feeling the texture itself as a kind of art
emptiness as fullness
darkness has become sunshine
enveloping love expanding
birdsong is lifted up by the afternoon breeze
the breeze continues through the aspens, becomes a passing car becomes a distant chainsaw
it's a miracle how experiences blend into one another
silence to gentle breeze to inner stillness to water splashing to kids laughing to warm sunshine to love overflowing
Sitting with this feeling, a dislike of others, of muscles restricting - then slowly releasing into deep acceptance of oneself.
Anxiety, worry flooding the body - is only the Light, full of excitement, animating this moment with dynamic energy.
the source of this Light is within and without
in the absence of pleasure or pain - dull empty neutrality (a lie)
existence is not neutral, it's positive, luminous energy radiating
the feeling of dull empty neutrality, when known as pure energy,
is soft radiant joy
When the movement of thought returns there is still no separation.
Thought is but a wisp of smoke. Pre-awakening it obscures the truth, creating the illusion of separation when, in fact, there is no actual separation. Post-awakening, even when thoughts return, separation is not, both actual or apparent.
Thought is just black ink on a blank white page - the blank white page is one, when black ink comes the page is still one, and the black ink is one with the white page. There is no separation, period.
(This post was inspired by Jensen Ruehle)
This is a rambling conversation with a friend who believes he does not exist. (Mostly I’m just talking to myself . . .) Is there a real self, or is the self just a thought, a wisp of smoke, an illusion? (I think it is clear that there is physically no separate self, for nothing is separate. You are not separate, on a physical level, from nature - from the tree outside your window, from the birds singing in the park. Any division is ultimately created by the mind. But what about a non-separate self? Is the non-separate self just an illusion, a product of one's thinking.) First of all, we need to define the term 'thinking.' What do I mean by ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’ or ‘mind’? By all those terms I mean the same thing. I mean the 'voice in your head,' like the voice you hear when you read. Or we could say that hearing the thinking voice in your head is evidence that objective thinking (neuronic activity - (sounds dangerous!)) is occuring. I usually use the words "brain" and "mind" quite distinctly. The neurons associated with thinking (the voice you hear in your head) probably represent only a very small percentage of the total number of neurons in the brain. The brain controls and regulates hundreds of the body's systems - thinking is but one. Most animals don't hear a voice in their head - an educated guess. Yet even without a working symbol based language they can still recognize a large array of sights & sounds. Humans, probably, are the same. You don't have to be thinking to know something. Now here is an important point: It seems to me that the illusionary sense of self is more than just a thought. It is based on a set of experiences that are more basic, more primal shall we say, than thinking. I think that is one reason that the illusionary sense of self is so hard to see through - to realize as illusion.
Now back to defining 'thinking.' We can make the word 'thinking' mean whatever we want or agree upon.
1) Thinking can mean hearing a voice in your head, corresponding to the firing of the appropriate set of neurons.
2) Thinking can mean that the brain is operating. So when the hypothalamus sends a signal to release thyrotropin to help regulate some subsystem of the endocrine system, that is thinking. In other words, thinking means neurons are firing, period.
3) Thinking can mean that the cerebrum is operating - the part of the brain that controls higher reasoning, vocabulary, voluntary muscle movement, etc... This means that if you are walking, then you are thinking, (for voluntary muscles are being controlled).
But to keep things simple I usually define thinking as 'the voice in your head.' So I'll be using that definition for the rest of this conversation. For some, the thinking voice in the head is mostly not present. It comes when it is needed ... if that sounds like you I invite you to notice how much understanding takes place below the thinking level. Pure and primal recognition of various types of experiences, objects, sounds . . . without naming them - without a running commentary seems to be a very basic, fundamental ability of the brain. This kind of recognition seems to take place independently of "thinking" as I am defining it - the recognition happens when thinking is present, it happens when thinking is not present, it happens when thinking is just a faint background noise of the mind. It is more primitive than thinking, & probably evolved in the brain long before the language centres did.
Okay, now that we have at least attempted to define 'thinking,' let's get on with other matters. The real issue here is can subjective experiences (which are the only things that we can know directly) ever conclusively tell us anything about the existence or non-existence of a real objective will or self? So we agree, the subjective sense of self is illusionary - but does it necessarily follow that there is no objective self at all?
Consider the following two cases:
Case One: You twirl a flashlight in a circle in the dark - it appears that there is a solid circle. But that is just an illusion, really there is not a solid circle. Is the self's illusionary existence similar?
Case Two: You see your face reflected in the water at the river's edge. You are fooled, you think the reflection is your real face. You watch yourself (as the reflection), & perhaps on a windy day you notice how unstable it is, finally you touch the water with your hand and realize once and for all that the reflection is not solid - it is not a real face. You conclude that you do not have a face.
