasn’t there we couldn’t see anything because our true self is what’s doing the seeing and it’s called consciousness.

What can we see? We can see objects. What can’t we see? We can’t see subjects. Anyone who has studied grammar is taught the difference between an object and a subject. If I write the sentence “I see myself,” the “I” would refer to subject and “myself” would be the object. But there is a subtle problem with such a sentence (and a clue). Is it possible for a subject to be an object? Isn’t that sentence illogical? Think about it. Either they are different or they are the same thing with an illusion of difference.

Our real nature is not an object, like a stone, which we can see. When we objectify anything we devalue it, stripping it of fundamental humanity. We are not objects. We are not an idea. We are real beings, an incarnate spirit with two dimensions, one part of which can be seen and one part that can’t be seen. These two parts can’t be divided. If our spirit is removed we’ll just be a bag of bones. If our flesh is removed we’ll be a ghost. We may talk as if they can be divided but such thinking is delusional. And there is an inherent awareness in us all that knows this truth, but it is such a vaporous aspect that it goes beyond our detection. It is a conundrum, which produces the three, poisons of greed, anger, and delusion. Why? Because “We”—the real us—wants desperately to be set free and it makes us angry that we can’t find the solution! We are in prison—a prison of our own making—and we can’t find our way out, and the keys to that prison are held by Mr. or Mrs. Ego (the gatekeeper of our prison) who is extremely greedy; who wants to possess and defend; who clings to everything desirable and rebuffs everything undesirable. Our ego judges with a criterion of objectivity—what it can perceive. If I look good, that is desirable. If I look bad, that is undesirable. If you act well, that is desirable. If you act badly, that is undesirable. We judge based on our capacity to perceive, not what we can’t perceive.

Since it is impossible to see the real us, we all create a surrogate identity that can be seen. And this surrogate is fabricated (clothed) with a vast wardrobe of ideas, judgments, and points of discriminations. We objectify ourselves and in the process strip ourselves of human dignity. An ego is like a hologram—an image in our mind (a self-image), which we watch with our mind's eye. We can see this hologram twist and turn, to reach out and be reached at. It is amorphous and in constant motion, subject to both assaults, and adoration.

We hate assaults (and become easily offended) and love to be adored. When we are assaulted we naturally take offense and when we are adored we love it and gravitate to the one who expresses love. We are yo-yos on the string of life. And you know what ticks us off the most? That we see this manipulation happening and seem powerless to stop it! And that makes us really mad! And then we take the next step: we then learn to hate our self for being so powerless and vulnerable. The downward spiral—which in the grand scheme is a very good spiral. Why? Because it hurts so badly and we hate pain. Pain is really our friend. It tells us something is wrong that needs fixing and if we humans are nothing more, we are fixers and very inventive. And what is generally missing is motivation. Suffering supplies the motivation.

Suffering is our friend. It is something we experience inside. It is not an outside condition. It happens inside—it is a response (an effect) not a cause. And who causes this response? Our suffering is not caused by another nor experienced by them. It is caused by our response, not by outer circumstances, which can never be altered. And who is behind our responses? Why the keeper of the prison keys—Ego (our surrogate self). Ego is the source of our sorrow; our suffering, and since it is the source, it is there we must turn for a solution. Our system is an amazingly delicate instrument with all manner of built-in sensors designed to warn us of impending disaster. When we are being affected by a virus we start to feel poorly and we go to the doctor. When we are not feeling well emotionally we also seek out a doctor. But sadly today’s doctors of emotions either drug us to not feel the pain or reinforce our self-image so that we think better of our ego. These approaches only partially help since they work to remove our motivation to reach beyond the illusion and find our true substance. Consequently, we never remove the cancerous seed but instead just slap on another band-aid.

