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May 2021 / More

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Convictions & Concerns

TAT members share their personal convictions and/or concerns

What Do You Want to Become?

People spend a lifetime answering this question of what to become, and they struggle with the how. Perhaps the best starting point is to ask: "Who wants what?" We do not possess desire, we are possessed by desires, and our thoughts and actions move in their wake as a leaf blown by the wind. So let's explore how you determine what you think you want to become, and what has that to do with finding the absolute?

Most of you do not know yourself—the everyday relative you, let alone the true absolute self. Some of you may think that such relative knowledge is unnecessary, even irrelevant, and that you can sidestep that knowing, and leapfrog over your deepest selfish attachments without ever seeing them, directly to absolute realization of true being and the true realization of life, simply by holding your head a certain way. Or by believing words that are music to your ears. That is not going to work.

Sustained self-inquiry and becoming an inward vector of the attention will work. Becoming a vector means building momentum in a direction, and the direction is inward. Self inquiry. Building momentum requires a focus of your energy and attention, and self inquiry is using that energy and attention to habitually look at your actions, feelings, and yes, thoughts. Because they're all reflections of the desires that move you and blind you to what you truly are.

Let me quote the revered Nisargadatta in this; this quote is one of the many that are under-reported amongst his sayings. What he says is consistent with my own path and what my teacher Richard Rose taught me. This is from I Am That by Nisargadatta, from a subsection titled “obsession with the body”:

I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your Self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas and never with your Self. Bring yourself into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function. Watch the motives of your actions. [Author's italics.] Study the prison you've built around yourself by inadvertence. By knowing what you are not, you come to know yourself. The way back to yourself is through refusal and rejection. One thing is certain, the real is not imaginary, it is not a product of the mind. We discover it by being earnest. By searching and questioning daily and hourly, by giving one's life to this discovery.

So your life has unfolded in some direction, and whatever your age, all of you have become something, more or less correlating with whatever stage of life you are in. I'm pretty sure you take some credit, maybe a lot of credit. Maybe blame for where you've ended up. And part of where you've landed is dissatisfied, and with a desire for an absolute answer, or enlightenment. It's worth looking at how you got to where you find yourself right now. You can find yourself, your true Self, by such witnessing.

Question: "Is what you have become what you truly desire?" Were you responsible for that outcome? You did not choose to be born and you did not choose your desires. You have been on one long toboggan ride, imagining that you can steer the vehicle. Your life story consists of leaning into the wind, to accelerate toward desires, or straightening your back to resist the wind to decelerate from obstacles to those desires. You lean to the left or the right according to which approaching view looks most likely to result in the fulfillment of your desires.

So let's delve into the genesis of desire. But first, here's how I define it: I see 2 tracks or levels of desire. Body vs soul, relative vs absolute. I'm going to focus on the relative because it's foolish to talk much about the absolute. I will say that the capacity to look, to see, to witness, to be self-conscious does not belong to you, but comes from the absolute.

One of my favorite expressions of this truth is attributed to Christ. “The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” This says: that which sees is the lamp of the body, and that capacity of seeing or witnessing, is the manifestation of awareness. And that you cannot be seeing from multiple points of view, from multiple conflicting desires, for the self-illumination called enlightenment to happen. Awareness is that which enlivens and animates the body-mind self. Awareness is the candlelight inside the jack-o-lantern. That light exists with or without the carved pumpkin body or face. But the jack-o-lantern cannot exist without that light. The enlivened self-conscious jack-o-lantern imagines that its pumpkin-body is self-animating. It becomes obsessed with the body and only by the candlelight that precedes it, sees a reflected body-mind-self, its face and form, but does not see the light itself. The innate calling of that inner light can be ignored, but never erased.

So back to the relative track of desire; the definition of it: Desire is the experience of an unsatisfied need. Its not a choice or the result of a decision. Hunger for food is an example. The body needs nourishment and you experience the desire to eat. Even from specific flavors that you experience in your memory. Or the need for rest. Your body needs rest and you have thoughts of sleep. Needs are preprogrammed and body-based. But they morph into mind-based, psychological needs, like frost on a winter window pane. Freezing you in a prison beneath all the layers. Hunger for attention is an example. Or the need for the freeing dissolution of sleep. Needs are what generate the experience of desires. Which in turn generate muscle movement and thoughts. The amoeba stretches in search for food. And rests in satiation. AS DO YOU. The satisfying or frustrating of those desires generates emotions, positive and negative. Which in turn generate habitual patterns of thinking and behavior—all the very forms of self-medication.

