Letter from a Seeker About Spiritual Doubt

Image

 

 

I recently received a letter from a seeker, who was feeling upset at continued suffering and wondering if the spiritual path is even worth pursuing. Below is my response:

 

Hi XXXXX,
Thank you for writing. Lately, I’ve had a profound shift in my experience and I’ll share what I know with you. I don’t know if I can help you–but I can simply be honest and share what I know.

a. First all, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter if “you” get enlightenment or if anyone does. This is all, indeed, an illusion. The feeling that something critical is at stake is a delusion, and as long as you hold on to it you will suffer. Enlightenment, in fact, doesn’t really exist as it is talked about in most of what you see written. More on that later.  But the main thing to know is that what is going on here is just like when you were in high school (though I don’t know how old you are). In high school, dramas ensue. And people can get really caught up in those dramas. Then, high school ends, years go by, and people look back and laugh at how silly it was that they were all caught up in those dramas–they realize that their sense that whatever was happening in high school was critically important was an illusion, a delusion, of their youthful mind. This mode of consciousness you are in, that most people are in, is a high school mode of consciousness. It thrives on drama and blindness. Because it is full of drama and is blind, it can’t see that none of this matters. You are in a high school mentality right now, thinking that all this matters, when in fact, it doesn’t. (Added to post: Though I emphasize the importance of doing no harm to others below, the reason to do no harm in a situation where nothing matters is that doing harm makes it harder for people to wake up and realize the illusory nature of this consciousness and creates more harm, which creates more forms-thought/feeling form and material form–which creates more unconsciousness, which only delays an inevitable awakening. This, of course, doesn’t matter either. The universe is transmuting part of itself through the fires of suffering, suffering is a tool of transmutation, and it will happen one way or another. )

b. Second of all, no one is guilty of anything. You cannot help what you do (right now) and no one else can help what they do, because they are asleep to the actual situation.(Added to post:  We are, actually, like sleepwalkers. People have even killed other people in their sleep, totally without conscious intention. To a certain extent, everyone is just like that.)  People believe that they are their thoughts and feelings, and so act accordingly. In other words, they believe their dream is real.  So if any part of your suffering is related to blame, of yourself or others, let it go. Nobody can help it; no one is guilty–not even Hitler is guilty because he “knew not what he did,” to quote Jesus.  However, most people are so attached to their anger that they will not want enlightenment if it means letting go of hating whomever they decide are “the bad guys.”  (Added to post: This is not to suggest that Hitler’s actions were not abhorrent. It is only to suggest that they arose, as do all harmful acts, out of deep unconsciousness.)

c. Third of all, you can begin to help what you do by realizing that what you think and feel operates in a separate register from what you actually do. (Added to post: In the same way that if you have a dream of a monster telling you to write “Redrum” on the walls in blood, you will not actually do it. That was just a horrible dream. Likewise, thoughts/feelings are an extension of the dream mind and have no basis in actuality. ) You can think/feel (dream) whatever, but what you do is another matter. Once you realize the bifurcation, the separateness, between thought/feeling and action, you can make sure your actions are never harmful—to yourself or others. But first, you must realize this next thing:

d. Fourth of all, whatever you think/feel doesn’t matter. WHATEVER YOU FEEL OR THINK DOES NOT MATTER. Not one bit. NOTHING YOU THINK OR FEEL MATTERS. That’s right. Your feelings do not matter. They are not important on any level. Therefore, whenever you try to control what you think/feel, you actually “charge” that part of your brain and build it up more, making it harder for those processes (thinking/feeling) to wind down. It is kind of like an addiction (thinking/feeling). Addiction works like this: your brain is soft, like a wax, vinyl record. The more you do something, the deeper you make the groove in the record. The needle will follow that groove and the deeper it is, the harder it is to get the needle out of it. Likewise, the more energy you put into your thoughts/feelings, the deeper you make that groove of consciousness. Observation isn’t the same as energy, isn’t the same as engaging. Being aware that a thought/feeling has arisen is one thing; battling those thoughts and feelings is another. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to change them. Don’t judge them. Just don’t care about them at all. Treat every thought as if it were this one: “Oh look, a blue unicorn driving a car!”  You would not spend any time trying to fight that because you know right away it’s total bollocks. Well every thought/feeling you have is “a blue unicorn driving a car.”

So, you perceive suffering. First, recognize that a perception of suffering has arisen. Secondly, know that IT DOESN’T MATTER. Your suffering matters as much as the suffering of ants you accidentally (and unknowingly) step on as you go to work each morning–which is to say, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, not at all. But if you put your energy into fighting suffering, you will only make it stronger.

Suffering, and all thought/feeling processes, are like hydras. You can fight it all you want. You can cut off as many heads as you want; but fighting it only makes it bigger, makes it grow more heads, makes it more monstrous.

If you give your suffering food (energy) it will only grow. It doesn’t matter if that energy perceives itself to be “fighting” suffering or wallowing in suffering; thinking it is important enough to even be gotten rid of is giving it energy. IT DOES NOT MATTER. So what that you suffer? Who cares. Yes, there is suffering. And so what? You are human? Humans often suffer. You live, you die, sometimes you suffer, the end. Right now, the most you can hope for is that your “suffering” does not cause you to do things in an attempt to transfer and/or share suffering with others (harmful actions). Care less about your suffering and instead think, “I will transfer/share no suffering with others.” Because trust me, everyone else has their fair share of suffering to work through. And remember #2. Whatever people are doing, they can’t help because they don’t know that their thoughts/feelings are not “them.”

