Monthly Archives: July 2015

Without Any Irritable Reaching After Fact

We are so identified with our thought-made selves, that any inquiry which suggests that the duality of exist and not-exist is not absolute is frightening. This underlies our fear of death. It’s the personality – by which I mean the identification with mental structures – which fears death. Death is meaningless at the level of bodily presence.

The concepts ‘exist’ and ‘not exist’ ought to be servants, but they have become rulers of our life processes. This is so to the extent that thought rules our bodily experience.

Imagine that I am supporting someone to inquiry experientially – in psychotherapy, or in spiritual inquiry – and imagine that they stay with a sub-personality’s processes, tracking its embodiment, with sufficient clarity and compassion, that the person finds within and under the sub-personality’s organisation, layer upon layer of attitude. Once they are over the surprise, the shock, they might get interested in the potential of such a discovery process.

Imagine that I am enquiring with a CEO who has made an unpopular decision in his company, and he doesn’t understand why his employees don’t appreciate his action. Say our friend gets to the point of his inner work, where he recognises that under his action lies a sub-personality. That is, unique configurations of body, affect, and intentional processes which present themselves consistently in specific situations, as ‘I.’ My CEO might have sub=personalities that are in opposition to each other. It might have been that fact which brought him to me.

And, suppose the inquiry goes further, to the point where he sees that a part of him is hungry for power, just say. Currying favour with powerful people seems to make sense, to that part of him; and, in this context, his action, unpopular with his employees, has pleased his power connections.

“What will your sub-personality get, if he acts that powerful way?” I ask. Imagine that our CEO is interested in the truth, or what is, and that to further his inquiry he goes into his body, as he has learnt in our mindfulness classes. And say that he feels something relevant there. He responds, “Oh, I see. If I have power, I’ll feel safe.”

Memories of feeling unsafe may come, now – for instance, the relentless molestation he endured from bullies in primary school. I’ll encourage him to see the memories as instances, rather than as causes (though obviously they have reinforced his patterns.) They are instances of patterns in his body, now. If he is ready, and we continue, then I’ll support him to look under that, so I say: “Then, what will feeling safe give you…?,” and the inquiry will continue.

What we are likely to find is that way down under everything there will come, in our fictional CEO, a fear of not identifying with his personality’s strategies. That’s what a sub-personality is – a aggregate of strategies. This may come after months of such experiential investigation. So, he finds a fear of letting go of the clinging to the hope that power will make him safe. Remember that all this is experiential – which means it’s found in the body’s patterns. It’s really warrior’s work, so I’m admiring my CEO, at this stage.

Further uncovering will reveal that the deepest fear is one rarely encountered in ordinary circles. The buried fear in him is the question of whether he exists the way that he imagines himself; that is, is he ultimately his personality, or not? If he is not his personality – which he has imagined he was since about the age of three – then who or what is he? And, now will he live, if he’s not who he thinks he is? It’s very scary territory. It often presents as the fear of annihilation.

However, if our subject can develop Keats’ Negative Capability –  “that is, when a [person] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” – then he might experience that he doesn’t know how to live without the false support of the personality, yet he might learn to stay right there on that uncomfortable limen. “I feel I’m knocking on Heaven’s door,” he says. He’s outside, at the moment.

To stay there “without any irritable reaching after” is to allow the cessation of his identification with personality, but, soon enough, he glides over the threshold into the totality of his actual life. (It was never a real demarcation, anyway; between ground and his body.)

This gives us a clue as to why mindfulness of the body, and focusing, and other body-oriented modalities of inquiry, why they are successful in deep, liberating inquiry. The body does not have these dualities – they can only exist in thought. Dualities such as ‘exist/not-exist’ or ‘life/death’ are not found in present-moment, com-bodied presence. They are found only where thought has invaded dimensions that are beyond its scope – and that includes bodily regulation, bodily intelligence. Where personality has replaced presence, we lose our ground, and personality replaces it.

This must have been what William Blake meant, writing: “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” This is so, only to the extent that he consciously enters being a fool. May we all embrace our inner contraries.

Thoreau’s Death

Henry David Thoreau’s last days: a quote from Joseph Goldstein’s ‘Mindfulness’ book.

