Unfettered at last, a traveling monk, I pass the old Zen barrier.
Mine is a traceless stream-and-cloud life. – Manan (1591-1654)
Have you ever considered why religions exist and what the pull to spirituality is about? There are many answers to these questions, but the one I offer here is that there is an inherent paradox of simultaneous separateness and connectedness to the human experience. Humans experience themselves as separate forms in a universe of separate forms. This is their primary experience of existence as communicated from the senses and the egoic mind. I am here, you are there, and surrounding us are the objects that make up the world. But is this all?
This is the reality that we operate in as individuals maneuvering our way through our lives and it is the reality we operate at as cultures, societies and economic entities. And, at a certain level, it is true. It is certainly handy. It allows us to interact and manipulate our world. It is the dimension of human mind that is called ego, the experience of separateness in a world of separateness, the experience of “I” as differentiated from “other” and the facility to engage and shape our world. Useful? Yes. Ultimately fulfilling? No. The limit of the reality of the nature of existence? We know instinctively, universally, intuitively, no. And it is certainly fraught with problem and peril as well as opportunity and gain.
The ultimate reality of existence is that everything is connected. We are learning increasingly in the field of ecology how everything is connected, how we cannot simply add or subtract within the environment without incurring consequences that would seem unrelated from the perspective of separateness. This is where the problem and peril issue comes in, and increasingly so, as our environmental, economic, geo-political, and even interpersonal and intrapersonal worlds become more unstable.
Physics has established that everything is actually one field of energy with varying fields of density and vibration that create the “objects” of the Universe, gaseous, liquid and solid. Physics is further proving that the minutest particles of this energy field have a sort of consciousness, that an electron “knows” when it is being observed and this observation affects its behavior, lending evidence to theories that the Universe itself is a field of consciousness. It is at this point that physics morphs into metaphysics. We have arrived at the doorstep of spirituality and religion, of God, Brahma, the Tao, Spirit.
At a deep level, at a level below what we are taught and the information of our senses, at the level of mind prior to ego, what Carl Jung would call the intuitive collective unconscious, there is a knowing of this reality. This knowing pulls us to create some representation of this conscious unity, and so we call it God, Brahma, Tao or Spirit, although originally, these names were really, “nameless” for there is a wisdom that as the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu stated, “The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.” And as is recorded in Exodus, Moses was confronted by YHWH, or “I am who I am”, essentially that which cannot be named.
This then leads to the paradoxical state of human consciousness, a knowing of a background field of unformed, unnamed consciousness within which there is a primary or foreground experience of the world as separate and named forms. This knowing of that which is unformed and the background to the reality of existence is the essence of the spiritual experience, which then becomes formed into religious expression. Unfortunately, the pull and utility of the religious form in the world of form is so strong, that the unformed is mostly forgotten, and the form or name is worshiped as if the name were the reality. This brings forth the problematic aspect of religion that continually seems to be in violation of the wisdom that inspired the religion.
The Asian traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, however, as Lao Tzu’s admonition illustrates, maintain a forthright recognition of this conflicting paradox. They maintain as central to the realization of the truth of who we are and what the nature of existence is, that this paradox must be unriddled before spiritual realization (satori), or even psychological clarity and the knowing of the truth of who we are can be achieved.
Since our primary experience is the world as form and separateness, it is as if there is a barrier between humans and this knowing. But of course, since this interconnected consciousness is the essence of existence, it is not foreign information, but rather, within us as our essence. It is not information to be sought outside us, but a knowing to be realized within. It is the realization of our nature as Nature, for what else could we be? We are, at our core, at one with the One, while in our surface form, both physical and mental, we are separate and lost. We Human Beings are form and essence, Human (ego/separate form) and Being (consciousness/energy/spirit).
Zen refers to this paradox as “The Gateless Gate” or the barrier that is no barrier. Immediately we can then understand what Buddhism is referring to when it speaks to the experience of life that commonly is identified as reality being illusion. The purpose of our existence is to penetrate this illusion and relax into the truth of who we are in our essence, as Manan speaks of, to “ pass the old Zen barrier.”
As the name, Buddha, means “Awakened”, we realize that we too, are here to awaken. Looking outside ourselves for the truth of who we are in the forms of the world is error. Only by turning awareness to the discovery of the unity of the world within the field of consciousness can we discover our essential selves. Only then can we be liberated from the error of identity found in ego and its world of forms. Only then can the knowing that integrates form and spirit be awakened into the truth of who we are. Only then can we realize that the ultimate reality is here and now, just as it is. This is the purpose of meditation.
How boundless the cleared sky of Samadhi!
How transparent the perfect moonlight of the Fourfold Wisdom!
At this moment what more need we seek?
As the Truth eternally reveals itself,
This very place is the Lotus Land of Purity,
This very body is the Body of the Buddha.
– Song of Meditation, Hakuin Ekaku Zenji