Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Flowers in the sky of mind.

What dies, and what doesn't.
I’d like to tell you a story I call “Cleansing bubbles” about my own transformation.

One of life’s most enduring themes has been to find ourselves. The quest begins early, reaches a peak during adolescence and tails off afterward, largely because of frustration. Defining our identities is thus a universal pursuit that rarely culminates in anything real. If it reaches a conclusion, at all, it travels down the road of ego construction and maintenance. More times than not, nothing beyond ever occurs and we process what we think of ourselves in terms of how others see us, from moment to endless ever-changing moment. One moment a “good” self-image; the next a “bad” one. Our sense of who we are dances on the end of a tether like a boat anchored in a turbulent sea. Rather than finding our true, united nature, the quest is driven to enhance our differences. In the words Aśvaghoṣa: “In the all-conserving mind (âlaya-vijñâna) ignorance obtains; and from the non-enlightenment starts that which sees, that which represents, that which apprehends an objective world, and that which constantly particularises. This is called the ego (manas).” But as we shall see, there are two ends of this stick: one end that is emerging and the other end the seed from which the ego grows.

In contemporary terminology, we lust for individuating ourselves at the expense of uniting ourselves. That universal quest to find ourselves is a dance of “inside-the box” futility. From beginning to end this entire process is flawed and based on a moving target dependent upon changing circumstances. All of life is changing and within change, there is no stability, except in the realm of stillness we call the soul—the hidden spirit awaiting discovery.

The quest was of particular importance to me since I never knew my father. The man I thought was my father was a sadistic beast who took pleasure in beating me, laughing all the while. The result on my psyche was devastating and hammered home the final nail in the coffin on my sense of self-worth when mixed with a broken love-affair during my young adult life, and the horrors of two years as a combat Marine fighting in Vietnam to survive by killing innocent people. I was 48 years of age, suicidal and a complete mess when I fled to a Zen monastery. By that time the seeds of disaster, planted in my subconscious had grown and flourished into plants of misery. Had it not been for the loving kindness and guidance of the Rōshi of the monastery I would be long gone and not writing these words. Because of him, I found myself—not the phony one that dances on a string of dependency, but the real one that never changes.

There is no limit to what I didn’t know when I first journeyed to there. I was naïve and uneducated in the ways of Zen. I didn’t understand Japanese. I hadn’t yet read the significant sūtras. I didn’t even understand MU—the koan given me to transform my thinking process. But I did understand one simple metaphor given me by the Rōshi that turned the waters of my consciousness from the clouded filth of my imagination to clarity and self-realization.

I was told that while I was practicing Zazen to silently watch my thoughts, as bubbles arising out of the depths, into and through my conscious awareness and breaking on the surface of the water (e.g., thoughts becoming actualized phenomena—actions): To never attach myself to the bubbles but rather just watch and let them come, one after another, seeing the chains of causation seeping out of my encased memory, connecting, moment by moment my past with my present. And then to take the next step and realize what I was watching were old-movies of a dead past. That I did for months on end. I watched. I cried over the afflictions of my past, I endured the pain until one day there were no more bubbles; just clear water, the “movie” stopped and I was at peace. It was that very practice of Zazen, that when conjoined with all that came before, shattered one part of me and introduced me to the better.

And then the dawn! What I could never see through the clouded waters I could see once they were clear. I was not the despicable person I had been led to believe. I was a never-changing, timeless soul—perfect at the core, encased in a broken body of delusion. When I shared that experience with Rōshi during dokusan, the light of the sun shown through his face and he beamed, “welcome home.” It took me years beyond before I understood what he meant, but forever after that experience, the real me never bobbed again.

I am still encased in that broken vessel which is crumbling faster and faster as I age—and will remain that way until my shell is no longer, but I reached a point in my life when I felt compelled to do what I could to share the wealth of my realization.

Years later, I came upon a story told by The Buddha in the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra. I share it to put flesh on the bones of my story: “‘Or perhaps, my friends, you can understand it like this. In a factory, statues of the Buddha are made by pouring liquid gold into moulds made of clay. In order to melt the gold into a liquid it has to be made so hot that the clay moulds become blackened and burnt. But when they have cooled down, the burnt, dirty moulds are broken and inside them the golden statues are revealed in all their beauty. In the same way, if we can break away our nasty feelings of greed and hatred we will find that underneath them, within us, we each have the hidden, perfect qualities of a Buddha, like pure shining gold.’

