The Mindfulness Corner
Leaping past the truth –
The doorway to reality is reality itself. Sounds simple, perhaps glib, but it is a poignant and remarkably strange observation. The ever subtle and mysteriously fractal nature of reality is that it alone is. We could say it is here, but what does here mean? We could say that it is now, but what does now mean? We could say that it is beingness, divinity, sacred, god; but what do those imprecise abstractions imply?
While we’re on a roll, let’s playfully engage another curious set of imprecise implications. The consciousness that perceives, the canvass upon or within which phenomena and experience unfold, and the contents (all and every perceptible and imperceptible symptom) are all characteristics or expressions of reality. They have no discernable existence apart from the expressive functioning of reality. More to the point, we have no discernable existence apart from the expressive functioning of reality.
You might notice within the privacy of your own experience and mental habit is that we leap over the immediate and solely existent fact of reality; we miss it entirely perhaps because it is all and only what is. We create (or more aptly put, consciousness creates) through thought, language, and psychological time, the conviction of a separately occurring self, a self that is definably separate from the whole of reality. It is this imagined self that is the bane of all confusion, craving, anguish, and conflict – the reflexive and purely impersonal creation of me-self as separately arising and apart from the heart of reality is the root and least common denominator of suffering, everything else is mere symptom.
The habit of mind to bifurcate and interpret reality as being more than one thing evokes the appearance of a discrete entity arising and being in possession of self-hood. Consequently this same habit imagines itself to be the center of experience, the interpreter, the decider, the chooser, when it is none of these. It is just an inconvenient (or convenient if you wish) apparition.
Reality alone is. The entire catastrophe, the ever present and always full-on vibration of creation containing and expressing itself as All This is the truth of being and perception – it is the ineffable and constantly shifting, never to be repeated, beyond description, living presence of itself.
The nature of reality (and this is perfectly available to see for one’s self) is to depart at the same “time” it arrives, to arrive at the same “time” it departs. It doesn’t last long enough (and yet never ceases to exist) to know or say anything about it. Thought can only comment or ruminate or lament, after the fact. Thought (as well as the hallucination of me-self and the imagination of time) are expressions appearing within reality; they cannot capture or accurately communicate reality.
The implication of this curious conversation is that awakening suggests (and that’s putting it diplomatically) a shift in the geometry or dimensionality of our perception. We are obliged to see through, or penetrate, or wake up from the habit of reducing the whole of reality into a separately arising entity that enjoys (or suffers) existence apart from the whole. And this depth and spontaneity of perception-understanding does not occur in the dimension of time, it is not knowledge, it is not a conclusion.
If we are interested in discovering the nature of reality, we must look here (though we can’t say where here is), we must look now (though we can’t say when now is). We are not going to be successful at some other time in some other place, or through the time-bound filters of purification, rituals, or spiritual practice. We must look with our fullness, our entirety of being.
Reality is always in hot pursuit of itself, the human adventure of awakening is this delicious and maddening love affair. Perhaps we can approximate the subtlety of this natural unfolding by saying that we turn our attention to the vast and ordinary array of reality as incomprehensible fullness and presence. We begin to see directly that organizing and agonizing ourselves into discrete existence is merely a habit of misinterpretation.
And once we get a glimpse of the profoundly unsatisfactory reflex to imagine ourselves into unreal existence, we start to wonder and ponder at what reality might look like and feel like if we could only stop. So we stop, we just stop. The arrogant and defended conviction of me-self with all its clever knowledge and inertia comes profoundly and spontaneously into question. We stop, and reality floods the doorways of perception, reality reveals itself to itself without distortion, entirely free of time space. This is not describable, it only is.
