In the dream of leisure, time and the timeless forever meet at the horizon. At the horizon which has always been. Yet we need only see that there is no end to the journey to the horizon for our hearts to turn us back. Even so for the search of the spirit, the search for truth and love. As soon as we set off in search of the truth then it will flee from us, just as the horizon will recede at every step.
Instead we must plant ourselves in the ground and wait. We must be like the tree at the crossroads not like the wanderer walking by.
Even remaining here if we travel with our ideas they will only blind us. Our books must wait at our destination. They must wait hidden under our bed.
When we travel not into the world or into the world of our minds. When the world comes instead to us. We will arrive at knowing through inner silence and the Buddha sitting as still as a mountain will be our highest symbol. All this we gain from our willingness to stay at home and to continuously listen to life. Then there is only knowing, all knowing is the same and there is a peace and satisfaction in that knowing which has no equal.
There too we will find the body. Not the body used by purpose, the tool that we feel and that we want to feel the world, not the grasping, wrestling body but the body opening to the world and into the world. The world will pass us by as if looking out from the windows of the great bus of the body and the windows of our eyes will not be forgotten. We will know sights as sights and our sense of self will vanish as we see the receptive mind as knowing and not as being.
If we can remain only here our journey will come to us with every step.
We will see too that all our travels are travels also in sensuality. We will come to see sensuality as a journey already and another journey to be abandoned. For this too will be the journey which never ends. The timeless love and the things of time will never really touch on the horizon. For the timeless is nothing in this world, truly nothing. It is not merely the space of the sky but the nothing beyond everything and yet the nothing that is not elsewhere but penetrating all things and found through the release of the mind in truth.
So we must abandon all our journeys and our searching and wait. Wait at home for the world to unfold before us. Necessity will drive us far enough. And to be driven so by necessity is to be driven by reality, not by the dreams of space and of leisure. It is in the workplace where we will find the truth but this must be the work of listening too of hearing and meeting the call of necessity. Then our knowing consent will be our freedom. The knowing of our place. The embracing of our toil and our suffering which is also the end of that suffering.
This will be our joining of the greater order and pattern we one time sought in the philosophy of the armchair but joining only with our body and mind while the soul remains at rest. This is staying at home.
And through the window will be the world. Generations will pass in this remote place. And still the view will be the same through the kitchen window. The sun will always rise and bless the bedroom with its first dawn light in this house of awakening. This awakened house.
Then, only then, will we open the sermons and the scriptures of the Holy Ones. They will place their words on our ready lips and we will have found faith too in a place, a temple, long awakened. A lineage will reach down beneath us and root us to this place. This here, this now. Not this sometime when thought or feeling reaches out from theory to fleeting confirmation but the bed-rock of the pure and open attention of stillness. An intelligent stillness that sees the order of the world through not interfering with that order with its own fabrication. Seeing time in the present not through the passing or the journey. Seeing the cracked window and the flaky paint. Seeing the bones and the rusty metal. Seeing the wrinkles in the twinkle of an eye.
The seer a stillness, an observer and a recorder, a witness looking not for stillness or permanence in itself either but in the truth and from this truth a stillness ever more stable, cool and sublime. A memory more perfect by the absence of the watcher. A knowing true and truly sublime.
And the order of the world will appear to us in all its glory and our joy will be in that order, in the symmetry and grace of order and in being part of that order. And in joining that order we will be nothing. A nothing that can never die.
So paint not the picture of a spiritual truth of leisure but one of work. Recount not the journey but the staying at home. The suffering will only be wrong if we think it is wrong. And thinking it is wrong we will grasp at it just as we did the happiness. Nothing is wrong. The truth is calling us home.
When there is no dream the truth will not contradict that dream. Only the romance that never began will never end. And the truth will be our greatest love, our true love. The truth of suffering and the truth that the mind that sees the suffering will not have the suffering but the joy of release everlasting.