In case one you have reached a sound conclusion, the circle is not solid, it is an illusion. However, in the 2nd case you've made an error, your conclusion is not sound. Just because what you mistook as the self is now seen for what it is, a reflection (an illusion) it does not follow that you don't exist. Case two is how Ramana Maharshi saw things, I believe. I mean without the error. He used the term I-I to denote the relationship between the real Self and one's illusionary sense of self. He would say things like if you think you have not found the True Self, the very awareness of that lack is the True Self. (not an exact quote, but something like that...) So everyone's sense of self is a mirage, an illusion. But what does that even mean? What type of illusion is it? Most illusions still appear to be illusions even when you know that they are just illusions. For example, a straw sitting in a glass of water looks bent. It is not really bent, it just looks bent. Even when you thoroughly understand the optical principles behind this illusion - that the straw really is not bent, this understanding does not change your perception, the straw still appears to be bent. Now if you pour out the water or take out the straw, then the illusion is gone. The straw looks normal. But you can pour the water back in or put back the straw and the illusion returns. Or you can destroy the straw once and for all. No more illusion. The illusion cannot be created with this straw ever again. I'm trying to illustrate the different 'states' possible here. What are those possible states? Let's be more clear: First, there are those who's self system, functioning on a biological, physiological, neurological level, has remained unchanged. The fact that one's experience of being a self is illusionary has not been understood. (The straw is in the glass of water, it appears to be bent, and one believes that it really is bent.) Second, there are those who's self system is still functioning on a biological, physiological, neurological level, however the illusionary nature of one's self system, the illusionary experience that is one's sense of self has been thoroughly understood and penetrated. Although it has been understood, the illusion is still being experienced - it still definitely seems like you are or have a self. (The straw is still in the glass of water, and still appears bent, but one understands that this is just an illusion, that the straw is not really bent.) Third, there are those who's self system is still functioning on a biological, physiological, neurological level, however it has been significantly altered at the physical level to the extent that one's illusionary sense of self (a subjective experience) has completely and permanently vanished. (The water and the straw have been permanently separated preventing the illusion from occurring.) Fourth, there are those who's self system is still functioning on a biological, physiological, neurological level, however it has been significantly altered at the physical level to the extent that one's illusionary sense of self (a subjective experience) is normally, effortlessly and naturally absent. Although, it is still possible to create and experience one's illusionary sense of self to some degree by ....how shall I put this ... by letting the illusionary experiences of 'selfness' flow back into consciousness - (by letting the water flow back into the glass). Fifth, there are those who have undergone the complete biological, physiological, neurological collapse of the self system. (Serious brain damage equated with the destruction of the straw.) Now if one equates enlightenment with case 5, then we have a serious problem. The biological components of the self system are found within various substructures of the cerebral cortex (responsible for memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness, . . .), .including the hippocampus (required for the formation of long-term memories), the mammillary body and the Dentate gyrus (also important for the formation of memories), the primary motor cortex & other frontal lobe motor areas (responsible for planned actions), Broca area (a speech and language center), Wernicke's area (where speech comprehension takes place). . . and on and on and on . . . to completely collapse the self system would involve serious damage to countless brain structures. You'd be a vegetable! For a number of years after my mind became silent, when my identity (based on short and long term memories, and my inner voice's moment to moment running commentary) collapsed, when beliefs regarding myself held no power to create a functioning identity - I to reached the Alan Watts conclusion that there is no self. (I'm trusting that you've read a little Alan Watts, if not you should, his writing is very cool.) The experienced freedom of such a realization is hard to convey. The brain/body/mind operates naturally and freely. Subjectively there is no you, it feels like the body's actions and experiences unfold and arise of there own accord. All pressure is off to be anything whatsoever. The body/brain takes care of everything by itself. You are, subjectively speaking, equivalent to the moment to moment experiences that arise and fade away, you, as those experiences, are just along for the ride, you don't have to do anything or be anyone. In the first few years following the collapse of my identity, I did not realize that 1) functioning without a subjective identity & 2) not being a self on a more fundamental, unknowable level were completely different things. Are you a self? Is there any you at all, apart from the beliefs you have about you? Is there any will? Is there a willer? Breathing is a good way to attempt to answer these questions . . . I just took a few moments to notice myself breathing. Breathing is both voluntary and involuntary so experimenting with breathing can help penetrate very deeply into the nature of the self and the will. As I was breathing I willed my breath to be held on random inhales and exhales. I was not thinking during this experiment, just watching/feeling/hearing... I noticed that there was nothing in my experience that I could recognize as my self or my will or a willer. And yet, my breath was being controlled, was being willed to be held. It is curious, isn't it? Now suppose you try to hold your breath for thirty seconds or so ... when you hold your breath what is going on? Your brain decided to not let the lungs breathe for thirty seconds or so. Sounds like a rather odd thing to do. Why would the brain do that? It's not very comfortable. Physically, the