The Middle Way

February 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

Thinking about Buddhism doesn’t lead to enlightenment, but it may exhaust all your ideas about what it’s like.

I once read that Zen Master Dogen often used concepts to negate concepts. That’s what I’ve been attempting to do with the last few posts.

Adding to things cannot be better than nothing” looked at how conceptualizing sensory experience adds things to it that isn’t really there. The title of the post, “You can see right through to the bottom” referred to seeing your actual experience before your concepts add these extras. “The Extended Now” introduced Einstein’s idea that what we traditionally call the here and now is actually an experience of different times. “Many Mansions, Many Worlds” suggested that each of us creates our own version of the world that is, in essence, an alternate universe. And “Nagarjuna’s Runner” aimed at showing these worlds to be dynamic, ever-changing activity.

These posts sought to negate, or at least undermine, the concept that there is a solid world ‘out there’ that exists whether we are around or not. How can we believe in such a world when we learn that it is just a collection of events that happened in the past and may happen in the future? When our ‘present’ experience is composed of things that no longer exist or are yet to exist? And doesn’t the Buddha’s statement upon his awakening, “I and all beings everywhere have simultaneously realized liberation,” make a little more sense when we realize that his ‘beings everywhere’ exist in a universe that arose with his own awakening?

Each of us creates our own version of reality that we continue to act upon throughout our lives and which acts upon us as we live. It is an interactive system in which there is no separation between self as the bare point of awareness and the other as the fundamental stuff of the universe. But make no mistake; it is only through the interaction of these two poles of consciousness that the world is given form. Without it, Consciousness may only be described as formlessness and emptiness.

The interaction of consciousness with itself is ceaseless activity that operates under the principle of dependent origination that states all things (i.e., dharmas or objects) arise together in dependence upon all other things and the subject as the bare point of awareness. You are identical with this activity. It forms the content of your life and is your life. Yet because this activity is generated by the interaction of a formless consciousness with itself, it is also emptiness. Realizing that form is emptiness and emptiness is form through meditation and then actualizing it in your daily life is enlightenment.

Balancing life so that it includes existence and non-existence, form and emptiness, is what Buddhists call The Middle Way. Yet this balance, when achieved, cannot be maintained over time. It is not possible to indefinitely maintain a steady state in a constantly changing universe. At best, you aspire to attain this balance in the ceaseless activity of daily life, knowing it is not a thing to which you may cling but a way of life.

Perhaps the story of the Krakatoa and the Fourth Point lighthouse bears repeating here. Before Krakatoa erupted in August of 1883 it thundered for many months, spewing ash and lava. One night the keeper of the Fourth Point lighthouse on an adjacent island was watching this show when a sudden massive explosion was felt coming from deep beneath the volcano. Under the moonlight the keeper watched as in all directions the sea suddenly became as still as a mirror. Then, just like that, the sea’s motion resumed.

Obtaining the middle way is about as rare as seeing the sea completely becalmed under a moonlit sky. And it lasts about as long, too. Nevertheless our practice is to actualize the middle way in our daily life. We practice being in the present moment unclouded by thought, expressing compassion and loving-kindness to all. But as life is constantly presenting us with new challenges there is no set rule for living the middle way. It is not a concept but a way of life in which you just embrace each moment, let it go, then embrace it again.

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Many Mansions, Many Worlds.

February 15, 2018 § 2 Comments

In his essay, “The Tenzo Kyokun and Shikantaza,” Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama wrote, “…the world I experience is one I alone can experience, and not anyone else can experience it along with me. To express this as precisely as possible, as I am born, I simultaneously give birth to the world I experience; I live out my life along with that world, and at my death the world I experience also dies.”

Kosho Uchiyama’s words may be considered in relation to quantum mechanics. It says subatomic particles exist in an infinite number of states until they are observed, upon which they collapse into one state. For example, light (i.e., photons) coming from distant suns exist everywhere in the universe as probability waves until it is observed, at which time it becomes localized and become known as stars.

Before Kosho Uchiyama was born, what was to become his experience existed in this infinite number, or formless, states. His birth simultaneously gave birth to the world he experienced and when he died that world also died. Everyone’s experience is like this, coming about as a result of an interaction of the observer and the formless universe of infinite states. This is not merely a psychological experience but an actual giving of form to a universe that would otherwise remain merely as a probability.

It is important to understand that the observer being referred to is not the ego. It is the “I” as the simple bare point of awareness around which the ego is constructed. Where this “I” is before birth and where it goes at death is not the subject of this post. And in a way that is not a real question anyways. What matters most is that the “I” in each of us only collapses particular parts of the infinite number of states the universe can take. Even when standing side-by-side looking at stars, each of us collapses different photons coming from those stars. Only you can know the parts you collapse, just as only I can know the parts I collapse. This means that each of us is experiencing a different or alternate version of the same reality or universe.

The role of the observer, as this is called, is a touchy subject in quantum mechanics. Many do not like to admit that the observer plays any role in the formation of the universe. To get around this, they proposed that it only appears that a collapse into one state has occurred as a result of an observation. In this view every state collapses but does so in alternate universes where we cannot see it. In other words, creation does not simply consist of one universe but a multiple number of universes or multiverse.

Technically the existence of multiple universes is a hypothetical outcome of the theoretical model that arises out of quantum mechanics. As far as hypothetical outcomes of theoretical models go, this one is pretty dicey because there is no way to prove it. But it occurs to me that we do not need to negate the role of consciousness to have multiple universes. We already know that each of us is experiencing an alternate version of reality. Each version fits the description of an alternate universe in that each is a different collapse of the infinite number of probable collapses. So may we not say that each of us are living in our own parallel, yet alternate, universes created by the interaction of bare points of awareness with probability waves?

Each of us lives in an alternate universe or version of reality that comes into existence as we are born and ends as we die. Master Hung-chih (1091–1157) expressed this as,

There is neither mind nor world to rely on

Yet do the two interact, mutually.

 

Kosho Uchiyama expressed it by saying, “the world forms the contents of my self.” He went on to say, “When we do zazen, we personally experience this clearly; we become nothing other than ourselves.” Zen Master Dogen expressed it as the self being ‘verified by all things’. And when he said, “All things coming and carrying out practice-enlightenment through the self is realization.”

We see in these statements that zazen is an awakening to the reality of dependent origination, the Buddhist principle that states all dharmas (i.e., objects, including the self) arise in interdependence with all other dharmas. In zazen we experience this as body and mind dropping away, leaving the bare point of awareness and the world indistinguishable. Awakening to this reality, to the inseparable nature of the other and I, is Realization.

 

Just sitting

Attending to the present moment

The universe unfolds naturally.

 

Just sitting

Breathing in and out

Buddha nature is actualized.

Where Am I?

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