All thoughts/feelings are, at their root, insane. “I am suffering” is a thought/feeling. If there is no identifiable pain being caused (by say, a bodily injury or someone abusing you) then, your suffering is suffering without pain and is all smoke and mirrors. How do you fight smoke? You can’t. You can only wait for it to clear. Trying to fight it will only produce fire, which will produce more smoke (i.e. suffering).

e. Fifth of all, the desire for unending bliss is part of the problem. This model of enlightenment, of unending pleasure/bliss, is a dangerous way (in English) to think about enlightenment. In the Pali tradition, enlightenment means to be “blown out,” like a candle, and doesn’t refer to pleasurable mind/body sensations, but instead to stillness. It is like you are moving from being a planet to being dark matter; from a thing to a no-thing; from incessant activity to ultimate peace (stillness). So, the idea that somehow attaining this realization is the eradication of phenomena is incorrect. It is, instead, an experience of existence through the dimension of stillness and formlessness rather than through the dimension of activity and form. It is not that mind-blowing in terms of daily lived experience, XXXX. Most people would call this “boring.” As the old zen koan goes, “Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry water.”  It is very peaceful. Nothing is happening here.

The fantasy of fireworks and endless pleasure and so on and so forth is just a fantasy. In this state, there is no drama, no fireworks, no-thing. It is a state of thinglessness. It is not a dualistc bliss which requires suffering as its opposite to exist. So if that is what you are thinking enlightenment is, you are right–it doesn’t exist. But the ego-driven thought/feeling process is invested in trying to get a “golden goody” of endless pleasure and so seeks enlightenment. Well I’m here to tell your ego to give up, because it doesn’t happen like that. But if you don’t want to give up, keep going. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU DO OR IF YOU DON’T. But, “A fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” So do what you think you want to do, as long as it is harmless, and see what happens. This is all just high school shit anyway. You’re writing to me because you are obsessing about how to get on the varsity team. Does it really matter? No, XXXXX…it doesn’t.

f. Sixth of all, a metaphor to help. In a. I said that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in high school. Another way to think about it is that being in this mode of consciousness is like being in prison. If you think about it, earth is very prison-like, with a force field (gravity) that makes it very difficult for us to leave this environment, surrounded by an oxygen-less atmosphere where we can’t breath and there is no water or food–both of which are dependencies that makes us bound to this plane. The Gnostics certainly believed this to be a prison. So, as a metaphor it kind of works. It can also be made to line up with the first noble truth, “Life is suffering.” Most people do not know they are in prison, and so they conduct themselves as if there is something to gain “here.”  They seek power, prestige, money, (enlightenment, lol) and so on, thinking that this is the whole shebang, even though they know they will be released (death) at some point. They still think the entire universe amounts to what is happening to them within those prison walls.

Well, look XXXXX, we are all doing time (though time is an illusion of the prison as well). Suffering is part of that “time.”  If you resist suffering, you energize it and extend your “time” (reincarnation). If you do not resist, if you form no beliefs, if you live completely in the now accepting everything as it comes as a needed lesson, then your time winds down, the smoke starts to clear and the “prison” evaporates from around you, until you are transmuted into the other universal realms where arahats and non-returners go. What is that plane, I cannot say. But I do know that the suffering we are experiencing we are meant to experience and must not avoid it. Seeking to awake will not remove suffering, but bring you into closer contact with it. But eventually, you will stop taking the suffering seriously and it will evaporate, like smoke clearing. When it clears, you will laugh hysterically when you see that none of this matters and all you really had to do was eat, sleep, shit, fuck if you want, and then die in peace when the moment comes.  So do not lament the fact that you are suffering. Suffering is not a failure; it’s a tool. Do not fight it. Instead, trust everything that is happening and let it happen. Even death is not a problem. Nothing is a problem; let it unfold.

I have seen it put this way. “The universe uses time and pressure to transform a caterpillar into a butterfly and sand into a diamond. Whose to say it is not using those same things to transform you?”  If the caterpillar fights the pressure and gestation of its cocoon phase, not only will it fail to become a butterfly, it will die an early death. So, go with the flow. Relax. So what you’re in pain? So what you’re suffering? It is an illusion anyway, like a fun-house mirror, and you will be dead in no time. Don’t make it harder for other people to walk through this smoke, do not harm. It doesn’t matter if you are happy or sad; because these too, are illusions. The question is, can you find peace? That is all there is to know.

I do not know if it will help you. I do hope that something here strikes a cord in your mind and opens a door of insight for you so can see this.

YYYYY

Story of a circle

Image

Life is a walk in the forest, but the walk is a large circle. When we are not mindful, we circle again and again without realizing it. When we are unconscious, when we are asleep, we walk that circle repeatedly–lifetime after lifetime–without realizing we are walking that circle. But we are tired, we are stressed, we think we are getting somewhere at moments, and at other moments, feel as if we are getting nowhere. We suffer.

When we awake, we see that we are walking in a circle and we sit down and our suffering disappears. We are rested, we are mindful, we are awake to all that is unfolding around us. We realize that we never needed to go anywhere in the first place, that we could relax exactly where we are. When we sit down, our suffering abates. We come to stillness, we come to peace.

The Physics of Forgiveness

Image

A major impediment to awakening, that I have observed in myself and others, is guilt and shame. As an opening caveat, it is necessary to point out that both are egoic devices used to maintain a feeling of separate “me-ness.” Both enable one to feel that one is solely “responsible” for actions, that actions belong not to the collective–but to the individual.  This is a false understanding of human behavior, for another human’s actions “belong” to all of humanity–whether those actions are good or bad. We are must more willing to claim “good” actions as part of the collective. We say, for example, “We landed on the moon.”  We don’t say, “Armstrong landed on the moon, that is HIS achievement.”  But just as one man landing on the moon is the product of humanity, so too are egregious acts the product of humanity. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I will directly address the ideas of forgiveness and lack thereof as it relates to the idea of the “individual.”  Many narratives of awakened and enlightened ones suggest that they were perfect from birth, so many people in the West often feel too “taunted” to live up to the image they have of an awakened one. According to legend, Jesus preached in the temple as a child; the Buddha entered samadhi at the age of 3, when he just happened to begin meditating. In both instances, we understand these figures to be without sin from the time of their birth. Instead of understanding those histories metaphorically–as a way to understand that within each human being lies the potential for insight and awakening, we particularize it. In this particularizing, we stall forgiveness of ourselves (meaning, all of us–both “you” and “me”) and continue to create the conditions for harm.