body naturally inhales and exhales every few seconds. So part of the brain that controls voluntary movements is preventing another part of the brain that controls involuntary movements from functioning. (In this case breathing.) I think this difference between voluntary and involuntary systems is very telling. Perhaps we could just define the self (the will) as the parts of the brain that control voluntary systems. They are very real structures in the brain - messy tangles of hundreds of thousands of bundles of neurons. Maybe that is you. Sounds pretty freakin' awesome to me! "Hello my name is Tallis, I'm a messy tangle of countless neuron bundles, pleased to meet you." Is there any way to tell that these brain structures are not you? I do not see any possible way that you could determine if that is you or not. So your subjective experience of being a self has vanished, but the parts of your brain that control voluntary systems are still functioning. Maybe it's that simple. Maybe that is you! Or maybe there's more to you then just the parts of the brain that control voluntary systems, maybe there is something . . . transcendent. Again how can you possibly know whether or not you are something objectively real? Or maybe you could just define yourself as the objective/subjective reality that is called the body/brain/mind. Maybe parts of you are voluntary and parts of you be involuntary? I don't believe that the brain/body is functioning in such a way that it could make this determination. As a subjective experience I do not exist as a separate self, that is very clear. I am identical to the moment to moment experiences that arise. There is no division of experience. Inside and outside experiences, the sound of my own inner voice, the sound of a car's engine passing by, there is no real difference. But can I further conclude that there is no objective self, will, or willer, or Self? No, that is going too far. I am reminded of the expression 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.' Does that apply in the case of the willer or self? Perhaps it is a basic principle that the self or Self cannot be known directly'- just as you can't see your own face directly (or at least you eyes directly) - you can only see your face as a reflection. ("The tip of this finger cannot touch the tip of this finger." "Fire can't burn itself.") This is the principle. But faces, eyes, finger tips and fires still exist nonetheless. Is there any me at all, apart from the beliefs that I have about myself? Sitting here ... not thinking, just being the experiences that arise ... yes, I can bring forth the experiences that create the illusion of a sense of self ... no self in particular ... sitting here I have no beliefs about myself ... without thinking, without checking my memories, I could be anybody or anything. It depends how much thinking is permitted to come back into awareness. And yet none of that seems to matter, seems to be relevant ... For me, here is what matters: Beliefs about the self are not the self. The sense of self that is more fundamental than thought is not the self. Thoughts about the will or willer are not the will or willer. The experience of willing is not the will or the willer. Experiences of any kind are not the self or Self. It seems the "I" is impossible to locate. Now what? When all seeking for the "I" has ended what is next? Perhaps, you can do nothing else but just be the "I" - be what you've always been - be that which is prior to all experience. Or maybe it's just time for bed . . . night.
Buddhists are not nihilists; we must answer yes (or answer I don’t know) to the above question. However, if we answer yes then we must answer yes with qualification. The qualification being that we are not to qualify It, for It does not exist (standout) in such a way that our minds or brains can perceive It as having any qualities. It is ineffable because it lies beyond the range of objectification (i.e. it is not an experience or object of any kind).
Attempting to speak of that which is ineffable causes serious problems. (The problems start the moment we make It into a thing that possesses attributes.) However, not speaking of It has led to a more serious problem – nihilism. Therefore, I think we should speak of It, but carefully – by observing the following two-part rule:
i) Speak of It only in terms of what it is not. For example, in the suttas the Buddha sometimes calls It the unmanifest (not manifest) or the unaging (not aging). (S.N. 43)
ii) Do not use attributes (qualities, characteristics, or properties) to describe It. When, in the suttas, you come across terms such as ‘the peaceful’ or ‘the wonderful’ (S.N. 43) used synonymously for ‘nirvana,’ realize that these words are not actually describing It, but rather they are describing the liberated state (i.e. the free flowing experiences and actions) of an awakened person.
Again, the two-part rule is as follows:
i) Speak of It only in terms of what it is not.
ii) Use attributes to describe the experiences of an awakened person or moment, but not the It itself.
It is a simple rule and observation, but it has really helped me to keep things straight.
P.S. I feel as though there might be a third component to this rule. Is there something I am missing? That is very likely, for sure. Maybe making some sort of subjective/objective distinction is in order here. I’ll consider it over the Christmas break. Oh yes, Merry Christmas everyone!
What are you?
In this post, I would like to discuss the following question:
Is there some eternal aspect of your being that continues to live on past death?
As a rule, the Buddha refused to answer questions concerning that which is either eternal or everlasting. For example:
“Once a wandering mendicant asked the Buddha, ‘Does one who has reached the truth live again after death or not live again after death?’ To which the Buddha replied, ‘That is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion.’” (DN 9.26)
[See suttas 63 and 72 of the Majjhima Nikaya for a more extensive list of questions that the Buddha avoided answering.]
However, in the suttas the Buddha is very clear that he is not a nihilist:
“Both formerly and presently, I have never been a nihilist, never been one who teaches the annihilation of a being. Rather, I have taught only the source of suffering, and its ending.” (MN 1.140)
In fact, in the suttas the Buddha repeatedly stresses that he is neither an eternalist (one who holds the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul) nor a nihilist (one who believes that death is the annihilation of consciousness).
