Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Altruism and Unity Consciousness

In the current issue (May2015) of The Atlantic, Sam Kean delves into the current research on altruism. It appears that our pleasure centers are stimulated when we give.

I'm not a generous person – I tend to hold onto what I have pretty tightly. But there came a day in 1982 when I encountered a beggar in the financial district of San Francisco. Suddenly I had the urge to give him something.I pondered this unusual feeling, unable to determine where it might have come from, but finally decided to give him just a quarter. Maybe I'd find out, in the giving, where the urge came from.

I did. Suddenly I was thrust below the level of ordinary consciousness, to a realm where the beggar's “thank you” seemed to come from me or through me rather than from the outside. I wrote of this encounter to my first spiritual teacher, in Japan. “You are the beggar,” he wrote back. Indeed.

So I wonder now about this research Kean explores. The possibility of going beyond the separate self into another realm where giver and receiver are not separate doesn't occur to any of the researchers into altruism – nor to author Kean. But because the initial urge when I saw the beggar seemed to be an altruistic one, I have to wonder what changes in the brain when we go to that place where we know unity with another.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Anyone can awaken

One of the myths about enlightenment is that it's very difficult to attain, and that only an august few human beings manage to do it.

I remember many years ago at my teacher Adyashanti's satsang, a man came up to dialog with him. The man asked several questions, all of which were in the vein of, “Can someone who is not awake have a reasonably happy life?” Finally, Adya stopped him because he saw the assumption this young man was making: awakening was impossible for him. Could his life be worthwhile nonetheless, he was asking.

Adya finally stopped the man and said, “Let's see who's here tonight.” He looked out over the gathering, which was small enough in those days that he knew personally most of the people present. “I'd estimate,” he said, “that fifty percent of the people present have had an awakening, so why not you?”

This is the little secret, you see. Most people think that awakening is somehow this difficult thing. You have to meditate for years, or do some other kind of practice, and then maybe, if you are the right kind of person, you will be blessed with a little glimpse of the truth. No! Someone needs to tell the truth: we all have access to this. And there are no preconditions. It is our true nature. How could it not be available to us – whoever we are, whatever our past or present circumstances?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Will and Thy Will

Recently, I went to a discussion group about Buddhism. I thought I'd like it, but I was bored to tears. For me at least, having found out that words are empty, I can't handle abstractions anymore. I wanted to shout out, “But you don't exist so none of this means anything!” But I knew how that would be greeted. Everyone at the meeting was very nice, and no one would have responded rudely, but they would have just ignored my outburst, perhaps looked at me a bit askance, and then continued on with more abstractions.

I remember how being told that I didn't exist did absolutely nothing for me when I was trying to wake up. What did it even mean?

Similarly, I remember my teacher once giving a talk about how when we are truly awake we have surrendered our will completely to the larger consciousness. I remember thinking, “Then I'll never be awake because my will isn't going to lay down, I'm sure of that.”

This are both aspects of the same issue. Our mind has an idea that we have an identity separate from the whole. That identity is based on a history of experiences which the mind has put together to form an image of “me.” But there is a beingness of ourselves that is deeper than that and this is what those teachings described above point to. Before realization, though, they didn't make much sense to me.

Recently, I came across something in a Christian context: “Thy Will be done.” Same message but it sounds so much better somehow – maybe because it doesn't explicitly oppose one's own will to the larger consciousness. After all, it's all the same will. It's finally just a matter of knowing that – not as a fact, but experientially – and then the struggle ceases. I think for me this happened without my even being aware of it. It hasn't felt that anything was laid down – more like an awareness gradually dawned: my will is also That.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Uses of the Gaze

In nondual spirituality, as well as in some other traditions, an awake person may gaze into the eyes of another person, for various reasons. First of all, it is fun to see the deeper dimension of consciousness in another, beyond the physical appearance. Second, it can be a way of helping another awaken: when that deeper energy is displayed for another, it can help another access it in himself or herself. This is sometimes called transmission, but that is a bit of a misnomer, because really the other person, while s/he may not be conscious of the awake energy, just as surely possesses it as the awake person.

It is a third use of the gaze that I want to speak of here, however. That is to determine to what extent someone else is awake.

A person might say, “I had an awakening,” or “I'm still waiting for my first awakening,” or, “I have no clue what awakening is.” But people can mean different things by these words because the mind has various definitions and stories about awakening. For some, being awake means having reached perfection on all levels of existence. They will see proof of their lack of awakeness in every “selfish” thought they have. For others, of an opposite psychological bent, if they have even had a glimpse of transcendence, they seem themselves as fully awake. Still others may have experienced an awakening but, not having been able to “maintain” it – which generally means staying in the same bliss as occurred when the awakening occurred – will believe that awakeness was in their past but not a current reality.

Thus, because there are so many definitions of awakening held by so many people, it is impossible to know what someone means when s/he says, “I'm awake.” Here is where the gaze comes in – because it removes the mind from the equation. When the awake energy in one being consciously meets the awake energy in another, both are awake; if it fails to meet itself, then one of the two is not.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What IS universal love?