Most of us do not understand ourselves to be “without” sin and furthermore, we live in a culture that does not cherish true forgiveness. We perceive people’s mistakes to be tragic, indelible flaws. We equate people’s behaviors with their “identity,” and we don’t believe identity to be mutable. Mutable identity is an aberration in our society; fixed identity is the stable norm from which our sense of sanity and rightness arise. Just consider, if you will, the difficulty we have understanding what it means to be multi or biracial or to be poly-or bi-sexual. These categories exist for us intellectually, but we don’t truly understand the person who doesn’t “fit” into any identity comfortably. This inability to see identity as mutable, as changeable–and, in fact, as not actually existing–connects to our inability to forgive ourselves and others for transgression against the norm, unskillful acts, or “sin.”

When a person is a murderer in our society, we lock them away and throw away the key. Even progressives, who may be against the death penalty, think that a lifetime of imprisonment is a fitting response to one who has killed others. We have given up, it seems, on the possibility of forgiveness and rehabilitation; we have, even if we don’t kill the person, exiled them to the ghost land of human existence. This is the case with any action or crime we consider to be heinous. Many of us are strongly invested in a discourse of “unforgiveness,” meaning that there are just some people we cannot imagine forgiving.

But the inability to forgive others not only means suffering for them, but suffering for ourselves. For if we invest in a logic of unforgiveness, then that means we will internally damn ourselves for “things we have done wrong,” allowing those mistakes to perpetuate our perception of ourselves, and worse to maintain a perception of ourselves over an awareness of who we really are. In other words, lack of forgiveness reinforces the ego.  Abnegation does not undermine the ego; it strengthens it. We often understand the “egotistical” person to be one who thinks too highly of himself; but the ego need not feed only on honeyed fantasies; it can also live on self-hatred. Self-hatred, guilt, and shame all reinforce a sense of “me-ness,” strengthening one’s symbolic relationship to one’s self. How is this so? This is so because instead of experiencing being alive, in the moment, now, as simply a flesh and blood body, one understands one’s self, one has thoughts about one’s self–one relates to one’s self as if one is bifurcated, as if there is a “one” to relate to “one’s self.”  There is only one you,  the real you is the experience of being alive as a human being. That is all you are. You are not a race, you are not a gender, you are not the sum of your previous acts. Overcoming one’s “karma,” or the accumulation of memory within one’s self, occurs when one realizes this fully. This is what the Buddhist story of Angulimala is all about. This is why the ancient Tibetan Buddha Milarepa said (more or less), “I have overcome my dark acts and my light acts, and am awakened.”

So why do we do unskillful things? Why do we harm others? Why does “sin” arise?

It arises out of deep unconsciousness. The word “Sin” has been widely misunderstood in the West. The original translation of the word “Sin” means, literally, to “miss the mark.” Sin, then, = unskillfulness. And when and how is one unskilled? Because one does not know; one has not developed the skill to “hit the mark.” Ignorance is the root of all harmful acts and ignorance is not an identity; it is a state that can be alleviated. When we look back upon our own actions and judge them, we must understand the causes and conditions which produced the action. And when we do so, we will see that intense psychological myopia–which can be caused by trauma of known and unknown origin–is the root cause of all harmful acts.  Can we hold people responsible at the discursive level of “essence” for crimes they commit when they are fully unconscious of what it truly means to commit such crimes? Can we hold ourselves responsible for our lesser, unactionable violations when they arose out of our psychological myopia? A child who, for example, plays with fire because he perceives it to be interesting and burns down a hospital, killing everyone inside–is not at all responsible for that act. And though we assume that adults are more conscious than children, they have only internalized a set of rules but are rarely operating from a place of pure consciousness enough to understand the intimate and far-reaching effects of their harmful behaviors, big or small.

In short, unless a person is fully awakened, we cannot hold “them” responsible for whatever they do. This is a difficult pill to swallow in a society that is interested in retribution, punishment, and placing blame. But the law of man does not follow the law of the universe, which operates on what I’m going to call here a “physics of forgiveness.”

Image

The universe forgets everything you, or anyone else, does one second after it is done. How can we see the Universe operating in our lives directly? It is the Universe that is responsible for how your eyes process light and hence see; it is the universe that is responsible for your involuntary breathing; it is the universe that grows your hair; it is the universe that grows you up, from a baby to an adult to an old person. All of these things happen without your effort or intention. You may kill someone and yet, life goes on. You continue to breath. You continue to see. You continue to grow your hair. The moment of your murderous impulse arose and then passed away. Nature does not answer in response to your crime. It is largely human society that is affected by your crime and it is human society that will answer, with condemnation and possibly, imprisonment. The effects of your action are felt not in nature, but in the illusory creation of human society.

Let me pause and say that I am not condoning murder or suggesting that the universe condones murder. Instead, I am attempting to point out that each moment of existence is a new moment and the incidents of the previous moment exist after the fact, only as memory. And memory is not a real thing; it is, rather, a psychological imprint produced in the brain of human beings. This situation I am attempting to describe relates to why people are so fascinated by the riddle about if a falling tree makes a sound in the woods if there is no one there to hear it. In the absence of memory of an event, how does the event exist after the fact? It quite simply doesn’t.

