Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Selfless Relationship

One of the most beautiful and wonderful experiences that we can have as humans is that of relationship. In one sense, relationship is the only experience we have with the world - we appear to be constantly interacting with our environment in some sort of way, though the amount of meaning we attribute to these interactions varies. This attribution of meaning colors the way we perceive the world, and this coloring is largely responsible for the drama of human life. Our relationships with ourselves and others becomes distorted by our thoughts about them, and our belief in and attachment to these thoughts influences the way we approach life.
However, this thought-based approach to human relationship is not ultimately true. Upon contemplation, it is seen that these thoughts simply arise and fade away in our minds; they do not actually represent reality as we experience it. In fact, this attribution of meaning - this coloring of relationship - is the very source of our sense of separation and suffering. For example, when life takes the form of romantic relationship, often it appears that "problems" will arise in this relationship - often differences between preferences, personalities, and ways of viewing/doing things - and these "problems" can end up changing the direction of the relationship. A relationship that was once viewed through the filter of warm fuzzy feelings now becomes viewed through the judgment of these problems and perceived differences, and the relationship begins to falter. The more value that is given to these judgments, the more we feel separate, and as this sense of separation gains strength, we begin to feel more alienated and isolated from the flow of life. I see this as being one of the reasons why relationships tend to so easily fall apart after the "honeymoon phase"; one or both partners involved decide that since they are no longer experiencing these warm, fuzzy feelings, there must be something wrong with the relationship, and they leave - in search of those wonderful feelings they once had.
It appears to me that a similar storyline appears in our relationship with ourselves. We notice throughout our lives that at sometimes we feel elated and wonderful, and at other times we can be quite depressed. Unlike the romantic relationships we may enter into, however, we cannot leave our relationship with ourselves! Like it or not, you're in it until death. Although we cannot avoid our "negative" emotions (try as we may), we can investigate the way in which our relationship with ourselves contributes to them, and to the "positive" emotions as well.
One of the first steps in this investigation involves looking into the nature of the "self" in the first place. As has been said in many spiritual traditions - Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, and all the "neo-" philosophies that branch off from them - the self is nothing but thought, a mental construct. Although this idea of "me" seems to be the primary ground from which we experience the world, this egocentric way of experiencing often does not point towards what is real. This is because this "me" is itself not the independent, stable thing we take to be, so in perceiving through it, we also perceive untruth to various degrees. To put it more simply, the more we believe in our own existence as a separate, independent thing, the more we will see the world as being separate from us. Much of Western society and psychology focuses on strengthening this individual identity, which can be quite necessary for optimal functioning as an independent entity in the relative world. However, for those interested in inquiring into the true nature of things, holding onto this separate "me" can be very counterproductive. This is why I have found it greatly beneficial to look into the beliefs and assumptions that keep this sense of separation in place.
Have you ever had an experience in which you firmly believed something, only to later be shown that this belief was false? For many, this is a quite humbling experience, because it forces us to let go of our beliefs (which we often tend to use to make us feel justified or superior) and admit to ourselves that we didn't know what we thought we knew. Recognizing the falsehood of this "I" - which for many is the deepest of held-onto thought processes - can also be extremely humbling, because in doing so, our world - or rather, our version of what we think the world is like - begins to unravel. Often times, this can be a rather long and perhaps painful process, especially when such beliefs are tied very closely to one's way of life. In allowing these beliefs to die, we feel like a part of ourselves is dying too - and it is! When we truly allow ourselves to die, we find that either we construct a new belief to hold onto, or we remain a little more open and vulnerable, no longer using our beliefs to protect us.
