Archive | October, 2015

Constant Prayer

Many senior teachers tell us that constant contemplative prayer, constant surrender to the 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 deepen our continually 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. In other words, 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 constant 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. Constant 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 the energy of our thoughts and 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.


Allow Spirit to Be You

Even though everything we write and speak is just words, and even though words by themselves can never fully express this reality, we have to keep trying. The wisdom teachings are here to show us that there really isn’t any thing holding us back. By trying continually, we gradually realize this. To me, what we normally think of as things, seem like mysterious stepping stones on our journey to self realization that we can never fully comprehend. So perhaps there will always be feelings that we can go higher, and become freer on our journey to realizing our actual being. The more deeply we’re able to absorb and surrender to this truth, the less likely we are to remain bogged down in delusions of finally being done with it.

A famous verse written by Zen master Tozan Ryokai is called the Jewel Mirror of Awareness. One line has captured my attention over the years, and I’m still pondering its meaning as I try to contemplate and absorb the actual reality of our lives.

It is like facing a jewel mirror;
Form and image behold each other—
You are not It.
It actually is you.

When I visited my first Zen teacher Richard Baker Roshi this year, he quoted this line. For me it’s very powerful in practicing how to occupy our life as an expression of infinite spirit, while living the life of a human being. This line gives rise to very alive questions to many on the path of spiritual inquiry.

When we look in the mirror, there is no need to try and manipulate the images we see. Every movement is a pure reflection of our actions. The mirror just reflects, it doesn’t hesitate, think or judge. When we observe ourselves in the mirror we can more easily see our reflection objectively; however we appear, or act, we can see our activity as just happening, free of our thinking about it. We can see it as just a collection of sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughts arising moment to moment.

The being we think we are is merely fragments of thought just arising and changing constantly along with the rest of our experience. When master Tozan wrote this verse, he is using the word It as an expression of our true nature, the awareness we are. It is like facing a jewel mirror, It includes our body and its reflection in the mirror. What we consider the outside world is also like a mirror in that all its manifestations are reflections of the awareness we actually are. Everything is happening as an expression of the being we are.

Tozan says “You are not It”. What we think we are as a separate being, what we experience doing by ourselves is not It. Our experience of being separate is nothing more than thoughts and feelings of being separate. “It is actually you.” It, our true nature, the awareness we are, includes everything. It is what our experience of being human actually is.

I recently finished reading a book by Paul Brunton entitled The Short Path to Enlightenment. He wrote several wonderful books in the middle of the last century, and was one of the pioneers in bringing Eastern spirituality to the West. The title is a misnomer, it is not about shallow short cuts on the path, or about spiritual bypassing. The title is an enticement to introduce deeper teachings, and I highly recommend the book to those with a serious interest in spiritual inquiry.

He recommends an awareness exercise in the book that I hadn’t directly encountered before. It is in essence the practice of living our life as much as possible as if we are already totally enlightened. It’s the practice of just ignoring all thoughts to the contrary. To me it is just allowing It, or spirit, to be you. In doing this practice, it’s especially important to not harbor thoughts of ‘me by myself being It’. So a better way to say it, is that it’s an awareness practice of allowing complete enlightenment to be you, rather than practicing as if you are totally enlightened.

Many of the greatest masters of the Bhakti yoga teachings on opening to divine love, say that all we need for the full realization of enlightenment is to renounce the attachment to the notion of individuality, nothing else. It all comes down to our shared Being, there is nothing other than being, we’re all the same being. Why not resolve ourselves to simply allow it to be so,?

So if you train yourself to just pay attention to the awareness you are, this is allowing spirit, the aliveness of being, to be you. When have we ever been anything other than simply the being that we are? Gradually our attachments to being separate, our selfish preoccupations, begin to more and more stick out like a sore thumb, and this is how we become more willing to let them dissolve. This is training our body/mind to be willing to receive and share the love and compassion of our true being.


Embracing Compassion

The sage Nisargadatta said, “Of all the ideas you cling to preventing the clear realization of what you actually are, the idea that you’re the body is the worst.” I think if people really are willing to look at what our body actually is, they can at least intellectually grasp that we are not in our body, our body is IN our awareness. We are aware of our body, therefore what we are is not limited to the body. When there’s no awareness of ‘I am’, there’s no body. We can forget all attachment to thoughts about the body, and look at it, but then it is no longer our body, it’s just another physical object in our awareness. Then it is no more ours than the tree outside the window. Of course we aren’t really aware of what an infinitely small fraction our body is of our total being, unless we actually live and express that awareness in our daily life, unless we allow our deeply conditioned preoccupation with our body to dissolve into awareness of our true identity, our true body of consciousness itself.

