November 23, 2013 § 3 Comments
Sometime in the last millennium (I still like saying that:) I sat on a hard chair listening to a philosophy instructor talk about a rabbit that could not be felt, heard, seen, smelt or tasted. Not only did this rabbit not register via the senses; it had no secondary effect upon the world that could be measured through instrumentation. In every way, shape and form the rabbit was undetectable. The philosopher asked us to consider the question, “As this rabbit cannot be perceived by the senses nor inferred by any indirect means, could we say it exists?”
The question stayed in my thoughts, even though I don’t remember it evoking any real interest in my fellow students or myself at the time. I now see that it stayed with me because the same question can be asked of true nature or Buddha nature, as it is non-perceptual and non-conceptual consciousness.
Percepts and concepts are the two categories of knowing familiar to human beings. We know either through our senses or through our ability to think. But like the philosopher’s rabbit, true nature cannot be sensed or conceived. To realize it we must awaken another way of knowing that has lain dormant in us perhaps for all of our lives.
Meditation is designed to awaken this third way of knowing.
As thinking and sensing cannot lead us to our true nature, Teachers instruct us in stilling and quieting the mind. Dogen tells us to “just sit”. Koans are given that have no answer. Concepts are rejected while insights and visions are said to be of the same stuff as dreams and hallucinations. We are told to drop our most cherished ideas about who and what we are; and that there is nothing to obtain or grasp. This clears the path for the third way of knowing to awaken.
Paradoxically, not grasping and doing nothing requires concentration and discipline.
The human mind mind is always active. It is always reacting to the world, naming it, calculating pluses and minuses, trying to find out how the world can be used to one’s advantage. It never stops thinking. It is always grasping.
A request to do nothing runs counter to our basic programing, so mental discipline is necessary to meditate properly. We count the breath, recite mantras or concentrate on koans. Every distraction is gently let go as we return to our object of meditation. Like fettering a horse to keep it in one spot, we tie our mind to an object of meditation to keep it from wandering.
Even in shikantaza, the ultimate form of meditation, we tie our mind to just sitting and doing nothing. So much discipline is required in shikantaza that it is said if you are doing it properly, you’ll be sweating.
Discipline of this sort does not just involve concentration. It also requires letting go.
As each thought arises you let it go. You let go of the urge to look for your true nature. You let go of the idea that there is some place you can stand and rest. You let go of the thought that you’ll succeed and become a Buddha. Your grasping mind will want to find some place that is enlightenment, but the truth is you will never find it. You will never arrive.
After years of practice the discovery that you will never arrive and nothing to attain may sound disheartening. But this discovery, too, must be let go.Standing nowhere, no fixed ground Nothing to experience, nowhere to go Not knowing, no identity No one sitting, no one breathing Buddha mind, all along. To act, defeats your purpose. To grasp, is to lose.
November 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
In Canada, of the veterans who are clients of Veteran Affairs Canada, each year, approximately 40% will suffer from an operational stress injury. Of these, half the cases will take the form of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. By 2016, at least 6,500 veterans will suffer a mental health problem diagnosed by a health professional. These figures do not include those who are not diagnosed, do not seek professional help or die by their own hand without a diagnosis. For many veterans, the war does not end when they go home.
November 1, 2013 § 4 Comments
As I sit by the fire Dogen’s words flicker to light my thoughts, “We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has it’s own before and after (while) ash stays in the position of ash, with it’s own before and after.”
With this Dogen invites us to the here and now where, “Past and future are cut off.”
Philosophers, scientists and science fiction writers have produced volumes on the subject of time. H. G. Wells took the 19th Century reader into the far future in his work, “The Time Machine”. Einstein taught us time flows at different rates in different parts of the universe. Quantum physics tells us some particle reactions may flow backward in time. While the cosmologist tells us that there is no particular reason the future should not flow into the past, instead of the way it does now, past into future.
But what is the past? What is the future?
Recently, I came across the work of German mathematician Hermann Minkowski. In 1907 he took the idea of three-dimensional space and added to it a fourth. Three of the dimensions were assigned real number coordinates (think “x”, “y” and “z” for length, width and height). The fourth, however, he treated as an imaginary number that “rotates” between the other three real dimensions. Perhaps because this rotation could be either clockwise or counterclockwise, he realized this imaginary space could be reinterpreted as time.
It is important to note that treating one of a four-dimensional space as imaginary actually explains all of Einstein’s special relativity and all of quantum physics. So treating time as an imaginary space does have meaning in mathematics and physics.
Pondering this, it occurred to me that if the rotation of an imaginary dimension around a three-dimensional space is the past and future, then the three-dimensional space is, itself, the present moment. The world around you, in other words, is a spatial extension of that part of time we call “now”.
This is consistent with Einstein’s theory of relativity that no barrier between time and space exists. Space can be described as time. Time can be described as space. Looked at this way, there is no here and now, the here is the now.
We cannot describe “now” as containing a little bit of the past or a smidgen of the future. It is, as Dogen wrote, cut off from the past and future.
In our awareness of the immediate moment we are also cut off from the past and the future except, that is, through the memories and hopes for the future that arises in our imagination.
We cannot separate the awareness from the immediate moment that, in turn, is inseparable from the space about us. So it follows that space does not stand alone, isolated from awareness. As such, consciousness and space are not divisible! Such a conclusion is, as I understand it, an expression of the Buddha Way.
In the Buddha Way, even when we don’t realize it, awareness, objects, action, and space are working together as one reality. Subject, object and activity all arise together. The runner, to use Nagarjuna’s example, is inseparable from the running. The sitter, as Dogen says, and the sitting are one.