Self and Other

The great Buddhist master Shantideva, in his famous guide to cultivating the mind of enlightenment, which is translated as “The Way of the Bodhisattva”, wrote:

“Whoever wishes quickly to become a refuge for himself and others should undertake this sacred mystery, to take the place of others, giving them his own.”

A wise commentator on this verse, the late adept Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, noted:

“We attach great importance to what we conceive of as I, Myself, and therefore to such thoughts as my body, my mind, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, my friend. But the concept of others we neglect and ignore. We may indeed be generous to beggars and give food to who need it, but it is a fact that we do not care for them as much as we care for ourselves. This however is precisely what we should do; and conversely, just as we are now able to ignore others, we should be able to ignore ourselves.”

 An admirable ideal, no doubt, but for all but an extremely rare few, the above is more of an aspiration than a reality in terms of our everyday life experience. Even Dilgo Rinpoche mentioned that it was not yet true of him in his own practice. Why is it so rare? Because we are composed of both soul and human components, and as long as there is a human component, there will typically be self-interest. It is the nature of the animal. This is also why there is so much emphasis in the esoteric schools on mind training, because our usual human inclinations are anything but selfless. Taming the mind is the foundation of such methods, because it is at the level of thought that our attitudes and behaviors are spawned and enlivened.

Just as a child needs to be taught how to behave, often against its own desires and preferences, so too do we in our human personas find that real self-surrender in relationships — true unconditional loving kindness — does not come easily. A brief review of any day’s news headlines makes that abundantly clear, but we don’t need such reports to clarify our usual state – all we need do is self-inspect our habitual motives to recognize how thoroughly we are driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others.

It is the testimony of the wisdom bearers that we come here from the realm of the unconditional in order to experience the conditional. Our original spirit nature is unconditional love, but apparently we set that aside temporarily in order to fully participate in the human experience. We are typically attracted to such an incarnational opportunity because it represents something so different than our actual state as light being souls, and hence is intriguing to us in our natural curiosity and trajectory towards infinitely expanding Self-awareness.

Although the human intellect may be puzzled and even dismayed as to why we would choose birth on this often harsh and primitives world, those who have been granted a “glimpse behind the curtain” are unanimous in suggesting that there is a bigger picture to appreciate, and that our appearance here makes perfect sense within that more encompassing view. All of the various challenges we may find ourselves confronting are actually chosen by us, although we do arrive with a temporary amnesia in order to provide the adventure with a more visceral impact.

Imagine, for example, if you are gifted with access to Universal Knowledge. Wouldn’t it be interesting to set that aside for a moment (which is all this human life really is, in the greater scheme of things), and enjoy the thrill of not knowing how everything turns out?

This is also why the comparison of this life to a virtual reality scenario is often employed, a situation in which we temporarily assume the fictional “avatar” identity to play the game of materiality. It does seem that our time here in this density is generally all about the experience of duality. Indeed, that is the nature of this realm, and it is an experiential adventure which we apparently are eager to dive into, judging by the vast multitudes of incarnated beings who have taken the plunge, so to speak.

It is also useful to remember that “nondual” does not mean “not dual”. If we examine the nature of emptiness, for example, we can also recognize that it does not exclude anything, even duality. It expresses itself through all of it, just as the ocean expresses itself through every wave, large and small. So many imagine that spirituality involves rising beyond or even escaping the realm of the physical, but perhaps it is actually more about imbuing the physical with the spiritual, bringing heaven to earth.

In any case, to the extent that we can accept ourselves for what we are during our sojourn here, we are that much closer to real freedom, because we have thereby relinquished the chronic and contractive inner conflict generated by the various idealistic self-improvement schemes which humans tend to inflict upon themselves, based on borrowed notions and faulty programming.

As we do come to embody such acceptance, interestingly enough, we can also recognize that “the other” is not really different from us, not at all as separate as they may have initially appeared, and so the sense of oneness can ripen naturally. As always, it is important to remember that love is all that matters, regardless of what dimension we may be sampling. Such remembrance is critical to our full enjoyment and appreciation of this and any other realm’s possibilities.

Of course, acts of genuine selflessness are certainly not impossible while we are here. There can be grace-filled moments of profound remembrance, and even some rare few who have managed to stabilize to some significant extent in that blessed state, such as the late 20th century saint Ramana Maharshi. On the other hand, I have observed those who preach that “there is no other” act in ways that are very much contrary to that claim. Likewise, there are certain Near Death Experiencers who are granted the vision of unconditional love and oneness while “on the other side”, but upon return, all that becomes more like a cherished memory, and not necessarily indicative of their current state.

Consequently, for most of us, it may remain an inspiring ideal and wonderful aspiration, and certainly worthy of emulating. However, we might also notice that we often tend to congratulate ourselves after any episode of apparent generosity on our part, so being aware of how easily the ego-mind can co-opt even such moments is always sobering.

In that sense, and in order to actualize a mature quality of compassion in our life and relationships, it would be productive to first recognize the essential role of mind and its thought projections. Indeed, without such a realization, countless well-meaning care-givers end up burning themselves out on the job. Add to that the religious aspirants over the centuries who have attempted to embody their idealistic and misunderstood concepts about self-abnegation. More often than not, they have only ended up reinforcing the ego-self position, despite their original intent, and even harming themselves with ignorantly-prescribed self-mortifications and so forth.

