Friday, December 29, 2006
All phenomena preach the dharma continuously. Nothing exists in anything other than its natural state. There is no natural state beyond actuality, no correct view to hold. Wrong views preach the reality of wrong views which is beyond discrimination of right and wrong views.
The dharma moves with all phenomena, in all states, at all times, preaching without fail, one shining truth, that of itself. How can there be discrimination between right and wrong views, true and false?
Consistently slipping free of all hindrances, all views, the true dharma meets us with all phenomena.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
With the accumulation of more knowledge it appears eventually possible to hold fixed opinions on subjects of importance, to become accomplished. Even students of Buddhism often imagine enlightenment to be something like this, a revolution of the whole being that is definitive and irreversible, an eternal, hard-won truth.
Many scientists, mathematicians, historians, philosophers and so on regard their discipline as a constant inquiry, an ever-shifting ocean of possibilities to explore unceasingly. Buddhist students also sometimes believe that this is their practise.
Buddhist practise however goes beyond both definition and unceasing exploration to reveal the universe to be real in this instant and beyond all attempts to lay our acquisitive and fearful hands on it.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"Eternal existence is momentary" said an eternal Buddha.
All we can say with real confidence is that we exist now, here, in this place, at this time. The attempt to conceptualise this truth is the futile attempt to grasp the moment of the present as it is devoured by the future to become the past. In the act of grasping we are infinitely unsatisfied, always chasing something just out of reach.
In each moment we construct the world over and over again. We've given names, function and form to each element of our existence but in ‘actuality’ it is much more mysterious than our conception. So what is it that we are doing in this life? What is this entity that perceives? That very process of knowing is so instantaneously reductive as to destroy what we’re trying to know. The immensity of existence cannot be conceptualised. But we can ‘experience’ reality, fully, profoundly. We can experience it far beyond the limitations of knowledge and this experiencing is the meaning of our lives. This is the simple truth that Gautama Buddha realised, revealed to his followers and practised assiduously until his death.
Even if we understand and recall scores of books and teachings we still let go of them all in the moment of attention. We can’t help but study and describe our practise but our practise is the act of letting all that go again. So why did we study it? Because we can’t help it. Back and forth we go, in and out of the zendo, studying / forgetting studying, this is our human lives. Morning and night we sit on the cushion, the beating heart of our Buddhist life, breathing, seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, talking and thinking in rhythm with our real lives, living realistically in the present. When we get up from our cushion, we simply act, we proceed, in accord with reality.
Many people have practised zazen and penetrated the meaning of their real lives, existing complete with all things in real time. The understanding that they all have in common is that body, mind and phenomena are not separate, they are one whole and past and future do not exist outside of the present. People who have understood and practise this self-evident truth in experience are called 'buddhas.' It is not abstract or esoteric, it is a real state, available to everyone and everything.
The past has already gone, the future isn’t here yet. When we pay attention, we notice that the present is the only real time which actually exists, we can notice that there is no body separate from our mind, and no mind separate from our body and neither are separate from the phenomena sharing our existence in this moment of the present, nor is any of this separate from the moment of the present. With prescience, this inclusive moment of existence seems somehow vivid, illuminated, invigorated by the attention we bring to it. It has not changed in any way and neither have we, we are merely looking deeply. So we are sitting at one with our lives, at one with the only existence there is. Look around, you and the objects or people surrounding you now are both identifiably separate by your conscious mind but beyond this superficial observation, one indivisible whole 'thing' existing in this moment, constantly shifting, constantly changing. Indeed it goes beyond our being a part of one whole existant moment – we are this moment of existence. This wholeness here, in this moment, complete with all of existence is what we are.
Modern life is high speed, high pressure and we are surrounded with images designed to make us want things and ways of life that are not ours. We want to be famous, rich and beautiful. We want to be loved more than we are or in a different way. We want luxurious homes, vehicles, clothes and foods. The life we want is never our own. All the time we want these attributes and things, our real life is moving, serene in its unknowable beauty beneath our noses. If you realise the delusion you live within and wish to experience the truth of your life, Buddhists say you have established the will to the truth.
