The Buddha’s One Noble Truth?

In his 1958 classic “The Philosophy of the Buddha” Prof. Archie J. Bahm analyses the most ancient Buddhist scriptures (“Sutta” and “Vinaya Pitakas”) and suggests that during his 40 year career as a teacher the Buddha only taught one single universal Truth: unfullfilled desire causes frustration and the rejection of frustration is the source of suffering. According to Bahm, all other teachings including the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path” must have been later added to the philosophy by “other minds” due to misunderstandings of what the Buddha was trying to convey.
Now, you may ask, what is so hard to understand about the fact that unfulfilled desire causes suffering? By digging into the problem of desire more closely one easily understands why.

If the cause of suffering is unfulfilled desire, the solution to the problem must be to stop desiring. Simple as that. Simple? Not quite. Basically there are two ways of stopping desire: one either gets out of sight of the objects of desire (seclusion) or one tries to beat desire (asceticism). However, neither of these two approaches really work as the Buddha found out for himself during his pre-enlightment spiritual seeking. On the one hand, some basic desires such as food and sex are not extinguishable as long as one is still human. On the other hand, the desire to stop desiring is still a desire, just a more subtle form of it. So, it is impossible to willingly not desire, because that would be a desire! Furthermore one could argue that stop desiring is not even really desirable as desires provide motivation and fulfilled desires provide satisfaction. By creating emotions, desires are life-affirming.

So desire, when not fulfilled, provides frustration. Stopping desire, though, is life-negating and actually impossible. Not so simple, is it? This is were the genius of the Buddha comes in. He discovered the “Middle Way” between desiring and desiring not to desire. Here is how it goes: if we always desired exactly what we are getting, we would always get satisfaction and the sensation of being alive. Or in other words, if we always accepted everything AS IT IS (within and without), which includes the suffering, we would be free from suffering and live in joy.

Hold on, you may say, how can one accept everything without desiring to accept everything? Of course you are right, accepting without desiring to accept is impossible. Whenever you want something, you desire it, and since trying to not want is also a desire, the attempt will cause endless frustration and suffering. It’s like trying to relax a muscle by forcing it to relax. It just won’t work.
Nevertheless, there is a way the get into the “Middle Way”. It’s a paradoxical way, though. Once the desire to get into the “Middle Way” (or any other desired state) is completely broken, one automatically falls into it. Again, because this “break” cannot directly be achieved by will-power, the way “there” is to either completely exhaust the will to get “there” by trying as sincerely and forcefully as possible (remember the Buddha had his sudden enlightenment at the moment of renouncing 7 years of hard-core asceticism!) or by thoroughly realising by other means that the YOU has no power or control over the process of accepting or desiring. The former way is nowadays practised in Zen (e.g. with “koans”), the latter in Advaita (“SELF-realization” aka “there is no YOU”). Both, the exhaustion of the will or “Self-realization”, leads to a surrender to WHAT IS, which paradoxically, yields exactly what one was desiring to get but what one actually prevented from getting by the very desiring (or desiring to not desire) to get it!
Now, to make the long story short, the surrendering to Samsara (the world AS IS) is the way to Nirvana (desiring WHAT IS). Samadhi is the complete willingness to accept the actual as the ideal. The crux, though, is that surrendering cannot be achieved by the individual (“ego”), one has to be pushed into it, as it were, by some sort of grace in the form of will-undermining insight(s).

Finally, why does Prof. Bahm conclude that this is the only Truth that the Buddha taught? First of all, the Buddha was concerned with one thing only: the cessation of suffering. According to the records he stated this very clearly. Then he discovered that the only solution to the problem of suffering lies in surrendering to the present moment (WHAT IS). So, everything that was not concerned with the present moment like concepts of the past (e.g. “karma”) or the future (e.g. “reincarnation”) or any other metaphysical speculation (e.g. the question of the “soul”) he did not deem helpful for solving the problem of suffering. Therefore in the ancient texts the Buddha never answered any questions of that sort. He neither denied nor affirmed these concepts. For the Buddha in the oldest scriptures, the existence or non-existence of metaphysical entities and ideas simply did not change the fact that to end suffering one had to come to surrender to whatever IS in this very moment no matter what the cause or effect of this present moment was. By implication, this also means that as long as one’s ideas lead one to align one’s desires with WHAT IS, any “Truth” would be as good as another.
For the very same reason the Buddha also refrained from stating anything idealistic or from proclaiming any sort of higher virtues (e.g. he never idealised a monastic lifestyle or compassion). Whatever IS is to be surrendered to to end suffering. That is the full story of the teaching in the old texts. All else, including all methods and “Paths”, must have been added later by disciples not fully understanding the full depth of “whatever IS” (on the other hand, though, one could easily conclude, that all Buddhist methods and concepts must have been created to completely frustrate the seeker and/or make him experience his lack of power to get to Nirvana in order to bring him to the very brink of it).

