Denying the Fount of our Being

‘O lost so long in exile, you disclaim
The very Fount of Being whence you came,
Cannot be parted from, and, will or no,
Whether for Good or Evil must re-flow!
For look—the Shadows into which the Light
Of his pure Essence down by infinite
Gradation dwindles, which at random play
Through Space in Shape indefinite—one Ray
Of his Creative Will into defined
Creation quickens: We that swim the Wind,
And they the Flood below, and Man and Beast
That walk between, from Lion to the least…

The baser Forms, to whatsoever Change
Subject, still vary through their lower Range:
To which the higher even shall decay,
That, letting ooze their better Part away
For Things of Sense and Matter, in the End
Shall merge into the Clay to which they tend.
Unlike to him, who straining through the Bond
Of outward Being for a Life beyond,
While the gross Worldling to his Centre clings,
That draws him deeper in, exulting springs
To merge him in the central Soul of Things.
— Attar / Fitzgerald, Bird Parliament

 

 

The Joy of Un-encumbrance

Sometime after his legendary appointment with Mara under the Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa), when the Buddha was finally coaxed to speak, he mentioned something in Pāḷi that has since been translated as ‘Life is suffering’.

I think a better way to convey the subtlety of his insight might be ‘Physicality is an encumbrance’. This is to say that the entirety of what can be found through the lens of corporeal being, be it wonderful or horrible, are still modes of suffering or to put a fine point on it, existential discontent.

If we attempt to live joyfully within the field of all that can be felt, we must also relent to all that is not joyful. Opting for one idealized state to be more formidably present in your life isn’t going to work.

So what would freedom from encumbrance look like, be like, feel like?

Curiously we need look no further than here. Despite the Buddha’s fatalistic proclamation, whatever this is, it is already unencumbered. It is foolish to curate a museum of lies and rules and practices that aim away from what is already present.

unencumbered

Mind, body, and behavioral control agendas can never reveal the inherency and joy of unencumbrance, they’re already symptomatic of a grand magic trick that infers existential autonomy, which is the mother of all illusions.When you find yourself relieved of the monotony and familiarity of yourself, empty of want or purpose, without the slightest need to confirm or conform. Then you can see the novelty of all that arises free from the impulse to categorize or project meaning, you sense the non-specific joy of unencumbrance.

Without context or content what can bind you? If you grant yourself permission you can ride this effortless euphoria all the way to now.

Everything else is optional.

What is it like to be dead?

What is it like to be alive? Obviously, there is a wide range of experience—joyous and wretched, racked by pain, lucid and untroubled, anxious, divinely peaceful, intensely awake and aware, unconscious in what we erroneously call the “sleep of the dead”. You have probably known moments of lucidity while sleeping that are as intense as any orgasmic waking experience.

But wherever you go, there you are. You have learned to accept that all this remarkable variety of conscious states together comprises the human experience, and that you are always you, no more or less when you are enthralled by an idea revealed than when you are bored and waiting, waiting to get out of here.

Being dead also encompasses a huge range of experience. There are as many flavors of death as of life, and the difference between being alive and being dead is less than the difference between being awake and being asleep.

What about memory? You know well that memory is a sometimes thing. It doesn’t bother you that you have lost memories of childhood. You accept that you have false memories as well as true. You have very partial memory of the time you are asleep, and you have often had the experience of forgetting what you were thinking just a moment before. “What was I going to say?”

Some of the memories of a lifetime are carried into death, and others are not. A few memories are available across lifetimes, but in the state of development where most of us find ourselves, this is an exceptional phenomenon.

If the continuity afforded by memory is important to you, you can develop your memory by consistent attention and practice. Keep a diary, recalling each day’s events. Write down your dreams on waking each morning.

Fear of death has an evolutionary basis. Terror is programmed into you by natural selection. Your animal ancestors that avoided death like the dickens lived to have more offspring, while those with a weaker terror of death were more easily hunted and their legacy died out. Hence we find ourselves descended from the former.

Existential terror is something else again, a modern malady built upon primal fear of death. It is a Nineteenth and Twentieth Century phenomenon that has distorted an animal instinct with the reductionist-materialism that derived from Newtonian mechanics. For the animal, terror of death is a very uncomfortable but transient state, arising in times of extreme danger; for the modern human, existential anxiety has become a chronic disease.

The idea of the clockwork universe moving continuously from moment to moment according to fixed laws, random, arbitrary, and devoid of meaning—this paradigm replaced religious dogma for many modern thinkers, beginning with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, through Sartre and Camus to Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. This philosophy has become a fundamentalist dogma no less than The Book of Mormon or Zoroastrianism or Hindu mythology.

