From way back when I was an outsider – even when I didn’t know it. Growing up I was a shadow, there was social participation but never commitment. I more or less conformed to what conditioning required but never with any determination. I remember upsetting my grandmother because I wasn’t interested in my studies, from what I recall when I said I would do enough to get through she cried. I had no determination, more exactly there was no motivation.
Somewhat romantically I associate this undisciplined approach to school as the Path, learning at school was necessary for some form of social conformity, survival or job attainment but it had limited connection to Nature – to the Path. Then as now there is little connection between what we learn at school and what is required for maturity – the Path. There have been times in my life where genuine study has dominated – including being a major motivation for early retirement; as I got older I was too tired from work and there was only time to study during the holidays.
The Path being outside what we learn at school, or what we are expected to conform to, is a reality that we must come to terms with; hence the Path and conditioning have little connection. Having said that we are conditioned when young – whoever we are, and as adults we are subjected to media barrage no matter how reclusively we live our lives. So even following the Path brings with it conditioning but being an outsider helps. Despite being a teacher, the very essence of whose job is promoting conformity, whatever my heart wanted me to do, my non-working self, was always concerned with the Path.
When I first hit bottom I gravitated to the Outside, those alternatives to the mainstream who make some attempt at non-conformity; most notably this was with the Arts Centre. Two things drew me back from the alternate. First of all my creativity was limited, and was not the driving force it was in others. Secondly once my time on the Path was sufficiently entrenched I sought compassion in my life, a compassion that eventually led to education as a means of amelioration of general suffering – as opposed to care helping others to cope. But the very nature of the job made me an outsider within a profession that imparted conformity, a profession that was a key conditioner along with the media and community upbringing including family.
The Path makes you an Outsider, the depth of the pervading conditioning means that overcoming conditioning moves one towards the Outside. To a certain extent this has advantages, overcoming conditioning gives one an edge. Seeing what is happening for what it is provides a choice. It introduces questions of integrity and compromise that don’t always exist for others. Such questioning leads to an understanding of conditioning, and helps move beyond it.
By considering “being an outsider” I am attempting to consider how to recognise and overcome conditioning – how to transcend to maturity. As an outsider I am basically saying that to a great extent I am outside conditioning. Within conditioning people accept community conformity and community pressure – I include family in this conforming process. As an outsider there is less pressure but there is usually pressure to conform to the “outside community”. This usually involves an “outside mindset” such as Icke-ism, replacing the mindset of our conditioning process with a new mindset is an improvement but very soon becomes a restriction. This is not a process of maturing to freedom but is simply adding a less conditioned chain keeping us within a conformed process. What matters is a complete rejection of any mindset, and replacing it with complete enquiry; and with that enquiry comes maturity and freedom.
Achieving that state of enquiry is obviously extremely difficult and requires continuous attention. The three agencies of conformity are family and community, media and education. When you consider these agencies you are always in contact with them, in other words you are always being asked to conform. It therefore requires great strength and conviction not to be pulled back into the conditioned existence that you have been hoping to transcend. It is no wonder monastics choose to take refuge. Spiritual transcendence brings with it strength and conviction that gives one a fighting chance, political transcendence less so because socio-political transcendence is much more intellectual – concerned with social assessment and does not have the conviction of spiritual insight, the strength that can prevent us from being swayed by the three agencies.
We are never free from the battle that is conditioning, and to understand this brings with it an awareness that is forewarning. Taking refuge, being a recluse, being an outsider, travelling are all means of separating from conditioning, but conditioning is a battle won beyond the mind – in transcendence. If we are fortunate enough to experience transcendence, then meditation is the tool that can help us. Through focus and insight, the mind can cut through the condition with deep enquiry that will free it – maintaining a transcendent state of mind. But this has to be ongoing because daily life through the 3 agencies is always trying to recondition. Energy work can strengthen the mind whilst a healthy body will not bring unwarranted distractions of disease etc.
But desire also brings problems that can lead to conditioning, how can lust not demean a man’s view of a woman and of himself however much love and respect is involved? BigFood manipulates food craving through taste additives such as MSG and refined sugar, and if we give in to those desires we provide the basis within our bodies for degenerative disease. With advertising the corporatocracy tries to manipulate desires to condition you into consuming. Human existence requires homes, food and water, which early humans got for free. Now the corporations make our food, a substantial amount of our income is spent on homes, and water is becoming increasingly expensive. Then our society develops (supposedly more civilised when we are not creating wars), and there becomes more essentials. Tax that pays for education and our transport, although perhaps we should say tax for wars and business infrastructure – whilst corporations avoid tax. In times of pure surviving, we used our time and energy to survive (home and food etc), now that we are more civilised we use our time and energy to earn money to pay for the so-called advantages of civilisation. This is wage-slavery for most, as few have any time to pursue their own interests outside the workplace. And yet cursory observation sees the few gaining huge amounts of money that brings with it leisure time and other advantages that can be bought. We are conditioned to accept this, yet why we accept it is really beyond belief. The level of conditioning that requires such acceptance is very high.