“He died of tuberculosis at the early age of forty-four. In a biography of his life, his friends described his frame of mind. Henry was never affected, never reached by [his illness]. . . .

Very often I heard him tell his visitors that he enjoyed existence as well as ever. He remarked to me that there was as much comfort in perfect disease as in perfect health, the mind always conforming to the condition of the body. The thought of death, he said, could not begin to trouble him. . . .

During his long illness, I never heard a murmur escape him, or the slightest wish expressed to remain with us; his perfect contentment was truly wonderful. . . .

Some of his more orthodox friends and relatives tried to prepare him for death, but with little satisfaction to themselves. . . .

[W]hen his Aunt Louisa asked him if he had made his peace with God, he answered, “I did not know we had ever quarreled, Aunt.”

Goldstein, Joseph (2013-11-01). Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (Kindle Locations 721-731). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.

In Joseph’s footnotes, the story is attributed to Walter Harding, The Days of Henry David Thoreau (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 464– 465.

Thoreau’s Death

Henry David Thoreau’s last days: quote from Joseph Goldstein’s ‘Mindfulness’ book.

“He died of tuberculosis at the early age of forty-four. In a biography of his life, his friends described his frame of mind. Henry was never affected, never reached by [his illness]. . . .

Very often I heard him tell his visitors that he enjoyed existence as well as ever. He remarked to me that there was as much comfort in perfect disease as in perfect health, the mind always conforming to the condition of the body. The thought of death, he said, could not begin to trouble him. . . .

During his long illness, I never heard a murmur escape him, or the slightest wish expressed to remain with us; his perfect contentment was truly wonderful. . . .

Some of his more orthodox friends and relatives tried to prepare him for death, but with little satisfaction to themselves. . . .

[W]hen his Aunt Louisa asked him if he had made his peace with God, he answered, “I did not know we had ever quarreled, Aunt.”

Goldstein, Joseph (2013-11-01). Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (Kindle Locations 721-731). Sounds True. Kindle Edition.

In Joseph’s footnotes, the story is attributed to Walter Harding, The Days of Henry David Thoreau (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), 464– 465.

MIDNIGHT TO 4 A.M

I planned to say something, but whenever I read it, I’m silenced by this aching poem by Jack Gilbert:

 

BY SMALL AND SMALL: MIDNIGHT TO 4 A.M.

 

For eleven years I have regretted it,

regretted that I did not do what

I wanted to do as I sat there those

four hours watching her die. I wanted

to crawl in among the machinery

and hold her in my arms, knowing

the elementary, leftover bit of her

mind would dimly recognize it was me

carrying her to where she was going.

Waking Up

I’ve been enjoying seeing (bodily witnessing) the waking up process, in the mornings. It’s so interesting to see the ‘waking time loka’ kick in. This morning was delightful. I saw the first moment, when I conceive of ‘morning.’ I said, “That’s just a concept; that’s not the morning.” And, immediately, I saw that experiencing was already being shaped  – in a micro-second – by the unexamined concept ‘morning’ and all that it carried. I was conceptualising morning, and about to proceed from it! It was an invitation to become a by-stander to myself, to become an object, instead of an integral current in the flow of the day.
I wasn’t buying it though. I found my attention was naturally still within my body, and I was experiencing morning from in there (here). From knowing body from inside the body (as it says in the Mindfulness Sutta). There was a tiny moment of bewilderment. So, I tracked my breath, and noticed that shining energy. Next time this happens, I hope to catch more of that ‘bewildered’ moment. From this new experience of morning, I felt free to appreciate my existenz. It felt right to rise (even though I’ve had big five days, previously.) Focusing was working, here, to give me a feel of the whole. Focusing is a process of checking in with your loka.
I, the person of such-and-such a name, such and such a clan (see Bhara Sutta), I could have allowed the concept of ‘morning,’ and all it carried for me, to condition me. If I had done so (I’ve seen this before), my personality would come in (em-bodying), and presenting itself as the one experiencing the morning. “No way! I see you Mara! I wee you Wily One!” What a trickster!
Of course, that’s the mythic language which I have trained in – the Mara myth. It’s helpful for having a sense of humour to the situation. I could have done that differently. What I was practising, when I said, “That’s just a concept,” was something that I learned from Stanley Block’s book ‘Come to Your Senses. That approach is effective, too. When the mind is giving you some trouble, you invoke his few simple steps, including one that says, “Those are only thoughts.” I had that in mind, but I combined it with what I was teaching in Blue Gum Sangha last night, about ‘concepts.’

