This month's contents:
Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes
A Part of Thee by Richard Rose | Obvious or Oblivious? by Bob Fergeson | Becoming vs. Dying by Bob Cergol | Work & Spirituality by Gary Harmon | Poems by Shawn Nevins | The Ego of Seeking by Shawn Nevins | All the True Vows by David Whyte | What Is Realized? by Bart Marshall | Your Treasure House: Ma-tsu to Hui-hai | Find your Highest Opposition by Art Ticknor | Humor | Reader Commentary
Sign up for e-mail alerts that will let you know when new issues are published.
Want to meet some of the Forum authors in person? Interested in meeting other Forum readers? Watch for more information about TAT's meeting schedule and programs.
A Part of Thee
Suzanne Segal's suggestions to see things as they are and follow the obvious, thus realizing ourselves as the vastness, are valuable guides pointing the way within. But she does not provide us with any hints on how to become such a person: one who can see clearly, for whom the obvious is just that. We cannot count on an accident at a bus stop to magically provide us with clear vision and the advantage of no-self. Most of us already believe and act as though we do see clearly and that the obvious is our path already. Yet, we are filled with desire, pain, and suffering, and as a little honest self-observation will show, we are not possessed of clear, perfect vision. This bit of self-insight, or the honest view of a friend, might help convince us of our lack of inner clarity. If we have the intuition that there is a better way of seeing, that enlightenment and self-inquiry are not mere words, we may accept clear vision and a true link to the obvious as valuable, though perhaps not as present in us as we might wish. Let's take a closer look, first at what our present position is like without these two suggestions, and then see how we might come to gain clearer vision, a link to the hints of the obvious.
A man in the midst of life is under intense pressure or tension to spend his energy in certain pre-programmed directions. His basic dilemma is rooted in his unquestioned belief that he himself is the one who has chosen this pattern and that it is he that wants to live as these forces or tensions dictate. He does not see things for what they are, being oblivious to the obvious, and instead thinks himself the "doer." The business of life in society takes up all his energy and time, and thus keeps him from seeing the trap that no matter how successful he is in life, he cannot change the facts: he will not win. Old age, disease, and death are the end result. Now, don't get this wrong, for this is how it should be with life in general, and there is nothing wrong with nature in and of itself. But if a man has an inner longing, a certain nostalgia that there is something missing in this dream of life and tension, he may have the opportunity to find that he is more than just a man-thing in the struggle of nature. He may come to know that he is not a thing at all, but That which is aware, of nothing and everything.
The day-to-day struggle to earn a living, procreate, care for a family, build a career, etc., takes up most of our energy, with the resulting need for compensations such as fun, recreation and distraction taking the rest. There is little if any vitality left to use in self-inquiry and learning to see the obvious, or why we don't. Even if we do have the inner longing to take a look at ourselves, we may fall for the trap of laziness and procrastination by buying into the idea that since there is no doer, there is nothing to do. We should not use the words of those who have found this truth as an excuse to avoid the effort required to make that truth our own. Any effort we put into self-discovery will be found to have been a good investment, and will lead to greater and greater incentive to continue.
The reason we cannot see clearly is that we think, feel, and see through a filter of desire and fear. We rationalize our actions from this desire-based thinking, creating pride in the belief we know the truth about ourselves. To begin to be free of this trap we use it, as it uses us. We set aside a period of time everyday in which we allow the desire of freedom and truth to guide our thinking into lines of self-examination. We use the fear of death and suffering to force us to examine the very motivations for everything we do. Not with a mind to change ourselves, but to find the truth, to see things as they are. We can use the inspirational works of those who have gone before to steer our thinking in the proper direction, and then allow our minds to turn inward and look at why we do what we do, think what we think. We start small, and as our efforts pay off we learn ever more ways to conserve and redirect.
