I have continued to ponder upon how to approach writing part 2 of the Rebirth from the Cushion piece. There are many different angles and factors to consider, and the more I contemplate the deeper the interconnected web of signficances grows. I could just come out and give a few accounts from direct experience, but it would be without a context or background that gives the right elements of a model to frame the experiences, or a definitive way to express the difference between what is genuinely inner-experience of spiritual realities and what could be criticised as mere imagination and fancy. I have noticed that in many cases, those who write, or speak, often brilliantly and illuminatingly from their own experiences of consciousness beyond thinking are still mocked and doubted by the veiled bigotry of the ordinary mind and its submission to the hidden impulses and knee-jerk reactions of a wider, collective and furtive glee of mass opinion, asserting its self-appointed status as arbiter of truth. And when it comes to addressing the modern Dharma community sharply divided around this issue, having many prominent, respected, and intelligent voices, it seems that it’s important to have some weight behind my words so to speak, but without exceeding the scope of this format as a blog.
One of the biggest problems it seems, is the actual recognition of genuine inner-experience as opposed to adopting a conceptual outlook. Buddha Dharma, its words and concepts, has increasingly become the modern global lexicon for discussing meditation practice and experience at large. It appeals to us as modern thinkers precisely because of its incisive rational presentation. The down-side that appears to be abundantly evident throughout the many discussions taking place in the modern Dharma world, is that people mistake the appeal of its rationality for actual inner experience, and live in its ideas rather than its reality. Again it comes down to really, irreversibly, discovering the difference between awareness and thinking. Not just the difference, but awareness (for the sake of having a working model), as a completely independent experiential category. The recognition of awareness as the general field in which thought and countless other percepts arise and fade. In this regard, I am actually not a big fan of the word ‘mindful’, or ‘mindfulness‘, even as I have reluctantly used it from time to time to be understood. In fact I’m inclined to go back and edit a few instances to something that I feel conveys an experiential quality more effectively. It has increasingly become a broad catch-all phrase, co-opted into the mind’s penchant for concept, with much of the experiential juice getting squeezed out, mostly unnoticed, as a result. While many who faithfully practice mindfulness would probably feel put out by what’s being said here, and certainly, I don’t mean at all to be disparaging to people who receive genuine benefits from the practice, an honest assessment will reveal how much and how widely so many people are struggling to engage it effectively, constantly having to prop it up with comforting justifications and mental self-affirmation.
It amounts to fighting the mind with the mind.
As thinking creatures, the intensity and orientation to our thinking life, the degree to which we are completely surrounded by it in all its external appearances reflecting back at us its unending palate of wantings and intentions, has increased by orders of magnitude since the time mindfulness was first introduced as a technique. We have a lot more convolution, normal neurosis if you like, to navigate before direct impressions are independently ‘real’ for us. As such, the tools and techniques used, I believe, are in need of serious revision. They are stumbling now, and it’s not going to be any easier in the future, as our thinking life intensifies and densifies even further.
I’ve actually written many words in continuation of the Rebirth topic, but none I feel satisfied enough with to publish. Along with that, I have written a few more things about the future of technology and its effect on our future as human beings, as well as ways in which spiritual awareness and vision could direct its development, if there could be some genuinely realised engineer-saints, visionaries or yogis out there. Actually, since things are pretty much going to head the way they are technologically, regardless of our ‘status’ as human beings, the call for such people to be on the case has never been needed more.
Just the other day I started reading Rudolf Steiner again. It’s been a very long time since I’ve dived into his work, and in the past it has been primarily the stuff of his later work and explorations. This time I’ve started reading ‘The Philosophy of Freedom‘ (other translations render freedom ‘Spiritual Activity’). This seems incredibly fitting for me right now as I explore ways to express experiential insight, and the problems in meeting materialistic thought. It’s one of his first works which basically sets out the foundations for his methodical and rational approach to exploring the experiential nature of thinking (ie. a detailed ‘inner’ observation of its processes), the experiential nature of being a human being, and the question of our spiritual freedom. Anyone, especially now that in the West most have gotten their vocabulary and spiritual education from the East, particularly Buddhism, if you are able to read openly, without rigid attachment to concept or language-idea associations, are able to recognise when the ‘breath’ of experience lives though the words, who want to explore more deeply than pop-Dharma, Rudolf Steiner is an incredibly rewarding read. Like reading Nisargadatta Maharaj, though almost diametrically opposite in conception of spiritual realities, reading Steiner can at times suddenly stop your mind in its tracks and open up spontaneous spaces of awareness, opening, and vision. Highly recommended.
Finally, tomorrow morning I will be going back to Guang Jue Monastery for 4 days over the weekend to write that piece for Vantage Magazine mentioned in Emergent Buddhism in China. Very much looking forward to it, and over this weekend learning more about the local Chan tradition and its practices. I’ll see, if it feels right, if I can make a blog update from there. Can’t wait! :)