exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
Editor's 1-Minute Essay:
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"Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life."
Editor’s prefatory note:
We are to search for, and follow, the truth wherever it leads, whatever its source. And when we find a particle of it, even in our rejoicing, we must hold it loosely in our hands – for there is always more to come. And when it comes, it will modify our current views of how the Universe works. The modification may be slight or it may be revolutionary, but, in either case, we will be changed by its advent.
“Holding truth loosely” in one’s hands, in a practical sense, means that it’s inadvisable to plant the flag as a card-carrying member of this ideology or that religious organization. How could such strict true-believer affiliation make sense? No human being, and no corporate entity, could ever become repository of any final word on the “Truth.” This is not possible. And even a million years from now we will be saying the same thing; for the more we learn, the more the horizon of certainty recedes and flees from us - an "expanding frontier of ignorance," as Dr. Richard Feynman called it. So shall it ever be.
I offer this statement as preface as some will assume, with a promotion of Zen, that I am a Buddhist. But I am not; nor do I claim wholesale affinity with any group’s party-platform or structured belief-system.
How then shall we live a godly life? Keep your mind unfettered from cultish constraint, critically evaluate and question all things, “open a channel,” allow “the Spirit” or Universal Consciousness to direct your steps, and follow the “Truth” wherever it leads.
And when you find a gold nugget, and if it passes your evaluative tests, claim it as your own. There may be a philosophical or religious group out there that has popularized what you’ve discovered, but they did not invent it. Any concept of lasting value and universal importance has existed since the beginning of time, and before, and so no one can hold exclusive title-deed to the “Truth.”
Claim it for your own, hold it loosely, though, and rejoice in your new-found riches... but, know that more is coming; there’s always more coming.
the moment of becoming a sane, really free, human being
“I'm simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I'm saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes. It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say ‘this is good, this is bad,’ you have already jumped onto the thought process. It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher. And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”
Osho, Indian mystic, (1931-1990)
one's personal sense of 'I Am,' on a deeper level, merges with the great 'I Am'
“If I penetrate the depths of my own existence, to the indefinable ‘I Am,’ that is, myself, at its deepest roots, then through the deep center I pass into the infinite ‘I Am,’ which is the very Name of the Almighty."
“It [higher consciousness] starts not from the thinking and self-aware subject but from Being. . . . Underlying the subjective experience of the individual self, there is an immediate experience of Being. This is totally different from an experience of self-consciousness. . . . It has in it none of the split and alienation that occurs when the subject becomes aware of itself as a quasi-object. The consciousness of Being . . . is an immediate experience that goes beyond reflexive awareness. It is not ‘consciousness of’ but pure consciousness, in which the subject as such ‘disappears’.”
Thomas Merton, monk and priest, (1915-1968)
Zen is for normal, everyday living, it's not outer-space, pie-in-the-sky stuff
Zen is not a religious ritual.
It’s not just for Buddhists. The Buddhists don't own this truth. It’s for any human being desiring to “wake up,” to become more aware, to perceive a clearer picture of reality.
Zen Buddhism, for some, or many, has become a religion, but, from the beginning, it was not meant to be so. The good things of Zen are just part of skillful living. We could say the same for Christianity, or virtually every religion.
Editor's note: Here’s the “Idiot’s Guide To Starting A Religion.” You find someone who’s had a mystical experience; that is, an authentic metaphysical encounter with a Higher Power. The newly-minted oracle/saint/shaman has had a vision, dream, or visitation, and is overwhelmed by it and cannot adequately describe. The awakened person is typically not interested in starting a structured religious organization. He or she now knows too much to be overly concerned with arrogating high-profile titles, like Harry HeadCheeze, HeadHoncho, High WaterBuffalo, Grand Poobah, but you get the idea; neither is the accumulation of mammon and expensive toys of much interest. While followers may pursue, and a certain amount of instruction may ensue, the clear-eyed one realizes too well that you cannot “bottle and sell” this other-worldly experience; a bone fide revelation is non-transferable. It’s for the original recipient alone, requiring others to seek for their own, which becomes the essence of the mystic's message. Also, more than likely, the percipient will classify the mystical experience not as something out in left field, something abnormal, but something part and parcel of normal human evolution, a normal way of living one's eternal life. As such, far from claiming to be superior, the sighted-one will insist that he or she is quite ordinary; if anything, one born out of time in order to point the way for others. In this manner, the experiencer is likely to refer to the divine insights as part of a “way,” or a “path,” or a mode of living. And this is why both Zen and early Christianity were labeled as “The Way.”