Sometimes people say but my body follows me around everywhere, and if it’s hurting, I’m hurting! When it moves, I move. But the body can only do these things because the consciousness we are, is also always here manifesting the body in action. Our awareness is here when we’re asleep dreaming, the body is not. Our awareness is still here in deep dreamless sleep, though very few of us are able to pay attention. Apparently for some reason the stress of maintaining our sense of separation from pure formless consciousness, almost always prevents us from getting the rest and rejuvenation we need if awareness of formless consciousness is present during deep dreamless sleep.

The same analogy of the body being in our awareness, also holds true for a house we’re in. We’re not in this house, this house is IN our awareness. We are the pure witness in which this house is now arising, just like we are the pure witness in which our perception of our physical body is arising. So the invitation is to just be this awareness, be consciousness. If we look outside the house, to the scenes of nature, a big part of the earth, and the sky, if we look in short, at the universe appearing out of our eyes – and if we rest as the witness, as the formless awareness of ‘I am’, it becomes obvious that we are not in the universe, the universe is in our consciousness. Therefore the invitation is to be consciousness.

We can also extend the analogy to our bodily experiences. Our body is in our awareness, bodily pain isn’t in the body its in our awareness giving rise to the perceptions of the body. The awareness we are is around the pain, it’s vastly more immense than pain. Pain arises in awareness, is embraced by awareness, then resolves, dissolves, and is absorbed back to its source of awareness itself. If we meditate thoroughly on the absence of what we think about pain, on the absence of our story about pain, all suffering born from pain is alleviated.

As obvious as it is that we are mysterious awareness we can’t capture the fullness of with any labels, it’s just as obvious that we are alive, and are completely embraced by, and moved by the aliveness of the mysterious awareness we are. Another saying that keeps coming up for me is ‘God is the electricity, we human beings are the light bulbs.’ All of our experiences, every sight manifesting in the world of form, every sensation, every sound, and every thought are like sparks of light being constantly lit up and flashing, endlessly, again and again. I know almost nothing about the workings of magnetic and gravitational fields, or the dark mysterious power of black holes, etc. But the power of the current manifesting creation is way beyond our comprehension, and if we continually offer our attachments to flashes of thought energy, our offerings are accepted. More and more, all of our experience begins to harmonize with the joy of the cosmic current.

Many of us have had profound glimpses of this super consciousness alive with the power to create and illuminate galaxies of stars. As we continue on the path, our consciousness expands, and feelings of very deep compassion for all creation arise simultaneously. Ram Dass describes compassion as “seeing another’s emotion as one’s own, with the wisdom of oneness.” We care more as the wisdom of oneness illuminates our life, and we realize the caring is the expression of the divine current’s love and compassion; it’s much deeper and fuller than any energy expressed in a limited way by an individual body/mind. It’s a paradox to ego consciousness that the more we allow this deep caring to express itself, the less attachment there is to the results of our caring.

In his wonderful translation of the Tao Te Ching, Guy Leekley expresses a beautiful verse on cultivating and opening to the flow of the ever serene spirit of life. This opening deepens our stillness, deepens all of our experiences, as our thought stream is more and more in harmony with, and expresses stillness in its spirit of vast inclusiveness. We can then more freely share our experience as ideas and feelings of fear dissolve.

Chapter 16:

By releasing completely

And cultivating stillness,

We can see how all things

Take on forms

That continuously dissolve

And then emerge again.

We can trace these forms

In all their abundance

As the appear

And then resolve themselves

Back to their Source.

This resolving of forms

Back to their Source

Deepens our stillness

And reveals our boundless nature.

There we finally release

Into illuminating Consciousness

If veiled from this pure Consciousness,

Our experience becomes delusion.

And we suffer.

Illuminating Consciousness

Opens our hearts to compassion,

And thus to the spiritual life

Of the sacred Way.

At one with the Tao,

We can shine on forever

In the eternal present moment.