Additional personal note: the old-school philosophy of Buddha portrayed here can be criticised for the lack of moral outrage at the obvious evils like cruelty in the world. If one, for some reason or other, though, cannot surrender to the present-moment because of its monstrosity, and suffers as a result of it, one could still surrender to the non-surrender and the suffering, and therefore transcend the suffering. Hence, accepting “whatever IS” is not fatalistic. One can have an (unfulfillable) desire for a world without cruelty and not suffer, if (s)he can surrender to the frustration of this unfulfilled desire.
This little conundrum also explains the difference between before and after getting into “surrendering-mode”. “Before” one suffers over one’s frustration and because of that one starts suffering over the suffering, and suffering of the suffering over the suffering, etc. Suffering creates a downward spiral, a grip, if not surrendered to. “After” one may be frustrated (because of one’s unfulfilled desire) but one does not suffer over the frustration because the frustration is accepted. The spiral of suffering stops right there.
Furthermore, allthough I think that many of our desires actually stem from our fears and insecurities I see the Buddha’s point in not being concerned with the causes of desire, as the causes could be indefinite. Instead he went right to the immediate solution: accepting whatever IS includes one’s suffering caused by one’s fears. Quite smart the guy…
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The Lessons of the Tao

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been studying Taoism and Zen for quite some time within and without. This time I would like to share the three main practical lessons I learnt from all my studying and observing.

Lesson #1: Life is a roller-coaster
If you observe yourself, your mind and your emotional states for a while you will notice that there never is a “high” that has not been preceded by some sort of “low” some time before (and vice versa). In any cycle, the lower you go, the higher you can get. The explanation for this is very simple: the longer you stay in the dark, the more intense any sort of light will be because our consciousness is very sensitive to contrasts.
If you agree that this rule holds true, then you will easily realise that you cannot always stay “high” (or happy or you name it). When you are bathed in the light, your consciousness will start to get used to it and literarily overlook it. And so the light will eventually be as blinding as the dark.
So the lesson is that there is no use denying or resisting the roller-coaster nature of life. The fools try and thus make the roller-coaster experience dreadful. But the wise develop a flip-flopability, which is the ability to not minding the ups and downs, highs and lows because they know that they constitute life. Without going through the motions, there’s no life! Therefore, they enjoy the ride, like we enjoy the actually roller-coasters.

Lesson #2: Life is two-sided
All actions and decisions have (subjective) pro’s and con’s. There is no such thing as an “ideal” action or decision. Think all your actions and decisions humbly and honestly through to the very end and you will realise the same.
The fools keep looking for the “optimal” or “ideal” life, which only exits because they suppress the con’s of their own actions. Instead they blame others for all miseries in the world and grow hatred in their hearts. They start fights, revolutions and wars.
The wise who know that every coin has two sides, leave others in peace. They kill “the Buddha when they see him” as they know that they themselves create harm too. They focus on the pro’s of other people’s actions and are thus more compassionate with them when dealing with the con’s. Thus they approach problems and frictions with others in a positive rather than a negative way.

Lesson #3: Life is a balancing-act
The world is impermanent. This is plain obvious. Life is the same: it is always changing because of its roller-coaster nature and its two-sidedness. We are forever going up and down, in and out and balance between the pairs of opposites. The way to find peace in this turmoil is simple: full embrace of the “catastrophe” that is life. Nirvana is Samsara fully embraced. The difficulty, though, is that we cannot want to embrace. Embrace is something that happens automatically when we do not resist life anymore. The reason we are not in Nirvana is that we are afraid of letting go into it. Thus we hold on and get dragged along instead of flowing along. So the spiritual discipline is to lose our fears and trust in life as it presents itself in all its glory and all its horrors. Say YES to life unconditionally and it will shout back at you and bestow you with peace of mind.

