Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Awakening Part 4

“It is the Unformed, the Unconditioned, the End, the Truth, the Other Shore, the Subtle, the Everlasting, the Invisible, the Undiversified, Peace, the Deathless, the Blest, Safety, the Wonderful, the Marvelous, Nirvana, Purity, Freedom, the Island, the Refuge, the Beyond.” (Samyutta Nikaya 43: 1-44)
We continue our reflections on the Buddha’s above description of awakening, or enlightenment, by examining the Blest, Safety, and the Wonderful. The heart of these reflections are not the words themselves, nor the exercises imbedded in the text, but the experience to which they point. That the Buddha used so many different and differing words to describe awakening – he used many more than in the above paragraph – reveals the diverse expressions of it, and the many Dharma Gates to ‘enter’ it. Hopefully, we may stroll through such a Gate together and bask on the other Shore, in the Everlasting contentment of enlightenment.
·        The Blest (Siva) Siva, often rendered Shiva in Roman script, is the name of one of the main gods in Hinduism, being a member of the Trimurti (Hindu Trinity) that also includes Brahma and Vishnu. Here, however, when used as a synonym for enlightenment, it has the meaning of ‘blest.’ Awakening is the Blest because in the enlightened state we have all the blessings that we need. Not that being awakened means that everything goes our way; far from it. Rather, when we have transcended the delusion of thinking we are a separate self, we live in line with existence, and whatever is happening is what is supposed to be happening. Moreover, we are aware of the fact, although we do not constantly go around thinking, “Oh, everything’s okay because I’m enlightened,” but instead we simply live in tune with whatever’s going on in the present moment.
Existing in unison with life is not total passivity, however. On the contrary, when we need to act, we spontaneously do so, and when we do not need to, we don’t. And, this is not libertinism, either. For, when enlightened, compassion and wisdom naturally flow out of the spacious awareness at one’s heart, acting not for the good of a person presumed to be here, but for the benefit of all beings. It all comes down to self-identity in the end: if we act of the sense of being a self, then our thoughts, words and deeds will obviously be predominately selfish, whereas if we have no sense of being a separate entity, we will be acting for the benefit of everyone. All this may sound wonderful, you might think, but how do we experience it right now? Conducting the following exercise may help us to have a glimpse of living from spacious awareness in a state of acceptance instead of ego-based separation.
Observe your thoughts, noticing their ever-evolving forms, morphing from one train of thought into another; one moment you’re thinking about the electric bill, the next the state of the economy, and then what’s for dinner. (Not entirely unrelated subject matter, if you think about it.) Even if your thoughts appear to you as more profound than money and food, in the form of philosophical or religious concerns, for example, they still conform to the same basic patterns in your mind, flowing from one subject to the next. Often, as is human nature, these thoughts, whether mundane or metaphysical, are of a negative character. The world often appears very negative to us, doesn’t it? Now, turn your attention away from your thoughts to the world as it presents itself right now. Is it all that bad? (Obviously, if you’ve got a screaming baby or ranting relative near you at present, this part of the exercise will probably fall short!) Look at your surroundings – aren’t they ‘just-so,’ the way they are, and isn’t this intrinsically okay? Isn’t it your mind that decides things aren’t okay, based on your presumptions about the kind of world you want to live in? And, having realized this, even when the baby is screaming or a ranting relative nearby, that’s okay, too! If we can live in this wisdom, we truly are the Blest.
·        Safety (Khema) For all beings true safety is very difficult to find; nay, it is impossible. As created beings, with these vulnerable bodies and minds, subject to all kinds of sickness, we cannot find respite from becoming ill at some point or another in our lives. As infants and children we are particularly susceptible to illnesses, as we are when we reach old age, a condition that has its own painful side effects. The body deteriorates, along with the mind, as time takes its toll on our persons. And, what’s the end of all this suffering? Why, it’s death: how comforting! Of course, we are not guaranteed to reach old age before we die, as we may contract a terminal disease, or be the victim of a fatal accident or attack. As individual, separate beings we cannot find a haven to protect us from life’s dangers. Moreover, even if we manage to avoid these three messengers of life’s intrinsic unsatisfactory nature for a long time, there are less dramatic ways that we suffer, as when we have a broken heart, or our loved one’s die, or when our desires are not satiated. Safety from these types of suffering is even harder to locate than the three messengers above. And, even if we don’t consciously feel endangered all the time, subconsciously we are well aware of our vulnerability, and this awareness affects every moment of our lives, tingeing it with unhappiness. Can we ever feel truly safe, then?
