Saturday, December 28, 2013

Metaphorical language and spiritual beliefs

Over the holidays I went to a sing-along Messiah.  For those who haven't ever done this, it is a performance of Handel's Messiah, with the audience singing the choruses.  If you love to sing, it's both challenging and a lot of fun. I hadn't done it in years.

This performance was put on at the local Mormon church, and it was my first time there -- maybe the first time in a Mormon church at all.  The solo singers were wonderful, and they enunciated clearly as well, so I had ample opportunity to take in the words.  And I thought, "My, what a weird religion Christianity is! What is all this supposed to mean?  No wonder I never could believe my childhood religion!" 

But I was also moved.  And it is that ability to move that Handel, and the Bible verses he used, were aiming to elicit.  The doctrine itself is meant to be non-rational, because ultimate truth is beyond rationality, beyond the mind.  And the deeper the spirituality, the more that is true. 

I think about the assumptions behind non-dual spirituality, of which there are plenty, and realize that these too, to those who haven't experienced what they point to, don't make sense. Religious ideas arise as a way to describe the ineffable.  They just point to a truth that can't be spoken. 

So, then, are all religions equally true?  I wouldn't go that far.  And I do think different religions stress different aspects of truth.  But it's important to keep in mind that I was called to the path I have been on in this life not because it is in any way "truer" but because the language that is used to describe ultimate truth is language that made intuitive sense to me as well as moved me.  When we are looking for a path, it's important for both of these elements to be there. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Trying gets in the way

After Toni Packer died a few months ago, I checked several of her books out of the library.  I was intending to write something about her legacy but never did (except the brief post on this blog).  Now, I'm just getting around to the books.  It's a re-visit for me because I also read a couple of them before I went to visit the meditation center she founded, Springwater, in 2007.

I like best the book The Light of Discovery (Charles E Tuttle, 1995).  Here is a dialogue between Toni and Joan Tollifson.  Joan was a student of Toni's and is an author and teacher in her own right.

"Joan: Suppose I see the same patterns coming up year after year, habits I feel stuck in. . . . I see it over and over, but it keeps happening, and I can't get out of it.

"Toni:  When you say, 'I see it, but I can't get out of it,' what is the quality of that seeing?  Here is where you really need to look and examine carefully.  Is it thinking about your habit-patterns -- how long they have persisted, how this is never going to end, wanting to know how to fix it?  This is not seeing.  This is thinking.  It's not an on-the-spot discovery of thought arising.  To see the thought of wanting freedom as it arises is different from thinking,, 'I've had this thought pattern all my life, and nothing has happened about it, and what can I do about it?'" (pp. 11-12)

Reading this, I'm reminded of an incident in my own life.  I was in turmoil over a relationship with someone that wasn't happening -- at least not the way I thought it should.  It had been literally years, and one day I was in a particularly bad place, crying on my bed, when one of my teachers returned my call to her.  And I told her what I was going through, adding, "I've tried everything but I can't find a solution!"  She said, "It's not about solving problems."

I don't know how she knew that was exactly what I needed to hear, but something magical happened.  I suppose, looking back on it now, I could say that her words gave me permission to STOP, just stop trying for a moment.  We think we won't find a solution if we don't try, and practical problems are like that, but psychological/spiritual problems are just the opposite:  the trying only gets in the way.  So, then, at that moment when trying ceased, something opened in me, a space to view it all from I suppose, and all of that emotion I'd been trying so hard to get rid of was suddenly just fine!  Not only fine but even blissful.  How could it be that what I'd condemned and tried so hard to rid myself of could turn blissful?  Because the feelings weren't the problem -- it was the identification with them that caused the suffering. The feelings, I'd always assumed, said something about me, about what kind of person I was.  Not so.

And so, reading Toni's words in the above passage, I recognized what she was pointing to.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Awakeness vs Awareness

This blog's name indicates something about what my own path has been.  The sudden awakenings that are part of a number of traditions, such as Rinzai Zen, have been a big part of it.  But there are those who say this whole idea of "awakening" is fraught with illusion because, for one thing, it obscures the fact that consciousness is already awake, and for another, because it implies a goal, or a number of goals -- the time when one will awaken, or awaken more deeply, in the future -- whereas enlightenment is the eternal present.

And yes, both of those criticisms are valid.  And some people, for that reason, are more comfortable starting with the basic truth that there isn't anywhere to get in the first place, that it was all already here.  In Soto Zen (from what I know -- I've never done it) sitting itself is enlightenment.  Of course, it could as easily be said, then, that anything we do is equally enlightenment.

