Saturday, April 04, 2009

Poem a Day, April 4

April 4, 2009

10,000 clouds of emptiness
balloons of bobbing flesh

why me, why now?

10,000 breathes of form
bodies frightened of death

just is, just is

10,000 days of suffering
stone by stone in the wind

Ken Wilber - Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness

This is one of my favorite passages from The Ken's work - available online free for the first time. It's more a statement of spirituality, deeply influenced by his Buddhist practice, than it is a statement of integral philosophy. Maybe that's why it resonates more deeply - there's more heart here.

This is very long, but I am going to post the whole thing here.

Corey deVos: In this excerpt from The Eye of Spirit, Ken offers one of the most powerful—and beautiful—pieces of spiritual writing he has ever produced. This is the very first time these words have been reproduced on the web, and we invite you to share this chapter however you like.

Here's Ken's description: "What follows are various 'pointing out' instructions, direct pointers to mind's essential nature or intrinsic Spirit. Traditionally this involves a great deal of intentional repetition. If you read this material in the normal manner, you might find the repetitions tedious and perhaps irritating. If you would like the rest of this particular section to work for you, please read it in a slow and leisurely manner, letting the words and the repetitions sink in. You can also use these sections as material for meditation, using no more than one or two paragraphs—or even one or two sentences—for each session."

* * * * *

Always Already
The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness

Where are we to locate Spirit? What are we actually allowed to acknowledge as Sacred? Where exactly is the Ground of Being? Where is this ultimate Divine?

The Great Search

The Realization of the Nondual traditions is uncompromising: there is only Spirit, there is only God, there is only Emptiness in all its radiant wonder. All the good and all the evil, the very best and the very worst, the upright and the degenerate-each and all are radically perfect manifestations of Spirit precisely as they are. There is nothing but God, nothing but the Goddess, nothing but Spirit in all directions, and not a grain of sand, not a speck of dust, is more or less Spirit than any other.

This realization undoes the Great Search that is the heart of the separate-self sense. The separate-self is, at bottom, simply a sensation of seeking. When you feel yourself right now, you will basically feel a tiny interior tension or contraction—a sensation of grasping, desiring, wishing, wanting, avoiding, resisting-it is a sensation of effort, a sensation of seeking.

In its highest form, this sensation of seeking takes on the form of the Great Search for Spirit. We wish to get from our unenlightened state (of sin or delusion or duality) to an enlightened or more spiritual state. We wish to get from where Spirit is not, to where Spirit is.

But there is no place where Spirit is not. Every single location in the entire Kosmos is equally and fully Spirit. Seeking of any sort, movement of any sort, attainment of any sort: all profoundly useless. The Great Search simply reinforces the mistaken assumption that there is some' place that Spirit is not, and that I need to get from a space that is lacking to a space that is full. But there is no space lacking, and there is no space more full. There is only Spirit.

The Great Search for Spirit is simply that impulse, the final impulse, which prevents the present realization of Spirit, and it does so for a simple reason: the Great Search presumes the loss of God. The Great Search reinforces the mistaken belief that God is not present, and thus totally obscures the 'reality of God's ever-present Presence. The Great Search, which pretends to love God, is in fact the very mechanism of pushing God away; the mechanism of promising to find tomorrow that which exists only in the timeless now; the mechanism of watching the future so fervently that the present always passes it by—very quickly and God's smiling face with it.

The Great Search is the loveless contraction hidden in the heart of the separate-self sense, a contraction that drives the intense yearning for a tomorrow in which salvation will finally arrive, but during which time, thank God, I can continue to be myself. The greater the Great Search, the more I can deny God. The greater the Great Search, the more I can feel my own sensation of seeking, which defines the contours of my self. The Great Search is the great enemy of what is.

Should we then simply cease the Great Search? Definitely, if we could. But the effort to stop the Great Search is itself more of the Great Search. The very first step presumes and reinforces the seeking sensation. There is actually nothing the self-contraction can do to stop the Great Search, because the self-contraction and the Great Search are two names for the same thing.

If Spirit cannot be found as a future product of the Great Search, then there is only one alternative: Spirit must be fully, totally, completely present right now—AND you must be fully, totally, completely aware of it right now. It will not do to say that Spirit is present but I don't realize it. That would require the Great Search; that would demand that I seek a tomorrow in which I could realize that Spirit is fully present, but such seeking misses the present in the very first step. To keep seeking would be to keep missing. No, the realization itself, the awareness itself: this, too, must somehow be fully and completely present right now. If it is not, then all we have left is the Great Search, doomed to presume that which it wishes to overcome.

There must be something about our present awareness that contains the entire truth. Somehow, no matter what your state, you are immersed fully in everything you need for perfect enlightenment. You are somehow looking right at the answer. One hundred percent of Spirit is in your perception right now. Not 20 percent, not 50 percent, not 99 percent, but literally 100 percent of Spirit is in your awareness right now—and the trick, as it were, is to recognize this ever-present state of affairs, and not to engineer a future state in which Spirit will announce itself.

And this simple recognition of an already present Spirit is the task, as it were, of the great Nondual traditions.

To Meet the Kosmos

Many people have stern objections to "mysticism" or "transcendentalism" of any sort, because they think it somehow denies this world, or hates this earth, or despises the body and the senses and its vital life, and so on. While that may be true of certain dissociated (or merely Ascending) approaches, it is certainly not the core understanding of the great Nondual mystics, from Plotinus and Eckhart in the West to Nagarjuna and Lady Tsogyal in the East.

Rather, these sages universally maintain that absolute reality and the relative world are "not-two" (which is the meaning of "nondual"), much as a mirror and its reflections are not separate, or an ocean is one with its many waves. So the "other world" of Spirit and "this world" of separate phenomena are deeply and profoundly "not-two," and this nonduality is a direct and immediate realization which occurs in certain meditative states—in other words, seen with the eye of contemplation—although it then becomes a very simple, very ordinary perception, whether you are meditating or not. Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else. This becomes your constant realization, through all changes of state, very naturally, just so. And this releases you from the basic insanity of hiding from the Real.

But why is it, then, that we ordinarily don't have that perception?

All the great Nondual wisdom traditions have given a fairly similar answer to that question. We don't see that Spirit is fully and completely present right here, right now, because our awareness is clouded with some form of avoidance. We do not want to be choicelessly aware of the present; rather, we want to run away from it, or run after it, or we want to change it, alter it; hate it, love it, loathe it, or in some way agitate to get ourselves into, or out of, it. We will do anything except come to rest in the pure Presence of the present. We will not rest with pure Presence; we want to be elsewhere, quickly. The Great Search is the game, in its endless forms.

In nondual meditation or contemplation, the agitation of the separate-self sense profoundly relaxes, and the self uncoils in the vast expanse of all space. At that point, it becomes obvious that you are not "in here" looking at the world "out there," because that duality has simply collapsed into pure Presence and spontaneous luminosity.

This realization may take many forms. A simple one is something like this: You might be looking at a mountain, and you have relaxed into the effortlessness of your own present awareness, and then suddenly the mountain is all, you are nothing. Your separate-self sense is suddenly and totally gone, and there is simply everything that is arising moment to moment. You are perfectly aware, perfectly conscious, everything seems completely normal, except you are nowhere to be found. You are not on this side of your face looking at the mountain out there; you simply are the mountain, you are the sky, you are the clouds, you are everything that is arising moment to moment, very simply, very clearly, just so.

We know all the fancy names for this state, from unity consciousness to sahaj samadhi. But it really is the simplest and most obvious state you will ever realize. Moreover, once you glimpse that state—what the Buddhists call One Taste (because you and the entire universe are one taste or one experience)—it becomes obvious that you are not entering this state, but rather, it is a state that, in some profound and mysterious way, has been your primordial condition from time immemorial. You have, in fact, never left this state for a second.

This is why Zen calls it the Gateless Gate: on this side of that realization, it looks like you have to do something to enter that state—it looks like you need to pass through a gate. But when you do so, and you turn around and look back, there is no gate whatsoever, and never has been. You have never left this state in the first place, so obviously you can't enter it. The gateless gate! "Every form is Emptiness just as it is," means that all things, including you and me, are always already on the other side of the gateless gate.

But if that is so, then why even do spiritual practice? Isn't that just another form of the Great Search? Yes, actually, spiritual practice is a form of the Great Search, and as such, it is destined to fail. But that is exactly the point. You and I are already convinced that there are things that we need to do in order to realize Spirit. We feel that there are places that Spirit is not (namely, in me), and we are going to correct this state of affairs. Thus, we are already committed to the Great Search, and so nondual meditation makes use of that fact and engages us in the Great Search in a particular and somewhat sneaky fashion (which Zen calls "selling water by the river").

