Monday, November 1, 2010

The Necessity of Attention

As we keep at it, year after year, what else could we do to increase the power of our attention? First of all, from an Intellectual Center point of view, it is crystal clear why it is so important for us to pay attention and be present -- or do I need to go over this again?

Could you go over this again, please?

Right. I can think of five reasons. Let's spell them out:

1) Fundamental Pillars. As we've seen repeatedly, attention and presence are the foundations of most spiritual practices throughout the world. All the great religions of this world advocate their practice as captured in the admonition of Christ to his disciples, "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh..., lest... he find you sleeping." (Mark 13:35-36), or that of Buddhism and its emphasis on Mindfulness.

2) Bases for Self-Observation. Attention and presence are the only means that will enable us to observe what is taking place both within and outside of us and in so doing, unearth and expose our innumerable 'I's. Gurdjieff once said in this regard: "There is no attention in people. You must aim to acquire this. Self-obsevation is only possible after acquiring attention."

3) Achieve Our Aim. They are the only means we have as we struggle to reach our ultimate goal of self-division and self-remembering on a continuous basis, and ultimately, develop a permanent I, True Will, and the ability to transform ourselves.

4) Behave Consciously. It is the only way we will manage to truly act instead of spending a lifetime reacting to our various conditionings. Attention and prescence represent our only safeguards against the inevitable mechanical identifications, distractions and seductions that lie ahead of us.

5) Transformation. And most importantly, they represent the only means to truly change and transform ourselves. Only by placing attention relentlessly and steadfastly on our machine will the latter eventually give up and loosen itself of its mechanicalness. A focused and yet relaxed attention will help us gather our energies and climb peaks of consciousness that we never knew existed as we reach our higher centers.

What are the steps involved?

First of all, let us accumulate as much knowledge as we can about what being attentive and present mean. Here are the most common characteristics of Attention. Please ensure that you remember them.

Characteristics of Attention

     - It consists mainly of three types. In line with Gurdjieff's teachings, Nicoll distinguished between three types of attention. He said once: "Attention is of three kinds: (1) Zero-attention, which characterizes the mechanical division of centers; (2) attention that does not require effort, but is attracted and needs only the keeping out of irrelevant things; (3) attention that must be directed by effort and will." We are mostly concerned with this third kind.

     - Triggered by interest. Attention is triggered by our interest. Once we become interested in something, for example, watching our child play tennis, we become attentive to it. Without this intitial interest, there cannot be attention.

     - It helps us to sense ourselves. Attention helps us determine which center and which part of which center we are using. If a task requires little or no attention, we are in the mechanical part. For example, when we drive our car effortlessly, the mechanical part of our Moving Center is operating. When our attention is held by what we are doing, for example, when we are interested, excited or captivated by a movie or football match, we are using the emotional part of our Intellectual Center. And when we hold and direct our attention with effort and will on whatever we are thinking, feeling, or doing, we are using the intellectual parts of our Intellectual, Emotional, and Moving Centers respectively. As we operate mostly in the mechanical parts of our various centers (and for activities like driving that is indeed wholly appropriate), do you understand why, on the whole, we make so little use of Attention as a tool and, as a result, are so asleep and incapable of observing ourselves?

     - On and Off. As you rightly observed earlier on, attention is seldom permanent but has an 'on and off' button. It digresses and wanders off very easily. At the beginning of the self-mastery process, we soon discover, much to our frustration, that our attention is drawn automatically to something, be it an association, a moving object, a loud noise, or something someone said. Most of the time, we cannot hold our attention. It is drawn in a particular direction and is not directed. And in the process we waste much precious energy.

     - Like a Muscle. Finally, attention is like a muscle. As we have said before, the more you use it, the more it develops. Initially, it may require much energy to keep its flame alight and this in turn may feel too tiring at times. But if we keep at it, constantly reminding ourselves of both our aims and goals, our 'muscle' gets stronger and it becomes easier to flex it. Gurdjieff once advised: "To achieve this aim [of self-obsevation], you must try and try. When you try, the result will not be, in the true sense, self-observation. But trying will strengthen your attention; you will learn to concentrate better. And this will be useful later. Only then can one begin to remember oneself."

Practicing Attention

But let's not get too caught up in these various definitions and characteristics. For our purposes here, all of you can experience attention simply and directly by doing the following. Whilst you are listening to me, please look at your index finger in your left hand and feel it in full. Bring all your attention to sensing this finger as you continue to listen to me. Do it. Right. You are now in attention and have successfully divided yourself in two. And of course, if you see yourself doing all this, you are then in full self-observation. Any comments?

It is quite amazing. You feel very present! All my thoughts have stopped.

Exactly. By dividing your attention and placing half of it on your hand, you have succeeded in breaking the grip of identification. You remain separate. Your associative machinery has grinded to a halt and for a short while, you were not lost in daydreams, uncontrolled imagination, or fantasies.

