This blog is about spiritual awakening, maps and stages, the blinding effects of our strong momentum/conditioning (karmic propensities), view, realization, experience, etc. If you're new here, I recommend going through the 'Must Reads' articles (see sidebar). For discussions you are welcome to join my Facebook group, or my forum.
Question: What leads one to the realization that there is truly only one sense, not five or six as we normally understand experience? Answer: One way that this realization arises is out
of the process of “turning hearing around,” which is both a
deconstruction of the subtle structuring of experience that is normally
overlooked, and ultimately a direct experience.
Even though we may understand the emptiness of thoughts and other
sensations, which arise without any intrinsic self-reality, and though
we may also have direct non-conceptual experiences, what is still
present is the perspective, even if there is no inferred, actual, or
imagined observer/knower involved. This is the normal perspective that
we all have, because it is our familiar way of experiencing things. So,
in hearing something that is arising impersonally, we still understand
it to be “heard,” even if we know there is no one to hear, nothing to
hear, etc. But instead of taking that perspective, turn it around:
“you,” which is that perspective even when it is stripped of all the
concretions of ego and identify, is still a false structure. “You” are
confusing, through a subtle structuring of direct experience, what is
actually happening. “You” are doing this because you understand hearing
to be structured as a perception, therefore encompassing something
perceived and the perception of it.
Sound is a manifesting experience that is empty of an intrinsic
self-nature like everything that manifests is. You neither create it,
nor hear it in a dualistic sense. Instead it is experienced because all
that is manifesting is the process of knowing. This knowing is not
self-centered, so all the problems of shared knowledge are not present,
but a perspective still exists. So which way, truly, should the
perspective be pointing? From an illusory “you” that, lacking an
intrinsic self-nature, isn’t real at all, toward a “sound” that is just
as illusory? Or from the source of the manifestation towards the
manifestation? That latter perspective is our normal perspective turned
around. When we realized that there is no “me” or ego “here” we forgot
to realign our more fundamental understandings of perceiving and
experiencing, leaving this subtle error to trip us up, and leading to a
proliferation of identified types of perceptions and senses.
Once you understand that there has been that subtle misunderstanding
of the experience of hearing sound, every time you experience sound,
note the error and force yourself to understand “sound” as just
something arising in mind, and by that I mean being selflessly natured,
so really not having a source at all. Done with some dedication,
suddenly you will experience it directly, without effort, because that
is how it truly is. And once you have that direct experience you will
understand that all of the senses are like this, and they will all
collapse into the only sense there truly is—selfless naturing, which is
the process of knowing.
It’s easiest to do this with hearing “unstruck sound,” in my
experience, because the overpowering attraction of a source, like a tree
falling in a forest, is absent with “unstruck sound” which has no
source in what is manifested.
Unstruck sound has been referred to in many ways, even by me. Some of
them are: unborn sound, Anahata Nada, Chönyid kyi rangdra, Dharmata
Swayambhu Nada, Divine Tremoring, Shabd, Eternal Sound, Music of the
Spheres, Primordial Sound, Sound of Creation, Soundless Sound, the Word
of God, Autogenous Resonance, and others. Question: It is difficult to comprehend that sound isn’t dependent on a source. How can this be? Answer: In my experience, there are two ways that
sounds can arise: as sympathetic resonances in the mind based upon
manifest conditions, and autogenous resonances in the mind. I use the
word “resonance” so as not to confuse what I am speaking of with normal
“sounds” that we understand we hear in a dualistic sense, and the
difference between sympathetic and autogenous must be fleshed out below.
But note that the word “autogenous” is being used, not because its
meaning is accurate, but because, properly understood, it’s meaning can
be clearly intuited. Once one clarifies their understanding, the “auto-“
prefix is seen not as indicating a relation to a self-entity, but to
the “essence of self-less naturing,” i.e. “emptiness.” So, onward…
Since everything is empty of an intrinsic self-nature, everything
that arises does so spontaneously and uncaused. I experience a self-less
(actor or agent-less) naturing and mindfully do not infer a cause or
source of that naturing as many do, because that is intellect trying to
impose rational order on our understanding. Thus, for me, there is
nothing to be known apart from this naturing, and that necessarily
includes the understanding that there is no entity such as a “nature”
that is naturing.
In all cases, this naturing is the event-horizon between the
intelligible—all that we experience, and which can be puzzled out, to
make sense of—and what is beyond the intelligible. And of what is beyond
the intelligible, there is nothing that can truthfully be said,
although interpretive explanations abound in religious and spiritual
traditions. But the fact that the naturing itself, as well as what is
natured, is intelligible, at least in some respects, provides a hook
into a more subtle understanding, as I will explain. By this I mean, for
example, that we can note that what manifests is coherent—things go
together—so we can say something like: “this naturing, while spontaneous
and uncaused, is conditioned by what has already manifested.”
