28 November 2010

The Magical Illusion of Self

For the meditator who sees things as they really are, explains the late Mahasi Sayadaw, there is no “I” or “being”—only mental and physical phenomena coming together in the present moment.

Seeing the mind (mental phenomena, which incline toward sense-objects) and body (physical phenomena, which change) as they really are is the purification of view.

—Visuddhimagga 2, 222

A meditator will rarely have wandering thoughts once concentration becomes strong. Instead, there will be an uninterrupted flow of pure noting mind most of the time. If a wandering thought does enter the mind, the meditator will be able to note it immediately and the thought will pass away. The meditator sees physical phenomena as they really are: that they are subject to alteration and that they are not able to know or experience anything. They are insensible (abyakata), inanimate, just like a log or stone.

As the meditator is noting, it becomes obvious that the noting mind resembles running to and sticking with the noted object. Likewise, it becomes obvious that the six types of consciousness—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking—seem to go to their respective sense objects. The meditator is seeing and understanding mental phenomena as they really are, seeing their characteristic of inclining, or being drawn toward, sense objects.

For the meditator who sees things as they really are, it is obvious that the mental and physical phenomena are different. They are not taken as one and the same anymore, as they were before the practice of meditation. When the meditator observes the rising movement (of the abdomen when breathing in), he or she can at least discern between the rising movement and the noting mind. Similarly, the meditator can differentiate between the falling movement (of the abdomen when breathing out) and the noting of it; the sitting posture and the noting of it; the intention to bend, the bending movement, and the noting of it; the intention to stretch, the stretching movement, and the noting of it; the visible form, the eye, the seeing, and the noting of it.

Before a drum is beaten, its sound does not exist in the drum itself, the drumstick, or anywhere in between. Even though a sound occurs when the drum is beat, the sound does not originate from the drum or the drumstick. The physical phenomena of drum and drumstick are not transformed into a sound nor does the sound originate from anywhere in between drum and drumstick. In dependence on the drum, the drumstick, and the hitting of the drum, the sound is a completely new phenomenon each time the drum is hit. The drum and the stick are different from the sound.

In the same way, before you see something or someone, seeing does not exist in the eye, in the visible form, or anywhere in between. The seeing that takes place neither originates in the eye nor in the visible form. The seeing consciousness neither originates in the eye nor in the visible forms, which are physical phenomena. It also does not originate from anywhere in between. Seeing is actually a new phenomenon that arises due to the combination of the eye, the visible form, light, and your attention. Thus, the eye and the visible form are different from the seeing. The same is true for the other senses.

When you understand the difference between mental and physical phenomena, you are likely to reflect that neither the mind nor the body alone can perform actions such as sitting, standing, walking, bending, stretching, seeing, hearing, and so on. Only the mind and body together can perform these activities.

Because of this, the mind and body together are mistaken for “I.” One thinks, “I am sitting; I am standing up; I am going; I am bending; I am stretching; I am seeing; I am hearing,” and so on. In reality, there is no “I” or “being” that sits, stands up, and walks, but only mental and physical phenomena. That is why the Visuddhimagga (2, 231) says:

In reality, mind conditions matter, and matter conditions mind. When the mind wants to eat, drink, speak, or change posture, it is the body that actually eats, drinks, speaks, or changes posture.

When we expand on this, we can say:

The volition to eat is mental, but what actually eats is the body.

The volition to drink is mental, but what actually drinks is the body.

The volition to speak is mental, but what actually speaks is the body.

The volition to sit down is mental, but what actually sits down is the body.

The volition to stand up is mental, but what actually stands up is the body.

Some meditators may use similes to describe their experience of mental and physical phenomena. The Visuddhimagga (2, 228) gives these similes:

A coach is so called because of the way that its components are assembled: the axles, wheels, body, and shafts. However, if you examine each component separately, there is no coach to be found. A house is so called when its materials, posts, beams, etc., are fit together. Other than these materials, however, there is no house that can be found. A tree is so called because it includes a trunk, branches, and leaves, and so on. But apart from these parts, no tree can be found.

In the same way, a being is so called because he or she is composed of the five aggregates of clinging, i.e. mental and physical phenomena. However, if you pay attention to each of these phenomena separately, you will no longer have the conceit that, “I am so and so,” or the wrong belief that, “I am a person.” You realize that, in terms of ultimate reality, there is no being that exists. All that exists is the mind, which is able to incline to the object and know the object, and matter, which is not able to know the object and is subject to alteration. This realization is called “seeing things as they really are.”

