self is not an entity in itself

POSTCARD #477 ‘It was as if lightning coursed within my chest. The impact lasted for a while, and for the next few weeks whenever I saw people, they seemed like a magician’s illusions in that they appeared to inherently exist but I knew that they actually did not.’ [‘How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life’].

The Dalai Lama, in the sixties, reflecting on the Rope Seen As Snake metaphor, phenomena being dependent on conceptuality and his discovery that the “I” exists conceptually, dependent on mind and body; not an entity in itself.

The Buddha identified no-self, [anatta], nobody at home, no self anywhere, anywhen, nowhere, now-here. The world is a construct, look, see, glimpse the nothingness situated at the centre of everything [śūnyatā]. Most people flinch at the thought, because in the West we are taught that the self is real. We are to hold the Self in high regard, a mutual propping-up of the illusion. Everywhere we look, our self-concept looks back at us like a mirror reflection. Our whole environment supports the fictional self, made to measure, tailored to fit, we live in a bespoke world. The Self we know as the body and mind is thought to be not something we ‘are’ so much as something we ‘possess’, I am ‘me’ and this is ‘mine – the opposite of what we are talking about here.

About the Rope Seen As Snake metaphor, there was a time, some years ago, I was alone in the Nontaburi house and I wrote a Post about the illusion: “The house is surrounded by trees, leaves filter a green light all around. There are birds, squirrels, lizards all kinds of critters. I see something move out on the path… is it a bird, dropped down from a branch to peck at something? There, it moves again – just a hop and it’s a few feet further on. I sit very still, don’t want to frighten it away. I see it now, sitting still, not moving. 

After a long time waiting for it to change position, I decide to slowly get up and see what happens when I do that. But it’s still not moving… maybe it’s injured. I come closer… the bird is not a bird, it’s a large brown leaf curled into a shape, and blown by the wind across the surface of the path.  

Step back and look at it again. It looks exactly like a bird, and just then a short gust of wind blows the leaf. The animation of it is absolutely convincing, but I see it now as a leaf, not a bird. How disconcerting, believing that something is there, then having to accept that it’s not.” In the same way, the mind is going around as if it were a bird, but it’s only a leaf in the wind. And we have the idea then that the “I” is a concept, not real. Compassion for those caught in the predicament of believing in the self, I was similarly held, looking for Truth in a battleground of untruths.The assumption is that if ‘I’ am my body, I am my feelings, I am my consciousness – then everything else is out ‘there, and if I’m in ‘here’, disconnected from everything out ‘there’. I’m isolated, alone, anxious – projecting a perceived self that I know, somehow, is not real. I need to resolve this issue of fearful uncertainty so I have a very busy life, work 5 days a week and spend time with friends at weekends. Together we go out and around looking everywhere for indications that align with that ‘Self’ held in high regard, visiting public parks and places of interest, taking ‘selfies’ with a nice background. ’Is everybody in the picture?’ Smile please… click! Everyone comes to see the image on the screen; let’s take another one… click! We all seem to be happy doing this, but there’s still that dissatisfied feeling, seeking a way to have whatever it takes to confirm the identity of that Self (held in high regard). This introspective state of mind allows another kind of ‘self’ to enter the picture, seeing the ‘self’ that is seeking. The seeking ‘self’ turns its attention to the seeing ‘self’ and is, at once, seen.

The self we self-create exists in a distorted reality, each of us as selves at the centre of our own universe. We act in our own self-interest, or as groups of like-minded ‘selves.’ It results in a conflict of interest between those whose lives and interests are, in fact, interdependent. Those of us who have let go of our selfish-selves, are part of a larger network of others, whose pains and pleasures and interests we share.

In a wider context there are scholars and spiritual leaders who say the awakened state is the state of no self. No self is the aspect that pervades all of reality. We are in a totality of consciousness, you can say we are part of God, therefore there is no individual self. When our soul merges with God there is no self – one drop in the ocean.
I am inspired by these speakers and professors and shall continue to listen to their words. In the meantime I’ll go on with the Buddha’s teaching and the ’nuts-and-bolts’ of how the process works, develops, evolves.

‘The deconstruction and reconstruction of the sense of self is necessary to become aware of the most deceptive of meta-narratives: the one we normally do not perceive because it is our ordinary, everyday reality – the ‘real world’ we take for granted but in fact is constructed.’ [David Loy: ’The Great Awakening’(4) 

This post contains sections from two earlier posts:

Rope Seen As Snake

Thoughts Like Clouds.

Also excerpts from a talk by Ishwar Ji Puri

And a paper by Jay L Garfield “Why No Self”

*the space where it hasn’t happened yet

POSTCARD#476: I wake in the morning, fuzzy headedness, the sound of the leaves in the trees rustling and whispering together… blustery winds. Dark sky out there, it’s going to rain. Small birds dash around searching for the place where small birds take shelter. The rain will be heavy, lasting for hours/days. It’s the season of green leaves sprouting in trees, hedges fill out and enlarge, and it’s a novelty for me even though I’ve lived here for many years. I come from the North of Scotland where weather events are not so overwhelmingly generous in such an abundance of plant growth.