Encore: Lesson #4: Check your motivation
From time to time check why you are seeking out for and reading stuff like this. Do you want to get “high”? Are you trying to find a solution to your problems? Are you looking for some relief or hope? If that’s the case, something inside of you resists life (that is, what is happening right now). Enquire: what is wrong with “now”? You’ll eventually find out that the only thing that is “wrong” is that you think something is “wrong” because you are afraid of life.

That’s my 50cts. Thank you for reading.
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Question & Answer (5)

This is the last Q&A part (for the time being)…

What do you mean when you say “we are enlightened by nature”?
When there is fear we see the world through the veils of Maya, the great illusion of separateness. When fear is absent, the veil is lifted, and we see the (same) world through our Buddha-eyes as it really is. So, enlightenment is nothing that can be achieved. It is the falling away of fear.

How to untrap myself from the ego?
You see, the trap and what is trapped are basically one and the same thing. It’s called the self or ego. That’s why “we” can never untrap ourselves. To try to untrap ourselves is to trap ourselves by believing in a trap from which we can be untrapped. The only thing that will help, is to realize that the self, the trap, only “seems” to exist separately but in reality it is a hallucination. This undermines any urge to do or to not do anything to untrap ourselves and, voilá, we will realize that we were never trapped. It was all an illusion.

What is the Buddha’s method to gain enlightenment?
Buddhism is a dialectic process. That means, one does not need to believe in dogmatic statements or follow any rules. The method is a dialogue between student and teacher. The process starts with a departure point, usually a problem. Now, the master will try to make the student intuitively grasp that there is no solution to the problem, because it is illusory. There are several techniques to do that but all have one thing in common: that the student is encouraged to persist in trying to resolve the problem intellectually or experientially until (s)he knows by himself that it can’t be resolved because it never existed.

Is humanity crazy?
Humanity is not crazy but ignore-ant of its oneness with what is and, thus, irrationally fearful of itself and its environment. That’s why Western man seems to keep getting busier and busier. The more he tries to escapes what is, the busier he gets escaping. The faster he hurries, the slower he goes.

If nothing can be done to enlighten oneself, what is your teaching?
The teaching is to undermine the illusion of “something to get” because the urge to seek it is what keeps us in bondage.

Tantra or renunciation, which method is better?
Both methods work because neither renunciation nor indulgence will bring you peace. But if followed to their respective extremes, you may realize just that and consequently be free.

What’s the problem with self-consciousness?
Self-consciousness is a feedback mechanism. It is the self being conscious about itself. The idea of self and consciousness, experiencer and experience, is the foundation of duality. Duality means that there is an (apparent) entity and there is what this (apparent) entity experiences. The more self-conscious we are, the more we feel to be a separate entity “having” experiences. Any feedback loop works like an amplifier. In this case it amplifies our illusory separateness and thus our fears.
Alan Watts once said that being conscious of oneself is like hearing your own ears due to a Tinnitus. Any organ ceases to work smoothly when it gets in its own way. It then becomes the potential source of all kinds of problems and hang-ups.
If that example does not make sense, think of a situation when you just seemed to “flow” with life, even if it was just for a short time, when there was no “you” being conscious about yourself. There was no duality, just what is, moment by moment, a sort of oneness of experience and experiencer. Or in the words of Zen-master Dogen: “to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things”.
From what has been said it could be argued that the development of self-consciousness marks the “fall of man” as portrayed in the bible (knowledge of good and evil, introduction of shame, etc.). Does that mean, though, that we should strive to perpetually go with the “Truth” of “flow” experiences and “forget” about ourselves? Even if we could (which I doubt), my answer is no. Just as self-consciousness is the source of suffering, it is also the source of great joy, gratitude and appreciation for life. How would you know that you are happy, if you ceased to be self-conscious? Could you be grateful for life if you ceased to know you existed? To wholeheartedly stay with one leg in the “dream”-world of separateness is what makes life worth living. This is the teaching of the middle way. Separateness is samsara is nirvana. If we dropped out of the “dream” completely, we would cease to have a genuine human experience. That’s hardly what we want. Wouldn’t you agree?

Many Yogi’s are saying we should stop thinking. You say we shouldn’t mind our thinking…
When the Yogi’s refer to thinking they mean the conceptual, evaluative, judgmental function of the mind under the spell of Maya (the illusion of separation invoking fear). This sort of thinking is the source of the duality of “right” vs. “wrong”, “me” and “other”. By realizing non-duality, this comes to a halt, and there is no more minding of anything, not even our “ordinary” thinking.
Often the Yogi’s are misunderstood, though. We think they suggest to stop thinking altogether. That would be like trying to stop our blood from flowing; it can’t be done and it mustn’t be done.