Being able to come up with a good simile, however, doesn’t matter. Without thinking deliberately, while you are simply noting, you are able to discern between mental and physical phenomena, and you understand that in this body there are only mental phenomena that are able to know objects and physical phenomena that are not able to know objects. Besides these two phenomena, there is no being, I, soul, or self. This understanding comes naturally and is the peak of the insight knowledge of mental and physical phenomena. This insight knowledge in turn is called “the purification of view,” as it helps to remove the deluded view that a being really exists (atta-ditthi). That is why theMahātīkā [the commentary to the Visuddhimagga] says:

The phrase “seeing mind and matter as they really are” means seeing them as just phenomena and not a being by observing their individual characteristics, thus: “This is mind; this much is mind; there is nothing more than this (i.e., no being). This is matter; this much is matter; there is nothing more than this (i.e., no being).” This is purification of view, as it eliminates the deluded view that a being really exists. Thus should it be understood.

The individual characteristics of physical phenomena (such as alteration or roughness and hardness) and individual characteristics of mental phenomena (such as inclining toward the object, mental contact with the object, feeling, perceiving, or knowing of an object) only really exist in the moment they occur—not before or after. That is why you can only be truly aware of the specific characteristics of mental and physical phenomena when you observe them from moment to moment. In this way, you understand that there is no “I” or being, but only mental and physical phenomena. This understanding is called the purification of view. It means that this understanding can eliminate the wrong view of a person or being.

When the characteristics of mind and matter have been understood as they truly are by noting the presently arising objects, the meditator comes to see the causes of those phenomena. With this, the insight knowledge of conditionality will arise: the realization that certain causes give rise to certain phenomena, whether in the past, present, or future. This insight knowledge can take various forms, depending on a person’s aspiration, spiritual maturity, and intellectual ability. The Visuddhimagga identifies five forms, which are explained in the sections below.

The First Way of Seeing Conditionality
Seeing the Causes of Matter

Some meditators see the causes of matter. They see that physical phenomena have been continuously occurring, from birth up to the present moment, due to the four causes of ignorance, desire, clinging, and volitional actions in the past. They also see that the nutrition they receive in the present preserves the body, and that the desire to sit, bend, and so forth results in the physical actions of sitting, bending, etc. As well, they see that hot and cold environments give rise to hot and cold physical sensations.

A meditator can empirically observe the present causes for physical phenomena, such as nutrition, consciousness, and weather. But one cannot directly observe the causes from the past, such as ignorance, desire, clinging, and volitional actions. However, even before beginning meditation practice, a vipassana meditator has already accepted intellectually that wholesome actions lead to a good life and beneficial results, whereas unwholesome actions lead to a bad life and unbeneficial results. Therefore, when one practices and empirically observes ignorance, craving, clinging, and volitional actions in the present, one will inferentially realize that they were also operating in the past.

The mental and physical phenomena that make up our lives are all unsatisfying. Attachment to them is the cause of suffering. Not knowing this truth is called “ignorance of suffering and its cause.” Believing that the phenomena of life are actually satisfying and the cause of happiness is called the “delusion of pleasure and its cause.” These two kinds of delusion are deeply rooted in the hearts of ordinary people. They devote themselves day and night to enjoying as much pleasure as possible. Day and night, they do everything they can to get the most out of their present life and to enjoy better lives in the future. These delusions, therefore, cannot be overcome simply through study.

On the other hand, the cessation of the defilements and volitional actions as the causes of suffering leads to the complete cessation of all mental and physical phenomena at the time of entering parinibbana. One is no longer reborn as a human or deva, man or woman. This is called the truth of cessation.

Ignorance of the peace and happiness of nibbana, as well as ignorance of insight practice and the path (the causes of happiness and peace), can be called “ignorance of suffering and its cause.” Believing that nibbana must be awful and that insight practice and the path are causes of suffering can be called the “delusion of pleasure and its cause.” In other words, these are distorted and wrong understandings of the truths about the cessation of suffering and the way leading to its cessation.

If these two kinds of ignorance are very strong, one may actually fear nibbana, thinking that after parinibbana nothing will arise, nothing can be known or experienced, and one cannot meet others anymore. One may even make disparaging comments about liberation, saying, “Nibbana is complete annihilation. It can’t possibly be good. Practicing to attain it is simply going to a lot of trouble, mentally and physically, to attain annihilation!” For ordinary people, this active form of ignorance and wrong understanding of the four noble truths occurs only at certain times. However, it occurs in its dormant form along with every object that is not noted. Therefore, if ignorance is noted at the time of its occurrence, it can be empirically seen by the meditator.

In addition, if these mental and physical phenomena are mistakenly believed to be satisfying, liking and attachment arises. As a result, the desire to become more prosperous arises. This is clinging. Because of clinging, various activities—volitional actions—are performed.

