Deeper than Pleasure or Pain

The desire for truth is in a way a most peculiar desire, for nothing can satisfy it. For those of us who have earnestly embarked on the contemplative path for some time, we begin to realize that whatever we have imagined we have attained isn’t really our deepest desire. We are always hungering for more, and we see again and again, that what we really want isn’t tied to what we think about it. We’ve spent countless hours committing to watching our thoughts arise and pass away, committing to not harboring our thoughts. Eventually we realize that more and more, the energy of our thinking is like typing on a piece of paper without an ink ribbon; there’s no actual substance there to leave any impressions.  Our longings continue, but thought energy is simply part of the energy flow; it can’t define or confine our longing in any way.

An important insight that occurred for me is that desire is the memory of pleasure, and fear is the memory of pain. Feelings of desire and fear are also simply part of the energy flow; they can’t define or confine our longing in any way. Buddha poses a very important question for us to deeply penetrate when he stated: “Sensations by themselves don’t cause suffering no matter how intense they are, it’s our clinging to ideas about them that results in our suffering.” Deeper than feelings of pleasure or pain, is wanting to know what is true, wanting to know what actually is.

We simply don’t know what our deep longing for truth actually is, but we know that it is. This is a paradox for us because we have this deep conditioning inside us that makes us convinced that longing is longing for some thing. Nisargadatta says “The happiness you can think of or long for is not the true happiness.” True happiness as he means it doesn’t come and go, and isn’t moved, isn’t pushed around by whatever experiences are going on within or outside of us. It welcomes and absorbs the pure aliveness that is in every experience. It’s what is always here, and has always been here in every experience of our lives.

Because this true happiness is always here, we don’t need to try and grasp it. We actually can’t grasp it, it is always already totally saturating us. It isn’t going anywhere, it has never gone anywhere. The paradox of longing for that which we can’t grasp, that which is always here and now, is a double bind for our egos.

A double bind is a psychological predicament in which a person receives from a single source conflicting messages that allow no appropriate response to be made. In this context of spiritual longing and surrender, whatever we try to do, whatever we long for, or try to move away from, is an inappropriate response. Our egos simply don’t have an appropriate response. But if we’re open to our emotional life, we know we are deeply moved to act while being guided by our thoughts and feelings.

So our longing that includes the deep surrender of attachment to our desires and fears, is a participatory surrender. We become willing to surrender to the life force moving us, our ego by itself has no appropriate response. When we deeply realize this, we see there is no need for us to give expression to our longing. Consciously not doing anything, is also an expression of our longing, but we no longer need to know it is our longing. This pure longing, undiluted by conscious thought or action will speedily take us to our goal of self realization, as we learn to open to the love and compassion finding us from within. Then we are more and more free to join the spirit of our true self expressing itself in the world of our daily life.

Humility

Yogananda was once asked how can we become more humble? He replied “humility comes from seeing God, not yourself as the Doer. When you see him acting through you, how can you be proud of anything you do? I could sit here all day singing my own praises: It would mean nothing to me.  I would know that I was giving praises only to God. Humility lies in the heart; it is not a ‘put-up job.  You must actually feel that everything you do is accomplished by Him alone, through you.”

Yogananda is saying that spirit alone, our actual life force, is the real doer of all of our actions. And it is also what actually gives and experiences all that we think we experience by ourselves as separate beings. He is stating Buddha’s teaching that there is no separate self in different words. If there is no separate self, no separate entity that we can find as our actual identity, then our idea of being the doer is just as illusory as our idea of being a separate self.

When we’re willing to engage our life with awareness of these deep questions of being a separate self, of being the doer, we begin to actually live these questions in our daily activity and experience. It is our living these questions that reveals the truth of Yogananda’s and Buddha’s teachings. There are no conceptual answers to life’s deepest questions.

For me, this inquiry revolves around trying to find the actual separate self that I think I am, trying to find this doer of my virtuous and harmful activity. There is no finding here. What is actually here and now is not what we think about it. It is actually free of what we think about it. Adyashanti said about these questions, “The not finding is the true finding!”

There is also no finding of any qualities that we can possess, good or bad, including humility. The wisdom of selfless behavior is not attached in any way to being humble, or self sacrificing. It is simply spontaneous straightforward action with the clear and blissful feeling and realization that the alive mystery of our being is the true doer, and is our true identity.

So how do we live this way? What I try to practice is to just offer all desires and fears to God, to the mystery of our being, to our inter-being with all beings.  This doesn’t mean to offer all of our experience to the Divine in a dualistic way. This offering means allowing all of our desires and fears to just be as they actually are, thus we learn to no longer abide in them or be attached to them. We’re learning to live in the essence of selfless humble behavior without clinging to our ideas about what this is.

