The moon is the same old moon,
The flowers are not different,
But now I see
That I am the thingness of things.
When you read one of these postings, or when you read a conversation with Nisargadatta, it is not enough that you simply know the meaning of the words that are being used. You must also understand the meaning that the words are trying to express. If you stay with the meaning of the words alone, you will remain on the surface of what is being said. This is the way we read a newspaper. To understand the meaning that the words are trying to express requires more attention. It is like reading poetry, or even like reading a novel. You ‘inhabit’ the poem or novel. Sometimes an analogy is used to help to convey the meaning. This is done because with an analogy or metaphor it is sometimes easier to get behind the words and see the meaning.
We are often told, “Go beyond thought,” or, “You are beyond all form.” In an earlier posting I reminded you that the Prajnaparamita, one of the the basic sutras of the Zen sect, ends with a mantra: gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi , sattva. In English this mantra is saying, gone, gone , gone beyond, gone right beyond: pure knowing, rejoice. That these words come at the end of a sutra which has been boiled down to the essentials of practice is significant. All true practice is going beyond.To go ‘right beyond’ is Bodhi.
Let us ask once more, what does ‘to go beyond’ mean? Some people think that to go beyond has a mystical significance, that going beyond is to enter into a ‘higher realm.’ But this is not so; there is no higher realm. Every minute of the day offers us the possibility of ‘going beyond.’ This is why Nansen told Joshu, “Everyday mind is the way.”
In that earlier posting, I used the analogy of a painting to help show what it means ‘to go beyond.’ We see the painting but ignore the canvas on which it is painted. I have used another analogy several times in the past, but repeat it to give you once more the opportunity to go beyond the meaning of the words to the meaning that the words are wanting to convey.
Imagine that you are in a cinema. You are involved in all that is occurring on the screen. A man falling in love with a woman, a jealous husband , a quarrel, war, the countryside, laughter, tears, the whole passing parade of life is on the screen. You are involved in it; you are one with it. At the end of the film all that remains on the screen is a simple white light, and you say, “Let’s go home.” All the drama, all the excitement, the tension and emotions that you experienced with the people in the film––the lust and love, anger, fear–– all of this was made possible by modifications of that simple, white light. Yet, at no time during the film, were you aware of the light. The white light was beyond the film.
We must not be led astray by the words, “The white light.” It is not a light that you can see. A story is told of a Chinese emperor who was present at the dedication of a stupa. During the ceremony, he saw a bright white light. All those present, except one man, congratulated him on his good fortune. The emperor asked the man why he had not joined in the congratulations. The man, a Buddhist monk, said, “What you saw was the light of your guardian angel; it was not the light of Buddha.” “What is the light of Buddha?” asked the emperor. The monk walked away. He answers the emperor’s question exactly, but do not be fixated on the monk walking away.
Thoughts and ideas, your emotions, the feeling of “I am,” the belief “the world is real,” all the drama of your life, all the excitement, the fears, the failures; all are modifications of the white light, the white light called knowing, the light of Buddha. This is why the Diamond sutra ends with
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
Different states of mind are constantly coming into being. At one time you can be quite depressed, quite in the dark, unable to go forward, and the next day, almost without you realizing it, you suddenly feels that life is easy, you love life. Then, another switch, and you are now bored or angry or whatever. These states just come into being and go out of being constantly, endlessly, without interruption. One state of mind follows before another state of mind has truly passed away. We feel what we experience is permanent, stable. But it is not what we experience that is permanent and stable. The white light is stable but it changes constantly; it is neither permanent nor impermanent. Yet, it never changes, forever remaining the white light.
When we wake up from sleep, in retrospect, sleep seems to have been just a blank, an absence. But these ‘blanks’ can occur when we look back on a day. Sometimes at the end of a day we just cannot remember anything that we have done, and it seems as though we have lived in a complete vacuum all day. We were asleep with our eyes open. But, when we were living through that ‘vacuum,’ we were deeply involved, present; not necessarily present to what we were doing, but involved, immersed in thoughts and dreams, memories, all mixed in together with what we were doing.
But we were present, even though to a dream. When you are asleep, you are beyond all the manifestations of the waking state. Each moment during sleep, you are present, deeply involved, totally involved, but, when you awaken, nothing stands out in the memory. Moreover, during sleep, we drift without any kind of hiatus, any kind of break, into dreams. Sometimes, the dreams are sufficiently striking that they persist into the day. But this is rare. Even as we wake up, the dream just disappears, and we think, “Well, I didn’t dream last night, it was all a blank.” But we were very present while we dreamed.
What I call the white light, awareness, what in Buddhism is called Bodhi, is the constant factor in everything. Sometime, because it is constant, it is called immutable. We must be careful, however, not to look upon the white light as having an independent existence apart from the world. In the Prajnaparamita it says, form is emptiness. Everything is emptiness: the world is the white light. But the Prajnaparamita also says that emptiness is form.
