Silent Illumination

September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

To understand Dōgen’s silent illumination consider mind as mirror.  The reflections are thoughts and judgments that, if engaged, result in a thinker pondering thoughts and experiencing feelings.  This is normal everyday life where subject and objects are separate, existing in a state of dualism.  It is the individual standing in front of a mirror looking at what’s reflected.  If, however, in “just sitting” thought is let go and there is no interaction of the thinker with the thought, both dissolve into one and reality manifests itself.  This is a condition where the individual is not separated from the mirror but sees him or herself as part of the reflections in the mirror, arising with every other form therein.

In Dōgen’s teachings manifesting reality is not a condition void of forms.  It is one where forms, which include us, arise and fall together and, as such; Dōgen’s teachings affirm the basic Buddhist tenet of the impermanence and interdependence of all objects.

This is not the normal arising and falling experienced in duality but an arising of forms experiencing one another, a reality manifesting itself to itself that Dōgen calls the myriad forms illuminating themselves.  Illuminating in the sense of consciousness shining it’s light upon itself.

Although called silent illumination it is not silent in a passive sense but is, rather, a dynamic, creative interaction of forms arising and falling with each other.  And this arising includes delusion as well as enlightenment.  Delusion and enlightenment are interdependent and arise together as two aspects of a greater unity.

In Dōgen’s teaching it is not that one must remove delusion to obtain enlightenment.  (In fact that is quite impossible as the two arise together.)  Delusion, all our frailties and shortcomings, attachments and aversions, are not to be suppressed or denied but accepted into awareness and studied.  By study we awaken to our delusions and come to know how they interact within us and in the world.  Through study and silent illumination we become greatly enlightened about delusion and, as Dōgen said, to be greatly enlightened about delusion is to be a Buddha.

There are many appealing aspects to Dōgen’s teaching.  It presents enlightenment in part as a full awareness of the delusion that causes of our troubles, inner turmoil and delusion.  This frees us from the belief enlightenment is a condition that awaits us after some psychological process of cleansing our mind of attachments and aversions.  At the same time it shows the way out of mental turmoil by directing one to turn one’s full attention on these attachments and aversions.  To study and penetrate to their depth so we can fully participate in our lives and with each other being fully here and in the present moment.


Form is form, emptiness is emptiness.

September 24, 2012 § 4 Comments

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the world was made of five skandhas, of the twelve links of causation and the Four Noble Truths.  Centuries later the Heart Sutra declared there were no skandhas; no ignorance, old age or death; no suffering, cause of suffering or cessation of suffering.  At first glance it would appear the Heart Sutra negated the Buddha’s teaching.  A deeper understanding, however, reveals it’s true aim is to prevent the Buddha’s words from stagnating into dogmatic teaching.

By declaring form is emptiness and emptiness is form the Heart Sutra strips away our cherished notions of what Buddhism is and allows us to move beyond a merely conceptual or intellectual approach.  Centuries after the Heart Sutra when Dōgen Zenji said form is form and emptiness is emptiness his aim was in part the same, to revitalize our approach to Zen Buddhism.

Where the Heart Sutra steered us to emptiness Dōgen directed us to form and a positive expression of reality.  Where it told us our true nature was emptiness, Dōgen reminded us that, as emptiness is form, any realization of our true nature includes form.

A main obstacle to realizing one’s own true nature is to consider it as something apart.  The Heart Sutra sought to resolve this essential problem by removing the concept of separation, declaring it empty.  Dōgen saw that emptiness, too, could become a concept and so declared that seeing true reality was not separate from practice.  Practice.  Just sitting, in Dōgen’s teaching, becomes identical to seeing one’s true nature thus removing all conceptualization and separateness from practice.

Both “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” and “form is form, emptiness is emptiness” may be considered as different approaches to healing that appeal to different personality types. To some, psychological suffering may best be resolved by realizing the essential emptiness of the thoughts and feelings that plague one.  To others, realizing the beauty of form, in spite of its impermanence and lack of independent existence, leads to self-healing.

Practice, as Dōgen teaches it, is shikantaza or “just sitting” zazen.  In it we just sit with the whole body and mind, doing nothing.  There is no contemplation, no mantra, breaths aren’t counted or candles burnt.  No particular object is used for concentration, nothing is done with the thoughts that are left alone to rise and fall in consciousness.   One just sits upright with eyes open, breathing deeply and quietly.

From one perspective, allowing all things to arise and fall may be considered a rejection of form.  But from another, it is a complete acceptance of all that is, as it is.  By not clinging to form past or clinging to the form to come, we accept the form of the moment.  In just sitting every rose is a rose and everything is as it is.

To Dōgen, forms that arise and fall include the self.  The self as form is our desires, attachments, aversions and ego.  In just sitting this self is seen as empty and impermanent so can be forgotten, or let go.  When forgotten the true self that is always here, the Self that is one with all forms, is manifest.  All forms arise and fall in that Self and are not separate from Self.  Dōgen, wanting to emphasize this identity of form with emptiness therefore said, form is form and emptiness is emptiness.  Then told us to let that, too, drop off.

