Author Archive | Roger Hawkins

The Compassionate Heart of Death

In talking about the willingness to actually be all experience in my last post, I later reflected on how this probably seems to be a very radical view to almost all people, including myself. I feel unworthy of making bold statements like these, though in my heart there is a growing sense of compassion for our predicament of realizing the necessity of saying what needs to be said in the face of fear. The need for courage is now even more evident given the recent horrors in Paris; the terrorists are so terrified in the depths of their being, that they rationalize attempts to sow as much panic and terror among their perceived enemies as possible.

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, or fatal prognosis 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 allow the transformation of 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, limitless 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.

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 death teaches us to become great 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.’



Ask for What You Want

The traditional definitions of prayer involve asking for something we want, involve a reaching out for something unknown in the sense that we don’t know how to attain or receive it by ourselves. Contemplative prayer includes and expands these elements, while involving an actual shift in our center of identity. If we pray to spirit from deep in our heart, with complete sincerity, distracting thoughts dissolve, we receive the power to center our thoughts on our actual relationship with a higher power free from the confines of our egoic identity. When the center of our consciousness shifts from our identity as a separate self, to the underlying reality we share with all beings, not just human beings, but all beings, this is the birth of a new aliveness wanting to embrace life through and as our total being. When we’re willing to receive this new aliveness and surrender our will to spirit’s will, we become a redeeming force in the world.

A powerful prayer for myself has been asking for what I really need to awaken from the dream of separation from the aliveness of spirit itself. I pray for the courage and strength to allow the loving power of spirit or God herself to perform my actions in the world. Once in a while I feel compelled to put prayer into conceptual form, and in a prayer circle, I offered the following prayer.

Infinite Beloved, I know you are nearer than these words and thoughts I’m praying with. How can I help others to dissolve their self concern?  What is actually needed to help them be more willing to receive your love and compassion? Behind every restless feeling, may I feel Your concern for all of us, and Your love. From this awareness manifesting me, may all beings feel sustained and guided by Your consciousness. May my love for You, enable me to realize and share ever more deeply Your love for all of us.

Afterward, I felt the thrill of my consciousness expanding, but soon the pressure, seemingly squeezing me from both inside and out simultaneously, became much more intense than I had encountered before. It felt as if I my body/mind was being ‘launched into outer space though I was still sitting in a chair. Thoughts raced through my mind: ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening, I’ve got kids, if I don’t come back, who will look after them?’ Along with these fears, was the certainty that all human beings would in some form pass through this very same fear of dying in the depths of their being. The pressure in all its intensity was telling me, ‘Not only is this universal fear of suffering and death, you are now experiencing  universal resistance to actually being the pain of all suffering.’

The most painful feeling was centered on my attempts to grasp onto thoughts about salvation, sayings of great masters, and thoughts of unconditional universal love. My attempts to grasp these thoughts, to figure what to do or not to do, had absolutely no effect on my condition, and in fact just increased my anxiety. At one point it even got to the point where I asked ‘Ok if I’m supposed to die now, let’s get on with it, die already! But clinging to those thoughts were just as futile any other form of clinging. There was simply no other choice than to just to surrender to the energy of what up to that point had been a very painful ride. I was receiving a deeper teaching of what it means to just ‘Stop’ everything, including dropping all effort of trying to stop. Finally it dawned on me; there is another level of surrender, another level of receiving and acceptance that has nothing to do with any of my efforts, that is completely independent of any self conscious sense of separateness.

 I already had an intuitive realization of this truth of my own powerlessness. But it became more clear to me that I had not yet learned to fully live that truth, it was still at least partly dependent on an intellectual intuition. At that point I finally realized, that this experience is what I asked for, it is what I really needed to further the process of awakening from the dream of separation. Adyashanti says ‘When you really pray with complete sincerity from the depth of your heart, be careful what you ask for, you might very well get it.’

When our spiritual evolution reaches the point where the necessity of receiving the willingness to be the whole works, to actually be all the most blissful joy, and all the most agonizing suffering, when that necessity begins to deeply saturate our hearts, we will feel the depth of the fear of suffering and death. It is scary because in our attachment to our small container of self that we imagine we are, we also imagine that this container we think we are has to be willing to actually be all the suffering by ourself. We imagine that we by ourselves could actually experience all the suffering in the hell realms if we surrender our defenses.

