Forget Yourself

“There is no other task than to know your original face.” – Yen T’ou (9th Century)

“If you want to be miserable, think about yourself. If you want to be happy, think of others. This is how we bring enlightened mind down to earth.”
– Sakyong Mipham (21st Century)

It is said that Zen is nothing more than forgetting yourself in the act of uniting with “something.” This dissolution of the separation of subject “me” with whatever object of perception I am focused on, into a non-dualistic awareness of “just this,” is Buddhist Satori. Ultimately, the purpose of Buddhist practice is for that “something” to be Life itself, and in that uniting, to come to know your “original face,’ the true and authentic person you are, an integrated expression of Life, not separate from it, struggling, as if it were, somehow, out there.

To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.” – Dogen (13th Cent.)

In this, there is a returning to your essential Beingness, at one with Life, able to walk and function in the social world of humanity, while also greatly freed of inhibiting and distorted ideas about self and the world. Spontaneity and wisdom, connectedness and compassion, are realized as natural elements of who you are. Neurotic tendencies begin to resolve themselves, as they are all results of social conditioning. Social conditioning begins to be seen as devices for maneuvering in the social world, mostly useful, but often, greatly distorted, and so, neurotic, and they are realized as not who you are. Society begins to be experienced as more of a game, with rules and boundaries, not your essential self nor an expression of the truth and potential for Life, and this is immensely liberating.

When you can realize, at a level deeper than thought, that Nature manifests through you as surely as it does through any bird or tree, then Satori begins to be the natural terrain of your life. From this insight, this infinite well of Beingness, you can begin to free yourself from the neurotic conditioning that has gone into what is no more than an idea you carry around about who you are. This is also what Buddhists refer to as “emptiness.” So, you must forget yourself. Discover Life, empty of this idea of a “myself” at the center of every experience.

This, of course, is a radical departure from the dominant modern cultural norm that instills in us that in most every situation, our primary interest is how that situation either enhances or detracts from “me.” Importantly, Zen does recognize that, of course, you have a life to safeguard and even enhance situationally in the relative world of society, but what becomes important is the reversing of what is primary. Rather than our life situation and our own status being primary, we realize that our life cannot be well lived unless Life itself and those fellow beings we share this life with become what is primary.

Life – that which has been the rather unregarded backdrop to our life situation, is realized as the very substance that will give meaning to our life situation. Paradoxically, our skill in this relative dimension of life situation will also dramatically increase as the very neurotic tendencies that inhibit our skillfulness in social interactions fall away. Furthermore, the karma of interacting with others in full presence, compassion and kindness will begin to reflect back to us. Life fully lived in its immediacy and intimacy is also a good definition for happiness and joy, the very quality to life that this “self “ is pursuing so desperately

When your primary thought is of yourself, you cut yourself off from all the Universe. When you allow experience to be the center of you, rather than holding yourself as the center of every experience, you discover a far more meaningful and happy life. When you allow the realization of your kinship with all beings, that to think of and honor others and the experiences of Life as the only way to honor your ultimate self, you discover the true source of happiness. When you allow the moment to fill you, whether it is in an experience of Nature, or with a fellow being, or in an activity, the subject-object split that makes our experience small and unskillful falls away into simply the moment. We discover that the moment, just as it is, is always fulfilling, even the scary and challenging ones.

This is nothing new to us. We have all had, in the finest moments of our lives, the experience of non-duality, of our original face shining through. It happens in moments of loving interaction with another person, self-transcendent experiences in Nature, in engrossed activity in the arts or in sports. Sometimes, it just happens out of nowhere that your experience suddenly opens, expands and the proverbial “feeling of being at one with” whatever you are doing and whatever is happening occurs. Sometimes it happens in moments of crisis and fear when there is no time to think about “myself” – and there is only what needs doing. What Zen offers us is the understanding, the wisdom, to realize that the essence of these experiences does not come from outside us, but from within us. They are the foundation of who we are when experience is unblocked by self-centered thinking, and Zen teaches us that we can cultivate this consciousness. We can make this non-dualistic consciousness our primary reference point rather than an accident of circumstance.

We live in a society that has been said to celebrate the cult of personality, and this “who I am” is of the utmost importance in our culture. Buddhism helps us to realize that there is a great problem in actually finding this “me.” The “who I am” that we call “me” and “my personality” is really only an idea of a person made up of millions of conditioned interactions through a lifetime. It has no stability. It has no foundation. It has no location. It is, more or less, a mask. In fact, “mask” is exactly what the word personality means – derived from the Greek word “persona”: the mask used by actors in the ancient Greek plays.

So, what happens when we live life “empty” of masks? Far from being zombie-like, as we might fear, rather, just like any animal in Nature, we discover that every person has a unique expression that is their authentic nature, vibrantly who they are. Watch a group of squirrels for a while, or a group of puppies, or kittens, or for that matter, watch a group of recently born human babies, and you will see that each individual is unique. This natural uniqueness shines forth, free of any self-conscious idea of who they are supposed to be. Free of any masks – delightful.

We never stop to consider that the experience of ourselves, trained into us by modern society, is nothing more than an idea of who we are, a storyline. Yet, we live inside this story and call it reality; we call it who we are, we call it our life, we call it life. It is, however, life with a small “l.” Zen teaches us that we can live a big “L” Life, but only if we learn to forget ourselves in the act of uniting with whatever or whomever is right in front of us in this moment. We must realize that who we are is not located in the body or mental processes, but rather in the awareness with which we experience this body and these mental processes and the world. We are, in this sense, the moment itself.

Zen asks us to meditate on locating this self, and the only reasonable answer we can come up with will be like the one that comes to us from Eckhart Tolle: “Who we are is the space in which the moment arises.” There is nobody there that we can point to or grasp onto. And that is how we discover our true Self, and true happiness. By forgetting ourselves. This is Buddhism.

Needing

“We need one more thing to make us happy. One thing leads to the next, perpetuated by our desire to have final satisfaction. But the next experience feels uneasy, and we still need one more thing… The desire to feel satisfied is a continual process that drives our lives, and the end result is suffering… it’s just what ends up happening when we are driven by negative emotions.” – Sakyong Mipham (Turning the Mind into an Ally)

What do we really need? That simple question could well be an important key to happiness and wisdom. And beyond the question of what do we really need is the more germane question: Why are our needs so endless? What are all these wants that, at a deep psychological level, become needs? Sakyong Mipham, the Tibetan/American meditation teacher gives a very good answer when he says, “it’s just what happens when we are driven by negative emotion.” – as we certainly are, either very blatantly or subtly, much of our waking lives.

We want things to be better; we want more for ourselves than life is giving. We have an emotional uneasiness as to whether we are enough, and so have a rather unlimited sense of needing more, and for our situation to be better. And when things are the way we want them to be, we want them to stay that way – but they don’t, they can’t. Everything changes, but what we want is unchanging happiness – without even knowing what that means. So, we experience anxiety, anger, jealousy, worry, sadness, despair – negative emotions that drive us.

There are many extrapolations of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths on the nature of suffering, but a very useful variation is that we suffer because, whether we express it as a need or a want, we often experience that we need things to be different from the way they are in order to control our negative emotions. Again, this can be on very blatant or subtle levels, and taking that extrapolation to the teaching’s resolution, the fourth of the Truths, we could say that the way out of negative emotional suffering is to not need for things to be different from the way they are in order for us to be OK.

“Well, of course,” you say. When this moment is the way I want it to be, I am fine, I am happy, and when it is not the way I want it to be, I am not fine and happy. Isn’t that the natural way of things? But herein lies our problem. Our well-being is then dependent on the circumstances of our lives as we interpret them in our minds. This is neither natural – meaning the way of Nature, nor is it an enlightened relationship to our unique human capacity to relate to life with abstracting intelligence.

Happiness is a mental state. It occurs in the mind. Nothing outside of ourselves is the source of our happiness, rather our mind deciding it is happy with what is happening is the source of our happiness. What is unfortunate is that we don’t realize that we have the capacity to cultivate the mental state of happiness (more accurately, well-being) as our natural state in a manner that can be largely independent of the circumstances of our lives. Ultimate happiness (non-suffering) is the result of our embrace of every moment just the way it is.

One of the great Zen lessons – a Koan from the 9th Century Chinese Zen master Rinzai – asks us, “This moment, what is lacking?” And when we are unhappy, we believe the answer to be that what is lacking is what we think we need to make the moment more fulfilling, satisfying, safe, or whatever qualifier we have in our mind. The truth is that when we are fully present in any moment in our natural mind, it is as contemporary Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “This moment is a perfect moment, this moment is my refuge.” Refuge from what? From the suffering, the unsatisfactoriness of having the moment being different than what in our minds we think we need it to be. We live in the subtle and not-so-subtle experience of believing our fulfillment is not in this moment just as it is, but in some next moment that will be exactly the way we need for it to be to experience perfect happiness.

Buddhism teaches of the thickness and multidimensionality of existence. Mostly, we live in the mind our society conditions into us, our egoic (what Buddhists call “little”) mind, trapped in needing for its fulfillment some fantasy idea of a perfect self – finding fantasy perfection in a fantasy world. This mind is extremely limited in its perceptive abilities, and tends to focus on what is lacking, rather than the totality and potentiality of what is present. This is the world of samsara, suffering.

However, Buddhism teaches that there is also the macro-world of the Big Mind, of our Being-self, in harmony with the Universe realizing that there is no separate self. There is always and only the Universe expressing itself in its fullness through this form we experience as our self-in-the-given-moment, all interconnected and perfect just as it is. Nothing is needed because to need is to be separate from the whole of what is, and there is no separation. This is the mind of enlightenment, and this is the mind into which Buddhist teaching and meditation can open us.

Imagine the total freedom, the total liberation when we realize that at an ultimate dimension always available to us, nothing more is needed, that this moment, exactly as it is, is perfect, exactly as it is. This is what in the Shambala tradition of Sakyong Mipham is called Shamatha – peaceful abiding. Within us all is the ability to abide peacefully in the present moment exactly as it is, not needing anything to be different to quell our negative emotions, not needing to get to the next moment to quiet the restless little mind of ego questing for fulfillment of its fantasy identity in a fantasy world. Right here. This moment, nothing lacking. This is enlightenment. This is the heart of Buddhism.

Does this mean to live passively? No – it means to do what needs to be done to support and protect our lives and all life. It also means to bring forth our efforts in the service of evolving an ever more conscious, compassionate and loving human society, but none of it from negative emotion. As Asian philosophy expert Alan Watts wrote: “Everything is as it can be.” And this moment is exactly as it can be as the platform for the next moment in the very big picture. When we embrace what is, we can become courageous co-authors with the Universe of what will be.

Nothing is fixed and permanent. Everything is both being and becoming. What is, is. And what will pass, will pass. And what will be, will be. And our fantasies do not have to be the impotent protests or the narcissistic desires of an individual driven by negative emotions from one perceived need to the next, but rather visions of what can be in an enlightened human society.

“The purpose of Buddhism is to study ourselves and to forget ourselves. When we forget ourselves, we actually are the true activity of the big existence, or reality itself. When we realize this fact, there is no problem whatsoever in this world, and we can enjoy our life.” – Shunryu Suzuki (1904-71)

Buddhist Ethics

“The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with Life.”
– Roshi Koun Yamada (1907-1989)
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
– The Dalai Lama

Ethics is at the heart of Buddhism because the issue of human suffering is the starting point of Buddhism. A young prince, Siddhartha Gautama, left his sheltered life in northern India in the 5th Century BCE, deeply disheartened by the amount of suffering he saw in the world, determined to realize the nature and the origin of human suffering and how to find the path to salvation from it. He first became an ascetic, rejecting everything that was worldly, and mastered the most profound dimensions of meditation, but in a severely weakened physical state from the deprivations of self-starvation, he realized that rejection of Life was not the path, rather, it was better to live a balanced life, a life of neither material opulence nor deprivation. He realized it was important to be neither mired in social convention nor isolated in hermitage and asceticism, rather to live a life of engaged, aware, enlightened, compassionate community. This became known as “The Middle Way.”

Determined to discover the nature of and transcendence from suffering, he sat in what was reputed to be forty-nine days of deep meditation, at the end of which he had seen into the nature of existence and realized complete enlightenment. He became known as “The Buddha, The Awakened One.” He arose from his meditation and began to teach what became known as “The Four Noble Truths” concerning the nature of and the path to salvation from human suffering.

With a modern psychological interpretation, The Four Noble Truths are:

  • To be Human is to experience a unique and subjective form of suffering.
  • The cause of this suffering is attachment to ego with its sense of separateness for identity and all its insatiable cravings that seek to alleviate the ego’s insecurity and experience of insufficiency through grasping after a solid and lasting identity in possessions and personal significance, to attribute happiness and unhappiness to circumstances outside of oneself that one tries to manipulate toward their advantage.
  • There is a path that liberates us from suffering
  • It is to release ego as our identity, and restore it to its appropriate balanced place and role as a mental faculty only, and to realize the truth of our existence as the awareness within which impermanent and conditional form arises, all within one interconnected and interdependent Universe, sharing our condition with all sentient Beings. To realize that happiness, or more accurately, well being, is our inherent nature, not reliant on external conditions.

With this teaching, Buddhist ethics is born. The fourth Truth is also taught with the inclusion of what is known as “The Noble Eight-fold Path.” This is essentially a description of what an enlightened life is like, leading to a profoundly ethical life, one that realizes our own inherent well being and its connection to the well-being of others. These eight qualities are: “right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.” The “right” in the Eightfold Path is not about commandments issued from an externalized deity or authority, but realizations and qualities that naturally arise within a human being who is “awakened.”.

The Buddha was quite explicit that he was not bringing forth a new religious understanding, and there is nothing in his teaching that was metaphysical or theological. His was not a divinely inspired revelation, but the realization of truths that are inherent to all human beings; that within us all is the capacity for a perfect life, free from suffering, realizing ourelves as a balanced, aware, wise and compassionate expression of the Universe. As the Dalai Lama is known to teach: “These are not religious subjects. They are about basic human good qualities and values.”

Enlightenment, then, is any moment that this reality is felt and realized (not intellectualized). This “awakened” life is called the life of bodhicitta, (awakened heart or consciousness) and is the path of the Bodhisattva (an awakened being). To be awakened, to be a Bodhisattva, is to live within the experience of the interconnectedness and interdependence that underpins all of life, and to fully realize interconnectedness and interdependence is also to see Karma, the principle of cause and effect, that determines our unfolding experience of the world.

When a person lives in realization of the principles of Karma, interconnectedness and interdependence that underpin existence, this will naturally also give rise to an ethical sense of view and conduct. This ethical perspective is codified in Buddhism as the Five Precepts, deliberately vowed to as one’s intention and meditation, and practiced to the best of one’s ability by those who take on the Buddhist lifestyle, and these are, in their most elemental expression: commitments to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

In a broader, and more psychological expression, the precepts are to abstain from willful physical harm to others, willful exploitation and material harm to others, willful exploitation that arises out of misuse of sexual, romantic or seductive behavior, willful exploitation through misleading and false action or language, and to be free of addictive behaviors that lead to an unconscious or unawakened life. This last precept is not only about chemical addictions, but all behaviors, beliefs and conditioning that lead to an egocentric life, that which is the source of the other four affronts to the dignity, worth and right to freedom from suffering in others and ourselves.

It is also inherent with the realization of the connectedness and interdependence with all Beings and the realization of the universality of the Four Noble Truths that a sense of kinship with all Beings arises. There develops an identification with their suffering, and a deep understanding of its cause as delusional egoic perspective and conditioning. This is the foundation of Buddhist compassion. To quote the Dalai Lama, it is to “realize that we are all human beings, even those who would be our enemies, who are just like you and me, seeking freedom from suffering.” And with this realization, ultimately one is led to the Path of the Bodhisattva, in a sense , a contract and commitment for compassionate living that says:
I vow to save all sentient beings.
I vow to overcome delusion.
I vow to deepen understanding of The Path to the cessation of suffering.
I vow to attain Awakening into the truth of existence.

In effect, we are our brothers’ keeper. The quality of my existence is inextricable from the quality of all beings’ existence. This then is Buddhist ethics. It is not a system of laws, rules or commandments from an outside authority. It is presented as a system of realizations available to any person who is determined, just as was Siddhartha Gautama, to understand and overcome the suffering that humans experience and bring into the world. It is available to any person because it is inherent in our own deepest human and universal nature, and it can be realized when a person, as did Siddhartha, stops living out their conventional life and meditates on the human condition.

Roshi Yamada’s predecessor, Roshi Yasutani, taught that to awaken into the truth of existence through deep meditation, will bring the realization that “It is imperative to abandon the idea of a ‘myself’ standing in opposition to ‘others.’” This then will inevitably result in, not some rigid religious moralistic code of conduct, but a fluid, natural expression of, as Yamada said, “forgetting the self in the act of uniting with Life.” This is the Buddhist path to salvation from suffering for us all. Stop asking, “what’s in it for me?” Rather, live showing up in life, moment-to-moment, asking, “what’s needed of me, that I may be an expression of the celebration and honoring of the community of Life?” This is how we awaken, and how we can contribute to the creation of an awakened, enlightened human society. Choose the Path of the Bodhisattva.

Me In The Universe

“It is imperative to abandon the idea of a “myself” standing in opposition to “others.” This is an illusion produced by a false view of things. To come to self-realization you must directly experience yourself and the Universe as one… you understand this theoretically, but… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.”
– Yasutani Roshi (1885-1973)

The standard American perspective has “me” as the center of my universe. We tend to enter into each moment with the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” We are looking for what in this moment will enhance me and guarding against what will detract from me. Admittedly sometimes our sense of enhancement comes from altruistic and generous motives, but we still have a sense of “me” as the source of altruism at the center of our consciousness. This is a perspective that makes sense from a highly personalized point of view, what can be called the egoic perspective, but it is a perspective that is extremely limited and limiting. It is a perspective that causes our experience of life often to be immediately, and always ultimately, unsatisfying, and one that has immense implications for humans as a source of harm and disharmony in the Universe.

Buddhism presents us with a radically different perspective for our consideration, one that has “me” as a center in the Universe and the Universe as the center of me. The Universe and I are one. It is a non-dualistic perspective. Ultimately, there is no “me” as distinct from the Universe or the contents of the Universe, for the Universe is all there ultimately is. The Universe is an infinite pattern of energy containing infinite patterns of energy all connected energetically. What we experience as “me” at its ultimate dimension is a pattern of energy, of physical and consciousness energy, within patterns of energy, within patterns of energy within the one great pattern of energy that is the Universe. It is into this ultimate dimension, and our connection to and through the expanding, concentric fields of energy and reality along the way, that Buddhism and meditation seek to awaken us.

That said… we are also, this dualistic consciousness in our perceptual experience, and so, there is me, separate, this physical body and mental processes and social affiliations, and the rest of the Universe is out there, and it is a mistake to turn that experience into a fiction, a delusion. There is me, in society (another pattern of energy that we are within) out there (welcome to paradox). I am the subjective center of that world. But to end there, to have that be all that we are, is a trap. It turns all of the world and its contents, including people, animals, the natural forces and resource of the planet into objects – literally resources for exploitation. From this perspective, we are able to rationally distance ourselves, engage in limitless manipulative and acquisitive behavior, and create much harm, as well as feel we are being harmed. It is a prison of subjective isolation in a perceived Universe of competing, sometimes hostile, objects.

So, when we live as if this “I,” this body and mental activity, is the limit of who I am, it is an ultimately harmful perceptual delusion, and we live trapped in this delusion. We are unable to realize and experience, that this “I” is, ultimately and at the most fundamental level, a center of perception, of consciousness, within the Universe that is made up of infinite such centers, thus allowing, in effect, the Universe to be the center of “me.” This center is nowhere specifically finite – and, here comes paradox again, it is. It is here. And it is everywhere. Wherever your consciousness perceives, there is the Universe, and the most fundamental “me” is this consciousness perceiving this moment. The Universe is not anything separate, but it is the essence of who I am, and, there both is and isn’t any sense of “I” at the center of it. From this perspective, we see the interconnectedness and relatedness of all of Life’s expressions and a natural compassionate and benevolent attitude results. With this realization also comes a deep sense of placement and belonging in the Universe. The personal perspective and the ultimate or Universal perspective balance each other.

This may sound philosophically/spiritually fascinating, but still, theoretical or even absurd, but it is, as a fact, the experience that is central to all that is pleasing and natural in our experience. We just don’t notice it. It becomes the accidental pleasure and joy in our lives that we attribute to the situation – as in being happy when we recreate or listen to music or make love or have a particularly creative moment in our work, or play with our dog or child, or take a fully attentive hike in the woods. It happens any time that our experience of the moment is direct and pure – there is no sense that there is an “I” having it. Sometimes this is called “flow.” There is only the moment in experience. We shift from having consciousness of “I” at the center of our experience, to the experience being the center of “I.” Perhaps it could also be expressed as the realm of our Beingness infinitely connected to shared Beingness with all Creation, in a given moment or activity.

This is the non-dualistic perspective of Buddhism and of mystics from every culture. “You must experience yourself and the Universe as one… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.” Now, why is this important? It is a marvelous esoteric concept, and it is great when it happens, but why must we “grasp the real thing?” Because it doesn’t have to be accidental, it can be cultivated, and it is our salvation. It is the path to individual salvation from being psychologically and spiritually lost, and it is the path to salvation for the human species, as well as the many, many species whose existence is threatened by human activity. It ultimately is the path that leads to sustainable well being for human society on this planet Earth. It is the necessary consciousness that opens humanity’s evolution into what the deep ecologist Thomas Berry described as the “Ecozoic Era,” when humanity realizes its naturally mutually enhancing relationship within the planet’s ecosystem.

When we shift having “I” as the center of experience, into experience (consciousness of the moment) being the center of “I,” the Universe opens. If you want your life to be wonderful (and who doesn’t?) you must allow your life to be filled with wonder, not “I” looking for wonderful experiences – which to the egoic “I” are unique, rare and exceptional. When we stop running the thought-driven mental program of “I, me, mine” and open consciousness fully into the world just as it is, then the reality of “I” as an expression of the Universe within the Universe expressing itself in infinite subtlety of form and energy, fills us.

This is the essence of wonder that is described as the spiritual or mystical experience, and the potential is there every moment, because this is the reality of how things actually are. Our connectedness to the flower, the bird, the tree, the person standing in front of us becomes obvious. Space connects rather than separates, and you “experience yourself and the Universe as one.” It is not a mental abstraction – out there. It is who we are, right here, right now, and true meditation teaches us this.

The entire world begins to be experienced from a subjective as well as an objective perspective. We live in both the personalized, social construct and the Universally related construct. Our personal lives become increasingly “wonder-full” and our relationship to Life and our fellow Beings, human, animal and planetary becomes increasingly deeply respect-full and care-full. And that is what I call salvation, “but… you must let go of logical reasoning and grasp the real thing.”

Meditation On Evolution

Meditation on evolution

Allow me to engage you and your capacity for imagination and visualization while I take you on a meditation on the journey of evolution. — Please close your eyes…. Focus awareness into your breathing, and relax into the moment. As I speak, follow along with the vision of your mind’s eye –

In the beginning was the fertile emptiness of the void – empty of form – the total consciousness of the unformed Universe – In the East called Brahman, in the West, God. In an instant of Divine choice – BANG…(music begins)… Form came into Being. Spreading infinitely across the infinite net of the primal energy of God-consciousness – a physical Universe, a thought in the consciousness of God.

From the infinite energy-consciousness, the mystery of infinite form-consciousness. First, the particles, then the atoms, then the molecules, combining and recombining, experimenting, rising into the infinite variety of forms. Stars being born — giving birth to their planetary flocks & moons & meteors & comets. Systems of stars and galaxies, infinite beauty spreading out across the Heavens….. On the planets of these infinite stars, at first the simple, the simple giving rise to the more complex, all within the web of the energy universe, all invested with the spark of original Consciousness. The simple, the inorganic, the gaseous, liquid and solid, the air, the waters, the mineral, the rock, the crystalline, consciousness so dim as to seem non-existent.

More complex and more complex, until in a corner of the Universe where air and liquid and solid touch in perfect combination, a planet, Earth hanging in the vastness, beautiful….. gives rise to the miracle of Life…. – the organic, Life…. is born on this planet and perhaps others that only God knows of, and with it, the tiniest spark of self-consciousness – still dim, but now capable of interaction with environment, breathing, feeding, multiplying, coming into form, going out of form, being born and dying. Simple one celled, then two-celled, then multiple celled, then complex forms, experimenting in the primeval soup of this Earth planet. Plant life expanding in variation and complexity, fixed in their locality, extensions of the environment, direct and simple in their life processes….

Then, complexity reaches a quantum moment, from plant to animal, again in increasing complexity of form accompanied by increasing complexity of consciousness – interacting in ever more complex variations with environment…. out of the seas, into the air, onto the land, an increasingly fixed sense of self, the beginnings of intelligence, still primal, but true consciousness, as invertebrate evolves into vertebrate, localized ganglia evolves into diffuse nervous systems, evolves into central nervous systems, evolves into primitive brains. Life crawls out of the seas as amphibians…. rules the land as reptiles….. moments of quantum complexification changing the basic rules of life.

Another quantum moment, as cold-blooded becomes warm-blooded, Life births and suckles its furry offspring, brains enlarging, consciousness becomes subtler, more responsive, less reactive, still imprisoned in species consciousness of instinct, with glimmers of individuality…. Small at first, scurrying, hiding from the reptilian masters, but with vast expanses of time, becoming the masters…. From mouse-like to Elephantine…. In the forests, the plains, the mountains, the ice-shelves, even the air and waters….. uniqueness in not only form, but within narrow parameters, behavior, individuality….more complex and more complex, now adaptation increasingly cognitive. A branch of these mammals, monkey, clever, versatile, quick in adaptation becoming ape, with increasing self-awareness, increasing clan awareness, increasing mental capacity, primitive tool making, primitive social hierarchy, increasing personality and individuality.

Another quantum moment. First pre-human. Small, arboreal. Nature begins the great experiment leading toward human. Leaving the trees, increasing in size, longer in limb, shorter in tooth, moving toward upright walking, increasingly social, the brain, the seat of intelligence growing larger with each experiment. Now certainly human. Times when several experiments co-exist, testing their survivability. More complex and more complex behavior and social organization are these primitive pre-humans…… Until…

Another quantum moment. True humans. Homo Erectus. Then Homo Neandratalis and Homo Sapiens. Human Beings…. Man…. Spreading across the globe out of Africa into every climate and continent. Primitive…… but with a complexity of consciousness capable of true abstraction. Language. Culture. Tool use becomes systematic, tools used to make tools – One form, Homo Sapiens, survives the competition, probably due to the greatest complexity of consciousness, cleverer, more adaptable, Earth’s climactic changes possibly being the winnowing factor, adaptability, abstract reasoning ability. The masters of the Earth have arrived. Human ego is born. The fall from Eden becomes inevitable.

At first, emerging from Nature, hunter-gatherers, cultures of stone and bone, living close to the earth, remaining identified with Nature, struggling with Nature…. true individuals in small bands, families, increasing survivability with combining of bands of families into tribes…. and larger and larger tribes….. increasing abstract cultural expression of who the “we” were. Nature consciousness giving way to ego-consciousness – civilization. The concept of “I” becoming more and more complex and central to personal experience, and with it, increasingly complex and abstract forms of conflict with that which is not “I” and “we.”

Learning to go beyond their mystical union with Mother Earth, beyond hunting and gathering, into the taming of the Mother, crop cultivation, domestication of animals, the ability to concentrate population, increasing the chance for survivability over the “other.” More and more abstract relationship to Nature, and with it, a more and more abstract representation of primal source, of “God.” More and more hard-edged tools, from the Earth, abstracting metals, finding the hard metallic edge of human self. Civilizations in Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt, eventually into the European Mediterranean, and from there, across Europe into its full bloom, and eventually to Europe’s colonial dominions…. Natural hierarchy gives way to abstracted hierarchy based in individual and collective wielding of the abstract tools of power. Tribal head becomes King, territory becomes nation. Mystical expression of connection to source within and with-all becomes religion, petitioning the Source “out there.” Shaman, connected to the secrets of Nature, wielder of power from the energy of Nature becomes Priest, interpreter of secrets of symbols, wielders of human power. More and more complex, more and more abstract.

Kings and religions exercise violence against competing others…. Violence to Nature increases. The forests are felled. Fields are plowed and cities rise. Kingdoms become empires forged from violence…. Humanity and Nature diverge completely, and those humans that stayed simpler, more interwoven with Mother Nature, fall victim to those who have aligned with Father Invention…. Innocence is slaughtered…. Nurturing Mother-Earth God gives way to angry all-powerful, jealous and vengeful Pater – God the Father … Evolution continues, the simple becoming ever more complex, a process of complexity of consciousness in abstraction, diversity gives way to relentless absorption into more and more concentrated cultural identities of “we.” What is left out is Nature, the animals, the sources of life are no longer worshipped, but become resources to be exploited.

Another quantum moment. Although Pater God remains worshipped symbolically, now the true deity becomes human invention. Great cities of great empires, exploiting the resources of life in increasing competition….. Greater and greater Cities. Invention. Invention applied to the total subduing and taming of Nature, the subduing, taming and genocide of the people of Nature. Fewer and fewer separate empires, only a few mega-empires, competing cultures, until technology and its commerce arise as the one surviving culture, Nature nearly exhausted, largely tamed. Evolution has turned on itself…. This fertile planet Earth, nearly exhausted, the abstracting capacity of humans, in their seeming endless cleverness, now separated from the most elemental of wisdoms, the felt knowledge of from whence they came, stands on a precipice….. Competition and commerce becomes the true human god…. Bureaucracy corralling individuality, corporations the new meaningful social and legal entity.

So long disconnected from their true mother, humans are going crazy, becoming soulless. The competitiveness and insecurity eats away at their own consciousness of Beingness, the connectedness to Being and their fellow Beings. The planet that is their home is no longer seen as source, but only as resource. The animal life of the planet faces unprecedented extinctions, akin to the great epochal environmental catastrophes of the prehistoric past, only now the environmental catastrophe is Man.

Ring bell.

Open your eyes. I apologize that this has not been a pleasant meditation, but meditation is not only for relaxation – It is for awakening into the true nature of ourselves and our lives, and this journey we have taken together here is the unfortunate truth of how things are.

Another question needs to be asked.

Is this the end of evolution? …. Humanity its home planet, and the fellow creatures who inhabit this planet are certainly in an evolutionary crisis that may lead to a de-volutionary process that plays itself out returning us to brutishness, or even to extinction, as we are taking an unprecedented number of non-human species to extinction. Is this how it ends? It doesn’t have to be. –

It can be as Teilhard de Chardin also wrote…
“Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself.”
Let us imagine how….

Please close your eyes again, and continue with me…..
(Music – meditation 1b)

With the continued abstraction of the meaning of power, power becomes available to those who were powerless. Those who were excluded become included. Varieties of tribal groupings become states, united in the abstraction of the state. Economic power becomes more available to more and more. The state goes from being the King to being the people. “We the people” that originally meant landed white males, comes closer and closer to all the people, inclusive of race and gender and economic status. The evolutionary process of a convergence of diversity plays out…. The extending instrument of human invention and abstraction, technology in the form of information sharing systems, spreads across the globe creating a primitive global consciousness. One people, one planet begins to arise as a meaningful consciousness…. But too few see and understand…. Now what is needed is one sustaining and dynamic vision into the future. Those who see must become the visionaries, but how?

