Past Stray Thoughts

When there is grasping, there is entanglement. When there is entanglement, unbound spaciousness collapses into the dreamscape of fearful imaginings, ellusive cravings, worrisome projections, nostalgic longings, phantom-like habit energy, lusty desires. And in this state, interacting with others that are also pinched off from unbound spaciousness, others that are also collapsed down into mind-made identities striving for definition, laboring to bolster the facade of self image and autonomy that is forever out of reach, when we interact with others that are also victims of a self-seduction that emits an air of arrogance and pridefulness, we are bound to clash in those areas that create destructive interference with our sense of self and gel with those that reinforce our ego, our image of "who" we "think" we are. It is all mind-made and utterly illusory. When this is seen, the facade comes crashing down, not only yours but everyone else's. People are talking to you as if from a dream. There is an appearance of lucidity but it is harnessed by maya, by energy trapped and channeled by illusion of misperception and by the resultant egoic identification. None of this is real and yet it is occuring like any other action taken due to misunderstanding. It's like seeing herd animals, spooked by the moving shadow of windblown trees in moonlight, stampede off a cliff to their destruction. How can there not be an upwelling of compassion when you are surrounded by people speaking and acting from a dreamstate. They work hard for 50 weeks a year so they can take vacations in hopes of having a few moments they become somewhat lucid and actually see what has always been right in front of them. It's a pathetic existence and deserving of the compassion that naturally arises in those that have seen through it. When we find ourselves in difficult situations with others, we need to look at where the difficulty really is arising. Do we feel aversion? Fear? Do we feel longing, a need to possess? Are we sure it is not that we are entangled in our own projections of identity and self image and the difficulty we feel is coming out of that? Letting go, there is an opening of clarity, a lifting of vexing thoughts, a relaxing into just what is. Relaxing into what is, there is no sense of identity arising. No sense of self, no arrogance, no pridefulness, no fear or timidity. There is only pure, direct experience of what is happening as it actually happens. There is a depth of silence and clarity that goes beyond and ability to describe. Yet it is completely simple, spontaneous, natural. It is just the way things are. When we see this, even the dreamlike utterances of those caught in illusion around us make perfect sense. They are just as they are. Everything is completely fluid and just so. How can it be any other way? Hearing even a braggart boast or a disturbed, recalcitrant remark, it all is just as it must be given causes and conditions, which never fail. All things are just as they are. No further explanation is needed. And with this, contentment, even in this burning house of impermanence, reaches perfection. If we are struggling, we simply have not let go. Make a practice of letting go, constantly and continually forever letting go until there is nothing left to let go of. What is left when you grasp nothing this very moment?
The title above is a quote from Alan Watts. One might feel this seems intended to cajole inexperienced seekers to question their assumptions about identity but not be of much use or helpful to the vast majority that are convinced of their personhood.
But, I don't consider this cajoling, nor consider it aimed at only inexperienced seekers. Alan Watts means it just as it is stated to whomever it applies -- almost everyone. It's a great act of loving-kindness for those that have ears to hear it.