But we aren’t the most painful or the most exalted blissful human experiences by ourselves. We existing by ourselves is nothing more than an idea in our mind. Our actual being, which is timeless spaceless awareness, is all experience as an expression of the whole of creation. The whole universe is what we are together with all beings and all their experiences; we and all beings, we and all experience is what we actually are. And we and all the experience of all beings is constantly changing, being absorbed back to our source, and then being manifested anew. When we fully surrender to actually being all of it, we actually are all of it. We learn to accept life on life’s terms, not our own terms and conditions. This is the transformation of our suffering, and is our willingness to be a redeeming force in the world.StuartSchwartz_illjump


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.


The Joy of Opening to Grace

For me grace in the context of spiritual awakening is the gift of our life force freely and unconditionally bestowed upon human beings. Every experience in life is a gift to us manifested by our feeling of just being alive and present. Everything in life is the gift of grace from the mysterious infinite consciousness we are. Our spirit of wanting to intimately know this life force as our very being, our deep desire to actually be the fullness of our life force expressing itself through our heart, is a gift of grace. Our willingness to surrender, again and again, to this deepest desire is our true joy. And our willingness to continually give grace away, is what allows us to realize the joy is always flowing through us, as us, with no beginning or end.

In my contemplative practice, I’m continually drawn back to particular phrases and verses. Each time I discover new implications from them developing new aides on the spiritual journey. One of these is from the 18th century mystic William Blake:

He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy.

He who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Blake is inviting us to love the joy while it’s here, even as it is always dissolving into new forms of expression. If we don’t cling to our joy, we can be all the more intimate with it while it’s here. Caught in the fear of losing joy, we are unknowingly obstructing its continual flow. Liberated from this fear, joy and freedom melt together as we kiss it all flying by.

Living in eternity’s sunrise is an invitation to live fully in the moment. Living fully in the joy of the moment without getting caught in anticipation of the next moment, is an expression of eternity. Eternity is not an incalculably long time period of time; eternity is beyond time, without time, timeless. This is the actual nature of each moment flowing simultaneously with all time and all space. We are always simply here and now. This becomes more and more obvious the less energy we put into clinging to our ideas of being separate from the flow of grace, from the flow of our aliveness as consciousness itself.

When we welcome the faceless tombstones of our personal attachments with the joy of our spirit of inquiry, our energies are directed towards our oneness with Infinite Consciousness. The more we do this, the more the grace of self realization is naturally allowed to saturate our awareness.

With Blake’s verse, we can substitute pretty much anything else we try to grasp and hold onto. This verse can be a profound teaching about holding onto power, love, money, suffering, self, pleasure, or personal free will. So we can say:

She who is bound to the idea of self, puts the winged life on the shelf. She who kisses self as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise. Or, She who binds to herself divine mystery’s will, reduces the winged life to nil.

Everything is flying by, the free flow of our experience is like a river, and we can never step into the river in the same place twice.  Our very being, our awareness here and now is the river.  I remember a story about a devotee of Ram Dass’s guru Neem Karoli Baba, called Maharaji by his devotees.  He said that what was so amazing about Maharaji wasn’t that he loved everybody. After all, he was one of India’s greatest saints, so people expected that he love everybody.  “But what was so amazing was that when I was in his presence, I loved everybody.” The power of Maharaji’s presence is so infectious because he has no resistance to the continual flow of grace, his presence simply is love.

Freedom, love, and grace arise together, and we gradually learn to embody them together.  When we simply are love, we simply are freedom, we simply are grace, and we freely express them as we freely receive them. As aspirants on the path, we don’t need to try to become freedom and joy, or try to possess them.  We simply need to pay attention to the unconditional love and freedom of grace that is always already here.

The cd Awake is now available, and I highly recommend getting it. It’s a movie/documentary about Yogananda bringing his Kriya Yoga teachings to the West from India. It’s very illuminating to see what’s changed, and hasn’t changed since he arrived on the American spiritual scene in 1920. Someone once asked him about Human Effort and Grace:

In the history of religion there is a perennial debate as to which is more important: divine grace, or human effort. The answer is quite simple, and the masters have tried to convey it to people in their teachings. Man must do his best, of course. His best, however will be crowned with success to the extent that he realizes that it isn’t he, as a human being, who is acting, but God who is acting through him, inspiring and guiding him.

