Anchored in the Infinite

PUre land.jpg

For a long time, I was very hostile to the notion of worship. While I had embraced spirituality, and had no doubt as to the existence of divine beings all manifesting from the supreme source of The Way, the notion of worshipping any of this made me feel uncomfortable. I saw it as a form of subjugation and belittlement. In a very Zen way, I reasoned ‘If we are all already God, then what is there to worship? I would just be worshipping an externalized form of the selfless self from which I emerge – and wouldn’t that be delusion?’

To a limited degree, the answer to this is ‘yes.’ But that is not the point. As I came to realize through the concept of ‘expedient means’ posited by the Buddha in The Lotus Sutra, a practice or teaching is only important insofar as the effect it has on the consciousness of one who receives it, or puts it into action. If you want to know the efficacy of a thing, look at the fruit it bears. Don’t get distracted by differences in methodology – just observe the results they enable people to obtain.

So what benefits does worship enable one to obtain? One of the biggest obstacles to enlightenment is the ego. The ego is the part of us that always says ‘ME FIRST – FUCK EVERYONE ELSE!’ It is the part of us that consider our own needs, being, and consciousness to be greater, and more important than that of any other being. These beliefs may not always be conscious – but if we look at the way these unconscious beliefs govern our lives, we will begin to see the ego’s trademark influence.

However, in worship, prayer, and devotion, this mentality is rigorously opposed. When we stop focusing on our own importance, and searchingly admire that which exceeds us in scale, greatness, age, wisdom, and goodness – anchoring our thoughts in infinity, instead of within our own limited span of concerns –then we begin to loosen the bonds of self-attachment. If we make a habit of anchoring our minds in such away, we can eradicate our selfishness altogether.

Many of us will already have had some conception of this feeling, spiritual or atheist. Many are drawn to the sweetness of relationships, savouring the selflessness we momentarily taste, when we love someone so much, we will place them before ourselves. Others feel the same way when confronted with suffering, the vastness of space, or the immensity of unfathomable mountain ranges.

But, even the best of lovers are fallible – even the longest-lasting of mountains and worlds are essentially destructible. So, focusing on that which is indestructible, on that which is infallible, and beyond all doubt, we find something eternally reliable, that can never let us down, for it will never go away. Never there, yet always there. Ever lost, yet always found. There is no subjugation in this – only the subjugation of the ego mind – the false self. The arguments my intellect had put up a barrier against worship was just my ego trying to defend itself. Ignorance can sound very clever and reasonable when it wants to.

So, what is worship? Anchoring yourself in the infinite. It is only when we are able to comprehend our own tiny fragility, that we can become a vessel for the full power and resource of the universe.

Meditation: Seeing the Mountain

 

Open

When I last saw my father  and told him I had become a meditation teacher, he said:

“Meditation? So you teach people to sit still and do nothing? What good is that?”

In fact, Chinese mystics from the three jewels of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism have long referred to meditation as ‘sitting still doing nothing.” They recognized the immense treasure to be had from stillness and emptiness.

Our culture has always encouraged movement over stillness; excess over emptiness; intellectualism over transcendence; and opinions over observations. So, to most of us, emptiness and stillness sound like strange and frightening concepts. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we associate stillness and emptiness with death, and so avoid them as much as possible.

But they’re right. Meditation is death. We use it to kill the egoistic/selfish mind that is the source of all our suffering. Because people have identified themselves with their egos for so long, they think that, were they to be truly egoless, that would kill them. But only when we are free from our concepts of self, do we have the freedom to really become ourselves, without definitions, distinctions, attachments or delusions binding us, and keeping us restricted. As one translator of the Tao Te Ching has it:

“If you do not forget yourself,

Then how can you become yourself?”

Let me draw an example from my own life. Where I live in Wales, we are blessed with beautiful countryside, amazing mountains, and dramatic skylines.

On a bad day, when my ego mind is calling the shots, and I am lacking in inner peace or stillness, all of that natural beauty might as well not be there. I get encumbered by my thoughts, and, as a result, I am afflicted with perceptual tunnel vision. A phoenix could fly before me, or a dragon sprout from beneath my feet, but it would’t matter. Like an overflowing venue, my mind is already too packed with thoughts to allows anything else in. The dragons and phoenixes will have to wait.

However, if I am at my best, and have achieved inner peace and stillness within, then all is bliss. Not only am I able to relish these mountains and landscapes in all their beauty and wonder, I feel them, I become them. Such is the state of receptivity thanks to my emptiness that I can perceive everyone and everything with the utmost perceptivity. Boundaries between self and not-self disappear. All is unified. All is one.

So, emptiness is the difference between seeing the mountain and being the mountain. Try as you might, you won’t be able to eat one on a full stomach – how much less so a full mind!

Poem: Tea and Clay

Teapot

Tea and clay
Beautiful, nourishing, revitalizing, and enlightening.
The gift of a thousand life times.
So much potency in a single sip –
the whole universe condensed into a moment of sweetness.
Looking at the mountains.
As sun sinks behind it,
tea bathes my throat in a pond of lost reflections.

The Mind – A Killing and Life Giving Sword

Samurai

The mind is the only obstacle to reality
It is also the gateway to reality

In Zen Buddhism, the mind is often referred to as being both a Life-Giving Sword, and a Death-Giving Sword. Though there is a great deal of depth to this analogy, in essence, it means that our mind is both our greatest ally, and our most dangerous opponent.

When we are not in control of our mind, and are beset by delusion and confusion, our minds become Death-Giving Swords. They chop up reality, and keep us separate from it, turning everything into tiny quanta of irreconcilable facts. Division becomes apparent everywhere – but nowhere more so than within our minds. When the mind functions like this, it keeps us divorced from reality, and leaves sorrow and discontent in its wake.

But I must explain to you what I mean by Reality. Reality is not an agglomeration of facts about the observable universe; nor is it necessarily something esoteric and strange. Reality is a purity of consciousness, in which there is no longer any separation between the experience and the experiencer – just an infinite, all-pervading awareness.

For instance, two days ago, I was walking down by one of my favorite stretches of river. I was so happy, so in tune with my environment, that I was completely unaware of myself. It was like I was invisible, or had ceased to exist. Rather than being a singular thing, I was a perfect river of consciousness, merrily uniting with everything else.

So what is reality? Reality is Communion – not Isolation.

To achieve it, we need to the Life-Giving Sword, that cuts away confusion, conditioning, and uproots all the weeds of suffering, that choke and obscure the original pure mind.

So start practicing sword-fighting, and use that weapon to cut away all the prevents you from being true to yourself.