I have found that this process of letting go of beliefs, layer by illusory layer, to be a rather arduous and painstaking way of attempting to awaken. This is because the very "I" that is trying to let go and awaken is the thing that is keeping us stuck in the egoic state of consciousness. In this way, it is much like a one-armed person attempting to cut off his remaining hand, using only his one hand to do so (why one would want to do such a thing, I don't know, but the metaphor works so I'm going with it). There may be small successes here and there, but ultimately he must rely on something other than himself to do the job.
It is much simpler to, instead of working to let go of our beliefs, to recognize the falsehood of the thing that believes it has beliefs. This does not require all the things that spiritual seekers think will help them awaken, like hours of daily meditation, retreats, satsangs, books, etc. All that is required is the recognition, in the moment, that our thoughts are inherently false. Even in this recognition it is not necessary that our actions change - it is quite possible to have a thought stream of "He is an asshole. That thought that he is an asshole is false. Even the thought that I am a thing separate from this asshole is false, because these thoughts are just arising and dissolving in consciousness...but I still believe he is an asshole", and then continue to go on doing whatever it is we do when we encounter assholes. This is not meant to excuse our actions that are motivated by "unenlightened" thought, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes it may appear to take time for what is known on the level of the mind to "sink in" and be seen at a deeper level. When we truly see through the "I", we find that this entire thought process either no longer arises, or that it arises but is no longer held onto, and that our sense of being the space in which these thoughts arise does not change.
So how does this relate to relationship? Well, when we recognize that our thoughts are in no way inherently true, we no longer feel motivated to act upon them in the ways we had previously. When we no longer perceive through the filter of thought, the assholes simply become people we simply do not wish to be around, instead of people we spend energy being angry at. We may also find that our friendships may change. Many people enter into relationship with other people because the other people's strengths and weaknesses nicely complement our own strengths and weaknesses. If we find that we often buy into the thought "I am a victim, the world is out to get me", we may enter into relationship with people that either encourage these thought patterns or serve as the a savior to rescue us from our own self-pity. When we drop the belief in victimhood, we find that we can stand on our own two feet, and perhaps we no longer feel an attraction to the person's personality because we had previously been using it for our own comfort. It is important to judge no one in these types of situations, as like all experiences, friendships come and go, and it is more important to stay true to ourselves than to cling to old relationships simply because we think we should.
The most important relationship to evolve, however, is the relationship with yourself. In allowing our thoughts of ourselves to pass through our minds without judging them as good and bad, a certain capacity to love opens up within us. We may still get pulled into depression or become arrogant at times, but when we recognize and accept all of the experiences that come and go in our lives - including the way we experience ourselves - we become able to tend to ourselves with love and tenderness, instead of with judgment. We soon learn that all the distinctions we make, such as "inner world" and "outer world", "enlightened" and "unenlightened", "me" and "you", etc., often only serve to comfort the thought-based self in an attempt to find security in an ultimately empty and groundless reality. And even these egoic attempts are seen for what they are and loved completely. Our hearts and minds open up to the world, and life is seen for what it is - God dancing with itself, simply because it can.