Can we see through conditioning from the inside? Only to some extent. Within we are expected to conform to conditioning, to a certain extent that conformity allows for certain leeway – some people are less sexist and racist than others. But whilst people are tied to conformity, their fear of being different prevents them from becoming sufficiently aware to transcend.
Therefore transcendence means trying to help people become outsiders. There are mechanisms that help towards that. Travelling is one such way, the sort of travelling that takes one outside one’s own society, and puts people in positions where they can see what their society is truly about. Of course within this there is a tremendous pull with the love of one’s family and the pull of the familiar that you grew up with and know. Being pulled back is easier in the short term, but because that pull leads to the restriction of conformity it is not easier in the long run. Yet for most travelling doesn’t do it, and it becomes a chance lost as the community conforms you once again. There is of course no simple way out. Spiritual teachings help, conflict in one’s own community – a conflict that stems from you being in the right, and the 1% and the conforming forces are in the wrong. For some study helps to see society for what it is, but intellectual comprehension is not enough the depth and conviction of insight are essential for genuine transcendence. Political activists deride spiritual people as the activists replace the conformity of their upbringing with conformity to the new restrictive mindset. The spiritual experience is often seen as transcendence yet those same spiritual have not developed political transcendence, perhaps because political activists who have transcended to some extent have not learnt the importance of peace etc.; the spiritual deride the political and this derision could tarnish the need to transcend politically as well.
Refuge is such an obvious answer but is the refuge free from conditioning? Does the refuge conform you to a new mindset or does it bring transcendence? Does the peace and tranquillity usually associated with refuges prevent one from seeing the conflicts and disadvantages that social conformity brings? Does the emphasis on the spiritual dogma prevent you from giving time to socio-political considerations? And do the institutional restrictions, such as charitable status and pandering to the rich because they donate more, prevent the refuge from being a place where socio-political understanding can occur? Can a renunciate understand socio-politically when they are not wage-slaves? Whilst taking refuge has many characteristics of “removing conditioning”, it is not 100% so.
Throughout all our societies exist outsiders. People’s Paths take them all over, and can lead them to make homes in new communities. Like Chinese monks they can be at the tops of mountains or on islands. But they are not likely to be where they should be – as elders and leaders. Yet even as outsiders their wisdom has influence because the conformed see wisdom in these people even though the conditioning prevents them from internalising this wisdom to any great extent. That is the way of wisdom and conditioning for the mature person who has transcended the conditioning and reached some freedom.
Embrace the Outside, can the Path be any other way?
Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category
I am still reading Brad – not sure why. In his latest blog he discusses miracles, and apparently Dogen discusses miracles in the Shobogenzo chapter “Jinzu” so I must look at that.
I do not like the use of the word “miracle”. Growing up a Catholic the word “miracle” was in the background, but “magic” in whatever form always feels unsound as a basis for a proper way of life – a life of sila. There is a seduction about miracles and powers that makes me feel total antipathy.
After my first “miracle”, when I hit bottom and came out the other side with bells and banjos ringing in my ears everywhere I began exploring the occult – this together with the Kabbalah seemed the western esoteric tradition. It was all so attractive, and yet at no time did these writings demand sila of me. And of course there was Castaneda with death over the shoulder, stopping time and all such – with no appeal to sila, his sila has now been questioned.
I learned of how there can be seduction near the Path when I started to read Aleisteir Crowley’s “Diary of a Drug Fiend”, I got really sucked in. I began to think he had something, and was thinking about it more and more – until eventually something powerfully said “this is drugs it is crap” (I don’t remember the words but the sentiment was so strong); I have never picked up a book of his again. But that was not the end of such attraction. Some time later I took a Jane Roberts book on holiday to Greece with me. I was sat on a hotel balcony in Delphi overlooking a valley that opened out to the sea, and began imagining that in a past life I had been a Greek warrior walking down that valley. Again I got sucked in until eventually I realised who was teaching her, the name was Seth, and Seth does not have good connotations. I remember a book by Frederic Lionel that warned against these attractions of “Glamour” (here is a blog I wrote years later on “Glamour” – I now can’t find the title of Frederic Lionel’s book, I think it was “Glamour”), and glamour is something I have tried to eschew ever since.
Once I turned more towards India and Easter, I began hearing of how all gurus would lock themselves away and develop these wonderful powers, siddhis, how they could perform magic and stuff. I realised that ain’t it, is the Path sitting levitating? Eventually through meditation discipline and these types of warnings I knew that we’re not here to develop by-products (siddhis), we are here to live a good moral life; the siddhis are attractions – distractions.
Soon after I retired I began looking into “A Course in Miracles” in which we could all develop powers (siddhis) to create miracles through being good people and applying ourselves. I felt it was taking me the wrong way, and I stopped – reasons here.