First, this naturing is viscerally known. It’s not a knowing of
something, and it’s not a knowing by someone, it’s just an awake/aware
naturing, so while ultimately empty of selfhood, it is also ultimately
pregnant with infinite possibility of visceral presence. If this was
not the case, then nothing would or could be known, given that what
manifests has no intrinsic self-nature, and reality is an inside without
an outside, so there are no other forces, causes, actors, etc. at play
But in our experience, it is noted that what arises is somehow
coherent with what is already the case. At least, that is how intellect
orders experience. I understand our idea of “time” to be just such an
ordering placed upon what appears in the eternal (i.e. timeless) Now, in
which there is no time, so no past, no future, no present—only
presence. I have noted that the coherence is not the result of
causality, but of conditioned freedom, thus what arises is coherent with
the range of possibility opened up by what is manifest Now, but it is
not caused directly by it—how could that be, since there is no “it” and
no separation, nor “self-causality,” and thus without such bounds, there
can be surprise, novelty, range, awesome serendipity, etc.
What is experienced is always arising in mind (i.e. naturing), and
what we experience arises sympathetically (coherently) with current
conditions—the state of the universe, so to speak. The perspective, the
“I” and the “we,” is what is imposed upon reality by intellect, and
intellect is the acquired habits of conceptualization and thought, a
kind of karma I suppose, that imposes a narrowing down of focus. That
narrowing can be overcome… but that’s another subject.
And in the case of sound, everything up to, but not including, the
magical idea that consciousness arises from some quantity,
configuration, or function of physical matter, that scientists have
observed, holds. Yes, a tree falls and it’s falling conditions the
arising of pressure (sound) waves that travel through the air, striking
our ears, which are so structured that when the pressure changes
condition a vibration in the eardrum, those vibrations condition
impulses that move into the brain, which conditions further electrical
and chemical activity in the brain, which conditions the arising of
sound. But all of those steps, are just intellect imposing ordering upon
the dichotomized conditions that are selflessly natured.
So, “sound,” properly speaking, arises only in the naturing (called
“mind”) based upon manifest conditions. Sound is thought of as a kind of
vibration, but the time and space that vibration requires are also
impositions of order by intellect upon this naturing—they are our way of
conceptually explaining experience, ordering it, and showing where we
have cut things up with our distinguishing thoughts.
What we are trying to do with such orderings is explain what is
beyond the event horizon of self-less naturing. But given that we cannot
truly succeed, what happens if we just step back and don’t impose an
intellectual order? What is “sound?” It can only be the visceral (known)
presencing of this self-less naturing, and specifically one kind of
presencing that our intellect distinguishes from all other kinds (the
concept of “kinds” itself shows this to be the result of intellection).
Vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and thinking are all just subtle
structures of distinctions that intellect imposes on self-less naturing.
And light, sound, tastes, kinds of physical touching, and smells, as
well as thoughts, are all just distinctions that the ordering intellect
imposes upon what selfless naturing is manifesting, in this case
pointing to the content of the distinguished experiences.
Thus, what is manifest is intelligible in this way. We can, through
habit of thought, whether self-developed or learned, make all these
distinctions and order all the conditions and coherency in such a way
that we build this whole edifice of a world of separate things somehow
interacting together through causal relations. And we do this without
intent, thoughtlessly! These habits are the very structuring that we
have become so accustomed to.
But there are manifestations for which there are no conditions, such
as a source for a particular kind of sound that we can experience. We
can distinguish these sounds into kinds, but cannot relate them to any
conditions that, such as a tree falling, open the possibility of these
sounds arising, so they can be called “unconditioned,” or “unstruck”.
And in our normal, sleepy way of being, we don’t even notice them, but
in deep meditation we can. And when experienced in meditation, they are
called “nimittas,” or “meditation signs,” also “siddhis,” and
“charismata,” among other names.
When they are experienced, and clearly so as unconditioned sound,
they can be referred to as the “resonances of selfless naturing” as well
as all the other names from different traditions that I gave earlier. I
call them “autogenous resonances.”
We tend to screen these out of our awareness (i.e. we do not turn our
attention to them even when they become apparent), or we immediately
think, upon hearing them, that we are ill and run to a doctor for drugs
or therapy to make them go away. But being that they are unconditioned,
there is no intelligible link between them and current conditions in or
around us, and so the intellect can’t jump in and say “over there, over
there! that’s where they are coming from” thus imposing a subtle
conceptual structuring, and even a dualistic perspective, on what we are
experiencing. Thus these are the easiest way to see through the
dichotomization of our experiences into kinds of phenomena perceived by
kinds of senses, collapsing it all into just self-less naturing, which
we habitually call “mind.”
I don’t know if this is helpful, without a direct experience of these
sounds. Just stay vigilant and if you notice them, follow them. The
trail leads to surprising experiences and insights. Question: What is this “non-conditioned” referring
to? Buddha taught that all that arises does so contingently, which is
referred to as “dependent origination” in Buddhism, so doesn’t this go
against his teaching? Answer: No, this doesn’t go against what the Buddha
taught. It’s comes out of a subtle point about the truth of Dependent
Origination—which is that while what arises originates in dependence
upon conditions, this truth is not itself dependent upon anything.
Dependent Origination holds independent of conditions—there is no
contingency upon which it is or is not true.