 Having been disillusioned with the Buddhist paths I tried in Japan when I was young, I joined the Quaker meeting in the town I lived in in the late 1980s. Although I still believed, theoretically, that those paths led to enlightenment – and had in fact had a couple of spiritual awakenings on one of those paths – in the end, they just seemed too hard – and too foreign. I wanted a way to the Infinite that relied on my own Western spiritual tradition, but at the same time didn't discount the realizations of deeper truth I had had through the Eastern way. I was also looking for something less hierarchical and sexist – and the fact that there are no paid clergy in Quakerism – that everyone is, in fact, a teacher to everyone else – appealed to me. All around, Quakerism seemed a good “Middle Way.”

I was active in the Meeting until I moved away in 2000. Shortly after I re-located, I found Adyashanti – and he undid my world. Undid and remade and everything else that there are no words for. So Adyashanti's teachings became my new “Middle Way.” I call it this because Adya never studied Zen in Japan – and neither did his teacher – but he did come from a Zen lineage. As a third generation teacher, though, he felt free to innovate – and he did. In the beginning, he called the talks he gave “Zen-Satsang” because the content was often Zen-like, but the format was in the Nondual tradition of India – and specifically of Advaita Vedanta: a talk and then questions from students. This worked for me: no arduous practices – no need to do anything but just sit and let the energy wash over me.

Through all of those years, I wondered if I could still call myself a Quaker – or whether I should resign from the Meeting which I was, in any case, no longer close enough to geographically to attend except very occasionally. When I did get there, it had been so long that many people didn't recognize me anymore. Still, I have kept my membership, and so I get the monthly newsletter.

In the November 2014 newsletter I just received, there is a quotation from John Woolman, a well-known 19th century Quaker: “To turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of Universal Love becomes the business of our lives.” When I read this, I thought, “This is why I'm still a Quaker – this is a tradition that really does still speak to me.”

After years of Adyashanti, I no longer feel the need of him in the way I once did – which is fortunate because he rarely comes around to my town anymore. But there's one area where I've still felt like something was missing. It is said that there is a Universal Love that one comes to manifest when spiritually awake. I kept waiting: where was it? Last year, I was at a five-day retreat of another teacher, Pamela Wilson, and when I emerged, the love was so palpable – I went to the grocery store and loved everyone I saw there! (I probably wrote about that here if anyone wants to go back and look at the summer 2013 posts.) But it quickly faded.

Now, recently, I've become part of a leaderless nondual spiritual group which I initiated. It's the fulfillment of my dream of a non-hierarchical spiritual path. After a bumpy start finding our way, the group has turned into a fount of love. But it doesn't feel like I always expected love to look, and I think that's why I've been missing it all along. So, I've been asking myself how it is different and the answer I'm coming up with is that it isn't self-conscious. We usually think, “I love him (or her, or everyone)” But what if that secondary thought is absent? What if thought is absent from the experience entirely? Then love is something else. Certainly not sentimental, certainly not self-absorbed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why is there separation, anyway?

Today someone voiced a question I myself have had over the years: Why is there separation, anyway? The words that came to me spontaneously were, "To manifest the love." I didn't know I knew this until I said it. And having said it, everything the rest of the day looked different.

We think of love as a positive emotion, but the kind of love I'm speaking of here, while it certainly feels good, is beyond "positive" and beyond "emotion." I see that I've failed to recognize it lots of times because it doesn't look like the mind expects it to look. All connection is love, seen from this vantage point. So I looked into a dog's eyes on the beach and saw love -- though I am usually afraid of dogs. And I could feel that love connects me to everyone, even those I dislike. Underneath the dislike, fueling it even, is love. Just look a little -- or a lot -- deeper, and there it is.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Enlightenment is not self-improvement -- nor societal improvement

[Note: For those interested in the commentary on the BATGAP "Nondual Debate," see below -- July 8th post]

As I've been saying, this book I just finished -- Enlightenment Blues, by Andre van der Braak -- is scary. Here is a large group of people enthralled by a guru who believes that he is creating a new heaven on earth. Sound familiar? It should because it's happened so much in so many different contexts.

But when it happens in the context of believing that enlightenment is the key to heaven on earth, it's particularly problematic. Realization of Truth means discovering how absolutely wonderful everything is, RIGHT NOW. Anyone who has experienced a genuine spiritual awakening has experienced this. The problem is what happens when the bliss that accompanies it, which is necessarily temporary, recedes and one is left with ordinary life again.

Often, that's when the mind gets busy. "I realized this wonderful world of infinite love, where nothing is ever needed or wanted. But now it's gone. How can I get it back?" This is a typical phase that nearly everyone goes through. But the answer is not to change oneself and/or others in order that this bliss may be permanently experienced. This can never work. The idea behind change is that some things have to go in order that other things can arise instead. But this contradicts what has been realized -- that everything, despite appearances, is composed of love: nothing needs to be excluded. It's the attempt to exclude that which insists on existing -- whether it's an attitude or belief or behavior or whatever -- that causes violence against oneself and others. And it simply reinforces the illusion of ego to think that one actually has control over what are merely karmic events.

Enlightenment emerges from another, larger, dimension of consciousness. It includes all that already is, including what ordinary consciousness sees as problems or flaws in life. Its hallmark is that nothing needs to change -- and especially not you. If a guru tells you to follow him because he will make you a better person, so that eventually you will be enlightened full time, run -- and run fast -- as far away as you can. Do not buy into this idea. Because any guru who is teaching this is, before long, also going to be controlling you, making demands you can never meet that you be perfect. Then, just when you've realized the unconditional love of everything that is, which is your birthright, you are back in the world of conditioned love where you are never good enough -- and neither is anyone else. This is how hell is created.