I went through a long period, years, after initially seeing what life is like without being under the sway of identification, when the self would, as if, try to reassert itself. I say "as if" because in truth there is no such entity. It is a phantom but not even as real as a phantom. It is phantom-like. Once we see this, it cannot be unseen. Ilona Ciunaite uses the perfect analogy of Santa. We may have once firmly believed in Santa. All evidence proved he exists. Our most trusted authorities, our parents, told us he exists. And just as they predicted, toys appear under the tree. He even ate the cookies left for him. But, once we see that Santa did not eat the cookies, it can never be unseen. And all other fantastic entities vanish in an instant, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, even the monster under the bed that your older brother may have convinced you was there. All vanish in an instant.
When the illusory person we mistook ourselves to be reappears, its like seeing Santa at Macy's. Yes, ego arises, the sense of self arises out of habit energy, but it no longer has anymore feeling of reality than the tooth fairy.
One of the initial downsides of this is that not only do you see the phantom-like self sense arise in you occasionally, you see it in everybody.
I went through a long period, years, of seeing the phantom-like self sense hold sway over almost everyone around me. It's like being dropped into a world where everyone believes in Santa and you are the only person that knows that Santa doesn't exist, only it is not nearly so innocuous or benign as the belief in Santa. It is more like being dropped into a country like China during the height of the Cultural Revolution when Mao Tse Dong was revered as a god. Everyone is swept up in the mass hypnosis of unreality. Its like being the only sane person in the state hospital for the insane, only even the staff are insane. Or, its like life today in the US under the leadership of Donald Trump. Mass delusion. Although separateness with the environment has disappeared and you feel one with the natural world, you find other human beings caught up in a dream very hard to relate to, though you clearly understand why they are the way they are.
As time went on, things evened out for me. The feeling of oneness, the identification with the natural world subsided. There is a complete lack of separation but no sense of identity. And I can still see ego arising in others but I also see through utter unreality of it to the life that is there shining through all beings, even those under the sway of Pol Pot-like egos. It's a deeper seeing that took me a long time to see more than intermittently. It is very liberating once it is clarified to the point that not only what you see directly in yourself, that the separate self never had a trace of reality, but also in others, it is like looking at others and seeing only Buddha Nature, only the face of Christ. It is freeing beyond words. This took years to stabilize after the initial seeing of no self. It doesn't have to take that long if you have a good friend or guide that knows the terrain that has been through all that and can help guide you. Unfortunately, I had no such guide and had to work through it on my own for the most part.
So, what Alan is saying is a great act of kindness of the highest order and is meant for all to hear. It may be jarring for some, abrasive to others. Yet for others that are close to seeing this for themselves, it is just what was needed to tip the self sense over the precipice and let it vanish forever. Thankfully, we have people even now among us that can directly point out what we all were missing but so desperately need to see.
When did you first start searching for answers? When did you first realize that you weren't seeing the whole picture but started having a clue that it was possible to more fully experience truth, perhaps even live truth? Or was it that you lost the truth you once knew?
I still remember when I was a baby in my crib, must have been about a year old. I remember the turned wooden bars, the sunlight coming in through the window filling the room with light. I tucked my legs under me and gently rocked in its warmth. No thoughts. Just awareness of light, rhythm, motion, peace. Such deep contentment. I have to say, for me it began in that crib.
Or was it in daily morning mass in the old Catholic church at St. Joe's in first and second grade, the stereophonic drone of rows of black oscillating fans on either side of the nave, lulling me into a blissful state I also experienced in the crib, the cusp of wakefulness and sleep.
Or feeling my wrist in class in the 4th grade and realizing in a flash that there was a skeleton in me, that everyone in class had skeletons in them, that eventually our fleshy covering would be gone and all there would be are bones, the inevitability of death. Where was I once there was just a heap of dust and bones? For a time, the world seemed surreal and there was a vacuousness, a loss of sense of self, suspended in wonder. What are we all doing here? Why are we here? Left hanging with unanswerable questions until sufficiently distracted to forget such things.
Or was it in the euphoria of cocaine as a high school teen? Could it be found there? Or perhaps the Yaqui Way of Knowledge held a clue. Could I find it in weed, in alcohol, in peyote, in mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, morphine, Demerol, Thorazine, barbiturates. In heroin? In PCP?
Or was it laying on the beach at Cape Hatteras all night after a week on the flight line at Pope AFB, North Carolina, hearing the rhythmic waves under moonlit sky lulling the mind to juncture between alertness and sleep? Rising with the sun feeling strangely awake and alive, connected with sand, water, moon, stars, air, sun. My body, the elements.
Or was it the first time I learned to meditate that summer Saturday in 1976 after bringing a handkerchief, flowers and fruit for a puja to Guru Dev. I sat, my hands felt miles below my head, awareness taking in cars passing on the street, birds, light, mantra? Such peace, the peace that I had longed for since leaving the beaches of North Carolina, that I had longed for since the droning fans, since the rhythmic rocking in the crib. Awareness just expanding out to just be fully present in the environs of the TM Center.
Or was it when I was working on staff at Maharishi International U one summer after learning the Sidhis? Sitting in the expanse of white sheet covered sheets of foam, entering a contentment I never knew possible, an equanimity so profound it seems hard to believe I could have ever emerged from such a fulfilling state.
Or was it in 1985, on my first "Chan Qi", seven day Zen retreat with Master Shengyen in Queens, New York, when he convinced me to put down practicing the Sidhis and just follow my breath? I knew I was in the presence of someone that Knew. He had the answer to the question I had always been seeking. He was the first person that I ever felt could see me for who I really was. There was no hiding from him and no reason to hide. There was just shared silence.
Or was it when I was practicing Direct Contemplation in 2007 and suddenly the entire world pivoted and was as aware of me as I was of it until there was no separation, no inner, no outer, just a holistic continuum of silence, of lively, pure awareness in which all things flutter like leaves in a breeze?
Or was it when the abbot took off his glasses in the dark room, leaned forward and motioned for me to look into his left eye, his black pupil thinly encircled with dark brown iris, and the world went completely black? Complete emptiness. Emerging from that, I saw the universe, galaxies, stars, planets. And then his dilated eye. He reached over, put on his glasses, nodded with palms together. I bowed and left everything behind.
Or was it when, during a Vipassana retreat during walking meditation, focusing on when the impulse to lift the foot led to feet rising and falling without anyone there to control them?
Or was it when the trees at Consumnes River Preserve revealed to me what it was like in their world, how they perceive time and space, how hundreds of seasons came and went in a silence reaching deep into the earth and to the heavens?
 Or perhaps it never began and will never end. There is nothing more than this and it's enough. Yet, we are drawn to look deeper, to be with ever greater clarity, to awaken more from the dream. It can only begin and end now and now is forever.