To answer the crisis of alienation from environment and soul, out of the ancient past come traditions, born just as the great human civilizations were being born, condemned for millennia to esoterica and superstition, traditions which arise like ancient time-capsules to remind humans that their nature is Nature, their source is Nature, the Universe their home, their consciousness the echo of the consciousness before form…. Even in their invention, through its science, its physics, now understanding the meaning of quantum, it is discovered what has long been known, interconnectedness and interdependence is the reality of life, not the abstraction of separateness and exploitation… Out of the past comes the sacred sound of OM, the sound of all sound together in harmony. The reminder of the breath of life as the connecting and sustaining reality. Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, the rediscovery of the wisdom of the native people of the Americas and Australia, even the long destroyed Celtic world and the original teachings, so long corrupted, of the prophet Jesus whisper to us… ‘”We are one” – the Universe, through this troublesome species, that has taken its home planet to the brink of exhaustion, speaks.

Unformed consciousness finds form and reminds us of its origin before form in the fertile emptiness of the Void, before human ego overthrew human Beingness, reminding us of our source, in the beginning…. This wisdom remains within us in the quiet stillness of our Being. It whispers – a new quantum moment is at hand. The rejoining of humanity with the mother, with Earth, our home, with the Universe, our source and destiny. Our abstracting cleverness, our technology can be turned to service of the Source, not to misguided attempts to rule that which cannot be ruled.

Out of the past, a religion, perhaps meant as the religion to end religion and reawaken true spiritual connection with the Universe, speaks with increasing relevance in the modern world. Buddhism. The word Buddhism says it is not a religion. It does not mean to be another religion, we don’t need another religion. The word Buddhism means “The practice of Awakening.” Misunderstood in the past by ego-dominated humans who needed to make religions, the modern time is different. The time now is for throwing away outmoded egoic contrivances, and for the ancient wisdom traditions to speak to us again, for an awakening into the truth of who we are.

A new human dialectic is at hand to take us into the future, to save this Earth, its denizens and humanity from humanity’s self and Life destructive trance. The ancient wisdom has re-arisen to join with modern human invention and technology. The wisdom of the Creation in including human ego may be at hand. The Universe has its voice and hands to realize itself in form. All that remains to do is for humanity to “awaken” into its essential Beingness… the Universe awakened. Ommmmmmmm.

Committing To Evolution

“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.” – Albert Einstein

“The next step in human evolution is to transcend thought… It doesn’t mean to not think anymore, but simply not to be completely identified with thought, possessed by thought.” – Eckhart Tolle

“Evolution is an ascent toward consciousness.” – Teilhard de Chardin

As with any species, when its environment can no longer support it in its expression, manner and pattern of life, humanity must evolve, devolve, or face extinction. And for humanity, its future depends on individuals and society evolving beyond, and being liberated from, identification with that limited dimension of the human mind called ego. I say liberated from, because this identification has the characteristics of an addiction that, like a chemical addiction, keeps us functioning destructively, while in denial of the consequences. Humanity is at an evolutionary tipping point. Our social structures, our economics, our religions and our psychologies cannot take us into a quality future unless a fundamental evolutionary step beyond identification with ego is taken.

We must realize that while ego, with its compulsion to competition, invention and domination has been the driving centerpiece of human history, in fact, our proudest characteristic, it is also our blind spot. It is the fatal flaw that separates us from the truths of interconnectedness and wholeness upon which this Universe operates. What many seem blindly unreceptive to is that we must realize and embrace these truths if we are to achieve real sanity, both as individuals and as a species. Many who do see the problem, also say ego orientation, what could be called our “humanness,” with its thought dominance and its materialistic drives have been destructive of our connection to our “Beingness,” what some might call our “soul.” This could also be described as our connectedness to a deeper nature than our modern harried, acquisitive and self-absorbed lifestyles allow for. Before it is too late, we must face the limits and dangers of humanity’s predominantly egoic perspective.

Human resourcefulness will probably save us from extinction, but that leaves the question; are we doomed to devolution in the face of these new environmental realities? Will we descend into a deeply diminished quality of life, into brutish survival-based competitiveness? Or perhaps our evolution will take on a sci-fi freakishness of technology gone amok. These are possibilities. The relevant question is: can we evolve into a consciousness that will reclaim our balanced place within Life? Can we bring our human capacity for technology and social organization, that which has elevated human civilization but been so destructive of Nature, into the service of Nature and of all Life as beautiful, balanced and deserving of dignity and preservation.

Along with ecological devastation, symptomatic of the error of the egoic perspective has been the unique personal emotional suffering humans have experienced and wrought through individual and collective egoic violence throughout its “civilized” expression. Our unique capacity for abstract reasoning takes the information of our senses and tells us that we are separate, alone and insignificant. It creates a psychological construct of that isolation called the ego, built around and propelled by thought, reconstructing its matrix of unreality compulsively moment-to-moment, and replicating itself macro-dimensionally in societies and cultures.

The ego experiences this isolation and responds with anxiety, and from this fear-based emotion, in misguided compensatory pursuits of significance and happiness, we do terrible things to ourselves, others, our fellow non-human creatures, and to the planet in endless compulsive actions and schemes. At every level of human organization, from the individual, through families, communities and societies, this curse has haunted human history.

Religion doesn’t work, psychology doesn’t work, politics doesn’t work. They are all expressions of macro-ego. We have created a competitive, insecure, consumption oriented world-culture that is, of course, consuming the planet, but first, it has consumed our sanity. Compounding the problem is that ego will use denial and rationalization to continue its self-absorbed, self-indulgent and delusional ways, and is very slippery, cunning and determined to continue holding sway.

With that understanding, the evolution beyond egoic orientation, for individuals and for humanity requires, as does any addiction rehabilitation, a willingness to make, as addiction 12-step programs require, a “searching and fearless inventory” and make amends. We must recognize the necessity for evolving beyond this aberration in Nature, and enter into a very dedicated commitment to humanity’s evolution, re-harmonizing humanity with Nature into what ecologist Thomas Berry described as the “Ecocentric era.”

This planetary journey must, of course, begin with individuals, for the evolutionary success of any species begins with adaptations accomplished in individuals. A deeper understanding of the meaning and accomplishment of this shift in identity from the egoic thought structures into “searching and fearless” awareness is necessary. The resulting sanity and consciousness experienced by individuals can then serve as the beginning place for the next phase of planetary evolution.

This will not be easy. To penetrate and overcome the overlay of false identity and egoic values that have been the human path since civilization began, will no doubt, require sincere and conscious commitment. To alter this deeply ingrained orientation, this false belief in and addiction to egoic aggrandizement, will require a fundamental reorientation – a breaking of the worshipful attachment humanity has for ego and its thought structures, for specialness and superiority. It will require a reclaiming of humanity’s roots, its origin in a Nature that is a harmonious whole, and the challenge cannot be underestimated, for we cling tenaciously to this patently destructive orientation to competitive materialism. We turn a blind eye to the unending damage that this false sense of entitlement brings in every arena of life, for as with any addiction, we addicts are in total denial. We believe, against all evidence, that the human egoic mantra of “more for me and mine” can go on endlessly without catastrophic repercussion.

In response, it could be conjectured that Buddhism, with its call to meditative mindfulness, might seem to have been born into the emerging civilized world 2500 years ago in realization of just this dilemma. It is specifically intended to “awaken” individuals out of the sleep of civilization’s egoism. Traditional Japanese Zen masters understood the conundrum of confronting the deeply conditioned pull to socially sanctioned egoic perspective in constructing Zen training as strenuous, rigid and authoritarian in a kind of ju-jitsu of Japanese cultural values. It required the student to demonstrate to the teacher repeatedly the depth of their commitment to the discovery of enlightenment, their “true face” and “original” or “natural mind.” Zen training was designed to create the psychic tension necessary to break free of cultural conditioning to identification with egoism into a “satori,” an awakening into the reality of natural Beingness. It was a strenuous rehab program in kicking the ego habit and becoming a free human being.

While American culture is very different from the cultural tradition that classical Zen training confronted, we must bring the same kind of rigor and dedication to breaking free of the Western cult of materialistic, egocentric personality. In order to do this, the Zen tools of disciplined meditation, mindful action, ethical compassion and koanic challenge remain essential in this journey toward freedom and consciousness. They act as the counterbalance to egoic mind.

We must expand the contours of our awareness. As the great psychologist Fritz Perls used to say, “The contours of our neurosis are the same as the contours of our awareness.” We must, as individuals, and as a species, realizing that, as American Zen Master Charlotte Joko Beck taught, “awareness is who we are,” expand and evolve that awareness to erase all false boundaries between fellow Human Beings, Humans and fellow animal Beings and between Humans and Nature. We must commit to our own evolution, to an “ascent toward consciousness,” or face the inevitability of the Karma we have created.

Zen Sitting Meditation

When in the Zazen posture, your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki (1905-71)

I’ve written a lot about meditation; now let’s explore how to do it. The Japanese word “Zen” means meditation, and in the Zen tradition, the word for sitting meditation is Zazen. Within the Zen tradition, what is needed for enlightenment is determined Zazen, helped along by a few koans and some challenging guidance from masters. In the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment, after all his intellectual and ascetic strivings, frustrated, but determined, he sat in meditation, completely settled in stillness, conquering all his desires and fears until at last his awakening occurred. This is the challenge and promise for every student of Zen.

Whether you sit cross-legged on a cushion or upright in a chair, the posture and attitude you bring to sitting in meditation is of greater importance than is readily appreciable from a conventional perspective. The quality of your meditation will be greatly affected by the posture of your sitting. It could be said that your sitting posture is, in effect, the posture or stance you are taking not only to your meditation, but also to life, to the entire issue of the possibility of enlightenment. It is an attitude we take with the posture of our body that can steer our minds towards deeper and deeper levels of insight into our own deepest nature. It is a posture of dignity, of uprightness, of relaxed alertness, of compassionate curiosity, of welcoming openness to the secrets of existence.

We sit with an upright spine, a strong sense of the earth beneath us, the crown of our head reaching ever so lightly toward the sky. Our hands are folded in our lap, shoulders relaxed. If sitting on the floor, our legs are crossed or folded beneath us. If sitting on a chair, both feet are on the floor or with ankles crossed. At first, it is good to meditate with eyes closed, although eyes half-open is traditional. I find eyes open is fine after you have become experienced, but the focus in either case must be straight ahead, about two to three feet in front of you, about navel height, focused on nothing, consciousness turned inward. Sit with a relaxed jaw, the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth. As the facial muscles relax, perhaps a slight smile will emerge as the face’s natural expression.

OK. So we are sitting, looking like a good meditator. Now what? What to do with the mind? What to do with this skittering, distractible mind? Meditation is often described as mind looking at mind to better understand mind and eventually to direct mind into the deepest and subtlest of insights and experiences. How do we do that? We begin by focusing awareness into the sensations of our breathing. (Why the breathing? We’ll discuss that another time.)

Experience the subtle ever-present sensation of your ordinary every-moment breathing. Watch with the alertness of a sentry the coming and going of breath. It is important to remember that a good sentry is not tense. A good sentry watches what comes and goes with relaxed alertness, otherwise they would tire quickly, and with a tense focus, they would also quite possibly miss many important observations, because a tense focus is a narrow focus. To see everything, there must be a relaxed alertness that takes in everything. Watch the breath coming and going. Experience the rising and falling of your chest. Experience the slight breeze across your nostrils. Exhale slightly longer than you inhale. Allow a deepening of your relaxation with every exhalation and a sharpening of the alertness of your awareness with every inhalation. Secondarily, experience whatever comes along, but always, keep coming back to the breath.

OK, you say, I am watching my breath like a good sentry, but my mind keeps talking. Am I not supposed to make my mind quiet? No. The human brain is a thought-making machine. You cannot force it silent. But, like a good sentry, you notice the thoughts, but because they are not what you are looking for, you notice them and return awareness to what you are watching for, your breath, coming and going. The thoughts will pass, like travelers through the sentry’s field of vision. Many thought/travelers will come and go. Some will very strongly beckon you to follow them. Let them go. Return to watching, to experiencing the breath rising and falling.

If you have difficulty getting started, a very effective method is to count the breaths, combining the mind’s desire to talk with the task of focusing into breathing. Silently count on the exhale ten breaths, then another ten. Three sets of ten breaths is usually enough to settle us into quietly experiencing the breath. An alternative method is the use of a mantra – a word/sound meant to elicit the highest consciousness of true self. “OM” (pronounced “Ah-umm”) is a fairly common mantra expressing connection to the Universal. “Buddh-O” is a typical Buddhist mantra, with “Buddh” silently expressed on the inhalation and “O” on the exhalation, calling to the Buddha within, until “just sitting,” called “shikantaza” takes over.

As you settle into the posture of relaxed alertness, watching the breath come and go, always returning to the breath when the mind distracts with thoughts, you begin to experience a heightening of all senses. You notice the sensations of your body sitting. You may notice the feel of your clothing on your skin, the feel of the air touching skin where there is no clothing. The ambient sounds around you become clearer and more distinct.

If you are indoors, you may hear the ticking of a clock, the hum of a furnace or air conditioning, the passing of traffic outside. If you are playing music (let it be soft and quiet music) you may notice the notes with an increased clarity. If you are outside, you will notice the breeze rustling the leaves, the song of the birds, the hum of the insects – and of course, the sounds of human civilization as well. Insights about the qualitative differences of civilization and Nature may arise. Meditating in Nature, away from civilization, is the best. The experience may begin to be slightly psychedelic. Enjoy it, but don’t be fooled that this euphoria is the point or end of meditation. Still, look deeper.

As you focus into the ever-present, very subtle sensations of your breathing, all of your senses begin to take on a quality of presence and subtlety that we do not typically experience as we rush from where we were in our life situations to where we are going. We typically only pay enough attention to our senses and the present moment to get where we are going, or for the utilitarian purposes of work or entertainment. No, in our Zazen, we have stopped all that. We have, in a sense, stopped time. We are here. We are paying attention. And in our paying attention, the world begins to open up.

There are still thoughts, but now they are quieter. In fact, you may notice there are moments when there are no thoughts. There is just the breathing and the sensations of the moment. Of course, then another thought will come along, but quieter, less insistent, and fewer of them. You may notice the inner quiet. You may discover a dimension of mind that is empty of thought, a silent mind beneath and out of which the talking mind arises. You may notice now the sounds around you are also arising out of silence. There is sound and silence. You enter the silence with your awareness. A great feeling of well-being accompanies this. There does not seem to be this solid, separate self with its thoughts and activity as all that there is to the experience of “me.” There is also silence. There is stillness. There is awareness of being aware. There may even be awareness of being the awareness. You are now at the gates of Zen. You are at the precipice where the awakening beckons you toward the realization that, in the words of the Zen Master Haku’un Yasutani (1885-1973), “You and the Universe are one.”

But first, as novices, Master Suzuki instructs us, with his famous sense of humor, “When sitting, just sit. Above all, do not wobble.” In the double entendre style of Zen, to not wobble in sitting will lead to not wobbling in life. This is our goal. Relaxed, aware, not wobbling in the face of all the comings and goings of life, just as we learned to not wobble in the face of all the comings and goings of thoughts, emotions and mental perceptions in our sitting.

“Show me your face before you were conceived,” challenges the Zen Master. Pure consciousness sits here. Awareness sits here. Awareness of breath. Awareness of sitting. Awareness of the rising and passing of thoughts. Awareness of awareness. Our deepest nature has arisen, and like all of Nature, it is attuned to the perfection of the moment. It knows itself to be vast. It knows what is needed. Your very next thought might not be some worry or calculation or absurdity. Your next thought may well be exactly the thought you need for deeper insight into some aspect of your life, or Life itself, for you have touched the essence of Life with your mind. You have discovered a much bigger you than you ever imagined. From being trapped in your insecure little personal chattering mind, you have found what Buddhism calls, “big mind.”

And then it is gone. Distraction returns. The whole field of awareness collapses back into something smaller. You are back to being little you, “little mind,” again, no longer sitting at one with the Universe. So— return to awareness of your breathing and start the journey over again. But now, you know the destination. Over and over, you make this journey. You confront restlessness, boredom, ordinary and crazy thinking, the pain in your back and legs, even the allure of euphoric oneness. You return over and over to the breath, to the silence, to the stillness until you KNOW.

As Master Suzuki says, “In this posture there is no need to talk about the right state of mind. You already have it. This is the conclusion of Buddhism.

And as 13th Century Zen Master Dogen said, “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

Welcome to the truth. Right where you are sitting. Now stand up, walk, and live Zazen.

The Problem Of “Unsatisfactoriness”

“Hundreds of stupid flies gather
on a piece of rotten meat,
enjoying, they think, a delicious feast.
This image fits with the song
of the myriads of foolish living beings
who seek happiness in superficial pleasures;
in countless ways they try,
yet I have never seen them satisfied.”
– 7th Dalai Lama (early 18th century)

“I teach about suffering and the way to end it” – The Buddha

There is great misunderstanding concerning the keystone teaching of Buddhism known as the “Four Noble Truths.” The first of the Noble Truths states “life is dukkha,” and the confusion arises from the difficulty in translating the word “dukkha” from the ancient Indian Pali language that was the Buddha’s tongue. In his excellent book on Buddhist meditation titled Change Your Mind, meditation teacher, John Wilson, who goes by the name, Paramananda, states that dukkha “is normally translated as ‘suffering’, but this is probably a bit misleading… dukkha could perhaps be better rendered as unsatisfactoriness.’”

Another translation for dukkha that can be clarifying is “incapable of providing perfect happiness.” As the 7th Dalai Lama’s poem describes, human beings have a great deal of difficulty being satisfied, and never to be fully satisfied is indeed a form of intractable suffering. Isn’t it “perfect happiness” that we seek, and isn’t it the failure of the circumstances and relationships of our lives to provide perfect happiness that leaves us struggling with dissatisfaction?

So, the Four Noble Truths continue:
2nd Truth – Dukkha is caused by the grasping nature of the human ego.
3rd Truth – There is a way that leads to the release from Dukkha.
4th Truth – The way to release from Dukkha is the path of the Buddha (The Eightfold Path.) that teaches release from attachment and identity from the grasping nature of the human ego.

As I have written before, to understand the teachings of the Buddha requires that we understand the meaning of the name, Buddha. It means, “Awakened One.” And Buddhism is the path of awakening. When we translate the word dukkha as the particular kind of suffering that has to do with experiencing life as “unsatisfactory,” then the teaching is about how to live in such a way as to see (that is, be awake to) the myriad ways that attachment to the ego for identity and its pursuit of “happiness in superficial pleasures” leads to the experience of life as “unsatisfactory.” It then teaches how to reposition our sense of self-in-the-world so that we are in harmony with the natural flow of the transitory nature of existence in a way that leads to the ability to be awake to and experiencing the satisfactoriness of life-as-it-is.

So, returning to the Second Noble Truth: Dukkha is caused by the grasping nature of the human ego. The usual translation leaves the teaching at “dukkha caused by grasping” or, even more commonly, “attachment” and says nothing about human ego. This is a great oversight. A person has to study a great deal of Buddhism to get that what is being referred to as the cause for human suffering and dissatisfaction is attachment for personal identity in what is called the “ego-self,” that unique characteristic of the human mind to abstract experience into linear, dualistic, separated objects, including ourselves and other persons.

We experience ourselves as separate and alone in the universe, and with this experience of separateness comes an experience of insufficiency or unsatisfactoriness in the face of an overwhelming world. To compensate, the human ego “grasps” after fulfillment and becomes “attached” to objects, circumstances and relationships that will add to itself in the attempt to become sufficient. Happiness, fulfillment, satisfactoriness is sought outside of ourselves. And there is never enough. As was noted in the 7th Dalai Lama’s poem, we “seek happiness in superficial pleasures” and are never completely satisfied.

Complicating this is that human societies act like macro-egos, creating a group ego-self with values that insist upon competition, acquisitiveness, greed, anger, ignorant attitudes even violence as inherent to human nature, creating “dog-eat-dog” cultures. These cultures condition into individuals increasing levels of insecurity and the seeking of happiness and fulfillment outside of ourselves, taking from others and Nature to enhance ourselves and our group. It seems as if life is a constant game of top-dog/under-dog with everyone scrambling for significance, status and security as if there were no other way. The suffering of unending unsatisfactoriness appears unavoidable.

But the Third Truth says that there is a way out of dukkha, and the Fourth Truth teaches that the Eightfold Path of “correct” thought, speech, action, livelihood, understanding, effort, mindfulness and concentration will lead to the cessation of the suffering and unsatisfactoriness of dukkha. And what is “correct?” It is the awakened direct experience (not intellectual understanding) of the illusion of separateness caused by egoic perception. It is the realization that we are within the web of Life, the unfolding of the Universe, not separate. This is the core realization, the awakening of Buddhism.

Now it is very important not to look at The Eightfold Path as like the Ten Commandments of the Judeo/Christian tradition. These are not commandments about how to behave. They are realizations about what will naturally occur when you live with an “awakened” awareness of the truth of existence. You will have enlightened attitude and conduct concerning thought, speech, action, livelihood, understanding, effort, mindfulness and concentration because it will be who you are.

When, as is a saying in Zen, you realize that “you and the Universe are in the same place,” that “everything is as it can be,” to quote Orientalist Alan Watts, even unsatisfactory, even frightening situations from the egoic perspective can be transformed, can be transcended into life-as-it-is, not to be suffered, but to be lived fully.

In other words, happiness is a state of mind, and when we become adept at living from the deepest level of human consciousness that knows that who we are, to again quote Alan Watts, is “The Universe peering into itself from billions of points of view” we have access to the happiness that Buddhism teaches is our natural state. When “you and the Universe are in the same place,” we no longer are dependent on the superficial, that is, that which is outside ourselves for a sense of deep satisfaction with the experience of life – no matter what the circumstances. This may seem impossible, but if you meditate on the nature of mind and on life until you are one with it, it is absolutely possible to overcome the ego’s deep and ongoing sense of “unsatisfactoriness” with all the this and that of our life circumstances. You will come to know (be awake to) the truth – not intellectually – but, as Zen says, with a felt sense in the non-dualistic realization that this is really this, and nothing more is needed. This is the Universe and you in the same place.

At The End Of Myself

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then, suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: The ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”… My mind stopped… I felt drawn into a vortex of energy… I heard the words “resist nothing.”… Suddenly there was no more fear.
– Eckhart Tolle – Introduction to Power of Now

The discovery that Eckhart Tolle made in a time of deep despair, a time when, in effect, he had reached the end of himself, is an important secret common to all mystical teaching. It is also at the heart of Buddhist psychology. He had entered into and found resolution to the personal and spiritual conflict that is sometimes referred to as “the dark night of the soul,” a term coined by the 16th Century Christian mystic St. John of the Cross to describe his struggle with faith. It is a coming to an end of self as understood and lived from a very limited egocentric perspective, and in that ending, to open into a new light of understanding that bridges the ego-self to the Universe, to all of life, awakening a deeper Self that lives in that connection.

Understand that a life-threatening emotional crisis is not necessary. Any person can decide at any time that there must be more than their anxiety filled life, and choose to open into new possibilities by looking at the life they have been living and deeply examining the “I” and the “self” as Tolle did. What Tolle discovered was that there is a “me” that can reach its end, and there is a “me” that has no end. There is the “me” that is all wrapped up in the beginnings and endings of my material life circumstances, and there is a “me” that is a direct expression of Life, a continuum without beginning and end. It is Life expressing itself through an individual human. It is also the entryway into mystical experience, an often misunderstood and ethereal concept, for it is in actuality, the true expression of the fullest human potential for spiritual and mental health.

Both this limited ego-self me and the mystical me-as-the-Universe-expressing-itself exist, and every human experiences both of these dimensions, although few recognize the mystical experience as their very essence, and fewer still consciously explore this ego-transcendent dimension. For the vast majority, they stay wrapped up in the certainty of their circumstantial material experience as the full extent of who they are. These seeming contradictory expressions of self are the essential paradox of human existence, which if unraveled, leads to a true liberation, to where there is no fear.

Anything that can end must also have a beginning, and so it is with this “me” that can reach its end, because this “me,” in addition to being a biological form that has its beginning and end, is also a story begun in each person’s infancy and rewritten and refined throughout a life span. Understand, it is not the biological “me” with its beginning and end that is a problem, not any more than a squirrel’s life is problematic, but rather, it is the “story of me” that we carry in our mind that bedevils and worries us.

It is the story of the socially conditioned “me,” the “me” in the timeline of my life, getting from past to future that causes so much tension, conflict and angst. It is my stories of success and failure, both past and anticipated. It is my stories of humiliation and redemption, of love and hate, of struggle and accomplishment, of gain and loss, of relationship and loneliness. It is the story of my psychological profile, my personal philosophy, and my political and religious identifications. It is my habits, my preferences, my prejudices, my likes and dislikes. It is my fantasies. It is my hopes and fears. It is the story of my addictive behaviors. It is even the story of my spiritual beliefs and journey. It is anything and everything that is in the matrix of thought patterns that fill my mind with who I think I am. And, it is not who I nor anyone is. Not at our essence.

The “story” always contains drama, struggle and strife. For some, there is relatively little struggle, for others it is a living torture chamber. What is true for everyone is that there is an ever-present whip of fear about whether they are enough, whether their story matters, whether who they are is actually the truest and best expression of who they might be. It always feels like there must be more. Again, for some, this may be nothing more than a passing fantasy of little consequence, while for some it is agonizing, and for still others, it is a motivating cause in their life, but for everyone, there is an urge from deep within to realize who they are beyond their limited and anxious story of self. There is a silent whispering to actualize a dimension that has no fear because it is the realized truth of who they are beyond any sense of lack or fear.

It is from this place, as Tolle’s inner voice guided him, that we are able to “resist nothing.” This is sometimes spoken of as the Self beyond the self, the Being that is before and larger than ego, the true “I” that isn’t at odds with anything in the Universe because there is a knowing emanating from this Self of being an integral expression of the Universe unfolding. It is. Nothing more is needed.

The man who was not yet the Buddha came to the end of himself 2500 years ago as he sat under the Bodhi tree in meditation vowing never to rise until he achieved enlightenment. In the moment of his enlightenment, looking at a morning star, he transcended himself and became the morning star, and so the seeking nobleman turned ascetic named Siddhartha Gotama figuratively died, to emerge as the Buddha, The Awakened One. He then rose from his meditation and went on to teach his “Middle Way” and the Noble Truths that said suffering was caused by attachment to this story of self with all its drama, cravings and aversions, causing life to be frustrating and often dissatisfying. He also taught that salvation was available to those who were ready to come to the end of their ego-selves, and in doing so, awaken into the deeper truth of who they were beyond frustration and dissatisfaction.

What is important for us to hold in awareness is that every thought in our minds is really only a story, a representation, and often a distortion of our direct experience-in-the-world, and we live attaching to these story-thoughts as if they were true, as if they represent who we are and what the world is about. This is what the Buddha taught as the delusion that leads to suffering. Each thought arises calling to us to believe in it as the truth, but it is only a story that arises and passes away. These thoughts are often at odds with each other, and certainly at odds with the thoughts of others, and conflict and confusion inevitably result. These thoughts are not who we are.

The lesson that leads to liberation, that leads to the discovery of who we truly are, is what happens when we are willing to let the thoughts, the stories and their drama end, when we are willing to come to the end of ourselves to discover our true Self in the quiet space that lingers after the thought-stories end. In that quiet space, where the ego-self ends, there is a purity of awareness like a mirror that reflects what is in front of it without reacting to the contents of the reflection, that can see clearly, that is completely within the unfolding of the moment, just as it is. It needs nothing. It fears nothing for it is our essential Self, and essence cannot be reduced or threatened.

We don’t have to achieve complete enlightenment as the Buddha did. That’s just another story. A moment where you stop all your stories, release your addiction to drama, where you come to the end of yourself, either by circumstance or by conscious choice, and fully experience the still quiet space where you and the Universe meet is enough. This end is the beginning, when the moment just as it is, is enough, and we find ourselves embedded within the moment, not some separate spectator or victim of it. It will start you on the path to the Self that knows how to resist nothing and live without fear. As you learn to linger there, tasting and learning the truth of who you are – at the end of yourself – you will find life, your life, sparkling like a diamond.

Life as Foreground

“Listen. Listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

The central premise of Gestalt psychology and Zen are nearly the same. In Gestalt psychology, it is understood that we live our lives paying attention to only those aspects of the totality of what is present and happening that resonates with our personal conditioning and our motivation in the moment. It uses language that talks about the “figure” experience, that which is in the foreground of our awareness, and the “ground” or background of the total possibility of the moment. Our personal reality, our subjective experience, is made up of what we have brought out of the background and into the foreground of our awareness, and it is the maintenance of this subjective experience, our conditioned personality, the who-that-I-experience-to-be-me, that is our primary motivation. It is the way I walk and talk and think and feel. It is what I see and hear and interact with out of the everything that is to be seen and heard and interacted with, and for each person this is different.

So, who is this “me?” This is the central question of both Gestalt psychology and Zen, although they answer it slightly differently. Gestalt, emerging out of Western psychology, is primarily concerned with personality development, and defines this me by its neurotic contours, the ego, the who-I-experience-to-be-me. Zen, emerging out of Buddhist psychology, is primarily concerned with enlightenment, the state of absolute mental health and human potential. So the question, “who is this me?” has two answers. There is the neurotic me and then there is the enlightened or “true,” “original,” “natural” me, all terms that Buddhism uses to point to the enlightened Being that resides within each of us buried under neurotic conditioning.

Gestalt seeks, through bringing into present moment awareness by various techniques and therapist interactions, that which is happening in the subjective experience below the threshold of awareness, to expand the contours of the “figure,” thus bringing insight to the person. As is said in Gestalt, “the contours of the neurosis are the same as the contours of awareness.” We are primarily aware of that which conforms to the personality that is conditioned into us.

In example, an angry person is experiencing out of the everything in the world more reasons to be angry, and the anxious person, is experiencing out of the everything in the world more reasons to be anxious. This is a simplification, but it is mostly true. The foreground of a person’s experience is made up of not only healthy functional aspects of their personality, but also the limitations in perception that make for their craziness. The genius of Gestalt is that by expanding the contours of a person’s awareness, to experience more possibilities, and to see where the possibilities are being cut off, the contours of the neurotic personality begin to expand, becoming less limiting, less neurotic, eventually completely healthy, even enlightened.

Now the simple truth is that the everything in the world that Gestalt calls “background” is Life. It is Nature, the Universe, and this is where Buddhism picks up. Buddhism is a psychology that looks to bypass the neurosis completely by directing a person to get in touch with the dimension of themselves that is not neurotic. “Show me your original face!” exhorts the Zen master seeking to awaken in the person an insight, a direct experience, a Satori, into the realization of their deepest nature – – – – which is what? Of course, the only thing it can be: Nature.

Zen seeks to awaken the realization that the same harmony and balance that is Nature is the core of every human. What else could it be? It is only that humans have allowed that which is their natural core, their essential ground of Being, to be the un-noticed background of their lives, just like they dismiss the external world of Nature to be the blur in the background of their personal strivings. Humans give their attention primarily to the neurotic story of their egoic self, conditioned into them by the neurotic egoic forces that dominate others and society. Nature, both in the world and in themselves, is hardly noticed at all, a generally ignored background.

A famous Zen story has the student trailing after the Master as they walk through the woods asking questions about enlightenment, querying, “How do I enter into Zen?” Finally the Master instructed the student to sit down and be quiet. The Master then asked, “Do you hear that mountain stream?” At first, the student, absorbed in his own noisy thoughts, heard no mountain stream, and so the Master instructed, “listen harder.” As the student became quieter, and redirected his awareness from his own noisy mind into the world around him, as he allowed stillness and silence as the underlying fabric of the moment to fill his consciousness, he heard the faint sound of the stream emerging out of the silence. To which the Master instructed, “Enter into Zen from there.” The Master is saying, in effect, “find your true self in that level of attending to the background that is Life.”

