Saturday, August 3, 2013

Where is it?

For reasons I may never understand I’ve been fascinated by how things fit together and the affect they have on each other. Until well into adult life I didn’t realize this fascination had names or related names. Most times we are poorly equipped to know how we know what we know or even if anyone else is looking at life in similar ways. My awareness of such terms as ontology, epistemology and cybernetics came slowly but I found special interest in the latter. Cybernetics is basically the examination of systems and is most applicable when a system being analyzed is involved in a closed signaling loop; that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in the system in some manner (feedback) that triggers a system change, originally referred to as a circular causal relationship.

As I considered this discipline, I began to wonder about that requirement (e.g. a closed signaling loop). What if, instead of a closed loop, it was an open loop without beginning or ending? What if it had no defining limits? How might the system work then? Would that be a meta-system—a system of systems? The matter, from an intellectual perspective, intrigued me but I set the matter aside for many years until I hit the wall emotionally about 35 years ago. To fathom my dilemma I plunged then into the ocean of Zen and finally came to a key realization: there was no real closed loop, except the one I imagined. And how was it possible to imagine something unimaginable? Without some concrete, objective measurement, such a state of mind IS unimaginable. In fact it couldn’t be imagined at all, just experienced, which is essentially what “awakening” really means: to experience your unimaginable self—the real one beyond imagination.

But initially this awakening was like finding myself in a vast cosmic ocean with no compass or identifying properties. And frankly it was both scary and fascinating at the same time. I struggled to find ways to adequately articulate the experience but never came close. Nevertheless I started reading and found some resonance in what the Buddha had said. He asserted that external reality is an illusion that looks very real like a closed system with feedback loops. Furthermore we found ourselves in this objective box, unaware that it was our true selves that was creating and watching from beyond the box. The external illusion had objective properties that kept changing and not aware of anything beyond the illusion, we defined ourselves by clinging to these “unreal” objects. According to the Buddha, that clinging (and inevitable loss) was at the heart of suffering.

This simultaneous in and out sense of being came to be known as dependent origination: one side arising and disappearing with the other side. It took both the in and the out, but Buddhist doctrine said that it was the out, indefinable yet real, that was unconditional consciousness. It was sort of like potential and kinetic energy. Potential consciousness had no limits (nor could it be identified) but consciousness became objective and kinetic through sensory application. Thus our sense of self arose and we “became” by thought and deed. Until then we were pure consciousness, unconditional emptiness itself. In Buddhist terms: the void/The Buddha.

He said the mind can’t exist without external phenomena, nor could external phenomena exist outside of mind, since everything was enclosed within the unlimited province of the true mind. The Buddha stated, “Within this fathom long body is the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world.” We keep trying to find our mind and never succeed. And why is that? We can’t find it since wherever we look, THERE is mind. Eternity, in infinite configuration, is mind. It is impossible to be outside since all is mind, which oh by the way is another name for sentience.

I realize, given conventional wisdom, this view is unorthodox but so what? In truth it isn’t even a singularly Buddhist perspective. Jesus, when referring to the kingdom of God, said pretty much the same thing in the Gnostic Gospels. [1]

In the 17th century Japanese Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku wrote his famous poem, The Song of Zazen within which he said, “How near the truth, yet how far we seek. Like one in water crying, ‘I thirst!’ Like the son of a rich man wandering poor on this earth we endlessly circle the six worlds. The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.” If we can set aside our religious conditioning we will realize just how similar this is to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And the point? We suffer because we don’t realize we are already where we desire to be, but the truth is hidden by our illusory sense of self. When we lose that delusion, at the same time, we awaken to our true self: unconditional consciousness—the same knowing that Jesus spoke of, and we suddenly realize where we are: in the Kingdom of God.

[1] Gospel of Thomas 3
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