Into the shower and pressurized water massages the *headache I live with  – lulled into a relaxed state, mesmerized by the sensation. I am a sensitive being these days, sharp penetrating light frequencies and high pitched squealing sounds activate the headache and it can take some time to recover. Usually I have to take extra meds which cushion the pain but shift me out there… living on the edge.

Step out of the shower and I’m deafened by the downpour on the roof. Sensory mechanisms function without my involvement. There’s just an alertness, waiting for things to arrive in consciousness. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and cognitive functioning held by this immense sound. An all-inclusive experience of awareness itself.

I’ve learned how to see pain in the context of the 4 Noble Truths and focus on ‘The Cause’ of it which I cannot control, but can stay in neutrality; in that small space that’s neither here nor there. Knowing this brings it all to a standstill for a moment, and this is how it is, the awareness of it, simply that.

Stories of past and future arise and the narrative requires me to ‘believe’ in the story before it begins. I’m hovering on the brink of what it could be, still contained inside that little space that’s neither here nor there… do I want to get swept away by an engaging story when I’m quite comfortable being here? It’s telling me I have to get into it, become it, *bhāva,

No thanks, I’m ok here in the space where it hasn’t happened yet, looking into that place in the mind where unfinished stories usually reside, and find instead a curious stretched-out present moment. The strangeness of it, wary and watchful… a trembling awakenedness of an immensity, just this.

Mindfulness of non-becoming. See how that feels here under the roof, with the deafening sound of rain, the distractedness of it, the here-and-now of it… like a nonstop, fierce applause, forever and always in present time, ‘the uncreated consciousness’. I’m merging with the sound, headache hiding in that place where headaches take shelter.

Stormy gusts intrude through doors and windows passing through downstairs rooms and corridors leading to other rooms and through the open doors and windows of neighbors’ houses, I can hear their voices, hear a door slam, see somebody rushing to take in the last of the laundry hanging on the line. Tall trees bending, branches dancing in the wind.

*title inspired by a discussion with Steve T.

*headache: Post Herpetic Neuralgia, Right Occipital Nerve. Seven years now and it’s not as bad as it was, maybe I’m used to it, higher threshold/tolerance *bhāva:  In Thai Buddhism, bhava is interpreted as the habitual or emotional tendencies which leads to the arising of the sense of self, as a mental phenomenon.

wordless and indefinable 

POSTCARD#475: Fragments of a thought pieced together from associated thoughts, memories of a past time brought into present time, together with things thought about in future time. Words can snatch at things, pin them down and try to get them to say what they are (What is this?), in the context of other things already identified in the mind. Any ‘new’ experience is assimilated and the actuality of it is filtered, obscured, cloaked. As Tommy G said, ‘words seem to give the mind a sense of knowing but in awareness knowing is before the word.’ Conscious experience is perceived in an instant, then framed in language and it becomes something else.

Pause for a moment and everything stops, just the circumstance itself – there is only one moment – only one, all the time. I wake up to it every now and then, there and then, here and now in this place and time, but it is always now, the present now, the forever ‘now.’

“Time is in the mind, space is in the mind. The law of cause and effect Is also a way of thinking. In reality, all is here and now and all is one. Multiplicity and diversity are in the mind only.” [Nisargadatta]

I write it in my notebook, and that holds it in time, meanwhile thinking seems to have jumped from the thing I’m thinking about to the next, and there’s only that instant to decide what this new thing is before it becomes something else. In the interval the mind is engaged in ‘thinking it’, everything moves on and I can never seem to catch up. Language is an overlay placed on reality, gives everything an identity, duality, ‘me’ and ‘you.’ Language tells the story, creates a fiction I get lost in. Nothing is what I think it is.

The present moment feels like it’s an immediate event occurring ‘now’, but there’s also a feeling that it comes from somewhere else. Time is a measurement I apply – applied time. Maybe this is something that has not happened yet… it happens later, gets reflected upon and what I think is ‘now’ is actually a moment of hindsight situated in future time.

How can I be sure things are what I think they are when I’ve only just started feeling my way through something not experienced yet? The vast present time – the continuing ‘now’ phenomenon enfolding and unfolding, transforming from the future into past in one continuous surging-through movement that cannot be explained. What a strange mystery it is; future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, ‘now’ falls back into yesterday… something ‘remembered.’

Mind creates a structure to explain time, otherwise how could we understand the enigma of how the past is ‘gone’ and the future has not arrived yet? Hovering on the brink of the smallest pause before it gets there, the empty space of not-knowing what it is, and held like this for an instant…

‘… (the) still point is not in the mind, it’s not in the body; this is where it’s incapable of being expressed in words, ineffable. The still point isn’t a point within the brain. Yet you’re realising that universal silence, stillness, oneness where all the rest is a reflection and seen in perspective…. personality, kamma, the differences, the varieties … are no longer deluding us because we’re no longer grasping at them.’ [‘The Way It Is’, Ajahn Sumedho, page 123]

unsupported consciousness

POSTCARD#474: I’ve been looking through my old notebooks, hard-to-read handwriting, scribbled in urgency many years ago – the stream of consciousness, where everything seemed to carry meaning. Not enough space to outline the vast wholeness. This was before our days of phone cameras and scanners. No internet, only books in the library, photocopies for a charge per page. It was all heavy and slow but this was normal for us, we didn’t know anything different. No email, no text-messaging, etc. Only letters folded into an envelope, lick-stick-on stamp… thump, and post in the mail box, then wait for days for a reply…

I left the West in 1982 and that’s how things were then, very different from the East. I used to like to select a postcard to send, a picture on one side; blue sky, a beach, palm trees and on the other side; space for the address, exotic stamps, and not much room left to write. Minimalist choice of words to express what you want to say to the other person, to read and reflect on the present moment and how it is there and then, compared with how it is here and now, in this different place and time. Then stamp… thump, post in the mail box, and there was no reply, usually. The postcard message is a statement… this is how things are. The present moment stretching out into the future and back into the past.