Every time I see the name Marianne Williamson I see it in the right places with her saying and doing the right things. Except for the fact that she is a huge advocate of “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM), possibly her most famous book is based on the course called “Return to Love”. She talks of the miracles of returning to love overcoming fear. This message is not a problem, for me it is the appeal to ego – the glamour – that makes me wary. When I listen to this clip, danger bells ring. By removing the conditioning that is fear, there is the freedom that comes – sunnata. She calls this freedom love, perfectly fine, and the process “return to love”. But in this expression of love there can still be khandas, ego. And when she talks of this process empowering her to do anything, I worry whether an ego is included. It was the concern that I might include this ego that made me quit ACIM 8 or so years ago.
What is evident is that ACIM removes the conditioning that includes fear. But removing conditioning is not the end of problems on the Path, it is the start of a different set of problems. There are the dangers of introducing a new mindset – in this case ACIM, and becoming attached to it. There are the dangers, already alluded to, of becoming attached to the power, attached to the glamour. For me coping with these dangers requires a high level of sila and circumspection throughout. For me it is not sufficient to say love and the power that comes with it is the guiding force. Pure love does not make mistakes, but love expressed through humans has all the issues of attaching to the khandas creating ego. From my limited experience with ACIM that ego is appealed to in making the person divine so as to create miracles; there are many risks. From 3.30 mins in the clip, she describes removing fear with the conditioned limiting ego-mind leading to ego-death, this process I agree with. But the ego does not die it reincarnates at other times as I mentioned with the dangers arising from attachment to the khandas.
Whether it is the miracles of Jesus or the miracles of ACIM, I do not like the use of the word miracles because both are talking about power and neither are talking about sila. But the use of the word also points us in the wrong direction. It is not the miracles that need to hold our focus but the peace and harmony that comes from following the true path. It is the insight usually arising from meditation, and the clarity of zazen. It is Gaia, Nature, Life, Unity that is so wonderful, as Brad says “you can directly and immediately examine this one great miracle in detail for yourself using your own body and your own mind just as they are right here and right now.” Miracle sounds like power, superhuman, special – don’t like that, peace and harmony can come from a true life, that is more than enough.
Shobogenzo apparently usually begins with Bendowa, and is about meditation. In Zen meditation is called Zazen, and the method of Zazen is described in Fukanzazengi or here, and discussed in Ch2 in Brad’s “Jerk”.
I must first note that Brad describes what he follows as Buddhism, this is somewhat of a surprise to me. There are a myriad of Buddhisms, and within those Buddhisms there are disagreements, so for Brad to describe his Soto Zen as Buddhism is divisive – whether I agree with Shobogenzo or not. But for someone who lives his life as a Buddhist speaker, reference to this type of correctness is conceivably tedious as those who are listening to him are probably his branch of Zen.
Whilst always being attracted to the real-speak of Brad it was when I read that Buddhadasa promoted Zen that I got into it more. Having done so, once I had got into practising Zazen I looked into Shobogenzo. And when reading Bendowa I was attracted to the letting go of mind and body so reminiscent of Buddhadasa’s “removal of I and mine from the 5 khandas”.
I was already hooked on Bendowa – had not really read past it, and then Brad applied the “jerk” filter to that chapter. What grabbed me was that part of Bendowa which apparently is known as Jijuyo Zanmai and is “bradded” on page 4. This has helped me clarify meditation for the time being.
Because of the method of Zazen we have right concentration. Zazen makes us stare at the wall, and keep bringing the attention back to staring at the wall. This is just concentration – plain and simple. It reminds me of Dharma Dan whose meditation was using the breath as object and then focussing on extending the stage after breathing (stage 1 in, 2 hold focus, 3 breathe out, 4 hold focus) where there is just concentration.
I cannot recall there having been insight during my zazen. This is interesting in two ways. It shows things are not right yet. And it shows that maybe it was not right insight under the old method. I did not use breathing as an object of meditation – the usual vipassana object. Once the daily grind fell away, sometimes insights came – give link. Today in Zazen I kept thinking about the problem with my teeth as well as this blog the insight for which I had days ago.
Reading Jujiyo Zanmai [p4] brought some clarity but care needs to be taken. Jujiyo Zanmai is translated as “the Samadhi of Receiving and Using the Self” [p2], and here the Self refers to the whole universe of the quote above. There is an anatta issue here – no self. The Self is not personal, it is not I or mine. This “Self and self” issue is raised much with Hinduism, theosophy and that part of Buddhism influenced by it. For many Self becomes confused with the personal, perhaps that bit of Gaia or Unity that is apportioned to the person whereas anatta of Buddhism clearly talks of no self. Because of the capitalisation there is a clear intended difference (from self), but it is still open to misconception. Knowing anatta first helps understand this. There is an interesting meditation I occasionally used – breathing in sunnata – emptiness. I sometimes feel that the focus is a block – I am doing it wrong, but today I moved to natural focus moving away from focus that could conceivably be mind; receiving and using sunnata could be an alternative to this.