The prime foundational need is to continue to exist and is experienced as the desire for self-preservation. To continue to be you. All of our desires spring from this core root, body-based need. Even addictions. Behind every desire is an unsatisfied need. See what you need to understand why you desire. And perhaps dissolve those needs and let go of those desires and let the light fill you.

So obviously, these bodies come with a program. And you are basically a robot with an ego that arises from the robot-body-experience. That inherits from the body that very same program. That driver—that need for self-preservation. I hear this a lot from people who claim to meditate: “I'm not the body.” And yet you follow it wherever it goes. Or it follows you. When you meditate, it meditates. When its distracted, so are you. When its asleep, you are absent. It seems you and your body are inseparable. How convenient to think that your existence is independent of it.

I also hear this a lot from people who meditate: “I'm not my thoughts or feelings”—and yet they are your thoughts and feelings. Certainly not mine or your next-door neighbor's. How very convenient to view them as detached from you. Particularly when you think you should not have them or when you don't want them. Your thoughts are tell-tale signs on many levels.

Feelings and thoughts are inextricably inter-linked with and are dependent upon the body and only exist contemporaneously with it. Yes, indeed. Desire generates thoughts, and the body generates desires. And thoughts generate more thoughts. And your seeing and reacting to all of this creates more of it and forms repeating pattern habits. It's quite a swirl of activity. A veritable tornado twister. Like a dust storm in the desert. If you're not the body, its thoughts or feelings, then maybe you are the invisible wind behind that swirling dust cloud. Or the light that makes it visible. But how can you see that while fighting tooth and nail to preserve that body-mind-self?

One sees simply by looking. Not by thinking, per se, but by looking deeply, in earnest at oneself. And this includes looking at thoughts, along with looking at your feelings, actions, reactions, and motivations. After all—thoughts and feelings are reactions to an after effect of the stream of experience called being alive and living life. Since desire is rooted in the body and since desires move that body and generate thoughts. And since the experience of all that generates ego-identity, it makes sense that desires in aggregate manifest as an ego-agenda. And first and foremost, echoing the desires of the body's self-preservation.

Your life unfolds in stages according to the aging of the body. Your agenda likewise unfolds with those stages of life. Remind yourself that you're not driving this toboggan. Desire, habit and experience are. You are simply watching the movie-experience of your life and rationalizing after the fact that you are choosing according to your ego-based illusions of grandeur.

I see 12 stages of life and each has an associated experience, an agenda that dominates your life, and an underlying theme. But for now I'll just mention 3 overarching agenda themes, all of which derive from the self-need of self-preservation.

In the relative realm I see these 3:

  1. Self-expression. You are driven to manifest and reflect back to yourself who and what you are. You need to see yourself affecting the world to validate your existence. You reinforce your existence, body and mind by seeing your reflection in the mirror of experience.
  2. Overcoming obstacles. Life challenges you and you struggle to overcome. To be you. This friction experience reinforces your feeling of being alive as you. Tension galvanizes body and mind.
  3. Love. Searching for and expressing it. You need to be connected to others and to have a place in the grand story—for empathy with and for the giving and receiving of it from others—to give you meaning and substance.

In the realm of the absolute I see an all encompassing and overriding theme that I can only express by falling back on my childhood Catholic upbringing. For god's glory—your life and all of life. My Catholic catechism asked the question: “Why did god make me?” and the answer was: “God made me to know, love and serve him."

Now think about that, how would you actually do that? That Q&A points to a spiritual path, and it's not one of blind belief. It's one of looking deeply inside of yourself.

From a deeper perspective, the overarching theme of life reflected in the mirror is one of love and selflessness, depicted in the lives of countless self-conscious individuals all selfishly struggling to find themselves. Self-conscious individuality is the very definition of selfishness. Realization is when the identity with the body-mind identity is broken and witnessed entirely as occurring in the mirror of experience, as nothing more than a reflection of the source awareness. Those countless stories are tales of love and are what god sees when he holds up a mirror to see what he looks like.

If you see with a single eye, there's nothing reflected in the view. There's only the light. And you are that. I've heard quite a variety of realization stories over the decades, by people both in and out of TAT, and while those stories are told with differing interpretations, by those bearing witness to them regarding what made the difference, and therefore what advice is given, I hear the same story in all of them. I don't care what philosophy or concept structure you make up after the fact, and overlay the path to seeing the absolute. They all boil down to the same avenue for seeing it: and that's by retraversing the projected ray of the relative self from the absolute. And that unfolds by an inward focus of the attention. And that focus is compelled by desires, and specifically by the failure to satisfy the desires. Most especially that desire to satisfy that basic desire to preserve yourself. Which requires you define, affirm and magnify yourself. That's how you prove to yourself that you are what you think you are. That's how you express yourself to be as you.

