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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Only ego wants to get rid of ego." -- Adyashanti

I can't begin to describe how frightening I'm finding this book I'm reading -- Enlightenment Blues (see previous post).
As I said before, I don't have any personal experience with Andrew Cohen. I'm taking as true what is in this book, and I'm sure some out there will see it differently. But it doesn't really matter because I am not so interested in Andrew Cohen as in what caused so many to follow him for years, putting aside their own doubts while the demands on them became more and more absurd. There will always be megalomaniacs, and some of them will be gurus. The more important question is not what to do about them, but why so many follow them.

Author Van der Braak, with his penetrating analysis of his own process, puts his finger on so much of what happens psychologically when one joins the kind of spiritual community that demands absolute obedience and also, especially, on why it is so hard to separate from such a community. Anyone who reads this regularly knows that I have a special interest in cults because I lived in a cultish spiritual community for a short time when I was young. I completely relate to all of the rationalizations Van der Braak told himself.

First, you have an awakening experience with a certain person. Or maybe (as was my case in my youth) you just see the divine in the other, and you want that for yourself. The guru becomes the means to access the divine, or enlightenment, or whatever label works for you. You convince yourself that the guru is the only possible access to the divine for you. Maybe the guru believes this himself, as Cohen apparently did, or maybe, as in my case, the guru doesn't. But the follower believes it -- that's what matters. Once one believes that, it becomes almost impossible to leave. You imagine yourself damned forever if you do, and there will be plenty of people in the community who will try be only too anxious to convince you of that outcome. You probably have no friends who are not part of the community, so there is no alternative viewpoint to hear.

This book is scary because the amount of psychological abuse (and one example of physical abuse is also cited) is so profound, and yet everyone in the community buys into the argument that the reason Cohen derides them, punishes them repeatedly by banishing them to invisibility in his sangha, etc., is so that they will stop coddling their ego. Everyone in the community believes this. If only I were better: I just have to try harder and then I will live up to the standards of the Master.  The amazing thing is that not one person noticed the contradiction in Cohen's teaching: if everything is impersonal, if "I" don't really exist, then who is it that is having to try harder to banish the ego?

As Adyashanti once said to me, "Only ego wants to get rid of ego." 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Believe in the Truth in the teacher, not in the person

Serendipitously, while looking for a publisher for my own book, I came across Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru, by Andre van der Braak. The guru in question happened to be Andrew Cohen, a well-known teacher of nonduality and one of many former students of H.W.L. Poonja (Papa-ji, as he was affectionately known by his students). 

I have never even seen Cohen -- only heard of him.  But here we have another expose, and another reminder that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the question arises again with respect to Eastern teachings brought to the West: why do we give such power to our teachers?  

Of course, a teacher who has the imprimatur of someone like Poonja is going to be listened to. According to van der Braak's account of what he heard, Poonja sent Cohen out to teach in the West, to "'create a revolution among the young,' telling him that he was the son he had been waiting for all his life." (p. 16)

So Cohen starts teaching and includes this little story about how his own teacher sent him forth to teach. Who is going to doubt? Especially since Cohen obviously exhibits such power and clarity that he just looks enlightened.  But in the end, apparently Cohen used power in a very absolute way, while at the same time always telling people that what he did to them was for their own good, to help them abolish their ego. 

Sound familiar? It should because this is the story again and again among communities in the West centered around Eastern spirituality.  And here, of course, the interpretations of what is going on differ. Those without a deeper realization of reality will certainly say that such a guru cannot be enlightened because enlightened people don't do fascist things. Others -- especially those who experienced the guru in question -- will be more likely to say that the guru, while enlightened, or at least awakened, had a shadow side which became more and more prevalent as he accrued more power.

I believe that the solution to this, from the student's point of view, is to believe in the Truth within the teacher, not in the teacher himself. It's always, always necessary to believe in oneself first, and to let one's deepest yearning for Truth lead one to see the Truth in another. But not to worship the person of another. Therein lies danger.

After I started reading this book, I went on the web and found that last year Cohen had issued an apology for his behavior. It was in general terms, and the copious comments that followed were all over the place -- from being glad he'd owned up to saying it would never be enough to pledging continued allegiance. But one comment seemed to touch on why all of this keeps happening in community after community. The person said that the ego has a reason for existence: to help life maintain itself. This is something I myself have discovered in working through my traumatic relationship with a temple I lived at when I was young. To the extent that we put down that in us -- our ego -- that is just doing its job of keeping us alive, we abuse ourselves and leave ourselves open to abuse from others. And if a given spiritual community at large doesn't believe ego deserves to exist, there is mass denial of an essential function of the self and this allows the guru or whoever has power to use it to put down anyone whose ego dares poke its face out, while his own ego -- denied of course because he isn't supposed to have one -- runs amock.

