Friday, May 22, 2015

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island
By Bev Byrnes

[Dear friend and a natural Artist, Bev Byrnes is soft spoken and pleasant to be with. She wears an infectious smile ever on her lips. She was born in Ohio and had a typical American upbringing, including Sunday school. She was still at that innocent age of 14, when an accident took away her elder brother. A shock it was to the young mind. Grieving apart, the unexpected event led her to a deep search for truth. She even undertook several philosophy courses during her Collegiate studies and investigated into all manner of religious and spiritual ideologies. She felt an inner sense of connection to a certain ‘knowingness.’ As she grew older the inner knowing gained strength and she came to rely more on a sense of resonance and less on intellectual pursuit. Spiritual searching took a back seat for a time while she raised a family and took to the study of various artistic avocations. Once her children were grown, her hunger for deep truth returned. This time it landed her with a Sufi teacher who introduced her to Non-duality. Eventually her searching ended. She and her family now live in Seattle where she maintains a studio for the study and practice of painting and tea. Her website is here.

I am deeply indebted to Bev for readily agreeing to prepare this write up for posting at our Blog -- ramesam.]

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island
By Bev Byrnes

*** Take 7 friends, all well-ripened in Non-duality. Place in a quiet home by the sea for three days. Add perfect weather and good food. Mix in liberal amounts of video and audio clips by a favorite teacher along with lively discussion, spontaneous periods of silence and a few outdoor nature walks (spice it up with a handful of deer and one tenacious mink). Warm for a time under a full moon while stirring in good conversation, great music and a hefty dose of tear-filled laughter. Steep extensively in the deep, knowing stillness of Presence-Awareness. ***

There were few expectations when I left for our little group retreat. Though we’d managed to cobble together a loose agenda it was really just a back-up plan, in case the hope that things would unfold in the moment backfired and we all ended up staring at each other, wondering what to do. But as we departed the ferry, SFAITH,  and made our way to the house, the reality of “island time” made its presence known; a place where going-with-the-flow is a palpable side effect, it seems, of just breathing the air.
 
For the past year now I’ve been meeting with a small group of friends who share a mutual interest in Non-duality. Though I happen to be the newest member, the group has been meeting almost weekly for many years now. We all speak ‘fluent Non-duality’, having read innumerable books together with countless hours of discussion on the topic. There is no designated teacher among us, a fact that is valued and even guarded by the members. We come as we are, speak from what we know (and don’t know) in this particular moment, and learn and grow in a heart-centered and equanimous environment.
 
No ego dominates the conversation, everyone participates from an awareness of flow that transcends individual agenda. As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing. Once in a while the members gather for a weekend together, a chance to spend an extended time focused on contemplating "This." A few weeks ago we gathered at a friend’s house on Lopez Island, in the beautiful San Juan Archipelago of Washington State.

Buddha Purnima, May 2015
As it happened (and unbeknownst to us until later), our chosen retreat dates coincided with the auspicious Vesak or Buddha Day, the holy Full Moon day commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, but (perhaps fittingly) this fact was nowhere in mind when we gathered outside one night to marvel at the beauty of the full moon. I was requested to make a record of our weekend together, but how to describe what went on? Description can be a tricky matter, the topic of which we debated on at one point during our stay. What are we trying to describe, ultimately? And who is it that’s doing the describing? If you’ve been schooled that The Absolute (to use a few descriptive words) is absolutely indescribable, then it follows that any description of it is Not It.

But I won’t go into that. Arguments and discussions abound across the interwebs. It’s an exhaustive and exhausting debate. The curious will not be stopped in their seeking. But the debate did one thing, for sure. It revealed itself as yet more seeking, subtly (or maybe not so subtly) disguised as key knowledge held as somehow crucial for realizing one’s true nature.

Silly rabbit.