Craving, clinging, and volitional actions can be seen by noting them as they are occurring and by recollecting them from the past. When the meditator sees in practice how volitional actions have their origins in ignorance, craving, and clinging, he or she realizes that because of volitional actions in the past there is continuous arising of physical phenomena in this life starting at the moment of rebirth-linking (the consciousness that gives rise to rebirth after death based on karmic accumulation). At the same time, the meditator understands that these physical phenomena also arise because of ignorance, craving, and clinging. We call this “realizing the causes of physical phenomena empirically and inferentially.”
Seeing the Causes of Mind

When seeing is noted, the meditator understands and comprehends that seeing occurs when there is the eye and a visible form. Or the meditator understands and comprehends that with the meeting of the eye, the visible form, and the seeing, there is contact between the object and the mind. The same is true for all the senses. Furthermore, when a meditator notes “seeing,” or “hearing,” or “touching,” or “thinking,” etc., he or she can see that contact with the object arouses pleasure or displeasure in the body or mind.

Pleasure is enjoyed and therefore the desire for continuous enjoyment arises. The meditator wants to get rid of the displeasure and wants pleasure instead. The clinging to pleasure causes actions of body, speech, and thoughts with the aim of gaining enjoyment. In this way, the meditator empirically sees the causes of the mind in an adequate manner.
Inferential Knowledge Regarding the Past and Future

Once a meditator has empirically seen the causes of mental and physical phenomena in the present life, he or she concludes with inferential knowledge that they must be the same in the past and future: “In the past, there were only these mental and physical phenomena which occurred due to certain causes. In the future, there will only be these mental and physical phenomena which will occur due to certain causes.”
Overcoming the Sixteen Kinds of Skeptical Doubts

A meditator who understands and comprehends that in the past, future, and present, there are only mental and physical phenomena that give rise to other mental and physical phenomena can abandon and overcome the belief in a self and the related sixteen kinds of doubts, which are as follows:

Five doubts about one’s existence in the past:

1. Did I exist in previous lives? (the notion that the “I” has existed forever)

2. Did I not exist in previous lives? (the notion that the “I” only exists in this present life)

3. What was I in previous lives? (rich or poor, lay, ordained, Myanmar, Indian, brahma,deva, human or animal, etc.)

4. What did I look like in previous lives (tall, short, fat, thin, fair, dark, etc.), and who or what created me in previous lives (God, Brahma, or another celestial being or did I spontaneously come into existence)?

5. What type of person was I in previous lives?

Five doubts about one’s existence in the future:

6. Will I have another life after death? (the notion that the “I” is indestructible and eternal)

7. Will I not have another life after death? (the notion that the “I” will disappear after death)

8. What will I be in my next life?

9. What will I look like in my next life, and who or what will create my next life?

10. What type of person will I be in my next life?

Six doubts about one’s existence in the present:

11. Is there an “I” (being, self, soul, spirit) in this body?

12. Is there not an “I” in this body?

13. What is this “I”? (rich or poor, lay, ordained, Myanmar, Indian, brahma, deva, human, or animal, etc.)

14. What does this “I” look like?

15. From where or what previous life did this “I” transmigrate?

16. To where or what future life will this “I” transmigrate?

These sixteen kinds of doubt only arise in those who believe in the existence of a “self.” They do not arise in those who understand that there is only a succession of mental and physical phenomena based on cause and effect—devoid of a “self” or an “I.”

One can only have doubts about whether or not a rabbit has horns if one does not really know what a rabbit looks like. If one has actually seen a rabbit, however, it would not be possible to entertain this doubt.

The Second Way of Seeing Conditionality

Some meditators experience the conditionality of mental and physical phenomena arising as follows:

I see due to the eye and visible forms. I hear due to the ear and sounds. I smell due to the nose and odors. I taste sweet, sour, and so forth, due to the tongue and flavors. I know touching sensations due to the body and tangible objects. I think, reflect, and note objects due to the heart-base and various mental objects. Due to wise attention, living in a suitable place, associating with virtuous people, listening to the dhamma expounded by the wise, and having mature paramis (virtues or perfections), there arises wholesomeness and the ability to practice insight meditation. Due to unwise attention, living in an unsuitable place, associating with evil people, listening to the words of immoral people, and having poorly developed paramis, there arises unwholesomeness.

Wholesome volitional actions based on delusion, craving, and clinging result in a fortunate rebirth, in good and pleasant objects at all six sense doors, and in many beneficial results. Unwholesome volitional actions based on delusion, craving, and clinging result in an unfortunate rebirth, in bad and unpleasant objects at all six sense doors, and in many unbeneficial results.

The physical phenomena that make up the heart-base, eye, ear, and so on, have been arising continuously since the first moment of this life due to past volitional actions.

The physical activities of sitting, walking, bending, and so on are caused by the intention or desire to do so.

The temperature of the external environment causes physical sensations of heat or cold. The nutrition in the food one eats gives energy to the body…

Meditators who understand and comprehend that in the present, there are only mental and physical phenomena that give rise to other mental and physical phenomena, inferentially understand that the same is true for the past and the future.

The Third and Fourth Ways of Seeing Conditionality

Some meditators see the arising, presence, and disappearance of conditioned phenomena while observing presently arising objects. From this, they understand that the first arising of the mind in this life is just another moment of arising of the mind. They also understand that death is just another moment of disappearance of the mind. They understand that aging is the successive presence of mental and physical phenomena. Therefore, the causes for mental and physical phenomena are understood. It can be understood in this way:

For aging and death, first there must be arising or rebirth.