We have responded to the occurrence of harmful actions not in the way the universe responds, which is to understand the act as occurring in the past and the current moment (and hence, the person involved) as something else entirely. The current moment is full of potential for the murderer–to either turn away from past actions or decide, in the now, to repeat them. In fact, the failure to release the actions which occurred before is the method by which repeating the thing is accomplished. For the murderer, who suffers from the same inability to be “in the now” as everyone else, the murder is always happening, is always being relived–so he repeats the same murder, again and again, in the now. The murderer never releases the initial murder to the past, seeing it as a thing gone and irretrievable. Instead, the murder lives in his imagination as part of his essence now, and so, more killing occurs.

So what happens we we refuse to let something which arose pass away–or rather, when we refuse to become aware that what happened once has now passed away, we are attempting to defy impermanence, the impermanence of the universe. We create an illusion of permanence through the repetition of acts, literally attempting to recreate the original moment over and over again. All identity works this way–gender theorists have pointed out that gender identity is a performance that needs constant maintenance and must be perpetually enacted in order to create a sense of cohesive identity. If the identity one has internalized is that of “murderer,” this same impulse towards permanence of identity will assert itself through the constant maintenance of that image, through the repetition of the act which creates the identity.

But acts, and the illusory identities we build upon them, no matter how repeated and how entrenched are capable of disappearing each moment and are certainly going to disappear upon death.  Imagine if Charles Manson had an accident and developed amnesia, so that he no longer remembered anything of who he was. For him, his heinous acts would no longer exist. He would only come to know about them through talking to other people, where his heinous acts live as memory or by reading texts, where his heinous acts are recorded. But when those records are gone and when all the people who remember Charles Manson’s heinous acts are dead, from the perspective of the universe, so too are the acts. This is the physics of forgiveness.

Image

Human actions reverberate and alter human society and probably, ultimately, humanity itself. This is not an argument for ignoring or relishing unskillfulness of action. Avoiding harmful acts is beneficial for human society and for human beings (these two things not being the same, though related). But if we want to bring people out of unconsciousness, then we must employ this universal physics of forgiveness and bring people into conscious awareness of the now. This abolishes in one stroke the self and the illusion of time, which is responsible for unconsciousness, which is, in turn, responsible for harmful acts.  This is why Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  This lamentation to God was not only about that particular situation, but about all of humanity and referenced the state of intense unconsciousness from which arises all violation, unskillfulness, and human suffering.

Just as the ocean can wash away any sand sculpture, no matter how heinous and no matter how intricate, no matter how tall, no matter how solidified–so too can conscious awareness abolish the dangers of unconsciousness and produce human beings who are happy and harmless.  But first, we must acknowledge that unconsciousness in ourselves that believes that there are differences among us based upon how we behave (we are all the same, no matter if we are saints or sinners) and that some acts cannot be forgiven. All acts are forgivable and all human beings can be brought to consciousness. Our human bodies, the memory of our acts, our societies, our histories, our data, our texts, are all impermanent. It will all pass away. This is the beauty of anicca, of impermanence–it is, to use a Christian term, the redemption of humanity. It is the ultimate forgiveness; that is what impermanence is. If we align ourselves with the universal logic of the physics of forgiveness, we can bring ourselves and others into conscious awareness and begin to see a network of human interaction not characterized by harm.

Image

 

No matter what you have done, you do not have to do it again. What you have done is not who you are. You are an experience not a stable, solid, essential “self.” That is an illusion. The idea that you are a particular gender, a particular race, a particular body size, a particular class–these are all filters of illusion, which only obscure the obvious fact of your existence as the universe manifesting as a human being. When you are unconscious, all of your acts are akin to that of a sleepwalker. You are literally unaware of the broad implications of your acts. You may know, intellectually, that what you are doing is “wrong.” But you do not know why on an experiential level, because you do not know who you are. You are not conscious of who you are, are not aware of where you are–are living, instead, in time–either the past, in traumas, violation, and guilt–or, in the future, in fantasy, passion, in the need to attain a state or a particular feeling or thing. These are states of intense unconsciousness, from which only more violation–to yourself and others–can occur. Let the past–whatever happened to you or whatever you have done–wash away like a sculpture on the beach. The demon sand statue above will take many high and low tides to wash away, but with patience, and if it isn’t reinforced, it will wash away. Do not feed, or build, the demon by giving it food. Starve it out and wait. Just notice where you are: you are here, now. The conditions of the past are gone, and if you allow it, it will recede from memory just like the sand sculpture. It will cease to shape you and define the way you act in the world.

Image

This is how you experience redemption; by experiencing impermanence. By releasing the ego’s desire to hold on to the events of the past, you stop repeating your harmful acts–first, in your mind and then, in the physical world. Remove the past from your mind, and your physical body will cease to repeat the acts of the past. Be here now. Spend your time watching your breath, as if each breath has something to tell you. Each breath does have something to tell you. If you watch the breath, every single second of “down time” you have each day, the flowering of the present moment will occur within you and consciousness will bloom. You will then see your previous actions as those done in a dream, by a shadow version of yourself. You will be, the more you do this, beyond the grip of the kind of unconsciousness that makes harm possible. The ones you have harmed, who may never forgive you, are as trapped in unconsciousness as you are. Given your troubled connection with them, you may not be able to offer them comfort or help. As you become more conscious, broad awareness of their suffering will become apparent to you. You will begin to understand and see how they experienced your actions; the play of unconsciousness on your part will reveal itself to you.  As the self diminishes, all need to act out will recede. You will see the futility of your previous acts, the unskilfulness of them, the harm of them, and they will have no grip or allure. So set your intention on consciousness and cultivation of mindfulness; at all times, be the watcher, the guard, who notices every thought, every feeling, every action no matter how innocuous–eating, walking, talking, using the bathroom, working–be aware, at all times of what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. Do not judge or try to control or change thoughts and feelings. Look at them as you would a character in a film; observing without judgement, without reaction. Do not get caught up in the mind’s drama. You are not your mind; you are not your thoughts; you are not your feelings. You are the universe experiencing itself as a human being, and you exist not in the past or in the future–you exist now. Observe this experience watchfully, quietly, calmly. Therefore,  Resolve to 1)Observe the experience of being human (which you will do by watching yourself) and 2)to do nothing but that which is absolutely necessary for survival.Try, for just 30 days, to avoid idle chatter, idle entertainments (you can sit quietly, with your eyes closed, and watch the breath when you have nothing to do), but eat your food, wash yourself, do your work. Avoid all other things, and simply observe the impulse to do more than what is necessary.   If you do these things, you will see a transformation in your life and your life experience.