A prevailing sense of Self, of course, running through every part of the configuration – leading to unwholesome attachment to all kinds of unhappy mental states. That’s how it was in Northern Europe, the belief in the self was encouraged. We were not taught about meditation, and structuring the mind in order to see the ‘self’ is a fiction the mind creates. Instead we just muddled along and I could see something was not quite right, but most of the time I was living in a dream; the deluded not-knowing state and random karma: ‘a tangled skein of thread, a woven nest of birds, a thicket of bamboo and reeds…’ The thinking thing gets a hold, loves it, hates it; tries to control it, tries to figure it out.

But I found the way out, I was lucky enough to have a friend and got a few books that helped me understand. Also, meditation where the self is seen for what it is; it appears sometimes, holding on to Mind and Body and if  you don’t let it get attached, then it’s gone: “… the ‘I’ exists conceptually, dependent on mind and body, not an entity in itself (Dalai Lama).  So the Buddha, the Dalai Lama and other enlightened beings are saying, there is no self. That’s how it is if you’ve reached “… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha) “— SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca).

For the rest of us still engaged in unhelpful attachment, it’s hard to let go of our years of conditioning. My difficulty with practising ‘no-self’ had been extricating myself from the Judeo-Christian conditioning that assumes the existence of an eternal soul. It still haunts me some nights but I’m okay about that now. I understand everything that arises, ceases. “All dharmas (phenomena) arise in dependence upon other dharmas: ‘if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.’” In other words; if you can accurately remove the cause, then the suffering falls away.

Often it takes place in an unexpected way, the problem is gone and in its place an empty space – the strangeness of it, a luminosity and awareness of immensity. Sometimes it happens if I’m in a dangerous situation say, fast moving traffic behaving in a wild sort of way, I look into the mind and there is this stretched-out present moment! I’m excited and watchful. A trembling awakenedness, it’s like that place,” the zone,” that athletes refer to – not always reachable but I’ve been there, and understand better now, the meaning of the word, ‘śūnyatā,’ when the little sense of ‘me’ is gone and there is only consciousness.

There are different ways of understanding the word ‘consciousness’ and  describing the experience, Ajahn Sumedho calls it ‘unsupported consciousness, an awareness that’s different from the basic functions of consciousness,’ when you are interacting with the world; distant from the usual state of simply being aware of what’s going on in the body/mind.

And beyond all of that is the unsupported consciousness. It’s there that my curiosity is drawn. The thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… an omnipresent consciousness all through the centuries of present ‘moment-ness’ and there’s so much more to be said about this.

Listening 1

[Editorial Note] This is another in the series of selected posts from 2012  reblogged and considered again, here in 2022.

I was in Pondicherry at the time, stayed there for one year then moved on to Bangalore. Looking at the post now, there’s nothing I would change, and it is refreshing to read it again. I notice that the mind is on automatic pilot when it comes to interpreting a wave of random sounds, as well as random notes – one has the beauty of birdsong, the other, an interpretation of known sounds and the nearest match for unknown sounds. There is no ‘self’ involved other than being the uncomplaining recipient of the end product.

The ‘collected’ random sounds has beauty too, ten years ago, most people had no ACs running only fans and the windows open, so you could hear the kitchen sounds for some way away. Also aluminum cooking pots or ‘vessels’ as they were known and the characteristic ‘ding’ sound, different from the stainless steel kitchenware of today. Susan Blackmore is still around, this was an early study and it has developed since then. I am still here and thinking not much has changed, in fact I could easily be learning from the past. These are postcards from the present moment, the ‘here and now’ as it was there and then.

(Reblog POSTCARD# 104/): South India: Birdsong. A small wave of tiny notes. Sitting on the cushion under a thatched structure built on the roof. Focus on breathing, soft warm air, it’s the end of the night. Dawn light coming up. The birds near to me are surprisingly loud, so much energy from such a small body, such a tiny breathing system. There are these silent intervals, to take a bird-size breath of air, I think, then a long musical ‘verse’, and another silent interval for breath; the ‘song’ moves on to the next verse and so on. The regular pace of these silent intervals contributes to the pattern of the verses. Birdsong is a ballad, a story about something that goes on and on; more than enough; an abundance. It blows away the scarcity of my small mindedness. I can see why they call it ‘The Dawn Chorus.’ Sky is full of sound, a huge chord played on an instrument with a great number of strings

Listening consciousness and sound object are one and the same thing, there’s an affinity with birdsong. Maybe it’s about acoustic resonances of the bird cranium being all of a oneness as far as we other living creatures in the world are able to perceive it. And, part of it too, are the echoes in the spaces between things: reflective surfaces, tree trunks, branches, walls, the air, clouds. Sympathetic resonances create multiple frequencies like the echo it makes on the underside of my thatched roof. And now it’s gradually diminishing; no grande finale, just a musical occurrence that takes place every day and gets forgotten about as soon as the sun rises in the dramatic way it does, expanding into our lives and everything becomes secondary to that main event.

