It was back in early 2006 when I first started to explore what is somewhat vaguely called 'the spiritual aspect of our existence'. I say vague because by its very nature any definition of 'spiritual' is only approximate or tangential. I was finding my way after the rug had been puled out from under me and Findhorn Foundation (FF) Experience Week (FX) quickly led me to Zen Buddhism. How I ended up doing FX is a whole other story but it's fair to say that the eyebrows of a number of friends were raised. I had been what might be called a rationalist fundamentalist and the FF was out there floopy - woo woo. In practice though that woo woo would be a swift gate to wu (wu Chinees or mu Japanese). And it was in that period of fairly rapid shift when my friend John Kennedy recommended The Doors of Perception by Aldus Huxley. I read it with interest and my recollection is that the concepts fitted with much else I was studying although I knew that the chemical way to adjust what Huxley referred to as the 'reducing valve of the mind' was not for me. No, my path would be zazen. (And zazen has been my way from that time to this.) The Doors of Perception has sat unread in my library since that time. So then, it was interesting to read a quote of Huxley in a work colleague's email:
“To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness - to be aware of it and yet remain in a condition to survive as an animal. Our goal is to discover that we have always been where we ought to be. Unhappily we make the task exceedingly difficult for ourselves."
I responded that Huxley captures it well and that I recall Meister Eckhart is quoted as below by D.T Suzuki in a chapter titled ‘A little point and satori’ in his book Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist"The union of the soul with God is far more inward than that of the soul and the body… Now, I might ask, how stands it with the soul that is lost in God? Does the soul find herself or not? To this I will answer as it appears to me, that the soul finds herself in the point where every rational being understands itself with itself. Although it sinks in the eternity of the divine essence, yet it can never reach the ground. Therefore God has left a little point wherein the soul turns back upon itself and finds itself, and knows itself to be a creature."
And as I also said in my response I have investigated this quite deeply over the years. The rug pulled out from under me had left me one way or another with little choice. Now what is tricky to convey concisely here is how the terms self, soul, God, creature and awareness might be understood. It is here that mu the first koan in the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate) sprang up for me and still does. Because in some ways as Huxley (among others) points out that we have always been where we ought to be, that is to say that mu is clear, it is yet also hiding in plain sight. We are conditioned, dependently originated and deeply connected. Whilst constantly in flux (indeed we are that flux) there is that which sustains and there is a movement between the absolute (the unborn) and the relative (of everyday life). Not nothing but no-thing, form and emptiness mutually revealing. That of course is all very well but do I remain in playful samadhi? Nope! And so here I remember the inspiration for the title of this blog- Case 5 in the Mumonkan - Kyōen's "Man up a tree". Now I've interpreted (or imagined) this koan as pointing to a number of aspects of my life - my Buddha nature and my everyday interactions. And in particular a bit like Kyōen when the rug was pulled from under him what was I to do, how would I put one foot in front of the other? That is to say with much of what I'd thought I could rely upon as who and what I was shattered, what place in the world and what place the world in me could I find? Painful as those times were the gift was nothing less than the flowering of an understanding which surpassed anything I would have come to I think had the rug remained. There would be other challenges too, most notably the Red Thread koan. And here I return to my love, my DC who has been with me on the journey of my life for thirty years. He is a most wonderful man, the finest of heart and mind. And vicissitudes or not I'm grateful that we have always been where we ought to be - warp and weft weaving our life together.
"To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness - to be aware of it and yet remain in a condition to survive as an animal." I sort of see this as the warp and weft of form and emptiness - our Buddha nature. I've tried to take care not to grasp for enlightenment as a salvation but rather to stand as a dear friend says - on shifting sand with one foot on a rock. And I very much doubt that Kyōen's experience upon hearing a stone strike bamboo will be even approximated in my awareness. I'm still far too 'intellectual', too 'in my head' I see that little point with my rational mind. But, I see also that the years have deepened early experiences. Experiences where might I say the point became at least seen through a glass darkly and perhaps not so darkly. And I'm as caught up in my dramas as ever! The birds leave no trace in the sky yet not I. 🤷
It's enriching to work with colleagues and good to be able to stand on that rug whilst remembering - shifting sands and one foot on the rock. At times I've wondered this past winter if I'd come to the end of my relationship with the Buddha Dharma; the challenges have once more seemed immense and so intense that I've have to let formal sitting go for a while. But the email exchange referred to above triggered writing this post and in writing the depth of the Dharma is remembered and the Dimond shines.
Homage to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And blessings to John Kennedy as he lives the later stages of his terminal illness. His light is one of the warmest.