Zen does not usually attempt logical explanations of what we might call zen metaphysics because zen is ultimately about perception and experience. The zen masters of old tended to regard any attempt at a logical articulation with regard to zen to be a hindrance to progress rather than a benefit and rightly so. From a Zen point of view the intellect is a problem and the last thing the Zen master wanted was for his students to engage in endless intellectual Continue reading
This post was inspired by a quote I read on another blog, attributed to Carl Jung which went as follows: “To become enlightened you must make the darkness conscious”. I thought it was a very interesting and insightful statement and was somewhat surprised that it apparently came from Carl Jung. From a Zen point of view this statement certainly hits the mark. What then is it’s meaning? Continue reading
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This post follows on directly from my previous post Passivity and Duality and I recommend reading it first if you have not already done so as this post builds upon some of the ideas dealt with in that post. There are many forms of meditation taught nowadays but it is interesting to note that there seems to be a dearth of people who actually make a significant degree of progress with it. Continue reading
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In previous posts I’ve talked about a state beyond the conceptualising mind where the dualism of self and the external world disappears and where the empty nature of matter and the senses becomes apparent. In this state a person does not engage in constant
intellectual thought or to put it another way, does not “tarry in dualism”. This state is
achieved when the egotistical pressure is reduced to such an extent that the person plunges into the “unconscious” which is really the mind manifesting in front of them and which they perceive as the “external” world when in the unenlightened state.
There is an idea in Buddhism that is called non-preference and this idea is considered extremely important in regard to reaching the enlightened state. The following gatha outlines this fact:
“The perfect way knows no difficulty, except that it allows itself no preference. A difference of a tenth of an inch and heaven and earth are thereby separated”.
The reason that preference is such a problem is because it psychologically divides reality in to separate chunks and these chunks are without exception created by the conceptualising mind. We conceive separate physical objects, individual concepts and time as finite chunks. Reality is therefore divided and as such cannot be perceived as “one”. Having created these concepts we then attach to them and develop preferences in the form of likes and dislikes. These preferences keep us chained to the finite ideas from which the preferences develop. Preference therefore limits and enslaves us, locking us in the world of the finite and the world of habits. We like some things and dislike others and become essentially playthings of these likes and dislikes.
We here a lot about “oneness” and “living in the now” nowadays, but there is an important element to “living in the now” that is overlooked by most writers and that element is infinity. The advice to “live in the now” is in some ways flawed because it ignores the fact that “nowness” is actually the perception of infinity. A person cannot live in the now while they still have preference, because preference divides reality in to finite chunks. Infinity is the true “one” because there is nothing outside of infinity, it is all encompassing. Infinity implies no separation within reality and hence no conceptualisation and no preference. To conceptualise one has to divide reality in to individual objects and concepts which the intellect can then play with. But to divide reality is to lose perception of infinity and hence oneness. The intellect is therefore by its very nature confined to the finite and as a result is a hindrance with regard to enlightenment. The intellect is a dividing machine and as such it can not perceive the infinite. It works against the very thing we are trying to achieve.
It is important to discuss something else here and that is the idea of consciousness devoid of self-consciousness. To most people the idea that consciousness can exist without self-consciousness seems illogical. They assume that consciousness by it’s very nature means self-consciousness. This is not true however. Consciousness can exist without self-consciousness because self-consciousness is actually a manifestation of the dualism inherent in human nature. It is the self-consciousness produced by an intellect that divides reality in to chunks and then sets itself against these very created concepts. In doing this it creates a conception of “self” and “other” and destroys the perception of infinity and “oneness”. This is what Buddhists call “soiled mind consciousness”. Self-consciousness is soiled mind consciousness and is entirely the result of false conceptions. One escapes this conundrum by freeing oneself from preference and conception.
So what does it mean to lose all preference? Firstly, the person who is free of preference has no attachment to concepts such as “I like this” and “I like that” or “I hate this” and “I hate that”. To have such ideas means to split reality in to separate conceptual chunks and in doing so destroy the perception of the infinite. The instant we start dividing, the perception of infinity is lost. How can we perceive infinity if we keep dividing infinity in to finite chunks? Secondly, the person who is free of preference has no attachment to time because they do not divide infinite time in to finite time by conceptualising something called “time”. If time is by nature infinite then to divide time by conceptualising chunks of time destroys the infinite. If you want to get a flavour of what is being talked about here, imagine living life without a watch. You would do things but the concept of time would not come in to things. You would not divide the infinite day up in to finite chunks.
The more perceptive of you may be beginning to see, as I have already pointed out in previous posts, that the intellect is the problem here. As already stated, the intellect is a dividing machine that splits reality in to endless conceptual objects and in doing so creates a world of endless multiplicity and division. Because our intellect is always fixed on the finite conceptual objects it creates, it can never perceive infinity and with it the oneness of infinity. To do so we must wean ourselves off preference through a realisation that by engaging in this kind of thinking we divide our world. The instant we conceptualise we divide. The instant we divide we create preference. The instant we have preference the perception of infinity is destroyed. Why work against yourself?
