Opening words – Dainin Katagiri – Zen Master
“Real Knowing comes when we stand in the appropriate place. But usually we don’t. First we want to understand something according to individual knowledge, prejudice, customs and habits. This means we are standing up in our individual place, not the Universal perspective. This egoistic behavior makes it very difficult to see the overall picture. But Buddhas recommend that we first stand up in the appropriate place. Just stand up and be present in the Universe itself.”
I want to speak this morning to the important contribution Buddhist meditation has for Unitarian Universalists.
I am usually associated with Buddhism since so much of my writing and teaching draws from the Buddhist tradition – but I always emphasize that I am not a “Buddhist” in any conventional sense. If I were to call myself anything, I suppose I prefer to call myself – a “Universalist” – not as in membership in the old Universalist Church – but as one who stands in reverence to the whole of the Universe, seeking to be in harmony with the Universe
– like Dainin Katagiri suggests – as one who seeks to live life standing up and being “present in the Universe itself,” who works daily to penetrate the “egoistic” perspective so that I can see – and assist others in seeing – the overall picture – and achieve “real knowing,” deeper than “individual knowledge, prejudice, customs and habits.”
To accomplish this is greatly assisted by a dedicated meditation practice – and this is what I’m here to encourage for you as well.
Despite not being a “Buddhist,” I am drawn to Buddhist teaching because it emphasizes being in harmony with the Universe. I am also drawn to Buddhism as a psychology and philosophy of life. I find in it a perspective that is essential to the problems and challenges of humanity in the 21st Century
– but I choose not to adhere to Buddhism in a religious sense, or to be caught in the Asian cultural expressions of it so prevalent in America. Asia gave us Buddhism. Thank you Asia. But Buddhism does not belong to Asia, and Asian culture is not Buddhism.
I see in Buddhism an extremely important perspective from which to find a new way, shaping a new consciousness, an evolved consciousness for humanity on the planet Earth in the 21st century. And I am here today to share with you from the Buddhist tradition of meditation – the practice that opens us beyond just intellectual understanding of this consciousness into the consciousness itself.
Those of you who have heard me before at UU services know I like to point out how the literal meaning of the words “Unitarian Universalist” might also be a good way to describe Buddhism. Buddhism – which literally means – is translated as: “Awakening” into life from the perspective of the Universe. – Into our natural sanity and spirituality. No dogma. No externalized God to pray to. Only a search within our own human consciousness for our own perfect expression of Human Beingness.
Both UU and Buddhism are expressions of awakening beyond the usual and parochial consciousness of conventional society and religion into the BIG perspective – the consciousness of Unity and the Universe – and this is the consciousness that I teach as essential for humanity to enter into a new evolutionary phase, a progression that is essential if humanity and the fellow creature-beings we share this planet with are to have a quality long future.
Let me begin –
– Allow me to share one of my favorite quotes – as I often do – from the 20th century Zen physicist, Albert Einstein – “Problems cannot be solved on the same level of consciousness that created the problems.” – Let that be a koanic puzzle and challenge for you the rest of your lives.
We have serious problems here in American society and here on planet Earth – just watch the TV news programs and cable talk shows – they’ll cause you to weep – they both communicate and represent the problems – and we need a new consciousness to find solutions to these problems. For me, that’s where Buddhism comes in, and that’s where Unitarian Universalism comes in.
As for Buddhism – Out of the long ago past, when civilizations were just beginning, when the consciousness that has led to today was first taking sway of human cultures and societies, I see Buddhism as offering a warning of the suffering that comes with this civilized consciousness that is centered in the inventive, materialistic, egoic dimension of the human mind – of consciousness dominated by thoughts of separateness, judgment and differences – a consciousness driven to achieve personal and identity-group significance and power – and with the thoughts that permeate this consciousness came rationality consuming emotions – anxiety, anger and despair.
This is not a consciousness of unity or Universalism. It was the consciousness of tribalism, racism, nationalism, sectarianism, sexism, paternalism, sexual orientation bigotry, anthropocentricism and individualistic self-centeredness.
Along with much that is undeniably good in advancing the material security and personal freedom of many, this consciousness has also led to thousands of years of war, prejudice, exploitation, criminality and cruelty. It has led to materialism and the valuing of wealth and power above all else, and with it came great exploitation and much corrupting of basic human goodness.
