Friday, April 07, 2006

Being the moment

Quiet isn't it?

This is a description of a 'an experience' I had during Zazen in the Autumn.


I had become aware that no matter how focussed I was, there was still a residue of self there - a sense that the phenomena in my awareness were being observed. Right at the end of a half-day zazen session, Rose - the lady who directs our sittings - said a few words about 'being one with the moment'. I 'tried to become one with the moment', wondering what it meant exactly and suddenly it seemed as if there was not the slightest bit of space between 'myself' and 'phenomena'. This lasted for several minutes and then I had a powerful sense that 'me' and 'that moment' were one and the same thing. There was 'only one'. It wasn't an idea, it was a direct experience (without an 'experiencer').

It seems that avoiding clinging to the experience and trying to reproduce it is wise advice but then again it doesn't seem difficult to take myself through the same steps - instead of 'just sitting', actively try to 'become one with' phenomena in the same way only to realise once again in a very direct way that that 'I cannot avoid being one with phenomena'.

Ahh...the temptation to the dark side is strong...

...Back to the washing up.

33 Comments:

At April 07, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

Don't go into the light, Carol Anne!

 
At April 07, 2006, Blogger aumeye said...

tumbleweeds are gathering in the distance . . .

 
At April 08, 2006, Blogger DB said...

Along those same lines... (and this is extremely difficult to put into words and will probably come out wrong but anyway)

Once and only once while sitting I sort of "became" calm. That is, I felt or became calm, but the instant that I realized "I am calm" the experience vanished. That is, for what might have been an instant or an hour, there was no "I" to BE calm, there was simply calm. I haven't bothered to mention that to anyone because I don't think it really means anything to anyone except me, but it seems to correspond to the same thing you're talking about in this post. It's just one of those tantalizing hints that this silly practice of sitting still might have profound consequences.

 
At April 09, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

justin, db:
This is when you are in danger of a paradox. If you go 'seeking' these exeperiences again you will not find them. The reason for this is simple. The part of you that 'seeks' - the ego - is the part that is not there when these experiences happen.

The clearest description I have ever seen of this is in the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the chapter "The Introduction to Awareness: Natural Liberation through Naked Perception" [Online somewhere].

Once you have learnt 'how' to do Zazen - becoming sufficiently relaxed and comfortable with your body and 'external' stimuli it is then possible to learn how to do Zazen whilst at the same time doing other things - such as washing the dishes. This would then be in line with some Tibetan and Chinese traditions (the Chinese at most call it 'paying attention', the Tibetans call it 'Mindful Awareness').

For now let's consider 'enlightenment' to be continuous naked perception (as described in TBoD). Zazen is just getting your toe wet whilst sitting on the beach.

'Mindful Awareness' is swimming in the shallow end of the pool with waterwings. You can put your feet on the bottom at any time and you will never be overwhelmed.

I would suggest that in 'enlightenment' is then nothing more than 'Mindful Awareness' without the 'Mindful', in Dogen's terms 'Awake-Aware'.

To follow on with the analogy you are now swimming in the ocean in the same way that a fish does. There is no going back to the shore because you no longer have the option of living on land.

So, Zazen and Mindful Awareness is both a training program and a warning. If you try to live in the deep ocean before you are ready you will drown. If you never leave the shore you will never swim in the oceans.

You can of course become a very proficient swimmer who is at home in the deepest ocean but is still not a fish.

If you still need to return to the shore or become tired when swimming then you are not there yet. A tired fish never leaves the ocean.

 
At April 09, 2006, Blogger DB said...

mikedoe said "You can of course become a very proficient swimmer who is at home in the deepest ocean but is still not a fish."

What a cool analogy!

The somewhat frustrating thing about zazen/sitting/practice (call it what you will) is that 1) I seem to find it more difficult the longer I do it , longer meaning the span of months/years not the time of each session. And 2) it's more difficult than concentrating ON some activity.


DB

 
At April 09, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I had always assumed that everyone found zazen to be difficult. It is inherrent.