To think of God as the doer doesn’t make a person passive. It takes great effort of will to be receptive to him. The devotee must offer himself positively and joyfully into the flow of inner grace. The power that is in you is your own, but God-given. Use it; God won’t use it for you. The more you attune your will, during activity, to His infinite will, the more you will find His power and blessing strengthening and guiding you in everything you do.”


Opening to the Divine Calling

Our spiritual ancestors tell us that we don’t need to try and attain enlightenment, all of us are already enlightened. In the absolute world where all separation isn’t real, there is no one more enlightened than you or I. And there is no one less enlightened than you or I. This is no less true in the relative world, where separation appears real. However in the relative world of self and other, there are different layers of belief in our ideas about enlightenment and delusion. The veil hiding our inherent joy in the freedom of our true nature obviously appears much denser and solid in some of us than in others.

I was having a private discussion with senior dharma teacher Reb Anderson about this very topic some years ago. I mentioned that when contemplating how to further deepen others’ realization, I was aware of a tendency to want to measure where I’m at, to measure how much can I be of help? He replied that right there, in that attachment to wanting is an attempt to unenlighten your Self. Sometimes it can be helpful to reframe our selfish obsessions as attempts to unenlighten ourselves. This simply means we’re deeply conditioned to continually attempting to control and interfere with the divine life force always living in and through us, calling us home.  Clinging to these self conscious attempts to control is what obscures the clear realization of our inherent freedom; this clinging is an attempt to unenlighten ourselves.

I was grateful for Reb pointing out to me the need to deeply contemplate and be aware of the components and implications of that self conscious wanting I was expressing. He pointed out that it is good that there was an awareness of the tendency. The pure awareness of the tendency is witnessing the wanting from a place that isn’t attached to the wanting, from a place that isn’t attached to the results of that wanting, from a place willing to just let the wanting be what it actually is. So the inquiry becomes what is the wanting really? What is the attachment to the wanting, and what is helpful as well as harmful about the attachment?

These are big questions, and any conceptual answers I talk about here are only true for me, they are only true in my mind. And they are only true in the minds of you reading them. They won’t necessarily be helpful to you. The main point for me is that it is important to be willing to more fully enter the questions, to allow ourselves to be more fully absorbed in the questions that are most relevant to each of us. This doesn’t mean becoming fully absorbed in the conceptual content of the questions, but to become more fully absorbed in the actual life of the questions which is free of all conceptual content. Excessively clinging to the conceptual content of our deep questioning is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of the questioning, is an attempt to deaden the aliveness of our spiritual inquiry. We learn to allow the questions to stay fully alive by gradually surrendering to the aliveness of our yearning, to our joy and sorrow, and learning to trust that our spirit of inquiry is divine spirit calling us home.

It is usually much easier for us to welcome our joy than it is to welcome our grief that comes up from absorbing ourselves in the aliveness of the big questions. We learn that attempting to cover up and deny our suffering will eventually lead to rude awakenings, and the more energy we put into denial, the more frequent and ruder the awakenings become. When we learn to be willing to embrace our grief, by just offering it to the mystery, offering to a higher power, we begin to realize that the deepest root of our suffering is a profound sadness from the overall felt sense of being separate from our natural expression of unconditional love and acceptance. We begin to deeply realize that underneath all of our neurotic desires, is the desire for wholeness; our deepest desire is the desire for the innate wholeness we actually already are.

The great Indian saint Anandamayi Ma said the following about our willingness to yield to the Divine calling within.

When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, spiritual philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby every single knot is untwisted. One is stirred by deep yearning: “How can I find Him?” As a result of this, the rhythm of body and mind will grow steady, calm, serene.

Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.

Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.

But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) She holds out her hand and calls you, come, Come, COME!




Willingness to Embody Our Grief

Grief has always been a powerful and intimate force in my life, and it continues to be as I’m now moving towards my late 60’s.  If we’re willing to deeply inquire into the actual nature of our life, we will allow deep feelings of grief to surface as we grow older. This is our natural emotional expression as human beings, this is our resistance to the truth of the impermanence of all things.  I’m aware of a tendency to spontaneously try to separate myself from the grief of eventually losing everything I hold dear; my loved ones, dear friends, and losing the joy of helping others on our path to self realization.  Though I’m very aware of the willingness to enter and embody the grief, there is still a profound depth to my resistance, there is still wanting to hold suffering at a distance, and wanting to control this rapidly disappearing life.

