The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, poems and humor.

July 2008

This Month's Contents: Becoming Your Own Authority by Art Ticknor | Poetry by Corina Bardasuc | Why The Notion That You Cannot Become What You Already Are is Such Bullshit by Daniel Ingram | Words of Wisdom | Humor

Editor's Note
by Shawn Nevins

TAT Forum Editors Pen At day's end, what honest effort do you look back upon? Did you express one thought that was not in defense? Did you try to look at your self from another person's perspective? Did you understand the why behind another person's actions? Did you laugh at your self? Did you think you might die? How long till you experience one night utterly alone, where silence absorbs every hope, and boils you down to zero? End these questions.

Becoming Your Own Authority , by Art Ticknor

I heard a similar message from two good friends recently. One is an older fellow who has been at this business of self-inquiry for a couple decades, who wrote:

I wish … I could pinpoint the reason I departed from a course of action…. I continue to see it as a major reaction to going along with programs and philosophies that inspired me, but should not have infiltrated my thinking to the extent they did. I blame myself, not the sources of inspiration. That doesn't mean I won't or can't ask for help from others, which I know I need, but I want to intuit better a course that arises from personal history and experience. To find your own voice, as they say.

The other is a younger fellow who has been trying to answer the big questions for six or seven years. Referring to a situation he and another mutual friend find themselves in, he wrote:

Both of us had picked up a message … that felt stifling because we weren't our own authorities and felt we had to be a certain way.

Any genuine teacher in the field of self-realization will tell the student that he has to do the truth facing for himself, has to look for himself and see the truth for himself. The sentiment of becoming our own authority is a valid and worthy one. And yet I have the feeling that both of these friends are employing that sentiment as a wall to hide behind.

Personality is a mask we wear. Belief in individuality is identification with a mask. A self-professed individual is a belief-state – a paradigm or model that is trying to validate itself as reality while masking reality.

Life threatens that mask, and death may ultimately triumph over it. The truth seeker is looking for an answer while living, but the personality is constructed to avoid unmasking. Whenever an affliction to the personality occurs, we tend to quickly focus away from the truth by reactions such as rationalization, distraction and procrastination. Facing the truth is looking back at what we're looking out from, and when we do that we "see" silence and non-movement. To the personality, silence and non-movement represent death. Thus the belief in personality or individuality cannot be reconciled with the truth of what we see when we look inward at what we really are.

In order to face the final contradiction of what we see we are versus what we believe ourselves to be, there are outer layers of self-belief that need to be peeled away. That challenging of beliefs is painful, so we hide from it as much as possible.

All men should strive to learn before they die,
what they are running from,
and to, and why.
~ James Thurber

Questions we can ask ourselves:
1. What am I running from, and to, and why?
2. Have I honestly admitted to myself what I want most from life? Or am I trying to juggle multiple number-one priorities?
3. Am I avoiding situations that remind me of my lack of determining what's most important to me or of my lack of action toward its accomplishment?

The role of the friend or teacher is to help the truth seeker find out what he really wants since the truth seeker often encounters an inner resistance to answering the question for himself. That resistance takes the form of fears. For example, we might fear missing out on other pleasures, or we might fear that we won't have the courage to face possible challenges. Many fears remain unarticulated, as if expressing them even to ourselves would be like opening a door that may let out a monster. Our basic psychological fears, such as fear of rejection or failure, go back to the fear of annihilation. Seeking the truth about our self is in large part facing these psychological fears.

Becoming our own authority does not imply thinking for ourself – which is wishful thinking, since all thoughts and feelings are reactions – but looking for ourself. Looking for oneself implies a certain objective detachment from our thoughts and feelings rather than being caught up in them. Becoming our own authority thus challenges the validity of our conclusions and beliefs, undermining the ground upon which our individuality stands.

A Poem by Corina Bardasuc

So you'll know me

The one thing I will tell you
So you'll know me
When you look for me in the
Crowd of all those faces
Those many, many faces
Which always move back and forth like
The Sea,
Is that I will look nothing like
What you expect me to
Look like.
Do not doubt it, it will work
You will find me, just as surely
As you always find that right turn
Onto your street, when you are coming
Home from work.
Right there, at the intersection between
This avenue and that avenue
As you take that turn
That's how you will know me.
I will look like none of those faces,
And I will feel precisely like
That right turn.