A frequent topic in discussion groups about awakening is whether or not there is a self and if not, what does this mean or how is this known?

Who can deny self awareness?  Even an amoeba seems to know it needs to survive by ingesting algae, bacteria, or other protozoans. It feeds itself at the expense of others. The sense of self seems to be implicit in living systems. In the animal kingdom, life is sustained by differentiating self and other. This seems to be a built in attribute of sentient beings necessary for survival and perpetuation of life.

How does this sense of self arise?  We all have bodies, physically bound in space and time. At the most basic level, we all feel hunger, thirst, the need to sleep, live within a comfortable temperature range, have shelter from the elements.  When we are hungry and out neighbor eats but we don't, we are still hungry though they appear satisfied. At the most fundamental level, we identify with the needs of the body.

Sentient awareness is fundamental. The brain governs bodily functioning as it registers sensations as communication of state. This communication and awareness of changing state is fundamental to living systems. The gestalt of all sensation and perception is conscious mind. Mind makes use of the brain's capability of abstraction, of symbols, language, memory to imagine, to reflect, plan, invent and communicate through thought. 

Bodily needs are translated into feelings of attraction or aversion based on prior experience. The mind gives rise to a sense of self largely due to bodily sensation. We communicate our bodily needs to others and they to us, which reifies the sense that they have separate individual needs that may be in competition to our needs. So, there arises a survival instinct or self-preservation due to identification with bodily needs. Our mind becomes busy with strategizing for survival. We historically bonded together in tribes to collaborate on basic survival. Our sense of self may extend to the tribe, community or nation. 

But, the mind is not always preoccupied with basic survival. It is also capable of creative expression in the form of art, music, literature, design, etc. So, the mind may begin to identify not just with the body, but with itself, it's creative ability, it's intellectual functioning, it's sensitivities and emotions, which are responses events, past memories, what is presently happening or imagined futures. These emotions are due to remembered past responses or empathy, the ability of the mind to imagine what others may feel due to their circumstances. 

The sense of self is further reified by the apparent discreetness of thought. One person doesn't know what another person is thinking. This can be exploited through deceit, tricking others into giving up something valued under false pretenses.

In short, everything we perceive as self is made up of a sense of separateness produced by the localization of bodily sensation and perception. We are apparently discrete, separate entities, physically, mentally and emotionally. We have the sense that we are separate from the rest of the world and feel an obligation to take care of our needs, even at the expense of other living beings.

So, how can anyone propose that this sense of a separate self is an illusion? Yet, when the mind quiets down to the point that individual thoughts can be perceived arising from brain functioning, whether it be through sensory stimulation that triggers memories and associations or through the tendency to worry out of survival motivations, the thoughts are seen for what they are, just thoughts. These thoughts give rise to emotion, craving, aversion, speech, and action. Without seeing this process, consciousness becomes entangled with the mind's thinking process and misses the core, foundational essence, which is awareness itself. 

When the mind is quiet, open, bright, pure, clear awareness becomes predominant. This awareness is not localized or owned by the generated self-sense. It is omnipresent. When pure awareness is predominant, the sense of separation dissolves. There are still bodily needs and intellectual interests but, they no longer overshadow this fundamental awareness which transcends identity. Thoughts come and go but without an owner. They are just natural mental functioning. There is still response to bodily need. If it is cold, we put on more clothes. If there is hunger, food is enjoyed. But, the separation of self and other fades in proportion to the depth of clarity of awareness.

As we move from entanglement with the thought process to being an observer of the thought process, our tendency to think in terms of self vs. other diminishes because from the view of awareness, there is no self or other. There is just awareness and the play of cause and effect.  All things are the natural response to what came before setting the conditions for what we experience in the present. The present is just awareness itself, the natural fruition of all prior events.  When we become aware that awareness is what is perceiving, "we" disappear. There is only awareness being aware.  When this happens we see that it has never been any other way.  The separate sense of self was also completely natural outcome of the entanglement with mental functioning, the identification with body and thought.