Image

For those who cannot forgive a person whose harmful actions affected you profoundly and negatively, be present with yourself. If you watch the breath, every single second of “down time” you have each day, the flowering of the present moment will occur within you and consciousness will bloom. You will then see that all humans, no matter where they are in a dichotomy of harm, are living in a dream, in a shadow world characterized by myopia, tunnel vision–and no one really understands what they are doing. You will be beyond the grip of hatred, anger, and resentment–and in conscious awareness, experience the safety of the universe which is always available to you. But set your intention on consciousness and cultivation of mindfulness; at all times, be the watcher, the guard, who notices every thought, every feeling, every action no matter how innocuous–eating, walking, talking, using the bathroom, working–be aware, at all times of what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. Do not judge or try to control or change thoughts and feelings. Resolve to 1)Observe the experience of being human (which you will do by observing yourself) and 2)to do nothing but that which is absolutely necessary for survival. Try, for just 30 days, to avoid idle chatter, idle entertainments (you can sit quietly, with your eyes closed, and watch the breath when you have nothing to do), but eat your food, wash yourself, do your work. Avoid all other things, and simply observe the impulse to do more than what is necessary.  If you do these things, you will see a transformation in your life and your life experience.

Image

 

And like the waves which endlessly wash the beach clean of all marks, the universal physics of forgiveness will be revealed to you and you will be free.

Malibu_Sunset_1

 

 

On the Illusory Nature of Human Existence

Image

 

Much suffering occurs because we are convinced that everything that happens to us matters and matters intensely. The problem with this is that, firstly, we are not aware of what “really happens” to us and, secondly, we are not aware of “who” we are. Misunderstanding, or ignorance, in these two areas accounts for our illusory existence as human creatures, which is characterized by suffering.

Human beings, in various walks of life, in various epochs, are always saying it:

 

“This is not the real reality. The real reality is behind the curtain. In truth, we are not here. This is our shadow.” ~Rumi

“All the world’s a stage.” –William Shakespeare

“Know that this universe is nothing but a dream bluff of nature to test your consciousness of immortality.” –Paramahansa Yogananda

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”Albert Einstein

 

But often our minds resist the idea that our existence, as we experience it, is an illusion because we feel so real, so existent. So how is it possible that this human existence is an illusion? To explain, I offer the metaphor of film. Traditional film operates through a very ingenuous illusion. Still pictures, imprinted on celluloid film, are run at a certain speed over a light source. A soundtrack is encoded along the side of the film.  When you combine the still images, the lights, and the movement of the projector, you experience the illusion of a “scene” unfolding fluidly in front of you. Film is a very bewitching optical illusion, which itself is not real, is an illusion, but refers to something that actually exists. But in itself, it is an illusion. The only “truth” of that illusion is that it is a reference to something that actually exists, but what actually exists isn’t the story we are watching–what exists are actors, writers, camera people–plus, all the materials that go into making a film–light bulbs, film, the minerals which encode images upon film, sound technicians and devices, and so on and so on. What we see on the screen is a very small aspect of what actually exists to produce what we see. Our human experience is very much like this–a very boiled down version of the universe, experiencing itself as human.

Our existence is illusory in this way; if we identify with the film and forget that it is merely a projection created from a vast constituent of elements, then we become mired in the illusion. And our actions, all of our actions, all of our thoughts and feelings, arise out of an illusion. Imagine if Brad Pitt thought, perpetually, that he was his character in “Burn After Reading” and couldn’t, cognitively, step out of the role. A bit tragic and hilarious, it would be.

Being stuck in this illusion has resulted in our human societies and civilizations, which represent layers upon layers of delusion and illusion. The more involved with society we are, the more entrenched in thought and feeling we are, the deeper we are into the narrative of illusion. The more ambitious we are, the more we want, the more we strive, the more we attempt to shape society, human life, civilization, to make an impact, to change something–the more we are claimed by the illusion. This is why being in nature feels so good; it isn’t because nature–and being intoxicated by it–can’t be it’s own kind of illusion. But when we are simply “out in nature,” it feels good because it is as close to original existence that we can get; it is earth experience as it is, rather than as we made it.  What we have made arises from the illusion that this realm, this paradigm of the universe, is the “real” thing and not just a shadow.

Our existence is an illusory projection of the Universe and what we experience, through the filters of the ego and the soul–which are ideas we have created out of our experience of the illusion–is not things as they are, but the incomplete derivative of the infinite Universe unfolding. Is it possible to experience the Universe some other way? No–we cannot, we are limited by our humanity, by the very way we gather information as organisms. But, we can know that our perception is limited and derivative and therefore, cultivate the detachment–or exit altogether–the network of illusions we call “reality.” By exiting I speak not of death; rather, exiting means that we experience human existence at its most fundamental level, at the level of the flesh and blood body, with the awareness that even this is a finite tool designed to have a particular universal experience. We cannot even experience reality as say, a bee or a cat experiences it; we are meant to experience existence as humans because we were born as such.