After finishing his explanations, The Buddha said to all the assembled holy men and women, ‘If you can learn to really understand this teaching, you will have understood one of the most important things that I saw when I became Enlightened, and you will see the way to perfect wisdom.’” 

That story is one of nine stories told to his followers near Rajagriha, in a great pavilion in the Sūtra. And rather than clay moulds becoming blackened and burnt, he saw upon his enlightenment a sky filled with beautiful lotus flowers which eventually wilted and died. But when they died a beautiful golden image of a Buddha meditating and radiating beams of light emerged out of the decay.

Like those flowers, “I” died that day (e.g., that broken, filthy jar-image of myself), and out of that broken vessel emerged the true me radiating from the depths of my soul, like light through clear water. Dying flowers; crumbling moulds; bubbles arising from the depths of tragedyMetaphors all, of equal magnitude. We are all so very different on the outside, yet at the core of our hearts and souls—where it really matters, we are the same; brothers and sisters bound forever together. If you can experience this transitional death of what doesn’t matter and the subsequent birth of what does, you will have entered into the timeless realm of purity, and you will feel “at home.”

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Eat to live, or live to eat?

The title implies a priority, not only for food but work, particularly spiritual work. As a child, I was always asking the question, “Why?” Why does anyone do anything? Priorities and choices are important since they reflect motives. “What floats your boat,” is a contemporary expression implying such motives, and more times than not, beneath all else lies the issue of material prosperity, and the more the better.

Sadly in today’s world, words of wisdom and spiritual guidance are very profitable businesses, just as in politics. Both are huge sources of “living to eat, well” and not just eating to live but gluttony. Evidence, regardless of religious affiliation, all began with renunciation of material craving, or if you like “excessive desire.” And there was a universal reason for avoiding craving. The reason? Because craving leads to attachment and attachment to anything material eventually leads to suffering. Anything and everything of, a material nature, will come to an end and when it does, if we are attached the loss can be profound suffering. In some cases that suffering arises out of addiction—whether to wealth, power, people, drugs or even fixed ideas.

The latter may seem odd. How, you may ask, can fixed ideas produce suffering? If you think about it, fixed ideas are ideas in opposition to flexible ideas. The former is what we call dogma, whereas the latter is known as adaptation or adjusting to change. And what changes? Everything! Ordinarily, when we refer to dogma it is done within a religious context—My way or the highway.” But dogma can, and is, what has presently produced a world-wide movement toward the abyss when hardly anyone is even slightly interested in compromise. We are ignoring significant, life-altering changes that will surely kill us all. Instead, we are clinging to a notion of certain invincibility. When anyone is firmly rooted in just one way it is because they have arrived at an opinion of “truth” vs. “fake news.”

I don’t think anyone gets out of bed and says to themselves, “today I will conduct my life following principles of ‘fake news’.” Quite to the contrary, everyone believes they are pursuing truth. The problem is one person’s food is another person’s poison. Science and faith appear to oppose one another, yet there is uncertainty in both directions. One of my favorite perspectives on this comes from Ashley Montagu: “Science has proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.” Proof is the bird in hand. The two in the bush are speculations. None of us have any choice except to take life as it is—the one in hand. Reminiscence is to live in the past that no longer exists and speculation is to dwell in a future that may never come. Serenity is to accept things as they are, right now, in each fleeting moment, regardless of how we got here, or where it may lead.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

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

The depths of consciousness.
The Buddhist concept of 9 levels of consciousness provides a great template for a life of 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 performing daily activities. 

Then comes a deeper level of consciousness of inward looking rather than an outward orientation. 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. This level is known as the alaya consciousness, or storehouse consciousness: the place where all the actions and experiences in this life and of 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, be overcome by strong desires, aversions, and obsessions, can think and do things that one should never even imagine. 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, acting out 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 (Śūnyatā in Sanskrit), yet upon this base lies the deep and the waves of change. No ocean exists without both a base and the waters above. This level was illustrated in a parable told by Jesus in Luke 6:40-48 when the base is washed clean of what lay above.

