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Posts Tagged ‘experience’

For me, Nisargadatta Maharaj is an incredible inspiration. Like many before me, I have been touched deeply by the teachings and insights of this remarkable man.  I am That, a collection of dialogues with his students, is free from cultural and religious trappings. The wisdom he expounds is stripped bare of all that is unnecessary. If we lived in a world were we could only possess a single book, you would surely find a copy of I am That in my bag. I’ve read and reread this book a number of times, and decided this last time to pull out a number of passages that I find helpful for navigating this crazy existence. I plan to share a few of them over the coming months.

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Questioner: At what point does one experience reality?

Nisargadatta Maharaj: Experience is of change, it comes and goes. Reality is not an event, it cannot be experienced. It is not perceivable in the same way as an event is perceivable. If you wait for an event to take place, for the coming of reality, you will wait forever, for reality neither comes nor goes. It is to be perceived, not expected. It is not to be prepared for and anticipated. But the very longing and search for reality is the movement, operation, action of reality. All you can do is to grasp the central point, that reality is not an event and does not happen and whatever happens, whatever comes and goes, is not reality. See the event as event only, the transient as transient, experience as mere experience and you have done all you can. Then you are vulnerable to reality, no longer armored against it, as you were when you gave reality to events and experiences. But as soon as there is some like or dislike, you have built a screen.

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Why do you do what you do? Seriously. Have you fully examined your daily life recently? Are you giving your greatest gifts to the world? Or are you living in fear of failure, disappointment, rejection and the like?

I ask these questions of myself constantly. Since my return to the U.S., I feel they are all the more relevant. There is a collective energy in the U.S. that fuels a feeling of needing to be something or someone. While I cannot completely separate this energy from my own conditioned habits and tendencies, after spending a lot of time abroad the past 3 years, its clear to me that this environment is a significant challenge to one who decides to reject societal norms and attempt to live a life based on his or her own experience.

This begs the next question- what is a true experience? Some might say a purely sensual experience, receiving input from the outside and not modifying it.  Science holds this view to a degree. Something can be measured, tested, and repeatable results found. Therefore in the view of science, an apple on the table is the same for you and me and exists independently of both of us. It weighs so much, has a certain volume and a number of characteristics that can be measured.  From another standpoint however, that apple does not even exist without an observer.  When the so called ‘world’ or outside meets your senses, an often overlooked part of the process is that you also meet these sensations with your conceptions.  Conceptions being defined as the complex structure of thought and memory that has accumulated over your lifetime.   This meeting between sensation and conception occurs at the level of perception.  A simple example highlighting this is two people having a highly different reaction to an approaching dog. One perceives a cuddly creature they want to pet, the other perceives a dangerous animal to be weary of.  More subtle examples include varied perceptions of the aforementioned apple, or simply a response to a word or phrase in our language. This has all been a long-winded way to say that not only the environment we’re in, but also our deep-seeded conditioning and habits play a huge role as to how we perceive the world.

Many might think that to truly give their gifts, they need to be in an environment where they are helping the less-fortunate or sacrificing comforts of life to server a higher purpose. This is a great excuse to remain in the realm of not-changing anything. It doesn’t matter if you’re a corporate executive, a stay-at-home mom, a laborer, or a a million other labels we have for ourselves. How are you meeting the world? Are you deeply examining these hidden tendencies and habits?

What if you don’t know what your greatest gift is? It’s the same for each of us – Being Fully Alive. If you are fully alive in each moment, you are LOVE, and emanate love.  This does push the question up a level to “How does one actualize being fully alive” – and this is the very topic I want to unravel over time for myself and share this journey with my readers. 

After all, is there anything more important than this?

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This year I decided to do something a little different on New Year’s eve. I sat on my cushion. Literally.

IMG_0802I actually spent much of my week on my cushion. On Monday I traveled to the Zen Monastery in Crestone Colorado to participate in a 3-day New Year’s seminar where Abbot Roshi-Baker led a seminar on the teachings of Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki Roshi was Roshi-Baker’s teacher and the first teacher of Soto Zen Buddhism in the West.

