Musings

April 2021 Musings

This Eli Wiesel quote spurred this train of musings: “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” That opposites don’t exist in the world despite our thinking that they do is blindingly obvious to anyone paying attention. But since most of us experience the world through conditioned mind, the basic structure of which is dualistic, thinking in opposites tends to be our default mode of perception.
 
Within the conditioned world of opposites, every “IS” can become a point of division, every subject a wedge to split the world into love/hate, like/dislike, us/them. Whether the content is banal or profound, we can be lost in a conversation about this or that, attention riveted on an infinitely recursive decision tree. My mind is always busy with apparent choices. If I pick up cereal box X at the supermarket, I wonder if cereal Y would be better. If I say yes to a social engagement, I am immediately entertaining the reasons why I should have said no. If I am feeling irritable, I’m told the right-spiritual-person should not feel that way. If I am making an end-of-life decision for my pet, I’m tortured by indecision. Small wonder that we feel tense, conflicted, at variance with existence when we swim in an ocean of ceaseless contradiction.
 
The Perfect Way is only difficult for those who pick and choose;
Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear.
Make a hairbreadth difference, and Heaven and Earth are set apart;
If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.
The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease;

—Hsin Hsin Ming
 
We have a saying in this practice that “All of life is acceptable to Life.” Every this, here, now is part of existence simply because it is this, here, now. Unlike the polarity of a duality, life is discrete, immediate, AND an inclusive continuum. How does this insight help us on the spiritual path?
 
The First Noble Truth says suffering is. We can all agree! That there must be more to existence than just continuous suffering lures us into spiritual practice. But the uninterrupted happiness of mystical poetry is not always, or even often, our moment-by-moment experience of the path. Rather, flashes of sunlight, glimpses of rainbows, glimmers of peace are interspersed between physical pain, emotional turbulence, and mental agitation. To live is to scale the heights and plumb the valleys of human experience. Being spiritual is to accept suffering and the absence of suffering as the continuum they are. The inevitable consequence of believing suffering/happiness are opposites is to be vulnerable to the vortex of self-loathing in which something is wrong with me because I cannot choose to be happy. Sincere practitioners “feel bad” for falling once more for a karmic pattern, for acting out of conditioning, for getting identified with egocentricity. Going beyond self-hate is fundamental to our practice precisely because it helps us dodge the bullet of taking the blame for having an ego.
 
In conditioned thinking, we cannot be Goodness if we are also egocentric. But through sustained practice there is a growing awareness that the Goodness that is us is not negated by the identification we sometimes fall for. In life, it’s not good or bad, this or that. It’s this AND this.
 
If this and this and this and this is the structure of life, then the sensation of feeling conflicted by two things that seem opposed to each other or impossible together can be a signal of attention on conditioned mind.  In the world of this and this:
 
It is possible to feel the thrill of spring as I grieve for the person I just lost to COVID.
It is possible to discipline a child and  be kind.
It is possible to be at complete odds with my sibling and love them.
It is possible to take care of myself and not be selfish.
It is possible to miss a commitment and be loyal to my practice.
It is possible to be in the mystery of Life and still “know” what needs to be done in this moment.
It is possible to be a sincere practitioner and get identified with ego.
 
Awareness contains in inclusion what ego resists through division. Contradiction is illusory, a conceptual construct that dissolves in the reality of thisherenow—not the illusion versus reality of conditioned mind, but the absence of a dualistic orientation in the presence of an encompassing awareness.  In the words of Alan Watts:
 
Our practical projects have run into confusion again and again through failure to see that individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not exist in or by themselves. This is not to say only that things exist in relation to one another, but that what we call “things” are no more than glimpses of a unified process. Certainly, this process has distinct features which catch our attention, but we must remember that distinction is not separation. Sharp and clear as the crest of the wave may be, it necessarily “goes with” the smooth and less featured curve of the trough.
 
Thus for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumphs and tragedies based on the resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white.
 
The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe — only the “single glance” of our spotlight, narrowed attention, which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate “things,” must somehow be opened to the full vision.
 
To be able to identify with ALL That IS, we must be open to ALL that is—the on and the off pulse, the interval and the note, the mystery and the faith. This means that attention is on awareness, for awareness is the continuity context within which all duality ceases and all differences exist.
 
This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That.
—James Broughton
 
In gasshō
ashwini