An ego is a toxic substance, that produces emotional disease, which is why these children of ego are called the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion are toxic children and the only solution to this poisoning is to vanquish the mother—the ego and allow our natural goodness to emerge. The answer is not to bolster our self-image or anesthetize suffering but is rather to vaporize the mother—to see it as the phantom that it is. Meister Eckhart—Christian Mystic and prophet (circa 1260-1329)—said:

“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. At the ground level of our humanness we are equal and good, whether Pope, Emperor, Buddha or an average person.
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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The bird in your hand is the true doctor.

It is our nature to trust in credentials, accolades and titles. More times than not you’ll trust the opinion of a doctor over that of an uneducated man, because the assumption is that a man of letters has earned his stripes and is better educated (e.g., he knows more). Once I had a friend who was studying for her PhD and she asked me, “What do you call a person in the doctorate program who graduates last in the class?” I thought about what that might be and then she told me the answer: Doctor.

Unfortunately our system of education is lacking. The emphasis is on rational analysis and communications (e.g., reading, writing and critical thinking). All of that is fine but it doesn’t train our trans-rational capacities: the wellspring of all thought and non-thought. Consequently we have become a very rational, stressed out, fear oriented violent species. We can, and do, justify the most egregious behavior possible and then feel righteous about our words and actions, never realizing we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Has that disparity ever crossed your mind? It is a puzzle, but shouldn’t be. The problem is simple (yet profound). The problem is, as expressed in contemporary vernacular: We are not cooking on all cylinders. Translation⎯We’re out of balance and living in a dream world. We are rational but lacking wisdom. Being educated does not necessarily make us wise and without wisdom rational thought leads us all astray.

One of the foremost examples of a wise yet uneducated man was the sixth patriarch of Chan (Chinese Zen). Huineng was born into the Lu family in 638 C.E. in Xinzhou (present-day Xinxing County) in Guangdong province and since his father died when he was young, his family was poor. As a consequence, Huineng had no opportunity to learn to read or write and is said to have remained illiterate his entire life. Nevertheless Huineng is regarded as one of the wisest masters of all time.

That’s the first point. The second is misleading labels. If The Buddha was born into today’s world he would undoubtedly be called “doctor” (properly so). He was, and remains, the most profound doctor of the mind of any time or place. The sort of doctor he would most closely approximate would be “psychiatrist,” although a modern psychiatrist functions within a presumed sphere of science, meaning measurable matter, in spite of the truth that the true mind can’t be found, much less be measured.

Some years ago I read neuropsychologist/philosopher Paul Broks, book Into the Silent Land. In probing the layers of human physiology and psychology, Broks, leads us through a haunting journey. It is hard not to be stunned by reading his dissecting view of what it means to be human. We take so many things for granted. That, which is basically inanimate “meat,” animates with consciousness, cognition, imagination, feelings and every other aspect of our condition, and seems to float by as a given. This fundamental mystery is so ingrained into our being that it goes unnoticed, but not by Broks.

He asks alarming and provocative questions such as “Am I out there, or in here?” when he portrays an imaginary man with a transparent skull, watching in a mirror at his own brain functioning. He notices, for us all, that the world exists inside the tissue residing between our ears. And when the tissue is carefully examined, no world, no mind, no ego, no self, no soul, no perceptual capacities, nor consciousness—nothing but inanimate meat is found. Unable to locate, what we all take for granted, he suggests that we are neither “in here” nor “out there;” maybe somewhere in the space between the in and the out, and maybe nowhere at all.

Indeed, as so many mystics and seers have noted: The mind can’t be found and none of us can study what is beyond measuring and defining. Nevertheless it is the true mind (which can’t be found) that establishes the source of wisdom, harmony and the lack of stress. Speaking from intimate personal experience I can state without equivocation that once you experience your true Self-nature your world will turn over. And why would that be? Because stress is the result of craving what you have already. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to obtain what lies ever within your hand. So long as we believe we don’t have what we need, we will forever remain anxious, frustrated, disappointed, ill and full of stress. And that makes us all sick, not to mention very, very tired.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What’s there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Earth we have a problem.