Now contrast this to what you generally see around you. One of my prefered pastimes is to sit in public places like restaurants and parks and observe people around me, focusing on their restless bodies. If you do the same, you will notice how we all, men and women, automatically display nervous and restless movements, tics, habits as we walk, talk, eat, or just sit. When we walk, we seem powerless to move about purposefully and in full presence. We seldom get up from our chair in full awareness of all the limbs involved. We do not walk by capitalizing on the momentum created by the first step, balancing our head evenly on our spine. Instead, we get up automatically, nervously or apathetically, all too often adopting some unfortunate crooked or uneven posture. Similarly, when we talk, we seem incapable of keeping a face whose eyebrows are not knotted or avoiding these unconscious gestures such as rubbing our nose, frowning, or stroking our hair. As we speak, we seem unable to avoid using language tics full of slang, jargon, or colloquial speech that would have caused our English teacher to squirm in embarrassment. As we drink or eat, we struggle to make complete contact with whatever touches our lips, prefering instead to gulp down everything or masticate endlessly, or play absentmindedly with the utensils in front of us. Even as we sit, we appear adamant that we should cup our chin, stroke our beards, adopt a slouched or rigid position, cross and re-cross our legs, straighten our ties or skirts, or stare endlessly into the void, lost in our imagination. And when we get home, we see nothing wrong when we, or our kids, eat whilst watching television, or read a newspaper whilst music pours out of the hi-fi. In fact, we call this whole circus "multi-tasking" and are rather proud that we can thus "attend" to many things at the same time.

I recently came across this piece on attention by Michel Waldberg. Can I share it with the newcomers?

Please do.

He wrote: "We move like ghosts. None of our actions is the fruit of considered will. All our gestures have something jerky and inharmonious about them. We pay no attention to things. Neither the grain of this paper nor the coolness of that glass affect us. And we pass by other ghosts, with worn-out faces, whose twisted skeletons creak with the flesh. We are haggard, crooked, putrefying. We wear absurd clothes, and wear them without elegance. And we think. Or rather, images flit about in our heads, memories, obsessions. Even supposing that we do claim to be happy, it is the happiness of pigs in a wallow. Sometimes a few sparks flare in the night of our consciousness. We are assailed by vertigo, and make haste to forget them. We have love and respect neither for earth nor sky. We make use of objects without seeing that we are mishandling them. Go into a restaurant and watch the men and women who would set up such a howl if somebody were to assert their absence of consciousness. Forks and spoons are lifted towards mouths which open mechanically. Do they even know what they are eating -- leaf, root, slice of dead animal? It is enough for it to be 'good' -- no, not even that, for it to be 'edible' -- and decomposing flesh cooked and re-cooked in stale oils slides into the stomach. Let anyone who lays claim to consciousness at least have the grace not to bolt down his food like an animal: at that moment I might be able to believe him."

From: 'The Triumph of Self-Mastery: A Fourth Way Guide', pgs. 96-100
by Eric Charoux, Ph.D.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Return to the Root of Your Self

Don't go, come near!
Don't be faithless, be faithful!
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.

Molded of clay, yet kneaded
from the substance of certainty,
a guard at the Treasury of Holy Light--
come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Once you get a hold of selflessness,
you'll be dragged from your ego,
and freed from many traps--
come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

You are born from the children of God's creation,
but you've fixed your sight too low.
How can you be happy?
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Though you are a talisman protecting a great treasure,
you are also the mine.
Open your hidden eyes
and come to the root of the root of your Self.

You were born from a ray of God's majesty
and have the blessings of a good star.
Why suffer at the hands of things that don't exist?
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

You came here from the prescence of that fine Friend,
a little drunk, but gentle, stealing our hearts
with that look so full of fire, so
come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

Our master and host, Shamsi Tabriz,
has put the eternal cup before you.
Glory be to God, what a rare wine!
So come, return to the root of the root of your Self.

 - Jalaludin Rumi, Divani Shamsi Tabriz #120 -

You have scattered your awareness in all directions,
and your vanities are not worth a bit of cabbage.
The root of every thorn
draws the water of your attention toward itself.
How will the water of your attention reach the fruit?
Cut through the evil roots, cut them away,
Direct the Bounty of God to spirit and to insight,
not to the knotted and broken world outside.

 - Rumi, Mathnawi, V, 1084-86 -


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Awareness Function of the Life Force

The human being is essentially the Awareness Function of the Life Force. This awareness has two basic functions: it decides what is true and what is valuable. That information goes from awareness to the Life Force. The awareness evaluates, with feeling, any impression or sensation as being true or false.

Now the Life Force always does the appropriate thing for the information it receives from awareness and then the appropriate function takes place into the environment and that cycle is completed.

Impressions come into awareness, awareness has the job (attribute or function) to interpret every sensation or impression as to its validity of truth and its value. That is what goes to the Life Force which is the life principal no one can define. At a later date, we will take up some further study on the nature and the way the Life Force operates. In the meantime, we will leave it without further theories. We will observe what it does but we will not give it any attribute other than that it always does the appropriate thing for the information received.

When this is the state of existence, the I being indentified with the false selves, the Life Force provides energy to the conditioning as though it were I. All human energy comes from the Life Force. It is all the Life Force energy. The false selves, the bits of conditioning, would, of course, wither away and not have any power nor energy to express except that I indentifies with them and they receive energy from the Life Force.

The way out is for I, the real awareness, to disidentify from all that one possesses; from all that one calls "my." My opinion, my thoughts, my feelings, my attitude, my house, my everything; everything that one possesses because that which we possess we depend on and we depend on it to give us the ideals and we are very disappointed when it doesn't. We are disappointed when this ideal of the purpose of living of being nondisturbed is not achieved. When disappointed, we feel hurt, look for blame, and then we have anger, guilt, fear, insecurity, and a host of the subdivisions of those very unpleasant damaging emotions. So the way out is for the awareness, I, to disidentify from all that one claims to possess, everything that one says "my" to......

No longer is it "I am doing this", but I is observing the self (nafs) doing this. We begin to sense an entirely different sense of I. It is the beginning, and only the beginning, of a permanent state called I. I has been jumping from one that wants to complain to the one that wants to please, to the improver, to the blamer, back to the believer in authorities. There was no permanent I, it jumped all over. Now this little thing of disidentifying and beginning to observe the self will not be possible 100% of the time, but it can be done considerably, and every moment that is spent on it is accumulative and it weakens all of the false selves.