It’s a cosmic irony that here we are living this strange, extraordinary, ordinary life as human beings, experiencing this unknowable thing yet we spend our time wishing we were elsewhere and different. We spend each moment measuring our achievements and rewards against our peers, settling scores and making deposits into an account we can never redeem. In each moment the mysterious treasures of a real human life trickle through our fingers. There is no substitute for living this real life.
The universe is always speaking to us. It is a language we have forgotten how to speak, though we have always known it. We have taught ourselves many other languages, complicated and beautiful languages but we have forgotten how to speak our mother tongue, the language of reality. Reality tells us just what it is. Roads tell us that they are roads. Flowers that they are flowers. They use the words of the Buddha. The rain in the mountains has the sound and form of the Buddha. The roar of the traffic on a shopping Saturday is the roar of the Buddha. The smiles of our friends are the smiles of the Buddha. The wind in the grass is the Buddha whispering as grass. Reality speaks to us in our first language. When we sit quietly, striving for nothing, we remember our first language. We can hear it again and we can speak it. In the silence, the truth of our life unfolds.
There is a beach called Vallay Strand on North Uist in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. It’s about a mile of white sand facing the Sound of Harris and bounded by the thick carpet of wildflowers called ‘machair’. It’s rarely visited except by otters and the odd sea eagle.
We refer to the beach as if it were a discrete entity that exists separate from its environment. The stupid ghost our frontal lobe invents to act for us decides to designate for all eternity this strip of sand, rock and grass. When the tide comes in, that beach is submerged. When the tide goes out the beach is huge and quite different from our mental picture. What we call a ‘beach’ has no distinct existence. In fact it is never the same even for an instant. The action of tides, erosion, current, wind, drift and so on ensure that there is never one distinct beach that we can identify as ‘the beach.’
It is a literal scientific truth that the movement of molecules in this universe ensure that nothing is precisely the same in any two given instants. But also, at a conceptual level we create the world anew in front of us in every moment – ‘this is my environment now, a chair, a table.’ But the real beach facing us is now different, and now different and now different and now different. There is no beach anywhere in fact that actually fits our applied concept. Not only has that pesky ghost done this irritatingly reductive sleight of hand for this insubstantial beach we are facing now but for all beaches everywhere.
This beach may be submerged, in which case we say, the tide has come in but the beach is underneath it. If we examine the way we conceptualise our world in each instant combined with the literal inaccuracy of the concepts we apply, this is nonsense. It’s a kind of superficial constructed reality that we use to communicate with each other, to civilise. But we should notice as we face this submerged beach, any future and any past of this beach is contained within this submerged beach. But the beach is submerged, has always been and will always be submerged. There never was a beach, there will never be a beach and beaches cannot describe beaches.
We can imagine the beach itself as one human sitting in the posture of zazen. Sometimes this person is submerged, drifting in the wide and deep ocean of prajna or reality, Sometimes exposed, just a distinct conceptualised beach, one person, imagining themselves alone, cut off from everything, we can call this the area of conscious thought. And sometimes the beach is part of the mainland, in action, moving with wind and rain. If we examine this analogy in the light of how we have described time and the action of our conscious minds, we can see that these distinctions don’t mean anything at all. Our concepts don’t match reality and the moment to match them to reality has passed anyway. Reality has manifested itself as a submerged beach, an exposed beach and the mainland. All of this ebb and flow are expressions of just one thing at any given moment that we cannot describe. We can’t say they are the same, because they are fundamentally different, they exist in separate dimensions. But each discrete state contains everything that exists of the other two (two for the sake of argument but actually countless numbers.)
Let’s return to our person in zazen. He or she is busy doing, thinking a lot. They move around in the posture, they readjust. They feel calm and without concerns or thoughts. They feel pain and hallucinate coloured lights. Like the beach we have described these are states of being of an entity we cannot describe doing zazen, an activity we have named and given concrete form but, like the beach, has no name, is unknowable and has no concrete form. All of these calm or disturbed states are what we call zazen and each of these states contains everything that exists of all the other states we can encounter that we call zazen.