However, as the news of the great experience gains traction in the public view, with followers wanting to know more, ambitious individuals, sensing an opportunity for materialistic reward, for power-and-control, will begin to add structure, rituals, formularies, rubrics, laws, to that which originally was deemed to be ineffable, beyond words, indescribable, and transcendent. The original receiver of the exalted view remains uninterested in building a corporate religious edifice. But this does not stop others from claiming to be “God appointed” handlers of both the gift and the gifted one. The self-anointed retinue will now bestow upon themselves grandiose titles of “high priest,” “mediator between God and men,” “holy man,” “reverend,” “God’s special one,” or some such pomposity, all of which the original experiencer sedulously refused for him or herself.
But I digress.
Borobudur: the massive Buddhist staged temple-tower, a confusion of 'signpost' versus destination
Wikipedia: (excerpts) “Borobudur is a Buddhist temple in Central Java, Indonesia. It is the world's largest Buddhist temple. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa. The monument is a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The pilgrim journey begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument, ascending to the top through three levels symbolic of Buddhist cosmology: Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist reliefs in the world.”
Borobudur was featured in Professor Diana McDonald’s excellent lectures, “30 Masterpieces Of The Ancient World.” With mindfulness of brevity, I offered no commentary of the ancient temple in my article, but allow me to do so now.
All of the “30 masterpieces,” to one degree or another, represent “visual propaganda” in service to some Dear Leader’s cosmogony. We discussed this at length in the aforementioned writing. But how could this happen with a temple devoted to the lofty principles of Zen?
Borobudur began well. The very design and structure of the temple, its ten levels of staging representing ten levels of spiritual advancement, becomes a kind of classroom and teaching device. Think of the Christian “Stations of the Cross” as a rough analogy. So far so good because there’s nothing wrong with teaching devices, with “sign-posts” pointing us in a good direction. But it all goes quite wrong when the teaching aid and the “sign-post” are elevated to primary importance; it's like eating a restaurant's glossy dessert menu, believing that this is the closest you'll ever get to strawberry cheesecake -- but, don't forget to add a photo of ice cream.
In other words, when true-believer pilgrims are led to suppose that there’s some sort of magic in climbing the ten stages of the temple, that the huffing-and-puffing hiking itself will make you a better person, then it all becomes dysfunctional real fast.
Further, the display of hundreds of statues dedicated to “Lord Buddha” oppresses the spirit, a "calculation to overwhelm and intimidate," and now takes us very far afield of the Founder’s original intent. The real Buddha would have spit nails at the thought of such cultish deification.
Editor’s note: But then, this is part of a common devolution process seen in history. As discussed above, the authentic oracle/saint/mystic will dismissively wave away all deification and send followers on a quest for their own, personal, true encounter with God. But the handlers will have none of that. They want to be gatekeepers and collect toll-fees; they want to bottle and sell it all "for only $29.95, with operators standing by to take your call”; they want to open a carnival-Disneyworld temple, with rides and cotton-candy, all the gaudy and materialistic trimmings, to impress you with the ascetic-hermit Founder's unworldly and nonmaterial insights.
there are many who work very hard at trying to make you feel small
Editor’s note: And regarding “spitting nails,” I sometimes think of the apostle Paul in this regard. He was the one who decried formalized religion as “nursery,” a kindergarten “A-B-C’s,” and even a “prison” for the human spirit. And yet, in one of the supreme ironies and prevarications of history, look what’s happened. His impressive name, appropriated for commercial purposes, is smeared on large buildings suggesting that he would condone such ostentation. See my commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a 15-year research project, which will substantiate the above assertions.
But what about these large buildings that have come to be known as temples or churches? Some of these are very grand spectacles of architecture, indeed. See the lofty spires, the buttressing arches, reaching to heaven. In these man-made mountains, we might feel insignificant, and, by contrast, that God is great. And isn’t this a good thing? Is not this architecturally-induced humility a priming of the human spirit toward devotion and piety?
The answer is, yes, but only in a dysfunctional way. I hate to be the one to break the news but – you’re not supposed to feel insignificant – you’re supposed to expand, and enlarge, and fill the universe. Yes, I know, the Founder’s handlers will now level charges of megalomania and satanic hubris. But I will tell you this: you, yourself, are as important, and as worthy, as anyone who has ever lived; and this includes those who’ve already experienced the visions/dreams/visitations.
Let me put it this way. Zen is not some super-human feat. It is meant to be part of an ordinary way of living. It is how you and I are meant to live, in this world, and the one beyond – eternally. The apostle Paul, in his own terminology, would have called it “living in the Spirit”; that is, living in the Purified Consciousness. We, each one of us, is linked to Universal Consciousness. But even this is not strictly correct. It’s not so much that we are linked – in that, we are separate entities, divided from Universal Consciousness, but for a splicing link – we are an “atom” of Universal Consciousness. It’s not what we have, it’s what we are.