Arising or rebirth in turn is generated by volitional actions.

Volitional actions are generated by clinging.

Clinging is caused by attachment to mental and physical phenomena.

Attachment results from pleasant and unpleasant sensations.

Sensations are brought about by contact between the mind and sense-objects

Contact originates from the sense-bases, the sensitive matter of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind (i.e., because of the eye-sensitivity and the mind, seeing occurs, and so on).

The sense-bases come into existence due to the mental and physical phenomena on which they depend (i.e., the sensitive matter of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are based on the physical organs, and the mind is based on its physical base and the other mental elements).

Mental and physical phenomena are generated by various types of consciousness, such as rebirth-linking consciousness, the life-continuum and sense-consciousness.

Consciousness has its origin in volitional deeds that one has performed in past lives for one’s well-being.

Volitional actions arise from ignorance and delusion.

Noble beings, such as bodhisattas, fully realize conditionality in this way, by seeing dependent origination (paticcasamuppāda) in reverse order. Ordinary meditators are also able to realize conditionality this way and overcome the sixteen kinds of doubt. This is the third way of seeing the conditionality of mental and physical phenomena.

Other meditators realize conditionality by seeing dependent origination in forward order. That is, they realize that ignorance and delusion generate volitional actions, and that volitional actions generate consciousness, and so on. Noble beings, such as bodhisattas, fully realize conditionality in this way. Ordinary meditators are also able to realize conditionality this way and overcome the sixteen kinds of doubt. This is the fourth way of seeing the conditionality of mental and physical phenomena.

The Fifth Way of Seeing Conditionality

Some meditators see the conditionality of mental and physical phenomena in terms of the relationship between volitional acts and their results. This relationship between volitional action and its results is divided into the cycle of volitional actions (kamma-vatta) and the cycle of results (vipāka-vatta). The cycle of volitional actions includes ignorance and delusion, volitional action, attachment, clinging, and existence based on volitional actions(kamma-bhava). The cycle of results includes consciousness, mental and physical phenomena, the sense-bases, mental contact, and feeling.

If a meditator considered conditionality in detail, he or she would see each of the five causal factors and the five resultant factors. If a meditator considered it in general, he or she would not differentiate each individual cause and result. Instead, he or she would simply see volitional action as the cycle of volitional acts, and would see the kammic results of volitional actions as the cycle of results.

In the following sections, I explain how the Patisambhidāmagga, in the Pali Canon, explains the cycle of volitional actions and the cycle of results.
Causal Factors from Previous Lives

The volition generated as one plans to perform a wholesome or unwholesome action issankhāra. It is the volition that compels one to perform that action right away. However, the volition that is generated while actually performing the wholesome or unwholesome action is kamma-bhava.

Here’s an example of kamma-bhava: while giving something to someone, you let go of the thing and hand it over to the recipient so that he or she can do with it as he or she pleases. In the case of killing, you do that act so that the other being dies. In this way, the action is completed. It is just the same with other wholesome or unwholesome deeds.

There are five causal factors that occur as follows:

Ignorance and delusionlead to craving

Craving leads to clinging

Clinging leads to volition involved in preparing to act

Preparing to act leads to volition involved in carrying out the act

After carrying out the act one mistakenly thinks that the act is a cause for happiness and that the result to be experienced will be happiness

With this, ignorance is generated again, followed by craving, clinging, and so on. In this way, volitional actions, supported by ignorance and craving, can lead to rebirth.
Resultant Factors in the Present Life

When a meditator is noting mental and physical phenomena from moment to moment, it is obvious that successive moments of consciousness (seeing, hearing, etc.) are part of an ongoing mental process. In the same way, the moment of rebirth-linking consciousness of this present life can be understood as the successor to the last moment of consciousness (i.e., death) of the previous life.

If a meditator notes phenomena continuously from moment to moment, he or she will see new phenomena coming into existence. He or she can then realize inferentially that the phenomena at the moment of rebirth arose in the same manner. The same is true for the six senses, contact, and feeling. These resultant phenomena eventually give rise to the five causal phenomena when the six sense-bases mature.
Causal Factors in the Present Life and Resultant Factors in Future Lives

When the sense bases become mature in this present life, the five causal factors are generated: ignorance or delusion, wholesome or unwholesome volition, craving, clinging, and volitional action that result in new life. These five factors are generated when performing volitional acts in the present life and are the causes of future rebirth.