Generally, most Buddhists are well asleep by midnight, but the 31’st was special – not only was it the final day of the decade, there was also a full moon. I participated in an ancient Buddhist ceremony which consisted of ringing the densho bell 108 times leading up to midnight, as the sangha members practiced zazen (sitting meditation) intermixed with chanting and bowing. We finished with a toast of sake in the kitchen (yes Buddhists can drink!) and as I slowly walked to my room the bright full moon overhead gave me a few minutes to reflect on the transformative days I just experienced.

As many of you know, I spent a week at the Zen Monastery in April prior to leaving for Asia. That week I undertook my first intensive meditation retreat and was introduced to the formal practices of Zen Buddhism and the teachings of Richard Baker Roshi. Despite leaving the country for almost 7 months, returning to this sacred place high in the mountains above the San Luis valley I felt as though I had never left. This week’s seminar was much less formal than a sesshin, which is silent and grueling physically. However, we did sit for 3-4 hours a day, in the morning, evening and prior to Roshi Baker’s discussion periods. There were about 22 of us attending, some full-time residents of the monastery, others of us very new to the practice. What I enjoyed most about this week was time spent talking to others about the Dharma teachings of Baker Roshi. During breaks and transitions I would often find myself walking in the woods or sitting quietly in the main hall with another, talking opening of our experience in relation to the Dharma teachings and themes that were being developed and explored throughout the week. To connect soul to soul with another person, without boundaries, ego and fear, even if only for a few moments, is for me, one of the most precious and beautiful aspects of existence. As I rebuild my life in Boulder, my few days in Crestone helped create a new intention in my life; that is directing my life in such a way that it supports my practice. Practice being the craft of Buddhism, learning to relate to an interdependent, momentary existence.Teachers-Winter_ZENDO

It is often difficult to explain the teachings and my experiences of the week due to the nature of them often being very individual and momentary, but I would like to comment on a few tangible things that I am taking away with me.

First, this week we developed and explored a topic called body fullness, or perceptual immediacy. This is essentially an ancient yogic practice of giving order to the mind through the body. The job of our consciousness is to make the world predictable, and to give us a sense of continuity (ego, existence, memory, etc). But consciousness alone can take you into a place of idealism, fantasy and untruth. Consciousness demands order in a world that is not moving towards entropy. Our practice in this Yogacara/Buddhist manner is to embody teachings, to embody truth, to understand the bodily aspects of every state of mind. This is using a concept or intention to help the body, through the mind, to bring order to the body. Eventually a monumental shift can occur, where you are no longer living in self-referential or continuity-based thinking but finding identity in your immediate existence.

Chew on that for a while 🙂 For me, this is in alignment with the direction my practice was taking towards the end of my travels – getting back into the body, or “establishing a mutual body” with the world, exploring my chakras and intricate workings of my physicality through breath, silence and stillness.

Adjacent to this teaching is the effort to identify ourselves in the world as  activities, not entities. We (especially in the West) tend to view ourselves as distinct entities, separate from everything and everyone else, acting upon or being IMG_0759acted against. A very simple example of this is the use of chopsticks or drinking tea from cups with no handles in Buddhist cultures – the chopsticks serve as an extension of the hands and therefore aid in the activity of eating. As for tea cups, most Asians use both hands, holding the tea cup at the chest first and then raising the glass to their mouths to drink. There is no entity drinking tea, there is simply the action (imagine your experience the moment you raise a mug of tea to your mouth). I don’t think I’m doing a great job describing this – but to return to the chopsticks – we see food, we see a table, we see a fork and spoon and we see ourselves. We then tend to act as an entity to move and manipulate these entities in order to get the food into our stomachs. What I’m trying to do is view the entire process as an interdependent, simultaneously inseparable and yet unique experience of eating.

To take the above to a relationship level – if you relate to someone only through a mental process (as an entity), they will feel contained. We all know what this feels like. Can you relate to someone bodily? I’m not talking about only physical touch, but with your entire being (senses, emotions, posture, etc. Can you relate without boundaries and in the particular moment of existence? This is the beginning of love.

I think that is enough for today. I will end with a quote Baker-Roshi gave us that I thought was quite beautiful ( I can’t recall the author):

"I enter the broken world through the paths of love”

Happy New Year everyone.

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