An important part of the teaching is to realise the limits of our ability to know or understand things. Often we think we know or understand things only to later find that we were deluding ourselves. The very ideas we think we know to be true are the same ones that keep us trapped and prevent realisation occurring.
The very ideas we think we know to be true are the same ones that keep us trapped and prevent realisation occurring.
Remember that realisation does not mean arriving at a new understanding: it is actually the realisation that the beliefs we held about ourself, specifically the ‘I am the doer’ belief, do not have the evidence required to support them. If we just follow the evidence, we will not make claims that are unjustified, and we preserve our humility and integrity. Any understanding we subsequently develop will have strong foundations.
Being humble just means not pretending to know something that you don’t. Similarly if you think you know something but are not completely sure, it means admitting that uncertainty. In that space of doubt, there is room for something true to emerge and be seen. In acknowledging the limitations and assumptions of our thought processes we are entering into what is actual and true.
In that space of doubt, there is room for something true to emerge and be seen.
To put it differently, humility is a form of honesty, and it is this being completely honest with ourselves that forms a firm foundation from which this teaching can take root, grow and thrive.
So many spiritual seekers start off on the wrong footing, so many spiritual teachings pander to the ego. If your main aim on the spiritual path is to gain super-powers, be permanently in a state of heightened bliss or to be the next great spiritual teacher, then you are primarily interested in accumulation and possession and perhaps not as deeply interested in truth as you may think. You should know this is the ego’s desire and the spiritual path you walk is not a genuine one.
So, first ask yourself honestly – do you want truth or pleasure? You may want both, but which one do you want more? If your perception is distorted by ego and desire, then the spiritual path you are attracted to will be similarly distorted. We get the spiritual teachings we deserve.
We get the spiritual teachings we deserve.
There is nothing wrong with seeking happiness of course. It is through suffering and seeking an end to suffering that most of us become spiritually inclined in the first place. But if we are clouded by our desires and insecurities then we become susceptible to false beliefs, magical thinking, exploitation and corrupt spiritual teachings. This ‘spirituality’ is in fact another form of materialism or hedonism in a different guise: the ego is still at play.
If you can see all of this, then you already know that you are apart from it. What is it that sees? Who are you at your innermost core? All that you have accumulated will pass away: pleasure, pain, psychic powers, fame, charisma and transcendental experiences. All are finite and transient. None of them are the Eternal.
The Eternal already is. Nothing is not It.
If you now set about using your minds to seek Mind, listening to the teaching of others, and hoping to reach the goal through mere learning, when will you ever succeed? Some of the ancients had sharp minds; they no sooner heard the Doctrine proclaimed than they hastened to discard all learning. So they were called, ‘Sages who, abandoning learning, have come to rest in spontaneity’.
In these days people only seek to stuff themselves with knowledge and deductions, seeking everywhere for book-knowledge and calling this ‘Dharma-practice’ [true practice of The Way]. They do not know that so much knowledge and deduction have just the contrary effect of piling up obstacles. Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.
Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.
Those who study the Way according to the Three Vehicles [the 3 main Buddhist schools of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism] are all like this. All you can call them is people who suffer from indigestion. When so-called knowledge and deductions are not digested, they become poisons, for they belong only to the plane of samsara [the plane of suffering, the unenlightened state]. In the Absolute, there is nothing at all of this kind.
So it is said: ‘In the armoury of my sovereign, there is no Sword of Thusness’. All the concepts you have formed in the past must be discarded and replaced by void…The canonical teachings of the Three Vehicles are just remedies for temporary needs. They were taught to meet such needs and so are of temporary value and differ one from another. If only this could be understood, there would be no more doubts about it.
Above all it is essential not to select some particular teaching suited to a certain occasion, and, being impressed by its forming part of the written canon, regard it as an immutable concept. Why so? Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma [Teaching, Teaching method] which the Tathagata [The Buddha; a term the Buddha often referred to himself by] could have preached. People of our sect would never argue that there could be such a thing. We just know how to put all mental activity to rest and thus achieve tranquillity. We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity.
Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma…We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity.
Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 30)
Just a reminder that I will be interviewed live today by Rick Archer from Buddha at the Gas Pump today at 11.30am US central time (5.30pm UK time, 4:30pm GMT).
If you want to watch it the interview will be streamed here:
Regarding this Zen Doctrine of ours, since it was first transmitted, it has never been taught that men should seek for learning or form concepts. ‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech. It is a method of arousing people’s interest in the early stages of their development
In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. Moreover, the Way is not something specially existing; it is something called Mahayana Mind – Mind which is not to be found inside, outside, or in the middle. Truly it is not located anywhere.
‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech…In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied.
The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts. This implies that if you were to follow the empirical method to the utmost limit, on reaching that limit you would still be unable to locate Mind.