So why not start with the basic truth and skip over the seeking and finding and losing it and finding it again until the truth that it is what we are is finally realized?  I say, if skipping all that works, sure, by all means do it.  And by "if it works" I mean, if it solve the problem of what it is to be human.  If one feels at rest and really doesn't need to seek anymore.

Because it's tricky, isn't it?  "I won't seek because I know that's not where it's at.  I'll just be present all the time," one might say.  Well, good luck.  Just more seeking, right?  Because for most human beings, "being present all the time" isn't something that comes naturally.  Especially since, before awakening, we don't really know what being present truly is.

So, when we're meditating -- and that doesn't just mean formal meditation but any time the mind isn't busy with its stories -- sometimes a space comes between thoughts and we just are awareness.  We just are, just exist -- and there are no boundaries of self at that moment.  But that passes and its significance often goes unrecognized.  Why?  Because what awakening does is more than that.  Awareness is a door, but awakening is seeing that the door we have passed through is the door between illusion and reality.  Now we know, for the first time, that thoughts aren't real.  Before, we thought we knew that; we thought everyone knew that -- but now we really know what that means.  And once we know that, then we understand also that, even when thoughts come back in and busy themselves making stories about our lives, they aren't real stories.

So, truly, I'm thinking this out as I write, but where I've come to is that awareness is that vantage point where we don't filter our experience through thoughts (and "we" and "our" are just grammatical necessities because the reality is that there is no self at that moment).  But if there is not complete awakening, then when thoughts come back in, they are believed again.  Each time we rest in awareness, though, the thoughts may become less solid-seeming, more transparent.  We may become awake even though we have never awakened!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Surrender as a Spiritual Path

I've written a lot here about the realization that there is no separate self and all that entails, but since I've gotten the last two comments, I've been thinking about the various paths and how we choose our path.

Truthfully, the idea that I need to be a good person to get enlightened, or even to begin treading the path, never appealed to me.  Why wouldn't I want to be a good person?  Well, it's not that I wouldn't; it's that I never thought it was possible to be THAT good. 

I think this might have to do with having a perfectionist mother.  No matter how good, I was never good enough.  And so I internalized that.  Even if I did a supposedly "good" deed, it seemed that it didn't count if my ego was congratulating me for it -- that a deed, to be truly good, had to be done without any benefit accruing, even in the mind of the doer.  Since I didn't know how to eliminate thoughts of being a "good" person when I did a "good" deed, I assumed that path was foreclosed to me. 

So what has my path been, then?  I think more than anything it has been about surrender.  But there are two kinds of spiritual surrender:  to someone or something one experiences as external, and to one's own deepest feelings, longings, needs.  For a long time, the conflict between those two kinds of surrender propelled me forward.  I knew there had to be a solution, but the solution could not, and did not in the end, come from the rational mind.  In the end, the conflict became too much to bear and the surrender became a surrender to a deeper truth.  (This actually happened several times, especially when I was in relationship with my first teacher, pushing me to a deeper place each time.)

I'm not suggesting that this should necessarily be anyone's path.  I didn't really choose it; it just seemed the only one possible for me. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Who is a bodhisattva?

Someone left a comment to my last post that is worth responding to.  She asked if I was positing that there is no such thing as genuine concern for the welfare of others, or, in Buddhist terms, whether I thought there is no such thing as a bodhisattva.  Certainly, I did not mean to imply that.  By positing of two kinds of self-absorption, I did not mean to imply that those are the only types of people that exist.  Nor did I even mean to imply that a person would always be self-absorbed in one way or the other.  In fact, most human beings are naturally outwardly focused and only become oriented inward either because their upbringing was difficult or because of some other suffering through which they have come to understand that something is lacking in the kinds of satisfaction that outward focus provides. And they may only be self-absorbed for a period of time and then turn outward again.

But rather than dismantling my analysis for lack of completeness or clarity, let me add a bit to it.  There could be said to be a third type of self-absorption.  This is the one in which the "self" is absorbed into the All or the One.  This would be when a genuine concern for the welfare of  "others" begins to arise because the thought-wall between self and others has been seen through.  One is, then, not concerned for others because "but for the grace of God go I" (which is more akin to pity), but because one has seen that others are not separate from oneself.

I, like the reader, have also been transformed by those I saw as bodhisattvas.  For those who aren't familiar with the term, let me define bodhisattva before I continue.  Technically, as I understand it, a bodhisattva is a being who has reached nirvana but vows to come back and help other beings reach it also, and not to enter nirvana until every other being does so.  In general terms, though, the word is often used just to mean someone who acts with selfless compassion.  Either definitions will work for purposes of this discussion.