And what I am saying reflects a more wholistic understanding than
Dependent Origination when it is emphasized out of the context of
Emptiness. Dependent Origination and Emptiness are not two truths, they
are two perspectives upon nondual reality. On its own, Dependent
Origination could be just a codification of the conceptual idea of
Causality, and that is how it is often understood, in my experience with
others, given the tendency to speak about “causes and conditions” as if
they are they same thing. What I am speaking of as non-conditioned is
useful for seeing that sound arises solely in mind, and this insight
originates in a direct experience I’ve attained and is not the result of
speculative intellection. I am presenting this explanation to overcome
the absence of first-hand experience of it, pointing others to the
possibility of using unconditioned sound as a meditation support, and
its superiority as a support.
So, what is non-conditioned is the naturing itself… this processual
unfolding is unborn, timeless, and immortal. There is no condition that
allows it to be, or not be. What is conditioned is the contingent
arising of coherent manifestation, which is called Dependent
Origination. That which is unconditioned can also be found in the
spontaneous freedom of naturing—because conditions don’t cause anything
to arise, they are merely the conditioning of possibility, so that, what
arises is not specifically caused, but is dependent upon the conditions
that made it possible for them to arise.
The unconditioned sounds that I speak of arise as the resonance of
this naturing in the same fashion as the universal ether, the Akasha, is
conventionally understood to be both the medium for vibrational
movement (sound), as well as, more subtly, nothing other than the
vibrational movement. Thus self-less naturing—“dharmata” in Buddhism—can
be directly experienced as resonant sound, as well as the manifested
appearances. These unconditioned sounds are the naturing of what
manifests, thus we can turn towards the naturing in its bare essence as
resonance empty of a cause—the non-conceptual emptiness of all that
manifests—or toward the formal, structured experience of all that
manifests. This is unconditioned sounds’ importance as a meditational
support, and the origin of its power to heal and transform.
Malcolm Smith (Lopon Namdrol) wrote:
"I never maintained that N had no views at all. I have always
maintained that he had no view concerning existence and nonexistence."
"He (Nagarjuna) states in the VV that he has no propositions/thesis
concerning svabhāva as defined by his opponents. He does not say he has
no views at all. For example, he clearly states in the MMK that he
prefers the Sammitya view of karma.
Your claim is similar to the
mistaken assertion made by some who claim that Candrakirti never resorts
to syllogisms, which in fact he clearly does in the opening lines of
the MAV. What Candra disputes is not syllogistic reasoning in its
entirety, but rather, syllogistic reasoning applied to emptiness.
Likewise, he clearly asserts the view in the VV that there is no
svabhāva in phenomena. Madhyamaka is not a simple minded "I have no
"There are only two of those views, i.e., "It
exists" and "It does not exist." Nāgārjuna negates these two because he
has a view — dependent origination, which he calls the "the
pacification of views.""
"You are confusing emptiness with
dependent origination. Emptiness is a negation, but dependent
origination is a statement on how conditiond things function, i.e things
do not arise from themselves, from other, from both or without a cause.
You are also making the mistaken argument that views cannot be
antidotal, that they are invariably pathological. Thus, Candrakirti
states that right view, emptiness, is the antidote for wrong views.
I think you are getting a little too carried away with your anti-view view."
"As long as we understand, as I pointed out at the very beginning here,
that "all views" simply means views of existence and nonexistence.
Is it possible to express anything concerning this truth? Perhaps this:
"There is no distinction whatsoever between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. There is no distinction whatsoever between nirvāṇa and saṃsāra." MMK 25.19
Or perhaps more apt:
This pair, samsara and nirvana, do not exist. However thorough knowledge of samsara is nirvana.
But of course, all of this concerns the objective state of phenomena,
and not how we subjectively experience the path and its realization."
"But it clearly is a view: "Where this arises, that arose; with the
arising that, this arose; where cease ceases, that ceases; with the
cessation of that, this ceases."
How does dependent origination
function? It functions because entities are empty of existence and
nonexistence. That emptiness is what is not to be taken as a view. But
dependent origination is acceptable as a view. Why? This is the question
you need to ask yourself. If Buddha taught no views at all, then there
is no need for Dharma, a path, nor could there be a result."
Buddha did not teach emptiness as a view, indeed, but he certainly
taught dependent origination as a view. In fact it is what is called
"Ummmm...Nāgārjuna held the metaphysical view that
sentient beings take rebirth, that past actions ripen, that merit must
be accumulated in order to earn the marks of a buddha, etc. So obviously
this is not the case."
"He is saying precisely that the reality
of phenomena is dependent origination and emptiness, depending on which
way one is seeing things.
For example, in the 70 he says:
The nature of all things is empty. For what reason? The nature of all things is an assembly of causes and conditions. or, because there is neither being nor nonbeing in each and every thing, they are empty
He is here declaring that the nature or reality (the state of being pertaining to things) of all things is emptiness.
