Threads from the Whole.

Within the context of this school or that, the development, experience, and emerging insights of meditation and other practices are handled, described and discussed in hugely contrasting ways, with a language that can be heavy with the jargon particular to each. It can be alienating to those who are either new to it all, or those who are comprehensively steeped within the framework of a particular tradition, but with little knowledge or ability to grasp how it may (or may not) compare with others. It’s not that the jargon used is flawed, wrong, or unhelpful. On the contrary, in the training I received, the language that had developed as a result of the collaborative efforts in mapping inner experiences was incredibly enriching, enlightening, and profound with regards to the various aspects that make up a complete and thorough experience-based practice.

In approach, experience comes first. It’s primary. To see and know for yourself, independently of intellectual speculation or belief. Apply the method, which in this case happened to be something completely free of any kind of visualisation, so that the mind and its imaginings are not actively invoked at all. Free of any kind of belief or pre-conceived notions, indeed no belief or precept, or ethical position, or intention of any kind is required at all for experience to arise. Thus, from the very first method of meditation that is taught, a body of experiences common to the first phases emerges, with a general sense and feeling that underscores it. Then, as a group this sense and feeling was explored directly, ‘tuned into’ as it were, as the inner object of practice and from this a whole language to describe and communicate it would come together, which often opened up all sorts of new and exciting inner discoveries in practice. It was emphasised by my teacher, a model without experience too easily becomes dogma, like an idea or concept you then decide to subscribe to or not. But experience without a model is an undifferentiated chaos, in which we can easily get lost. A good example of this are the many cases of novice meditators inadvertently stumbling upon experiences for which they’ve been given no context for, and react with all sorts of confusion and sometimes much worse.

As the method started to yield genuine inner-experience the simultaneous relativity to, and importance of, a model of consciousness to help describe and convey these experiences allowed us the sheer wonder and marvel of really seeing how the same kind of experiences have been tracked, traced, and described by the meditators, practitioners and highly realised luminaries of all the various great traditions, and the varying significance and import each ascribed to them. Even the greatest highly enlightened sages have disagreed on pretty fundamental stuff. Yet such disagreements from a purely experiential standpoint, in no way reduces the significance, or belittles the far-reaching realisations of any genuinely realised master. After all, the map is not the terrain. The true nature of our being, existence, reality, both relative and ultimate are a great Mystery that speculative reason will never completely grasp, despite the beautifully profound and insightful models we have been entrusted with to guide the way from our history. When I say mystery I mean it, not in the rational sense that we’ve become all too accustomed to, in that it’s simply a problem to solve and find explanation for, but mystery that is forever Ineffable; when coming into experiential contact with it we are filled with wonder and awe, our minds let go of ‘needing an answer’ and we find ourselves extended and enlightened by the sheer majesty and unfathomable depths of it.

However, as is the case with any kind of group endeavour, spiritual or not, the language at times becomes a little too entrenched, and experiences could only be understood or given context in its own terms alone, alienating for anyone outside. It’s difficult to avoid, and not entirely a bad thing, in the same way that any scientific discipline comes with its jargon and language, and relies on it to be as clear and definitive as possible to others within the same sphere. But all too often, the language becomes co-opted away from the actual experience towards the mere idea of it, which may or may not retain an intuitive thread, but nevertheless eventually becomes further and further removed. Or, if not removed, rather than opening and enlightening as a good model and map should in guiding the seeker on their way, it shuts off possibilities, it encloses in unwitting conceptualisations, and lends itself to lazy usage and abuse, and becomes the bedfellow for a spiritual identity and character for one to wear…

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And so, a few topics that have been floating around.

A detailed illustration of subtle anatomy.

Enlightenment, not always a helpful word…

Some of the topics I have been pondering upon are quite related to what’s written above, such as discussing the word ‘Enlightenment’, and how it has become saddled with a whole raft of assumptions and significance that serve to create all sorts of confusion rather than clarity, and is best reserved to be used in a very general or poetic sense. For despite common notions, enlightenment is not an ‘either/or’ proposition, and given such relativity and radically different views among even the most highly realised masters of all time, there is not only one way to be ‘enlightened’.

Networked to within an inch of our lives…

Another topic, relates to the implications of our current way of life. Our compulsion to be networked and interconnected, and the deepest most unacknowledged and unconscious drives behind this insatiable compulsion. What it says about us right now as a race, and the current nature of the human condition, and also where it’s heading into the future.

Experiential knowledge, beyond psychological and ethical discourse…

This again circles back to the importance of direct experiential knowledge of inner-realities, for, apart from a purely psychological and ethical discourse and language about our inner-life, that overwhelmingly constitutes and dominates the discussion in the global community of committed meditation practitioners, there are many considerations that are completely ignored with regards to our subtle-constitution, subtle anatomy, how it is perceived and accounted for, and the impact that our way of life is having on it compared to our not so distant past. There are many profound implications that are being completely missed, in terms of how our intensified relationship to sensory life, and how our current environment both material and mental, has quite dramatically changed our subtle constitution.

Evolution. Dharma 2.0?