As we turn from gazing at the self-created projection we call the outer world, and our inner fantasies of how to better arrange it to suit our struggle for self survival, we may find that life itself becomes less difficult. If we look at the problems and fears which threaten our sense of self, we become free from this self, seeing how it lives only within our minds. We gain courage from this, and learn to look steadily and fearlessly at our very defeats and obsessions, dissolving their hold, and thus beginning to see everything else clearer as well. It becomes obvious that we, as ego, are our own creator, and by retreating from the self-created patterns of behavior and thinking that bind us in the fog of desire and fear, the obvious becomes clearer. We come to realize that listening calmly and attentively to our own mind is how to see it, and are thus set free from believing unquestionably in our thoughts as being us. We may even find we can listen to our thoughts, without becoming involved.
As our energy becomes more and more our own, we find this listening attention reveals the obvious, now that our mind and its former desire/fear patterns are no longer clouding the view. The next step we need to take in our search for truth may suddenly become clear, obvious. As Jim Burns says, we can "chase our attention" now that this attention is free from the hypnotic spell of an illusory "self." We are no longer oblivious to the hints the inner Self is constantly putting in front of us. Free from the spell of the inner movie, the drama of our personal mind, we look for what our true longing, our inner Self, is always trying to show us. The poet John Davis said to "follow your fascinations." Now that we are free from inherited and learned desires and fears, we can come to know what our true fascinations really are. Our life becomes an adventure as we walk the path back Home with a glad heart, finally free of the misconception that we are a thing, a thinker, a doer. We take joy in our life, free from fear, with the only remaining desire that of abiding in our Self, in love and freedom.
"You cannot learn the truth. You must become the Truth." (reverse vector) —Richard Rose
"That which is born dies. That which is never born cannot die." —Nisargadatta
"Body and mind perish and are dissipated. Nothing of you shall remain." —Alfred Pulyan
True or false: A man is what he does.
True or false: Nothing a man does can change what he is—essentially.
If man is a body and this body is impermanent, can the impermanent body be made permanent?
How can something impermanent ever become permanent?
If man is not a body, but a ray of the Absolute, i.e. something which is permanent, how then, can man become that which he already is?
So it gets back to self-definition … identifying the self … and this is the paradox of becoming.
Definitions - Webster's
DEATH: (Webster's has some difficulty with this ... all require the subject to remain)
DEAD: 1. no longer living
LIVING: 1. alive, having life, not dead
DYING: 1. (adj.) about to die or come to an end; 2. (n.) a ceasing to live or exist
LIFE: that property of plants and animals which makes it possible for them to take in food, get energy from it, grow, adapt themselves to their surroundings, and reproduce their kind.
BECOME: 1) to come to be; 2) to grow to be
BECOMING: (as noun) the fact of coming into existence
EXPERIENCE: 1) the act of living through an event or events; personal involvement in or observation of events as they occur
2) anything observed or lived through
3) all that has happened to one in his life to date; everything done or undergone by a person, group, etc.
4) effect on a person of anything or everything that has happened to him; individual reactions to events, feelings, etc.
OBSERVATION: the act, practice, or power of noticing
Definitions - alternate
LIFE: an experience
LIVING: nested experience, i.e. an experience within an experience
BECOMING: the experience of witnessing successive changes in circumstances
DYING: an experience of the collapse of the point of reference that experience generates
DEATH: absence of experience, or the complete dissociation from all experience
Most people define living as "doing." What is life with all "doing" removed?
What's left is "Watching." What is the vantage point of this watching?
If living is action and events, death—as far as we know—is the final event and, as an event, is on an equal par with all other events—because it is just another event being watched.
Does action confer status? (state)
Do random events confer status?
You can't become that which you already are. (key word to define: you)
Outer state—witnessable by ourselves and others
Inner state—witnessable only by ourselves - part of that view is the self
That which is witnessable is still outer
What I am saying , brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (St. Paul: 1 Corinthians 15:42-50)
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Jesus Christ: Matthew 6:22-23)
WHAT IS "BECOMING" IN THE CONTEXT OF A SPIRITUAL PATH?
