Wisdom Traditions

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

“Settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do. Say “I am now with myself,” and just sit with yourself. After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored. This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored! Why is this so? It is so because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction… We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things. How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves.”

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray, (Darton, Lomgman & Todd Ltd., 1970) p. 68

Settling in the Heart

Aerialist Philippe Petite opens dedication of St.John The Divine. Credit: Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times, 1982

Aerialist Philippe Petite opens dedication of St.John The Divine. Credit: Fred R. Conrad / The New York Times, 1982

The Beauty We Love, is one of my favorite places to visit on the web. There you will find a remarkable collection of passages and poetry of astonishing depth and insight. Earlier today I came across the following quotation from by Saint Theophan the Recluse, (1815–1894) a monk and ordained saint of the Russian Orthodox Church:

You must descend from
your head into your heart.
At present your thoughts of God
are in your head. And God Himself is,
as it were, outside you, and
so your prayer and other spiritual
remain exterior. Whilst you are still
in your head,
thoughts will not easily be subdued but
will always be whirling about, like snow
in winter or
clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

Not only is this a clear picture of our conscious intellect in operation, it also indicates a possibility of perceiving the world in an entirely new way. Usually my center of gravity is in my head, and often I am not even aware that I have a body below it. How does one move from a fragmented and self-centered point of view to a more encompassing and organic intelligence that is responsive to the subtle movements of feeling? In other words, how do you get your center of gravity down lower in the body?

I think there are two different minds in each of us–the conscious intellect on one hand, and the nervous system as a whole on the other. Both are required and necessary, but I have a tendency to trust the former over the latter. That is, I think I know everything already. But how could this slow, linear travelling and deliberating intellect be more intelligent than a brain that can regulate thousands of bodily processes in a flash of a firefly. I say “flash” because it operates with a totally different conception of time, which is an idea you find in Gurdjieff’s writing about the three centers (mind, body and feeling) and their different speeds and the energies by which they function.

It isn’t that one mind is better than the other. There just seems to be a mind and capital “M” mind. If I see that I am living just in my head (with a little “m”), which is to say, I am fragmented, it becomes a question of how to include both minds in a movement towards unity–of how to be in-between them so to speak. To borrow from Zen, I certainly can’t seek the ox when I’m sitting on top of it.

This kind of training or discipline is left entirely untaught in our schools and in popular culture as my friend Walt pointed out in his comment to this post. The observation of the existence of two minds is not new, it is to be found in many of the world’s wisdom traditions. The Zen Traditions is rife with them. For example, you find the intriguing word munen, in Japanese Zen which means intelligent action without thinking.  And another example that comes to mind are the words of a Chinese Zen Master: “If you want to see into it, see into it directly. When you begin to think about it, it is altogether missed.”

Turning to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in the question put forth: What is Mind, Tilopa (988–1069), tantric practitioner and accomplished teacher offered these six precepts: “No thought, no reflection, no analysis, / No cultivation, no intention, / Let it settle of itself.” That doesn’t allow much room to just “think” about it, does it?

Synchronously, I went to the library earlier this evening to pick up Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism by Anonymous, also known as Unknown Friend. I was encouraged to place a hold on it a few weeks ago from reading successive posts of insightful commentary about the book at One Cosmos, another favorite place of mine to visit on the web.  On page 8 of Meditations on the Tarot, I came across a key passage from Patanjali’s classic work on Yoga that describes a different practice of what is usually thought of as concentration:

Yoga citta vritti nirodha (Yoga is the suppression of the oscillations of the mental substance, Yoga Sutras 1.2)

The author, Unknown Friend then describes the importance of concentration as a practice. But he distinguishes clearly between the automatic movements of thought processes and imagination from the art of a non-identified or unattached concentration. (He uses the word disinterested). One of the main differences, he describes, is that this form of concentration is “without effort” and it appears in conditions of calm and silence and only after renouncingthe incessant hamster wheel of the intellect and the imagination. When I read that, I recognized that he was saying essentially the same thing as our other friend, Saint Theophan the Recluse. Mainly, how do we get out of the head? And specifically, how do we concentrate without effort? Unknown Friends offers this analogy:

“Look at a tightrope walker. He is evidently completely concentrated, because if he were not, he would fall to the ground. His life is at stake, and it is only perfect concentration which can save him. Yet do you believe that his thought and his imagination are occupied in what he is doing? Do you think that he reflects and that he imagines, that he calculates and that he makes plans with regard to each step he makes on the rope?”

Of course the answer is no, otherwise he would come tumbling down immediately. Therefore, the tightrope walker must somehow suppress the slow intellect and imagination and allow the intelligence of the rhythmic or nervous system to get safely across to the other side.

After many years devoted to spiritual search and practice, William Segal, the author, painter, and student of Gurdjieff and D.T. Suzuki wrote the following description about what is required in the practice of dropping the head. He explains:

There is the ability to be engaged very actively in life, but at the same time to be non-attached. One does what one does with full enthusiasm: I love to drink coffee, to paint, to dig a garden or chop wood. But can I be wholly in the act but not attached to it? And at the same time, be in relation to this “other,” this stillness, which is in me, in you, in everything. This requires discipline, which one reaches through various methods. It’s not only meditation, and it certainly isn’t through scholastic studies or through prayer of the ordinary kind, although prayer can be a cessation of thought, a giving up, a letting go and being here totally. Now, perhaps, to be that way does require a great preliminary doing; I’m not sure about that. As an old man who has been through a lot of that sort of practice, I don’t think it’s really necessary. I don’t see the sense of it now. I think if I were in the hands of a master today, he would simply tell me, “Look, mister, just be still. Watch your breathing. Get your center of gravity down here.” And then this appears. This is in you, it’s always here. All one has to do is open to it. So I don’t see the sense of all these schools and all these disciplines. I do see the sense, because one is unable, one is not capable as one is, in ordinary life.