William Blake said that "a fool who persists in his folly will become wise." So nondual meditation simply speeds up the folly. If you really think you lack Spirit, then try this folly: try to become Spirit, try to discover Spirit, try to contact Spirit, try to reach Spirit: meditate and meditate and meditate in order to get Spirit!

But of course, you see, you cannot really do this. You cannot reach Spirit any more than you can reach your feet. You always already are Spirit, you are not going to reach it in any sort of temporal thrashing around. But if this is not obvious, then try it. Nondual meditation is a serious effort to do the impossible, until you become utterly exhausted of the Great Search, sit down completely worn out, and notice your feet.

It's not that these nondual traditions deny higher states; they don't. They have many, many practices that help individuals reach specific states of postformal consciousness. These include states of transcendental bliss, love, and compassion; of heightened cognition and extrasensory perception; of Deity consciousness and contemplative prayer. But they maintain that those altered states—which have a beginning and an end in time—ultimately have nothing to do with the timeless. The real aim is the stateless, not a perpetual fascination with changes of state. And that stateless condition is the true nature of this and every conceivable state of consciousness, so any state you have will do just fine. Change of state is not the ultimate point; recognizing the Changeless is the point, recognizing primordial Emptiness is the point, recognizing unqualifiable Godhead is the point, recognizing pure Spirit is the point, and if you are breathing and vaguely awake, that state of consciousness will do just fine.

Nonetheless, traditionally, in order to demonstrate your sincerity, you must complete a good number of preliminary practices, including a mastery of various states of meditative consciousness, summating in a stable post-postconventional adaptation, all of which is well and good. But none of those states of consciousness are held to be final or ultimate or privileged. And changing states is not the goal at all. Rather, it is precisely by entering and leaving these various meditative states that you begin to understand that none of them constitute enlightenment. All of them have a beginning in time, and thus none of them are the timeless. The point is to realize that change of state is not the point, and that realization can occur in any state of consciousness whatsoever.

Ever-Present Awareness

This primordial recognition of One Taste—not the creation but the recognition of the fact that you and the Kosmos are One Spirit, One Taste, One Gesture—is the great gift of the Nondual traditions. And in simplified form, this recognition goes like this:

(What follows are various "pointing out" instructions, direct pointers to mind's essential nature or intrinsic Spirit. Traditionally this involves a great deal of intentional repetition. If you read this material in the normal manner, you might find the repetitions tedious and perhaps irritating. If you would like the rest of this particular section to work for you, please read it in a slow and leisurely manner, letting the words and the repetitions sink in. You can also use these sections as material for meditation, using no more than one or two paragraphs—or even one or two sentences—for each session.)

We begin with the realization that the pure Self or transpersonal Witness is an ever-present consciousness, even when we doubt its existence. You are right now aware of, say, this book, the room, a window, the sky, the clouds.... You can sit back and simply notice that you are aware of all those objects floating by. Clouds float through the sky, thoughts float through the mind, and when you notice them, you are effortlessly aware of them. There is a simple, effortless, spontaneous witnessing of whatever happens to be present.

In that simple witnessing awareness, you might notice: I am aware of my body, and therefore I am not just my body. I am aware of my mind, and therefore I am not just my mind. I am aware of my self, and therefore I am not just that self. Rather, I seem somehow to be the Witness of my body, my mind, my self.

This is truly fascinating. I can see my thoughts, so I am not those thoughts. I am aware of bodily sensations, so I am not those sensations. I am aware of my emotions, so I am not merely those emotions. I am somehow the Witness of all of that!

But what is this Witness itself? Who or What is it that witnesses all of these objects, that watches the clouds float by, and thoughts float by, and objects float by? Who or What is this true Seer, this pure Witness, which is at the very core of what I am?

That simple witnessing awareness, the traditions maintain, is Spirit itself, is the enlightened mind itself, is Buddha-nature itself, is God itself, in its entirety.

Thus, according to the traditions, getting in touch with Spirit or God or the enlightened mind is not something difficult to achieve. It is your own simple witnessing awareness in exactly this moment. If you see this page, you already have that awareness--all of it—right now.

A very famous text from Dzogchen or Maha-Ati Buddhism (one of the very greatest of the Nondual traditions) puts it like this: "At times it happens that some meditators say that it is difficult to recognize the nature of the mind"—in Dzogchen, "the nature of the mind" means primordial Purity or radical Emptiness—it means nondual Spirit by whatever name. The point is that this "nature of the mind" is ever-present witnessing awareness, and some meditators, the text says, find this hard to believe. They imagine it is difficult or even impossible to recognize this ever-present awareness, and that they have to work very hard and meditate very long in order to attain this enlightened mind—whereas it is simply their own ever-present witnessing awareness, fully functioning right now.

The text continues: "Some male or female practitioners believe it to be impossible to recognize the nature of mind. They become depressed with tears streaming down their cheeks. There is no reason at all to become sad. It is not at all impossible to recognize. Rest directly in that which thinks that it is impossible to recognize the nature of the mind, and that is exactly it."

As for this ever-present witnessing awareness being hard to contact: "There are some meditators who don't let their mind rest in itself [simple present awareness], as they should. Instead they let it watch outwardly or search inwardly. You will neither see nor find [Spirit] by watching outwardly or searching inwardly. There is no reason whatsoever to watch outwardly or search inwardly. Let go directly into this mind that is watching outwardly or searching inwardly, and that is exactly it."

We are aware of this room; just that is it, just that awareness is ever-present Spirit. We are aware of the clouds floating by in the sky; just that is it, just that awareness is ever-present Spirit. We are aware of thoughts floating by in the mind; just that is it, just that awareness is ever-present Spirit. We are aware of pain, turmoil, terror, fear; just that
is it.

In other words, the ultimate reality is not something seen, but rather the ever-present Seer. Things that are seen come and go, are happy or sad, pleasant or painful—but the Seer is none of those things, and it does not come and go. The Witness does not waver, does not wobble, does not enter that stream of time. The Witness is not an object, not a thing seen, but the ever-present Seer of all things, the simple Witness that is the I of Spirit, the center of the cyclone, the opening that is God, the clearing that is pure Emptiness.

There is never a time that you do not have access to this Witnessing awareness. At every single moment, there is a spontaneous awareness of whatever happens to be present—and that simple, spontaneous, effortless awareness is ever-present Spirit itself. Even if you think you don't see it, that very awareness is it. And thus, the ultimate state of consciousness—intrinsic Spirit itself—is not hard to reach but impossible to avoid.

And just that is the great and guarded secret of the Nondual schools. It does not matter what objects or contents are present; whatever arises is fine. People sometimes have a hard time understanding Spirit because they try to see it as an object of awareness or an object of comprehension. But the ultimate reality is not anything seen, it is the Seer. Spirit is not an object; it is radical, ever-present Subject, and thus it is not something that is going to jump out in front of you like a rock, an image, an idea, a light, a feeling, an insight, a luminous cloud, an intense vision, or a sensation of great bliss. Those are all nice, but they are all objects, which is what Spirit is not.

Thus, as you rest in the Witness, you won't see anything in particular. The true Seer is nothing that can be seen, so you simply begin by disidentifying with any and all objects:

I am aware of sensations in my body; those are objects, I am not those. I am aware of thoughts in my mind; those are objects, I am not those. I am aware of my self in this moment, but that is just another object, and I am not that.

Sights float by in nature, thoughts float by in the mind, feelings float by in the body, and I am none of those. I am not an object. I am the pure Witness of all those objects. I am Consciousness as such.

And so, as you rest in the pure Witness, you won't see anything particular—whatever you see is fine. Rather, as you rest in the radical subject or Witness, as you stop identifying with objects, you will simply begin to notice a sense of vast Freedom. This Freedom is not something you will see; it is something you are. When you are the Witness of thoughts, you are not bound by thoughts. When you are the Witness of feelings, you are not bound by feelings. In place of your contracted self there is simply a vast sense of Openness and Release. As an object, you are bound; as the Witness, you are Free.

We will not see this Freedom, we will rest in it. A vast ocean of infinite ease.

And so we rest in this state of the pure and simple Witness, the true Seer, which is vast Emptiness and pure Freedom, and we allow whatever is seen to arise as it wishes. Spirit is in the Free and Empty Seer, not in the limited, bound, mortal, and finite objects that parade by in the world of time. And so we rest in this vast Emptiness and Freedom, in which all things arise.

We do not reach or contact this pure Witnessing awareness. It is not possible to contact that which we have never lost. Rather, we rest in this easy, clear, ever-present awareness by simply noticing what is already happening. We already see the sky. We already hear the birds singing. We already feel the cool breeze. The simple Witness is already present, already functioning, already the case. That is why we do not contact or bring this Witness into being, but simply notice that it is always already present, as the simple and spontaneous awareness of whatever is happening in this moment.