“Real Buddhists all say that zazen is the best thing ever” [p4]. This paraphrase is typical of Brad’s approach as a good number of Buddhists would not know what zazen is, possibly even some real Buddhists. However the intent is very straightforward – you must meditate. I met online a number of Theravada intellectuals who could not meditate, I surmise that attachment to the intellectual sankhara (khanda) got in the way. The only exception to the need for meditation is the one Buddhadasa put forward, that maybe there would be someone totally naturally in harmony and automatically receive the truth – conceivable?
Perhaps the most important is an understanding that comes from “If one person sits zazen, being right in body, speech and mind for just one moment, the whole universe enters this state”. I think of the whole universe entering this state as being a form of insight, or vice versa.
Brad talks about enlightenment – not a word I like. He has a specific meaning and it refers to this “whole universe entering this state”. This can happen for a moment, and any description falls short. I don’t mind this although I would prefer not to use the word “enlightenment”. This tends to obviate claims of enlightenment such as Adyashanti or U G, or maybe knocks on the head claims of enlightened being with implications of permanent enlightenment. “So-called enlightenment experiences are not the finishing line” [p8] leads me to think that this Brad enlightenment fits in better with enlightenment as jhanas rather than enlightenment as nirvana. Whilst I don’t understand all that is spoken of jhanas, the jhanas that I know are of deep insight, bliss, the muse presence etc – discussed here link to blog. Maybe the different levels of jhanas could reach up to the level of the whole universe entering. “And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration” [Samyutta Nikaya 45, as part of a description of the 8-fold path]. As in the quote bliss or rapture happens with jhanas, however the bliss is not to be attached to. This “enlightenment” that comes with right concentration of zazen is also not to be attached to.
The “whole universe entering” is not explicitly said in Theravada, but is very interesting. It adds to understanding of synchronicity and coincidence, and helps explain Unity “…. and receives the imperceptible mutual assistance of all things in the entire universe” [p4]. I am less likely to have a car accident or break my wrist if I am meditating!!
Attaining experience (jhanas) through concentration is meditation. What if you don’t get an experience? Keep going, zazen does you good. Just keep doing it.
When I first thought of this blog I thought it was momentous – not so sure now; it is the second blog that comes from this Bradblog. This blogentry became more than I conceived and I thought of changing the title to “the revolution of removing thought addiction” but …. Maybe this is momentous.
The Buddha “started to see that the way his thoughts had been framing his experiences were not right. …. He saw that it was a mistake to habitually believe his own thoughts.” Where did the Buddha’s thoughts come from?
“As anyone who has ever tried to give up cigarettes or alcohol or even coffee can tell you, habits are hard things to break. Our addiction to believing our own thoughts is more powerful and more difficult to overcome than being addicted to heroin or any other addictive substance you can name. So this process was not very easy for our man Buddha, nor has it been easy for anyone else who has ever attempted.” Thought addiction, what is it?
Brad’s blog is timely , and it very much connects with my blogs on feminism concerning culture and conditioning. And it connects with what Buddhadasa said about “removing the I and mine from the 5 khandas”.
Let’s start with the khandas – sankara. Sankara are thoughts and where do those thoughts come from? Culture and conditioning. Once our culture conditions us we think that those thoughts are “mine”. We think we are our thoughts as Kant proposed “I Think therefore I am” – extended to I am my thoughts. But Kant’s proposition was misguided because those conditioned thoughts create a framework in the mind, and we attach to this framework – attach to the khanda sankara. The longer we hold onto this framework the more addicted we get and the harder it is to think clearly and free ourselves from the traps of culture and conditioning.
In his blog Brad described what the Buddha did when he solved problems. “Buddha sat with this problem for a long, long time. But, unlike most Western philosophers, he didn’t try to think his way through it. Instead he quietly observed life as it happened to him.
“He realized that his thoughts were just a part of what was going on, and not even a very significant part. So he chose not to focus on them. He let his brain do whatever it needed to do, but he didn’t try to use his thinking mind to determine the answer to his questions about the nature of life.”
We are educated into using the thinking mind, this is our culture and conditioning. Our mind is filled with ideas on different subjects, our exams require us to concentrate on these ideas to reproduce them in exams, and this concentration reinforces the framework. Our conduct is controlled by our parents who conform to society, and we become conditioned to do what society wants.
There ought to be nothing wrong with this culture and conditioning. Whilst we should always apply an enquiring mind to what we do, having a conditioning culture ought to mean no more than living together in harmony. But underlying the culture that we live in is the 1%-system, a system that is designed to profit the few and puts their profits before people. As a result our culture creates issues concerning class, gender and race, and when we mature enough to develop the enquiring mind that starts to unravel conditioning we become a threat to the power bloc, its greed and its shameful exploitation.
Our system’s thought addiction is powerful. Not only must we overcome the addiction that is attachment to the khandas but we also have to overcome the social pressure engendered by the 1%-system.