Existence loves everything -- and that includes ego.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nonduality and Concepts

I recently watched this debate:

A nondual debate?  Well, yeah, it was. The central question, if I can dare to paraphrase, was whether, once awakened, we completely operate without a sense of self, or future, or ideas of what we believe will make the world a better place -- or whether, on the other hand, the awakened life includes all of that as well. Lisa Cairns' position was what I would call the "absolutist" one, while Tim Freke's position was that we "come back" from the absolute into the world, where we do operate as separate individuals relating to other separate individuals even while we do not lose the awakenness.

There are a couple of Buddhist concepts that I thought could have clarified things and maybe even resolved the debate. They are "substance" and "emptiness."  These are more or less dichotomous the way I am using them, and there is no way to understand their meaning without experiencing that to which they refer. But I'm going to give it a try.

The reason things look separate has to do with our belief in their substantiality. We believe we are looking at something separate from ourselves when we see a tree. We don't know it, but it is just the label that makes this appear to be the case. This is why Buddhism speaks of the world of "forms." "Forms" are just forms, not individual entities, and when forms are seen as "empty," they are seen without substance. It's as though all things are ghosts -- you know how ghosts walk through things in movies?  Well, it's because they don't have substance, which living "beings" are thought to have.

So -- nothing is really separate but things appear separate. And the question is whether that appearance is believed to be the ultimate truth or not.  Most people implicitly believe forms have substance. But when that belief starts to fall away, we begin to experience ourselves as the other.

What does the ordinary life look like when we know this?  Depends on the person, I'd say. But so long as this truth, having been realized, is remembered, we cannot believe anymore that our concepts of how things should be ultimately matter -- because it is concepts that form the basis of substantiality. Maybe we want to do something that "helps" the world, but if we have an idea of what that might be, we are deluding ourselves, because it is the human mind, not the world, that operates through concepts.  We just live. And if that living is from a genuine place, then that is all we can do. And even if it is not from a genuine place, it is still all we do.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Enlightenment and cultural accretions

I'm reading a couple of books that, in very different ways, discuss an issue relevant to those involved in traditions that come from other cultures.  One is a memoir about living among modern Sufis in Afghanistan: Embattled Saints: My year with the Sufis of Afghanistan, by Kenneth P. Lizzio.  The other is a novel about a shy Japanese priest sent to New York to help build a temple for his sect: Buddhaland Brooklyn, by Richard C. Morais.*  The problems these two men face are the mirror opposite of each other.

The American who goes to Afghanistan hoping to gain Sufi mystical wisdom is dismayed when told how important shari'a law is. Over and over again, he is admonished that shari'a is part and parcel of the mystical path, not something only for fundamentalist Muslims but for all Muslims.  He resents having to grow his beard to a certain length and shape, and he believes the sexual segregation is plain wrong, to name only two of his many issues with Muslim law.  But he wants what the Sufis have, so he goes along.

The Japanese priest has the reverse of this problem.  Having lived in a mountain temple since he was a boy, he believes that everything that he was taught to do in reverence to Buddha is a step on the path to enlightenment, and that none of it can be omitted. So, for example, when his New York believers complain that it is hard for them to kneel on the floor, he says, in effect, "Tough shit."  When they want lectures more relevant to their daily lives, he explains that, in order to attain enlightenment, devotees must understand the sacred texts in all of their subtly .  He believes the New Yorkers aren't taking Buddhism seriously because they don't want to do it the received way.

When I was young, I practiced two kinds of Buddhism in Japan.  My unexamined assumption was that I could only get enlightened if I became like a Japanese.  And the problem was, the Japanese believed this as well!  I went home after a year, a total failure.

The trick is to separate the essential teachings from the cultural context.  Not easy.  On the one hand, we have (hopefully) an enlightened teacher who has taken a certain path to his or her wisdom.  On the other hand, we have aspirants who are not enlightened and do not share the teacher's cultural assumptions.  In such a situation, who is going to decide what is necessary to the deepest spiritual realization and what is just a cultural accretion?