—Patisambhidāmagga, 30

These present causal factors lead to the arising of the five resultant factors in the future:

In the future, there will be rebirth-linking consciousness, mental and physical phenomena, the six sense-bases, contact between the mind and sense-object, and feeling or sensation. These five resultant factors will arise in future existences caused by volitional acts performed in this life.
—Patisambhidāmagga, 51
Inferential Knowledge

The five causal factors that were generated in past lives are the same as those generated in the present life. Also, the five resultant factors that will be generated in future lives will be the same as those generated in the present life. Therefore, if one empirically perceives the causal and resultant factors in the present life, one will also inferentially realize the causes generated in past lives and the results that will be generated in future lives.

These five resultant factors are all contained within one moment of consciousness. Therefore, if one is aware of these resultant factors in a general way, one will see all of them together as a whole. For example, when one notes a pleasant or unpleasant object, one is aware that the sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or thought simply arises of its own accord as the result of past volitional action. One is not aware of each resultant factor separately, noticing, “This is consciousness; these are the mental and physical phenomena,” and so on.

Instead, one experiences all five of the causal factors together during a single moment of noting, seeing that they are the past causes. One then realizes that all volitional activities performed for the sake of one’s well-being, whether physical, verbal, or mental, whether in this life or the next, constitute volitional action that will lead to rebirth. However, one doesn’t see the resultant factors separately as, “This is ignorance; this is volitional action,”and so on.

Because the meditator finds only the causal and resultant factors at the time of noting, he or she concludes, “In past lives too, there was only volitional action and its result. In future lives too, there will only be volitional action and its results. There is only volitional action and its results, and no individual or personality who produces volitional action or enjoys or suffers its results.”

MAHASI SAYADAW was born in Burma in 1904 and ordained as a Buddhist monk at age twenty. He published many volumes of Buddhist literature in Burmese, including a Burmese translation of the Visuddhimagga. The teaching presented here is adapted from his newly translated Manual of Insight, edited by Steve Armstrong and Deborah Ratner-Helzer. Many of the early Insight Meditation teachers in the West were trained in Mahasi Sayadaw’s tradition of vipassana meditation. In 1979 he traveled to the West and taught at the newly founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. He died in 1982.

06 November 2010


Satsang with Robert Adams
'The individual is sentient and cannot be without consciousness. The Self is pure consciousness. Yet man identifies with the body, which is insentient. The insentient body does not say 'I am the body.' Something else says so. The unlimited Self does not say so either. Then who says it? A spurious 'I' which arises between pure consciousness and the insentient body, and which imagines itself limited to the body. Seek this and it will vanish as a phantom. That phantom is the ego or individuality. The present state is mere illusion. Our aim should be simply to remove this illusion."

Thus speaks Ramana Maharshi, one of the great contemporary sages of the Wisdom or Jnani tradition. Robert carries on this tradition, explaining that the world arises with the I-thought, or ego. When we sleep, we are absolute consciousness itself, but do not remember this transcendent state in waking consciousness. In waking consciousness, the I-thought reins, identifies with a body named Fred or Sam or Ed, and projects a world of phenomena, of intrigue, of evolution, of living and dying. But waking consciousness, like the dream state, is an appearance within absolute awareness, which is your real nature. Robert says forget the world, and know that which goes before birth and death. Who will listen to the crazy man that says you do not exist? Only those have given up on the mortal dream and long for rest in the absolute.

Robert’s Satsang ranged from total seriousness to total humor. Yet, the same absolute understanding was always there, sometimes hidden in the joke, sometimes hidden in seriousness. “Who would come,” he said, “if I only spoke the highest truth?” Yet, the highest truth inevitably emerged during Satsang. Rest in yourself. Abide in yourself and all will be revealed. To try to comprehend the Self through the intellect is impossible because mind is only a poor reflection of Self. Speculation will not reveal the Self but obscures the Self. Self is found in utter stillness which is so difficult to find. That is why the presence of a teacher who always abides in the Self is so important. Silence is the beginning and end of true seeking and is enlightenment and Nirvana itself.

R: There is no real purpose for you being alive. Ponder this. There is no special or real purpose for you being alive. What are you here for anyway?

What has man done for this earth? What has mankind achieved even with all its saints and sages? Civilizations have come and gone, and where are we now? We think we are important. Who do we think we are? We are born, we experience many things, we work, make a lot of money perhaps, then we get old and die. So what is the real purpose of all this? There is none.

We are nothing. You have no reason to exist. As a matter of fact, you do not exist. (Laughter) You have never really existed. It is all a cosmic joke. There is no reason for you to be alive and to be here. This may sound like an insult--it is! (More laughter) But it is the truth and the truth hurts.

You may think you are important, that you have come to earth to accomplish great deeds, or to get enlightened. That is not true. The enlightenment is already here and it doesn't need you. You are not wanted by anything or by anybody. (Laughter) You are a complete failure. (Loud laughter)

In truth you do not exist. The illusion of your existence makes you think that you are important, that you are somebody. That is why we talk about being nobody so much; there is no body. Yet, no matter how often I say this, you appear to be real. You appear to have a body. You appear to go to work. You appear to eat and sleep, and believe the illusion is going to continue. But as you know, soon you will be six feet under.

