Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The road to an imaginary nowhere.

Removing our mask.
I recently came across a statement that suggested that a precursor to moving beyond our egos was to first have a good or healthy one. There was something that troubled me about the suggestion that may have appeared worthy until thoroughly examined. Good egos/bad egos are both judgments but to first make such a judgment it’s necessary to describe the nature of an ego and to distinguish it from our true self. To pick and choose one phenomenal condition in contrast with another and feel righteous about our choice runs the risk of becoming self-righteous. So it is with care and sensitivity that I approach this matter.

In spiritual vernacular noumenality (in contrast to phenomenality—known by our senses) is known as our true spiritual nature and is understood as the wellspring source of all. Noumenality is neither good nor bad. It is just what it is until contaminated with judgments. Whether we are aware of this nature being universally imbedded in all sentient forms is somewhat beside the point. We have a human history of being unaware of many matters that changed the nature of the world, for example the idea that the earth was the center of the universe. This was of course not true in spite of our belief to the contrary. It is likewise analogous that the universe does not revolve around us either.

Noumenality is translated as a-thing-unto-itself of which the senses give no knowledge, but whose bare existence can be inferred from the nature of experience. It is our seed—our jewel of great value. The name we choose to articulate this transcendent seed is arbitrary. Any and every name is as good or bad as the next. No name can adequately define what is transcendent and every name chosen leads us to conceptual error.

Ive used the following quote so often in my writing I run the risk of over-kill. But it is so insightful that I find it difficult to resist repeating. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is quoted as having said: “If those who lead you say unto you: behold, the Kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will be before you. If they say unto you: it is in the sea, then the fish will be before you. But the Kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then shall you be known, and you shall know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.”

Contrast this teaching with the ordinary understanding—That the Kingdom is in fact in the sky somewhere (e.g. in heaven) or just about any place other than indiscriminately distributed—transcendent to space-time. Here Jesus was saying that the Kingdom is not limited to space-time, not even singularly within or outside. But instead we find the Kingdom everywhere and then we come to know ourselves as sons of the living Father. He closes this verse by saying if we don’t know who we are then we are indeed poor. We could easily travel for an eternity trying to find what is always the Kingdom spiritual air we breathe. We would be like fish not knowing they swim in water.

This is a startling teaching, only because it is so radically different from the ordinary dogmatic Christian view. In fact it is very similar to the Buddhist teaching about enlightenment. That teaching says that our only reality emanates from the body of truth, which is not limited or restricted in any way, and it is the loss of ignorance, which reveals our true nature. This body of truth was known as the Dharmakaya (The One Mind—pure, unrestricted, consciousness), equivalent to the Kingdom. Indeed this teaching says the same thing—we are poor because we have not discovered who we are. We are deluded (and poor) because we mistakenly believe that we are a shadow of our real self: an ego. When we awaken to our true nature then we join the ranks among the Buddhas—The Awakened ones and are recognized for who we truly are: as sons of the living Father.

Meister Eckhart, a German Christian theologian, philosopher and mystic who lived 700 years ago clarified this distinction between God and the idea of God. He said, “Man’s last and highest parting occurs when for God’s sake he takes leave of god. St. Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god as well as all he might give—together with every idea of god. In parting with these he parted with god for God’s sake and God remained in him as God is in his own nature—not as he is conceived by anyone to be—nor yet as something yet to be achieved, but more as an is-ness, as God really is. Then he and God were a unit, that is pure unity. Thus one becomes that real person for who there can be no suffering, any more than the divine essence can suffer.”

My use of this quote underscores the important distinction between ideas and what are represented by ideas, or more aptly an image and what is represented by an image. This distinction is as meaningful for expressions of the ineffable as it is to measurable life. The philosophy of Zen does not require belief as blind faith. It considers this as an obstruction to discernment of truth. To hold onto ideas, good or bad—however pious or well intentioned—is considered part of the problem. It would seem that Eckhart would have agreed. Any and all givens are pieces of our own self-constructed prison bars, which reflect closed mindedness and obstruct a-thing-unto-itself.  When we refuse to see what lies clearly before us, we forgo clarity in the interest of obligation and blind allegiance. These are mental anchors responsible for creating friction and emasculating our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, which in the nature of change determines genuine truth and justice.

The goal of Zen is to strip ourselves of illusions so that we can embrace life as it is, not as we decide it should be, and the means prescribed by the father of Zen (Bodhidharma) was simply to not think. Thinking is probably the greatest form of all delusion since is based on perception, which is completely phenomenal (as things appear through our senses).

Dogmatic constraints are gilds that distort life by requiring it to conform to artificially imposed constraints or suffer the consequences of rejection and condemnation, and the most pernicious shoulds are those, which we impose upon ourselves. Self-judgments result when we internalize the votes of others or impose judgments upon our selves and make them our own guiding force. In many cases it takes years to break this cycle of self-judgment and recrimination, which lies at the heart of the manner in which we judge the world. By and large we see life as a reflection of our own biases. Zen is a process, which can aid us in that endeavor by helping us to experience the contingency and emptiness of our egos and thus strip away the fences we create to set us apart and exalt us from others.

When we succeed in coming to terms with the fragile and fabricated nature of ego construction and dependency, we begin to notice that every other aspect of life is linked to this phantom entity, which drives the process. Pressed through the collapsing floors—dropping mind and body— to the ground of our being, we finally see our true linkage and are forced to accept union with our fellow humans and every other dimension of life. The result is deeply rooted compassion and desire to join with the unending ranks of those who have likewise plumbed the depths, survived the trip and found peace. When that occurs we realize that such discriminations and judgments like good and evil are nothing more than prison bars, which obstruct and diminish life and our relation to it.

The perversion of our true selves into good or bad images degrades both our sense of the world and ourselves. An image of who we are, taken in one extreme direction results in feeling special and exalted compared to others. Taken in the opposite extreme results in feelings of being worthless and lesser compared to others.

In the final analysis a rotten fish by any other name smells as bad. An ego is by nature a phantom idea or image of our true self and thus called a self-image. An image is a product of our imaginations: an unreal projection and can be nothing other than an image regardless of spin, and it’s nature is greedy, self-centered and defensive. The perversion of our true noumenal nature is like a cloak masking our immaculate selves or a gild on a lily. It is not only not needed it is destructive. Eckhart reminded us that, “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.

Thus a good ego or a bad ego is in truth an oxymoron. If we wait until we have a good idea of self there would be no motivation to be rid of it. Chan Master Sheng-yen once pointed out, “Generally, unless a sleeping person is having a nightmare, he or she will not want to wake up. The dreamer prefers to remain in the dream. In the same way, if your daily life is relatively pleasant, you probably won’t care to practice in order to realize that your life is illusory. No one likes to be wakened from nice dreams.” And as one who had years of bad dreams about the despicable person I thought I was, I can assure you I was very eager to wake up from the nightmare.
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