In fact, though, I think there may be a problem with the bodhisattva concept.  We see a person acting with selfless compassion and call him or her a "bodhisattva."  But does that person see himself or herself as a bodhisattva?  I would guess that, to the extent that someone thinks, "Ah, now I'm finally a bodhisattva," it indicates that they really have quite a bit of self-concern, and that maybe even that person is getting some ego-gratification out of being such a good person.  This is not what we usually think of as a bodhisattva.

So, then, a genuine bodhisattva will be someone who does NOT see himself or herself that way.  Thus, the ambition to become a bodhisattva is problematic because, once the separate self is seen through, it is no longer the separate person who acts with selfless compassion.  The reason, that is, that SELFLESS compassion is such a powerful force in the world is that the act does not come from individual self but from a deeper source.  (Of course, it may be said that all of our actions come from a deeper source, but usually the ego wants to take credit and that dilutes the effect.)

So perhaps "bodhisattva" as a noun is misleading since, as a goal, it is never reached for the self or ego who has that goal; that is, "selfless" acts are not in fact done by the separate self.  Maybe it would be more accurate if we just used the term as an adjective -- bodhisattvistic -- meaning that a certain generous act was pure and did not come from any concern for how the actor would be seen.  Or maybe it could be a verb:  "He bodhisatted yesterday."

Describing the act rather than the actor is more accurate anyway since the actor is, in a sense, channeling spirit at such times.  And it may prevent us from idealizing someone whom we experience from the outside as the epitome of compassion.  This idealization can be a motivating force in the beginning of one's spiritual journey, but it can also be a hindrance later on.  Almost everyone who seems to be completely without self has gone through the same struggles all human beings go through, and to see this is also to see that we all are, at times, bodhisattvas for each other, often without that intention.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Self-Absorption and Awakening

I've some inchoate thoughts around this topic, so let's just see where this goes.

Based on my own experience at different stages in my life as well as on observation of others, I would describe two types of self-absorption.  The first is the unaware kind.  This is where the person's orientation is basically outward, toward finding satisfaction outside him/herself.  But s/he is unable to find it because the reason for the outward orientation in the first place is the deep belief that there is nothing of value inside.  Thus, the only hope is that what is needed will come from somewhere else.  That need for the sense of emptiness to be filled is self-absorbed because the person isn't really interested in others except to the extent that s/he sees hope that others might fill the emptiness.  Usually this orientation is pretty unconscious although someone who is doing this and is scrupulously honest might eventually get a sense that it really isn't about any genuine interest in others.  Such a realization might be the start of a genuine search for truth.

The other type of self-absorption is the one that arises as one starts on the path to awakening, or re-starts after a period of outward orientation.  Suddenly, everything and everyone in the environment comes to take a back seat.  One does the daily tasks and maybe has a few recreational pursuits but the meaning of life only comes from absorption in one's advancement on the path.  This kind of self-absorption, unlike that above, arises from an inner orientation.  It is the one that leads to freedom.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What IS spiritual, anyway?

I caught a bit of an old talk by Alan Watts on the radio yesterday.  He was re-defining spirituality in an interesting way.  We usually think of abstractions as more "spiritual" than concrete reality, but he says it is just the opposite.  Abstractions are nothing but thoughts -- attempts to pin things down and define them.  And when we label our physical world or physical events, that too is a way of limiting.  We think once we have found a label to attach, we "understand" something, but the label, of course, doesn't capture the physical object or event at all.  But if we set the label aside, then we can see that the physical world is that which can never be limited or understood. It is, in fact, all of those things that we sometimes think of God or Spirit as being.  The world itself is plenty spiritual enough as it really is, if we can experience it as it really is.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Post-awakening: why a teacher is needed

I have spoken with many people who say that their teacher is an inner one, or one whom they have only met in books.  So long as having this type of teacher does not occasion self-deception (we are so good at seeing only that which fits in with our ideas of ourselves and the world), that is fine.  But for me, I've needed external teachers.  Recently, thinking about my early awakenings (in the 1980s), I realize that if I'd had a teacher easily accessible at the time, things might have gone very differently for me.

At the time, my teacher was in Japan.  My only support was his letters, which came infrequently, in part because each of mine had to be translated and then, again, his advice back to me had to be translated.  Two weeks was the soonest I could expect a reply, and that was only if my letter accurately conveyed to him what had happened to me.  It's hard to remember that in those days I didn't have the vocabulary for something that is so far beyond words and beyond thought.  I had to talk around it -- to point but not pinpoint.  And I was talking to someone from another culture.  But even these were not the worst impediments.