I is reporting to the Life Force. I has taken up its rightful position. The Prodigal Son has arisen from the hog pen in Egypt, which all the conditioning represents, and has started home.

As I observes the false selves without condemnation or justification, the Life Force renders them inoperative, one by one.

We fall asleep again and again, but when I wakes up again, I merely says, "I am back on the job and reporting to the Life Force." Now there will be a host of accusing false selves, the self-improving I's that say, "You ought to believe and do as you are told by your authorities" (a very large family of them because there have been many authorities). One says you ought to be different, and they will all accuse I for having gone to sleep from time to time but I does not indentify with them, does not accept their accusations or their condemning, and does not talk back to them. It merely reports that there are accusing false selves saying that the observer never should have gone to sleep, and the Life Force renders them inoperative. One does not contend with these false selves. I is an observer and reporter to X, and nothing else.

The function of the physical body is an instrument of the expression of the Life Force. I is awake and aware and reports. If correct information goes to the Life Force from I, and the conditioning is disidentified from, the body undergoes a rejuvenation, the same as awareness; it is a new person because it is no longer being used for purposes that no longer exist but which was reported by a false self in the name of I to the Life Force. Now, as we observe this, we will see how the body completely changes as I observes self and does not indentify with self. The self owns houses, cars, opinions, bank accounts, viewpoints and rights. But I only OBSERVES. I is a FUNCTION of the Life Force and observes the self, and the Life Force renders inoperative those various bits of conditioning one by one. One does not have to judge, condemn, or justify the false selves. The Life Force knows what to do.

The function of everyday life is to bring about the play of the Life Force in awareness; to bring about the ever changing series of events that continually give us all the values and joys of living when we can report accurately. When we have been taken over by usurpers and they are talking in our name, that function demonstrates very clearly that error is being reported to X, but the Life Force only accepts as fact everything that awareness reports to it, whether from a false self or an I. So we see very excellent reasons for observing the false selves. They are speaking in your name to the SOURCE OF ALL ENERGY.

From: The Science of Witnessing, some ideas based on the teachings of Robert Gibson
Edited and reworked by Shaykh Kabir Helminski


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I = Awareness

The fundamental questions, "Who am I?" and "What am I?" arise increasingly in the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. Therapists hear them as explicit queries or in indirect form: "Who is the real me?" or "I don't know what I want -- part of me wants one thing and part of me wants something else. What do I want?" Western psychology is severely handicapped in dealing with these questions because the center of human experience -- the observing self -- is missing from its theories. Yet, at the heart of psychopathology lies a fundamental confusion between the self as object and the self of pure subjectivity. Emotions, thoughts, impulses, images, and sensations are the contents of consciousness: we witness them; we are aware of their existence. Likewise, the body, the self-image, and the self-concept are all constructs that we observe. But our core sense of personal existence -- the "I" -- is located in awareness itself, not in its contents.

The distiction between awareness and the content of awareness tends to be ignored in Western psychology, its implications for our everyday life are not appreciated. Indeed, most people have trouble recognizing the difference between awareness and content, which are part of everyday life. Yet, careful observation shows people that they can suspend their thoughts, that they can experience silence or darkness and the temporary absence of images or memory patterns -- that any element of mental life can disappear while awareness itself remains. Awareness is the ground of conscious life, the background or field in which all elements exist, different from thoughts, sensations or images. One can experience the distinction simply by looking straight ahead. Be aware of what you experience, then close your eyes. Awareness remains. "Behind" your thoughts and images is awareness, and that is where you are.

What we know as our self is separate from our thoughts, memories, feelings, and any content of consciousness. No Western psychological theory concerns itself with this fundamental fact; all describe self in terms of everything but the observer, who is the center of experience. This crucial omission stems from the fact that the observing self is an anomaly -- not an object, like everything else. Our theories are based on objects: we think in terms of objects, talk in terms of objects. It is not just the physical world that we apprehend in that way; the elements of our mental life are similar. Seemingly diffuse and amorphous emotions are localized and observable; they have definite qualities. Emotions, like fluid objects, are entities we observe. Images, memories and thoughts are objects we grasp, manipulate, and encompass by awareness just as we do the components of the physical world. In contrast, we cannot observe the observing self; we must experience it directly. It has no defining qualities, no boundaries, no dimensions. The observing self has been ignored by Western psychology because it is not an object and cannot fit the assumptions and framework of current theory.

Lacking understanding of this elusive, central self, how are we to answer the essential questions "Who am I?" "What am I?" that lie at the heart of science, philosophy, the arts, the search for meaning? To find answers we must step outside the boundaries of our traditional modes of thought.

We seem to have numerous "I"s. There is the I of "I want", the I of "I wrote a letter", the I of "I am a psychiatrist", or "I am thinking." But there is another I that is basic, that underlies desires, activities and physical characteristics. This "I" is the subjective sense of our existence. It is different from self-image, the body, passions, fears, social category; these are aspects of our person that we usually refer to when we speak of the self, but they do not refer to the core of our conscious being, they are not the origin of our sense of personal existence.

         Experiment 1: Stop for a moment and look inside. Try and sense the very origin
         of your most basic, most personal "I", your core subjective experience. What is
         the root of the "I" feeling? Try to find it.

When you introspect you will find that no matter what the contents of your mind, the most basic "I", is something different. Every time you try to observe the "I" it takes a jump back with you, remaining out of sight. At first you may say, "When I look inside as you suggest, all I find is content of one sort or another." I reply, "Who is looking? Is it not you? If that "I" is a content, can you decribe it? Can you observe it?" The core "I" of subjectivity is different from any content because it turns out to be that which witnesses -- not that which is observed. The "I" can be experienced, but it cannot be "seen." "I" is the observer, the experiencer, prior to all conscious content......