If you were phobic about spiders then sitting in zazen next to an invisible/imaginary 6ft tarantula would probably be stressful.

Everyone is phobic about reality. That is why the Ego exists. It is not therefore surprising that zazen is 'difficult'. In fact, that is not the right word. A better word could be 'uncomfortable' or 'unpleasant'. It is like this, and increasing over time because the thing that 'you' fear is now closer to your senses.

'Who' is making it difficult for you?

"There are many hairs and few horns".

Why do you think that is?

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

I was walking and driving in Stratford-upon-Avon with Emily and my son yesterday. I haven't been practicing very regularly. A dim comprehension of things that Dogen said about time in the Shobogenzo seemed to resonate. Every moment was clear and fresh, was completely just itself, somehow neither strictly dependent nor strictly independent of other times. The sense of a self travelling through time was not there. I can feel it now if I remind myself.

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger me said...

mikedoe, what you describe sounds very ken wilberish to me - stages of obtainment - carrots at the end of a stick to entice you to acheive ever greater and deeper levels of awareness.

This stands in stark contrast to the writings of Warner and Hagen who dismiss 'levels of obtainment'. There is nothing to obtain (and nobody to obtain it anyway).

I have no idea which, if either, can be said to be more accurate, but I prefer Warner & Hagen's (while at the same time feeling that change does (and must) happen...)

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger me said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger Joel said...

me said, "...what (mikedoe) describes sounds very kenwilberish to me..."

I don't think it's 'unzen' to speak about awareness, enlightenment, etc. in terms of gradiations. Didn't some old zen master say " even when you taste the One (or oneness) that is not enlightenment." Being perceived to say things we don't believe is just one of the pitfalls we agree to when we undertake discussions like this.

As far as carrots go, everyone has some sense of wanting to get from here to there. Otherwise, no one would start any kind of practice; the carrot is the only thing that gets you on that cushion. It seems like the point would be to, once one is literally on the cushion practicing to just focus less and less on the carrot and more and more on 'just this'.

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I didn't think I was speaking in anything other than the terms of my own experience. I also was not speaking in terms of gradiations or carrot and stick or anything else. I have read Hagan and agree with him. There are no levels of attainment.

There is nothing to attain, nothing to gain. What you seek is already there. When you find it the seeking ends. Atainment is basically when you stop ignoring what is there.

There is no carrot or stick. 'Just this' is both the carrot and the stick. When there is 'Just this' there is no me and no this. The Ego that seeks is looking for liberation but the only liberation of the Ego is its extinction. When the Ego realises this it may resist a little. Nothing is attained.

So, Zazen and Mindful awareness allow you to peek and see what is before your very eyes. It does so in a way that gives graduated exposure to the stimuli which is being denied. It is a peeking because during these times the Ego is sleeping/quiescent. It is there but not as active.

As for pure Awareness (which is after all what is attained), then Dogen and others (esp. Tibetans and Chinese) are quite clear that there is a 'before' but no 'after' and that there is a growing into maturity).

At the risk of breaking the analogy if I said that we were all fish walking around on land refusing to believe that we have gills and instead believeing thatwe have lungs then that would be better.

There is clarity in the various writings that after you become Aware-Awake (Dogen) there is first of all a time of adjustment and then a deepening and a growth. Remembering how to swim and breathe like a fish. To describe it as a graduated thing or as various levels (like some manuscripts) do would be perhaps innacurate.

Remember, its inef*able...

Everyone including me likes words to describe what cannot be put into words. Whenever I or anyone else would say "It is this or that" then it is not.

OBTW, to talk about things being Zen and Not Zen is ironic. For all is Zen and all is not Zen.

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

One thing that I am aware of is that comparing authors and saying one is 'right' and another is 'wrong' is often at best a waste of time. Most of the authors I have read seem to be describing the same thing but with different levels of clarity of writing and description. Some others seem to be describing a clinical psychosis - a detatchment from reality.

There is a fundamental issue with the whole use of the intellect. It is the wrong place to start. It is like trying to cut a knife using a chicken.