Despite the negative hypothesis described above – which is the first Noble Truth of the Buddha, by the way, that life is unsatisfactory – real safety is available to us. There is just one cost, however – that we surrender our sense of being a separate ego-self, and recognize the emptiness that lies at the heart of our being. This may sound awful at first, which is that we must give up our selfhood to be safe from life’s dangers, but this isn’t what Buddhism encourages us to do, in fact. It isn’t that we should commit some kind of suicide, but that we realize that we never existed in the limited and limiting way that we presumed we did. As an abstract idea, the giving up of the delusion of being an ego may well sound horrific, but as an experience it is anything but. It is the true Safety from suffering once and for all, because there’s no individual to suffer, and Emptiness cannot suffer. This Void isn’t some nihilistic nightmare, however, for it is full of the universe, and what’s more, it is aware of the fact. In this awareness is the sense of genuine Safety; that is to say, the absolute absence of any feeling of vulnerability, consciously or unconsciously. It is the Third Noble Truth of the Buddha, freedom from suffering.
·        The Wonderful (Acchariya) “And I think to myself what a wonderful world.” There are many things in life that we might consider to be wonderful, several mentioned in the song just quoted, ‘What a Wonderful World, made famous by Louis Armstrong: Trees of green, red roses, blue skies, white clouds, rainbows and people’s faces, not to mention, “babies crying,” all of which refer to the joys of nature. And there are myriad marvels to be found in the natural world, all of which may inspire in their viewer a sense of wonder or delight. Conversely, there are just as many horrors to be seen in nature, of which Louis Armstrong remained understandably silent. Plagues, violence, earthquakes, droughts, tsunamis, and high infant mortality rates to mention just a few. If Louis had sung, “Babies dying” instead of the actual lyrics of the song, just imagine the macabre effect on his audience! In truth, then, the natural world which Mr. Armstrong presented as being so wonderful was equally as horrible, and therefore wasn’t that wonderful at all. But is the re another aspect of life that we might consider wonderful?
Perhaps the Wonderful might refer to the amazing achievements of humanity rather than to nature. We humans have done countless incredible things: populated the world, built massive cities, sailed the oceans, written beautiful poetry, created the Internet, and walked on the moon. These are all admiral accomplishments, and by no means rare in the history of humankind. Moreover, great displays of compassion and self-sacrifice are abundant both in historical records of the great and mighty, and in newspaper reports of otherwise ordinary folk. And, yet, again, the is another side to this story: people have also built and used the most horrific weaponry, tortured animals and humans in the most awful ways, raped, plundered and pillaged in the name of nationalism, religion, and plain old greed. We have created nuclear bombs that can apparently wipe out all life on earth in a matter of minutes. How truly ingenious! It seems that, as with nature, we humans are as terrible as we are wonderful, and that therefore we are not worthy of the title the Wonderful. So, is the Wonderful a chimera, a mirage fluttering in our imaginations and nowhere else?
To find the Wonderful, we need a radical alteration to our usual observational skills, however well developed we may consider them to be. Put simply, we must reverse our attention to see the Wonderful, right where it has always been – in the same place that we are looking out of. The Wonderful, despite Louis Armstrong’s best efforts, is not ‘out there’ but ‘in here.’ Or, at the risk of getting completely entangled in words, the Wonderful is both here and there, unified in a single Vision that incorporates the entire universe whilst at the same time completely transcending it. And, if this sounds just too amazing to be true, then ponder for a moment that this is probably why the Buddha dubbed enlightenment the Wonderful in the first place. But, enough of words, for the proof is in the eating…literally.
Please conduct the following exercise with a piece of food, maybe a fruit, a chocolate bar, or some other foodstuff that comes to hand (or mouth). To increase the mind’s focus on this exercise, closing the eyes is a good idea. Once this is done, place your chosen morsel into your mouth and chomp away. Feel the texture of it, and savour its taste, as well as its consistency. Take several more bites, being mindful each time of every second of chewing, tasting, and swallowing. Now, take another bite (if you’ve any left!) and turn your attention to that which is aware of the eating. Does this have texture, taste, or consistency, or any other tangible qualities for that matter? Is it not the case that awareness is pure capacity for the act of eating to take place in, a long with every other act of word, speech, or deed? And yet, there’s no gap between subject and object; no separate existence. The two are in fact one experience, of which we may adapt a famous Buddhist verse and say, “There is the eating, but no one doing it.” Here is experience without the interference of the sense self, and it is the Wonderful, for in it there is amazement at the perfection of this present moment, and no downside whatsoever. Bon app├ętit!
So, the Wonderful is nowhere but here. It is not in the amazing achievements of humanity, nor in the incredible richness of nature, for these are ephemeral and unreliable sources of wonder. True wonder is experiencing the unity of this moment, minus the interfering sense of self. It is in this very knowing of the-way-things-are (the Dharma) that we are truly blest, and can see thoughts for what they are, including any thoughts of self. This is genuine safety that never fails us, for there’s no one to experience failure! It’s encouraging too that any activity we are engaged in has the capability of becoming the subject for wise reflection. Eating, sleeping, shi- you get the idea! Let’s endeavour to be mindful of the present moment as it is right now, and then the Wonderful, Blest, Safety that is our underlying nature will continually flavour our awareness.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Buddha & Eckhart: On Purity & Emptiness