However, when we use introspection to search for the origin of our subjectivity, we find that the search for "I" leaves the customary aspects of personhood behind and takes us closer and closer to awareness, per se. If this process of introspective observation is carried to its conclusion, even the background sense of core subjective self disappears into awareness. Thus, if we proceed phenomenologically, we find that the "I" is identical to awareness: "I" = awareness.

Awareness is something apart from, and different from, all that of which we are aware: thoughts, emotions, images, sensations, desires, and memory. Awareness is the ground in which the mind's contents manifest themselves; they appear in it and disappear once again.

I use the word 'awareness' to mean the ground of all experience. Any attempt to describe it ends in a description of what we are aware of. On this basis some argue that awareness per se doesn't exist. But careful introspection reveals that the objects of awareness -- sensations, thoughts, memories, images and emotions -- are constantly changing and superseding each other. In contrast, awareness continues independent of any mental contents.

        Experiment 2: Look straight ahead. Now shut your eyes. the rich visual world has
        disappeared to be replaced by an amorphous field of blackness, perhaps with red
        and yellow tinges. But awareness hasn't changed. You will notice that awareness
        continues as your thoughts come and go, as memories arise and replace each
        other, as desires emerge and fantasies develop, change and vanish. Now try and
        observe awareness. You cannot. Awareness cannot be made an object of
        observation because it is the very means whereby you can observe.

Awareness may vary in intensity as our total state changes, but it is usually a constant. Awareness cannot itself be observed, it is not an object, not a thing. Indeed, it is featureless, lacking form, texture, colour, spatial dimensions. These characteristics indicate that awareness is of a different nature than the contents of the mind; it goes beyond sensations, emotions, ideation, memory. Awareness is at a different level, it is prior to contents, more fundamental. Awareness has no intrinsic content, no form, no surface characteristics -- it is unlike everything else we experience, unlike objects, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or memories.

Eastern mystical traditions use meditation practice to experience the difference between mental activities and the self that observes. For example, the celebreated Yogi, Ramana Maharshi, prescribed the exercise of "Who am I?" to demonstrate that the self that observes is not an object; it does not belong to the domains of thinking, feeling or action (Osborne, 1954). 'If I lost my arm, I would still exist. Therefore, I am not my arm. If I could not hear, I would still exist. therefore, I am not my hearing.' And so on, discarding all other aspects of the person until finally, 'I am not this thought', which could lead to a radically different experience of the "I". Similarly, in Buddhist Vipassana meditation, the meditator is instructed to simply note whatever arises, letting it come and go. This heightens the distinction between the flow of thoughts and feelings and that which observes.

Attempts to integrate Eastern and Western psychologies can fall prey to the same confusion of "I" and contents, even by those who have practiced Eastern meditation disciplines. Consider the following passage from The Embodied Mind, a text based on experience with mindfulness meditation and correlating Western psychological science with Buddhist psychology.

" our search for a self....we found all the various forms in which we can be aware -- awareness of seeing and hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, even awareness of our own thought processes. So the only thing we didn't find was a truly existing self or ego. But notice that we did find experience. Indeed, we entered the very eye of the storm of experience, we just simply could discern there no self, no "I" (Varela et al., 1991)."

But when they say, "....we just simply could discern there no self, no 'I'", to what does "we" refer? Who is looking? Who is discerning? Is it not the "I" of the authors? A classic story adapted from the Vedantic tradition is relevant here:

A group of travellers forded a river. Afterwards, to make sure everyone had crossed safely, the leader counted the group but omitted himself from the count. Each member did the same and they arrived at the conclusion that one of them was missing. The group then spent many unhappy hours searching the river until, finally, a passerby suggested that each person count their own self, as well. The travellers were overjoyed to find that no one was missing and all proceeded on their way.

Like the travellers, Western psychology often neglects to notice the one that counts. Until it does, its progress will be delayed.....

Knowing by being that which is known is ontologically different from perceptual knowledge. That is why someone might introspect and not see awareness or the "I", concluding -- like the travellers -- that it doesn't exist. But thought experiments and introspective meditation techniques are able to extract the one who is looking from what is seen, restoring the missing center.

Once we grant the identity of "I" and awareness we are compelled to extend to the core subjective self whatever ontological propositions seem appropriate for awareness. If awareness is non-local, then so is the essential self. If awareness transcends material reality, so does the "I". If awareness is declared to be non-existent, then that same conclusion must apply to the "I". No matter what one's ontological bias, recognition that "I" = awareness has profound implications for our theoretical and personal perspective.

From: 'The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy' and 'I' = Awareness' by Dr. Arthur Deikman, both of which can be found in their entirety here:


Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Know Mind

A long time ago a famous Zen Master would say, "Understand your true self." One day, one of his students asked him, "Do you understand your true self?" He said, "I don't know. But I understand this 'don't know'." That's a famous "don't know" classic. So this "don't know" mind is very important. Keep this "don't know" mind and listen to me, OK?

When you are thinking, your mind and my mind are different. When you cut off all thinking, then your mind and my mind are the same. If you keep "don't know" mind one hundred percent -- don't know -- at that time, your "don't know" mind, my "don't know" mind, everbody's "don't know" mind are the same. "Don't know" mind has already stopped thinking. Stopped thinking means no thinking. No thinking means empty mind. Empty mind means before thinking. Your before thinking is your substance. My before thinking is my substance (hits his chest). This stick's substance, universal substance, everything's substance, is the same substance.