Yet there is a plus to this 1%-exploitation. Because of the oppression of the 1%-system the exploitation starts to make us aware of the lack of truth and the level of injustice. This awareness provides an impetus for our awakening, an impetus for our recognition that there is an imposed framework of culture and conditioning, helps us detach from the 5 khandas, and propels us into a mature lifestyle that frees us from the impositions of the cultural framework of conditioning.
This shows us how important meditation is in terms of social change. By sitting and observing we see what is. We observe our own cultural conditioning, we see it for what it is, and we can free ourselves from it. But as Brad says it is thought addiction, and addiction is hard to break. Having faith in whatever Buddhism is is not enough. Becoming addicted to the dogma of Buddhism is still thought addiction – just a different framework. Without a methodology of removing addiction there still exists the framework that we are addicted to, the framework of thought that has now been replaced by the dogma of Buddhism, the dogma of Ickeism or any dogma. It is enquiry, seeing what is what, that frees us from addiction, and that enquiry has as method meditation.
Meditation is freedom from thought addiction, meditation is liberation, it is the revolution that is not violence. Of course such a revolution only works as a mass movement when there is genuine meditation for all. It is disappointing that so many meditators do not see meditation for the revolutionary tool that it is. Meditation is a way of life but it is not an end in itself. Through meditation we see what is what, and can then begin in our daily life to create change around us. Of course if we choose not to see what is what, typically choose not to see the 1%-system, that meditation lacks true vision, and we accept slavery perhaps in a more profound way. If we accept slavery by not freeing our minds to genuinely see all of what is what, then we evade the responsibility that comes with awareness, that comes with awakening, that comes with maturity.
This brings us to an institutional danger. Institutions such as Buddhism that require finance have an inbuilt need not to see all of what is what. They require finance, the finance of the rich, and choose not to see where that wealth comes from. The institution avoids that aspect of meditation that brings awareness of politics because that awareness taints the very institution itself. The people who provide the greater proportion of the finance of these institutions are the very people who need to change because they have the greater power and influence in the 1%-system. Yet the institution is compromised. Meditation becomes compromised not seeing what is what, but seeing what is expedient to see. Seeing peace has connected with it a violence, a violence that has upheaval because our level of exploitation is so unjust. This is the consequence of thought addiction.
Meditation is the methodology of liberation but it can also be a tool of enslavement if we choose to avoid seeing all of what is what and allowing some thought addiction that is convenient – compromised. Meditation is a means of liberation but it can also be a means of enslavement if it still contains thought addiction. Focussing on the breath means we are not holding to anything, zazen focussing is just that and addictions just fall away. We are left with seeing what is what, and if sufficient people are doing this we have revolution.
From a recent Brad blog I am picking up two things. The first here concerns Buddhism in general, and how westerners have taken to Buddhism.
I am always amazed why Tibetan Buddhism is the most popular branch of Buddhism especially in the US. Richard Gere springs to mind and Robert Turman is well known. Perhaps it is because HHDL targets the west. There’s all the drumming and dancing, and all the revisions suited to Tibetan culture and history – of little relevance to westerners. Briefly I got involved with the New Kadampa Tradition in Manchester. The people were very nice and welcomed me especially as I had just returned from Tibet and had visited Ganden monastery, a place of significance to these people. I went to a Tibetan mass in which all the participants recited a litany. It was the first time I had come across the name Dorje Shugden, and later found out that considering him a teacher was dividing Tibetan Buddhism. I had a nice break at Coniston Priory, and that was the last I had to do with them. For me Buddhism requires enquiry – not faith. Good luck to them, as with all faiths mixed with compassionate practice it made these people better.
Tibetan is so ritualistic and focuses on reincarnation more than the others. It demands faith to such a great extent. Brad says “This is especially true when it comes to American Buddhists. Lots of folks in my home country got into Buddhism specifically because of its teachings about reincarnation, particularly those espoused by Tibetan Buddhists. They do not like anyone questioning their beliefs.” For people who learned at the Church of Reason such ritual and faith seem counter-indicated.
Theravadan seems much more in line because there are so many western intellectuals attached to it. For an approach whose adherents often eschew reason there are so many people who bring reason to the table of Theravada.
I tend to think of Mahayana and Zen as different although Zen strictly, I think, is part of Mahayana. I think Zen is much more readily acceptable to westerners because it becomes all things to all people. I think commitment to true Zen requires much commitment to practise (Zazen) but I also think Zen is better suited to the armchair phenomenon common in the West, in this case armchair Buddhists. But Zazen looks to let mind (reason) and body drop away, not particularly suited to the Reason advocates that profligate in the west because of miseducation.
“It’s too bad so many Buddhists have ruined Buddhism. You can really learn a lot by following the examples folks like Buddha and Dogen left for us.”
I am totally enamoured with Brad’s style – despite the political issues, his style typified in this post on enlightenment and virginity. In his talk on sin sex and zen in “some Brad stuff” the manner in which he discussed the dharma was human – as opposed to what might be called sanctimonious dogma. OK, that’s an exaggeration, probably unfair, and is against this Dogen Sangha precept:-
but still …. I haven’t retracted it.