Once the rabbit chasing was over the business of spending time together, diving, exploring and steeping in the stillness of Presence-Awareness flowed once again, quenching that most ultimate of thirsts. It’s a blessing—truly—to do this sort of thing in a group. Spending time with others, sinking deeply in the true nature of reality, somehow opens the floodgates, and doing it with a group of friends, particularly this group of friends, amplified it even more.
And what did we ‘do’ exactly? Well, after beginning the retreat with some welcome laughter from this video on exactly that topic, the day’s activities unfolded with little effort. Lately the group has been digging into Rupert Spira’s teachings, so we spent considerable time watching videos and listening to audio recordings, stopping often to share and discuss the implications and findings. There were guided meditations, too (a’la Spira), which served to further solidify and embody the teachings.  But while the videos, audios and discussions were all an important part of the unfolding, there was something deeper going on, and here is where descriptive words will surely fail. A little help from Longchenpa might be useful:

“Even if you intellectually understand what things are in themselves, if they linger on as objects of inspection there is no benefit in such understanding. In order to acquaint your intellect with what intrinsically matters, you must go into the wild wood of inner calm.”  – Longchenpa

It was just this wild wood of inner calm that quietly grew and forested in between discussions and meditations, imperceptibly taking root in the most unassuming and mundane of places and circumstances…seamlessly settling over the dining table, stretching out across the water, padding the quiet footsteps of early morning and late-to-bed. Even at times of laughter and fun it was there, like the immense, imperturbable stillness of the ocean, present not just beneath but within the lively waves and froth. There was no need, indeed not even an attempt, to try to feel it or make oneself aware of it. But there was a noticing of it; a precognitive, instinctual noticing. Even ‘noticing’ is too strong a word, too doing-related. It was more simply the presence of Awareness itself.
 
One morning I found myself awake in the early dawn. The horizon was just beginning to lighten and so I made my way down to the rocky, driftwood-strewn shore. As I sat watching the sky and water a furry, sleek brown mink made its way toward me, ducking in and out of the pockets of driftwood. It seems I had placed myself right in the path of its daily dawn patrol. My presence, rather than being something fearful, was merely a bother, an obstacle in its way. Its single-minded tenacity would not be shaken. Our meeting brought to mind a favorite short story by Annie Dillard. In it she writes about a chance encounter with a weasel and muses about living wild:

“I could very calmly go wild… where the mind is single. Down is out, out of your ever-loving mind and back to your careless senses... Time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into my gut through a jugular vein.”  (excerpted from “Living Like Weasels” in “Teaching a Stone to Talk”).

This wild wood of inner calm, the immense oceanic stillness of awareness itself, is similarly gut-ingested and irreducibly integral. It flows and lives as the very stuff of life itself. There is no ‘doing’ or ‘locating’ it. The mental activity of pinning it down and describing it is merely an obstacle in the path – nothing to bother too much with and ultimately undeterring to That Which Is. There is no space or place It is not, yet Its nowhere to be found. It’s the mink, the seer, the chilly dawn patrol, so perfectly everywhere, in everything, It goes mostly completely unnoticed. But there it was this weekend, in the company of dear friends... there in the midst of seeking, in the bleary-eyed shuffle for morning coffee, in the tear-streaked giddiness of uncontrolled laughter… the always-present, utter-allness of This, in which all of life moves and breathes and has its very being.  

Bowl with Mandarins, 2015 by Bev Byrnes
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

If God is All, then what am I?

If God is All, then what am I?
By Peter Dziuban
 
[Dr. Alfred Lewis Aiken (1897 – 1968) was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was a veteran of World War I & II, a chemistry teacher, a dentist, a medical doctor, an actor, playwright and many things. But one question that he never left until he discovered the true answer was “if God is All, then what am I and where does that leave good and evil?” He talked and wrote about his findings during the 50’s and 60’s, much before Non-dual teaching was popular in America. Hillier Press makes his works available to all. Peter Dziuban, who is not unknown to the readers of this Blog, has studied Alfred’s teachings in depth and realized that Consciousness is All that IS. I am very grateful to Peter who has been extremely kind to make this short contribution for our Blog on Dr. Alfred Aiken’s teaching  -- ramesam.]
 
 
If God is All, then what am I?
By Peter Dziuban
 
Did you ever ask yourself, “What is God to God?”
 
It’s like asking, “What is Infinity—not to me—but what is Infinity to Its own Infinity?”
 
What if the only One that experiences God is God?
 
What is it like where the only One that experiences pure Consciousness is that very same pure Consciousness—and that there is only the One pure Consciousness?
 
What does it feel like when reading these questions? 
 
With all this talk of there being only one infinite God, is also there a feeling of a “me” being left out? 
 
Or does it feel clean? 
 
Is there an aliveness to the pure singleness, the clear, clean, only-ness of the infinite, the pure Divine One?
 
This infinite Divine One is pure Consciousness.  Then, as there is only the One, mustn’t this Infinite One have something to do with this very Consciousness aware here, now, as these words are being read?
 