Lastly, and somewhat related, I think, a few days ago my friend Lee posted a well written introduction and commentary on The Gurdjieff Movements, which I have been lucky enough to participate in. Encouraged by his words I went looking for a recording of Jeanne de Salzmann directing a Movements class that I had come across on the web a few years ago. I think the film explores some of the ideas I have expressed here far better than I could possibly convey in words. In my view, The Movements are a form of sacred dance, not that I know much about that subject, but I feel that they are like a kind of observatory where there is a possibility to have a more objective view of oneself. They are also a very direct way of approaching spiritual ideas and moving from mere knowledge into hopefully, an under-standing.

Well after spending this evening writing a few pages of words, I try to remember to come back to this body sitting here. I realize that ironically, I have been living in the castles of ideas again, just a small part of a much larger view, but I remember and renew an effort to try not to run from one thought to the next, as Theophane the Recluse advises, but to give each one time to settle in the heart.

A Good Question

Tile Decoration from Alhambra Palace, Granada, SpainA few days ago while driving around Toronto with a friend, we started a conversation about what books we’ve been reading lately. I remarked that the current theme of Parabola’s Winter issue: Many Paths, One Truth, has led me to an inquiry into the point of view of writers of the “Perennial Philosophy”—a perspective shared by René Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, Huston Smith, and many others that embodies the timeless and universal principles underlying all the doctrines, symbols, sacred art, and spiritual practices of the world’s religions.

“What’s that all about?” he asked.

“Well, imagine you have a prism,” I tried to explain “and when you hold it in your hand it is clear and uncolored, but when you hold it up to the light, it’s refracted. Suddenly you see all these colors. So the idea is that Divine Truth is one, both timeless and universal, and all the different religions are like different languages expressing that one Truth.”

“That sounds accurate to me,” he said.

“I’ve just started reading into it so I can’t say that I have gotten really in depth on it, but it just seems like such a simple idea. Maybe too simple,” I said.

“Why does it have to be difficult? What’s wrong with simplicity?” he asked.

It was a good question. I had nothing to say, and we started talking about other things. Yet, I have continually returned to that question this week.

From Parabola Magazine’s Weekly Newsletter, January 20th, 2012.

The Work of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

I re-encountered the remarkable work of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim (October 24, 1896 – December 28, 1988), German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen-Master recently in the autobiography of Alan Watts: In My Own Way. According to Wikipedia: Dürckheim was born in Munich. He was a descendant of old Bavarian nobility whose parents still had a fortune, eventually lost during bad economic times. In his early twenties, he was reading in the Tao Te Ching of Lao-Tzu.

“Suddenly it happened! I was listening and lightning went through me. The veil was torn asunder, I was awake! I had just experienced ‘It’. Everything existed and nothing existed. Another Reality had broken through this world. I myself existed and did not exist… I had experienced that which is spoken of in all centuries: individuals, in whatever stage of their lives, have had an experience which struck them with the force of lightning and linked them once and for all to the circuits of True Life.”

Meister Eckhart became very important for him. “I recognize in Eckhart my master, the master. But we can only approach him if we eliminate the conceptual consciousness.”

Dürckheim was a professor at Kiel for a few years. Then it was discovered that he had a Jewish grandmother. Eventually he became an envoy for Nazi Germany’s foreign ministry under Joachim von Ribbentrop. Before World War II, in 1938, he was sent to Japan, residing there for eight years.

After the war, Tokyo was occupied by Americans. Dürckheim went into hiding in Karuizawa and was arrested on October 30, 1945 by agents of the US Counter-Intelligence Corps. He was imprisoned for a year and a half in Sugamo Prison.

“That time of captivity was precious to me because I could exercise zazen meditation and remain in immobility for hours.”

Graf “Duerckheim” is identified by Albert Stunkard in Zen Teaching, Zen Practice, (Weatherhill 2000) edited by Kenneth Kraft, as the person who suggested to Stunkard that he should visit D.T. Suzuki in Kita Kamakura, not far from the Sugamo prison. That visit started a chain reaction of visitors to the Suzuki residence, one of whom was Philip Kapleau, author of The Three Pillars of Zen and founder of the Rochester Zen Center. Dürckheim thus was directly responsible for launching Zen into the American mainstream.

Along with psychologist Maria Hippius, Dürckheim founded the “Center of existential and psychological formation and encounter” in the early 1950s. It was located in the Black Forest village of Todtmoos-Rutte. His books were based on his conferences, and were influential in Europe.

“What I am doing is not the transmission of Zen Buddhism; on the contrary, that which I seek after is something universally human which comes from our origins and happens to be more emphasized in eastern practices than in the western.”

Dürckheim’s “Initiation Therapy” dealt with the encounter between the profane, mundane, “little” self — the ego — and the true Self. “The therapist is not the one who heals, that is, who intervenes with his own skills; he is a therapist in the original meaning of the word: a companion on the way.”


