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Receive Your Life

Many wise teachers tell us to learn to receive all of our life as a gift. To me the key to understanding the spirit of this teaching seems to be focusing on the wisdom teaching of receiving. When we’re willing to deeply engage the question of the existence of a separate self, we inevitably run up the against the question of whether we can actually do anything at all. This is especially true when we are living this question as we live our life in the world that by and large assumes that the idea of a separate self is real.

If there is no separate self, what or who is the actual doer of our deeds? Who or what is the thinker of our thoughts, who or what feels, hears, and sees? Buddha taught that in fact our sensory experience has no own being in terms of being able to produce itself. Our thinking, seeing, hearing and feeling are not made up of a separate self, we are simply the universal activity in action. The self that we think we are is made up of non self elements, our bodies are actually recycled star dust, our sensory experience is produced by the whole of consciousness, not our imagined self consciousness.  All of the great contemplative traditions are pointing to this statement as a question that we need to deeply meditate on if we’re really sincere about traveling the path of self realization for ourselves and for all beings.

That our life is actually produced by the whole of consciousness, Buddha called the other dependent character of phenomena. Phenomena have no actual ‘own being’, their manifestation is dependent on many mysterious factors. Buddha taught that ultimately all phenomena depend on everything else in the whole universe. The imagined entity we think we are has no own being, the felt sense we have of being separate is actually the expression of the inter-being of all phenomena. 

The spirit of inter being is actually producing this life as a gift to us. One way to meditate on the other dependent character of phenomena is to receive what is given. When something happens, receive it. Understand that what happens is given to you. Then meditate on that, and look to see if you’re receiving what is given, or whether you think you are actually making what happens happen. This is giving up the notion of a separate ‘you’ taking action. Action is just happening, you taking action is just your idea of what causes action. If an action is happening, see it as being given to you, because in fact, it is being given to you.

Normally we think I am making my activity. There is a new way we can learn, which is ‘now I am receiving my activity.’ Believing in self power, the power to make things happen, we get things by taking them, rather than by having them given to us. As we meditate on the other dependent character of our moment to moment life, we move from a feeling of pride or shame to a feeling of gratitude. We move from ‘I did this and I’m proud of it, or I’m ashamed of it’, to ‘I received this.’

Brother David Stendl Rast called gratefulness ‘Great Fullness’. The spirit of inter being isn’t bound by any phenomena, it’s totally vacant of any perceivable substance, but it is at the same time completely full of the alive mystery of being. We normally spend so much of our energy trying to control, contract or expand our idea of self, that it is a great relief to give up our little idea of self power, and receive the immensity of boundless spirit power that we actually are. Receiving this great fullness now, and now, and now, is a pearl beyond all price. It is receiving the peace that passes all understanding, and for this we offer our deep gratitude for the welfare of all beings.

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Crisis

How sad that most of us do not realize the little daily acts such as drinking coffee or picking up a piece of paper constitute the core of life

A crisis is a tender time. And we all endure trials of varying degrees–loss, pain, sickness, separation, birth, death, the ravages of war.  A crisis can wake us out of our doldrums. Thrown into the depths of extreme pain or anxiety, our minds place our bodies on crisis alert: it’s time to defend and protect our territory. Hyper arousal here and now is normal and expected. We are programmed to make sure the present danger does not lead to more pain and anxiety, the amount and duration of which we believe is out of our control.

At the same time, hidden deep within the battlements of an acute crisis lies a gift if we choose to accept it, the opportunity to release the iron grip we have on our feelings, our need to control them. The gift of a crisis is insight. We can see how attached we are to controlling the outcome of any conflict. Exhausted by our ineffectual efforts to deny or control the pain, we may be temporarily unavailable to the gift. However, any given crisis may serve to reinforce its own special, inherent message. The message of the crisis of death, for example, is that life is precious. If we face the crisis head-on without indulging our opinions about it, we may feel more deeply alive even in our pain.