Sometimes it takes more than a generation to work this out.  When Philip Kapleau found what he'd been looking for in Japan, he brought it back to America virtually wholesale, and it was not until his senior student, Toni Packer, said, "Wait, much of this doesn't really work for a lot of Westerners," and went off to found her own meditation center, that the deepest realization in Zen could be found, without the cultural accretions.  My own teacher, Adyashanti, was a third generation Zen student -- someone who had never been to Japan and whose own teachers had also never been there.  There was enough distance to have lost the cultural accretions and yet the wisdom of the lineage was intact.  How grateful for this I am! This is what we all hope can happen.  It doesn't always.

*Note: My review of  Buddhaland Brooklyn appears on the Buddhist Fiction Blog. 
My review of  Embattled Saints is at


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Buddhist "Ideas"

I hope this won't be a rant, but I just saw a program on PBS that got everything possible wrong about enlightenment.  The commentator was personable and obviously interested in Buddhism, but she didn't have a clue.

Should this be a cause for distress?  I don't know. Maybe it's to be expected.  How can you know you don't know the real thing until you experience it?  This is, after all, why there is such a thing as lineage (which I so much appreciate despite my dislike of hierarchy):  people who have been given permission to teach can be trusted to speak from the Truth they have realized. But when people who don't know speak as though they do, then others who listen also get confused.

What did she say wrong?  Pretty much everything. First of all, she kept talking about "Buddha's ideas."  Yes, in a way, anything that is put into words can be called an "idea."  But what Buddha realized is not about thoughts in the head.  In fact, it's about what is not thought.

The commentator at one point says that Buddhism leads us to seek escape from the real world of suffering -- I'm paraphrasing but that was the essence.  This is the whole problem:  when you experience the world you see as the "real" one, then everything you say after that has to be wrong.  

The commentator kept saying that Buddhists believe that you have to do this and that in order to find tranquility or nirvana -- she pretty much equates the two.  And maybe I'll stop here, because really the fundamental problem is that not once did the essential truth come up:  we don't exist.  Until that is known, everything will be seen upside down and backward.

But I remember myself how confused I was when people used to say this to me.  Sometimes I'd even get angry. What do you mean, I don't exist?  Who is this person who is dialoging with you right now if I don't exist??  And it is, actually, very difficult to explain what that means when this psychological self has always seemed so solid, so it's no wonder that the subject wasn't even broached on this show.  But at the same time, this is the raison d'etre for the Teachings.  It's not about following some path in order to get psychological satisfaction of some kind.  It's to realize that we are transparent -- empty -- and it is because we are empty that all of existence finds its home in us. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When Does Spiritual Dialog Hit the Mark?

A few of us on Facebook have been discussing Oprah's interview with Adyashanti on Easter Sunday.  The main issue resolves around a certain place fairly early in the interview when Oprah has an "ah-ha" moment -- when she realizes the nature of the connection between her and Adya.  Some people think that this realization wasn't as deep as it could have been; others that it was in fact a glimpse of the nondual dimension of consciousness. 

I'm not so interested here in which view is right as in the fact of the disparity of views.  We all watched the same interview and yet every person that commented saw it differently!  On the one hand, maybe this shouldn't be surprising.  It's common to emerge from a satsang thinking it was a wonderful talk only to overhear someone else say it wasn't that good.  Or vice versa.  To speak about the wordless dimension is in itself a kind of contradiction, so it's not surprising that when words are used, people interpret them differently.

The question that's been teasing me, though, is this:  if you watch the interview, it's clear that Adya himself knew exactly what was going on with Oprah, where she was and how she took what he said, even if the audience obviously wasn't so sure.  So how did he know?

I've watched Adya talk with students over the years, and also spoken with him myself numerous times.  It seems that he particularly has a knack for being "with" the student -- being able to comprehend what is meant by the words someone utters about the inexpressible.  He misses the mark only rarely.  I've always wondered how he was able to do that.

Of course, a satsang is different from a TV show.  Without the commercials on Oprah, the show ran only 36 minutes. With interruptions every four or five minutes, I doubt if anyone watching had the opportunity to sink into a deeper state of consciousness .  So we were watching from the outside.  The participants, though, did not experience these commercials:  they had the advantage of spending the time together uninterrupted, the time to move into a place where they really could meet.  And this is where Adya was when he was dialoging with Oprah, and where he is when he dialogs with someone during satsang.  And it is only when we ourselves are in that place that we even have a chance of knowing what the two participants are experiencing together.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Barbara Ehrenreich a Mystic?