Why The Notion That You Cannot Become What You Already Are is Such Bullshit, by Daniel Ingram

There was a guy on a blogsite to which I sometimes post who kept inserting comments in our discussion such as you can not become what you already are, awakening is not about more knowledge but instead about less knowledge, and that awakening happens regardless of study and meditation. I have encountered this vile point of view and its variants before, and so replied as follows, in slightly edited form:

Caution Keep Clear Dear [delusional view-poster],

Somehow I just cannot resist countering your point of view with every bit of rhetorical force I have despite the fact that I am afraid the number who listen will be few.

Here is a detailed analysis of what is wrong with that perspective on a number of fronts:

The notion that you cannot become what you already are implies a whole host of conceptual problems that I will claim do not lead to much that is good that cannot be attained by conceptual frameworks that are not so problematic. Here is a list of the problems:

1) This notion encourages people to not practice. You can say what you like, but again and again I see people who subscribe to this and similar notions resting on their cleverness and grand posteriors and not actually getting it in the same way that my accomplished meditator friends get it. It seems so comforting, this notion that you are already something that you, in fact, are not. This brings us to the question of what you are and are not.

2) This notion solidifies a True Self teaching almost by definition. From any cursory analysis, what we are from an insight point of view is an extrapolation of continuity from a pattern of utterly fresh, transient, ephemeral, causal sensations. Anything added to this is extraneous from an insight point of view. Try as people might, a True Self in an experiential sense cannot be found. Thus, the notion that people already are something begs the question: What are they? It tends to imply that they are already something such as perfect, enlightened, realized, awakened, or something even worse such as Awareness, Cosmic Consciousness, The Atman, an aspect of The Divine, etc. all of which cannot actually be found. While Buddhism does sometimes go there, such as using terms such as Dharmakaya and Buddha Nature, these are very slippery, high concepts that were added later and require a ton of explanation and practice experience to keep them from becoming the monsters they nearly always become in less experienced hands.

3) Awakening involves clearly perceiving universal characteristics of phenomena. While one can attempt to rest comfortably in the notion that as these universal characteristics are there anyway, the whole, core, essential, root point of all this is that there is something to be gained by becoming one of the people that can actually directly perceive this clearly enough to fundamentally change the way reality is perceived in real-time. The straight truth is that the vast majority of people do not start out being able to do this at all. The notion that everyone already is someone who can perceive reality this way without effort in real-time is a fantastic falsehood, lie, untruth, and in short, one great load of apathy-creating bullshit. Said another way, your notion, namely that one cannot become one of the people who can perceive this because everyone already is a clear perceiver of highest caliber, is a profound delusion and simply does not hold up to reality testing.

If one goes around asking people without very good insight into these things, i.e. the unenlightened, about basic dharma points, points that are obvious to those who have learned to pay attention well, one does not find that everyone already is a person who is perceiving things at the level that makes the difference the dharma promises. Further, even those of lower levels of enlightenment generally have a hard time saying they really are able to perceive the emptiness, luminosity, selflessness, causality, transience, ephemerality, etc. of reality in real-time at all times without having to really do anything. In short, your notion that this is as easy as just being what you already are is wildly off the mark, as the vast majority of people are woefully underdeveloped on the perceptual front in question.

Thus, all reality testing reveals that your notion is missing a very fundamental point: while the universal characteristics are always manifesting in all things and at all times, there are those that can perceive this well and those that cannot, and meditative training, conceptual frameworks, techniques, teachers, texts, discussions and the like can all contribute to developing the internal skills and wiring to be able to fully realize what is possible, as thousands of practitioners throughout the ages have noticed.

I have no idea where you are getting this bizarre notion, except that perhaps you are reading The Power of Now, following Adyashanti, or some other tradition that for reasons completely beyond me assumes that everyone already has the powers of perception of the rarest perceptual superstars.

I myself have known before and after, meaning that I know what I was capable of perceiving and understanding before I underwent meditative training and after, and no amount of being fed the concept that I was already as developed as I could be, was already enlightened, was already there, had nothing to do, nothing to develop, was already as clear as I could be, was already perfectly awake, etc. was going to make the difference that the thousands of hours over years of increasing my ability to perceive things clearly did.

It would be like saying: you are already a concert pianist, you just have to realize it, or you already are a nuclear physicist, you just have to realize it, or you already speak every language, you just have to realize it.