We also notice that this simple, ever-present Witness is completely effortless. It takes no effort whatsoever to hear sounds, to see sights, to feel the cool breeze: it is already happening, and we easily rest in that effortless witnessing. We do not follow those objects, nor avoid them. Precisely because Spirit is the ever-present Seer, and not any limited thing that is seen, we can allow all seen things to come and go exactly as they please. "The perfect person employs the mind as a mirror," says Chuang Tzu. "It neither grasps nor rejects; it receives, but does not keep." The mirror effortlessly receives its reflections, just as you effortlessly see the sky right now, and just as the Witness effortlessly allows all objects whatsoever to arise. All things come and go in the effortless mirror-mind that is the simple Witness.

When I rest as the pure and simple Witness, I notice that I am not caught in the world of time. The Witness exists only in the timeless present. Yet again, this is not a state that is difficult to achieve but impossible to avoid. The Witness sees only the timeless present because only the timeless present is actually real. When I think of the past, those past thoughts exist right now, in this present. When I think of the future, those future thoughts exist right now, in this present. Past and future thoughts both arise right now, in simple ever-present awareness.

And when the past actually occurred, it occurred right now. When the future actually occurs, it will occur right now. There is only right now, there is only this ever-present present: that is all I ever directly know. Thus, the timeless present is not hard to contact but impossible to avoid, and this becomes obvious when I rest as the pure and simple Witness, and watch the past and future float by in simple ever-present awareness.

That is why when we rest as the ever-present Witness, we are not in time. Resting in simple witnessing awareness, I notice that time floats by in front of me, or through me, like clouds float through the sky. And that is exactly why I can be aware of time; in my simple Presentness, in my I AMness as pure and simple Witness of the Kosmos, I am timeless.

Thus, as I right now rest in this simple, ever-present Witness, I am face to face with Spirit. I am with God today, and always, in this simple, ever-present, witnessing state. Eckhart said that "God is closer to me than I am to myself," because both God and I are one in the ever-present Witness, which is the nature of intrinsic Spirit itself, which is exactly what I am in the state of my I AMness. I am not this, I am not that; I rest as pure open Spirit. When I am not an object, I am God. (And every I in the entire Kosmos can say that truthfully.)

I am not entering this state of the ever-present Witness, which is Spirit itself. I cannot enter this state, precisely because it is ever-present. I cannot start Witnessing; I can only notice that this simple Witnessing is already occurring. This state never has a beginning in time precisely because it is indeed ever-present. You can neither run from it nor toward it; you are it, always. This is exactly why Buddhas have never entered this state, and sentient beings have never left it.

When I rest in the simple, clear, ever-present Witness, I am resting in the great Unborn, I am resting in intrinsic Spirit, I am resting in primordial Emptiness, I am resting in infinite Freedom. I cannot be seen, I have no qualities at all. I am not this, I am not that. I am not an object. I am neither light nor dark; neither large nor small; neither here nor there; I have no color, no location, no space and no time; I am an utter Emptiness, another word for infinite Freedom, unbounded to infinity. I am that opening or clearing in which the entire manifest world arises right now, but I do not arise in it—it arises in me, in this vast Emptiness and Freedom that I am.

Things that are seen are pleasant or painful, happy or sad, joyous or fearful, healthy or sick—but the Seer of those things is neither happy nor sad, neither joyous nor fearful, neither healthy nor sick, but simply Free. As pure and simple Witness I am free of all objects, free of all subjects, free of all time and free of all space; free of birth and free of death, and free of all things in between. I am simply Free.

When I rest as the timeless Witness, the Great Search is undone. The Great Search is the enemy of the ever-present Spirit, a brutal lie in the face of a gentle infinity. The Great Search is the search for an ultimate experience, a fabulous vision, a paradise of pleasure, an unendingly good time, a powerful insight—a search for God, a search for Goddess, a search for Spirit—but Spirit is not an object. Spirit cannot be grasped or reached or sought or seen: it is the ever-present Seer. To search for the Seer is to miss the point. To search forever is to miss the point forever. How could you possibly search for that which is right now aware of this page? YOU ARE THAT! You cannot go out looking for that which is the Looker.

When I am not an object, I am God. When I seek an object, I cease to be God, and that catastrophe can never be corrected by more searching for more objects.

Rather, I can only rest as the Witness, which is already free of objects, free of time, free of suffering, and free of searching. When I am not an object, I am Spirit. When I rest as the free and formless Witness, I am with God right now, in this timeless and endless moment. I taste infinity and am drenched with fullness, precisely because I no longer seek, but simply rest as what I am.

Before Abraham was, I am. Before the Big Bang was, I am. After the universe dissolves, I am. In all things great and small, I am. And yet I can never be heard, felt, known, or seen; I AM is the ever-present Seer.

Precisely because the ultimate reality is not anything seen but rather the Seer, it doesn't matter in the least what is seen in any moment. Whether you see peace or turmoil, whether you see equanimity or agitation, whether you see bliss or terror, whether you see happiness or sadness, matters not at all: it is not those states but the Seer of those states that is already Free.

Changing states is thus beside the point; acknowledging the ever-present Seer is the point. Even in the midst of the Great Search and even in the worst of my self-contracting ways, I have immediate and direct access to the ever-present Witness. I do not have to try to bring this simple awareness into existence. I do not have to enter this state. It involves no effort at all. I simply notice that there is already an awareness of the sky. I simply notice that there is already an awareness of the clouds. I simply notice that the ever-present Witness is already fully functioning: it is not hard to reach but impossible to avoid. I am always already in the lap of this ever-present awareness, the radical Emptiness in which all manifestation is presently arising.

When I rest in the pure and simple Witness, I notice that this awareness is not an experience. It is aware of experiences, it is not itself an experience. Experiences come and go. They have a beginning in time, they stay a bit, and they pass. But they all arise in the simple opening or clearing that is the vast expanse of what I am. The clouds float by in this vast expanse, and thoughts float by in this vast expanse, and experiences float by in this vast expanse. They all come, and they all go. But the vast expanse itself, this Free and Empty Seer, this spacious opening or clearing in which all things arise, does not itself come and go, or even move at all.

Thus, when I rest in the pure and simple Witness, I am no longer caught up in the search for experiences, whether of the flesh or of the mind or of the spirit. Experiences—whether high or low, sacred or profane, joyous or nightmarish—simply come and go like endless waves on the ocean of what I am. As I rest in the pure and simple Witness, I am no longer moved to follow the bliss and the torture of experiential displays. Experiences float across my Original Face like clouds floating across the clear autumn sky, and there is room in me for all.

When I rest in the pure and simple Witness, I will even begin to notice that the Witness itself is not a separate thing or entity, set apart from what it witnesses. All things arise within the Witness, so much so that the Witness itself disappears into all things.

And thus, resting in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, I notice that there is no inside and no outside. There is no subject and no object. Things and events are still fully present and clearly arising—the clouds float by, the birds still sing, the cool breeze still blows—but there is no separate self recoiling from them. Events simply arise as they are, without the constant and agitated reference to a contracted self or subject. Events arise as they are, and they arise in the great freedom of not being defined by a little I looking at them. They arise with Spirit, as Spirit, in the opening or clearing that I am; they do not arise to be seen and perceptually tortured by an ego.

In my contracted mode, I am "in here," on this side of my face, looking at the world "out there," on the "objective" side. I exist on this side of my face, and my entire life is an attempt to save face, to save this self-contraction, to save this sensation of grasping and seeking, a sensation that sets me apart from the world out there, a world I will then desire or loathe, move toward or recoil from, grasp or avoid, love or hate. The inside and the outside are in perpetual struggle, all varieties of hope or fear: the drama of saving face.

We say, "To lose face is to die of embarrassment," and that is deeply true: we do not want to lose face! We do not want to die! We do not want, to cease the sensation of the separate-self! But that primal fear of losing face is actually the root of our deepest agony, because saving face—saving an identity with the bodymind—is the very mechanism of suffering, the very mechanism of tearing the Kosmos into an inside versus an outside, a brutal fracture that I experience as pain.

But when I rest in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, I lose face. Inside and outside completely disappear. It happens just like this:

As I drop all objects-I am not this, not that-and I rest in the pure and simple Witness, all objects arise easily in my visual field, all objects arise in the space of the Witness. I am simply an opening or clearing in which all things arise. I notice that all things arise in me, arise in this opening or clearing that I am. The clouds are floating by in this vast opening that I am. The sun is shining in this vast opening that I am. The sky exists in this vast opening that I am; the sky is in me. I can taste the sky, it's closer to me than my own skin. The clouds are on the inside of me; I am seeing them from within. When all things arise in me, I am simply all things. The universe is One Taste, and I am That.

And so, when I rest as the Witness, all things arise in me, so much so that I am all things. There is no subject and object because I do not see the clouds, I am the clouds. There is no subject and object because I do not feel the cool breeze, I am the cool breeze. There is no subject and object because I do not hear the thunder clapping, I am the thunder clapping.