A well-worn but nevertheless still-wise admonition warns us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Other teachers, such as the late Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche, caution against what he termed “idiot compassion”. I have previously elaborated on the ramifications of this issue in my essay “To Do Something”. As an antidote to such mistaken views and possible dead ends, one of my favorite guides in these matters, Sparrow, wrote:

“As an empathic being you are going to want to immerse yourself in this sacred gift of sensitivity and connection. What you are going to want to do is train yourself to remain open and sensitive yet to relinquish your focus and necessity for personal ego and persona. This is to say, you are going to learn to become a silent witness to events as they take place without adding your personal ego, your personal perspective and your own memory infrastructure. Basically you are going to let go of that which you perceive is ‘you’ and become one with that which you are being empathic to. But, the most important part, you are going to need to let go of it once you have experienced one-ness with it in order to relinquish ownership of it and its influence when returning to your human persona. That is the difficult part, but it is possible by learning to let go of thought altogether.”

 In that regard, he notes: “You will arrive at the dawn of realization to this when you have learnt to let go of all thought. For when there is no thought, there is no judgement or clouded interpretation; there is no re-enacted learnt behaviour; there is no past and no future; there becomes only one-ness with the present. This seems alien to you because you have not stepped into such a place. Such a place you are trying to place in your mind, but your mind is already too full of contradicting thoughts to accept it. Such a place cannot and will not exist in mind, not as an accurate idea or concept, but must be a condition beyond [the thinking] mind.”

 Thus, we return in this, as in so many similar considerations, to contemplating mind and the critical role our thoughts play in determining our attitudes and behaviors, be they predominantly selfish or aspiring to the selfless model. Indeed, it is our conditioned thinking which inevitably contributes to whether our orientation will tend towards service to self or service to others.

However, it’s also true that those who truly act in a selfless manner are not thinking “I am now being selfless”. Instead, they are acting from “no mind”. That is, they are just doing what needs to be done, without adding the superfluous self-consciousness of a “do-gooder”. They transcend the thinking mind, and thus their activity burns itself up, like a good bonfire, in the process.

Truly “taking the place of others and giving them our own” is just that way – spontaneous, and without studied regard for one’s own personal benefit or aggrandizement. Thus, it is genuinely “the right thing to do”, because there is no fixed identification with an ego-self concept lurking in the activity, attempting to claim the experience for itself. The more our activities take place without the burden of our complex and often ambivalent personal regard, the closer we will approach the authentic “enlightenment-mind” which strives toward awakening, empathy, and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings, a recognition in which service to others is simultaneously and unmistakably service to Self. In this activity, we also discover the fulfillment of the Golden Rule – treating others as ourselves — because of the dawning realization that they are indeed “not two”.

 

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Oneness and Individuality

Consciousness may express and experience itself through the sense of individuality and apparent separation just as much as it might through the majestic sense of oneness — it is clinging to or seeking one and avoiding the other which creates the chronic dissatisfaction which plagues most spiritual seekers. What we can recognize, upon inspection, is that both views are just that – views – and as such are essentially fantasies of interpretation on perception, projections of mind.

Moreover, the sense of individuality, as well as that of unity consciousness, are equally natural expressions of the incarnated being, contrary to the claims of some teachers who disparage one and elevate the other. In life, it is only fixation in any state that turns out to be the hindrance, not the state itself, which is, after all, a transient and non-binding modification of consciousness.

Light and shadow alternate. This realm is a platform for the complementary play of opposites, of yin and yang, and in fact it is one that makes the other “meaningful”. On the other hand, there are many so-called spiritual authorities who preach that the sense of separation and individuality is a lesser, or undesirable, state. One popular Western neo-advaita teacher, Adyashanti, wrote: “The state of consciousness that a great majority of humanity is in is not natural. It’s altered. We do not need to go looking for altered states of consciousness; humanity is already in an altered state of consciousness. It’s called separation. Separation is the ultimate altered state of consciousness.”

However, consciousness itself is perpetually changed by experience, so in that sense, it is always “altered”. In that regard, the sense of unity or oneness is also an altered state. Since there is no fixed and permanently established consciousness, it is all flux. Consequently, the effort to cling to some preferred, idealistic state (such as un-separate-ness) inevitable results in stress and suffering. One can verify this through their own experience.

It seems that there are a lot of myths swirling around the experience of “oneness”, perpetuated by our fellow human personas who would like to imagine the victorious acquisition of idealistic and superior states, along with the sense of some finality to the spiritual search. In reality, such an awakening to “oneness” may grant another perspective, a shift in the angle of vision, but does not immediately eradicate the subconscious programs (vasanas) which continue to confuse us in our behaviors and relationships.

It is a good step, however, if properly utilized in one’s inquiry, although it can also become even more of a hindrance, as we have witnessed too many times in teachers who claim some special liberated status and yet are revealed to be all too human in their foibles. The term “Spiritual By-pass” has been employed to describe the use of spiritual blinders that lead one to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.

In fact, ego-mind can co-opt even profound awakenings, wearing the experiences as some sort of badge. This is the “Intermediate Zone” that the 20th century sage Sri Aurobindo wrote about, which can be a serious trap for those without mature and qualified guidance and mentoring. I have discussed this previously, including in the essay “Tests of Mind, Character, and Will”.