You may now be able to see why Buddhism has over time produced statements such as the following:
“Set the attention on nothing”
“From the first not a thing is”
“Have no preference”
“Stop cherishing opinions”
There is a common thread running through these statements. They are all attempts to stop the use of the dividing intellect and bring unity and oneness by restoring perception of the infinite. Oneness resides in infinity. It does not reside in finite intellectual thinking.
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I have been thinking lately about how a methodology might be created that would allow the “Zen experience” to be imparted in a way that can be comprehended much more rapidly than with traditional systems. Many attempts have been made to devise systems that might lead a person in the right direction and the result of
these efforts are systems such as the koan, the hua t’ou and demonstration through action. These systems have
provably produced results and many students of Zen have “attained” their Zen enlightenment through the use of these systems.
However, these systems suffer from a number of problems. The koan system is very clever but does not offer any immediate insights into the “secret” of Zen. It can take a long time before any insights dawn on the practitioner and it is very easy to misunderstand the intent of the koan system and as a result go badly astray with it. The hua t’ou is a concentration system and again offers no immediate insight in to the “secret” of Zen. It can take a long time before any insights arise and many practitioners give up due to lack of results and a consequent lack of faith in the system. It would be nice to have a system that from the very outset gave the practitioner an insight into Zen and which therefore gave them something to work with as it were. If a system could remove some of the mystery of Zen and allow a person to see the way forward then a significant hurdle would have been overcome.
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This post discusses the idea of duality and why passivity is a powerful tool in overcoming the state of duality. We tend to hear this term “duality” all the time when reading certain types of spiritual literature but there is a lot of confusion as to what it signifies. The
term has become in many respects a cliché as have terms such as “oneness”. We hear people who have not experienced “oneness” talking about it almost as if it was some social term. “We are all one” they will say, but clearly we are also autonomous beings.
So what is duality and why does it manifest in the unenlightened psyche. The answer is really very straight forward and is as follows: the unenlightened person perceives two aspects to reality, hence the term duality, meaning two. These two aspects are simply that which is viewed as the self and that which is viewed as not self. In other words themselves and the external world. This is all there is to the concept of duality, nothing more.
The reality of the situation however is that the external world is no more external to a person than the “internal” world. The perception of separateness is an illusion created by the fact that thought is dynamic in nature and seems to be produced by that thing we call “ourselves” and which appears to be located in our heads. Because we appear to control it and because it appears to move we identify it as ourselves. Without movement there can be no mentality or so it would seem to the unenlightened person. Hence the unenlightened person refuses to bring this movement under control as cessation of this movement represents repression of their very self. “What am I if I do not think” they exclaim.
However this view fails to take into account something very important, namely the fact that our real thought occurs in our intuition. The thoughts that pop into our heads are afterthoughts. It is precisely because the unenlightened person has such a poor perception of their intuitional nature that they cannot stop the endless series of overt thoughts that pop into their heads. They have no direct identification with this intuitional part of their nature and hence they are literally marooned in an intellectual prison that feels entirely separate from surrounding reality. The intuitional intelligence is on the other hand entirely at one with and identified with surrounding reality and is therefore far less concerned with issues of self identity. It is in other words less neurotic and happy to be itself when left alone.
So why is passivity such a valuable tool in overcoming this dualistic state? We can deduce the reason by simply observing that which we perceive to be the “external” world. If our real mind also includes the external world then logic would tell us that observation of the external world might tell us something about the nature of our own mind. So let’s take a look at some of it’s characteristics. We can see that the external world does not worry and we can see when we observe it closely that it is mentally utterly still and free of concern. We can see that it has a certain “emptiness” to it when viewed as a mental entity, that it is free of mental characteristics. If we wish to “become” this mind, to identify directly with it, we therefore have to be like it. One cannot become something by being different to it; we must integrate our own psyche with it. This therefore means passivity, a mental state free of grasping and worry.
We must observe the external world and learn from it. We must become like it and integrate ourselves with it. When this is done thoroughly we perceive reality directly and replace the reactive insecure intellect with a passive satisfied intuition. The intuition is happy to be itself because it knows itself and direct perception brings us closer to our intuitive being. I am reminded of a question posed by the spiritual teacher Richard Rose when he asked
“Do we think or do we conjure”?
The unenlightened person undoubtedly conjures continually. It is not just thoughts they conjure but images, melodies, day dreams, fantasies, hopes, desires. It is literally endless. These things are provoked by a world that is perceived as external to them. Direct perception of the external world quietens all of this because the person realises their true identity and comes into a direct perception of it’s warm and compassionate nature. They become happy just to be.