This post is going to be too arrogant so I will take my time before putting it up. I have spent my retirement time looking at Theravada, and it has been a great help – no doubts. Coming to terms with all the dogma has helped understanding but of course it has fed my intellect – and I am too intellectual. Too full of ideas, stick too much to idea sets – even sticking to realisation sets that are past their sell-by-date.
In searching for the esoteric I have determined that appears to be an answer. To be fair to my underlying dharma I have spent much of my time with the intellectuals arguing for insight, and have had some nasty encounters with intellectuals because of this. Brad just sits there and says zazen is finding intuition – no mu, no jhanas, just experiences and intuition. Intuition – a fine word by me.
My first monastery attendance amuses me with irony now. I applied to the guest monk who normally asked for a stay of a few days. For some reason I could only stay overnight and he was kind enough. I have no recollection as to why in a Summer break of maybe 6 weeks or more I could only stay one night but that was it. I had a litmus test, and in the middle of the night there they were, the guys, the muse, the visual vibrations that I associated with experience – that I now relate to or the innate dharma from this Dogen quote:-
“Consequently, those who sit in meditation will, beyond doubt, drop off body and mind, and cut themselves free from their previous confused and defiling thoughts and opinions in order to personally realize what the innate Dharma of the Buddha is” Shobogenzo[p35].
In the morning before I left the guest monk asked whether I had got anything, and I was so pleased to tell him that the guys had visited me – and that I had got it. He was polite, I don’t think he’d got the guys, but that monastery was my spiritual home in the UK.
Over the years I associated with Theravada I don’t know how many of the monks got the insight, I think they got the lifestyle. In the lifestyle there was freedom from wage-slavery and steady sustenance, there was study and learning from senior monks, and there was meditation. For many the routine of meditation controlled their lives, gave them insight, but – here comes the arrogance – some might not have realised the importance of insight – maybe it just came with the package. Some monks repeat the dogma, have touched the insight, and gained from it, yet have not released the intellect or the need for faith – continuing to accept the idea set of dogma, maybe seeing this as the source of the insight. Other monks will have got it, the experience, , but they are caught in the lifestyle, the institution, and accept the experiences within those parameters. To be clear the lifestyle can confuse meditation, dogma and insight, how much does this matter? For the monks probably not but for me it is the insight and not the lifestyle that matters, and that insight is not from a lifestyle but from meditation and understanding. When it is confused it allows intellectual proliferation however, something that Theravada has in abundance.
Where in Theravada is ? I cannot answer that except for one person – Buddhadasa.
And here again is his quote from the Ariya Sacca that reinforced my jump to Zen:-
“For example Theravada Buddhism is very straightforward, and is kept within certain fairly strict limits. People who don’t have enough intelligence and wisdom are unable to understand the Theravada teachings properly. Mahayana has tried to open everything up and simplify things so that even foolish people (old grandmothers in the street the ordinary man in the road) can have access to Buddhism with the idea that Mahayana, being the great vehicle, can take even the foolish people along. And then in Zen. Zen knows it’s never going to work, and narrowed it down and made it an exclusive refined teaching for only the most intelligent people. If one isn’t very sharp and clever, one can never figure out Zen Buddhism. It is the most direct teaching but it’s also only for the most intelligent. In Vajrayana, in all those things – tantra and all that, they have kind of packaged the teachings in the most attractive, most colourful, most enticing and interesting way. So you’ve got basic approaches to presenting Buddhism, the direct approach, the big approach, the quick and fast approach and the attractive approach, but even though there are these distinctions, all of these come to the same point – to the same fact, which is “removing attachment from the 5 khandas.” Ariya Sacca.
I so much like Brad’s minimalising of the mu effect – the experience. It reminds me of Jim Carrey’s excess, I hope he is still effusive but I don’t know. The experience does not bring with it sila I am ashamed to admit. It was only when I began meditating regularly that sila was added – and it has been a virtual bone of contention with Openhand – who seem good people to me.
I have a question. Meditating old-style on sila or the 4 brahma-viharas was beneficial, I feel it suffused me with their attributes. Zazen doesn’t do this focus on a “concept” leading to suffusion, do zen monks do this sort of meditation sometimes? Should I introduce it?
I liked Brad’s comparison with virginity, I do not however remember my own the same way. I was young and stupid – and very lucky on that day. After the drunken night when the “loss” happened, the next day I must have been exuding a glow because others spotted the breaking of the duck – I responded with typically chauvinist cameraderie. I am ashamed of the details but I can remember later an encounter with the lady concerned with a new boyfriend – and he glared but was good enough to leave it at that. I apologise to the lady in the comments and all the women who have suffered from the ignorance that is male sexual development in the West. If my then friends were anything to judge by, their own breaking of the duck might also have left other women with regret. I never had serious sila until 20 years or more after my first “bells and banjos”, and I regret this. And there were those with morality I belittled because of arrogance coming with that experience. These belittled probably never had any bells banjoing – still never have, but they do have some sila hard-wired and with whom women never had to hold regret at their losing of virginity.