Since the means to doing this are via acquisition of experience, the failures are inevitably experienced as diminishing experiences, placing you in jeopardy, echoing into your gut, throwing you back upon yourself to face yourself and see—you are not as you believe and desire. You are mortal and deluded. You are divided and a liar to yourself. Such seeing is priceless, because it is seeing with acceptance. And seeing without any profit motive. It is truly bringing into your consciousness the only koan that matters. Who and what are you?

The paradox is that it takes a strong desire to build the momentum of looking that will lead you to the acceptance of the basic root failure. This happens due to trying to define yourself externally to your true self. In the realm of experience. The eventual resulting acceptance allows you to not look away from the truth when it appears in front of you. And I'm telling you, it does appear in front of you often, but you look away because it is not body-mind ego-affirming. And such looking requires a concentration and focus of your life's energy. And your attention on that which is your innermost and highest need and felt desire beneath all the others. To know yourself as you truly are. And see your source.

Without that momentum of inward looking, the abundant, ever-present opportunities where god reveals himself to you are missed because you looked away in order to preserve and magnify that pumpkin-faced jack-o-lantern reflected in the mirror by the light of the body, that which sees, that which is behind you and powers what you mistakenly take as belonging to you.

In closing I want to repeat you did not have desires, rather desires have you, and those desires set an agenda. You rationalize that agenda after the fact as your personal, decision-based agenda. A deeper vein within the root of self-survival is the desire to become "as one" which manifests in you as a desire for the absolute, or enlightenment.

So, you wanna survive body, mind and soul, and you want enlightenment, transcendental realization. Can you abandon your profit-motivated "spiritual techniques" and just look at yourself? Are you so fixated on your reflection in the looking-glass, so lost in experience, too busy trying to be and become you, that you cannot stop to look and really see who really wants what?


~ Notes for a presentation that Bob Cergol made at the November 2020 TAT gathering. Its theme was Relative & Absolute, with the focusing questions: What do you want to become? and What are you trying to hold onto?

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TAT Foundation News

It's all about "ladder work" – helping and being helped

Downloadable/rental versions of the Mister Rose video and of April TAT talks Remembering Your True Desire:

"You don't know anything until you know Everything...."

Mister Rose is an intimate look at a West Virginia native many people called a Zen Master because of the depth of his wisdom and the spiritual system he conveyed to his students. Profound and profane, Richard Rose was not the kind of man most people picture when they think of mystics or spiritual teachers. Yet, he was the truest of teachers, one who had "been there," one who had the cataclysmic experience of spiritual enlightenment.

Filmed in the spring of 1991, the extraordinary documentary follows Mr. Rose from a radio interview, to a university lecture and back to his farm, as he talks about his experience, his philosophy and the details of his life.

Whether you find him charming or offensive, fatherly or fearsome, you will not forget him, and never again will you think about yourself, reality, or life after death in quite the same way.

3+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

2012 April TAT Meeting – Remembering Your True Desire

Includes all the speakers from the April 2012 TAT meeting: Art Ticknor, Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins and Heather Saunders.

1) Remembering Your True Desire ... and Acting on It, by Art Ticknor
Spiritual action is like diving for the Pearl beyond Price. What do you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it? An informal discussion centered around the question: "What prevents effective spiritual action?"

2) Swimming in the Inner Ocean: Trips to the Beach, by Bob Fergeson
A discussion of the varied ways we can use in order to hear the voice of our inner ocean, the heart of our true desires.

3) A Wider and Wilder Vision, by Shawn Nevins
Notes on assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives that bind and free us.

4) Make Your Whole Life a Prayer, by Heather Saunders
An intriguing look into a feeling-oriented approach to life.

5+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

Return to the main page of the May 2021 TAT Forum.


"One thing you must be able to do in the midst
of any experience is laugh. And experience
should show you that it isn't real, that it's a
movie. Life doesn't take you seriously, so why
take it seriously." ~ Richard Rose, Carillon

How Enlightened Are You?

If you can live without caffeine,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics,
Then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!

~ Thanks to enlightened-spirituality.org.

Return to the main page of the May 2021 TAT Forum.


Reader Commentary

Encouraging interactive readership among TAT members and friends

The Reader Commentary composite question for the May TAT Forum is:

Do you believe there is such a thing as grace or some form of unseen help on your spiritual path? Do you believe this, or do you know this is the case, and why? If there is help, do you believe you can further attract it?

The complete response from John A:
When I first read the question about grace as unseen help I thought of world religions. In Buddhism karma doesn't come close; in Christianity it's from Christ; in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism from merit. But all that is doctrine. Doctrine and I parted ways years ago.