So what good are you? This is why it is important to wake up. Yet, you are never asleep! So who wakes up? Therefore, nothing is important. You think some things are important. So long as you think them important, you give them power, increas ing the power of living in things, making you feel more and more--so called--alive.

The beginning of wisdom is understanding that there is no wisdom. There is no body to have wisdom. The more you try to analyze things, the more you use your brain to function on this plane of existence, the more you put into Maya, into nothing, into illusion, the more that effort is inevitably doomed to failure. All you dreams and aspirations come to nothing. There is nothing you have to become or be.

Think of all the people looking for liberation, for enlightenment. Who wants to be liberated? The ego. There is no ego. (Laughter) There is no one to be liberated. Yet you continue to believe you exist.

Remember, never put lion's milk in a clay pot. (long pause...) So what are you here? You want a teaching. You want a lesson. You want a Mantra. You are looking for a way out. All of this searching and seeking keeps you back. It cannot fulfill you. It does nothing for you. Awakening is a joke. Liberation is a joke. My sitting here talking to you is a joke. There is nothing to be found, nothing to be achieved, nothing to become. You are attached to your mind and its false beliefs.

The so-called mind is constantly judging things to be good or bad, right or wrong, and you react to the judgments creating more problems, attaching you more firmly to the illusion.

Wouldn't it be beautiful if you awoke one morning and realized you do not exist, that you never existed, and that no one exists? There is no existence whatsoever. What role would you have then? As long as you believe you exist, you will defend yourself. You will fight for survival. You will seek wisdom. It is all very funny to me.

Even when I tell you to wake up, there is really no one to wake up. No one has ever gone to sleep. Who sleeps? You may say, "The body sleeps," or "The mind sleeps." But there is no body, there is no mind. There never was. All the teachings you have been through are a waste of time: the struggles, the searching all over the world for teachers, reading scriptures--to what avail? Why do you think you need these things?

All you need do is to understand what I am talking about. Ponder what I say. Then forget it. Do not hold on to thoughts, words, teachings. (A bird sings constantly in the background) The reason the bird sings beautifully is because it doesn't know it is a bird. It has no idea what it is. We give it a name, 'bird.' We give names to everything. These things just are. They are not here, they are not there. They are not good, they are not bad. The same with you. You are not this or that, you just are. There is absolutely nothing you have to do.

Think of all the years you have spent studying. Where will it all lead? You may be altruistic and believe that you are doing good in the world and for its future, but the world has no future. It never did; it never will. Thousands of civilizations have come and gone, even civilizations that have surpassed, in ways, where we are now. They are all gone. What I am saying is that you cannot do good for anybody. Everything is right the way it is. Nothing in this world needs improvement. The improvement idea comes in to your mind, and you try and try, to no avail.

You must know yourself as no-thing, not as something. Always remember, there is absolutely nothing you have to do. This is how you become happy, peaceful. When there is nothing in the mind, happiness increases.

Awaken from this mortal dream. Who has to awaken? Ask yourself. There is no one, no thing to wake up. Can you see why there is really nothing to say? We can play all sorts of games with Mantras and Tantric techniques--for what end? Just know that you are nobody; there is absolutely nothing to do; no one exists. This relieves you of everything. It relieves you of all responsibilities to yourself and to the world.

You will not turn into a vegetable. If you're listening to me correctly, you will do whatever you're doing now but you'll be happier than you've ever been in your life, because you'll realize that it doesn't matter. You'll know there's really nobody doing anything. Most of you will be doing the work that you usually do if you want to do that. You'll appear to be living a human existence, but there's really nobody left to do anything. The doer is gone. There is no doer. The doer has been completely wiped out.

Some of you still believe that if you become this way you'll become so sarcastic and belligerent, you'll not care, or be loving and kind, but this is not true. On the contrary, as you drop everything, as you let go of all your preconceived ideas, your dogmas, as you forget all of your rituals and all the things you've been doing all your life, what we call love begins to function as you. What we call compassion begins to function as you. Living kindness, peace--these attributes will automatically take over, for you've lost all fear. When you've lost all fear for existence, love automatically takes over.

As long as you fear existence and you think something's wrong somewhere, the mind creates all kinds of images and you have to go out and defend yourself.

It's time to play, stump the guru. (Referring to the question and answer period following Robert's talk)

Q:      You have said that we are creating the dream, both sleeping and waking. In the past 24 hours I have started to live that, not just know it intellectually and really see that everyone in my life is really me. It is totally freeing. Thank you.

R:       You're welcome. That's not a stumper. Next case.

Q:      When you refer to the entire universe as disappearing when one is asleep, don't you mean for him or her only? Another person could walk in and see you sleeping, maybe a cat. The same universe that the one who is sleeping witnessed or created. Any comments?