Love and laughter,


Monday, September 27, 2010


Sorry for the lack of posts in a while, I've simply been caught up with a new year at university and the blog had to take a backseat to other priorities, but I'm back today to speak about grace.

One of the most frustrating things about the process of spiritual discovery is the lack of control that a person has over it. When reality is perceived through the egoic state of consciousness, there tends to be a feeling of control that accompanies it. We go about our lives thinking that we are the initiators of our actions (save for the philosophers among us who believe in hard determinism), yet this feeling of personal agency is illusion. This is because we see the actions carried out by the body that we appear to be inhabiting, and the mind assumes itself to be the doer of these actions. The sense of doership that we perceive is nothing but a mental analysis of our experience. When we eat an apple, we might think about how the apple tastes, how it feels in our mouth, what the apple looks like, etc. But all of this is just an analysis of our experience - it does not even closely resemble the truth of the experience itself. Describing the taste or texture of an apple cannot come close to replicating the experience of eating it. When I say that the apple is juicy, the agreed-upon meaning of juiciness is evoked in each of our minds. This allows us to communicate, but it is nothing more than a mental representation of the reality of eating an apple.

How does this apply to the sense of doership? Well, when we eat an apple, we also notice that the body we appear to be inhabiting is the instrument that communicates the sensual experience to us. The body is an instrument of perception. During the process of eating the apple, however, the ego-mind analyzes the experience and claims ownership if it. It does this quite simply, with the thought "I am this body". This single thought, this single identification, is the source of our sense of doership over our bodies. We already identify with the mind (as mentioned in previous posts), so whatever the mind identifies with, we identify with as well. We forget that all of this identification is nothing but thought! It is nothing but a mental analysis of experience. It is not reality. It is our interpretation of it.

Which brings us back to grace. If our sense of doership is just an illusion, an idea created by mental analysis, then who is committing "our" actions? No one is! But that's okay, because that's who you are anyway! Everything that you appear to be - your thoughts, body, actions, personality, etc. - is a manifestation of Life itself. You are a unique expression of Whole. The entirety of reality is choosing to create itself in this moment through you! In a later post I'll expound upon our mutual nonexistence, however for now it is enough to simply open yourself up to the possibility that who you are is not who you think you are, or even more, you are not a thing at all. In recognizing this and the illusory nature of our sense of doership, we see that all happenings in the mystery of Life are simply that - happenings. Things occur without any rhyme or reason. That's why it is a Great Mystery! Things arise, things dissolve. Things are created, things are destroyed. All doings of the universe come about via grace - Life just moves the way it moves. When we realize that things just happen, we are able to let go of our need to understand the intricate workings of things. The mind always wants to know what comes next - this provides it with feelings of security, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, this feeling of security will always fade, because the conditions the cause it will always change. This leads the mind to keep seeking a new place to find comfort. But the truth is that there is no place to rest your head.

The question that arises naturally from this understanding is "If I don't have any control over anything, then what's the point in "doing spirituality" at all? Is there anything I can actually do help me reach Enlightenment?" In short, no. There is absolutely nothing that the little "I" that you think you are can do to influence the universe in anyway. However, this is from the largest perspective. It is a statement about Oneness from the view (or non-view) of Oneness. But if you have not experienced Oneness, then there is absolutely no reason for you to believe it. In fact, regardless of what you may or may not have experienced, it will not serve you to tightly hold onto anything I am saying. Instead, let your experience guide you. Everything you need is right in front of you. If your experience tells you that you are a "doer" and have influence over the world, then there is no reason for you to deny it. Go with it, but don't commit extra energy to this sense of doership either. Remain open to all possibilities; investigate your own experience with a curiosity and openness to see what is really true. If this means that you believe you have control even though Spiritual Master Shablablabla says it's not true, that's fine! Work with what you know. Use your sense of doership to invite the truth into your experience. Use it to meditate. Use it to focus your attention on the truth. Use it instigate positive change. Use it for personal growth. Use it as long as it feels right to do so. When it is ready to drop, it will - and only Grace will instigate this.

As Ken Wilbur and other spiritual teachers have stated, "Enlightenment is an accident, but you can make yourself more accident prone!"



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is Karma?

The idea of karma is one that goes way back. The Buddhists use it as a way of saying that all occurrences have a cause and effect, and that we are all caught up in this interdependent chain reaction. The New Agers tend to think of it as a metaphysical stockpile of good and bad deeds, and the more "good" karma you accumulate, the more "good" things will happen to you, and the more "bad" things you do, the more you will suffer. I agree with a (somewhat) different interpretation of karma - though it has similar implications.

I see karma as our conditioning - the tendency to act or react in a particular way. Many people view karma as "what goes around comes around," and in a sense, this is true. When we act from the ego-mind, we are adding fuel to the sense of separation - the illusion that we are not One. The popular idea of karma tends to portray some actions as "good" or "bad", but these are both relative terms that allow the mind to adhere to the illusion of duality. In Oneness, things are neither good nor bad - they just are. These labels also allow us to judge ourselves as good or bad by the types of deeds we do.