Then the whole life is revealed for what it is–shadow play, finger puppets upon the wall. The rabbit appears from the joining of light and hands and the impetus to pretend at being a rabbit.

Image

When we see this, a sane relationship to existence naturally arises. Without effort, we find ourselves uninvolved in the psychological, emotional, and social dramas of the world. When we regard the “moral” behavior of Buddhas or enlightened ones, it is not because through force of will they are able to abstain from lying, sexual misconduct, imbibing in intoxicants, killing and theft. It is not even because they have internalized an idea that such things are “wrong.” It is simply because they are uninvolved; it is because they have perceived human existence as shadow play and not as the center of existence, and have realized the futility of involvement, in either “good” or “bad” ways–though, of course, “good” and “bad” are human, illusory concepts. The enlightened one is not “good,” she is just not present as an agent in the context of human affairs because the illusion of a “self” vanishes the moment human existence, as we know it, is revealed to be an illusion.

Image

The presence of a self, of a feeling and concept of an “I,” is the mirror upon which the distortion of reality occurs. It is the same mistake humans have made for much of their history in other contexts. We once believed that the sun rotated around the earth; believing that “you” exist is much the same kind of thinking, applied to the body. It is the belief that experience happens “to” you, rather than seeing that being alive is just an experience. As long as “I” feel like “me,” “I” will have a distorted view of reality and of existence, “I” will be living an illusion.

Image

The illusion of existence occurs because the mechanism of reflection, the “I,” is itself flawed. The “I” can only reflect a distorted vision of what really is, in much the same way a fun house mirror can never accurately reflect the reality of that which it reflects. As soon as one realizes that what one took to be “real” is actually a distorted reflection, one invests less and less energy in the management of that reflection or even in the drive to change it. One is not swayed by other people’s issues or events because one is aware that almost everyone one meets is talking about their distorted reflection, not who they actually are. Imagine if the woman above came to you and said, “I’m going on a diet to make my head smaller; look at how big it is!” It would be silly to even entertain such conversation because you’d know her efforts were directed at something completely illusory.

Image

When we fully realize this, peace dawns without effort. Soon, the remnants of the habit pattern of the mind to create the thought “I” fades and finally disappears. We are released into actuality, into the pure experience of being alive; we are relieved of the burdens of the ego, of the soul and set free into pure “being.” We are and that is all.

 

 

 

On Receiving Compliments

Image

 

 

The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine and she began to do what she often does–launch into a barrage of compliments. Now what was happening in the conversation, which was about self-hatred, self-sabatoge, and the role of meditation and enlightenment in ameliorating these ugly aspects of the human condition, started to make her uncomfortable. I had, for example, talked about how it is easy for human beings to internalize external messages, messages that suggest that some people are “worth” more than others, and then abuse ourselves with food, alcohol, drugs, consumerism, and of course, the hardest to uproot–hateful “self-talk” and the resultant ambition.   I suggested a pretty standard “middle way” kind of path, where one’s relationship to food shifted from a thing to make one happy (which my friend readily admitted food is for her) to being about nourishing and healing the body. This was rejected. “I don’t drink, I am single, I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke…I should at least be able to eat what I want.” I suggested this was a crutch that wasn’t justified by not doing those other things.

I also suggested that one could come to a place in life–not of more sensate pleasures–but to contentment through what Tara Brach calls “Radical Acceptance.” This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t do what one does, but it does mean that one does not strive for anything. It  IS a kind of giving up, the practice of wu wei, which I have written about here before–and this was also rejected by my friend.

To resolve these fundamental disagreements, my friend went into the barrage of compliments. “You are such a loving person,” she began. Then she added three or four more compliments to that one, all incredibly lush.  I listened to these compliments and suggested that we discontinue the conversation; she pointed out that I–as usual–wasn’t “receiving” her compliments. She has pointed out for years that I do not respond enthusiastically to compliments and yesterday, I finally told her why.

Compliments, I attempted to explain, are actually about the giver–not the receiver, specifically when they are offered unsolicited. If a person is feeling insecure and says, “I am so stupid,” and a friend counters, “Of course you aren’t! You’re one of the smartest people I know!” Then this compliment serves a different purpose than an unsolicited, out-of-context compliment. In those instances, compliments are manipulative–meant to make the receiver of the compliment feel a certain way about the giver of the compliment or, in this case, shut down the difficult conversation with what appears to be “positive” speech. We see someone and we, out of some sense of trying to achieve something–in other words–to manipulate the situation, offer a compliment. Perhaps we are trying to achieve favor with the person, to make them like us; perhaps we think our compliment will “cheer up” a person who appears depressed–either way, the compliment is designed to manipulate the situation to produce a different state of affairs. And while this may seem harmless or perhaps even helpful, I will shortly explain why it is not.

The other aspect of compliment-giving, in many instances, is rooted in the giver’s self-hatred. My friend frequently compliments me on my skin; conversely, she is always stressed out about the state of her own skin, as she is prone to eczema. That compliment to me, then, is linked directly to her own feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. To bask in these unnecessary compliments, then, is to delight in another person’s envy, to collude with the giver’s self-hatred.  I am fully aware that when she says, “Your skin is just gorgeous,” that she is thinking that her skin is not. The fact that I know that each time she compliments me on my skin marks a moment when she is feeling bad about her own, makes the compliment even more unwanted than it already was.

Compliment giving and compliment receiving are based upon the ego; both the ego that gives the compliment and the ego that receives the compliment are activated in the process of the compliment. The enlightened, the ego-less, do not need compliments–because there is no need to feel a certain way “about myself,” because one is not relating to one’s “self” at all. The “self,” as we commonly know it, is gone. Compliments, to such a person, are actually like talking to a child about an imaginary friend. To say “You are so loving” is to make a comment that is as illogical as asking “What kind of car did King Tut drive?” It just doesn’t apply.  Therefore, when someone begins to get very complimentary, they are actually attempting to cement an ego bond with you, rooted in unequal power relations; they attempt to gain power over your perceived advantage by offering the compliment. They are the bigger person, you see, for having offered you the compliment. The person who says, “you are so pretty,” is by default more noble than the person who is actually pretty, and who is just participating in a kind of braggadocio by receiving the compliment.