R:       How do you know this is happening when you are asleep? When you are asleep you are not aware of anything. There is no universe. You saying that there may be a cat who comes in or someone may come in and observe you sleeping, that life is

going on while you're sleeping. You don't know this. Somebody may tell you they came in when you were asleep, but that apparent person tells you that in waking consciousness, which is its own kind of dreamworld. Would you let dream people to tell you what was really going on in your waking world?

Who is there to say that while you're sleeping this is happening? When you are in a sound sleep, as far as you're concerned you are dead. There is no universe. You are out of it completely. The cat who walks in or the person who walks in does not exist as far as you're concerned. You are lost to this world when you are asleep. This is the way death appears to be. When you decide to leave your body, people are still doing things, but it has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Everything is your dream. In deep sleep you are in between dreams and there is nothing happening for you. During dreams you create new worlds with all kinds of people and situations. When you wake up to this world, it appears real to you. When you go to sleep again, you do not dream nor are you awake to this world. Both are gone. Neither exists nor have they ever existed.

The difference between the sage and the average person is that for the sage there is no dream going on in either world. There is no dream world; there is no waking world, which is also a dream world. The sage sees this clearly--there is only the One and nothing else. You have this experience every night when you go into deep sleep; but you are not awake to the deep sleep. The sage is awake to the deep sleep state, the fourth state. The waking and dream states are both unreal. In deep sleep you are in the fourth state, the primary consciousness, but you are not aware of it. The sage is always aware of that state no matter what state appears superimposed on it. That is why it is said the Jnani sleeps the living dream.

(Editor's note) Ramana Maharshi's response to a similar question:

"The sleep, dream and waking states are mere phenomenon appearing on the Self, which is stationary as simple awareness. The waking state is perceived to be full of beautiful and interesting things, the absence of which makes one think sleep is dull. What you consider a world fil led with interesting things is the dull and ignorant state of sleep to the Jnani. The wise one is wide awake where just darkness rules for others."

"There is continuity of Being in all three states, but not of the individu al and the objects. That which is continuous endures; that which is discontinuous is transitory. Therefore the state of Being is permanent, whereas the body and world are not." 
Q:      Could you talk about the importance of a teacher for self-realization, and how the relationship between teacher and student works?

R:       The teacher is really yourself. You have created a teacher to wake you up. The teacher would not be here if you were not dreaming about the teacher. You have created a teacher out of your mind in order to awaken to see there is no teacher, no world, no God--nothing. You have done this all by yourself, congratulations!

This is your dream. You have a teacher in front of you, explaining all these things to you saying you have to awaken sooner or later. If you go further, you will see, in truth, you are already awake, then all the rest will disappear.

While this is going on there is a relationship between the student and the teacher. You are playing a game you created yourself. You create a teacher to wake you up; but you are already awake and do not know it. A teacher gives you teachings, gives you grace, and lets you understand you are already awake and in peace. In return you take care of the teacher. It is a reciprocal game. It is your game, it is your dream. Therefore waken now and be free.

05 November 2010

Master Joshu’s Dog

By Gudo Wafu Nishijima (translated by Brad Warner)

I was asked to contribute something to a collection of articles about the famous Zen koan "Mu" or "No." One of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism is that everything has the Buddha Nature. But in this story a famous Zen master seems to deny this idea. In order to begin writing my own commentary about this story, I decided to translate my own teacher's comments about it. The koan "Mu" is famous as the traditional beginner's koan in the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. The Soto sect also teaches about the koan "Mu," but in an altogether different way. In this short piece Nishijima explains the fundamental difference in approach. This is the first part of a very short book Nishijima put together last year (2004) commenting upon twelve of the koans in the Rinzai koan collection Mumonkan or "The Gateless Gate." Take it away Nishijima Sensei...

At one time a monk asked Master Joshu, “Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?” Master Joshu answered, “No.”

In the chapter of Shobogenzo titled Bussho or “Buddha Nature” Master Dogen talks about the meaning of this word “no” as it relates to a conversation between the fifth and sixth patriarchs. He says, “This ‘no’ is not the ‘no’ of ‘have’ or ‘have not.’ It is the no of no no.”

no of no no is a way of expression that we do not often hear. The no of no no means that even no is denied.

In other words, this is not the kind of no which we conceive in our brains as the conclusion to the question of whether something exists or not. The meaning of no as it is used here does not require any kind of thinking at all.

In regards to this koan there is no shortage of explanations that this “no” represents the no of no in other words the absolute no, or that it represents the absolute void, or that it’s something that cannot possibly be understood, or other similar nonsense which even those who spout it don’t seem to understand.

But by slandering the Buddha’s truth with such nonsense, people who put out these kinds of explanations are really just floundering in the darkness, not knowing what is what and tasting the miseries of Hell.

In the chapter of Shobogenzo titled “Sutra of Mountains and Water” Master Dogen says that any koan has a superb theoretical meaning. The purpose of the koan stories is to make difficult points of Buddhist philosophy clear by using a concrete example. The tendency among many Chinese monks to view the koans as some kind of riddle whose original meaning was impenetrable was something Master Dogen scoffed at.

