The Superimposed Self

August 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

This post continues from the last on the idea that the self or ego is a steady state system. Note that a steady state is neither fixed nor locked in place. The self is not always sad or always happy. On the contrary, its thoughts and moods continuously rise and fall. What doesn’t change, what remains steady, is the system’s tendency to return again and again to a specific state of thought and feeling that is identified as the self. For instance, an optimistic person is one who continuously identifies over time with positive and cheerful thoughts.

Ayya Khema, in her book, “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere” wrote, “We’re all being reborn at every moment. Very few people have the mindfulness or the attentiveness to become aware of that. But we can become aware of being reborn…”

Being “reborn at every minute” is another way of saying that the self continually returns to its steady state. This happens in a variety of ways. The optimistic self selectively attends only to positive thoughts while ignoring or denying negative ones. Most of us maintain our steady state by only associating with people who hold similar views to our own. We may exercise or diet to maintain the image that we feel most defines our self and dress in a particular style to suit that self. We will also tend to avoid situations that require we act in ways that run contrary to our self-image.

On a level that few of us are aware of, the self will continuously impress or superimpose upon our true nature, images and feelings that define or limit it. Similarly, the self will superimpose upon the present moment its beliefs about the world. It does this to maintain a sense of continuity because your true nature, like that of the present moment, is constant change. So as each new moment is reborn, the self counters with its own rebirth by saying, “This is what I am and this is the way the world is.”

At its core, this superimposition is a lie that seeks to define your true nature and the present moment as something that remains relatively unchanged. Regarding this, you may have heard that a characteristic of the spiritual seeker is that he or she has a feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. I suspect that this feeling arises from an unconscious recognition of this lie trying to break through to conscious awareness.

The life of the spiritual seeker may be defined as a continuous waking from lies to the truth. Put another way, the spiritual seeker is one who continuously works to unseat the false authority of the ego and what it says about the true nature of the present moment.

The self’s superimpositions can be quite subtle and it’s up to each seeker to realize their own particular hidden assumptions about themselves and the world. One way to do this is to be mindful of what it is you are telling yourself. Are you telling yourself that you’re unworthy? Are you walking about thinking others are out to get you or that the world is dangerous? Whatever you are continuously telling yourself is what you have to wake up from so you can see the world and your true nature as it really is.

One thing that I’d like to mention before closing this post is that it is not necessary to change your steady state self to realize your true nature. It is, of course, natural to want an end to suffering and we all have things that we’d like to change. We can continue to work on ourselves but in mindfulness meditation all you truly need do is realize the difference between your true nature and the present moment, and what is being superimposed upon them. Then continually work on not letting your superimpositions distract you from being who and what you truly are.

Koan #12. “Zuigan Calls His Own Master”

July 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

Zuigan called out to himself every day, “Master.”

Then he answered himself, “Yes, sir.”

And after that he added, “Become sober.”

Again he answered, “yes, sir.”

“And after that,” he continued, “do not be deceived by others.”

“Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” he answered.

             (The Gateless Gate)

 

Attention turns of late to the matter of the self or ego. It has occurred to me that the self may be thought of as a steady state system; meaning that it is a psychological system that actively maintains itself, as is, so that it remains relatively unchanged over time.

Koan 12 illustrates one way the self maintains itself that we might call ‘inner speak’. Inner speak is an inner conversation or debate held with an internalized position or idea that manifests in the mind as an imaginary figure. In the koan the imaginary figure is the ‘Master’ that Zuigan converses with daily.

It is fairly clear that Zuigan knows that he is talking to himself. In your and my inner speak, however, we often feel as if we are talking to a real person. In his comment on the koan Mumon describes this confusion as a ‘puppet show’. This seems a good comparison for his time because anyone watching a puppet show often forgets that the puppets aren’t real people. Someone else is pulling the strings and, though it doesn’t seem like it, in inner speak that person is the self.

Mumon also uses the imagery of masks to describe inner speak. He writes that Zuigan, “uses one mask to call ‘Master’ and another that answers the master. Another mask says ‘Sober up’ and another, ‘Do not be cheated by others.’ ”

Interweaving imagery of puppets and masks may be a little confusing but so is inner speak. In conversation with ourselves we often don masks that reflect our position. If we feel put upon, for example, we wear the mask of victim. If we are cheated, we may put on an angry face. I imagine inner speak as wearing a puppet on one hand, while holding a mask over the face with the other!