December 29, 2009
A Fresh Look at the Four Noble Truths
Have you ever noticed just how rich and nuanced the human capacity for imagination, expression, and interpretation is? Isn’t the wonder and flow of discovery more nourishing and satisfying than the “confidence” that comes with knowing things? It’s as if our true nature is fulfilled more by awe and surprise than knowledge and certainty. Perhaps much of our spiritual and socio-political malaise has to do with our inherent (and often overlooked) dissatisfaction with conceptual projection, the appearance of knowledge, the fixity we apply to ourselves and our relationship with the natural world. We are bereft of surprise and the gift of conscious novelty, the joy of not knowing, and the mystery that infuses our very being.
We have become far too accustomed to ourselves, presuming we know who and what we are, identifying with the mysterious field of thought projection and the creation of self-hood. We don’t really see clearly anymore, we are so filled with certainty and interpretive expectation that we actually believe what we think/project to be the real. And we wonder why boredom, apprehension, regret, fear, misrepresentation, facade, manipulation, and so many other “indigestibles” are so common in our day to day experience.
Many have turned to the Yogic and Buddhist paths for insight and guidance if for some strange reason we find ourselves having an interest in exploring the depths of our own being, seeking to be nourished by genuine spiritual discovery, and urgently working to embellish our lives with light, freedom, and mystery. The Dharma (the non-denominational way of understanding) has this remarkable capacity and holographic potency for inconceivable freedom and encourages a meticulous personal discovery process in order to evoke a profound realization, freedom from the known.
So let’s take a walk together along the path referred to as the Four Noble Truths and see if we can’t have a little fun interpreting these truths in a novel way, a way that might rekindle or ignite a new curiosity in us.
- Life is Suffering –
To look more clearly at this condensed homily we need to see what was meant by the nature of unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha) as it pertains to experience. The implication of this insight is that all experience (mental or physical, gross or subtle) is irritating and/or not fully satisfying because it is too often (if not always) tainted by craving, subject to change and therefore not reliable, and cannot be captured or held as the experiencer him - her - itself is of the nature of emptiness.
The unapologetic pointer is that consciousness and its content/phenomena are of a rudimentary unsatisfying nature, hence we can trace all suffering back to the inherent nature of consciousness itself. And if this view has some merit then we can adjust our personal spiritual journey accordingly so that we give our naked attention to the arising of phenomena and the nature of sentience and observation, rather than investing in the numerous life-long and arguably vain attempts at struggling to make things better.
We simply stop. We stop all manner of dream improvement, and see what happens.
- Suffering is Caused by Desire –
Craving (attachment/desire) or need or preference or clinging is a natural extension of our physical, psychological, and emotional condition, the imagined condition of separation. Craving can’t actually be the cause of suffering as it is only a symptom or permutation of consciousness; it doesn’t stand sufficiently alone to be responsible for anything. The implication of this second Noble Truth was partly to highlight the inherent three-fold nature of craving; craving sensual enjoyment, craving continued existence, and craving the end or annihilation of existence. I think we can all relate to these three experiences.
Were we to see clearly the impersonal nature of consciousness and awaken from the conviction of an individualized entity, we might stumble into a non-clinging relationship with living that could bring about a profound change in our experience. We won’t likely be successful attempting to negotiate or manage the symptoms of suffering/clinging as an individual. The breakthrough objective here is the piercing of the misinterpretation of consciousness as our possessing a separate and self-deterministic nature. This presumption is the fuel for the fire of craving and suffering.
Another potent and subtle element of this insight is referred to as Dependent Origination. This Buddhist equation is a way to emphasize and reveal that all phenomena (including the arising of our sense of self) is conditioned upon previously existing factors, thus eliminating the illusion of personal responsibility and the ailments of insufficiency, inadequacy, and all manner of performance anxiety. The equation looks like this:
With Ignorance as condition, Mental Formations arise
With Mental Formations as condition, Consciousness arises
With Consciousness as condition, Name and Form arise
With Name & Form as condition, Sense Gates arise
With Sense Gates as condition, Contact arises
With Contact as condition, Feeling arises
With Feeling as condition, Craving arises
With Craving as condition, Clinging arises
With Clinging as condition, Becoming arises
With Becoming as a condition, Birth arises
With Birth as condition, Aging and Dying arise
- Suffering can be Broken –
Well if that ain’t good news, the absolute extinction of craving! To discover the interest and curiosity within to consider these teachings in the first place is a formidable revelation. To attend to the instruction and vocabulary and nuance of these teachings is another joyful step. To enter into the stream of practice so the potency of direct experience may be apprehended is yet another amazing adventure.