I am no longer on this side of my face looking at the world out there; I simply am the world. I am not in here. I have lost face—and discovered my Original Face, the Kosmos itself. The bird sings, and I am that. The sun rises, and I am that. The moon shines, and I am that, in simple, ever-present awareness.

When I rest in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, every object is its own subject. Every event "sees itself," as it were, because I am now that event seeing itself. I am not looking at the rainbow; I am the rainbow, which sees itself. I am not staring at the tree; I am the tree, which sees itself. The entire manifest world continues to arise, just as it is, except that all subjects and all objects have disappeared. The mountain is still the mountain, but it is not an object being looked at, and I am not a separate subject staring at it. Both I and the mountain arise in simple, ever-present awareness, and we are both set free in that clearing, we are both liberated in that nondual space, we are both enlightened in the opening that is ever-present awareness. That opening is free of the set-apart violence called subject and object, in here versus out there, self against other, me against the world. I have utterly lost face, and discovered God, in simple ever-present awareness.

When you are the Witness of all objects, and all objects arise in you, then you stand in utter Freedom, in the vast expanse of all space. In this simple One Taste, the wind does not blow on you, it blows within you. The sun does not shine on you, it radiates from deep within your very being. When it rains, you are weeping. You can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, and swallow the universe whole. Supernovas are born and die all within your heart, and galaxies swirl endlessly where you thought your head was, and it is all as simple as the sound of a robin singing on a crystal clear dawn.

Every time I recognize or acknowledge the ever-present Witness, I have broken the Great Search and undone the separate self. And that is the ultimate, secret, nondual practice, the practice of no-practice, the practice of simple acknowledgment, the practice of remembrance and recognition, founded timelessly and eternally on the fact that there is only Spirit, a Spirit that is not hard to find but impossible to avoid.

Spirit is the only thing that has never been absent. It is the only constant in your changing experience. You have known this for a billion years, literally. And you might as well acknowledge it. "If you understand this, then rest in that which understands, and just that is Spirit. If you do not understand this, then rest in that which does not understand, and just that is Spirit." For eternally and eternally and always eternally, there is only Spirit, the Witness of this and every moment, even unto the ends of the world.

The Eye of Spirit

When I rest in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, I am resting in intrinsic Spirit; I am in fact nothing other than witnessing Spirit itself. I do not become Spirit; I simply recognize the Spirit that I always already am. When I rest in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, I am the Witness of the World. I am the eye of Spirit. I see the world as God sees it. I see the world as the Goddess sees it. I see the world as Spirit sees it: every object an object of Beauty, every thing and event a gesture of the Great Perfection, every process a ripple in the pond of my own eternal Being, so much so that I do not stand apart as a separate witness, but find the witness is one taste with all that arises within it. The entire Kosmos arises in the eye of Spirit, in the I of Spirit, in my own intrinsic awareness, this simple ever-present state, and I am simply that.

From the ground of simple, ever-present awareness, one's entire bodymind will resurrect. When you rest in primordial awareness, that awareness begins to saturate your being, and from the stream of consciousness a new destiny is resurrected. When the Great Search is undone, and the separate-self sense has been crucified; when the continuity of witnessing has stabilized in your own case; when ever-present awareness is your constant ground—then your entire bodymind will regenerate, resurrect, and reorganize itself around intrinsic Spirit, and you will arise, as from the dead, to a new destiny and a new duty in consciousness.

You will cease to exist as separate self (with all the damage that does to the bodymind), and you will exist instead as vehicle of Spirit (with the bodymind now free to function in its highest potential, undistorted and untortured by the brutalities of the self-contraction). From the ground of ever-present awareness, you will arise embodying any of the enlightened qualities of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas—"one whose being (sattva) is ever-present awareness (bodhi)."

The Buddhist names are not important; the enlightened qualities they represent are. The point is simply that, once you have stably recognized simple, ever-present awareness-once the Great Search and the self-contraction have been robbed of separative life and returned to God, returned to their ground in ever-present awareness-then you will arise, from the ground of ever-present awareness, and you will embody any of the highest possibilities of that ground. You will be vehicle of the Spirit that you are. That ever-present ground will live through you, as you, in a variety of superordinary forms.

Perhaps you will arise as Samantabhadra, whose ever-present awareness takes the form of a vast equality consciousness: you will realize that the ever-present awareness that is fully present in you is the same awareness that is fully present in all sentient beings without exception, one and the same, single and only—one heart, one mind, one soul that breathes and beats and pulses through all sentient beings as such—and your very countenance will remind all beings of that simple fact, remind them that there is only Spirit, remind them that nothing is closer to God than anything else, for there is only God, there is only Goddess.

Perhaps you will arise as Avalokiteshvara, whose ever-present awareness takes the form of gentle compassion. In the brilliant clarity of ever-present awareness, all sentient beings arise as equal forms of intrinsic Spirit or pure Emptiness, and thus all beings are treated as the sons and daughters of the Spirit that they are. You will have no choice but to live this compassion with a delicate dedication, so that your very smile will warm the hearts of those who suffer, and they will look to you for promise that they, too, can be liberated into the vast expanse of their own primordial awareness, and you will never turn away.

Perhaps you will arise as Prajnaparamita, the mother of the Buddha whose ever-present awareness takes the form of a vast spaciousness, the womb of the great Unborn, in which the entire Kosmos exists. For deepest truth, it is exactly from the ground of your own simple, clear, ever-present awareness that all beings are born; and it is to the ground of your simple, clear, ever-present awareness that all beings will return. Resting in the brilliant clarity of ever-present awareness, you watch the worlds arise, and all the Buddhas arise, and all sentient beings as such arise. And to you they will all return. And you will smile, and receive, in this vast expanse of everlasting wisdom, and it will all begin again, and yet again, and always yet again, in the womb of your ever-present state.

Perhaps you will arise as Manjushri, whose ever-present awareness, takes the form of luminous intelligence. Although all beings are equally intrinsic Spirit, some beings do not easily acknowledge this ever-present Suchness, and thus discriminating wisdom will brilliantly arise from the ground of equality consciousness. You will instinctively see what is true and what is false, and thus you will bring clarity to everything you touch. And if the self-contraction does not listen to your gentler voice, your ever-present awareness will manifest in its wrathful form, which is said to be none other than the dreaded Yamantaka, Subduer of the Lord of Death.

And so perhaps you will arise as Yamantaka, fierce protector of ever-present awareness and samurai warrior of intrinsic Spirit. Precisely those items that pretend to block ever-present awareness must be quickly cut through, which is why ever-present awareness arises in its many wrathful forms. You will simply be moved, from the ground of equality consciousness, to expose the false and the shallow and the less-than-ever-present. It is time for the sword, not the smile, but always the sword of discriminating wisdom, which ruthlessly cuts all obstacles in the ground of the all-encompassing.

Perhaps you will arise as Bhaishajyaguru, whose ever-present awareness takes the form of a healing radiance. From the brilliant clarity of ever-present awareness, you will be moved to remind the sick and the sad and those in pain that although the pain is real, it is not what they are. With a simple touch or smile, contracted souls will relax into the infinite vast expanse of intrinsic awareness, and disease will lose all meaning in the radiance of that release. And you will never tire, for ever-present awareness is effortless in its functioning, and so you will constantly remind all beings of who and what they really are, on the other side of fear, in the radical love and unflinching acceptance that is the mirror-mind of ever-present awareness.

Perhaps you will arise as Maitreya, whose ever-present awareness takes the form of a promise that, even into the endless future, ever-present awareness will still be simply present. From the brilliant clarity of primordial awareness, you will vow to be with all beings, even unto an eternity of futures, because even those futures will arise in simple present awareness, the same present awareness that now sees just exactly this.

Those are simply a few of the potentials of ever-present awareness. The Buddhist names don't matter; any will do. They are simply a few of the forms of your own resurrection. They are a few of the possibilities that might animate you after the death of the Great Search. They are a few of the ways the world looks to the ever-present eye of Spirit, the ever-present I of Spirit. They are what you see, right now, when you see the world as God sees it, from the groundless ground of simple ever-present awareness.

And It Is All Undone

Perhaps you will arise as any or all of those forms of ever-present awareness. But then, it doesn't really matter. When you rest in the brilliant clarity of ever-present awareness, you are not Buddha or Bodhisattva, you are not this or that, you are not here or there. When you rest in simple, ever-present awareness, you are the great Unborn, free, of all qualities whatsoever. Aware of color, you are colorless. Aware of time, you are timeless. Aware of form, you are formless. In the vast expanse of primordial Emptiness, you are forever invisible to this world.

