“If you take the robe that a person is wearing to be the person’s true identity, then though endless aeons may pass, you will become proficient in robes only and will remain forever circling round in the threefold world, transmigrating in the realm of birth and death. There is only you, this person in front of my eyes now listening, who enters fire without being burned, enters water without drowning, enters the three realms of hell as though strolling in a garden, enters the realms of hungry ghosts and the animals but undergoes no punishment. How can one do all this?”
~Rinzai (Lin Chi)
Everyone is the totally unique version of their own religion, regardless of what tree we gather under, or to which nominal affiliation we might currently pledge some uninspected allegiance. Before religions were dreamed up by humans to account for ourselves in the midst of this mystery and wonder, however, there has only been one “Person”.
Regardless of who and what we take ourselves to be, everybody and everything is none other than an expression of this one “Person”. Everybody is one Person appearing as everybody and everything simultaneously. One unfathomable person lives all these seemingly disparate lives, thinks all these random and arbitrary thoughts, performs all this play, appears in every birth, vanishes in every death, and persists totally beyond any birth or death, which are only the various births and deaths that unfold in any dream — one Person’s dream.
Confounding beyond all human comprehension, this “Person” is not the parental deity figure which those stalled at an infantile level of emotional/spiritual development call on to save, redeem, or bless them in their efforts to acquire goods and smite their enemies. This Person can never be an object of perception, but rather is That which makes perception possible. This Person is actually no more of a person than we are persons. Employing the term “person” is just a conceptual designation without any inherent solidity, but for the purposes of communication, it is a reference to That which is also regarded as “Source” or “All That Is”.
In any case, here’s a good question: How can we hold onto a dream? Just so, we cannot know this person dreaming. We are what this person is dreaming. Can the dream know the dreamer? Can the perceived, perceive? We are infinite reflections – all reflecting one person, and yet no image is actually that person. We are all the religions of that person, fantasies of that person, dream characters dancing in the mind of that one of which there is no second.
Whatever appears is a projection of mind. Even if some person or Person were to seem to appear, the appearance itself must be in consciousness, and hence would initiate a fantasy of interpretation on perception based on the conditioned filters of the perceiver. In other words, whatever else any visionary phenomena might imply, it is first and foremost a hallucination – a hallucination which nevertheless might serve as the foundation for further deluded human institutions that claim to have the final truth, the keys to the kingdom, the one and only path, scheme, strategy, method, or prescription for redemption, salvation, ascension, illumination, or permanent happiness in a heaven of one’s fondest hopes and desires. Humans are funny that way.
However, when interpretation ends, religion also ends. This is because religion is never anything other than a conceptual designation itself, a mental fabrication, a limited and non-binding play of consciousness. When all such day-dreaming is rendered obsolete by resort to our primordial awake awareness, then what remains is just this vast and potent emptiness, birthing out dreamy universes as if there was nothing to it, but not identified with any of them, any more than the sky is identified with clouds.
Just so, there is nothing that we can do, except that all is being done already as and through us, and whatever that may be has no quality or attribute of desirable or undesirable, negative or positive, right or wrong, true or false, except as we imagine in our forgetfulness, and even this forgetfulness is not truly ours, since there is only one impersonal, beginningless Person remembering, forgetting, waking, sleeping, dreaming, breathing, and seemingly ceasing to breathe.
The great Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi referred to this Person when he said: “The Self alone exists; and the Self alone is real. Verily the Self alone is the world, the “I” and God. All that exists is but a manifestation of the Supreme Being.”
In Tibet, the Dzogchen Master Nubchen Sangye Yeshe wrote: “In fact, the Great Self (Dagnyid Chenpo) is the union and the source of all Victorious Ones. The Great Self is matchless . . . it has been affirmed that the Great Self is the source of everything. How is this so? All the appearances [mentally] conceived are adventitious appearances of good and bad thoughts. Since the Great Self has not been [mentally] conceived by anyone, it does not have a phenomenal existence. It is present because it has arisen before anything else; therefore, although all is born from it, it has no beginning.”
In the Kulayarāja Tantra (Tibetan: Kunjed Gyalpo), Samantabhadra Buddha discloses this ultimate Truth: “All that exists is My own being. The entirety of the animated and inanimated world is My own being. Outside of My own being, nothing is, therefore the root of all things consists in Me. Not one thing exists that does not consist in Me.”