Having realized things are empty, one will not be confused because of seeing correctly"
Reminded me of what Thusness said in 2014,
m not into no view...but actualization of right view. We all know views
r only provisional and r approximate of "reality" but some views r
better representations of "reality" than others. I m not into "no view",
that will lead us into taking "non conceptuality" as the goal of
practice. I hv no issue adopting "right view", "non conceptuality of
view" to me simply means not to let "view" remains intellect and
conceptual but have experiential insight and actualized it in daily
Because what is real must be simple, it must be nondual. This nondual
oneness of reality is the great mystery at the heart of all things.
It’s why people who talk about it are called mystics and what they’re
talking about is called mysticism. You might think that saying non-dual
or One captures reality, but it doesn’t at all. That expression I used
above when describing my experience as a young man, unseen loving light,
fails to capture what was, at that moment, and similarly, non-dual and
One fails to capture what is real.
The best explanation of why that is, that I’ve ever read, is from a
3rd Century Neo-Platonic mystic named Plotinus. I’ll quote what he said,
but don’t get lost in it. Why? Because it is often more helpful to use a
visual or allegorical depiction when dealing with a difficult subject
such as that of the nonduality of reality. Speaking of the nature of
reality necessarily introduces errors that cannot be overcome, unless
one uses a technique designed to mitigate such structural errors which
are introduced by everyday dualistic language, since all language is
unsuited for metaphysical and spiritual discourse in the sense that it
was created for the marketplace, according to the philosopher Alfred
One such technique used almost universally by mystics is apophasis,
which means unsaying or saying away. In apophasis all statements are
signs in a most indeterminate way, since they are used to point to that
which can only be apprehended in a flash of illumination, or gnosis. It
must be noted that apophasis is a linguistic performance and is
different in intent than apophatic, or negative theological statements,
with which it is frequently confused. Those kinds of statements say what
something isn’t. That’s not what is going on in the quote below in
which Plotinus explains the problem that necessitates his use of
apophasis in this section from his “Enneads:”
“Since the substance which is generated from the One is form one
could not say that what is generated from that source is anything else –
and not the form of some one thing but of everything, so that no other
form is left outside it, the One must be without form. But if it is
without form it is not a substance; for a substance must be some one
particular thing, something, that is, defined and limited; but it is
impossible to apprehend the One as a particular thing: for then it would
not be the principle, but only that particular thing which you said it
was. But if all things are in that which is generated from the One,
which of the things in it are you going to say that the One is? Since it
is none of them, it can only be said to be beyond them. But these
things are beings, and being: so it is beyond being.
“This phrase beyond being does not mean that it is a particular
thing, for it makes no positive statement about it, and it does not say
its name, but all it implies is that it is not this. But if this is what
the phrase does, it in no way comprehends the One: it would be absurd
to seek to comprehend that boundless nature; for anyone who wants to do
this has put himself out of the way of following at all, even the least
distance, in its traces; but just as he who wishes to see the
intelligible nature will contemplate what is beyond the perceptible if
he has no mental image of the perceptible, so he who wishes to
contemplate what is beyond the intelligible will contemplate it when he
has let all the intelligible go; he will learn that it is by means of
the intelligible, but what it is like by letting the intelligible go.
“But this, what it is like must indicate that it is not like: for
there is no being like in what is not a something. But we in our
aporia, complete befuddlement, do not know what we ought to say, and are
speaking of what cannot be spoken, and give it a name because we want
to indicate it to ourselves as best we can. But perhaps this name One
contains only a denial of multiplicity. This is why the Pythagoreans
symbolically indicated it to each other by the name Apollo, in the
negation of the multiple. But if the One, name and reality expressed,
was to be taken positively it would be less clear than if we did not
give it a name at all.”
The second guide I have adopted, is to see a kind of event horizon
between the real and what exists. It’s an expression taken from Science
where it is used to explain an hypothesized character of Black Holes. An
horizon, as we all have or can experience, hides what is over the
horizon from us. In the case of the expression event horizon, what I
mean is that experience, which is easily analyzed into events, something
we do all the time, still doesn’t show us what is over the horizon
because the other side of that horizon cannot be directly experienced.
As Plotinus mentions, the intelligible must be let go of, if one is
to reach enlightenment, in the same way that in order to reach the
nature of the intelligible, one must meditate in a way that is free of
all mental formations, mental images of independent things. What is the
intelligible? Why, all experience, of course! Including all our
theories, hypotheses, dogmatic assertions, and mental attempts to seize
something that can never be within reach. We cannot understand what does
not exist. But we can accept the reality of that which is evidenced,
necessary, simple, and not contingent on anything for reality.
Yes, this is mystical. And that may grate our Western mindset even if
we think we are better than that. We do so love our terminology! There
will still be those that believe that they have the final answer to the
riddle. But I learned from the example of Aristotle, renowned as The
Philosopher in Western history, who, always looking to the material
world for what was real, in the end realized that the only answer his
exquisite powers of observation and reasoning could arrive at, was that
God put everything in motion.
He failed. Why? Because he was trying to do something that is
impossible. Not beyond our abilities; just impossible. He was holding
onto the intelligible, searching for The Answer that he thought was
there somewhere, and because he thought of Nature as an actor that had
to be put into motion somehow. He also thought reality was populated
with substantial entities, so he didn’t need to distinguish between
what’s real and what exists. He didn’t realize that naturing is possible
without a nature doing it, and that there was no need for the answer to
why there is something, rather than nothing, there just is, and you and
I cannot deny it, because in doing so, we affirm it. Nor can we point
to a Nature that truly exists. It’s just idea that we have.