So, when you keep "don't know" mind one hundred percent -- don't know -- at that time you are the universe, the universe is you. You and everything have become one. That is, as we say, primary point. So, "don't know" is not don't know, "don't know" is primary point. Primary point's name is "don't know." Some people say primary point's name is mind, or Buddha, or God, or nature, or substance, or absolute, or energy, or holy, or consciousness, or everything. But true primary point has no name, no form, no speech, no word, because it is before thinking. Only when you keep a "don't know" mind one hundred percent -- don't know -- at that time you and everything have already become one. So I ask you, when you keep "don't know", at that time, are this stick and you the same or different?.... If you say "the same", I will hit you thirty times. If you say "different", I will still hit you thirty times. Why?

The mind that becomes one with the universe is before thinking. Before thinking there are no words. "Same" and "different" are opposite words; they are from the mind that separates all things. That is why I will hit you if you say either one.....

You asked why I use words to teach if understanding through words is impossible. Words are not necessary. But they are very necessary. If you are attached to words, you cannot return to your true self. If you are not attached to words, soon you will attain enlightenment. So if you are thinking, words are very bad. But if you are not thinking, all words and all things that you can see or hear or smell or taste or touch will help you. So it is very important to cut off your thinking and your attachment to words.

Here is a poem for you:

Buddha said all things have Buddha-nature.
Joju said the dog has no Buddha-nature.
Which one is correct?
If you open your mouth, you fall into hell.
Clouds float up to the sky;
Rain falls down to the ground.

 - Zen Master Seung Sahn -

If one can really come to the state of saying, "I don't know", it indicates an extraordinary sense of humility; there is no arrogance of knowledge; there is no self-assertive answer to make an impression. When you can actually say, "I don't know", which very few are capable of saying, then in that state all fear ceases because all sense of recognition, the search into memory, has come to an end; there is no longer inquiry into the field of the known. Then comes the extraordinary thing. If you have so far followed what I am talking about, not just verbally, but if you are actually experiencing it, you will find that when you can say, "I don't know", all conditioning has stopped. And what then is the state of the mind?.....

We are seeking something permanent -- permanent in the sense of time, something enduring, everlasting. We see that everything about us is transient, in flux, being born, withering, and dying.....But that which is truly sacred is beyond the measure of time; it is not to be found within the field of the known.

 - Jiddu Krishnamurti -

"Not-knowing" is emphasized in Zen practice, where it is sometimes called "beginner's mind." An expert may know a subject deeply, yet be blinded to new possibilities by his or her preconceived ideas. In contrast, a beginner may see with fresh, unbiased eyes. The practice of beginner's mind is to cultivate an ability to meet life without preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgements.....

A simple but profound way to practice not-knowing is to add "I don't know" to every thought. This is most effective in meditation when the mind has quieted down. So, for example, if the judgement arises, "This is a good meditation session" or "This is a bad meditation session", respond with "I don't know." Follow the thought, "I can't manage this", "I need....", or "I am....." with "I don't know." Like the bumper sticker that says "Question Authority", the phrase "I don't know" questions the authority of everything we think.

Repeating the words "I don't know" allows us to question tightly-held ideas. Done thoroughly, "I don't know" can pull the rug out from under our most cherished beliefs. All too often we don't question our beliefs. And, since virtually every train of thought has some implicit belief, when we question our thoughts, we question these beliefs......

Don't know. Don't know. Repeated regularly, it almost becomes a mantra in response to what we think or believe. This phrase can open up a space in the mind, helping it to relax and rest. The little phrase, "I don't know" is very, very powerful.

From: 'Not-Knowing', a talk by Gil Fronsdal 2/10/04

Beginner's mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgements and prejudices. Beginner's mind is just present to explore and observe and see "things-as-it-is." I think of beginner's mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiousity and wonder and amazement. "I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?" Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgement, just asking, "What is it?".......

Can we look at our lives in such a way? Can we look at all the aspects of our lives with this mind, just open to see what there is to see? I don't know about you, but I have a hard time doing that. I have a lot of habits of mind -- I think most of us do. Children begin to lose that innocent quality after a while, and soon they want to be "the one who knows." We all want to be the one who knows. But if we decide we "know" something, we are not open to other possibilities anymore. And that's a shame. We lose something very vital in our life when it's more important to us to be "one who knows" than it is to be awake to what's happening. We get disappointed because we expect one thing, and it doesn't happen quite like that. Or we think something ought to be like this, and it turns out different. Instead of saying, "Oh, isn't that interesting", we say, "Yuck, not what I thought it would be." Pity. The very nature of beginner's mind is not knowing in a certain way, not being an expert. As Suzuki Roshi said in the prologue to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the experts there are few." As an expert, you've already got it figured out, so you don't need to pay attention to what's happening. Pity.

How can we cultivate this mind that is free to just be awake? In zazen, in just sitting, in sitting and noticing the busyness of our mind and all of the fixed views that we carry. Once we notice the fixed views that we are carrying around with us, the preconceptions that we are carrying around with us, then it is possible for us to let them go and say, "Well, maybe so, maybe not." Suzuki Roshi once said, "The essence of Zen is 'Not Always So'. "Not always so." It's a good little phrase to carry around when you're sure. It gives you an opportunity to look again more carefully and see what other possibilities there might be in the situation.

In China, there was a teacher named Dizang (J.: Rakan) who had a student named Fayan (J.: Hogen). Dizang saw Fayan all dressed in his travelling clothes, with his straw sandals and his staff, and a pack on his back, and Dizang said, "Where are you going?" Fayan answered, "Around on a pilgrimage." Dizang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?" Fayan said, "I don't know." Dizang said, "Not knowing is nearest." Sometimes it's translated as "Not knowing is most intimate." Not knowing is nearest or most intimate.