Since the popular idea of karma can tend to lead people to believe a thought-based, concept-oriented version of truth (and thusly false, as Ultimate Truth does not lie in the realm of the mind), I find it helpful to think of karma in terms of how more or less conditioned we are. The greater your adherence to the separate sense of self, which springs from the mind, the more you empower and solidify its existence. It is from this separate self that dishonest, cruel, selfish, and "sinful" acts - those you would say generate bad karma - originate. It is only when we fail to see that we are One that we commit acts lacking in compassion. When we recognize that others are the same as us, the natural inclination is to relieve suffering, for the suffering of one is seen to be the suffering of One - the suffering of all. This is what compassion IS - in empathizing with others, we become inclined to relieve the suffering of others, knowing that we are relieving our own suffering as well.

When we fail to see this, we perpetuate the egoic sense of self - our karmic conditioning. The more separate and alone we feel, the more likely we are to view others as completely separate. This allows us to distance ourselves from them emotionally, leading to a lack of empathy and compassion. Without compassion, we seek only what we consider to be our own gain and disregard the suffering it causes others. This causes our own internal suffering (we do have a conscience after all - it is the voice of the soul, the part of you that knows you are One), and the cycle repeats. If this cycle perpetuates itself for too long, a human can become so conditioned in the sense of separation that even taking another human life does not trigger any sort of emotional response in the body. When this happens, the voice of the conscience becomes so small that it is unheard, and the most inhumane of actions become acceptable.

The good news is, nobody can remain completely stuck in the illusion forever! At some point (in this life or the next), the pain of upholding the separate sense of self becomes too much to bear, and truth is seen. Compassion is felt, and the cycle repeats. When we commit selfless acts (ones that would be said to generate "good" karma), we invite others to realize - through us - that we are truly One. When this happens, the ego becomes a little softer, and the person becomes a little more open and loving. From this springs happiness. When the ego becomes attached to this feeling of happiness, and tries to get more of it by being more selfless, this should not be seen as a bad thing. Some people tend to see all egoic desire as bad - and indeed it must be overcome if one is to be Enlightened - however when one's egoic desire for happiness is aligned with the truth of Oneness, and this is where the greatest happiness is felt, it is a sign of spiritual maturation. The person has realized that it is for the benefit of all to be selfless. It is often through compassionate acts that awakening occurs, because they involve a conscious decision to express some aspect of Oneness, initiating a chain reaction of awakening: the One always seeks to experience itself more fully. It is between these two cycles to and from the sense of separation that compose most of human life.

I prefer this way of looking at karma because it allows for a conceivable endpoint - Enlightenment - at which a person is no longer a follower of his or her unconscious conditioning. The popular interpretation of karma seems to drive people to feel the need to "work off" bad karma, and do good things so that they will get good things in return. This model still empowers the ego by making it feel as if it must do something (work off bad karma) to be worthy or happy, and by encouraging the notion that the happiness stemming from ego gratification (the good things that will happen to you if you do good deeds) is desirable - it implies a resistance to the present circumstance or situation. The interpretation of karma as mental conditioning also can allow one to view their own natural inclination to do compassionate, selfless deeds as a barometer for how far along one is in his or her spiritual maturation.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Making Friends with Yourself

One "trap" that I find many spiritual seekers fall into at some point or another is one that doesn't get mentioned often, yet is extremely detrimental to the awakening process. People forget to love their ego-based self. Most of the mainstream discourse on awakening places a lot of emphasis on detaching from the ego-based identity (which is a vital idea that has undoubtedly led to an overall raising of consciousness), however this idea has been shoved down many people's throats to the point where the ego becomes viewed as "bad". We fail to realize that this cannot be, as EVERYTHING is part of the One, including the ego! There is just as much God in the thoughts that create the false sense of identity as there is in the heart of an fully awakened being.

I have found the amount of ego that I see in others and in my own actions serves as a good barometer for my own spiritual development. As has been said many times before, "the world is your mirror." This means that the amount of ego you see in others is recognized only by the ego that is currently present within you. In fact, even the judgment of "this comes from ego and this does not" comes from ego - and this is precisely how we remain stuck in the state of separation. These thoughts serve to divide reality into ego/God or enlightened/unenlightened or good/bad, etc. From the awakened perception of reality, ego is not seen in anyone or anything. Instead, things are seen for as they truly are - One.