The tricky part is letting go of all those mental formations. There
comes a point, the event horizon, when language, and ideas, just
obfuscates our way completely. Which leads me to the point of this
essay: What is known can only be known by appearing, in showing up the
knowable is known. It’s that simple. But we are not the ones knowing.
Let me explain this insight. If there is no observer and no true
entities to be observed, then knowing cannot originate on this side of
the event horizon which consists of that which exists, and therefore
knowing cannot be structured as a seizing hold of, or grasping with
awareness which is dualistic in the sense of involving a perceiver and
the perceived a consciousness.
Frankly, there really can’t be any awareness on this side at all,
which might explain why scientists can’t find it, but even speaking of
awareness or knowing causes dualistic understandings to slip in because
awareness is usually understood as being aware of something, as is
knowing. This imputes a perspective into our understanding that is
misleading and wrong. We may not see it as a perspective because we have
removed the illusory me and you and it, so that it is now a perspective
from nowhere; but that is still a perspective, and thus is still wrong.
This view from nowhere is widely found in science, where it is the
basis for objectivity. But that kind of structural perspective can’t be
real because it exists in experience. So this is my third guide: no
views from nowhere. Any explanation that permits such a view to creep
in, is defective in at least that way. This fundamental problem we have
to confront, these perspectives, is exemplified by our tendency to speak
of mind and body. This is yet another dualistic distinction we make
because of our habitual failure to recognize our true nature, and that
there is no entity in body, nor in mind, nor in the whole of both.
Everything we think of, feel, and perceive is also lacking any
independent reality. I could not, and I believe, nor can you, ignore
what becomes so clear in deep meditation, that there is nothing other
than this spontaneously creative naturing going on, and that is the true
essence of Reality.
What we think of as mind or Mind is just the spontaneously creative
naturing of forms, feelings, perceptions, consciousnesses, and mental
constructions, the five Buddhist skandhas. We confuse the naturing of
what exists with a mind that we lay claim to having, which finally
dissolves in the clear light of meditative insight. Yet, if we adjust
for the lack of an entity that we can call our mind, calling it instead,
and grandly doing so, Mind, that is again a misconstrual of what is the
case, because we think that Mind also knows or is aware in a
conceptually dualistic sense, in most cases.
Naturing is not limited to the internal skandhas. Everything that
exists has the same origin. This includes all forms: including the five
skandhas, mountains, planets, galaxies, hummingbirds, trees, bacteria,
quantum particles, wind fluttering leaves on a tree, a musical note, a
kiss, a thought, etc. There is no mind entity in reality, neither is
there a Nature entity. There is no place for knowledge to reside. That
which is known is not known through cognizing in an awareness of sense,
as if through reflection or contemplation of something, but directly
through naturing. It’s the great mystery, of course.
I can think of an allegory to help you get over the initial
difficulty that occurs as you try to swallow this argument, if you are
hearing it before actually experiencing it: it’s something called the
Piezo Electric effect. You make use of it all the time, in microphones,
earbuds, even old phonograph pickups, as well as the clickers that
ignite gas stoves today. A certain kind of crystal can create an
electric field when sound vibrations strike it, causing it to slightly
compress its structure. This is how a microphone works. The same crystal
can vibrate and thus create sounds, when an electric current is passed
through it. This is how earbuds work. In fact, the same crystal can be
deformed in such a strong way by a large enough force that it can
produce an electric spark in the kilovolt range. Using a small piston to
strike the crystal is how a stove clicker works to create a spark.
Think of the electric field as knowing and the crystal deformations as
the known. They are not two things, they are the same process.
In a way, this allegory sits on the top of every Buddhist stupa in
the form of the sun and moon, the Bindu-Nada void-point and vibrational
emanation that our brains interpret as sound and which is the support of
my meditation. I can only imagine what stupas would look like today, if
they had had earbuds back in the day.
When we were introducing ourselves last night, several of you remarked
on how valuable you found it just coming to the Maenllwyd and how much
you valued the place.
Let us begin then by asking why that might
be so. I have a good story that helps us here. Some years ago there was a
practitioner, Jane Turner, whom some of you might remember, who used to
be a regular retreatant at the Maenllwyd, driving herself here from
north of Glasgow. One year she got the dates wrong and arrived here
after her long journey in the wrong week! She told me about it
afterwards. In those days the track, was largely undriveable so she had
walked up the track only to find the place deserted; there was nobody
here! The Maenllwyd was completely silent; not a soul! Locked up! Yet
she told me that she was so radiantly happy just being here that when
she went back down the hill and got in her car and drove back to
Glasgow, it was almost as good as if she had done a retreat!
