There need be no thought that the human brain is defective in the mass of humanity. The human brain is actually quite a marvelous instrument that for the most part does what we direct it to do. If we ask it to solve a problem of life, higher mathematics or science, it works tirelessly to accomplish the matter as long as we continue to ask it to do so. Even when our attention is directed elsewhere the brain continues its efforts, sometimes producing a solution to a problem long since forgotten.
It is because we forget that the brain does what we direct it to do that we run into trouble. Take, for instance, the successive traumatic effect war has had on people over the last two hundred years. If we assume, as some do, that trauma can be handed down from generation to generation, then even those who have not been to war may suffer post-traumatic stress handed down by parents who lived through the last century’s major wars. This means the mass of humanity may be working with brains that have been taught to operate according to rules of survival in situations where survival is not an issue. If so, is there any wonder that nation upon nation makes and sells arms in the name of better protecting their interests?
I tend to the notion that as a result of past wars humanity has trained their collective brains to see life as a matter of survival. And because the brain gives a sense of reality to whatever thought it entertains, the mass of humanity have come to believe that, in essence, the “other guy” is a threat that must be defended against.
There is hope for humanity and it comes in the form of educating ourselves on the true nature of our brains and reality. We must come to recognize that just because the brain tells us there is a threat, that does not mean there actually is a threat. Just because the brain makes it appear that our beliefs are real, it does not mean that other beliefs are incompatible with our own. As the Dalai Lama said,
“We all want happiness, not suffering, and as a consequence we have to see if the mind can be transformed. Tibetan Buddhist culture is not just about prayers, reciting mantras and performing rituals, it involves explanations of the nature of reality. We Tibetans have the most comprehensive presentation of what the Buddha taught. We should not feel deprived, but proud of the knowledge we possess. What’s more we don’t need to rely on any other language to access this knowledge because it already exists in Tibetan. Don’t waste your time getting drunk or gambling. There’s no reason to feel low or demoralized; much better to be confident and optimistic.” (http://www.dalailama.com/news/post/1083-how-to-achieve-happiness-and-the-unsung-heroes-of-compassion)
Transforming our minds is not a matter to be completed in succeeding generations. It is something we can accomplish now. We can retrain our brains to look at reality in its true nature. One step in this process is to see that our brains tend to assign reality to whatever we imagine. Another is to accept the possibility that if we imagine our neighbor to be our enemy, this may not actually be so.
Be confident and optimistic of your ability to change your mind. Be confident and optimistic that you can see reality as it truly is.
Watching thoughts arise and fall is rather, should I say it, enlightening?
There doesn’t seem to be any thought that is not assigned some degree of reality. Even when I can positively say that I’m just imagining something, my brain still wants to color it real.
I don’t have any problem with my brain telling me, for example, that the stranger in front of me let a door close before I got there. But when the thought arises that he or she did it “on purpose” and I react with a tinge of resentment, then I have to wonder what good it does for my brain to make even imagined events, seem real?
Long ago it was probably a good survival tactic to have primitive man act “as if” the source of a noise in the nighttime forest was a predator. But today it seems we behave as if anything that offends our self-image is a predatory fact that needs to be acted upon. That the offended one may be the only one who knows an offence has taken place seems to make no difference. There still seems to be a need to act upon this “as if” situation.
When my cat sees something curious, she investigates. If it’s nothing then she licks her paw and walks away. Yet when today’s average person finds nothing in the curious, he or she returns to it again and again thinking something is there that was missed. They’ll buy a lottery ticket, even though they’d have to buy 26 million to have a good chance of winning a major prize. They’ll go to the pub every Friday to have a good time, even though they’ve never woken up the next morning feeling a good time was had. They’ll have the same discussion with their partner, even though it always ends in an argument.
It does seem the average person’s brain is locked into a reality that is neither conducive to happiness nor even real. Yet most everyone acts as if what he or she is doing makes perfect sense.
Viewed simply, the brain takes input from the senses, processes it and then projects it outward. When creating this projection the brain does not automatically differentiate between objects of the senses and those of thought or imagination. All are seen as possessing some level of reality.
Believing that thought exists independently of the mind (i.e., has self-existence), one lives in a state of dream illusion. It is like a dream because one believes in this thought world’s reality. It is an illusion because this world is false. Humanity, en masse, lives in this world of dream illusion.