The “how to” exercise of genuine awakening to all levels is a matter of going within, digging downward, deep through the depths of darkness, releasing the seed of loving-kindness to grow out of the “mud” of the sub-conscious. It is like the shaft of a lotus plant, reaching upward through the depths toward the sun. 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 Self-aware, not as an image, but rather that which you are truly: identical to and merged with every other drop that constitutes the entire ocean of consciousness.

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, May 11, 2019

The opening hand of faith.

Many years ago my teacher said that the process of awakening was like a hand that begins with a fist of fear and overtime, through persistence and cleansing, opens like a morning blossom emitting fragrance and love…and then it becomes a fist again. This opening and closing continues time and again until one day, your hand remains open, fear no longer reigns and you stay open, exposed and vulnerable yet a blessing to the world.

Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chödrön puts it this way: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen—room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” 

Our hand opens when we feel safe and closes again when we sense fear approaching. Having neither optimistic nor pessimistic expectations are accepting the reality of life. There is room for it all. 

And one final observation: The cycle of opening and closing happens on a mortal level but when at last we truly awaken, the immortal part of us neither opens nor closes. In an ordinary way, while awake during the day, we can open or close our eyes but the eye of awakening to immortality is always on. Like a mirror, consciousness just is, reflecting whatever comes. It is fear and ignorance that clouds clarity and distorts true understanding.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Ignorant armies of the night.

In 2002, authors Wayne Gray and Christian Schunn published an article in the Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, titled “Does Positivity Bias Explain Patterns of Performance on Wason’s 2-4-6 task?” The Wason being referenced was Peter Cathcart Wason, an English cognitive psychologist at University College in London. Wason was interested in the psychology of reason and was particularly concerned with why people make certain consistent mistakes in logical reasoning. One of his research projects was the 2-4-6 task referred to in the article written by Gray and Schuun. That project addressed preconceived notions, personal beliefs, and hypotheses affecting rational thinking. Out of this work the term “confirmation bias” was formed, that in essence proved that people tend to filter reality through lenses that reinforce tightly held convictions. Wason concluded that people are far less concerned with truth than they were with finding evidence to support their beliefs, true or not.

In essence, Wason proved the human tendency for choosing ignorance and in particular the desire for being right, at all costs—the expected outcome of an out of control ego (the misidentification of the self). In a short-handed, everyday way of understanding, the perception of we humans is distorted. Most everyone is looking through “Rose colored glasses,” only in some cases, the glasses are not so rosy. A term that further explains this psychological inclination is vested interests. We don’t see the world as it is but instead view life in ways that ensure the protection of selfish concerns, in other words, “Greed.”

The picture above (and accompanying words) are the ending stanza of the short lyric poem Dover Beach by the English poet Matthew Arnold. It was first published in 1867 in the collection New Poems. The metaphor contained within this last stanza is an allusion to a passage in Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides describes the ancient battle that occurred at night, and in the darkness the attacking army became disoriented and many of their soldiers inadvertently killed each other. Critics, interpreting the poem, have suggested the metaphor expressed Arnold’s central understanding of the plight of the human condition.

Considering the state of current world affairs, it’s easy to agree with the research of Wason, the poetic conclusions of Arnold and wisdom of The Buddha: we see what we want to see. What we don’t see is the world as Suchness: a heaven on earth that is being turned into a Hell on earth by ignorant armies of the night. It is the fear of suffering that clouds our eyes.

Ajita asked: “What is it that smothers the world and makes it so hard to see? What is it that pollutes the world and seems to threaten it?” The Buddha answered: “It is ignorance that smothers, and it is carelessness and greed that makes it invisible. The hunger of craving pollutes the world, and the pain of suffering causes the greatest fear.”

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The isness of IS.

As much as we desire certainty, it doesn’t come about; the ground beneath our feet is different from what it was yesterday, and consequently, only new solutions will work today. We don’t recycle old solutions, we must create new ones to fit today’s terrain. That makes unquestionable sense so why do we not see the shifting sands? Perhaps we don’t see because we don’t want to. It is easier to shape life as we want it to be, instead of the way it truly is. “Suchness” or “thusness” is the desirable way of the heart: Accepting what is vs. what we wish. Desiring what is not, is a fools journey since what exists in this present moment is all there can ever be. That, however, does not stop us from engaging in fantasy.

