A most essential question
What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?
“Motionless like the light of a lamp in a windless place is the controlled consciousness (free from its restless action, shut in from its outward motion) of the Yogin who practises union with the Self.
That in which the mind becomes silent and still by the practice of Yoga: that in which the Self is seen within in the Self by the Self (seen, not as it is mistranslated falsely or partially by the mind and represented to us through the ego, but self-perceived by the Self, swaprakasha), and the soul is satisfied.
That in which the soul knows its own true and exceeding bliss, which is perceived by the intelligence and is beyond the senses, wherein established, it can no longer fall away from the spiritual truth of its being.
That is the greatest of all gains and the treasure beside which all lose their value, wherein established he is not disturbed by the fieriest assault of mental grief.
It is the putting away of the contact with pain, the divorce of the mind’s marriage with grief. The firm winning of this inalienable spiritual bliss is Yoga; it is the divine union. This Yoga is to be resolutely practised without yielding to any discouragement by difficulty or failure (until the release, until the bliss of Nirvana is secured as an eternal possession).
Abandoning without any exception or residue all the desires born of the desire-will and holding the senses by the mind so that they shall not run to all sides (after their usual disorderly and restless habit), one should slowly cease from mental action by a buddhi held in the grasp of fixity, and having fixed the mind in the higher Self one should not think of anything at all.
Whenever the restless and unquiet mind goes forth, it should be controlled and brought into subjection in the Self.
When the mind is thoroughly quieted, then there comes upon the Yogin stainless, passionless, the highest bliss of the soul that has become the Brahman.
Thus freed from stain of passion and putting himself constantly into Yoga, the Yogin easily and happily enjoys the touch of the Brahman which is an exceeding bliss.
The one whose self is in Yoga, sees the self in all beings and all beings in the self, he is equal-visioned everywhere.
He who sees Me everywhere and sees all in Me, to him I do not get lost, nor does he get lost to Me.
Chapter VI, 19-30
We want to stop something in order to recognize a moment of awakening. But, to stop something, there must be a stillness, both externally as well as internally.
Our only prayer is to be firm in our determination to give ourselves completely to the Buddha’sWay, so that no doubts arise however long the road seems to be.
To be light and easy in the four parts of our body, to be strong and undismayed in body and in mind.
To drive out both depressed feelings and distractions.
To be free from calamity, misfortune, harmful influences and obstructions.
Not to seek the Truth outside of ourselves, so we may instantly enter the right way.
To be unattached to all thoughts, that we may reach the perfectly clear bright mind of prajna wisdom and have immediate enlightenment on the great matter of birth and death.
Thereby we receive the transmission of the deep wisdom of the Buddhas to save all sentient beings who suffer in the round of birth and death.
Our further prayer is not to be extremely ill or to suffer at the time of departure.
To know its coming seven days ahead so that we may quiet the mind to abandon the body and be unattached to all things at the last moment, wherein we return to the Original Mind in the realm of no birth and no death, and merge infinitely into the whole universe to manifest as all things in their true nature and, with the great wisdom of the Buddhas, to awaken all beings to the Buddha Mind.
We offer this to all Buddhas and bodhisattva-mahasattvas of the past, present and future, in the ten quarters and to the Maha Prajnaparamita.