It’s like this. A ray, or a photon, emanating from the Sun, is part of the Sun, not something foreign and separate. A drop of water in the ocean may be just a drop, but it’s also the ocean, because that’s what the ocean is, a vast collection of drops. One grain of sand on a mile-long white sandy beach is not just a grain of sand, it is the beach, for the beach has no identity, and no meaning, but for its trillions of grains of sand.
And so it is with us, each of us, individual expressions of Universal Consciousness. As the great physicist-philosophers instruct, “only Consciousness is real,” everything derives from and is an expression of it. This means that there is nothing greater than this; which means that there is nothing greater than what you are.
But, I know what you want to say. You are tempted to protest that you do not feel yourself to be as extensive and expansive as this. Much of the time you feel isolated, alone, and bereft. This misperception is due to a lifetime of the mind’s conditioning as cut-off from the main.
But the practice of Zen is designed to open your eyes to the reality of who you are, to the Life within, to the “infinite internal cosmos” which knows no bounds or limitations.
it’s all about ‘going within,’ about accessing the soul-riches of the inner Life, about coming alive to one’s ‘true self’
This aspect of “going within” is what Zen is really about. It’s not about becoming religious or a convert to Buddhism; it’s just that the Buddha, one of the “early flowers to blossom” in history, figured this out before most – “Buddha” means “enlightened one.”
“Going within” is about evolving yourself as a human being, it’s about bringing to the surface of consciousness all the riches that lie fallow on a "made in the image" deeper level.
In Summerland, the better teachers have a lot to say about “going within.” On the “true self” page, you will find a long list – 20 or 30 references – from afterlife reporters who insist that “going within” is just about the most important thing you can do if you want to mature as a spiritual being.
Editor’s note: The following was originally written as a chapter for the “How To Sit Quietly In a Room Alone” book; however, I decided to reproduce it here as the information directly, and very importantly, impinges upon the subject of Zen.
Eckhart Tolle: “You're in a room, you’re facing a wall, just sitting, and then you observe your mind, what it comes up with, and you learn to ‘just be with what is.’ This simple Zen meditation, some would say, is the most difficult meditation - just sitting and being with what is.”
In the school of Zen, they have a meditation called 'sitting.' No structure whatever. All they say is 'sit and be with what is.'
the following is a summary of hours of lecture, a rough transcription, of Eckhart Tolle's public discussion, “Living a Life of Inner Peace"
Sometimes in Eastern places of meditation there are visiting Westerners and sometimes the Easterners are very impressed by the Westerners, they can sit still for long periods of time, and there’s so much will-power – like holding a lid on a boiling kettle – and they sit there, and they’re showing everybody how great they are in their meditation, and you can see, or sense, there’s a lot of “wanting” there, there’s a lot of force behind it, and that’s not it. There’s no discovery of “inner space” there.
“Directing attention” is what’s needed. “Where is your attention?” For most people their attention is almost completely absorbed by thought-activity. They are so identified with the streams of thoughts in the head that they’re not looking for meditation or for anything else because, for them, there is nothing else. They are “the voice in the head,” as far as they’re concerned. They don’t know there’s a deeper dimension as it’s totally obscured by the chattering “monkey mind.” This incessant thinking becomes the ego, which means that thinking is invested with a sense of self. This is the “false self.” This is the normal human condition of unenlightenment.
All of this mind-conditioning that is infused with “self” causes suffering in one’s life. Eventually, this becomes one’s pathway to “salvation” - to enlightenment, which is to realize the “sacred inner life” of the soul - as the suffering, stress, and unhappiness begins to “crack” or “dissolve” the ego, and then, in a desperation to find peace for one’s mentally tortured life, other options are finally considered. Slowly, one might catch a glimpse of the “inner life,” attention is directed, more and more, to the “true self.”
The purpose of meditation practices is to draw one’s attention to where the mind is focused. The purpose of meditation is to realize how the “thoughts in the head” run one’s life; that, because of many years of mental conditioning, the thinking controls us and runs our life, and that we are not in control of these enslaving thoughts.
A discomfort may arise during meditation; or irritation arises, or impatience arises, or any kind of mind-conditioning arises. And you can learn from this, simply, to be with it, whatever the form of this moment takes; for example, the form of a pain in the knee. You accept the form of this moment. And this is why in Zen, the school of Zen, they have a meditation called “sitting.” No structure whatever. All they say is “sit and be with what is.” And you sit for hours and be with what is – that’s the Zen meditation.