So I'm supposed to recognize when I'm acting from ego, yet even the judgment of "I'm acting from ego" comes from the very ego I want to awaken from? This doesn't make sense!

So stop trying to make sense of it. This is still just your mind trying to analyze the situation so it can control it for it's own egoic gain.

So now it's seems like everything is ego, not God!

What would happen if you didn't see everything as ego OR God, and you just saw everything as it is?

I'd be enlightened, I suppose. But how do I do that?

By loving! The ego drops naturally when it is loved. Loving yourself - even when this self is a false identity - is necessary for anyone's happiness, regardless of whether or not any spiritual search is involved. If you do not love yourself, there will always be conflict within you. This does not mean that you should feed energy into the ego, however. In truly loving something, you allow it to be as it as, and place no restrictions or limitations on it whatsoever. This means when you see the egoic thoughts arise that you would usually label as "bad", instead just watch the thoughts without engaging in them. Simply being present to them - loving them - will allow them to drop on their own. If you try to get them to drop, chances are they won't go anywhere. What you resist, persists.

When the false self has control over us, it does so because the false self itself believes itself to be the true self. In other words, thoughts (which are inherently untrue) attach to other thoughts, and these thoughts all call themselves true. This is the process of believing - thoughts attaching to thoughts. What happens is that this whole system of thoughts creates the sense of self, so we have an inherently false idea (I am this self) that believes itself to be true - and this is the place from which the majority of the population experiences the world. When we truly and deeply love our ego-mind by practicing non-resistance and allowing it to be what it is, the ego-mind drops because it recognizes itself to be false. This is how the journey to realizing Who You Are is a process of realizing Who You Are Not, because all of these thoughts drop when they are recognized as being false.

We love ourselves when we stop judging ourselves as good and bad...which leads to us not viewing others as good and bad...which leads to us not desiring to do actions which would be judged as bad. Through loving ourselves, we learn to love the world.



Thursday, July 8, 2010

Viva la liberacion!

This weekend past marked the 234th anniversary of the United State's signing of the Declaration of Independence, in which America was granted independence from Great Britain. Being that I live in the States, the idea of independence and freedom has been on my mind recently. To most, freedom seems to be a very important value - this is most clearly exemplified by the average rebellious American teenager, to whom EVERYTHING is a restriction of freedom - but what exactly is it? Delving into the nature of our ideas about freedom leads me to believe that freedom is not what many people think it is. In fact, many people may indeed have a very convoluted conception of what freedom truly is.

When we travel through adolescence and start to gain a greater sense of independence as we attempt to develop our identities, we seem to realize that we are completely autonomous individuals that are able to make decisions freely (we'll let the philosophers argue about this, but generally, this is the conclusion that the average person comes to so we'll go with that). At this immature stage of development, freedom may be defined as "the ability to do what I want, when I want it". And yes, this is indeed a valid definition. The typical adolescent feelings of rebellion arise when we see that there are a multitude of restrictions being placed upon us - by society, the government, etc. This infringes upon the adolescent's feelings of freedom, so the common response to this assault upon independence is exercise this freedom to a further extent - hence the rebellious activity.

The problem is, many people do not develop too much further than this. We may accept and abide by the limits that are imposed upon us by various laws and customs, but we still retain our immature idea of freedom. And there is nothing wrong with this. Certainly people who maintain this notion of independence can live fulfilling and happy lives, and many would likely say that the freedom to act when wants is nearly requisite to being happy - I'll admit that it definitely helps. However, for those interested in a deeper kind of freedom (liberation is another word for enlightenment, after all) this concept of freedom is not going to work, and here's why: it is entirely based on the egoic state of consciousness.