Love for a New Year

From Rumi:

 

WALKINGSTICK DRAGON

I want to dance here in this music,

not in spirit where there is no time.

I circle the sun like shadow.  My

head becomes my feet.  Covered with

existence, Pharaoh, annihilated, I

am Moses.  A pen between God-fingers.

a walkingstick dragon, my blind mind,

taps along its cane of thought.  Love

clings to no thought.  It waits with soul,

with me, weeping in this corner.  We’re

strangers here where we never hear

yes.  We must be from some other town.

Not being ready yet to welcome our lives unconditionally, let’s cultivate gratitude for the fiery love within that is already saying YES to it all.

 

 

Creation Delights in the Recognition of Itself

 

There is in the body a current of energy, affection and intelligence, which guides, maintains, and energizes the body. Discover that current, and flow with it unswervingly. Be aware of the spark of life that weaves the tissues of your body and stay with it. It is the only reality that the body has. It is like looking at a burning incense stick; you see the stick and the smoke first; when you notice the fiery point, you realize it has the power to consume mountains of sticks and fill the universe with smoke. Timelessly the Self actualizes itself, without exhausting its infinite possibilities. In the incense stick simile, the stick is the body, and the smoke is the mind. As long as the mind is busy with its contortions, it does not perceive its source.  When you welcome the supreme teacher, again and again, she comes and turns your attention to the spark within.

Everything is a Gift

In Zen, generosity is an important devotional practice. We can find a context for generosity–which can make our practice come alive–by contemplating one of our Zen ancestors, Dogen Zenji’s sayings from The Shobogenzo: “When one attains the Way, the Way is always left to the Way.” When the Way is left to the Way, there is no need to add anything, seek anything or move away from anything that is happening. We are totally immersed in the Way, with the vitality of awareness. The Way is also called the great emptiness or the great fullness. The great fullness is so full that we cannot find anything separate from it. We cannot find any thing at all.

Brother David Steindl-Rast describes gratefulness as great fullness. We are grateful that the Great Spirit shares its great fullness of life with us. What a relief not to have any place to put our ego, it has no seaparate existence of its own. The ego can be thought of as a cipher, huge as an ocean within us that sucks up all our energy. What a relief to release some of that pent-up energy and offer it to the buddhas. As profound as our offering, so inexhaustible is the gratitude of the buddhas for our willingness to share our lives with them. With enormous fullness, they receive our offerings.

When we realize this, in the depth of our being we feel that all of our experience is welcomed as expressions of the wholeness of life. Realizing we are always unconditionally welcomed, we learn to welcome life unconditionally. This realization of unconditional welcoming naturally goes deeper, becomes clearer, as we welcome the welcoming as gifts from spirit itself, from the wholeness of life. Our receiving the welcoming tenderizes us, makes us more pliant and flexible, and naturally more generous. As we begin to understand how everything is unconditionally and lovingly given to us, we begin to understand how to unconditionally give everything to everyone.

Of course there are some events we cannot summon up gratitude for; but these are truly opportunities to open up as much as we can to the great fullness. Regardless of our limitations, the buddhas are just as thankful for our best efforts. From the viewpoint of the buddhas, their fullness includes our limitations. We only need to cultivate the ability to see our catastrophes as opportunities. They are opportunities to remember the most important thing. My way of expressing the most important thing is to remember to receive the gifts of life as they are, and this includes the willingness to make efforts to help all beings. This is how we receive the power of our inconceivable life force, and simultaneously it is how we are re energized, refueled in our life. Spiritual energy comes from our spiritual aspirations, the true spirit of these aspirations comes from receiving our life as it is given to us in the present moment.

So we leave the Way to the Way. And we can be grateful that the Way leaves us to us. The sun is an equal opportunity provider, rising each morning, shining on everything with its peaceful warmth, revealing everything just as it is. Likewise the light of the Way shines equally on all its creations, leaving us to us. As we learn to expose ourselves more and more to the gifts of this life, we gradually realize our oneness. We realize that in leaving us to us, the Way offers us everything.

Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others. Let us see how upset and frustrated we still become when someone offends us in a way that pushes our buttons of pain and fear. Let us see how taking offense is the same as giving offense. So we can cultivate a spirit of thank-you-very-much for providing this opportunity, painful as it may be. And thank you very much, buddhas, for providing others with a chance to give us these opportunities.

Thank you very much, buddhas, for giving us a way to overcome our fears of exposure to the great unknown. Thank you, buddhas, for giving others the opportunity to receive the gift of our response. Confucius said “When you see virtuous behavior, emulate it. When you see harmful behavior, look at yourself.” May all beings learn to heed Confucius’s advice, and in their anger or denial, look to themselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh has a saying: The world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun. Meditating with the light of the rising sun can be a wonderful opportunity to embody the depths of this saying. We can be grateful for our spirit of inquiry. We can be grateful for our willingness to embody the big questions of life, including our death. We are gifted with the ability to embody them in a lighthearted way, with our heart full of light.