Or, sometimes a compliment can occur because the person feels superior to you; such as when a very gorgeous person tells a dowdier person that they “love” their jacket/scarf/glasses, whatever. They have attempted to mediate their uncomfortable feeling of superiority by offering a compliment. I actually see this happen quite a lot when white people feel uncomfortable around black people. They have no idea what to say but want to show themselves friendly, so they launch into the compliment. “I love those earrings,” they might say, in order to mediate the discomfort of their societal advantage which the presence of the black person has made glaringly obvious to them.  These manipulations masquerade as good intentions and instead of going deeper into those feelings of discomfort, superiority and inferiority, the compliments glosses over the root issues of hierarchy, inadequacy, and ambition that motivate the compulsive need to offer compliments.

My refusal to “accept” my friend’s compliments made her incredibly angry; this in itself reveals the process of ego at play in compliments. If you can be insulted that someone refuses to receive a compliment, doesn’t that mean that giving the compliment was never about them in the first place? Doesn’t that plainly reveal that the process of giving the compliment was something you were doing for yourself–and in the refusal of that, the person has thwarted whatever personal process you were engaged in when you decided to give the compliment? Imagine if the person who thought they were beautiful decided to give a compliment to a person they thought less so, and the so-called less so person said, “I don’t require your approval.” Well, the compliment-giver would feel the person was ungrateful, rude…in short, insulted. They might even think “you should be lucky to receive a compliment because you are so ugly.”  And then, if one cared to look, the rotten heart of the compliment would be exposed.

I suggested that my friend, who said that she felt compliments were bringing light into people’s lives, examine her thoughts and feelings when she felt moved to give compliments. I have seen her, at other times, launch into compliments with others and noticed their perplexed reactions (which she missed because she was so caught up in giving the compliments). On the surface, compliments appear to be “positive.” But in truth, they are almost always about the giver and not the receiver.  And the person who relies upon, or feels good upon receiving, compliments weakens his or her enlightenment faculty by moving into the space of the ego. “I” am loving, “I” am smart, “I” am good…and so on. The truth is “you” are just “here” and that is it. That is it for all of us.  Compliments are deeply connected to self-hatred, because they are compensatory. They are only necessary when there is a feeling of deficiency in place; in the absence of feelings of deficiency, compliments are not necessary.

Consider this compliment being given to a standard adult:  “You are so good at urinating.” This is not a compliment (in fact, it would probably be an insult) precisely because very few standard adults have any deficiency in urinating. Our proficiency at this is almost universal (drunkards notwithstanding).  But, “You are so pretty,” suggests its opposite–ugliness, and so every compliment is rooted to someone’s sense of lack.

Image

Now to the question of ambition and its relationship to compliments and self-hatred, which I mentioned earlier. When we come to a place of complete and total comfort with existence, of contentment, of peace, of acceptance–then, we find ourselves lacking ambition.  This lack of ambition means that we give up our drive for perfection and our attempts to transform ourselves into something other than we are. When we give it up for ourselves, we give it up for others also. This does not mean, as many people often assume, that we collapse into a blob of apathetic nothingness.  It does mean, however, that whatever we do is just what we do. As the spring springs–so too will you do whatever it is you naturally do. I notice, for example, that this organism right here, commonly referred to via the shorthand of “me” or some such name, writes. Even when I have decided–ah I’m done with writing, I shall do nothing but sit around drinking warm milk and listening to birds warble and watch the children paint pictures and observe the cat and smell incense, somehow or another a journal entry, a blog post, a status update, a short story will just spring out of my head like Athena did out of Zeus’. In the same way that this organism just makes itself brown, a certain height, female, so too, it writes. And that writing is not about money (ha ha) or about notoriety (lmfao). It’s just something that happens, what Alan Watts calls a “do happening.”

Ambition arises from a space of lack, from the same place compliments arise from, and the drive to do something, the striving, the grasping, the wanting of it–is the same energy of the compliment. The state of meditation, of satori, is the moment when one realizes there is nothing to do.  We exist in a state of perfection, we just don’t know it. Compliments, like ambition, suggest that we are something other than perfect, in need of improvement,  that we must strive to be (blank).

“As long as there is the desire to gain, to achieve, to become, at whatever level, there is inevitably anxiety, sorrow, fear. The ambition to be rich, to be this or that, drops away only when we see the rottenness, the corruptive nature of ambition itself. The moment we see that the desire for power in any form – for the power of a prime minister, of a judge, of a priest, of a guru – is fundamentally evil, we no longer have the desire to be powerful. But we don’t see that ambition is corrupting, that the desire for power is evil; on the contrary, we say that we shall use power for good – which is all nonsense. A wrong means can never be used towards a right end. If the means is evil, the end will also be evil. Good is not the opposite of evil; it comes into being only when that which is evil has utterly ceased.” –Jiddu Krishmamurti

This desire, a state that is so characteristic of the human condition, can even find its way into higher things–such as the desire for enlightenment. But where there is desire, there is corruption. Where there is ambition, there is corruption. In this way, ambition, compliments, self-hatred, and suffering all form a circle of fire which keeps us trapped within the confines of the ego. Evil is a strong Imageword and one I don’t prefer, but the essential idea is that the energy of certain ways of being, of certain thoughts, certain words, will keep our consciousness at play with those things. And that makes it difficult to see things as they really are.