And, because of the practice that I’d been doing during the night, after I said, “That’s only a concept,”  my attention found itself open to ‘being there.’ back in my unsupported body. Unsupported? Yes, because we have become used to using the support of concepts to carry us in all our situations throughout the day. That’s why the bewilderment arose. It’s a moment when the ego-system is saying, “Hang on. You can’t do this without me. You’ll die. Your opportunity to hold onto something is passing by, now.”

Hilarious – the pranks that old Mara gets up to,” is my way of taking in the good (Rick Hanson). In this case, the good is the freedom of not taking up the burden of clinging to the five sentient processes. There is a person who is not measurable. That is, the five processes do not limit me, as the personality believes, and wants.
This ‘personality’ running the body – instead of the perfect intelligence that comes with a body – this is just habitual functioning, and I am writing this to encourage us – me, too –  to love our mindfulness (in whatever way you can) continuously, because it works. It works to find what flourishing is (the goal of the secular movement), and it works to free oneself of clinging to the five sentient processes (the NIkaya Buddha’s ‘goal.’)
Then, I was able to be there experiencing the morning, from inside the morning. (Escaping morning as a social construction, by the way.) From one point of view I am the morning. I’m certainly not outside it. Experiencing it from outside it is just how the bystander-self works. Yet, what else are you, but an integral flow within the flow of this much bigger life process? Tell me, where are you experiencing your life from?  From this big life process, which can be called, ‘the day,’ ‘the morning,’ ‘the night’? In the ‘first watch,’ ‘the second watch,’ ‘the third’… we’re it! We enter it through the totality of our being here. (Tipping my hat to Jerzy Kosinski’s Chauncy Gardener).
The later Buddhist traditions developed the version of the ‘loka,’ which they called ”mandala.’ With their development of the  ‘awakened mandala’ concept they helped us appreciate a new way of being in the world, from inside the experience of ‘awake-in-the-world.’ Another way of saying that is from the centre of the mandala, the ‘Buddha’ position, which is the Now. Deep bows to all my lineages – spiritual, cultural, social and biological. I am so grateful, right now.

“From beginningless time we have had a valid awareness, or consciousness, of “I.” This “I,” or self, naturally and innately wants happiness and does not want suffering, and this desire is valid—it is true and reasonable.” – The Dalai Lama, How to Practice.

Loka: The Experience of the Totality of One’s Experience

One’s world. I am taking a risk, I believe, in boring or frightening some of my readers.

Since I first started exploring ‘loka,’ four decades back, I have encountered many situations where people, when they get a glimpse of the loka aspect of experiencing, are shocked. There is something about the alonenes of contacting the entirety of your world all in one go – the lack of outer authority, the abandonment of one’s world picture,  the loss of comparison, the loss of the familiar inside-outside made-up world, the falling away of strategies to validate one’s stories about how things are, and so on – which make fully exploring one’s ‘loka’ daunting. It’s a no-go zone for the ego-system. (My first encounters with this were in my late-1960s LSD experimentation, so I had a buffer, on those occasions. Sober intimacy, though, takes away the buffers.)

However, it can be approached slowly. We can familiarize ourselves with the territory. The practice, in Buddhist meditation, of the higher meditations (jhanas) is exactly that familiarization process. We learn to encounter profound dimensions of the loka – especially its space aspect – and to transcend our world-making, while still including it. Bhikkhu Analayo, in his latest book Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, says:

“The perception of infinite space includes the whole world, without any limit. The perception of infinite consciousness turns attention to that which has been aware of infinite space, whereby the whole world is now seen to be, in a way, in one’s own mind.”

My point in all this is that, where we are run by our fears, we are resisting the loss of our constructions. But, in death, they all drop away, anyway; and we’re not living fully while we are being run by our world-making and are unaware of its principle dynamics. So, let’s familiarize ourselves with our minds. Our fear of death has to do – not with the biological dimension, which is trivial – but with the ‘end of our world,’ our loka, where death, itself, is constructed.