Masks and puppets are all a part of the dynamic of maintaining a steady state self but is this all we really are? In his poem at the end of the koan Mumon writes:

Some Zen students do not realize the true man in a mask

Because they recognize ego-soul.

Ego-soul is the seed of birth and death,

And foolish people call it the true man.

The self, or ego-soul, is not who you or I truly am and clinging to it, as Mumon said, “is a mistake.” It is a mistake because in identifying with the ego-soul we forget our true nature and become subject to the ego-soul’s on-going birth and death. Not just in a different physical form, but the moment to moment dying and rebirth of the self as it loses its steady state and tries to regain it through inner speak. Liberation comes from realizing that our true nature is emptiness.

“Fellows of the way,” said Master Huizhao, “a true Buddha has no form, and the true dharma has no marks. From your mind’s illusions, marks and appearances are created. What you get is a wild fox’s spirit, which is the view of those outside the way, and not of a true Buddha.”

Master Huizhao could just as easily have said ‘masks’ as marks. Yet his message is clear. The ego-self is just a system of thinking trying to preserve itself. Our true nature has no form.

“Who is he?”

June 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

Hoen said: “The past and future Buddhas, both are his servants. Who is he?”

Mumon’s comment: If you realize clearly who he is, it is as if you met your own father on a busy street. There is no need to ask anyone whether or not your recognition is true.

Do not fight with another’s bow and arrow.

Do not ride another’s horse.

Do not discuss another’s faults.

Do not interfere with another’s work.

­“The Gateless Gate” (Koan 45)

Most come to the path with the question, “Who am I?” Hoen asks, “Who is he?”

To the Buddhist there is no permanent self. What others call a permanent self is actually an ever-changing collection of feelings, perceptions and thoughts associated with a physical body. Out of this aggregate comes a concept of self that is presumed to be permanent but which is, in fact, constantly in flux.

The self is just an endless line of passing stages given names like child, adult, husband, wife, happy, sad, etc. Underneath these there is no self but that no self is not nothingness. It is the innermost essence of all sentient beings.

In meditation you study self to drop self and in doing so come to know your true essence. When studying self you ask, “Who am I?” But when the self is dropped and your essence revealed, it is seen as the ‘other’. The question then becomes, “Who is the other? Who is he? Who is she?”

It is through their actions that others are known.

In the documentary “Possibilities” the great jazz musician, Herbie Hancock, said, “A master wants you to reveal yourself.” Herbie Hancock wasn’t suggesting that he was a master. He was merely saying that when he encouraged musicians to show their talent, and he showed his, that something of greater value arose than if he just told them what to play. In the true sense of the koan, Herbie Hancock was asking the question, “Who is he?” It wasn’t the ego he wanted to know but the musician and he could only know that by how the person played.

You might imagine that Herbie Hancock wouldn’t be impressed by a musician playing in another’s style. In the words of the koan, that musician would have been riding another’s horse or fighting with another’s bow and arrow. You might also imagine that he wouldn’t point out faults or interfere with another’s playing if it truly came from the heart. Whether a true expression was feast or famine, Hancock’s idea was to turn it into something of value.

That is how to approach koan 45, if not life in general. Take your inner recognition and find a way to express it that is your own. Take each moment and turn it into something of value. And in each encounter with others, seek to do the same. It is the expression that is all-important.

Never a dull moment.

May 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am intrigued by the following description of Mae Chee Kaew’s inner activity before her enlightenment, found in “Mae CheeKaew. Her Journey to Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment.” By Bhikkhu Silaratano.

The author writes that Mae Chee Kaew “began to meticulously scrutinize her mind’s extraordinary radiance, looking for any signs of imperfection. The luminous mind appeared unblemished, untroubled and exceedingly pure at first. But when she looked at it more closely she began to notice that an equally refined dullness occasionally emerged to tarnish that radiant, crystal-clear essence of knowing.”

Although it may not be readily apparent, what the author describes is essentially the same meditation practice that you or I undertake each time we sit.