This sage observation is not singularly a matter of psychology or spirituality but is also a reflection of biological necessity and survival. According to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, “…it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Numerous examples of failed societies can be found⎯from the Vikings in Greenland to the Jews in Nazi Germanywhen refusal to adapt and blindness reigned. There is no guilt implied here. Often times circumstances shift suddenly and being creatures of habit we are lulled into states of denial. When people or other species have not adapted, they have perished. This is as much a psychological matter as it is a spiritual one.

We have some psychological blind spots that can be dangerous. Cognitive dissonance is one of these blind spots. So is “herding,” “crowd mentality,” the “boiling frog syndrome,” “denial” and so too bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia and racismbias against accepting what is and desiring what is egocentric, fear induced and self-serving. Learning to accept the essential goodness in all things requires releasing ourselves from fear, and then embracing the unity in all. When we see ourselves in others then we can say as Shantideva, the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar, said: “When I act for the sake of others, No amazement or conceit arises. Just like feeding myself, I hope for nothing in return.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Nagarjuna’s teaching on essence.

The bloom of essence.
Theres an inherent danger in wrongly understanding the two facets of our virtual and non-virtual sides. Its tempting to focus on one side at the exclusion of the other. When The Buddha first passed on the teachings of the real (Atman/our True Self) and the unreal (anatman/our imagined self), this same misunderstanding arose. Orthodox Buddhism denies the existence of Atman/the true Self, claiming that everything is null and void, arguing one side but denying the other, which Nagarjuna nailed as nihilism yet to deny the ego/virtual, results in eternalism

This argument is exactly counter to the premise of dependent origination which is foundational to Buddhism as well as the teachings of The Buddha himself. The obvious point missed in this misunderstanding is that emptiness (the ineffable nature of the Self) is itself empty (non-empty and thus non-dual). Does the true Self exist? Nagarjuna would answer yes and no—the Middle Way. If the essence of Self exists then nobody, except the true Self, would know without the counterweight of anatman. We only know by way of comparison and our perceptual capacities that adhere to anatman.

In the Western world, we were reared under the rule of law that says that if something is one way it can’t be another way. The world is black or white. If it is black then by definition it is not white (and the reverse). Nagarjuna—father of Mahāyāna Buddhism destroyed that comfort zone. We want things to be independent, discrete, separate and tidy. If I am right then you must be wrong. Our entire Western world functions as a subset of that logical premise, established by Aristotle with his Principle of non-contradiction (PNC): The assertion that if something is conditionally “B” it can’t be “A” at the same time, in the same place. That conditional principle underscores our sense of justice, ethics, legal system and everything else. It defines the contemporary problems that lead to vast irresponsibility and abuse all the way from interpersonal relations to environmental destruction. The PNC is inconsistent with the interconnectedness of life.

The fact of the matter is that nothing fits with the desire of “is” or “is not.” Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches The Middle Way—that nothing is independent, discrete and separate. Rather everything arises interdependently. One side (in order to exist) requires another side. This notion of dependent origination/relativity is the natural manifestation of emptiness (Śūnyatā), which states that nothing contains intrinsic substance, which is to say that reality exists in two, inseparable dimensions at once, that Nagarjuna labeled Conventional and Sublime or in his teaching on Essence and Non-essence. Importantly he did not say that essence does not exist. Nor did he say that non-essence exists. What he did say is that these two exist interdependently. They are mirror images of one another and neither can exist without the other (much less be fathomed). These are just alternative names we use to represent form and emptiness which The Heart Sutra says is a single, indivisible reality.

Is there a self? A Self? These concepts are abstractions and fabrications. The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra directly addresses the question and says, without equivocation, that the Self is just another name for Buddha-dhatu/the true immaculate Self—the only substantial reality. It stretches the definition of a Buddhist to deny Buddha-nature. It also says that self (conceptual/ego) is an illusion—that we all create ( a fabrication) to identify our ineffable true nature. Modern neurology confirms this intuitive insight revealing that the ego is a sort of hologram which serves the purpose of separating ourselves from others, and this separation is, like the ego concept which creates it, an illusion. The Sūtra further says that the Tathagata (the Buddha—our true Self-nature) teaches with expedient means by first teaching non-self as a preliminary to teaching the true Self. The logic of that progression is nothing short of brilliant. Until such time as we wrestle with and defeat ego/self, we are not going to come to terms with our essential Self-nature. We will hold on till the death with “Me-ism.”

