We need to shift our attention

teisho 735  (2000)

We take so many things for granted.  We set up certain habits, ways of reacting, and repeat them over and over again. Gurdjief used to say that the curse of human nature was the mechanicalness of human nature.  It could be said that there are three things that go together: taking things for granted, mechanical life and seeking immediate gratification. He used to introduce shocks into the running of his institute: he would get people up in the middle of the night to do exercises; he bought bikes on one occasion and everyone had to ride around the institute on one.  He was trying to shatter, brake up, the mechanicalness of human nature.  How can we do this for ourselves?  On beginners’ courses one of the things we do is ask people to wear an elastic band on their wrist or a finger for a week. Some people protest it is a foolish thing to do; it is this very sense of foolishness that helps to derail their habitual ways of reacting.

By just being aware, bringing deadening habits into the light of awareness, one can melt away obstructions. We do not have the choice as to whether we are going to suffer or not, but we do have the choice of how we are going to suffer.  One of the problems with pain is that alongside it is another pain, ‘I hurt’. It is this ‘I hurt’ that we can do something about.  Our practice is to see into this I that is constantly seeking comfort, instant gratification, and ways to avoid issues.

Nisargadatta says, “Begin to question.”  This will help to break up habitual reactions. Working on a koan gives you a pneumatic drill to break up the concrete of habit which deadens our life.  A question many people carry with them is “What is the point?  does it matter? what difference does it make?”  A feeling of hopelessness and inability to do anything usually accompanies this questioning.  If, instead of letting it sink into the background of one’s life, one gives it one’s attention, bathes it in awareness, this is working on yourself.

All religions assure us that there is something beyond mere experience. All express this differently.  Zen simply says, “from the beginning all beings are Buddha.”

The experience that we call life is experienced.  There is knowing in which all experience comes to be.  There is a light in which every form takes its place.  This knowing is not experience. It is not subject to the changes of experience.  It doesn’t come into being; experiences come into being within the light of knowing.  It doesn’t die,  experiences come to an end within the light of knowing.  All joys, satisfaction and beauty have their source in knowing. We need to shift our attention, from experience to experiencing:  from a wall to seeing the wall;  from the body to knowing the body, from the world to knowing the world.  This subtle shift doesn’t change anything, everything is the same as it always has been;  but at the same time, everything is different.  Everything is now alive, whereas before everything was dead.  Everyone can make this subtle shift.  All beings are Buddha.

Nisargadatta says, “You have spent so much energy building a prison for yourself.  Now spend as much energy on demolishing it. All hangs on the idea I am something; examine this very thoroughly, it lies at the root of all trouble.” This is what Zen is all about, seeing into the root of the weed that we call ‘myself,’ ‘I’.   He says, “It is like a skin that separates you from reality.” Everything has got the taint of ‘I’ in it. Realize then that this is how you see the world. And then realize that it is not the world, it is an experience. Then realize that with every experience there is experiencing – seeing, knowing.  And it is this experiencing that will dissolve the experience, which will take from it its absolute quality, its sense of independence, its sense of separation. Nisargadatta says, ” You can live very well without the sense ‘I am something.’ ”  Are you prepared to put up with the pain, the difficulties and discomfort necessary to work with it so that you can see it for what it is and allow it to dissolve?

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