An obvious example of dream illusion is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. With PTSD, those who experienced a trauma continue to live “as if” some threat still exists when it has long since passed. But we need not look to extreme mental health disorders to find examples of dream illusion. We need only look inside our own minds.
We live in dream illusion when a first impression becomes the way we see someone for the rest of our lives. We live in dream illusion when an imagined person we’re having an inner conversation with is thought to be the actual person we want to talk to. We live in dream illusion when judgments of right and wrong, good or bad, become our reality. For do we not then react by seeking revenge through anger when we are wronged? Or become depressed when we judge our self to be bad?
Knowing the need to awaken from dream illusion one may begin meditation by trying to stop thought. But one soon learns that thought is not so easily stilled. So the next step is to simply watch thoughts rise and fall. Still, there are some thoughts that do not fall as easily as they rise. These we can work on by holding them in the awareness and gently seeing them as unreal. The more deep-seated these thoughts, the longer it will take to undermine and weaken them.
As you become better at letting thoughts go, your ability to just observe them will grow. So will your ability to select a thought and examine it without being drawn into the dream illusion it creates. Of course there will still be times when you get caught up in the dream illusion and feel as if all of your work has been for naught. That’s to be expected because meditation is not a linear process. One area of life may have its problems resolved only to have another set of problems take its place. This is the natural ebb and flow of life. It is to be expected.
Eventually you will find thought taking a back seat and the ground of thought, i.e., consciousness, coming to the fore. This, too, you can examine by asking, “What is its true nature?” “How does this calm, motionless state arise?” “How can it be maintained?” “Where does it go when a thought arises?” “Is there a difference between this and the thought that arises?” “Is there a difference between this and me?”
These questions may seem esoteric at the moment, but when the ground of consciousness comes to the fore it will be natural to examine it with such questions, phrased in your own way. Examining consciousness in this way is the beginning of transcendental intelligence.
With the start of this third year of August Meditations I see that, sadly, our world seems to be in more conflict than 2013. But I don’t think anyone should lose heart. We should continue with our daily practice as it does make the world a better place. We should continue those actions that bring happiness to each other and ourselves.
On a personal level, I see this past year as one of refining and deepening last year’s statement that, “I am Pure Consciousness,” so that it reads, “I am awareness.” Whereas the former was more a statement of intellectual knowledge, the latter is an assertion of an unfolding inner realization that seeks to re-establish my inner identity as awareness, instead of as the objects that lie therein. Part of this involves realizing that the thoughts of my waking life are no more real than the dreams of my nocturnal one. Some progress has been made here but much work still lies ahead.
Realizing one’s true identity takes, according to the Mahayana or Great Vehicle teaching, “hundreds and thousands of eons.” But, as Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, wrote, “You experience immeasurable hundreds of eons in one day.” The eons he speaks of are comprised of the immeasurable present moments, or now, experienced each day. It is here, in each absolute present moment where all of creation exists from moment to moment, that enlightenment unfolds in your daily life.
As your personal enlightenment unfolds you should take heart in that it contributes to the eventual full enlightenment of all of humanity. As Dogen said, “your practice affects the entire earth and the entire sky in the ten directions. Although not noticed by others or by yourself, it is so.” So, even when your practice is weak, continue to practice with the assurance that you are helping humanity.
Practice is more than just sitting in meditation. Practice includes accepting whoever you meet and whatever arises as part of your path. It is here in your daily life that you have the opportunity to develop patience, love and understanding. It is here you uncover inner obstacles to expressing loving-kindness and compassion. And it is here that you can work through those obstacles to bring greater happiness to others and yourself.
Tomorrow will not come for many that live in the world’s conflict areas. One day it will not come for you. That day may be today or it may be many years off. Regardless of how much time you have, don’t waste today’s opportunity to practice and through it make the world a better place.
A psychologist might tell you that the greatest challenge to mental wellness is the failure to recognize that thoughts exist only in the brain. A Buddhist might simply say that thought is empty. The Buddhist might also speak of Sangsara, or Samsara.
Sangsara is a term used to describe the consciousness of objects combined with the delusion that objects exist independently of the observer. Awakening to reality destroys Sangsara in the sense that the delusion is destroyed. In the psychological sense, this means that thought is no longer seen to exist in the world as an independent, separate thing made of concrete substance.