There is a common sense notion held today that the Infinite is something vast, somewhere out beyond what the human mind experiences as its finite world.  From this finite view, it is sometimes conjectured that it is possible to attain the Infinite—but to do so, one must first rise out of finity.
 
But what happens when you flip this view around, and start from the “other direction”—start from the Infinite instead of the finite?
 
That’s the game changer.  Infinity, being infinite (which is another way of saying All), leaves only Infinity.  Infinity doesn’t go only so far until It stops and bumps up against a finite state, and begins to co-exist with finity.  Infinity, being infinite, precludes there being a secondary finite state out of which It could rise.
 
Being infinite, Infinity leaves nothing besides Itself from which It could come to arrive at Itself.  Infinity is.
 
“Instead of looking ‘up to God’ let us begin looking ‘out from’ God.”  From That Which Is, by Alfred Aiken, published by Hillier Press.
Dr. Alfred Aiken
 That passage was a real “stopper” for me.  In another sense, it was the start, a beginning of a new way of living.  It brought all the seeking to a screeching halt—but it was not the end of unfoldment.
 
I first came across Alfred Aiken’s work on Infinite Reality in the 1980’s.  I had been seriously “on the path” for several years, and a part-time seeker for many years prior to that.
 
There’s no need to go into all that had been previously studied.  The main point is that I had worked sincerely, and made a lot of progress (or so I had assumed).  I still had further to go, but I was getting there.  And that’s just it.  “I” was getting there.  There was still a “me” who was slowly making the grade, or trying to.  There was still a “middle man”—this me who had progressed beyond the old Peter, but still had quite a long way to go to reach the Divine.
 
The power of Aiken’s passage was that it stopped “me” in my tracks. 
 
“Of course,” the realization came, “Infinite Consciousness, God, the Self, is already AT or being Itself.  And that is this very Consciousness being aware right here, now.  This Consciousness can’t belong to a ‘Peter’—because Peter is just a body, an unconscious thing.  And other than that, ‘Peter’ would consist only of a lot of thoughts and feelings—but they’re not conscious either.  Only the One Consciousness Itself is being this Consciousness, and It can’t progress to Itself because It already IS Itself.”
 
There isn’t space here to go into all the implications and ramifications of turning the perspective around—in which God is looking out as God, instead of there being a separate “me” that is looking up to a God.  If this has “struck a chord” with you, you can investigate Alfred Aiken’s work further if you wish.
 
There are however, two distinctions worth mentioning. 
 
The first is something that immediately felt different, and very direct.  Yet it took a while to be able to articulate exactly what the difference was.  It’s this:  pick up virtually any book of spirituality, nonduality, whatever.  Almost always, the author’s writing is done in such a way that it is merely talking about—talking about Self, talking about nonduality, talking about experience, talking about what “you” should or shouldn’t do.  And, the writing even may be very accurate in what it’s talking about.
 
But when you first pick up a book such as That Which Is, you instantly notice that there is a different feel to it. 
 
It’s because the writing is clean.  It is done in the awareness that It literally is the One Infinite Consciousness that is being conscious so the writing can be done.  And the writing is done on the basis that the Infinite Self, being the only Self, is simply talking to Itself.  There is no middle-man author, no interpreter,  talking about Self in order to help or clarify things for a separate “you.”
 
As is always said, words can only point.  True.  But whenever anything is put into words, those words carry a certain “energy signature”—that’s why the author chose to use those particular, specific words instead of countless other possible words that might have been used.  Words are like mental footprints, and they can always be traced back to the state of thought or level of awareness that gave rise to them.
 
Meanwhile, the reader appears to be receiving that certain “energy package” or feeling while reading what the author has “transmitted.”
 
Now consider the difference in that transmission, or feel, if the writing is imbued with a sense of, “there is another self ‘out there’ that this writing is going to enlighten.”  That’s one type of energy. 
 
Compare that to the feel of writing that is not imbued with any layers of anything—and has no agenda—but is just “coming from” the Purity and Clarity of Infinite Being.  Period.
 
Such writing never talks to a “student,” or one that needs enlightening, or one that must do anything.  All there is, is the eternal, present Perfection of that one, pure Omnipresent Self, and no other that has to, or can, become anything or see anything.  In other words, the Author is the same One as the Reader.
 
Another distinction is one of emphasis.
 