An important warning: this ‘loka’ concept is not meant to be the foundation of an ‘ontology,’ some theory of what reality is. I’m not saying this is how reality is: for example, that reality is mind-only. That’s not tenable. (Something like that, or some such childhood ‘feeling,’ may well be the root of our everyday narcissism, though.) Rather, I am seeking, here, a terminology to talk about a taboo area of human experiencing – the experience of totality. An English scholar, Sue Hamilton (EARLY BUDDHISM: A NEW APPROACH – The I of the Beholder) says: “…the world [in early Buddhist teachings] is used metaphorically to refer to one’s experience in its entirety.”

And, scholar-monk, Analayo, writes: “[As] far as my subjective experience of the world is concerned, consciousness is its very foundation. My experience of the world is impossible without consciousness. In other words, for phenomena in the world to exist for me, to be experienced by me, consciousness is indispensable. So consciousness is indeed the source of my world, it provides the ground within which my world of experience can unfold.”

And, the purpose of all this is so that, with familiarization, we can cease to cling to our constructed world, freeing ourselves up for a flourishing life, which includes a flourishing in dying and death – no matter how unpleasant the circumstances of our dying. Picture Gandhi going down with the name of his spiritual guide on his lips.

A scholarly note from Sue Hamilton: “In fact the metaphorical usage of ‘world’ pre-dates the Buddha’s teaching and is to be found in the Vedic sacrificial religion. There, in spite of its having the conventional spacial meanings with which we are familiar, it always had what has been described as an ‘inherent vagueness’. One of its applications was that it indicated a state of happiness or stability (perhaps in the sense of orderliness). Its earliest meaning was a “free, open space” or a “safe, sacred space…”

To transform our pain loka into a flourishing, open, free, safe, and sacred space, and to cease to identify with it – this is a good reason to practice dying now.

Loka: The Experience of the Totality of One’s Experience

One’s world. I am taking a risk, I believe, in boring or frightening some of my readers.

Since I first started exploring ‘loka,’ four decades back, I have encountered many situations where people, when they get a glimpse of the loka aspect of experiencing, are shocked. There is something about the alonenes of contacting the entirety of your world all in one go – the lack of outer authority, the abandonment of one’s world picture,  the loss of comparison, the loss of the familiar inside-outside made-up world, the falling away of strategies to validate one’s stories about how things are, and so on – which make fully exploring one’s ‘loka’ daunting. It’s a no-go zone for the ego-system. (My first encounters with this were in my late-1960s LSD experimentation, so I had a buffer, on those occasions. Sober intimacy, though, takes away the buffers.)

However, it can be approached slowly. We can familiarize ourselves with the territory. The practice, in Buddhist meditation, of the higher meditations (jhanas) is exactly that familiarization process. We learn to encounter profound dimensions of the loka – especially its space aspect – and to transcend our world-making, while still including it. Bhikkhu Analayo, in his latest book Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation, says:

“The perception of infinite space includes the whole world, without any limit. The perception of infinite consciousness turns attention to that which has been aware of infinite space, whereby the whole world is now seen to be, in a way, in one’s own mind.”

My point in all this is that, where we are run by our fears, we are resisting the loss of our constructions. But, in death, they all drop away, anyway; and we’re not living fully while we are being run by our world-making and are unaware of its principle dynamics. So, let’s familiarize ourselves with our minds. Our fear of death has to do – not with the biological dimension, which is trivial – but with the ‘end of our world,’ our loka, where death, itself, is constructed.

An important warning: this ‘loka’ concept is not meant to be the foundation of an ‘ontology,’ some theory of what reality is. I’m not saying this is how reality is: for example, that reality is mind-only. That’s not tenable. (Something like that, or some such childhood ‘feeling,’ may well be the root of our everyday narcissism, though.) Rather, I am seeking, here, a terminology to talk about a taboo area of human experiencing – the experience of totality. An English scholar, Sue Hamilton (EARLY BUDDHISM: A NEW APPROACH – The I of the Beholder) says: “…the world [in early Buddhist teachings] is used metaphorically to refer to one’s experience in its entirety.”