Most of us know delusion as the stalker who believes a public figure is in love with them. As the hypochondriac who believes they are ill when no trace of illness can be found. Or as extreme jealousy where one believes his or her partner is cheating, even though there is no evidence to support that claim. The Buddhist would tell you, however, that the belief that any thought is something real and concrete is a delusion, and one shared by most of humanity.
It is easy to see delusion acting within yourself. Simply wonder if you really did lock the car door or if you really did put that credit card back in your wallet after your last purchase, and see how quickly that thought is felt to be real!
If you take that feeling into meditation and examine it, you will begin to see that not just that thought, but all your thoughts are felt to be real whether they correspond to the physical world or not. If you examine that feeling deeply, you will begin to see how your mental world extends into the outer world. You will begin to see that you are reacting to that mental world instead of your actual physical surroundings.
In seeing this you will begin to see how, as the Buddha said, you are bound to appearance. And how deeply your attention is fixed, as if hypnotized; upon an illusion you’ve mistaken for reality.
Knowing a thought to be just a thought, frees you from bondage to that thought. Knowing all thought to be just thinking, frees you from Sangsara.
The Buddha expounded the Dharma to show humanity how to overcome bondage to appearance. He is called the Fully Awakened One because he saw life as a fabric of dream illusions upon which we have become transfixed as if in a hypnotic trance. To Awaken is to break the trance and see the thoughts of waking consciousness as no more real than the images seen in dreams when asleep.
When we awake from sleep we know our dream to have been unreal. No matter how involved we were in its seeming reality, when we wake we do not check the bedroom for the people who were chasing us in our sleep. We put the dream aside to deal with the waking world.
To Awaken is to see that our day’s thoughts are no more real than the ones we had when we slept. It is like waking up from a dream, then waking up from our day thoughts.
To the unawakened, thoughts are not only seen to be true, they are seen to be real and powerful. There is a compulsion to act when a thought arises. There is a belief in the ‘this or that’ which creates irrational fear. There is a belief in the righteousness of political ideology and religious faith. In all of this there is, as the Buddha pointed out, a bondage to appearance as we are ruled by our thoughts instead of ruling them.
The Awakened one sees thought in the same way we see our dreams. There is no urge to act, just an option to act or not act. The ‘this or that’ that formerly created fear is now seen as nothing more than a mental image without substance. Any system of thought is seen as neither more nor less valid than any other. In seeing this, the Awakened one finds no reason to argue, no reason to fight or go to war. Having seen the reality of awareness, the Awakened one is at peace.
To be a Fully Awakened Buddha is to realize all of life is a dream illusion. The first step in this realization is to plant the seed of doubt in the accuracy of your thoughts about reality. The first step is to see how these thoughts, this appearance, holds you in sway. Once planted, the seed of doubt will take root and grow into a tree that will one day bear the fruit of your Awakening.
A shift of base or emphasis starts when you begin to realize that your true nature is awareness. It’s a subtle shift wherein the objects of consciousness that so deeply preoccupied you in the past now become less important as consciousness itself comes to the fore. It’s as if all your life you’ve only seen the reflections in water and now, for the first time, you see water.
Of course, we never actually see awareness as a thing; just as most of the time we never actually see water. When we look at water we see what it reflects, or the light from things as it bends around and through it. Awareness is much the same in that we usually know it only in relation to objects.
Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of boats floating in water that is so clear that it appears they are floating in mid-air. Without the boats the water’s depth and transparency would be difficult to notice but with them it shines forth. Awareness is like that, always present but difficult to notice. Yet, if in our meditation we hold a subtle object in mind, we can turn our attention to the transparent awareness that surrounds and lays beneath it.
The Greek philosopher Plotinus wrote, “To attain the Good, we must ascend to the highest state, and, fixing our gaze thereon, lay aside the garments we donned when descending here below; just as, in the Mysteries, those who are admitted to penetrate into the inner recesses of the sanctuary, after having purified themselves, lay aside every garment, and advance stark naked.”
To follow Plotinus’ thought, if we lay aside the garments of thought and ego, we can penetrate into the recesses of our inner sanctuary where we may recognize Self without an object. Then, we will know our true nature as bare, transparent awareness.
A First Nations story tells us that one evening the Great Spirit was looking for a wife. To each prospective bride the Great Spirit held out his cupped hands and ask, “What is in my hands.” Many sought to see what was there but in the end each could only answer, “Nothing.” Only one saw the night sky though the spirit hands and said, “I see stars.” In doing so she solved the riddle and became the Great Spirit’s wife.