To become acquainted with the nature of consciousness, to see the myriad permutations of thought and projection, and to begin to witness periods of wholeness within ourselves is the promise and fulfillment of the Dharma. This third Noble Truth concedes that cessation of suffering (the collapse of clinging) is possible. The deep view is that the suffering and clinging being referred to are not the content of our experience and the travails of common human experience, but the very nature of consciousness itself and the fallacious view/interpretation of separative existence that we have become habituated to.
The relinquishment of separation as the result of deep penetrating insight is the “mechanism” by which individuation, clinging, and suffering are transmuted into silence and wholeness.
- Suffering can be broken by following the Eightfold Path –
The Buddha introduced the Middle Path (as an antidote to the sensual indulgences and styles of self-mortification common in his day) as a true way to understanding. This Noble Eightfold Path consists of
1. Right Understanding,
2. Right Intendion,
3. Right Speech,
4. Right Actions,
5. Right Livelihood,
6. Right Effort,
7. Right Mindfulness,
8. Right Collectiveness (meditation)
For the sake of brevity, as one embarks upon the journey of self discovery these “encouragements” become more joyful expressions than burdened expectations of how we might interface with living. We seem to be already laden enough with behavioral guidance, especially from the pulpit of organized religion. The emphasis on laying the groundwork for penetrating insight is to keep our “karmic” house in order. Emotional and behavioral maturity are keen pre-cursors to making time for productive meditation and stillness practices.
Our freedom is an act of seeing, not an act of doing. The natural consequence of observing the arising of consciousness, the movement of the thought structure, and the quick conclusory habit of “selfing,” is a meta-understanding of the geometry of experience. As we commit ourselves to the practice of noticing and stillness, the matrix of joy replaces the hallucination of separation, gratitude replaces inertia.
May 13, 2009
Subtle Point of Conception (Inquiry into Awakening)
Have you ever noticed a difference between the facility of awareness and the conception point of a separate self? Perhaps some readers’ fond of self-inquiry may be interested to explore a subtle nuance that reveals the time lapse between actual perception and the thinking reflex, the reflex of self referencing.
Let’s imagine consciousness as the canvass, the content, and the vehicle of perception underlying existence. The movement of our human consciousness as a witness mechanism is what we might refer to as noticing. This awareness is the simple and effortless process of seeing (with all the sense windows) what is happening, what is stimulating our senses, attracting our attention. This awareness can be observing our thoughts, objects in our surroundings, and all manner of subtle or gross phenomena.
There is generally no question that phenomena are occurring, and something is noticing it, participating in it, flowing (with or without resistance) with it. There is the sense of what we call time as the arising, duration and passing of events. Time can be conceived as being outside (cosmological or geophysical) and inside as psychological time, the movement of thought.
So what we refer to as reality is the dance of phenomena arising in what we refer to as time being noticed by what we refer to as us. This is the simple view, unadulterated by too much interpretation or story telling. In the endeavor that we call meditation there is a general interest in turning our attention away from the outside world and simplifying our noticing to this present moment, this immediate space, this capacity and movement of awareness happening inside of my consciousness. By practicing meditation we take a look at the nature of awareness and its mannerisms, using ourselves as the laboratory for discovery.
This is a practice of simplifying our attention to see what is, in lieu of becoming absorbed (or lost) in abstraction, naming, and various levels of day dreaming. As this looking deepens we can peer into the subtle field where noticing happens all by itself prior to the conception point where/when a separate me forms. Noticing of phenomena is what is happening, the movement of stuff in consciousness is happening. So how is it that the natural state of impersonal choice-less awareness is remixed to include a me as the center of attention? How did I find myself in the picture?