 

Our Deepest Fear

 

I’ve been reading a bit about Krishna Das, the musician whose devotional songs have inspired so many people. His guru is Neem Karoli Baba, Maharajji, Ram Dass’ guru. He was gifted with a few days of precious time with him several months before his death. He related an encounter with Maharajji which speaks very powerfully to me of the presence of courage in the face of fear:

We were together with our eyes closed for a long time. All of a sudden Maharajji sits up, looks at me, and says, ‘Courage is a really big thing’. All I could think was, ‘What’s gonna happen? I don’t think I can deal with it!’

The other devotee present said, ‘Oh but Baba, God takes care of his devotees.’

Maharajji shot him a look, then looked back at me, and said, ‘Courage is a really big thing.’ And he closed his eyes again.

I had no idea what it meant. Not a clue. But there have been a few times in my life when all I had to hold onto was the memory of his saying that. There was no possibility of courage, no possibility of action, I was completely lost, completely drowning, but I had the barest memory of his saying that . . .

and it was enough.

When we can intimately relate with the experience of completely drowning with no possibility of doing anything, we’re touching our deepest fear, the fear of death, the death of who and what we think we are. We all have an intellectual realization that we’re going to die, but very few of us know it’s really going to happen, until some tragedy makes it painfully obvious that it actually is happening. The willingness to stay present with this fear, is the gift of courage. The power of courage is the power to transform fear into loving compassion. Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying said:

When we finally know we are dying, and all other beings are dying along with us, we start to have a burning, almost heart breaking sense of the fragility, and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, boundless compassion for all beings.

I had never fully appreciated the depth of my father’s Christian faith until he was on his deathbed in 1986. He gathered his four children around him, we held hands, and he offered a deeply heart felt prayer to our heavenly father thanking him for his love in life and in death. He said ‘I’m not afraid to die, it’s ok I’ve had a good life.’ I still cry sometimes when I realize that the power of his prayer isn’t in the past or future, it’s now. And through this realization I’ve learned a deeper appreciation of our living presence in this moment. The birth of our physical bodies happens now; the dissolving of our bodies in death happens now.

I was talking with senior Zen teacher Reb Anderson some years ago about death. He told me that his intuition is that whether there is rebirth or not after we die, the momentum of the practice continues. For me this means the momentum of our spirit of inquiry continues regardless of whatever we think happens after death. Reb said he realizes that because of sleep deprivation, rising around 4 am for the last 50 years, his life will probably be 10 to 15 years shorter than it otherwise would have been. He then told me, ‘That’s ok, I’ve had a good life.’

This gave me a still deeper appreciation for my father’s spirit of inquiry, I realized he also had a deep intuition of Sogyal Rinpoche’s saying about death’s teaching us about compassion. For him, me and my siblings dying along with him meant dying to the sense of separation from God’s love. His prayer was for us to surrender and receive God’s love as he had learned to do in his willingness to receive death. I’m grateful to have such a wonderful father, and to have such a wonderful Zen teacher, both of whom intimately know the compassionate heart of death. Yogananda said: ‘It’s ok to pray for things, and to be thankful for them. It’s far better to pray for God’s love, to pray for the courage to receive and give her compassionate love, and instead of thanking her for things, thank her for her love.’

Continual Prayer

Many senior teachers tell us that continual contemplative prayer, continual surrender to spirit without interruption or distraction is necessary for a full realization of our true nature. Ramana Maharshi said surrender itself is a mighty prayer. The prayer of surrender is the willingness to continually deepen our receiving our life force, receiving unconditional love that is freely offered from infinite consciousness. Of course our seeking minds take this surrendered prayer being constant as a goal for us to achieve. I spent many years beating myself up for not being able to accomplish the intention of being in the state of constant contemplation of the deep question ‘what is THIS?’, or ‘what is the actual substance of the presence looking out of our eyes right now?’

But then as Baker Roshi stated, in Buddhist philosophy the formulating and articulating of an intention is equivalent to accomplishing that intention. Applied to contemplative practice, this actually means that the essence of the intention of authentic spiritual inquiry is to simply be here now. Being here now is already always the case; before, during, and after we formulate the intention.

So we formulate the intention for prayer of surrender to the presence we are. This is enough, faith in just the awareness of being present is all we need. All else is mere imaginings of the mind. We need to drop all faith that is merely expectation of results. Constant evaluating like ‘Am I present now, can I notice just being present without clinging to desires of anything else other than just being present?’, is useful in that it reminds us of our intention. But trying to self consciously accomplish this intention through comparison of others’ accomplishments, or our own perfectionist standards, is based on our attachment to results.