Zen challenges us over and over: “Who is this ‘me’?” And the answer is never simple. And it is profoundly simple. Always with Zen, it is the paradox. We are born into this world with a consciousness that is pure awareness. There is no language or experience with which to categorize and separate, judge and discriminate that which comes into our awareness. We have not been shaped yet into our particular neurosis. This is the “original face” that Zen exhorts us to rediscover. Immediately, the cultural forces of family, and later, society, begin creating a dualistic subject-object orientation, and the conditioned recognition and interpretation of separate phenomenon in the environment begins to take over the foreground of mental experience. A personality and a cognitive map of the world begin to form. For the rest of our lives this cognitive map of “me-in-the-world” and subject-object orientation is reinforced, becoming stronger and more pervasive, until that original pure receptive consciousness is nearly completely buried, forgotten, inaccessible. But it is not gone.

There are moments when the dualism evaporates in a pure and direct experience. As small children we had these “satori” moments all the time, such as when we became completely absorbed in an ant trail winding through the grass on a sunny day and we became the ant trail winding through the grass on a sunny day – no me separate from the experience. Or we were running and laughing with a playmate and there was no me and there was no playmate, there was only running and laughing. Or we curl up in our mother’s lap and there is no me, no mother, only the warmth and safety of the lap.

As adults, in moments of sports, arts, love, Nature and sometimes, simply spontaneous openings, the original mind comes forward, subject-object experience dissolves into pure and direct experience of the moment, and time stops. This is Satori. The background of Life directly, non-dualistically experienced comes forward to fill the foreground of awareness and there is no separate me with my thoughts, emotions and proprioceptive separateness filling the foreground anymore. There is only the moment. Psychologists call these, “peak experiences” or “flow.” What they are is your “original face” coming forward as the little ego-bound self falls into the background. The subjective you is still there, but the object has merged with the subject. There is only the moment in experience with all self-directed orientation receded. The egoic self is nowhere to be found. “Out there” and “in here” become one. Non-dualism. Satori. Life directly experienced.

Mostly, however, we live with Life as a barely noticed background to our subjective strivings and cravings and aversions that fill our mental field. Our thoughts about our life situations and circumstances dominate us. Dualistic subjective-objective consciousness dominates, with the thought form of me at the center of my universe. There is a great deal of emotional reactivity in this universe as this “me” is under many stressors to achieve its agenda of safety, sufficiency and success in the world “out there.” Incessant mental activity “in here” with nearly always some degree of anxiety driving it like a whip, becomes our “normal” consciousness. Only when the anxiety erupts into fear, anger, compulsion, depression, and addictions do we discern something is wrong. What is really wrong is that this craziness has become “normal” from the perspective of contemporary life.

Remember the background? Remember Life? “Show me your original face.” Who are you? Well, on one level, you are this body and the jumble of thoughts, emotions, perceptions, behaviors, beliefs, prejudices, fears, ambitions and subject-object relationships that dominate your life circumstances. You experience yourself as the center of this subjective universe. On another level, the primary level, the Zen level, you are this moment in awareness that has a body, that has a cognitive mind, that has circumstances, but “you” are these things only secondarily to being pure consciousness in Life. Life is the foreground experience. The situations and circumstances are just background stuff that needs attending to; and you can attend to them, now skillfully, peacefully and with wisdom. A radical shift in gestalt has occurred. The Universe has become the center of you. It is what I call, “reversing the gestalt.” It is, like the faint sound of a mountain stream, the entry into Zen – it is what “brings me back to my true self.”

Awakening Our Deepest Nature

Do you know that you are Nature? – Zen koan

When I teach, I often will challenge students with koans. Koans are statements or questions meant to awaken insight into an entirely new perspective on the experience of being human. One of my favorites is: “Do you know that you are Nature?” I will often follow this by exhorting, “What else could you be!” Then I will explain, “I am not interested in whether there is an intellectual understanding of this, I want to know – Do you know it? To know is not an intellectual understanding. It is a feeling state. I want to know, Can you feel that you are Nature.”

Two words in the title of this column, “Awakening” and “Nature,” are at the heart of Zen. All of Buddhism is directed at “awakening” a human into their full potential, and into the realization that at the heart of that potential is the balance, harmony and unity of Nature. Buddhism diagnoses as the cause for human emotional suffering the grasping after identity, security and happiness in human egoism, our abstracting mental capacity to separate, organize and prioritize the entire world as it relates to our separate self. And it prescribes as the cure the “awakening” into the knowing of our “deepest nature,” into the realization of the ground of our fundamental Beingness.

The needs of our separate egoic self, seeking security, not only for the physical organism, but also for our psychological safety and significance, are endless. Awakening into the truth of who we are is the realization that beyond organismic needs, our Being needs nothing. We are. Nothing else is needed. Nature is like this, but not civilized human beings. Nature is whole and complete just as it is. There is no anxiety in Nature. Even in dying of starvation, a bird or bear does not worry itself about whether it has led a significant life, whether it accomplished all it wanted, will it be remembered well, does anybody care.

The dilemma of humanity is that it has forgotten that in addition to being civilized, we are also Nature. The implications of this are at the core of the strife and turmoil that fills human history both for individuals and societies. Today, the implications are more critical than ever as we face individual psychological insecurity and collective social and ecological crisis. Buddhism, and particularly Zen, teaches us to awaken into the paradoxical condition of being human. We are civilized Human Beings emerging within Nature. As we strive to master the conditions of our lives, it must be remembered that we can never master our human egoism or have sustainable civilizations as long as we have lost touch with the Beingness of our Nature.

Another way of addressing this is that human egoic mind and the cultures and societies that the human egoic mind has created are fundamentally dualistic. Dualism means that every experience is divided into separate parts. Every experience is of the experiencer here, and that which is experienced over there. There is no inherent harmony, connectedness or unity. As a self-aware civilized human, our primary experience is of being alone in the vastness of a universe made up of separate parts, often in antagonism, competition and violence with each other.

From this perspective, we look at Nature, and see it as dangerous, where everything lives off of the demise of everything else. Nature is something to be conquered and then tamed to our purposes, and we have been so successful that we have even conquered, that is tamed, civilized and forgotten our own nature within. We look at each other and see either competitors for significance and success, or resources for our enhancement and pleasure. Significance, acquisition and power become our coinage for security and happiness. Sometimes, the significance and acquisition seem to be helpful. Very often, the significance and the acquisitions, and particularly the power, are very transient, fickle and unstable. True to Nature, however, there never is total taming, and the outbreaks of our suppressed natural forces can be devastating. In any case, even the best of acquisitions do not bring any lasting security or happiness. As the Buddha pointed out, impermanence is in the nature of forms. And death is the fate for even the luckiest among us, often, ignominiously accompanied by old age, infirmity and the sufferings of illness.

This is the human dilemma. In such a world, where is my safety and significance? Knowing no other way, we keep upping the ante in the world of form. More for me and mine is the unspoken guide of modern human existence. Individuals, groups and societies keep grabbing for more, taking from those “others” that are our competitors. All around us, both human and non-human denizens and manifestations of Nature are looked upon as merely resources. How much is enough? There is never enough.

The anxiety, anger, cynicism, selfishness, shallow consumerism, boredom, ambition, aggressive competitiveness, quest for stimulation, and even despair that come with this way of life have become the norm. We grab for happiness that is fleeting and precarious, mistaking it for well-being. We always need more and more and more of what we think will bring our fulfillment, all the while, pushing away and fleeing from all that we think will detract from us. Our individual and communal lives leave much to be desired. Meanwhile, as a consequence of lifestyles of selfish consumerism, the damage to humanity’s home, this planet, is approaching catastrophic and irreversible consequences and the environments we occupy are less and less nurturing to our souls hungry for the harmony of Nature.

What to do? There is only a remembering.

“Do you know that you are Nature?”

And what is Nature? It is everything. It is the Universe unfolding as a single, unbroken field of energy that is also infinite in its forms. Nature is the unbroken web of these forms: animal, plant, rock, human, sky, water, fire, in which individual forms arise and pass, arise and pass, arise into form and pass out of form, are born and die, consume and are consumed in an endless dance of Life. This is Nature. This is the Universe. This is not dualistic. Forms come and go. The unbroken field of energy that is Nature does not. Forms only change within the web that is Nature, that is Life.

Pre-civilized and mystical civilized cultures, including Buddhist culture, know that the Universe is form and consciousness. Modern civilized culture does not, even though modern quantum physics is discovering that at the most elemental level, all form and its underlying energy contains consciousness and unity. But this discovery remains intellectual. It is not yet known; it is not felt. Excepting for mystics, not since humans left the forests where we lived within Nature has this been known. We must evolve, bringing to our civilization this remembering, going forward braced with this wisdom from our forgotten past.

Forms come and go. Consciousness does not. It is only manifested from form to form. It is in the energy that morphs from form to form, and it is in the unity of all the energy, the great quantum whole. Humans in civilization, still holding the dim memory of this quantum consciousness, place it outside themselves; as in our dualism everything that is not our small self must be outside, and we call it God and create religions. Buddhists call it the Big Self, Big Mind, the Buddha or awakened Self, and it is not out there. It is within and all around. It is the Nature of Life that humans are within, that we humans are.

I look at Buddhism as an ancient time capsule from an era when civilizations were emerging into their full dominance over and separation from Nature. It is a warning, a guide and a message of hope. It is a diagnosis and a prescription for humanity to heal itself of this rupture. Its prescription is meditation and mindfulness, becoming aware of awareness as the essence of who we are beneath the insecure seeking and clinging of the ever-turbulent egoic mind. It guides us to awakening, to remembering, our true Nature and the true Nature of existence where there is no anxiety. It points to the end of destructive grasping where wise, compassionate, joyous and sane living begins – even within civilization.

Look into the sky. Listen to a mountain stream. Feel a cool breeze and the warmth of the sun and know – I am of this. Experience your own breathing. Be in deep presence with another human, and feel Nature in union. Be aware of awareness, and know this is who I am and this is my place. Nature is my place. Nature is my nature. Meditation is for the purpose of penetrating the veil of separateness to experience the net of unity. It awakens us to know our deepest Nature, not just when sitting in silence, but when in the world, vibrantly awake and engaged, mindful that the unifying background to all our activity is life and Nature.

To find yourself, you must stop running around trying to get somewhere, trying to be somebody. You are already in, are and at the most important of places – your life in Nature. Stop and breathe. Listen to the silence within and all around, find the silence beneath the turbulent noise of self in the world. Find the stillness that is dynamic and penetrates all movement. There you will find yourself, your true Nature. Then, you can engage the world, its circumstances, its civilization, and you will not get lost. You will know who you are and what needs doing.

Take a brisk walk in the sunshine, a slow walk in the woods, break into a spontaneous dance of nature, cultivate a garden, contemplate a flower, sing like a bird, become still like snow falling in the night, even hug a tree. Love being alive and love the life around you. Love the life in others. Smile at and hug them too. Engage your human world and its responsibilities with a deep knowing of your own wild and wise nature. Revere and save the woodlands, wetlands, meadows, tundra, glaciers, lakes, rivers and oceans. Revere and save the animals. Revere and save the planet. Revere and save yourself and others. Revere and help save humanity. There is no one else you need to be. There is nowhere else you need to go. You are home.

Seeking Enlightenment

“…his (the Buddha’s) face and his step, his peaceful downward glance, his peaceful downward-hanging hand, and every finger of his hand spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflected a continuous quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace.” From Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Amongst spiritual teachings, there are few greater puzzles than the teaching that instructs us that there is a Buddha or Christ within us. Every human looks for happiness, fulfillment and purpose in their lives. We look around us hoping to find what we seek in success, power, importance, status, wealth, possessions, entertainment, self-indulgence, affiliations, relationships, achievement, even good works and religion. We seek the good life, maybe even, the meaning of life. We may seek God.

We seek some sense of peace and harmony amidst the difficulty and travail of living. Sometimes we think we have found it, only to have it slip away, and so we seek again. All too often, the journey is so frustrating we may cease seeking and accept unhappiness and disappointment as our lot in life, settling into a cynicism that is all too common. Does not there remain though, even for the most discouraged, the glimmer of a secret hope? So the seeking continues, sometimes in very subtle and even perverse ways.

In the remarkable novel, Siddhartha, set in the time of the Buddha’s life, Hermann Hesse engaged in an intriguing literary devise writing the main character, Siddhartha, as a parallel and bifurcated personality to the Buddha (historically, Siddhartha Gotama), referred to in the book as Gotama. In one passage, Siddhartha, now an old man who had found enlightenment, says to his old friend Govinda, who had become a disciple of Gotama and is still seeking, “Perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.” This is the irony and tragedy of human existence. We seek ever so fervently for fulfillment, for the realization of lasting happiness, but cannot find it because we look in the wrong place.

The secret of Hindu and Buddhist teaching, and what I believe is the original intent of all spiritual teaching, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim, is that what we seek we have never lost. What we seek we already possess but are blind to. What we seek outside ourselves can never be found outside ourselves, but we keep seeking anyway, believing that the next acquisition, position, relationship, affiliation, religious/spiritual teaching will finally give us lasting happiness only to have it slip away again and again. So, we keep on seeking, and we are like the proverbial donkey being led by a carrot on the end of a stick, the prize always just out of reach.

Buddha and Christ were avatars, humans that realized their own infinite capability to be free and awake in the world, human ideals. In both cases, nothing was found outside themselves, but rather in the realization of their own inherent completeness. To the degree that others find divinity in them, it is because the humans Gotama and Jesus discovered their own divinity reflected in their recognition of the divinity in all of life. They became Buddha (The Perfect Awakened One) and Christ (The Anointed One, fully divine and fully human) in their recognition that there is no separateness, but rather one divine Life that all are within. Jesus is written to have said, “The kingdom will not come by watching for it. There will not be said, ‘Look here’ or ‘Look there.’ Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the Earth, and men do not see it.”

Buddha’s enlightenment and Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven is to be found within ourselves, but only at our deepest level, a level that the vast majority only stumbles upon by accident and does not recognize for what it is. It happens in moments when our obsession with our personal and separate self dissolves into perfect harmony with the moment just as it is. It happens in a profound moment of connection with Nature, with a moment of “in the zone” athletic or artistic performance. It happens in moments of religious ecstasy and in moments of complete connection with another person. It is known to happen as death approaches. It happens in accidental moments, and so we pursue and seek to recreate these moments, sometimes successfully, but always, ultimately, they fade, and we are left with our empty longing. So we seek again. “Perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”

Awaken into the Buddha, the Christ within. Look outside yourself only to see that ultimately there is no outside yourself, that as Buddhism specifically teaches, beneath the self that functions in the world, there is no self. There is only Life, all-sacred, that you are within. See not only the objects of the world separated by spaces, but experience the space that connects all objects as your own consciousness. This energy of consciousness happens through us, connecting all seeming forms, including the form we experience as our separate self. We have bodies comprised of physical energy. We have functioning, thinking minds filled with thought forms of mental energy. Can you recognize that all energy is patterns of energy within a vast system of energy that is the Universe? Seeking happiness in the forms that come and go, come and go is the seeking that cannot find. Enlightenment is in the cessation of seeking, to discover “The peace that surpasses all understanding.” “The Kingdom of heaven is spread upon the Earth.”

The 14th Century Persian Sufi Moslem poet, Hafiz, wrote, “Look in a clear mountain mirror / See the Beautiful Ancient Warrior / and the Divine elements/ you always carry inside / that infused this Universe with Sacred Life / so long ago / and join you Eternally / with all Existence / with God!” The great psychologist, and a Jew, Abraham Maslow, one of the few psychologists who fully grasped that a true psychology must contain a mystical understanding said, “The Sacred is in the ordinary. It is to be found in one’s daily life… in one’s own backyard… To be looking elsewhere for miracles is a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.”

To be enlightened is to realize the connectedness and sacredness of all life, and that includes you and me, as recognized by the mystics of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. It is already in you. Stop seeking in the outer forms of the world, and realize it lives right where you are, within you and all around you, within all form and through the formless that connects all forms. As the Hindu tradition acknowledges in salutation, “Namaste” – As God abides in me, I greet God abiding in you. Do not let this be merely an inspiring idea. Find it as a felt reality. There is no seeking, only finding and living in the light – enlightened.

Deepening Stillness

“Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness.
This is the “I Am” that is deeper than name and form… Look at a tree, a flower, a plant… Allow nature to teach you stillness.” – Eckhart Tolle

The most common benefit people seek through meditation is relief from incessant mental chatter, the mind activity that, while in a relatively healthy person is mostly benign, can also be very disturbing. Anxious, angry, melancholy, or even absurdly irrelevant thoughts and their corresponding emotions often interfere with our ability for clear, calm and efficient mental focus. Even appropriate and useful thoughts will repeat themselves over and over again. Distressing thoughts can become a living hell of involuntary mental activity. Sometimes it can feel like we are trapped inside a cacophony of distracting mental commotion.

This mental noise is the personalized egoic mind that is conditioned into us by society telling us over and over the story of who we are and what life is about. It compulsively creates an opaque screen of concepts repeating what has been told to us by others about our own identity, the world, and our place in the world. The reason it is continual is that any crack in it, any space of quiet and mental stillness, will disrupt the hypnotic hold it has on us as our identity in the world. This is something the ego cannot allow, and so it chatters on and on, a perpetual motion machine of mental activity.

But there are spaces. We have all experienced moments of quiet and mental stillness, and they are the best moments of our lives. They often occur in very special experiences with the beauty of Nature. They also occur in moments of exhilarating physical endeavor, artistic performance or appreciation, and in moments of profound intimacy with a cherished person. These moments of quiet are indeed our very best moments. They call forth from beneath the mental noise, from within a natural realm of profound stillness as quiet as the emptiness of space, another you that is free, wise and at one with all life. In these moments of quiet and stillness, we experience who we truly and naturally are at our deepest level. To a Buddhist, this is your original and true self, the place of Buddha-mind. Buddhist meditation is specifically intended to awaken this dimension of wise and quiet mind, and the great secret of human existence is that to be in this stillness is to be truly sane.

This can seem all nicely esoteric, interesting to contemplate, nearly impossible to voluntarily access, and of very little value to this identity, me, in the world, maneuvering and managing my life circumstances. Not so. One of the great mistakes of the personalized egoic mind is its insistence on dualistic “either-or” thinking. Situations are either this or that. Never the twain shall meet. We live as if this special realm is only for exceptional moments. We pursue hobbies, romance, sports, the arts and religion to activate this realm so as to feel connected, even spiritual. We may find it in hiking, skiing, music, loving encounters, religious participation, and, of course, meditation. But the clarity and connectedness we experience in these activities are not where we live the majority of our lives. Buddhism challenges us: What if it was?

This deeper realm is the well from which our egoic self can draw its fundamental psychological and spiritual wellbeing (one of those interesting etymological connections). Without an ongoing connection to our fundamental source, our everyday lives are like a small boat on the ocean, completely dependent on external forces, the weather (and whether) of our lives, for its stability. Buddhism directs us to not mistake the waves for the ocean, or our life-circumstances for our life.

Beneath the surface of both the ocean and our lives there is a deep stillness, constant and calm. This is the true realm of all that is spiritual, not stories of God in Heaven, separated from us, judging us. It is also the realm of true psychological health and optimal life functioning. We can stumble upon these “peak experiences,” as the psychologist Abraham Maslow termed them, or, we can, as Buddhism teaches us, cultivate skillfulness in finding our way to this underlying stillness and integrating it with our everyday experience. We can learn to live our ordinary lives touching this dimension of our essential Beingness. This is the meaning of Enlightenment. This is the true purpose of meditation and the associated Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Spontaneous awakenings into this truth can and do occur for some under exceptional circumstances, but Buddhist meditation has for millennia developed a valid body of teaching and practice that we can trust to lead us there.

This moment. Can you touch the deep inner stillness that abides within? Can you bring your awareness to the subtle life-giving phenomenon of your own breathing? Can you recognize the field of energetic stillness beneath the movement of inhalation and exhalation? Can you look at a flower or a tree and see the great secret of harmony in life? When you do, in that moment, you will not experience yourself as a separate person. You will be awareness itself having entered into the great unifying field of stillness that holds all life together. Can you feel within this stillness the absolute certainty and calm of your assured placement in life? Do you notice the fading, quieting and even silencing of the mental chatter that you had come to believe as immutable? If you can, you will have entered into Zen. You will have crossed the barrier of limited egoic self-centeredness to the place where life circumstances can be lived vitally connected to Life itself.

Seek the deep inner stillness in the trees, the flowers, the birds, the sky, the mountains. Discover that this same stillness resides in you as your natural presence. This is our true Nature, and it is completely wise and sane. Find it through meditation. Find it through stopping your self-absorbed hectic activity to linger in Nature. Allow Nature’s stillness to resonate with your own inner stillness and Nature until separation of outer and inner dissolves. Rediscover your true Self, your true Nature. Find it and then…. bring it into your life circumstances. You will discover that the mind quiets by itself when we learn the art of presence in deepened stillness, even in the midst of life’s commotion.

Kindness As Religion

My religion is kindness.” – The Dalai Lama

Growing up, as a Christian, my great confusion concerning religion was simply that I could not find enough kindness in it. I understood fully the instructions of Jesus to love your neighbor, to forgive, to do for the least among us, to practice tolerance. In my childish understanding, this is what religion was supposed to be. What I could not find was much evidence of these teachings in the practice of religions. I know that many others have experienced the same confusion and disillusionment.

My disillusionment led to a rejection of religion and all things spiritual, but this left what is sometimes referred to as a “God shaped hole” in my life; as I speculate, it does for others. Without a spiritual understanding at the center of a person’s life, something elemental is missing. St. Augustine spoke of this archetypal need, describing it as, “Humanity’s innate desire for the infinite.”

In the 1600’s, the philosopher Pascal also described this fundamental human requirement in this way: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

What is this “infinite” that humanity seeks, this “God?” These are questions humanity has struggled with since emerging from caves, and it is perhaps humanity’s greatest dilemma and challenge. The human species’ entire orientation to life, society and Nature is in the balance. Religion has been given the responsibility to answer these questions, but for the most part, sadly, often tragically, has failed the challenge.

Although it can be difficult to see in a world divided into the camps of those where religion is separated from the secular and political, and those that believe in political theocracies, the failure of organized religion to answer these questions is ultimately modern humanity’s greatest crisis. It is this loss of connection to the infinite that has left the majority of modern humanity experiencing an existential “abyss” they attempt to fill with materialism, personal importance, political and/or religious affiliation. That these attempts are failures is evident in the cruelty, competition, exploitation and divisiveness that mark human affairs despite religions’ claims of authenticity and revealed truth.

Religions have failed because, just like individuals and secular societies they attempt to fill that hole with, as Pascal said, “everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are…” Even our religions seek fulfillment in a kind of materialism, in their dogma and exclusivity that draws hungry souls, hoping to have the hole filled, mistakenly believing that absolute obedience and faith in the instruction and decrees of religion will fill it. But the hole persists, clearly it persists, as evidenced by the lack in the world of the compassion and kindness that Jesus and other fountains of spiritual light taught.

Later in life, I was attracted to Jewish mystical traditions, Native American spirituality and the religious/philosophical/psychological teachings of Zen Buddhism particularly because of its lack of dogma, and because of its refusal to identify with any kind of anthropomorphic God. Rather, it, and generally the other traditions of Buddhism, including the Tibetan led by the Dalai Lama, seemed to emphasize the nature of God to be Nature, the infinite, the mystery to which the answer lies only within the deepest dimension of human consciousness and direct contact with the mystery of life. It emphasized, rather than religious dogma, understanding and transcending the aberration in nature that is human psychology, the human ego, that creates the abyss, the chasm, the sin (in its original etymological meaning as separation from the divine) that leads to suffering.

The teachings of Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, recognize human egoic separateness and the compulsion to cling to identity in separateness as the source of human suffering. This identity in separateness, with all its insecurities and attempts to assuage insecurities in attachments to the material and to individual and collective importance, is the hell that humans create. As a curative, these teachings suggest quieting the chattering and insecure egoic dimension of mind through meditation and turning inward to a place of inner silence and stillness beneath the noise and activity of the human mind and the world it has created. This inner stillness and quiet reflects and makes real for us the perfection of the underlying stillness and quiet of the natural world experienced non-dualistically, where there is no inner/outer divide.

The Buddhist teachings on mindfulness instruct us to see the world as it is, interconnected and wondrous, not as our delusional egoic minds represent it, as separate objects whose only meaning is in their utility. In mindfulness, humanity can discover the infinite, the heaven it seeks. Having touched the infinite within meditation, we are instructed to be available to the infinite that we are within, the Universe, Creation, and so, find our placement, at one with life. One can call it God, but not if such a labeling suggests a force outside ourselves, when life resides within and all around us, all sacred. This realization is not unique to Buddhism, but amongst contemporary religions and spiritual practices, Buddhism perhaps expresses it most readily and most compatibly with modern life.

Through mystical realization and Buddhist meditation and mindfulness, the God-shaped hole can be filled. The chasm of self, lost in the world, can be bridged. Separate worlds of within and without are discovered to be illusions. There is only one infinity. Religious mystics can call it God. Buddha called it Nirvana, the emptiness of material and separate-self obsession that creates human hell.

Through Buddhist teachings and meditation, it is possible to reconnect with and understand more fully, the teachings of Jesus and many of the original source spiritual/religious expressions of humanity. It is possible to understand fully what Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven as exactly what I intuited as a child, that it was “at hand,” that it was about the way we lived our lives and connected to each other and to our kin, the animals and all the world. His teaching was about connectedness and not the many levels of separateness and exclusion that institutional religions so often teach. It was about kindness and compassion.

And so, how unlike the declarations of the leaders of the Western and Islamic churches about what is necessary to live a religious life is the Dalai Lama’s statement: “My religion is kindness.” How different the world could be if we held as a religious obligation to treat each other, the animals, the planet, all Creation and ourselves with kindness and compassion, to realize that the infinite is right here, the miracle unfolding every day. Spirituality and psychology and politics can be all one, but not as the theocrats insist, bending religious teaching to egoistic/political prejudice, but rather, dissolving all prejudice in the fire of non-dual realization to construct a world of peace, compassion and kindness.

My childhood intuition was right. Jesus was an avatar, a Zen master, a Bodhisattva, an awakened and compassionate Being, instructing us to “be like the children.” To fill the hole, to connect to the infinite, we must reconnect to all Creation with kindness and wonder in the manner that every uncorrupted small child is naturally capable of. We must love and be kind. Then, the intellect will know what is needed and what to do so that you can discover “The kingdom of Heaven is within you… Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven and all things will be added unto you.” (John 8:32) Nothing else is needed.

Habits Of Mind

“Our ordinary sense of practical reality…is a construct of socialized conditioning and repression, a system of selective inattention whereby we are taught to screen out aspects and relations within nature which do not accord with the rules of the game of civilized life.” – Alan Watts – from This is It

While meditation is commonly understood to be a practice of calming the mind with certain techniques, and entering into a self observant, relaxed yet very alert awareness, in India and Tibet, the concept is more complicated, based in the root meaning of the word as concentration and familiarization of mind. Concentration is the foundation of meditation, but the issue is always: concentration on what? Aren’t we often concentrating, if what that means is training our minds upon something? Of course, yes, and what is recognized in the East is that we mostly concentrate our minds on what we have previously concentrated our minds on, that which we have grown familiar with, been directed to attend to, and what seems to be important to our particular sense of self-in-the-world.

Importantly, this can even include our focus restlessly shifting, flitting from thing to thing, thought to thought, emotion to emotion, because this is what is familiar to our minds. We are focused on using our minds in the manner we are personally accustomed to and upon what has been socially conditioned into and out of us. We are living within set habits of mind. It is important to realize that after a fashion we are meditating, that is, concentrating, all the time, it’s just that the meditation we mostly practice is the one of holding together our personal/cultural world-view and personality with its particular habits of mind. This can be called the meditation on self, and is another way of defining ego. It is the story of “me”. We are generating the thought stream of our self-in-the-world with its past and projecting it into the future, attempting to make the story of me turn out the way we want it to, fearful that it will turn out in ways that we do not want. This meditation, or relationship to mind, is recognized in the East as what creates all the difficulties of the human condition.

We fail to experience the full potential of the moment, not within the circumstances, the environment, nor ourselves. We think we are present and fully aware of the potential of what is occurring, but how can we be when we are projecting our preconditioned expectations onto the moment? The moment is experienced primarily as a means to an end, some imagined future. It is not realized as the only place that we ever have to actualize our lives. We fail to live deeply, skillfully and perceptively in the present. Obviously, when the present moment is only a blur getting from our past to our future, we guarantee that our lives will be experienced without much depth or sense of placement in life. Our experience is one of obsessive, sometimes scattered, mental activity in a story in time always colored by fears of not being enough. It is a very limited and limiting way to live.
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What we more commonly know as meditation, however, emerging out of the Asiatic cultures, is the concentrating of the mind and familiarizing it with deeper, calmer and expanded dimensions of mind that are the antidotes to these human difficulties. Meditation training in the Buddhist, Hindu and other mystical traditions teaches us to awaken out of this trance-like state of ego-story-myopia through specific practices, meditations, meant to familiarize the mind with that which is larger than the confines of our personal story, our ego, which after all, is only the contents of the mind, not the mind. These contents have as their source, other people and society. How can this be our essence, who we are at our truest and deepest level?

These traditions teach and guide a person to access a deeper dimension of stillness and silence within the mind that is the realm of pure awareness, free of the conflicts of the restless and noisy surface dimension of egoic mind. This dimension of pure awareness and the regions of consciousness that become activated with the experience of unsullied awareness is the realm that religious practices recognize as where God can be realized directly, and what Buddhism refers to as our true or original Self. Recognizing this, these meditation practices both fulfill and then transcend mere religious practice. They become powerful tools for psychological healing as awareness of mind activity and what lies beneath the mind activity awakens an intelligence that is free of conditioning and is able to intuit the true source of self as this witnessing awareness.

In all these forms of meditation, a deep calm and capacity for insight often develops as the mind trains itself away from the restlessness and insecurity of ego into an experience of certainty about placement within life. All need for self-justification or to measure up to socially imposed standards relaxes. We are free to be in society, pursuing occupations, maintaining relationships and families, but we are no longer the prisoner of social anxieties. In this way, meditation traditions originating in spiritual contexts can have profound psychological benefit.

In Buddhism, albeit practiced by millions as a religion, we find what is fundamentally the most psychological tradition of meditation. Having emerged from the Hindu cultural context that teaches that the Divine (Brahman) is to be found within the human soul (Atman) as well as all of life, Buddhism teaches that the divine source is Nature, the Universe, needing no naming or deification. Nature penetrates all existence, including, of course, humans. Buddhist meditation is meant to awaken the realization that the perfection of Nature unfolds within as well as around what is experienced as self. It realizes that beneath the small self, within the realm of inner silence, there exists a greater Self uncorrupted by socialization into dualistic thinking of inside and outside. Self is then a function of the Universe unfolding through localized awareness in the form of a person. At first glance, this can seem an obscure, esoteric concept, but in reality is immensely practical and liberating.

In Buddhist meditation, the mind is trained to “awaken” beyond the confines of the small egoic socially conditioned self, into where there is only Life, and the mind that can comprehend this directly is an awakened mind, untainted by social/cultural training into dualism. The mystery of the Universe unfolds everywhere, including within and as human consciousness. Buddhist practice is specifically intended to bring a person in touch with their own nature and source, free of the confusion and delusion of egoic constructs. Thus, it functions non-dualistically as a psychology that is also a theology, a cosmology, a way of life. One need not be a religious Buddhist to benefit deeply on all these dimensions from its practices. The practice can even deepen spiritual experience that is not Buddhist in doctrine, as Catholic priest Thomas Merton famously discovered.

