“The wind is in from Africa,” wrote Joni Mitchell in her album “Blue”.
Tonight, that African wind blows all over the world.It whispers the name, “Nelson Mandela.”It shouts and sings, “Truth and Reconciliation.”
I was only dimly aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meetings in post-apartheid South Africa.Perhaps because of it’s subject matter there was, as I recall, not much of it in the news.The 2004 film, “In My Country” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche, gave me a brief idea of what those meeting might have been like.I know more of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s than I do of South Africa’s.
In the past few years a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been recording and giving voice to First Nations, Inuit and Métis who suffered horrific abuse in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.Those gatherings are still going on but they fail the test of the South African TRC in that the victims of IRS abuse do not get to tell their stories to their abusers.The truth of their experience is being told, but where is the reconciliation?
Perhaps because my father was one of those children taken away from their family and who suffered the abuse of the Indian Residential Schools experience, that my reaction to inequality and ignorance is so strongly negative.But Nelson Mandela’s passing has me questioning how my negativity embodies truth.And how I can better reconcile my father’s experience, and the inter-generational consequences of that experience, with that truth.
It seems to me that truth and reconciliation is not just forgiveness, although that is an important element.Nor is it just speaking our individual truths and then agreeing to disagree.Truth and reconciliation must be more than that.It must be a gathering of viewpoints that are then reconciled with a greater truth that encompasses and transcends the individual experience.
Nelson Mandela did this when he sought to create a new nation out of apartheid South Africa.My question to myself is how I can transcend my own personal viewpoint without lessening myself or surrendering any of my humanity.
Humanity is a word that is rightly being bandied about the world today in connection with Nelson Mandela.In the particular context that relates to this blog, I think it means our shared, common experience.I think it refers to that one thing we all have in common but most have forgotten, that at our core there is a common element.
In Buddhism the common element is our true nature.Our true nature is that I am you and you are me; and that everything in the universe is Me and that you and I are this Me.
Some say the Bible expresses this connection in the story of the resurrection where Jesus’ disciples at first do not recognize Christ.In Mark, (16:12), the Christ manifests in “another form”.In John, (20:15), Mary Magdalene thinks Christ is a gardener.In these brief allusions the implication is that Christ is the “I” found at the core of each and every one of us.
In a previous blog I quoted Franklin Merrell-Wolff who said that the “I” in each of us is the same “I” in every self-conscious creature.To this I add more of his words.
“There is a Greatness within every human soul,” writes Merrell-Wolff. “Something there is in everyone to which I offer the gesture of respect.”Those who manifest this Greatness, “enrich Me by revealing Myself to Myself and myself.”
I took these thoughts into the world today where I sought to see this common Self in others.In doing so I saw how my “small me” reacted with the same old patterns of negativity and how this prevented me from fully engaging with others.
Later, I watched the world celebrate and mourn Nelson Mandela’s life and death and thought, “Isn’t the I in them doing the same thing as the I in me?”
Then, at dinner, a voice on the TV said that the people of South Africa must find a new leader to fill the shoes of Nelson Mandela.To me, that statement missed the mark.
Humanity does not need a leader to take Mandela’s place.Each of us, rather, needs to see the world as Mandela did.We must find that common thread of humanity peering outward in the eyes of everyone we meet.Then, in finding that common truth, reconcile our individual truths with it. That is the meaning of Truth and Reconciliation.
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.
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.
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 as 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.
Buddhism has a history of adapting to the cultures into which it was introduced.Some say it must therefore adapt to the ways of the west or be found irrelevant to the western mind; that Buddhism must adapt to the west’s scientific orientation.To that end, consider the following.
The mathematician’s point (as in an x - y graph) is a location in space that has no property of width, length or height.It is a space of zero dimensions.
The physicist’s electron is a point charge that has mass but no size.
Buddhism’s “I” (the “I” that exists in you and me) is also a point of zero dimensions that is referred to as the anatman or “no self”.
In short, the “point”, the “electron” and the “I” all have zero dimensions or no size.