When we practise zazen, we re-balance ourselves to reveal the same state of all phenomena. We cannot describe ourselves or our environment with any conscious thought. We cannot identify a self separate from environment or an environment separate from self. Environment / phenomena / universe, whatever you want to call it is one thing in real time with what we call ‘self.’
Acting right, the fictional character ‘me’ is instantly extinguished and replaced by the real state of the universe as it is, revealed to be our true nature. This state is inclusive of and absorbs all phenomena. Buddha reveals everything to be Buddha.
The identification of and with a separate agent ‘I’ that acts separate from the universe it acts within, relating to other ‘I’s’ locked into their separate universes is the cause of dissociation from reality. This is what we call ‘unhappiness’ ‘suffering’ ‘anguish’ ‘pain’ ‘discontentment’ and so on. Without this discrete self, without separation between self and other from self, what could be the cause of unhappiness, what could be made unhappy?
This is the meaning of the Buddha’s assertion that the oneness of reality extinguishes suffering. But how can we break free from the habits of a lifetime? How can we as Dogen puts it, learn to love the real rather than the carved dragon and realise that both can bring on the clouds and the rain?
The idea that there can be some conscious activity of ‘extinguishing’ or ‘discarding’ or ‘breaking free’ is a delusion. The notion that applying precepts to action can change or perfect individuals mounts foolishness on top of foolishness to beget further foolishness.
The practise of attention instantly releases us from old habits. Barriers and obstructions fall away without leaving traces.
We can perceive and practise this directly or treat zazen as something special, as a technique that must be perfected in order to achieve something. When we get up from practising our technique we place another head on top of our own again and begin once again to construct the causes of our own suffering.
This moment cannot be conceived-of therefore our codified systems of morality cannot be applied and acted upon. The problem of moral action doesn’t end there however. If we try to identify a discrete ‘self’ who can act morally, it becomes difficult to do so. Ask yourself this: ‘I say that I am as I am but who is doing this saying?’ There is something that ‘does thinking’ but we can’t identify or know it. Whenever we try to conceive of our selves, we actually create another entity that does not exist in this dimension. It is not us, it is completely and fundamentally different from us. So, not only has the moment for action passed and our systems of morality we might have applied to it found to be worthless but we can’t even find an agent to perform these moral actions. Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ is a contradiction in terms from a Buddhist perspective which might state ‘I think by which I create a stupid ghost to act instead of me.’
The universe has its natural rule, this is actually what we mean when we describe action as ‘moral’ – we mean, ‘in accord with the natural order of the universe.’ So, we must act in accord with the universe but we’re adept at deluding ourselves that we are separate from this universe, that the universal laws of cause and effect don’t affect us, that we are little Gods, universes unto ourselves seething with passions and opinion that are incommunicable to and at odds with our fellow man. We act according to hastily assembled, worm-eaten and crumbling galleons of thought tossed on the rough sea of unpredictable emotional tempests. We erect the illusion of a wall between ourselves and our universe and act according to ourselves not according to the universe. This is the meaning of ‘being bound by karma’, this is samsara, this is the root of actions that are in conflict with the natural order of the universe. ‘Acting’ right means ‘turning’ (acting) the wheel of dharma (in accord with reality.)
Buddhism asserts that we must access ‘Prajna’, a pre-cognitive intuitive wisdom that cannot but commit natural right action. This can also be described as the natural order of the universe. There are many methods of accessing prajna and zazen is one, the ‘authentic gate.’ The state of being revealed is prajna itself. Sitting in accord with the universe is prajna itself. Prajna is like a deep and wide ocean that includes all phenomena and sustains and nourishes this universe beyond the discrimations of human knowledge - no 'thing' is seperate from prajna. Accepting the tool of ourselves in all our complexity we practise zazen not merely to access and utilise this intuitive wisdom but to reveal that that is what we were all along. Practising zazen is practising ‘natural rightness.’ Practising ‘natural rightness’ is what has been almost universally misunderstood by the term in English ‘enlightenment.’ The use however of terminology analogous with light is appropriate in describing the experience of illumination of this present moment in which we are acting at one with the universe.