Sometimes in nonduality, the majority of emphasis is given to seeing through the ego, or seeing that there is no limited “personal me,” no separate self, no subject/object, no “doer,” but just experience happening.  That is all well and good—but often that’s about as far as it goes.
 
What about the Unlimited-ness, the Grandeur, the Majestic-ness of Infinite Consciousness? 
 
The very Consciousness that is presently aware so these words can be read, also effortlessly includes what appears as an unspeakably vast stellar universe.  And that’s only when speaking on a three-dimensional basis.  This same Infinite Consciousness is also un-dimensional—meaning It is greater than, or inclusive of, what may appear to be going on in a fourth, fifth, and who knows how many other dimensions! 
 
This very same Consciousness is also absolutely all the Presence existent.  As It is all the Presence existent, the only Presence—It is the only power.
 
And that’s just barely scratching the surface of the wondrousness, the spontaneously fresh aliveness of the One reading this now.
 
For more information about Alfred Aiken’s work, you can visit Hillier Press.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Question on dhyAna and Thoughtless State

Q:  Is dhyAna a meditation technique? 

R:   dhyAna is not a 'technique' of meditation
     
       dhyAna means meditation.   

Q:  dhAraNA is concentration, with techniques,  which naturally leads to dhyAna (true meditation or merging)

When you say that "true meditation" is merging, what is to merge with what?

The word "merging" implies the presence of two things. Are there two things at all?  -- advaita teaching tells us that "What IS" is all One only. Two separate 'things' are not there.

From this advaita understanding we can deduce that the sense of a separate I,  a separate "me" being present, is an imagination. It does not really exist. This imagined separation has to merge with "What IS." In other words, the imagination has to end. Hence it is ending the sense of separation, not a question of merger.

Ending the sense of separation, thus, does not mean investing any effort to change "What IS".  Meditation  does not require any effort to exclude something using the practice of concentration as a technique. (The practice of concentration implies preferring the presence of one thing to the exclusion of all other things).  

Therefore, ending the sense of separation cannot come through concentration.  

 
Hence dhyAna or meditation is merely "dropping" the false notion of a separate "me", separate from "What All IS."

If "What IS" is a fluctuation, I do not have to change/suppress/ modify the fluctuation. In fact, it cannot be done! For, there is nothing else other than the fluctuation at that moment. That's "What IS."

If What IS is deep sleep, "It" is deep sleep.  If "What IS" is awake world, "It" is the awake world.

Q:  Does it not mean that we are all indeed successful yogis every night when we sleep! 

Yes, but, remember, there is no "we" in deep sleep. 

As advaita says, "I am eternally "unchanging" and ever the same."  

Then how can I be something 'different' any other time? 

As advaita says:  "It is only a false imagination to think that you are different or a separate person when you are awake."  

So I am also the undivided  totality of the entire wakeful world - the oneness of all the perceptions, sensations, and 'thoughts.'
(Thoughts are not excluded you see!). 

The position is just like in the deep sleep. I am the entire "Whatever IS", in the deep sleep.
I am the entire What IS in the awake state.

Q:  My question to you is have you ever had an extended period without thought? If so what was your experience?

In the light of the above explanation, it is easy to find the answer to the two questions.

Unless I consciously "separate" myself in order to place a "me" at a distance from "What All IS," why would I have to wrestle with thoughts in the awake world? As we said above the "What IS All" includes the thoughts also.

I have not tried any "gimmicks" towards that end of perceiving a world and feeling sensations but stilling the thoughts exclusively - i.e. experience the perceptions of the world, sensations of the body but be thoughtless. 

I try, instead, to be conscious of a separate "me" arising.
That is to say, I keep a watch if the thought "I am separate" or its kind arises.

If a thought of  a separate "me" arises,  the best thing (or perhaps the only thing) to be done is to just 'notice' it.

Having any 'agenda' with it to change or suppress the 'thought' will go only  to strengthen it! That would be counterproductive.

Hope I am able to respond to your query.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Does a reflection control the reflecting medium?


Q:  Is Ishwara  the reflected conscious?
mAyA is said to be the reflecting medium of original Consciousness - brahman. It is also said that Ishwara controls or has full control over mAyA.
How can the reflection (Ishwara) have control over the reflecting medium - mAyA? For example, if i see myself in a mirror how my reflection (image) can control the reflecting medium - the mirror?