« It seems to me that we have ultimately to go beyond all forms of thought – even beyond the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, etc. All these belong to the world of « signs » — manifestations of God in human thought — but God himself, Truth itself, is beyond all forms of thoughts. All meditation should lead into silence, into the world of « non-duality », when all the differences – and conflicts – in this world are transcended – not that they are simply annuled, but that they are taken up into a deeper unity of being in which all conflicts are resolved – rather like colours being absorbed into pure white light, which contains all the colours but resolves their differences. »
« A vision of reality common to all the great religious traditions of both East and West is only realised when we pass beyond the external forms of religion and encounter the hidden depth in each religion, the mystical tradition which is at the heart of all genuine religion. As long as we remain on the level of external religion with its dualities of time and space, of subject and object, of good and evil, of truth and error, of God and Man, we shall never overcome the conflicts of religion or even of politics. It is only in the mystical tradition of each religion that we can rise above the dualities, neither confusing the opposites, nor separating them, but recognizing the mystery of the transcendent non-dual Reality, in which alone the answer to all problems can be found. »
« Advaita is an insight which transcends logic ; it is beyond all dualities of every kind. The rational mind is limited by his dualistic thought and is within those limits, but advaita is an insight beyond reason and logic ; it is pure awareness, pure light. I am using rational dualistic langage, but I am trying to point an experience which transcends thought. I feel it is this experience of avdaita with all its paradox which we have to seek as the very goal of life. »
When we sit down to meditate, we are trying to transcend our everyday consciousness, the consciousness used to transact ordinary business, the one used in the world’s marketplace as we go shopping, bring up our children, work in an office or in our business, clean the house, check our bank statements, and all the rest of daily living. That kind of consciousness is known to everyone, and without it we can’t function. It is our survival consciousness, and we need it for that. It cannot reach far enough or deep enough into the Buddha’s teachings, because these are unique and profound; our everyday consciousness is neither unique nor profound, just utilitarian.
In order to attain the kind of consciousness that is capable of going deeply enough into the teachings to make them our own and thereby change our whole inner view, we need a mind with the ability to remove itself from the ordinary thinking process. Attaining this sort of mind is only possible through meditation. There is no other way.
Meditation is therefore a means, and not an end in itself. It is a means to change the mind’s capacity in such a way that it can perceive entirely different realities from the ones we are used to. The recognition that meditation is a tool is important, because it is often wrongly considered to be an end in itself.
In Pali, meditation is called bhavana,”mind training” to be used for honing the mind until it becomes such a sharp tool that it cuts through everyday realities.
How to be whole in what I do? We always want to get rid of something. Each moment can become a moment of practice — The street can be a cloister — the subway, the cooking, all must become practice. We have no time, don’t let a moment pass without working spiritually.
No reveries, no conversations, no tracing out of the meaning of phantasies, contain this now, which belongs to a higher order of consciousness. The time-man in us does not know now. He is always preparing something in the future, or busy with what happened in the past. He is always wondering what to do, what to say, what to wear, what to eat, etc. He anticipates; and we, following him, come to the expected moment, and lo, he is already elsewhere, planning further ahead. This is becoming— where nothing ever is.
We must come to our senses to begin to feel now. We can only feel now by checking this time-man, who thinks of existence in his own way. Now enters us with a sense of something greater than passing-time. Now contains all time, all the life, and the aeon of the life. Now is the sense of higher space. It is not the decisions of the man in time that count here, for they do not spring from now. All decisions that belong to the life in time, to success, to business, comfort, are about ‘tomorrow’. All decisions about the right thing to do, about how to act, are about tomorrow. It is only -what is done in now that counts, and this is a decision always about oneself and with oneself, even although its effect may touch other people’s lives ‘tomorrow’. Now is spiritual. It is a state of the spirit, when it is above the stream of time-associations.
Spiritual values have nothing to do with time. They are not in time, and their growth is not a matter of time. To retain the impress of their truth we must fight with time, with every notion that they belong to time, and that the passage of days will increase them. For then it will be easy for us to think it is too late, to make the favourite excuse of passing-time.
The feeling of now is the feeling of certainty. In now passing-time halts. And in this halting of time one’s understanding has power over one. One knows, sees, feels in oneself, apart from all outer things; and above all, one is. This is the state of faith, as I believe was originally meant—the certain knowledge of something above passing-time. Faith is now.
What the time-man understands about faith is something quite different. Faith has to do with that which is alone in oneself and unknown to anyone else. ‘Every visible state, every temporal, every pragmatic approach to faith, is, in the end, the negation of faith’ (Karl Barth). All insight, all revelation, all illumination, all love, all that is “genuine, all that is real, lies in now—and in the attempt to create how we approach the inner precincts, the holiest part of life. For in time all things are seeking completion, but in now all things are complete.
So we must understand that what we call the present moment is not now, for the present moment is on the horizontal line of time, and now is vertical to this and incommensurable with it.