Mae Chee Kaew’s meticulously scrutiny is analogous to the mental alertness that we aspire to in meditation. Her search for imperfection is our endeavor to wake up from distracting thought. And the dullness that tarnished her ‘crystal-clear essence of knowing’ is just a highly refined or subtle thought. Unlike Mae Chee Kaew, our thoughts are less subtle and our own knowing not crystal-clear. Nonetheless, when we sit in meditation we examine the same Buddha mind she did in the same way.

Whether a thought is coarse or refined, it still dulls awareness of the present moment. Whether the mind is clear or murky, it is still Buddha mind. Your mind is the radiant, luminous mind. All you need do to see this is wake from the thoughts that dull your awareness, the crystal-clear essence of knowing.

To quote Mumon from The Gateless Gate, if one sees this clearly “there is no Shakyamuni Buddha before him and no future Buddha after him.” That is to say, all concepts obscure the ever-present Buddha Mind, even the concept of Buddha. So when you sit, drop all expectation of ‘something else’ because the very mind you have right now is Buddha mind.

Dropping all expectation is returning to the present moment. In the present moment there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. When we sit with simple awareness, flowers die and weeds grow without clinging or aversion. When we stray into thinking, we return once again to the present moment, expecting nothing, seeking nothing.

Realizing that practice is simply stepping back on the path each time you step off, with no expectation of anything happening, may make you feel a bit like King Sisyphus. In Greek myth he was forced, over and over for eternity, to roll an immense boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down upon him. But if we awaken to the fact that this simple returning to the path each time we step off is the actualization of our own Buddha nature, then we are firmly on the path to realizing the luminous Buddha mind.

Upon her enlightenment Mae Chee Kaew’s said,

“Body, mind and essence are all distinct and separate realities. Absolutely everything is known — earth, water, fire and wind; body, feeling, memory, thought and consciousness; sounds, sights, smells, tastes, touches and emotions; anger, greed and delusion — all are known.

“I know them all as they exist — in their own natural states.

“But no matter how much I am exposed to them, I am unable to detect even an instant when they have any power over my heart. They arise, they cease. They are forever changing. But the presence that knows them never changes for an instant. It is forever unborn and undying.”

To quote Mumon, again, “If you understand this intimately, you yourself can enter the great meditation while you are living in the world of delusion.”

An Oak Tree in the Garden

May 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

An oak tree in the garden stands on its own. It doesn’t seek a teacher to tell it where it must go or how to get there. An oak tree in the garden knows there are no enlightened ones and no enlightenment.

An oak tree in the garden doesn’t think this is what it must do or this is what it must achieve. It knows there is nothing to do and nothing to achieve. An oak tree in the garden knows there is no delusion and no realization.

An oak tree in the garden knows the fallen rain rising up through its roots. Yet it does not feel lack or something missing when, reaching its leaves, the rain returns to the sky. Within the oak things arise and fall yet all the while the oak remains unaffected. The oak tree in the garden is forever unborn and undying.

An oak tree in the garden actualizes itself exactly as it is in every moment. In delusion and realization, life and death, buddhas and living beings. It does not need to think about this. It does not need words to describe it. The heart’s message cannot be delivered in words.

When you meet a Zen master on the road

April 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Meditation is the practice of waking from the world of thought to the reality of the present moment. Koan study is one way to practice this waking.

In “The Gateless Gate,” koan 36 has Goso saying, “When you meet a Zen master on the road you cannot talk to him, you cannot face him with silence. What are you going to do?”

Mumon’s commentary on the koan reads: In such a case, if you can answer him intimately, your realization will be beautiful, but if you cannot, you should look about without seeing anything.

Meeting a Zen master on the road,

Face him neither with words nor silence.

Give him an uppercut

And you will be called one who understands Zen.

 

A key part of this koan is Mumon’s, “you should look about without seeing anything.” It is quite impossible to look and not see anything, so we need to go beyond any idea of ordinary perception to understand these words. But we needn’t step into the extraordinary because to look without seeing simply means to see the present moment without distraction.

Distractions are many. We are all thought litterbugs who toss judgments, fear and desire out onto the landscape to spoil the beauty that is actually there. So Mumon asks we focus on the moment and not the litter. He tells us to look without seeing.