Moment to moment, what we know to be true is that the mind is concentrating on something. The purpose of Buddhist meditative training is to thoroughly familiarize the practitioner with what the mind is concentrating on, what it is familiarizing itself with, what habits of mind are active, and to see how limited and limiting our socially conditioned mind is, literally living within a conceptual prison. Then the practice and philosophy leads a person into deeper and deeper insights as to the true dimensionality of mind. It deliberately retrains the mind into expanded and deeper awareness, able to encompass non-dualistic experience and ultimately awakening into Enlightenment, mind’s true and original nature, completely breaking free of the trance of the meditation on self and social/cultural conditioning, while still free to live a completely engaged and productive life.

But don’t let ego entice you into Enlightenment as a goal. In a twist on that old saying from Maine, “You can’t get there from here,” likewise, you can’t get here from there. Just stay with here. Be free of habit, meaning you can use or not use habitual patterns of thought and action, for habits have their uses, but they can also be what trap us. Let your new habit be to hold your habits in clear awareness, seeing them for what they are. Enlightenment is the freedom to see and act clearly, your meditation concentrating on the truth of the moment, the universe unfolding through your experience. You can change the habits of mind. Most importantly, you can change the habit of mind from imprisonment within ego and conditioning into freedom and harmony with life unfolding. This liberation is Buddhism’s “awakening.”

Buddhist Libertarian Socialism

“I vow to help all Beings overcome their suffering. I vow to understand and overcome delusion and egoic confusion” – from The Bodhisattva Vow

In this current era of intensified political debate, something said from my idiosyncratic Buddhist-influenced perspective may be of interest. I teach meditation and consciousness, and in my classes, somewhere along the way, usually I will say, “ I try to stay away from politics, but this is a class in consciousness, and politics is about consciousness.” I then talk about the environment or health care or education policy or poverty or war or capitalism vs. socialism, because all of these issues are about consciousness, but are commonly understood to be solely political. This is a shame.

Our politics might be much more productive if these issues were understood to be fundamentally about consciousness. The way politics is typically practiced and argued, it is more an exercise in unconsciousness. Positions based in bias, prejudice, self-interest and opinion are often backed by little more, than, well, opinion. And that’s where Buddhism has something valuable to say. Much opinion could accurately be defined – borrowing from a phrase in the Bodhisattva Vow – as “delusion and egoic confusion.” And it is the vow of the Bodhisattva to awaken out of and confront delusion and egoic confusion wherever it occurs.

Buddhism, at its most basic level, can be understood as the study and practice of awakening out of delusion and egoic confusion, which Buddhists see as the source of human suffering. It is a very pragmatic and even scientific approach to life. It stipulates the problem – human suffering – and then sets out to achieve understanding and action. It seeks the cause and solution. The Western scientific method, including psychology and sociology, does this as well, but Western science typically brings only observation and the intellectual mind to bear.

Buddhism, on the other hand, believes that it is only by bringing ALL the faculties of mind to bear, including emotion and intuition, that the problems of the human condition can be resolved. It is only when there is a harmonious blending of all the mental faculties into full awareness that we awaken into the essence or truth of anything. Great Western scientists also understand this. Albert Einstein is an example. His insights into quantum physics and relativity are excellent examples of wholistic science, where he felt, as well as thought, his way to revolutionary breakthroughs.

Human psychology and society are principle concerns for Buddhism precisely because of its central focus on the cause and resolution of human suffering. Humans create a great deal of unnecessary suffering for themselves and others, and they do it believing a lot of ideas they have learned that are the equivalent to “delusion and egoic confusion,” in other words – nonsense. We believe what we believe about human nature and society for little more reason than it is what we believe. It is what we learned from the social, cultural, educational and personal egoic influences that created our opinions.

In the political sphere, these opinions tend toward one of two polar positions – either preserving the individual’s advantage, perspective, possessions and power, which then leads to fundamentally egocentric, conservative, libertarian, capitalistic political/economic views, or egalitarianism, which tends to lead toward fundamentally liberal, collectivistic, socialistic views. Either one, seems to contain certain truths while, when taken to extreme, lead to their own unique forms of human delusion and suffering. We wrangle back and forth, arguing and fighting, right vs. left, libertarian conservativism vs. socialistic liberalism.

Now for most people, these psychological/political positions are irreconcilable. We see them as contradictions that have little to no common ground. Our political process seeks for one position to prevail. If the conflicting forces cancel each other out, our political process seeks some compromise that tends to eviscerate the essential truths of either position. This leaves a confused mash that has little to no hope of really understanding or resolving the particular issue of human suffering that is under consideration. As a result, our society and our politics are a mess.

I believe Buddhism has a lot to say about this problem, as Buddhism is sometimes referred to as “the middle way,” and the middle way is about seeing plainly the truths and delusions contained in any position. It believes that only in realizing a synthesis of the essential truths of all possibilities can tranquility, both personally and socially, be found. Buddhism is very much about taking what seems to be contradiction and seeing into its underlying unity as a paradox.

This means that both the individual and the whole can only be honored and protected through recognition of the opposite poles of any position along with the center that connects them. An important Buddhist teaching is that there is no circumference without a center and there is no center without a circumference comprised of all the points on the circumference. On any particular issue, we are simultaneously at the center (egocentric to the issue) and on the circumference (a position amongst many, dependent on the positioning of others.)

The truth is that human beings are both individuals and a collective. There are truths about what individuals need in order not to create or be in suffering and there are truths about what a society needs not to create or be in suffering. Both elements need to be honored if we are to arrive at personal and social enlightenment, which means – happiness – the pursuit of which is enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, along with life and liberty. An individual must have the right of their individuality. This is a truth. And a society must be built fundamentally as a harmonious collective in which all the individuals comprising it are safe, secure and happy to experience both their individual and social well being. This also is true.

Is such a political philosophy possible? I believe, yes. And it might be called Libertarian Socialism, turning a seeming contradiction into a unifying paradox. Individual human beings have the inalienable right to their own individuality and no society ought to impinge upon that individuality unless it is impinging on the individual “life liberty and pursuit of happiness” of others. Equally true, society has a right and need to be, in a sense, a collective Bodhisattva, existing to facilitate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the collective of individuals, vowing to relieve suffering caused by egoic, that is self-interested-only, individuals and groups.

Individual identity, liberty, energy and creativity need fostering. So too, social harmony found in universal material security, health, safety and the provision of the resources for individual fulfillment are necessary. This requires the guarantee of personal safety, education, health care, aesthetics, vocational opportunity, community support, freedom from want, personal growth and wealth, and manifest respect for every individual provided within a relative egalitarianism. All these are necessary to eliminate suffering caused by the egoic confusion that tries to make me and mine superior to you and yours.

Buddhism teaches that all sentient beings deserve and need respect to be their own unique manifestation as well as to have their place secure within a compassionate community, a harmonious whole. This is not only true for humans, but for all life forms, as well as the planet, and indeed, the universe. Individuality and interdependent unity are the simultaneous truths of all levels of existence, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. This is the Buddhist principle of Interbeing. For humanity to survive and prosper, it is of the utmost importance that our politics be based in a vow to help all Beings overcome their suffering.

Is such a philosophy that can be described as both libertarian and socialist, the full honoring of the individual and the collective, possible? I believe absolutely yes. But you have to meditate on it to really see it.

Egoless Awareness

Walking along a mountain path, the student asked the teacher: “Teacher, how do I enter into Zen?” To which the teacher replied: “Do you hear that distant mountain stream?” The student listened, but couldn’t. The teacher then said, “Listen harder.” After a while the student heard the faint sound of a stream and said “Yes, I hear it now” and the teacher instructed, “ Enter into Zen from there.”

Meditation and mindfulness can be described as the cultivation of a consciousness of egoless awareness. Sometimes, it is also described as choiceless awareness, which amounts to the same thing, for it is ego, that experience of a separate me struggling in a dangerous universe, that is always choosing to attend to what it thinks is important. The egoic mind is always categorizing the world into what it is attracted to, that is, what it wants, and what it experiences as a threat, that which it doesn’t want. So, we are attending in our lives to a very narrow band of possibilities within the vast richness that is Life.

There are several problems with this. First, what we want and don’t want is all a matter of conditioning. Some of the conditioned learning is appropriate, such as; fire is good for warmth, but don’t stick your hand in it. Some of it is deeply problematic, such as; stick to your own kind, you can’t trust people who are different. Our lives are a construct of learned judgments concerning what we want to bring to us for our happiness and what we want to keep away from, fearful that it will take our happiness away.

The second problem with this conditioning is its inherent limitations. While we have some relative clarity about what we want and what we don’t want, we are, by definition, ignorant of all the rest of Creation not included in either of these two judgmental categories. We are paying next to no attention to the category that is neither what we want and like nor what we don’t want and don’t like. This third category encompasses a great deal of Life, particularly its subtler qualities, wherein lie much of the best that Life has to offer.

In his book, Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. Let us first examine the paying of attention on purpose. We may think we are paying attention, but, in truth, most of us in this culture suffer, more or less, from attention deficit disorder, and, as is the case with diagnosed mental illness, it is only the more extreme cases that get diagnosed and treated within the Western psychological model. The egoic dimension of mind is so immersed in its cravings and its anxieties, that it is shifting focus constantly, both within its stream of thoughts and in the external world, trying to keep track of identifying what it wants and what it doesn’t want. We seldom, really pay attention in a focused, stable way. We must learn to purposefully pay attention if we are going to experience Life fully and experience the richness in individual phenomenon.

Next is the issue of paying attention in the present moment. The egoic mind is a chaotic time-travel machine, always flitting into the past keeping track of its stories of successes and failures, and into the future, strategizing how to be more successful in its agenda. It is seldom focused clearly and for any duration in this moment, where life is actually happening. Again, we are missing most of life, because we simply are not present in a focused, stable way. And if we are focused into the present moment, we are mostly in a state of judgment, deciding whether the contents of the moment are to our liking or not.

Which brings us to paying attention non-judgmentally. We may think we have a pretty good idea of how judgment operates in our lives. We may be able to cite our various pro and con prejudices of what we like and don’t like. But do we really know how pervasive judgment is in our lives? Can we enumerate beyond our obvious prejudices what biases and misperceptions we are unconscious to? Do we know that practically our entire life-experience is a matrix of projected judgments intricately weaved into a world-view? I believe not, for we see the world the way our conditioning has contoured the world, bringing forward for attention what we are conditioned to pay attention to and leaving out as unobserved background, all the rest. This selective perception is a form of judgment.

What makes this so important is, to quote Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls, “The contours of our neurosis are the same as the contours of our awareness.” To put this in practical terms, the contours of the world as experienced by an angry person is full of reasons to be angry, and the contours of the world as experienced by an anxious person is full of reasons to be anxious. To borrow another Gestalt maxim, “Thou art projection.”

On the other hand then, the contours of a mindful person paying attention purposefully, presently and non-judgmentally are bigger, fuller and thicker with the potential of the world, as-it-is. The mindful person experiences the moment in a way that will begin to dissolve their neurotic limitations precisely because the contours of their awareness have expanded. They are not experiencing the world in an awareness that is locked down into the contours of neurotic egoic conditioning. They can hear the distant mountain stream.

We become saner and more resourceful. We become more responsive to life’s potential and less reactive to our conditioned limitations. Life begins to open into more and more of its subtle potential for satisfying and wise living. How do we enter into Zen? Listen, look, feel and experience Life here-and-now with deliberate egoless openness to the subtleties of the moment. Hear the silence beneath all sound; see the space within which all form exists, experience the stillness beneath all movement. Thus the subtleties of sight, sound and form become richly available. There, we will discover Life. There we discover that we are not only alive, but that we are the awareness of Life itself. We will have entered into Zen.

A Contemporary Buddhist Psychology

When awareness and connectedness replace ego and separateness as the centerpiece of mind, the dysfunctionality of egoic experience can be greatly transcended.

Western clinical psychology, based in personality development, as influenced by brain chemistry, focuses on the personal experience and history of an individual. As such, it explores a person’s distortions and confusions in perceptions, thoughts, emotions and behavior. It examines a person’s sense of self in relationship to their internal mental experience and their social interactions. Collectively these experiences comprise the personal egoic identity, a person’s sense of self-in-the-world as a separate entity in existence, seeking to find safety and significance.

While this is a very valuable study, it struggles to be a complete enough model to bring truly transformational psychological healing. Rather, let us examine how a truly effective healing experience might be based in harmonizing the individual egoic dimension with a dimension of mind that is deeper, yet one largely neglected by Western psychology. Traditionally this dimension is referred to as awareness, and true psychological healing could be viewed as requiring an approach that opens a person beyond the confines of egoic experience into the realization of what contemporary consciousness teacher Eckhart Tolle refers to as the ground of a person’s Being – awareness itself. We need an awareness-centered trans-egoic psychology.

To do this, one effective approach is to bring the wisdom of ancient Buddhism into a modern context. While Buddhism is recognized as a religion, or a philosophy of life, it is, in a certain sense, more of an ancient-culture trans-egoic psychology. But since we do not live in traditional Asia, the question is: Can we, borrowing from this tradition, develop a completely modern trans-egoic psychology that honors the best psychological insights of both the ancient and modern worlds?

When looking at Western and Buddhist psychology, the principle difference between them is in the model of mind. Western psychology is basically two-dimensional. It recognizes the conscious and sub-conscious dimensions of the egoic mind. Buddhist psychology, on the other hand, while recognizing the egoic realm, also recognizes and emphasizes a higher and deeper realm of pure undifferentiated awareness. These realms of higher and deeper awareness are seen in Buddhism as the realm of our true, unconditioned self out of which the egoic dimension emerges, and that is also the psychic connection to a universal realm of consciousness. This psychological perspective holds that it is only when these transcendent dimensions of mind are experienced as the primary sense of self, rather than some vague metaphysical backdrop, that the harmony and wisdom that is inherent within these dimensions can be brought forward as the guiding consciousness for healthy egoic functioning.

Buddhist psychology and Western psychology both agree that the egoic experience is the product of conditioning, both bio-genetic-neurological and experiential. The difference is that Western psychology operates solely at this level, limiting its therapies to modifying the egoic mind’s most dysfunctional aspects through medication and emotion/thought-structure and behavioral techniques, counseling and interpretation. It can relieve grosser incapacitating symptoms, but does not offer a real cure. It is a mental illness model; it does not have a model for true mental health. Buddhist psychology does.

Buddhism recognizes the egoic dimension of mind to be a superficial, limited and deeply flawed mental representation of reality comprised of a matrix of concepts conditioned or programmed into the individual by genetic pre-disposition, society, culture, family and personal experience, creating, in a sense, an artificial reality. As it is superficial, limited and flawed, when ego is experienced as the primary dimension of mind and the seat of the self, humans suffer from a distorted sense of self-in-the-world, leading to distorted psychological, social, even spiritual functioning. In the non-scientific, metaphorical manner of Buddhism, this realm of mental representations or forms is referred to as “little mind,” while the realm of the unconditioned higher consciousness is referred to as “big mind,” the mind of all-inclusive awareness.

The little egoic mind exists within the big mind of clear awareness that is the unwavering witness to our experience. Our problems stem from the little egoic dimension, with all its conflicts and contradictions, being experienced as the primary, even the only, dimension of identity and reality. Little egoic mind is the mind of conditioning, the mind of condensed fragments drawn from the limitless reality of life-as-it-is. It is so limited that, in Buddhism, it is referred to as the mind of “illusion” (samsara), almost, life-as-we-imagine-it. It is the world of thoughts and emotions programmed into us, and since it is a severely limited representation of the total potential of life, it is deeply flawed in its representation. As this perspective is basic to modern life, we are faced with the reality, then, that we are, more or less, all crazy.

Western psychology, then, has been devised in an attempt to address the “more” end of the spectrum. It is designed to help people stay within social “norms”, many of which are so arbitrary and limiting as to be crazy themselves in the bigger picture of human potential. The frame of reference for egoic little mind is always the mental forms of “me” and “the world-as-I-project-it-to-be.” It shapes what is possible in perception, thought and emotional/behavioral response to what has already been conditioned into a person as possible by society and personal experience. These perceptions are fraught with all the contradictions and conflicts inherent in the cross-purposes and confusions of these influences, which in turn, have been shaped by the egoic purposes of the forces that created them. It all adds up to a feedback loop that makes for crazy people in a crazy world.

A contemporary Buddhist psychology is then a psychology that is based in the Buddhist observation that we have sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions, but we are not these sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions. We are much more. These mental phenomena are but psychological tools for conceptualizing, experiencing and engaging the world. We are, at our essence, the clear undifferentiated awareness within which the perceptions, thoughts and emotions of the egoic mind arise and pass – here – in this contemporary modern life. Such a psychology is also sophisticated in understanding and working with egoic mind, very much like contemporary Western psychology, but it is clear that we are not contained within the limits of our egoic mind. It is a liberation from the confines of ego. As it emphasizes contemporary life, this model is free to be practiced within a traditional Buddhist belief system and lifestyle or not. It is not about being a Buddhist. It is about being a fully realized human being.

A contemporized Buddhist trans-egoic psychology holds that the ego’s conditioning can be transcended. It teaches that a person can essentially be healed of psychological dysfunction by shifting the sense of self from a locus solely in the egoic personality into primarily the transcendent dimensions of mind that can observe the distortions of the conditioned mind and make appropriate corrections from a dimension of perceiving wisdom beyond thought. The clear and original ground of pure awareness and trans-egoic connectedness to universal wisdom and truths is what becomes the person’s reference point for living. This realization is what Buddhism calls, “awakening.” Egoic identity is experienced as useful for social and utilitarian purposes, but no longer held as a person’s existential core.

Insight Meditation

Bedrock for Buddhist psychology is the Insight, or Vipassana, tradition of meditation. Whether it is the Zen, Tibetan or Southeast Asian variant, this tradition teaches insight into the true nature of reality and the workings of the mind, hence, its name. Another term for this form of meditation practice is Mindfulness, because of its emphasis on being mindful at increasingly subtle levels as to what is occurring around us and within us.

The centerpiece of this tradition is sitting meditation, with its emphasis on the dignified, relaxed and alert posture seen in classical Buddhist statues and paintings. It is the fundamental practice ground that leads to insights concerning calming and focusing the mind called Samatha practice, or single-pointed concentration. While many meditators believe this to be the extent of meditation, it is really only the necessary beginning point for the ultimate realization of Buddhist meditation – insight into the workings of the mind, the nature of reality, and who we are at our deepest level.

Through sitting meditation, we begin to awaken out of the semi-sleep we are accustomed to as our ongoing experience of life. This occurs when in the stillness of our sitting in Samatha, our unexamined ways of thinking, doing and being stop. This stopping opens us into an awareness that witnesses the pull of these habits, but does not get caught in them. The Vipassana practice only truly comes alive, however, when it can be brought out of the sitting and into our active everyday lives. The Tibetan term for Samatha is “Peaceful Abiding,” and it is when we sit, walk, work, play, interact and relate from peaceful abiding that an entirely new level of awakened living opens. With it, we develop a calm skillful presence and deepened capacity for insight into the workings of our mind, as well as human interactions.

With the first level of insight, we notice how incessant the activity of the mind is. Most of us have a dim awareness of how constant the activity of the mind is, but when we deliberately sit with the goal of calming and quieting the mind, the tenacity of mental activity can be startling and discouraging. As we develop skill with Samatha practice, we learn that through focusing relaxed, alert awareness onto a single experience, typically into the sensations of our breathing, we gain the insight that we can quiet the mind. This is particularly true when the breath focus is supported by our sitting technique, and sometimes with a meditation recitation, or a mantra – a word or sound that corrals the mind’s discursiveness and is meant to evoke our natural unity with life.

As we sit, further insight opens into the realization of gaps in the thought stream that can be entered with awareness and expanded to discover what is beneath the mind’s activity. There, opening into the inherent stillness that surrounds and contains the activity of each moment, both mentally and in the world, we begin to glimpse new truths about who we are. With this discovery of stillness, a remarkable world of expansive and subtle possibilities opens.

“Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in, and breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out,” teaches the Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, in one of his meditation recitations. “Breathing in, I calm my mind. Breathing out, I relax my body.” He continues. “This moment is a perfect moment. This moment is my refuge”. We find that while breathing is an excellent focus for developing concentration, it also brings its legendary capacity for calming us as well. Further, it opens into something mystically peaceful and deeply personally healing.

Focusing calmly, contacting the moment through the senses, not thinking about it or evaluating it, a person becomes one with the world in this moment, an experience called Samadhi. We are no longer distanced or at odds with what is occurring – whatever is occurring – seemingly good or bad. The alert focus of Samatha now opens to embrace all within the field of perception. This is true Mindfulness. Miraculously, in this state, the moment can be seen for what it is, as is our personal perspective within the moment. Problems, even disaster, seem to dissolve as we experience that the moment, just as it is, held in expansive awareness, is always manageable. We begin to have insight into how it is the adding of our personal story, with its perspective of anxiety, fear, anger, despair or frustration, into the moment, that is causing us so much distress.

Story also implies and carries with it the factor of time superimposed on the moment. We realize that rehashing the past and anxiety about the future mark much of our mental landscape. By realizing the awareness that exists as timeless witnessing stillness, and watching thoughts interrupt the stillness, we learn about the nature of the constant forming and passing of thoughts. We learn that thoughts (and the emotions that resonate from thoughts) do not have the solidity and validity we tend to give them, and that thinking is frequently out of place in time. It tends to be past or future-oriented, or when of the present moment, very often in judgment, creating the experience of separation.

We can see our minds creating the drama of “I am here, looking at and judging that phenomenon over there,” whether the phenomenon is a circumstance, an object or another person. We also see how we compulsively are reconstructing, moment-to-moment, a structure of thoughts we believe to be who we are, relating to the world out there according to a script emerging out of our past, then projected into the future. The present moment, where life is actually lived, is being paid only enough attention to support the theme of our story. This is not real life, nor is it who we really are.

We discover that this moment, calmly focused upon with deepening sensory subtlety, experienced in pure awareness, is free of all that. Further, a much-ignored dimension of mind in Western culture, often referred to as intuition, is being activated. This contains the knowing and experiencing of connection, of belonging within the unfolding of the moment. It is the source of insight, wisdom and spiritual experience, and is the refuge being referred to by Thich Nhat Hanh, not, as some might see implied, a passive withdrawal. Life is not to be escaped, but to be engaged fully with a peaceful and effective mind certain of the interconnectedness of self within all of life. This is why this form of meditation practice is also associated with a tradition known as “Engaged Buddhism.” It requires we express ourselves as connected in a world that is experienced as all interconnected.

By watching the workings of the mind, insight is achieved as to how the thinking mind is the instrument of the ego, that dimension of mind that experiences the world as abstracted separate objects, with our sense of self likewise experienced as a separate object, always in contention with the other separate objects of the world. Insight is gained as to how ego is the source of all our insecurity, and that this insecurity is fundamentally about whether we are enough and have enough. We begin to see how we react emotionally to whether what the ego wants is being gained or not, and then how this drives more neurotic thinking, emotional response and dysfunctional behavior.

Within quiet mind, achieved in Samatha practice, insight (Vipassana) can be gained as to the existence of a deeper, calmer, wiser, more authentic and intuitive dimension of Self beneath and surrounding the thought stream. We experience being an inseparable expression of a unified consciousness or energy that is Life, where nothing more is needed (Samadhi). We are complete just as we are. We gain insight that who we are is not contained in the thought stream, but rather, we are the awareness within which the thoughts and emotions arise and pass. AND… we learn that we also have this life as an individual in society that needs to be managed with skillful application of the tools of thought and interpersonal interaction. We realize that thoughts are tools to represent and engage the world of form. We have thoughts, like we have hands. The important question is whether we are being skillful with the tool of thought, or, as most of us are, very, very sloppy in a way that creates very, very sloppy emotions and results. Thoughts are not who we are. But how we use them tells a great deal about who we think we are, and what we think the world is about.

There is a Zen teaching that asks, “Are you aware of your thoughts and emotions? If so, who is it that is aware?” This teaching, when understood, can help shift us from identification with our thoughts and emotions to identification with the awareness that experiences them. And it is this shift in perspective and insight that can liberate us from being caught in the anxiety and unhappiness that plague us. It can restore a sense of placement and belonging in the world. With the support and guidance of a masterful teacher, this practice can truly help heal the confusion and hurt that weighs down our lives. Breathing in and breathing out, know that you are alive, aware and well. Know that all you need is that which supports the basic experience of Life. This insight is the base of who you are. Everything else is manageable and optional.

Wholeheartedness Of Presence – The Sermon

SERMON DELIVERED TO ASHEVILLE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH –
July 12, 2009

WHOLEHEARTEDNESS OF PRESENCE

I am so pleased to be addressing the Asheville Unitarians – to be in a church that is open to religious and spiritual teachings of many traditions. What I have to talk about today draws from the Buddhist tradition, even though I like to point out that there is nothing that will be said here that is in the least inconsistent with the seed of the mystical Judeo-Christian tradition gleaned of the chaff of religious overlay that in many cases contradicts the Zen-like instruction of the original intent. In fact, what I have to say today is reflective of mystical traditions from every cultural origin. It is Islamic Sufism, it is Native American, it is certainly at the heart of Hinduism and Taoism. It is the universal heart of spirituality.

Today’s sermon is built around a teaching by 20th Century Zen Master Dainin Katagiri that says, “In Wholeheartedness of Presence, the Buddha is realized, the Dharma is lived and the Sangha is shared.”

First – let me explain that Katagiri is referencing a foundational teaching of Buddhism known as the “Triple Gems”, which states, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma (the teachings of Buddhism) and I take refuge in the Sangha (the community of Buddhism)”

In order to understand what is being said both in the Triple Gems and then in the derivative teaching of Katagiri, we must understand what “Buddha” means. Although the Triple Gems teaching is often taken literally, the spirit of Buddhism calls for a more nuanced interpretation. “Buddha”, as referenced here is not some savior-like figure that we are instructed to worship, and in whose infinite love and compassion we will find refuge, but rather, as the word “buddha” means “awakened”, it is in the awakening of Siddhartha Gotama, who became known as The Buddha – the Awakened One, that we are to find refuge, solace and instruction. It is the awakening that illuminated the person Siddhartha, and can illuminate the world that is important. Buddhist teaching has The Buddha’s awakening available not only to Siddhartha, but to every human. Every person is a potential buddha, an awakened being. This is the great revelation and hope.

With this understanding, we can then understand that “Dharma” is not about sacred texts, but rather, the means, the path, the practices and insights that lead to awakening. – And “Sangha” is not a church or religious sect, but rather, the human community of those who have awakened.

Now we have sound footing, not based in blind faith, but in a realizable transcendent experience within which to find anchorage and refuge. We find refuge from our suffering by awakening into the truth of who we are beneath the transitory forms of the world – – Let me repeat – We find refuge from our suffering by awakening into the truth of who we are beneath the transitory forms of the world. – – We cannot find true refuge in any faith, church, ideology or nation. And certainly we cannot find refuge in possessions, wealth, success and power, – they always and eventually slip beyond our grasp or fail to fulfill. We find that everything in the world, as desperately as we try to acquire or hold on to, – even health, always-satisfying love and relationships, or life itself – none of it remains as we would have it remain. We are always left with the knawing sense of something more being needed for our complete fulfillment.

And in our failure to acquire or preserve our desires — our imagined sources of fulfillment – we are caught in the world of insecurity, of un-fulfillment, of suffering. No – We must look deeper for our refuge, deeper than all the external and surface phenomenon and forms of this world. And certainly, our refuge is not to be found in anything otherworldly – as many religions promise. Remember – I said we are looking for the truth of who we are beneath the transitory forms of the world, not beyond them.

So – What is the truth that is the liberation from suffering that Buddhism teaches us to awaken into? What is the truth of who we are beneath the transitory forms? That’s the question. And it is what Katagiri answers. – He instructs us that the “awakening” is the realization of “wholeheartedness of presence” – Katagiri clues us that this is the secret to realizing the awakening – and to realizing what is awakened into. Then, this gem of simplicity also instructs us to find and give happiness in sharing the awakening, to find and share the discovery of living from wholeheartedness of presence. Fulfillment is in the realization, the living and the sharing of wholehearted, awakened presence. This is buddha.

Buddhism is built around the premise that every being wishes only to be happy, but has no idea how to achieve this happiness. The Dalai Lama has this to say:

“I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principle source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”

This teaching is pointing to the mistaken illusion that humanity has labored under since time immemorial. Because of the unique characteristic of humans – in all of creation – to create a sense of separate self in the mental realm that psychology calls ego, we exist within the delusion that happiness comes when we look to the world external to ourselves to provide for us the means to achieve happiness.

Our lives are spent caught in a time-bound story of ‘Me” with a history, a past, of fulfillment or frustration of finding the means to happiness, and of projecting into a future that we hope will fulfill that happiness – always, endlessly, needing more. The history of our individual lives and the history of humanity points to the futility of this perspective. Oceans of grief are the legacy of humanity seeking happiness through acquisition of external wealth, status, power, enduring exclusive personal loyalties, even immortality. As the Dalai Lama is pointing out, “It is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.” We must find the happiness within ourselves. But how are we to do this?

Again, Katagiri returns with his riddle, or in Zen language, his koan – that promises – “In wholeheartedness of presence.” – awakening into the truth of real happiness is experienced. If the ego represents, as Buddhism believes, a false sense of self, because it is constructed of fleeting form representations of self in a world of fleeting forms, what then is the enduring self that is beyond the impermanence and fleetingness that so frustrates our search for happiness? The true self must be discovered. Zen commands that we ask, “Who is this ‘I’?” – and we must ask – and discover – in order to experience the liberating awakening of the Buddha – “Who is this ‘I’?” – Again, Katagiri points us in the direction of the answer. “In wholeheartedness of presence, the Buddha (the awakening) is realized” – That which is our essence is found in total and complete presence, undistracted by the cravings, desires and fears of the separate individual egoic self.

Let us find out some more of what Katagiri tells us about this –

“To be a disciple or a son, or a daughter of the Buddha means we are people who accept the lives of all sentient beings as the content of our life. The universe is vast. The universe completely accepts us, accepts our lives as the contents of the universe. The universe never separates its life from our lives. The tree’s life, the bird’s life, our life, winter’s life, spring’s life, all are accepted as the content or quality of the universe. This is why the universe is buddha. We are children of the Buddha. If we realize this, then we can put this spirit into practice. When we accept others’ lives as the content of our life, then others’ lives become very close to us…If we see deeply the total picture of the human world, how transient the world is, how fragile human life is, then we can hear the cries of the world… we can see the path through which we and the universe are crossing. This is the manifestation of our wholeheartedness… if we sit with wholeheartedness, some part of our body feels it directly. We can feel peaceful because our presence and the presence of the universe are exactly in the same place. This is what is called wholeheartedness.” – from Returning to Silence –

Wholeheartedness is the experience of our presence and the presence of the universe and all sentient beings that make up the universe as the same. – not the forms – for the forms appear as different, and are fleeting – but the consciousness – the unified field of energy – perhaps you will allow the term, spirit – that permeates the universe before the experience of separateness of form leads to the delusion of a separate self. We are the universe. The universe is us. There can be no separation. This has the feel of immortal soul that the Western religions are pointing toward, but miss terribly when interpreted as an immortal continuation of the individual personality, the “I” of form, not, the essential “I”.