“Houston, we have a problem!” Those exact, iconic words, while capturing the essence of the situation, were not spoken by astronaut John Swigert during the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970. On the way, the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the service module upon which the command module had depended. For some harrowing times following the explosion, it seemed nearly certain Apollo 13 would not only never reach the moon but also be lost in space forever. The message was timely since the engineering ground crew on earth came up with a solution and the craft, along with those on board, were saved.

Fast forward 48 years to 2018 and that same iconic message applies, only it doesn’t concern a spacecraft in an ordinary way. Instead, it concerns our spacecraft earth and we too have a problem. There is no ground crew of engineers, separate and apart from our craft since we are already on the ground and there is nobody but us to fix our problem. And what’s the problem?

We have created a use it and lose it, planned obsolescent, throw away society and are paying the inevitable price. Our military personnel are an anomaly: They are supposed to die and not become a liability to society. Our parents (and now those of us who are nearing the end) are an anomaly: We were not supposed to live as long when the Social Security System was established. We too are now an unaffordable social liability, which given current political ideology, must be cast adrift to save those we produced. We take pleasure in what is unwrapped but are drowning in the tossed away wrappings. We enjoy luxuries never even imagined in previous centuries but are breathing in toxic fumes, roasting in unbearable heat, living in the residue of devastating  hurricanes, and combatting diseases with a diminishing supply of antibioticsall the residues of manufacturing and living with such luxuries. We made a bargain with the devil and love one side of the bargain but hate the other side. In our inability to look at the consequences of our choices we have created a monster scenario of us destroying us. We are no longer citizens but rather exclusively consumersusing and throwing away.

We are like the insurance salesman in The Trump Show who discovers his entire life is actually a television show, yet we have not discovered our charade. Instead we remain proud and unaware, inclined to throw a parade and celebrate our genius, but be sure it lasts not too long for fear we will be late for watching our favorite reality TV show. We have collectively become nothing more than that reality TV show with a reality TV show host as our leader. We have forgotten who we are and have not heeded the advice of the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” There is no “them.” There is only “us,” and we are destroying ourselves, all by ourselves.

Sunday, February 11, 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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

At the Brink

I first wrote and posted this over 9 years ago but it applies just as well now as it did back then. The circumstances have changed but the fundamental principles have remained the same.

The recent debacle of Wall Street brings into sharp focus a fundamental flaw in our way of thinking and thus the manner in which we wrestle with problem-solving. We call it THE BLAME GAME. This quagmire precisely illustrates a classic cultural flaw: Main Street blames Wall Street. Republicans blame Democrats. Your neighbor blames you, and you blame your neighbor. Apparently, nobody sees the big picture which is this:

Wall Street doesn’t exist as an independent entity, separate and apart from you and me (Main Street)—investors who are greedy for a free lunch and believe that there is an independent UP, separate and apart from an inevitable DOWN. Likewise, neither Republicans nor Democrats exist as independent entities. And neighbors only exist because of you and me.

This notion of an absolute right or wrong—one independent dimension in opposition to another—is simply wrong-headed, and unfortunately is going to bring our culture to its knees unless we wake up soon. This spirit of “me against the world” has never worked and never will work simply because it is not true. There is no world that is separate and apart from “me and you”! We are the world which we are creating together, either in opposition with one another OR in the messy struggle to work together for the common good. It may appear as a solid political strategy to set yourself apart from the other guy (or gal) but it creates and perpetuates a myth which is destroying us all.

For more than 2 millennia Buddhists around the world have seen the flaw of this “me against the world” approach as contrary to interdependent origination, which states the truth of our collective unity. There is no such thing as an independent anything—Light and dark arise and disappear together, up and down arise and disappear together, democrats and republicans arise and disappear together, form and emptiness; you and me...the list is endless and it is a simple truth if only we would put it in motion. Instead, we remain trapped in opposition with anyone and everyone, convinced of the notion of an abstract righteousness (otherwise called being self-righteous) which only folks like us are privy to—those others not-like-us are obviously wrong. Two problems here:

1. The idea of a “self” is just that...An idea. It is not a substantial, real thing. And if it is just an imagined figment, then there is, what? An imaginary figment of righteousness? The answer to that rhetorical question is YES—imaginary.