If we are willing to stop, breathe, and simply attend to our experience, something deep within us opens up. We discover our capacity to face these feelings just as they are. And that capacity has been with us all along.  By attending to our feelings, we do not cling to ideas about them. Our fears begin to slip away into a new spaciousness. We find creative and practical solutions to these crises by dropping some of the age-old armor against fear.

How sad that most of us do not realize the little daily acts such as drinking coffee or picking up a piece of paper constitute the core of life.  Each moment offers an opportunity for the complete expression of true nature, pervading past and future. Why can we not grasp this truth?  Obviously we don’t get it because we are stuck in the past or trapped in the future. These are the two ways we avoid truly living.  Instead, we do what we humans do best: we concoct schemes and strategies to bolster us against crises and numerous insecurities.  We put so much energy into trying to protect our personal images as popular, agreeable, assertive, successful and secure, that in the end we are half dead.

As an integral part of our makeup, we are conditioned to develop these strategies early in life. The poet Wordsworth said that all too soon the prison house closes in on the child.  Think of the little boy who postures like a man with a gun, or the little girl applying her mother’s lipstick. We grow up afraid to cope without artifice and imitation. Spiritual practice teaches us to step up and face avoidance patterns. Through mindfulness practice we learn to cultivate the willingness to peacefully abide right in the middle of them, which means in part directly looking at the ways we avoid life. This means facing our fears. The fear of a crisis can be said to be the fear of death–the death of control, of any idea of self or of the body. Beneath ideas of being a body/mind, fear is really fear of the great mystery.

We say people connect to a feeling of aliveness in the throes of a crisis. In emergency, our defenses against life in the present moment break down. Our sense of self is temporarily suspended, and there is absolutely nothing left to do except live fully this very second.  This second is not about me: it’s just, Oh!  Right here. Right now. The pain and anxiety do not necessarily abate, but without the burden of me, it matters not if negative feelings stay or go. This is waking up. And as soon as we flip back into our normal defensive state–which we invariably will–we can realize how much we really want to wake up.

Waking up infers that we see our situation as hopeless, hopeless in the sense of wanting the situation to be other than what it is.  When we fully live this second, unfiltered by our opinions about it, we receive the raw sensations of the moment, no matter the circumstance.

Hope is something I would never want to take away from anyone. Yet at some point on the spiritual path we realize our hope to control outcomes prevents us from living in the present moment. Through this realization, often precipitated by a crisis, our perspective shifts. This shift is rarely permanent, but as we diligently attend to the moment, we let go of habitual avoidance strategies.

We cannot, nor do we want to, avoid the reality that we’re all moving toward death, toward the ultimate mystery. We can learn to appreciate the wonder of death to the extent that we let go of our notions and ideas about it. In one sense we’re always on the brink of crisis. Everything is always changing. But in another sense, when we see that death and crisis are basic ingredients for life, attachment to our desires and fears around them become no big deal. When we are willing to simply trust just this moment, we shift into reality, into living our life free of attachment to our defenses. This shift affects everyone we meet, and is perhaps the most profound way we can help change the world.

 

 

 

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Personal God

God is the Supreme I

–Ramana Maharshi

 

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, touches on the issue of whether God is a personal or a non-personal god. How then do we define a person, as in the word personal? Is it possible to have a meaningful discussion of this issue if we do not agree on what a person is? We all think that, yes, we are a person, but what does this mean?

There are thoughts we have about ourselves that we deem independent from the minds and bodies of others. There are sensations, sights and sounds that we experience as our own or belonging to others or belonging to the world itself. I see my own image in the mirror. This, I think, belongs to me. I hear the bird in the yard and experience the bird as other. I bump my arm and it hurts. I believe this pain belongs to me.  However, is there any actual person in these manifestations? In fact, these manifestations are only manifestations. There is no actual person, save the idea of a person created by our minds. Can it be the same with God? Thich Nhat Hanh states, “God is not a person, and God is not a non person. God is not a person, but God is not less than a person. The person contains the non person, and the non person contains the person.” 