The biggest impediment was that I myself had a whole host of misconceptions about what awakening was.  I imagined I would be completely free of all problems and conflicts, that I would never have a negative thought about anyone, that I would now experience oneness with everyone all the time.  It's a tall order for one little awakening -- or even one big one!  And the thing is, when these expectations didn't come to pass, I discounted what really was a genuine spiritual awakening.  So the return of suffering was not only because my karma didn't come to a sudden end with one awakening, but also because, although a part of me never doubted that what I experienced was what I'd been seeking for so long, alongside that sense of trueness was a nagging suspicion that I must have deceived myself since I still wasn't perfect.  It has only been in recent years that I was able to go back and see in what I wrote in those days genuine realization of Truth.

So, bottom line, it seems to me that having a teacher close at hand to whom one can go immediately after an awakening, before the mind gets hold of it and starts to distort it, is important, if not critically urgent.  Otherwise, the benefits of the realization that comes out of it may be lost -- not forever -- once awakening happens, it's "in the blood," so to speak -- but for a time.  For me, it was a long time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Virtue and Enlightenment

I was speaking a few days ago with someone who has spent several decades on the Tibetan Buddhist path.  She said that morality was important -- that one couldn't access the higher states of consciousness without having the right perspective on behavior.  (I'm paraphrasing, I hope accurately.)  And it occurred to me as we spoke that this is where most of the Buddhist paths diverge from the nondual path I've come to embrace more recently.

The nondual path, also called the "direct path," says that we already are what we are seeking.  We don't have to do anything to attain it.  This means that the worst "sinner" and the best "saint" are equally "enlightened."  And I'm using quotes here because there really is no such thing as enlightenment.  We go after this thing, only to find out it was there all along. 

I can only speak for myself, but I know that when I had my first glimpse in 1978 of this perfection that is sometimes called the "enlightened consciousness," I suddenly knew that I had to do exactly nothing -- that it is a free gift that only requires being born into human form.  (I won't go into whether dogs can realize their Buddha nature.)  Of course, if you believe that you have to do certain things before realizing universal consciousness, then that idea will keep you from knowing that it is a free gift.  But even if you think you have to do certain things, that free gift can come upon you like lightning and suddenly you discover that nothing was ever required.

I know for me that was a big relief  -- because, like nearly everyone else, I thought I had to struggle to "improve."  And so, it is a blessing to know that in this one thing -- the only thing that really matters -- without any preparation, without any preconditions, Life itself just opens to itself and knows itself through a human form. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Toni Packer's Passing: Her Contribution

Toni Packer passed away a few days ago.  She was an important figure in Westernizing the wisdom we have received from the East.  In 1981, she and a group of others established a meditation center in Springwater, New York, an hour south of Rochester.

Significantly, although Toni's meditation teacher was the director of the Rochester Zen Center, Phillip Kapleau, this new center did not bear the label, "Zen," but was simply called "Springwater Center."  A number of changes from the traditional Zen forms were instituted, the most important of which, from my point of view, was the elimination of hierarchy.  They didn't even use the term "teacher" (although looking now at the Springwater website, I see that they do, probably because, after all, one has to call someone who leads a retreat something, and "facilitator" doesn't quite capture nature of the role).

In 2007 I spent two weeks at Springwater.  My teacher was Adyashanti at the time, and I was not looking for another path, but I was really interested whether and how it might be possible to have a spiritual community based in the Eastern wisdom without hierarchy.  I had a wonderful time there and was pleased with what I saw.  There are regular meetings of all of the residents and decision-making is consensual.  I think this is a model of a good direction for meditation-based spirituality to go in the West. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Central Question of "KUMARE" -- Can an Unrealized "Guru" Lead One to Truth?

I've been meaning to write about the film Kumare but there is so much to explore that I haven't been able to find a focus.  Today, what is coming to me concerns core issue of the film:  whether one needs a guru in seeking Truth.

For those who haven't seen the movie, a brief description:  an American filmmaker with family roots in India decides that he will become a fake guru and see whether he can deceive people into following him.  An East Coast resident, he goes to Arizona, where he is not known, dons robes, a beard, and a fake Indian accent modeled on his grandmother's speech, and invents yoga poses and doctrine.  He does indeed convince quite a lot of people that he is a real guru.

After I saw the film, I watched a couple of interviews with the filmmaker on-line.  He says at one point that he wanted to show people that the truth was in themselves.  I don't know this person, but judging only from the narrative in the film itself, this seems a rationalization to justify, after the fact, his deception.  In the film, his reason is simply that he wants to see if he can get away with it -- if people will be gullible.  He finds that they are.