In the Christian mystical tradition, Juliana of Norwich echoed a similar recognition when she wrote in her “Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love”, “And I saw no difference between God and our Substance: but as it were all God; and yet mine understanding took that our Substance is in God: that is to say, that God is God, and our Substance is a creature in God… We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Ghost. And the Father is enclosed in us, and the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Ghost is enclosed in us. . .”
In Reality, there is nothing and no one in need of redemption or salvation, and yet we still tend to cling to limiting beliefs of being bound by life and in need of some religion to liberate us. Such religion typically will appear in a conceptual form as a belief structure particular to the temporary host vehicle’s conditioned filtering apparatus. What then follows are names and forms in colors that will invariably clash, leading to hot debates, crusades, jihads, and behaviors that, in retrospect, we’d just as soon not want to be reminded of, once the dust has cleared.
In that regard, Nisargadatta Maharaj makes a good point: “Recorded religions are mere heaps of verbiage. Religions show their true face in action, in silent action. To know what man believes, watch how he acts. For most of the people service of their bodies and their minds is their religion. They may have religious ideas, but they do not act on them. They play with them, they are often very fond of them, but they will not act on them.”
So, what is this Person really up to? What are we always up to? What is the game about? Experience. Source has an apparently endless appetite for experience, and we are the vehicles for all this infinitely modifying game of experience, just so that this Person can revel in the multitude of dreamy aspects of Itself, and all for the joy and fun of discovery, playing a game of Hide & Seek in an infinite hall of mirrors.
Through the play of experience, which is a play of consciousness, this Person explores Itself, celebrates Itself, forgets and then remembers Itself. Really, all is just a magnificent Song of Love that this Person sings to Itself, though to any of Its temporary individualized thought expressions in the lyrical dream of Itself, it may seem like anything but their ideal of what Love is supposed to be and do.
Well then, what is the problem? In a nutshell, it is a chronic activity of the self-contraction, an internal state of conflict in which life and experience are artificially divided into the desirable and the fearful. It manifests as a perpetually alternating vicious cycle of grasping and avoidance, the disease of the mind of any particular person we might take ourselves to be.
As the Zen Patriarch Seng T’san noted in his famous verses on the Mind of Absolute Trust (Hsin Hsin Ming), “The Great Way is not difficult, just don’t pick and choose. If you cut off all likes or dislikes everything is clear like space. Make the slightest distinction and heaven and earth are set apart. If you wish to see the truth, don’t think for or against.”
Certainly one must be able to discern the skillful from the clumsy, the wholesome from the less than wholesome, and make such relative distinctions in the conventional objective world. Indeed, one of the purported functions of religion is to assist in arriving at such determinations. However, when our conditional preferences cross over into fixation, consciousness becomes stuck in one-sided views and dogmatic positions. In that event, the natural flow of life stagnates, which is why Dogen Zenji cautioned, “If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion.”
Trying to hold on to what we like about consciousness and its contents, and avoiding what we dislike, is an exercise in futility, and a sure recipe for suffering. Moreover, on the macro level, it is invariably through clinging to polarized positions and views that religious wars are birthed and perpetuated. History is replete with such episodes, and yet we apparently still have not learned the lesson, judging by current world events.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, addresses this chronic obstruction: “When one becomes dogmatic, that person believes his or her doctrine is the only truth and that all other doctrines are heresy. Disputes and conflicts all arise from narrow views. They can extend endlessly, wasting precious time and sometimes even leading to war. Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to the spiritual path. Bound to narrow views, one becomes so entangled that it is no longer possible to let the door of truth open.”
Clinging to preferences or fixed positions in this sense mainly serves to confirm the solidity and inherent existence of the separate ego-mind. However, with some earnest inquiry and investigation, any fantasy of such an independently enduring person can sooner or later be recognized as a fictional character projected from the mind of the Dreamer. Just imagine, then, if that pretend person could be clearly recognized as an error of interpretation, a case of mistaken identity, and then surrendered, let go. Imagine being finally released from the confines of any provisional fabricated identity derived from grasping or aversion. Imagine letting go of our tight grasp on limited and limiting views of any kind – religious or secular. What then would pertain?
“Imagine — no religion too!” ~John Lennon