"I never ask God to give himself to me; I beg him to purify, to empty me. If I am empty, God of his very nature is obliged to give himself to fill me." (All Eckhartian quotations taken from 'Meister Eckhart, From Whom God Hid Nothing,' edited by David O'Neal, pp.8 & 9)

When reading Eckhart from a Buddhist point of view, it's always worth reviewing what the word 'God' signifies in his writings. It does not mean some bearded anthropomorphic deity sat on a throne, nor does it indicate a kind of spiritual essence in any kind of airy-fairy way. For Eckhart, 'God' represents the personification of those positive qualities that are often merged in the word 'love.'  (Echoing St. John's statement, "God is love.") The flip-side of love is wisdom, and God can indicate this, as well. Moreover, the word 'God,' at least in Eckhart's eyes, personifies the absolute, or what the Buddha called the unconditioned, nirvana. This indefinable emptiness is, in many forms of Buddhism, also encapsulated in the form of a Buddha such as Amitabha. So, when we read the word 'God' in the passages below, it is profitable to beer in mind the above, otherwise we may well get caught up in doctrinal dichotomies which neither the Buddha nor Eckhart wished us to.

Now, with the above caution in mind, on to our reflections on Meister Eckhart's teachings; he writes that he never requests of God to give himself to Eckhart, but Eckhart be emptied of himself, so that God may then 'fill' him. This means being filled with those qualities that the word 'God' signifies: love and wisdom. Eckhart states that prior to being 'filled' with God, he must be purified, or, as he then puts it, empty. According to Eckhart, if we are emptied of our own (egoistic) selves, we are filled with God; that is to say, love and wisdom fill this void, and are thereafter its expression into the world. We become selfless, wise, and loving. How wonderful!  The Buddha also taught that to be emptied of any sense of self then results in both love and wisdom to arise. Usually Buddhists don't say the love, for this is associated with sexual or romantic forms of the emotion, but it can also signify compassion and kindness, both of which are lauded by the Buddha and his followers.

