Saturday, September 12, 2009

Waking Up,

Have you thought deeply about what it means to be conscious? We have invented a vast number of concepts to represent dimensions of life in every configuration but most of the time we use these concepts like coins of intellectual barter without examining the coins. The result of this lack of examination is that we go on automatic most of the time and then wonder how we got into situations. So today I want to talk about what it means to be conscious, in any form ranging from the unconscious and beyond.

To be conscious really means to be aware of something. If we are not aware, the presumption is that there is nothing going on. Lights “on” and we see objects—we become conscious of them. Lights “off” and we see darkness. When we are asleep and dreaming we are said to be unconscious but this is of course not an accurate representation if we are aware of our dreams. Even when we are asleep we can be aware of the images which waft across our dream mind. It is always about the images—the holograms which we see in our “minds eye” that establishes the sort of consciousness to which we are making reference. In fact, we could say that being aware of images is the best way to define consciousness, in any form. So long as we see images we are conscious. How we slice the matter up after that is less important.

So what about states of mind when there are no images? We do in fact experience such non-image states and in Zen, this is the state of mind we aim for—a pre-conscious state of mind with no images. Why is that state so desirable? Because so long as there are images we are drawn to and absorbed by the images and lose touch with our subjectivity. We are drawn to objective images as a moth is drawn to a flame with similar results: We get burned by our thoughts, which of course are produced by our imaginations.

In Buddhism, we learn that our sense of reality is upside down. What we experience of normal life is really a dream state. ALL dimensions of consciousness, so long as we’re seeing images which float along like clouds crossing the sky of mind, are dream states. Only when the dream stops (no images) do we wake up. Then we find our true self: A non-imagination SELF. When there are no images to see we become free from the bondage of attachment and only then can we truly relax into a non-mind state. The definition of our true nature is no-nature. “Identity” ordinarily means objective dressing (image stuff we produce and can see). That is why we create a self-image which we think of as our identity. But the truth is that this image, like all images, is just another dimension of dreams. At the core, there are no images and no self. This has been a fundamental teaching of Buddhism since the beginning. But what is not usually taught, except in more advance sutras, is that there is a deeper SELF which lies hidden beneath the imaginary self.

The challenge of Zen is to embrace this true SELF (our only real identity which has no defining characteristics). This SELF is our pre-conscious true nature: the well-spring from which all forms of consciousness arise. The question is “how?” How do we reach that state of mind where there is no mind—no images. And the answer is actually not so difficult. Just don’t think. That, of course, is easier said than done. How do we “not think?” Do we think a thought called “non-thought?” That, of course, would just be replacing one thought with another thought. No, that wouldn’t work. The answer is to concentrate on something other than thought, like our breathing or to direct our awareness onto our bodies as a whole.

There are many different forms of concentration which are non-thought. In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra The Buddha asked his advanced students (enlightened Bodhisattvas) to instruct Ananda (The Buddhas cousin) on methods. Twenty-five of them offered their prescriptions of how it is done. Each of their answers, while different, had one thing in common—turning awareness around to become aware of awareness itself. The pathways employed were selected from the six forms of consciousness (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, and mind). The particular choice was not as important as what they did after making the choice—They turned awareness around and rather than focusing on an object of consciousness they used the selected pathway to flip awareness around and see (in the case of sight) the unseen seer. They thus learned to release themselves from the bondage of attachment to objects. Just one pathway choice (of the six possibilities) worked to solve all forms of attachment. And the reason why one worked for all is that at the core of awareness—where our true SELF exists, all senses are joined together (unified).

Unless we become aware of how our mind works (which in fact is nothing more than an aggregate of images and feelings) we are all lost in our dream state, convinced that we are awake. It is very difficult to accept that our sense of reality is really an illusion—that being awake is actually being asleep. But once you do in fact awaken to your true nature you realize that being awake means meeting your true SELF. Until then we are all dreaming and thinking that we are awake.
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