It is simply that, as embodied being, you also arise in the world of form that is your own manifestation. And the intrinsic potentials of the enlightened mind (the intrinsic potentials of your ever-present awareness)—such as equanimity, discriminating wisdom, mirrorlike wisdom, ground consciousness, and all-accomplishing awareness—various of these potentials combine with the native dispositions and particular talents of your own individual bodymind. And thus, when the separate self dies into the vast expanse of its own ever-present awareness, you will arise animated by any or all of those various enlightened potentials. You are then motivated, not by the Great Search, but by the Great Compassion of these potentials, some of which are gentle, some of which are truly wrathful, but all of which are simply the possibilities of your own ever-present state.

And thus, resting in simple, clear, ever-present awareness, you will arise with the qualities and' virtues of your own highest potentials—perhaps compassion, perhaps discriminating wisdom, perhaps cognitive insight, perhaps healing presence, perhaps wrathful reminder, perhaps artistic accomplishment, perhaps athletic skill, perhaps great educator, or perhaps something utterly simple, maybe being the best flower gardener on the block. (In other words, any of the developmental lines released into their own primordial state.) When the bodymind is released from the brutalities inflicted by the self-contraction, it naturally gravitates to its own highest estate, manifested in the great potentials of the enlightened mind, the great potentials of simple, ever-present awareness.

Thus, as you rest in simple, ever-present awareness, you are the great Unborn; but as you are born—as you arise from ever-present awareness—you will manifest certain qualities, qualities inherent in intrinsic Spirit, and qualities colored by the dispositions of your own bodymind and its particular talents.

And whatever the form of your own resurrection, you will arise driven not by the Great Search, but by your own Great Duty, your limitless Dharma, the manifestation of your own highest potentials, and the world will begin to change, because of you. And you will never flinch, and you will never fail in that great Duty, and you will never turn away, because simple, ever-present awareness will be with you now and forever, even unto the ends of the worlds, because now and forever and endlessly forever, there is only Spirit, only intrinsic awareness, only the simple awareness of just this, and nothing more.

But that entire journey to what is begins at the beginningless beginning: we begin by simply recognizing that which is always already the case. ("If you understand this, then rest in that which understands, and just that is exactly Spirit. If you do not understand this, then rest in that which does not understand, and just that is exactly Spirit.") We allow this recognition of ever-present awareness to arise—gently, randomly, spontaneously, through the day and into the night. This simple, ever-present awareness is not hard to attain but impossible to avoid, and we simply notice that.

We do this gently, randomly, and spontaneously, through the day and into the night. Soon enough, through all three states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping, this recognition will grow of its own accord and by its own intrinsic power, outshining the obstacles that pretend to hide its nature, until this simple, ever-present awareness announces itself in an unbroken continuity through all changes of state, through all changes of space and time, whereupon space and time lose all meaning whatsoever, exposed for what they are, the shining veils of the radiant Emptiness that you alone now are—and you will swoon into that Beauty, and die into that Truth, and dissolve into that Goodness, and there will be no one left to testify to terror, no one left to take tears seriously, no one left to engineer unease, no one left to deny the Divine, which only alone is, and only alone ever was, and only alone will ever be.

And somewhere on a cold crystal night the moon will shine on a silently waiting Earth, just to remind those left behind that it is all a game. The lunar light will set dreams afire in their sleeping hearts, and a yearning to awaken will stir in the depths of that restless night, and you will be pulled, yet again, to respond to those most plaintive prayers, and you will find yourself right here, right now, wondering what it all really means—until that flash of recognition runs across your face and it is all undone. You then will arise as the moon itself, and sing those dreams in your very own heart; and you will arise as the Earth itself, and glorify all of its blessed inhabitants; and you will arise as the Sun itself, radiant to infinity and much too obvious to see; and in that One Taste of primordial purity, with no beginning and no end, with no entrance and no exit, with no birth and no death, it all comes radically to be; and the sound of a singing waterfall, somewhere in the distance, is all that is left to tell this tale, late on that crystal cold night, bathed so beautifully in that lunar light, just so, and again, just so.

When the great Zen master Fa-ch'ang was dying, a squirrel screeched out on the roof. "It's just this," he said, "and nothing more."

Shinzen Young - Discrimination and Unification

Another cool series of videos from Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young.
Shinzen talks about the zen koan "Drink down the West river in one gulp", digesting the present by having a complete experience in the moment, having everything as your content, merging with whatever's arising, the "karma colon", having our cage rattled, and the flow of impermanence as purifier. Filmed in Santa Barbara in January 2009.
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Elephant Journal - How to Meditate: The Dathun Letter, via Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Elephant Journal (a phenomenal Buddhist blog, if your aren't already reading it) posted this cool bit of Buddhist history in which Shambhala founder Chögyam Trungpa introduced the dathün, a month-long meditation period.

Here are a few excerpts (to me, the last three paragraphs here are crucial, and often misunderstood by many people who meditate to "escape" their suffering, rather than move through and transcend it).

How to Meditate: The Dathun Letter, via Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In 1973, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa introduced a month- long period of meditation called dathün, which he recommended to all of his students. This intensive meditation practice retreat, where even meals are taken simply, in silence, is to this day a fundamental part of the Shambhala Buddhist path.~ Carolyn Gimian.

* * *

* * *

The approach to that is actually no approach. Reduce everything to thought level rather than to concepts. Usually, if you have mental chatter, you call it your thoughts. But if you have deeply involved emotional chatter, you give it special prestige. You think those thoughts deserve the special privilege of being called emotion. Somehow, in the realm of actual mind, things don’t work that way. It’s just thinking: thinking you’re horny, thinking you’re angry. As far as shamatha practice is concerned, your thoughts are no longer regarded as V.I.P.s while you meditate. You think, you sit; you think, you sit; you think, you sit. You have thoughts, you have thoughts about thoughts. Let it happen that way. Call them thoughts.

Then, a further touch is necessary. Emotional states should not just be acknowledged and pushed off, but actually looked at. During meditation, you may experience being utterly aggressive, angry or lustful, whatever. You don’t just politely say to your emotion, “Hi. Nice seeing you again. You are okay. Goodbye, I want to get back to my breath.” That’s like meeting an old friend who reminds you of the past and rather than stopping to talk, you say, “Excuse me, I have to catch the train to my next appointment.” In the shamatha approach to practice you don’t just sign off. You acknowledge what’s happening, and then you look more closely as well. You don’t give yourself an easy time to escape the embarrassing and unpleasant moments, the self-conscious moments of your life. Such thoughts might arise as memories of the past, the painful experience of the present or painful future prospects. All those things happen: experience them and look at them, and only then do you come back to your breath. This is important.

If you feel that sitting and meditating is a way of avoiding problems, then that is the problem. In fact, most of the problems in life don’t come from being an aggressive or lustful person. The greatest problem is that you want to bottle those things up and put them aside, and you become an expert in deception. That is one of the biggest problems. Meditation practice should uncover any attempts to develop a subtle, sophisticated, deceptive approach.

Read the whole post at Elephant Journal.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Paul Waldman - So Long, Alex P. Keaton

The "Reagan youth" - those in their twenties and thirties when he was president - have been running things for a while now. But that rule has fallen on hard time with the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House. According to Paul Waldman, writing at the American Prospect, it's only going to get worse for the right as the millennials rise into the positions of power in this country.

I was a bit young then, a teenager, to be a part of that group - but I definitely was NOT a Reagan youth. His re-election is 1984 was a given with Mondale running against him, so it was a hard time to be a progressive, idealistic youth. Thank god for punk rock!

Anyway, here is a good look at what is shaping up to be the biggest liberal revolt in decades. Although, I have to say that if a smart young conservative were to run for president and not be anti-gay, anti-science, and anti-choice, the GOP would be back in no time.

The millennial generation could pull American politics even further to the left, and for a longer time, than the Reagan generation pulled our politics to the right.


A quarter-century ago, political observers marveled at a new phenomenon: an enormous wave of conservative young people. Instead of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, they were donning polo shirts, keeping their hair cut short, and waxing eloquent on the wonders of the free market. Their exemplar was Alex P. Keaton, the hero of the television show Family Ties, whose ex-hippie parents shook their heads at their son's affection for Ronald Reagan. The series ran from 1982 to 1989; in its finale, Alex leaves home to take a job on Wall Street.

In 1984, 59 percent of the nation's Alex P. Keatons voted for Reagan, an extraordinary percentage for a Republican (and just over his proportion of the popular vote as a whole). What was going on? As E.J. Dionne, then a reporter for The New York Times, wrote near the end of Reagan's tenure in the fall of 1988, "Academics and political consultants who have studied the youth vote have many explanations for their movement toward the Republicans, but the most powerful is the simplest: Young Americans have known only Mr. Reagan and Mr. Carter as President, and Mr. Reagan is the overwhelming favorite. Similarly, many people who first voted in the Depression still see politics in terms of the Democratic President Roosevelt and the Republican President Hoover."