"How to be pure? By steadfast longing for the one good, God. How to acquire this longing? By self-denial and dislike of creatures. Self-knowledge is the way, for creatures are all nothing, they come to nothing with lamentation and bitterness. God being in himself pure good can dwell nowhere except in the pure soul. He overflows into her. Whole, he flows into her."

Buddhaghosa, the famous fifth-century commentator on the Buddha's teachings, wrote a book called the Visuddhimagga, which in English is normally rendered 'The Path of Purification.' This monumental work (and I have a translation of it, it is monumental in several definitions of that word, believe me!) describes the step-by-step progression towards enlightenment, which is derived from the teachings of the Buddha. Such detailed methodology is not found in Eckhart's work, for he came from a very different culture and tradition than Buddhaghosa, but there are parallels to be noted nonetheless. Eckhart believes that by having an intense longing for God - the personification of love, wisdom, and ultimately, 'nirvana' - we can be emptied of self and then be filled with God. This purification is done through self-denial and 'dislike of creatures.' Self-denial is a certainly found in Buddhism; it is not the free-for-all libertinism that some westerners have taken it to be in recent decades. There is a strong thread of morality and self-denial in the Buddhist Path of Purification, summed up in the five basic precepts of not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct, not lying, and not taking intoxicants. Buddhaghosa explores Buddhist morality in the Visuddhimagga, making it clear that this is the foundation of the Buddhist Way.

As to the 'dislike of creatures,' it is clear from this passage and others that Eckhart was not denying the Christian's duties towards his fellow humans (remember 'love thy neighbor'), but was specifically referring to the spiritual journey towards God. In this meditative state, the mind should not be focused on people and animals - or angels and demons, for that matter), but on God alone. This single-mindedness is capable of leading towards that emptiness that is then filled with God, probably akin to the mystical traditions found not only within the Christian tradition, but also in Sufism, Hinduism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Kabbalistic Judaism, to name but a few more. Indeed, in the two Sukhavativyuha Sutras, the Buddha instructs his disciples on how to be reborn in Amitabha Buddha's Pure land through devoted recitation of the latter Buddha's name. God, Allah, Jahweh, Krishna, Amitabha, etc. will flow into the empty mind of the devotee, and, according to Eckhart, it is all of the 'divine' that does so, not a part. This is the bliss of salvation/enlightenment.

"What does emptiness mean? It means attuning from creatures: the heart uplifted to the perfect good so that creatures are no comfort, nor is there any need of them except in that God, the perfect good, is to be grasped in them. The clear eye tolerates the mote no more than does the pure soul anything that clouds, that comes between. Creatures, as she enjoys them, are all pure, for she enjoys creatures in God and God in creatures. She is so clear she sees through herself; nor is God far to seek: she finds him in herself when in her natural purity she flows into the supernatural pure Godhead, where she is in God and God in her, and what she does, she does in God and God does it in her."

In this segment of text, Eckhart expands on what being empty means. He reiterates that no lasting comfort is to found in creatures, but adds that they do have value in that they too can be seen to be pure and full of God - unfortunately, most of them don't know it themselves, yet! This is akin to the Buddha saying that we do not gain anything through Buddhist practice, but rather empty ourselves of the fetters that prevent us from seeing our innate enlightened state: we are already enlightened, but we have yet to wake up to the fact! The purified soul 'sees through herself' and finds God within herself. Again, this is like the Buddhist that sees through his ego, discovers emptiness at his heart, and then realizes enlightenment/Buddha-nature. In this last part of the text, Eckhart uses a word that we may not be so familiar with: Godhead. This aspect of God is without form or any particulars whatsoever. It is not the personification of love, wisdom, or anything else, however laudable. It is the emptiness that lies beyond every sense of individuality, including God's. In the experience of Godhead - we may easily use the word Buddhahead also - 'she is in God and God in her.' And whatever is done by her is done by God and vice versa. This is the unity of true salvation/enlightenment, and reveals the essential union between the teachings of the Buddha and Eckhart.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections on Bankei's 'Song of the Mind' Verses 29-32