As I woke up this morning feeling inspired to write, an image arose from a year ago of a photo of a four year old African girl dying of Ebola. She was lying on the floor of a woefully ill equipped treatment center amidst pools of infected vomit and blood, her eyes open, appearing dazed and lifeless. She was dying all alone, the photographer was some twenty feet away, not daring to move closer.  As I relived my initial emotional reactions of horror, fear, anger, and deep sadness, there was also a warm loving feeling of acceptance. It felt like all the suffering was being absorbed by the light of our actual being, revealing that we all actually are the suffering of that little girl, we all actually are the suffering of all beings. The sense of being fully absorbed revealed that everything is always being transformed into boundless love and compassion.

I got up with a deep appreciation of how even though I, like everyone else, may still have an infinitely long way to go, there is always the invitation, and the real possibility, to actualize what Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said,

“When all thoughts are imbued with the devotion to our true self, the Buddha within, there is a natural confidence that this will take care of whatever may happen. All forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer, and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion.  Everything is spontaneously liberated in the absolute nature, like knots untied in the sky.”

One of my favorite masters of the Zen tradition, who so wonderfully embodied the spirit of compassion is Ryokan, the famous hermit monk/poet who lived in the mountains in 18th century Japan. Totally unconcerned with worldly wealth or fame, his deep devotional spirit to the Buddha way serves as a lasting inspiration to everyone awakening the spirit of true inquiry and love.

Two of his poems express the wide variation of the emotional depth of Ryokan’s heart of compassion. Many of us on the spiritual path are unaware of how attached we are to controlling our experience. Our lives consist of a continual flow of sensory experience, thoughts, feelings, sights, and sounds. We can think of this flow as a swinging pendulum. Our efforts to control the flow, and keep the pendulum swinging on the high side, away from our deep grief, our deep suffering, interfere with our ability to fully experience the depth of aliveness expressed in the spirit of these poems.


Walking along a narrow path at the foot of a mountain

I come to an ancient cemetery filled with countless tombstones

And thousand -year-old oaks and pines.

The day is ending with a lonely, plaintive wind.

The names on the tombs are completely faded,

And even the relatives have forgotten who they were.

Choked with tears, unable to speak,

I take my staff and return home.


First days of spring-blue sky, bright sun.

Everything is gradually becoming fresh and green.

Carrying my bowl, I walk slowly to the village.

The children, surprised to see me,

Joyfully crowd about, bringing

My begging to an end at the temple gate.

I place my bowl on top of a white rock and

Hang my sack from the branch of a tree.

Here we play with the wild grasses and throw a ball.

For a time, I play catch while the children sing;

Then it is my turn.

Playing like this, here and there, I have forgotten the time.

Passers-by point and laugh at me, asking,

“What is the reason for such foolishness?”

No answer I give, only a deep bow;

Even if I replied, they would not understand.

Look around! There is nothing besides this.


Ryokan was able to spontaneously move with the compassionate heart of Buddha. He freely entered the depth of human sadness and blissful joy, entrusting spirit to move him where it willed, free of the conceptual haze most of us live our lives surrounded by. Spiritual practice is not about being free from negative emotions, it is about being free in the midst of fully experiencing all emotions. There is inherently no less freedom and aliveness in the painful realization that our personal identities are nothing more than faceless tombstones, than there is in the joyful bliss of childlike play.

One more poem, and waka from him:,

A cold night – sitting alone in my empty room

Filled only with incense smoke.

Outside, a bamboo grove of a hundred trees;

On the bed, several volumes of poetry.

The moon shines through the top of the window,

And the entire neighborhood is still except for the cry

of insects.

Looking at this scene, boundless emotion,

But not one word.


What is the heart of this old monk like?

A gentle wind

Beneath the vast sky








Desire for Truth, Devotion

The spirit of Great Doubt is the spirit of great devotion to our spirit of inquiry, to the great mystery itself showing us the way to self realization. Great Doubt is deeply doubting the actual substance of all of our ideas about reality, including our ideas about devotion. Deeply doubting the own being, the separate existence of all of our ideas, allows the opening of the heart to pour forth the aliveness of spirit living through us. We learn to practice offering all of our ideas to the aliveness of our spiritual heart, witnessing them being dissolved again and again. This process of surrender allows us to use our thought energy in the service of our inquiry into the truth of our actual being, rather than wasting energy on trying to control the direction and results of our devotion.