Here are the words of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim recounted in Alan Watts’ autobiography:

“A great deal of my present work is in helping people who underwent great spiritual crisis during the war. We know, of course, that sometimes, in extreme circumstances, people have a natural  satori or spiritual awakening when it appears that all is finished for them–and they accept it. This happened often in the war, and when those who lived through it tried to tell the tale to their friends it was shrugged off as some king of hallucination, a brief fit of insanity in a desperate situation. When these people come to me, as they often do, I have the happy opportunity of showing them that, for once in their lives, they were truly sane.

There were three typical ways in which these crisis came about. You heard the whistle of a bomb falling straight at you, and you knew that this was quite certainly the end. You accepted it, and quite suddenly the whole universe made sense. All problems, all questions vanished, and you understood that there was no ‘you’ other than the eternal. But the bomb was a dud, and you lived to remember the experience….You were in a concentration camp, and you had been there so long that you were fully convinced that you would stay there for the rest of your life. Finally, you had to accept it, and in that moment you understood everything….You were a displaced refugee far from home. You had utterly lost your friends and relatives, your possessions, your job, your very identity, and saw no hope of regaining them. You accepted it, and suddenly you were light as a feather and as free as the air.”

–Alan Watts: In My Own Way (California: New World Library, 1972), 321.

James George “Who am I? And for What?”

James GeorgeBefore I die, I want to understand what life is, and what or who I am. A few days before her death at the Prieure with Gurdjieff, Katherine Mansfield wrote in her Journal “the question is always: Who am I? You see,…if I were allowed one single cry to God, that cry would be: I want to be REAL.” Years later, Gurdjieff  put the title on the 3rd Series of his All and Everything: “Life is Real Only Then When I Am.” Now it is my turn to ask who am I, and for what?

These are two ways, it seems to me, of putting the same question—a question that may only be answerable after I am freed of the body with its limited perception of reality, inner and outer. Yes, I am grateful that, even during my lifetime, homo sapiens has, inspite of these limitations, come a great deal closer to understanding the nature of reality and life and consciousness. But we are still embedded in bodies that have senses for only a fraction of what we now know to be the whole spectrum of vibrations that constitute what our ancestors used to call manifested reality. Have we now unconsciously come to assume that there is nothing beyond this manifestation, that there is no evidence for a Manifestor or Creator? Where does the Law of Causality stop, then? Most contemporary scientists would, I believe, hold that we cannot look for answers beyond manifested reality. They are clearly uncomfortable with anything they cannot measure, with infinity, with time, and with consciousness. From the time of the ancient Greeks, “man is the measure of all things.” In fact, most scientists would still agree with Max Planck’s dictum a hundred years ago that, “if it cannot be measured, it is not real.”

In the 9th century, Shankar Acharya of India spoke for a very different world view when he affirmed that all that can be measured is illusion; that even the Sanskrit word maya means both “measure” and “illusion.” From his perspective, if I may borrow Kant’s terminology, all measureable phenomena can only be understood in their relations to the noumenal world from which they come and to which they return. In all spiritual traditions, this noumenal world is the Source of all that is. It is the underlying Reality.

Over the years, I have come to realize that there is a remarkable unanimity among spiritual pioneers of every stripe, from St Augustine to Gurdjieff, that this Source Reality is everywhere. For St Augustine, there “is nowhere God is not.” For Gurdjieff, Consciousness is “omnipresent.”

These are difficult truths for the scientific mind-set to swallow but after long reflection I have come to accept that this is the View opening towards an expanding future for humanity, towards a View that embraces the best of Western science and Eastern insight, uniting what we call the outer and the inner worlds in One. This is the mysterious Unity “in which we live and move and have our being,” as St. Paul puts it. This is “I, You, Me, We,” as Rumi says. “I and the Father are One,” Christ affirms.

If we live with the scientific view of Max Planck, we are imprisoned in what Humberto Maturana and most other scientists call a “closed domain,” a measureable finite world with all the mystery squeezed out of it and not a hint of the noumenal Unity that underlies and subsumes the known phenomenal world. In a closed system, there can only be an end in death through entropy. Life requires an open domain, open to life, to mystery, to the unknown.

If we train our attention properly, I have found through observation that both views can be well justified by our own experience. Most of the time I am totally unaware of the noumenal Reality, caught in what Gurdjieff calls “hypnotic sleep,” an abstract world of  associations expressed in language with which my attention is identified passively. But there are moments of presence when I become directly aware of my actual experience, unmediated by thought or language which can never be directly aware. It is the nascent human capacity for awareness that is our opening to the noumenal world and to a quality of awareness that shows us everything at once, wordlessly, in an instant of realization that can transform our being for the rest of our lives, awakening us to our essential nature and its relationship with the noumenal. That quality of awareness I cannot maintain, but through years of practice I have found that it can be briefly extended and found again more often than when I began on this path. It is in these moments of awareness that I am open to the Presence of God, to Life. The rest of the time I am as good as dead—passive, asleep.

This direct awareness of presence, I have come to see, is only possible because the essential experiencer, or the “I” in me, is a particle of the omnipresent Reality which it is given to glimpse occasionally. Without it, I would not be alive. If it were otherwise, how could there be any relation between my lowly level of being and the Highest One? But this unparalleled opportunity naturally carries with it a sacred obligation unconditionally to serve the One. That appears to be the cosmic purpose for which we were designed. But who can say that they do that?

Does this mean that the human enterprise is a cosmic failure, unable to realize the expectations of the Designer? Not if we regard it as an evolutionary work in progress, still in its very early stages. In the last few years, cognitive scientists have been amazed to discover how much of the brain in our ordinary state is waiting to be used and how it “lights up” during peak experiences of Wholeness.