This is from Ehrenreich's interview with Terry Gross on April 8, 2014:

"I was just staring at the woods ... [when] something happened. It's like a layer peeled off the world, the layer that contains all the meanings, the words, the language, the associations we have. Yeah, I was looking at trees, but I no longer could say I knew exactly what a tree was, with all the knowledge and experience that goes into our notion of a tree. . . .

"What if there is a world underneath what we perceive? We're usually in a world of shared "reality." You and I agree on what we see if we're together, we have similar explanations for it, and so on. To leave that behind and just see things without any of those human attributions, well, that's very, very strange, but I wanted to know more. ... I couldn't tell anybody. I had enough sense to think that this would be seen as crazy."

I suspect a lot of people reading this have had awakenings -- and if you have, you know that this was one.  This is the world with language stripped away -- the world of "That Which Is."

Most people know Ehrenreich as a lifelong socialist and social activist.  Her new book, Living with a Wild God, is a real departure for her.  She kept the mystical experiences of her teenage years secret for more than half a century!

Ehrenreich is just a bit older than I am -- culturally we are contemporaries. I didn't have any teenage mystical experiences, but I know that if I had, I would have kept them a secret.  The 1950s and early 1960s were not a time to tell people things like this.  You would be thought crazy, or you would simply be dismissed.  I'm not sure which would be worse.  When the most important thing in your life happens to you and you can't find anyone who can validate it, you must keep it secret.  You must keep it secret or it will be destroyed by those who cannot understand what it is to know what is actually real.

I feel sad that Ehrenreich didn't have the support that people can find now when they have these types of encounters.  If you listen to the whole interview, you'll see that she hasn't gotten to the bottom of it at all.  She doesn't know yet that this is just the tip of the iceberg -- that without language as a barrier, we do not actually exist separately.  If things had been different when she was young, she could be fully enlightened now.  Think of that, and think of how important it is for us to nurture these spontaneous realizations in those we know.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Eternal versus Everlasting

A magazine I subscribe to has a children's page and a couple of sentences read like this:  "Imagine you found a river that flowed with waters of eternal life. Anything you put by the river would last forever." 

Like many who were raised Protestant, I learned the following Biblical passage as a child:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)  That's the King James version.  In more modern translations, "everlasting" is replaced by "eternal."

Conflating "everlasting" and "eternal" can cause confusion.  "Everlasting" is within time -- it's just time stretched out as far as it will go.  But "eternal" is beyond time -- outside the boundaries of time.

When we are talking about life, this has important ramifications.  The phrase "everlasting life" indicates that we don't die.  And of course, this is a common understanding of what being "saved by Jesus" implies. You go to heaven and keep on living forever.  But "eternal" is something else.  "Eternal" is a whole other dimension of consciousness, not a "place" where things last forever but where there is no time.

And so my issue with these lines in the magazine I was reading was that it could cause children to misunderstand what spiritual awakening actually is -- to imagine that it means one is going to live forever when really the Biblical text points to something else.

And then, suddenly I remembered something I had realized:  This form doesn't die. How can that be?  More and more, as I sink into this possibility, which I realized without understanding, I get the sense that the forms that we usually think of as ourselves aren't really us, that the real "me" is what creates the forms and that actually doesn't die. And so, if this is so, any dichotomy between "eternal" and "everlasting" perhaps also doesn't exist at all! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Different Kinds of Love?

I've heard it said that there are different kinds of love:  romantic love, love of family members, love of friends, and love of all of humanity.  But is there, at bottom, a difference between these types of love?

It is true that they feel different. And people who are "spiritual" especially like to differentiate the last kind from the other, seemingly more limiting, types.  All-encompassing love, Buddha's love -- that is what we all want to experience, is it not?

But in my experience, the only difference between the more limited kinds of love and all-encompassing love (which includes love of self), is that the object drops away.  It's the same energy of life, but we don't need to focus on someone or something anymore:  we don't need anything outside ourselves to feel whole but rather we realize that we are ourselves the embodiment of love, that we are created as love, and that everything else is as well.  Love isn't so much something that we do as something that we realize we are and always have been.  And since everyone and everything else is also experienced that way, we can't help loving all else as we love ourselves.

Elizabeth Gilbert in EAT, PRAY, LOVE describes hugging trees in India when she had her awakening.  I had exactly the same experience:  anything and everything was embraced by my passion, but for some reason trees were especially lovable!  Maybe awakening makes tree-huggers out of us all!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's awakening: why did no one notice?