In our human adventure, we may experience both separation and oneness, and there is even a level of realization in which we recognize that what we truly are is utterly beyond any definition or temporary experiential state, whether it be one of apparent lonely isolation or exalted oneness with all the universe. Both are equally interesting to our immortal Spirit in its infinite expansion of Self-awareness.

Indeed, it is only the human persona which holds the hierarchical perception that one state is somehow better or of more value than another. In reality, different views, different states of vibration, even the different dimensions are all arising interdependently, and exist within one another, informing and influencing one another and creating new possibilities all of the time. Thus, to quote the Guide Sparrow, one state or vibrational frequency cannot be of greater value than another, for all are “interwoven as one fluid mechanism, one interconnected sentient orchestration, and one infinitely expansive and evolving interactive process — That which some call God.”

 

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The Shadow

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“Malevolence exists because free will exists, and all things are permitted to exist and coexist. Life cannot know itself as one thing without knowing that which it is not. You would not know you were a loving being unless your opposite was permitted to exist and to be experienced.”

~Sparrow

A popular theme in spiritual/psychological circles involves coming to terms with what is typically called “the shadow”, or the “dark side” of the human personality. This so-called shadow represents a semi-entified phenomena generally believed lurking in the unconscious area of the psyche, and consequently rendering it hard to access. In any case, it is believed responsible for generating all of the dubious and troublesome thoughts and deeds, motives and views, which are perceived as less than desirable in our life and relations.

When we experience episodes of greed, anger, envy, hatred, and above all, consuming self-interest, we may claim that it is our shadow side coming to the surface. Hence, it is usually designated as a negative personality figment, or at least one in need of being balanced somehow by the proper application of love, light, and thoughtful recognition to the point that it finally melts away. For example, a highly touted Western teacher, Adyashanti, writes:

“Within the unconscious lies our shadow. We call it our shadow because we often do not directly perceive it. It is usually hidden away from us deep within the unconscious. But by becoming more and more aware, we eventually begin to expose our shadow sides, those aspects of ourselves that we would rather not see and that we avoid altogether.

Mostly what is important is to simply be open to your shadow when it arises and don’t take it to be a true and real accounting of reality. Simply allow it to be without identifying with it. Don’t push it away either. Just allow it to arise without reacting to it. When you can experience it without reacting to it either positively or negatively, it will pass away on its own accord.”

In my essay entitled Prison Planet Samsara, I briefly touched on this matter, but here I am going to delve into it a little bit more, from several different perspectives, and hopefully help to clarify what is often obscured by theories and assumptions. For example, is there actually a clearly delineated dark/light dichotomy within us, or is that just another dualistic concept we employ to account for the mystery of our totality – and one that moreover ignores the many intricate grey layers that comprise the human persona? Furthermore, is it true that we can just adopt some sort of thoughtful, non-reactive attitude, and all of the various self-created disturbances that arise in the course of our lives will simply dissolve of their own accord?

Growing up, I was told there was a good angel on my right shoulder, and a bad angel on my left, and they were both whispering to me in my ears in an attempt to influence my thoughts and behavior. I decided to test that hypothesis, and so spent a lot of time in secluded areas listening to determine what I could hear. However, I noticed that I didn’t hear any angelic or devilish whispers or instructions, but only a kind of soft white noise.

Of course, having been brought up as a Christian, I was regularly informed that there is always some kind of battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and that endless celestial war plays out on the individual level in a contest for our soul. If we align with the good guys and follow their rules, commandments, and teachings, we are rewarded after death with eternal salvation in heaven, but if we “sin” and “go bad”, so to speak, we are damned to the relentless fires of hell.

Almost all human religions preach some variation on this mostly fear-based theme of reward and punishment, by means of which societies have traditionally organized themselves around desirable behavioral conditioning, aka consensus morality. Even Buddhists who claim there is no eternal soul still elaborate all sorts of colorful hells and “inferior rebirths” which one can fall into after the death of the body by failing to cultivate the prescribed (by other humans) behaviors and acceptable (to other humans) attitudes while sojourning in this suffering human realm.

What can we say about such teachings? If they are based on fear, they are certainly not doing a service at all, but rather represent deceptions and illusions. Fear does not grant wisdom, but on the contrary, only tightens the mentally fabricated chains that bind us to ignorance. To truly begin to comprehend the issue of our personal and social “shadow”, we must first discard all associations related to any dualistic religious conviction or fear-based approach to the subject.

Upon inspection, we can see that “shadow” is merely another name humans may currently attribute to something which appears contradictory to our own personal and collective value system. It is disturbing to our preconceived idealism, and that generates a programmed fear response, which in turn initiates a chain of reactivity as we scramble to tame and control it. As mentioned, religious laws and commandments have been the traditional means to do so, though in relatively recent times, a vast arsenal of new age psychological modalities are being deployed by various practitioners in the field of self-improvement to come to terms with the phenomena by dredging or coaxing it up to the surface from the “inner depths”. More often than not, the therapeutic aim is “fixing” a perceived problematic imbalance through some kind of re-integration, for instance, as if it merely represents a pesky neurotic pathology of an otherwise healthy individual.