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Buddhism, emptiness is the inconceivable nature of reality and the impermanence and interdependence of all objects. All objects exist in dependence upon causes and conditions which themselves exist upon other causes and conditions. There is no “thing” that has any permanent or independent existence.

Because all objects are interconnected with everything else, they have no independent existence.  Lacking independent existence they are said to be empty.  Hence, we are told that form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Form not only includes our experience of the world but our personal reactions as well.  Our thoughts, feelings and ‘sense of self’ are forms that the Buddhist asserts are empty.  But it is difficult to accept that our most immediate experience has no substance.  Paradoxically, though, recognizing the emptiness of our personal experience is conducive to good mental health and living a fuller life.

Recognizing our basic beliefs and assumptions are built upon on an ever-changing world enables us to “let go” when they no longer work for us.  Recognizing our emotions, the body’s felt reaction to the world, are dependent on the ever-changing conditions allows them to rise and fall without clinging.  What is not so obvious a recognition is that our sense of self, the ego and the personality, is also an ever-changing condition that is dependent upon other conditions and causes.

Recognizing the truth of “form is emptiness and emptiness is form” allows us to drop outmoded concepts of whom and what we are so we no longer live in the past.  It allows us to let go of the past and, where present circumstances are painful, to let go of our hopes for the future, as these only bind us to the pain of the moment. Letting go of past and future, accepting what is here and now, this brings relief from the psychological suffering that clinging creates.


September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Buddhism, emptiness does not refer to nothingness.  Nor does it refer to a lack, as in, “My (e.g., life, bank account, gas tank) is empty.”  To the Buddhist emptiness refers to the inconceivable nature of reality and the impermanence and interdependence of all objects.

To a non-Buddhist uncritical thinker objects are things that exist independently of whether we perceive them or not. He’d say your car in the garage is, for example, there whether you watch it or not.  To the philosopher, however, any statement of the car’s independent existence is an assumption as there is no way to prove the existence of things, where “things” are defined as that which exists independent and outside of consciousness in every way.  All the philosopher can say with assurance is that there is an experience of a car and that experience follows specific rules or laws that preclude the car from disappearing when not directly observed (unless some other factor, such as a car thief, comes into play).

The Buddhist does not deny the experience of the car but would assert any statement that it’s existence has an element of permanency or independence from other objects in the universe, including the self, reflects a basic ignorance of the true nature of reality.  To the Buddhist all objects exist in dependence upon causes and conditions which themselves exist upon other causes and conditions.  The universe is in continuing flux, constantly changing according to laws that are themselves dependent upon other conditions.   There is no “thing” that has any permanent or independent existence and our feeling that they do is a superimposition placed over our experience of the world that is a delusion.

In his book, “Pathways Through to Space” Franklin Merrell-Wolff states the delusion that objects have permanent existence results from a confusion of the properties of the Self with those of the Object.  It is the Self as an unchanging power of awareness that remains constant but we have falsely attributed this quality to objects.  Correcting this “false predication,” as Merrell-Wolff calls it, resolves many of the difficulties we encounter in life.  This correction comes about through meditation that correctly discriminates between properties that are true of the Self and those that are proper to the Object.

True discrimination has a dehypnotizing effect upon consciousness.  Various meditative techniques for the different types of personalities exist but all have as an aim the arousal of true discrimination and its resultant dehypnotizing effect.  When carried far enough, discriminating between Self and not-Self leads to true Awakening.


September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

September.  For some, it’s the time to get back to school.  For me, time to get back to work.  The month of august meditations has ended.

I thank those who choose to follow August Meditations and those who like and re-blog my photos.  I will continue to put my thoughts down as I can, when I can, but not daily as I have been this past month.  Work and family obligations will prevent that.

Although I have not (yet) gone through the Door, August Meditations has helped me and I hope has been of some aid to you and any future reader who has time for my, admittedly, rather lengthy entries.

So. Until my next entry, here’s one more pic for you and a bit of the Tao Te Ching.

“It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful…

Usefulness from what is not there.”

Happy Labour Day.  Happy September.

“A snowflake falling on a red-hot stove”

September 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that, psychologically speaking; approaching problems that prevent us from knowing our Self often involves an increase in mental confusion.  Personally speaking, the closer I get to understanding an underlying problem, the harder it is to put in words.  It often seems I’m confronted with two overlapping interpretations, neither of which I can separate or see clearly.

This “dual interpretation” scenario reminds me of what I read somewhere about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the amygdalae.  Basically speaking, in a non-PTSD brain specific signals are sent through one amygdala or the other, but in the PTSD brain signals go through both amygdala.  A dream I had of being in theatre where two different movies were being played through two different projectors gives a better representation of the idea.  Just imagine trying to make sense of two movies at the same time that are shown on the same movie screen, all the while thinking you’re watching one reel!