During my sitting one morning recently, I was given another burst of light, starting from the head but soon enveloping the entire body and spreading into the surrounding space. In that state, I understood far more than I can now, or even an hour later, put into words or remember. I know only that it happened and that the quality of knowing was completely different from the successive “knowings” of daily life which follow a logical sequence along a horizontal time line. This was simultaneously knowing everything in the moment that was out of time, in a vertical dimension, eternal and endless, but then distracted and lost in the next moment of ordinary time.

Now I only know that it happened and left another trace of blessing for which I am immensely grateful to I know not what. To Life, let us say, or to Consciousness, or to God, as humans begin to comprehend the Unknown “Being of Beings,” to borrow Gurdjieff’s apt phrase. Even as I slowly write these words on my keyboard, I am feeling the impossibility of keeping up with the flow of impressions arising from the well of this fresh experience of the sheer energetic abundance of what is available when we begin to open to our potential to live consciously, not only in the phenomenal world but also in the noumenal, which is the source of all creativity and ultimately the source of Life.

Just as in the phenomenal world there are many levels of matter and energy, so too, we may guess, there are many levels in the ontological or noumenal world of being. In both worlds, it seems, no energy can be alone, independent. There are just an infinity of vibrations of different wave lengths and qualities, interacting and interconnecting on every scale we know anything about, from nano to cosmic, and probably beyond in both directions. The phenomenal world is the world more or less accessible to our senses and to our sciences. The noumenal world is also a broad category for the reality of being and consciousness and life that is not yet directly accessible to our sciences but is palpable to spiritual pioneers and to most humans in their more sensitive moments. Whenever we are fearless enough to drop our habitual “thinking about it,” the awareness of presence lights up in us naturally, without any effort, when we relax and await it with fully attentive equanimity.

This, I have found, is a way to connect with the subconscious (as Gurdjieff called it) or the unconscious (to use Jung’s term) where the invisible noumenal, the real “I,” is hiding.

Science, and mainstream culture, are no longer (as they were with Max Planck) confined to the measureable or phenomenal world, but are now exploring the noumenal which they are beginning to call the world of information. In the Smithsonian for May, 2011, James Gleick writes: “Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere: it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants. But they are not ghosts to us—not anymore. We humans, alone among the earth’s organic creatures, live in both worlds at once. It is as though, having long co-existed with the unseen, we have begun to develop the needed extra-sensory perception.”

So what am I afraid of? Death? Or the responsibility for living? Maybe both but in my case, especially the latter. As Nelson Mandela famously said at his Presidential inauguration, we are all more frightened of success than we are of failure, more afraid of our power than of our weakness. We lack trust in the power of presence which can manifest in us when we drop our self concern and self importance, our egotism and narcissism dressed up as spirituality. That is what keeps us powerless. I can see it in my posture, I can hear it sometimes in my tone of voice, and recognize it in my associative thinking, all of which can show me my lack of presence. But whenever I AM, I see and feel and know the difference at once. To the extent that I am present, I am a different being, a human being. At such moments of presence, I see that I embody a Life that is in resonance with the Great Life, and I am aware that I share that Life with other beings. In that sense, there are no “others.” None of us is alone. At our most awake moments, we  know without the least doubt that we are designed for such an awakening, for such a transformation. That is our inner purpose and the cosmic purpose.

My outer purposes keep changing, but my inner purpose, whenever I remember it, is as unchanging as the compass needle heading north. I wish to BE! To be REAL!  What more could any of us wish for at this early stage of human evolution?

James George, from a talk given at  the Toronto Institute of Noetic Sciences, October © 2011. Used with permission by the author.

PHOTO: BERNARD WEIL – James George, 92-year-old former high commissioner to India and former ambassador to Iran, relaxes in his Toronto apartment. In the 1960s, the Dalai Lama asked Canada to resettle Tibetan refugees. Canada refused. George convinced Trudeau (an old friend of his) to do it. In 1971, 228 Tibetan refugees came – in small groups and at different times – to Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. From the Toronto Star.


Without Beginning Or End

Jeanne de Salzmann

Jeanne de Salzmann

For thousand of years the human brain has been conditioned to act from the center to the periphery and from the periphery to the center by a continuous movement, going out and coming back. How could this movement ever stop? If it ceases, an energy will appear that is without limit, without cause, without beginning or end. To come to this, it is first necessary to make order -to clean house- a task that requires complete attention. The body must become very sensitive and the mind completely empty, without any desire. Understanding comes not by an effort to acquire or become, but only when the spirit is still.

Our true nature, an unknown that cannot be named because it has no form, can be sensed in the stop between two thoughts or two perceptions. These movements of stop constitute an opening to a Presence that is without end, eternal. Ordinarily we cannot believe in this because we think anything without form is not real. So we let pass the possibility of experiencing Being.

Our fear of being nothing is what pushes us to fill the void, to wish to acquire or become. And this fear, conscious or not, leads to the destruction of our possibility to be. We cannot get rid of it by an act of will or by any effort to free ourselves. Opposing one desire with another can only engender resistance, and understanding will not come from resistance. We can be liberated from this fear only by vigilance, by becoming conscious of it. We must see clearly through the contradictory desires with which we live. It is not a question of concentrating on a single desire, but of freeing oneself from the conflict engendered by avidity. With the dissolution of this conflict comes tranquility. Reality can appear.