Rather than treating the phenomena as some kind of affliction (like original sin or primordial ignorance, or even neurosis) that can become integrated, neutralized, or even rendered obsolete with the benefit of certain remedial spiritual practices, psychological techniques, and non-reactive attitudes, perhaps we would better understand the so-called “shadow” if we recognized that it fundamentally is the human persona itself. In other words, to the extent that we identify with the human bio-vehicle, to that extent we ourselves are a living manifestation of the shadow. “It” is us – not just a sketchier part of us, but what we in our human guise actually are! In that light, it’s not unlike the character Walter White, in the award-winning television series “Breaking Bad”. He was the high school science teacher turned meth amphetamine maker who famously claimed, “I am not in danger, I am the danger!”

In its absorbing play, consciousness is said to appear as both light and shadow, functioning in a complementary fashion, though in actuality that also represents a provisional view. Really, light and shadow are only linguistic terms, and terms necessarily tend to separate things into conceptual designations that are essentially one indivisible whole. In reality, there is only “what is”, and as for the human body-mind organism, it too is what it is, despite any contrived notions of value we can apply to it. From that perspective, it is a dodge to blame the “shadow”, just as it is an error to blame the “ego”, for simply being the pre-installed software programs of the total human package.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper truth at play, albeit one that we may not recognize without the benefit of an expanded and transformative self-realization, or more typically after returning to our truer nature as beings of light, once we have dropped off the material form at death. That is, we are not the human being, nor have we ever been the human. The human persona is very much like a holographic character in a virtual reality scenario, a projection of light and sound resonance. We as light being souls, or extensions of immortal Spirit, temporarily inhabit and fuse with the human persona (as we have done with many other types of species throughout the multiverse) as a way to experience and explore the 3-D physical realm. In that sense, the human persona is a kind of “space suit” for Spirit. By slowing down our vibrational frequency in order to incarnate in this denser environment, however, we as shards of Spirit Energy also accept a kind of amnesia so that our ensuing identification with the human persona can provide a realistic visceral impact to the virtual adventure.

On this current planetary stage, the human persona still tends to manifest as a rather primitive animal — clever, cunning, selfish, and often disturbingly violent. On the other hand, what some are calling “the shadow” might actually be a hard-wired evolutionary mechanism which historically has been required for survival in this relatively harsh and threatening environment. Nevertheless, it is our frequent failure to take responsibility for our animal nature (both on the macro as well as on the micro level), that creates much of the calamity and self-inflicted tragedy that passes for the daily news.

Nanci Danison (who has written extensively about what she learned during a remarkable experience characterized as a “transcendental NDE”) makes some salient points in that regard when she notes:

“While I was in the afterlife, I learned that human animals (like other animals) have the built-in character trait of refusing to take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. So that character trait is reflected in human-created belief systems. Humans use violence to protect themselves from real and imagined potential threats to their ability to get what they want, to amass wealth in its many forms, and to exercise dominance over others. Aside from natural disasters, humans are responsible for the horror we see in daily life. Humans wage war, engage in gang violence, rob homes and businesses, sell and use mind-altering drugs, abuse children, rape, and murder. And humans alone are responsible for these actions.”

“All of the intelligence, creativity, love, compassion, emotional maturity, forgiveness, sense of humor, and other traits we cherish about humans do not belong to humans at all! Those are all traits of the Light Being soul inhabiting the human. As a species, humans do not have an innate sense of moral values. The ones who do lead exemplary lives are either extremely well trained or have Light Being souls who take control over their human hosts on a routine basis.”

“All of the evil acts in the world would stop today if we would collectively use the one tool that is available to each and every one of us–our spiritual ability to control our own human host’s actions. We see this power in action every time someone exercises ‘self control.’ Each of us can choose moment-to-moment whether to allow our host body to act out in typical selfish human fashion, or, to do what is best for all of us collectively. . . Each of us can allow human emotions and instincts to run our life or strive to live a more spiritual way. As Light Beings inhabiting humans as their souls, we have the innate power to control our bodies’ actions.”

By accessing an expanded angle of vision – whether by the grace of mystical experience or through certain meditative means — what we can notice is that there is an infinite potential for innumerable viewpoints and value systems to be explored and experienced by sentient beings, and it would certainly be quite naïve for us with our limited human intellects and immature judgmental capacity to categorize any of them as purely positive or negative. We simply do not have access (while identified as these dense and contracted human forms) to the higher frequencies required to make such an evaluation.

Should we somehow manage to access that universal knowledge base, we would also recognize that the only place “the shadow” exists is in our own thought fabrications and perceptual interpretations of value. As the nondual Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj once noted: “Even sin and virtue, merit and demerit are not what they appear. Usually the bad and the good are matter of convention and custom and are shunned or welcomed, according to how the words are used.” In other words, just because something manifests in such a way as to conflict with our conditioned moral mindset does not automatically qualify it as a representation of the “dark side”. That is merely more simplistic human fantasy, masquerading as discernment.

Indeed, the more we examine the issue of our imaginative interpretations on perception that create the sense of some separate “shadow” element in our being – one that needs to be brought to the surface of consciousness in order to then be balanced, integrated, or dissolved — the more we need to recognize the critical role of the conditioned human mind in our habitual and arbitrary discriminatory process. This also includes clearly recognizing the nature and function of memory (an issue discussed at some length in my essay Memory Lane Revisited).