Science is a marvelous tool but is limited to measurability. Yet no one has ever been able to measure the true mind, (much less even find it) which according to numerous Buddhist texts is the Buddha. We have come a long way over the centuries and can measure things today not even imagined previously. Does that mean that reality comes and goes according to the capacity of tools? NO! Truth stands alone and is not conditioned by progress, however marvelous.

To read the details of Nagarjuna’s perspective on how essence and non-essence depend upon each other, go to—On Examination of Essence; The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Treatise of the Middle Way).

After all is said and done the bottom line is to not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. Our egos/virtual reality and our True Self/true reality come as a package deal. It is impossible to separate the two (which are One). The important thing is to be continuously aware of the eternally, indwelling spiritual Self of love and accept with gratitude that our virtual selves originate and function there as a result. “If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, it is then more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success.” Henry David Thoreau
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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Surrendering from surrendering.

Years ago when I first began to practice yoga, I heard a story of a revered yogi who arose one morning, before dawn, and went to meditate on the banks of the Ganges. The heat of the day was beginning to rise. To be more comfortable, he removed his robe. Not wanting it to blow away while he meditated, he folded it carefully, laid in on the river bank, covered it over with a mound of sand and then proceeded with his practice. Time passed and when he opened his eyes he saw he’d been joined by many young aspirants all with mounds of sand shaped neatly in front of them.

Young seekers all aspire to achievement and many times adopt meaningless rituals believing they contain some magical properties that will transport them to Nirvana. The following is excerpted from Mokchokpa’s Song of Advice in Nicole Riggs’ book on the Shangpa Lineage, Like An Illusion: Lives of the Shangpa Kagyu Masters

“Immature beings with but a twig of awareness 
Are incited by the demon of death. 
Where they’ll be in the future depends on the karma they gathered in the past. 
Doing evil deeds is meaningless.” 

Look at the two images above. The comparison is shocking! Both images are of The Buddha at different stages of enlightenment. On the left is the figure of a person determined to the point of death. At that stage, he had surrendered a life of luxury and everything else except the one thing that mattered most. He was austere and relying purely on the unreal part of himself. In contemporary vernacular, he was pulling himself up by his bootstraps. That road nearly killed him and he was “… incited by the demon of death.” In his dying breath, he broke the chain of death, dropped mind and body and gave up the final vestige of which he was holding. In a flash he suddenly became Self-aware. At that precise instant, he realized that to which every seeker aspires and had nothing more to surrender. He then shed the baggage of fear and turned into a person of serenity and love (the image on the right).

The process of Self-realization is like this. We move from reliance on illusions to surrendering to all illusions, even the illusion of God. It was Meister Eckhart who said this was the final frontier: giving up the idea of god to fuse with God. Whatever we can imagine is a barrier. When all images and ideas are gone, we dwell in silence of the mind, and the only thing left is Pure awareness/The true Self: the source of all ideas and none.

Many times, in our desire for spiritual achievement, we replace the work of Self-realization with the surrogate of enhancing our self-image, thinking that if we look the part and reach down deeper into our limited reservoir to try-try-again, it will be enough to impress those upon whom we rely for the transparency of self-worth. The truth is that while the treasure of our True Self always lies buried beneath our feet, it takes much digging to rid ourselves of the impediments that block access to who we are truly. And once we complete the mining, there is nothing more to surrender. Then we are in the home we have never left and realize, like the ancient “stupid men,” there was never anything to surrender.

“When we renounce learning we have no troubles.
The (ready) ‘yes,’ and (flattering) ‘yea;’
Small is the difference they display
But mark their issues, good and ill;
What space the gulf between shall fill?
What all men fear is indeed to be feared;
but how wide and without end
is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!
The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased;
as if enjoying a full banquet,
as if mounted on a tower in spring.
I alone seem listless and still,
my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence.
I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look 
dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go.
The multitude of men all have enough and to spare.
I alone seem to have lost everything.
My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of chaos.
Ordinary men look bright and intelligent,
while I alone seem to be benighted.
They look full of discrimination,
while I alone am dull and confused.
I seem to be carried about as on the sea,
drifting as if I had nowhere to rest.
All men have their spheres of action,
while I alone seem dull and incapable, 
like a rude borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Tao).”