Brad just wrote about envy, and it sparked me on envy; it didn’t spark me but I felt I should consider my own envy.
My biggest envy is “being a spiritual teacher” and then nowhere near as big but far bigger than any other envy “being paid for what I write”.
“Being a spiritual teacher” would presumably be based around my treatise, even though it is not finished I have moved on from where the Treatise is at. But no matter. I would like to be invited to places and attempt to have some impact on peoples’ lives – what I consider for the better. But then I wouldn’t want too much of that. I wouldn’t want to lose control of my life. I just want to be able to give a little spirituality. It is frustrating not being listened to a little when there is so much horseshit (Trump?) around. But then I know that horseshit is just paid for – when you have craziness in the mainstream (Trump) what appears more tolerant (Hillary) would be palatable and she could then do the 1%-dirtywork. It is about spectrum, there is Trump and Bernie and the middle of the road – Hillary. And Hillary does 1%, so she will still deliver hell. When Jesus or Siddhartha are lost in Conscious Life Expo there would be no chance for a Zandtao. So “being a spiritual teacher” would mean events, much talking and stuff, and deep frustration as no result. So maybe beach, slagging Brad off and zazen is enough.
As for “being paid for what I write” my envy there already got tailored. I started by thinking I am envious of being a writer but I’m not. I wouldn’t want all those events, even Doris Lessing had to do all that shit. So I would want to be paid for my writing, but then the amount of money you get for a book in 1%-publishing doesn’t interest me. What would I spend it on? And it might alter my life – and I might lose control. So publishing is actually about “being a spiritual teacher” so I am back to what I discussed there.
So am I envious of a huge amount of money, what would I do with it? OK a retreat for myself – without landladies, a retreat for others, ecological stuff solar panels and organic food, maybe enabling some of “being a spiritual teacher”. But even with all that I’m afraid I would lose control.
Today writing this envy hasn’t got me, I am doing OK. But some days it gets me, it is interesting – now I know I don’t want it really.
And then it struck me, my real envy is having a life where I could talk Dharma, I miss meeting people where that happens. That was a bolt, finding my real envy.
And then another envy, I envy the wisdom of people like Thay or Brad or Eckhart, and all the wise people who keep their heads down. But with that wisdom comes responsibility, and I am back to “being a spiritual teacher and writer”.
I have just watched 5 Gateways, the latest remastered version. I have an affinity for these people because they are British. Watching the movie was like seeing all the tribulation I went through in London in my early years (70s) – then finding succour in the English countryside before fleeing the British governments and the way the British just accepted their shit. I also visited Glastonbury a few times although never made contact.
The other big thing for me was that Chris Bourne actually commented on my post – the one I wrote after watching the first movie. Just recently I came across a Buddhadasa quote on the subject of sila:-
That is just for info, it is not an issue to raise again.
Again I liked the movie, it didn’t grab me as much this time round. Partly because of my increased work on Buddhism. I have concerns about rapture. Rapture is described by the Buddha on the jhanas (SN 45.8). I have experienced rapture but felt much better overall when I meditated regularly, the rapture doesn’t leave you. My concern about 5 Gateways lies with a friend in Africa I knew. He belonged to an Ascension community when young, he never found the rapture, rejected it and eventually became a drunk; was that because of his searching for rapture or just his weakness? The Path doesn’t have to always have bright lights and rapture – often it does, it is often a reward for being on the Path. Following the Path has its own strength and vitality, and can be just pleasant all the time. The danger is clinging to rapture, something my friend from Africa could not get over – he could not get over clinging to wanting to have rapture.
But when I looked at this movie, I felt like I have made a mistake with my life choice. I have felt like this most of my retired life. Looking back there was never a time when I chose or did not choose to be a teacher. Once I found my Path – first awakening it was always education – always teaching. But on that Path of teaching all I have experienced is conflict, yeah I had the Path for comfort – very often needed, but there was so much conflict because the system I was in was not education.
I would now look to find a commune, some form of teaching in a commune – or just living in a commune BUT a commune not in the system. There was one time when this might have arisen. After the first gateway opened – to use the vernacular of the movie, I did connect with an Arts Centre and people there connected with communes. But it wasn’t me then, it was not my Path in life. My Path was to struggle in education but if anyone reads this and has a choice …. No I am not going to answer that.
I was strong, educated and committed, and all I did in education was to be squeezed into working for the 1%. Anything of quality in curriculum content or proper learning was squashed. The only strategy to help the kids I worked with was to help them with their exams, I was a crammer teacher with “deprived” kids – the kids themselves were not deprived, the system deprived their communities, and this led to a lot of suffering for many of the kids. To escape that suffering they wanted exams, I gave them that. But I don’t look back with any satisfaction, and I look at the world now and see only communes as a Path …. for me. Having said this working for the 1% has given me money to retire early and live in Thailand comfortably – to live properly.