In closing, I have found the following analysis, by the Spirit Guide Sparrow, to be well worth sharing in this regard:

“Thought, to the human being, is very much a reactive program of impulsive responses. That is, thoughts present themselves to the human being from past memory fragments of learnt behaviours or belief systems. In this, thoughts will attempt to inform you and define the nature of a thing by interpreting this moment in the present from values and belief systems held from a past event. This means your thoughts are consistently programming you to re-enact sequences of behaviour and responses you have learnt and memorised as instinctive nature. Things you observe in the present moment trigger memory fragments to instruct your conscious will to behave a certain way, or to think in a certain framework of parameters. Your thoughts then are not to be trusted with any depth of clarity until that memorised self-programming has been rewritten and relinquished from its core control over you.

When you feel negatively, two things are happening. Firstly your feelings, which draw from the wisdom of your spirit, are communicating with you to inform you something is wrong. It is your spirit’s way of informing your human counterpart that something you are doing is not in alignment with your core central values and vibration. This unpleasant feeling is a signal for your human counterpart to act. If it was not unpleasant you would not then have any motivation to change your behaviour or thinking, and thusly drift away from your own spirit connection. In the same way, your physical organism communicates to you through pain signals to inform you something is wrong, and to initiate you into a form of action to prevent damage to your biological system.

The second thing which takes place is that your thoughts re-enact negative emotional states from the past. This is, they create chemical conditioned responses in your biology which you experience as surges of emotion. Certain thoughts that you have bound in cellular memory have associative chemical attractions and attachments, which when stimulated cause a release of chemical activity in your body chemistry. You then say that you are feeling negative within a specific scenario, because your thoughts about it are instructing a specific chemical response causing you to feel a dis-ease. In a sense, your thoughts are disguising themselves as feelings, and you are confused by them.

Rather than listening to your past memory regarding how you should or should not feel about what is presently taking place, focus on the source within you where you feel love comes from. You may feel it comes from your heart, or some other energetic place or source. That is the connection to your spirit and to the wisdom of your spirit. To truly know how you feel, do not think about how you should or should not feel by invoking further thought; go to the source from which Self-love resonates. As you re-member how to love yourself, your connection to your true Self will become stronger. As you learn to focus more of your energy on Self-love and Self-identified-value you will identify a source, a place for you to tune into to recognise true feelings.

Negativity, the dark side, whatever term suits the stage of your life, will always remain ever-present, in order that experiences may be attained of Self. Being spiritual, being ascended, or being a human angel does not dictate one must cower and isolate himself within the box of his own creation. It is not for the person to reject one thing and confine themselves to another. But it is for he, or she, to open the door to all things, black, white and grey. It is for you as an infinite being to stand in the presence of all things, as THEY truly are, and be as YOU truly are, without fear, without doubt, and without expectation. It is for you to recognise the process that is all things, and that such a process is not something to be feared or fought, but loved and lived.

If one is able to stand in the midst of considerable negativity, immense darkness or one’s worst nightmare and prevail in will, in integrity and in love, he has not only mastered himself, but she has also mastered the process to which we are bound, and to which all are set free.”

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Notes:

Nanci Danison’s writings can be found in her three published books, including the groundbreaking “Backwards: Returning to Our Source for Answers”. A fourth book is reportedly on the way, and she also has a number of videos on YouTube.

Sparrow’s writings can be found on the blog Spirit Guide Sparrow

 

 

 

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A Little Joke

We are usually much too busy to recognize it, but prior to our engaging adventures in consciousness – that ever-changing theater of desire, knowledge, and experience — there is only awareness, the same state in which we now exist.

Somehow, in the scheme of things, a kaleidoscopic realm of time and space miraculously appears. It’s a wild, whirling world of endlessly modifying phenomena, in the midst of which I find myself just sitting, or just standing — localized in any case as the immediate matrix of attention.

Just as in deep sleep, there is no actual “myself”, no awareness of a person, until a thought manages to dredge itself up from the back lot of oblivion and create the sense or facsimile of a subject. That subject wasn’t there previously, and yet here it is now — here “I” am.

Upon inspection, we can recognize that subjective sense for what it is — a mental construct, a fabrication created out of thin air, like a rabbit pulled from a magician’s hat. Nevertheless, our habitual assumption is to take it as our personal identity, because that is how habits work — they are simply the mind’s default position in the midst of this infinite mystery.

However, when we turn our attention back to the mind itself, there is nothing there that we can grasp – no mind, no thing at all. There is definitely something humorous about that – a kind of little joke — though few are those who get the punch line.

Likewise, when we awaken from sleep in the morning, for a moment there is only pure awareness. Then we get busy again, weaving and superimposing an increasingly complex story line on the bare bones of existence. It’s an extended narrative centered around this fictional character with whom we are habitually identified, merely by the nature of our seeming appearance in space time, which is actually a compounded mental event too, and a humorous one at that.

Now, when there is just sitting, or just standing still, there is no history of a person, no anticipation of some future for a person, no sense of a person present here, nor regrets for past indiscretions perpetrated by any such person. There are no time calculations or projections, no creation or destruction, no wanting or avoiding. None of that arises to confirm a personal identity which is subject to any of it. It is not happy or sad, nor can any quality or emotional flavor be pinned on it, since it is all transparent, like empty sky.