So what is this "not knowing"? This is not the same "not knowing" as when Zhaozhou (J.: Joshu) asked his teacher Nanquan (J.: Nansen), "What is the way?" Nanquan answered, "Ordinary mind is the way." Just your mind, the way it is right here and right now. Zhaozhou asked, "Well, shall I seek after it or not?" Nanquan said, "If you seek after it, you will miss it." Zhaozhou said, "If I don't seek after it, how will I know the way?" Nanquan said, "The way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion, and not knowing is dullness. When you reach the Way beyond all doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. What can that have to do with right and wrong?"

Nanquan's "not knowing" is paired up with knowing. It's a dualistic pair -- not knowing as opposed to knowing. But Fayan's "not knowing" is just "I don't know, I'm going to see. I'm just going to set out and trust what occurs." That not knowing is non-dualistic. It's not set up against knowing. It's just "I'm going to set out on this pilgrimage and see what happens. Just this is it. Just each moment. Just this is it. Each moment I'll see what happens." With that kind of openness and readiness, when Dizang said "not knowing is nearest", Fayan opened up completely.

When he spoke of "beginner's mind", I think Suzuki Roshi was pointing to that kind of mind that's not already made up. The mind that's just investigating, open to whatever occurs, curious. Seeking, but not with expectation or grasping. Just being there and observing and seeing what occurs. Being ready for whatever experience arises in this moment.

Returning to Fayan's story, we need to remember that pilgrimage was an arduous undertaking in China fifteen hundred years ago. It meant walking long distances in straw sandals, depending on alms for food, visiting teachers, and trying to settle "the great matter": What is this? Who am I? What am I? What is this? How do I live a life that is impermanent? Given that life is impermanent, how do I live? What is this? These are very urgent questions when we come to actually have a strong sense of our beingness in the world. When our mind is somehow turned from its preoccupation with acquisition which is so prevalent in our society these days. Acquiring material goods, acquiring knowledge -- being one who knows. Getting. It's endless. As Stephen Batchelor says in Alone with Others, this horizontal dimension of having or getting or acquiring just goes on and on; there's always more. It's insatiable. There's never enough. But sometime, something will turn or transform our attention from this dimension of having and accumulating and acquiring to the dimension of being. What is that? What is it to be human? What is life? What am I? How shall I manifest this life now? This becomes the great matter.

From: 'Lecture on Beginner's Mind' - Abbess Zenkei, Blache Hartman


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Awakening of Intelligence

The awakening of intelligence occurs in a human being when I at long last come to realize that by myself I cannot change, it is impossible. I am trapped in a loop, a recurring cycle, a box. Help is needed and thinking my way out of the box is impossible. It is not possible to think outside the box. If I am thinking, I am always and only inside the box. The mind itself is the box. The mind is a binary computer. That means it can only think in one way: by association, comparison-contrast, this-and not this, black-white, good-evil, like-dislike. It always and only thinks by comparison, by association; it is a computer, thus its only function is to store information from the past, from what is already known.

What I call "thinking" is merely the minds memory function examining its contents, which is the past stored as memory. And the only aim of memory is to repeat its contents and maintain its patterns. It has only one function: to think. It cannot do anything else. So naturally it seeks to convince me that thinking is the most important thing I can do and that if I don't think about everything all the time, I will die. Once it convinces me of the centrality of thought, now I am identified and it is in control. Our whole society and the education system which mirrors it is created around the centrality of the mind.

I cannot think my way out of the box. When I think about God, or infinity, anything, these are concepts and they are inside the box: God exists inside the box, infinity exists inside the box. In fact, every single thing you can name ot think about is inside the box. See if you can internalize this intuitively without thinking about it. Everything you know is inside the box. If you know it and can name it, it is inside the box. What is outside the box is the category of things unknown, which is reality. This includes love which cannot be known, spoken about, or understood. We name it for convenience but it is not that which we have named.

We name God for convenience but it is not that which we have named. The great master Jesus said, "God is love" but he knew very well that both these terms were absurd and meaningless, only words, not the thing itself. However, he was required to speak to idiots, little unconscious children like me, so he used simple, clear language to instruct us, which is what the Work teaches us to do. Break it down into simple terms so that our little infantile pea-brains can comprehend what it is we are meant to be doing here.

So in order to move outside the box, I must begin to comprehend the universe in a new way, not through the intellectual center's activity. The intellectual center must become passive, alert, receptive; it must remain in the mode of "I don't know", organically ignorant. This is the awakening of intelligence. It sounds contradictory, paradoxical: in order for real intelligence to awaken in me, the intellect must become ignorant. See if you can intuitively understand what this might mean. Faithful self observation over a long period of time will bring me to the state of "I don't know." Only then can real intelligence operate. Before then, all that I know, all that is stored in memory as knowledge, blocks the operation of intelligence. Real intelligence comes from outside the body, from higher centers, and it comes in the form of intuition and inspiration, higher intellectual and higher emotional functions.

When the mind is quiet and receptive -- and it cannot be receptive as long as it believes it knows and chatters all the time -- then the mode of apprehension of reality outside the box is direct experience; the mode of comprehension outside the box is intuition; and the mode of expression outside the box is inspiration. These are the modes of real intelligence. The right hemisphere is merely the receiver which, when tuned to higher frequencies, receives input from higher centers. Quiet mind and peaceful heart together, acting as one in harmony, receive wisdom. To do so, what is required of me is "not doing." That is, there must be a surrender of random, mechanical thought in the intellectual center and indentification with emotions from the emotional center.