The way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title. It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach.
The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts.
Fearing that no one would understand, they selected the name ‘Way.’ You must not allow this name to lead you into a mental concept of a road. So it is said, ‘When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap.’
When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood.
A shramana [seeker, monk] is so called because he has penetrated to the original source of all things. The fruit of attaining the shramana stage is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.
Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 29)
Q: Up to now, you have refuted everything which has been said. You have done nothing to point out the true Dharma [the true teaching, the true way] to us.
Huang Po: In the true Dharma there is no confusion, but you produce confusion by such questions. What sort of ‘true Dharma’ can you go seeking for?
Q: Since the confusion arises from my questions, what – will Your Reverence’s answer be?
Huang Po: Observe things as they are and don’t pay attention to other people. There are some people just like mad dogs barking at everything that moves, even barking when the wind stirs among the grass and leaves.’
Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 28)
The questioner appears frustrated at not being able to obtain anything tangible from Huang Po. ‘What is the true teaching? What is The Way?’, he asks.
The master replies: you yourself create the confusion, the questions being evidence of this. Is there even a ‘true Dharma’ to be sought?
The answer? Just be with what is, see things as they are, don’t worry about the words and ideas of others caught up in their own illusions and fears.
‘I hope that you will listen, but not with the memory of what you already know; and this is very difficult to do. You listen to something, and your mind immediately reacts with its knowledge, its conclusions, its opinions, its past memories. It listens, inquiring for a future understanding.
Just observe yourself, how you are listening, and you will see that this is what is taking place. Either you are listening with a conclusion, with knowledge, with certain memories, experiences, or you want an answer, and you are impatient. You want to know what it is all about, what life is all about, the extraordinary complexity of life. You are not actually listening at all.
…you are listening with a conclusion, with knowledge…you want an answer, and you are impatient…You are not actually listening at all.
You can only listen when the mind is quiet, when the mind doesn’t react immediately, when there is an interval between your reaction and what is being said. Then, in that interval there is a quietness, there is a silence in which alone there is a comprehension which is not intellectual understanding.
You can only listen when the mind is quiet, when the mind doesn’t react immediately, when there is an interval between your reaction and what is being said.
If there is a gap between what is said and your own reaction to what is said, in that interval, whether you prolong it indefinitely, for a long period or for a few seconds – in that interval, if you observe, there comes clarity. It is the interval that is the new brain. The immediate reaction is the old brain, and the old brain functions in its own traditional, accepted, reactionary, animalistic sense.
When there is an abeyance of that, when the reaction is suspended, when there is an interval, then you will find that the new brain acts, and it is only the new brain that can understand, not the old brain’
Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Book of Life, October 21st
There are no mundane things outside Buddhism,
and there is no Buddhism outside mundane things
Before we are spiritual seekers, there is just ordinary life. Whilst we are seekers, we learn about and may experience wonderful supernatural things such as mystic visions, psychic phenomena, other-worldly states of consciousness and bliss. We may seek transcendence and escape from the things of everyday life. When the truth is seen, all we are left with is this, just this, completely ordinary, ‘mundane’.
Sure it’s wonderful too, but there’s no getting away from the ordinariness of it all: wherever we look, wherever we go, whatever we do, it is here/there, always. What is more ordinary than that!
The ordinariness of my ‘enlightenment experience’:
…Other people are joyous,
as though they were at a spring festival.
I alone am unconcerned and expressionless,
like an infant before it has learned to smile.
Other people have more than they need;
I alone seem to possess nothing.
I am lost and drift about with no place to go.
I am like a fool, my mind is in chaos.
Ordinary people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Ordinary people are clever;
I alone am dull.
Ordinary people seem discriminating;
I alone am muddled and confused.
I drift on the waves on the ocean,
blown at the mercy of the wind.
Other people have their goals,
I alone am dull and uncouth.
I am different from ordinary people.
I nurse from the Great Mother’s breasts.
Tao Te Ching, verse 20
This is one of my favourite verses of this wonderful text. I remember when I first read it as a university student in the 90s, I was particularly struck by the phrase ‘like an infant before it has learned to smile’. We can be free of needing to be happy, to smile, to conform, and we can simply be true to ourselves.
This world can seem so confusing. It can feel like everyone else seems to know what they want and where they are going. Of course, it’s such an illusion! How can anyone know what this is all about? If you think you know, you have surely missed the mark!
The Sage sees through all illusions, she sees through the faux-intelligence, goals and make-believe of people around her. The Sage knows he is but Nature expressing herself: he is dependent on her, as a child is on his mother’s breast milk, and he is also Her.
He sees the inherent unfathomable mystery at the heart of life and lovingly pities those who think ‘they understand’.