Beauty is the trap that holds the mind into this suffering. A beauty that we cannot simply deny. To instead see beauty as order and to find a greater order in a greater truth is to find a greater beauty. Then we will see a beauty in all things or a beauty in nothing, just as we please to find our ease. For beauty will lie beyond things. The world does not charm us with beauty, only then to sting us with truth as if drawn onto the sword by a song. The world only demands of us that we see the order and the whole. To see the order we must see the whole. As the butterfly bounces on the wind its disordered flight can look like so much suffering. But that flight is seen anew if the breeze is also seen. The disordered flight is then seen as necessary and the flight is skill and the suffering of the earth is hence reconciled in the stars.
But there is a greater reconciliation yet in truth as near as our nose.
When we see the butterfly as the lasting truth it contains and expresses rather than as its fragile wings then we do not mourn the loss of the insect to the beak of the bird; we see the sacrifice of the insect, the lesser consciousness to the greater. We see the evolution of the mind in nature's hierarchy. We see the importance of such mind, such truth over the forms by which it is carried.
This is seeing Dhamma and seeing ourselves as Dhamma.
Everything will have its answer.
And this life of Dhamma will be a life real and raw and peeling. Not the abstract life of an idea or of the dream-light darkened. But a life blazing with the light of love and truth. Or love in the answer to truth. For it is not that truth is an end, a conclusion. It has its answer too and its climax in love. A perfect love that responds completely to the perfect sight of suffering.
The world will come to us as the obligations and duties of love and yet the love will always be the greater...
The body tingles at me gently from its edges. There is rest here in its weight won by a day's labour. The warmth of the room and the food in the belly are well earned. And this day is the same as every other. Just as every day the salary we earn is spent on the fare that takes us to our work. Such is our life of necessity and obligation. We are servants only and as servants we learn. This is the real prize of our labour.
Until, fallen amongst the fallen trees, the body, having been properly composed will die and decompose. Then the music of our lives will wait, as we have learned already to wait in nowhere, for the rhythms and notes of the world to come around again and call us back to life. For the truth will call us again to its service.
The late summer brings the dragonfly hovering triumphantly over the waters of its birth and flashing as blue as the heavens. There is glory and celebration in its freedom to fly in the warmth of the sun, here in the climax of summer. Then as its darts to and fro the scene seems to change. The dragonfly can seem unsettled as if, so full of life, there was simply nowhere to go.
Such is the story in the language and eyes of becoming, of the journey.
But in the world of meaning, where everything has already been said, we see another chorus of a truth which never arrived because it was never absent. A chorus echoing back to the beginning of time and to the beginning of meaning. For meaning is there with time, meaning as the carrier of the present into the future.
Take this soil beneath our feet. The death of so many carried into the future. Waiting for the seed. How can we deny the value of death and yet we do so. How can we deny the significance of our very foundation yet we do so. Imagine the gratitude of a heart that realises how many have died so he may live. Of one who sees the meaning of substance to the future and how this substance can be reclaimed to play again the melodies of life.
This substance our memory between the fleeting sparks of consciousness. Important not in and of itself but serving a higher purpose.
If we but detach our minds from its earthly form and see and feel only memory, within and without then we know all there is that has ever been truly known in this present truth. There is no loss or change to the meaning, only to the substance. If we attach to the substance we will die with the substance but if we know the truth of that substance it may serve to call us to play its tunes, to sing its song for the sake of truth and love, and for that only.
And it will be our task only to await for that joy and honour.
Coming from nature
Coming from nature will be as if coming out from behind the long grass, its wild wide blades streaming behind him like a head-dress. Turning back to nature will be as if a child were peaking humbly through the grass playing hide-and-seek. And there will be a moment only between the coming and the return. The return first a composure, then a caution, then playing in a safe place firmly on the ground.
And there on the ground there will be the turn around, the beginning of our own creation within the character of our surroundings.
Our curiosity asks us to dwell in detail, to notice the subtle change of the winter light or the breeze, while it is the whole that holds the truth. This truth is in every part for sure but seen in the perspective of a whole which remains and remains whole we see not ending but transformation. We see the deeper process. And the whole is right there in the truth as the mind and space of realisation expands indefinitely. And the key to this opening is to see the suffering and let go. Not to let go and go elsewhere but to let go and stay. Then to see suffering will be full of freedom and joy.