It has been said that you don't learn the truth—you become the Truth.
I think the idea of becoming is misunderstood. Many of us have seen words written such as, "You can't become that which you already are." I used to think such words were a clever device to avoid any effort to change, and therefore, a device to reinforce whatever games the one parroting such words was engaged in.
But it is likewise foolish to think that becoming is an acquisitive or evolutionary process.
The idea of becoming denotes that a change is required. The change required is not positive, but negative or subtractive. Just as you don't learn the answer, likewise you don't pile on insights (psychological holiness?) and accrue capital [for later redemption] through acts of asceticism (good works?).
Do you believe that you can become something that you are not?
The quality or nature of the result is proportional to the quality or nature of the effort applied. It's not a question of quantity. We're not talking about "body-building." The egocentric perspective of becoming is ego reinforcing—getting your just reward.
Becoming in the context of a spiritual path refers to becoming one or becoming aware or becoming awake. As we ordinarily live we express multiplicity and conflict born of body-driven consciousness—and sleep. Becoming one is to become self-less.
I think it would be more to the point to say that we need to un-become. If it is a process of becoming, then it is a process whereby the ego-device becomes less sure of itself. And thereby it becomes less self-centered and more sincere in longing for the answer-from-where-it-knows-not. But all it knows is that it cannot forget the "need to find out" and it becomes more open to surrendering its will to the Source of the answer. It becomes less addicted to notions of itself—delusions of grandeur—and more receptive to that which transcends the merely personal. So when the time comes it is possible to "receive" the answer.
There is a widespread impression that anyone who sees through the illusions of the ego must become a modest and anonymous personality, but it is difficult to say anything with a meek delivery. In other words, only those who can accept their own total destruction can have the guts to be true individuals. The rest are too gentle with the self, too anxious of losing the meaning of freedom which can never be grasped by the separated mind.
If I feel disconnected from my experience, and from the world, free determination will seem to be the extent to which I can push the world around, and fate the extent to which the world pushes me around. But to the whole mind there is no contrast of "I" and the world. There is just one progression, and it does everything that seems to happen individually. There is the apparent spiritual game, which can be the game of the ego in desperation, seeking a way out but unable to remove itself from its own spherical processes of self concern and self protrusion. It's a superior game for certain. Robert S. De Ropp even called it the Master Game in the classic book of the same name. Yes, much more advanced than the usual worldly games played by nearly everyone but just as much a snare as the others, possibly even more so—it's cleverer and so cleanly mistaken for independence or Truth. The only hope is seeing this game for what it is, but that is not easily done until ready to leap outside of it.
To have a spiritual life, all you have to do is become more and more of a worker. And it is important to understand the notion of work. As you work deeper, you mature more. Really all you get by working better and deeper is the capacity to work still better and still deeper. In so doing, the effort is exhausted to the point that what remains is essence, and all that is needed is acceptance of the obvious.
~ See Gary's web site, Spiritual Books Worth Reading.
"That I don't care makes it magnificent"
A day that ceases to roll forward,
No need to share this moment,
Every mouthful is the last,
Remember how bandits lay on the tracks
Is water carried by the stream
~ Etching on glass by Salvador Equihua
Assuming you accept the notion that the ego is the great barrier to discovering our true nature and curing what ails us, you will eventually confront the ego of spiritual seeking. Egos are poses, beliefs about our self, which range from the ridiculous belief we are great lovers or unrecognized geniuses to the core belief that we exist. Many say that the ego of seeking is the greatest barrier to finding. There is a grain of truth in that, yet the untruth lies in trying to eliminate this ego. The ego of seeking will resolve itself at the proper time. As Ramana Maharshi says, the stick that stirs the funeral pyre is itself consumed by the fire.