Other sounds become heard; ordinary household noises, miscellaneous gentle ‘clatter’ from houses through open windows. Dishes clink, aluminium pots make that dull ‘ding’ sound. A shout, partial sound of a goat. child cries, cock crows, dog barks, a bicycle bell, street trader’s call, a car horn honks. Something clinks, and it goes on, individual recognisable sounds all appear in consciousness exactly as they occur, no end to it. Each has its own space, situated in its place in a clear sequence, one after the other.

I’m thinking there’s something about it that suggests a composer could create an orchestral symphony out of this? But it doesn’t work that way, I realise. It’s not the ‘actual’ sound I’m listening to, it’s the ear consciousness function that is set to rationalise the flow into an orderly pattern of ‘virtual’ sound. Each unit of sound has a place, according to how the consciousness function selected it, unknown partial sounds are replaced by known sounds, ear consciousness triggers a process so the object is placed according to the ‘closest match’ that can be found in the filing system.

The actual sound space I’m surrounded by may well be a tremendous complexity of pieces of things; an ocean of permutations. There’s some insight into what this amounts to but I know I’m not even taking on anything resembling the scale of it. I seek stability from this chaos: the ‘self’ shapes the randomness of the universe into a manageable chunk and I can settle with that thought.

‘In the normal way, attention shifts from one thing to another. Surprising events grab the attention: other chains of thought wait to be finished as soon as there is a gap. So there is never any peace. This is efficient in using all available processing capacity, but what does it feel like to be … in such a system? I suppose it feels like most of us do feel – pretty confusing. The only thing that gives it any stability is the constant presence of a stable self model. No wonder we cling to it.’ Dr. Susan Blackmore [Check out: Science tackles the self ]

Jesus and ‘Churchianity’

(Reblog POSTCARD# 001/): Christmas 2011, Bangkok Airport: Bags packed, got passport and ticket – taxi to the airport. Checked in, immigration, security and step through into the glitzy duty-free with people and music circulating. Compelling christmas carols with full orchestral backing and we are swept away to a tinsellated heaven realm. The next music track is a syncopated, off-beat, acoustic guitar melody support for: ‘… the ho-lee bible says, mary’s boy-child, jee-sus christ, was born on christ-mas daaay…’ Enter coffee shop area as we reach the main chorus at full volume: ‘Hark Now, Hear The Angels Sing…’ waiters have that look: dulled minds, christmas carol track loop playing in their dreams.

When I was a kid, I’d ask people about Jesus and didn’t ever get a satisfactory answer: ‘Jesus was the Son of God’. I accepted it, but didn’t understand. That’s how it was and maybe it’s why, in later life, I started to search for a real spiritual path. And eventually I became a Buddhist; all’s well that ends well. And it’s only recently I’ve been able to see links between the Jesus Teachings and Eastern religious experience (Advaita Vedanta) so that brings the Jesus story very much closer to me.

I open the laptop in the middle of: ‘… the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes…’, internet connection, Google, Wikipedia, I find Brahman/Atman and substitute the word ‘God’ for Brahman and Jesus for Atman then edit out all Advaita Vedānta references, now try that and see. “… away in a manger, no crib for a bed…” Flip through all kinds of pages then discover this very interesting paper about Neo-Vedantic Christology given by an Indian clergyman: Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz in 1994.

It’s a series of short contributions from members of the Ramakrishna Mission Order; including S. Radhakrishnan (President of India 1962-1967), and I find something here that is pretty critical but reflects the feeling about the Church I had in school days. And it’s reassuring to read about it now and know I was probably not alone in having the thoughts I did, back in those days:

 ‘Christianity considered the human person (Man), to be a sinner, a worm and that is why it could not understand the message of potential divinity implied in his (Jesus’) saying, ‘I and my father are one’. (Swami Vivekananda)

I’m reading about how Jesus’ pure religion of heart (was converted into) ‘Churchianity’. It goes on to talk about ‘renunciation’, interesting, I find I don’t feel comfortable with the word: ‘renunciation’ in this context, associations with guilt, Christian conditioning. In the Buddhist sense: ‘renunciation’ means joyfully giving things up, letting-go. That helped me leave these old associations behind. It goes on to say:

 ‘The West has distorted the religion of renunciation and realization of Jesus into a ‘shop-keeping religion’ of luxury and intolerant superstitious doctrines.’ [Swami Vivekananda]

That was in 1994, we’d say rampant consumerism today. And I see it all around me here in the shopping area, Jesus as purchasing initiative. Where did it all go wrong? When I was a child, nobody really studied Jesus’ Teachings, it was the domain of the clergy. The general public, believing it on a superficial level just muddled along and no questions were asked. And it occurs to me that the Christian clergy today, vicars and priests, those who are thinking about this realistically, must have uncomfortable feelings of guilt about this to assimilate from time to time?