Ramesam:  As you may be well aware, the main thrust of the “teaching method” adopted within the Advaita philosophical system is to point out one’s mis-directed worldview and reorientate his/her view towards the one Reality which is Absolute, Immutable and Attributeless. 
Ordinary folk on the street believe that there is a ‘me’ confined and contracted within ‘my body-mind’ and a ‘world’ exists 'out there' external to a ‘me’ which is 'here.' Similarly, they believe in the reality of the body because of the sensations and the existence of a mind because of the thoughts and images. The falsity of this belief structure about the body and the mind and the illusory nature of the objective world (including all percepts) have to be convincingly conveyed to the spiritual aspirant.
Several approaches are adopted by a teacher towards that end depending on the mental makeup and attitude of the inquirer. None, absolutely no one of these methodologies adopted by a teacher have unqualified validity or unquestionable sanctity. All these devices have to be ultimately discarded once the final understanding is attained.
For one who starts with a belief in the perceived creation, the model of Ishwara, mAyA and reflected Consciousness is given as a first approximation. In this model, it is visualized that the attributeless unchanging brahman (= original Consciousness) appears as the illusory ‘self’ which is comparable to a virtual image (reflection) seen in a mirror. The name given to the very first virtual image appearing is Ishwara who is pure satva with a very very little amount of other guNa-s. Ishwara is said to be the cause for the subsequent multiplicity (i.e. the created world). When once you begin to believe in this model of creation, you will naturally get two doubts. By what powers does Ishwara create the world and how does the world get controlled and managed?
Just like the saying -- if you lie once, you are bound to lie  a hundred times to protect yourself – goes, you have to fabricate further fiction to answer the above two doubts.
So the teacher talks of an inexplicable power of Ishwara to explain his ability to create. This power is named ‘mAyA.’ By giving just a name, it does not mean that there is something real and tangible called mAyA on which you can put your finger on. It has to be taken merely as an explanatory artifact.
Because the created world is illusory (like the virtual image in the mirror) and because it has emanated as an effect of ‘mAyA’, the reflected image (world) is also sometimes referred to as mAyA. So the word ‘mAyA’ connotes both the ‘power’ of the Creator, Isswara and the ‘world’ which is the result of His creation.
Now what is it that corresponds to a mirror, the reflecting medium, in this whole game?
The honest answer is “none.”
Why so?
In this entire analogy, nobody is talking of an actual reflection taking place. The comparison is only to the “virtual” nature of a reflected image in a mirror. You see big mountains and houses and trees in the mirror. Are there really mountains and houses and trees in or behind the reflecting surface of the mirror?  If they are not there, how come they appear as if they are there behind the mirror, the reflecting medium?
The metaphor used tries to convey the “unreality” of the world by comparing it to the “unreal” quality of a reflected image. So do not worry about where is the mirror placed, what sort of mirror it is and what is controlling the mirror. Focus only on the “unreality” aspect of the image.
Therefore, your question on how Ishwara, who is a reflection, controls the medium (mirror) does not arise. [At this stage, we may not enter into a highly involved debate about theories of pratibimba vAda, abhAsa vAda, avacheda vAda etc. developed by the followers of Shankara.]
Incidentally, mAyA is not the reflecting medium. You can imagine it to be something like an ‘operator’ in a mathematical equation. Suppose you say,
x + y = z                                                                                         --1.
Correspondingly, you can write the equation,
brahman mAyA thought = Ishwara                                          --2.
Ishwara mAyA thought = world                                                --3.

What has happened to “ + ”  when you move to the right side in the equation (1)?
Which member is controlling the plus sign?
The role and significance of ‘mAyA  in equations (2 and 3) is like “+” in the equation (1).
In Vedanta, all similes used are said to be “ekadesIya” – i.e. they are specific to a point being illustrated. You will lose the meaning and purpose if you stretch it or extend beyond that specific point under illustration.

Hence, the moral of the story is: do not mix the similes or extend them beyond the point being discussed at that level.