Jane, perhaps, was a slightly extreme case, but a lot of people make
remarks along such lines, I myself sometimes arrive here and discover
myself smiling; and, as is my wont, I sometimes ask myself, "What on
earth are you smiling about?" I have often gone into that because I have
found that if I just sat and allowed the smile, as it were, to seep
into my bones, then I began to experience a move beyond smiling, into
something really very blissful. And of course on such occasions, it
isn't necessary to know why; Something is happening, which is bringing
about a feeling of bliss. And indeed that bliss ... that joy ... at
thinking about Maenllwyd or being here is, in many ways, a very
important component of Dharma. Many people experience bliss in the
course of meditation, but in this case it simply arises out of the smile
at being here, or maybe even just thinking about the place.
what is going on here? Well, Shifu gave me a clue to this many years ago
when I was talking with him about the fact that sometimes in meditation
blissful feelings arise. I had been experiencing bliss on retreat in
New York with Shifu; and I went to him and I said, "What is all this
bliss about?" So he said, "Well, bliss arises out of gratitude". "How
come?" I said. "Well, what it means is that, without really knowing it,
in meditation there has been a moment of stillness ... silence. You've
got yourself out of the way. And because you did that, you feel
gratitude; and gratitude produces bliss."
I have contemplated
those remarks of Shifu's ever since .... and tested them out. And I find
it to be true. When one experiences those moments of bliss in
meditation, it emerges from a process of which one is not fully aware.
One has dropped the cares of everyday life for a little while, and the
fact that they have gone gives one a freedom and a clarity. And
spontaneously, out of that freedom and clarity comes a feeling of
thankfulness, gratitude; and that expresses itself in bliss.
think something like the same thing happens when some of us arrive at
the Maenllwyd ... or perhaps when one even thinks about the Maenllwyd,
or maybe one does a visualisation which might involve the place. And it
is not, of course, only Maenllwyd. Those of us who travel around and
visit various monasteries or power places for meditation sometimes find
the same thing happening there too. In fact it has to do with the fact
that what we have been doing here is creating a little monastery. Maybe
not exactly a monastery as a place, but rather a monastery of the mind,
in that when we come here we practice a certain " dropping of
attributes"; we let go. Maybe we're not always sure about that, and
maybe some of us find it very difficult, but essentially the key thing
that happens here is the letting go of care. When you arrive here you
let go of something; you let go of the troubles of life. And you find
yourself arriving and you find yourself smiling, and you say things like
"coming to the Maenllwyd is like coming home". Many people say that.
Home, of course, is a place where there is no care because one is 'at
This is a very interesting discovery to reflect upon,
because we may ask what is going on when one "drops care"? What's
happening? One could say "Well, it's just that I'm away from the kids
for a bit", or " I've left the office and don't have to worry any more
about the bloody finances",., or "Thank God I'm away from him or her for
the weekend" .... a bit of rest from the relationship. Any of these
things might be, as it were, the stimulus, but that's a fairly shallow
response. Because, of course, in problems of relationship, in problems
of work, in problems of looking after the children, it is actually one's
own performance that one is most worrying about and monitoring. "Am I a
good enough Daddy?" "Am I a good enough friend?" "Oh, dear, I wasn't
very nice on the phone last night." "Oh, I'm always stressed when I go
to work; I'm no good at my job." Many of these things which we attribute
to outside calamities, pressures, strains and stresses, are really
actually internal strains and stresses. It is self concern.
put it to you that one of the things that happens when we arrive here,
when we find ourselves "coming home", is that we drop self concern. And
in dropping self concern, what does one find? Well, if you drop your
self, then you allow a great space to appear; a great space for just
appreciating precisely what's in front of your nose, namely: the yard;
the clouds glowing in dawn light; a kite flying over; the sound of
chanting. All of those things can then make a immediate and direct
impression because 'You' are not in the way. You're not worrying about,
for an example, "Am I meditating well today?", because you've dropped
self concern. There is then no worry about whether you're meditating
well or not! You're just sitting there. And if you're truly Just Sitting
... to use that Japanese expression ... if you are truly just sitting
and not being there as a 'me', then everything is present to you, for
you, of you ... in a kind of special freedom. It's what is called
"emptiness" in the Buddhist jargon, the psychological experience that is
Unfortunately, 'emptiness' is also a technical term
in the Buddhist philosophical vocabulary and this may be confusing.
Whenever one wants to try to understand what emptiness is, one has to
say "What am I or what is it ' empty' of? What is it that's 'gone
empty'? And, if you've dropped self concern, that's marvellous: you're
empty of self concern. And that's well on the way to enlightenment! We
are smiling on arriving at the Maenllwyd because we have actually,
unbeknown to ourselves, dropped care. And particularly , for a little
while, dropped self concern.
So there's a very useful lesson in
this; because, of course, dropping self concern is precisely what the
Buddha was talking about in his first two Noble Truths. That's really
quite a discovery. If one has found, as it were, an indirect way into
understanding the Noble Truths, that's really very useful indeed. So how
come? Well, let's just remember the pattern of the Buddha's fundamental
thought here. The Buddha, as you know, was concerned about suffering,
and suffering, of course, is self concern ... or in a very large
measure, self concern. So suffering and self concern go together. So at
the moment when self concern is dropped there is no longer suffering ...
or, at least, a big alleviation of suffering. And Buddha called that a
dropping of "ignorance": we are ignorant of the fact of self concern and
the reasons for it. The Buddha worked out why. Self concern is usually
concerned with time. It is usually about something I did in the past, or
the fear of something in the future. Self concern is time bound. And
time, of course, is the measure of impermanence.
realized that absolutely the root for understanding suffering is to
understand impermanence; because it is the fact that things are
impermanent which causes us distress. Something beautiful happens, a
lovely holiday on a Greek beach, and then it's gone and Winter comes.