‘… the universal message of Jesus which comprises the ideas of the indwelling divinity, of divine grace, universal ethics and spiritual realization was distorted by the Christian Church through fettering it in cast-iron dogmas of innate vileness of human nature, ‘the scape-goat’ and ‘the atonement’, physical resurrection and the second advent, earthly kingdom and the imminence of the Day of Judgment which are purely tribal in their scope.’ [Swami Ranganathananda]

Towards the end of the paper Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz reassures us: ‘Today, the lost universal message of Jesus can be regained with the help of Advaita Vedanta; the Christian dogmatic assertions no more need distort the meaning of the gospel.’

Interesting how the word ‘salvation’ has an odd heaviness about it – my Christian conditioning again. The dictionary says: Salvation: preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss. I think it’s about having Wisdom. If you have Wisdom you won’t fall into the deep hole. If you do fall in, Wisdom will get you out. Trust in that. Swami Abhedananda points out that, from the Church point of view:

‘Salvation is the redemption from sin through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God. But Jesus did not teach the idea of vicarious atonement; what he taught was ‘the kingdom of Heaven is within you’.

As I see it, Jesus is saying: Heaven is within you. Simple, and that’s all there is, we aspire towards that Truth. On the other hand, the Church is adding something extra, something manipulative about atonement. It’s easy to see it now and, I guess, it must have been something they just went along with in those days. Another thing is, you will notice I will put a strikethrough in the next piece of text, in ‘the kingdom’ so instead of: ‘the kingdom of Heaven” and we can just say “Heaven” instead. Here’s a very nice Advaita quote that I like a lot:

 ‘God is pure knowing itself. God is beyond everything that can be conceived or thought about. Words cannot describe it. God is beyond space and time. God is infinite Being, infinite Consciousness, and infinite Bliss.’

The Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz is saying the non-dual relation that Jesus had with God the Father is something all of us can have, ‘through the renunciation of the lower self.’ (giving up the illusion of ‘self’ emerging from the Five Khandas.) It means humans can become ‘God’-conscious. Each soul has this latent potential and ‘… the resources of God which were available to Jesus are open to everyone. Christ’s statement, “behold the kingdom of God is within you” refers to the divinity within the human person.’  The important word here is ‘divinity’, Jesus was teaching the subjective realization of human divinity and therefore subject/object unity: ‘… “I and my Father are one’, ‘God is within you’ and in declaring himself as the son of God (Jesus is) inviting others to be sons of God too….” (Bhawani Sankar Chowdhury)

The Advaita view is that the self of the human person (Atman) is ever united with the Supreme Self (Brahman); God always shines as our Inmost self and we can realize it here and now. Christians can understand this, Buddhists can too but Theravadins have a problem with the ‘anatta’ and ‘atman’ issue – but not insurmountable.

The Christmas carol tracks have moved on to ‘Sti-ill, the night, Holee the night, Shepherds watched their flocks by night…’ I get up to leave, laptop in carry-on bag and head for the Gate. It’s a 12 hour flight to Zurich, hopefully I’ll get some sleep; economy class, not much legroom. Let’s see, conditioned experience, same old thing. Cold and snow at the other end. Goodbye everyone in this restaurant and this place, blessings and, ‘jingle bells, jingle bells …’ follows me all the way until I don’t notice it, it’s gone, and I’m on the way to the Departure lounge. Original source: Rev. K. P. Aleaz Neo-Vedantic Christologies

end of the book study, and looking back

Dear Readers. I propose bringing our study of “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond,” to a close now. The text from here on, in my opinion, is intended for those who have a functioning knowledge of the Jhānas. I’m thinking of senior monks who have been practicing for a few decades, or more – those to whom I show respect including, of course, the author of the book, Ajahn Brahm.

So what has been going on here these last few months? We are working on the book versions of the posts, some of them soon to be published, in time for our 10th Anniversary: 2012/ 2022!

There was one ground-breaking post in December 2011 and the actual starting date was January 2012. Special thanks to WordPress for hosting the site and to all our readers, those who have looked, liked and made a comment – those too, who engaged in lengthy dialogue on this humble platform. I’m very grateful.

To celebrate our 10th year, I think we have to re-publish a few posts from that year, beginning with “Jesus and Advaita Vedānta,” posted on July 1 2012

Jesus and Advaita Vedānta

POSTCARD#473: I didn’t know about Advaita Vedānta when I was a child and only recently discovered there were people like Alan Watts (and others) writing about non-duality in the Christian context, Now I’m convinced it is important to focus on the fact that there is something at the heart of Christianity. The uncomfortable feeling that’s followed me all these years – that somehow I missed the point of the Jesus Teaching – all this has gone when I think of the Advaitist aspect of the teaching. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle I just stumbled upon, coming from an Asian perspective, an inductive knowing and that’s how it works.

The reason I didn’t see it before is because the Western concept of God, having human attributes (similar to the Advaitist idea of Ishvara), contradicts the rational scientific view. Accepting something that’s scientifically impossible, just because it’s written down in the Bible, doesn’t make sense. It’s like a myth and that’s why Christianity never had any reality in the West. What’s needed is to take it all a bit further.