It is no coincidence that our concept of freedom seems to develop during our teenage years, when we are also in the process of developing our identities. In fact, it is this freedom that allows us to develop our identities in the way we do, though whether or not we are aware of all the factors influencing our choices is another story altogether. As we emerge from adolescence with an identity intact (this is the traditional view of lifespan development in psychology, though new thought is leading many to believe that this is a lifelong process - I tend to agree, though the point is still relevant regardless of when one maintains a certain identity), our ideas about freedom come with it; all of these ideas pertain to the person's individual identity. But as mentioned in previous posts, all of this is nothing but an elaborate story that we have told ourselves, the identity and idea of freedom included. There is truly no "I" to which freedom pertains.

This is one of the greatest deceptions of the ego: it leads us to think "I am free do what I want" (which includes "I am free to think what I want" by extension), yet what ends up happening is we actually become slave to our thoughts, and there is no freedom at all! Our thoughts, emotions, and this long, drawn-out "me-story" rules our lives. Our lives become dictated by what we do and don't want, what we think about things, how we feel - generally, people try to do what they think will make them happy. We become ruled by what many consider to be an instinctual aversion to pain and inclination towards happiness. However, anything that we try to acquire or any set of circumstances that we think is necessary for our happiness is ultimately transient, and we suffer when we lose them. In fact anything that exists in the mind - ideas about what is necessary for happiness, ideas about enlightenment, ideas about ourselves - is impermanent. If nothing that exists in the mind can bring us lasting happiness, why do we still chase after it?

We chase these fantasies of the mind because we are controlled by the egoic state of consciousness, which deludes us into believing we are in total control of our lives, and that all we have to do is act a certain way and achieve a certain state of circumstances and then everything will be okay. As long as you hold this to be true, you cannot be free. Freedom is when you are no longer slave to your thoughts and desires, heeding every beck and call of the ego. Freedom is when you can walk into any situation and feel no need to protect any identity or act a certain way. Freedom is not unnecessarily worrying about the past and future, and letting these worries wreak havoc with your emotions. Freedom is being able to act with love, kindness, and compassion in all situations. Freedom is having no fear, because you know that Who You Truly Are cannot be harmed.

It is important not to take the freedom I am alluding to and conceptualizing it, though to a certain extent this is inevitable. It may be tempting to take this idea and say "I'm free to act anyway I want, nothing I do matters because everything I do is transient, and regardless, it's all One anyway." This is often used as an excuse for unenlightened action, even though to a certain extent, this is true. The One will always be the One. However, in saying this, you are conceptualizing the One as well, and all of this conceptualization and believing comes from the same egoic state of consciousness you supposedly wish to awaken from. This time, it is making you a slave to the idea of meaninglessness. Again you have become the rebellious teenager, exercising his freedom in reckless ways simply because he can. Any true recognition of Oneness involves dropping these concepts, so all actions come from a place that does not need or want to manipulate the situation in a particular way. This is why "unenlightened" behavior always comes from the feeling of separation the egoic state of consciousness creates - true freedom lies in a complete surrender to the present moment, so there is no need to change it to fit your desires.

One of the biggest paradoxes - and there are many - of this whole "enlightenment" thing is that true freedom involves a total and complete surrender to the present moment. Only when we have rid ourselves of the desire to act freely can we truly act freely.

Just more evidence that God has a sense of humor. =]



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Surrendering to Silence

As mentioned in my previous post, meditation is one of the most worthwhile practices you can get in the habit of doing, regardless of whether or not you're interested in spirituality or awakening. Meditation has been overwhelming proven to increase levels of happiness, self-esteem, and well-being, lead to deep states of relaxation, boost blood flow and oxygen levels throughout the body, and lower blood pressure. And perhaps the greatest side-effect of meditation: a stilling of the mind.

For most of the world's population, there is a constant stream of thoughts running through our minds. It is full of beliefs and opinions, old memories and hopes for the future, and of course, a big list that could probably be titled "Ways in Which My Life is Insufficient". And as you may or may not have realized at this point in your life, a majority of these those are most likely completely useless. More often than not, we are too busy thinking about this, that, and the other to directly engage with the moment that we are currently present to.