Note that, in physics, to say something has mass but no size is to say it has infinite density.
Also note that as the mathematician’s point has no dimensions it is indistinguishable from the space in which it exists.As that space is infinite, the point is also infinite.(The result of dividing one by zero is infinity.)
When we follow the electron or the mathematician’s point down to its essence we find, then, that both have the value of infinity.
When we follow the “point-I” down to its essence, as is done in Buddhist and other forms of meditation, we also find that it is infinite.(For example, some descriptions of enlightenment say the point-I immediately expands to encompass the entire universe.)
Considering these together we can say that the fringes of math and science affirm the Buddhist view that the true nature of the “I” as a point of zero dimensions, is infinite. Buddhist thought and experience is therefore consistent with western thought and the western mind.
One year ago today, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai.The bullets hit her head, went through her shoulder, severed facial nerves and left her deaf in one ear.Today Malala lives as an advocate for women’s rights, as an advocate for the right to education for girls and as one nominated for the Nobel Peace prize.
When the Taliban entered Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala tells us she witnessed their flogging of women for no reason other than a strand of hair exposed on their head.She saw women banned from markets and told their only function was to work in the home.She saw how the Taliban’s fear of women lead to their oppression and the oppression of girls wanting an education.
Malala could see no rhyme or reason for the actions of the Taliban and asked, “Why don’t we speak for our rights?”
In an atmosphere of violence and oppression Malala spoke out for education, peace and non-violent resistance to the Taliban.The Taliban’s response was to seek her death: to shoot a fifteen-year old girl in the head.But they failed to silence this young woman.Failed, as must anyone fail when they seek to silence the voice of those who represent the rights of children, girls and women.
Malala was not the only girl shot that day.Her friends, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also wounded and today also live in the United Kingdom where they are students who want to one day be doctors.
Kainat says that before they were shot, “there was hardly any concept of sending girls in Swat to schools, but now parents have started to do that.”A measure of how the actions of one can influence a nation.
As to the Noble Peace prize, Malala says that it is a great honor but what’s really important is the support she gets from people all over the world.What is important is that education be given people everywhere.
Malala is extremely humble in that she does not believe she has done enough to merit the Noble.And, truth be told, there are others who have worked harder and longer.
Ultimately, Malala tells us the Peace prize isn’t important except in how it would enable her to further the cause of women’s rights, peace and education.To this we could add that it would be a symbol of the importance of education to the cause of world peace.
To quote Malala, “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
“The myriad things return to the one: what does the one return to?”
In the vastness of the universe there arises everywhere what are called “virtual” particles, particles that appear out of the nothingness of space and immediately return to it in such a way that they are not considered to be “real”.
The distinction between real particles and virtual particles is not clear.Virtual particles that last long enough would be called real. Conversely, if a real particle had a very short life span it would actually be called virtual.Whether a particle is considered real or not depends on that indefinable something called time.
Time and space arose together in the creation of the universe called the Big Bang.The Big Bang is often described as an expansion from an initially small point to the present size of the universe today.What’s often ignored in this description is the absurdity of postulating a beginning point as “small” when space itself had not yet been created.
As the universe is not expanding “in” anything its expansion must be considered as apparent, or relative only to itself.That means the question of size is relevant only to an observer in the universe comparing present conditions to past ones.From a non-relative, or absolute point of view the size of the universe has not changed at all just, so to speak, it’s content.
Put another way, the universe reflected in a dewdrop would be seen to be as vast to any intelligent microbe living in it as our real universe appears to us.But, unlike the microbe, we have no “outside” for comparison. And without an outside, there is no distinction between big or small.
The forces that govern the interactions of all matter in the universe - gravity,electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force,and the strong nuclear force all owe their appearance to the present temperature, or low energy state, of the universe.
At higher states, electromagnetism and the weak force have been found to be just two different aspects of the same force, the electroweak force.At temperatures even higher, like those just after the Big Bang, it is expected that all four forces will be found to arise from one common, as yet unnamed, force.