The key point about reality (for want of a better name) is that it is beyond the grasp of the intellect. All of the authors who write about their experiences seem to take the rest of their lifetimes in order to try and use words in a way that is not too misleading.

If anything a strong indicator of non-attainment is the sincere egoistic belief of attainment together with an intellectual grasp of it.

[Last week at the Sangha I illustrated some of what I was talking about then using a cup, a tub of chives, a filofax and a fondant fancy - they were the nearest things at hand, not for any intrinsic properties that of course they don't have. Tonight I am going to bed, not to Sangha]

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

OBTW, I was not 'teaching' or anything there. Just chatting abot dharma in the kitchen with some of the other visitors and residents after the class. I don't want you to think that I have a clue or the definitive answers or anything. Feel free to disregard everything that I write - it'll save time.

Mike.

 
At April 10, 2006, Blogger karen said...

I think that ego is key is these issues. And after a time, ego becomes so subtle that we may not even realize that ego is at the core of why we are doind what we are doing. Sometimes I think that you can't get rid of the ego, but only be aware of how it motivates our actions. There are very few egoless things that I have done. But if I had to say the ego was absent in any of my actions, it would be in caring for my children and for animals. For animals more so than the children, because the children will be influenced by me and I am aware that how I raise them may reflect on me. There is ego. The animals on the other hand I just love and I want to care for them just because. These actions arise from me unaided by thought, they are natural responses to something that is needed. In other words I don't think about it. I just do it. So it is with a lot of the practice, too much thinking and yet I don't know if it comes without thinking.

 
At April 11, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

Reality is beyond the grasp of the intellect but then reality is beyond the grasp of everything - not because it is 'transcendent' or anything but because the very act of grasping *is* the reality it seeks to grasp. My thoughts - just like my socks - are reality already. No grasping is required.

It is whether you believe you are graping reality or not that matters.

 
At April 11, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

I had become aware that no matter how focussed I was, there was still a residue of self there - a sense that the phenomena in my awareness were being observed.

This is what I call the frame. The point is to treat this as just another thought, because that's all it is. And like any other thought it comes and goes. What's a problem is when you treat it as special, either especially good or bad. Just be aware of it, like anything else in your meditation,

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I found a talk by Susan Blakemore on Paying Attention

She writes clearly and from experience.

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I do of course mean "Susan Blackmore". Irony noted.

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

link

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger me said...

I read that article by her a week or so ago and loved it. She talks about it being 'lay zen' which seems to be zen divorced from any 'spirituality or mysticism' but I'm not familiar with the term. I suppose it could simply be zen for those who are not monks...

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Thank's for the link. I am in the final stages of a cold. Simple tiredness. Simple mistakes.
----

I have read some of her work and am currently easing myself through "The Meme Machine". She is a reasonably well-known scientist who follows Zen but if you like without any of the 'extra' beliefs.

I think I understand where she is coming from. It is simply that when you are paying attention, all of the extraneous beliefs about past/future lives and all sorts of other things are simply not there.

From what I have read of her stuff she meditates and lets the consequences of that work themselves out naturally/intuitively without relying on an external belief system. She has also successfully applied the "Who?" koan to herself. It is documented in her paper about Psychology and Awakening.

I have to date taken a scientific and reductionist approach to Zen - do the meditation and see what happens. Everything that is additional to that I have classed as supreflous.

Sure, I like reading Zen books of various ilks but they are really for amusment. In the books that arise from the Chinese tradition the key point is always "Pay Attention". There is nothing else.

I have been attending a Sangha recently but the reason I attended in the first place was to test my understanding (reached by use of my own experience and not from books). I have been very surprised at the amount that I have understood intuitively.

So, I am I think edging towards the conclusion that if my understanding based on my own experience is accurate then there is in fact no need for me to have any external source of input for teaching or whatever since the most appropriate way to learn must is in fact be through direct experience and exploration.

This leads me back to Zen having some truth in it which is intrinsic to being human and not intrinsic to Zen or Buddhism or Taoism as a belief-system.