I'd heard a lot about EAT, PRAY, LOVE when I started to read it, but, since it was a best seller, I figured it couldn't be very deep and stayed away.  Am I a literary snob, or what?  Anyway, I was wrong. 

On pages 98-100 (paperback edition) Gilbert has an awakening. I couldn't help wondering why, in all I'd heard about this book, I never heard this. I mean, I haven't yet gone with her to Bali, where she finds true love, so I don't know what happens in the end, but an awakening seems pretty important -- certainly more important than romantic love. 

So I've been wondering why this seems to be the most under-reported awakening ever, despite the fact that the book itself is one of the most read books ever.  And what I've concluded is that if you haven't known what she describes, you don't know that it changes everything -- and I do mean everything.

A few years after my 1980 awakening, I wrote a paper about it and what led up to it.  Fortunately, I had my journal entry of that day for help. When I now read over what I wrote in 1986, I still think I captured it as well as a wordless non-event can be captured in language. But I noticed again and again that when I shared this paper with people who hadn't been awakened, they would read right over the critical part and think the story was about something else!  The first time this happened, I was dumbfounded, but now I'm used to it and even use the paper as a kind of test to see where people are spiritually.  (I gave it to my second teacher, Adyashanti, when I first met him, and he passed the test with flying colors!)

So what I'm saying here is that we all rely on our own experience to interpret what we read, and especially to find meaning.  Gilbert, basing her discussion on yogic philosophy, calls the awakened state (not really a state, but she refers to it that way) a "fourth level" of consciousness," beyond waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.  My first teacher called it a fifth dimension.  Either way, it's not only beyond the realm of our ordinary experience, but more, beyond the way we ordinarily experience life because, in that moment, subject and object are annihilated. And so, when we come back to talk about it, we are talking in metaphors, because language assumes subject-object relationships. Still, Gilbert does a good job of describing it -- better than I did -- and it's too bad more people didn't notice.

It's said that they took most of the enlightenment section out of the film so that they could show more of Julia Roberts at the beach.  Imagine my surprise.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Relative Bliss

I've been thinking about bliss -- how it arises and how it makes you want to go back and repeat an experience in which it arose.

The most blissful thing that happens in a lifetime is when the mind lets go and one moves into a deeper place.  In that place, there is a feeling of expansion -- often it is as though the "me" disappears entirely; other times, it seems as though one merges with others.  However it is perceived, when the ordinary, thought-orientation returns, there is a flattening out of feeling and a desire to re-experience the event that seemed to cause the bliss.

From one perspective, as many teachers have pointed out, such a happening is not really an experience at all, because "experience" is what the mind creates after the fact, the story it tells about what happened.  And there has to be a "me" having the experience, so when the "me" disappears, technically speaking, there is no experience, just pure Being.

Like most people, I've wanted to re-"experience" that bliss, but found that it wasn't really possible.  In fact, dropping the self became less and less spectacular, and less blissful.  So, I've been thinking about how this all works.

It must be that emotional categories, such as "bliss," work relative to what else has happened to one previously.  So the very first time the self drops away, there is this accompanying ecstasy which, it is assumed, will always arise in that circumstance. So we start to chase the circumstance.  (I say "we" because I've heard many people say this -- it's not just my experience.)  But each time the self drops, the mind expands and it never quite goes back to the same contraction it was in initially, so the next time, there is less of a contrast.  And each time less of a contrast.  One still notices when there is that shift, but the shift becomes much more subtle.

It's a lot like an orgasm, in that sense.  The very first time -- wow -- could anything ever be so good?  Has anyone ever experienced anything like this in the history of the planet?  But by the hundredth time?  Well, all in all, you're glad it happened; hopefully you're glad you shared it with someone you love -- but it's not life-changing.

So whatever the source of the bliss, I think it works like that.  Bliss is relative to what we've experienced so far.  It's the difference the mind notices between the ordinary state of existence and the extraordinary.  And the more often what was extraordinary happens, the less extraordinary -- and therefore the less blissful -- it seems.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No-self and terror

Singer, in her book about cults referenced in my previous post, describes problems some people have after doing meditation for long periods -- both long periods every day and over years.  One man writes, "'Suddenly I became one with the air conditioner.  I just dissolved, and it seemed that when the air conditioner started up it just took me out of my body.  There wasn't any me on the bed -- I was "at one" with the motor sounds.  It was unspeakable terror.  I had dissolved and melded with a motor sound.'" Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer (1995 edition), pp. 144-145.