I truly honor the rational liberal-humanistic tradition of Unitarian Universalism that stands to counter the prejudicial, violent and destructive effects of this egoic consciousness. Through rationalism based in the premise of humanism, Unitarian Universalists have come to value a vision of connectedness, interdependence and compassion.
The Transcendentalists of the 19th Century – Emerson and Thoreau – strong influences on many modern Unitarian Universalists – also believed in an intuitive nature as the source of true knowing. They were great admirers of East Indian philosophy and were students of the Bhagavad-Gita. They practiced contemplation and reverie in Nature for the sake of acquiring the premises that logic could then be applied to in the discovery of deep humanism.
And what I want to share today – in a meditation service – is that I see that the UU consciousness – As with the consciousness of Western liberal Humanism generally – can benefit greatly by deepening this tradition of melding intellect with meditative intuition. Head, heart, gut. All working together.
– This is where I find great value in meditation and Eastern philosophy.
I am speaking now in a language that presents a model of the mind that delineates thinking, feeling (emotion), sensation and intuition as the four basic functions of mind, and comes from – as many of you probably know – The psychologist Carl Jung, who in turn, had been strongly influenced by his studies in East Indian psychology.
And those of you who have heard me before, know that I emphasize that Jung believed that to be truly psychologically healthy, a person had to possess equal facility and access to all four functions, along with the two directions of mental energy – introversion and extraversion –
— Well, with this, Jung brought a mystical and spiritual dimension into the definition of mental health that modern psychology would do well to pay more attention to. So too – this model has great value for those who seek to understand and live the full dimensionality of humanism – and for that matter – true spirituality.
Coming back to what I said at the beginning about finding much value in Buddhist philosophy, psychology and practice I want to point out that Buddhism brings particular emphasis to the “practice” of developing what is referred to as the “whole mind” – – including that which is most neglected in Western culture – the intuitive – that which Emerson and Thoreau wrote of – a natural spiritual dimension that is in union with Nature and the Universe – the intuitive dimension that Buddhism has been exploring for thousands of years as an essential element of enlightenment – and that exists within every human. But – you must know how to access and develop it. This is where the Practice element comes in. Meditation and Mindfulness practice.
Buddhist meditation also sensitizes us to our physical connection with the natural world. Here – we begin to deepen our sense of connectedness, becoming ever more subtlety attuned not only to our physical senses, but also to the sense of energetic connections within our own bodies and with the world around us. And with this, a natural quieting of the egoic torrent of thoughts occurs, and meditation opens us into the deeply quiet dimension of mind where intuition speaks to us – a realm of profound presence in the phenomenal world – where “whispered words of wisdom” can be heard. –
– Where we open into our intuitive connection of pure consciousness that is the realm of spirituality – where the consciousness of individuals can enter into direct connection with the consciousness of other individuals, with the human collective, with the sentient being collective – and – even the consciousness of the unformed Universe itself – that which many call – God. What I like to call – as does Eckhart Tolle – the dimension of Being that we share with all Beings.
Here – unity and universalism are not just abstract concepts – but living experienced reality.
This is the realm of the mystic – and I suggest – it is with the integration of the intellectual, the emotional, the highly developed sensate and the intuitive that humanity can power a logic that leads to the fulfillment of what the French scientist mystic Teilhard de Chardin called the “ultra-human” –
– the fulfillment of humanity’s evolutionary destiny in expanded unity of consciousness. This is the consciousness that can solve the problems created by several thousand years of egocentric consciousness.
The psychology and the practices that Buddhism brings to accomplish this fulfilling of human potential, of true Human Beingness, is a particular kind of meditation called Vipassana or “Insight,” sometimes, Wisdom – which includes the in-the-world active practice of mindfulness. And I see these practices as essential for Westerners if we are to reclaim our natural sanity – and achieve balance within humanity and with the non-human world.