The highest form of intelligence is meditation, an intense vigilance that liberates the mind from its reactions, and this alone, without any willful intervention, produces a state of tranquillity. This requires an extraordinary energy, which can only appear when there is no conflict in us, when all the ideas have completely disappeared, all belief, hope and fear. Than it is not contemplation that arises, but a state of attention in which there is no longer a sense of ”I,” someone present to participate in the experience, to identify with it. So there is no experience. Understanding this at the deepest level is important for one who wishes to know what truth is, what God is, what is beyond the constructions of the human mind.

In this state of vigilance, I do nothing, but I am present. The mind is in a state of attention in which there is lucidity, a clear observation without choice of all that one thinks, all that one feels, all that one does. The mind concentrates without boundaries. This state creates tranquility, and when the mind is perfectly quiet, without any illusions, ”something” comes into existence, not constructed by the mind, that cannot be expressed in words.

—From The Reality of Being, by Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala, 2010., pp.320.

Riding the Rails of The Horizontal and the Vertical

(Photograph by Galina Lukyanova.

Photograph by Galina Lukyanova.

I took the dogs out for a walk in the park this morning. The wind was cold, and the trees were icy and barren. The dogs didn’t care how cold it was. Immediately, they shot like rockets across the park after a squirrel. I called to them, but they were too caught up in all the excitement and snow. Eventually, they settled down, and the white stillness of the park returned.

So it is with my inner life. I see that my thoughts can be just as noisy and reckless. I can’t change my dog’s nature. That is how dogs are. Sometimes though, they hear my gentle call and recognize that I am their master, or at least the one that feeds them. What if I could have this same attitude towards this wandering mind of mine, and see it as a friend.

Maybe I am just chasing after squirrels a lot of the time; however I can also recognize that all these inner noises and associations prevent me from a direct experience. Behind all of that, there is a quality of stillness. Jeanne de Salzmann speaks about this quality in “The Reality of Being.” She writes:

“I have to see that there is a space between thoughts. A void that is reality, and I need to remain as long as possible in this space. Then another kind of thinking appears, clear and intelligent, a thought of another level, another dimension.”

There is an idea from spiritual traditions, that there are two worlds or two pools. The first is the world of our functioning which includes the ordinary mind with all of its commentaries, opinions and ideas as well as the emotions that move through me like the weather. The second world is completely different. It utilizes different energies and is composed of an entirely different order. This second world is always beckoning to us, but it is hidden behind the veil of the first world. Siddhartha describes this second world beautifully as “a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”

The key, I think, is not to be in one or the other, but both. Here is a wonderful description of this practice from the Buddhist teacher, Sayadaw U Tejaniya:

When you are on your own, your attention will tend to be all ‘in here’. When you are with others, it will most likely be all ‘out there’. Why does it all go ‘out there’? It is because you are more interested in what is going on ‘out there’, because you are not really interested in what is going on ‘in here’. When the attention is all outside, thoughts and emotions will come unnoticed and things will build up.

[The yogi says, yes, this is the problem! I try to maintain internal awareness but when the awareness wants to go out, it affects the quality of awareness.]

OK, the outside is important but so are you! Why not be aware of both, why not go for 50/50? There are of course variations. In some circumstances it might be 60/40, etc. You need to experiment, learn in different situations…

—Sayadaw U Tejaniya: Awareness Alone Is Not Enough (PDF)

How do I make an effort in this direction?

I try by giving myself exercises: I am going to be aware of myself here and now whenever I pass under doorways throughout the day. From this deceptively simple task, I gather snapshots of myself. I see that I forget the task. Or when I remember the exercise, who is it in me that remembers? It’s not about getting the task right or wrong, but to see how I am moment by moment.

In short though, all of this is only preparation. Similarly, my morning meditation is a preparation to hopefully bring an inner world into my daily life. Not to be completely lost in the inner or the outer, but to stand right in the middle of manifestation and this inner silence; in-between the meeting of the horizontal with the vertical axis. Of course in the busyness of life, this is damn near impossible, but I have to try. After all, the real work begins as soon as one gets up from the cushion.

When the ego takes its proper place, when the old man makes way for the new man, there is an entirely different order. There is a contact with a different quality of energy in and around the body. The functioning is completely different. With this opening to a quality of energy, higher functioning becomes active and real feelings, like compassion and gratitude can be experienced.

Thank you to It’s All Dhamma for drawing my attention to the  excerpt from Sayadaw U Tejaniya.

Centering Practices

Paul Reps, "Zen Flesh, Zen bones."

Paul Reps, “Zen Flesh, Zen bones.”

When Zen Flesh, Zen Bones was published in 1957 it became an instant sensation with an entire generation of readers who were just beginning to experiment with Zen. Over the years it has inspired leading American Zen teachers, students, and practitioners. Its popularity is as strong today as ever.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is a book that offers a collection of accessible, primary Zen sources so that readers can struggle over the meaning of Zen for themselves. It includes 101 Zen Stories, a collection of tales that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries; The Gateless Gate, the famous thirteenth century collection of Zen koans; Ten Bulls, a twelfth century commentary on the stages of awareness leading to enlightenment; and Centering, a 4,000 year-old teaching from India that some consider to be the roots of Zen.

Paul Reps, the compiler, was an American who lived in many countries, including India, Norway, and Japan, and studied many of man’s efforts to find and realize his true spiritual stature. He was the author of several books of poems and prose. He once said that he felt “the equal of each grass blade and pebble and believe that it is possible to be happy though human and grown up.”

