The fusion of 2 paths: practice and insight; Dogen; Ramana Maharshi
When we engage with egoic thoughts, we suffer. All egoic thought assumes the existence of a separate ‘me’ and aims to deliver pleasure, security or fulfilment to that ‘me’.
By simply seeing that thoughts themselves are empty arisings with no intrinsic self, and that they are non-separate from ordinary awareness which in essence is ever-unchanged, we have spontaneously transcended them. In that moment, suffering is no more. This is the way of INSIGHT.
Alternatively, we can simply ignore the thoughts. Sometimes it can be useful to focus on something else such as the breath, a mantra, the sense of presence, etc, in order to distract us from the thoughts. This is the path of PRACTICE. It is a coarser path, as the notion of ‘me’ as the practitioner is still subtly present, but for most of us PRACTICE is required during much
of our spiritual journey as the habitual tendencies are too strong and deeply ingrained to be abated by pure insight practice alone. Once through PRACTICE the thoughts become less strongly ingrained, INSIGHT becomes the more predominant focus of the path, eventually becoming spontaneous.
Often, PRACTICE and INSIGHT will go together, sometimes alternating, depending what is happening and what is required. Ultimately they fuse, as indicated by teachings such as ‘Be still’ or ‘Be as you are’ (Ramana Maharshi) and ‘Just sitting’ (Dogen), in which spontaneous non-egoic non-volitional INSIGHT-PRACTICE is implied.
The paradoxial thing is that throughout all of this, all there is is INSIGHT. There is no ‘me’, and there never was. Everything is LIGHT. Experientially, that is all there is!
The path of insight
Take the time to presently notice your thoughts without judging or suppressing them. Then, gently, question the underlying motivation and reason behind the thoughts. You will see that most of your thoughts, perhaps, are egoic, that is they are geared towards finding fulfilment and pleasure through subtle and gross objects and experiences.
But where do you need to go to find deep lasting peace? Is it to be found elsewhere? Or is it right here and now, fully manifest when this egoic movement is no longer in effect?
This is the path of insight, which, over time, leads to a natural unforced non-egoic stillness.
A simple and highly effective spiritual practice: self-enquiry and vipassana
Variations of this practice are found in both Buddhism and Vedanta, and it is so simple yet highly effective, so without further delay:
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Relax. Maybe focus on your breath, think nice thoughts, forget about your day, whatever works for you.
- Once relaxed allow your focus to come to your direct present experience
- Come into contact with your sense of ‘me’ or ‘I’. Where is this sense located? How does it feel? Perhaps it is in the head or in the chest? Perhaps it is behind the eyes?
- Now the important part: notice and realise that this sense of ‘me’ is seen, ie. it is an object of perception, and not ‘that which sees’, the subject, otherwise know as ‘you’.
- If you don’t get part (5), then think about it for a bit, as that is the key part of the practice. Please note that this is not about some philosophical notion of self or true self, so don’t worry if you don’t quite agree with the conceptual aspects of this practice. Do it anyway, as it has practical value in allowing us to break free of this parasite-of-habit, the ‘I’ or ‘me’.
- Rest in un-attached awareness devoid of a ‘me’.
- If the sense of a ‘me’ comes up again, take time to feel and get to know it, then go back to (5) – realise that this sense of ‘me’ is seen, it is an object, and so it is not ‘you’.
- Rest in un-attached awareness devoid of a ‘me’.
- As we rest here, the attachment to a ‘me’ gradually over time reduces, so this practice has an effect in both giving and strengthening insight (into no-self) and removal of the habitual tendency (vasana) to identify as a me. For more on this see here.
This is continued from a previous post Problems with utilising conceptual tools:
This brings us to the idea of practicing knowledge. Just to be clear, the knowledge we are talking of here is in the form of concepts, as described previously above. In this case whenever we notice ourselves suffering, we notice it is because we have identified as being the doer/body-mind. We then take up the sword of knowledge ‘I am not the body’ and use it to slay the ignorance ‘I am the body’.
Other similar ideas are concepts of identifying as being the witness or identifying as consciousness or considering the world and body-mind to be an illusion. These concepts all which work in a similar way to negate the identification as the doer/body-mind. Here’s an example from Yoga Vasisthta:
You are bound firmly on all sides by the idea, I am the body’. Cut that bond by the sword of knowledge ‘I am Consciousness’ and be happy.
Whenever ignorance rises, we cut it down. When it doesn’t rise, we can leave it alone. Initially we may have to repeat the phrase ‘I am not the body’ or ‘I am Consciousness’ or ‘I am Brahman’ in our heads repeatedly, like a mantra, until it sinks in, but after sometime it is ingrained into us and we only unsheathe the sword when it is required.
To be continued in a future post: Discarding knowledge as ignorance
Nothing is mine.
I did not create
Or this mind,
With its thoughts.
They were all given to me.
Yes – even my thoughts were given to me.
None of it has anything to do with me.
Then I look at the ‘me’:
There is no me.
None of it mine,
All of it moving.
Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices
In Brief: how to attain Liberation
The entire path explained: the Path of Sri Ramana (Parts 1 and 2; PDF downloads)
This is one of the most important posts I have written – it condenses years of spiritual seeking which has involved exploring dozens of spiritual teachings, reading hundreds of books and texts from spiritual teachers and spiritual traditions across the world, undergoing all sorts of spiritual practices and meditations over the years, entering samadhi’s and experiencing visions of infinite oneness, and a genuine realisation of the Freedom-that-already-is.
The aim of the post is to guide you to a Freedom beyond words, but also stay concise. For all those people who have asked me: ‘That’s all very well but how do I actually become enlightened? How can we free ourselves from suffering? What do we do?’, this is for you, and others like you.
Zen Teachings: The Four Kinds of Spiritual People
“There are four kinds of people who study.
The highest are those with practice, with understanding, and with realization.
Next are those with understanding, and with realization but without practice.
Next are those with practice and understanding but without realization.
Lowest are those with practice, but without understanding or realization.”
Zen Dawn, J. C. Cleary
Practice, understanding and realisation are all important, but we can deduce from the quote above that of these realisation is the most important. Next in importance is understanding, and least important is practice.
How can this be? How can understanding be more important than practice? Isn’t it often said that an drop of practice is worth an ocean of theory?
Dalai Lama: end suffering by developing insight
The following excerpt is taken from the book “How to see yourself as you really are” by the Dalai Lama:
What makes all this trouble in the world? Our own counterproductive emotions. Once they are generated, they harm us both superficially and deeply. These afflictive emotions accomplish nothing but trouble from beginning to end. If we tried to counteract each and every one individually, we would find ourselves in an endless struggle. So what is the root cause of afflictive emotions that we can address more fruitfully? Continue reading