Following a lot of tests and monitoring I found out more yesterday more about the heart condition that I have been suffering from the last few years and realised that it carries a high risk of stroke. This was quite a big thing for me to discover. In my professional life before I ordained as a monk I was a psychologist and physiotherapist specialising most of all in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. Although, as a practitioner of the Dhamma, I was continually reflecting that I could end up in the same situation as my patients, it was not until yesterday that I felt I had crossed the subtle divide between us. I find myself looking back at my patients with renewed compassion and respect for the way they coped with their situation and I feel so very human today.
I had the same feeling twenty years ago after a severe back injury when I realised how much pain my many back patients must have experienced. This time, however, the bond feels deeper still. We are truly brothers and sisters in the face of death.
Deeper still, to so ground the mind in the body is ground too for the process of liberation. The way out is in. To enter the body fully with a heart wrapped in the loving space of the breath and to see its reality is the way to a true and complete freedom from suffering. The stress of the world, or of the sickness, may remain then on the surface but it does not fully penetrate the heart. We remain safe inside.
The Buddha teaches us that there is no permanent consciousness. All consciousness is impermanent, a conditioned phenomena; it arises due to conditions and ceases when these conditions cease. Furthermore if there is no permanent consciousness then there is no consciousness beyond conditionality and no consciousness can therefore be the master of conditions.
There are, however, permanent truths. A mind which realizes these permanent truths or Dhammas will have a permanent cause from which to arise. If a consciousness arises based on such permanent truth then this will be forever arising afresh based on these truths and not effected by different conditions. This is knowing – not being – in the sense that it has no essence or continuity. This knowing will be both a result of truth and a cause or creator of truth. This knowing may be physiologically (or we might say objectively speaking) dependent on the body but psychologically speaking (or subjectively) it will be independent of the body. More broadly we might say this consciousness is both imminent and transcendent. This is the ultimate, the enlightened mind.
There is a lot written these days about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).There has been some success in the therapy offered by professionals. I would say, however, that the field is overburdened with theory and that the Buddha's teachings can explain the whole thing more simply. This makes it possible for people with sufficient mindfulness to take themselves to a resolution of trauma and help others to do the same. Although the cases of severe trauma can provide the most graphic examples, we can also see how more minor suffering effects us essentially in the same way.
When we experience a trauma we can react very strongly, completely and automatically. This will then be a conditioned reaction wired into our system, firing off in full or in part at times of stress depending on the extent to which the current situation resembles the past. We then have a fixed reaction to life or to certain triggers in life.
We can overcome these reactions if we allow them to happen, reliving the trauma through memory and in the midst of this experience find a conscious response. This is the reconditioning process.
In order to do this we can need to bring together the different aspects of the memory in body, feeling, perception and thought without losing our anchor in the present moment.
The best responses are those that go in the opposite direction to the way we reacted to the trauma. So if at the time of the trauma we froze, then we could break this by movement and speech. The fullest response is that which includes bodily action, perception and thought.
Slow, relaxed, controlled movement can be a very effective de-conditioner of reactions that tend to be tense, fast and uncontrolled – for example, an exercise like T'ai Chi (slow gentle shadow boxing) can be very good, especially if any violence or violent thought were part of a trauma.
People who just keep going after trauma work through many of their reactions like this. It is only when the big triggers come that they react again.
This same pattern would be true of desire that leads us to act automatically. The way out of addiction is to go directly against temptation, to seek happiness somewhere else.
A therapist or spiritual friend can help another person to keep and extend their mindfulness by pointing out aspects of their experience in the present, by drawing their attention to bodily reactions, for example.
We should also note that if a person has strong values in a particular area that for someone else to violate these may induce a trauma much greater than for someone who does not hold such values. We can bring our values to mind and investigate our feelings around them to get in touch with these kind of traumas.
I offer this for your reflection.