Back to the question: “Who is this ‘I’?” – beneath your thoughts, emotions and actions – Who is this “I”? This is the fruit of real meditation – whether it is done in formal sitting, or in the living meditation when we stop running the surface story of me, when we step out of the mistaken self-referencing and endlessly needy egoic self in the midst of living and doing – to discover that this “I” is not the conditioned and transitory forms floating through the mind as thoughts and emotions – but rather – is consciousness itself – the consciousness in which the transitory thoughts and emotions emerge and pass. It is the consciousness that witnessed your birth, witnesses the hearing of the bird’s song, the experience of love, that sits here today witnessing these moments, that will someday witness the death of the form you have associated as you – but will not itself die. – “Who is this “I”? – It is the consciousness that is pure presence within the pure presence of the universe unfolding. This self is called the buddha-self – awakened. – As philosopher/theologian Alan Watts said – “We are the universe peering into itself from billions of points of view.”

To close – I share words from Thich Nhat Hanh
– on how to live discovering the happiness we all seek –

“Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself.”… “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” –

And so will we. Remember the self that is wholehearted – that feels peace because our presence and the presence of the universe are exactly in the same place. This is the answer to the question, “Who is this ‘I’?” – It is the consciousness that witnesses and does not judge, that has no fear or aversion, for it realizes itself as the universe unfolding without a thought, and so, can give rise to thoughts not of fear and lack and separation, but of connection, unity and peace.
– This is what it means to be buddha – awakened.

With this awakening – we can begin to heal ourselves, to heal our relationships, to heal our communities, to heal our society and its politics, and finally, to heal the planet as we align self at the level of – I the individual, I within family, I within community, I within society and I on the planet with the awakened truth of who we are – The universe, containing all sentient beings, as one – separate in expression of form – but one in consciousness and ultimately – in destiny.

Finally –
To reframe into another spiritual tradition –

Have you ever considered, what is the true spiritual meaning of the Biblical instruction that the Kingdom of Heaven will be realized in the End of Time?
And
What is – “the Peace that surpasses all understanding”?

Might it be- to end time with wholeheartedness of presence – now – not is some future apocalypse – but to end the frightened time-bound story of separate self as your reference point for who you are and where and how happiness, fulfillment, eternity will be found ? –
Might it be – to enter fully as a conscious being into the eternal present moment – thus ending time – where, as Katagiri said, “our presence and the presence of the universe are exactly in the same place” – Awakened – free of self in our turbulent and insecure surface identity, and the experience of the world that was constructed – that was implanted by social, cultural, family and personal experience at the level of our separate egoic identity?
Might it be – to be wholeheartedly present – a consciousness within an unfolding universe asking only – How can I be one with all that is – this moment? – and answering – with wholeheartedness of presence.

Might it be to never lose your essential self, the consciousness that shares presence with the universe exactly as it is – moment-to-moment? Awakened – realizing the Buddha, living the Dharma and sharing the Sangha?

Might this be the peace that surpasses all understanding – In the end of time?

I bless and thank you for your wholehearted presence this morning.

*

CLOSING WORDS – to Asheville Unitarian Church service July 12, 2009

There are many problems facing us today – as individuals managing our lives, and as a society attempting to find exactly what is the meaning of the words we as a nation celebrated a week ago, written into our Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As the Dalai Lama’s words indicated that I shared with you earlier, perhaps the root of our problems is in an inappropriate assignment of importance to our isolated, individual and small selves for the procurement of these rights, and the search for them external to ourselves.

We have become a profoundly materialistic society focused primarily on the objects, stations and entitlements of the world to bring us life, liberty and happiness. This focus has failed us. We as individuals are more insecure, aggressive and selfish than ever, and we as a society have built a house of cards in unsustainable consumption and wealth acquisition.

I would venture that what we have lost is our soul. And by that I mean our ability to be profoundly present and honest with ourselves, with each other and with this world that is our home.

Wholeheartedness of Presence is an invitation to come home. To rediscover our soul. To know to our deepest, cellular level, “Who is this I?” – and to know that the answer is, as Katagiri shared, “we are people who accept the lives of all sentient beings as the content of our life.”

With this vision, the support of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” that we are dedicated to as a society, can begin to become the real fruit of our lives. As the Dalai Lama said, “the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well being.”

The Declaration was the founding statement of a society, a society that was believed to be the hope of humanity. Remember the final words of the Declaration:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

We mutually pledge to each other.

What is a pledge? A statement of wholeheartedness. This is a pledge to find our well being and happiness in shared wholehearted presence with our fellow beings accomplishing life, liberty and happiness in knowing our presence and the presence of all sentient beings are together in this place, this world, this universe.
This is what buddha means.

Thank you all for your presence this morning. Perhaps , increasingly, wholeheartedness of presence can begin to be who we all are as we more and more deeply realize that our life and the universe are never separate. We belong here – completely.

Wholeheartedness Of Presense

“In wholeheartedness of presence, The Buddha is realized, the Dharma is lived and the Sangha is shared.” – Dainin Katagiri (Zen Master – 1928-1990)

In Buddhism, a very important teaching is known as the Three Gems, or Three Refuges. It states: “I take refuge in The Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, and I take refuge in the Sangha.” This teaching, however, is best not taken literally, for to do so will be to miss its deeper meaning. This is not a religious instruction about finding refuge from the pain of life in an act of faith concerning The Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) and community of followers (Sangha). It is best to approach it as a sort of koan, a riddle in which the obvious hides a deeper meaning.

As the word “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one,” this teaching points to a psychological truth concerning the very core of Buddhism – the nature of and release from unnecessary emotional suffering. The awakening that is the Buddha is a realization of the psychological mechanism of ego for what it is – a useful tool for abstracting the experience of life and engaging the world of thought, society and the materials of the world, but also, a dangerously false sense of separate self, steeped in insecurity, that if clung to will lead to much suffering. To see this truth through Buddha consciousness is to have found the refuge from suffering.

The ego in its abstracted sense of separateness, and thus vulnerability and isolation, grasps after illusions of security that always, either immediately or eventually, fail to bring real security. It rather perpetuates a world of ever more desperate and elaborate schemes of acquiring security based in illusions of what is important. In its abstracted self, the ego believes that only more abstracted acquisitions will fulfill it. It craves more wealth, importance, significance and safety for itself. It craves an insatiable abstraction called “more”, and this “more” can never be satisfied. The ego brings with it, unending cycles of suffering as it fails to deliver its own promise, bringing mountains of harm to self, others and Nature through its exploitive tactics. The awakening is also then in seeing that the only real security we have is in a deep understanding of the nature of Life as it truly is, built around the central themes of impermanence and interconnectedness.

The phrase “wholeheartedness of presence” is a way of pointing to the necessary attitude and stance of an awakened being, a Buddha. It is the prerequisite consciousness that leads to a deep experiencing of the interconnectedness of everything, and so, the seeing that impermanence is really only the flow and cycling of the forms of Life within a larger pattern of continuity and connectedness. It is realizing that impermanence exists within the flow of time, but that Life occurs eternally within the present moment.

To be “wholeheartedly present” is antithetical to experiencing Life from the unstable and skittering egoic mind that is more concerned with defining itself through its separateness and its past, while projecting itself into the future. Rather, to be wholeheartedly present is to experience Life in a state of deep alert compassionate awareness within the realization of interconnectedness. It is to be awake to, and to manifest the interconnectedness. It is to see penetratingly beyond identity in egoic separateness, not only for individuals, but also for social and cultural groupings, and even humanity as a whole. It is to transcend the hostile and anxious relationship ego has with Nature – as manifested in our self, others and the World.

Emotional suffering occurs when we experience Life’s painful circumstances and we identify ourselves as the unique and separate one or ones upon whom this pain has been inflicted. We become the one who carries the story of being afflicted and in lack. From this place, we suffer anxiety, anger and depression, our ultimate goal of peace and happiness unattainable. We also then cause suffering as we experience the world and other people as objects we must compete and contend with, manipulate, acquire and dominate if we are to alleviate our suffering through the fantasy of fulfillment in the ill-defined goal of bringing more to me. This brings the massive pain, waste and destruction that is human history.

Yes, Life contains painful circumstances – as it also contains joyful circumstances. Ultimately an awakened understanding of the nature of Life is beyond pain and joy. It is about realizing we are the one (within the all) in whose consciousness the fullness of all of Life’s circumstances arise – the painful, the fearful, the frustrating, the joyful, the loving and the satisfying. It is about realizing, living and sharing an awakened consciousness that can experience self in a macro-perspective, all the while also living the self of the personal and circumstantial, but now more compassionately and skillfully. We can experience pain without suffering. We can experience joy without greedily exulting in it and needing its conditions to be permanent. We can be said to be living in Life’s fullness and thickness, free to feel what we feel without the feelings becoming sources of suffering for ourselves or reasons to inflict suffering on others.

As the awakened consciousness of Life (Buddha), we realize that we exist in eternity – the eternity of the moment lived in presence. The Three Gems teaching is about finding refuge from the experience of emotional suffering in wrestling with our shifting time-bound story as the limit of who we are. We do this by awakening into understanding Life as it can be truly lived, an ever-shifting personal background story in time that is best lived one moment at a time, in fullness, in a “wholeheartedness”, that allows for any occurrence with an equanimity that is capable of transcending personal identity invested in any transient event. One moment at a time, in the perfect gem that is a moment, Life is experienced without the unnatural resistance and negativity that, in all of Nature, only humans and their egos are capable of. The refuge is the eternal present moment lived fully as it is, and this refuge can only be found in “wholeheartedness of presence.”

Awaken into this truth (Dharma) and you will join the Sangha of conscious Beings that includes all of Nature and those relatively few, but growing, number of humans who have, in the words of Zen, crossed to the other shore, leaving both the vast continent of human ignorance (ego identification) and the raft of the Dharmic instructions, which after all are more egoic tools, behind. We can walk with authenticity and spontaneity, free of illusion, this new land which paradoxically is the same terrain as before – our lives and their circumstances – but now neither a victim nor a perpetrator of unnecessary suffering. Now, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is you, wholeheartedly present in a brave new world of Reality realized, lived and shared.

Inner Quiet

We cannot see our reflection in running water, but only in still water.
– Chuang Tzu (4th Cent. BCE Taoist)

The very heart of Taoism and Buddhism, the “Awakening” referenced in Buddhism, is the discovery of an inner dimension of quiet and stillness of awareness that opens into the underlying quiet and stillness of the world. It is the discovery of the essence of who we are as the silence that lies beneath the running surface chatter of the mind, awakening us into the underlying perfect quiet of the world.

These ancient Asian teachings lead us to the discovery of our natural and original Beingness, not clouded by the conditioning of societal and interpersonal bias trained into us from infancy, that acts like a distorted lens shaping our surface reality into the contours and limitations of that conditioning. A modern American sees the world in a uniquely modern American manner. An ancient Chinese saw the world in a uniquely ancient Chinese manner. The basic human is the same. It is their conditioning that is different, creating an illusory world of thought and concepts so that they see and experience themselves and the world quite differently.

But, from a place of inner quiet, beneath the conditioning, we can find the basic human, or what Zen refers to as “original mind,” the “Buddha mind.” Not actually unique to Asia, but universal to the mystical experience, Christian mystics also referred to this dimension as the “Christ Within.” This mind is the unclouded consciousness that is in union with life, and like any creature in Nature, is bright, alert, relaxed and, of course, natural, as well as spiritual.

To discover the natural unconflicted consciousness that is the heart of who we are is the great “liberation” of Taoism and Buddhism, freeing us from identity found in the troubled and turbulent mind of our social and personal conditioning. This mind is quiet and still, as Nature is quiet and still. Even as a waterfall roars or thunder rumbles, it is within a larger quiet and stillness that is palpable. So too, the natural human mind is active, but within a deeper quiet and stillness. The conditioning of modern humans is to not recognize this dimension of quiet and stillness, but rather, to experience their sense of self in the activity of the mind, giving it a reality and identification as self that is not true. And because it is a false self, it is filled with insecurity, conflict and anxieties.

To live in a mental world of commotion and noise creates the experience of a world of commotion and noise. In a sense, this is the meaning of Karma. We create the world as we experience (imagine) it in our minds to be, and attend to and create more noise in the world reflective of the noise in our minds, believing this noise to be the world as it is. The future then is propelled out of this noise-filled past, and the present moment is just a blur of transit in the creation of more noise.

We also act out the noise with all its conflicting and competing elements. Our lives become a tumble of thought and emotion and activity. We are doing, doing, doing all the time, physically and mentally. We become so much activity that we lose any sense of peace and calm, of presence and perspective. We live in the world of modern America, that is hurry, hurry, flurry, flurry, filled with, as Shakespeare noted even four hundred years ago, “full of sound and fury.” And most of the time, as Shakespeare also noted, “signifying nothing.” Except that it does signify something; it signifies our tumultuous and conflicted world that we mistake for the way things are and must be.

No. There is peace and quiet. Peace and quiet are the essence of Nature, and so too, at the level of our own nature, there is peace and quiet. But peace and quiet have become foreign concepts to most of us, even, unnerving, literally, disquieting. “Where’s the action?!” could be noted as the slogan for modern American life. Even walking through the beauty of Nature, it is typical that most people keep on talking and carrying their unnatural lives with them into the heart of Nature. It is as if they fear they will disappear if they allow and absorb the quiet of the natural world, and in a manner of speaking, so they would disappear. They would cease to be that artificial egoic construct of themselves they carry in their minds that feels compelled to reconstruct every moment filled with its hungry cravings for significance and its deep-seated anxieties, even in the heart of peaceful, quiet Nature.

What we neglect to realize is that in peace and quiet there is no anxiety, there is no craving, there is no conflict. In peace and quiet there is the deep contact with life that allows us to savor and skillfully engage the moments in which life occurs, not the artificial running from past to future that mark our typical experience. In peace and quiet there is our own deepest nature – calm, authentic and deeply present. There is quiet that is referenced in the Bible as the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Look within to discover the quiet stillness and space beneath the noise. Find the inner quiet that guides you to the truth and peace of who you are at your natural core. From there you can engage the hurry, hurry, flurry, flurry of modern life, but not be the hurry and the flurry. Rather you can be the peace in the midst of the hurry and the flurry. This is the purpose and the direction pointed to in the awakening of the Buddhist Way, as well as the heart of every spiritual teaching.

“And so, Gotama (The Buddha) wandered into the town to obtain alms, and the two Samanas recognized him only by his complete peacefulness of demeanor, by the stillness of his form, in which there was no seeking, no will, no counterfeit, no effort – only light and peace.” – from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

American Zen

Zen is waking up out of the unconscious patterns of our lives and into heightened presence, awareness and clarity – then, living life right here as it is. Nothing special, and, oh, so special.

I teach and guide people in a way of living that draws on the wisdom and skills of Zen Buddhism, yet is thoroughly contemporary. I call it American Zen because America is the contemporary culture in which I live and teach. It could be European, or Asian or Latin or African because Zen doesn’t have to be bound to a culture. It is a way of approaching life that transcends culture. Likewise, while Buddhism is a religion that originated in Asia, I have always found it a little off-putting that Buddhism is often practiced in the West continuing to emphasize its Asian trappings and rituals. The Asian trappings and rituals are not Buddhism. That said, to absorb fully a statue or picture of the Buddha can be an experience of wholehearted presence, an example of the clarity, peace and calmness that communicates a great deal about Buddhism.

Buddhism is about living life in an “awakened” manner, which is what the word Buddhism means, and this awakening is not about some theological dogma, but about seeing and living life naturally, vitally and skillfully, not caught in the shallow experience of life only as a backdrop to all of our hectic activity and thinking about life. Fundamental to the teachings of Buddhism, the phrase “be here, now,” is often applied, and to me, here and now means just that. Not there and then, in some other cultural and time perspective. Buddhism, and its Zen expression, is really much more a philosophy of life and a psychology of the Human experience than an anachronistic religion. It can be applied in any cultural, historic or even religious context. American Zen then is the development of the concept of “here and now” to its full transformational potential within the cultural context of contemporary America.

Central to Zen, but not as some ritual, is meditation. Meditation is the practice of deepening our capacity for relaxed, yet very alert awareness. It opens us to profound conscious contact with the present moment where our lives are actually lived, while gaining in insight as to how our psychologically conditioned minds create a very artificial and limited relationship with life. It is about learning how each moment has its own uniqueness, but that we miss this uniqueness projecting our own concepts of self and the world onto the moments of our lives.

Zen is then about learning to bring the openness and focus we experience in meditation into everyday life. The practice of sitting meditation is a powerful practice for learning the mind and opening into discovery of who we are at our deepest level. But for our sitting meditation to achieve its full transformational potential, the consciousness achieved in the sitting must then enter our ordinary everyday life as mindfulness, the practice of knowing with a deep presence what we are doing as we do it. This connects us powerfully to life as we live it.

If all our neurosis is created by the conflicting messages we get from family and society about who we are and what is right and true, then Zen seeks to liberate us by instructing us to experience life directly, and to, as one Zen exhortation instructs, to “show original face”. This means to live in a manner emerging from capacities within us that are natural and fundamental rather than solely acting out the influences and conditioning of family and social experience. In this way, Zen is a psychology with powerful transformational capacity. It opens us to experiencing life anew, with immediate, open curiosity and wonder, getting out of the mazeway of our minds, greatly freed of neurotic thought and emotion.

Simplicity, naturalness, presence, connectedness and compassion are hallmarks of the Zen life. Zen is a living philosophy, a way of experiencing life in freshness and wisdom. It is not meant to be an arcane religion, but it is meant to awaken spiritual connectedness. In that way, Zen is the experience and expression of life as a sacred dance, here and now. Even the simplest of acts and experiences is imbued with the wonder of the sacred. Zen is the experience of the sacred in us encountering and entering the sacred in the World, transcending the experience of separateness, for the sacred cannot be divided into “me” and “other”. Zen is meant to awaken us into the spiritual dimension of life while living our ordinary secular lives.

American Zen, then, is American life, done with a Zen twist. The traditional Japanese Zen instruction that Zen is in “chopping wood and carrying water”, means it is to be found in the simplest of life’s tasks when those tasks are approached with relaxed alert awareness and a sense of sacredness. American Zen, then, is chopping wood and carrying water modern American style. It is about walking in nature or just down the street, driving your car, washing the dishes, eating a meal, gardening, sports and recreation, doing your job, interacting with people. The Zen is in being very present, very aware and reverential, not distracted, as you do whatever you do. It is about embracing Life just as it is, not insisting that Life meet your conditions for happiness. In Zen, you become increasingly aware that you are Life, that you are Nature. You no longer feel separate, dissatisfied and afraid.

Zen is waking up out of the unconscious patterns of our lives and into heightened presence, awareness and clarity – then, living life right here as it is. Nothing special, and, oh, so special. Stop being trapped by your past story of who you think you are, and begin living vitally in the present. Open your mind beyond the limits of its family and social conditioning into life’s full potential, which allows life to be markedly more meaningful, satisfying and manageable. Then, just live life, wherever you are. Only now, life is saner and has a joy, spontaneity, spirituality and peacefulness that is lacking in the typical conventional modern experience. Right here in America, living American Zen.

Not Two, One

“The Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma is based on two truths: a worldly convention and an ultimate truth…Without a foundation in the conventional truth the significance of the ultimate cannot be taught. Without understanding the significance of the ultimate, liberation is not achieved.” – Nagarjuna 2nd Cenury.

There is a Zen teaching, a koan, “Not two, one.” As with all koans, this is a riddle that points to a transcendent truth. As Nagarjuna’s teaching illustrates, there is one teaching based in two truths that must be mastered to discover and experience that there is ultimately but one truth. We exist in two simultaneous dimensions, one relative, finite and dualistic, comprised of trillions of separate bits, and one ultimate, infinite, interconnected and non-dualistic. It seems like two to human perception, but then in inspired intuition, we know that there is only the one interconnected conscious universe that when believed to be two, makes two, and three and four, etc., but there is still only the one Universe, completely interconnected. This is the truth, paradox and dilemma of the human condition.

To say it differently, it is true that we live in the finite dimension where there is always at least two, in which the apprehender or perceiver is experiencing what is apprehended or perceived. However, it is also true that we live in an ultimate dimension of the unified field of existence where the ultimate truth is free from the duality of apprehender and apprehended. This is the truth that opens meditation into the experience of liberation. As I sit here, I can experience being one separate from all other, with all the possible problems the world of interaction presents, or I can experience sitting here as consciousness, no me, no other, just this moment experienced as it is. This moment, experienced as it is, no me, no other, is, of course, perfect, no problem.

Two come about because of One,
but don’t cling to the One either!
So long as the mind does not stir,
the ten thousand things stay blameless;
no blame, no phenomena,
no stirring, no mind.
The viewer disappears along with the scene,
the scene follows the viewer into oblivion,
for scene becomes scene only through the viewer,
viewer becomes viewer because of the scene. – Seng-ts’an, 7th Century

Here I am. And there you are. And there is the tree and the stone and the sun and the clouds. How many is that? Is it six? And, here is I, you, tree, stone, sun and clouds, and all phenomena in the radius of my consciousness. This consciousness is one, no more. Back and forth we move, now two, now one, now two again, and both are true, and neither is true without the other. In the world of two, when we stop running the mind stream of ME and the mind does not stir, then the one truth appears. Then, we remember ME, and two appears again. Zen cultivates living skillfully in the world of convention by realizing the world of ultimate truth, “Not two, one.” In deep present moment awareness, the great divider, time, stops, and we find, just as promised in the Bible, that the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “Peace that surpasses all understanding” occurs in the end of time. That place is not some other place and the “end of time” is not some future event, but really in ending time, here and now.

This one truth. Sitting, standing, walking, seeing, hearing, touching, I am – “like dew in the morning, like the flash from a strike of lightning” (Ikkyu, 15th Cenury.), nothing more, only this moment, and eternal. Can you allow this? If so, this moment, you are liberated. You have found Satori. As they say in Zen, you have known this since before you were born, so release all puzzlement.

Mantra

“The best way to take a thorn out of one’s foot is with another thorn.”
– Swami Muktananda

Swami Muktananda was one of India’s most famous 20th Century meditation teachers, and in the above quote, Muktananda is talking about the meditation devise of mantra. He goes on to say, in his book, Meditation, that, “according to the meditation scriptures, when one wants to still the mind, which revels in thoughts, one takes the help of one thought, the mantra… Mantra is a cosmic word or sound vibration. It is the vibration of the Self, and, when we immerse ourselves in it, it leads us to the place of the Self.”

The human brain is a thought-making machine and, for modern humans, thinking is an addiction, the principle devise by which the ego reconstructs itself moment-to-moment, holding sway on our psychological experience. It gives us the gift of abstract mental forming capacity, but brings the curse of personal identity experienced in separateness in form and its accompanying insecurity. It is the purpose of meditation, in both the multiplicity of Indian traditions (Vedic, Tantric, Yogic, et al.) that become linked in Western understanding into Hinduism, and in the Buddhist traditions, to break that hold and to open the practitioner to a deeper realization of the truth of who they are beyond thinking and egoic separateness.

Both traditions refer to ego as the small self, as distinguished from essential, true or original Self, that which is in union with life. The realm of small egoic self is viewed as conditioned into us by society and creates a schism between a person and the true possibilities for life, and is considered to be the source of human emotional suffering (note the use of small-case vs. upper-case “s” – the English language has inherent awkwardness in expressing these very non-Western concepts).

Hinduism names Brahman as the universal and divine Consciousness that is the source of all that is. Its practice, in which meditation plays a central role, seeks to awaken within the practitioner the realization of their true Self as Atman, the individuated aspect of Brahman Consciousness. Buddhism, which emerged as a kind of reformation of the Hindu traditions and is much more specifically a psychology or philosophy for understanding the true nature of life, shares the belief in consciousness as the source of all that is without anthropomorphically deifying it. It seeks through meditation to awaken the realization of our Original Nature as the unconditioned consciousness that precedes the conditioned and limited egoic form of the personal self. In either tradition, the first challenge is to break the addictive hold of conditioned thought patterns, and here, mantra plays a very important role. Even meditation as a purely secular psychological practice for alleviation of stress and anxiety can be enhanced through the use of mantra.

At its most basic level, mantra is an object of meditation, in other words, something for the awareness capacity of the mind to focus upon. The word meditation means concentration, and without an object of concentration, there is no meditation. The object of meditation ultimately in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions is the true Self, only method and the religious/psychological interpretation of true Self differs. In developing the capacity to comprehend, let alone meditate upon, the true Self, it is first necessary to train the mind’s capacity for stillness with what is referred to as “single-pointed awareness,” for ego exists within a perpetual motion thought stream and dissolves in sustained stillness. Mantra facilitates this mental stillness. This is the “thorn” with which to withdraw the thorniness of mental chatter.

In the Buddhist tradition, most typically (with some exceptions) the breath is the object, the touchstone, for meditation. Mantra or chanting can be additional important objects. In the Hindu traditions, breath also is a primary object of meditation, but with mantra playing a supreme role. Breath and mantra support each other, only the emphasis on which is supporting which is at issue. Within the Buddhist tradition, it might be accurate to say the breath, in many cases, is the mantra. Breath is not only the sensation of this life-giving phenomenon, for without breath, there is no life, but it is the sound of that which gives life. To be one with the breath is to be one with life.

As Muktananda said, “Mantra is a cosmic word or sound vibration of the Self, the true speech of the Self, and, when we immerse ourselves in it, it leads us to the place of the Self.” The Self is our sacred center. It might be called the Soul. Within the Hindu traditions, God is not a separate Supreme Being. God (Brahman) is the great consciousness of all that is, and it infuses everything. Humans have a very special capacity of self-awareness that can be awakened into realization of the consciousness of God as the source and truth of who they are. This individualized consciousness is Atman, or Self, that links to Brahman. In example, Muktananda teaches a mantra, “So’ham”, meaning, “I am That”, “That” meaning Divine Consciousness. I am one with Divine Consciousness. No separation.

To use mantra is to call to and awaken this consciousness. To use mantra is to first corral the discursive, distracted, thinking egoic mind, but then, very importantly to awaken the Self, our divine Nature. Without the theological overlay of Hinduism, Buddhism believes the same, but in a more specifically psychological manner. In Buddhist meditation we are awakening to our Original Nature or Buddha (Awakened) Nature, that which is free of psychological programming, and at one with the moment and life.

Whether the mantra is “So’ham, or “OM” – the sound of all sounds, or “Ram” – a name for God in the Hindu pantheon, or the English word “One” – not the number, but the concept of unity, or the sound and sensation of life giving breath, to use mantra is to quiet the egoic mind, and to remind and awaken the truth of our union with all life, the truth of who we are, our true Self. It awakens us from the illusion of the small separate egoic self as the limits of who we are into interconnectedness with all of life, the infinite Self. This is the insight that leads not only to spiritual realization, but, very importantly, to psychological liberation from the crazy insecure world of the ego.

Try it. Sit with dignity and relaxed alertness, breathe, be aware of your breathing, and with the exhale, silently say “One”, and be One – with the breath, with the moment, with life, and most importantly, with your completely sane and possibly divine Self within, beneath the chatter.

The Gateless Gate

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

Personal Evolution

“If I hadn’t learned how to live without a culture and a society, the acculturation process would have broken my heart a thousand times.”
– Kurt Vonnegut in the voice of Kilgore Trout

I have to admit, I have strong reservations about “psychotherapy.” I always have. I was trained and practiced as a clinical psychologist for years, but was never very comfortable with the model. When I was in college in the late 60’s, I discussed my reservations with the chairman of the Psychology Department. I told him, that I didn’t want to be part of a profession that seemed to do no more than patch up people that society had screwed-up so they could resume their place within the society that screwed them up in the first place. I also had an intuitive mistrust of Freudian analysis and behaviorism. It all seemed to lack a deeper insight and compassion for the universal human condition.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see the value in psychotherapy for exactly the purposes I object to, and am not telling others to not practice or receive it, it’s just that I was and am interested in something else. I was and am interested in what the wisdom and sanity potential for a human being and the human species is. With that, in college, I chose to pursue Cultural Anthropology rather than Psychology.

That same professor, however, introduced me to the humanist psychology of Carl Rogers and Rogers’ student, Sydney Jourard, the existentialism of Rollo May, and the human potential Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls. I came to know there were those within psychology who had a very different track than the analysts and the behaviorists I was suspicious of, and eventually, it was this existentialist/human potential modality combined with a strong training in clinical practice that I took professionally.

Over the years, however, my anthropologist beginnings called to me ever stronger, as my early concerns about the profession of psychology seemed to be increasingly confirmed, and the humanists, existentialists, human potentialists, and even the analysts of newer more insightful schools, were marginalized more and more. I became convinced that exploring non-Western wisdom traditions combined with an anthropological exploration of the evolution of human consciousness, rather than any traditional psychology, held the secret to personal sanity in the modern world.

In truth, it’s not the idea of psychotherapy in its purest sense that’s so unappealing to me; it is what the profession became. I see it now more than ever as an instrument of socialization rather than an exploration of healing the “soul/mind”, as the word “psychology” in its Greek origins implies. “Psychotherapy” as a healing of the soul/mind is exactly what I care about, but that’s not what you’re likely to get when going to a professional psychotherapist, so I stopped identifying myself as one. I really believe it would be more appropriate to call the profession as practiced today, mental/social habilitation. That is definitely not me.

So, when asked, I say that I do “personal evolution,” the exploration of the fulfillment of a person’s understanding of their placement and potential in an unfolding universe. This does, of course, have its implications for healthier relating in the social/family context, but not necessarily in a way most of today’s psychotherapists or counselors would relate to. I am back to being an existentialist/human potentialist. I am deeply curious and inspired by the question of what human potential really is, not in an intellectual, scientific sense, but in the dimension that can only be called wisdom, a deep knowing of our placement in this mystery of life. With that, must come an exploration of the phenomenon of consciousness, the core of who we are and our connection to life, with meditation and mindfulness as the necessary methodology.

I am drawn to the concept of evolution because it brings a macro-perspective that places the personal dimension of you and me living our ordinary lives within a truly liberating view. As a student of anthropology, I am drawn to the psychology of Buddhism because it is the exploration of “awakening” into a human being’s trans-cultural, trans-egoic place within the Universe in the eternity of the present moment and the unfolding of time. Buddhism, as a psychology, attracts me because it is primarily the exploration of the nature of human suffering, not only at a personal level with an insight that Western psychology lacks, but at an existential, transpersonal, universal level that really does address the evolutionary journey of being human.

This Buddhist “awakening” is the realization, as Kurt Vonnegut shares, of how heart-breaking it can be to believe that what society and culture have conditioned into us are the limits of who we are. It is the realization of an unfolding evolution of human consciousness that places the personal within a vast and grand perspective that includes the heart-break without breaking our hearts. It is about escaping the mental tread-mill of relentlessly reconstructing our mental/social programming, to awaken into a much larger, deeper and liberated identity, and that is what I am about. A liberating New Year to you.

A Light That Came Into The World

“I have come as light into the world.” – Jesus in John 12:46

I am not a Christian. I was born and raised as a Christian, but became alienated from the church as a youth. This church, established in worship of Jesus, seemed hypocritical to me. I liked what I knew of Jesus. I liked his talk about forgiveness, peace, non-judgment, non-materialism, caring for the poor and the unfortunate. I just didn’t see much of this reflected in the church that carried his name, particularly those sects that emphasized sin, the crucifixion and resurrection; that believers were “washed in the blood of the Lamb”. I had difficulty with the idea that those with the “right” beliefs were destined for Heaven, while all non-believers were damned to Hell. I couldn’t even feel comfortable with the concept of Heaven and Hell as presented. None of this resonated with my instinct, my intuition, concerning God and the spiritual life. What I could identify with was the one instance of Jesus losing his temper, even getting violent, happening in a church against the “hypocrites” he found there.