If being human and seeing clearly
are the only entry criteria then all the additional stuff is just window dressing. There is no need for me to do any of it unless I so wish.

Now, in the future it may well be that I continue to attend the Sangha but that would be as much because I like the people as I like the herbal teas. I feel no desire to encourage people to have one set of beliefs over another. The Sangha that I attend preaches the technicolour version of Buddhism which is maybe far away from the "Zen without Zen" that is maybe what I do.

This is of course just what I feel is approriate for me with my own background. Whatever you feel is appropriate for you is your call.

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

Interesting thoughts, mikedoe.

The thing that attracted me to zen was just what you are saying... Zen agreed with everything that I had intuited from nature (and life) as a kid. I spent a lot of time in the forest, and by water.

I don't go for the "religious" stuff, although I do understand the value of ritual.

However, I do find that reading and discussing things is quite helpful. Often, others can point out common "mental traps" or delusions... and thus save one from falling into them.

I am sure that if I had not read about Zen, I wouldn't have understood it intuitively. I certainly would have understood some of it, since I think we all do.
But Zen is a way of living, that needs to be communicated from person to person, somehow.

That's how I see it, anyway.

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

eardrum: I do understand the merit of discussion and exploration, but it is a secondary thing. The seduction is when it becomes the primary.

I have a lot of books on Zen, but none of them taught me Zen. Zen taught me Zen. I can understand the books after the experience.

It is clear from the many chats I have had to date at the Sangha that one person can help another to reach an intuitive understanding by allowing another to tap into their own experience. However, that is a different thing from teaching doctrine. I have also seen that undestanding of doctrine can be mistaken for understanding of deeper truths.

I started by reading "Zen in the Art of Archery". After 3 years of archery and many years of cycling long distances I had the occaisional intuitive first-hand grasp of Bow and Archer being one and of cycle and rider being one. This helped me to head in the right direction. I could only understand most of what I read after reaching my own understanding through direct experience.

I think it is a matter of emphasis. The west tends to emphasise intellectual knowledge first (and this is also my strong background), China tends to emphasise intuitive understanding first.

From my own experience of Zen I can only conclude that despite my earnest perhaps compulsive thirst for an intellectual grasp of things it is the wrong way. Instead, the intuitive understanding comes fist and is the stronger and the deeper and the intellectual understanding comes second and much later with a lower level of understanding.

As someone who earns his living by thinking you can imagine how tough that has been for me to do - it goes against everything that I 'believe'. I do it because it has always seemed the best way despite what I might feel about it.

OBTW I always love your picture - kindof Zen Gandalf!!

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger karen said...

mikedoe, Thank you for the link and your words. I think what you wrote about is what I feel exactly when I look back on the years of practice, discussion, reading, retreats etc that are a part of this journey. I never learned anything from a book. Only through direct experience and it was usually at the most unexpected times. I love to read and it used to bother me that I read so much. But, I know now that the reason it bothered me was that I thought I would learn something substantial or find the magic answer in the reading. I can read now with no anxiety, knowing that this too is a form. Form is emptiness, emptiness form. In fact I feel very comfortable with certain things now, such as ritual, because I can do this just for the enjoyment of it or for what it means to me, not because it is dictated by someone that I must do this. I have moved away from forms or styles in my meditation and am most likely to just sit and listen.

 
At April 12, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

Karen, thank you.
After reading some of the ancient Chan authors (Royan) "Instant Zen", Thomas Cleary and of course my own experience I am led to some conclusions.

1. Everyone has to find their own way to become present in the moment and to do meditation. "Find your method" or "Practice your method".

2. Everyone has to find their own way to do their inner exploration as to the nature of themselves and of 'reality'.

3. This exploration and awareness must become a continual thing. You cannot really be a Zen dilitante

4. The intellect can get in the way of these explorations.

5.Adopting any type of belief system (internal or external) will get in the way of experiencing reality.

6. This work is hard to do. There is no such thing as easy zen.

7. The intellect struggles to keep up when intuition leads.

As for whether or not Zen is a good thing to do or a desirable thing to do I really cannot give an answer on that.