We human beings are aspects, extrusions of the stuff happening in consciousness. We are elements of phenomena, perceiving mechanisms, complex sense vehicles of observation and action. No where in this streaming unfolding is there the slightest hint of a discrete self inhabiting the body mechanism. The subtle point of conception for the separate self (referred to as I or me or we) occurs when the thought structure effortlessly infers the magical and completely hallucinatory doer.
This sense of a separate doer operating in time gives rise to decision making, choosing, preferring, the myth of creative attraction and manifesting, and the accompanying warts of chronic apprehension, self preservation, clinging as attraction and rejection, control dramas – the stuff of isolation and fear. The root of suffering (in all its manifestations) is the impersonal reflex of self-referencing, the creation and presumption of separative existence apart from the whole field and movement of consciousness.
We miss being nourished by the wonder and unfathomable expression of consciousness because we are never (or seldom) without the movement of naming and abstraction that creates a muffled filter between what is and the grasping perceiver as the experiencer and doer of actions. We live in a chronic condition of always being late, after the fact, seduced by one failed attempt at control after another. This fundamental irritability is the root mechanism of all forms of contention and conflict, whether felt inside us or acted out on the global scale.
If your impulse is to deny this, our friendly conversation comes to an amicable end. If, on the other hand, these suggestions attract your interest we can walk together a little further. If you take a bird’s eye view of the basic inherent insecurity of the me and the fallacy upon which all remedies (where you part with your money for a better experience) rely, you may see that any effort of this me in time is a self-perpetuating jail cell. If, as I am suggesting, the me is not real (being merely a function of naming and self-referencing) then any form of self improvement (including spiritual advantages) is a continuity of the phantom. No real satisfaction or lasting peace can come to me, the apprehension that accompanies my conviction of separate self will not be ameliorated by anything short of a profound wakeup call that opens the mind beyond its familiar perimeters.
At some point we may find ourselves really interested in waking up, really interested in looking deeply at the nature of existence, urgently interested to find out what’s true. This yearning begins to infuse our lives and we would rather discover or practice or talk with friends about inquiry/spirituality than go bowling or entertain ourselves with typical distractions. At some point the seemingly impenetrable hallucination begins to crack and we get glimpses of discontinuity, feelings of expansion, momentary absorptions, curious encounters we can’t easily define or dismiss. The impersonal nature of consciousness playing the role of disquieted human begins to stir into self inquiry and we are driven to find out what’s real.
If this curiosity has been triggered in you we can enjoy the adventure of noticing not just the content of experience, but the field in which it is occurring. More and more we can catch moments when our presumptions and certainties are suspended and the unnamable is evoked in our wakefulness. Wakefulness is what we are, and as our encounters with reality deepen, we may find ourselves empty of motives and in love with what is.
March 16, 2009
We want to suffer less,
and still remain as we are;
this is a mistaken preference
Buddhism is often sold or taught as a program for mitigating suffering. There is a lot of emphasis placed on defilements, precepts, vows, and the cultivation of improved moral fiber and behavior. There are the ten Paramis or perfections, which are useful to enumerate:
- Dana parami: generosity, giving of oneself
- Sila parami: virtue, morality, proper conduct
- Nekkhamma parami: renunciation
- Pańńa parami: transcendental wisdom, insight
- Viriya parami: energy, diligence, vigor, effort
- Khanti parami: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
- Sacca parami: truthfulness, honesty
- Adhitthana parami: determination, resolution
- Metta parami: loving-kindness
- Upekkha parami: equanimity, serenity
And this journey of purification is considered “valuable” as it pertains to confronting and transcending the ten fetters, also worth enumerating:
Sakkaya-ditthi is translated as "personality belief". This is the belief that we are solid beings, which leads to the illusion of a separate self, egoism, or individuality.