“The goodie-goodies are the thieves of virtue”. What’s that supposed to mean?
The quote is from Confucius. It means that prescribed virtue is never genuine virtue. It is a form of hypocrisy which leads to inner conflict if not acknowledged. It also often brings about a “must-save-the-world”-attitude in people as the inner conflict is projected onto the outside world.
History tells us that “righteous” wars are always the longest and most brutal one’s (think of religious wars, or ideological wars like WW1 and WW2, etc). If one fights for the “good” it is easier to mobilize people and justify the means of war. The road to hell is indeed often paved with good intentions.

Is money “bad”?
Money is stored energy. You do something and as a compensation for the efforts you get this thing called money that can be exchanged for other people’s efforts.
Money is not something that can be experienced. You cannot touch, smell, see, taste or hear it. You can only see a number on a screen or a sheet of paper or cloth representing money. Money is not real, it is a symbol.
Symbols have the power to impoverish peoples lives. Symbols are lifeless, have no “soul” (because they have no experiential value). Thus, if we worship a symbol, turn it into our “God”, we, ourselves turn into lifeless zombies.
Wealth is appreciating what money can be exchanged for. If we don’t trade money for experiences, we have no wealth. To worship the symbol is to miss what it stands for (that’s what Buddha meant when he said that “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon”). Money stands for wealth and wealth is (the experience of) being alive. So, money is not bad per se. But it is often mistaken for what it is not: a source of life in itself.

Ok, I am not doing anything anymore. I stopped seeking. Why am I not enlightened?
You still want to get it by trying to not get it. You are still seeking. Seeking means expecting results for your actions. You are deceiving yourself.

I am a mess. Will enlightenment settle things for me?
So, you’ve found out you’re a mess. Congratulations! You’ve already come a long way. Now, there’s an important last step to make. Ask yourself: what’s the problem with being a mess? Is there really a problem with being a mess or could it be that you only think it is a problem? Who says what is normal and what is messy? Have you ever seen a messy arrangement in nature? Or is nature beautiful exactly because it is not orderly and not all similar? You see “enlightenment” is not getting anywhere else or being anyone else than where and what you already are. There is nothing to be gotten out of it but the abandonment of our illusions.

How does non-objection and activism go together? They seem contradictory…
Non-objection is not becoming irresponsible or stop caring about the world. Non-objection is an internal alignment with what “is”. This alignment bestows peace. From this place of peace, activism is actually much more effective because it comes from the heart as opposed to from the mind. What does that mean? Activism which tries to change the world is usually ideological and, thus, from the mind. It purports ideas which are supposed to make the world a “better” place to live. But all ideologies create winners and losers, just as there is no action which is purely “good” or purely “bad”, ever. Activism from the heart is concerned with action to alleviate suffering of those who can’t handle it (anymore). It is not concerned with ideas on how to make suffering go away altogether. That’s a subtle but very important difference. If you want to make suffering go away, you are trying to do the impossible, to find a way of “winning” without “losing”. Thus, you keep yourself and all your followers in the wheel of samsara, the endless struggle to always stay up without ever going down.

Which level is real: the relative (personal) or the absolute (impersonal)?
There are no two levels of reality! This separation never took place other than in our minds. The only reality is “this” that you are now experiencing. What you can think of is conceptual and never real. That’s the whole teaching of non-duality in a nutshell.

What do you mean by “unknowing”?
Imagine you knew you were so intimately and seamlessly connected with the universe that you were in fact no different from it. And imagine you knew that the universe is the totality of all there is (without exception). How could you know anything about the fundamental nature of the world for certain? That which is everything cannot be identified, classified, observed, measured, etc, because there is no other, outside this totality, who could perform these tasks on it. It is the primordial and eternal (non-dual) subject-object. So, it completely defies logical analysis.
The universe as a whole will forever be ungraspable, just like the eye can’t see the eye. Whatever is said about it is speculation. What is it? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Does it have a purpose? Since we are the universe, there is nothing we definitively know about ourselves (our Selves!) either. This is the final frontier, the end of knowledge (“veda” = knowledge; “anta” = end) short-circuiting all seeking.