“I myself never expected to survive and become a teacher, for my determination to transcend samsara was much stronger than my concern for staying alive. All my efforts in all circumstances were directed toward a goal beyond life. I never allowed regrets about losing my life to distract me from my purpose. The desire to maintain my course on the path to liberation kept me under constant pressure and directed my every move. I resolved that if my body could not withstand the pressure, I would just have to die. I had already died so many countless times in the past that I was fed up with dying anyway. But were I to live, I desired only to realize the same Dhamma that the Buddha had attained. I had no wish to achieve anything else, for I had had enough of every other type of accomplishment. At that time, my overriding desire was to avoid rebirth and being trapped once more in the cycle of birth and death.
“The effort that I put forth to attain Dhamma can be compared to a turbine, rotating non-stop, or to a ‘Wheel of Dhamma’ whirling ceaselessly day and night as it cuts its way through every last vestige of the kilesas. Only at sleep did I allow myself a temporary respite from this rigorous practice. As soon as I woke up, I was back at work, using mindfulness, wisdom, faith, and diligence to root out and destroy those persistent kilesas that still remained. I persevered in that pitched battle with the kilesas until mindfulness, wisdom, faith and diligence had utterly destroyed them all. Only then could I ﬁnally relax. From that moment on, I knew for certain that the kilesas had been vanquished – categorically, never to return and cause trouble again. But the body, not having disintegrated along with the kilesas, remained alive.
“This is something you should all think about carefully. Do you want to advance fearlessly in the face of death, and strive diligently to leave behind the misery that’s been such a painful burden on your hearts for so long? Or do you want to persist in your regrets about having to die, and so be reborn into this miserable condition again? Hurry up and think about it! Don’t allow yourselves to become trapped by dukkha, wasting this opportunity – you’ll regret it for a long time to come.
“The battleﬁeld for conquering the kilesas exists within each individual who practices with wisdom, faith, and perseverance as weapons for ﬁghting his way to freedom. It is very counterproductive to believe that you have plenty of time left since you’re still young and in good health. Practicing monks should decisively reject such thinking. It is the heart alone that engenders all misjudgment and all wisdom, so you should not focus your attention outside of yourself. Since they are constantly active, pay close attention to your actions, speech, and thoughts to determine the kind of results they produce. Are they producing Dhamma, which is an antidote to the poisons of apathy and self-indulgence; or are they producing a tonic that nourishes the delusions that cause dukkha, giving them strength to extend the cycle of existence indeﬁnitely? Whatever they are, the results of your actions, speech, and thoughts should be thoroughly examined in every detail; or else, you’ll encounter nothing but failure and never rise above the pain and misery that haunt this world.”
Like an iceberg whose biggest and most important part remains submerged and hidden from sight, the human being’s most essential aspect lies mysteriously veiled beneath the mists of his illusory ordinary self.
And, because the desires and clamors of this perceptible little self are so noisy, he is impelled to notice only this small part of himself, totally unaware of the majesty of his Supreme Nature concealed behind all this wild uproar in him. To arrive at perceiving the huge and vital part of an iceberg covered from view, it is necessary to make the effort of plunging into the waters that surround the small exposed fragment.
Enlightenment reveals how little and insignificant is the visible aspect of the human being, but attaining enlightenment is not easy. Not only does it demand much patient struggle from the seeker but also, and above all, a profound and sustained sincerity.
Edward Salim Michael, The Law of attention
Subhuti asked: “Is perfect wisdom beyond thinking? Is it unimaginable and totally unique but nevertheless reaching the unreachable and attaining the unattainable?”
The Buddha replied: “Yes, Subhuti, it is exactly so. And why is perfect wisdom beyond thinking? It is because all its points of reference cannot be thought about but can be apprehended. One is the disappearance of the self-conscious person into pure presence. Another is the simple awakening to reality. Another is the knowing of the essenceless essence of all things in the world. And another is luminous knowledge that knows without a knower. None of these points can sustain ordinary thought because they are not objects or subjects. They can’t be imagined or touched or approached in any way by any ordinary mode of conciousness, therefore, they are beyond thinking.