"Unspeakable terror"?  I remember how it was for me when I first started to notice that the objects I used to think of as outside myself weren't really outside at all.  There was a mystery to it, a curiosity, but certainly no terror.  It was what I had sought, in fact, back in those old days when I did Zen in Japan and read all of those marvelous stories about people who had become one with trees and birds and such.  (No climate control in Zen temples in Japan, so becoming one with an air conditioner wasn't likely!)

So why was this man terrified?  I think this has to do with preparation. Many of the techniques that were used in a monastic setting in Asia came to America with the idea that they could apply to anyone (especially if they could be taught for a good price).  When they work, the ego begins to dissolve -- the ego being, as I think of it, just an arbitrary thought wall separating oneself from the outer world.  And I would guess that if someone were not prepared for this to happen, he would imagine he was going crazy.

So can there be too much meditation?  I am hardly qualified to speak about this since I don't meditate, but my guess is that yes, for some people, there can be too much of at least some kinds of meditation.  The ego does help us navigate the world and it can't be bullied into submission.  If it feels that it is going to be annihilated, it will rebel by manifesting various symptoms, including terror.  In the end, in my experience at least, the ego doesn't have to be annihilated -- it just becomes seen as provisional, not absolute.  But one doesn't know that it will work out that way in the beginning, and for some people, that could be terrifying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cults vs. True Spirituality

When I was young, I lived in a Buddhist temple in Japan that was an offshoot of a major sect.  It is only recently that I've let myself know how cultish it was.  (I thought I was too smart for cults!)  Now I've been reading about cults.  The book I'm reading now, Cults in Our Midst, by Margaret Thaler Singer, is a classic on the subject.  Singer describes how various groups use a variety of tools to give people an out-of-this-world experience and then frame it according to the doctrine of the cult, e.g., "God has spoken to you," or "You are now a blessed one." 

Sometimes I still go to see Adyashanti, the teacher who transformed my life in the last decade.  And sometimes as I'm standing in line, or sitting in silence waiting for him to come in, I glance around and wonder how the gathering would look to an outsider.  Would we all look like a bunch of cultists?  Certainly, for me, I've experienced being "out-of-this-world" many times sitting there in front of Adya.  In fact, pretty much every time I see him.  I see golden light emanating from everything.  The whole visual appearance of the room changes and I go somewhere very deep I can't describe.  I have no idea how many others experience this.

I suspect Singer would say that this is a hypnotic trance induced by the teacher. But I know the teacher himself isn't at all interested in the accompanying "bells and whistles."  The ultimate truth is beyond physical manifestation, beyond bodily changes -- beyond, beyond -- to the place where you and I and all manifestation is one.  And there is not necessarily a sign that this is realized.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The bodhisattva's tears

I've been thinking about emotion and awakening.  During the period when I was waking up, I'd go to satsang dry eyed, but I'd always be crying by the end.  Sometimes I cried all the way through, from the time I sat down.  Some people probably thought this was weird, but what was happening inside was too important for me to worry about what others thought.  I never could really pin down what the tears were about except that they seemed to correspond to some kind of opening in me.

The other night I was watching a program of Tony Bennett singing duets with other well-known singers and I found tears in my eyes.  The songs were mostly love songs and the singing was beautiful.  Were these tears coming from the same place?

I ask this because my inclination has always been to demean the latter kind of tears as just "emotional."  The tears sitting in front of my teacher at satsang came, I imagined, from a truer place.  Now I'm wondering.

I think there are bodhisattvas who are portrayed as having a tear on their cheek.  Such a tear represents compassion for humanity.  But what is compassion?  Is it, as we often assume, akin to pity?  Is it hope that suffering humanity will get with the program and wake up?  I DON'T THINK SO.

Now, suddenly, I see anew the idea that a bodhisattva is one who has reached the door to enlightenment but turns back and vows not to enter nirvana until all are enlightened.  This is not a choice made out of self-sacrifice but one made out of the realization that to live this life as an awake being is the very best choice that can be made -- because when life is looked at from the awake perspective, the kind of suffering that comes from needing things to be different disappears. One doesn't shed a tear because people are suffering and need to change but in appreciation of the bounty that life is -- and the bounty now also includes sorrow and longing and desire and everything that one experiences, each moment.