“Once, the Buddha was asked by a visitor named Vacchagotta whether the self existed, ‘Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?’ When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.
‘Then is there no self?’
A second time, the Blessed One was silent.
Then Vacchagotta got up from his seat and left.
Not long after Vacchagotta had left, Ananda said to the Blessed One, ‘Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta?’
‘Ananda, if I - being asked by Vacchagotta if there is a self - were to answer that there is a self, then that would be conforming to those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul. If I - being asked by Vacchagotta if there is no self - were to answer that there is no self, then that would be conforming to those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness.’” (SN 44.10)
[To appreciate how thoroughly the Buddha approached this topic, you might also want to read the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya, where the Buddha describes and rejects sixty-two different philosophical worldviews.]
Here is another passage, this time between Sariputta (Buddha’s most trusted enlightened disciple) and Maha Kotthita (a slightly less experienced disciple). Here Maya Kotthita is more or less asking if there is anything beyond nirvana (i.e. anything beyond the liberated mind that no longer clings).
Maha Kotthita: With the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and intellection, is it the case that there is anything else?
Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.
Maha Kotthita: With the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, is it the case that there is not anything else?
Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.
Maha Kotthita: Is it the case that there both is and is not anything else?
Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.
Maha Kotthita: Is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?
Sariputta: Do not say that, my friend.
Maha Kotthita: Being asked, with the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media, if there is anything else, you say, 'Do not say that, my friend.' Being asked if there is not anything else; there both is and is not anything else; there neither is nor is not anything else, you say, 'Do not say that, my friend.' Now, how is the meaning of your words to be understood?
Sariputta: The statement, 'with the remainderless stopping and the fading of the six contact-media is it the case that there is anything else?' objectifies non-objectification. The statement, 'is it the case that there is not anything else; is it the case that there both is and is not anything else; is it the case that there neither is nor is not anything else?' objectifies non-objectification. How far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. How far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact media go. With the remainderless fading and the stopping of the six contact-media, there comes to be the stopping, the allaying of objectification. (AN 4.174)
Buddhist scripture rocks!
The patience and care taken in these suttas is remarkable.
Here is another:
"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen and pay close attention. I will speak."
"As you say, lord," the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye and forms, ear and sounds, nose and aromas, tongue and flavours, body and tactile sensations, intellect and ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." (SN 35.23)
Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?
How should we answer this question? Well, according to my reading of these suttas we can forget attempting to ascribe any predicate whatsoever to It, for we can’t even claim that It exists or does not exist, and worse still, we are not even supposed to ask the question in the first place; for the question is itself confused. The question is confused because it attempts to objectify that which lies beyond the range of objectification.
Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?
It seems that a number of Buddhist teachers and bloggers are content to answer yes to the above question. But worse still, they feel compelled to describe their experience of Its intrinsic nature with a seemingly never ending string of positive attributes such as “pure, clear, authentic, radiant,” etcetera, claiming that the universe is made out of some sort of “Luminous Mind Stuff,” claiming that one should keep searching until ones sees the ________. Feel free to insert your favourite definite descriptor in the space provided. I personally like “The Infinite Substance of Being.” Whatever one might call It, the act of calling It (that is, ones so called 'experience' of It) anything whatsoever amounts to poppycock.
Be suspect of those who continually speak of seeing some sort of ‘Eternal True Self’. In my opinion, claiming to have seen some sort of ‘Eternal True Self’ is not consistent with the teachings of the Buddha.
[Of course, who hasn’t made this mistake? (i.e. made the mistake of naming that which is beyond range.) I know I have made this error on numerous occasions. Sometimes I get careless; don’t we all. The point I want to make is to be wary of those who don’t consider ‘naming that which is beyond range’ a mistake at all. Despite being guilty of this error myself, (I need to do better), I believe that there is a rather simple safeguard that we can employ to help us avoid making this error. Sounds like a good topic for next time.]
Is there some It, some deep and transcendental aspect of your being that is eternal?
It seems that a number of Buddhist teachers and bloggers are content to answer no to this question. Worse still are those who believe that the essence of their existence amounts to nothing more than an illusionary wisp of smoke. This is, in my opinion, worse than being merely a nihilist, (one who holds the view that death results in their annihilation), for they do the impossible by believing that they never existed in the first place. The logical consequence of believing that you are nothing but a wisp of smoke is that you begin to act as though you are nothing but a wisp of smoke. You do not honour the possibility that there “exists” in you an indescribable Divine Identity; nor do you sufficiently value your own dependently originated and uniquely developed personhood.
Be suspect of those who claim that there is no ‘Eternal True Self.’ In my opinion, this kind of statement is not consistent with the teachings of the Buddha.
With such restrictions, how can a Buddhist not help but feel verbally bound by a straightjacket? Are we really not permitted to say anything whatsoever concerning the It that truly does not both and neither exist nor not exist beyond the range of objectification?
I am not sure that I even understand that last sentence. What a convoluted mess!