I am pleased to be here today not as a Buddhist – but as a Human Being who believes in the concept of Unitarian Universalism as essential – to share with you from Buddhist philosophy and practice
– where the intellect plays a very important part – but it is balanced and integrated with the emotional, the mystical, the intuitive, and the heightened sensate mental functions to bring forth the consciousness of the whole mind. –
– The mind that transcends the egoic while placing the egoic mind in its proper role. This is what must be humanity’s evolutionary task – the evolving of a new consciousness capable of solving the problems created by the old ego-dominant consciousness. –
– And – If I may borrow from deep ecologist Thomas Berry – to take us from ego-centric consciousness to eco-centric consciousness – consciousness centered in the interconnected, interdependent ecology of the Universe – the fulfillment of a consciousness that not only thinks about, but fully experiences the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life – If you will – of a true “Unitarian Universalism.”
I find that Buddhist Meditation – or put more specifically, Insight Meditation and Mindfulness practice – is a particularly effective vehicle of this integration, refined over thousands of years.
This is why I am so pleased to bring to the UU community the theory and practice of Buddhist meditation – so let’s call it “Universalist” meditation – for it is essentially opening us into the possibility of the actual experience – the actual consciousness of Unitarian Universalism – of standing in the Universe – experiencing the interconnectedness and interdependence of all the various forms that are within the one web of Life that is the Universe – with compassionate identification that erases all false barriers and inequalities – Not abstractly in thought alone – but with the whole mind – including the emotional, the sensate and the intuitive, to create what Buddhism refers to as “The mental seal” – in which there is no capacity for denial or prevarication because the connectedness to all of humanity and to life and Nature in its myriad forms is as real as the connectedness we have to our own hands and feet.
This is what Buddhist meditation is about –
First, of course, however, we must learn to quiet and master our minds, to penetrate the false matrix of egocentric separateness held together by a compulsive structure of thoughts about separateness. – This is what is called Samadhi in Sanskrit, or Shamatha, in Tibetan – Peaceful Abiding.
This first level of meditation training is a major achievement for those of us who have been taught to find our identity in our thoughts and emotions – all too often very unruly and disturbing realms of the mind – precisely because they are about our separateness and the sense of our personal insufficiency in the face of a vast sea of competing individuals and forces. We don’t dare stop thinking, scheming, preparing, anticipating – or else we fear we will fall behind, we will fail. And this fear drives us.
In a side note – it was because of this egocentric separateness consciousness obsession and the deep conditioning around its preservation in Western societies that Carl Jung, in fact, believed that Europeans and Americans were incapable of meditation – and so devised his therapy to fulfill meditation’s function.
But I know this is not accurate – while true meditation is a real challenge, we are capable of it, and it is imperative that we master it in developing the required consciousness to address the problems of the modern age and the future.
Now – with the calming of mind, the mastering of the unruliness of mind – with learning unimagined dimensions of calm and concentration that begin to restore our original sanity – we can begin the journey into true insight, focused intuition – the psychological and spiritual dimensions of awakening that frees us from the delusional dream of egocentricity – to where you begin to see things as they really are, the Universe in its seamless connectedness and balance -rather than as we are culturally, socially and psychologically conditioned to experience them – in the small picture of egoic perspective –
Insight Meditation and Mindfulness practice introduces us to – as Zen Master, Sekkei Harada instructs us, the “one person we must meet.. The True Self.” Who is this true self – Well let me take leave of Buddhist explanations to return to Einstein. Who said in 1951:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
This is the true transcendental vision – transcending the conventional egoic perspective of a world of competing, conflicting separate objects in which the purpose of life is to dominate – and in domination – destroy Beingness. It can transcend and evolve humanity beyond the insufficient consciousness that has caused our problems.
Now – to meditation – where we can meet The True Self – first – to quiet the superficial dimension of mind that drowns all else out with its incessant talking and self-absorption –
Let us begin with Shamatha, Samadhi – Single pointedness of mind – Peaceful abiding –
You must learn to concentrate the mind on the peaceful, transcendent dimension of life happening through you – where the Universe happens as a living Being – through you –
– And the best vehicle for this is awareness of your breathing – merging the two fundamental dimensions of your existence – you as a living biological form and the true and elemental dimension of consciousness that is awareness
– To realize that you are awareness – in a living biological form. Life in form and consciousness is happening – through this mystery of a phenomenon that is a Human Being. Meditation properly directed awakens the realization that who you are is awareness – and this insight is of the absolute utmost importance.