Self and Brain

A widespread meme in secular Western society tells us that all consciousness, including our core sense of being, depends upon electrical activity in the brain—and “science tells us so”. This idea came to prominence in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, and William James (1898) offered a cogent rebuttal. If “science” ever suggested such a thing, it was Newtonian science—a misnomer in itself, since Isaac Newton was quite a mystic. The quantum physics of the Twentieth Century is comfortable with a realm of consciousness separate from the material world, and the most influential quantum physicists have held that quantum theory actually requires a non-material embodiment of knowledge. Consciousness is responsible for “collapsing the wave function”, that is, reifying a single case from a realm of possibility.

Sample from the abundant literature of near-death experiences, reincarnation and other examples of consciousness that transcends the brain, as an antidote to your haunting suspicion that material reality is the only reality.

Your consciousness, with its rich and varied texture, its ability to narrow or to broaden, to learn and evolve and grow over the aeons—your consciousness is you, and it is not something you can lose when your brain ceases to function.

Image result for surviving death

Sleep and Creativity and Hard Science

Mathematics was like that, amenable to the unconscious brain, the better brain. Amazing that you could go to bed with a problem, the hardest problem in the world, something you’ve been banging your head against all the previous day. But you might wake up in the morning with the answer all laid out. You might even remember a point in your dream when you worked it out, when you even said in your coma, Eureka! and after waking, you wonder for a moment if it’s make-believe, if you’ve concocted the fiction of having solved it only for the somnial satisfaction, but you know it’s real because when you race through this newfound solution, now raised to your conscious mind, you see that it works.

— Zia Haider Raman, In the Light of What we Know

Dreams about math

Karma

A Creed

I hold that when a person dies
His soul returns again to earth;
Arrayed in some new flesh-disguise
Another mother gives him birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain
The old soul takes the road again.

Such is my own belief and trust;
This hand, this hand that holds the pen,
Has many a hundred times been dust
And turned, as dust, to dust again;
These eyes of mine have blinked and shown
In Thebes, in Troy, in Babylon.

All that I rightly think or do,
Or make, or spoil, or bless, or blast,
Is curse or blessing justly due
For sloth or effort in the past.
My life’s a statement of the sum
Of vice indulged, or overcome.

I know that in my lives to be
My sorry heart will ache and burn,
And worship, unavailingly,
The woman whom I used to spurn,
And shake to see another have
The love I spurned, the love she gave.

And I shall know, in angry words,
In gibes, and mocks, and many a tear,
A carrion flock of homing-birds,
The gibes and scorns I uttered here.
The brave word that I failed to speak
Will brand me dastard on the cheek.

And as I wander on the roads
I shall be helped and healed and blessed;
Dear words shall cheer and be as goads
To urge to heights before unguessed.
My road shall be the road I made;
All that I gave shall be repaid.

So shall I fight, so shall I tread,
In this long war beneath the stars;
So shall a glory wreathe my head,
So shall I faint and show the scars,
Until this case, this clogging mould,
Be smithied all to kingly gold.

— John Masefield

Image result for reincarnation

“The law of karma demands that we meet every bit of our karmic debts. However, an even greater law exists, the law of forgiveness. If we wrong someone and that person forgives us, when the day comes that we approach God, we realize our memories which are incompatible with God, but forgiveness removes the barrier of separation. The law is so precise (what one gives one receives; no exceptions) that if we begin forgiving others, we begin to receive forgiveness upon ourselves. Unless, of course, we refuse to forgive ourselves.” (Edgar Cayce

For the Last Day of Your Life

At all times just remain free and uninvolved. Never make any displays of clever tricks — be like a stolid simpleton in a village of three families. Then the gods will have no road on which to offer you flowers, and demons and outsiders will not be able to spy on you.

Be undefinable, and do not reveal any conspicuous signs of your special attainment. It should be as if you are there among myriad precious goods locked up securely and deeply hidden in a treasure house. With your face smeared with mud and ashes, join in the work of the common laborers, neither speaking out nor thinking.

Live your whole life so that no one can figure you out, while your spirit and mind are at peace. Isn’t this what it is to be imbued with the Way without any contrived or forced actions, a genuinely unconcerned person?

Among the enlightened adepts, being able to speak the Truth has nothing to do with the tongue, and being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words.

Clearly we know that the words spoken by the ancients were not meant to be passively depended on. Anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality. Thus the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon, and the sayings of the Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door.

If you know this, then rest. If your practice is continuous and meticulous and your application broad and all-pervading, and you do not deviate from this over the years, then you will mature in your ability to handle the teachings, to gather up and to release, and you will be able to see through petty things and cut them off without leaving a trace.

Then you when you come to the juncture of death and birth, where all the lines intersect, you won’t get mixed up. You will be clear and immovable, and you will be set free as you leave this life behind. This is deathbed Zen, for the last day of your life.

Yuanwu Keqin, as interpreted and translated by Brian Browne Walker