Beyond this one ultimate force science can go no further, for science only deals with relationships and once all four forces have been unified all relationships cease to be.This upper limit on science, and the question of the whether the universe is getting larger or just undergoing state changes in place, or whether particles are real or not, are questions for philosophy, not science.Questions that ultimately only the mystic can answer, hence she asks,
“The myriad things return to the one: what does the one return to?”
Science has no answer to this question but if it did, it would necessarily have to postulate some “indefinable” from which energy, matter and the “four forces made one” arise.
Being indefinable one wonders why the scientist is reluctant to allow for the possibility that this ultimate reality is Consciousness.And why, as a result, they would deny their own consciousness as part of that greater Reality.
Because science only deals with relationships, the scientist can only understand consciousness in relation to objects.The scientific mind therefore explains consciousness in terms of its content.To science there is only one type of consciousness: consciousness with an object and with a subject.
In meditation we turn our awareness away from the object back to the subject.Meditation enables us to know consciousness without an object.Consciousness without an object but with a subject is Nirvana.As Subject, you are Nirvana.
Nirvana is not an object.It is not a place you enter.It is you as undefined, pure subjectivity.
Beyond Nirvana there is consciousness without an object and without a subject.This is Pure Consciousness.
Pure Consciousness is indefinable because definitions demand the use of objects.It is therefore not knowable in any conventional sense of the word because “to know” involves an act of a subject knowing an object.
Definitions of consciousness do, of course, exist. But if you look closely you’ll see that the definition either makes use of a subtle object or defines consciousness in terms of itself. A common example of the latter is to define consciousness as the power of awareness.But what is awareness if it is not consciousness?
Defining consciousness is not unlike defining time.A physicist will tell you time is impossible to define without referring to it in your definition. For instance, time is a measurement of “how long” (a reference to time) it takes for an object to move (movement involves a subtle notion of time) from one place in space to another (and space, as Einstein taught us, is inseparable from time). But just as we all know what time is even if we can’t define it, we all have some knowledge of what consciousness is, even if we can’t properly define it, either.
Consciousness without an object and without a subject is Emptiness.
Where there are no objects or form, and where there is no subject or self (i.e., the Buddhist notion of anatman) there can only be emptiness.But though it appears as empty, Consciousness is!
In many ways, trying to define Pure Consciousness is like trying to define Pure Love. You can’t, because Pure Love also transcends both the subject and the object.One can only grasp at it, as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning when she wrote that love is the depth and breadth and height one’s soul can reach,
“…when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.”
(Number 43, Sonnets from the Portuguese)
Meditation to know one’s true nature is this same “feeling out of sight” for Being which knows no end because it has no beginning.And it is ultimately only through ideal Grace that we come to recognize our true nature as Pure Consciousness and Pure Love.
All about, monks are engaged in rigorous training.
For some time a servant in the temple has been neglecting his main job of preparing meals.He’s been doing zazen.
Some days ago he entered a deep Samadhi.Other monks kept an eye on him until finally, after three days; he got up from his zazen cushion.
“He had penetrated the heart and marrow of the Dharma,” writes Hakuin in a 1734 letter.“And had attained an ability to clearly see the karma of his previous lives.”
He went to the head priest but before he could set forth his entire realization the priest said, “Stop!Stop!The rest is something I have yet to experience.If you explain it to me, I’m afraid it might obstruct my own entrance into enlightenment.”
Hsiang-yen was quite learned in the Buddhist sutras but for years he made little headway in his meditations.He made up his mind to leave the temple and take up residence in a solitary hermitage.When he left, his teacher Kuei-shan didn’t even look at him.
One day a tile picked up by the broom hit a bamboo stalk and Hsiang-yen was immediately enlightened.After this he said, “It is not my late teacher’s religious virtue I revere.I revere the fact that he never once explained everything to me.”
It is with these events in mind that I pray the blunderings written here in “August Meditations” not lead you off the path.