2. Even if there was a real self (which could be called our Root Consciousness, Buddha Nature or any name you choose—the name is irrelevant) such a reality could not be independent and separate due to the fact that it is ubiquitous, never-born, never-dies and not a reality which can be claimed as exclusive by anyone. It is a common, shared-by-everyone reality. We are in this pickle together and can’t escape.

So where does this leave us? Well, it’s not too difficult to conclude. Either we continue on as we have since the beginning of time chasing the phantom of “me against the world” (and live with the consequences of that pursuit—racial and cultural suicide) OR we chart a different course of unity. It would seem that we are at a tipping point, balanced on a precipice between choices. Collectively we will decide, but one thing is clear: Whatever choice we make will result in both benefits and consequences because these too arise together as an interdependent union.
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Friday, February 9, 2018

Nature of mind and the desire for liberation.

What traps us? The Buddha taught that we trap ourselves because of deluded thinking. We misunderstand our true nature and thus imagine that we’re fundamentally broken. And in this cloud of ignorance we experience frustration, anxiety and remain firmly persuaded that we’re flat tires and desire a new one.   

On the one hand we are corrupted and do need a new one. Evidence of such corruption surrounds us. But when seen from a fundamental level there is nothing to save. This sounds like double-talk but only because we don’t understand our true nature.  If we did there would be no confusion.

In the commentary on the Diamond Sutra, Huang-po said, “Buddhas and beings share the same identical mind. It’s like space: it doesn’t contain anything and isn’t affected by anything. When the great wheel of the sun rises, and light fills the whole world, space doesn’t become brighter. When the sun sets, and darkness fills the whole world, space doesn’t become darker. The states of light and darkness alternate and succeed one another, while the nature of space is vast and changeless. The mind of buddhas and beings is like this. Here, the buddha says to save all beings in order to get rid of the delusion of liberation so that we can see our true nature.” 

Because we rely solely on bodily manifestations, a conclusion of corruption is inescapable and from that logical premise desire arises. From that perspective this is correct. But we are not fundamentally a body. As Huang-po points out, fundamentally we share the same mind space as a Buddha. The mind is the production factory and our body is what’s produced. This is an important distinction. To not recognize this error is like imagining that our car manufactured itself and just suddenly appeared in our garage one day. Obviously our car was produced somewhere and just as obviously so was our body. But then some will say, “This is nonsense. Our body was produced through the biological union between our father and mother.” OK, so where did their bodies come from? This sequence must go all the way back to the beginninglessness of time, and we’re still left with the same dilemma.

On the other hand consider the possibility that there is a difference between an objective body and a subjective spirit that inhabits and is integrated with the body. An object is inanimate and has no consciousness or power to do anything, much less produce itself. Ah but a spiritual mind is an entirely different matter. Our spiritual mind produces everything, either for the good or for the bad depending on what we think. So long as we dwell ONLY on bodily manifestations of pain and suffering without understanding the source, our mind will convert what is unreal into something that seems real. Our spirit is the engine. Our body is the vehicle of motion and unless we see this distinction we’re left with the swing between the rising sun of goodness and the darkness of despair.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The walking dead.

Zombie Sleepwalkers
“I see dead people. They don’t see each other; walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.”

That’s the secret of Darren (Peter Anthony Tambakis) tells his therapist (Bruce Willis), in the movie “The Sixth Sense”. Bruce is, like the others; dead without realizing he is and sees what he wants to see. Knowing then becomes linked to what we want to see, hearing what we want to hear and paying no attention to our own ignorance. As a result, we are like zombies: the walking dead, without realizing and remaining ignorant of the unknown. We might as well be dead when we refuse to see what is, instead of what we want. Wishful thinking is a road to nowhere since it leaves us all paralyzed to manage the “what is”.