One of the attributes of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is Right View.  In this view there is no line separating person from non person: they are one and the same.  In Right View, there is no person other than the one we create with our thoughts.  When we are stuck in the thought of a separate self, we have only a limited view. We assume we can separate self from reality. And we conclude we are contained in some idea of self, thus barring our insight and perception from freely operating outside of our imagined container.

Right View in this sense is not an object for studious investigation. Right View is a realization, the realization that the container of self has never existed, that there is no separation between person and non person. If a wave was conscious, it could realize it is one with the ocean and that like other ocean waves, it is made of water.  So as human beings our actual substance is the substance of enlightened mind. This substance is obscured when we cloud its clear nature by clinging to our idea of self as an individual.

The Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi was once asked, “Is God personal?”  His reply was, “Yes, God is the supreme I.” Yet this I is not an entity. If he was asked “Is there a supreme being?” Perhaps he would answer, “Being itself is supreme.” He is saying Being and God are the same reality, the same supreme identity free of all conceptual attributes. This includes what we think of as a person but the mere idea of a person is not what we actually are.

There is a personal aspect to the infinite enlightened mind, and we are it. This does not change the fact that the personality is wholly created by our thoughts, and that a person’s actual substance is totally permeated with infinite mind, infinite spirit.  There is no person in the sense that our substance embraces all ideas, yet is beyond all ideas of a person. Our actual substance, enlightened mind, is not limited by, nor can it be grasped by, any ideas of a person. Is this so because there is no separation between our self and our mirror image, our self and the bird song, our self and the pain of the world? So reality is both personal and impersonal. We have a personal relationship with God because we think we are a person. If we thought we were rock we would have a “rocky” relationship with God. 

But we are much more than the idea of a person. Because our real substance is the substance of universal consciousness, we embody all manifestations of this consciousness, of the whole world.  When we see this deeply, we know without a doubt that we stand on holy ground, and not just the ground under our feet. The holy ground is what we actually are, the ground of being, the source of all manifestation. The true gift of humanness is our ability to convey this message to others through our mutual understanding of Big Self as the manifestation of the ground of being. In Zen we say form is emptiness and emptiness is form.  In the ocean wave analogy, we say the wave is the ocean and the ocean is the wave.  The ocean is emptiness, but like infinite mind, it is also unlimited fullness, beyond all conception. The ocean contains all things. The wave is form, but is manifested by, and at the same time one with, the infinite fullness of the ocean. 

The other side of the saying form is emptiness and emptiness is form, is that form is form and emptiness is emptiness. They are one in their mysterious essence.  Emptiness is full of form and form is full of emptiness.  But in the relative world we do differentiate between them. After all, in the supreme adventure of our lives, we must work, play, rest and pray and shop at the mall as our selves. In the relative world we are always a person. By deeply penetrating the depths of our being, we cultivate the vision that our personhood is far more than our limited idea of a person. 

We are the ocean that contains all things.  Our existence is an opportunity to fully express the spirit of the ocean of all being in the form of a person.  In this sense we are truly children of God.

 

 

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The Cocoon

As a reflection of our inner radiance, the energy of the Great Eastern Sun, if we allow it, will melt away the solidity of our cocoon like fire melts wax.

 

Chogyam Trungpa was the 11th descendent in the line of Trungpa tülkus, important teachers of the Kagyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. In his book, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, one chapter is entitled “The Cocoon.”  He speaks of soothing ourselves through darkness, “…enclosing ourselves in a familiar world in which we can hide or go to sleep. It is as though we would like to re-enter our mother’s womb and hide there forever, so that we might avoid being born.  When we are afraid of waking up, and afraid of experiencing our own fear, we create a cocoon to shield ourselves from the vision of the Great Eastern Sun.”