“When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You haven't anything new

Enlightenment and delusion too
Never existed from the start
They're ideas that you picked up
Things your parents never taught

If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is "mine"
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other

These days I'm not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is that
I wake up in the morning feeling fine”

The Zen Master Bankei Yotaku (1622 – 1693) asserts that after we have studied Buddhism and come to its final objective, Nirvana, we find that it was here all the while; we just didn’t see it before. Also, what we think to be Nirvana is not Nirvana; the thinking mind can never conceptualize the Infinite. Moreover, in the enlightened mind there is no sense of “me” or “mine.” Everything is just as it is, just so. Thoughts arise, but they are undefiled by the sense of self, and all the ideas and biases that go along with experiencing these thoughts as a self are absent. Bankei points to a state of non-duality in which there is no suffering, simply being. Let’s look a little closer at each of the verses in this section of his poem ‘Song of the Mind.’

“When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You haven't anything new”

We can spend lifetimes studying the Buddhist scriptures, whether it’s the Pali Canon, the Chinese Canon, the Tibetan Canon, or any combination of them. The teachings and practices that they contain are impossible for any one person to master, even over a thousand lifetimes. But they are not here to be memorized like maths formulae, but as inspiration in our endeavours to discover the cause of suffering and end it. From the viewpoint of spiritual awakening, what is the point of studying countless sutras and commentaries if they just end up as information in the brain to be regurgitated like some kind of human encyclopaedia?

Bankei suggests that all through our Buddhist studies and practices we won’t that we have anything new, which sounds preposterous. But this is from the conventional, worldly point of view, when we think that there must be a product born of our efforts, and in this case knowledge about Buddhist teachings would surely be accumulated, at the very least. Bankei is not denying this, nor is he belittling our efforts in studying the Buddha Dharma, but what he is directing us to realize is that all these efforts, if they culminate in enlightenment, will reveal the truth that’s been staring us in the face since before we were born. To discover and live from this Awakening requires support and training, however, for if we discover it without such foundations, our tower of enlightenment will surely collapse back into the dirt of ego.

“Enlightenment and delusion too
Never existed from the start
They're ideas that you picked up
Things your parents never taught”

Here, Bankei is really getting at the heart of the matter, and we must be quick to keep up with him. He says that, “Enlightenment and delusion too never existed from the start.” What?! Surely the whole point of Buddhist practice is to transcend delusion and realize enlightenment? And, yet, Master Bankei insists that neither delusion nor enlightenment exist or have ever done so. What on earth is he doing here? Well, again, taken from the conventional stance of the worldly mind, it would seem that Bankei is contradicting basic teachings of the Buddha found in all the major schools of Buddhism, including his own RInzai Zen Sect.

According to the Buddha, delusion goes hand-in-hand with suffering, and if we completely let go of the former, we let go of the latter as well. This is the essence of his teaching as presented to us suffering and deluded people. But, Bankei is not talking from the position of an unenlightened person who thinks about enlightenment rather than experiences it. From the viewpoint of the awakened mind, both enlightenment and delusion are indeed purely ideas that bear little resemblance to reality. As stated above, such teachings have a crucial role to play in leading us to the ending of suffering, but they are not Nirvana itself, merely concepts designed to help us awaken for ourselves.

“If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is "mine"
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other”

There is mind, Mind, and no-mind. The mind that has the notion of “mine” attached to it is not enlightened, for it has not let go of the delusion of “me” and “mine.” If there is no one here, as the Buddha teaches us, then neither can there be the sense of possessing anything, whether it is physical or mental. These thoughts are thoughts, not “my” thoughts, and these words appearing on this page as they are typed are not “my” words, but simply words. The same applies to the body, of course.