I think it is often beginners on the path who torment themselves the most about the ego of seeking, and thereby threaten to short circuit their quest. In their enthusiasm for identifying egos, beginners realize they've assumed a new pose—they are now spiritual seekers. As other egos diminish, the spiritual ego and pride grows. They determine that this ego is as illusory as the rest and must be eliminated.
That is not how the process of ego elimination works, though. We don't choose to give up or let go of egos. They wither as their painful ridiculousness causes us to turn from them and slowly cease giving them attention and life. Alternatively, egos are stripped from us when the sharp sword of psychological trauma leaves no other route of survival but the dropping of a pose in order to preserve the whole.
Yet these mistaken seekers try to let go and stop seeking in hopes of finding. They attempt to do nothing, thinking that doing nothing eliminates the ego. Of course, they don't do nothing. They imagine doing nothing—they "do" doing nothing based on what they've read of letting go and acceptance. If they are really intelligent, they recognize they are "doing" doing nothing and really tie their selves into knots. All the while, other egos are growing to fill the vacuum. This is much ado about nothing.
You can seek without the ego of seeking. Giving up seeking doesn't mean that you stop—only that you no longer admire the seeker. Don't be like the athlete admiring himself in the mirror. Get down to business rather than play. It is the actor seeking that is not real. Yet none of this will be revealed without trauma and tension—without seeking. You must observe your many egos and reject that which you see as not you. This process will strip you to your essence.
All the True Vows
~ From The House of Belonging by David Whyte. © 1997 by David Whyte. Permission for this website posting for one time only given by the author and Many Rivers Press (www.davidwhyte.com). All rights reserved.
As I thought about the theme for this weekend [i.e., the TAT Spring Gathering]—"Beyond Mind, Beyond Death"—I took some notes that might serve as a link between the theme and what I plan to talk about this evening.
Some say the mind perceives an external objective universe, others say the mind projects the universe. Either way, the mind is necessary for experience. No mind, no experience. Death is widely perceived as being primarily of the body. Most people believe there is an aspect of the mind that survives death-call it spirit or soul-that will continue to have experiences without a body. But what if that's not true? What if death is the end of all experience? What's beyond experience? From what non-experience does experience spring?
After fooling around with spiritual matters for some 37 years, a conclusive experience occurred last August that finally settled things. My questions vanished and the spiritual search came to an end. During those 37 years I read a lot of books and turned over a lot of rocks, but three teachers stand out.
I met Richard Rose 15 years ago and from then on his teachings became the foundation of my spiritual search. About ten years ago I was blown away by Nisargadatta's book, I Am That, and it became my "bible." Five years ago I started reading Douglas Harding and dabbling with his experiments, then last year attended a workshop with him in England. On the plane ride home from that workshop the experience occurred. Only it was not an experience. It was a non-experience experience. There was no one there to have an experience.
So if I wasn't there how come I have memories of it and can talk about it? I don't know. It's just one more aspect of the mystery. And it's all mystery. Anything that's not mystery is misunderstood. As soon as I think I know anything, I've strayed into error.
The months since then have felt like a period of assimilation, integration, deepening-maybe that never stops. I've done a lot of writing and thinking about it, trying to find ways to make it understandable to my own mind and of talking about it semi-coherently to others.
I pretty much started from scratch on this. For the first few days afterwards I literally couldn't put two words together on the subject. The experience does not bring with it the capacity to communicate. That has to be worked out afterwards, which is what I seem to be doing now. So tonight I thought I'd quickly go over some of the things I've been thinking about these last six or eight months, then open it up for questions.
The experience itself, in my case, occurred as a series of three-part episodes over several hours and was at times punctuated by almost unbearable joy and unworthiness, accompanied by considerable weeping. (Fortunately, no one sat nearby.) But these aspects are not important and are unique to the individual. What is realized, however, is universal.