With regard to this, all the great traditions that have given us our spiritual history, have come from an age that pre-dates many of the scientific discoveries that have been made, especially since the Renaissance and onwards to now. In particular Evolution, which now takes its place as a core element of scientific cannon but is still largely ignored, apart from a few notable exceptions, in the current spiritual discourse. Or it’s given a superficial gloss as being a way to describe ones general progress in practice. But we are now facing a kind of crisis of meaning, in the way we have driven the direction of our lives as a race, and despite the wonderful fact that the profound insights and knowledge of our predecessors in spiritual practice have left us a priceless legacy, more available to more people than ever before in history, it remains that we face a huge wall of global confusion and fragmented understanding, and a mind overly glutted on reason and its material outlook. For, sadly, it is now, whether we like it or not, a legacy. An age that has passed.

This parallels the time of the Buddha, and the profound and far-reaching significance of his achievement. The spiritual efficacy and understanding from the extremely ancient Vedic age, (when we were, it could be described as, ‘proto-mental’) had become lost in a confusing mass of ritual and sacrifice, in a language that was no longer understood and did not accord with the ‘modern-mind’ of the time and how it had developed, and was still largely the domain of a select few in an elite class. He was not the only sage of his time, and not the only one to be… enlightened. But it was in his very radical, new formulation, central to the truly great revelation that, you or I or anyone, though their own self-effort, can be Free. Now, the Dharma must also change, it must also seriously account for the fact of evolution observed not only in nature, out there, but also in the intensification of our mental life, a hard and opaque wave of materially-bound consciousness that has increasingly taken the physical domain as the only possible reality, something the Buddha himself did not have to face. It needs to apply the deepest powers of its Insight practices to its hidden processes working deeply in the Mind in order to remain, survive, and continue to guide seekers to the highest heights of realisation and enlightenment as it has done so in the past.

Buddhist relief from the Dazu Rock Carvings in China, built sometime between the years 1177 and 1249, Mara, Lord of Death and Desire, clutches the Wheel of Reincarnation, which outlines the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation. source: wiki commons

Rebirth, an experiential account…

Finally, the topic of Rebirth is a juicy one it seems, in the contemporary Dharma world, and it’s surprising to me just how much it has become a contentious issue in the west. There is an incredible, very learned and insightful discussion over on the fantastic Buddhist Geeks site that I had serendipitously stumbled upon while contemplating rebirth as a topic, having not checked in on the site for quite a while. This is a topic and discussion that I intend to weigh in on, again from the perspective of direct experience, but will need some time to further unpack and unravel the thread. It seems to have been turned into a very complicated issue.

Titled: Rebirth from the Cushion, it is by Duncan Barford, @duncanbarford, “a long-term practitioner of vipassana meditation, and an independent writer interested in the interface between Buddhist practice and western occult traditions.” Firstly it sets the scene of the debate as it has unfolded on the Buddhist Geeks network, referring to the work and positions of Stephen Batchelor, read or listen to: The Buddhist Atheist, Charles Tart, read or listen to: An Evidence Based Spirituality for the 21st Century, and Dennis Hunter, read: A Difficult Pill: The Problem with Stephen Batchelor and Buddhism’s New Rationalists, with a staggering 339 comments as of writing this. The post is in-depth and well-presented, and you’ll need to get your concentration on to get into it, but it’s well worth it. From the post follows a fantastic discussion in the comments between Duncan and a regular Buddhist Geek C4Chaos, and a couple of other posters, and a link to an interview with Adyashanti who apparently recounts his own experience with past life impressions at Sounds True, @soundstrue (I’m yet to read it myself).

And again, it all points back to the primacy and importance of direct experience, and maintaining the methods by which we can See for ourselves and Know for ourselves. The very fact that such a centrally important part of the Dharma, not only of Buddhism but of many traditions (many western Buddhists are routinely bad at remembering or acknowledging that they don’t have a monopoly on genuine meditation practice and discussion) has fallen into such questioning, and that there is a very loud and noticeable absence of western Buddhist practitioners coming forward with genuine experiences of past-life recall in their practices, which speaks volumes…

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About ashok z

Currently living in Shanghai, freelancing both as a model and journalist. Committed student, instructor, and practitioner of Meditation over the past 16 years. Patron of inner-life, casually alarmed observer of global trends, and seriously irreverent. Or is that irreverently serious? Either way, one inevitably to follow the other.

6 comments

  1. “The Map is not the Territory.” When what you are saying is that it is very much part of the territory – using very many words to do so. Your emphasis on experience cannot be faulted. But it needs to be questioned anyway.

    In my experience, we need experts to help us (they are part of our experience). But all too often these experts let us down – often in spectacular ways.

    Meditation is a valuable practice, and I just spent some time doing it early this morning. But as anyone with the slightest acquaintance with me can testify, I have as many faults as a dog has fleas.

    I will now have to spend some time following up on your links. Thank you for them.

  2. Thanks Hal, yeah… actually edited the post a bit, got rid of my rambling at the beginning :) I think I see what you’re saying in terms of how working with the models impacts on experience and visa versa. As an analogy, it can have its limits. Let me use the analogy a bit differently. You’re coming to Shanghai, and before you come you find the best map available and study it closely, telling you everything you need to know about how to navigate your way around. It’s not the same as actually being there, walking the streets, seeing the sights, smelling the smells (there are a lot of those!), and exploring the streets directly.

    It’s a bit different to saying that you’ve studied the map and believe in it, so you don’t actually have to come to Shanghai any more!

  3. Pingback: Evolution and the Bodhisattva. « The Beyond Within

  4. Pingback: Radical Inquiry: Rebirth from the Cushion Redux Part 1. « The Beyond Within

  5. Blood-Ink-Diary

    Ashok, what a wonderful post. Really enjoyed reading! keep penning. Cheers.

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