 

 

 

 

The Quietude of 4am

I wake up at 3:40 so that I can write. My daughter sleeps, my partner sleeps. The cat is quite awake and has been waiting for me since 2. The world is so quiet, so still. A cold draft sneaks in through a thin window by my desk.

In this quiet, I am here with my ghosts. They desire expression, they want to be spilled across the page so they can rest. I will oblige.

What Peace Means

indiana-jones-holy-grail-magnetic-paperclip-holder-xl

 

I sometimes get inquiries from people who want to settle the problem of themselves once and for all. They assume that being at peace means that I have done this–that is, settled the problem of existence, of myself–and they think they have a picture of what all this means.

One of the big mistakes of spiritual seekers is the belief, propagated by gurus and other seekers, that there is a place or state where one can arrive and from that state, all the stuff of life resolves itself into bliss–which seekers often understand to be endless sensate or cognitive pleasure.

Any review of our most famous gurus, however, will always reveal “flaws.”  People who claim to experience no suffering seem to be angry, agitated, sad.  People who claim to have no sex drive hump like bunnies or in some cases, even suffer from sexual deviance.   Some of them might be alcoholics. The list is endless. There is no contemporary guru who escapes some accusation of imperfection.

Generally we regard these people to have “lied” about their attainment when evidence of some such mistake is found.  We also expect people who claim some attainment to be omnipotent, almost like Gods, who can answer any question we might have. We stop seeing them as people and begin to put them on a pedestal. But what if all of that is wrong?

Does being at peace mean you will never object to anything ever again? No–it does not mean that.

Does being at peace mean that you will no longer be able to identify and respond to injustice? No–it does not mean that.

Does being at peace mean that you will know everything about the universe, someone’s state of mind, and what their particular issues are? No–it does not mean that.

Does being at peace mean that you will live your life exactly the way everyone imagines you should? No–it does not mean that.

Does being at peace mean that you will always be on the “right side” of history in relation to every political question? No–it does not mean that.

Does being at peace mean that you are aloof, above the fray, unflappable, and incapable of social engagement? No–it does not mean that.

The desire to transcend the human experience, to be set apart from all others in one’s experience of life, is not a desire born of enlightened insight–but one born of the ego. Until one abandons the desire to experience life in a mode superior to all other humans, one will be firmly trapped in one’s suffering as a bug is frozen in amber.

1347213021_spider_in_amber_1

The nature of the universe is that of a wave; it moves in frequencies of up and down, of black and white, of yin and yang, of night and day.  One cannot trump the vibration of the universe and only experience up, white, yin, or night.  To be alive means to experience the full range of the vibration; attempting to not experience certain things is like trying to make the universe something it is not.

The difference between those who claim enlightenment and those who do not is not a drastically different experience. It’s that those who claim enlightenment don’t fight whatever the experience is. And the experience is also themselves, and whatever is manifesting at the site of the “self,” at any given moment.

If you find that you cannot change yourself, that is because the self that is attempting to do the changing is the one that needs to be changed. It’s like a bark trying to bark itself or a song trying to sing itself or skin trying to scratch itself–it cannot be done.  You may apply some effort to produce a very small change–you may say: I will lose weight, I will become quieter, I will be more ambitious. But if you are able to “achieve” those things, it was what you already were to begin with and would represent no change, but rather a different manifestation of the vibrational field.

If we think that pursuing enlightenment will elevate us over other humans, then we will find ourselves stuck.  We are humans and we will be human until we die. Trying to escape this is a symptom of the problem, not a harbinger of a cure.

No matter what insights one has achieved, one is no better than any other human being. We are all the same, we are all alive here until we aren’t. This is the fundamental truth of existence.  We are all subject to the ups and downs of existence, regardless of how all of that manifests itself.  We shouldn’t be surprised to discover, then, that gurus are human and that they behave in human ways.

We must examine our motivations, our desire for transcendence, our fantasy about what it means and realize that seeking of any kind is a shackle; judgement of our experience or another’s experience is a shackle; and that no matter what we do, we are here subject to the conditions of human existence as long as we are alive.

With this understanding, we can perceive peace as lack of resistance to what is.  This means that we withhold judgment from whatever we are experiencing. We do not attempt to change or alter how we feel or what we think. We let it arise as we do a dream…and we let it go, as we do a dream.  Just as we do not act on our sleeping dreams, we also need not act on whatever feeling/thought phenomenon arises–not even to take steps to change it.

A thought or a feeling arises and we allow it. And we are still in the allowing of it; if there is anger, then anger is there. If there is lust, then lust is there. There is nothing to do. Nothing to even analyze. It is there and we do not act on it, for in action lies error.  Necessary action requires no thought and is obvious. Action that we must premeditate is often an error.

This lack of resistance to whatever is, is the whole thing and there is nothing more.  And this lack of resistance will not make you omniscient, psychic, or all powerful. You will still be what everyone and everything else is too. It is a humble, simple thing that will escape the notice of most people.  In fact, you are more likely to be regarded in degraded fashion than in elevated fashion; you are more likely to be regarded as a  failure than a success-because the measure of success will not longer hold any value for you.

Peace means being willing to occupy the space of the scorned, the neglected, the ignored, the dismissed. It is not a position above all others; it is quite often–in the context of social society–a position below. This is in terms of people’s conception of you. In truth, we are all equal, all equally existing in the actual world, so there is no above and no below, regardless of any attainment–spiritual, intellectual, or material.

Therefore, when one is judging one’s self as being far away from enlightenment, when one is criticizing one’s self for having negative feelings (and hence producing more negative feelings), when one prohibits peace by living in rebellion to what is–one need only to give up and accept what is, do nothing and then know peace.  And it doesn’t matter if others think you are at peace or not. It doesn’t matter if others judge you as not being at peace. Because that is what is too.

This, then, is a peace that passes all understanding.

zen-garden-kchasing-peace