Chapter 20: Tao Te Ching

It was the great Rabindranath Tagore who wrote in his poem: Journey Home:

“The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.”  What none of us realize until we awaken, is that we are always at home in that innermost shrine. We have always been there and so long as that innermost shrine exists it is there we always will remain. It is impossible to make a journey to where you already exist. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Getting saved??

Where to throw the life line?
Let me to state the obvious: being saved requires one who saves. An extension of this thought concerns the apparent need to be saved. Only someone who believes they are lost need concern him or herself with finding their way. A fool is someone who is not lost but isn’t, yet remains convinced they are. Consequently if someone is persuaded they need being saved, only then does a savior make any sense. And this brings us to that central of all issues: duality and separation.

Where does the idea come from that “people of the book” (e.g. Jews, Christians and Muslims) need saving? Those three religions share a common understanding based on a shared segment of the Old Testament. The first five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, book of Numbers and Deuteronomy—comprise the Torah, the story of Israel from the Genesis creation narrative to the death of Moses. Genesis is common to all three religions: Jews, Christians and Muslims and all three tell the story of creation involving Adam and Eve, who allegedly disobeyed God by eating an apple and were cast out of paradise and thus in need of being saved. But (and this is a big “but”) since Adam and Eve were stained with sin (as well as their progeny) they were incapable of saving themselves and thus were in need of a savior. And here is where the story begins to divide amongst the Jews, Christians and Muslims. All three accepted the inherent nature of mankind as being condemned by God due to original sin but the means by which they were reconciled varied greatly.

The Christian answer to this dilemma is that God took pity on mankind because he loved them so much that he “sent his only begotten son” to take the sins of the world upon himself and offer himself as a sacrifice to appease God (who demanded justice as recompense) by being crucified on a cross, died, was buried overcame death by rising from the dead and bringing the Holy Spirit to abide in the hearts of those who confessed their sinful nature and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Only if that confession took place would God grant reconciliation, forgiveness and give believers a new heart filled with the Holy Spirit to replace an old heart that was filled with sin. In essence that was, and is, the story that continues to inspire those who consider themselves as “born again.” Everyone else who chose to not accept this story were considered as heretics and damned to Hell.

So the essence of this proposition boils down to believing in the original sin of Adam and Eve. If that part of the story breaks down then the entire story of needing a savior likewise falls apart. I have written a commentary on this story which speaks to some serious flaws in the story. It will convince no one who considers this creation story as historical fact and has closed his or her mind to alternate interpretations. Nevertheless it is a reasonable commentary of a metaphor with deeper meaning that comes very close to the Buddhist understanding. The major difference between the two is the notion of duality, separation and where to find the kingdom of Heaven. Here is what Jesus is recorded as having said about Heaven and finding your true self: “If your leaders say, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the Heavens,’ then the birds will be before you. If they say, ‘It is in the ocean,’ then the fish will be before you. But the Kingdom is inside of you and the Kingdom is outside of you. When you know yourself, then you will know that you are of the flesh of the living Father. But if you know yourself not, then you live in poverty and that poverty is you.”—Gospel of Thomas 3.

There are others who have suggested that we are not lost but instead consider ourselves to be. To a person of Zen, words are a mixed blessing. They can lead you astray or open your mind to the music of the muses. One of the greatest mystical poets of all time was Rabindranath Tagore.  Sadly, while he lived, he was little known outside of the Calcutta area, and not known at all outside of India. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913 was awarded to Tagore, “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

One of Tagor’s resonate themes is opening doors. Here is one facet from his poetic jewel Journey Home. “The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.” In similar fashion one of the great Zen Masters (Hakuin Zenji) wrote a famous poem called The Song of Zazen, which opens thusly, “From the beginning all beings are Buddha. Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas. How near the truth, yet how far we seek. Like one in water crying, ‘I thirst!’ Like the son of a rich man wand’ring poor on this earth we endlessly circle the six worlds. The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.” Jesus likewise wrote the parable of the Prodigal Son, which in essence expresses the same truth of a man who has blessing from the beginning but wanders far and wide before realizing that all along he must return home to find what he had lost.

