(When asked if I would be willing to have the following article, written by me some 16 years ago, republished, I reread it and found the style rather awkward compared to how I might say things today. I also recognized that if I were to write it over again there are areas where I would say more (or less) than I did originally. Even though my view of things has refined over time, I’m happy for the article to be republished since I’m still comfortable with the essence of what I wrote. My use of such terms as Truth and enlightenment is not with the assumption that there is a common understanding of what these terms mean, nor am I offering one here. My intention is to point to genuine human religious experience that is life changing, regardless of what it is called. HY, March, 2012)
The Truth of Being
I have rewritten parts of this article several times in an attempt to overcome an inability to say what I wish to with both accuracy and economy of words. This present version is a compromise between analysis to the nth degree and the need for succinctness, and I hope that the reader will not fault me for introducing ideas about which much more could be said.
It is unfortunate that most religions have, to varying degrees, elevated the experience of their founder to a level seemingly beyond the reach of most people. In popular Christianity, Christ is seen as other than human and his relationship to the Truth is, by definition, impossible to be duplicated by mortal man or woman. In Buddhism, the concepts of nirvana and enlightenment are too frequently considered so lofty and unreachable that efforts which lead to their attainment are deferred to “future lifetimes when conditions will be more favorable.” Alternately, deep religious Truth can become unreachable not because we see it beyond our ability to experience, but because we become satisfied with a conceptual understanding of such Truth; or we cling to a partial experience of the Real as if it were the whole. Both of these positions, unless gone beyond, prevent us from “knowing” fully that which lies beyond the individual mind.
The existence of the Truth presents a great challenge. Once seen, this challenge exerts an inner pressure which, in time, will become painful if unrelieved. If we try to relieve the pressure by distracting our attention with other things, or by covering it up with rationalizations, it is a great pity, for every person is capable of experiencing That which puts to rest the yearnings within us which prompt the great questions of life. Such understanding is the natural outcome of persevering on the road of Truth no matter how dim the light or how great the temptation is to linger by the roadside, satisfied with what we know in our hearts is not the answer we seek. This road could be described as having four stages and may be likened to a literal road which travels through four countries. When one is firmly established in one of these four stages its full character is most clearly realized, just as the undiluted uniqueness of a country is most readily experienced when in that country’s heartland. The borders between these stages, however, like the borders of countries, share qualities of where one has been as well as where one is going. These four stages could be called (1) ignorant non-duality, (2) duality, (3) illuminated duality and (4) illuminated non-duality.
Ignorant non-duality is the state into which we are born. Our senses soon develop and operate without preconception or calculated self-interest. There is a unity of ourselves with our sense experience and the outside world. These things do not exist separately in our minds, nor does the concept of their unity. The elemental mind and the as yet uncorrupted use of the senses do not produce a dualistic world view, yet the merit of this clear vision goes unappreciated because it is effectively invisible to us. We are like a man born blind who cannot see the darkness that surrounds him since seeing itself has no meaning. Were he to temporarily gain the faculty of sight, the meaning of sight would then be known to him. Should he then lose his sight again, he could then see the darkness which, although present before, went unseen. Similarly, in the beginning, our original non-dualistic mind is unknown to us and has no conscious meaning since meaning itself has no meaning. It is only by mentally creating and entering the realm of meaning, duality, that we can gain the experience which then provides a context in which non-duality can be made meaningful. Both dualistic experience and the inevitable experience of suffering within duality are therefore profoundly important and necessary. One makes the appreciation of enlightenment possible, the other provides the impetus to seek it.
The advancement toward enlightenment, however, should not be seen as an attempt to reclaim some infantile or childhood state of mind. In ignorant non-duality we are passive recipients of the innocence and self-forgetfulness we enjoy simply because the dualistic ego has not yet surfaced and exerted its influence, not because the perspective it creates has been transcended and lost its power and reality. Our calm is the temporary and often uneasy calm before the storm and not the tranquil peace which occurs after the storm and its causes have passed.
The Progression toward Duality
It is just a matter of time before we wander across the border between ignorant non-duality and duality and some can even remember when their sense of self became “set”. This transformation is not a conscious choice on our part. It cannot be attributed simply to the inexperience or failure of society or parents, although these may be contributory factors. It is a virtually inevitable progression brought about by powerful influences within our human makeup, compounded with the effects of our experience and behavior.