Trungpa’s Great Eastern Sun is a metaphor for the powerful energy of fully awakened mind reflecting itself in the phenomenal world. It points directly to reality. The sun is always here, its energy always giving life, shining equally and unconditionally on all phenomena. The Great Eastern Sun shows us “…there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance…which is the innate wakefulness of human beings.”

We believe we abide only in the world, but when we connect to our innate wakefulness, we realize the sun and the world arise together as an expression of our true nature. If we disappear, so does the world and the sun.  Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book called The Sun My Heart. In it he sees the sun in us reflecting the shining qualities of the world. The deep inner currents of our being naturally want to flow from our source and dance in the radiance of the world of sentient beings. This is Trungpa’s Great Eastern Sun. The vision that reveals our oneness with the world.

The beauty we see in the world is an expression of what we actually are.  But we cannot own beauty. What we think of as ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is not this beauty. In a documentary on his life, Leonard Cohen said he would often pray for a response to the beauty he saw in the world. His music is clearly divinely inspired. Through prayer, Cohen allowed his art to issue forth from him, to create itself. He did not take credit for it or try to own it.

We are dominated by desire. We feel the acute pressure of wanting to satisfy our desires and assuage our fears. Yet our efforts to do so, even if fleetingly successful, only reinforce and illustrate the power desires have over us. Take the serial dieter, for example, losing and re-gaining the fat and the weight, time after time. Fat is another kind of cocoon.

As experienced meditators, we begin to feel how our efforts to protect ourselves can create and perpetuate what Trungpa calls the cocoon.  “It’s a perceived safe place where we can keep the difficulties of the world at bay, and rest in our habitual patterns of self protection.” The child’s pose in yoga is also a cocoon — dark, inward-looking, soothing. Yet if we attempted to stay there, our bodies would cramp. A natural habit of humans is to find a way to possess and indulge in the beauty we see around us. But if we have the courage that self inquiry takes, we will realize that we suffocate ourselves by such clinging.

However, let us look kindly on these feelings of suffocation, for they are our karma, rooted in our wounds. Of course we want relief from the suffering. But at the same time, our feelings of suffocation are our resistance to the energy of the Great Eastern Sun. We may fear its power could destroy our fragile cocoon. And for this we are not ready. We constantly re-spin the cocoon to avoid its penetration by imaginary outside forces.

As a reflection of our inner radiance, the energy of the Great Eastern Sun–if we allow it–will melt away the solidity of our cocoon like fire melts wax. We can sit smack in the middle of our fear. We can combine spiritual toughness with the tender spirit of inquiry into the real nature of self. It is then that we may feel the melting. The warm radiance from inside us is no threat at all. On the contrary, our fears and desires dissolve in the heat of willingness. Sometimes we perceive this heat as the fire that purifies.

The sun within us peacefully shines on our resistance, and we offer up our protective efforts to its radiance. Our resistance, too, arises out of our own radiance, transformed into energy we can use to reflect our love. Thus we allow the solid fortress of our cocoon to dissolve. The process may be painful and anxiety producing, but if we are willing to abide in the midst of our pain, our pain will metamorphose into the fullness of being.

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What is the Actual Substance of Thought?

The great sage Ramana Maharshi said:

“The mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is the thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will automatically vanish. Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Dissolve the ego by seeking its identity. Because ego is not an entity, it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done only retaining the attachment to the idea of the ego.”

The disciplined practice of searching for the separate self, or ego, is only complicated when we give in to our strong conditioning to attach to our thought energy in the search. We learn we can’t do anything about this strong conditioning, it will endlessly arise along with thought energy again and again, like the never ending waves on the surface of the ocean. If we’re willing to watch the waves of thought energy, the waves of sensations, arise and dissolve by themselves, we can’t help but begin to become aware of the alive presence of the ocean itself, our actual being.