There is a parallel “dual interpretation” situation that occurs in physics when approaching absolute zero, the coldest anything in our universe can get.  At temperatures inconceivably close to absolute zero, Einstein predicted we’d find a state of matter where particles would lose their individual identities.  In the Bose-Einstein condensate, as this state of matter would come to be called, particles no longer exist separately with their own individual identities, but are all each other and are all one.

Compare the conditions in the Bose-Einstein condensate to the writing of Franklin Merrell-Wolff in, “Pathways Though to Space”.  In that documentation of his mystical unfolding he wrote that the “I” in him that spoke was the same “I” in every self-conscious creature.  In another section he elaborates, writing that the “I that speaks” sometimes becomes “We”, yet remains “I”.  That there is a consciousness that harmoniously blends with other consciousness, merging his voice with theirs in a melodious Voice of Others.

Throughout the ages the Mystic has reported on the harmony of unified consciousness that awaits us all.  But for those of us that have not yet passed through that Door the approach to unity, the absolute zero of our fundamental identity is filled with confusion.  A confusion of which, as Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, we must “blunt the sharpness, untangle the knot, soften the glare.”

To untangle the knot I believe it helps if we understand that the fundamental problems that block our path to self-recognition are natural sources of confusion and dualistic thinking.  From the ego’s perspective true nature is seen as a Void, an empty frightening area of the psyche that is paradoxically also one’s true self.  On a psychological and emotional level it is a “hot iron ball” in the pit of your stomach; a bundle of energy that your fear if untangled would leave you in a limitless space where your safe, comfortable boundaries no longer exist.

The closer we are to solving our fundamental problems, the closer we are to our true nature.  That’s because our true nature is wrapped in those problems, so unraveling them is identical to uncovering the Self.  But as with the approach to absolute zero in physics, the closer we get to Self the more our language and understanding of the way of things are has to change both to accommodate the new reality and to properly understand the core problems related to uncovering our true identity.

One core problem lies in a fear that arises when the false self comes face to face with the true Self.  One way to understand this fear is to consider that any time an illusion is exposed to the light of reality it is found to be a lie.  Similarly, when the false meets the true Self the lie that we’ve been living is exposed.  This can leave us with a feeling that some raw nerve has been exposed to the elements, with a tremendous feeling of vulnerability, of being found unworthy, being exposed and that there is danger in revealing self.

Understanding this fear on an intellectual level may be easy, but understanding it in our heart is another matter.   That’s because the false self is part of a defense mechanism that protects us from hurt.  Hurt that includes the aforementioned fears related to vulnerability, judgment, etc., but in the context of this blog the more significant matter lies in the dissolution of boundaries when nearing Truth.

When infinitely close to Self our everyday language and way of understanding are no longer adequate to the task of dissolving our problems.  We become confused at this point not knowing how to describe the chaotic thoughts and feelings we’re encountering.  The boundary between the false and true is dissolving leaving us feeling confused and perhaps with a sense of panic.

When the boundary between the false and true self begins to dissolve confusion arises over what is true and what is real.   We ask, “Is it true I’ll be judged?” “Am I facing life or extinction?” “Is the danger in revealing myself or in being revealed?”  “What do I do?”  “What action is best, what not?”

If we try to answer these questions with usual, everyday language we only become more and more confused.  So it is at this point everyday language is abandoned in favor of symbols, parables, koans or other expressions that point at reality but do not contain reality.

“What action do I take,” is replaced with “non-action”, “non-thought” and “non-mind”.  Whether to reveal or not reveal oneself simply becomes “revelation”.  Questions of life and death dissolve, as death has no place to enter.  Questions around judgment are answered in the deeper understanding of Christ’s,  “Judge not lest ye be judged.” And the question of who you truly are makes perfect sense in “the sound of one hand clapping.”

Problems dissolve when they are transcended.  Like the people who debated over how to raise a bridge so a truck could be freed, we become mired in difficulty when we stay too focused on one part of a problem.  Likewise, problems mount when language becomes our master because language, by its nature, can only see one side of a problem at a time.  But when through an act of transcendence language becomes our servant, we see both polarities at once.  The truck is freed by the simple act of letting air out of its tires, and we are not left to figure out how to move an entire bridge.

I have gone on at length today because I am struggling to clear my mind of the confusion that plagues it when digging deep: to understand the paradox that when we approach Love, we encounter fear.  But in my writing perhaps I’m only palming off shoddy goods, like some little poor shopkeeper.

Hakuin said it better when he wrote,

Cherish the Great Charm of your own nature,
That turns a hot iron ball into finest sweetest manna;.
Heaven, Hell, and the Floating World of Men —
A snowflake falling on a red-hot stove.

Where Am I?

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