Morality is a difficult and pertinent area particularly for Western Buddhists brought up in a universe firmly governed by Greco-Christian codified systems of morality. We bump up against our fear that without applied morality, our religious commandments and precepts that we will all run amok causing strife and disorder.
Notions of becoming ‘better’ people through studying philosophy or ascetic religious practises of one sort or another, of becoming ‘more moral’ or ‘spiritual’ are endemic. Many schools of Buddhism have compounded these misunderstandings by creating ever more labyrinthine lists and systems of precepts or determining that there are attainable states of being in which we can realise something special.
As Buddhists, we have noticed that the future is not here yet and the past has gone forever. Existence is this very moment which is, in fact, the only existence we have. How can we act morally with this understanding? When we meet this fleeting moment of existence we can’t apply a codified system of morality to it because it will already have gone and the moment for moral action will have passed. If we think about a situation, process and analyse it according to our system then act, are we acting to the same set of circumstances? These codes also presume that there is an element of predictability to human life, that it is possible to construct rules that can be applied to widely varied real situations and always produce a ‘good’ outcome or at least if action is determined by them that action will be morally sound on the behalf of the individual concerned. But examining the cause and effect of real actions we can see that ‘good’ actions as often cause ‘bad’ outcomes as the reverse is true.
From a Buddhist perspective, if I tap my pencil on my desk five times in a row, each strike of the pencil falls in a separate universe, a separate dimension. In actuality, this is true. We can remember the previous taps but our memories occur in the dimension of actuality. Our memories of experience are shadows in the present of parallel universes that have come into and passed out of the dimension of reality.
Immanence is defined here as the state of the realised universe. All phenomena, all dimensions are revealed to manifest at once then vanish without leaving traces. This is the immanent nature of the universe.
We can search for the manifestation of our consciousness but we cannot find it outside of this present moment. We can search for the past and the future but we cannot find them outside of this present moment. We can search for this present moment but we cannot find it before it has passed.
Prescience is defined here as the state of consciousness of Buddha that acts freely identified with the immanent universe. Not a consciousness possessed of 'foreknowledge' but a consciousness in the same state as the universe of which it is immanently a part, existing 'before knowledge.'
Buddha is unobstructed by any dharmas; any dimensions, any phenomena, any manifestations. Buddha is alive in the realised universe. The realised universe is the state of Buddha. The realised universe is just the actual body and mind of Buddha.
Practise and experience are not separate. Zazen is a gate to this true experience. Mind and body are one thing not separated from this moment. This is not something practised on a zafu then left behind on the zafu. This is the real nature of experience. We are not separate from this moment. Living authentically, this understanding permeates us. To practise this we have zazen as the standard.
There is no perfect posture, there is no end point of practise to achieve in which sitting just practises itself. Our practising of sitting is already just sitting practising itself. The ineffable is already here in our imperfect posture, practising us.
Acceptance and releasing means accepting and releasing things shining and beautiful or accepting and releasing broken, wrong, painful, torn and ragged forms. The great doubt, the great unknowing, the path of all imperfections. Something indescribable comes here.
Encompass all wrongness and rightness, go beyond understanding and discrimination of any kind. What is it that exists quietly beneath this stormy surface? Something else is happening.
If dharma is transmitting, it belongs to all existence. It is only all of existence manifesting as one. If transmitting is dharma, there is no shadow its light does not penetrate. In the moment of dharma transmitting, there has never been one moment in time in which all of existence did not possess everything of dharma.
What is it in us that abhors and loves things? More often than not, it is simply our confusion about what 'we are' manifesting itself.
We believe that opinions are necessary in order to act. We believe that opinion is action. What form can action to remove the obstructions from rightness take when abhorrence is fully seen to be empty of substance?
Peer deeply into what practises zazen. Examine again the assertions of the Buddhas - what truly remains that could make our hatred and our love real? What truly remains that is real? It is not nothing.