Nisargadatta was asked: “If the ultimate itself has always been what I am, why am I not aware of it?” His reply was “Because you are attached to the idea that the awareness looking out of your eyes right now isn’t the ultimate itself.” What is the actual substance of the idea that our true identity is perceivable, describable, and can be limited and confined? Allowing our thought energy to dissolve is a powerful reminder that our actual being is nothing the can be grasped, that we are not anything that can be captured as an object of thought. So it’s said that enlightenment is the merely the end of error, the error of attaching to thoughts about ourselves as real.

One practice that I’ve found helpful is to imagine awareness as a serene ocean, absorbing the restless mind energy, allowing it to relax. Thoughts then drift of their of their own accord to the stillness within. This practice will allow us to find gaps in the stream of thoughts. What could the actual substance of these gaps in thought energy be other than our real being? What could the actual substance of thought energy be, that it could create something that isn’t timelessly there, free of all ideas of gaps? What is the actual substance of thought that could disturb our timeless, boundless serenity?

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Receiving Her Touch

From the teachings of Anandamayi Ma

Who can tell at what moment the flame of illumination will blaze forth? For this reason, continue your efforts ceaselessly without flagging. Gradually you will get more and more deeply absorbed in Him – He and He alone will preoccupy your thoughts and feelings. For the mind ever seeks that which gives it proper sustenance, and this can’t be provided by anything other than the Supreme Being Himself. (She uses the words He, His, Him, referring to Brahma, God, the ONE source of all creation.) Then you will be carried away by the current that leads to your Self. (In this context, current refers to the living flow of human experience, feeling, seeing, hearing, and thinking.) This current is all that is, it is the continual flow of our true nature.

You will discover that the more you delight in the inner life, the less you feel drawn to external things. In consequence the mind becomes so well nourished with the right kind of food, that at any moment the realization of its identity with the Self may occur. After genuine contemplation, worldly pleasures become unalluring, dull, entirely savorless. This doesn’t imply anger at or aversion to anything of the world; when the deeply penetrating spirit of unattachment becomes a living inspiration, one begins to discriminate as to the true nature of the world, until finally, with the glowing certainty of direct perception, the knowledge of its illusory nature arises. All sensory experiences, as well as our ideas of being a separate self, are realized to be sparkling bubbles arising and dissolving on the surface of the current of our true nature.

Everything becomes smooth once the blessing of His touch has been felt. It is just as when bathing in a river, one at first swims by one’s own strength; but once caught in the current, whether a good swimmer or not, one is simply carried away. When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, religious philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby all resistance is allowed to dissolve.

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) He holds out his hand and calls you, come, Come, COME!

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Space

 Every aspect of our lives is space. We have never been

anything other than vast, boundless, open space. 

 

As a young man I would engage my friends in long philosophical discussions about the nature of existence. We hammered out philosophies about how we can know what we know. How could we know anything at all?  We finally came to the conclusion that everything boils down to space or awareness, or presence.  When we ask, “Presence or awareness of what?”, or “What is presence or awareness?” we find they cannot be distinguished from space.  These are all terms for one mysterious being.

The great 13th Century Soto Zen master Dogen said traps and cages spring open when you realize there is only dharma here. There is only this moment.  There is only this seeing, this hearing, only the vast fullness and spaciousness of our lives right here and now.  Trungpa Rinpoche said all of our problems arise from our fundamental fear of open space.

Ordinarily we think of space as vacant or dead, with the phenomenal world appearing within this vacancy.  But nothing exists inside space. Things exist as a manifestation of space. The substance of the phenomenal world is the substance of space. This may be easier to intuit if you substitute awareness or consciousness for space. Every manifestation of the phenomenal world is an expression of awareness. The mysterious substance of phenomena is saturated with the mysterious substance of awareness. Every aspect of our lives is nothing but space. We have never been anything other than vast, boundless, open space.  This is obvious when we take the time to investigate truth.