There were times watching this movie where the Buddhist in me had issues. These issues are worth mentioning but in so doing I want to say that what is being done at Openhand is terrific and is well needed in the austere hellhole that is the country of my birth. From a distance my heart goes out as things seem so much worse, the world has so much more to offer than the UK. There is in the UK a feeling of needing to stay there, I left when I was 42. There is so much more freedom elsewhere. Take the freedom the gateway offers and follow the Path elsewhere. This choice I did make after nearly 20 years.
Don’t let any little points deflect you from Openhand, they can just be there to move to if it matters. Anatta is not self, the seer is the Dhamma, the khandas it is not personal, and of course that questions reincarnation.
I hope Chris continues to offer help to people in such a prison as the UK.
This zazen is taking its toll on my body.
OK I’m 64 in 2 days, and I’ve not always looked after myself. But for 9 years now I have been on a cheewajit diet – vegan and fish. I have not always been healthy in that time. I went through periods of healing, and thought things would be good only to find at the end of the healing that I had a chronic lung problem, a problem I still have when there is wind. But I am active and mostly OK.
I mentioned in a recent blog what I considered was balancing matching the therapeutic treatment for my knee and resulting problems. But what’s going on is far more than that. I remember when doing Tai Chi, and the instructor, Brian, talking about 10 points of alignment and lungs dropping. The zazen is working mind and body dropping so maybe that is what it is. But there is all kinds of stuff happening including a certain amount of gasping at breath – my lung issue.
Over the years I have used “letting-go” techniques, especially when I let go of Nancy when I was in Nyanga. I have used these since letting go of any small amount of stress that arose during retirement. I am surprised to feel that there is much that is not “aligned” – except for the knee and its consequences.
Yet there is still more than this going on as there is weirdness at night. In the middle of the night I woke up it wasn’t a nightmare, and then I thought about being trapped in an enclosed coffin – a bit like George Clooney in . A huge localised fear came over me, and then I thought about not being attached and free from fear – and it went. The previous night I had woken as if there was a shell all around me – as if separating, and then I said “there is no me” and it went. I put all of this down to the zazen; good stuff.
I suppose this is all dropping mind and body – maybe I just want that. I hope I keep it up, it is hard but what good must it be doing.
Zazen meditation is so different and that much harder – when I say harder the time seems so much longer. Previously my meditation was just about clearing the mind, and then I would get the mind to do something like Brahma-Viharas. The mind was always active, calm the concoctions of sankhara – intellect, and then focus on something beneficial. It was letting-go of chatting intellect but then positive intellect.
Zazen is just sitting, and it is slowwwww …. What do I do? Not thinking. If I do think I think letting go of mind and body but I try not to think of that. My eyes are open – rule, I don’t like that. Every so often they want to close. Today I dozed in my study chair before meditation, yet during meditation my eyes wanted to close and it felt like sleep coming. It wasn’t a sleep need, between 12 and 12 (I started zazen at 12.30pm) I probably had 10 hours sleep. The other thing is balance. Balance is a big problem for me at present because of the balance problems caused by locked knee (see below). Balance keeps coming up.
I am writing this straight after zazen and I feel like dozing now.
For completeness I should talk about methodology. I have my usual posture issues because of my knee so ignore those requirements (see below). In Brad’s book “Sex Sin and Zen” there is a short appendix on zazen, saying zazen is just sitting and not thinking. The methodology is covered in Fukan ZazenGi so I have put it on the Shobogenzo page. I started yesterday in which I forced two sessions – so that is a good improvement. Because the methodology requires the discipline it is better, I don’t know why I didn’t force myself twice before. Previously my mind was too active to do an evening session, and I just put that down to daily life and accepted it. Now there is the discipline so I am doing it …. so far.
“Below:- I locked my knee playing football when I was 15; this might have been as a result of running down Edale and twisting my knee on a clump. After the knee locked it was in a huge bandage, and there was physio but I didn’t try properly and never straightened it. It took me until 3 years ago to realise that.
Basically I didn’t understand my knee was still locked. Every so often I would lock my knee by jerking, this is what I thought. In reality what the jerking was doing was further locking the knee – only more drastic and with pain. When I was 18 I was physically a complete wreck – drunk and unfit. I would sit up and jerk the knee. I visited a specialist, and he told me there was nothing that could be done other than removing the cartilage – and get rheumatism. Young me said get rid, but fortunately 45 years ago doctors and parents could still make decisions for kids (18-year-old kids).
A few years ago a massage Grannie said she could fix it. I went to her and she improved it – I found movement I had never had for 40 years, but she didn’t fix it completely. Then I found Boonyeun, a physiologist, and he worked on it improving it even more. Now a physiologist sees the body as an integrated muscle system, and he tinkers all over the left side of my body. Because I had favoured my left knee, I had closed up the hip joint and maybe more. Boonyeun is opening this up and so I am feeling uncomfortable walking as my body tries to adjust. This is the balance I am feeling in zazen.