Freed from the confines of ideas and beliefs, our devotion naturally goes much deeper over time. We begin to deeply sense and intuit our intrinsic union with the great mystery. This arises together with our realizing the infinite support of spirit in our welcoming the challenges of human life in its most fundamental motivations. We begin to trust the fullness of our very being, and we spontaneously begin the process of surrender, wanting more and more to bow down to the great mystery we can’t comprehend.

One of our most fundamental needs as human beings is our relationship to a higher power. As children our parents ideally serve as the higher power we are most intimately connected to, and are almost totally dependent on. Though this relationship changes as we grow more independent, this fundamental need remains with us, and in its most evolved forms to date it expresses itself in our spirit of inquiry into the actual nature of our existence. Martin Buber called this the I – Thou relationship. In the context of spiritual practice, ‘I’ refers to the idea of a separate self, and ‘Thou’ refers to the infinite mystery of our source. The I – Thou relationship is an inherent part of any spiritual path, though perhaps not by the same name, as it is an inherent part of being human and living our lives with other beings.

Ken Wilber says some Eastern traditions seem to repress the I – Thou relationship, particularly some Buddhists. He uses the terms God in the first person, and God in the second person. The Great I AM is God in the first person – “I AM That I AM,” God’s answer to Moses. The great I AM has no other. All things are a manifestation of the supreme identity. You are God, and I am not is God in the second person. This is the I – Thou relationship, the separate self relating to God as other. Wilber states, “God in the second person is very important, for it is the relational aspect of spirit.

It’s harmful to repress our innate need for the relational aspect of spirit, just as it is harmful for a young child to be forced to repress their natural urge for the closest most intimate bond with their mother. It’s also harmful to cling to the conceptual form of spirit’s relational aspect, and to ignore the wisdom component. Wisdom shows us all things are free of our thinking, so our true identity is nothing, no-thing. Love shows us we are everything, as Christ said, “the greatest of the two is love”, but we need wisdom to fully enter the depths of love, to fully enter our being no-thing as the expression of everything.

Willingness to not find anything is one with the willingness to give up everything that interferes with merging with the true beloved, our true identity that is all things. And this willingness is the willingness to agree to be guided from within, to let spirit itself do our work. We’re learning to be willing to be participants in spirit’s work, while realizing that it is God or spirit that is actually doing the work. We care less and less about taking any personal credit for the work being done.

So we use the I-Thou relationship to let go of all attachments, including the attachment to the idea of the relational aspect of spirit, the personal story about our spiritual awakening. We learn not to close around, and not to solidify God in the first person, The Great I AM, and also learn not to close around or solidify God in the second person, ‘you are God, and I’m not. We are moving more freely with the life of spirit, free to immerse ourselves in the depths of our longing and joy, and free to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of letting it all go.

There has been more of a movement in contemporary Buddhist practice to embrace the more traditional forms of prayer. The Tibetan Buddhist master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche expresses the essence of devotional inquiry that uses all of our senses and our entire mind.  Here I interpret the guru as God’s presence or universal mind, which can include the manifestation of the human guru.

Devotion is the essence of the path, and if we have in mind nothing but the guru and feel nothing but fervent devotion, whatever occurs is perceived as his blessing. If we simply practice with this constantly present devotion, this is prayer itself.

When all thoughts are imbued with devotion to the guru, there is a natural confidence that this will take care of whatever may happen. All forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion. Everything is spontaneously liberated in the absolute nature, like knots untied in the sky.”

Sometimes our relationship with a pet can serve as a constant reminder to express our deepest devotion to spirit by Just Being Loving Awareness. Rumi wrote a very deeply heart felt poem expressing the wonder, agony, and divine joy of our yearning for truth.

Love Dogs”

One night a man was crying,

“Allah, Allah!”

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said, “So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?”

The man had no answer for that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,

in a thick, green foliage, “Why did you stop praising?”

“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”

“This longing you express

is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

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Desire for Truth, Great Doubt

Shankara was an 8th century Indian saint and philosopher who is regarded as the founder of the Advaita Vedanta branch of Hinduism. He wrote the following about the Witness.