I may come back another time to the question of whether it can ever be ethically justified to pull this kind of ruse, but I want to focus on something more important here.  I was turned on to this film by someone I met only on-line who said that it was an example of how a fake guru can produce real effects.  I'm glad this person turned me on a fascinating movie, but now that I've seen it, I find that I don't agree with her view.

(Note: A bit of a spoiler is coming here.)  It is true that all of Kumare's main disciples wanted to make changes in their lives, and they first relied on him to help them but most later found that they had the inner strength to pursue these changes without him.  But what kind of changes were they?  All, without exception, were self-improvement projects -- losing weight, dealing with personal difficulties, etc.  They were all within the realm of personality.  And here is the crux of it:  no one who is not awakened can lead someone who is also not awakened to awakening.  There are no exceptions to this that I know of.  Re-arranging the personality has nothing to do with awakening because awakening is seeing that, although the True Self reveals itself through the personality, it is not, in essence, the personality.

It is true, though, is that we are also drawn to teachers who reflect where we ourselves are in our life's journey.  If we choose a teacher -- fake or real -- who is operating at the psychological level, that is because something in us needs to deal with psychological issues before going deeper.  There's nothing wrong with this -- the only error is in assuming that there is something of the nature of absolute truth in it.

The assumption in the end of the film is that, since most of the disciples found what they needed in themselves, they didn't need a teacher in the first place.  This may or may not be true when addressing psychological issues.  But the role of a true guru is not to help one have a better marriage, or address body image issues, or find a satisfying career.  There are lots of experts who do have a role to play in this but their title should not be "spiritual teacher."  A spiritual teacher in the deepest sense is someone who helps us see that we are not simply this temporal being struggling to improve but rather that we are not separate selves at all.  Since there is absolutely nothing in the culture around us to point us back to this truth, a spiritual teacher is often needed to do that.  But s/he has to have realized this before being able to teach it.   

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Seeing the perfection of persona through Buddha's eyes

"This that we are honors the persona equally with the eternal."  
Pamela Wilson.

There are a lot of helpers in the world.  Most of those helpers have some wisdom; some have a lot.  But there is something about the roles of helper/ helpee that has always bothered me: the assumption that someone needs "help."  

From one point of view, of course, we all need help at different times.  Some of us seem to need more than others.  But from the point of view of the eternal, no one needs any help:  we are all perfect as we are.  And somehow, when we meet someone who knows that, we are radically changed, even if the person says nothing at all about it. 

Many years ago, I saw a Kurosawa movie called, DO DES'KA DEN.  It was a commercial flop and not very many people saw it, but I've seen it three or four times.  I kept trying to figure out what it held for me, because when I saw it, it appeared that a transcendent wisdom was being transmitted, although I wasn't sure if it was in the film, or if I had just projected it.  In this film, a ragtag group of society's dregs lives in a rubbish pile on the edge of Tokyo Bay.  Their quirkiness is all in the service of survival.  And it was something about Life's pushing through, Life's just keeping on making it happen that moved me to tears.  Pamela today called it the "resilience of consciousness," and suddenly I saw why I had watched this movie so many times.

I saw for the first time how every form, everyone, not in spite of how they are but in the very being of who and what they are, is manifesting divine perfection.  Adyashanti used to call it "the Eternal in drag."  It just shines if you have eyes to see it.  And today, I have eyes to see it.

Of course, this doesn't negate that there will be people who push my buttons, people whom I don't like or who don't like me for a myriad of reasons.  All that psychological stuff is still there, but it doesn't obscure what is underneath anymore.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is it all in your head?

I'm reading a little book by Frank A Smitha called Your Philosophy and Mine: Choices for the Twenty-First Century. Smitha is a rationalist and makes his points in support of his position cogently.  But I'm going to play with his position a bit here.

In one chapter, Smitha discusses the religious scholar Huston Smith.  He states, "[Huston] Smith assumes that the spiritual oceanic sense within him is a real universal force existing outside his head."

My response to this is that Frank A Smitha assumes that the tables and chairs and people he sees really exist outside his head.

And you might say, implicitly agreeing with Smitha -- of course they do.  Because, you see, all of us are innately rationalists, although we may have some sort of intuition of something else which we begin, at some point, to pay attention to.  But our implicit and unconscious assumption is that the things we see are "out there."

And yet, we don't know that they are out there, do we?  We only know that things appear to be outside of us.  And "appear" is the operative word here.