Mind, with a capital ‘M’ is often used in English to distinguish between the unenlightened mind and the enlightened Mind. The enlightened Mind is not identified with a particular person, but is the universe living through a particular form. That is to say, the universe or totality of existence is expressing itself every time a poet writes, an artist paints, or a spouse nags their partner! The difference with an enlightened being is that they live in sync with the universe, not in competition with it. Put simply, mind is separate to the world whereas Mind is the world.

The trouble with words and concepts is that we human beings can be attached to them, and, we are liable to anthropomorphise them after they’ve been around a while. So, we conceive of the Infinite as having a body or a personality of its own, separate to other bodies or personalities. Or, it is seen as some kind of Divine Being, at least, which by definition is different to other beings. This is where no-mind comes in. No-mind is a way of describing the Infinite that makes it nigh on impossible to personalize it, and thereby help us to avoid attaching concepts to that which is beyond concepts, and cannot be experienced whilst we hold on to such ideas.

“These days I'm not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is that
I wake up in the morning feeling fine”

Since Bankei was an enlightened Zen master, he no longer hankered after enlightenment; he was at rest. Whatever happened, he just took it in his stride knowing that this is the way it is: things happen. Things we consider good happen, things we consider bad happen, and things we consider neither good nor bad happen. Whilst we attach to the sense of being a separate being, we will suffer when things we want to happen don’t, and we will also suffer when things we don’t want to occur do. When enlightened, we will, as the Master states, “Wake up in the morning feeling fine.” This doesn’t sound so dramatic, does it? But, this is the sign of a life integrated into the enlightened state – and not the other way around, which is impossible. If we are enlightened like Bankei, life is just so, and this is fine. We can experience this “just so” quality right now, if we open to it. Why not try the following exercise and see what the outcome is. You might find that it’s fine.

Turn n the TV, radio, or Internet news, and calmly listen to it, taking in the ‘good’ news stories as well as the ‘bad.’ As you listen to the newscaster or reporter describing terrible events in the world, watch your reactions to them. Focus your attention on the negative responses that occur in your mind to these awful happenings. After the news programme has ended, turn off the TV, radio, or close the Internet site, and close your eyes. Think back to the ‘bad’ stuff that you’ve just heard, and take note of your feelings about each news item. Now, turn your attention to what all these thoughts and feelings are arising in. What does that look like or feel like? Do the same with your memories of what you see or heard during the news programme. What is it here that is aware of all these mental objects – is it a being, separate to them, is it an awareness in which they arise, or is it something else?

It’s the mind with a small ‘m’ that thinks that it is the self that thinks thoughts, says words, and does things. In truth, it is the Mind with a big ‘M’ that does it all. And yet, beyond even this sense of ‘the Big M’ is no-mind at all, in which things just happen. From the viewpoint of enlightenment, all the knowledge that we possess of the Buddha Dharma is useless if we cling to it as expressions of self-achievement. In truth, it is the universe that thinks through these body-minds that we so readily mistake as belonging to a self – a self that never, ever existed! All this occurs in the No-thing that is not only beyond things, but also beyond nothing! (Try to work that one out, and the only way you will is to use it as a koan.) Roll up all your desires into the desire for awakening, and then throw it away! Then, you will be left with no desires and no suffering; hankering after nothing whatsoever, you will be awake to the essence of our being, which was here all along.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Awakening Part 3