A basic understanding of these forces not only helps to explain how we come to be limited by dualistic thinking, but it gives us important insight into how to break its grip. Knowing how a structure is assembled makes its smooth dismantling more certain, especially when the strongest joints may be assembled in the most subtle and difficult to discern manner. Without an appreciation of these subtleties, religious practice can become such that it acts on too shallow a level, becoming inflexible or mechanical, becoming tradition for tradition’s sake, losing sight of its original purpose, and not addressing the deepest needs of the individual. When this occurs, one can expend much sincere effort in one’s practice without making the progress one’s heart had hoped for.
The forces I will consider in this article are those which have the largest causative effect on the way we are. They are those that are most apparent and uniform from one person to the next and should be distinguished from those influences which are less apparent, highly individual in degree of importance, and subject to interpretation as to their origin and meaning. When and if an awareness of these latter types of causes should arise, such as the sensing of possible past life experience, it is usually wise to discuss them with one’s spiritual advisers.
The influences which are the subject of this discussion and which largely account for the appearance of normal dualistic reality could be divided into two categories: unconditioned and conditioned.
The unconditioned forces are those which make up the natural, biological part of our human nature. They are deeply rooted and instinctual, with the bodily desires being among the most obvious. They stem from the past and predispose us to certain perceptions and actions. Although the effects of the unconditioned forces are many, a strong case could be made that the most remarkable effect is the role they play in the forming of the perception of ourselves as separate beings. Virtually all living things exhibit some form of a will to live, without which circumstances would have bid them adieu long ago. Even if based on something false or illusory, anything which helps to fulfill this will to live tends to be held in favor by nature. For example, some moths have large “eye” spots on their wings to deter predators. Although deceptive and unreal, the natural process is quite willing to use such untruths if they help a creature survive and propagate. Similarly, the fracturing of an undivided reality into self and that which is not self, a view ultimately limited and untrue in a religious sense, gives a being with such a world view an advantageous degree of sophistication as far as survival is concerned. That this separation may be ultimately untrue is secondary to the fact that it works as if it were true, and it therefore has a value in being maintained since it provides a frame of reference for more readily recognizing food, danger, enemies, a mate, etc.
As this illusion is honed over the ages, consciousness, which is fundamentally transcendent, becomes falsely identified with the body and we perceive a perishable, isolated and individualized body and mind, that is, “my body” and “my mind.” We have become like a dirty jar with a bright light inside. The thicker the encrustation on the sides of the jar the more the light will only illuminate the jar and its content and not that which is outside the jar. If the jar is clear the light is unimpeded and all is illuminated; there is no difference between inside and out–the distinction falls away. That there appears to be a distinction is all but guaranteed because of the power of the inherited unconditioned forces which, when they surface, essentially predetermine we will be “selves” wandering in the opposites of like and dislike, existence and non-existence, good and bad, etc.
The expression of this wandering is facilitated by the conditioned forces which shape us from moment to moment. The conditioned forces are the effects of experience, which include the results of our own behavior. They contribute not so much to the appearance of the dualistic mind but more to its strength and changing character. For example, interacting with our inherited human capacity to ‘desire’, they compel us to want certain things and to devise ways of getting these things. Unlike the relatively inflexible unconditioned forces, which are resistant to change because they are deeply entrenched, the conditioned forces derive their strength from their changeableness and adaptability.
Once these conditioned forces help draw out the latent self into the world of the opposites, they then strengthen both it and the dualistic world in which it lives by repeatedly activating and gratifying our mechanisms of coarse and subtle desire. The effects of contemplative meditation help break the grip of this inadequate and, in essence, imagined and projected reality. When we refrain from giving the unconditioned and conditioned forces their usual degree of expression, their effects are gradually diminished and the false reality they have created is more likely to be known for what it is.
At this point I would like to briefly discuss the concept of “duality,” which I feel is used too often with the incorrect assumption that the reader has a good idea of what it means. I have used it myself many times in this article, but not without some reservation. Just what is duality and what is wrong with it? Why is having a dualistic mind a problem? What I hope will be understood when I use the term duality is summarized in my answers to these two questions.