- Vicikiccha means "skeptical doubt." In particular, doubt about (a) the Buddha, (b) the Dhamma, (c) the Sangha, (d) the disciplinary rules, (e) the past, (f) the future, (g) both the past and the, (h) the doctrine of dependent origination. The Buddha said that this kind of doubt is like being lost in a desert without a map.
- Silabbataparamasa means "adherence to wrongful rites, rituals and ceremonies"...in the mistaken belief that purification can be achieved simply by their performance.
- Kama-raga means "sensual desire."
- Patigha The literal meaning of this term is "to hit against", but it is often translated into English as "ill-will or hatred".
- Rupa-raga is "attachment to the form realms." That is, still binding ourselves to Samsara.
- Arupa-raga is "attachment to the formless realms."
- Mana literally this means "measuring" and is often translated as "conceit, arrogance, self-assertion or pride", but measuring is a better term because it means all forms of evaluation.
- Uddhacca means "restlessness." It is the confused, distracted, restless state of mind, in which there is no tranquillity or peace.
- Avijja is translated as "ignorance", but this is ignorance in a special sense
The problem with this altruistic and well intentioned approach is that it remains tethered to the material and temporal nature of consciousness; focused on process, psychological time, an action plan resulting in and having some benefit that inures to “me.”
There won’t be any freedom here. Please pardon (or don’t) my glib dismissal of 99% of Buddhist process. The humanity is as it is, full of self-deceit and the reckless clamoring for personal fulfillment and security – the chronic dissatisfaction that accompanies existence. There is nothing inherently wrong with the humanity and its apparently insatiable confusion. And the natural condition of humanity does not preclude us from having an encounter with the potency and immediacy of liberated understanding.
So we have the inspiration and motivation to suffer less, an arguably relevant endeavor that may permit us to live with greater ease and less affliction. And we have the confrontational invitation to wake up, which leaves neither residue nor the chance to enjoy our spiritual progress. While these are not necessarily mutually exclusive prescriptions for tranquility, the former leaves you as you are/were; the later will kill you outright.
Since I’m already out on a limb, let me cut the branch. The Buddha’s emancipation (and gift to us) is expressed as cessation and nirvana (nibbana), the transcendent and singularly ineffable freedom; "This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana."
December 25, 2008
The funny thing about free
is that it never happened
We can look at some of these curious Buddhist paradoxes through the eyes of dismissal or the eyes of wonder. I prefer the later. Having “suffered” for some time from the dubious gift of spiritual seeking, I have many times attempted to elicit a condition of free. Sometimes my urgency and craving for free has brought me to the point of a kind of constipation. Being a natural inquisitor, I have attempted to better understand 1) why my self-admitted sincerity for enlightenment has not been fulfilled, and less frequently, 2) just who is this me that plans on benefitting from this grandiose idea I harbor of free?
Every once in a while a whisper of inner silence and spontaneous receptivity arises within me that captures my attention and bestows a sense of blessing that I cannot contain and I know is not the result of any effort or preparation. These natural gifts of wonder happen to all of us; however we are often too distracted or active to pay them any heed or relax into the invitation of presence. So in a sense by practicing stillness (meditation) we become better able to listen for and welcome these nourishing interludes of freedom.
The funny thing about free is that it never happened to anyone. While this may sound like a paradox at first glance there may be something of value to consider. When wonder and not-knowing replace the habit of identifying ourselves with thinking and self-preservation, freedom blossoms. And when this occurs it is very difficult if not impossible to remain seated in thought or the conviction of a separate self. We don’t become free, free becomes all that is.
October 10, 2008
The gift of refuge
serves us to be
In Buddhist practice we may use three candles to support our mindfulness, our practice of sitting walking, and our practice of spiritual refreshment. These three candles are lit to represent the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These three candles are lit to remind us of the importance and presence of refuge.