Space allows everything to be as is, friendly and accepting of all its manifestations which we call life.  Space supports and nurtures us in the form of earth, sun, and our parents when we were young.  Yet space is beyond any concept. A powerful way to deepen our inquiry into reality is to imagine how far outer space extends into the cosmos.  This search led me to hypothesize that we find space to be so vast that we’re impelled to try and limit it.  Where do we get this impulse? What impels us to separate, control or measure the vastness by drawing imaginary boundaries?  Alan Watts once asked, “Does a ventriloquist only want to have dinner with his dummy?” However incomprehensible the universe, perhaps separate autonomous beings seem to exist simply because it’s no fun to eat dinner alone.

Contemplative practice can help us plumb the deep question we may have forgotten to ask because of our fear.  Is there a reason we fear space?  We can ask why we are attached to our imaginary reference points–those we create to escape our insecurities.  A powerful aid to our inquiry is to attend to our emotions, whether they are joy, pain, anxiety, fear or elation. By paying attention to what is, we free ourselves from the constructs and boundaries of our crippling habits.

Why does this happen?  By paying attention, we allow natural spaciousness to manifest.  Suddenly, more space surrounds our emotions, and we turn our awareness to them, unbinding our attempts to grasp or manipulate.  Trungpa Rinpoche said “while drinking a cup of tea, we might make the shocking discovery that we are doing it in a vacuum.  In fact, as entities, we are not even drinking the tea! The hollowness of space is drinking the tea.  When we pull on our skirt or our pants, we are dressing space. To put on makeup is to make up space.”

So meditation practice allows us to let go of our rigid attachment to ideas.  Then mindfulness in daily life can help us see we’re acting in a vacuum.  Our precious reference points in space are dissolved. Space holds us totally and unconditionally in that realization.  Perhaps we cannot clearly see there is no need to hold on to anything until first we realize there is nothing to hold onto.

So why wait for the conditions of our lives to improve? Are we waiting for some image of what realization is, or what true nature might be?  Freedom cannot be tethered by any image, feeling, sound or thought.  It is enough to dwell in spaciousness with our wholehearted devotional spirit. It is enough to surrender our self-consciousness to it, to appreciate and enjoy it.  When we are stable in this practice, we will feel more energy for our work in the world to help others along the way.

 

 

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Opening to Reality

Trungpa Rinpoche was once asked, “What is Enlightenment?” His response was “The vast sky becomes a big blue pancake and falls on your head.” I hadn’t ever been able to fully relate to this expression; there was an air finality to it for me, a sense of wiping out all experience, wiping out all existence. Of course this is nothing more than mere imaginings in my mind.

When I imagine this, a strong sense of aliveness always remains, after the big thud. This peaceful loving aliveness reveals the mere imaginings of all our minds. The life current animating our mind and body is always here before imagining, during expressions of our imaginings, and remains after our imaginings, after all personal experience dissolves. This life force is the only reality our mind and body are, and it remains unaffected by all experience, of past, present, and future. Our living presence is what has always been here and now; it’s the changeless reality that is our innermost lover, our innermost teacher. It reveals its complete saturation of ideas of inside and outside which we will intimately experience if we don’t try to interfere by moving towards or away based on desire and fear.

On revisiting Trungpa’s expression without clinging to any ideas about it, I start to experience a gentle caressing descent of the blue sky that transforms into a gentle rain. The rain dissolves and there is just a vast absence of images between my shoulders where we imagine our head is. The flowing current of our living presence will naturally permeate the empty space between our shoulders with alive fullness, if we allow our resistance to the flow to dissolve. We first need to become aware of our desires and fears conditioning us to rigidly armor and defend our personal identities, so we can feel safe located and enclosed in our bodies.