In my lifetime, I have sadly watched a dramatic increase in dogmatic sin-based Christian theology. On the other hand, I have also seen a growing Christian theology of openness and acceptance, a searching for spiritual harmony and realization through a reexamination of original Christian teachings, sometimes in a reexamination of the Gospels in the original Aramaic language. I have seen a searching for a theology and practice much closer to the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, teachings not in conflict with other world religions, but actually harmonious. I am appreciative and hopeful for this development. Still, my own journey has taken me away from belonging to any church or religion since my personal breakaway many years ago.

I have, however, found a deep and abiding spirituality, first activated through exposure to the mystical teachings of Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel, that belongs to no single religion, but which resonates with spiritual and mystical teachings from cultures around the world. Trained as a psychologist, I have gravitated to the most specifically psychological of religious traditions, Buddhism, as a particularly valuable source of guidance in understanding the human mind and the human instinct towards spirituality. I have found that the ancient Asian traditions of Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism bring forward with the most clarity a path for human salvation from the disaster of human conduct directed by the ego, the belief in separateness and form as the limit of our mortal experience. Still, I am not a Hindu, Taoist or Buddhist. I am a spiritual human being. All religions are creations and extensions of the human ego, expressed at a social/cultural level, and spirituality is specifically, that which is not the human ego.

The mystic/psychologist, Carl Jung, once gave as his definition of God, “simply a word for the non-ego.” I like that. He was saying that God is all that is, but human ego extracts itself from all that is. Of course human ego is, so then, even human ego is of God. But human ego is an abstract representation of self that does not know it is God. So it is separate in its own experience from God and must create religions to bridge the gap. Unfortunately, religions, being creations of the human ego, macro-egos, if you will, just like nations, tend to widen the gap.

Spirituality is the knowing that there is no gap. Spirituality is the knowing that this individual being experienced as self is an individuated aspect of the universal Being. This knowledge is the heart of Asian religion. I believe it is the heart of all religions, even those of the West, but the politics of Western religion banished this knowledge, losing it to all but the rare mystics always to be found on the fringes of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Only in the stillness of meditation, the deep looking within to the quiet recesses of consciousness, where the Soul whispers its truths, can this knowledge be found. This is why the institutional Western churches teach only prayer, which is the talking to God. Mystics know that meditation is the listening for God within the quiet stillness of consciousness and in finding God in direct contact with Nature. No separation.

Jesus was a mystic who knew no separation from God. This is what Jesus was teaching. The “Son of God” was a child of God that knew the illusion of form and separateness. He was God individuated into human form, just like everyone, except he knew it, and the civilized (that is ego-dominant) human condition is to not retain this knowing. He was an avatar, an awakened human, a Buddha. He knew that who we are at the depth of our being, is that which is before form, the consciousness of all that is, individuated into human form. He was “a light into this world,” bringing light into the darkness of a human world that has forgotten the truth of who we are. His name in Aramaic is Yeshua, which translates as “one who reveals or restores the original state”. This is identical to the “original mind” of Buddhism, the consciousness that reveals the truth of who we are.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” “Judge not that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth… for where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” “Enter by the narrow gate.” “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go.” “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

Quite similar words were passed down in the context of their own cultural traditions by Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Moses, Muhammad, Zoroaster and Bahá u’lláh. All these avatars were lights coming into the world, those who walked the earth in form, but knew the truth of who they and we are, from that which is beyond form. A new understanding of Jesus and the spirituality of all avatars is greatly needed. The Earth will be healed for humanity and all God’s creatures when we learn to walk in light, to carry the light, the wisdom that these great teachers discovered within the deepest level of their being and so, likewise resides in every human. This dark world needs it. A meaningful Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice to all.

Hope For Humankind

“The Ecozoic (era) is the period when human conduct will be guided by the ideal of an integral earth community, a period when humans will be present upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.” – Thomas Berry

American society, and human society generally, faces a critical time. We have lived and created our cultures and societies since the dawn of civilizations from an egocentric perspective, that is, human consciousness has constellated, like planets circling a sun, around the perspective that me, my family, my group, my country, my species is important over all that is “other.” All of our social, cultural and economic systems have developed from this perspective. This abstracted “me” as an entity separate and struggling for significance and preeminence in the universe is what is psychologically known as ego.

From a psychological perspective, this post-hunter-gatherer period could be called the beginnings of the Egocentric era of human evolution. It has lasted ten thousand years. Ever since small bands of humans stepped out of the forests and a wholly symbiotic relationship with nature, and began to cultivate crops and to develop increasingly refined tools for manipulating nature, humanity’s unique evolutionary trait for abstracted consciousness has also ever-increasingly separated human identity from nature. What follows, are eras noted by humanity abstracting individual and social/cultural experience further out of nature, increasingly identifying with technology that manipulates nature to enhance human power.

We have, heretofore, mostly believed this to be a good thing. It is more and more, however, being noted as a disaster, first for the planet and its non-human occupants, and finally, as the sword of Damocles that hangs over humanity’s head, it’s supporting thread about to break. And so it is. An evolutionary crisis is at hand. The species, Homo Sapiens, the term itself, in the Latin meaning “wise or intelligent man,” has unwisely, unintelligently come into existential disharmony with the planet that is its home. We cannot project our species into the future following this course another one hundred years, let alone ten thousand, without seeing a severe diminishment of the quality of life on this planet. As in every evolutionary crisis for a species, either an evolutionary leap is made, or devolution, possibly extinction results.

There is, however, hope for humankind. The evolutionary trait of humanity is consciousness, and as the great paleontologist/theologian, Teilhard de Chardin noted, the evolution of consciousness is an ever-expanding convergent process. This means that the sense of “I” incorporates that which had been previously exiled to “other.” In the track of human history, we have greatly overcome tribalism, hereditary aristocracy, ethnicism, religious intolerance, sexism and other forms of division to have an ever-expanding and increasingly stable sense of inclusion within the human family. Glaring remaining exceptions give validity to the rule. de Chardin noted that the ultimate evolutionary perspective will arrive when the experience of “I” as entirely separate from “other,” not only between human groups, but humanity and all that exists, is overcome completely.

For this to occur, one “ism,” for which there is barely a glimmer of realization, must be acknowledged. It is species-ism, humanity’s failure to recognize the rights and needs of all on this planet, including the planet, which is not human. It is a form of collective egocentricism. For humanity to have a humane long future, a leap of consciousness is required that will first, enfold all humanity, and then, the ecosystem of humanity, within one reverential system. There is required a new consciousness that synthesizes the Nature reverence of primitive humans with the technological and democratic advancement of modern human civilization, creating a highly sophisticated world culture that applies its inventiveness not to the domination of Nature, and of other human, non-human groups and the planet, but to the harmonious support of all: “when humans will be present upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

Ironically, there is an existing and ancient vein of human philosophy that is capable of exactly this vision. It is the Hindu/Buddhist/ Taoist traditions of Asia that emerged just as complex civilizations were being born. They are a bridge to a time when humanity still identified with Nature as its source and context. The “awakening” that is the meaning of the Sanskrit root of the words, Buddhism and Buddha, is exactly the awakening into the trans-egoic consciousness, the rediscovery of “original nature” within every person, that is required to take humanity and its home planet with all its occupants forward into the future. It is the core of these philosophies to grasp the interconnectedness and inter-Beingness of all who share this ecosystem. As Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth, “Awakened doing is the outer aspect of the next stage in the evolution of consciousness on our planet.”

Meditation and mindfulness are the irreplaceable practices that lead to this consciousness of “awakened doing.” To meditate on our present economic, political, social and psychological crises leads to the inescapable recognition of this truth. To meditate on our individual consciousness is to inescapably realize that we must “awaken” into an expanded, evolved awareness-and-doing to transcend our individual anxious, competitive egocentric tendencies. And to meditate is to discover the irrefutable path that leads to this awakening. These insights are what Buddha described as the result of his meditation in the famous “Four Noble Truths,” the doctrine core of Buddhism.

There is hope for humankind, and it has been ensconced in the background of human history for thousands of years locked away within the protective shell of these ancient religions waiting until it was needed. It is now needed. It is time to crack the anachronistic religious husks and claim the inner fruit. Humanity is of Nature. Nature is the home and source of humanity. Humanity’s “original nature,” as Buddhism refers to it, must awaken. The rebirth and contemporization of this philosophy and its meditative practices will result in what Thomas Berry refers to in The Great Work, as the next phase of human evolution, the Ecozoic era, as the ancient and modern reconcile and synthesize into a new flowering.

Consciousness And Politics

I often speak about the crisis for individuals brought about by the egocentric psychological paradigm of modern times, but the psychology of individuals is really only an extension of the psychology of the society.

We are looking at the micro-dimensional and the macro-dimensional constellations of consciousness. Individual consciousness is conditioned by societal consciousness, and societal consciousness is then the aggregate of individual consciousnesses. Politics is analogous to the problem-solving psychological processes of an individual brought to the collective dimension.

Humanity is approaching an evolutionary crisis. An evolutionary crisis occurs for a species when its environment can no longer sustain the species in its existing form. Then, the form of the species either undergoes some radical evolution or it ceases to flourish, possibly becoming extinct. Humanity now faces such a crisis. The dominant evolutionary trait of humanity is consciousness, not, as in other species, some physical characteristic. It is the psychology of humanity that shapes its form, and its relationship to all other form. The presently dominant psychology, the egocentric consciousness of individuals and societies seeking to accumulate as much significance, wealth and power for themselves as they can, has run out of room.

The planet is no longer able to sustain the insatiable, voracious appetite of human beings and their institutions. We teeter on the brink of devastating consequences. The collective, that is, the political, consciousness we bring to recognizing and addressing this crisis will determine the quality, possibly even the fact, of future existence for humanity. Our profit-based economic system and its accompanying belligerently competitive social attitudes are unsuited to addressing the issues we face moving into the 21st Century.

We Americans must reassess our values. We must expand beyond our historic motivating vision of unbounded individual financial opportunity and personal dominance to one that enfolds every person in the basic dignities of peace, personal security, civil liberties and a sustainable economy. We are too many on too small a planet. Competition with its accompanying conflicts and inequities can no longer be the dominant social paradigm.

Meaningful work, secure homes, health-care, education, respect and caring within the bosom of a healthy, beautiful and sustaining environment for every person must become our template. This is necessary if we are to have a future that not only sustains, but also begins restoring dignity and sanity to the human experience, now sacrificed to the psychological insecurity inherent in our mass consumer economy and trash media.

Our economy must refocus into meaningful jobs that support this vision. Wealth must be shared in compassionate generosity, not concentrated in the hands of the most ambitious. The corporate/bureaucratic stranglehold on American life must be broken. It is totalitarian and predatory in nature. Small shop businesses where people have more individual choice, creativity and control must replace the dehumanizing cubicle hell of modern commerce. The law profession must be reclaimed from being a criminal-punishing craps-shoot and high-stakes-money-grabbing game to the search for real redemption and justice. Medical care must be recognized as a right, not a blackmail scheme provided to those able and willing to pay the high dollar ransom held against their health and fear of death.

Careers in the arts, education, culture, small farming and human services must be valued and supported. Universal life-long education that focuses not only on technology and work, but also on the arts, culture and mindful living is necessary to advance not only human technology, but also the human soul. Decentralization into villages and towns within the vast city/state structures of modern life is necessary to revitalize social continuity and human scale community.

Politics is consciousness. It always has been. The end of hereditary aristocracy, the struggles against slavery, racism, sexism, and worker exploitation are all examples of a new, more expansive consciousness transforming the political landscape. We must expand our consciousness to enfold the entire planet in a vision of kinship and compassion, of peace, sustainability, aesthetics and universal responsibility for even “the least among us”. This includes, not only the human poor, but also the animals, the plants and the Earth itself.

Politics is the problem-solving process of a society, not a bad TV show as the corporate media has largely succeeded in making it. We need leaders who call us to a higher consciousness, not who manipulate our vanity and basest emotions. Slanderous accusations and distortions, dogmatic moral and nationalistic positions, straw-dog enemies, and calls to “Fight!” and “Keep your money!” rev the emotions, but they also divide and diminish us. What we need, if we are to evolve into a better future, is a coming together to a nobler consciousness that calls us to care for and share life’s blessings, not only within the nation, but also with the world.

A politics that appeals to our lowest consciousness will bring the lowest results. There has been too much of this in recent years. War, a stumbling economy, domestic divisiveness and low world standing are the proof. We have become a population that functions more as a greedy rabble than a society. Any semblance of high culture, ethics and true spirituality is but a fading memory. Psychopathology and crime are rampant.

A higher consciousness is humanity’s and this nation’s only hope. Much is at stake. The regressive side of history, or even the sidelines, is no place to be in this moment of humanity’s growing evolutionary crisis. Demand more from the politicians, the business-world, the educators and the media. Demand more of yourself. Push through the trash politics and become conscious of what is really at stake. Humanity is devolving at present. A better future that contains the fulfillment of human potential is possible, but only if we reengage our basic evolutionary trait and become conscious. Only if we reclaim our society and our individual lives in the vision of that potential.

Political choices are at hand. I hope America can evolve beyond the politics of small self-interest, division, fear, lies and slander that have controlled recent elections to select candidates who offer the possibility of not only a change in policies, but an expanded consciousness of America’s place in a shrinking world.

Come To Your Senses

Have you ever heard it said to a very distraught person, “you need to come to your senses”? Taken literally, this may seem a strange bit of advice, but like many common phrases, there is deep wisdom hidden in this riddle-like expression.

Indeed, this particular suggestion is just about the best advice any person can give to another under any circumstance, but especially in times of distress.

The creator of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls, used to incorporate this exhortation as a centerpiece of his psychotherapeutic technique. He would instruct his patients to, “Get out of your head and come to your senses!” and he meant this literally.

To say it another way, to be free of the endless commenting, reviewing, anticipating, and sometimes chaos in the mind, try shifting the focus of awareness from thoughts and emotions into immediate sensory experience. Pay attention to what you hear and see and sense in your body. Pay special attention to the sensations of breathing. Do this for fifteen to thirty seconds. If you succeed in focusing completely into your senses, you will experience a calm and a clarity that can only be described as total sanity. This is also the beginning place for meditation.

Meditation means concentration, or attending to. Our problem typically is that what we are attending to is the thought and emotion dimension of mind, nearly unaware of a vast field of consciousness that is not thought and emotion. Formal meditation is learning to quiet the mind through shifting concentrated awareness from the mind’s chattering activity onto the non-discursive/non-reactive experience of mind.

In the form of meditation that I practice and teach, called Vipassana (Insight) meditation, the focus of concentration is awareness itself looking into the phenomenon of mind, including awareness of the senses. Particular attention is paid to the sensory experience of breathing as a path to a peaceful field of non-discursive mind that brings a profound presence, clarity and subtlety of awareness to our internal and environmental experience.

What is the source of our anxiety, anger, despair and obsessions? What is the source of our unhappiness? We tend to blame it on the events and people around us that are upsetting to us. But, in fact, it is what the mind says to us about the events and people around us that is the real source of our mental pain. For some, their minds absolutely torture them, talking non-stop about very distressing content.

For most of us, we don’t necessarily feel like we are going crazy, but we are vulnerable to stress from the unceasing activity of the mind, and distress from our minds talking about unpleasant events and possibilities that then sets off ensuing emotional reactivity. We have little insight that the events in the world are just the stimuli that trigger our minds interpreting and commenting in reactive patterns that are deeply conditioned into us.

The contemporary prophet of human evolution, and author of the books The Power of Now and A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle, has identified the culprit for humanity’s individual and collective distress, the same as has Eastern philosophy, with the human ego and it’s thinking and resonant emotions. It nags and nags, trying to find ways to make sense of our experience in a way that gives us some illusion of control. It tells us that we must be right and that we must be significant (even if it is as significantly afflicted). It plots to get what it wants and to avoid what it doesn’t want.

The ego talks to us constantly trying to interpret our experience consistent with our conditioned interpretation of the world and our place in it. All the misunderstanding we have about the world, others and ourselves is brought about by what our insecure egoic mind is saying to us.

Tolle points out what Perls noticed and what Buddhism has taught for several thousand years. They all teach that we are only truly sane when we are grounded in the reality of the present moment and not lost in the chaotic time traveling and projected judgments of the egoic mind. They also teach that our senses provide a portal to a wise, intuitive dimension of mind that exists in every person, while the ego and its distorted perceptions exist in a fictional timeline story of “me”.

That’s what caused Fritz Perls to say that “neurotic thinking is anachronistic thinking, it is out of place in time.” When depressed, we usually are thinking about past events that thwarted ego’s desires and projecting more of the same into the future. When anxious, we are reliving past fears and caught in dread and uncertainty about what has not yet taken place. Often when we are upset, our minds are shuttling between past and future, and we are lost in a mounting blur of regret, anger and anxiety, playing and replaying in our minds scenarios fraught with drama, fears of diminishment, harm and defeat.

I have found that there is a phenomenon of awareness that is similar to the law in physics that says no two objects can occupy the same space. By focusing awareness totally into the here-and-now of the senses, the talking mind shuts up, and to whatever degree (percentage, if you will) the energy of mind can shift from thinking to sensing, there is a proportional quieting of the mind’s emotional talking.

So, when you are feeling overwhelmed, distressed, even a little crazy, remember Perls’ exhortation to “get out of your head, and come to your senses!” Look, listen, feel the world around you. Experience the calming effect of your own breath and the subtle sensory orientation of your body.

As you practice this sensory-focused awareness, becoming more skillful in it, you will discover that your life is becoming calmer, clearer and saner. You will be opening the door to a deep well of wisdom and security that exists within the quiet recesses of every person. You will find yourself living pleasantly and effectively in the now, not crazily in the then and when.

Selflessness

“You is the Universe looking at itself from billions of points of view.” – Alan Watts

“No self, no suffering.” – D.T. Suzuki

Selflessness is a very mistaken idea in our culture, generally taken to be a quality of relationship that places others before and above ourselves. Placing others before ourselves can be admirable in many (but not all) circumstances, placing others above ourselves, as with placing ourselves above others, however, is a sad error.

This is particularly true when it takes the form of a fixed sense of our self, a way of being that can lead to imbalanced and unhealthy relationships and an inability to honor and celebrate our own existence and the existence of others and all life.

In Buddhism, selflessness is the essential point. It is a positioning of our experience within the universe with a clear vision that what we experience as our “self”, our personality, our ego, is not the truth and essence of who we are. It is an understanding that this “self” is just a structure of programmed thoughts, a matrix of ideas conditioned into us by family, culture, society, personal experience and education. This conditioning is the source of all our confusion about who we are in relationship to others, to society, to nature, to life, to our essential self. Hence, the Buddhist instruction, “no self, no suffering.” It is the grasping onto this illusion of a psychological self as who we are that is the essential teaching of Buddhism concerning the source of human suffering. This is the “awakening” that the very word Buddhism (Budh in Sanskrit means “awaken”) is instructing us toward.

There is a world of difference between the American notion of selflessness that legitimizes a hierarchy among people and life, and the Buddhist perspective that bows to all, including, very importantly, this person we experience as myself. Others, neither above nor below, nobody special (in an egoic sense) in self or other. Rather, the eyes of God shining through in all, the specialness of sacredness in me, you, all. “The Universe looking at itself from billions of points of view.” This is the meaning of the ubiquitous yoga greeting, Namaste.

In the Shambala tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, “selflessness” is the third, the liberating, of the Four Noble Truths that leads to the alleviation of suffering. As human beings we invest our sense of self in impermanent qualities of life (this is the first truth): our appearance, capabilities, ethnicity, family origins, health, wealth, relationships, positions, affiliations, possessions, status, etc. Because of this investment of our basic well being, as all impermanent aspects of life change and eventually disappear, we suffer (second truth). Through not investing our sense of self in this impermanence (selflessness), there is a way to be free of this suffering (third truth), which leads to peace (fourth truth).

The great 20th Century Zen teacher, D.T. Suzuki described Zen as the “art of seeing into the nature of one’s being.” He added that to see clearly the “selflessness” at the core of one’s being, “points the way from bondage to freedom.” Zen repeatedly asks, “Who are you?” And for every answer that can be given from a conventional perspective, it can be pointed out that our memories, our stories, our thoughts, our emotions, our behavior patterns, our positions in the world, our possessions are all ephemeral and changing.

So what is the answer to the great koan, “Who are you?” Can you think of a better answer than Alan Watts gives us, “You is the Universe looking at itself from billions of points of view”? Can you grasp the liberation of this perspective? Unlike what some might protest, it is certainly not immoral. It is perhaps amoral, in that no morality is needed when we grasp, as the Beatles sang, “I am you and you are me and we are all together.” Neither above nor below. There is nobody here. There is nobody there. There is only the Universe unfolding. Get your self out of the way. Then all is meeting all, eye to eye. Hello. No room for exploitation, defensiveness, anxiety, cruelty or trauma to enter, neither to the conventional psychological self nor others.

On Being Nobody

In Zen, there is a concept utterly foreign to the American mind. This concept is an ideal, a goal of Zen practice, and it is, paradoxical for an ambition, to be “nobody.” In Japanese, this concept is communicated with the word, ”mushin,” or, in Chinese, “Mu,” which translates as “no-mind.” No-mind means to be without ego, to stand in the world as a phenomenon no more important than a bird or a flower, yet equally, no less important than the galaxies themselves.

The way of the no-mind person is the way of living as “nobody.” Not a nobody, for this implies you ought to be somebody special, but are not. To be nobody is a conscious and positive stance in the world, not a lack or failure of stance. It is about living as a being of and within Nature, not outside it. It is in understanding that to live from ego, as if the structures of ego are who you are, is the “fall from grace,” the “original sin,” the loss of your true harmonious self. To be nobody is to live from the natural and spontaneous source of your own being, using your intelligence and faculties to be skillfully in rather than above or attempting to control life.

With no-mind, blossoms invite the butterfly;
With no-mind, the butterfly visits the blossoms.
When the flower blooms, the butterfly comes;
When the butterfly comes, the flower blooms.
I do not “know” others,
Others do not “know” me.
Not-knowing each other we naturally follow the Way.
18th Century Japanese poet, Ryokan

The “Way” that is being referred to is the ancient Chinese Taoist Way, the Way that Lao Tzu, described in the Tao Te Ching as the “origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless.” It is the way beyond intellectualization, categorization and judgment. It is the way of Nature, not of the egoic human mind. The “not-knowing” that Ryokan is referring to, is not having preconceived ideas about others and about life, rather, allowing each encounter to be fresh, completely and naturally what it is.

Without a preconceived identity and without preconceived ideas about life, self and others, I am, in this sense, nobody experiencing with no-mind. Anxiety, anger, depression, arrogance, selfishness make no sense to a person who is nobody. The joy of living in Creation, harmonious within and without, is the natural abode of nobody.

In the modern world, where we are over-burdened with the weight of our own insecure identity, with the need to be significant, to be “somebody,” to contemplate the meaning of nobody can be a valuable reference point. It reminds us that we have fallen into a terrible hubris, into an arrogance that places us quite outside and at opposition with Nature, and what Buddhists would call our own original nature. We have become quite caught in our egoic self-centeredness, our ambitions, opinions and judgments, afraid of being a nobody, a most uncomfortable place to live.

After all, what is it that we get so upset about? Usually it is about not having things go the way we want them to, or feeling injured, slighted, insulted or discounted in some way. Being upset is usually about the egoic self wanting more control and importance than it has. This can be true over real injury, certainly, or, as is often the case, in just not being sufficiently noticed or getting our way the way we want it. The modern spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, describes our emotional distress as the result of being resistant to what is. What a simple and clear teaching. So too then, when we don’t find our identity in ego, we can face many threats and losses, real and imagined, even death, and remain calm and accepting.

It is important to realize; this is not about being passive. Activity and creativity are in our nature and to be active and creative in the expression of life are appropriate and harmonious. In the service of ego, however, action is seldom harmonious. Certainly, there are times to resist cruelty and stupidity, but it does not have to be from a place of fear or violent emotion. It is just the necessary thing to do. In the parlance of Zen it is then ‘”non-doing”. Certainly there are times to use effort for the betterment of our person, others and human society. Our choice is whether the effort is ego directed, or from the place of just doing what needs to be done. Non-doing follows our prime instinctual imperative, to become more conscious, more alive, more balanced with others, society and Nature within and around us.

As we assert ourselves, face a challenging task, respond to injury or disappointment, whether it is slight or great, we can let go of our ego, be nobody, and in so doing, become more in harmony with life as it is, and with our own life as it is meant to be. We can engage a moment that could have been one of struggle and suffering for others and ourselves, and instead, turn it into a moment of mastery. We can be masterfully active and creative just because it is in our nature to be so, noting that to nobody, mastery is no big deal. No big deal, but oh, how splendid. Like the stars in the night sky or the butterfly visiting the blossom, exactly how and where they are supposed to be.

Who Is It That Is Aware?

As you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you must ask yourself – “Who is it that is aware?” – Zen Koan

Thoughts arise. The human mind is a thought-producing machine. Emotions happen. The human body is a resonance chamber for the energy of thoughts. A thought arises in the dimension of mind, and in the physical dimension of the body, a resonant emotion is experienced. A happy thought creates a happy feeling – expansive, light, energized. An unhappy thought creates an unhappy feeling – contracted, heavy, energy dissipating.

Try it for yourself. Close your eyes. Think of something or someone that is very challenging, even threatening to you. Hold that thought for about five seconds. Pay attention to the feeling state that accompanies the holding of the thought.

Now, think of something or someone that is supportive, pleasing to you. Hold that thought for about five seconds. Pay attention to the feeling state of that thought.

Now, bring all your attention to experiencing the gentle flow of your breathing. Do not accentuate or change the breath. Also listen carefully to the sounds of the world around you. (turn off any TV or talk radio – very soft music helps this exercise – or best of all, go outside and listen to the birds and the wind in the trees) Do this for about 15 – 30 seconds. Now, open your eyes and feel what you feel.

If you are paying very close attention, you will notice that with the threatening thought there is a contraction of the energy of the body and mind into a state of tension. With the pleasant thought there is an opening of the energy, the body and mind relaxes. But with the bringing of your awareness into the experience of your breath and listening to the subtle soft sounds of the world around you, the feeling state becomes expansive, open, relaxed, clear, even happier than the happy thought. This is the experience of no-thought. You are touching the ground of your deepest level of Being.

Every thought is a contraction of the energy of the mind from its original and clear state of awareness into a limited form. With the creation of thought, you are experiencing the creation of egoic separateness and the loss of oneness with undifferentiated Life itself. The more fear-based the thought (a threatening, challenging thought form), the more the mind and the resonant body-emotion contracts into its experience of separateness.

But who is it that is aware of these various mind-body experiences? Ah! That’s the secret that we have not been attending to. We are accustomed to experiencing that we are the thoughts and emotions. We say, “I am happy” or “I am sad” or “I am angry”. But is this true? Zen teaches us that, no, we are not these thoughts and emotions. We have these thoughts and emotions. They are properties of being human, just as we have hands and we have feet. Who we are, is the awareness that experiences these phenomenon of the mind and body. As I instructed you to create a happy thought, then an unhappy thought, how could these thoughts and emotions be you if you could voluntarily create them? So then, how can they be you when they are involuntarily created? No. Who you are is the awareness that witnesses the activity of the mind and the body, but is actually unaffected by this activity.

Do you see the empowerment and liberation in this? This is the secret of meditation. In meditation, as you quiet the talking and emotionally reactive mind (in Buddhism, called “little mind”), you begin to be aware that you are aware. And as you continue to meditate, you begin to be aware that you are awareness (“big mind”). This is the ground of your Being.

Oh, how everything begins to change then. Thoughts and emotions come and go. We begin to realize that they are conditioned patterns of our cultural, societal, family and personal experience. They are programmed reactions to situations. They are certainly not who we are. We can begin to let them come and go without investing our sense of self in them. Defensiveness, reactivity, the need to identify with them begins to dissolve. We begin to realize we can shape and refine them. They are tools, like our hands, that we can train to be increasingly effective in dealing with the situations of life. This is why Buddhism teaches that meditation is “liberation” leading to an “awakening” out of living in “small mind” into the wisdom and effectiveness of a much larger, more adaptable and compassionate mind, the mind of awareness itself. And this is the answer to the question of who it is that is aware. It is YOU, the deepest, truest, sanest you.

The Omega Journey

“We see a human tide bearing us upward with all the force of a contracting star; not spreading like a tide, as we might suppose, but one that is rising: the ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ‘ultra-humanity’.” – Teilhard de Chardin

What a muddle humanity is in. A simple honest look tells us that the Earth’s human population is presently estimated to be 6.6 billion and growing exponentially, estimated to top 9 billion by 2050, increasing by over a third in forty years. Earth’s non-human populations are dwindling alarmingly. The Earth’s resources, likewise, are dwindling alarmingly. Humanity has been compared to a cancer spreading across the organism Earth, dooming its host, and likewise, itself. Like mythic lemmings headed for a cliff, the surging herd of humanity swarms blindly toward its demise. This tide is spreading such that this promontory in the universe, our home planet, will no longer be able to contain its multitudes and begin spilling us off.

But, we are not lemmings, nor cancer. We have intelligence. This is what the mid-20th Century theologian and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin understood. We have a complex consciousness that is not limited to a linear destiny such as lemmings that multiply endlessly and then swarm over a cliff in their migration simply because the momentum of their numbers cannot stop when the edge is encountered. Humanity is capable of leaps of quantum understanding.

Humanity and all those species that we co-inhabit this planet with are at the edge. All the habits of humanity lead us toward demise. Greed, competitiveness, national, religious, racial, regional, class and political identification keep us pitted against each other. The deep-rooted orientation toward objectification of the experience of life keeps us insecure, anxious, combative and insatiable in our quest for personal and group significance and dominance. Humanity seems blind to the limitations of the model for psychological and social identity we embrace. We stumble forward hoping all will be well if we just keep doing more of the same. More for me and mine. More for me and mine. It is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Except that it signifies something huge, increasing individual psychological insecurity and a collective social and economic structure headed for catastrophe.

Is that it? Is that the sad end to the story of humanity and this most beautiful of planets, choked to death by increasingly competitive overpopulation, destruction of the environment and exhaustion of resources? Are we lemmings doomed to topple over the precipice by the ever-increasing pressures of those pushing forward unable to see the precipice until they are tumbling off?

It does not have to be. What is this “ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ‘ultra-humanity’” that de Chardin is writing about? It is the fully bringing into play that which makes humans unique: self-aware consciousness. It is the fulfillment of the Universe’s destiny through this dangerous and seemingly oh-so-out-of-place creature called humanity. It is the realization of what de Chardin called “the Omega point”, the ultimate awakening of humanity out of its long slumber of small self-absorption into full consciousness, seeing its place in the Universe, experiencing its consciousness as one with the Universe. While de Chardin takes this to dimensions beyond corporality and fulfills Christian theology, it can be more modestly and practically seen as humanity “awakening” in a more Buddhist sense and becoming an enlightened species creating an enlightened society in harmony on our home, this Earth, in this galaxy, in this universe.

How will this happen? It will happen one individual at a time experiencing themselves at their personal end with a too limited model of consciousness and liberating themselves. It will be you and me personally expanding beyond the small mindedness that has imprisoned individuals in anxiety-filled lives, and created a fearful, combative, materialistic society that drives us all into varying levels of craziness and pushes the entire planet toward suicidal insanity.