Meditation is the most ancient, scientific, and reliable method of doing this. Self observation without judgement or interference is simply meditation in action. Thus I make the crucial distinction between thinking, which is always and only inside the box, and the direct comprehension of reality, which is outside the box.

Real intelligence is the awakening of the clear channel between heart/mind and higher centers so that I can receive wisdom. It does not come from me, but is received by me. Wisdom is available to all, but at a price: the price is the surrender of all that I think I know and leap into the abyss, into the unknown......

From: 'Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience- An Owner's Manual'
by Red Hawk


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Toward the Unknown

In my search to see reality in myself, I may come to the door of perception. But it will not open, truth will not be revealed, so long as I cling to what I know. I need to have empty hands to approach the unknown.

At the outset I cannot affirm who I am. All I can do is begin to distinguish myself from my ordinary "I", to see that I am not my associations, I am not my feelings, I am not my sensations. But the question then arises: Who am I? I need to listen, I become quiet to mobilize all my attention and come to a more balanced state. Am I this? No, but the direction is good. From dispersion, I go toward unity. My search can continue. Yet I see the energy of my thinking, moved by all the thoughts that seize it, has neither force nor direction. In order to go toward the source of "I", it must be gathered and concentrated on one question: "Who am I?" I learn not to turn away.

I do not know who I am, and all that I know cannot be an answer. The unknown, the mysterious, cannot be discerned by the known. On the contrary, what I know, what I have learned, prevents me from discovering what is. The whole process of my thinking, the conditioning of the known, encloses me in the field of my thought and prevents me from going further. I find pleasure in this conditioning and security, and unconsciously cling to it.

I am unable to face the unknown. I feel it empty, like a void that must be filled. I have a constant tendency to fill it with answers, projecting a false image on the screen of my mind. I am afraid I will not find myself. And in order to resolve this uncertainty, to avoid dissatisfaction, I constantly allow something false to be affirmed. Yet I need this uncertainty, this dissatisfaction, as an indication from my feeling that shows the way back toward myself. It shows the necessity of being more sensitive to the one thing I turn away from, to accept emptiness, the void.

To approach the unknown would mean to come to the door of perception and be able to open it, and to see. But I can see nothing as long as I am taken by words, always putting a name on something and recognizing the object by its name. Words create a limit, a barrier. To enter the unknown, my mind must see this limit as a fact, without judging it good or bad, or submitting to its influence. Can I see myself without putting a word on what I see? I am at the door of perception with an attention that does not turn away.

I learn to listen to the unknown in myself. I do not know, and I listen, constantly refusing each known response. From moment to moment, I recognize that I do not know, and I listen. The very act of listening is a liberation. It is an action that does not flee the present, and when I know the present as it is, there is transformation. I go toward the unknown until I come to a moment when no thought moves my mind, when there is nothing outside myself. I do not know who I am. I do not know whence I came. I do not know where I will go. I doubt all that I know, and have nothing to rely on. All I wish is to understand what I am. Without words, without form, the body and its density disappear. I become as if transparent to myself. Now there is only room for purity, a quality as light as air. I feel that in the search for myself, and only in this search, lies my liberation.

- From: 'The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff' by Jeanne De Salzmann -

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ayin: Mystical Nothingness

Ayin, nothingness, is more existant than all the being of the world. But since it is simple, and every simple thing is complex compared with its simplicity, it is called Ayin.

The inner power is called Ayin because thought does not grasp it, nor reflection. Concerning this, Job said, "Wisdom comes into being out of ayin."

The depth of primordial being is called Boundless. Because of its concealment from all creatures above and below, it is called Nothingness. If one asks, "What is it?" the answer is, "Nothing", meaning: No one can understand anything about it. It is negated by every conception. No one can know anything about it -- except the belief that it exists. Its existence cannot be grasped by anyone other than it. Therefore its name is "I am becoming."

You may be asked: "How did God bring forth being from nothingness? Is there not an immense difference between being and nothingness?"

Answer as follows: "Being is in nothingness in the mode of nothingness, and nothingness is in being in the mode of being." Nothingness is being and being is nothingness. The node of being as it begins to emerge from nothingness into existence is called faith. For the term "faith" applies neither to visible, comprehensible being, nor to nothingness, invisible and incomprehensible, but rather to the nexus of nothingness and being. Being does not stem from nothingness alone but rather, from being and nothingness together. All is one in the simplicity of absolute indifferentiation. Our limited mind cannot grasp or fathom this, for it joins infinity.

Arouse yourself to contemplate, to focus thought, for God is the annihilation of all thoughts, uncontainable by any concept. Indeed, since no one can contain God at all, it is called Nothingness, Ayin. This is the secret of the verse, "Wisdom comes into being out of ayin."

The beginning of existence is the secret concealed point, primordial wisdom, the secret conceptual point. This is the beginning of all the hidden things, which spread out from there and emanate, according to their species. From a single point you can extend the dimensions of all things. Similarly, when the concealed arouses itself to exist, at first it brings into being something the size of the point of a needle; from there it generates everything.

Contemplate this: When the emanation was emanated out of Ayin, all things and all sephirot were dependent on thought. God's secret existence emerged from this single point. That which abides in thought yet cannot be grasped is called wisdom: Hokhmah.
What is the meaning of Hokhmah? Hakkehmah. Since you can never grasp it, hakkeh, "wait", for mah, "what" will come and what will be. This is the sublime, primordial wisdom emerging out of Ayin.