My argument here is not a solipsistic one (solipsism being the position that nothing can be known outside one's own mind), although I know I found this point confusing for a long time.  My teacher kept saying, "It's not solipsism," but I couldn't understand why, if we can't know whether anything is really outside ourselves, it isn't.

And then the wall between "inside" and "outside" started to break down.  I felt myself to be the table, or whatever I was touching, and then other people, and finally everything.  So then, who or what is the "I" to which we usually refer when we say, "I see that table over there"?

In the nondual community where I hang out, "What am I?" is not meant to be answered but to be the beginning of an inquiry into one's true nature.  But just for fun, I'm going to answer it here -- because it is also the answer to the question of solipsism.

"I" is nothing other than the thought-wall that separates the physical body from the things outside the physical body.  It is not the body itself -- although this is the unconscious assumption -- but an assumption of thought. What happens during the awakening process is that the identity between the body and thought begins to break down, so that one can see the distinction.

(Please note:  I received a comment for approval which contained a link.  When I clicked on the link, my virus software told me malware had been detected.  I'm sorry but I can't expose readers to this risk, so I deleted the comment.  If the writer would like to resubmit without the link, it will probably work.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Eternal Present and Accomplishment

Today I read a comment about Zen.  The writer was saying that being in the present wouldn't work because, if we didn't anticipate the future, we wouldn't have any reason to get up in the morning.  I've often heard this objection.  But let's examine the assumptions behind it for a moment.

Do we really get up in the morning only because we anticipate the future?  What if we had nothing in particular happening that day or in the foreseeable future?  Wouldn't we still get up?  The body sleeps for seven or eight hours and it is rested.  It wants to move.  That is why we get up.  Only people who are very depressed or sick do not want to get up in the morning.

So why is this idea such a common one?  Because the mind wants to imagine that it controls the life.  And part of the way it maintains control is by telling this story.  The mind wants us to believe that its projects are the only thing that makes life worth living. 

Has anyone who has ever woken up to the Eternal Present found that he or she no longer wanted to get up in the morning?  The truth is that one wants to get up all the more -- because now life can be experienced first-hand, not just through ideas about it -- now life is more, not less, than the mind imagined before -- infinitely more! 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Direct Path and Healing Psychological Wounds

I've been re-reading parts of a book by Alice Miller, the Swiss psychoalanalyst, which made a big impression on me when I discovered it in the 1980s.  She talks about how the true (psychological) self never develops in a child whose life depends on being pleasing to the primary caregiver. 

In the Direct Path, which has been the one that worked for me, all of the psychological conflict one has lived with simply gets by-passed and one finds that ultimate oneness and peace beyond understanding.  Rumi said, "I'll meet you there" in the field beyond right and wrong.  That's nice, but the important thing is to meet oneself there.  But then what?  Because that psychological conflict doesn't just magically melt away -- at least not for most people.

In his earlier years of teaching, sometimes someone newly awakened would ask Adyashanti why, since s/he had just realized ultimate truth, s/he was now in such psychological conflict and suffering, maybe only a couple of weeks after awakening. And Adya would say, "You came back for it."  Sometimes he'd add, "You wouldn't want to leave that behind, would you?"  By "you," he meant the Compassion one has now come to embody, which sees the suffering soul with its history of neglect or abuse or whatever, and knows that that is already part of the Whole, that it doesn't need to be excluded or denied, that everything is embraced.

And as I read Alice Miller now, that compassion in me for the small child is there and alive, and knows the truth of this. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Last night, I saw a documentary on the comic actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks.  At one point, he says that his comedy comes from knowing how much we each love ourselves.  I suppose it could be added that comedy arises because we love ourselves and don't really know it -- because comedy requires a disjunction of some kind. 

Adyashanti interprets the Biblical passage, "Love another as yourself" not as it's usually interpreted -- as an admonition -- but as simply a fact:  because we are in fact one, we cannot do other than love others as ourselves.  But perhaps the more usually interpretation also is profound because in fact, we usually are not aware of how very much we do love ourselves.

We are taught very early that being narcissistic is bad.  This is part of socialization.  "Don't take all the cookies for yourself:  give Johnny half of them."  If we weren't taught that, I don't know if we would learn it anyway as our brains matured, or not.  But the way that lesson is conveyed can make a difference.  The nonverbal message, "You are a selfish pig," can easily be slipped into the overt message about sharing.  And then we start to dislike ourselves.

I'm not sure it's that simple, but it is patently observable that babies love themselves, so self-hate seems to be learned.  And once we learn that we should not even be dedicated to our own selves, all hell breaks lose.  We worship others or ideas outside ourselves, and at the same time we hate anything in the world which seems to reflect our own self-hate.