“… when human beings think of Brahman, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as Ishvara. Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. God (as in Brahman) is not thought to have such attributes in the true sense.”

In Western countries, people are wandering around without a map. There’s the shopping mall and that’s all. How to let go of the individual ‘self’ if everything in the system is aimed at getting you to hold on? Looking for the way out by browsing possibilities will take a lifetime. The distractions built-in to window shopping behaviour are designed to keep you ‘shopping’ and prevent you from finding the way out too easily. By the time you get there you’ll have forgotten what it was you were looking for.

“The Advaita Teachings are pointers, offered at the level of the audience, so to some people Jesus would talk about “a mansion with many rooms” and to other people he would say: “(heaven) is within.” (And) without understanding Advaita and the way pointers are adjusted depending on the audience, (most) Christians haven’t a clue what Jesus was talking about ….” 

Those who didn’t fall into the shopping mall trap just took the belief ‘thing’ to pieces to see what it was made of. That’s how it was seen that there was/is no substantial “self” in the centre of consciousness. It’s an operating system that keeps all working parts in the state of  ‘oneness’. “We are, right at this moment, God itself, and we can rejoice in that – if we can break out of our individual identity…” If someone had been able to explain it to me like this when I was a child, the challenge to find out what it could mean would have been enough motivation for a lifetime.


Note: I’m including the Jesus Teaching in a oneness of spiritual teaching centred in that geographical region where the three Abrahamic religions arose: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the connection with Brahmanic religions, Buddhism and Jainism. That region, from North India through to Israel and the Mediterranean, a distance of about 3000 miles, say from New York to San Francisco? I see it like a highway of knowledge, wisdom and information. All of it coming and going along the route many centuries before Jesus was born and many centuries after. All the world’s religions arose here.

The Fourth Jhāna

POSTCARD#472: As the stillness of the knower calms that which is known, the bliss that was the central feature of the first three jhānas changes again when one enters the fourth jhāna. Only this time it changes more radically. Sukha completely disappears. What remains is an absolute still knower, seeing absolute stillness.

From the perspective of the fourth jhāna, the bliss of the previous jhāna as a residual movement of the mental object, and an affliction obscuring something much greater. When the bliss subsides, all that is left is the profound peace that is the hallmark of the fourth jhāna. Nothing moves in here, nothing glows. Nothing experiences happiness or discomfort. One feels perfect balance in the very center of the mind. As in the center of a cyclone, nothing stirs in the center of the mind’s eye. There is a sense of perfection here, a perfection of stillness and of awareness. The Buddha described it as the purification of mindfulness, just looking on (upekkhā sati pārisuddhi) (DN 9,13).

The peace of the fourth jhāna is like no other peace to be found in the world. It can only be known having passed though the experience of the previous three jhānas. That passage is the only way of later confirming that the unmoving peace that one felt was indeed that of fourth jhāna. Furthermore, the state of fourth jhāna is so very still that one remains on its plateau for many hours. It seems impossible that one could experience the fourth jhāna for any less time.

Though pīti and sukha have both ceased in the fourth jhāna and all that is left is the perfection of peace, such an experience is later recognized, upon reviewing, as supremely delightful. The perfect peace of the fourth jhāna is seen as the best bliss so far. It is the bliss of no more bliss! This is not playing with words, trying to sound clever and mystical. This is how it is.

Summary of the Fourth Jhāna

Thus the fourth jhāna has the following features:

1. The disappearance of sukha;

2. An extremely long-lasting, and unchanging, perception of the perfection of peace, reached only through the lower three jhānas;

3. The same absolute rocklike stillness, and absence of a doer, as in the second and third jhāna;

4. The complete inaccessibility from the world of the five senses and one’s body.

The Buddha’s Similes for the Four Jhānas

The Buddha would often describe the experience within the four jhanas by evocative similes (e.g.; MN 39,15-18;77, 25-28). Before explaining these similes, it is helpful to pause and clarify the meaning of kāya, a key Pāli word used in all the similes. Kāya has the same range of meanings as the English word “body.” Just as “body” can mean things other than the body of a person, such as a “body of evidence,” for example, so too kāya can mean things other than a physical body, such as a body of mental factors, nāma-kāya (DN 15,20). In the jhānas the five senses do not operate, which means that there is no experience of a physical body. The body has been transcended. Therefore, when the Buddha states in these four similes, “so that there is no part of his whole kāya unpervaded (by bliss and so on),” this can be taken to mean “so that there is no part of his whole mental body of experience unpervaded” (MN 39,16). This point is frequently misunderstood.

The Buddha’s simile for the first jhāna is a ball of clay (used as soap) with just the right amount of moisture, neither too dry nor too wet. The ball of clay stands for the unified mind, wherein mindfulness has been restricted to the very small area created by the “wobble.” The moisture stands for the bliss caused by total seclusion from the world of the five senses. The moisture that completely pervades the clay ball indicates the bliss that thoroughly pervades the space and duration of the mental experience. This

is later recognized as bliss followed by bliss, and then more bliss, without interruption. That the moisture is not in excess, and so does not leak out, describes how the bliss is always contained in the space generated by the wobble, never leaking out of this area of mind-space into the world of the five senses, as long as the jhāna persists.