Now I shall tell you the nature of this absolute Witness. If you recognize it, you will be freed from the bonds of ignorance, and attain liberation.

There is a self-existent Reality, which is the basis of your consciousness of ego. That Reality is the witness of states of ego consciousness and of the body. That Reality is the constant Witness in all three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. It is your real Self. That Reality pervades the universe. It alone shines. The universe shines with Its reflected light.

Its essence is timeless awareness. It knows all things, Witnesses all things, from the ego to the body. It is the Witness of pleasure and pain and the sense-objects. This is your real Self, the Supreme Being, the Ancient. It never ceases to experience infinite release. It is unwavering. It is Spirit itself.

If we are aware of this screen, we are already completely 100 % saturated with this infinite consciousness. However as the great masters tell us, what good does this do us if we’re not aware of the infinite release of this realization? When we deeply ask the question ‘What or who am I, what is this infinite consciousness?’, we are allowing ourselves to become what Zen master Hakuin called The Great Doubt: “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.” The Zen masters teach us that the fully awakened mind is always already fully present in its entirety, with nothing lacking.

When I first started practicing Zen, this statement became the object of my own great doubt. My questioning brought me face to face again and again with the reality that my thinking mind did not, could not, fully believe this statement. Gradually it became clear that there was no way to do away with the doubt. Great doubt is one expression of what we are. It became clear to me that to deeply ask the question of “Who am I?” was to allow myself to become the doubt itself. If there is self realization, it can’t be separate from the doubt itself.

Eventually I realized I had thought all along that I was doubting Buddha nature, doubting enlightenment itself. But when I finally left my awareness to itself, including all my ideas about it, I realized what is actually here and now cannot be doubted. For the awareness we are is doing the doubting! All this time, I had been doubting the truth of my ideas of reality. There is no truth to be found in the concept of enlightenment or Buddha Nature. So it is imperative to doubt the truth of our concepts about enlightenment, and at the same time to be aware what we are doubting.

Reality is not an it that can be doubted or affirmed. Reality cannot be grasped by making it into an object of thought. But we have to try. Indeed, our spirit of inquiry is deepened by our trying. It is deepened by our wanting to know. This is our role: not to know what reality is. Here and now is the source. Here and now is one hundred percent identical with every possible manifestation in the universe. If we doubt this idea deeply, we will awaken deeply.

There is a saying in Zen: with little doubt, there is little realization. With no doubt, there is no realization. With great doubt, there is great realization. What is great about great doubt is its all inclusiveness. It is the driving force of our spirit of inquiry leaving no rock unturned, no blade of grass not looked behind. We really have to look at whatever knowledge we’ve accumulated, whatever great realizations we imagine to have attained, and doubt them all deeply, being willing to totally throw them away. The greatest realization is just a shadow of dust reflected by spirit itself; it’s all conceptual, thought energy dissolving in the wind.

There is and an old Zen story about Bodhidharma, the great Zen master who brought Chan (now Zen) Buddhism from India to China. His spirit of inquiry is legendary in the history of Zen, and he is said to have sat in front of a wall for nine years arduously and deeply immersing his whole being in the heart of the Buddha’s teaching about the true nature of self, and liberation from human suffering. 

One of his closest disciples, named Jinko, intimately shared Bodhidharma’s deep yearning for truth. Life was very difficult in those days, even for monks who renounced the world. One day in a state of extreme desperation, Jinko came before his master and said “My mind is deeply agitated, please pacify it for me!” The story says he was so desperate that he had (or perhaps was ready to?) cut off his arm to show to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma replied, “Show me this mind of yours, and I will pacify it for you.”

So Jinko returned to his room, and searched for his mind with all his heart. He really stretched his limits of will power, deeply contemplating the question of how much can I or anybody want to find the actual essence of what we are, what life actually is? He even spent all of several nights standing outside Bodhidharma’s room in the falling snow. Finally when he was completely exhausted, he returned to Bodhidharma and confessed, “Master, I have searched with all my heart and soul, but I cannot find my mind.” Bodhidharma said, “Then I have already put it to rest for you.”

We can’t manufacture great doubt like Jinko’s. But it is there in all of us waiting to be uncovered and surrendered to. Then it’s transformed from negating everything to affirming everything as the light of divine spirit. Our spirit of inquiry, our doubt, and our faith and devotion come together to show us what we really are.