Therefore observe reality and be like it.
Do not conjure.
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In this post I describe a technique that is extremely powerful and which when put in to practise fulfils many if not all of the criteria that Zen would consider most beneficial to a persons development. It has the power to bring the mind or “mad
monkey” under control whilst simultaneously “setting the attention on nothing”. It gives a person the power to observe the world in absolute stillness and solidity, to develop a “diamond” like mind whilst remaining fully cognisant and in a state of brilliant awareness. Practised for a sufficient amount of time this technique will ultimately allow a person to transcend the intellect and dissolve the duality of “self” and “other”. It allows a person to come in to direct perception of their own being, to experience their “self nature” through direct identity.
The technique or meditation consists of reversing the attention from it’s natural outgoing state to one that is entirely artificial but highly beneficial. The attention of the average person is outward going in nature, being directed toward the “external” world from what they perceive as an “internal” consciousness. They are beguiled by the world and react in a somewhat puppet like fashion to external events. They are reactive beings dancing to the tune of concern. It is this reactive quality that constitutes the “mad monkey” and which must be overcome. A person must transform themselves from a reactive being to a non-reactive being and in doing so gain control over themselves. In this battle, concern and an intellect that is not “locked down” are their biggest enemies. These two things constitute a fatal instability that renders them playthings of their own nature. They have as Zen says a “leaking mind”.
The mind “leaks” because the direction of thought coincides with the direction of the attention and consequently thought flows freely in an outwards direction. In this state of being, thought could be considered as being like an object floating down river; it flows freely and without restraint, it bobs up and down and is somewhat enthusiastic in it’s progress. It is uncontrolled and enamoured of itself precisely because it flows with the stream. Not only is it uncontrolled, but it is also unaware of the lack of control because this is it’s “natural” state. The lack of control only becomes apparent when we try to stop thought in it’s tracks and then we perceive great difficulty in gaining any stability and a tendency for the mind to constantly “leak” despite our best efforts. This “leaking” is produced by an egotistical pressure that builds in direct proportion to the amount of control exerted. With no control thought flows freely and no pressure is experienced. The mind leaks but it is not perceived as leaking. With a high level of control thoughts may be somewhat suppressed but a feeling of great pressure is produced and we become aware of the leaking process. We perceive the “mad monkey’s” attempts to break free. This is analogous to damming up the river; the flow is interrupted and pressure builds.
We can see from all of this that a reversal of the attentions natural outgoing direction would be analogous to damming up the river. Since thought flows in the direction of the attention, reversing the direction of the attention would inhibit thought, allowing a person to “lock down” their mind. In such a state, the person gains solidity of mind, their attention is effectively “set on nothing” because it no longer clings to thoughts as objects and the person can passively observe the world whilst remaining fully cognisant. Their “intelligence” is in no way affected by this process because overt intellectual thoughts are nothing but afterthoughts. The real thinking takes place in the intuition and remains fully functional. A person can therefore do any of their normal tasks whilst maintaining a state of absolute solidity. They can walk, talk, sit, observe, read, write, do mathematics all while maintaining absolute stability. Indeed if they are able to put this technique in to practise to a very high degree of accomplishment they will find that they can carry out tasks such as reading with extreme speed due to being unencumbered by a plodding overt intellect. The “real” mind perceives instantly whereas the overt intellect processes information. It is a categoriser with a severe blind spot.
The following technique or meditation will allow you to overcome this leaking process and to develop a high degree of stability. Ultimately you will be able to develop a “diamond” like mind that remains utterly still under all circumstances. You will feel liberated as if freed from the clutches of a neurotic demon. You will feel free and at rest, in direct communication with your real self which is in reality no-self.
Set your attention on the back of your skull or in a general rearward direction thus reversing the natural direction of the outgoing attention.
Keep it there under all circumstances.
If you feel a deep discomfort and pressure building try to dissolve the pressure by inducing humility at the place where the onerous feelings arise.
Initially you may find this very difficult to maintain. It will require effort and attention. Try not to let the attention wander from it’s new direction. When you carry out a specific task, first reverse your attention and then carry out the task. You will find that you can indeed do things whilst maintaining this reversed attention but it may be somewhat painful at first. When you become more accomplished at maintaining this state you may develop a “pulling back” sensation in your psyche. If so, nurture it, this is precisely what you are aiming for. If you can get to the “pulling back” stage and maintain it you are home and dry. You will rapidly develop a mind of great solidity. If the process feels onerous, don’t worry it is your ego protesting; it doesn’t like being held under constraint and a pressure will build. Try to dissolve the feeling with humility. If you’re engaged in sitting meditation, induce humility with every outbreath. The point of this meditation is to lock the overt thinking process and the ego down permanently and thus to cause them to wither and die. Your intuitive thinking will remain fully active and cognisant.