Today I have been examining seahorses in an aquarium. Most inappropriate-seeming of creatures, a miniature horse that lives in the ocean, snout and stomach, tail and tiny dragon's wings. Yet, most perfectly in their element. I watched tiny herds of water horses grazing the reefs entirely, wonderfully at home in the universe. Tiny herds watching me in the universe, grazing water horses, entirely at home, wonderfully reefs. Can this explain the instant of apprehension of me by seahorses, by reefs, a transmission of brine, of air and eyes?
What does it mean to believe in our lives? I remember a child that was me. There were experiences then that I can dimly remember something of but not so much and less that's reliable.
We believe passionately in the preciousness of ‘our lives.’ We believe it's the only life we have, the only life we'll get. We speak of and are encouraged to speak of our ambitions, our fears, the demons we've faced, our cherished moral path in achieving those ambitions and striking down or succumbing to our fears and demons. In what we speak of, we imagine a life well lived and try to live it well and ever better.
But what is real in this? From where does love spring?
The past is a dream, demonized, idealized, just a dream. The future has not yet happened, our imaginings just like the past, a dream. What is happening? What is happening is no longer held fast. What is happening is 'giving away.' The present is eternally giving itself away into change. How can we open to experience, let anchor and give ourselves to the ebb tide, flowing away from us into the darkness?
We are terrified to imagine for a moment that there is nothing but this instant; that the immensity of true responsibility for this instant descends upon our shoulders. But there is no need for this concern. Giving ourselves is at once more frightening then not as frightening in activity as it might seem. Like parachuting, it's terrifying to move towards the lip of the plane, scarier to take the plunge then the benign winds buoy you up and you float down to earth.
It takes great strength to move out beyond experience, that of our parents, peers and teachers. But it is imperative that we do, no matter how great our teacher.
Giving our selves away completely on our zafus, intending to do this, transcending that intention, transcending 'giving ourselves away.' To give our selves, our cherished 'lives' away completely is the same as our inheritance of all of existence. What use is ‘me’ or ‘mine’ in the world as it is?
'Listening is a function of the whole self.' In the experience of listening is contained this and also the wholly listening self is whole with what is listened to. What is listened to is also listening. Listening listens to listening. In this act, listening, all of experience is 'listening.'
Great love springing effortlessly from the universe makes a universe of 'great love' if we can stop making the effort to prevent it from doing so.
How can we really give everything, allow our hands to be empty? Just when we've exhausted attempts to think non-thinking, to do non-doing, just when we think, it is not, there it is, shining quietly all along throughout our effort, our intentions.
Something becomes zazen, the state of zazen asserts itself as we assert it, spreading as we spread into it. Recognising it in diverse things, we comprehend zazen as the fundamental element of which consciousness is composed, the deep eternal note that is listening to us, sustaining us as we listen and sustain it.
There is no separation between the context and real form of a Buddha. Nothing exists that can be removed, that is not vital to the moment of existence. Buddha moving is the same as sky or ocean moving, forever changing the world. IT is moved by the conduct of Buddha.
It is not a spontaneous Buddha that moves for there was never a movement of Buddha that was not spontaneous. It is not uncontrived behaviour of the Buddha that moves IT. The behaviour of Buddha can never be contrived.
Why can we not give ourselves away into all things freely? This is the subtle skill of Buddhas, being without, allowing everything that arises to pass away. Things falling apart and passing away is what the Buddha is comprised of. This world is not afraid of its end, in fear at witnessing its passing, it does not hold its breath, nor does the Buddha who exists in the same state as the world.
Existing in this state, Buddhas act with complete freedom.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Perception without qualities, without nation, society, family, personality, without association or value is what we are, without that which we add and we are as moral as the universe of which we are made.
Look into your true nature means examine that of which the notional ‘You,' your notional separate existence is composed. When we examine this deeply we find nothing of substance at all, an awareness identified precisely with experience thus indeterminate; change, it’s eternal, unceasing principle.
But in this instant, everything does not cease to be, phenomena remain, solid and real and we communicate meaning to one another that relates to them and confer interrelation upon existence that in actuality transcends it. It is the wonderful communication of human beings.
Perceiving the true nature of existence, maintaining and manifesting the state that experiences the truth, we proceed, temporally as if time existed, slipping, faster than light, between instantaneous moments of eternity.