I love the sky, I truly do, and because it is so empty I can disappear in it, as if I never was, as if none of this ever happened, as if nothing ever happens at all. Maybe suffering means to linger on, and not disappear. How dreadful! In any case, what is there to even disappear? Nothing can actually come or go, except as a kind of cloud, a cloud of moisture’s imagination. Really, there is just the vastness of sky, stretching infinitely in all directions, and yet, we all love the first signs of rain. Just so, when we hear the phrase, “Once upon a time . . .” we anticipate a good story will follow.

Beyond all stories of rain or shine, there is awareness, but it is not self-conscious. There is no “I am the sky” or “Here comes the sun.” It is all just standing still, as the sky, as aware space, as clear light that does not even think of itself as light. It does not reflect back on itself, and so there is no “itself”, any more than there is “myself”. It is not bliss, it is not anything with a name. Some say emptiness, but it is empty of emptiness too.

Why? Because, paradoxically, it is filled with everything, everything is here. It never goes away. Things seem to come and go to the mind entangled in a duality of subject and objects, but that is only the play of consciousness, which is a kind of miracle too: that there is anything at all, rather than nothing whatsoever.

Yes, it is like a little joke, a quiet and relaxed bit of lighthearted humor that is barely noticed at all, and only mentioned because it is a good reason not to take anything seriously, especially the character called “myself”, the one sitting or standing still and just staring out into itself.

Maybe there is a slight hint of a smile, because that is all there is, this nameless mystery filled with everyone and everything — all just fervently going about the humorous business of characters juggling props in a dream theater of itself, the totality of the universal existence, both manifest and unmanifest, absolute and relative, and so forth and so on, right up to the end of this run-on sentence.

Just so, we may be both asleep and awake simultaneously, though we tend to imagine that we are this or that exclusively, based on ideas that have no real source anywhere but in our own mind. Perhaps it might seem as if others appeared who implanted programs and filters that conditioned our perception along the way. However, even that illusion has been part of the play, the convincing drama of self and others and all the stuff they get up to — tears and laughter, and sometimes just sitting or standing, like imagined characters in a dream.

We love our dream characters, because creators love their productions, and thus time enters the picture, just so that all these various interdependent stories can unfold at their perfect pace, allowing for ingenious subplots to modify consciousness and reveal the endless nature of experience as it expands, smoke-like, to infinity.

Then, once upon a time, a temple bell in primordial space reverberates at the break of dawn, and we immediately forget everything all over again. This too is part of the little joke, barely noticed in the scheme of things, the source of that smile on the Buddha’s face, the unfathomable gift of an amazing grace.

3d

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Experiment

First of all, relax.

Now, turn your attention to the thoughts that are appearing.

Notice how they are, more often than not, based on the past or the future.

In this experiment, simply continue relaxing, but refrain from entertaining any thoughts about the past or the future.

Sustain that attention for a few minutes.

When you can remain for a few minutes without thinking of the past or future, then also let go of thinking about whatever is happening now. Just withdraw your attention.

Whenever thoughts or emotions arise about the past, present, or future, don’t try to suppress them, just refuse to grant them energy, or the fuel of attention.

Now, release the mind’s focus on any sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, or any bodily contact with the environment. If any sensation does arise, don’t try to suppress it, just refuse to grant it lingering attention.

Notice here that, even though you no longer are dwelling on thoughts or physical sensations, the mind stream or the body, something is still present.

Consider now: if you are no longer identified with the body, or the thoughts and emotions which arise within the body, what is it that is still here, still present?

Does it come and go, or does it simply remain as it already is, and as it always has been?

Whatever this presence is, remain as that for as long as possible. When thoughts or sensations arise, refuse to grant them energy. They will vanish on their own. Just stay with what persists, prior to, after, and regardless of whatever appears.

When you find yourself becoming preoccupied by some thought or sensation, simply return attention to that which persists regardless of the thought or sensation — the gap between their appearance and the next appearance — this motionless timeless presence.

Notice that the more you experiment in this way, the more spacious that gap grows, and the easier it is to remain relaxed as that — free of thought or fixated identity.

This innocent, transparent presence: it is just pure awareness, without object or subject. It requires no name or praise, no temples or worship places.

It is not holy, sacred, enlightened, mysterious, superior, or magical. It is just the simple awareness that we all are, prior to, during, and after our adventures in thinking and feeling, prior to, during, and after our identification with an idea or sensation, or even of being some individual person, age, size, gender, race, nationality, or matrix of attention in time and space.

Experimenting by relaxing as this presence provides no special advantage, except freedom from the complications we tend to create for ourselves by identifying with any thought or feeling, any separate sense of person, age, size, gender, race, nationality, or matrix of attention in time and space.

 

bu

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The Fundamental Space

“You can’t get stuck in space.”
~ Chögyam Trungpa

Whatever appears does so within the space of fundamental reality – “what is”.

In our natural state of knowing awareness, “what is” and “what we are”, are not two.

Likewise, in its primordial state, mind is empty of any contraction or contrivance – sky-like, limitless, and luminous — and yet with no inherent substance, solidity, or self-identity.

When the mind moves, various views are spawned, in the form of fantasies of interpretation on the perception of “what is”.

When such fantasies are superimposed on “what is”, mind chronically tends to imagine and then confirm an independent and enduring person – a separate subject in opposition to the objects projected by mind.

This apparent separate self-identity manifests in time as a limited and limiting identity-story which then must be preserved, enhanced, satisfied, and defended.