*****

From a humble start in Feb 2009, the Blog completed six great years. I express my heart-felt thanks to the Readers for their support and encouragement, to the Teachers for their valuable contributions to the Blog, and to all our Members for their useful discussions and Comments.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Meditation - The Paradox of Practice by Kentaro Toyama


Meditation - The Paradox of Practice
by Kentaro Toyama
 
[Dr. Kentaro Toyama is a Computer Scientist and presently the W. K. Kellogg Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information. He is  a fellow of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformation at MIT, and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. He has some experience with Zen practice mostly in the Rinzai tradition. 
Kentaro delivered a TEDx talk in Tokyo in May 2010. He maintains a Blog and Web site where his Contact details are available.  I am grateful to Kentaro for this very enlightening contribution to our Blog and I am sure all our Members will find  it quite interesting -- ramesam] 

Meditation - The Paradox of Practice
by Kentaro Toyama

When Hongren, the Fifth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism was looking for a successor, it’s said that he held a poetry contest to see which monk had the best understanding of Zen. Initially, only the senior monk Shenxiu dared to submit a poem:
               The body is a Bodhi tree;
               The mind is like a mirror
               Always strive to polish it –  
               Let no dust alight.
Most of the other monks ooh-ed and aah-ed over this concise statement of the Zen exhortation to meditation. But when the illiterate, low-level monk Huineng heard the poem, he offered a different understanding:
            The Bodhi has no tree;
            The mirror has no stand.
            In essence, there are no things.
           Where can the dust alight?
The Fifth Patriarch Hongren recognized Huineng’s superior understanding of Zen and passed his robe and bowl to Huineng, thereby making him the Sixth Patriarch.
Kentaro Toyama
At least, that’s how the story goes. It is one of the best-loved stories in Zen Buddhism despite its dubious historical authenticity. The tale is told and retold in Zen books and by Zen teachers. For me, though, the anecdote captures one of the most vexing contradictions of Zen – an issue which I also see frequently in discussions of Advaita and non-duality. The question is this: Does meditation help lead to Awakening?
On the one hand, Huineng’s response seems to say that meditation is a second-class activity that has little to do with Awakening. On the other hand, Zen practice is dominated by meditation. The word “Zen” itself (via Chinese “Chan”) is a transliteration of “dhyana” which is typically translated into English as “meditation.” So again, Should you meditate in order to Awaken?
Seasoned thinkers about non-duality – and I use the word “thinkers” very deliberately – often pile on with a range of well-worn answers to this question: We are already Awake, so it is pointless to try to do anything special such as meditation to achieve it. There is no person who Awakens, and there is no person who meditates. And, many people who have tasted Awakening seem to recant their previous practice. The brilliant Zen master, Rinzai, for example, said, “When you look for it you go further from it, when you seek it you turn away from it all the more.”
At first blush, these comments seem to say that there’s no point in taking action toward Awakening. They seem to suggest that meditation itself is a waste of time. But there are plenty of other pointless activities, so why are meditation and its variations given special status in most mystic traditions? Obviously, there’s something unique about it.  Zen almost revels in this paradox – maybe the point of meditation is that it’s pointless.
I’m a strong believer, however, that most of the supposed logical contradictions of Zen are readily explained by relative explanations. I – the relative “I” – am by no means Awakened, nor have I ever experienced the universe as One or All or Zero. Yet, what I understand through my rational mind is sufficient to explain in purely relative terms why meditation increases the likelihood of Awakening, and how best to interpret the seemingly paradoxical advice not to strive for Awakening. I’ll use two analogies.
The first is an analogy of Awakening with the ability to play a difficult piece of music or to master a challenging sport. Both activities require years of practice to achieve mastery and facility, and notably, practice is different from theory. I could study music theory, commit musical scores to memory, and read every book there is on piano technique, but none of that would get me closer to being able to play a Beethoven Sonata. Nothing short of years of practice will get me there. The same is true for boxing. No amount of intellectual knowledge of the sport can ever replace the need to practice jabs and hooks over and over and over. Sure, by reading books about boxing, I can learn descriptions of proper form and tactics against an opponent, but that kind of factual knowledge is different from the knowledge that comes with years of practice.