The dualistic world (duality) is the world created and lived in by the dualistic mind. It is also sometimes called the world of the opposites. The dualistic mind is that mind which perceives anything in a manner that endows what it perceives with an existence (or non-existence) and separateness (that is, selfhood) from other things similarly perceived. It thereby creates a universe of separate objects, sensations, ideas, people, etc., the individual existence of which are treated as real in an ultimate sense. Over time, such a view establishes a fixed limit to our understanding and actions. Once the dualistic mind appears out of the background of non-duality, it reinforces itself through self-and-other objectification and usurps the senses for its purposes. It stations itself between us and what we experience and it then acts as an interpreter of experience. We encounter these subjective, conditioned interpretations and mistake them for direct experience. We do not enter into the experience of things as they are, but instead experience things as we think they are. In essence, we experience only our own minds.
The subsequent feeling of being in a universe surrounded by endless other things is “normal” enough, and it certainly seems sensible. I want a glass of water; I get a glass, fill it with water: practical proof that the glass and the water exist! I drink it, therefore I exist, and I am certainly not them. However, simply because something makes functional sense does not mean that such an understanding of what is real might not be seen as incomplete from another perspective. There may be another way of viewing things which, until experienced, is inconceivable, or at least seems illogical. I am reminded here of primitive peoples who, when Westerners took photographs of them for the first time, were most distressed because they felt their souls had been captured in the pictures. They simply did not have the experience to see things from another point of view. Keeping this in mind, we should not dismiss as just philosophical speculation the age-old admonition by teachers of all traditions that the common view of the self is limited. If we cling to the view of a separate self as an ultimate view and use our bodies and minds to reinforce this view, or the companion view that that which is outside of ourselves has only the reality we are able to perceive, then we will never go beyond the world of appearances. We will never transcend our conditioned personal existence and minds. We will never be more than what we think we are.
In contrast to the dualistic mind, the non-dualistic mind does not hold that things exist or do not exist. It does not consider whether the self is real or unreal. It does not view things as separate or unified with itself. It does not see itself as a one which observes an other. The non-dualistic mind simply is. It is detached from speculation and does not have to assign value to what it perceives. It therefore perceives no-thing. The universe no more exists for the non-dualistic mind than it is for the body of one who is dead, or for one who has been rendered unconscious. In fact, one with a non-dualistic mind could be described as being simultaneously conscious and unconscious. They are as one who is and is not. In so much as the non-dualistic mind can be experienced it might be typified as the conscious absence of subjective experience. The meaning of the above is experientially less puzzling than it may sound, and I assure the reader that it is not my intention here to be enigmatic, only straightforward. Nor is it my wish to give the impression in any way that the non-dualistic mind is anything other than acutely aware of its surroundings, undistracted, and energetically involved with whatever task might be at hand.
The dualistic mind’s view of a separate self and separate others is seldom questioned amidst the day-to-day flow of events in life. These perceptions arise from the natural part of us, the functioning of which is very much concerned with preserving our physical existence. If Understanding belongs to a realm wherein the opposites of existence and non-existence are transcended, then the path of the natural self is, on its own, limited and is unlikely to lead to enlightenment. Nature does, however, provide us with a body and mind, which are the means of finding enlightenment once the lessons of life awaken within us the yearning for Truth. But this yearning alone will not bear fruit unless we actively do that which serves to counteract the already mentioned forces acting upon us. To my mind, the decision to undertake this struggle is exemplified quite beautifully in the life of the Buddha when, according to legend, He placed His empty begging bowl in the waters of the River Neranjara and stated: “If I am able to find enlightenment, may this bowl float upstream.” The bowl’s then floating miraculously upstream predicted His eventual enlightenment.
Here the empty bowl represents the meditative mind and the flowing river represents the inertia of worldly desire and duality within and around us. The floating backwards indicates the nature of the resolve necessary to overcome the power of the current trying to sweep us along.
Should we choose to make this resolve our own, we must not start out with a disparaging attitude toward the self. It is fundamentally innocent and if viewed from a distance is seen to be quite remarkable. Although limited, like a train that cannot escape the track on which it runs, it has nonetheless brought us a great distance. It is not an evil to be overcome or annihilated but something to be understood and converted. At his enlightenment, the Buddha said, “O house builder, thou art seen” (as in seen through) not, “O house builder, thou art killed”. Among other things, a thorough study of ourselves can reveal the underlying reasons for our past or present mistakes, and give us the insight to help us avoid repeating them.