Faith in just the awareness of being present is not a result, just as the awareness of being present is not the result of anything. They aren’t the result of any self conscious effort. Awareness is its own result in the sense of it having no absolute beginning or ending. Awareness is always present before the idea of a beginning can arise; it is the source of ideas of beginning and ending, but it is not bound by the ideas of beginning and ending. The absence of awareness, and the beginning of awareness itself are just thoughts in the mind, based on our attempts to define and limit awareness. As Nisargadata said, ‘There is no such thing as nothing, nothing is just an idea based on the memory of something.’ There is no such thing as the absence of awareness, the absence of awareness is just an idea based on the memory of the idea of awareness.

So rather than take the practice of continual prayer and surrender to spirit as a goal to attain, we learn to just pay attention to the constant prayer that is always here. It is simply the constant flow of our awareness, the constant flow of our experience. Continual timeless prayer is manifesting the source we are at every moment. We formulate the intention to surrender to the sense of ‘I Am’, and just notice the sense of ‘I Am’, without clinging to ideas of I am this, or I am that. This doesn’t mean to exclude the awareness of dishes that need to be washed, or to exclude the awareness of the details of child care that need to be attended to. The intention to surrender to the constant prayer of just being present, is surrender to the dishes and child care as just being present. We intend to see beyond the conceptual haze of our opinions and judgments about the details of our life, and just let our attachments to them be present.

This morning there is a cool autumn breeze as I write in my hammock. Many bright colorful leaves are effortlessly and joyfully dancing in the breeze as they fall to the ground. This free flow of our experience is like a constantly flowing river, and nothing can ever interrupt it. What could ever possibly interrupt or distract from the sheer joy of our alive being? When seen and experienced clearly and fully, our self conscious efforts to cling to our thoughts, to control our experience, are merely different expressions of the same delightful energy of the dancing leaves!

The mere witnessing of our self conscious attachments, is the joy of the constant prayer of surrender being present as the manifestation of the details of our life. Why not just allow the river of experience to flow by? In this way, we are learning to experience our attachments clearly, and to experience them free of our opinions about them. And we realize they have absolute value as expressions of awareness, of spirit itself. So rather than ignoring the details of our life, we feel energized and vitalized in their expression of the spirit we share with all beings, and we naturally want to care and express love for them as we would for our own selves.

In our contemplative practice, constant care and love for all beings is becoming one with our constant prayer for union with the divine spirit we are. This prayer includes the prayer for the union all of creation with the divine spirit of creation itself. We and all beings together are becoming the constant prayer of surrender free from all mental fabrication, and free to love and care for all beings.

The Pure Light

One important way to take our spiritual inquiry deeper is to ask, ‘What is the actual substance of this sense of a separate self?’ We will ask this question a countless number of times, each time will be in the midst of different circumstances. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll begin to notice that we always respond with an attempt to conceptually grasp the question, and attempt to formulate an answer in our minds. This noticing begins to include noticing that the particular circumstances involved influence our attempts at asking and answering. For example, it’s 5 am on a dark Sunday morning, and I’m concerned about my 12 yr. old son Danny being too emotional over his chipped tooth.

I’m noticing that in fact I’m suffering emotionally over his emotional reaction to his suffering. This noticing is good and natural; I’m aware that I’m inquiring about the actual substance of this separate self colored by thoughts emanating with tinges of helplessness and inadequacy in my role of being father. Just witnessing the thought energy continually flowing, echoing, and dissolving in waves of discovery, I’m put in touch with the common source of all of my suffering. What IS its actual substance? I don’t know, and this not knowing is the absence of conceptual content, arising together, and one with an alive loving acceptance of all this experience.

So there is a shift from the boundaries of the one who is experiencing, to the vast expanse of consciousness, the eternal possibility, the immeasurable potential of all that was, is, and will be. When we look at anything, it is the ultimate that we see, but we don’t realize this because we’re attached to the idea that we’re looking at something else. Every mode of perception is subjective; what is seen or heard, touched or smelled, felt or thought, expected or imagined, is in our small minds only, and has no own being in the actual boundless reality.

Perhaps the hardest part of the path for students in our culture is learning to trust that our true nature is continually supporting and unconditionally loving us in our imagined struggles. Even the sense of ‘I am’ a separate person is composed of the pure light and the sense of being. Could it be composed of something else? The ‘I’ is there even without the ‘am’. So is the pure light there whether you say ‘I’ or not. If we become aware of that pure light, we’ll begin to see that we can never lose it. The overwhelming actuality of the presence of being, the awareness in consciousness, the interest in every experience – these are not describable, yet perfectly accessible, for there is nothing else.