This transformation may be sudden or gradual. Generally, it is gradual until it is sudden. Once it is seen, there is no going back. It's like the old analogy of the rope in the dimly lit room appearing as a snake. When the room is lit, the rope is seen. Even if the room dims again, it is known that it is a rope, not a snake.  So, clarity can come and go but on the whole, clarity increases until life is lived from pure awareness disentangled from the illusion of self.

In 2006, I was asked by the abbot of the retreat center I was attending to host meditation groups in the town I was living at the time. From 2006 to 2009, I hosted meditation groups in Fort Wayne, Indiana and then from 2010 - 2012 in Sacramento.  My ex-wife and I separated and then divorced in 2010.  Between 2006 and 2012, I had attended many silent Chan and Vipassana retreats of ten days or longer, which brought about transformative shifts in perception and became deeply self-content. This was interpreted as a lack of passion or interest in the relationship, and eventually led to our parting ways.

From 2010 to 2012, I was quite content living alone and enjoyed hosting weekly meditation groups. But by 2012, I started missing have a partner for various practical reasons, but also because I was still having a strong sex drive. I found this very distracting and felt I couldn’t lead meditation groups and give Dharma talks while feeling the need to be in a relationship again, so I chose to stop teaching for awhile. But, after dating for a few years and after a few relationships, I found there was no way to be in a relationship with anyone that was not living an awakened life. It simply wasn’t working.  I dated women that claimed to be awakened and some that had been meditators for decades. But, it always came down to there still being a predominant ego very much intact that still felt all the needs for romantic notions of love.

When a person wakes up and that stabilizes, there is no being “in love” with any one person exclusively and there is no center to receive love in an exclusive way. If a partner is attached to the perceived person and especially if they are very possessive or needy about it, and yet there is no sense of identity manifesting in the person they are attached to, it begins to feel like participating in a play. You go through the motions but you know it isn't real, no matter how much the other person thinks it is. It's not that you don't love them, but it's that you don't worship them. A person that is not deeply awakened will always feel your love for them must be unique and exclusive.  It's bound to end in disappointment unless both can realize that love is different after awakening. For the partner that has never experienced awakening and the deep contentment and natural non-attachment that comes with it, there is no way for them to understand how you can love but not be attached at the same time. Love, for many people, implies attachment.  If there isn't a feeling that you cannot live without another, then they feel the love has gone out of the relationship.

To make matters worse for the partner that has not yet awakened, sexual desire falls by the wayside as awakening deepens, which isn’t interpreted well by a partner that doesn’t live from the same level of contentment and moment-to-moment satisfaction. 

I’m pretty convinced it simply doesn’t work for someone that is awakened to pursue a relationship with someone that is not, and to do so only demonstrates a deeper awakening has yet to take place. I’ve resigned myself to that realization and no longer seek relationships. I’m basically a lay monk at this point.

I could see a partnership between two awakened people working especially if their awakenings unfolded after they were already married. But, I don’t see it a likely possibility that two truly and deeply awakened people would feel the need to commit to a relationship if they were single. My experience has been the deeper the awakening, the more universal the love for all beings. To devote to one person in particular, no matter how sweet the smile, or even an awakened one, over all others just doesn’t seem likely. There is a joy that arises when meeting another awakened being, but the main movement of the heart seems to be for those not yet awakened and still suffering. 

Loving kindness and compassion can express sexually, but more often than not, if there is still strong sexual attraction, the awakening is not very deep or has not stabilized. When awareness itself becomes aware of whatever is arising, sexual attraction is just another thought, another feeling, and can be acknowledged and let go like any other. In time, sexual energy dies down and no longer drives behavior. With time, it simply no longer arises. It is only then that all people can truly be appreciated equally without any underlying tendency to plot for a more intimate, exclusive relationship. This in itself is very liberating, to be free of looking at women as objects of desire and to see them just as they are without any color of sexual attraction. Desire for sexual union is coming from a false sense of separation. When pure awareness predominates, there simply is no center and no sense of separateness. One’s heart is already in union with all sentient beings and all creation.

I'm not an advocate for people that are not ready to be celibate to force celibacy on themselves or others. This can lead to all kinds of problems. When awakening is deep enough and stabilized enough, it will happen quite naturally.

Finally, there is never a good reason for a spiritual teacher to seduce a student. Also, students should be mindful to not tempt teachers.  Not every teacher is awakened, or, if awakening has occurred, it may not be sufficiently deep or stabilized. Best for students to not tempt teachers. Steer clear from teachers that claim "crazy wisdom" or the need for Tantric sexual practices to lead to an experience of union or no self!  They are deceiving others as well as themselves.