Many people who become interested in meditation, wanting deep, profound spiritual experiences, find they do not have the opportunity to practice for the many hours a day required to achieve these kinds of results. Some resign themselves to a lesser goal, or try to redefine enlightenment as something a little easier to achieve. Others look for a spiritual hack or short cut. In a previous article I pointed out how dangerous this can be. But you could say that there is an ancient and well-trodden, well defined spiritual short cut, we might call it the wisdom path. This can take you into the deepest states without you having to do long hours of concentration meditation. Just a little bit of calm will do. The wisdom path is one in which we learn to see the world in a different way, one that leads to letting go rather than the clinging to things which is the reality of the reactive and untrained mind. Wisdom is a way of seeing rather than a way of thinking so not a lot of intellectual study is required. The traditional way to learn it is to train with a teacher who has wisdom and naturally and gradually pick up their attitude and way of seeing over time. This is the most natural way to learn.
But if this way is so much quicker then why isn't everyone trying it?
The central contemplation is of the impermanence of everything we experience. So this is not complicated but it can take a while for it to really sink in. Nevertheless, the reality is that through such contemplation one is going against the stream of the modern materialist view completely. The student in the modern world can be taken gradually into a whole new relationship with the world around him or her, seeing the ultimate pointlessness of it all. Over time the shift can be very radical and the students will need to be willing to shift their life-style to fit the new view in order to progress. We have to act on the wisdom we develop for it to become established in us and not cause a conflict in the mind. So this path is not without sacrifice, but in the longer term this is the sacrifice of a lesser happiness for a greater one. In Asia, Buddhist Monasteries are there as a place to go, a refuge for those who begin to feel disenchanted with the fleeting nature of the pleasures of life – those who, perhaps like Mick Jagger, ‘can't get no satisfaction’.
One who sees impermanence will be inclined to change the priorities in life and abandon the worldly material gains which they at that point can see as not lasting; but this can also be a gradual path of simplifying life, one step at a time. This practice also combines very naturally with a practice of calming meditation. So as the student lets go, they find more time and space for meditation and this enhances their ability to see in a wise way, with a calm mind. Meditation becomes the way of smoothing out this path, calming down into a new life-style. And the results of this practice are not like the fleeting peace gained on a pleasant retreat but last for the rest of your life. In fact, if you believe in the Buddhist view of rebirth, what is gained of wisdom will follow you into your next life also – such an indelible imprint is made on the mind.
What this path requires most of all is the courage to take a very honest look at life. What lies in the way is really only our helpless addictions to the pleasures of the senses and our wish to hang onto a dream that sooner or later is going to let us down.
I offer this for your reflection
Establishing mindfulness of the body very calmly and fully has wide-ranging, transformative effects on the mind. Below is a set of tables in which these
effects are listed. The state and dynamics of the different aspects of the mind
are described with the body relatively absent (in the normal case of the
untrained mind) opposite the case where the body is fully present in the mind
(when mindfulness of the body is very clearly established).
Each row in the tables is a progression from the previous one representing
mindfulness practise (the domain in the left column) or its fruit (the right
column) going deeper and deeper.
I offer this for your reflection
There is a famous story in the Arab world about how goodness can turn to bad and badness to good. A very rich woman marries a very good man, approved of by her rich parents. He is the perfect caring and dutiful husband. After a few years the woman tires of him, however, he is no fun. She leaves him for another man who is rather wild and sensual. Then the lady has a terrible accident in which she becomes both deaf and blind. What then ensues is a shocking tale of how she is taken on a journey in which her first lover, very angry at having been deserted, seeks his revenge.
Throughout the awful life-threatening ordeal that ensues her life is heroically defended by her second lover, the wild party animal. Throughout this ordeal she, being unable to recognize who is doing what, assumes that it is the wild man who is torturing her and the good man who is trying to save her when, in fact, the reality is the other way around.
This story has a lot to teach us as practitioners of the Dhamma. We can assume that what we see as the good side of us or of others is wholly good and beyond evil. Or we can judge our bad side too harshly, assume that it is wholly bad and cannot be turned around. We can be very black-and-white about states of mind or form fixed views. The Buddha encourages us not to be blind like the lady in the story but to remain vigilant and not to attach to a view, to follow goodness and to turn away from evil wherever we might find it.