Picasso may have done something similar to the Great Spirit’s bride when he drew “Warrior Hand” (shown above) after seeing his distorted fingers through a glass of water. And in meditation we must do something similar. We must look beyond the contents of mind to recognize the awareness that contains them.
We often approach meditation in the same way as the unsuccessful bride or non-artist. We seek something where there is nothing, all the while missing what is there. That is, we seek some special knowledge or a subtle object to experience, when the true ambrosia is awareness.
We falsely believe that because there is the word ‘awareness’ that awareness must be an object we can see. But there is no object that is awareness. There is no object awareness to observe.
When we take this false belief into meditation we seek some special awareness that will reveal our true nature. But there is no special type of awareness; there is just your present, everyday awareness. Hence the instruction when meditating is to just be aware of being aware, just be or just sit. Yet in spite of these clear directions we continue to look for something in the awareness rather than the awareness itself. And in so doing we become unsuccessful brides who live in a sea of stars, yet see naught.
Mind consists of sense objects and concepts about these objects that are themselves also objects of awareness.
Awareness stands in contradistinction to the contents of mind, encompassing and comprehending all experience. Awareness is not recognizable as an object so may loosely be described as nonobjective.
It is interesting to note that abstract art is sometimes called nonobjective art. It is nonobjective in the sense that brush strokes and colors placed on a canvas do not represent anything in the physical world. There are no recognizable objects in nonobjective art. There is no recognizable subject, as well.
The arts have achieved a state of mind in which there are no recognizable objects and no subject. This state of mind approaches that which Buddhism calls “no-mind” but falls short as it still contains experiential material such as color and form. No-mind, however, contains no color and no form. It is a state wherein there is no sensation or conceptualization of any kind. There is in no-mind not even an awareness of “I”.
At first glance no-mind may be seen as an undesirable state of negation or nothingness. Nothing, however, can be further from the truth as no-mind is your natural state and your true nature. Being your true nature, no-mind is not something you possess or have but is what you immediately are. It is you stripped of all desire, intellection and grasping self.
Being your true nature, no-mind is right here, right now. It is inseparable from you and is, in truth, you. However, you do not recognize this because you have been giving yourself the wrong labels.
Over the course of years, lifetimes even, you have identified with the objects of awareness instead of awareness, itself. You have accepted labels like good or bad, happy or sad, male or female, young or old. Rather than recognizing your true nature, you have accepted a false identity that stands opposite it. You have forgotten that you are nonobjective awareness.
Fortunately, it is not necessary to stop all activities or bring the mind to a halt to realize awareness. Awareness is here right now. Even in your reading of this sentence, awareness is. Your present state of being awake is awareness. All you need do is recognize that you are this awareness.
It is possible for you to immediately realize no-mind as your true nature. However, to sustain this recognition it is necessary to break the habit of mislabeling yourself as a “this or a that”. It is necessary to maintain the awareness without seeking outside of it for some object to experience. It is necessary to stop grasping and just be aware.Nothing can be simpler.Yet nothing seems so hard for the human mind to do.
There is a difference between thought and the thinker.
Thoughts are ideas, notions, images and memories that arise and fall in consciousness. The thinker is the power of awareness that directs and sustains thought.
The thinker is the simplest thing of all. So simple that you cannot even call it a thing!
Calling your self a thinker tells us more about your personality than what you actually are. A feeling based personality could just as easily call his or her self a “feeler.” A sensation type might use the word “sensor.” Giving this power of awareness a name tells us nothing about what it is.
When we look for the thinker we cannot find it. It’s like trying to look at your eye with your eye. It can’t be done.
The thinker stands in opposition to all thought!
If we think about the thinker, we direct the awareness into the realm of thought. Caught up in thinking we forget our true essence and wander into illusion, forgetting who and what we are. Yet our true essence, our true nature, is still here. It doesn’t go away, nor are we ever separated from it.
When taking up meditation, people take on the identity of a seeker. Even when they are told, “You are It!” they still keep looking for something.
They look for some expansion of consciousness, an experience of light, love or knowledge. They look for something complex. They can’t accept that it is just this present awareness. They think that’s too simple, so it can’t be the answer.
Yet, when people realize their true nature they invariably say, “It’s so simple! It was ‘me’ all along!”
Right now the difference between you living in samsara or you living in nirvana is just a simple recognition of your true essence as simple awareness.
Awareness that has no name.
Awareness that is not other than this present moment.