No thought, no emotion, no sensation can be you – they all come and go – we have them – but are not – cannot – be them – we cannot be defined or captured by them – yet – we are conditioned by our society to invest them with our identity – MY thoughts, MY emotions, My perceptions. MY people, MY interests, I think, I feel. I think and care about what I am conditioned to think and care about. Everything else is “other.”
This is the prison that Einstein spoke of.
Buddhism teaches us to attend to that which does not come and go – What does not come and go? What in our experience has constancy? Awareness – the same awareness that witnessed your first breath – when independent sustaining Life entered you – that same awareness sits here now – but we have become distracted from that which is essential – we are so caught up in our circumstances, our life situations – those thoughts and feelings that are our story about life – that we have lost connection with Life, its totality, the context of everything that comes and goes – with what is essential, with what is unshakeable, with what is the never wavering context for all that occurs.
With meditation, we can return to what is essential -–
This is Samadhi meditation – Here are the instructions –
Sit straight – as you would sit to maximize alertness – but close your eyes – we are going to be looking within – As I like to say – “Sit like a Buddha” – as most of you have seen pictures or statues of this perfectly alert, relaxed, slightly smiling, serene figure.
In Buddhism, the statues and pictures are not meant as objects of worship, but rather inspiration, models of what a Human Being is capable of. Buddhism teaches that the Buddha – an awakened True Self lies asleep within us all. So Sit – so as to awaken this perfectly wise and compassionate self – your true self. Sit like a Buddha.
Now – Focus awareness into your breathing.
And with your breathing – relax into that alertness – alert and relaxed.
With your exhalation, relax more deeply – shed unnecessary tension of body and mind.
With your inhalation, sharpen the clarity of alert awareness trained on the experience of breathing – just normal natural breathing.
When your mind wanders, return it to your breathing.
If you need – To give your habitually talking mind something to do while you strengthen awareness, as you breathe, you might try saying quietly in your mind, “one breath” and with the next breath, “two breaths” and so on up to ten breaths – while you experience your physical breathing with your senses – harmonizing the egoic dimension of thinking with the trans-egoic dimension of pure, subtle in-the-moment sensory awareness.
After the count of ten – simply and quietly just follow your breathing, returning awareness to your breathing should your mind wander into thinking. If you need, do another set of ten, then work with just staying with your breathing.
When your mind wanders it’s OK to note – oh, “thinking”– but rather than following the thought, getting caught in it, just return to breathing.
(meditate for ten minutes) *
There – notice how you feel. Notice the peace of it. Notice the calm of it. Notice the deep sense of presence – really, peacefully, calmly, experience this presence. Feel the sanity of it.
This is Samadhi training – single pointed focus – peaceful abiding. It is the first stage of Buddhist meditation. With its development, we can begin to open into the flowering of the development of the whole mind – Vipassana – Insight meditation and mindful living – where we truly begin to develop the full mind – to meet our full true self – where we begin to meet where we and the universe are one. Where we begin “to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
I see in this the fulfillment of Unitarian Universalism – and our evolutionary potential as full Human Beings. Where “whispered words of wisdom” – the voice of transcendent consciousness walks with us in our daily lives, teaching us to “Let it Be.” Where we let our natural wisdom guide our intellect and – as Beings bringing our whole minds to guide us in our human endeavors – In the continuing journey of discovering our natural sanity and spirituality.
For now – just sit here – experience the remainder of the service –continuing to experience your breathing, profoundly in your bodies, a deep presence marked by inner quiet and an easy spaciousness. Feel this.
You are meeting your true self.
Closing words – Sekkei Harada – Zen master
“In the course of our lifetime, there is one person we must meet… who is this person? It is the True Self. As long as you don’t, it will not be possible to be truly satisfied in the depths of your heart. You will never lose the sense that something is lacking. Nor will you be able to clarify the way things are. This is the objective of Life.”
For our personal sanity. For deepening our spiritual connection with the Universe. For deepening our ecological understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependence of this world we live in – so that we can evolve individually and collectively – It is my firm belief that only through meditation can we Americans learn to get beyond our “usual place” to learn to stand in the “appropriate place” to awaken out of the trance of our egoic perspective and clarify the way things are. “To be present in the Universe itself.” – To meet the one person we must meet – to fulfill the objective of Life.
Again – Thank you for the honor of inviting me to share with you.
Blessings to all – May your true self guide you in wisdom & compassion.