Your teaching implies an autonomous “I”. But there is no “I” who is doing anything!
What do you mean there is no I? IT is I, and I am IT. That’s why we talk of “non-duality”: no difference between I and other. To say there is no “I” would suggest there is only “other”. Everything is “other” is only one side of the coin of “Truth”. The other side is everything is “I”.
To realize that the “I” is not as real as we used to think is a good starting point, though. The great sage Ramana Maharshi outlined a three-step approach to non-dual realization:
The world is unreal (~the “I” is unreal)
Only Brahman is real (~awakening to the Absolute)
The world is Brahman (~the “I” and the Absolute are one and the same)
All seekers get stuck at level 1 and level 2 for some time. First we need to leave the relative level of reality to be open to awaken to its opposite, the absolute level. Finally, the journey after awakening takes us to consolidate these polar concepts. Non-dual realization is to know that these levels are not different. Never have, never will be. They are one and the same, because there is nothing apart from the totality of “this” reality. Separation never took place other than in our minds. Even to speak of “non-duality” is delusional because there never was a “real” duality ever! Wake up!
By the way, the “there is nobody home” and the “nobody is doing anything” kind of talk is sometimes called the “Lucknow disease” (named after the place in India where modern advaita “guru” Papaji used to teach) or the “advaita shuffle” (jumping to the absolute level at odd times).

What’s your opinion on “direct pointing” exercises? Do you think they are futile?
The direct pointing approach tries to facilitate the intuitive experience of a very simple point: there is no individual person separate from the stream of consciousness. The sense of personality is a function of consciousness just as hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, feeling and thinking is. At the same time the approach tries to clarify who “you” actually are. The “real” you is something which can’t be experienced or pinned down for the same reason the eye can’t see itself: the source of measurement can never measure itself (in the absence of a reflecting device like a mirror that feeds the measurement back to its source). The fact that there is measurement, that there is seeing, implies a measuring source, an eye. So, the “real” you can never be experienced (or known) because it is that which makes experiencing possible. But the fact that there is experience implies that a “real” you (whatever it is) exists. So, all you can ever know is that you exist because you exist. I am that I am. Full stop.
All “pointing” then ultimately points to this: you are fundamentally that unknown thing which enables/ activates/ vitalizes everything. The social role you are playing in the game of life is not you, it is a mask (that by biological default cannot be removed but only glimpsed through occasionally). This insight is what “individuation” (as understood by C.G. Jung) is all about: you are not your social role, your mask, so don’t take it so damned seriously. An individuated person takes himself lightly and thus has an elevated sense of being. Or as D.T. Suzuki said “Satori is like an everyday experience, only two inches above the ground”.
Now, whether the pointing approach actually works or not, I have my doubts. As you try to realize the absence of a “you”, all you accomplish is a strengthening of the sense of you. Have you ever managed to relax by willingly trying to relax? All your trying will ever do is to prevent relaxation from happening by itself. You are getting in your own way. Thus, in my experience finding the trust to give up control is key to realization, not intellectual exercises in finding nobody (which in a way, though, could be seen as a method to get into your own way so consistently that you eventually give up and finally let “you” go).

What is your take on quantum mechanics, matrix, evolution of consciousness, etc.?
If you like to play around with these things, go ahead, entertain yourself. They won’t get you any peace, though. I am always amazed by all these complicated new-age theories. The “Truth” is so simple and yet everybody comes up with so much complicated stuff about it. Instead of reading about these things or watch endless Youtube videos, go out for a walk. It’s all always there in front of us. There is nothing “hidden”. Fact is that we can’t acknowledge reality as it is, as long as our selves feel threatened by it. You see, seeking “more” or “different”, is always an expression of fear, of not “good/ safe enough yet”.
Even if they claim otherwise, new-age theories are based on ignoring the unity of all things. What’s there to improve, develop, enhance, practice, etc. if we knew that we were that which is everything, which by definition is immaculate (because it has no opposite)? The benefit of traditional spiritual practice (like meditation) is that once we shut up for a while, be on our own and make our fears conscious, these new-age theories become completely obsolete. I guarantee you that if you actually had the guts to sit on your own for a few weeks or months, you would come to the same conclusion, that new-age is seeking for the sake of avoiding. Why eat candy when you can get a good meal?

What’s your message in a nutshell?
All is well, but our fears and insecurities suggest otherwise. The way to deal with our fears and insecurities is to look at them and to realize that a) they are ok, and eventually, b) they are based on an illusion.

Any last words?
Once you know you are god incarnate, you can relax and finally allow yourself to be a genuine human being. And once you allow yourself to be a genuine human being, you stop struggling to become a god.