This "stream of consciousness" really isn't much of a stream at all. For most, it is a raging river. We may think that we have control over our thoughts (and to some degree, maybe we do), but we usually tend to get so caught up in them that they seem to run our lives. And when we try to direct our thoughts, oftentimes we get swept away in them, not knowing where they will take us. Over time, however, the practice of meditation can slow these thoughts down so they resemble a stream - or better yet, a still pond. When the mind is still, we are completely open and available to the present moment, not judging or resisting anything. This allows us to reconnect with our true Selves, because thoughts no longer get in the way.

So how does one meditate? "Meditation" actually covers a variety of different techniques and styles, many of which are covered here (it's broken down into several posts, make sure to scroll through the first page or two). The type of meditation that I feel most beneficial and conducive to stilling the mind is called zazen. In zazen meditation, which is the primary style used by Zen Buddhists, all a person as to do is simply sit, and do nothing else. That may sound simple - and it is - but any person who has tried it will be sure to tell you that it can be quite difficult at first. In the zazen style, you are supposed to detach from your thoughts, and simply watch them pass through your consciousness without following them or engaging in them. This is easier said than done, however, because it requires a deep level of non-action on your part. It is tempting to "think through" the thoughts, and engage in the thoughts until whatever your mind is fixated on drops, but something else will always pop up in its place. We may also try to push our thoughts away and force them to be quiet, but as with many things in life, what you resist, persists. This is why zazen encourages meditators to simply watch the thoughts float by. The mind is like a puddle - agitate it, and the dirt will muddy the water, turning it opaque. But if you just let the puddle be, the sediment settles down to the bottom, and the water becomes clear. And yes, now you know where this blog's URL and title come from. =]

In meditation, when this stillness is reached, we are able to rest in the silence and recognize ourselves as actually being the silence. This silence - the silence that is there behind your thoughts, the silence that allows your thoughts to flow - is who you actually are. This is thought of as awareness, or consciousness. You are not your mind; you are the awareness that perceives the mind. When you are breathing in meditation, you are not the one breathing. You are the consciousness that is aware of the breathing. This shift in perception is essential to detaching from the ego-mind and its grasp in your life. Once we recognize that we are no longer slave to the voice in our heads, we are able to enjoy life in a freer and more connected way.

Before doing zazen meditation, a simple breathing meditation may be necessary to calm the mind down enough that we are not immediately swept away in our train of thought. This, the most basic of meditations, is probably my favorite, if only for its sheer simplicity: watch your breath. That's all you have to do. You might have to control your breath and slow it down a bit at first, but then simply feel your breath rise and fall - it may help to concentrate on the chest going up or down, or the air going in and out of the base of your nostrils. When you breath in, there will be a split-second of stillness between when you are breathing in and when you breathe out. Direct your attention towards this gap of silence, and do the same thing before you breathe back in after breathing out. As you meditate, let this gap between in- and exhalation get longer and longer. This will help you get a glimpse of the "no-mind" state, in which thoughts cease. However, it is important to remember that as long as you are controlling thoughts, you are acting from ego and attempting to manipulate your experience, and this type of ego-control is exactly what we are trying to detach from. This is why I recommend this type of breathing meditation to initially get relaxed and settle into the meditation practice, though after a few minutes I would advocate switching to zazen meditation, in which you can more directly experience yourself as the empty awareness that you really are.



Monday, June 21, 2010


Question: "Okay, I know that spiritual awakening is something that I are interested in and would like to pursue. How do I do it?"

Answer: You don't! And here's why: "you" are not the one who is actually waking up! Awakening is a completely spontaneous process through which the ideas about ourselves fall away. When we experience reality, there tends to be a lot of thinking involved. We take what we see, analyze and interpret it, and then call our interpretation of what we see the truth. Essentially, what each of us calls reality is a collection of ideas that we tell ourselves about reality. We have made most of it up. We have drawn a bunch of conclusions about what we think the world is like based on our life's experience of it, and hold these conclusions to be true. However, when we hold these ideas to be true, they serve as filters that distort our perception of reality. Instead of seeing things as they truly are, we see things according to our interpretation.