In this way, complications proliferate and multiply, further obscuring the simple innocence of “what is”.

Those who pay attention to the useful hints from the wise may be subsequently inspired to investigate this apparent self and its compounded narrative of “me and mine” in order to determine if it is real, or merely a phantom creation, a mental fabrication.

While investigating the mind, attention can be turned around to that which is investigating.

When nothing is seen, one can relax right there.

In that conscious process, all views are spontaneously self-liberated without resistance or conceptual meddling, allowing “what is” to be appreciated as the fundamental reality, innocent and transparent, empty and full.

Regardless of whatever has seemingly appeared and vanished within the space of fundamental reality, we have never actually departed from the innate sublimity of the natural state, the clear light of knowing awareness.

By letting the mind rest in and as the basic space of the natural state, “what is” and “what we are” are revealed to be none other than the radiant display of the Great Perfection Itself.

All praise and homage to That!

Light of Knowing Awareness 2

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Meditating on Death

chess with death

 

As noted in the authoritative Buddhist online archive “Access To Insight“, the standard Buddhist Meditation on Death is given by Buddhaghosa in Chapter VIII of the Visuddhimagga (“Path of Purification”), summarized in the quote: “Now when a man is truly wise, his constant task will surely be the recollection about death . . .”

In the classic text, it is suggested that “one should go into solitary retreat and exercise attention wisely thus: ‘Death will take place, the life faculty will be interrupted,’ or ‘Death, death.'” Indeed, one famous Western Zen teacher, Phillip Kapleau, remarked that the old masters recommended that the word “Death” be stamped on the disciple’s forehead, to keep them always focused on that unavoidable eventuality. A famous saying of one Buddhist school suggests that, if one does not meditate on death in the morning, the whole morning is wasted, and if one does not meditate on death at noon, the afternoon is wasted, and if one does not meditate on death at night, the evening is wasted.

Again, according to Buddhaghosa’s text, there should always be a sense of urgency in that contemplation, in order that no time on earth is wasted by indulging in frivolous activities. The correct program of mortality contemplations should include recollecting death in eight ways: “(1) as having the appearance of a murderer, (2) as the ruin of success, (3) by comparison, (4) as to sharing the body with many, (5) as to the frailty of life, (6) as signless, (7) as to the limitedness of the extent, (8) as to the shortness of the moment.”

As the commentator at Access To Insight explains, “Some of these terms are not quite self-explanatory: thus (3) means by comparing oneself with others — even the great and famous, even Buddhas, have to die; (4) means that the body is inhabited by all sorts of strange beings, ‘the eighty families of worms.’ They live in dependence on, and feed on, the outer skin, the inner skin, the flesh, the sinews, the bones, the marrow, ‘and there they are born, grow old and die, evacuate, and make water, and the body is their maternity home, their hospital, their charnel ground, their privy and their urinal.’ (6) means that death is unpredictable, (7) refers to the shortness of the human life-span.”

Indeed, many Buddhist teachings indicate that the best use of this life is to manipulate it in such a way as to attain an even better birth next time around, in order that one may accumulate beneficial merit and thus continue to advance further and further on the Buddhist path, eventually attaining enlightenment, and consequently eliminating the need to be born again as a human. Just so, the classical literature is full of admonitions to be aware of the inevitability of death, and that we are in a most precarious and dangerous situation because our life can end in any moment. For one example of a contemporary Buddhist take on the topic, see here.

Certainly, there are all sorts of variations which Buddhist teachers historically have offered on this theme, and I do very much admire and respect many of the brilliant insights Buddhism shares with us in the conscious process of recognizing our true nature, but perhaps it would be expedient to more deeply inquire into our own approaches and attitudes on the subject of enlightenment and death.

For example, is there is really an actual person who courageously climbs some esoteric ladder from life to life until finally, on one grand and auspicious day, they arrive at transcendental enlightenment? Subsequently, does this newly acquired state then cancel the requirement to keep returning to one tiny, harsh, and dangerous outpost at the edge of one mid-sized galaxy in the midst of billions, fraught as it is with primitive traps and poisons of every kind, which in turn necessitate that we keep learning endless lessons which we then forget the next time around, while relentlessly busying ourselves neutralizing old karmas, even as we are creating new karmas in the process? Yikes!

I have already addressed the issue of human enlightenment concepts in some depth in my essay The Myth of Enlightenment, but in this current consideration I would like to elaborate on what I have learned from my own investigation into death and its aftermath, which varies significantly from the fear and threat model that tends to infect virtually all human religious belief systems. Again, I have shared in some detail about this subject in my essay Notes from the Other Side (among a number of other related articles), but I feel there is a bit more to ponder on this topic, particularly vis a vis the commonly expounded Buddhist position. I could have just as easily dwelt on the more simplistic Abrahamic model of hell and damnation (although Buddhists also have their own concepts of hell realms), but if one is reading this blog, it is unlikely that particular dogma of sin and eternal punishment at the hands of a wrathful parental deity figure is given much currency.