What is one to do?
I might have an idea or two.
See you next post . . .
“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest— whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards.”
So begins The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.
15 years ago, I remember sitting in a University lecture hall studying Camus. “So what of Camus’ question of suicide?” the professor asked. We discussed the problem of suicide passionately for 35 minutes.
I had semi-seriously contemplated suicide the previous year. I was extremely depressed. To me life was meaningless! Why had I not noticed this fact before? At that period in my life, I had not yet read Camus, but if I had, then his question would have made perfect sense to me. Life had its moments for sure, but were those moments really enough?
A year before that, I had become a vegan. I did not change my diet much, I had just stopped eating meat and dairy – I tried to eat a few more nuts and grains here and there. I felt fine at first. Apparently, it takes a number of months, even years, before your B12 becomes sufficiently depleted for you to notice. To this day, I really do not know exactly what I was missing, but I definitely noticed that something was very wrong. Apparently, the question I was really contemplating back then was “Is my life, missing a few essential vitamins and minerals, really worth living?”
I improved my diet and I started exercising. That was all it took. By the time of that Camus lecture I was a very happy person. (And I have been to this day.)
Camus’ question sounded absurd to me. “Why not commit suicide?” If Camus had been happy, he would not have asked this question.
Happiness is its own reason for living; you do not need another. I spoke up in class, “Perhaps Camus was just depressed. Maybe he simply needed to exercise more; maybe he was simply missing a few essential vitamins and minerals.” The class laughed in unison mostly dismissing my comment. No, no this is Camus; he is a serious philosopher, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His ideas are important and profound.
However, the professor was not laughing. He looked at me and nodded. He understood my meaning and asked a better question: “If one is full of joy and contentment, then does one actually need a philosophical reason to live? What could possibly compel you to commit suicide if you were and continued to be happy?”
Not a single person in the large lecture hall had an answer.
Of course, Camus’ question is a serious question for most people because most people are simply not happy.
This is just my way of reminding those of you in the northern hemisphere that the darker days of winter are coming. Spending hours and hours of your time meditating is wonderful, but do not forget to do the easy things too – like taking your vitamins.
We should never treat people as a means to an end. People are ends in themselves – just as their experience of the present moment is an end in itself. Everything always comes back to this moment and those who are experiencing it.
Today I want to share with you a simple but powerful exercise. Use the following exercise to help avoid treating the present moment (and each person that you meet) as a stepping-stone for the next “better” moment.
A 'Live-in-the-Moment' Exercise
At certain times throughout the day pretend that whatever you happen to be doing will never end. Suppose you are doing the dishes. Imagine that you will never finish doing them. What a dreadful thought – doing the dishes for the rest of time. Or perhaps waiting in line. The next time you are waiting in a queue imagine that you’ll never reach the front. Again, that would be a perfectly dreadful situation!
So why would we want to do that – why would we want to pretend that our present situation will never change? Well, if all future moments will be identical to the present moment then living in the present moment would be a cinch. That is to say, it would be pointless to long for some future moment if all future moments will be identical to the present moment. The present moment is already here! You would certainly not feel compelled to use the present moment as a stepping-stone to get to the next better moment if the next better moment will be no better than the previous better moment.
You can play the same game with your inner state (a feeling) as well as your outer state (ex. waiting in line). Imagine that your inner state will never change. Suppose you feel bored – now imagine that this feeling of boredom will persist for the rest of time. This is very interesting and rather frightening. If you really do this well, really convince yourself that your inner state will never change, it can be quite startling. You might even have a mini emotional breakdown. And in some cases that might be a very good thing to have.
Fully surrendering to this moment by pretending that it will loop endlessly may bring about the most remarkable inner change. Yet be careful, for longing for that inner change to occur (focusing on some future moment) will surely prevent you from fully surrendering to this moment. It is a nice catch-22.
Now after pretending for a time, remember the following refreshing truth: No state or situation remains the same even for a nanosecond; everything is always continuously changing. Enjoy the changes – in both your inner states and outer situations.
P.S. It has been a long time since my last post. My daughters are now 3 ½ years and 11 months old. I am enjoying the changes too, a lot of them. See you in another 11 months. (Maybe sooner, we’ll see.) Tallis
I have noticed that the term ‘Witness’ is often used interchangeably with the terms Atta and Supreme Self (i.e. that which is not one of the five aggregates). I do not think ‘Witness’ is a good term. Using this term to instruct others and yourself before or during meditation can subconsciously or consciously privilege your visual experiences – as if you should be looking for something, as if the Supreme Self is something that can be seen with either the outer or the inner eye.
Have you noticed the eyes of some ‘mystics’ (e.g. Gurdjieff [in the picture], Rasputin, Osho, Aurobindo. . .)? Their eyes look so intense, so strained – as if they have spent their whole lives struggling to see something that simply cannot be seen.
The Supreme Self can no more be seen than it can be tasted or smelled.