One of the most influential of these ideas that we tell ourselves is the idea of a personal "me". This is the ego - the collection of stories that answer the question "Who am I?". We think of ourselves as being separate, individual beings that navigate the world, yet any true awakening experience shows that this isn't true. In moments of enlightenment, when reality is seen for what it really is, there is always an absence of self. The personal "me" and all the ideas associated with it are removed, taking the filters that distort our perception with it, and reality is perceived as being what it really is: One. There is no separation between subject and object; both the perceiver and what is being perceived are recognized as being connected in such a way so that they are actually the same thing. There is only one being. From this way of perception, one can see that reality is this One Being experiencing itself. There may be an infinite number of viewpoints from within this One Being, and your experience is one of these viewpoints, but it is still One. This does not mean that there is one being that is surrounded by nothingness, or one being that is separate from everything else. In fact, nothingness and the One are the same thing.

This is why "you" cannot actually do anything to awaken, because "you" are not actually there. In moments of awakening, "you" do not exist. The ego has no part in awakening, because the ego is what is awoken from. The egoic state of consciousness - full of thoughts and ideas and beliefs and identities - is completely shed, and what is left is the recognition of Oneness. This One Being (a.k.a. God/Spirit/Love/Source/Dao/Self/Buddhamind/enlightenment/awakeness/consciousness/Reality) realizes that everything actually is One, and the previously experienced sense of separation is only an illusion.

We cannot ego our way into Enlightenment because as long as we are trying to manipulate our experience, we are saying "I need this set of conditions to be Enlightened", forgetting that enlightenment is the natural state of things; everything is already One, whether you are experiencing things that way or not. When you are directing experience in order to meet a condition, you can be sure that in some way you are turning to thought as a source of truth. You have an idea about what circumstances must be necessary for enlightenment, and are then trying to make those circumstances manifest. But this is just more thought, more ego! Thoughts can never actually be true; Truth lies in the things the thoughts represent. Even these words are not true in of themselves. No word, concept, or thought can ever bring a person to enlightenment, as Who You Are is outside the realm of the mind. This is why awakening must entail a dropping of beliefs, because beliefs reside in the mind, which is the source of our sense of separation.

Although awakening is a spontaneous event and you cannot truly make yourself wake up, you can bring about the conditions that favor awakening. The most common and probably most effective tool that can be used for awakening, spiritual development, and life in general is meditation. Meditation is a practice that has the by-product of stilling and settling the mind, allowing the constant stream of thoughts to slow down. When this happens, we are able to rest in the gaps of silence between thoughts. These gaps create the space for awakening to occur. This is why many people have insights during meditation; with a still mind, they are able to see through all the false beliefs that were distorting their perception of a situation, and are now able to see it with a clearer mind. Meditation alone, however, does not guarantee Enlightenment. Even if a person reaches a meditative state in which their is no thought, if there is still a separation between the meditator and what he or she is experiencing, there is still ego. In order for this ego to further dissolve, one must practice another importance to awakening: acceptance.

True acceptance entails not resisting whatever one is experiencing. Whenever we are resisting the present moment and attempting to manipulate our situation, we are acting from ego. Resistance implies a belief that the current situation isn't good enough, so there is a need to change the experience to something that is "better". Again - all of these ideas lie in the mind. This is why it can be very beneficial to remember the Daoist phrase "Go with the flow." When we go with the flow, we accept the circumstances we are given and harmonize with it, instead of resisting it and trying to change it. The more we go with the flow, the less we are acting from our ego-based identity, and Who You Are is able to manifest itself more easily.

Other general tips for improving the conditions for an awakening experience include practicing love, compassion, and forgiveness; attempting to see things from other people's points of view; engaging in activities that require that one be immersed in the moment, such as competitive sports, playing a musical instrument - any activity, really, as pretty much all activities can be performed in a mindful, conscientious way.

But really. Meditate.