It was a remarkable shift, and one that helped shape politics for the ensuing two decades. Currently, we are beginning an even more dramatic turn. Today's young people -- often called the millennial generation -- could pull American politics even further to the left, and for a longer time, than the Reagan generation pulled our politics to the right.

Start with the obvious: 67 percent of voters under 29 cast their ballot for Barack Obama, a result unequalled since exit polling began. (If you're interested, exit-poll data dating back to 1976 can be found at the Roper Center.) Despite periodic proclamations that young conservatives are poised for a comeback (see, for instance, this lengthy portrait in The New York Times Magazine only six years ago of the "Young Hipublicans" who were ready to take the country by storm), young people aren't finding much to like about today's GOP. And as a pair of new reports from the Center for American Progress on the present and future of American ideology show, those feelings are likely to run much deeper than a single election or a single candidate.

While they cover a great deal of ground, the reports contain some particularly interesting points about the millennial generation. In "State of American Political Ideology, 2009,", we learn that young people are the most progressive age group overall and the most progressive on social issues, which might not be surprising. But they are also the most progressive age group in their opinions about the role of government, which might be. And as the other report, "New Progressive America," points out, this generation's share of the voting population will increase every year until 2020, when they will represent nearly 40 percent of the electorate.

Which means that the electorate will change profoundly. The "Progressive America" report contains a provocative section called "An End to the Culture Wars," a title that may be a tad optimistic (in fact, you can look at the entire history of domestic controversy in America as one long culture war). But there is a shift taking place, and it's one that the cleverest Republican strategists and most charismatic conservative politicians will be powerless to stop. Simply put, today's young people have grown up in an environment far different from those their parents and grandparents experienced, and nearly all those changes will push them in a more progressive direction.

To paint with a broad brush for a moment: They know plenty of gay people, don't find anything particularly notable about people of different races dating, and see the traditional family setup (a two-parent heterosexual couple in which Dad works outside the home and Mom doesn't) as the exception rather than the rule. This may not be true for all of them, but it is true for enough of them that it has become their generational norm. As the report says:

Accompanying these structural shifts have been dramatic changes in attitudes toward sexuality, marriage, and gender roles. In every case, they have moved from less tolerant, traditional views to more tolerant, less traditional views, with much greater openness toward sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage and a strong belief that women are equal in every respect and should work outside the home if they wish. This evolution away from traditional family forms and family values will continue unabated in the future. This is because the trends away from tradition reinforce one another -- nontra¬ditional family forms promote nontraditional values and vice versa -- and because younger generations such as the millennials are so much more likely to embrace nontraditional values than older generations.

There are plenty of other notable facts about this generation -- it is much more racially diverse than any in American history and is less religious than other generations, for instance. This is particularly true when compared with older generations, especially the oldest. Somewhere today or tomorrow, a white, socially conservative 85-year-old from a rural area who liked Ike, considered himself part of the "silent majority," and pined for Reagan's "City upon a Hill," will pass to the great beyond. That same day, a new voter will reach her 18th birthday -- only that new voter is half Hispanic, lives in an urban center, and is progressive on nearly every social issue. To paraphrase the key political figure of her youth, she is the change we've been waiting for.

But how much the generation of which she is a part will continue voting for Democrats, and whether her social progressivism will be joined to similar views on economics and foreign affairs, depends on how things go over the next four or eight years. Just as the views of the Reagan generation were shaped by the seemingly ineffectual Carter presidency and the seemingly successful Reagan presidency, the current generation will be shaped by the Bush and Obama presidencies -- one an unmitigated disaster, the other a story still being written.

Of course, this presidency could be a disaster as well; who knows what crises await tomorrow or next month or next year. But if Obama accomplishes his grand goals -- pulling the nation through the economic crisis, reforming health care, confronting global warming, transforming our relationship with the world -- the millennial generation will belong to him and his ideological heirs. And conservatives will find themselves in a very deep hole for many years to come.

Poem a Day, April 3

April 3, 2009

listened to Leonard Cohen on NPR,
graveled voice and deep dharma,
craved a smoke, the sinister drag
and exhale, the reminder that death
is held between my fingers,
flicked ash of so many days gone

and now Tom Waits' whiskey
depth and growl, asynchronous beats,
the circus embodied, and I want a shot
or two, or three, the cool liquid
down my throat and the warm flush,
the numbing, a tear in my eye

so many indulgences of youth given
up to walk the talk, to live clean:
a chocolate Jesus, everybody knows
and I do, too, sitting here
watching the wind in the paloverde,
content to grow older each moment

Basic Anxiety is Happening All the Time, by Chogyam Trungpa

Chogyam Trungpa, for all his faults, was one hell of a kick-ass dharma teacher. His books have had a huge influence on me, especially his notion of "warrior heart." In this teaching, which is an excerpt from a new book, he talks about the human condition, the Four Noble Truths, and the cure for suffering.

By the way, if you aren't reading Shambhala Times, you should be - it's a great site posting material fromn the Shambhala tradition, and generally good dharma.

Basic Anxiety is Happening All the Time, by Chogyam Trungpa

We are born as human beings, as we are quite aware, and we have to maintain ourselves and keep up our humanness. We do this by breathing, so that our body has the proper circulation and pulsations it needs to survive. We do it by eating food as fuel and by wearing clothes to protect ourselves from the weather. (Originally, people started wearing clothes because of the cold, but later on, human beings became more complicated. They became shy, and started wearing clothes throughout the year.) But we can’t maintain ourselves in those ways alone, just by eating, wearing clothes, and sleeping so that we can wake up with the daylight and collect more food to eat. There is something else happening beyond that level: emotionally, we feel that we need to accept and reject.

Sometimes we feel very lonely, and sometimes we feel claustrophobic. When we feel lonely, we seek out partners, friends, and lovers. But when we have too many, we become claustrophobic and reject some of them. Sometimes we feel good. Everything has developed ideally for us. We have companionship; we have clothing to keep ourselves warm; we have food in our stomach; we have enough liquid to drink to keep from being thirsty. We feel satisfied. But any one of those satisfactions can subside. We might have companionship but not a good meal; we might have a good meal but no companionship. Sometimes we have good food, but we are thirsty. Sometimes we are happy about one thing but unhappy about other things. It is very hard to keep together the myriad things that go on and on, up and down. It is very hard. It turns out to be quite a handful, quite a project, for us to keep everything at the ideal level. It is almost impossible to maintain an even sense of happiness.

Even though some of our requirements might be achieved, we still feel anxiety. We think, “At this point my stomach is full of food, but where am I going to get my next meal when my stomach is empty and I’m hungry? At this point, I’m all right, but the next time I become thirsty, where am I going to get a drop of water? Right now, I’m fully clothed and I feel comfortable, but just in case it gets hot or cold, what will I do? I’m completely well equipped with companions now, but in case they don’t keep me company, where will I find more companionship? What if the person who is presently keeping company with me decides to leave me?”

There are all sorts of jigsaw puzzles in life, and the pieces do not perfectly meet. Even if they did meet—which is highly improbable, one chance in a million or less—you would still be anxious, thinking, “Supposing something goes wrong, then what?” So when you are at your best and you feel good about things, you are even more anxious, because you may not have continuity. And often, you feel cheated by your life, because you do not have the facility to synchronize thousands of things at once. So there is natural, automatic pain and suffering. It is not like the pain of a headache or the pain you feel when somebody hits you in the ribs—it is anxiousness, which is a very haunting situation.

People might say, “I have everything sorted out, and I’m quite happy the way I am. I don’t have to look for something to make myself more comfortable.” Nonetheless, people are always anxiety-ridden. Apart from simply functioning, the way we gaze at the wall or the mountains or the sky, the way we scratch, the way we timidly smile, the way we twitch our faces, the way we move unnecessarily—the way we do everything—is a sign of anxiousness. The conclusion is that everybody is neurotic, that neurosis creates discomfort and anxiety, and that basic anxiety is happening all the time.

In order to rectify that basic anxiousness, we create heavy-handed situations. We come up with intense aggression; we come up with intense passion; we come up with intense pride. We come up with what are known as the kleshas—conflicting or confused emotions—which entertain our basic anxiety and exaggerate it altogether. We do all sorts of things because of that basic anxiety, and because of that, we begin to find ourselves in more trouble and more pain. As the afterthought of expressing our aggression and lust, we find ourselves feeling bad; and not only do we feel bad, but we feel more anxious. That pattern happens all the time. We are in a state of anxiety, and each time we try to make ourselves feel better, we feel worse. We might feel better at the time, if we strike out with our particular flair or style; but then there is a tremendous letdown and tremendous pain. We feel funny about it; in fact, we feel wretched. Not only that, but we make other people feel wretched as well. We can’t just practice passion, aggression, and ignorance on ourselves alone; we do it to somebody else as well, and someone always gets hurt. So, instead of just having our own anxiety, we produce a further state of anxiety in others. We generate their anxiety, and they also generate it themselves; and we end up with what is known as “the vicious circle of samsara.” Everybody is constantly making everybody else feel bad.