Can you imagine telling your Zen Master that you have tasted the Eternal Self– and that it tasted like chicken soup?
That is ridiculous. (Actually on some level that might be true, but never mind about that right now.)
That which is "prior" to the aggregates (i.e. the True Mind, the Supreme Self, the Atta) is not a sensation; it is not a sound; it is not a taste or scent; it is not a visual experience.
The term ‘Witness’ is just as inappropriate as the term ‘Smeller.’
It is just wrong!
Looking, listening, and feeling for the Supreme Self is an important exercise. It is to play the ‘that-is-not-the-Self’ game (i.e. the doctrine of anatta game). The purpose of this game is to learn what you are not. How does the game work? You look for some experience, some candidate that could be the Self, you see that the experience is transient, that it is empty of independent existence, and you throw it away (remembering to embrace it later) saying: ‘That is not the Self.” Eventually you learn to stop looking with your eyes (the Self is not infinite empty space) and you learn to stop listening with your ears (the Self is not blissful silence of the mind). One day you will realize that you have thrown everything away – that you have declared: “That is not the Self,” for the last time.
On that day, your search for the Supreme Self will have ended.
You do understand, don’t you, that you never actually see The Supreme Self, you never actually say: “This is the Self”?
You simply realize that you are "prior" to the aggregates – that you are "prior" to all that is not the Self.
You simply realize that you are free.
At least, I think that’s how it works, what do you think?
My wife and I had a baby girl! Both are healthy and at home.
Now we have two girls – a 2 ¾ year old and a new born.
3 girls (wife included) to 1 guy, I feel very much out numbered – actually, it’s not a bad feeling.
Our newborn above. Our 2 year old and newborn below.
We are still waiting for our second child to be born. (The due date was December 9th 2009.)
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to find things to distract me – like doing jigsaw puzzles.
And it has since struck me that the path to spiritual well-being can be likened to doing a jigsaw puzzle. Each life-practice you add is like a piece of the puzzle. There are many pieces (practices):
Social and Ecological Ethics
Emotional Mindfulness Practice
Tai Chi Chuan
Each one of us has his or her own puzzle to work on and it can take a lifetime to finish. It can be enormously satisfying when you find that final piece needed to complete the puzzle.
And that is the problem: Just because it happens to be the final piece, it is often mistaken to be the most essential piece.
And most likely my last piece of the puzzle will not be the same as your last piece of the puzzle. I may have been missing a little spinal alignment and you may have been missing a little aerobic exercise. Now, having found my missing piece, I’m trying to convince you of the importance of the Alexander Technique and you’re trying to convince me to start running 4 to 5 times a week.
Maybe your last piece is Tai Chi and one of your friends is an Osho devotee begging you to try something called dynamic meditation technique.
Now here is another problem, most likely I haven’t actually completed the whole puzzle. Most likely, I’ve only completed a small section of the puzzle. (While mistakenly believing that I’ve completed the whole puzzle.) Adding the last piece of just a small section of the puzzle can be very rewarding. I might even mistake the final piece of a small section for the great panacea that the world so desperately needs.
And here is yet another problem: It seems to be the case that each one of us actually has a different puzzle to complete.
So not only do I mistakenly believe that the piece that completes the puzzle or a small section of the puzzle is the most essential piece, not only do I mistakenly assume that I have completed the whole puzzle when I have only completed a small section, but I also incorrectly assume that my puzzle is the same as everyone else’s puzzle.
What a mess!
This post is a call for a little patience with each other. People, you know I’ve only listed 12 pieces above! There are hundreds of practices (pieces). Now maybe my puzzle only has 20 pieces. Your puzzle may contain a greater or fewer number of pieces, and/or it may contain a different basic break down of pieces (practices). See what I am getting at? Your last piece may have actually been my first piece and vice versa; a piece that you discovered early on may still be eluding me. You may be wondering why your friend is dwelling on some special technique he has been working on for the last 10 years since you effortlessly adopted and mastered that type of practice when you were only 11 years old. You might not even know what he or she is talking about because it is so second nature for you.
And let’s not even get into the lessons you may or may not have learned in past lives . . .
Yes, patience and humility are definitely needed in abundance.
Okay, time to get back to my puzzle.
May you cherish each and every piece, that you may find ever increasing peace.
[P.S. I love searching for pieces by reading your blogs. If your blog is not on my blog roll, let me know, I’d love to try to understand your unique point of view.]
It is Sunday night. You have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning. You start dwelling upon this thought, “I have to go to work tomorrow.” You cannot help it, you imagine yourself sitting at your desk, staring at a stack of papers and a computer, and having to deal with overly demanding people all day.
You worry. You try not to, but you just cannot help it.
What is one to do?
I do not know if I have an answer for you, but I know what has worked for me.
Last post we noticed that: Sometimes it seems like we are living in the present moment. Sometimes it does not. However, really we are always living in the present moment.
So why does it sometimes seem like we are not?
I know that I feel present when I am consciously aware of the physical sensations of my body.
