In “returning to love” Marianne Williamson talked of her “ego-death” in this you-tube clip (3.30 mins). In the recent blog on Miracles,I saw this ego death as temporary, and that ego has rebirth throughout life. Despite there being transcendence, which can be so powerful, it does not mean that conditions for the ego don’t arise again. We require constant awareness to see that after transcendence we do not attach to ego, through fear, new mindsets etc. Fortunately we have the tool of meditation to help keep our minds clear.
In my life there has been an ongoing oscillation between inner and outer emphasis. Do I focus on the spiritual, how much am I involved with the political? 100% awareness on both is ideal, both of which I am far away from – such might well be Nirvana. The transcendence might well occur dramatically as it did with me but developing awareness is ongoing and requires work; the battle to control ego, desire and attachment is equally ongoing however powerful a transcendence has occurred. It is a sense of recognition of this battle that made me quit study of ACIM, it is not fear of the power but control of the ego.
Making judgements about others is dangerous as one can never know what is in their heads; it is hard enough to try to know oneself with all the information that you have available to understand. So when it comes to considering someone else, making judgements really ought to be a no-no. I make an exception to this, an important exception, and that comes to my studies. Whilst I always try to learn from within, there has to be a tendency to adopt the mindset of the teacher in order to help understand. This is especially so when you are starting on something new. Understanding Soto Zen and Shobogenzo is such a new venture for me, and previously I was using Brad as a teacher but this is “written Brad”, the Brad that I read in his blogs and books. There is no personal contact, no feedback, only the written word. This is not a good situation, this is a statement of what is and not a criticism of Brad. When I see the lack of political transcendence and a degree of racism in the “written Brad”, the weak situation gets worse. Politically I cannot accept his mindset, and therefore spiritually I have doubts; perhaps that is better. To understand Shobogenzo I was intending to read Brad and maybe then look at Shobogenzo, now the emphasis has to be on Shobogenzo.
Buddhadasa talks about ongoing rebirth, especially with paticcasamuppada; Marianne’s use of the term “ego death” has helped me understand that a little more. Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and cite references in the suttas to support this. Buddhadasa did not accept that the Buddha advocated reincarnation. In the Kalama sutta the Buddha asks that we do not accept anything unless we can internalise and understand it as truth. Reincarnation falls into this category, how can it be proved, and it is my understanding it is considered one of the Buddha’s unanswered questions. Buddhadasa suggests that the reincarnation the Buddha is referring to is ego. Through kamma (conditions) ego arises and is attached to, but if we let go then there is ego death. No ego is permanent no matter how strong that ego feels. Perhaps the strongest ego we feel is the one of our upbringing. Society conforms us through education and upbringing, and this conditioning is very hard to break through – breaking through is described as transcendence in this blog. But that is not the end of ego arising, and we have to be continually aware. Whilst it is much easier once we have transcended to recognise and release ego, in some ways it is more difficult because egos that then arise are so much more subtle.
In my own past such egos have been numerous, the most obvious was the addiction to alcohol. In retrospect I do not understand how I could have deluded myself into accepting the drink. At a similar time I did not demand sila of myself. In transcendence I felt I had developed a soul that guided me. In discussion with others I saw their morality as being based on a rational justification ie reasons for conduct, whereas I trusted that my soul guided my conduct 100% truthfully. This was ego. Such a soul had some substance, a substance that I would now ascribe to sunnata and insight, but that substance I considered had some form of permanence. It was akin to notions like Self. Now I know it was an ego, an ego that I have now released. Another ego I repeatedly get trapped in is mindsets, or better described as insights that I later cling to as mindsets. When one experiences an insight it is so powerful, it is almost as if each new insight recreates the world. Once such light bulbs take hold, we experience Eurekas like any good Archimedes. But they are only thoughts that we need to let rise and fall away (unless they qualify as scientific principles!!), but because they are so powerful to us we cling to them. I regularly have had to remove the clinging of such insights, remove their egos. When I look at all the things I know I should do on a daily basis but don’t, I know that there are still many egos in play. Am I doing the best I can? Ego gets in the way, attaching to wrong conduct etc.
What I have said concerning Marianne Williamson is an observation that if it ever comes to her attention is up to her to discard etc., for me the decision has already been made when I was studying ACIM. Maybe if I returned to ACIM I could learn more, but I would rather work with teachings that I can trust – as explained I cannot trust ACIM.
As for Brad (as opposed to Marianne) my evaluation is for a different purpose because I had intended using his books for study as I do his blogs. I read this tweet of his “You’ll never be completely happy with it, or completely comfortable with it or completely satisfied with it. So why waste time complaining?” An ego part of me would like that it referred to what I have written – I would always welcome communication, but I will take it as synchronous. I know I am not complaining because making a complaint implicitly carries with it a hope for change. I am making criticisms because they matter to me and it is some form of evaluation as his being a teacher for me as described above. Such criticisms might form the basis for change if he so wished, that is up to him. But for me they are evaluations, and also learning points – I learn from the interactions. In this last case I have specifically learned about transcendence, and have realised the connection between spiritual and political transcendence. It is not a complaint that I see a shortcoming with regards to this political transcendence, it is a judgement with regards to the teachings. If I am to use “written Brad” to learn from, I must be clear what I can and cannot accept.
In the tweet there is the use of the word “completely”. The way that is written implies an over-reaction to minor differences (taken as on my part). In this blog I suggested that I would be too definitive if I demanded the Occupy view. But the failure to understand the power relations, in my view, contributed to the racism that has caused division.
Whilst I fully support Brad’s efforts to move away from the sutta quoting into day-to-day practical interpretations of the teachings, there is a danger of alienation. Hence consideration of “complete agreement” is a fair warning. But a good person cannot make racist comments, whether institutional or not. Whether Brad likes it or not, his words as a monk are under some form of microscope, and whether he likes it or not he is judged accordingly. There has to be circumspection.
7 years ago there was a disagreement with a monk who having read Tony Blair’s autobiography wrote that he understood Blair’s going into Iraq. At that time, and now, I could not accept Blair as anything other than a warmonger doing the work of the 1%. Despite Chilcott’s weak response, most now accept that Blair should not have taken Britain to war, that monk was out of step with most people. I commend that monk, now, for his attempts to be real, to apply the teachings to daily life, but he was deluded by a spin doctor, a man whose way of life was to lie and deceive. A monk cannot allow such deceptions or the monk will lose respect and people will not follow their interpretation of the teachings. Their lifestyle makes monks self-reliant but when it comes to understanding the ways of the 1%-system they need advice.
I still don’t know where I stand with Brad, but I am not as keen to study his books. Yet Dogen was not easy, and I can relate to Brad more.