Really, all love starts right here at home, in my own heart, and it starts with loving myself.  And if I can't do that, nothing else I do is going to benefit anyone. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Kinds of Unity

Lately, I've been thinking about two different psychological processes.  One is the process of identification with others.  For example, children identify with their parents.  As young adults, we often identify with someone we admire, or even worship.  But although the admiration is conscious, the identification is less so.  Thus, we may find ourselves adopting ideas and attitudes of this people even when those ideas and attitudes have nothing to do with the reason we originally admired them.  It is as though we unconsciously imagine that if we become like them, we will also acquire the wisdom or beauty they have.  And once the psyche really does believe that these attitudes are its own, it is virtually impossible to un-do the process, even when it becomes clear that those ideas or attitudes don't serve us. 

The second kind of unity is when we realize that we in fact are one with someone (or everyone) already, that it is our basic nature.  In this kind of unity, the self doesn't take in something from the outside; rather, it sees itself in a new, expanded way.  Oh, I'm so much larger than I ever imagined!  It's as though the self, instead of taking attitudes or characteristics in from the outside to make itself bigger, realizes that it already is infinitely large and doesn't need any additions.

And, I suppose that the motive for the former process could be said to be the desire for the latter.  That is, we want to be larger than we experience ourselves, and if the only way we can imagine to do that is to identify with others, then that is the way we will do it.  But it never satisfies; only the second kind of unity satisfies.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Awake World vs. Waking Up

 If the absolute has not been experienced, or if it is only touched on but its nature not completely understood, there can be the idea that what is true in that world should be true in the relative world as well.  Thus, for example, a friend with whom I was having a dispute sent me this comment:

"Adya says: When we abide in Truth, there is no judgment, or blame, or regret."

Well, I suppose that is something Adyashanti would say, but it is easy to misunderstand the intention.  He is not saying, "You should not judge or feel blame or regret."  In fact, such ideas are counterproductive and keep us from actually realizing the world of which he speaks.

The "way in," so to speak, is to accept everything.  A second way (which is really the same path, just another way of conceptualizing it) is to take the "backward step," as it's sometimes called, whereby we realize that we have been trying to have an experience other than the one we are having, and just rest in "what-is."  And what-is includes anger, blame, or whatever is arising at the moment.  The lack of judgment is the result of this acceptance, not the way to get there.

And lack of judgment is only a bit of what we get when we are able to do this.  To truly accept all of what we are means to accept all of what everyone else is, and to say "yes" to all of what life is as well, and it's very close to bliss.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mantras and Fundamentalism

When I was young, I lived in a temple in the Japanese countryside which had a mantra as its main practice.  The mantra is called Nembutsu, and the words are namu amida butsu, which means something like, "I call the name of Buddha."  This is the chant used in Shin Buddhism, which is one of the two main chanting sects in Japan, the other being Nichiren.  Recently, I was doing some internet browsing and came across a blog by a Nichiren Buddhist.  In Nichiren, they chant the name of a sutra, and this writer said that for Nichiren Buddhists, Nembutsu was anathema. 

I wasn't raised in a chanting environment, and I admittedly never really understood the power of Nembutsu, but I always assumed that mantras get their power from the intention of the believers who recite them.  But maybe I've missed something.  Maybe one also has to believe the chant is the one way to Buddha's heart.  If that is the case, then one would feel obliged to vilify any other mantra that claims to have the same power.

This is a kind of fundamentalism, isn't it?  I mean, the chant means nothing in itself and yet it comes to be considered a literal path to enlightenment, much like a literal reading of the Bible is considered requisite in fundamentalist Christian sects.  I hadn't expected to find this in Buddhism.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bodhi Tree Myth

I don't know how much of the story of the historical Buddha's enlightenment is apocryphal.  But even if it's true, I know it was misleading in its attractiveness to me -- especially when I was young.  This guy wanders in the forest for years with no realization of his True Nature whatsoever, and then sits under this tree, vows to stay there until he realizes Truth, and finally does.  In one fell swoop -- complete.  Nothing left to do. 

OK, so maybe it happens.  But how many of you know of people who woke up that way?  I have met some people who claimed this is how it was for them, but if I talk to them for a few minutes, I see that they still have plenty of ego left.  Nothing wrong with that (except, maybe, the self-deceit part), but the way they function doesn't really look to others the way it appears to them.  And I sometimes wonder whether they, like myself when I was younger, have been deceived by the Bodhi Tree myth into thinking that this instantaneous, complete and total awakening is the way it always is, and so have superimposed that belief onto their own experience.