In any case, from the broader angle of vision which yields access to universal knowledge via expanded consciousness, we might be startled to recognize that only One Actor is playing all of the many roles which we formerly assumed represented countless individual sentient beings. Some roles might portray a virtuous and disciplined Realizer, for example, while others a lazy slacker. Of the two, which one is real? Neither of them! They are roles, after all – creative vehicles for the self-expression of Spirit, just as we express ourselves in dreams at night. When morning dawns and we awaken, do we worry about the character we imagined ourselves to be while we slept – whether he or she was wasting time and not properly focused on waking up from the dream?

In my humble experience, I’ve learned that life is good, and death is also good. It’s pointless to assign hierarchical value to either, since they both are expressions of pure divinity. Emphatically, there is nothing to fear about death. This I have seen first-hand, and all my decades of research, including the testimony of intimates, has confirmed that direct recognition.

Everything is now, and always will be, perfectly OK. It is not that someday we will awaken and then everything will be OK. Whether we are “awake” or not, everything is already totally OK. What stands in the way of us allowing that to be the case? Each of us can inspect our own lives and beliefs for an answer to that pointed question.

Essentially, what I have discovered is that we came here to be whatever we are, just as we are, in a similar way in which we might try on a particular role in a theater presentation, because its possibilities for self-expression intrigue our immortal Spirit. Of course, we are not the person depicted in the role. It is a production of story lines, lighting, costumes, and stage sets in which we immerse ourselves for the sheer experience, as long as it lasts, and which is made even more impactful by the amnesia we assume, allowing us to momentarily forget that we are actually the audience.

When the curtain comes down, so to speak, the experience of death merely clarifies our true identity, while also providing us with the opportunity to share our recent adventures with those who have been traveling along with us through infinity, all within the unconditionally loving Heart-Mind of Source.

Therefore, it may be fine to urge folks to practice the Buddha Dharma, but employing threats and instilling the fear and apprehension of death is really not so skillful at all. Most of those who have had NDEs will affirm that there is nothing to fear about the transition, and moreover, there is no such thing as “wasting time”. Time itself is a mental construct of the human persona, and death is simply dropping off a worn-out costume and gradually re-integrating into our natural spirit state – described by many experiencers as a blissful home-coming.

Moreover, it is rather presumptuous to designate any life as “wasted”, just because it does not meet a certain conditional religious criteria (which itself was established by humans), since as long as we are fitted in these bio-vehicles we do not have access to “the bigger picture” of the soul’s journey, and so are not at all qualified to pass such judgment.

Since we are here to be precisely what we are, as we are, whatever additional qualifications or complications one feels compelled by their favorite belief structure to superimpose on that innocent simplicity is really just like adding another head to the one we already have. The limitations we habitually impose on ourselves are simply based on various thoughts — imaginary constructs in which we have invested a provisional reality, because we are by nature creative, and enamored of the things we can dream up in our infinite playfulness. When we take them seriously, however, we tend to get stuck within our own design, and then embark on a search to escape our own self-imposed dilemmas. Maybe we feel like we should meditate and get more “spiritual” now, in order to free ourselves from our own contraptions? Maybe we should try Buddhism?

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have never heard of the Buddhist Dharma, and yet report transcendental Near Death Experiences or similar spiritually transformative events which include realizations about the nature of consciousness as profound as that of any would-be spiritual authority, regardless of whether that teacher has spent decades sitting in a cave and chanting invocations, or done a million prostrations to their deity of choice, or refrained from sexual contact, ate only organic vegetables, and mastered long secret texts in their original obscure language.

Again, in my opinion, we no longer need religious superstitions based on fear and threat in order to motivate us to awaken to our true nature. Truly, have we ever? My sense is that the great volume of NDE reports flooding the collective consciousness now is pointing to that much-needed change in the spiritual paradigm.

One has look within oneself to see how any message resonates — that is, does it stimulate a response of love or fear. If fear, then it should be discarded, regardless of the purported spiritual authority from which it issues. Moreover, concern for some future event and the possibility of inferior rebirths has the typical effect of distracting one from What Is. Of course, if pondering death is perceived as a useful way of spending one’s time, who am I to argue otherwise? Perhaps a good question one might ask oneself, however, is “What dies?”

Furthermore, from the viewpoint of expanded consciousness (though contrary to the preachers’ claims), there is really nothing special or dramatic in need of being accomplished, no great prize to be attained other than being here already, just as we are! Showing up is enough – just breathing, and not avoiding the abundance of gifts each life generously provides, by hankering after more, or better, or different.

Of course, if someone believes there is an ascending path that they must walk, then let them walk it to their best ability, but not expect that they are going to end up acquiring some mystical state that is not already true of them from the beginning. This is why those who finally get the humor of trying to become what we already are end up laughing out loud!

Obviously it is pointless to attempt fashioning a fixed philosophical position out of such a view — unless it is directly recognized, that game is just more head tripping. That’s OK too, though not very satisfying. Relaxed and care-free philosophers aren’t too common. More often, they look pretty intense, with furrowed brows and clamped mouths.

So, what is to be done? Well, first of all, we can relax. Let go of all plans, schemes, and strategies. Let go of all cares and preconceptions. Keep letting go. Enjoy releasing it all, and enjoy what remains when all is released. Stop resisting the inconceivable Love that is pouring down on us right now in the form of What IS. That would be a good start, it seems to me, and a lot more fun than pondering the 80 families of worms dining on our innards!

  • Be Yourself

See also:

https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/time-is-on-my-side/

https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/school-of-life-play-of-light/

https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/reincarnation/

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