I think the only thing I can say about the whole Zen journey is that it leads you towards the point where you become free. Free to be anything that you want and to follow any path in life that you want. The 'cost' of this freedom is that there is no 'You' who is free. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Without dualism there is no way to ask the question...

 
At April 13, 2006, Blogger karen said...

Hi mikedoe,
I think you are right on the money. I don't think you can do anything because someone else prescribes it or it is THE way it should be done etc. Any following of systems, when they don't ring true to your own experience only puts off moment of freedom. I think also, like you, that this path does lead to liberation. It is very hard work. You come to learn that after years of practice when you are continually brought back to yourself and your own issues and ways of viewing the world. It is a very personal experience. Hard though it may be, it so worth it. It is like having a ten ton weight lifted from your shoulders. Life doesn't get easier, but it is easier to live.

 
At April 13, 2006, Blogger me said...

I think the only thing I can say about the whole Zen journey is that it leads you towards the point where you become free. Free to be anything that you want and to follow any path in life that you want.

I've struggled with what zen freedom really means. I wouldn't say zen allows one to be 'free to be anything you want' but instead zen allows one to stop controlling and managing their being - so that they become who they are rather than who they want to be.

Wants imply grasping, chasing concepts of oneself. There are so many self-help programs that promise things like 'be the "you" that you want to be!" but this isn't zen. Zen is about forgetting who you "want" to be and simply being. Forgetting about running your life and letting your life run itself.

Or so it seems to me. I wonder if one of the reasons zen monks live such austere lives of such regularity is to simplify things so they don't have to do too much decision-making and thinking all the time. Their life can simply happen by itself because there isn't a constant chaos of choices to deal with, everything is restricted to a regular pattern of behavior...

The 'cost' of this freedom is that there is no 'You' who is free.

This I agree with - but it seems to me to contradict the earlier statement that zen allows one to be "anything one wants." There is really only one thing that you can be - yourself. All deviations from yourself are not zen, they are the chasing of ideas of yourself.

 
At April 13, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

I've struggled with what zen freedom really means. I wouldn't say zen allows one to be 'free to be anything you want' but instead zen allows one to stop controlling and managing their being
But once you stop controlling who you are you discover that who you are is not inherrently anything. It varies from moment to moment forever.

Wants imply grasping, chasing concepts of oneself. There are so many self-help programs that promise things like 'be the "you" that you want to be!" but this isn't zen. Zen is about forgetting who you "want" to be and simply being. Forgetting about running your life and letting your life run itself.
This is part of the choice Zen gives you. If you follow the Zen path then your 'true self' is revealed. You also discover that this self may be a little different from who you think you are. So, you have a choice, you can choice to let this 'true self' exist unhindered and let your life run itself OR you can choose to construct another false self to replace the current false self. The choice is their. In any case you cannot be certain that your 'true self' is no more than another construct.

... Their life can simply happen by itself because there isn't a constant chaos of choices to deal with, everything is restricted to a regular pattern of behavior...There must be some logic behind this. It would make life less complex. It would allow monks to be as mad as they wish without having lives that are unlivable. Outside of a monastary their are constraints or consequences for lots of behaviours.

The 'cost' of this freedom is that there is no 'You' who is free.

This I agree with - but it seems to me to contradict the earlier statement that zen allows one to be "anything one wants." There is really only one thing that you can be - yourself. All deviations from yourself are not zen, they are the chasing of ideas of yourself.
But if their is no self, their can be no deviations from self. So, anything that I choose to be could be no more a manifestation of a fuller self. The idea of no-self is no different from the idea of self. It is a working belief based. Whether or not it is ultimately true does not really matter.I am not sure that you can think of an experiment that proves that 'x' is my true self. If I act without thinking, in the moment then that may well be my true self or it may well be that it is not. How could I know? The only thing that we might say with certainty is that if actions arise 'instantly' then it may be a manifestation of a true self if such a thing exists. The longer the delay between event and action then the less certain we can be.

In practice I think a lot of this stuff is in the realm of philosophy - not provable in any direction and therefore of no practical use.