So what is realized? The first question a person is likely to ask-or should ask-of someone who claims to have had a spiritual realization is "What did you realize?" I've been working on my short answer. Here's the current version:
In August 2004 something happened that corrected a basic mistake in perception I'd lived with all my life. Prior to this occurrence I thought I was an individual consciousness experiencing an infinitely large, infinitely old, external universe of real objects. What I discovered, however, is that the consciousness I mistakenly perceived as belonging to an individual (Me), is in actuality God consciousness, the One consciousness, and that Me, the universe and everything in it are vague, ephemeral thought-forms appearing in and out of emptiness in a timeless, spaceless Now.
It was a shattering revelation, but at the same time so obvious and self-evident I realized I'd known all along. I became un-fooled. A case of mistaken identity—very close to home—was resolved. There is only God consciousness. Here, where I am, there is consciousness. Therefore, I am That.
Your Treasure House
Hui-hai as a young man traveled to the monastery of Ch'an master Ma-tsu about 1,200 years ago and recorded the following conversation:
Ma-tsu: What do you hope to gain by coming here?
HH: I have come seeking the Buddha-Dharma (i.e. the Way).
MT: Instead of looking to the treasure house which is your very own, you have left home and gone wandering far away. What for?
HH: Please tell me to what you alluded when you spoke of a treasure house of my own.
MT: That which asked the question is your treasure house. It contains absolutely everything you need and lacks nothing at all. It is there for you to use freely, so why this vain search for something outside yourself?
~ From the Zen Teaching of Hui Hai: On Sudden Illumination, translated by John Blofeld. Hui-hai spent 6 years with Ma-tsu in his monastery near Nanchang in Jiangxi province. Afterward, he returned to the Ta-yün (Great Cloud) Temple in his native city of Yue-yang in Hunan province, where he became the first Ch'an master to put together a book of his own teaching. When Ma-tsu read his treatise on instant awakening, he referred to him as a great pearl (Ta-chu)—which became his moniker. Check Buddhistpublishing.com or Amazon.com for a copy.
In order to discover the real treasure that life has to offer, we have to reverse the procedure we ordinarily use to acquire or accomplish.
For other goals we can define a list of tasks that are necessary, create a critical-path diagram if those tasks are numerous and interdependent, then apply effort in a systematic way. We'll know where we stand in terms of final accomplishment and what's left to be done at any point along the way.
Seeking truth, reality, the bliss of full satisfaction, or the absolute state of being that words can point to but never encapsulate requires a different tack, however. We don't know the nature or location of that objective. By intuition or disillusionment we learn the direction, which is "within" or "know thyself." Then we have to figure out how to go within.
Knowing the self is generally interpreted to mean observing our personal characteristics, getting familiar with our thoughts and reaction-patterns to the point where we can explain and predict our behavior. This level of self-knowledge has utilitarian value, making our lives run smoother, but it doesn't take us to the great treasure. For that we need to realize that all of the characteristics we've observed, all our thoughts and feelings and behavior, are precisely not us. We are that which observes—and all that we've observed, all that we've learned, is not-self. The viewer is never that which is viewed.
"Oh, but wait a second: Guru Summerfallwinterspring says that the viewer and the view are one and the same, that All is One." Yes, that may well be true, but we can't (unfortunately) agree our way to the truth. Each of us has to make the trip. And from our current view or state of being, there is a split between subject (self) and object (not-self).
So, how do we go within, find the ultimate self? The process is akin to sailing into the wind. It can't be done directly. We tack first in one direction, then in the mirror-opposite. For example, if the wind is coming from the north, we sail alternately northeasterly then northwesterly. Each tack results in climbing a horizontal mountain or ladder, taking us nearer and nearer to the end of the world as we know it.
In self-definition or the search for the final self, the wind we're sailing into is the gale-force current carrying us from birth to death.
The process of going within is one of retreating from untruth—specifically, the untruth of believing that we are what we observe: our bodies, thoughts, feelings, and so forth.