We have been participating in this tremendous project, this constant mishap, this terribly bad mistake, for a long time—and we are still doing it. In spite of the consequences, in spite of the messages that come back to us, we still do it. Sometimes we do it with a straight face, as if nothing had happened. With tremendous deception, we create samsara—pain and misery for the whole world, including ourselves—but we still come off as if we were innocent. We call ourselves ladies and gentlemen, and we say, “I never commit any sins or create any problems. I’m just a regular old person, blah blah blah.” That snowballing of deception and the type of existence our deception creates are shocking.

You might ask, “If everybody is involved with that particular scheme or project, then who sees the problem at all? Couldn’t everybody just join in so that we don’t have to see each other that way? Then we could just appreciate ourselves and our snowballing neuroses, and there would be no reference point whatsoever outside of that.” Fortunately—or maybe unfortunately—we have one person who saw that there was a problem. That person was known as Buddha. He saw that there was a problem, he worked on it, and he got beyond it. He saw that the problem could be reduced—and not just reduced, but completely annihilated, because he discovered how to prevent the problem right at the source. Right at the beginning, cessation is possible.

Cessation is possible not only for the Buddha, but for us as well. We are trying to follow his path, his approach. In the twenty-six hundred years since the time of the Buddha, millions of people have followed his example, and they have been quite successful at what they were doing: they managed to become like him. The Buddha’s teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, so that right now, right here, we have that information and experience. We can practice the path of meditation in the same way and style as the Buddha and our lineage ancestors. We have the transmission of the way to practice in order to overcome anxiety, deception, and neurosis. We have it and we can do it.

The First Noble Truth: The Truth of Suffering
The hinayana is very practical, very pragmatic. It begins with the truth of suffering: we all suffer. We rediscover that suffering or anxiety again and again. During sitting practice, that anxiety might take the form of wanting to slip into a higher level of practice, using meditation as a kind of transcendental chewing gum. During daily life, you might find that samsaric misery in your neighborhood and in your immediate surroundings; it may be connected with your relatives, your best friends, your job, or your world. Wherever you look, anxiety is always there. Your personal anxiety is what stops you from cleaning your dishes; it is what stops you from folding your shirts properly or combing your hair. Anxiety prevents you from having a decent life altogether: you are distracted by it and constantly hassled. Whether those hassles are sociological, scientific, domestic, or economic, such anxiety is very painful and always present.

Every day seems to be different; nonetheless, every day seems to be exactly the same in terms of anxiety. Basic anxiety is taking place in your everyday life all the time. When you wake up and look around, you might think of coffee or food or taking a shower; but the minute you have had your coffee or your breakfast, you realize that the anxiety is still there. In fact, anxiety is always there, hovering and haunting you throughout your life. Even though you might be extremely successful, or so-called successful, at whatever your endeavors might be, you are always anxious about something or other. You can’t actually put your finger on it, but it is always there.

Seeing our pain as it is, is a tremendous help. Ordinarily, we are so wrapped up in it that we don’t even see it. We are swimming in oceans of ice water of anxiety, and we don’t even see that we are suffering. That is the most fundamental stupidity. Buddhists have realized that we are suffering, that anxiety is taking place. We have understood that anxiety does exist; and because of that, we also begin to realize the possibility of salvation or deliverance from that particular pain and anxiety.

According to the hinayana teachings, you have to be very practical: you are going to do something about suffering. On a very personal level, you are going to do something about it. To begin with, you could give up your scheme of what you ideally want in your life. Pleasure, enjoyment, happiness—you could give up those possibilities altogether. In turn, you could try to be kind to others, or at least stop inconveniencing others. Your existence might cause pain to somebody—you could try to stop causing that pain. As for yourself, if you find your anxiety and your desire comfortable, you could make sure that you question that perspective. In doing so, there is room for humor. As you begin to see the kind of communication that goes on between pain and pleasure, you begin to laugh. If you have too much pleasure, you can’t laugh; if you have too much pain, you can’t laugh; but when you are on the threshold of both pain and pleasure, you laugh. It is like striking a match.

The main point of the first noble truth is to realize that you do have such anxiousness in your being. You might be a great scholar and know the Buddhist path from top to bottom, including all the terminology—but you yourself are still suffering. You still experience basic anxiety. Look into that! At this point, we are not talking about an antidote or how to overcome that anxiety—the first thing is just to see that you are anxious. On the one hand, this is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, as the British say, or like teaching a bird how to fly; on the other hand, you really have to understand samsara. You are in samsara and you actually have to realize that.

Before you have been taught about samsara, you have no idea where you are; you are so absorbed in it that there is no reference point. Now that we are providing a reference point, look at what you are doing. Look at where you are and what you are in the midst of. That is a very important message. It is the beginning of the best enlightened message that could ever come about. At the level of vajrayana we might talk about the nonduality of samsara and nirvana, or fundamental wakefulness, or the flash of instantaneous liberation—but whatever we might talk about is concentrated in this very, very ordinary message: you have to review where you are. It might be a somewhat depressing prospect to realize that you are so thoroughly soaked in this greasy, heavy, dark, and unpleasant thing called samsara, but that realization is tremendously helpful. That understanding alone is the source of realizing what we call buddha in the palm of your hand—the basic wakefulness already in your possession. Such vajrayana possibilities begin at this point, right here, in realizing your samsaric anxiousness. Understanding that anxiety, which is very frustrating and not so good, is the key to realizing where you are.

The Second Noble Truth: The Origin of Suffering
The origin of suffering, künjung, is based on the belief in eternity. That belief in eternity marks the difference between theism and nontheism. Out of the belief in eternity comes the hope of maintaining oneself, of continuing to be, and the search for longevity of the self, or ego. Along with that comes a fear of death. We look for all sorts of alternatives, for some way to occupy ourselves. We keep groping around in order to survive. That groping process is connected with the development of the kleshas. We begin to look outward from ourselves to others, out into the world, and grasp at the world as a way of maintaining ourselves. We use the world as a crutch. That process leads to suffering, as a result, because the various ways we try to maintain ourselves do not actually help to maintain us—in fact, they hinder us—so our scheme begins to break down. The more it breaks down, the more we have to rebuild; and as that rebuilding takes place, the suffering returns, so again and again we go back to rebuilding. It is a vicious cycle. The process of samsara goes on and on. We have to understand its workings, for once we know how samsara operates, we will know how to work with it. We will know what to overcome and what to cultivate.

The path or journey becomes important because it breaks down fixation—holding on to oneself and holding on to others—which could be said to be the origin of suffering. There are two types of künjung: the künjung of kleshas and the künjung of karma. The kleshas are one’s state of being, one’s state of mind. Kleshas such as passion, aggression, arrogance, and ignorance are all internal situations; they are purely mental events. The künjung of karma is acting upon others as a result of such kleshas. Both types of künjung could be considered karmic; however, the second type of künjung is much more karmic because it involves making decisions, dealing with others, and actually doing something with the phenomenal world.

The künjung of kleshas could be said to be an embryonic expression of the künjung of karma. As an example, if something pops into your mind as you are meditating and you recognize it immediately, it does not have the same karmic weight as if you had acted upon it. Once you see through it, it is just a game rather than a serious plan that you have; whereas, if you write it down in your little notebook so you can remember to call your friend and tell her about it, you have already planted a karmic seed. Simply perceiving it through your mind and seeing the futility of it, realizing it is just a game, is the saving grace. That seems to be the point of the practice of meditation.

The Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Suffering
The cessation of suffering is connected with the fourth noble truth, which is the path, or lam in Tibetan. Cessation and the path work together: when there is a path, cessation automatically dawns; and when there is cessation, that allows you to follow the path. The path consists of following the example of the Buddha through the practice of meditation, through mindfulness and awareness. That practice is one of the merits of the hinayana discipline.

The reason the hinayana is known as the “lesser vehicle” is because it is straight and narrow. There isn’t much room to improvise. Since there is no improvisation, we can develop what is known as individual salvation. Individual salvation is not a selfish goal; it is self-discipline, straight and simple. It is simple in the sense that there is not much to do other than just fully being there. The path of meditation leads to shinjang, being thoroughly processed or trained, which is the result or achievement of shamatha-vipashyana meditation. Although you may not have experienced the final development yet, it is no big secret that there is a final development. You can’t pretend that the Buddha didn’t exist and still talk about his teachings, because he actually did it—he achieved enlightenment. We can’t keep that a secret. In the meantime, however, you could regard any sense of promise that comes into your mind, any hope that comes up, as another thought. If there is a strong desire to achieve a result, that will push you back. You could relate to hope as respect for the dharma, or the truth, rather than a promise. It is like a school child seeing a professor: one day she too might become a professor, but she still has to do her homework. Similarly, particularly in the hinayana, there is a journey going on all the time.