“It is the Unformed, the Unconditioned, the End, the Truth, the Other Shore, the Subtle, the Everlasting, the Invisible, the Undiversified, Peace, the Deathless, the Blest, Safety, the Wonderful, the Marvelous, Nirvana, Purity, Freedom, the Island, the Refuge, the Beyond.” (Samyutta Nikaya 43: 1-44)
We continue our reflections on the Buddha’s above description of awakening, or enlightenment, by examining the Undiversified, Peace, and the Deathless. The heart of these reflections are not the words themselves, nor the exercises imbedded in the text, but the experience to which they point. That the Buddha used so many different and differing words to describe awakening – he used many more than in the above paragraph – reveals the diverse expressions of it, and the many Dharma Gates to ‘enter’ it. Hopefully, we may stroll through such a Gate together and bask on the other Shore, in the Everlasting contentment of enlightenment.
·        The Undiversified (Nippapanca) To be diversified is to have many separate parts or divisions. An example of this is the human body which is made up of many, many different parts, each one distinct from the others. An arm is different to a leg; moreover, the right arm isn’t the same as the left one. Concerning the mind, one emotion is not the same as another, so that happiness isn’t identical with sadness. Nor is the thought arising now the same as the one that preceded it nor the one to follow. Humans are made up of highly diversified elements, and this is reflected on the social level, also. I am not the same as you, and even so-called identical twins are not exactly the same. Humanity is a diverse collection of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and societies which are extremely diverse. China is very different to America, Russia is in no way the same as Brazil, and Fiji has little in common with Swaziland. The human species is extremely different to even its closest relatives in the natural world: are you the same as a chimpanzee, orangutan, or gorilla? (Be honest now!) Indeed, the Earth is unique in the Solar System, differing from the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, or any other celestial body. The universe is a highly diversified place.
Now, is there anything that can be considered undiversified? It might surprise you to read that my answer is an emphatic, “No!” How can this be, when the focus of these words is the Undiversified? Well, the key is in the word ‘anything,’ for there is no thing that is not diversified in itself or as a part of the exceedingly diverse cosmos. If we wish to know the Undiversified, we need to turn our attention away from the world of things and the processes that they are part of, and see that which is neither a thing nor part of a process. But, where can we look for such a non-thing? Out amongst the stars? In a hidden part of the natural world, say in a tropical forest? Or maybe it’s in the depths of the human mind, buried in the subconscious, somewhere between childhood traumas and adolescent angst? Again, the answer is an unequivocal, “No!” The Undiversified is not a thing and is therefore not found among things, but stands aside from them, despite being in their very midst. Moreover, it is to be discovered right where you are now, and nowhere else.
As written above, the Undiversified is not part of your body; it is not to be found in your bones or your cells. Neither will it be revealed in a session with a psychoanalyst, pulling your psyche inside out. And yet, as stated earlier, it is amongst these things. To see it, simply turn your attention around gaze back into your being – what do you see? Do you actually see eyes or a brain or a head to keep them in? Now, it’s not being suggested here that these things don’t exist, for they surely do – you just have to touch them to prove that for yourself (although trying to touch your brain could prove somewhat awkward!). But what lies at their heart; ‘it’ can be seen, or at least experienced by looking backwards with a childlike innocence that accepts what is seen and not what we think we should see. Look again, and what do you really notice where you experience your awareness. Is it a thing or a limitless No-thing that is nonetheless without separation (and therefore separate existence) from the world that you perceive?
·        Peace (Santi) “Give Peace a Chance,” sang John Lennon all those years ago, and the world is in every bit of a need to follow his advice today as it was then. But, as many people have known long before that bespectacled Beatle tried to, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” real peace comes from within. That’s what the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree tells us, and it’s what such modern pacific luminaries such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have personified. But what is this peace that can change the world, and how do we find it, and maintain it? Well, following in the footsteps of the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, let’s indentify this peace by looking within.