And, scholar-monk, Analayo, writes: “[As] far as my subjective experience of the world is concerned, consciousness is its very foundation. My experience of the world is impossible without consciousness. In other words, for phenomena in the world to exist for me, to be experienced by me, consciousness is indispensable. So consciousness is indeed the source of my world, it provides the ground within which my world of experience can unfold.”

And, the purpose of all this is so that, with familiarization, we can cease to cling to our constructed world, freeing ourselves up for a flourishing life, which includes a flourishing in dying and death – no matter how unpleasant the circumstances of our dying. Picture Gandhi going down with the name of his spiritual guide on his lips.

A scholarly note from Sue Hamilton: “In fact the metaphorical usage of ‘world’ pre-dates the Buddha’s teaching and is to be found in the Vedic sacrificial religion. There, in spite of its having the conventional spacial meanings with which we are familiar, it always had what has been described as an ‘inherent vagueness’. One of its applications was that it indicated a state of happiness or stability (perhaps in the sense of orderliness). Its earliest meaning was a “free, open space” or a “safe, sacred space…”

To transform our pain loka into a flourishing, open, free, safe, and sacred space, and to cease to identify with it – this is a good reason to practice dying now.

An Instance

I am lying on a gurney. I have on only the gown for the operating theatre. I am prone in an ante-room, with a white ceiling filling my visual field. I am there a long time; about half an hour. I am waiting for them to put me under and open me up, to extract an afflicted organ. ‘Extract’ is the right word: ‘To take from something of which the thing taken was a part.’ He needs to be precise. I know I am breathing. I send metta to all, combined with the loka practice. That is, I send metta to: all above, all below, all to the north, all to the south, all to the west, all to the east. And, then I add, “And in the middle. May I be happy, safe and well.” Sending metta, the loka opens up its boundaries. Immeasurable space.

I think, “The chances of dying are only seven in one million, but that’s a possibility.” I can’t know that I won’t die in the next hour or two. It seems to me that I would still do metta, even if I knew that I would certainly die in the next hour or two. What else would be worth it, at this hour? It’s bliss. I continue to track my breathing.

I remember the last time that I had a general anaesthetic. I am hoping for the same experience, because it was so interesting. I was mindful as I went into the theatre. I was mindful as they put me on the table. I was mindful when I came out of the anaesthetic, and I knew instantly that I had been present all during the operation. I don’t mean on the surface – aware of the operation, no – aware of the silence of the mind. It was a thread of presence all the way through. That was special. I felt such a sense of awe that I didn’t care that I had survived the anaesthetic.

But, excuse me. I’ve moved away from what I wanted to say. I’ve giving you an example of loka. Lying on the gurney, my lived world is vibrantly alive with luminous space. A white, hospital, cork ceiling could appear boring, but the space isn’t impeded by the limits of my ageing eyes. The space has no limit. Nothing can be boring, when it is the manifestation of the unbounded awareness. My breathing is doing itself. I am feeling so alive. And the space is undivided. It has no centre and no periphery. How could space have a centre?

I can hear the rock and roll in the operating theatre. Yes, rock and roll. I think how last time he operated on me, he asked me what music I preferred. He asked me in the theatre, and I didn’t have much time to think, so I said Bach. What I heard as the sensory world dissolved was Bach’s Mass. I smile at this. This time I was ready and had told him I wanted Mozart piano sonatas. I might die. The ceiling looks beautiful. Breathing in, breathing out. May all beings be happy.

It didn’t happen this time, that thread thing. It was different. I wonder if no two deaths are alike.

‘World’ it is Said

If we are to understand flourishing in life and dying in a manner that befits the flourishing, we will need to understand ‘world’ differently. This is so, even if only because to face our fears around death, we need to understand what we fear losing – our world.

This is a big topic, and I want to make a tiny start. Today, after musing on the uses of the English word, I will give a couple of Pāli quotes, to indicate an unusual approach to the word ‘world.’ The way I want to use it, here, is to indicate the flow of what you are experiencing. In this way, just as far as human beings are concerned (that is, leaving aside all the other sentient creatures) there are seven billion life-worlds on this one world (planet). Two humans meeting in a cafe, are two worlds interacting.