Spring comes, but then it goes again. The joyful love affair is over and
one is left by one's self. One gets older and one realizes that, as
somebody said last night, the idea that one is going to go on for ever
(which one takes for granted when one is young) begins to fade, and one
realizes that Time is shortening. It's all impermanence and, of course,
what we do with impermanence, through our ignorance, is to grab onto
things that we like and try to hold onto them and make them permanent,
because then we can be "safe" and 'happy'. The reason why that is so
ignorant is that we fail to face up to the fact of impermanence: things
cannot be made permanent; nothing is permanent. The universe itself is
not permanent; it's endlessly moving and God knows where it's going to
... and probably He doesn't either!
In our stupidity we try to
make the things that we like permanent and to annihilate or get rid of
the things that we don't like sometimes, even the people that we don't
like. And this is ignorance, and the root of suffering. The Buddha
called it anicca, But then the Buddha said, "Well, what is it that is so
worried about impermanence?" Well, of course, it's Me. I'm worried
about Me because I am impermanent; I am going to die one day. I'm going
to get old; God knows what's going to happen. As somebody said
yesterday, arriving on the retreat, "God knows what's going to happen
here!" Quite Right! Goodness knows what's going to happen here!
It's scary, very scary; impermanence is scary ... if one is holding onto
permanence. Of course, if one isn't holding onto permanence, it's not
scary, obviously. The two go together. But time flies, troubles come,
troubles go. Nothing to hold on to ...if one tries to hold on, it's like
trying to grasp the wind. You can't do it. The Buddha's truth however,
was to say "Well, who are you anyway? What are you? What is it you're
holding on to?" Well, the Buddha realized that he was holding on to
Siddhartha; I have to realize that I am holding on to John; you have to
realize that you're holding on to Rebecca, or whoever it might be;
Eddie. That's what we're holding on to. This thing which appears to be
here; John, which appears to be here, is what I am holding on to because
it is that which is changing, it is that which is fading, going away
... it won't be here much longer! So scary. But then, "What is this
John?", asked the Buddha. This is where he made a very important
discovery. Because when he examined himself through yogic meditation he
was able to see very clearly that, actually, what was going on, what was
called "John", was a process; not a thing, a process. And it could be
divided up into five different aspects. Very simple; very simple
psychology; but a very, very good model. It still works. It still works
better than a good many modern models.
First of all, there is
Sensation. Obviously, you feel something, a sensation; something
happens. You sit on a drawing pin Ooooh!: a sensation.
there's Perception. Perception is "Oh, what's this? Have I sat on a
scorpion? ... Oh, no. No, it's just a drawing pin; that's not so bad."
That's perception. You perceive what the sensation is.
there's Cognition, which is working out why there happens to be a
drawing pin on your chair: "Did someone put it there? Who could have
done that? Somebody hates me, and put a drawing pin on my chair so I'd
sit on it ... or is it just that I dropped one out of the box
yesterday?" Or if it actually is a scorpion, "Oh, my God: scorpions!
Better put down some DDT or something. Let's be nasty to scorpions for a
change." That's cognition: working it out.
And then there are the
so-called samscaras: we have to use the Pali word because it's rather
difficult to find an English word for it. The samscaras are, as it were,
the habit formations from all one's previous thinking, so you think now
"What about scorpions? Yes, I remember about scorpions; well, they are
supposed to occur in the South of France, so what is one of them doing
here in England? It must have escaped from the zoo. But I haven't been
near a zoo, so how can there be a scorpion here?" And so you start
working out, by referring to the past, by referring to karma, why the
present situation might be as it is. And of course it is these samscaras
which become what you might call the "habit formations", because they
determine what you worry about next. Thus karma is built up out of these
samscaras, these past habits. So a mind, this John, is actually a
complicated functioning of Sensation, Perception, Cognition, and habits
of the past, which as it were make one decide what is good and what is
bad. And all of it has a certain form: and that form ... bodily form ...
bodily presence, that is what we call "John". But John is just a name;
there is no John, there's just this process; the process of Sensation,
Perception, Cognition and habits, going round and round and round. Quite
temporary; moving through time, but no fixed entity, no John. John is
just the name. So if John is just a name, where is John? Is John the
perception? Well, no, that's not enough. Is it cognition alone? No, not
enough. Is it the history? Is it the past? No, that's not John. So where
is John? There is no John as a thing! It's just a name for the process.
The Buddha called that anatta, No Self.