End of Question & Answer

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True Autonomy

A few days ago I came across this brilliant article called “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” by Alan Watts. It discusses a topic that I have wanted to write about on this blog for some time. It’s about what Zen or Vedanta does to the practitioner who “digs” it.

To me, the ultimate goal of training in these schools of thought is to become an undivided being, that is, an in-div-idual in the strictest sense of the word. An individual is a person who has no sense whatsoever that anything (s)he does, thinks, feels or looks like could be any other than perfectly natural. For him (or her) nothing exists apart or separate from nature. Any system that attempts to classify nature into “good” or “bad” aspects is understood as a social convention just as a half-filled glass could either be classified as half full or half empty. Such an individual lives in complete (self-) acceptance and does not have the “itch” to justify him- or herself through “works” (achievements) or “faith” (reasoning). For this reason, (s)he lives without getting hung-up on life and “flows” at-one-ed with it.

So, the (wo)man of Vedanta or Zen is a being who has grown out of its cultural and social conditioning. (S)he has emancipated from the struggle to either fit into or to revolt against the social order but has matured into an truly autonomous being, independent of popular beliefs and opinions.

In contrast, the practitioners of Zen or Vedanta (or any other Eastern philosophical school of “liberation”) could be classified into two groups. Alan Watts calls them “Beat Zen” and “Square Zen”. Working under the assumption that we are all already free and enlightened, Beat Zen postulates a sort of “anything goes” mentality where effortless practices and a drop-out from the dominant social order is emphasized. Square Zen, on the other hand, is a drop-into a new (social) convention of rules, techniques and hierarchy where effort is key for “attainment”. Broadly speaking we could think of these two groups as tantrics / indulgers and monastics / renunciates, respectively. Obviously, there are many blends of these two extremes.

What is important, though, is to recognize that both, Beat or Square are still fundamentally immature ways of dealing with the problem of adaptation to authority. While the Beats try to solve it by revolting and turning away from authority, the Squares just exchange one for another. It’s like the child who, feeling unable to adapt to the parent’s wishes, is faced with the choice of either revolting against them or looking for a cooler family.

Now, Alan Watts is not saying that there is anything wrong with Beats or Squares. The way children learn is by “persisting in their follies”. At some point it will dawn on them that to be freed from the demands of the parents, the only reasonable solution is to grow up and become independent of them. Similarly, Beats and Squares will eventually mature into individuals once they realize the futility of their attempt to become free from outside authority as long as they keep giving any authority credit.

Luckily, there are (authoritative) teachers out there who know how to make this fact obvious. All they need to do is keep letting their students follow their orders ad absurdum until they surrender. And when the student does, (s)he will realize that all that ever kept him (or her) in bondage was the mistaken belief in an authority on how things “ought” to be. The Truth is that there is no absolute truth because it is beyond any absolutes.

“The Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously.”
~ Alan Watts

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This Is IT?

One of the most cited pointers in the tradition of Zen or Advaita Vedanta is the realization that “this is it”, or that “thou art that”, respectively. To understand the deeper meaning of this pointer is sometimes referred to as the ultimate realization on the path. But what exactly is this “this” or this “that”?

First of all we ought not to forget that pointers do not refer to concrete things or facts. They are teaching tools, that is to say, they are symbolic images or metaphors to invoke an awakening, a realization of the Truth. Since realization is the intuitive understanding of the reference of all these metaphors, until the realization, spiritual seekers on the path will inevitably mistake the metaphors for their reference.

Now, what does that mean?

Just as if I said “you are a nut”, I would not try to suggest that you are literally a nut, spiritual metaphors like “there is no-self” or “there is only consciousness” do not refer to an absence of a person or a hidden, numinous reality. What these metaphors directly point to is nothing but the only reality there is, which is that which we are sensing and feeling right here now. That’s whats real. Hence, the ultimate Truth all seekers are looking for is almost embarrassingly simple: it is what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel in each moment. All else is mere subjective interpretation of Truth, taught about what “is”, or Maya, illusion.

So, spiritual pointers, ultimately, are reminders for people who have forgotten about the most obvious thing: that life constitutes of what we experience, and, thus, that existence is most fulfilling when we are open and receptive to what is going on now. The reason seekers take years (or even lifetimes!) to get this utterly simple fact, is because they are used to compartmentalize the Truth, that is, what they sense and feel, in desirable and undesirable aspects. Thereby they have conditioned themselves to avoid certain aspects of the Truth and to grasp others. This constant “movement” away or towards what “is” forever estranges them from the intimacy of resting in the moment. Spiritual seeking is the ultimate contradiction in terms: it is a search for something that is never not right here now. As they seek it, they must miss it.