We can allow the expression of our true self, we can allow a wholehearted  experience of our life force always arriving now as ever new experiences. We can allow it, because ultimately we are completely powerless to prevent it. This is actually everyone’s experience when we’re willing to look through and beyond the conceptual haze of our opinions. When the thinking mind is realized to be empty of any actual content, thinking is realized to be like typing on a typewriter with the ribbon removed. When we clearly see with direct perception that our minds are empty, our hearts naturally blissfully open. As we begin to realize we are a tool for our actual living presence to spread peace and love, we begin to realize we have never been anything else, and nothing else has ever really been happening.

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Freedom

From Zen Master Ryokan

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.

 

 

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Do We Choose Our Thoughts?

When my attention is drawn to the thinking mind, I often am amazed anew that we spend our lives with an endless stream of thoughts swirling around us that we normally imagine originate somewhere inside our heads, and are almost always totally ignoring the fact that we have no idea what this stream of thought really is. We can say they are fleeting images of letters, words, or other physical objects. We can say they are alive, because they are manifested by our living presence. But these last two sentences are just more thoughts, and thoughts don’t tell us what anything actually is, including our selves. What is clear is that because of our ignorance, because of our ignoring that we don’t know what thought is, we continually attempt to grasp onto this thought stream and imagine that we can control our experience by continually attempting to control our thoughts.

So an interesting question for spiritual inquiry is to ask who or what chooses our thoughts? Our normal waking consciousness consists of seeing objects, hearing sounds, feeling sensations, and thinking thoughts. What is our actual experience of the thinker? Is the thinker the chooser? Can we find an actual entity, either inside or outside of our head that thinks our thoughts? If we’re willing to ask this question from a deep enough place to stay with our actual experience of a series of thoughts arising and disappearing, we realize the imagined entity we label the thinker is nothing more than another thought in a series of thoughts.

Try staying still for a few moments and notice the successive thoughts arising and dissolving. If you’ve been practicing contemplation for awhile, it’s probably easy to notice a gap between thoughts. Where is the actual chooser of the next thought in that gap between thoughts? The thought of being the chooser is simply another thought in the series of thoughts produced after you read the sentence, ‘where is the chooser in the gap between thoughts?’

If you have the experience like I just had, of having the thought ‘I’ve found the chooser’, the chooser thought just appears in retrospect as the next thought in the series. We are continually fooling ourselves when the chooser thought takes responsibility for being the initiator and enjoyer of our thoughts. Our actual experience of a succession of thoughts is that the chooser isn’t there in the gap between thoughts. The chooser is just a thought saying I was there choosing between thoughts, but the chooser thought only appears later as a subsequent thought. The thought of being the chooser isn’t choosing anything, it’s just the expression of the thought of being the chooser. It’s the clown that takes the bow, claiming responsibility for thinking and choosing the thoughts after the fact. The sense of being a separate self, being a separate entity, being a separate thinking person, is that chooser thought.

This type of discussion can be difficult to digest, and one big reason can be that it gives us a sense of being totally determined by some impersonal mechanical process. Some of you may have had the recent experience of changing a password or opening a new account online and presented with a task that starts with the phrase ‘I am not a robot’. We don’t like to think that we’re programmed and have no choice in our experience which of course includes the choice of our thoughts. So we’re uncomfortable with just the suggestion that our experiences might be predetermined in a mechanical conditioned process, and particularly uncomfortable with the notion that we don’t possess free will. So we sometimes have a feeling like our innate love of freedom is being curtailed and we feel rebellious.

Our feeling rebellious is an expression of our love for freedom. We love the idea of freedom because deep down we sense that our actual being is totally free. The idea of there being a controller or a container of self limiting us is just another thought. Our real being isn’t the result of any fixed, regulated, definable, or confined system; it is simply infinite ever present awareness freely expressing itself as our life. But the separate self idea doesn’t possess freedom; there is free will, although there is no my free will. The truth of our actual being is the potential to realize infinite possibilities, including the realization of our true identity. Our true identity is the spiritual life force expressing the timeless joy of boundless freedom.

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