One of them says, “How are things going in your world?” This means: How’s the state of affairs in your existence? Right? This is more general, I think, that the meaning I am pointing to, but it’s related. There’s your world of meaning and my world of meaning.

Here are some other uses – with meanings that I am not using. One common use of the word is to mean: planet. That is invoked in H.G. Wells’ book title The War of the Worlds. Or, it can mean ‘heaps’; as in, “I think the world of him.” But, if I want to tell the whole world something, I probably mean ‘all the people‘ on the planet. If ‘the world is against me,’ it means everybody. Or, we can talk of the world of politics, or of art, or of online gambling. These point to collectives, cultures. There are many more uses. What a bewildering array, if you’re trying to learn English!

However, in the context of becoming self-aware, and in the context of practices of dying, such as the Dissolution of the Element Meditation, there is a simple meaning (or at least, one we can start with): the flow of whatever you are experiencing, at any moment. That’s the world. To distinguish it, I will use the Buddhist word for ‘world’: Loka. That’s the Pāli word translated as ‘world’ in the Samyutta Nkāya translations below.

I am experiencing, right now, the sound of a convection heather, the tap of the keyboard, and have various pains and other sensations in my body. The temperature of the room, my thoughts appearing and disappearing in experiential space, my feelings, and so on. All this is my present world of awareness. When they see someone die, many people try to think what has happened to the world of the dead person. Has it ceased, or does it have some other kind of existence, now?

Of course, my ‘loka’ includes a lot that is implicit, but I have only six avenues of describing what is in my loka: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, bodily sensing, and cognizing:

“That in the world by which one perceives the world and conceives conceits about the world is called ‘the world’ in the [Buddha]’s Discipline. And what is it in the world with which one does that? It is with the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.” (Samyutta Nikāya 35:116. Translator: Nānamoli, [my parenthesis].)

“‘Void world, void world’ is said, Lord; in what way is ‘void world’ said?”—“It is because of what is void of self and self’s property that ‘void world’ is said, Ānanda. And what is void of self and self’s property? The eye … forms … eye-consciousness … eye-contact … any feeling … born of eye-contact … The ear, etc …. “The nose, etc …. The tongue, etc …. The body, etc …. The mind, etc …. any feeling whether pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant born of mind-contact is void of self and self’s property.” (Samyutta Nikāya 35:85. Translator: Nānamoli)

Don’t worry about what the speaker is saying about the world (ignore, for now, all that about the self and voidness). I would just like you to notice that we can use ‘world’ to mean: your experiencing.

Why am I asking you to consider this? Because, the world (human society) is groaning for want of attention to our (individual) life-world. The mindfulness training in the Buddhadharma is about attuning to one’s present moment experiencing; that is, to one’s lived world, one’s loka. Using that framework, we pay attention to

a) all that is associated with bodily form,

b) feeling-tones – the values of pleasant, unpleasant, and neither pleasant, nor unpleasant,

c)  the qualities of the states of our psyche (or: mind, if you like),

d) the dynamics of a, b, and c; in terms of specific important qualities, and their workability.

This is my field of responsibility. No-one else can do it for me. This is why it is said that one’s family will be of no help, when one dies. Why? Because you will be experiencing the dissolution of your own world. Isn’t it this – our world, which we have been managing, working with, shaping, all our life until now – isn’t it our world that we are afraid of losing, at death? Loka is the life of an individual human being.

My Cock-Eyed Life

Death is the final act of relinquishment, of [giving], in this life.” – Robert Aitken Roshi, The Practice of Perfection*

It’s quite creative to see Death as the the last opportunity for giving, and for generosity. To give ourselves wholly to death, means not having any shadow on the heart. I can see why forgiveness becomes important. Forgiveness is another of the invisibles – the immeasurable presences of our real life. It means to abandon resentment, to forego the grudge. I’ve noticed that if I refuse to let go of a grudge, then I am holding myself in thrall, in captivity.

I am thinking of someone, now, who was cruel to me at one stage in my life. These days, if I meet that person, I am at peace in the freedom of present moment awareness. However, sometimes I notice a tiny catch in my flow, a resistance to releasing my hold on the grudge. And, that’s a great spot for the study of samsara; that is, the realm of birth and death. I am being born right there as a person with a hole in my very fabric. If I sit next to that stuck spot, that hole, I can see that I’m resisting abandoning my ego’s desire for justice.