And then they put you in a room, you’re facing a wall, and they open a window, and the cold winter air comes in, and you sit there shivering, and you be with what is. And then you observe your mind, what it comes up with – “what am I doing here, o.m.g. this is so stupid, what’s the point of all this, I could be home in a warm bed” – and then you see what arises in your mind, and you be with that. And you don’t say, “oh, I mustn’t have these thoughts,” you just be with what is. This is the Zen meditation, and they don’t even call it meditation, just “sitting.”
This is instruction on how to live - to be with what is - because “what is” is the way it is, and to fight that is absurd. And so this is what you learn in this simple Zen meditation, and some would say, the most difficult meditation. Just sitting, and being with what is.
This meditation has no specific meditation object, except to be with whatever condition arises this moment, or “what is” during the meditation. The condition may be internal: an emotion, a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation; or it may be external: cold air, warm air, noises around you, disturbing noises in the distance. This Zen meditation is a practice for the real world, for life as it must be lived, in all its variations.
Whatever condition comes is incorporated into the meditation, so you can never say, “I can’t meditate because this or that is happening.” Well, it’s part of the meditation. “You can’t say I can’t meditate because the children are screaming” – be the “space” for the noise around you. This meditation prepares you to be “present” in the midst of the chaos of life; whatever arises is part of the “is-ness” of life. You accept whatever arises. This does not mean that you become powerless. Just the opposite. You become the expression of enormous power. It is the power and intelligence of Universal Consciousness and Life itself; which can then act and enter the world through you.
The secret of Zen is “to be with what is,” to be totally “present” in whatever arises. When you are aligned with “the present moment,” you are in a state of continual meditation. And when you are in that state of alignment, “you are the spiritual Master.”
Some people think you need a lot of knowledge or years to be a spiritual teacher, but all you need is to be one with “the present moment,” which is alignment with life and with the mind of God. And then, because you are an “open channel,” whatever is needed in a situation, the answer will come through you, from Universal Intelligence.
And so, the reality is, you yourself are not the spiritual teacher. And if someone says, “well, I’ve studied all these years, I’ve practiced this and that, and now I am ready to be a spiritual teacher” – no. This is a sign that you are not ready because you are not an “open channel,” but a voice for the ego. The best qualification for being a Master is to feel that you’re not ready and that you don’t know anything; you have nothing to say and nothing to teach. This should be the introductory disclosure to any lesson you might offer others.
Editor’s note: I’ve created a special sister-article for the above. See it on the “Surrender and Acceptance” page. It seems to me that the greatest misconception of “be with what is” and “surrender and acceptance” is the notion that one must become a doormat to the world and just allow everyone to walk all over you. This is utterly wrong. I clarify this error in the related writing. As Eckhart says,
“You accept whatever arises. This does not mean that you become powerless. Just the opposite. You become the expression of enormous power. It is the power and intelligence of Universal Consciousness and Life itself; which can then act and enter the world through you.”
did you catch it? - sitting quietly in a room alone is just about the most difficult thing you can do
Why is sitting quietly in a room alone so difficult?
To answer this, first consider how people will do almost anything to avoid being alone with themselves: the mall-shopping, the bar-hopping, the string of sexual conquests, too much work, too much tv, too much video-gaming, too much drinking, too much reading – we could go on.
None of these activities, pursued in moderation, at the right time, is necessarily a problem and might be fine, but it all becomes a giant problem, a pathway to insanity, when we can’t face ourselves.
like holding down a lid on a boiling kettle
Many of us, schooled in a can-do spirit of grit and determination, want to get in there and show’em how it’s done. We believe we can do this “sitting” thing with the best of them. But that’s not how it works. Peter Russell said it well with, we must “relax into the resistance,” it must be an exercise of “ease itself.”
It’s much easier for an energetic young person to stay clear of the quiet room. Many years ago I bought a house in a big city with a restful and quiet backyard-porch and garden. When I moved in, I still recall saying to myself, “Well, this will be a nice place-to-escape out here for a cool drink on a summer day.” However, some years later, when I sold the house, I sort of gasped to realize that, in all of my time there, I’d spent, maybe, a total of five or ten minutes of peace-and-quiet on that porch.
But when we enter old age, it’s different. We’re no longer in the “empire-building” phase of life, nor do we have the energy to work long hours. Our options scale down. We don’t go out as much anymore, and now a visit to the narrow confinement of a secluded porch or small room becomes more-or-less a required activity. And then, finally alone, we begin to understand what we were avoiding all those years.
It can be frightening; and to do this gracefully in a clear-eyed way, without reaching for a bromide, is the most difficult thing that we've ever done.
In my opinion, Eckhart Tolle is the best modern explicator of Zen philosophy, making it generally accessible – as mere words might avail.