When we’re working on “Who am I?” we must separate the content from the substance. The content is the sense of self; the substance is the white light. We must go beyond the sense of self to the white light. Discern, if you like, or cognize, or penetrate, or go beyond the form to the white light. We use different words––white light, Bodhi, knowing, awareness, prajna, but in the end, although each has its own nuance, whether to call it knowing or Bodhi, awareness or prajna, is a matter of taste.
One of the more difficult aspects of practice is our struggle with thoughts. We do not need to chase them away, but recognize they’re just that. They are thoughts. They are modifications of the white light. It is the white light that gives them their apparent reality and value.
Thoughts are continuous to the point that they establish what seems to be a wall of reality, which you are constantly up against. And you have taken this wall of reality so much for granted that you think that when you’re in contact with it you are in contact with the real world. When you say the world is real, what you are really referring to is the world of thought that is constantly flowing through. And when you truly investigate thoughts you see this world has no substance; the thoughts have no substance. The world is simply the stream of thought, and thoughts themselves come out of awareness. When I say the world has no substance, I mean it has no independent substance: it has no independent reality.
This is why we are told, ‘it’s all around you,’ and, ‘it is like one in water crying I thirst,’ because it is all constantly coming out of awareness, or Bodhi.
“When you no longer think a thought, where does it go?” One can have the most painful thoughts, thoughts, for example, of being a total failure, which cause great pain. But what happens to that thought when you sleep? How real is it? Thoughts whip you, hurt you and then disappear, giving way to other thoughts, no doubt just as painful. From where do these thoughts come? To where do they go?
We go to sleep; then what happens to the self? Nothing. What can happen to an illusion? What can happen to the fairy that is not in the corner? Going to sleep, as you know, can be a very sweet process. Deep sleep has a beauty about it; it is suffused in love. What is that sweetness, beauty, and love? Deep sleep is, in its way, nearest to our true nature. Not because in sleep we are absent; when we are asleep the veil of illusion is thin. When we sleep thoughts have no ‘I.’
When we sleep, we do not solve the day’s problems, we do not take the day’s worries and solve them one by one, and, having solved them, then go to sleep. We don’t even let them go. Going to sleep is just like mist that just disappears when the sun rises. Ice dissolves in water, but in what are the thoughts dissolved?
The problem is that we take the content of thought seriously. If we get a thought, ‘I am no good’, we take that thought as being something that has value, truth, in and by itself. But the “I” that is no good is an ingredient in the thought itself. Outside the thought, ‘I am no good’, there is no “I” that is no good. However, once you have this thought, then a number of other thoughts and feelings flow from it. But if we are really aware as the thought, ‘I’m no good’ it dissolves, it is unable to stand up to the light of awareness. It’s true that often as soon as we cease giving the thought our full awareness it comes back, but this does not mean the thought is real. It simply means that there is a habit, a tendency for the mind to run in certain grooves. Even with the thoughts “I am something” or “I am the body,” or perhaps “I am a person,” it is the same. The ‘I’ that is the body is part of the thought, “I am the body” outside that thought there is no ‘I.’ The painter is part of the painting.
It is true also of the question, when did I come into being? The very idea of things coming into being is dependent on ‘I am.’ I am prior to all that can happen, not prior in time but in order. When you are asleep, there is no question of beginnings and endings. But as you wake up so the day is planned, a sequence comes about: this has to be done first, that has to be done next, cycles of action with a beginning, middle and end come into being, and so there is the appearance of a beginning and an end. But, when one looks closely, none of these cycles of action have a beginning. They all flow out of what was already going on.
For an event to begin, a context must exist in which the event can find its place. Because I believe that the world exists independently of me, I believe that that makes it possible for me to come into being. I believe that at birth I come into and at death go out of the world, a world that exists independently of me. Therefore, I believe, I have a beginning.
The Prajnaparamita says, “no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind”. The nose, eyes, ears have no independent reality of their own. Colour, sound, smell, touch or what the mind takes hold of likewise have no independent existence apart from the white light. There is no world into which I am born, nor is there a world that I leave behind at death. This is why we say at the end of the Prajnaparamita, , “gate, gate, paragate.” Once we have gone beyond, then there is no eye, ear, nose; just in the same way that if you are in a cinema and you look up and see the light, you lose the film entirely. This is why Hakuin says, “If you die before you die, you do not die when you die.”
The Prajnaparamita also says, “form is only emptiness.” When you look around, you see things; these are the forms; the seeing is emptiness. The thoughts that hurt so much, these are the forms: knowing these thoughts is emptiness. But we overlook the seeing and the knowing. All that we are concerned with is the form, and because of that we assume the form has a reality. It is almost as though a thought is an independent person. Indeed, for a long time before we established this sense of “I” am something, and introjected it, then thoughts were other people. For example, where it says in the Old Testament that “God spoke to Moses” we would say today that Moses thought.