(I do have to remind my reader that this doesn’t preclude strong action, strong stances against injustice; and, that the relinquishment of which I speak here, in fact, ensures more effective action against injustice. So, these comments are addressed to a false stand toward justice – the ego’s version of justice.)

There are several ways of working with this, but I do have a preferred way to step out of the trap. Because I’m entrapped inside the subject-object cave, I approach it in that way. Nobody keeps me captive but myself, and – despite the seeming payoffs, it is not a pleasant abiding in that cave. The key has a giving quality. Am I willing to give myself (and the other person) the gift of truth? The gift of inquiry? The gift of compassion?

I used to sit down, when I was indignant about that person’s behaviour, and I would ask the classic Buddhist question: “Who is the ‘I’ who is hurt, here?” It didn’t take much investigation to admit that finding the ‘I’ isn’t easy. And, as I searched through all the elements of my anger, not finding anything I could call my real self, then I inevitably calmed down, and sigh. Have you noticed that your humour is not released until you have forgiven?

Nowadays, if I am triggered by someone I do something similar, except that I approach it the other way. I say: “Who is that person (the one I am not forgiving)? Can I find them?” I look closer, and closer, and ultimately all I can find is my experiences. I find my perceptions of that person, and I find my reactivity. Who is that person, independent of the way I have him in my inner TV? I can’t find him. That tends to bring a calming in me, and, immediately, I’m out of the prison of duality. What a relief! We need to protect ourselves against the violence of others, but we also need to protect our precious luminous, boundless heart-mind against the distortions produced by our untamed ego-system.

So, that’s another way that giving life to life, prepares us for death. I don’t want to be holding myself to ransom in my last breath, demanding false justice from myself and others. Let it go, now. May I have the presence of mind, to say at death’s door: May no-one be punished on account of my ill-will. (Wasn’t that the most powerful of Jesus’ acts, that at the last, he said, in the spirit of his Jewish practice, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”)

This applies, too, to self-recrimination; not just to recriminations against others. Perhaps it’s even harder to forgive ourselves. I read these lines from a poem, At the Corner Store by Alison Luterman, and I could feel their force in me: “my whole cock-eyed life/  – what a beautiful failure!” One of my biggest lessons in the last decade is this: There is no faultless person, anywhere, and there never has been. If you look at the lives of the saints, it’s clear that their ‘stuff’ doesn’t end with their enlightenment. Humans are messy. We’re art-works in progress. What is it that Leonard Cohen sings? “There’s a crack, a crack in everything.”

If we’re not hijacked by the inner judge, we can accept our messy lives, and move forward in our growth (and our growth into death) with some grace. This takes study, of course. We need to study the part of the ego-system called the ‘superego,’ or the ‘inner judge,’ or the ‘inner critic.’ Once you learn its ways, then its easier to say with Alison Luterman, “What a beautiful failure,” and then, to find ways to disengage from its attacks on you. The judge doesn’t want us to celebrate our cock-eyed lives. The judge is a controlling voice, which is empowered by our wrong relationship with it.

There’s a story in the Buddhist Samyutta Nikaya (in the Sakka Samyutta), where an anger-eating demon takes over the throne of Sakka, the deva-king. The more that king’s men treat the demon badly, getting angry with him, finding fault with him, the more healthy and handsome he becomes. So, Sakka approaches and treats him royally. The demon can’t take it, and he disappears right there.

My inner critic says, “You’re a loser.”  I pause, come to my belly-breathing, and I say, “Oh, that’s so true. So true – a beautiful loser. The more I lose, the more real I am. And, Dad, I want to thank you, for bringing that to my notice.” Then I check in, to see what the result is, of that skilful means. Lately, he’s just silent. The inner judge doesn’t outlast humour. Because it thrives on bad vibes, because it takes itself too seriously, it can’t comprehend good-humoured responses.

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* The word Aitken Roshi used here as ‘Dana.’ It’s often translated as ‘generosity,’ but ‘giving’ is a better translation.

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