Nyogen Senzaki, a Buddhist scholar of international character to whom Reps acknowledged a deep debt of gratitude, was born in Japan. Early in life he became a “homeless monk,” wandering the land and studying from Buddhist monastery to monastery. His wanderings eventually took him to America, where for over 50 years he lived in California, with no connection with any sect, denomination, or cathedral, radiating the free and creative spirit of Zen upon all who cared to share his study, meditation, wisdom, and loving kindness.


In the introduction to “Centering Practices: 112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness,” Paul Reps wrote:

Zen is nothing new, neither is it anything old. Long before Buddha was born the search was on in India, as the present work shows.

Long after man has forgotten such words as Zen and Buddha, satori and koan, China and Japan and America – still the search will go on, still Zen will be seen even in flower, and grass-blade, before the sun.

The following is adapted from the preface to the first version in English of this ancient work.

Wandering in the ineffable beauty of Kashmir, above Srinagar I come upon the hermitage of Lakshmanjoo.

It overlooks green rice fields, the garden, of Shalimar and Nishat Bagh, lakes fringed with lotus. Water streams down from a mountaintop.

Here Lakshmanjoo – tall, full bodied, shining – welcomes me. He shares with me this ancient teaching from the Vigyan Bhairava and Sochanda Tantra, both written about four thousand years ago, and from Malini Vijaya Tantra, probably another thousand years older yet. It is an ancient teaching, copied and recopied countless times, and from it Lakshmanjoo has made the beginning of an English version. I transcribe it eleven more times to get it into the form given here.

Shiva first chanted it to his consort Devi in a language of love we have yet to learn. It is about the Immanent experience. It presents 112 ways to open the invisible door of consciousness. I see Lakshmanjoo gives his life to its practicing.

Some of the ways may appear redundant, yet each differs from any other. Some may seem simple, yet any one requires constant dedication even to test it.

Machines, ledgers, dancers, athletes balance. Just as centering or balance augments various skills, so it may awareness. As an experiment, try standing equally on both feet; then imagine you are shifting your balance slightly from foot to foot: just as balance centers, do you.


O Shiva, what is your reality?
What is this wonder-filled universe?
What constitutes seed?
Who centers the universal wheel?
What is tbis life beyond form pervading forms?
How may we enter it fully, above space and
time, names and descriptions?
Let my doubts be cleared!


[Devi, though already enlightened, has asked the foregoing questions so others through the universe might receive Shiva’s instructions. Now follow Shiva’s reply, giving the 112 ways.]

1. Radiant one, this experience may dawn between two breaths. After breath comes in (down) and just before turning up (out) — the beneficence.

2. As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down—through both these turns, realize.

3. Or, whenever inbreath and outbreath fuse, at this instant touch the energyless energy-filled center.

4. Or, when breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) and stopped—in such universal pause, one’s small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure.

5. Consider your essence as light rays rising from center to center up the vertebrae, and so rises livingness in you.

6. Or in the spaces between, feel this as lightning.

7. Devi, imagine the Sanskrit letters in these honey-filled foci of awareness, first as letters, then more subtly as sounds, then as most subtle feeling. Then, leaving them aside, be free.

8. Attention between eyebrows, let mind be before thought. Let form fill with breath-essence to the top of the head, and there shower as light.

9. Or, imagine the five-colored circles of the peacock tail to be your five senses in illimitable space. Now let their beauty melt within. Similarly, at any point in space or on a wall — until the point dissolves. Then your wish for another comes true.

10. Eyes closed, see your inner being in detail. Thus see your true nature.

11. Place your whole attention in the nerve, delicate as the lotus thread, in the center of your spinal column. In such be transformed.

12. Closing the seven openings of the head with your hands, a space between your eyes becomes all-inclusive.

13. Touching eyeballs as a feather, lightness between them opens into heart and there permeates the cosmos.

14. Bathe in the center of sound, as in the continuous sound of a waterfall. Or, by putting fingers in ears, hear the sound of sounds.

15. Intone a sound, as a-u-m, slowly. As sound enters soundfulness, so do you.

16. In the beginning and gradual refinement of the sound of any letter, awake.

17. While listening to stringed instruments, hear their composite central sound; thus omnipresence.

18. Intone a sound audibly, then less and less audibly as feeling deepens into this silent harmony.

19. Imagine spirit simultaneously within and around you until the entire universe spiritualizes.

20. Kind Devi, enter etheric presence pervading far above and below your form.

21. Put mindstuff in such inexpressible fineness above, below, and in your heart.

22. Consider any area of your present form as limitlessly spacious.

23. Feel your substance, bones, flesh, blood, saturated with cosmic essence.

24. Suppose your passive form to be an empty room with walls of skin – empty.

25. Blessed one, as senses are absorbed in heart, reach the center of the lotus.

26. Unminding mind, keep in the middle – until.

27. When in worldly activity, keep attentive between the two breaths, and so practicing, in a few days be born anew. [Lakshmanjoo says this is his favorite.]

28. Focus on fire rising through your form from the toes up until the body burns to ashes but not you.

29. Meditate on the make-believe world as burning to ashes, and become being above human.

30. Feel the fine qualities of creativity permeating your breasts and assuming delicate configurations.

31. With intangible breath in center of forehead, as this reaches heart at the moment of sleep, have direction over dreams and over death itself.

32. As, subjectively, letters flow into words and words into sentences, and as, objectively, circles flow into worlds and worlds into principles, find at last these converging in our being.