I offer this for your reflection
In modern societies the values of self expression and individual freedom become contrasted with those of traditional, conformist communities. Organised mainstream religion can be seen as the epitome of such old-fashioned oppressive culture. I am not sure about the other religions but in terms of Buddhism I would say that sometimes appearances are deceptive. The Dhamma warrior is the ultimate peaceful revolutionary. Never mind the Dhamma punks, even a lot of the mainstream places can provide shelter for those seeking to realise and express their Dhamma, there is no more potent form of self-expression than this. Also to find freedom from suffering, there is no more radical, blissful form of freedom than that. What is more for all this with being contained within moral boundaries is that we can have the freedom to pursue our goals in a situation where we are protected from the greed or hatred of others to some extent, and have the freedom from the trouble we would otherwise be creating for ourselves by acting out our own greed or hatred.
And what use was all that greed, anyway? If we admit that richer societies are no happier than some of the more enlightened poorer ones – it's quite the opposite – then the great materialist dream begins to fall apart. We just have to admit that rich societies are merely carried away with greed or the hatred of jealousy or frustration.
I offer this for your reflection
– what they might be and how to relate to them
I have a view about what a ghost might be. Or perhaps it would be better to say that I have developed a way of looking at ghosts, spirits and such things that seems to work both in my own mind and in relating to people to come to me to ask advise or help with their ghost experiences – these are a common thing for a forest monk to be asked about, especially by Asian Buddhists. This view of mine is not so easy to grasp so I do not always explicitly share this view, rather I relate to people’s stories based upon the view.
My view is based on the Buddhist view of dependent origination, of a particular view of causality which sees a relationship that goes both ways between consciousness and the world. In this context I would put the view like this: just as people remember a place, a place can remember a person, in the form of a ghost. This ghost will arise whenever the conditions in that place are similar to when the person was there. It is as though someone or something is partially arising again – not in material form but as an image. Other aspects of an event from the past may re-arise also. So to me ghosts represent evidence of some kind of memory there in the more subtle fabric of the world. This view seems to be substantiated by the fact that ghosts appear in the same places at the same times and often repeating the same acts over and over. There is also the possibility of a more refined species of spirit arising within the mind rather than in a material place. These, I would believe, are a manifestation of the minds of people not attached to the material world, of the mind of samādhi.
Let us try to refine this view further: Memory here is also not seen here as consisting of some kind of stored material or information representing a continuity of existence. Because it can be that our understanding of what a memory is means that we try to conceive of some kind of store consciousness or spiritual realm. Then, if this realm cannot be found, we dismiss the possibility of some different kind of memory and of ghosts at the same time. However, if we can understand memory instead as the re-arising of a phenomenon (either fully or partially) when the conditions come together to cause that phenomena. It can also be just a perception or partial perception that is recurring, a glimpse of something.
This different understanding of memory underpins my ‘memory view’ on ghosts. We see how they arise and cease based on conditions rather than having a continuous existence. The difficulty comes in distinguishing a ghost of this kind from simply our imagination. Because such a ghost is so close in its nature to an imagined ghost, this discrimination can go so far as to need two people to see the same ghost at the same time (which is not so uncommon). A good meditator with a very calm mind can also see the difference because they know that while their mind is calm it is not creating or imagining anything and can judge this to some degree in others. Hence one role of meditating monastics is in advising people on their experiences in this domain.
Such a ghost theory as this is not an alternative to the idea of life after death but rather a way of talking about what life after death might be that does not presuppose the survival of a being or self. We may also see rebirth not as the survival of an entity but as something re-arising in another being’s mind in some other way. This may be as a perception, memory or thought as we may commonly understand it – simply remembering someone who has died. Or perhaps this can occur in another way through some other kind of memory or realization in the case of the ghost.
So here we have a way of seeing and understanding ghosts that does not create a self in what we see. This will also be the way of seeing that is natural to someone who has through meditation abandoned the illusion of self. Philosophically this view is not supernatural nor materialist but between the two. As a practical approach this view seems to succeed in acknowledging and relating to our experiences of ghosts or the experiences of others without making too much out of them. In particular such a view does not induce a sense of being continuously haunted or physically vulnerable to a ghost which is perceived as having a material or energetic existence. It can be the case that, with an incorrect view, we can invest ghosts with more power over us than they really have, just in the same way we might empower our dreams or imagination, or even our negative emotions, through the unconscious action of our own minds.