A dog which exists before your eyes is most certainly a dog. There is nothing extra added to that dog. And there is nothing lacking in the dog either, nothing apart from itself that it needs in order to be what it is — a dog. A dog is a dog. Joshu understood that to theorize about whether a dog has Buddha nature or not is just adding something extra. When dealing with any koan it is necessary to read it in this way on the basis of Buddhist philosophy.

I am an old monk of over 70 years who has spent the past fifty or more years studying Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Therefore I am an amateur when it comes to the koans included in Mumonkan and I have some misgivings. But on the basis of the Buddhist philosophy which I have absorbed through long years of studying Shobogenzo, there is no room for doubt about the meaning of this koan. With such meaning in mind, I would like to proceed with the reading of some of the other koans in the collection.

Here are Master Dogen's comments on this koan as presented in the Bussho chapter of Sobogenzo referred to in the text above. The following translation is by Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross. This part can be found on page 29 of volume two.

A monk asks Great Master Shinsai  of Joshu, “Does even a dog have the Buddha-nature or not?”

We should clarify the meaning of this question. “A dog” is a dog.  The question does not ask whether the Buddha-nature can or cannot exist in the dog; it asks whether even an iron man learns the truth.  To happen upon such a poison hand  may be a matter for deep regret, and at the same time the scene recalls the meeting, after thirty years, with half a sacred person.

Joshu says, “It is without.”  When we hear this expression, there are concrete paths by which to learn it: the “being without” with which the Buddha-nature describes itself may be expressed like this; the “not having” which describes the dog itself may be expressed like this; and “there is nothing,” as exclaimed by an onlooker, may be expressed like this.  There may come a day when this “being without” becomes merely the grinding away of a stone. 

The monk says, “All living beings totally have the Buddha-nature. Why is the dog without?” The intention here is as follows: “If all living beings did not exist, then the Buddha-nature would not exist and the dog would not exist. How about this point? Why should the dog’s Buddha-nature depend on ‘non-existence.’?”

Joshu says, “Because it has karmic consciousness.”  The intention of this expression is that even though the reason it exists is karmic consciousness and to have karmic consciousness is the reason it exists,  the dog is without anything, and the Buddha-nature is without anything. Karmic consciousness never understands intellectually what the dog is, so how could the dog meet the Buddha-nature? Whether we cast away duality or take up both sides, the state is just the constant working of karmic consciousness.

A monk asks Joshu, “Does the Buddha-nature exist even in a dog or not?”

This question may be the fact that this monk is able to stand up to Joshu. Thus, assertions and questions about the Buddha-nature are the everyday tea and meals of Buddhist patriarchs. Joshu says, “It exists.”  The situation of this “It exists” is beyond the “existence” of scholastic commentary teachers and the like, and beyond the dogmatic “existence” of the Existence School.  We should move ahead and learn the Buddha’s Existence. The Buddha’s Existence is Joshu’s “It exists.” Joshu’s “it exists” is “the dog exists,” and “the dog exists” is “the Buddha-nature exists.”

The monk says, “It exists already—then why does it forcibly enter this concrete bag of skin?” This monk’s expression of the truth poses the question of whether it is present existence, whether it is past existence, or whether it is Existence already;  and although Existence already resembles the other “existences,” Existence already clearly stands alone. Does Existence already need to force its way in? Or does Existence already not need to force its way in?  The action of forcibly entering this concrete bag of skin does not accommodate idle heedless consideration.

Joshu says, “Because it knowingly commits a deliberate violation!” As a secular saying these words have long since spread through the streets, but now they are Joshu’s expression of the truth. What they discuss is deliberate violation. Those who do not doubt this expression of the truth may be few. The present word “enter” is difficult to understand; at the same time, the word “enter” is itself unnecessary.  Moreover, If we want to know the immortal person in the hut, How could we depart from this concrete skin-bag here and now?  Even if the immortal person is anyone, at what moment is it [necessary to say] “Do not depart from your skin-bag!”? A deliberate violation is not always entry into a skin bag, and to have forcibly entered a concrete skin bag is not always to knowingly commit a deliberate violation. Because of knowing, there can be deliberate violation. Remember, this deliberate violation may contain the action of getting free of the body—this is expressed as “forcibly entering.” The action of getting free of the body, at just the moment of containment, contains self and contains other people. At the same time, never complain that it is impossible to avoid being a person before a donkey and behind a horse.  Still more, the founding Patriarch Ungo  says, “Even to have learned matters on the periphery of the Buddha-Dharma is to have adopted a mistaken approach already.”  That being so, although we have been making the mistake for a long time—which has deepened into days and deepened into months—of half-learning matters on the periphery of the Buddha-Dharma, this may be the state of the dog that has forcibly entered a concrete skin bag. Though it knowingly commits a deliberate violation, it has the Buddha-nature.