We should also recognize from the beginning that the road ahead will not be an easy one. The utmost will be asked of us, which at times will seem unbearable and will require considerable inner fortitude. The meaningfulness of traveling the spiritual path must become more sustaining than the surface feeling of personal happiness which, given the nature of self-denial, may seem far away at times. But if we persist, we will come to know that that which is asked is small in comparison to that which is given. We should remember that only we can do the day in and day out interior work on ourselves that is necessary. Of course we should seek the good advice of others and sincerely follow such good advice even if the advice is difficult or painful to follow; but we shouldn’t become overly dependent on others lest we lose sight of the fact that ultimately we are responsible for our own training. No one else can find the Truth for us, nor can anyone else or their opinions prevent us from finding the Truth if we do what truly needs to be done to find it.
A Model of Training
Doing what is necessary to rise above the opposites is greatly aided by having a model of training to refer to. We will frequently need to act in a way that is counter to our natural inclinations and the difficulty of doing this may prompt us to ask: What am I doing and what am I trying to accomplish? Having answers to these questions that are clear and down-to-earth is important, especially at those times when the emotional component of what initially motivates and inspires us wanes.
The description I would like to offer of training and the fruits thereof may seem somewhat analytical or not even very “religious” in tone. This is deliberate on my part since in general I have tried to express myself in this article in a way that could be understood by someone unfamiliar with Buddhism. If we presuppose some underlying Truth which religion can help us find, such a Truth predates any religion that describes It. As this Truth would be nonsectarian, we should be able to speak about It without having to become too esoteric. Being universal, this Truth binds us together with a common denominator which is overwhelming when known. Religious conflicts cannot be about this Truth. At best, they can only be about our interpretation of this Truth. This is because even a genuine understanding of an experience of Truth is but an interpretation of a reflection within the mind. One dwelling in Truth has no understanding: he or she is the Truth. It is a state of being, not a state of knowing. Explanations which come from knowing cannot transmit the Truth to another, though they do have relative merit provided we remember that ultimately words are incomplete and misleading. They frequently cause us to look in a wrong direction, but hopefully when they do this they cause us to look in a direction that is less wrong than where we have been looking.
With this in mind, the main elements of the model of training I find most helpful revolve around changing both the way we use the senses and the way we react to sensory information, and I include the thinking mind and its thoughts in these two categories. These are hardly new ideas, especially as far as Buddhism is concerned, but I hope that my perspective on the subject may prove to be useful to others.
Earlier in this article I referred to the elemental aspect of our minds. This elemental mind is the ever-present, underlying nature of what we know as our ordinary individual minds. It has a clarity and reserved quality about it which make it easy for it to be obscured by the other aspects of our mental makeup. It could be compared to a clear lens which has other colored lenses in front of it. Looking at a light through the stack of lenses changes the clear image of the light according to the qualities of the colored lenses. They distort the image which, if seen through the clear lens alone, would be seen simply as it is. The colored lenses in this analogy are comparable to the dualistic ego’s world view (of isolated entities) which is the result of the conditioned and unconditioned influences previously mentioned. The basic senses of sight, hearing, etc., also have an underlying elemental level of “pure” functioning which becomes clouded for the same reasons. When the filters drop away, either gradually or abruptly, their effects cease and our experience of existence is dramatically different. This includes the realization that the meaning and import of the familiar “I” within us is changed as well. If conditions are right and the conversion is deep, then consciousness itself may be physically dislodged from its worldly seat within the body, rise up, and relocate in a new spiritual seat. Practice does not stop at this point, but one undoubtedly has a new perspective on it.
These changes, discussed more fully later, can be brought about through many disciplines; however, the one I shall refer to here is the practice of serene reflection meditation coupled with moral preceptual behavior. Serene reflection meditation, which is the same as Soto Zen Shikantaza meditation (“just sitting”), has a particular nature which distinguishes it from some other forms of meditation in which, as is commonly presumed when one hears the term meditation, one purposefully thinks about something or deliberately uses the mind in a variety of other ways. In seated serene reflection meditation one does not deliberately think, nor does one deliberately try not to think. There is a gentle but firm attitude of detachment toward the mind and its contents. Both the thought process and sensory impressions are simply let go of when they naturally and inevitably arise, without being pursued, repressed or judged. This effort is, in essence, a bright-minded, voluntary dying to one’s entire world of experience. Deceptively simple, the benefits of “merely” refraining from exercising the dualistic mind should not be underestimated. Each time we choose not to let it run its course we weaken it, albeit minutely. Over time it becomes thinner and thinner. The filters of illusion become lighter and lighter and the potential for a clearer perception of Reality is greater. By “doing nothing” we in fact do a great deal. In my opinion, it is the single most important act we can do, since it changes us on such a fundamental level and its far reaching effects facilitate the many other aspects of our practice. Incidentally, my brief description here should not be seen as a substitute for formal meditation instruction.