The second jhāna is likened to a lake with no external entry for water but with an internal spring that replenishes it with cool water. The lake represents the mind. The complete absence of any way that water from outside can enter the lake describes the inaccessibility of the mind by any influence from outside. Not even the doer can enter such a mind in this jhāna. Such hermetic inaccessibility is the cause of the rocklike stillness of the second jhāna. The internal spring that supplies the cool water represents ajjhattam sampasādanam, the internal confidence in the bliss of second jhāna. This internal confidence causes complete letting go, cooling the mind into stillness and freeing it from all movement. The coolness stands for the bliss itself, born of samādhi or stillness, which pervades the whole mental experience, unchanging throughout the duration of the jhāna.

The third jhāna is described by the metaphor of a lotus flower that thrives immersed in the cool water of a lake. The lotus represents the mind in the third jhāna. Water can cool the petals and leaves of a lotus but can never penetrate the lotus, since all water rolls off. The coolness stands for sukha, and the wetness stands for pīti. So like the lotus immersed in water, the

mind in the third jhāna is cooled by sukha but is not penetrated by pīti. The mind in the third jhāna experiences only sukha. In the third jhāna, the mind continues to experience a rocklike stillness, never moving outside, just as the lotus in the simile always remains immersed within the water. Just as the cool water causes the lotus to thrive, so the bliss of the third jhāna sustains the mind therein. Once again, just as the cool waters in the simile pervade the lotus with coolness from its roots to its tips, so the unique bliss of the third jhāna pervades the whole mental experience from beginning to end.

The fourth jhāna is likened to a man draped from head to toe in a clean white cloth. The man represents the mind, while the cloth represents the perfect purity of equanimity and mindfulness that is the hallmark of the fourth jhāna. The mind in the fourth jhāna is stainless, spotless as a clean cloth, perfectly still and just looking on, purely and simply. This absolute purity of peacefulness pervades the whole body of mental experience, from the start to the end, just as the white cloth completely covers the man’s body from head to toe.

Such is the meaning of the four similes for jhāna, as I (the author) understands them.

Truthful Words to Pacify the Fear of War

Editor’s Note: I’m here with Jiab and M on holiday in Phuket. Some rain and sunshine, Thinking of those less fortunate than I, and the terrible situation in Ukraine. Just this morning I found a beautiful, apt Dharma message from The Great Middle Way blog, and re-blogged it here:

oṃ maṇi peme hum

POSTCARD#471: Victorious Maitreya, sublime and noble Chenrezi, ferocious king Hayagrīva, Jetsün Tārā, and all Holy Buddhas, the mere sound of whose names dispels all fear —compassionate sources of refuge, please hear my prayer!

In this time when individuals experience an oceanic surge of negative karma and jealousy –the age of fivefold decadence and strife– as intense suffering, fighting and quarrelling oppress us, please burn it all in the fires of your compassionate wisdom.

Shower the nectar of love upon those who fan the flames of hatred. Bless them to recognize one another as parents, and thereby usher in auspiciousness and happiness.

May the mischievous unwholesome thoughts that enter the minds of beings and instantaneously transform their hosts into warring demons never hold sway again.

May all who have died in battles, combat, conflicts, and wars immediately give up their indulgence in destructive action, cause and effect, and, having taken birth in the pure realm of Dewachen, lead all to that same Buddha realm.

May all beings have long and healthy lives, be free of quarrels and strife, practice the ten virtues, experience timely rains and bountiful harvests, and may the auspiciousness of the environment and beings increase exponentially.

May these pure, vast prayers be accomplished through the compassion of the Lama, Yidam, and Three Rare and Sublime Ones, Suchness, which by its very nature is utterly pure, and the appearance of things, the undeceiving nature of cause and effect.

—Thangtong Gyalpo

The Second and Third Jhānas

The Second Jhāna

Subsiding of the Wobble

POSTCARD#470: As the first jhāna deepens, the wobble lessens and the bliss consolidates. One comes to a state where vicāra is still holding on to the bliss with the most subtle of grasping, but this is not enough to cause any instability in the bliss. The bliss doesn’t decrease as a result of vicāra nor does mindfulness seem to move away from the source. The bliss is so strong that vicāra cannot disturb it. Although vicāra is still active there is no longer any vitakka,  no movement of mind back to the source of the bliss. The wobble has gone. this is a jhāna state described in the suttas as without vitakka but with a small measure of vicāra. (MN 128,31; AN VIII,63). It is so close to the second  jhāna that it is usually included in that jhāna.

As the bliss strengthens into immutable stability, there is no purpose for vicāra to hold on anymore. At this point the mind becomes fully confident, enough to let go absolutely. With this final letting go, born of inner confidence in the stability of the bliss, vicāra disappears and one enters the second jhāna proper.

The first feature, then, of the second jhāna described in the suttas is avitakka and avicāra meaning “without vitakka and without vicāra.” In experience, this means that there is no more wobble in the mind. The second feature is ajjhattam sampasādanam meaning “internal confidence.” In experience, this describes the full confidence in the stability of the bliss which is the cause for vicāra to cease.