The principle treasure of Buddhist understanding is that we are not lost or in need of savings. We have never been separated from our source (our inherent and eternally indwelling, indiscriminate true self), which remains obscured due to ego delusion. We are all in essence Buddha’s awaiting awakening and once that true nature is revealed your entire self understanding and universal view is transformed for all time. You then know in the depth of your core that we are all united, one and the same—none better and none lesser and fundamentally indiscriminate. There is a profound liberty that comes with the realization that we can never be anywhere that God is not, and in God’s eyes we are all equal and loved without conditions.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The Apostle Paul—Romans12:2

“First awaken the mind that reads and then you’ll understand.”—Zen Master Bassui Tokushō

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The trajectory of “Birds of a feather.”

Yesterday I was listening to a radio broadcast concerned with the future of journalism. While novel and informative the underlying theme was disturbing regarding where the world is moving, from an information perspective. It is news to nobody that journalism, as we’ve known it, is in jeopardy due to the emergence of digital media and social networking groups, such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.

A recent study conducted by The Pew Research Center revealed that 68% of the American Public now get their news from such social media sources even when they don’t trust what they read. Why? Because (1) it is free, and (2) they trust their “flock friends” more than traditional media forms, nearly all of which are going belly up without charging a fee to read digital versions of the news.

This trajectory is a real threat to the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The trend is a threat for two obvious reasons, and one not so obvious. The first obvious threat arises from a simple financial principle: Journalism conducted by unpaid journalists is highly distorted, suspect, and influenced by common coin biases of their selected pod. Good journalists don’t work pro bono. They, like every other professional of any industry, are highly paid or should be. It is next to impossible to compete with quasi-journalists who offer their opinions for free to those who are unwilling to pay for services rendered.

The second obvious reason is related to the first: Distrust of traditional media sources and trust of “Birds of a feather,” in other words “friends” who cluster together in opposition to other birds with opposing views and beliefs. Anyone who has spent time in social media discovers this growing tendency to cluster into pods of like-minded friends who reject the views of other birds that don’t share the group ethos. Those tossed out of one pod join another pod with an opposing ethos, and this phenomena is running rampant, dividing our population into tribal groups, none of whom are willing to entertain opposing perspectives.

The third, not so obvious reason? Alienation. This problem is evolving around the world making null and void the assurances of our First Amendment. Freedom of Speech is a precious right but means nothing when such freedom evolves into a proliferation of tribal groups who sing harmoniously to choir members ONLY. Any student of history will quickly discover that control of the media is a fundamental aspect leading to totalitarianism and was one of the preliminary measures established by Joseph Goebbels  Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, and fundamentally not dissimilar to attempts to universally control the message. If this attempt to control what the public needs to hear was limited to the U.S. it would be bad enough but is, unfortunately, happening around the world at the present time.

This clustering tendency is nothing new and is illustrated within a religious sphere by counting the thousands of religious sects or denominations that have evolved, regardless of religion. All religions have their divides that have occurred by way of this clustering inclination amongst we humans, and results in close-minded, “my way or the highway” dogmatic anchors that define the pod.

The radio broadcast referenced at the beginning of this post presents one person’s solution to the journalistic dilemma: Selling “news” based on the differing ethos’ of different pod groupings. The originator of this solution argues, convincingly, that people will not pay for what they need to hear but will pay for what they want to hear. From one point of view, this makes sense: Who amongst us all is eager to listen to people who are closed-minded to our perspectives and just want to argue their dogmatic point of view? Virtually nobody, which is the driving force undergirding this inclination. THAT is not news. It is entertainment and confirmation bias. And the end result? That too ought to be obvious: Dogma, religious or not. Everyone loses when we don’t differentiate between news and entertainment. And without realizing it (the third not so obvious reason) this lack of discernment leads to totalitarianism. Freedom of speech does not ensure freedom when we give way to joining political spheres who sing only their “tweets,” as song-birds of a feather.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Question: Does suffering have a positive side?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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