And the same is true of Awakening. It’s possible to have an intellectual, fact-based knowledge of it that can be read in books or blogs and recited by mouth. My rational mind can understand that “I” am simply present experience or consciousness; that the sense of a person with a timeline and a physical body is itself just another experience projected by this brain; and that for any given instance of experience, only that experience exists. But none of that is Awakening – the intellectual knowledge isn’t the same as the special configuration of neurons and synapses in which the brain stops discriminating and stops projecting the separate sense of “I.” The former type of knowledge is factual and can be learned through books or conversation, but the latter type of knowledge requires a re-jiggering of brain matter that comes best through practice. (Or occasionally, luck – once in a rare while, a monkey at the keyboard will hammer out a Bach Minuet; and once in a while, a person has an Awakening experience without explicit practice.) Increased practice makes one more likely to achieve the relevant state of mind. That elusive thing called grace comes more often to people who have practiced. As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
So far, so good, but there’s at least one way in which the meditation-as-skill analogy falls short. Whereas musicianship and athletic ability are acquired skills, Awakening seems to be the unacquiring of a skill. In an absolute sense, we are all already and always Awakened, but our relative brains have learned a habit of constantly generating discriminating thoughts that distract us from Original Experience. In other words, the brain needs to unlearn a habit that it has spent a lifetime acquiring. It’s like trying to relax a permanent muscle spasm.
That brings me to the second analogy: I suspect that the unlearning needed for Awakening is some generalized version of unlearning how to read. Those of us who can read fluently cannot easily suspend the reflexive association we make when we see a written word. Immediately, a concept and a   pronunciation come to mind. It’s all but impossible to see text in our own language as the meaningless collection of lines and curves that it actually is. (Try it with these words (Panel - A)! Thoughts and subvocalized sounds come to you unbidden before you have a chance to suspend them .) Yet, we know that as children, it took us great effort to learn to read; and, we can still recapture a sense for the original mystery when we see foreign scripts (Panel - B). 
The question of how to come to Awakening, then, is similar to the question of how to learn to not read. Some kind of practice is required, even if it is to unlearn something that we once had to practice to learn. It might even be, actually, that a very similar practice works both for Awakening as for unreading, involving an attempt to suspend discriminatory thought. (In fact, I would be curious if people who have had Awakening experiences found in those moments that text went back to being mere scribbles. And if it didn’t, doesn’t that mean discriminatory thinking was still happening?) 
So where does that leave us with Huineng? Both with playing the piano and with Awakening, over-thinking and over-stressing can be an impediment to the goal… but only at advanced levels of practice. In music, after one has put in the requisite practice, the overly self-conscious thought, “I must play well” can interfere with a performance. Similarly after one has put in the requisite hours of meditation, the overly self-conscious thought of trying to achieve Awakening is probably an obstacle. In both cases, though, any advice against practice or conscious thinking applies only after sufficient practice has been undertaken. If one has never practiced the piano, not thinking about playing well won’t make one a virtuoso.
To be fair to old masters, it’s worth remembering that they didn’t expect their teachings to be widely disseminated. In Zen, training methodology was often kept a secret because teachers tailored their teaching to each student. A story that might help one student might not be appropriate for another. What I understand of the various prescriptions “not to try” is that they were directed at advanced students who were already at a reasonably accomplished level of meditative practice. For them, it must have helped to be told to stop trying so hard, just as a coach might tell a boxer not to overthink it in the ring. But for someone like me, I would have to do a lot more meditation before I’m ready for the advice to “stop trying so hard.” Putting the lesson in its full context: If you haven’t yet practiced a lot, practice hard; but if you’re hitting a wall after lots of practice, maybe you should relax a bit; stop trying so hard; try not to force it; let it come.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Direct Path - Dr. Greg Goode Interviewed by Jerry Katz

The Direct Path - Dr. Greg Goode Interviewed by Jerry Katz
 
[Dr. Greg Goode is a well known teacher, author and Non-dualist, highly respected in both the Eastern and Western Non-duality circles. Jerry Katz interviewed Greg recently. Their very informative and educative discussion comes in two parts.

Maybe a slight slip or I may not have heard Greg correctly. At about a few secs after 27 min in Part -1, Greg says that the Chinmaya Mission follows Qualified Non-dualism (Visishta Advaita). Qualified Non-dualism is the theory of Ramanujacharya, a 12th Century philosopher. Both the Chinmaya and Ramakrishna Missions profess to follow Shankara's Advaita only, though, strictly speaking, they cut a few corners compared to the Monasteries established by Shankara himself - like for example the one at Sringeri in India.

I suggest that the Part-2 of the Interview may be heard first. The guided inquiry in this Part in order to locate the presumed 'self' is quite illuminating and very instructive. Greg also compares the Emptiness teachings with Advaita during his discussions -- ramesam.]

 
Jerry Katz in conversation with Dr. Greg Goode:
Date of Interview:  23 Nov 2014. Broadcast on Radio in Dec 2014.

Part - 2  -- 58:23 min

Part -1   -- 52:27 min


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