And I do not feel present when I am not consciously aware of the physical sensations of my body.
I think it is that simple.
‘Living in the present moment’ has very little to do with time, and very much to do with body awareness.
[Seeing this, and using the right words for the right experience (i.e. replacing the expression ‘living in the moment’ with ‘living in the body’) has really helped me.]
So why do we use the expression “living in the moment” when we really mean “living in the body?”
I think it is because often when you think about the past or the future you imagine yourself to be not only in a different time but also in a different location. And usually when you imagine yourself to be in a different location, you lose touch with the physical sensations of your real body.
Thinking about other times and other places is not the real problem.
The real problem is that we have developed an unfortunate habit of losing contact with our bodies whenever we imagine the past or future.
It happens like this: You are at home Sunday evening, and you start thinking about school or work tomorrow, that meeting, that report that is due, that test. And you can’t help it, you imagine yourself to be there, not just in a different time, but also in a different place, and therefore, you lose touch with the body. However, when we imagine ourselves to be in a different location, our body-imagination is usually very superficial. It is not simply that we replace the awareness of our real body with a comparably realistic imagined body awareness, but rather we are simply not deeply grounded in any body experience whatsoever. That is the problem.
It is a problem because when you think about the future this lack of presence in the body can cause you to worry. (Or at least it can greatly contribute to your worry because lack of body awareness makes you feel powerless – you are not in control of our own body.)
How do you feel when you are worried? You are anxious, you are shaking, you are nervous, you are vibrating too fast, you have butterflies in your stomach, you are dizzy, etc...
Your body is trying to tell you something. It is saying, “Be physically present. Experience me! Be in contact with me please.”
Therefore, the first thing to do is to get physically grounded in the body.
Try this exercise:
Sit down in a chair. Close your eyes and become aware of the physical sensations of your body – become physically grounded. Be in the body. Feel it. Breathe, and breathe deeply. Keep coming back to your breathing if you get distracted. Feel relaxed – that is, feel that your muscles are heavy and supported by your skeleton. Notice that you are supported by the chair and by the floor. Let yourself sink into every corner of your body. Take your time. Enjoy being so relaxed.
Next, still with your eyes closed, imagine that you are actually sitting in a completely different chair in a different location, but do not lose awareness of the physical sensations of your real body. That is to say, visualize a new environment – news walls, colours, furniture, books, dishes, etc – and yet at the same time never lose contact with the physical sensations of your real body.
Next, imagine yourself sitting in various different locations: in the kitchen, at a friend’s house, at the beach, and yes, at work – and again, the whole time never lose awareness of the physical sensations of your real body.
Now try this exercise again but add one relatively superficial difference – pretend that it is tomorrow while you imagine yourself sitting in different locations.
The key is never to lose contact with the physical sensations of you real body. And therefore, even though you are thinking about the future, it will still feel like you are living in the present moment.
In summary, I want to tell you the three things that I do when I want to stop worrying about the future. First, I make sure that I am physically grounded in my body. Second, I make sure that I am prepared, to the best of my ability, for the future. Often my preparation involves picturing myself in a different time and place while never losing contact with the physical sensation of my real body. And finally, again to the best of my ability, I try to surrender to the uncertainty of life by giving up my need to control what I simply cannot control. This has really helped me. I hope it helps you too. However, it does take practice.
Given enough time I hope you will find that your worries about tomorrow have been gently replaced by a deep confidence in your ability to handle tomorrow’s challenges and yet still honour the reality of the always already now moment.
Let me know how it goes.
[P.S. I may not be posting for a while. My wife and I are expecting our second child to be born any day now. (The due date was December 9th, 2009) Things are about to get wonderfully crazy around here. Until next time – peace to you all, and Happy Holidays! Bye for now. Tallis]
Remember that precious experience you had that changed your life forever? Maybe you’ve had more than one. I’ve had a few: the birth of my daughter – seeing her for the first time; falling in love – my wedding day; and that lucid dream I had where I was flying toward the sunrise – and it felt as real as real could be.
And many of us have had and/or will have an experience similar to this: A moment when you suddenly escape the tangles of your busy mind and sink into a state of silent awareness – a moment when you feel so intensely present that the simplest activities spark divine revelations – when you realize with absolute certainty that this very moment contains . . . , no is the secret of existence!”
What an amazing and precious experience. I love that one!
The experience I just described of dropping out of the mind and into this moment is an essential part of the awakening process.
But be careful, because sometimes when we see a particular truth it’s as though we see it reflected in a well-polished mirror. Even though things may appear perfectly clear to us, we may still have it exactly backwards.
Time (and specifically the present moment), the subject of this post, is I think liable to be seen and understood in just such a manner, as if it were reflected in a mirror.
Therefore, let us proceed carefully.
Most of us picture time as consisting of three components: the past, the present, and the future.
We imagine that the ‘present moment’ (what Eckhart Tolle is fond of calling the “NOW”) is 1) a specific point in time and 2) a point that is moving from the past and into the future.