33. Gracious one, play the universe is an empty shell wherein your mind frolics infinitely.

34. Look upon a bowl without seeing the sides or the material. In a few moments become aware.

35. Abide in some place endlessly spacious, clear of trees, hills, habitations. Thence comes the end of mind pressures.

36. Sweet-hearted one, meditate on knowing and not knowing, existing and not existing. Then leave both aside that you may be.

37. Look lovingly on some object Do not go on to another object. Here, in the middle of this object — the blessing.

38. Feel cosmos as translucent ever-living presence.

39. With utmost devotion, center on the two junctions of breath and know the knower.

40. Consider the plenum to be your own body of bliss.

41. While being caressed, sweet princess, enter the caressing as everlasting life.

42. Stop the doors of senses when feeling the creeping of an ant. Then.

43. At the start of sexual union, keep attention on the fire in the beginning, and, so continuing, avoid the embers in the end.

44. When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves, enter this shaking.

45. Even remembering union, without the embrace, the transformation.

46. On joyously seeing a long-absent friend, permeate this joy.

47. When eating or drinking, become the taste of the food or drink, and be filled.

48. 0 lotus-eyed one, sweet of touch, when singing, seeing, tasting, be aware you are and discover the ever-living.

49. Wherever satisfaction is found, in whatever act, actualize this.

50. At the point of sleep when sleep has not yet come and external wakefulness vanishes, at this point being is revealed. [Lakshmanjoo says this is another of his favorites.]

51. In summer when you see the entire sky endlessly clear, enter such clarity.

52. Lie down as dead. Enraged in wrath, stay so. Or stare without moving an eyelash. Or suck something and become the sucking.

53. Without support for feet or hands, sit only on buttocks. Suddenly, the centering.

54. In an easy position, gradually pervade an area between the armpits into great peace.

55. See as if for the first time a beauteous person or an ordinary object.

56. With mouth slightly open, keep mind in the middle of tongue. Or, as breath comes silently in, feel the sound HH.

57. When on a bed or a seat, let yorself become weightless, beyond mind.

58. In a moving vehicle, by rhythmically swaying, experience. Or in a still vehicle, by letting yourself swing in slowing invisible circles.

59. Simply by looking into the blue sky beyond clouds, the serenity.

60. Shakti, see all space as if already absorbed in your own head in the brilliance.

61. Waking, sleeping, dreaming, know you as light.

62. In rain during a black night, enter that blackness as the form of forms.

63. When a moonless raining night is not present, close eyes and find blackness before you. Opening eyes, see blackness. So faults disappear forever.

64. Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.

65. Center on the sound a-u-m without any a or m

66. Silently intone a word ending in AH. Then in the HH effortlessly, the spontaneity.

67. Feel yourself as pervading all directions, far, near.

68. Pierce some part of your nectar-filled form with a pin, and gently enter the piercing.

69. Feel: My thought, I-ness, internal organs—me.

70. Illusions deceive. Colors circumscribe. Even divisibles are indivisible.

71. When some desire comes, consider it. Then, suddenly, quit it.

72. Before desire and before knowing, how can I say I am? Consider. Dissolve in the beauty.

73. With your entire consciousness in the very start of desire, of knowing, know.

74. 0 Shakti, each particular perception is limited, disappearing in omnipotence.

75. In truth forms are inseparate. Inseparate are omnipresent being and your own form. Realize each as made of this consciousness.

76. In moods of extreme desire, be undisturbed.

77. This so-called universe appears as a juggling, a picture show. To be happy look upon it so.

78. 0 Beloved, put attention neither on pleasure or pain but between these.

79. Toss attachment for body aside, realizing I am everywhere. One who is everywhere is joyous.

80. Objects and desires exist in me as in others. So accepting, let them be translated.

81. The appreciation of objects and subjects is the same for an enlightened as for an unenlightened person. The former has one greatness: he remains in the subjective mood, not lost in things.

82. Feel the consciousness of each person as your own consciousness. So, leaving aside concern for self, become each being.

83. Thinking no thing, will limited-self unlimit.

84. Believe omniscient, omnipotent, pervading.

85. As waves come with water and flames with fire, so the universal waves with us.

86. Roam about until exhausted and then, dropping to the ground, in this dropping be whole.

87. Suppose you are gradually being deprived of strength or of knowledge. At the instant of deprivation, transcend.

88. Listen while the ultimate mystical teaching is imparted: Eyes still, without winking, at once become absolutely free.

89. Stopping ears by pressing and rectum by contracting, enter the sound of sound.

90. At the edge of a deep well look steadily into its depths until — the wondrousness.

91. Wherever your mind is wandering, internally or externally at this very place, this.

92. When vividly aware through some particular sense, keep in the awareness.

93. At the start of sneezing, during fright, in anxiety, above a chasm, flying in battle, in extreme curiosity, at the beginning of hunger, at the end of hunger, be uninterruptedly aware.

94. Let attention be at a place where you are seeing some past happening, and even your form, having lost its present characteristics, is transformed.

95. Look upon some object, then slowly withdraw your sight from it, then slowly withdraw your thought from it. Then.

96. Devotion frees.

97. Feel an object before you. Feel the absence of all other objects but this one. Then, leaving aside the object-feeling and the absence-feeling, realize.