 
At April 13, 2006, Blogger karen said...

In practice I think a lot of this stuff is in the realm of philosophy - not provable in any direction and therefore of no practical use.

I agree.

 
At April 14, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

In practice I think a lot of this stuff is in the realm of philosophy - not provable in any direction and therefore of no practical use.

Yes, true, and perhaps such philosophy is best seen as a sort of description of the mind at that time rather than as any sort of ultimate truth.

 
At April 14, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

"Yes, true, and perhaps such philosophy is best seen as a sort of description of the mind at that time rather than as any sort of ultimate truth. "

Yes.

 
At August 13, 2006, Blogger cylon said...

Your subconscious mind is a powerful force. It can be an un-defeatable ally or a dangerous foe! It is a powerful force of nature that can be harnessed and made to work for us or it can be a wild beast that runs riot with our lives.
How powerful is 'powerful'?

Take the first Atomic Bomb - it could lay waste to an entire city in seconds. Or the gravitational pull of the Sun which stops our tiny planet from hurtling into space. Imagine the power of a black hole - that region of spacetime from which nothing can escape not even light travelling at 186 thousand miles a second. The Universe is full of powerful forces. Yet, all these wondrous things pale into insignificance when compared to the power of the subconscious mind.

The subconscious part of your mind is that part which regulates your heartbeat, lungs, digestive system and everything else in your body. It directs the inner workings of your body and such things as (what biologists call) 'machines' - tiny living cells that are composed of motors, drive-shafts and propellers - seriously!!! There is mounting evidence that the cells in our bodies have memory and that our very DNA is coded with memories of our ancestors. As well as having full control of all these functions and more your subconscious also retains all the thoughts, experiences and emotions you have ever felt. It regulates the most complicated mechanism in the unknown Universe - your body - and it can calculate the trajectory of multiple moving objects while supplying you with the words necessary to debate an issue while controlling a complex task of activities such as driving a car!
These tasks alone show how powerful the subconscious mind is. But it is much more powerful than that!

The truth is: No-one knows the limits of the subconscious mind's power!

Tell yourself that you will wake up at 6 a.m. and chances are you will awake. Go to a crowed party and through a mass of voices you will hear someone at the other side of the room mention your name! Set a problem aside and miraculously, out of nowhere, the answer comes while you are involved in another task. It recreates situations in your life that correspond to your beliefs. Time and time again you find yourself in the same situations, with similar partners, in almost identical jobs. Like a wheel your subconscious mind creates situations that bring your life back to the same spot.
Likewise it can totally transform your life - even overnight! It can bring you new situations, life experiences, luxuries and even people.

However, it is like a na�ve child or a better analogy is that of a computer. It believes everything that you tell it. Your conscious mind is the gatekeeper. Anything you think with complete faith is immediately past to the subconscious mind - which it then takes as literal fact. There will be no arguments because it has no discriminating capabilities.
Although your subconscious mind is more powerful than you can possibly imagine it is a mere servant. It is at your disposal. YOU are in charge. It acts just like a computer and like every computer it needs software to run. So if you do not program it then someone else will! You are constantly being bombarded with software programs for the mind every minute of everyday. Buy this product and you will look slim, drive this car and you will seem sexy, drink this potion and you will feel more vibrant about life. You are told what to buy and when to buy it, when you are too young to do a thing and when you are too old. You are told what is possible and what is not. Snap out of it!
Take back your control over mind and body. You were born with the most powerful computer system known to man - a bio-computer that regulates a sophisticated, highly flexible, changeable, self repairing vehicle. You are amazing, a true miracle. If you bought a new top of the range diesel Mercedes would you let Joe or Sue down the road fill it up with petrol?
Begin to think for yourself. Who told you that you could not achieve your dreams? Do you believe it? Who told you that you were too fat, too skinny, too stupid, too smart, too young or too old?

Does it matter?

No! Because you are and always have been in total control. Change your thinking and you will change your subconscious beliefs. Change your subconscious beliefs and you will change your life. personal development

 

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