So, then, what does the pointer “this is it” mean? Yes, you guessed it right: it’s pointing to the immediate experience in this moment. It does not refer to a “now I’ve got it!” kind of state or flash of insight, but to whatever we experience in this very moment. Whatever that is, is sacred. Experience is the source of divinity, the nourishment of the soul, our life-blood. The more we cherish it, the more we feel alive.

What we all truly want is to have a “rich” life. True richness is not linked to abstract ideas of wealth or achievements but to the ability to be intimate with what is happening. Whenever we are moved and touched by life, it provides us purpose, meaning and direction. On the other hand, if we are incapable of being moved and touched by it, our souls dry out and life becomes a meaningless drag. Once we fully realize this utterly simple fact, that all that counts in life is whether we are capable of sensing and feeling properly or not, our perspective and outlook changes from striving for a life to paying attention to life.

The perennial message is this: THIS is it! THIS is what matters! THIS is the Beloved. THIS is what we have always been searching for! Where else could it be? Stop talking and philosophizing about the good life, just get lost in it! Trust me it works. It always does. Being alive is bliss.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.”
~Henry David Thoreau


What Is Enlightenment?

One of the first things that people notice when they embark on the spiritual journey is that there are many seekers and only a few “enlightened” beings. To me, the only possible explanation for this mismatch, is not that “enlightenment” is so hard to find but that we tend to look in the wrong places for it. And I think the reason for this is that the Eastern cultural context makes it sound much more exotic than it actually is. In this post I would like to look at the question of enlightenment from a more Western perspective and thereby de-mystify and clarify it a bit.

Let’s start very basic.

The French philosopher Albert Camus once said that the most important philosophical question is to whether to commit suicide or not. Or in other words: what is it that keeps us going? Why not just quit life? I would posit that the answer to this question is “meaning”. The surest way to get a suicidal depression is by convincing ourselves that life is meaningless. An the best way to spark enthusiasm is to find a reason to live for.

The question that now arises is: what is “meaning”? Meaning is where our bliss is, and bliss is when we feel most genuinely alive. To feel alive our senses need to be attuned to the immediacy of what is going on (“now”), they need to be receptive. The more we are stimulated sensually, the more our being is enlivened and the more gratitude we feel for being alive. When the “doors of perception” open, life reveals itself as the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” that it is. The senses are the gates to the kingdom of heaven.

What competes with the immediate reality of “now”, is the symbolic, representational reality of the mind. The mind is where we abstract the world, where we leave what actually “is” and enter what we think about what “is”. This ability is of vital importance for the survival of our species but it does not provide “meaning”. A reality of ideas has no “juice” in it. It is an empty shell that cannot touch our being.

So, then, how do we “get out” of our minds? The short answer is: by not getting “into” it. We get into our minds whenever we do not accept what “is”, that is, when we try to exercise (conscious) control, when we judge or when we think about the past or the future. All “enlightening” practices, therefore, in some way or other have something to do with the relinquishing of control, the suspension of judgement or discrediting the belief in a better past or future.

As I have written in this blog a few times before, we cannot accept what “is”. We cannot enlighten ourselves. Trying to accept is like trying to let go by grasping. The only way to accept what “is” is to trust and to fall in love with what “is”. So, the only reason we cannot be “here, now”, cannot find “meaning” in life, is because we don’t trust and love it unconditionally. Solitude, silence, meditation, chanting, rituals, psychedelics, etc. have been used for millennia to develop this trust and fall more and more in love with what “is”.

So, to be enlightened is to be a lover of life (or to be “intimate with all things”, as the great Zen Master Dogen put it). Such a person lives for life’s sake and not for any particular purpose. Life becomes its own purpose, just as the lover’s sole purpose of life is to be in the presence of the Beloved. When life is loved unconditionally there is no point in changing it, and so, all striving ceases. This marks a new beginning.

In the same spirit, Albert Camus’ answer to his own philosophical question was: “live to the point of tears”.

“The on-going WOW is happening, right now.”
~Speed Levitch

Transcript of a fantastic video clip (click here) from the movie “Waking Life” featuring Speed Levitch:

On this bridge, Lorca warns: life is not a dream. Beware, and beware, and beware!
And so many think because then happened, now isn’t. But didn’t I mention, the on-going WOW is happening, right now!