We see this so clearly in the Buddha story: when he sat under the Bo tree he had great determination, yet, even so, he was immediately assaulted by Mara. Mara comes to visit during sesshin. When you first come to sesshin, you have great determination. And, as you sit, Mara begins to attack you. The first assault of Mara is the assault of “I”. I am something. I am something special. Mara’s spears and arrows are the shafts of shame and anger that we feel; Mara’s daughters are the sexual feelings that pester us.
Claiming that Mara attacked Buddha, means that we tend to look upon our doubts and the mental assaults as independent existences. Yet, their power comes from knowing itself. To acknowledge this, to take the thoughts over and see them for what they are, is the work that we have to do.
When working with any particular troubling thought, notice that you do, in fact, feel that it has an independent existence, that you are seeing the thought as something other, almost as another person.
This otherness of thought is particularly apparent in that continuous mono-dualogue that goes on in the mind. One has the feeling of explaining to, arguing with, discussing with, another person hidden somewhere in the shadows of the mind. Being aware of thoughts as separate will make the separation dissolve, and with this dissolution the thought loses its power.
Alternatively, if the thought is very powerful, and constantly giving you trouble, think the thoughts as your own, give yourself entirely to the thoughts, agree with the thoughts one hundred percent. Don’t resist them in any way whatever. Take the thoughts over as your own and once you do that fully, thoroughly, then again the thoughts lose their power entirely, because their power comes from the separation, made more powerful by the resistance that you gave it.
What we can say, therefore, is that the thought and all that goes with it, has no beginning but is constantly coming into being, and it does so ‘now.’ The thought ‘I am the body’ is coming into existence now! It’s not something that came into being sometime in the past at birth. Now the thought is arising.
It is important, when you are struggling with thoughts, to realize that those thoughts are now. When you are working on “Who am I?” you are working on “Who am I?” now. You cannot get away from now. People say, “But I’ve always had this problem,” but this always having this problem is now! “This problem came from my childhood.” But that childhood is now!
‘Now’ is awareness. We overlook our awareness of a memory and so believe the memory has a reality in the past. Once we recognize that the memory is indeed now, and that now is awareness, now is the white light, we put awareness back into the equation, and then we can see that there is no past, there is no future. At the same time, once we put the knowing back into the thought (knowing this thought), the thought is no longer something other than knowing. Because we resist the thought, or try to extract the knowing from the thought, believing the thought to be something other than knowing, we say, “The thought is over there; I don’t like that thought, I don’t want that thought,” then the thought takes on a reality of its own.
People often say, “I’m just being bombarded with thoughts; I just can’t get away from them. Every time I look around there’s another thought in me somewhere.” As long as you are looking on a thought as something that is coming at you, that you are being bombarded by thoughts, then you give thoughts an independent existence. To take over and truly look at thoughts, above all negative thoughts, requires a degree of determination, a degree of strength of mind,
When you are asking “Who am I?” you are not trying to find something called ‘I.’ You are steadily seeing into the dream, “I am something,” that is consistently reinforced by the flow of positive and negative thoughts
Self forgetfulness is darkness. Self forgetfulness is forgetting knowing. Self forgetfulness is moving out of now. When we move out of now, when we are lost in thought, then thoughts are independent of us. They are something apart. But when we remember ourselves, remember awareness, then thoughts are no longer independent. They arise from and they return to awareness.
We try to change ourselves, which really means changing our thoughts about ourselves. By doing so, we forget our self, we forget the medium in which thoughts arise. We forget the knowing. We are not present.
Wisdom lies in remembering the self, which means, being the white light in which everything arises. Dogen says, “The practice of Buddhism is the study of the self.” And then he says, “The study of the self is to forget the self.” In other words, when, through exhaustive practice, we really get to know the self, then the illusion of the self–– I am this but not that––becomes translucent. And then he says, “To forget the self is to be one with the ten thousand things.” Everything is in the medium of knowing. Everything is but shadows thrown by the light. To see is to be.
Practice, as Nisargadatta once said, consists in reminding oneself forcibly of one’s pure beingness. Our being is our knowing. We have to arouse the mind, awaken to the knowing. One way or another we must keep constantly to the truth that everything arises out of awareness. But this awareness is not something; it is not a substratum. It is like vast space, but only insofar as there is no obstruction.
We practice to break the spell cast by thoughts. Our suffering is not caused by thought. Thoughts are ways by which we obscure the cause of our suffering: the wound in our being. By obscuring the wound, thoughts prevent us from seeing our problem clearly. Because we cannot clearly see the problem, we do not know how to work with it. We should not believe that if we did not have troubling thoughts, we would not have to practice. Nor should we believe that the best way to deal with thoughts is to suppress them. We can only suppress thoughts by other thoughts.