For most people, including myself, it's not about one moment of transcendence which becomes the final  realization of ultimate Truth but a series of awakenings and a gradual shift in the way life is experienced and seen.  It is true that that first awakening is very marvelous -- there is, in fact, nothing so wonderful.  But those realizations that follow take you deeper into a more complete understanding of your True Nature.  Ego keeps functioning and all -- but now there is an understanding of its more limited role -- to keep the creature safe and functioning well.  What we really are, though, encompasses not only our ego and all that we as form are, but all that everyone and everything else is as well -- that's what it is important to know.  We don't transcend our lives in a moment, but rather we come to see more and more how the Eternal is always present in everything.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Judging Self and Others is the Same Thing

Christ says, "Judge not that ye be not judged."  People interpret this differently.  Perhaps (I'm not sure since I'm not one) traditional Christians think that it means that God is keeping track of our judgments against others and will judge us for them, now or when we die.  New Age people might say that this is just a universal law -- that the accounts are exact and if you judge others, the universe will put people in your life who will judge you.

My experience is something different than both of these.  First, there really is no "inside" and "outside."  That's a fiction the ego creates.  So, it must be, then, that inner and outer judgment don't differ.  Judgment is just judgment.  We judge ourselves to the exact extent that we judge others.

Sometimes people are uncomfortable with their judgments against others because they believe that such judgments get in the way of compassion and understanding.  That is true enough.  But I've found that the place where judgment does the most damage is when it's directed toward myself.  If I start there and really feel into the way I have betrayed my own life by judging myself, I can sometimes find the compassion for myself that is the way out of judgment.  When I find that compassion, I find that, miraculously, the judgments I had against others have disappeared.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Perfection and Judgment

A passage in an article I was reading this morning caught my attention:

"I was to learn how to see the world as perfect and lacking for nothing, even for all that it might not seem to be so.  In order to do this, I needed to apply the Brillo pad of nonjudgment to all my accustomed habits and perceptions.  I needed to act, to work, to think, and to observe, and I needed to do so without ever asking things to be other than just as they were.  If I did this long enough -- and perhaps even if I did it for just a short while -- the world, or my perception of it, would eventually change." 1

 Hmm.  I believe this is a version of "fake it till you make it."  And I wonder how many people have found this actually works.  The fact is, I don't see how it can work because there's an inherent contradiction here.  After all, it is the self who is making all of this effort, is it not?  And it is also the self that does all the judging.  It is only when we fall out of the self and into the larger reality that we discover perfection and non-judgment.  And the poor "I" who tries so hard just can't get there through effort.  But something in us wants this so badly.  Maybe that is where the attention should go:  what is it that desires this perfection? 

1 Ptolemy Tompkins, "What Kind of Errand?" reprinted in Best Spiritual Writing 2002, originally published in  Parabola.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dead Gurus

In the past, when the topic of spiritual teachers would come up in a conversation, and the person I was speaking with told me their teacher had died long ago but they learned from his or her books, I'd sort of smirk internally.  I never really considered a dead teacher a genuine one because I know the mind's tendency to self-deceit:  if our guru is only known to us through books, we can easily read anything we want into what he or she says and ignore anything that doesn't suit us.  A real guru, in the flesh, on the other hand, can give us the individual attention that points us to the ways we deceive ourselves and defend our ego.  How can the ego itself see its own deceptions?

So this is the way I always thought.  And now I've had reason to change my mind.

My first spiritual teacher was wonderful but he belonged to a spiritual community I had lived in when I was young that I could not abide.  He kept begging me to come back there and I knew I never would.  Finally, he cut me off.  It was horrible for me -- the worst thing that had ever happened in my life -- and I didn't recover until I met my second teacher sixteen years later.  I thought at that time that the problem with my first teacher was resolved and that I could just love him for what he did give me, which was much.  Not long after, I learned second hand that he had died, so the possibility of seeing him again in the flesh had vanished.

Recently, I've gone back (psychologically, not actually) to try to resolve my issues with his spiritual community, and found myself thinking about him much more than I expected.  In the end, a whole new understanding of what he is to me emerged.  In fact, I finally understand why Christ had to die to become the true savior for his disciples.

I suffered a lot from separation from my teacher.  When I was with him, it was great, but I wasn't with him often.  And recently, I mourned the loss so greatly, mourned especially that I could never share with him what has happened to me since I lost contact with him -- never, because he has left this earth.

And then it shifted one day recently.  I saw that the one I loved and believed in was not really the one in the flesh.  What I loved of him was beyond flesh, was what he and I both were and are, because it is eternal.  He is always with me because spirit doesn't die.