So. We have
Impermanence; no self. Very radical; a very scary teaching. Because, of
course, what we want is John, this thing, to be loved by everybody all
the time (at least John likes that, to be loved by everybody all the
time); John wants to be permanently young, permanently beautiful,
permanently clever ... whereas, in fact, he is becoming increasingly
idiotic, falling apart and getting dotty, and generally becoming absurd.
That is the truth about John, it is the zen truth, total absurdity; one
big dottiness after another! But that's not how we want things to be:
that's because we get attached. So, ignorance is made up out of this
attachment to something, which is a flowing, ever moving, process. There
is no Thing to be attached to; there are just names. Language fools us:
technically it is called "reification"; the making of things out of
concepts. Just as another example, take the word Spring. We speak of
Spring as a thing; but actually, of course, it is just a period in time,
in which all sorts of other things are happening: we know there is
Spring because the flowers flower. But we can't actually see Spring;
Spring is just a word which refers to the period of time within which
flowers flower. There is no Thing called Spring which you can grasp hold
of. That's another example of reification. And me, John; you, Betty;
whoever it might be, are just like that.
So, the Buddha's thought
is very subtle here. But the problem is the illusion that there is a
thing to which we can be attached, which we must be protective of. Now,
in common sense terms, of course, conventionally, we do look after
ourselves; that makes sense. But we don't have to be obsessively
attached to the ego in the way in which we usually are; that's where
self-concern comes in. Self-concern is actually illusory. Now this
message of the Buddha is not so easily taken on board, because we are so
easily convinced of the normality of John being John. This is why, in
order to really understand the Buddha's message, we have to investigate
the mind, to explore and find out whether these things are true or
whether it is just the Buddha's fantasy. That's why we meditate.
Meditation as it were is always the testing of a hypothesis. The
hypothesis is "Where am I? I exist. Am I here?"
Am I here? Well,
let's investigate it. And of course, what you find in meditation, as you
calm the mind, as you practice, is that gradually the attachment to
things begins to fade. You begin to find a kind of openness emerging.
Something which is much more difficult to characterise; you can't find
words for it. Language begins to fail because you're actually going
beyond language. You're going into that which language tries to express
but never entirely succeeds. Because it's just language; it's not the
thing in itself. So we work at that and in our meditation we begin to
test the Four Noble Truths for ourselves. In Buddhism, it is said you
should never accept things on trust. There is faith in Buddhism, yes;
but it's a faith in the method of exploration. It is not a faith in a
thing; it is not an attachment. Faith is often an attachment to a
concept. This is more like faith in an investigation, *an unending
investigation, because there is no end to it. The universe goes on; we
go on ... for as long as we're here. Then we disappear. But what an
And the moment of smiling as you arrive at
the Maenllwyd is a hint that there might be something in this. Because
if it's true that you're smiling and enjoying being here because you've
dropped your self, even for a moment, and just allowed the space of the
place to impact upon you directly, you've actually tested the
hypothesis. For when you drop attachment to self, the universe is there
in all its wonderful turning, in all its manifestation as a place:
Maenllwyd in December. "Christmas is coming and the goose is getting
fat" .... whether you're a vegetarian or not, the goose is still getting
So we have then in this very simple beginning; this simple
recognition of happiness at arriving home at a place we call Maenllwyd;
the being open to the monastery and all that the monastery is for, we
discover that we drop something. We can either investigate what it is
that we have dropped or we can just enjoy the fact that we've dropped
something, and let it take care of itself. That's fine also, although it
may not allow one an understanding of what one is actually
experiencing. So the letting go is an absolutely key thing in Buddhist
practice. The Buddha himself discovered his insight through letting go,
through the process of letting go. He didn't discover what eventually he
knew by adding , as they say in zen, adding a head on a head, more
ideas on top of more ideas, more philosophies on top of more
philosophies. Intellectual construction isn't it at all. You drop the
intellectual constructions and there It is the thing in itself; the
Thing In Itself, which can never be quite caught by language, or fixed
in philosophy. The experience of Being.
The experience of being
is the experience of flowing. Being, in fact, is always becoming. It is
never stationary; there is never a halt; there is never permanence. The
challenge of Buddhism, the challenge of the words of the Buddha, is
whether one can actually allow one's self to enter the flow of being,
the flow of time, without trying to grab on to things which keep one
safe. That's the challenge. And that's why an entry into Buddhism can be
* There are people who come in interviews and
meditation and say, "A strange thing happened today: I seemed to be
about to fall into nothing". So I say, "Yes?" And they say, "... very
scary". So I say, "Why?" "Well, I might not exist". And I say, "Yes, you
might not exist."
It requires a certain nerve to say, "Okay,
I'll fall into that nothing". So that, in your meditation, you let go of
your attachment to your little self, just let go of it, and then you
find the extraordinary freedom of the flowing of time without
attachment. But it is not easy to do. One has to have a certain nerve to
jump off the high diving board; as I know, having jumped off the top of
high diving boards. I've done it, but I must say it was quite
difficult! And I'm not talking about diving; I'm talking about just
jumping into the water: "Oooooh! All the way down there!" Big splash!
Yes, big splash, but rather nice.
So maybe out of this comes a key message for this retreat; in fact, for all retreats. Jump!