Put it this way about doctrine. Our bodies once belonged to fish and our embryos still have the gills to prove it. Out of an Adam fish's rib did God create an Eve fish? You get the picture.

Instead of doctrine I think of a pair of socks. You can't find them and wonder what happened to them but feel they must be around somewhere and one day there they are behind the clothes dryer. Is there any grace in finding the socks behind the clothes dryer? We think of grace for awakening but what if you are only discovering your true nature? Is that grace? Is it grace when you are finally shocked into recognition of the natural? When you finally see something right in front of you?

One day I was shocked to recognize mind is a fantasy. You can call it grace if you want but you can also call it empirical. I finally understood why Buddhism calls mind a sixth sense. Touch can't feel its own sense and neither can mind. Just as touch has no inherent existence mind also has none. I lost my belief in it as home but it was never very comfortable anyway.

Call it grace. Maybe it is. Grace usually happens gradually in mini-shocks or rarely in one big shock. Either way you're done for. Something dies slowly or suddenly. Slow or sudden, if you really want grace to happen don't fit your spiritual practice into your life. Fit your life into your practice.

The shock happens by accident but you can make yourself accident prone. Neuroscience has a phrase for that. Neurons that fire together wire together.

You read that and may think they are just more words.

It's always that way with just more words. How do you use them? Kensho in Zen, seeing your true nature. Vipassana in Theravada, insight. Anicca, anatta, and dukkha are The Three Marks of Existence, said Buddha. Impermanence, no-self, and suffering. The seeker says here I am and there they are. How do I get there from here?

Somebody says you're already there. But those are just more words. You get there by following a map. You listen to a teacher if you have one but many seekers don't. Because many don't, I have something to say about maps. As only one instance they are found in Theravadan teachings. They are a kind of GPS on the path and if grace helps them they also help grace.

Maps tell us the spiritual path has milestones with characteristics described and passed down thousands of years. They tell us some things are true and others are not. It's true that each awakening stage has similar characteristics. It's not true that when you first wake up that's it, mission accomplished. The train still has other stations.

I am not expert on the various maps but know many people flounder without them. The Eight Jhanas provide a way forward and can be found variously on the internet. (Especially Leigh Brasington.) I won't go into them except to say Buddha taught them and the first four are the most important. You may know about them and that they mean serious meditation and if you don't you can learn about them. Ability to access jhanas prepares the mind for penetrative insight. Master the first jhana and you enter the stream and are no longer a seeker. Stream entry means becoming a finder because you are permanently changed. The ego-self is transparent to you even if still felt. You are preparing your mind to examine reality. You are out of boot camp.

I am also not expert on the teachings but in the Satipatthana Sutta Buddha said there is a direct path and full awakening can come between a half month to seven years. He said focus on body, on feelings, on mind, and mental qualities. He called them The Four Frames of Reference.

So where does all that leave me with the question about grace and spiritual influence? I don't have an answer. I do know Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta didn't speak of grace and spiritual influence. I know that Edison once said about his inventions that it's ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration. Still, there's that one percent. Maybe Buddha didn't mention it because he didn't want people to believe in it and wait for it.

You work at making yourself accident prone. You fit your life into the path not the other way around. You remember you were born on death row. You may fall into a later-stage awakening without perspiration or you gradually awaken after much virtual sweating.

What matters in the end? Not blissful meditation, not rapture in a chakra. Such experiences are described in the suttas but they weren't Buddha's basic concern. He was practical. He said they were only experiences of different kinds of self. He taught suffering and the end of suffering. Like algebra such experiences require skill and training but algebra is not superior to aspirin if you have a headache.

What matters is change in that sixth sense, the mind. It has been rewired by meditation and awakening. Penetrative insight and experience have changed your ordinary daily perceptions. There comes a calmness and equanimity toward life. The incessant chatter ends. Your troubles aren't over. Life still challenges you but at baseline you are happy and at peace. You are not dumber because of the calm. You see the world sharply. You think clearly.

Most if not all people have openings along the way until the nothingness that is a pregnant emptiness. No you and nothing to cling to or rely on. Not everybody does so but you might enter a dark night of the spirit and fall into depression and dismay until finally you get it that ego is fighting its losing battle.

Here's the puzzle. If you fall into the meaningless chasm you climb out of it in freedom. There's plenty of room for the world. Don't ask me when the change happens. That's just how it is. Your heart goes out in compassion for all the suffering and sorrow and you have love for the wonder and beauty of life. The curious thing is that there's nothing special about it. If anything is grace it's all that.

Return to the main page of the May 2021 TAT Forum.

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