Remembering all the stories I have been told over the years, I feel sure that Asian people will tend to believe too much in ghosts, often interpreting experiences in their own minds as ghosts, making them real (and getting very scared). Western people tend to be the opposite, reluctant to believe in ghosts they will interpret their experience as psychological. The perspective I have explained here can offer a middle way to these two extremes, not making the ghosts too real, not dismissing them either.
Perhaps most interestingly – when we begin to see ghosts as a kind of memory we can begin to see our memories, in particular our traumas, as a kind of ghost. We can see memories as having a bit of a life of their own and the potential of relating to them afresh in the present moment. When memories and ghosts come together in this way in the same sphere of our experience, we need not initially try to discriminate between them (a reaction we can have that can end up paralyzing our ability to respond) but instead look for a skillful response.
I offer this for your reflection
Looking around, I can think that a lot of people practising yoga are first of all out to stay healthy. I don't see anything wrong with this, as far as it goes. This I see as simply benevolence and I can have a lot of muditā (sympathetic joy) for the health and well-being of Yoga practitioners. It can be a shame, although, to not take the practice a bit deeper and add the meditation to it – where you can be as benevolent to your minds as you are already being to your bodies. It is also the case that problems can arise if we attach to being healthy – we are simply very unhappy when we get sick. The wisdom of the Buddha's teaching, brought alive through meditation, can help us to prevent this attachment without limiting our enjoyment in the moment.
So let us consider how Yoga fits with Buddhist practice philosophy. Yoga was already a highly developed science in the Vedantic tradition at the time of the Buddha. As I understand, the Buddha incorporated the meditation practices of the yogis into his own practice and teaching. Within Buddhism we can see the physical practices of Yoga as a preparation for the meditation and as representing an overall discipline of benevolence in relation to the body, the body being the first,mfundamental, foundation of mindfulness.
So the Buddha is encouraging us to meditate and explore our bodies with a calm, benevolent and accepting mind. In doing so, we discover that there are many ways in which the body and mind are woven together, so we find this also yields methods to gain emotional and psychological benefits. In particular there is the awareness of the breathing cycle. Here, on the simplest level, there is the possibility of a physical means for breaking cycles of stress. Stress tends to push the respiratory process into chronic overdrive. We can learn to arrest these patterns and reset our body's alarm systems. Combined with stretching we can also release the chronic muscle tension associated with stress. Furthermore we can greatly enhance our awarenessof our bodies, particularly in relation to posture. We can avoid the physical problems associated with poor posture and introduce a positive poise and grace to our lives that can take our hearts and minds in a similarly upright direction. Mindfulness of the body, if it thus becomes continuous, provides the ideal basis for the skill of mindfulness as a way of life – there is a lot of evidence for the value of this in preventing mental problems such as anxiety and depression.
We can discover that our attitude towards our own body is formative of so much or our mental and emotional life, of our view of ourselves and others. Not only is a healthy body in many ways a healthy mind, but a healthy view of the body is also in many ways a healthy mind. In this respect the Buddha also teaches us to recognise and then both accept and see beyond the limitations of the body in a way that these limitations need not dampen a positive attitude to life. It can be important to realise that the sickness of the body is not necessarily a source of suffering in life if we have the right attitude, one formed by the correct view of the body and our relationship to it.
On the deeper and more subtle level, through meditation we can learn to deeply energise the body and mind. This is associated with the deeper benefits of long-term meditation practice – the possibility of the peaceful and blissful mind states of samādhi, which come with heightened awareness of the body and breath together. These can transform our lives –we will never be the same again. If you have not experienced such things yourself it is well worth meeting people who have experienced them, to learn to know these people: they are likely to be the happiest people you have ever met. Yet these states of mind are only experienced by those whose Yoga represents a broad and dedicated spiritual path, including the keeping of moral precepts – only then can our mindfulness be clear enough to go this deep. Being part of a spiritual community is of enormous help in establishing and maintaining this kind of dedication. If we have discussed so far principally the place of Yoga in Buddhist practice, this is perhaps the most important place for Buddhism within the practise of Yoga.
I offer this for your reflection