Close your eyes, and take some deep breaths for a few moments, calming down the body - and hopefully the mind! Now, listen to the sounds arising in your environment at his time; here, I can discern music, fire works (there is a Thai festival going on outside), and the hum of an aging air conditioner. Turning attention away from these various noises to that in which they are heard, focuses awareness on the silence which is the capacity for them to arise in. Gazing into this silence, it is found to be perfectly still and peaceful, despite the sounds that are heard in it. It is Peace itself, undisturbed by the noises going on; moreover, it is also the Peace that is space for all mental stuff to exist in, no matter how ‘noisy’ that gets, as well. It is the Peace that contains all that we experience, whether sound, thoughts, sights, or any other of the sensations that go to make up our world. But, having found this Peace and seen what it is, how do we maintain awareness of it in our busy day-to-day lives? The clue is in that very word ‘awareness;’ if we maintain this in-gazing to the Peace that lies at our heart – in fact, it is our heart – then we can not only maintain connected to this peacefulness, but share it with others. Meditation can help us to do this, and the Buddha himself encouraged his followers to meditate on Peace. Indeed, what are zazen practitioners doing but meditating on Peace when they sit on their cushions and stare at a wall?
·        The Deathless (Amata) The hope of immortality has occupied the thoughts of most of us at some time or another, and the great minds of philosophers and theologians have staked their reputations on their views regarding this deep-set desire. The Buddha often talked of the Deathless, which is another way of describing immortality; it is also another way of representing Awakening, emphasizing its eternal aspect. In English, we might translate the original word Amata as ‘no dying.’ Doing this, we recognize the dynamic nature of enlightenment, which is to be known in this very life, rather than left as a thought or set of thoughts that we call beliefs. If we can realize this present continuous nature of the Deathless, we have outdone those famous philosophers and theologians, who rarely transcended their intricate and quite brilliant thought-constructions. But, then again, who said that Awakening had anything particular to do with ideas or beliefs?
So, now we come to the crux of the matter: how do we realize this ongoing Deathless? As stated above, it isn’t through thinking that we will awaken to our true nature, no matter how profound our thoughts may be. Thoughts are finite and impermanent; they do not lead to the Infinite and Permanent, which are synonyms for the Deathless. They are not without their uses, however, and can even assist us in discovering our Buddha Nature. The following exercise may serve to illustrate this in a most direct manner. Close your eyes so to eliminate visual distractions, and turn your attention to the thoughts racing around your mind. Whatever they are, whether they’re focused on work issues, family problems, financial concerns, deep philosophical riddles, or where you left your keys, they all arise in this spacious awareness that itself has no limited or limiting characteristics. Whatever particular thought occupies this space, it simply is open to it, without having preferences for this or that idea. Not being the product of the thought process, it is unconditioned by it. (It’s worth noting here that there’s a difference between consciousness, which the Buddha taught is dependent upon an object to be conscious of, and awareness that exists whether consciousness and its object(s) are present or not.)
Another way to become alive to the Deathless, and more dramatic - and therefore more efficacious, perhaps - than the above exercise, is to observe those things that are subject to death, and then contrast their features with that which is the Deathless. We already looked at ephemeral thoughts, so the nest subject for our reflection is the body, which even the philosopher and theologian might agree is mortal. Sit, or lie down, and look at your body, observing its features and the forms they take. They have shape, colour, size, and opacity. These are marks of impermanence, and every part of our body has them. By contrast, that which is aware of the body is without shape, colour, size, or opacity: It has the marks of the Deathless. And, just in case you haven’t quite got ‘it’ yet, all you need to do is look back at what you are looking out of. What do you see there - things with shape, colour, size, and opacity, or their opposite? You are the Deathless!
This is a tremendous discovery that what we truly are cannot die. And, as the Deathless is also the Undiversified, it is without separate, suffering parts, never at odds with itself, nor with the world with which it is one. This is true peace, then, of which John Lennon would have been most satisfied, and which he may well have experienced, for he was both an enquiring and truth-seeking man. And, this is an important point to end on: we do not need to be some great holy man or saint to see our true, peaceful nature. What we do need is the courage to look without preconceived ideas of enlightenment, and to work with what we see. This is indeed the path to the Deathless, as the Buddha once called it.