98. The purity of other teachings is as impurity to us. In reality know nothing as pure or impure.

99. This consciousness exists as each being, and nothing else exists.

100. Be the unsame same to friend as to stranger, in honor and dishonor.

101. When a mood against someone or for someone arises, do not place it on the person in question, but remain centered.

102. Suppose you contemplate something beyond perception, beyond grasping, beyond not being, you.

103. Enter space, supportless, eternal, still.

104. Wherever your attention alights, at this very point, experience.

105. Enter the sound of your name and, through this sound, all sounds.

106. I am existing. This is mine. This is this. 0 Beloved, even in such know illimitably.

107. This consciousness is the spirit of guidance of each one. Be this one.

108. Here is a sphere of change, change, change. Through change consume change.

109. As a hen mothers her chicks, mother particular knowings, particular doings, in reality.

110. Since, in truth, bondage and freedom are relative, these words are only for those terrified with the universe. This universe is a reflection of minds. As you see many suns in water from one sun, so see bondage and liberation.

111. Each thing is perceived through knowing. The self shines in space through knowing. Perceive one being as knower and known.

112. Beloved, at this moment let mind, knowing, breath, form, be included.

*This material is from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A collection of Zen and Pre-Zen writings. It is compiled by Paul Reps and transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps.

A Double Life

Painting by William Segal, "Self Portrait in a Yellow Hat"

Painting by William Segal, Self Portrait in a Yellow Hat

I will be spending this Saturday in a workshop at a local Zendo, so it seems appropriate to blog something else about William Segal, a student of Gurdjieff, and later D.T. Suzuki.  I have read and studied a great deal of Zen material over the years, but this will be my first introduction to the actual vehicle of the teaching. One can only read so much, like Gurdjieff cautions:  “Understanding can lead to being, whereas knowledge is but a passing presence in it.”

According to Wikipedia: The origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century.It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a Dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up and twirled a flower and twinkled his eyes; several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha’s disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and broke into a broad smile. The Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa’s insight by saying the following:

“I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvāṇa, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”

Thus, through Zen there developed a way which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Wisdom was passed, not through words, but through a lineage of one-to-one direct transmission of thought from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage continued all the way from the Buddha’s time to the present.

In this post by Tracy Cochran’s over at PARABOLA Editors blog she describes how the extraordinary teacher, William Segal embodied what it means to live a “double life.” He was a gifted athlete, an innovative publisher of 11 magazines, a painter, and also a writer and editor. Above all, however, Segal was a seeker of truth-his interests were in Eastern spiritual traditions, specifically, he was a student of Ouspensky G.I Gurdjieff and, later, D.T. Suzuki.

Published in 2003, a few years after Segal’s death, “A Voice at the Borders of Silence” is an autobiographical scrapbook that contains paintings, photographs, articles, diaries and correspondence with artists, thinkers, businessmen and great spiritual teachers. In the preface, theatre director and friend Peter Brook describes Segal: “Bill was a man of many layers and if the outer layer as the man of today, the innermost core was an opening to eternity,”

Recently, Deborah Barlow who writes under Slow Muse reminded me of this extraordinary passage from the Buddhist scholar, Robert Thurman’s foreword to the book:

“Bill handed me…his charcoal drawings, which aptly got called “Transparencies.” Simple black and white, still lives of table objects, especially glasses, emerged in the luminosity of enlightened perception. Ultimate experience of this is called “clear light,” which is often misunderstood to refer to a bright white light. But the white light is a more superficial level of reality, the moonlit level called “luminance.” The clear light is just transparency, compared to the gray dawn twilight when you can see your hand but not the lines in it. It is a light that does not fall on objects, but comes from within them, casting no shadows. It is a self-luminous, non-dual awareness and presence. And Bill, untroubled by the sophisticated Tibetan phenomenology of such states, was bringing it into our dualistic awareness by scratching on paper with bits of charcoal. I was awestruck.”

Lastly, here is another pithy quote that resonates now more than ever from William Segal’s book of poetry entitled, “Openings,”

“Just as there is a network of communication, a worldwide sharing of ideas and applications, a sharing on a psychic level is also taking place among us.”


Desire As Action

Nara Toshodaiji, Priest Ganjin, Hollow dry-lacquer, Nara period, 8th century

Nara Toshodaiji, Priest Ganjin, Hollow dry-lacquer, Nara period, 8th century

In the autumn of 742, an emissary invited Jianzhen to travel to Japan to give lectures on Buddhism. Despite protests from his disciples, Jianzhen made preparations for his first voyage. The crossing failed and in the following years, he would attempt to cross to Japan six times.

In the summer of 748, Jianzhen made his fifth attempt to reach Japan. Leaving from Yangzhou, he made it to the Zhoushan Archipelago off the coast of modern Zhejiang province. But the ship was blown off course taking the lives of 36 members of Jianzhen’s crew including Eiei, one of the Japanese monks who had accompanied him. Shortly thereafter, more than 200 others in the crew abandoned him out of fear and frustration. Jianzhen was then forced to make his way back home to Yangzhou by land, lecturing at a number of monasteries on the way. It took him three years to eventually return home to Yangzhou, and by this time he was blind from an infection he had contracted in his journey. Nevertheless, he was still determined to make it to Japan.

Undeterred, Jianzhen made the sixth attempt five years later at the age of 66, after a horrific 40 day journey at sea, he arrived in Japan on December 20th, 753. Jianzhen died a year later on May 6th, 763.

This story fits with Mathew J. Stills’ description of desire as action in our Fall 2010 Issue: “Desire, to be true, must be efficacious. It must have the power to take hold of someone and move him or her.” How does one harness this power of desire so that it is transformed into a determination or a wish as the story of Jianzhen clearly describes? Maybe this story is true or maybe it has been blown up to mythological proportions, but nonetheless it is a story that shows us the true place of desire.