There it is in our timeline diagram above, the ‘now moment’ represented as a point.
With regard to this ‘now moment,’ Zen teachers (the New Age type) often say things like, “your true nature can only be discovered in the present moment – therefore return to the present moment again and again and you will eventually discover who you really are.” (You know that sort of thing.)
Such a promise, that returning to the present moment will allow you to unravel the mystery of who you really are, can easily distract us from an even more pressing question: What does it mean to return to the present moment?
Since most of us picture the present moment as that elusive point sandwiched in between the past and the future, then presumably most of us believe that living and remaining in the present moment is rather difficult because it is so elusive. And difficult also because it means that we have to stop focusing on and thinking about the past and the future which most of us find nearly impossible to do for very long.
Is this what it means to ‘live in the present moment’ – to stop thinking about the past and the future?
In fact, that is pretty much the opposite of what ‘living in the present moment’ means, as I see it.
The above timeline diagram does not represent our experience of the past, the future, and the ‘now moment’, but rather it represents our somewhat confused attempt to fit the ‘now-moment-experience’ into an objective framework. Stop it!
The ‘now-moment-experience’ is not objective. It is subjective.
Subjective things cannot be placed on objective timelines.
It is absolutely impossible.
And that is where we go wrong – we confuse objective time with subjective time.
Objective time (a timeline) is just an idea – like an idea in a book, a book that is on some shelf, in some bookcase, in some library, somewhere.
Subjective time is in you. It is this moment – it is every moment. It is experience itself!
The subjective ‘now moment’ is the sound and feel of raking the leaves on a cool crisp autumn afternoon. But it is also the memory of such an experience. (Because even the act of remembering such an experience necessarily takes place in the present moment.) Again, it is every moment.
Subjective time, the ‘now moment,’ is not a point. It is nothing like a point. Mathematically a point has no length, no duration. It is impossible to live in a point, and trying to will make it feel like you are boxing yourself in, cutting up reality into smaller and smaller moments, reducing experience ultimately to nothing whatsoever. This is hell. Thankfully living in a ‘point-like-now-moment’ is just not the point of ‘living in the moment.’ The point is to be consciously aware of your experiences and to notice that your thoughts, even your thoughts about the past and the future, are happening right now.
Living in the now should not be restricting. Ultimately one should feel perfectly free to imagine the past and the future, knowing and feeling that those visualized experiences are happening right now, which is to say that they are subjectively happening. We don’t really need the word now, do we?
Subjectively, the present moment is just your experience. Using the word ‘now’ is redundant. It is always now! (Subjectively, that is.) The now is not just a small or focussed moment in time. The now is not small or short. Nor is it large or long for that matter. The ‘now’ is simply whatever is being experienced.
Let’s look at the picture below. Think of the picture below as that ‘pin-point-now-moment’ from the timeline diagram above, but expanded. (Yes, I am that good of an artist!)
Our friend in the diagram is showing us how to live in the (subjective) ‘now.’ Notice that thoughts of the past and future are included in the ‘now.’ Something else to be noted is that the ‘now moment’ does not move from the past and into the future. Subjective moments don’t move – that is, they don’t turn into new moments. There is only one subjective ‘now moment,’ and it is always already being experienced.
I think it is a confused mind that sees the ‘now moment’ as an elusive point that is constantly turning into new ‘now moments’ as it travels from the past and into the future. Such an understanding leads us to treat the ‘now moment’ as something that needs to be located, aligned with, and/or grasped. I think a better way of understanding the ‘now moment’ is to see it as your total field of experience – a field of experience that is in a continuous state of flux, for that is the nature of experience, it is always changing. But this changing flux is not going anywhere; it is not travelling from the past and into the future, at least not subjectively as your experience. Things are just changing, that is all.
(And you are the unchanging and unmoving witness at the centre of this changing flux, but you are also one with this flux of experiences, and yet still you are neither of these extremes. You are simply mysterious!)
This flux of experience is time. Without experience, (which is to say without something that changes) there would be no subjective time.
It is a mistake to attempt to reduce our experiences down to some hypothetical ‘pin-point-now-moment.’ (Attempting to cut out all thinking is a fine and perhaps necessary meditation practice on the path to enlightenment, but living in such a limiting manner should certainly not be our ultimate aim.) A better approach is to eventually let the ‘now moment’ expand, so to speak, to encompass every possible kind of experience, including those experiences we call thoughts of the past and thoughts of the future. (Or rather to notice that this already is the case – that any type of experience may potentially arise in and as the ‘now moment.’)
Okay, so we are always living in the present moment, but then why does it sometimes seem like we are not living in the present moment? (For example, when we are imagining ourselves at work Monday morning when it is in fact still Sunday night.)
In other words, how can we freely think about the past and the future and yet still feel like we are fully grounded in ‘this moment,’ – still feel like those thoughts about the past and the future are happening right now?
Sounds like a question for next time.
See you in the objective future.