It would be like saying to a two-year old: you already understand everything you need to know so stop learning new things now, or to a severe paranoid schizophrenic: you already are as sane as anyone and do not need to take your meds and should just follow the voices that tell you to kill people, or to a person with heart disease: just keep smoking and eating twinkies and you will be healthy, or to an illiterate person with no math skills who keeps having a hard time navigating in the modern world and is constantly disempowered and ripped off: no need to learn to read and do math, as you are just fine as you are, or saying to a greedy, corrupt, corporate-raiding, white-collar criminal, Fascist, alcoholic wife-beater: hey, Dude, you are a like, beautiful perfect flower of the Now Moment, already enlightened [insert toke here], you are doing and not-doing just fine, like wow, so keep up the good work, Man.

Would you let a blind and partially paralyzed untrained stroke victim perform open-heart surgery on your child based on the notion that they already are an accomplished surgeon but just have to realize it? Would you follow the dharma teachings of people who feed other people this kind of crap? In short, are you completely out of your mind?

Those who imagine that everyone somehow in their development already became as clear and perceptive as they could be just by being alive is missing something very profound. Do you imagine that you can just remind people of these things and suddenly all wisdom and clarity will suddenly just appear? This mind-bogglingly naive. I simply have to ask: from where did you attain this fantastic fixed delusion?

I have gained so much that is good and lost so much that is bad by learning to practice well, learning to concentrate, learning the theory, learning insight practices, going through the organic process of the stages over decades, reading the stories, reading about the lives of the great practitioners, having dharma conversations with dharma friends, debating points, wrestling with difficult concepts and how to apply them to my actual life, teaching, learning, studying, playing with the powers, writing, realizing how things are, and delving deeply into the sensate world that I am astounded that anyone would want to try to reduce something so grand, wonderful, deep, rich, amazing and profound to such a paltry, ridiculous concept as the notion that all that is already in place in everyone regardless of what they have done or not done. All those benefits, skills, abilities, powers, states, stages, experiences, insights, and fundamental perceptual changes simply were not available until I did the work, took the time, participated in the process, and no amount of anyone telling me it was otherwise would have helped or made it so.

This is an organic, causal process. I know of no examples where the necessary and sufficient causes did not involve some kind of work rather than a mere concept that somehow all those benefits and abilities have magically appeared already and they somehow just did not notice until you told them they had.

In short: STOP IT! You are spreading craziness, and this is craziness that many people will not be able to tell is craziness, including, it seems, yourself. While I usually do not go so far as to tell people that there is something so deeply wrong with what they think and how they communicate it that they should stop it immediately and forever, this particular point is a great example of something I consider abhorrent and worthy of profound revision.

Regardless of any kind intentions, the teachings that you perpetuate take a half-truth that seems so very nice and seductive to us neurotic Americans who just can barely stand another achievement trip and have such a hard time with self-acceptance and turn it into sugary poison.

There is no need to tie the three useful concepts of 1) no-self, 2) self-acceptance in the ordinary sense, and 3) the notion that the sensations that lead to understanding if clearly perceived over and over again are manifesting right here, right now, to such a perversely twisted yet seemingly benign and similar concept as the one you unfortunately promote. While they look the same, careful examination will reveal why your way of stating things is so deeply flawed.

~ Learn more about Daniel Ingram at: InteractiveBuddha.com.

Words of Wisdom

2 Cor. 4:18

We fail to understand what God desires for us because we see with physical eyes and not with spiritual eyes. We see what we want for ourselves, not what God wants for us.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).


THE DUALIST'S LAMENT (inspired by Hughes Mearns' famous verse)

As I was walking up the stair
I met a non-dualist who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today—
I wish, I wish he'd go away.

He looked at me with eyes so clear,
And said, "I cannot disappear,
For I am THAT, the ALL IN ALL—
The stairs, the janitor, the wall…

I am the ocean and the drop,
I am the cleaner and the mop,
I am the bell-boy and the bell,
I am pussy and the well…

I am the toaster and the toast,
And though I do not like to boast—
I am the saucer and the Source
Of ALL THAT IS – right NOW, of course…

I hope I've made it very clear,
That you're the one who isn't here.
So when we meet along the way,
Don't even try to say G'day!"

~ Ann Faraday


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