Perfect One-pointedness of Mind

The third and most recognizable feature of the second jhāna is cetaso ekodibhāvanam or perfect one-pointedness of mind. When there is no longer any wobble, then the mind is like an unwavering rock, more immovable than a mountain and harder than a diamond. Such perfection in unyielding stillness is incredible. The mind stays in the bliss without vibration. This is later recognized as the perfection of the quality called samādhi.

Samādhi is the faculty of attentive silence, and in the second jhāna this attention is sustained on the object without any movement  at all. There is not even the finest oscillation at all. One is fixed, frozen solid fixed with “super glue,” unable even to tremble. All stirrings of mind are gone. There is no greater stillness of mind than this. It is called perfect samādhi , and it remains as a feature not only of this second jhāna but of the higher jhānas as well.

The Bliss Born of Samādhi and the End of All Doing

It is this perfection of samādhi the gives the bliss of the second jhāna its unique taste. The burden that affected the first jhāna, the affliction of movement, has been abandoned, everything stands perfectly still, even the knower. Such absolute stillness transcends the mental pain born of the mind moving, and it reveals the great bliss fuelled by pure samādhi. In the suttas, the bliss of the second jhāna is called the pīti-sukkha born of samādhi (samadhija pīti-sukkha) (DN 9.11). Such bliss is even more pleasurable, hugely so, than the bliss resulting from transcending the world of the five senses. One could not have anticipated such bliss. It is of a totally separate order. After experiencing the second jhāna, having realized two rare “species” of bliss that are extreme, one ponders what other levels of bliss may lie ahead.

Another salient feature of the second jhāna is that all doing, has totally ceased, even the involuntary activity that caused the wobbling has completely vanished, the doer has died. Only when one has experience of the second jhāha can one fully appreciate what is meant by the term “doer” – just as a tadpole can fully appreciate what is meant by the tern “water” only when water disappears during the frog’s first experience on dry land. Not only is the doer gone, it seems as if this apparently essential part of one’s eternal identity has been deleted from experience, What was seemingly obvious turns out to be a mirage, a delusion. One penetrates the illusion of free will using the data from raw experience. The philosopher (Sarte) who proposed “to be is to do” could not have known the second jhāna, where “being” is without any “doing.” These jhānas are weird, and they defy normal experience. But they are real, more real than the world.

Summary of the Second Jhāna

Thus the second jhāna is distinguished by another four collections of factors:

1 + 2. Avitakka-avicāra, ajjhattam sampasadanam:  experienced as the subsiding of the “wobble” from the first jhāna due to internal confidence in the stability of the bliss;

3. Cetaso ekodibhāvam: perfect one-pointedness of mind due to full confidence in the bliss. This is usually experienced as rocklike stillness or the perfection of samādhi;

4. Samādija-pītisukha: being the focus of this jhāna, the supramundane bliss generated by the end of all movement of the mind;

5. The end of all doing: seen as the first time the “doer” has completely gone.

The Third Jhāna

As the stillness of the knower continues, the stillness of the known grows ever more profound. Remember that in jhāna what is known is the image of the mind, and the mind is the knower. First the knower becomes still, then the image, the known, gradually becomes still.

In the first two jhānas this image of the mind is recognizes as a bliss that up until now has been called pīti-sukkha. In the third jhāna, the image of the mind has gone to the next level of stillness, to a very different kind of bliss.

Pīti Has Vanished

Prior to the third jhāna, all bliss had something in common, although it differed in its taste due to the distinguishing causes. That something in common was the combination of pīti plus sukha. Because they were always together, as inseparable as Siamese twins, it was not only pointless, but even impossible to tell them apart. 

It is only after the experience of the third jhāna that one can know what sukha is, and by inference what pīti was. The pīti of the second jhāna seemed more euphoric than anything else. Yet it is now seen as the lesser part of the bliss. Sukha is the more refined part.

Great Mindfulness, Clear Knowing, and Equanimity

With all jhānas, the experiences are next to impossible to describe. The higher the jhāna, however, the more profound the experience and the more difficult it becomes to describe, These states and their language are remote from the world. At a stretch, one may say that the bliss of the third jhāna, the sukha, has a greater sense of ease, is quieter, and is more serene. In the suttas it is accompanied by the features of mindfulness (sati), clear knowing (sampajañña), and equanimity (upekkhā), although these are said in the Anupada Sutta (MN III) to be present in all jhānas. Perhaps these features are emphasized  as qualities of the third jhāna in order to point out that in this very deep jhāna, one is exceptionally mindful, very clear in the knowing, and so still that one looks on without moving which is the root meaning of equanimity (upekkhā).

The Same Rocklike Stillness and Absence of a Doer

The third jhāna retains the perfect samādhi, the rocklike stillness, the absence of a doer, and the inaccessibility from the world of the five sensesaIt is distinguished from the second jhāna by the nature of the bliss, which has soared up to another level and appears as another species of bliss altogether. So much so that the suttas quote the enlightened one’s description of the third jhāna as “abiding in bliss, mindful, just looking on” (DN 9,12).

Summary of the Third Jhāna

Thus the third jhāna has the following features:    

1. The bliss has separated, losing the coarse part that was pīti;

2. The bliss that remains, sukha, exhibits the qualities of great mindfulness, clear knowing, and the sense of just looking on;

3. The same absolute rocklike stillness, and absence of a doer, as in the second jhāna.

Continued next week: 13th May 2022