However, the progress we make during seated meditation periods will be diluted if our behavior in our daily lives produces opposing effects. This is why preceptual guidelines are so important. Our daily actions should not crystallize what we are trying to dissolve with our formal meditation. They should be an extension of the basic meditative attitude of detachment (non-grasping) into the active aspect of our lives. But we should not worry that this will make us vulnerable and less effective as people. One can and must learn how to maintain a contemplative interior while being clear-thinking, decisive, and responsible. The two do not stand against one another. A point almost impossible to fully appreciate except in retrospect is the attention we need to pay to even the slightest of our thoughts, words, and deeds. For example, when one is trying to put a “fractured” universe back together an idle negative comment about a “sleazy” politician, or “lousy” restaurant, can be profoundly divisive. Spiritually speaking, the average person is better off cutting off a limb than cultivating the attitudes of mind usually behind such comments. There are, of course, non-polarizing ways of expressing opinions, but it is something of an art learned with experience.
The senses must also be used with great care. If we hunt for experience through the medium of the senses, then we perpetuate dualistic isolation. The union of the opposites will elude us and the unsatisfactoriness of being a separate self trapped in a fleeting moment of time will persist. If we can learn to see without looking, hear without listening, then we can stop the moving out of ourselves caused by desire seeking fulfillment through the innocent sense faculties. Only when the senses are stilled, with their respective objects forgotten, can the glorious quality of things as they are be entered into and the deceptive reality of duality be transcended. This brings about a much clearer understanding of the meaning of duality and delusion. Prior to this time, our understanding of duality, delusion, and Truth is lacking and somewhat nebulous. For the very reasons that we should not try to approach the Truth intellectually, we should refrain from thinking too much about the nature of delusion and duality. Their nature is as inaccessible to the intellect as is the nature of Truth and their essence is revealed simultaneously with, and as an integral aspect of, the meaning of Truth. Although ultimately they all vanish within non-duality, if one wants to consider them, their meanings should be seen as facets of one understanding and therefore as difficult to understand separately.
The mind of non-duality is the mind we are, in effect, emulating in the practice of contemplative meditation. This process of emulation can be likened to the way we take a car onto a high-speed freeway. Utilizing the on-ramp we drive in a way that emulates those who are on the main road. In one sense we are doing exactly what they are doing, only in a different place. The more perfect our emulation, the smoother the eventual merging with them. This merging is simply a matter of time if we keep our attention on the road immediately in front of us and not somewhere else. Similarly, the meditative ideal to which we aspire is, in fact, what we are demonstrating each time we meditate. Eventually the ideal will be realized, and we will understand how it is contained, even if unseen, in our present efforts. Contemplative meditation is not a means to an end, which when found means we will then meditate differently. Keeping our attention on where we are now by applying the compassionate but steady hand of training to the present moment is the best way to ensure steady forward progress and eventual awakening. Such an awakening will not happen, however, if we allow ourselves to become distracted and end up, not on the main highway, but touring through some attractive piece of countryside on some minor side road. At times we must be quite firm with ourselves to prevent this. The self wants to attach itself to things, and the practice of non-clinging can be very threatening. It imagines the outcome of detachment to be a horrible, lonely emptiness, but this is not what happens if we keep going through the dark times and do not veer off.
A driving force behind our potential to veer off is our propensity to seek experience. From birth, if not before, we learn about the world around us through a continuous flow of experiences. We experience something such as a hot stove, and thereafter have new knowledge about stove tops, heat, hands and pain. The next time we see the stove top and call up the meaning of its sense impression, it has an added dimension. Experience becomes a prerequisite for knowledge and we become experience-oriented, with the process of giving interpretive meaning to sense experience the means by which knowledge is extracted from the basic experience. This experience-oriented approach will not work for the finding of enlightenment. It will only keep it at a distance. The freedom of enlightenment is not dependent on experience. The experience of Freedom is the experience of freedom from experience. Experience itself must be transcended. This cannot happen if we look outside or inside for an experience of Truth or continue to give interpretive meaning to what comes in through the senses. This is the reason for the attitude of benign detachment in contemplative meditation. The underlying “meaning” of existence will become clear when it is not being covered up by subjective human meaning. Our senses do not have to be heightened nor does reality need to part, like a curtain, to reveal something hidden. We are staring IT right in the face. There is nowhere we can look where we are not seeing IT. We perceive the Truth at all times but do not “know” the Truth, not because our experience is lacking but because we need to change how we experience. The experiencer must change, not our fundamental experience. Your eyes know how to see without your help. Your ears know how to hear, even your mind knows how to think without your assistance. Let go of all that you feel yourself to be, with no reservation. Allow your body and mind to fall away. You won’t die. What lives on will be the real you, your True Self, the Master of Masters.
Before moving on to the next section I would like to cover two final points. The first is that the will to train is much more important than the intellect as far as successful practice is concerned. Without the will to train, the most accurate intellectual understanding of the concepts of training and enlightenment will be of limited benefit. If knowing the Truth was the result of thinking, then a person with a keen intellect would have an advantage, but this is not the case. Often the intellect serves to remove obstacles it, itself, has created. One can go straight to the Source, and the intellect is most certainly not this Source. In fact, like a physical eye that is pained by too bright a light, the intellect undergoes various agonies when facing the Truth directly and meeting Its incomprehensible aspects. Rejection of the intellect is not the answer, however. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it and it would be unrealistic to deny the intellectual part of our makeup. We need to study ourselves and learn to distinguish between our using the tool of the intellect in a way that is beneficial versus a way that is harmful.
The second point is that religious development cannot be reduced to a formula which proceeds on a predicable time schedule. People are not like orchard trees, planted in rows, bearing their fruit in unison. We should try to do the best we can day by day with a good-natured patience that outweighs any tendency to become disappointed because our speed seems to be too slow. We may in fact be doing all that is being asked of us and we should remember that there is, growing in the dark, an element of personal readiness associated with each one of us that has its own timetable and is beyond at least my capacity to completely understand or predict. If we can just patiently and faithfully apply ourselves with little worry, each one of us, in our own time, will blossom.
Behind our turning toward religion is a desire to become a better person, find a better direction in life, find answers to important questions, or it is a response to any of the many other reasons each of us could give. Implicit in any of our reasons is a desire for change. Yet too few ever realize the magnitude of change that true religion points to. Often people use it to fulfill a particular need, or ease a particular pain and, finding relief, they are not motivated to go further. The relief they find, which no doubt may be genuine, becomes a sort of proof that their use of religion is the use of religion. Unarguably, a violin can be used as a paperweight, but what a sorrowful waste if it is never played. Fortunately, there have always been those who have not let us forget that there is more to life than meets the eye. They stir something within us–our discontent, our desire for peace, our tiredness with the endlessness of desire, our sense of, “Is this all there is?” Whatever it is, however you feel it, they make us long to know some tiny light on a far-off horizon.
So, with our imagination stirring our desire for some promised unknown, we say, “Yes, I will go,” and we start the climb. What then lies before us is not the beginning of a new journey, but a continuation of one we have always been on, that everyone is on, only now we are walking a straighter line, and our purpose is hopefully clearer. The work ahead is not accomplished by sincerity alone, though. Whereas the transition from ignorant non-duality to duality is a virtually guaranteed progression, as if down a slippery slope, crossing the boundary between duality and illuminated duality is anything but automatic. There are no escalators here for use by “spiritual” persons, but rather a mountainous stairway that anyone can climb one step after another. If we do the hard work of climbing we will gradually change. As we convert ourselves, if we do what is necessary to remove any of the filters that obscure the Truth, we will perceive Reality in a new light, the clarity of which is in proportion to the decrease in the obscurity, and is experienced in increments that range from being gradual and barely perceptible to abrupt and dramatic. If the depth of our effort is not momentary, but the result of what we have truly become through long-term preceptual behavior, the clarified vision so obtained will not fade because it will be our nature not to do that which will cover it up again. It will, however, after a period of normalization be integrated into our outlook and no longer seem unusual. Depending on the depth of the understanding, this period of adjustment may take a matter of minutes to a matter of years.
Some people have during the course of their training many memorable religious experiences, while the spiritual life of others is essentially unremarkable. Neither course is inherently superior to the other or necessarily indicative of better training. For example, the experience of past lives, visions, or “supernatural” experiences will arise naturally if there is something we need to learn from them. For some people they may prove to be important, for others they will be peripheral at most. In either case we should remember that these experiences are not, themselves, enlightenment and can prove to be obstacles if clung to. The longing for, or cultivation of experience, either worldly or other-worldly, is still worldliness and as such is an impediment for someone striving for the perfection of meditation. No one follows exactly in the footsteps of another, nor do any two people start out from the same place, therefore it is natural that our spiritual histories should vary.
Common to many great religious traditions is a particular transformation that has been called the opening of the third eye, or wisdom eye, or the seeing with a single eye. This unique experience is a sign that a dramatically new perspective has been found that is bound to revolutionize the viewpoint of the person concerned. The nature of this experience defies a satisfactory description. While clearly an anatomical eye is not produced, it is nonetheless more accurate to think of the experience as a literal one than a symbolic one. Although I have attempted in earlier parts of this article to describe in a general way a means by which this pivotal change can be made more likely, I must admit having more feelings of mystery than of understanding when approaching the topic of the transformation itself. Nonetheless, I will say some of what I know on the matter hoping that what I say may be helpful. I would do so anyway if for no other reason than to be corrected if I am in error.
When, through the deliberate effort of relinquishment of experience or through the weight of external or internal circumstances, one comes to achieve a required degree of correct detachment, there may occur a physically perceived movement within one’s being. Some part of us, as if now unfettered and unrestrained by the weight of even the slightest thought, is felt to rise up, as if floating, from the central part of us and station itself toward the front of the top of the head, or outside of, but in close proximity to, the top of the physical body. As it moves, there is a remarkable general feeling of lightness and a gentle feeling of exhilaration or excitement as its presence and movement are sensed. This experience is the start of a process which may take months or even years to be called “finished,” and can result in an overall remaking of the person concerned. What happens after this process has been set in motion will no doubt vary from person to person, and my intention in describing some of the things that can happen is not to suggest it is a complete account, as I am sure it is not. And even if such a thing as a complete or correct account existed and I could convey it, I doubt if I would do so, since I would not wish to spoil or influence the uniqueness with which an individual meets and understands such an experience, should they encounter it.
Sometime after the Rising of the Spirit, as it has been called, one may notice that one is perceiving the world from another place within the body. It is as if one’s consciousness, where one feels oneself to be, is now in that place where the “spirit” newly resides. One sees from this place and not from the worldly eyes. The new “third eye” sees, among other things, the underlying substratum of illumination in all things. And when it sees objects it is as if it is revealing them, as if their very existence depended on the seeing. This state of affairs can be most perplexing and requires time to adjust to. The worldly eyes are still used, but it is now this third eye that somehow sees through them, seeing what they could not. They, it would seem, have reverted along with the other senses to an earlier pristine state when their grasping quality was as yet undeveloped. There is a profound stillness of each sense faculty, an unconditioned quality, which enables an experience of things that cannot be typified as a usual subject-object relationship. There is a wordless, timeless fusion of all that was separate. Known is the Sufficiency of No-thing-ness, which puts one, finally, at peace. All that has gone before is now as if a dream; a long, desperate, largely unconscious struggle within the opposites to find the peace and freedom which are now known to lie beyond the opposites.
What had been experienced previously as one’s mind may also undergo a change. Transfixed by what it sees, as if gazing forgetfully into eternity itself, it may not respond with its usual willingness. Intellectual functioning may become laborious or even seize up to varying degrees and one may need to make practical arrangements with others to compensate for its temporary lack of ability. Over time its full competent functioning will return, but it will not be the same old mind as before. The individual quality of it will be greatly diminished and distant. It will no longer be entangled with “thinking” in the way it was before. There will also be a deeper appreciation of how subject we are to the power of our thoughts and how hopelessly bound we are until we change our relationship to certain types of thinking.
The previous feeling of “I” may also undergo a dramatic change. No longer bound by bodily and conceptual limits, it can become transcendental, filling all space and time and be experienced as such. Consciousness, when depersonalized, becomes the universe experiencing itself, like a mirror appearing in its own reflection. The fear of personal death, and the reality of separate individuals, fall by the wayside. One can never look into the eyes of another and see only what one saw before. The separate self, which has undergone a drastic dismantling process, can, with care, be reconstituted somewhat into a persona and used when and if necessary. Only now it is not in charge. It must conform to our new perspective, not we to its. When functioning, it does not cling to the belief in the existence of others or of the physical world, since so doing would only serve to strengthen its own sense of being in proportion to the intensity of the clinging. The body is utilized, but one knows it has only a temporary appearance and relative reality. One has a dual nature or, if you like, two bodies: the finite physical body, the human being we see that has personal experience, and the timeless body, the whole of any and all universes, that abides in transcendent serenity. One may infer a third, formless body, or Source, from which the first two spring and to which they return.
Although many other things may be known, and no doubt many others beyond my knowledge, I would next like to mention something of the practical teaching one receives at this time. This teaching makes it clear what one should have been doing in one’s practice all along. For example, one becomes acutely and immediately aware of the effects of those personal thoughts, words, and actions that are counter to what has been comprehended, or counter to the means by which it has been reached. An error of this sort could be the speaking of an unkind word. Even before it is fully past the lips its destructive effect is felt as it reforms some part of the barrier which separated us from True Life.
The emptiness one enjoys makes the conditioning effects inherent in even our simple daily actions all the more apparent. Even elements of our religious practice, if we have one, may need to be studied to see if the actual effect of what we do with our bodies and minds is in accord with its intended purpose. If it is not, we may need to fine-tune either what we do or the attitude of mind with which we do it. No longer can sensory experience, or even the thinking of attractive or compelling ideas, be entered into unmindfully. Through trial and error, one learns that there is no such thing as a small, unimportant pleasure. Even if the roots of personal suffering have been cut through, this condition will fade if we revert to old ways, thinking we are beyond the law of cause and effect. As long as we have bodies and minds which are capable of experiencing that which is pleasurable or un-pleasurable, we will have to be vigilant.
It will also become clear, should we have forgotten, that our enjoyment of the fruits of training is permitted for but a short time, and that it would violate the very principle that made them possible if we were to try to stay in this place. Moving on, we let go of the subtle burden which some might call enlightenment, and which we have no longing for in any case, as we are little stirred toward experience. We turn again from the known and continue on the road of detachment because even though these Truths which have been revealed are not unreal, until actualized they belong to and sustain a subtle plane of duality, illuminated duality, and they can still bind us. However slight, there is still an element of mental separation between us and the Truth.
Imagine a king in dreamless sleep. Although not conscious of anything, this does not change the reality of his being a king; he is simply unaware of it. This is comparable to the state of ignorant non-duality. Suppose he begins to dream that he is a servant. Again, the reality of his being a king is unchanged but, experiencing his dream as real existence, he thinks he is something he is not. This is comparable to the state of duality. Should he wake up, he will then remember with clear certainty that he is a king. He will no longer think he is something he is not. This is comparable to the state of illuminated duality when we experience our True Nature. If he gets up and simply executes his duties, without holding onto the idea that he is a king, he will then be a king, by doing what a king does, and not just lying in bed thinking, “I am a king.” He will have actualized what he knew, making it real by his actions. This is the nature of Realization. The knowledge that he is a king may come to mind throughout the day, but he does not cling to it. He does not need to remind himself of what he is to be able to act. By dropping the idea of what he knew he was, he was able to unite with it. This is comparable to the state of illuminated non-duality.
There are two forms of Truth, the Truth of understanding and the Truth of Being. The Truth of understanding is our understanding of the Truth of Being. The Truth of understanding is expressed in true statements about the meaning of the Truth of Being. These statements are made with our minds looking at and describing the Truth of Being as an object. They are dependent on the conceptualizing mind. Actualizing the Truth of understanding means entering the Truth of Being. There is no Truth of understanding when the Truth of Being is entered into. There is no personal meaning or any form of mind to be found when we are one with the Truth of Being. There is none needed. When the Truth of Being is entered into, we unite with it, and we and the Truth of Being vanish, no longer being seen as objects. Thus Actualization of the Truth is not something we understand in a conventional sense, but instead enter into and become. Our understanding of it may be true, but for the full un-abstracted reality of it to be manifest, for it to become the unimpeded Living Truth, we must go beyond our understanding of it and, like the king, actualize it in daily life. When we let go of our understanding we will not lose it. The letting go is what makes its appearance possible. As we live, it may rise and fall before us, but it doesn’t matter. If we so choose, we can see it at any time. But we do so with the knowledge of what we do: the knowledge that Truth, as the world knows it, is not our True Home. Our True Home, which is without aspect and is everywhere, and to which we have returned, is the Truth of Being.
Revised and reprinted from “The Journal of the Order of Buddhist Comtemplatives”, vol. 11, nos. 1 & 2: 29–51. (1996)