We are all co-authors of this dancing exuberance, where even our inabilities are having a roast! We are the authors of ourselves, co-authoring a gigantic Dostoevsky novel starring clowns!

This entire thing we’re involved with called the world, is an opportunity to exhibit how exciting alienation can be.

Life is a matter of a miracle, that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each others’ presence.

The world is an exam, to see if we can rise into the direct experiences. Our eyesight is here as a test to see if we can see beyond it, matter is here as a test for our curiosity, doubt is here as an exam for our vitality.

Thomas Mann wrote that he would rather participate in life than write a hundred stories. Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling in to a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized at last, something was happening to him.

An assumption develops that you can not understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely, which is to say I do not exactly disagree. I would say, that life understood is life lived. But the paradoxes bug me. And I can learn to love, and make love to the paradoxes that bug me. And on really romantic evenings of Self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.

Before you drift off, don’t forget, which is to say remember. Because remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting. Lorca, in that same poem, said that the iguana will bite those who do not dream. And, as one realizes, that one is a dream-figure in another person’s dream: that is self-awareness!


The Antidote to “Civilization Dis-ease”

This time I want to write about two different mythologies. Probably the two fundamental mythologies of mankind. Which one of them is dominant influences our collective values and behavior. I call the first mythology “Original Sin” and the second “Innate Goodness “.

“Original sin” is a mythology of fundamental suspiciousness of (mother) nature. It therefore posits that the innermost nature of mankind is ruthless and egoistic. To control the “inner”, a system of imposed morality and law & order is established and enforced. Rationality and self-restraint are highly valued character traits. The heavens are ruled by a masculine, omniscient, monarchical, supreme judge who has the power of ultimate punishment. Because humans are natural born sinners, they are in constant need to (im)prove themselves. Thus, work ethic is high, “doing”, efficiency and functionality is emphasized and there is a fetish of progress. This explicit orientation towards purpose and the future fuels desires and anxieties which motivate humans to create highly complex and sophisticated civilizations. Because always living for the future excludes the possibility of ever arriving “there”, civilization dis-eases like ongoing dissatisfaction and cynicism become prevalent. And because constantly doing something for a specific purpose prevents relaxation, a feeling of being caught in a rat race makes humans seek for meaning.

The anti-thesis to efficient but meaningless “Original Sin” is the mythology of “Innate Goodness”. Once we change the assumption of nature being untrustworthy, the whole mythology reverses itself. If there is reverence for (mother) nature, there will be the belief that the innermost core of a human being is gentle. Intuition and spontaneity are therefore the best ways to “control” behavior, not imposed morals, laws or a strict, fatherly God. Yielding and letting go are highly valued character traits and there is no need to (im)prove anything because the universe (including all humans) is already “perfect” (in its imperfection). Pain is completely unnecessary for gain. Thus, as opposed to a work ethic humans will have a strong life ethic. Efficiency, functionality and progress are not emphasized but “being” in accord with nature is. This explicit orientation to purposelessness and the present moment leads to deep rest and relaxation. There is a sense of “never not there” which brings natural joy and, thus, meaning to life.

I see these two mythologies as expressions of the primordial principle of Yin and Yang. It is therefore not surprising that Yin mythologies usually come out of Yang dominated societies and civilizations (think of Taoism as the anti-thesis to Confucianism, Buddhism as a movement of discontent with Vedic Brahmanism or the Hippie/ Human Potential movement as a dissociation from Consumerism). Whenever Yin and Yang get out of balance, even on the largest scales, there will be a natural corrective movement.

From that follows that neither of these mythologies constitute the Truth. Both comprise half the Truth. There is as much benevolence as cruelty in the universe. While the Yang mythology deals with our lower three Chakras (which are important for survival), the Yin mythology addresses the upper three (providing meaning). When they are in balance, the middle Chakra, the heart that embraces it all, opens. As this happens, we become a “whole” human being, transcending “good” and “evil” to settle into equanimity, compassion and sympathetic joy.

The very fact that so much of us are interested in spirituality shows that we have understood that a lack thereof makes us unbalanced, lopsided human beings. All societies need spirituality, but not of the “doing”, goal-oriented, self-improvement kind. That will only reinforce our Yang tendency. What we really need now is more love and respect for ourselves, and I think we are about to wake up to that.

“The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one’s humdrum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.”
~D.T. Suzuki

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