The process unfolds by introspection. We observe an ongoing battle, a war of "voices"—fears and desires—struggling for supremacy. We observe ourselves feeling alternately happy and sad, hopeful and hopeless, a range of positive and negative emotions. We see the internal process of trying to find a satisfactory balance between these opposing forces—but find it impossible to remain for long at the swing-point. We think of ourselves as the victim of this emotional swirl.
How do we get out of this mess? The process of observation itself, of watching the ongoing battle, results in a jump to a new level of observation within the mind, where we continue to witness the emotional struggle but now as a detached or objective observer. We are no longer the experiencer being buffeted back and forth on that line of positive and negative emotion but have been freed from that bondage. Sure, there will be times of intense emotion where we'll "forget ourselves" and be back down there. But we'll no longer be trapped there.
This jump to a new objectivity could be called death by triangulation. What dies is a faulty self-definition.
We may luxuriate for a while in our new-found freedom, but eventually we'll realize that we're privy to a new opposition, a more abstract conflict going on within us. This new contest is a war between the practical and the transcendent, the outer self and the inner.
We now identify ourselves as the decider. But as we begin to question the decision-making process, we may become suspicious about our personal role in it. We can often trace back some of the argument that yielded a decision and come up with a rational explanation for it, but the more we observe, the more we come to admit to ourselves that we don't really know why we do what we do. We may see that the decision-making process proceeds whether we're watching or not, that in fact we're largely unaware of the hundreds of "little" decisions that get made every day. We generally become aware only when the opposing forces have come to a stalemate and the decision process is spinning without result.
When this happens, many of us worry and agonize over the need to make a decision, our inability to come to a satisfactory conclusion, and our endless pattern of second-guessing and uncertainty. This syndrome is symptomatic of the intellect, which is good at drawing logical conclusions from a given set of assumptions but not at discriminating between values that underlie competing assumptions. "What is my deepest desire?" or "Is there an objective worth committing my life to?" are not questions that intellect does well with, since intellect in its refined functioning finds that analysis leads to paradox and indeterminacy. Fundamental questions like the above lie in the domain of intuition, which may be emotion or feeling in its refined functioning.
An insight that arrives via intuition comes complete with conviction as to its rightness. This is both the advantage and disadvantage of intuition, since we find by trial and error that our intuition, or our apprehension of it, can lead us astray. But it's also the guide that leads us within. So we find ourselves in the opposition between mundane practicalities and transcendent possibilities.
As the view of this opposition between the mundane mind and the intuition becomes more apparent, we arrive at a point where we identify ourselves solely as the observer. This new self-definition coincides with the death of the old one, the self as decider or doer. We may even have been fortunate enough to get glimpses of what we are looking out from. And yet we're still trapped within the mind, convinced of our individuality and unable to shake the subject-object duality. At this point we come to a final opposition, which we see in various terms such as our deepest desire and fear, life and death, inside versus outside, transience versus permanence, or individuality versus wholeness. As we observe what we're looking out from, we step into the abyss that separates us from realizing our non-separateness, and the conviction of being a separate observer of this ultimate essence dissolves.
It's very hard to make predictions, particularly about the future. ~ Yogi Berra
"If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons. ~ James Thurber
I wouldn't fear death at all if I didn't have to be there at the time. ~ Woody Allen
Several times a year I like to thank you for your excellent newsletter. Although it's impossible for me to meet with all the types of people I admire in person, it is very fortunate that people of profound realizations find the time to write about them. ~ Stephen W. Cook
Want to help? Your donation of $5 or more will support the continuation of the Forum and other services that the TAT Foundation provides. TAT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization and qualifies to receive tax-deductible contributions. Or, download this .pdf TAT Forum flyer and post it at coffee shops, bookstores, and other meeting places in your town, to let others know about the Forum.
© 2000-2015 TAT Foundation. All rights reserved.