This process of awakening is what I call the Omega journey in honor of de Chardin’s vision. It is individuals in realization that the models of consciousness we have inherited are the cause of our individual and collective insecurity shaking off our slumber to actually become conscious in our lives. It is one individual at a time realizing the potential of true human consciousness, shared by a growing multitude, until a new form of human society emerges, experiencing harmony within its individuals, with each other and the planet. Are you ready to take your place on the horizon, on the edge of this human evolutionary leap that rises upward, not plummets down? “Ultra-humanity” awaits. Please know; this is not New-Age drivel. This is the only destiny that leads to a quality survival for humanity and the achievement of our true “being-ness”. Do you understand? Are you ready?

Bringing Your Whole Mind

“The (Chinese) term ‘hsin’… is used in a way.. synonymous with the Tao. Hsin means the totality of our psychic functioning…. To both Taoism and Zen, the center of the mind’s activity is not in the conscious thinking process, not in the ego.” – Alan Watts – The Way of Zen

In Buddhism, the concept of bringing your whole-mind to life experience is very important and little understood. As Watts points out, in Zen, the point is not to find mind and our sense of self in thinking (the ego), but in the integrated totality of our being-in-the-world.

We in the West, identifying mind with the thought structures of the ego, approach life in a manner that is really quite superficial and programmed. We pay just enough attention to notice a situation falling into some recognizable mental set we have dealt with before and go into a stimulus-response thought-emotion-behavior pattern.

We bring only enough of our mind to the situation to engage our thoughts which then activate our emotions and behavior. We play out these pre-set patterns over and over again as we go through our lives. These patterns constitute our personality, our habitual interactive manner. They might be effective and they might not be. We mistakenly confuse these patterns for who we are, and they are often significantly neurotic, that is, not exactly appropriate, healthy and helpful. From a Buddhist perspective, we are asleep, if not insane. Buddhism seeks to awaken a much deeper, totally sane mind.

Upon occasion, we are caused, by the context, novelty or importance of the situation, to bring full attention to what we are doing or experiencing and respond with all the faculties of our mind. In such moments, we become nuanced, artful, creative, appropriate and skillful in ways that are exceptional. Such moments would be our most psychologically healthy, in which we flow effortlessly with the moment.

They are moments in which we accidentally fulfill the requirements for “hsin”. Importantly, Buddhism teaches us that such moments are reflective of our true, enlightened self, our true mind, and do not have to be accidents, but rather can be cultivated. Meditation, and its life-interactive correlate, mindfulness, are exercises in the development of this capacity leading to an integrated, skillful, intelligent, compassionate, wise and spontaneous sense of self-in-the-world.

For a Westerner, it can be helpful to find understanding in what is meant by whole-mind from a Jungian perspective. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (d. 1961) noted that the mind has four “functions”: thinking, feeling (emotions), sensation and intuition. He further noted that a psychologically balanced and healthy person operates with relatively equal distribution and facility in all four functions. He also noted two directions of mental energy: introversion – the taking into and consideration of experience in the mind, and extraversion – the projection of the contents of the mind into the world. Here too, he described a healthy person as equally and fully capable in both directions.

He finally notes that it is within the transcendent function of awareness or consciousness, as the integrating phenomenon, that these psychic functions harmonize. It is this harmonization that leads to the experience of “hsin” in which the sense of self becomes the experience of mind and the moment integrated. Whole-mind is the “totality of psychic functioning” non-dualistically linked with the moment.

To bring the whole-mind into the world begins with the senses, with a heightened, focused and subtle experience of the world we experience as outside brought to our internal world through introversion. We then must hold the experience in a spacious awareness, without thought, allowing intuition, the wisdom-bearing mysterious ego-transcendent connection to the unconscious inherent in every person, to guide us in bringing the experience into mental form through thought and resonant emotion. In this transcendent state, outside and inside dissolve. There is only the moment in awareness.

With all four of these mental capacities present and interacting, we can bring our experience of the moment into wiser, intelligent, feeling, skillful understanding and action. We can extravert this whole-mind into the world. This would be called mindfulness. Likewise, the whole-mind can be brought to the field of mind itself. This would be meditation. This cultivation of “hsin” is “The Way” that Taoism and Zen refer to that brings liberation from the clumsiness and craziness of ego, restoring our natural true self-in-the-world with whole-mind. We enter “the gateless gate” of Zen previously barred by ego. We can, “Break through the impassable barrier and get to know the opening beyond.” (Fo-hsing T’ai)

Watching The River Flow

“No matter what gets in the way or which way the wind does blow… I’ll just sit here and watch the river flow.” – Bob Dylan

The Taoist roots of Zen Buddhism place great emphasis on what is called “non-doing”. Now non-doing is not to be confused with doing nothing. It is not passivity. It is about not doing whatever comes first into your mind in favor of allowing the moment to inform you about what it needs before you act, and then to act from the place that Buddhists call the “whole mind”. This gives rise to what is termed, “skillful action”.

A very great lesson to be learned is that most of the time, what is needed of us is nothing. Most of the time, the moment only needs us to continue taking in the moment. When the moment needs us, it will let us know, and from our whole mind, the mind that blends and balances our senses and thoughts with our feelings and deeper intuition, we will know what needs doing and how to do it. But beware of that first impulse. It comes from our conditioned mind, the mind of ego, and gets us into a great deal of awkwardness, even pain, trapped in swirling back currents.

When sitting by the river, just sit and watch the river flow. How many of us can actually do this? Most of us don’t ever sit by a river at all. We drive past it. A few may, if it’s a beautiful day, and there is a nice path, and they don’t have “more important things to do”, walk along its banks. At some point, we may sit (if the weather is right and there is a handy place to sit) but soon, our mind is racing to many places other than the river, and we will get up and continue on our way having given no consideration to the secrets of the river. Zen instructs us to go to the river, sit, and watch and listen to it flow. There is much to be learned.

We learn that the river exists out there, and it exists in here, in our minds. Like when objects appear floating in the river, so too, the objects in our minds, our thoughts, appear and pass before our gaze and then float on. We mistake this passing flotsam for who we are. In any given moment, whatever floats through the river of our minds, we experience, “this is me”. Not so. Not any more than the passing objects in the river are the river.

The river is forever changing and forever the same. So too our minds. Watch the currents and the eddies. See where the river is shallow and fast and where it is deep and still. The mind is much like that. Listen to the river. It laughs and sighs, weeps and celebrates; it contains all the sound in the world in its gentle rivulets and rushing torrents. It begins in the rain and snow, touching the earth high in the mountains, becoming little trickles, moving relentlessly, growing in breadth and depth, to its returning to the sea, and then to vapor to begin the journey again. In a single drop is its own beginning, its journey, end, and new beginning. So too, we begin and end, journeying along the way appearing in many stages, to return to our Source and begin again. In the deepest pool of our mind we know this truth, but we so easily lose track of it in the rapids of our life, rushing along, crashing through the rocks, the obstacles that d44irect and channel our journey.

Sitting on the banks, watching the river flow, we can know our own mind, our own life, our own beginning and destiny, a drop of consciousness in the great sea of consciousness. We do not mistake what is floating past in the river for the river. Why then do we mistake what is floating past in our mind for our mind or for who we are? Sit. Take some time to watch the river flow, and then you’ll know. You’ll come to know your whole mind and who you are and what needs doing and what needs non-doing. You’ll come to know your source and your destiny. You’ll learn how to maneuver your journey skillfully. Just from watching the river flow, “no matter what gets in the way or which way the wind does blow.”

Everything As It Can Be (Part II)

Last month I explored Alan Watts’ statement that “everything is as it can be” from the perspective of individuals and their personal growth. I said that everyone is as they can be from within identification with their psychological conditioning. This month, I want to expand on these amazingly profound six words as they can be applied to social and political conditions in the world, and how they can be related to our ability to paradoxically live in personal peace within things as they are, and to dedicate ourselves toward improving the “what is” of conditions in the social and political dimensions.

Eckhart Tolle advises us “our suffering is in our resistance to what is.” The “what is” of life contains the entire spectrum of possibility from the sublimely beautiful to the unfathomably hideous, from the birth of a child, to The Holocaust, from the bloom of flowers in spring, to the wasteland of a nuclear explosion or catastrophic global climate change. Many rightfully ask whether it is not necessary to resist “what is” if it is patently destructive, anti-life and human dignity?

The answer is in the manner of resistance we bring. Tolle is not advising us to passivity. He is advising us to wise seeing of things for what they are, and not resisting the understanding that “everything is as it can be.” To oppose a wrong, we must first see the wrong as the natural outcome of the way things are. To change what is wrong and destructive, we must work with the “what is” of the conditions that created it. First, we must be willing to see it for what it is, to not be apathetic, not turn a blind eye. Having seen it, we must not shrink from it as if it cannot be, or that it is too frightening to us. Nor can we fight a wrong from the place of hatred. Hatred created it. In the end, from the place of hatred, we will replicate much of what we fought to displace. Action emanating from love, compassion and courage are the non-resistance that is the only true counterweight to evil, hatred and apathy.

“Everything is as it can be” is an amazing insight into the unfolding evolutionary dynamic of society. Human society is a collective consciousness that, exactly like an individual consciousness, is in a process of evolution, of moving from a narrow, self-absorbed, frightened and limited sense of self into more expansive, inclusive and resourceful awareness. In example: along the path of human history, absolutist monarchies, slavery, religious wars, sexism and racism have been accepted political consciousnesses. Humanity, individually and collectively has, or is in process of, evolving beyond such consciousnesses. The “what is” of humanity has evolved into a new “can be.”

Today, economic, political and national competition and conflicts are accepted political consciousnesses along with unfettered exploitation of the Earth’s resources. Such thinking, however, is beginning to be questioned and challenged by an increasing number of individuals who are evolving in their consciousness. These visionaries see the necessity for a social awareness that enfolds all peoples, all species, even the ecosystem of the planet itself as the necessary identity for humanity if we are to survive and prosper into the future. A growing mass of such evolving individuals is necessary to achieve an evolving, healthy human society that moves what “can be” to entirely new dimensions of “what is.”

It is a very difficult lesson to absorb that without the recognition of the “what is” of the limited consciousness that leads to destructive social patterns; there can be no evolving to what can be. The starkest example of this is that it took the insanity of The Holocaust for the majority of humanity to say, “never again” to genocidal racism. It took the shocking devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a growing realization to take root that unlimited war can never be waged again. It will, sadly, probably take the shock of dramatic consequences to human-created climate change to force a new evolution of human consciousness in relationship to the planet and our place upon it.

The horror of “what is” is sometimes necessary to wake us up to what can be, to what must be, if we are to evolve successfully as a species. No, to realize that “suffering is caused by resistance to what is” is not a call to passivity. It is a call to come out of denial into consciousness. It seeks to awaken us to the need for action that moves us beyond the “is-ness” of a destructive unconsciousness. Paradoxically, this evolved consciousness can bring us personal peace while we engage the forces of history and social conflict.

Sometimes, force is needed to constrain violence, but only peace will bring peace. Ultimately, violence only perpetuates violence. Only identification with the totality of life on this planet will save humanity from the consequences of our identification with separateness, consumption and competition moving us toward Armageddon. Do not resist facing this “what is”. It got this way because it is how everything has been. We must evolve our vision as individuals and then as a species into a new “can be” if the next stage of human history is a consciousness capable of a peaceful, beautiful, sustaining future. To resist this will surely bring suffering .

Everything As It Can Be

As you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you must ask yourself – “Who is it that is aware?” – Zen Koan

The phrase, “Everything is as it can be” is from the philosopher/theologian, Alan Watts, who wrote and spoke about Eastern philosophy so eloquently through the 50’s and 60’s, introducing Americans to Asian wisdom. At the beginning of a new year, as we think about “resolutions” for improving ourselves, it is wise to also consider that everyone is also as they can be. Including you. This is an important realization. It allows us to see ourselves realistically and compassionately so that we might not seek to change so much as to grow, that is, evolve our self.

Change, as in going from one state to another, does not realistically happen in a person. Growth and evolution do. In fact, evolution can be so powerful that it can appear as dramatic change. Evolution begins with a compassionate understanding that you are exactly as you can be by the factors of your conditioning and that we can grow beyond our conditioning. When you understand this, you then have a handle on how to expand your life in a manner that creates real change, something “resolutions” cannot do.

A great Zen koan instructs us, “As you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you must ask yourself, ‘Who is it that is aware?’” The awareness is you, your true self, as Zen says, your original self. That’s the truth in the world of enlightenment. But here in the world of society, families and insecure interpersonal interactions, what Buddhism calls “Samsara”, the world of the illusion of confusing our conditioning for who we are, we act out our conditioning exactly and only as we can be from within that conditioning.

But, who you are is consciousness. You are not your thoughts or emotions or behaviors. That’s just the stuff conditioned into you that you believe is you, and that society reinforces by all of us judging and identifying each other by our programmed thoughts, emotions and behaviors. We can even get pretty defensive about our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, but guess what? They aren’t even ours. They are from our mother, our father, our society, media, personal experience, etc. They are what we have learned, and they represent a certain level of consciousness that is the only thing we can be from within the prison of our conditioning, but we are not our conditioning unless we continue in the belief that we are

So, you’ve got some addictive behaviors? Some interpersonal hang-ups and insecurities? Tendencies to be impulsive, compulsive, anxious, angry or depressed? If you would like to “change” some undesirable traits in the coming year, it’s important to realize, these traits are exactly and only what can be from within the prison of your conditioning, but break out of the conditioning prison, and true growth, evolution can begin to occur.

The pioneering psychologist Fritz Perls used to say, “The contours of your neurosis are exactly the same as the contours of your awareness.” You are exactly the same dimensions of thought, emotion and behavior as you are aware of the possibilities for thought, emotion and behavior that you are conditioned to. Expand your awareness for what is possible, and the limited neurotic addictions, hang-ups, insecurities, impulsive, compulsive, anxious, angry, depressed features of your false conditioned personality will begin to resolve themselves. You will begin to evolve.

Wake up! If you are what you can be and the circumstances of your life are what they can be, expand what can be. Evolve. Change is nearly impossible from within the limits of believing your conditioning to be who you are, but if you have the courage to let go of your defensive identity and live as curious, compassionate, resourceful, expanding, evolving awareness, the possibilities are nearly miraculous. All you’ve got to lose is your neurotic self. Then you will begin to see what can be.

Ensnared In The Net

Existence is. Then, there are human concepts about existence. The dilemma of being human is that we cannot live in existence without conceptualizing existence. The great evolutionary uniqueness of humans is our ability to abstract our experience out of its undifferentiated totality. This is our special talent. It makes us human. It is also our curse, and the curse upon all of Nature.

Nature is. It is a harmony and a perfection of balance and unity. Nature, undisturbed by human imposition, is the Biblical “Eden”. To be quiet and present in Nature, relatively undisturbed by humans, is to experience something powerful resonating within us that touches the ground of our fundamental Being, our own deepest nature, even the foundation of our spirituality.

But, our humanness, our compulsively abstracting, conceptualizing, dividing, talking mind, compels us to separate our experience into thoughts about who we are, what life is about and how we can better manipulate Nature for our own benefit, and Eden is lost. We cannot seem to coexist with Nature. This is the human dilemma. Our ability to abstract existence allows us to emerge from Nature, to create human society, culture, invention and technology, to escape being subject to the amoral laws of Nature where survival is tenuous. This certainly seems good, but we then have cut ourselves off from Nature, and, in the process, from our own deepest nature. Humanity has practiced indifferent exploitation of Nature for thousands of years, and has largely lost any primal connection to it. This is not good.

Nature is a unity and harmony. To the human mind, however, it is all these squiggly, wiggly, hard-to-control lines of form, and the human mind rebels at this. It wants to control, safeguard and develop existence for its own benefit. Since humans have the capacity for abstraction, they can identify the separate entities about them and categorize them by their value or threat to human existence. Since they have the capacity for abstraction, they can take the separate entities about them, use or dispose of them, and create new combinations that increase their value to human existence. This sounds like it is good, but as abstracting consciousnesses, we have lost the realization that humans have abstracted the foundation of their own existence right out of connection to the basis of that existence.

To create an example of this, let us look to the squiggly wiggly entities humans call fish and squirrels and deer and other creatures that enhanced primitive human existence as food, and that humanity learned to capture using the abstracting of fibers from plants into patterns of straight lines called nets and snares. Humanity has also learned that the entities of earth and plants can be combined into another kind of net called fields for farming after all the entities in the net that are not the earth and the desired plants are taken away. It has also learned that nets called shelters and villages and cities can be made to live in once all the entities that are not conducive to the shelters, villages and cities are taken away. It has also learned to take the materials of the Earth and abstract them into nets called technology. All this to enhance human existence. Good. Right?

What gets lost in the making and casting of nets onto existence so as to enhance humans is the realization of the consequence of all that is getting lost. What gets lost is Nature in all its squiggly wiggly lines, and all its connectedness. What gets lost is our own fundamental Beingness that emerges from and is of Nature. We forget the Nature that is who we are, and that Nature is where we came from. We have snared ourselves.

We have made and cast so many nets, that we have entangled all of Nature, our home and source, in separating nets, and tragically, are strangling the life out of Nature. So very sadly, we, likewise, have become entangled in the nets ourselves, so that we cannot even realize existence as harmony and balance and oneness at all, and are strangling the Life out of our own existence, our own Being, our spirit. Eden has been lost, and so are we. The truth is that we cannot exist separated indefinitely from our source without becoming hopelessly lost, and thus, doomed. It is time to remember what the old prophets used to intone: “Repent, before doom is upon us.”

There is, of course, no going back to Nature before the technology/nets. There is however the remembering of who we truly are, and beginning to weave nets the purpose of which is not the control and domination of Nature, but the harmonious reunion with Nature around us and within us. We must evolve further as a species to reintegrate our abstracting intelligence with the ground of our own Being, our own deepest nature, to find a new balance of humans in Nature. We must remember that we emerge from Nature and are Nature as surely as the fish and the squirrel and the deer. Repenting means coming home. It means to think (abstract) less and meditate (connect) more, so as to rediscover Nature within us, and our connectedness to Nature around us, with the squiggly wiggly lines of Creation, of Eden, “before doom is upon us.”

The Eroica

Every moment, the hero asks, not what can I get for myself, but what does this moment need from me?

I have been listening to Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, The Eroica. It was written in celebration of the fulfillment of myth, of the journey of the hero. In Beethoven’s beginning 19th Century, the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment had just vanquished the dark myth of a world of decadent hereditary royalty and aristocratic political and social privilege built on the suffering of the common citizen. The Romantic Age of birthing democracy was beginning and Beethoven wrote the sound track.

The Eroica was originally written in dedication to Napoleon, who before he crowned himself emperor, Beethoven and millions of others believed was the hero who would spread the ideals of The Revolution, “liberté, fraternité, égalité”, across the European continent. Napoleon failed Beethoven; he was not a hero, just another face of power hungry ego. But the heroic ideal of The Eroica remained true in hundreds, thousands of less exalted figures than Napoleon, heroes of the democratic revolutions who lived, fought, sacrificed, triumphed, were sometimes defeated and triumphed again, to change the world. Among them was Beethoven.

The hero. Beethoven, who struggled with his growing deafness, with the isolating madness of his unequaled musical genius, who only knew he had to speak for God, because God spoke to him, embodied the hero. The Eroica speaks of the humble beginning, the answer to the call, the courage, the determination, the dark night of the soul, the closeness of defeat, the eventual victory, the hope for normalcy at the end of the hero’s quest, and the final realization that there can be no returning to the simple pleasure of the company of fellow humans. A bridge has been crossed. An awakening has occurred. The hero is alone. A bodhisattva has been born.

Where are our heroes? In this beginning 21st Century, the darkness of a corrupt age of the barons of finance, capitalism and intellectual egotism is playing itself to its decadent historic conclusion. The unconsciousness of the materialist phase of the human egoic age has taken us into a stagnation and crisis as certain as the stagnation and crisis the royal aristocratic phase had suffered upon humanity in the years surrounding 1800. Beethoven cried out, “Where is our hero?” And he realized the hero was within him. Within him, what was asked of him, was music that would forever change music. And he struggled past the panic of his growing deafness and isolation to turn his inner ear to the voice of God. And he did what was needed of him.

The hero is within each of us. Some will hear the call. Some will make history following the hero’s journey, asking not what can I get for myself, but what is needed from me? This quiet stirring is in each of us. History forces us to listen for it. History is now calling. Who will listen, even if, or perhaps because, their ability to participate in the mundane conversations of their fellow humans has been taken from them. Beethoven’s physical deafness was only a poignant actualization of the soul’s ear turning from the din of the insistent voices of the past, that dominate and deafen the present, to hear a call into the future, that insists instead to the hero, “Follow me toward truth, do what is needed.”

A new age is needed, one that recognizes the simple truth of the necessity of humanity evolving beyond the shadow always thrown by ego. This new age will see the expansion of human consciousness out of competitive separateness into the inevitability of what that ancient, yet prescient, philosophy Buddhism refers to as “interbeing”, the realization of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Who will be the ones to make this new age? Where are our heroes? They are here. They are our revolutionary musicians, artists, spiritual masters, ecologists and peacemakers. They are those who refuse to accept poverty and despair anywhere as acceptable, those who call for an entirely new level of “liberté, fraternité, égalité”, that enfolds the entire planet. They are those who know all humanity is kin, not only with each other but with all life, and the planet itself. These will be the heroes of this new age. Are you ready to join them?

The Healing Wisdom Of The Medicine Wheel

“The Medicine Wheel Circle is the Universe. It is change, life, death, birth, learning. This Great Circle is the lodge of our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. It is the cycle of all things that exist. The Circle is our Way of Touching, and of experiencing Harmony with everything around us.”
– From Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Central to the worldview of Native-Americans is the The Medicine Wheel, a symbolic representation of life as a great circle, a hoop, a wheel. Unlike the linear and fragmented universe of European culture, the Native American world is a unity, Spirit manifesting into the myriad but all connected aspects of life. Each of these aspects – the humans, the animals, the trees, the earth, the rocks, the air, the wind, the water – all differing faces of Spirit. So too, each human is a different face of the One Face. This is how the Medicine Wheel mythology becomes an important psychology, an instrument for human healing, much like the mandala of Buddhism.

In the mythology of The Medicine Wheel, each human has a place on the rim of the Great Wheel, a face looking in, representing a unique perspective on Life. Each of the quadrants or directions of the Wheel represents a generalized archetypal perspective reflective of the major qualities of the human mind, very similar to how the psychologist Carl Jung ascertained the four functions of the mind to be thinking, feeling (emotion), sensation and intuition. Differing Native traditions have slightly different ways of representing these qualities, but in the Cheyenne tradition of Hyemeyohsts Storm, they are represented as Illumination (seeing with perspective, thinking about) in the East, Innocence (seeing close up, direct contact) in the South, Introspection (looking within, feeling about) in the West and Wisdom (holding in Spirit or intuition) in the North.

Like Jung who noted that people have major, minor and undeveloped relationships to the mental functions, the Native-American tradition notes that people have differing combinations of the Medicine Wheel attributes in their perspective. And like Jung who noted that a person can only be truly healthy and whole (individuated) by developing relatively equal facility in all four functions, the Native-American tradition says that a person becomes whole only by traveling the four directions and coming to know the Wheel in its wholeness. It teaches that only by coming to recognize and being at peace with these differing, but complementary, dimensions can we move beyond narrow-mindedness and inner turmoil to be healthy, whole and wise.

Each person has a unique place on the Wheel’s rim representative of their predisposition to emphasize or diminish these directional characteristics in their personality. As we approach the experiences of life, the Wheel imagery reminds us that the hub of the Wheel can stand in representation of our life experiences. As people seek to understand an experience, they see it from their unique place on the Wheel, each person seeing from a different angle than another, seeing with the vision of their particular predispositions for illumination, innocence, introspection and wisdom.

In Western culture, we approach life in a linear fashion. There are no circles. When I experience a particular event, I declare it to have such and so a meaning. Another person experiences the same event and declares it to have a different meaning. In the West, we then have the conditions for conflict. Who is right? In order for me to be right, you must be wrong. We cannot differ and both be right. We must resolve this conflict, this contradiction. This unfortunately leads to the condition of, “might makes right”, either intellectually, emotionally or physically. To win, someone else must lose. This is a world perspective that certainly is productive and powerful, but there is no wisdom here.

Likewise when an individual experiences an event, the differing aspects within themselves come into conflict. Which is right? My feeling or my intellect? What I experience directly or the “knowledge” I have been taught? When these differing visions are experienced as in conflict there is disorientation and suffering.

Native-American culture approaches differing views as exactly that, differing views that are natural to differing view-points, places on the Great Wheel. They are not to be fought about; they are to be learned from. If I see this event in such and so a way, and you see it differently, and we live honoring The Medicine Wheel, we don’t shout, “you’re wrong!” we say “Ah-ho,” “tell me more. What does this look like from your place on the Wheel so I may know more of its wholeness.” So too with our personal experience. Wisdom tells us to consult the vision of innocence, illumination and introspection in order to know a thing in its wholeness, its truth.

Like the Persian story of the blind men examining an elephant, when we only hold to our own limited experience, our experience is incomplete and inaccurate. When we only hold our own perspective to be important and right, and fight to eliminate all other perspectives, we become blind and foolish like the blind men of Persian legend. When we seek to know from each other (and the more the better), we can begin to see the whole of a situation or experience with some accuracy and fullness. We begin to see from the center, as if it were a mirror, looking at all the differing perspectives and seeing that each holds a piece of the truth. We begin to approach the understanding of Truth to be found in the totality of perspectives; we honor and uphold The Circle of Life. This is the lesson of The Medicine Wheel.

Whether as an individual seeking to become more whole in themselves, or humanity as a group wrestling with the great issues of peace and ecological sustainability, The Medicine Wheel Way leads to peace and wisdom, while the way of limited personal (or national) interest fighting for dominance leads to strife and conflict. European civilization has conquered the world, only to be confronted with the personal inner and global outer consequences of a worldview that conquers and possesses but does not know how to understand and coexist. The world has become too small for this dangerous, shortsighted way of living. But deep inside our collective consciousness there is a memory of looking within the Circle of Life to find our way. It can be our salvation.

It is time to return to the Circle. It is time to journey the Great Wheel to heal and to find our way to its center, to find in our individual faces the reflection of the one Great Face, before the insanity of separateness, of right and wrong, might-makes-right, wounds us all individually and collectively beyond redemption, and wounds the Great Mother Earth so she cannot bear her children, the people, any longer. The great Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho and other Native-American Nations may be gone, but their Old Way, the Way of the Medicine Wheel, is needed in this modern world before it is too late. This wisdom still lives in our hearts. May it return, the wisdom of Nature, of the One Spirit, a reflection of our own true human nature, to bring us home into the Circle of Life – for as long as there are Human Beings, and the whispers of the Great Spirit, The One, are carried on the Winds. Ah-ho.

God Is

“The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.”
“God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am(YHWH).’”

Humanity, Get over yourself. The God debate is human civilization’s lingering binge with dualism. Does God exist or not? The atheist and the Evangelical debate. And of the competing versions of God and His law, whose idea of God is correct? Theologians and philosophers wrangle endlessly in this foolishness, when the question they ought to be debating is whether an anthropomorphic deity exists and does an anthropocentric logic rule the Universe? Answer? No to both!

The Universe is, and The God of the Universe is vastly greater than human reasoning can conceptualize and express. God can only be apprehended as a vast unknowable. God, as ancient mystical texts seem to imply, and modern science indicates, seems to be more of a unified field of energy that precedes the physical universe, is the physical universe, and is also the consciousness that experiences the universe.

Humanity keeps getting lost in an anthropomorphic idea of a creator of the stuff of the Universe – which they categorize and accumulate – while paying no attention to the mystery of the consciousness that is the source from which all the stuff manifests. We all have a deep knowing of this mystery, but it is so buried under the “stuff” that we lose almost all connection with this knowing. This leaves a void in us, and we make up religions with names for God and special knowledge of God’s rules and wishes to fill that void. Even mystic traditions, when claiming special knowledge, fall into the trap. But the void cannot be filled in this way, and a deep archetypal urge in humanity continues to seek to express the knowing of this mystery. Ten thousand faces, ten thousand names. The wisest knew. This – which cannot be named. Yet, it is important that somehow we find a way to express this knowing that God is.

God is. And when we are in the midst of the experience, we realize that we can only in truth experience God as, to borrow from a Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel, “sublime wonder.” Heschel stated, in a lecture I heard many years ago, that “the denial of the sublime wonder of life is the origin of sin, the origin of the attitude that leads to sin.” That statement was, to me, satori’s thunderclap. Sin is acting from an arrogance that assumes knowing and owning what is unknowable and unownable. Sin is separateness. This sin, this separateness, is also the source of all mental suffering.

Try this on: The first sin is the naming of God. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” That’s the first commandment to Moses from the un-nameable YHWH. It’s given after YHWH tells Moses not to make any graven images. Sin is in the arrogance that leads to separation. Sublime wonder is union. To make God in the image of man, and claim to own God’s truth, is the graven image, and naming the nameless for our own vanity is the beginning of sin. It is the denial of the sublime wonder of that which cannot be named. To attempt to name, is to drag by force, for vain needs, the unmanifested consciousness that manifests into manifestation on human terms. We neglect that the terms for this manifesting consciousness are already set. It is Nature. To arrogantly set this aside to insist on human terms called anthropomorphic religions is the fall from Eden, from oneness.

This life we live. It is. “Everything is”, as consciousness icon, Alan Watts, wonderfully said, “as it can be”. From unmanifested consciousness this life manifests. It is. It is the mystery. It is Life. It is as it can be in a mystery of evolving manifestation. When referenced theologically, it is God. Our purpose in this journey of manifestation is to bring our individualized consciousness into sublime wonder, into harmony and union with the Natural Universe, with God, with what is. It ought not to be pretending that we can name and impose rules that we make up and claim to be from the Divine. The result of that folly has been all the destruction humanity has wrought on each other and the world. It has been the denial of wonder that leads to all human manipulation and destruction.

Lao Tzu understood. “The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.” It is human folly. Yet, the Tao even contains human folly, and will continue should human folly destroy humanity and its planet home. Perhaps, however, humanity can touch and own its deep knowing of the sacred mystery, and with that knowing begin the era of sublime wonder, of humanity’s coming home and new beginning. We are universal consciousness individualized, seeking our way home. When we rediscover ourselves as embedded in Nature, we will also rediscover our oneness with the mystery of Deity that we have given a thousand names to. And then the void will be filled.

Evolution As Healing

“Evolution is an ascent toward consciousness.”
– Tielhard de Chardin

When asked, I say I don’t do psychotherapy any more. I do evolution. Ever since I decided ten years ago to expand beyond the practice of psychology, I have searched to find a way to describe the new paradigm for personal growth and healing that I believe in and practice. For a long time, I used the term “Zen Therapy”. This is a good term since Zen Buddhism is a major source for my conceptualization and approach, but it doesn’t quite capture the full vision that inspires me.

Zen calls on us to reclaim our “original nature”, and while I believe our original nature is the fundamental guide to healing our hopelessly befuddled personal identities in the modern age, the concept doesn’t include and integrate the forward reach of humanity’s irreversible symbiosis with technology, an essential factor in humanity’s evolution. Zen is generally taught within the context of an earlier time and different culture than modern Western society, and so, “Zen” seems to miss the mark I am aiming at. For all the respect I have for Buddhism and Zen, the image of its transmission in the West continuing to imitate its cultural origins in Asia, always seems to me to neglect the true intent of Zen, which is to be beyond culture in our consciousness, fully awake and responsive to the circumstances of life wherever, whenever, whatever, exactly as it is.