Shinjang happens in stages. It begins with the achievement of clarity. This level is like seeing one glimpse of what it would be like if you had that glimpse constantly. In order to achieve permanent cessation, you have to continue with the practice. So first you have a glimpse, which is like the appetizer; then that appetizer makes you hungrier. You want to have a big meal; therefore, you are willing to wait, maybe hours and hours, for the big meal to come.

When you develop shinjang, the sense of turmoil and misery subsides. Therefore, both physically and mentally, there is a feeling of comfort. Comfort does not mean euphoria, but the sense that things are soothing because you have simplified your life. Simplicity brings tremendous relief. Nonetheless, you don’t look for final results and you do not become goal-oriented; you just keep on practicing. Having practiced enough, achievement comes naturally. If you are constantly trying to achieve cessation, it is a problem—you will not achieve it in that way. Whenever you take an ego-oriented approach, you become allergic to yourself. There is no other way but to step out of that. So attaining individual salvation does not come from seeking salvation—salvation simply dawns.

Cessation and salvation come to you as you become a reasonable person. You become reasonable and meticulous because you cease to be sloppy and careless. Therefore, there is a sense of relief. Meticulousness is exemplified by oryoki practice, a formal style of serving and eating food that has its origins in Zen Buddhism. In this practice you are aware of everything that is being done, every move. At the same time, you are not uptight, for once you become self-conscious, you begin to forget the oryoki procedures. This logic also applies to keeping your room tidy, taking care of your clothing, taking care of your lifestyle altogether. Being meticulous is not based on fear; it is based on natural mindfulness.

As a final achievement, if you lose your mindfulness, a reminder comes back to you directly in the process of acting sloppy. Such reminders are a result of first having tremendous discipline. Because you have been with your practice constantly, reminders come up. If you have spent time with a friend, someone whom you love very much, and that friend goes away, each time you think of your friend, you develop more affection for him or her. In the same way, if you are at the more advanced level of shinjang, whenever sloppiness happens, that sloppiness itself automatically reminds you and brings you back. So a natural system of checks and balances begins to take place. In that way, you become like the Buddha. Every little detail of your life has meaning. There is a natural and dignified way to eat food and a natural and dignified way to relate with anything else that occurs in your life. Instead of your life being a situation of suffering, it becomes soothing. That is why shamatha is known as the development of peace. Peace does not mean pleasure seeking, but harmony. You don’t create chaos for yourself or for others, and you start by first working with yourself.

Traditionally, there are four ways of taking care of your body and developing wholesomeness. The first way is relating properly to food. As in oryoki practice, you don’t consume large amounts of food, nor do you eat too little. Rather, you eat enough to leave some room in your stomach. The second way is relating properly to sleep or rest. You don’t push yourself constantly, but you learn how to rest. Resting in this way is different from resting in the ordinary sense, where you are sometimes still working hard.

The third way is taking care of details, which means physically taking care of yourself: taking care of your body, taking care of your clothing, taking care of your environment. How you move physically, how you handle things, is more important than simply how you appear. Beyond mere appearance, there is a quality of meticulousness. The fourth way is meditation: without that reference point, there would be no real relief or wholesomeness. So food, sleep, taking care of your well-being, and meditation are the four ways to develop wholesomeness; and such wholesomeness leads you to develop the state of individual salvation. That is why it is said that the dharma is good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end.

In working with yourself, you start with the outer form; then that outer form brings an inner feeling; and finally that inner feeling brings a deeper sense of freedom. So it is a threefold process. This same process could apply to anything you do. In the beginning, it is mostly a big hassle; in the middle, it is sometimes a hassle and sometimes it is natural; then finally it becomes natural. With sitting practice as well: first it is a struggle; at some stage it is both a struggle and a relief; and finally, it is very easy. It’s like putting on a new ring: for the first few days it feels like it is in the way; but eventually it becomes a part of your hand. It is that kind of logic.

The Fourth Noble Truth: The Truth of the Path
From the practitioner’s point of view, there’s an interesting link between the first noble truth and the last noble truth: the first noble truth could be described as the ground on which the fourth noble truth is founded. That is, the realization of suffering brings an understanding and discovery of the path. The problem with the word path is that we automatically think that the road has been built and the highway is open so that we can drive nonstop. There’s a possibility of taking too much comfort in having a path, thinking that since the path has already been laid down, you do not have to choose which path to take—there’s simply the path. That attitude seems to be the product of misunderstanding or cowardliness on the part of the student. In fact, the path does not really exist unless you are available. It is as if you are the road worker, the surveyor, and the traveler, all at once. As you go along, the road gets built, the survey’s done, and you become a traveler.

There is another kind of path that has already been built for you, which you should know about, called the “general path” or the “common path.” In the general path, value judgments and morals have already been developed, such as the virtues of democracy, the idea of a good man or good woman, or the purity of the social worker—you just enlist, become a member, and go to work. The common sense path tells you that it’s nice to be polite, that good manners always work, and that kind-hearted people are constantly loved. It might also include Buddhist teachings such as “Control your senses, control your mind, get to know yourself.” On the common spiritual path, there is an emphasis on getting psychologically high, becoming an accomplished meditator. By concentrating on a burning candle, you could develop your concentration, attain a state of samadhi, and experience the One, the realm of the gods.

The common path is not as accurate or profound as the Buddhist path, but it is not by any means the object of mockery. As Buddhists, we too follow common rules and regulations. For instance, we don’t shoplift, but we pay for the things we buy. However, in terms of dharma, such norms are just sidelines, not what we concentrate on. Many scriptures, and even sutras, talk about the common path as the starting point for students who are beginning at the beginning. For students who see the world in a very naive way and have naive attitudes toward spirituality, goodness is the issue, peace is the issue, euphoric states of samadhi are the issue; therefore, they try to cultivate those things. However, from the Buddhist point of view, that is dwelling in the devaloka, the god realm. In cultivating meditative absorptions, or jhana states, you are appreciating the advertisement rather than wholeheartedly getting into the path itself. The extraordinary thing about the Buddhist approach is that such conventionality is regarded as unnecessary. On the Buddhist path, instead of trying to cultivate the jhana states, you come directly to the mind—a mind that is developing its awareness, openness, painfulness, or whatever it may be.

The path has many stages. To begin with, it is a series of steps; then it becomes a county road, and finally a highway. At the beginning the path is just a footpath, a trail. We have to cut down and tame ourselves much more at the beginning than at the end. We have to develop a sense of renunciation. If we simply stepped out of our house into a luxurious limousine and drove along the road, there would be no sense of journey, no sense of giving. Therefore, renunciation is extremely important. We have to renounce our home—our snug, comfortable samsaric world.

There are two types of renunciation: genuine becoming and contentment. The first type of renunciation in Tibetan is ngejung: nge means “real” or “genuine,” and jung means “becoming” or “happening”; so ngejung is “real becoming.” Renunciation is true, real, definite. We are disgusted and put off by the samsaric world we have been living in. The second type of renunciation is a sense of contentment, or chok-she in Tibetan. Chok means “contentment,” “satisfaction,” or “enough,” and she means “knowledge.” We know that things are enough as they are. We do not make further demands and we don’t insist on having all the local conveniences, but we are satisfied to live in poverty. This does not refer to psychological poverty, however, for practitioners are supposed to have a sense of generosity and richness.

A Genuine Cure
Because suffering is fundamental, there is a fundamental cure for it as well. That cure is saddharma: real (sat) dharma. Real dharma can actually cure fundamental pain; that is why it is known as sat, or “truth.” It is genuine dharma. Fundamental suffering is based on a basic karmic mishap, arising from ignorance. However, when you begin to work with your state of mind, you realize the consequences of your ignorance and you see how you can correct it. Your fundamental ignorance is the cause of all karmic coincidence, but instead of stupidly going along with that, you begin to wake up by means of meditation practice. You are aware of trying to cut through twofold ego fixation—the ego of dharmas and the ego of self—and you are beginning to knock the guts out of the whole thing. You are putting lots of effort and energy into that. It is very straightforward.

Practice is fundamental. It is a genuine cure. You have a genuine ego and genuine suffering, with cures to match. It has been said that dharma is medicine, the teacher is a physician, and you are the patient. If you have a sickness that medicine can cure, the teacher can diagnose you and treat it. And as you go on through the yanas, from the hinayana to the vajrayana, that cure becomes much tougher and more accurate. That is the notion of saddharma. Saddharma is the ultimate cure because it deals not only with the symptoms, but with the sickness itself.

Excerpted from The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation by Chogyam Trungpa, © 2009. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.