Koan 36 addresses a particular type of thought litter surrounding authority but to understand it we must talk a little about the mind.

The mind works by constantly favoring significant details of life, while ignoring the insignificant. Actions considered favorable are encouraged, while others that do not are discouraged. Once the mind has figured out which is which, it sets up mental blocks or barriers to keep self-expression within the boundaries of what is acceptable. Over time these barriers fall into the background of consciousness where they exert their influence invisibly, or as projections in the outer world. Either way, their authoritative force is felt to be something exterior to the self.

To study this feature of the mind koan 36 provides a hypothetical Zen master as the recipient of projected authority and conflicting rules to represent its barriers. As with any koan, this study is not just an intellectual exercise but must involve the whole person. The full power of awareness must be brought to bear on the inner experience of being blocked by one’s projections. The invisible restrictions placed upon the self must be felt and made visible. Only then will the barriers be seen as your own mind operating as if it were some exterior force.

The coercive force of authority in social situations, like that presented in the koan, generally come from the belief that power resides in the other. If this belief is held within awareness and compared to the present moment, it will be seen as false. Then, something clicks, and you realize that it simply makes no sense to coerce yourself into inaction or into doing something you don’t want to do.

This “Aha!” moment is symbolized as an uppercut in the koan’s poem. It is not a call to actually hit someone but a representation of the spontaneous energy of the self being released.

With this initial realization the mind’s barriers begin to crumble. As it deepens and extends to other areas of life, all the authoritarian thoughts littering your mental landscape become apparent. The full realization of this “will be beautiful”, to use the words of the koan. “And you will be called one who understands Zen”.

Contemplation

March 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

Meditation may be described as ‘awareness waking to the present moment from all distraction,’ those distractions being mostly thought or thinking (includes emotion).

Initial instruction on meditation is to focus on some object, such as the breath, to steady the mind and develop concentration. After a state of relative calmness is attained and the novice no longer falls into fanciful reverie, the stage is set for deeper contemplation and insight.

Contemplation is more often linked with western mysticism but is also found in Buddhism. In its highest sense contemplation is a ‘power of knowing’ that comes from total concentration of one’s entire being on a single object, resulting in a fusion of the subject with the object. Western Contemplation is similar to eastern Samadhi that also results in fusion but just as there are various kinds of Samadhi, so are there different levels of contemplation.

As used here, contemplation is still a power of knowing but lacks the fusion of subject and object. In this type of contemplation thought is held in awareness for examination where, through an act of discrimination, insight into its true nature is revealed.

Examination of this type is not so much an intellectual process as an observational one. Imagine, for instance, watching some people off in the distance. You can see they are doing something but don’t know what. So you watch, hoping it’ll all make sense. Although there may be some silent attempt to put the activity into context, by and large thinking is suspended as you wait for the situation to reveal itself. This inquiring observation without thought or prejudgment is what is meant by examination.

Where discrimination comes in lies in the above mentioned ‘silent’ attempt to put the activity into some context. To put something in context requires it be discriminated from all things that it is not. Discrimination is used in meditation, for example, to see the difference between distracting thought and the present moment. In contemplation, this act of discrimination is taken further to reveal the true nature of thought.

Higher contemplation doesn’t develop until the mind has attained a certain level of calm and is able to hold an object in mind without distraction. But as the word is used here, it is possible to contemplate those complex aggregates of thought that arouse intense emotion. In fact, many times one can do nothing but attend to bothersome thoughts and feelings during meditation.

At times when emotions are intense, walking away is sometimes necessary. But when the mind has developed sufficient strength it becomes possible to hold complex aggregates of thought and feeling up for examination. The aim is not to psychoanalyze but to discriminate them from what is actually going on in the present moment. In so doing thought is eventually seen to be of the same stuff as a dream, a dream from which one may wake.

By fully separating what is going on in the head from the outside world, the difference between the two is seen and a certain degree of freedom attained. Then the full power of contemplation may be turned upon the ego or self. Not to compare it to the outer world but to That which is contemplating this self. This is Contemplation in the higher sense that leads to Self-Transcendence and the eventual realization of no self or Identity with Suchness.

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