My first academic training was as a cultural anthropologist, and I have always been strongly influenced by its instruction. It was as an undergraduate student in anthropology that I was introduced to the writings of the legendary French Jesuit priest/paleontologist, Tielhard de Chardin, and the idea that the study of the evolution of humanity is not only a look back in time, but also forward. Oh yes. Another of our egocentric traits is to assume we represent the culmination of evolution (or are exempt from evolution entirely).

Chardin was interested in the future of humanity as can be projected by understanding the evolutionary traits of its past. Consciousness, he concluded, is humanity’s evolutionary trait, and “convergence”, meaning an ever-expanding sense of unity, is its direction. He envisioned a time when humanity would recognize its essential unity, not only within itself, but also with all of Creation. He called this realization the “Omega Point,” Omega, meaning culmination. For what can lie beyond consciousness that realizes its fundamental universal unity? As a theologian, he saw this realization as humanity’s reconciliation with God, as the coming home. And so it is, and will be.

I have always been deeply inspired by Chardin’s vision. As a cultural theorist, I find it liberating to examine and analyze the currents in human cultures and societies using this visionary lens. As an instructor of personal growth and healing, I can use this macroscopic realization as a way to look at individuals as processes of evolution. Expanding convergent consciousness is not only the evolutionary trait of humanity; it is the necessary experience for healing individuals. As our sense of self expands to enfold others and the mystery of Life itself, our neuroses resolve themselves.

We are each evolving, and it is this process of converging individuals evolving that will manifest in species evolution. It thus occurred to me to name the process I bring to individuals and to my social writings, in honor of Chardin, “The Omega Journey.” Evolution as a healing paradigm, “an ascent toward consciousness.”

For a person to heal from the wounds of life in this fractious society of competing egos, it is not enough to understand or ameliorate the wounds. Buddhism is correct. True healing comes with realization of the illusion of finding our identity in the fractious ego. We are not the distressed contents of our minds. We are the consciousness that is aware of, and has the capacity to transform the contents.

Reconciling our chaotic frightening separateness in a process of expanding convergent consciousness is the healing journey. And so, as we heal individually, let us also enlist our individual lives in the service of humanity’s destiny, pioneers journeying toward Chardin’s Omega Point. Let us bring humanity’s genius for technology finally into harmony with Nature, rather than attempting to master it for our own shortsighted exploitive purposes. Along the way, this journey that evolves individuals into a new level of harmony with their own nature, also enlightens their relationship with Nature. I invite all who are ready, to embark upon the Omega Journey, the journey of consciousness, the journey of evolution as healing, for individuals and for all humanity.

This Moment Is A Perfect Moment

In Buddhism there is a very important teaching named “The Three Refuges”, also called “The Three Gems” because of the great treasure contained in this teaching. This teaching is not, however, referring to refuge as being something gone to for the purpose of escape. Rather, it is how we can live in the midst of ordinary life, with the conflicts, sorrows, fears and losses that are within life, from a place of equanimity and balance.

The Gem teaching instructs us to seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.” Let me translate. At their simplest level, these words translate as such: “Buddha” is understood as in reference to Buddhism’s fountainhead, Siddartha Gautama. “Dharma” is the teachings and practices of Buddhism. “Sangha” is the Buddhist community. Nothing about Buddhism, however, ought to be taken at the simplest level. A deeper translation explains.

“Buddha” translates literally as “The Awakened One”. Buddhism is about awakening. To take refuge in the Buddha is to look to one’s own awakening, as Siddhartha awakened out of his own social/cultural conditioning, of experiencing himself and the world from within the limited egoic, or “little”, mind of personal thoughts and reactive emotions. Buddhism’s great insight is that the mind of ego is the source of human suffering. This is, in fact, the first teaching of Buddhism.

From this understanding then, the Dharma is the path that leads to awakening, liberation, or healing, from the sufferings of the ego. And Sangha is the community of awakened and awakening beings, those who have, and are, liberating themselves from finding their identity and their relationship to life from within the self absorbed and suffering ego. This path has been traveled successfully by others. You are not alone.

The living Vietnamese Zen saint, Thich Nhat Hanh, gives us a koan that can lead to deeper understanding and a path for living The Three Gems. He points the way by sharing the wisdom, “This moment is a perfect moment. This moment is my refuge.” This moment. Not any other moment. Not some future moment. This moment.

To be fully in this moment is to be free of the egoic mind, for the ego exists only within the storyline of me in time. To the ego, I am my past as held together by my compulsive revisiting it in judgmental thoughts, and I will be my future as compulsively structured and anticipated in judgmental thoughts. To the ego, the present exists clouded by compulsive judgmental thoughts evaluating my standing in and satisfaction with the world. When there is peace, it is fleeting. If this moment is satisfactory, our great fear is that the next moment will not be.

Awaken. You are not your thoughts. The enlightened you is not your story. Life and your experience of life is terribly diminished from within this prison of thoughts, compulsively everywhere except where life, your life, is unfolding. Here in the present moment. The bird sings in the tree. The clouds pass through the sky. Your family and friends need your presence, your full presence, and so do you. This moment, not looking out on life from within your thought prison, but in the realization that your consciousness, free of thoughts about life, is life itself.

Even should this moment be a moment containing sickness, loss, threat to the story of you, to the timeline of you, this moment still contains the bird in the tree, the clouds in the sky, your family and friends. Should this moment even contain the impending ending of your story, as mortal illness threatens your life, this moment also contains eternity, for in truth, in awakening, this moment and eternity are the same. The bird, the clouds, your family and friends, life is in your consciousness, and there is plenty of proof that consciousness is not limited to space, time or even materialization. This moment. Only this moment. Do not lose this gem, this refuge, being unconscious, being asleep. Do not be lost in the thoughts of the ego, frightened that neither you nor life are enough. Awaken! Life is. You are. Life is you. Now. Perfect.

Big Mind Little Mind

“As you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, you must ask yourself, who is it that is aware?”

This Zen teaching, this koan, opens the Universe. Who is it that is aware?

The psychologist, Richard Alpert, turned guru, Ram Dass, talks about the difference between the western psychological tradition and the Hindu/Buddhist model of mind more or less in the following way: We experience our lives as if confined to a prison cell made up of the concepts that are conditioned into us by society, culture, family and personal experience. There does not appear to be any way out. Some of us have orderly,comfortable cells, and some of us have filthy, cluttered cells of personal torture. We call these states of relative order, being mentally well or ill. Western psychology acts like a kind of maid that comes in and tidies up the place,giving it better order and cleanliness. We remain, however, locked inside the cell, which tends to re-clutter itself. This is the psychology of the ego, what Buddhism calls the little mind. Hindu/Buddhist psychology, through the vehicles of meditation and the dharmic teachings, is the door out of the cell,into the world of expansive potentiality, into what Buddhism calls big mind.

Two dimensions of mind. Little mind and big mind. Not the conscious and unconscious dimensions of Western psychology, but the dimension of the ego and, to borrow the term Eckhart Tolle applies, the dimension of Being. Other terms used are the relative and the ultimate, the secular and the sacred. To use the language of Gestalt Psychology, they are the dimensions of figure and ground.They are the experience of form and the vast energetic potentiality out of which form emerges.

From this perspective, to be what Western culture calls conscious is really to be unconscious. It is to be unaware of the limitless potentiality of life.It is to be limited to living in the world of forms created by the conditions and conditioning of the egoic mind. We are physiologically awake, but psychologically and spiritually asleep.

Where does this world, this universe we experience, come from? What is God? What is the purpose of the idea, “God”, that is so critical and universal to the human experience? What is the place of the human species in this universe? Why is the Universe marked by harmony but the human experience marked by such disharmony? Why do humans go insane? What is sane? What is the nature of the human mind? Remarkably, we, in the scientifically advanced West, have no satisfactory answers to these questions. How then, can there be a valid psychology, study of the soul/mind, from such a society? No. We must look to other cultures.

Native American culture explains the unique awareness that human beings possess this way: Spirit manifested, and this Spirit manifesting is the world. But Spirit was unable to experience Creation,that is to say, to stand outside of Creation, thereby having the perspective that allows for subjective/objective experience. So Spirit manifested into an animal unique in its ability to stand outside of Nature, an animal uniquelybifurcatedin its consciousness. Human beings.

These creatures were Spirit manifested just as all the rest of Creation, but they experienced life from the perspective of separated individuality. Is that so different than the Adam and Eve parable in Genesis that leaves the descendants of the original human manifestation, “cursed above all cattle, and above all wild animals”? Human beings. Human. Self aware and separate, what Western psychology calls ego. Cursed. But also beings.Spirit manifested, what Buddhist psychology calls “original mind” or big mind,capable of awareness emerging from its origin in harmonious Nature/God.Consciousness peering into manifestation.

Western psychology seeks to bring order to the inherent cursed disorder of the ego. Buddhism seeks to return humans to contact with their original Beingness. Big mind is the awareness of God peering into the world of manifestation. Little mind is the confused identification with separateness and form that parades around as a person causing mischief and suffering.

How to find our way back to the Garden? How to live in both the relative and the ultimate, the secular and the sacred without contradiction? This is the journey of destiny for each and all human beings. This is the discovery of who it is that is aware.

Zen Genius

“The Zen “genius”sleeps in every one of us and demands an awakening.” -D. T. Suzuki

Awaken! Awaken! Awaken! This is the message of Buddhism.Simple as can be, yet there is no greater challenge. Awakening is the karmic challenge of every human being. Awakening is the karmic challenge of all humanity.This moment is the gateway, the “gateless gate”. Can you walk through it?

The greatest secret, the conundrum that plagues the seeker of spirituality,sanity and wisdom, is the ancient instruction that tells us that we already know everything we need to know. We were born possessing the key that unlocks the lock. But then we lost it. More accurately, we were born knowing there is no lock, and that searching for a key is a fool’s journey. But the programming of socialization, of egoization, occurs, and demands the delusional belief that there must be a lock and there must be a key. So there is a lock,and there is a key, and we have lost it. We have lost the no-key to the no-lock.

So, we search. We search in the world of power. We search in the world of possessions. We search in the world of pleasure, and even the world of pain. We search in the world of diversion. We search in the world of knowledge.We search in the world of politics. We search in the world of religion. We look for the teacher/leader/messiah who will give us the answer.

There is a deep knowing that this world is mired in distress, and this collective distress is reflected in the confusion, emptiness and destructiveness people experience in their individual and collective lives. We are lost. We pretend, in the pursuit of our myriad addictions and affiliations,that we are not, yet we know intuitively that there must be a deeper meaning and order to life than we experience. Out of this yearning, philosophy,politics, religion, the pursuits of pleasure, wealth and power, the pursuit of meaningful relationships are born. We look for authorities outside ourselves to answer the questions, to give meaning and order, yet the authorities and the answers only seem to compound the problem.

Zen asks us, who is it that knows the world is in distress? Who is the genius that can see through all the constructions of culture and society to know there must be a better way? Where does this insight come from? Zen answers, the genius is you, the one who feels the distress, the one who experiences the disharmony deep in your gut.

Buried beneath the programming and conditioning of culture and society,encased within the constructed personalities that we believe to be who we are,is the genius who knows the answer. Zen calls this genius your original or true self.All of Zen teaching and practice is designed to penetrate our false conditioned identity that stumbles confused through the world, to reveal to us the wise,spontaneous, free being that is our true self, the genius within who tells us that something is wrong and knows how to make it right.

Zen teaches us that beneath the commotion and confusion, beneath the construct of thoughts and words, beneath the hypnotic hold of society and culture, beyond the illusion of separateness, is the gateless gate, the doorway of stillness,the no-key to the no-lock. The sleeping genius waits, longing to awaken into consciousness, into its destiny, to live in harmony. Look not outside yourself,but very deeply within yourself. Look into the stillness. The whispering genius is there.

“Your inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that. You share that purpose with every other person on the planet – because that is the purpose of humanity.” – Eckhart Tolle

Buddha Nature

“As far as Buddha Nature is concerned, there is no difference between a sinner and a sage… One enlightened thought and one is a Buddha, one foolish thought and one is again an ordinary person.”
– Hui-neng (6th Zen Patriarch – 7th Century)

A most puzzling aspect of Buddhist philosophy is that there is nothing to achieve, for the idea of achievement implies adding something that was not there before. The heart of Buddhist philosophy is that our original nature is completely sane and at one with all of life, but that through the psychological conditioning of society and family, we lose touch with that nature. Siddhartha Gotama, 2500 years ago,awakened out of this conditioning and realized his true and original nature, that is, he realized enlightenment. Thenceforth, he was known as the Buddha, “the awakened one”.

“Birds chirp, dogs run, mountains are high, valleys low. It’s all perfect wisdom! The seasons change, the stars shine in the heavens;it’s perfect wisdom. Regardless of whether we realize it or not, we are always in the midst of The Way. Or, more strictly speaking, we are nothing but The Way itself.” – (Taizan Maezumi -20th Century Zen Master)

As we are nothing but The Way (the Tao, the uncorrupted nature of nature) itself, we are only separated from the Buddha within us, from awakening, by being unconscious. We are asleep to our true and original nature. We believe the false conditioning to be true. We believe it is who we are, and we live from within it, clinging to this false identity, rather than from our inherent Buddha Nature. Thus, we live in an “illusion” of life, full of strife and struggling. Buddhism teaches that all there is to do is to find our way back to The Way. There is nothing to add that achieves our enlightenment. There is only letting go of illusion. There is only waking up. All the struggles we experience in life are over our compulsion to enhance and defend a very personal sense we have of who we are. This is the ego. We create an identity of a very shaky somebody out of this precarious ego. This is a very big mistake. An insecure somebody lives in a world filled with problems. These problems tell a story. We start living as if we are that story, and keep authoring it over and over, with the same problems. Buddhism teaches the philosophy of being “nobody”. “Nobody”is not defined by the story of the ego. There is a dimension of mind that is before the thoughts that construct our experience of life.There is the dimension of awareness itself. Buddhism teaches that this awareness is who you are. It is impersonal, or more accurately,transpersonal. It is nobody. Buddhism teaches that Ego is a tool, much like a computer, not an identity. It is how the amazing human mind conceptualizes and works with the world. It is a useful tool, even a miracle when operated by an awakened person. It is a disaster as an identity. Ego identity is conditioned by society and family. It is always crazy. It is always fearful. It is always seeking to enhance and defend itself. This is normal, in the sense that nearly everyone does it, and, it’s completely crazy, because it causes all of our distress and problems for others and ourselves. “You must unlearn what you have learned,” says Master Yoda of a galaxy far, far away. You are nature and nurture. We have lost touch with our nature by getting lost in our nurture. Western psychology does not understand the mind. It only attends to the conditioning, the nurture, of the mind, not the nature of it. The conditioning is crazy. The nature is Buddha. One thought from our Buddha and we are enlightened. Immediately, the next thought is from our foolish ego. Sage and sinner all wrapped into one.Awakening is in learning to use the ego and not be it. Unlearn the limitations you were taught about yourself, others and the nature of existence. Find your original mind. Find Buddha.

Gestalt Of Consciousness

“The contours of your neurosis are the same
as the contours of your awareness” – Gestalt Therapy maxim

In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, a charismatic and dynamic form of psychotherapy called Gestalt Therapy was central to what was known as the human potential movement. “Gestalt” is a German word that does not translate easily into English, but means roughly, the configuration or meaningful whole of an entity. A more precise way of explaining the concept of Gestalt as relates to a person, is contained in the concept of the “figure-ground relationship”. This is the relationship of the perceptions and actions of a person to their full potential. The“ground” is a person’s full potential, while the “figure” emerges from the ground of full potential to be a person’s experience of themselves and the world, which for most of us is only a small fraction of our full potential. Gestalt therapy was conceived to explore and activate the potential that is repressed or dormant, to expand the contours of awareness, thus dissolving neurosis. The figurehead genius behind this therapy was German psychologist, Fritz Perls, who immigrated first to South Africa in1933, escaping Nazism, then to America in1951. In his own words: “from an obscure lower middle-class Jewish boy to mediocre psychoanalyst to the possible creator of a ‘new’ method of treatment and the exponent of a viable philosophy which could do something for mankind.” Perls dissented with Freud, disagreeing that healing the human mind was accomplished through analyzing the historic personality (ego) formation. Rather, he believed that healing occurred when a person was able to witness the limited and limiting contours of their personality in the present moment, exposing the distortions and lapses between their potential (ground) and their conditioned personality (figure). In the distortions and lapses was the unfulfilled Gestalt of the person. Bringing these distortions and lapses into awareness for full experience completed the Gestalt, and realized the “meaningful whole” of a person.

Perls realized that what wasat issue in determining a person’s sanity was the degree of consciousness that a person could bring into their experience of life. What Perls brought to psychotherapy was a method of actualizing the expansion of consciousness into a more complete personal Gestalt. His method was, reminiscent of Eastern meditation and mindfulness, a process that cultivated the capacity of a person to step outside of being trapped within the limited figure of their conditioned personality, into the ground of their witnessing self. Perls brought to western therapy a multidimensional model of mind much like that which Buddhist psychology is based in. Translating into the language of Buddhism, “figure” is the conditioned egoic “little mind”, and“ground” is the full potential of the “original mind”, “Buddha mind” or“big mind”. Another way of expressing this,is that figure is the ideas we carry around about who we are, others are, and the world is, while ground is the reality of full potentiality. The difference between this idea and reality is our “neurosis”.

Perls developed very powerful and dramatic methods and techniques for expanding the contours of awareness so that a person could make better contact with the full potential of life. Perls was, however,very Western, and a very powerful and dramatic ego, and true to his analytic training, his therapy focused on unshackling the ego from its neurotic constraints, creating an uninhibited, creative and assertive dynamism. While his insight was instinctively trans-egoic, his methods, following the contours of his own personality and training, led principally to the expansion of the contours of the ego,and thus, it might be said, failed to accomplish the full Gestalt of his insight,an integrated psyche of ego and the ground of original mind. A large ego, inevitably results in conflict with other egos. Just ask anyone whoever encountered Fritz Perls, or many of his ultra-assertive disciples. The contours of awareness of a fully healthy and realized being contains and also transcends an ego not noted for its size,but its minimalist balance, fearlessness and compassion. Buddha realized this over 2500 years ago. We in the West, are just beginning to catch on, and if we do, it just might really “do something for mankind”.

Expansion And Contraction

Have you ever considered that the two fundamental principles of the Universe are expansion and contraction? Physics has proved to us that everything is energy, and that the basic variable distinguishing the various manifestations of energy is density of form. The most basic difference between solids,liquids, gases and pure energy is density of form. The very radical principle of Buddhist psychology is that the same principle applies to mind.

Buddhism refers to the thoughts that occupy your mind as mental forms. They are the energy of the mind contracted into form-objects. These objects conform to the dimensions and parameters that society, culture, family and personal experience have programmed into us. It is not unlike a sculptor who only has the materials of their region and the images that their culture deems acceptable for sculpting. We only have the patterns for representing the possibilities of life that have been pre-programmed into us.

Now, just as the sculptor has wood, stone or metal to form a sculpture with,these forms in the mind have different properties. Different types of mind-forms have different densities that you can begin to distinguish, even affect, when you train through meditation then on-verbal perceiving dimension of mind. The amazing thing about humans is that we have the capacity to transform the dimensionality of the energy with which we sculpt our mental forms,the contents of the mind. Without the training of meditation, we are mostly unaware of this capacity other than as a faint intuition.

I am a believer that there are only two primary human emotions, and they are love and fear. These are the principles of union and separateness, with the commensurate properties of expansion and contraction. Love is the experience of oneness with another person, with nature, even with God, Spirit or the universe. In this experience, the energy of the mind expands so that a person’s identity likewise expands to encompass that which is being loved. Conversely,the experience of fear is a contraction of a person’s identity into ever more isolated aloneness, and so, the energy of the mind contracts into a smaller and smaller, lonelier and more vulnerable sense of self. All other emotions are variations of love and fear with corresponding variations of the dimensionality of the energy of the mind.

Affection, happiness, appreciation, kindliness, generosity are all variations of love, not quite as expansive and inclusive, but clearly sharing that expansive,inclusive quality. Anger, aversion, hatred,repulsion, greed are all emotions that are derivatives of the experience of fear, of separateness, difference, rejection. The sense of self that is the ego contracts behind a barrier of separateness to defend itself against perceived threats. The mind sculpts tight, dense, contracted forms of thought concerning the threatening “other” and the embattled“self”. Some emotions, like sadness, are ambivalent combinations of love and fear, vacillating between inclusion and separateness,identification and loss.

How do we know that this is true? Try it for yourself. Think of a person or situation that is very pleasant and personally supportive of you. Experience how the thought feels. Emotion is the body’s feeling response to thought. Then think of a person or situation that is threatening to you. Experience how that thought feels. See? To have a pleasant thought-form in mind causes your sense of self to expand to include the object of the thought resulting in an expansive experience of mind and body. To have a threatening thought-form in mind is to experience your mental energy contracting into the dense form of the fear/anger-thought and so too the body contracts into corresponding tension-emotions.

Buddhism teaches enlightenment. En- lighten -ment. The miracle of mindfulness is the alchemy of transformation of the forms of the mind from separateness-fear-based thoughts that leave you and your experience of life very heavy and dense to union-love-based thoughts (and no-thought) that bring to you a very light and expansive experience of life. You become the sculptor of your life-experience capable of transforming thoughts with the threatening dense hardness of steel into the lightness and healing capacity of,well, – light, the pure energy from which we come. The expansive unity of the Universe becomes the field in which we play. How light, how expansive your mind can be is the liberating and healing practice of a lifetime.

Know Who You Are, Be What You Know

The column title is a Zen koan. A koan is a riddle that takes us to our deepest nature. Some koans can be understood at a rational level, others cannot. This koan is one that is rational, but takes us deeper. It takes us as deep as we are willing to go. Because it is rational, some will take it nowhere, and believe that they have understood it. They will not have. These words must be penetrated with your intuitive mind. Only intuition can take us beneath the surface constructions of the rational mind, and it is beneath these facades and constructions that we must journey to enter into Zen,to enter into our deepest nature.

Who are you? This is the question I have always believed to be at the heart of any true psychotherapy, but as always, the issue is how deep is the psychotherapist capable of, and how deep is the client willing to go? The question to those reading is,how deep are you willing to go?

No thought can take you there. Only meditation can. True meditation is the exploration of knowing who you are at the deepest level. In fact, if that question isn’t the silent mantra of your meditation, then you are just resting, relieving stress, sitting cross legged, watching your breathing,trying to catch your mind as it wanders. Yes,this is valuable. But this is not the yoga of meditation.

I have always been inspired by the late psychologist, Sydney Jourard, who believed that psychotherapy was an exploration in what it is to be authentic as a person. Note, that he wasn’t exploring what it meant to be in -authentic. Most psychotherapy is an exploration of the in-authenticity of a person, all the ways that a person is neurotic. It expends great energy pointing out the places where the inauthentic,neurotic personality creates distress and difficulty. And that’s all well and good. That information is helpful. What it doesn’t get to, however, is what it is to be truly authentic, what it is to be whole and healthy, the mind that is called enlightened.

Buddhism teaches that what is called the rational mind is the source of all that is in authentic and unhealthy in humans. The rational mind is the realm of the ego, the place of ideas, and ideas can be anything. Christianity, Islam, Judaism,Capitalism,Communism, what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong are just ideas. They are tools for conceptualizing possibilities. People mistake them for truths. While some do point to eternal truths, most do not. They are mental constructs that create a matrix of experience that we call reality and that we believe tells us who we are and what life is. We live inside this matrix mistaking it for reality. Voila! A personality is born living inside a culture. For better, for worse, in sickness and in health. This is you. This is your world. Or is it? These are the questions that Zen asks. “Who are you?” “What is the world?”

It could be said that the difference between Western therapy and Eastern meditational healing is that Western therapy agrees that the matrix image, the story you tell, is you. To an Eastern teacher of meditation this story is “illusion” or, in psychological terms, “delusion.” Ram Dass (a.k.a., Richard Albert, Ph.D.psychologist, of Stanford and Harvard Universities) has said that the difference between Western therapy and meditation is that we live inside a cell constructed by the ideas of our egoic minds and therapy helps rearrange and tidy up the cell, but we remain trapped inside the cell of these mental constructions. He goes on to say,the wisdom found through deep meditation is the door out of the cell.

Do you know who you are? What an achievement if you do! Are you living and being what you know? This is the greatest challenge. This is Zen. This is the door out of the cell. Do you have the skills and will to find and use the key? For this, a skillful and true teacher is invaluable.

Zen Essence

“If you want to know the realm of enlightenment, you should make your mind as clear as space; detach from subjective imaginings and from all grasping, making your mind unimpeded wherever it turns…Buddhahood is the realm of the sacred knowledge found in oneself… You do not need paraphernalia, practice, or realizations to attain it…do not see Buddha in one phenomenon, one event, one body, one land, one being – see Buddha everywhere.” –Chinese Zen Master Dahui – (app. 10th Century)

Zen is the simplest of spiritual practices. Chinese Master Ying-an said, “Zen living is a most direct shortcut, not requiring the exertion of the slightest bit.” So simple. So difficult.

But the human mind does not want simplicity. The human mind does not want to be “clear as space” or detached from grasping. The human mind wants complexity. It wants constant stimulation and speculation. It wants to grasp. It wants to be special. It wants to be grand. It wants sacred knowledge to be secret and hidden so that it can be sought in secret texts and initiations and owned exclusively by the specially initiated. The human mind does not want enlightenment. The human mind wants religion. The human mind wants to make Zen another religion. So much paraphernalia, so many practices, so much seeking of special realizations.

“Buddhahood is the realm of the sacred knowledge found in oneself.” You already have it. There is nowhere else to seek. So we are dumbfounded. If there is nowhere else to seek, what do we do? How can we already have it, when we are so confused and crazy?

Having “the sacred knowledge” in oneself and living from it are two very different things. To find the “sacred knowledge” we must awaken from the hypnotic hold of what we confuse to be our minds and discover our essential Beingness. What we call mind is just ego, the culturally conditioned aggregate of thoughts that the mind contains that create the illusion of the separate “me”, and makes the world a panoply of separate objects. We have an egoic mind, useful as a tool to manipulate worldly objects, but we are not our egoic mind, disastrous as an identity and guide to our own and the world’s true nature.

The realm of sacred knowledge is not found in the egoic mind. It is found in the Beingness of our original nature before the conditioned contents of the ego covers it over. This is the awakened Buddhamind. It is not found “in one phenomenon, one body, one land, one being”, but in all phenomenon, bodies, lands and beings. It is the natural world just as it is, just as you are. And are not. This paradox of Being and ego is the human condition, and unraveling this paradox is the realm of Zen.

Are you in harmony with the natural world just as it is? Do you experience the wholeness and balance of the world, or do you struggle and connive and grasp in futile attempts to make the world the way you want it to be? And does this struggling and conniving work? No. It makes us angry and anxious, depressed and stressed, and it is killing the natural world. Would you call anger, anxiety, depression, stress and planetcide sane? Of course not. But it is “normal” if normal is a statistical point of gathering. So “normal” is quite insane, and Humanity continues being angry, anxious, depressed, stressed and killing the natural world (and each other), saying it is normal “human nature”.

Zen teaches us this is not so. Just “make your mind clear as space.” Then you’ll see.

Life And Your Life Situation

In his transformative book, The power of Now , Eckhart Tolle points out that we make the mistake of being so caught up in our “life situation,” our ambitions and frustrations over what we believe will lead to a happy life, that we miss being meaningfully present for life. We mistake our narcissistic drama,the story of me, for Life, and of course, it isn’t.

Our life situation draws from our past experiences, creating the story of me. We erroneously mistake it as the only resource we have for our identity. We then project this identity into the future, where our story will play out its fulfillment or failure. Our mental landscape is mostly taken up with this drama, out of place in time. We compulsively review past events assessing the quality of this story and our significance in relationship to others. We likewise compulsively attempt to anticipate future events and how they will affect our status. When we relate to the present moment, it is mostly in the form of judgments, seeking to ascertain whether the circumstances of the moment favor or disfavor “me”. Our mental landscape is nearly completely preoccupied with the status of “me,” and with “my life situation.”

Tolle describes this insecure existential time traveling as normal, but quite crazy. As a result, we seldom are grounded in the present, rarely available for the beauty, depth, mystery and meaning of Life just as it is. We are largely unable to experience Life directly, where we are not the protagonist in our own drama without all of Life being measured against our self-absorbed desires. We are seldom able to experience the ineffable beauty, connectedness and peacefulness that is available when we experience that we are actually but a thread in the great tapestry that is Life.

Life is……. I ought to stop right there, but that would be just too enigmatic. Life is….everything, all possibility, and much more than we can imagine as possible. Life is Creation unfolding. It is mystery, wonder, balance and intricacy. Life is infinity. Life is manifestation in all of its subtle, complex, majestic and sometimes,terrible forms. And it is happening right here,right now, nowhere else. It is certainly not what we have going on in our heads.

And so, where are we? As our culture and society train us to do, we are caught in our personal drama, making up this life situation that we call our lives; past, future and, only very shallowly, present. Our obsession with our life situation makes it impossible for us to be truly present for Life, its mystery, wonder and power, where our lives truly unfold, in the eternal present moment. We use our own personal agenda and significance as our reference point for the center of the Universe. Consequently, we miss so much of what is truly meaningful and important. We live unfulfilled and unskillful lives when measured against the full potential of what Life actually offers us.

We miss Life not only by being caught mentally in the story of our personal life situation, but in the gossip that makes up most social conversation, comparing stories of drama,finding status in diminishing the status of others, or identifying with the achievement of those we admire. We are a culture where people live their lives projecting their imaginary life situation onto everything we come in contact with, projecting, projecting,projecting. We even believe spirituality is in praying, that is talking to God, speaking of what our life situation wants and needs, neglecting the very important necessity of meditating to listen for god’s answer, for God’s words have always been to set aside vanity,materialism, conflict, ego and self-absorption.

Then there are the virtual-reality life situations of media and culture that we are so addicted to. Mostly, the only times we allow ourselves to be in a receiving mode, we are absorbed in the virtual-life situations that media projects at us, reinforcing the image that all there can be is an egoic contest for life drama. We compete with each other in our conversations to establish whose life has the most drama, and we talk titillatingly about the latest in entertainment, seeking to turn the volume up louder and louder, hoping that what we lack in the direct living of Life, we can make up with ever more dramatic and sensational life situations, to the point where we even become bored with our fictions and seek still higher levels of stimulation in“reality” entertainment, the most unreal of all.

As for how to describe Life,even the words that can be used to describe it, are only pale forms of mind. Life is not in concepts, words, or in all the inspiring phrases of poetry and spiritual teaching. Life is Life. It requires we open our minds to it. Literally. This is the mystic event. Open and expand consciousness beyond situational thinking, lost in its time travel. Open into the fullness of this moment. This is the direct experience that all of Zen is a preparation for. Not lost in mental forms, but present with mind expanded and open to experiencing …….Life. Look beyond looking and see. Listen beyond listening and hear. Feel beyond feeling and touch. Open the mind and dissolve into Life.

Does this mean that we ought to quit our jobs, our families, friends and activities, our life situation? Certainly not. Not unless, these circumstances are truly frustrating not only our contact with Life, but are not even a satisfying life situation. Zen teaches us that we live in both our life situation and Life simultaneously, in our egoic separateness and our universal oneness. To live fulfillingly requires that we be deeply connected to Life while in our life situation. One way to understand Zen is that it is about skillfully balancing our life situation with Life. It is the recognition that we exist in these two dimensions simultaneously, and our humanity and life quality is accomplished in how we balance them.