Think of yourself as Ayin and forget yourself totally. Then you can transcend time, rising to the world of thought, where all is equal: life and death, ocean and dry land. Such is not the case if you are attached to the material nature of the world. If you think of yourself as something, then God cannot clothe himself in you, for God is infinite. No vessel can contain God, unless you think of yourself as Ayin.

From: 'The Essential Kabbalah' - Daniel C. Matt

Jewish wisdom-story tells about an advanced student in Jewish mysticism who traveled to a secret institution which housed the most enlightened beings of the time. This student wanted desperately to gain admittance so that he could grow in his wisdom. But he had to pass a test to be accepted by these learned people, who were called the Masters of Concentration.

One of the elders said to the young man, "My son, you are on the right path and your goal is admirable. But to join our community you must have reached a level of equanimity (hishtavut). Can you say to us that you have achieved equanimity?"

The young man had not expected such a question. He asked the elder, "Master, please, explain what you mean by equanimity."

The old man said, "My son, if you know one person who honors and praises you, and another person who depises and insults you, are both of these people the same to you?"

The young man sat quietly for a while, carefully investigating his own feelings. Then he replied, "Master, clearly I derive pleasure and satisfaction from the person who honors me, and pain from the one who insults me. But I can say in all honesty that I do not feel any sense of wanting revenge, nor do I bear a grudge. So I believe that I have attained equanimity."

The elder shook his head. "No, my son, you have not attained equanimity by our measure. The fact that your soul experiences the pain of an insult means that you will not be able to attach your thoughts entirely to God. Our level of concentration requires that you cannot waver, even for a moment. Therefore, go in peace until you become truly equanimous so that you will be able to concentrate."

The entrance requirements for this this mystical academy seem quite rigorous. Is it not enough that we are able to overcome our disturbing thoughts? Can we actually reach a state of mind in which such thoughts never arise in the first place? The Jewish sages say yes, as do major teachers in most spiritual traditions.

The state of mind that we need to attain is called ayin, Nothingness. We have to be nothing in our own eyes, and therefore nonreactive. As we have just seen, we can achieve the level of ayin through the contemplative practice of bittul ha-yesh, the path of selflessness. Thus, selflessness is a precondition for equanimity.

In the state of ayin, we discover an entirely different relationship with questions such as: Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Am I a name? Am I a relationship with my family? Am I something distinguished by an address, driver's liscense, social-security card, library card, or telephone number? From the perspective of selflessness, we realize that although we may be indentified by and associated with objective symbols, our essential souls are something else, something that transcends names, numbers, measurements, or other common forms of identification.

Who am I? I am nobody. There is no I. There is only that which enables the question to be asked in the first place. Who is asking? God-ing is asking through this body, this mind. Who is thinking? Who is reading these words?

Herein is the mystical secret that holy sparks are raised when we fully realize that we are nothing but vessels for the Divine Will. Paradoxically the vehicle itself has its own free will. When the conductors (you and I) of this free will believe that we are separate identities, we limit and detach ourselves from the source of life, and the sparks thereby cannot be returned to their root. When we appreciate that we are empowered by a central force, then our free will is used for the benefit of this central force, and the holy sparks are returned to their root.

The merging of our free will with the will of the Divine causes a new "sustenance" to flow in the universe. That is, this combination raises sparks and brings about a new level of consciousness in all the universes of this creation. This is the product of attaching Thought, the mind, to Nothingness, the center of creation.

Thus, we practice the path of equanimity, which involves attaining the mind-state of selflessness, for much more than personal enlightenment. It is viewed as the path of true wisdom, and it is the process by which new consciousness is raised throughout the universes.

From: 'God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism' - Rabbi David A. Cooper

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Way of Chuang Tzu

The Breath of Nature

When great Nature sighs, we hear the winds
Which, noiseless in themselves,
Awaken voices from other beings,
Blowing on them.
From every opening
Loud voices sound. Have you not heard
This rush of tones?

There stands the overhanging wood
On the steep mountain:
Old trees with holes and cracks
Like snouts, maws, and ears,
Like beam-sockets, like goblets,
Grooves in the wood, hollows full of water:
You hear mooing and roaring, whistling,
Shouts of command, grumblings,
Deep drones, sad flutes.
One call awakens another in dialogue.
Gentle winds sing timidly,
Strong ones blast on without restraint.
Then the wind dies down. The openings
Empty out their last sound.
Have you not observed how all then trembles and subsides?

Yu replied: I understand:
The music of earth sings through a thousand holes.
The music of man is made on flutes and instruments.
What makes the music of heaven?

Master Ki said:
Something is blowing on a thousand different holes.
Some power stands behind all this and makes
the sounds die down.
What is this power?

In My End Is My Beginning

In the Beginning of Beginnings was Void of Void, the Nameless.
And in the Nameless was the One, without body, without form.
This One --- this Being in whom all find power to exist ---
Is the Living.
From the Living comes the Formless, the Undivided.
From the act of this Formless comes the Existents,
Each according to its inner principle.
This is Form. Here body embraces and cherishes spirit.
The two work together as one, blending and manifesting
Their characters. And this is Nature.

But he who obeys Nature returns through Form and Formless
To the Living.
And in the Living
Joins the unbegun Beginning.
The joining is Sameness. The Sameness is Void.
The Void is infinite.
The bird opens its beak and sings its note
And then the beak comes together again in Silence.
So Nature and the Living meet together in Void.
Like the closing of the bird's beak
After its song.
Heaven and Earth come together in the Unbegun,
And all is foolishness, all is unknown,
All is like the lights of an idiot, all is without mind!
To obey is to close the beak and fall into Unbeginning.

From: The Way Of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton