riverflow flowing

a journal

Practicing Buddhism and at the same time maintaining an open attitude toward Christianity, I end up learning two different languages to describe two different perspectives of the same ineffable “experience.”  For all their differences, both traditions equally and mutually enhance my understanding of the other, in order to become spiritually bilingual.

Each and every breath in mindfulness offers a new beginning, a way of seeing the world afresh.

In order to further cultivate compassion, I must deepen my awareness of universal suffering. Anger obstructs this awareness—such anger indicates that I believe I can isolate a source of suffering in one particular person or event. But suffering and its myriad causes and conditions extend far beyond the confines of any one person or event.

I should instead learn to transform my anger (which judges) into compassion (which listens mindfully). After all, who does not suffer? Who does not need compassion? Kuan Yin (“She-Who-Listens-to-the-Cries-of-the-World”), as the bodhisattva of compassion, does not speak—instead, she listens. Out of that deep, mindful listening which does not judge, arises compassion.

Compassion always manifests itself as inclusive. By its own nature, compassion cannot flourish in an environment of exclusivity and privilege. We all participate in suffering in its various manifestations, and so likewise we all participate in compassion when it arises—universal, without boundaries. Universal suffering requires universal compassion.

Two choices: (1) to re-act and re-act and re-act out of our own conditioning, meeting each moment with a pre-scribed set of re-actions, or (2) to cultivate response-ability, recognizing our own participation in the greater whole, in order to respond to each moment with openness.

Compassion arises out of the realization of intimate inter-relationality.

Interesting to note in my own Buddhist practice: I actually feel much closer to my Christian past by practicing Buddhism to the point that the differences between the two religions do not really matter to me. Where one expresses empathy and compassion, the steps leading to that act become secondary. Each have their formulaic differences, but selfless love is not a formula. As my Buddhist practice deepens, the less attached to Buddhism I become.

One never loses anything except what one mistakes for reality, as in a dream.

We miss the significance that every time we say “I,” we tap into an habitual metaphysical fiction.  By saying “I,” we end up creating two different “I”s: (1) the “I” that speaks, and (2) the “I” to which the speaking “I” refers.

In this way we create a conceptual rift in the midst of lived experience–and we end up believing deeply that this concept points to “reality”!  By analogy, we behave like an eyeball that claims that it can see itself.  By dividing ourselves, we divide everything.  The first “crack” in the universe begins with “I.”  However, beginning with “I,” the universe may learn to heal.  But not in any way that “I” could describe in words.

On the surface, many Buddhist precepts seem similar (if not identical) to many Biblical commandments.  To take one example: “Thou shalt not murder.”  Looking more deeply into the matter, the Buddhist precepts possess a purpose other than an injunction to merely obey or disobey.

Put bluntly, no individual can follow the precepts in any absolute sense.  The reason for this inability to follow this precept absolutely lies not in some inherent “sinfulness” but in the nature of inter-causality, interdependent arising.  Everything we do ultimately and inescapably connects to some new suffering somewhere, somehow, no matter how great or seemingly trivial.  But in a reified, essentialized world, we limit our capacity to recognize suffering and thus also limit our capacity to respond it.  The precepts help to gain clarity in our own karmic participation in the the world.

The precept to not kill functions as a mindful lens, to raise one’s own awareness of the suffering of all sentient beings—not in order to feel guilty about it, but to help purify one’s intentions and help to realize the ontological relationality of all beings.  In this way, the things in life that we normally take for granted may lessen out of this raised awareness.  Out of this lucidity arises compassion.

Do not reject delusion–only observe it through the lens of mindfulness.  Running away from delusion simply produces more delusion, like a Chinese finger-trap that only tightens with greater resistance.

Rather, we should thank our delusions.  In the light of practice, delusion appears as the doorway through which we must walk in order to realize insight.  No delusion, no awakening.

The reified self is dukkha.  It springs from the myth of metaphysical privilege.  This myth is the obstacle which prevents us from realizing our own integral participation in the whole.

My cat Issa and I once had a peculiar ritual we shared in my loft apartment.  Walking down the stairway, I would tap a ring on my hand at the top of the wooden banister when I knew he was on the second floor.  Hearing the tapping sound, Issa would run and jump up onto the banister.  I don’t recall when or how this habit of ours began.  It used to amuse me that my tapping would trigger this conditioned response from Issa.  But then it occurred to me that my actions were just as conditioned as his were.  Knowing that Issa was on the second floor triggered my own conditioned response.  Who was conditioning whom?

Every sentient being can only perceive reality from its own particular perspective.  While a universal perspective may be intuited, inferred or speculated upon, there is in actuality no “god’s-eye view.”  Where may one stand when there is no “outside” to stand within?   Being self-aware and speculating on the nature of our own self-awareness, we mistakenly believe we are “free agents” in a universe otherwise bound by physical laws, and so we are able to make decisions independent of any world “external” oneself.  Of course, we might admit there are circumstances that may constrain us, but we nevertheless possess something we call “freewill.”

The underlying metaphysical assumption, however, is that this inner “self”—this assumed essence of who we are—operates independently from the rest of the fabric of existence.  Because one can only perceive reality from his or her individual perspective, this illusory sensation of independence seems natural enough.  And to suggest anything otherwise therefore makes human beings out to be automatons without “souls.”  But this alternative, determinism, is likewise a product of the same metaphysical assumptions of essentialism and dualism.  Based on these assumptions we can’t help but think that either (1) I am in control over what is not-me or (2) What is not-me is in control over me.  They are two sides of the same metaphysical coin.

It is for this same reason that we think in the misleading imagery of a hierarchical chain of causality, when a clearer picture would be a vast web of inter-causality.  To be sure, in science, we can trace specific causes and effects within a very specific context—but only by virtue of refiying those elements the scientist is directly concerned with at the moment.  But in the broader view, every element is in play at every given moment in this very moment, with not a single subatomic interaction excluded.  The notion that existence has one specific origin is based on such linear and hierarchical thinking.  And likewise the notion that human beings possess a privileged “freewill.”

To return to my shared habit with my cat: Did I freely choose to tap on the banister?  It was my perception and knowledge that led me to act as I did.  Of course, I could tell myself, “I am free to not tap on the banister,” and walk down the stairs without doing it at all.  But if I would do so, it would only be because I had become aware of the thought which would lead me to act otherwise.  Or perhaps I was distracted by what I thought was a more pressing matter.  I am still able to see (and act) only from my own limited perspective from one moment to the next.

I am not ontologically separate from my immediate environment—I am contextualized by it.  There is a complex mutual interplay of activity, perception, thought processes and responses based on all this which is occurring at every moment.  But I am not a mere automaton either because this too assumes there is still some kind of metaphysical difference between “myself” and the world of flux.  There is no free agent and there is no automaton, there is no metaphysical privilege.  There is only this relational interplay of the whole in which we are also participants.

Metaphysical division manifests as the experience of suffering for ourselves and others.  If there is freedom, ontologically speaking, it lies not in our ability to act upon the world (freewill).  Nor does our lack of freedom stem from the world’s ability to act (determinism) upon us.  Freedom—and the peace and happiness it brings—lies in the practice of mindfulness: a re-integration of oneself and the world, and the realization of the intimate inter-relation between the two.

Mindfulness drops unreflective reactivity, opening oneself up to response-ability instead.

Rather than perpetuating the same rigid patterns of thinking (by superimposing our assumed past experience onto this moment), mindfulness drops all reliance on “past” and “future.”  What remains may be nominally referred to as the “present moment”—but should not be confused with a Euclidean point traveling along linear time.

Rather, the “present moment” of mindfulness is being-time.  Each moment is a nexus of inter-causality in which nothing is excluded, all intersecting and transforming everything anew—like a kaleidoscope with new patterns ever-emerging at every turn.

In mindfulness, pure relationality is real-ized.  In this way, “being” and “time” are no longer separate, reified, and essentialized abstractions—nor is oneself.

Unreflective karmic re-activity is a prison of suffering.  In the cultivation of response-ability lies a freedom which is not escapism.

There are two basic choices we make in life: to react to circumstance or to respond with it.  The cultivation of mindfulness plays a role in transforming a “reactive” life into one of “response-ability.”

Through reaction, we draw on what we believe to be our past experiences in life.  Circumstance is interpreted through experience and, without reflecting deeply, we react to circumstance out of habit.  Out of this reflex, we assume a pre-scription for a given situation and in doing so, we miss the unique, unrepeatable moment which emerges out of an empty and dynamic flux.

Through response, however, we become attentive to circumstance by dropping our pre-scriptive knowledge.  In this way, what we bring forth is free and spontaneous, without the illusion of separateness.  This is the “original” or “beginner’s” mind of Chan Buddhism, or what the Daodejing calls the “uncarved block.”

All our daily interactions in life are rooted in metaphysical and epistemological assumptions which in turn create suffering.  But this fundamental ignorance is not resolved by merely replacing it with “correct” information about ourselves or the world.  The very assumption that there exists such positive information (and that one ought to possess such information!) is ignorance itself. 

Buddhist doctrines do not provide descriptive statements about reality.  Rather, they serve as methods to help deconstruct all metaphysical and epistemological assumptions.  They deliberately lead to an impasse for the mind still seeking knowledge.  But if there is no “correct” information, then what is there left to do? 

Mindfulness functions as a way of dropping both the loss and gain of advance answers in order to realise our own nondual participation in life (and life’s participation in us).  Mindfulness, in a certain sense, precedes knowledge and ignorance. 

Holding onto the presumed knowledge of “how things really are” is precisely what obstructs one’s own participation in life–which is infinitely more spontaneous than even the most nuanced pre-scribed notion.  There is nothing to seek–only knowledge to drop.  Without obstruction, life enters us.

Mindfulness then is openness, original innocence, a wholehearted trust which is available only in the present.  What is it that one trusts?  This.

Dogen: Practice doesn’t make perfect–practice is perfect.

Why do you practise?  If you practise in order to _____ then this is to misunderstand practice.  “In order to _____” indicates a split in the flow of time into now and later.  Practice is practice, with “nothing extra,” as Dogen might say.  And if practice is your life, then the question may be expanded further: why do you live?

The notion that life must possess a “meaning” or “purpose” is misleading: a lack is implied—a separation between yourself and all else.  Does a river, a mountain, or a pine tree have a “meaning” or a “purpose”?  Being complete in itself, a tree is nothing other than its own activity, integrated seamlessly within its own environment.  It lacks nothing.  “Lack”—which is always someplace else or sometime else—is an illusion with which we needlessly burden ourselves.

each raindrop
touches each leaf
never the same

small riverflow seal (haiku posts)

What remains to be transcended is not the world itself, but rather our expectations and concepts which we superimpose upon it daily.  It is our attachment to views which distorts reality and cuts us off from the very life we are living.  By placing conceptual limitations upon the world, we limit ourselves.  Thus we are bound by the perpetual conflict between concept and life.

Because of our absence, we are unable to meet life, which is ever-present and spontaneous.  Mindfulness is a method of unlearning expectation in order to participate in the world more freely.

The reified self does not experience dukkha–this self is dukkha itself.  For the self, there is only the experience of memory and anticipation, projecting the concepts “past” and “future” onto a reality in which the self participates.  This projection distorts the reality of the “present,” which forever remains beyond the grasp of the self.

If the “present” seems elusive to the self, it is not because the “present moment” exists as an infinitely small point relentlessly moving forward on an infinite “time line.”  Rather, it is because the self is wholly captivated by memory and anticipation–and this perpetuates dukkha.  For the reified self, the present is not merely elusive, it is not even real.