For the sake of brevity, the Buddha is one who successfully traveled the entire distance to the other shore of understanding and liberation from confusion, the Dharma is the body of wisdom and the way of life that supports the journey, the Sangha is the fellowship of practitioners that walk the path together.
These three candles serve to remind us of the active presence of freedom and support for our practice, they are referred to as the Three Refuges. As we cultivate a deeper appreciation for them (and that appreciation doesn’t have to do anything at all with Buddhism or becoming a Buddhist) we develop an affinity for taking refuge inside ourselves.
As we become more intimate with the practice of stillness and silence, the gift of refuge increases within us. We derive an inner strength to witness and relate to the joys and complications of our fast changing outer landscape. By taking refuge in the real we become more capable of navigating the vicissitudes of the unreal, and this capacity to discern the difference also naturally matures within us.
Through no particular effort to accomplish anything, these gifts blossom within us. The gift of refuge is truly remarkable; it is like the mighty oak growing out of a tiny seed.
August 14, 2008
Meditation is simple
and less than that
We practice effortlessness. Of course, you can’t assert effortlessness; you have to tolerate everything inside yourself that objects to effortlessness, and that is the heart and soul of the practice.
We learn to understand and relate to restlessness, impulse, discomfort, avoidance, and all the other subtle voices that criticize our practice of effortlessness. We are conditioned from an early age to perform, and name things, to show our capacity for learning and identifying objects. Our parents love this game!
We are products of a society driven by imagery and consumerism that celebrates frenzy, noise, chronic lack, and insecurity – all of which promotes a depth of emotional and psychological dissatisfaction and confusion leading naturally to anger, depression, and often profound loneliness.
Our addictions and life long apprehension are symptoms of a life run by hallucination.
So, we practice effortlessness in an attempt to counter the deep and profound fractures in our consciousness and we become willing to encounter our sorrow, our grief, our fear. We practice effortlessness to reveal all of the compensation strategies we have carefully (and often unconsciously) crafted to survive the barrage of insults we have had to endure as human beings.
You can say that meditation practice happens when you make the decision to become intimate with yourself and discover the strength to face all the things you think you can’t bear within the private landscape of your own mind.
We practice effortlessness to grow up, to wake up – to reclaim our native intelligence and esteem. Magically, we find ourselves on two parallel tracks. One track is the practical aspect of slowly becoming more available to ourselves, bringing a greater degree of emotional and psychological order to our self view and relationship with living. The other track is the sacred, it cannot be measured – it is the voice of God whispering “welcome home.”
August 1, 2008
Here I sit
noticing I am waiting
but I cannot fathom what for
The Buddha was a diligently self observant human being. The potency of his observation had such a force of clarity that he was able to drill down to the core of, and then beyond, the core of his being to observe nothing at all.
And what presented itself at the periphery and at the center, what reflected itself unabashedly everywhere he could see, and not see, was perfect freedom of mind. This freedom, as taught by the Buddha, is completely unfettered and refreshingly present; it is the flow of observation from a place of total and effortless inner silence.
To call it freedom is already a misapprehension, if it could be understood clearly we might refer to it as freedom for whom, and from what. The Buddha’s eyes did not deceive him into thinking of himself as a separate being, existing apart from the field and contents and functioning of consciousness. To name this understanding is simply not possible.
The question we may ask (if our capacity for curiosity is awake) is how could that freedom be enjoyed by me? There’s a small mystery here though, and it is one of the special wonders of being drawn to the spiritual quest, the adventure of discovering one’s self. And that mystery is that there already has to be a kernel of awake inside us that alerts us to yearn for true resolution and effortless peace.
We have to be triggered in our imagination, and in our heart, we have to be reminded of the possibility of God consciousness in order to seek it out. And realizing this is a potent aid in the practice of meditation, because somewhere inside we know that we have been invited to take this journey. We can sense that awake has already occurred and now we must listen more carefully. We become compelled to make the inner discovery, even without any comprehension of what it might be.
July 30, 2008