How much do I want to read more? 8/10
This kind of book is absolutely fascinating. It's as important as the future of humanity. What's beyond consciousness, How to rise mindfulness. This defines the quality of your life.
"You can think of enlightenment as a permanent shift of perspective that comes about through realization that there's nothing called "self" inside you.
As teachers, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we describe a path to enlightenment, it leads to the aforementioned problems. If we fail to describe a path, people won’t have motivation or direction, and they won’t be sensitive to the benchmarks."
The story of the author was inspiring. It seems like a novel or a movie. There was a point of non-return when he decided to commit and enter the temple. What about our live: did we take that kind of strong commitment to enter the temple of our dream? Then dull tasks were awaiting him, initiation the "old way" with ice, mountain, no food. Finally, he was born in a new self. How many of us would pass the initiation? How many actually pass the initiation during their lifetime, break the ice, endure the cold, to be born again?
[quote, T. S. Eliot]
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
You can dramatically extend life, not by multiplying the number of your years, but by expending the fullness of your moments.
Most people will, in the end, not allocate the modest amound of time and energy required to do that.
I live with the knowledge that most people will never have what they so easily could achieve.
I know that the demands of the daily life will convince them that they cannot set aside even a few moments to develop the one skill that will make it possible for them to optimally respond to those demands.
Defining enlightenment is notoriously tricky. Almost anything you say about it, no matter how true, may also be missleading.
You can think of enlightenment as a permanent shift of prospective that comes about through realization that there's no thing called "self" inside you.
I'm not saying that there's no self, but rather that there's no thing called the self.
Of course there's certainly an activity inside of you called a personality, an activity of the self. But that is different from a thing called the sef.
Meditation changes your relationship to sensory experience, including your thoughts and body sensations. It allows you to experience thoughts and body sensations in a clear and unblocked way.
When the sensory experience of the mind-body becomes sufficiently clear and uninhibited, it ceases to be a rigid thing that imprisons your identity.
So the perception of self—what it is, and how it arises—is central to the science of enlightenment.
In colloquial usage, the word “path” implies a starting point, a destination, and a distance separating the two. But if enlightenment means realizing where you’ve always been, then the distance between the starting point and the destination must be zero, contradicting the very concept of a path.
Moreover, when we describe spirituality as a path, it immediately sets up all kinds of craving, aversion, confusion, and unhelpful comparisons. People wish they were at some other place on the path, and they struggle to get there. When we think about spirituality as a path, we create the idea of enlightenment as an object out there in the future, separate from ourselves.
As teachers, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we describe a path to enlightenment, it leads to the aforementioned problems. If we fail to describe a path, people won’t have motivation or direction, and they won’t be sensitive to the benchmarks.
Thus to teach about enlightenment is to mislead people. On the other hand, to fail to teach about enlightenment is also to mislead people. You might say that to be a teacher means being willing to take on some bad karma in the service of greater good karma.
Chapter 1 - My journey
The fact that unitive no-self experiences happen to people who have no meditative training or spiritual perspective indicates to me that enlightenment is in some sense natural and just waiting to happen. When we finally learn why they happen spontaneously, albeit transiently, to some people under certain circumstances, we will probably be able to foster an enlightened age on this planet. That’s why I said that I’d give anything to know, from a scientific point of view, what happens in cases like my brownie epiphany.
people who do not meditate do not have high habitual levels of concentration power. When a unitive, or no-self/big-self, state arises, they lack the concentration power to zero in on it and maintain it in the center of their awareness.
they usually lack the sensory clarity to track how selfhood arises and passes in real time.
Third, most people do not have high levels of habitual equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to allow sensory experience to well up without suppression and to pass away without identifying with it.
After a glimpse of no self, the old habitual “self-self” will rearise. Without tracking skills and equanimity, people quickly re-identify with their former habitually patterned identity and, consequently, the unitive perspective fades.
Enlightenment is not a peak from which you descend over time. It is a plateau from which you ascend, further and further as the months, years, and decades pass.
Learning to Pay Attention
But when I asked to be taught more, I was literally turned away at the gate. The master with whom I wanted to study, Abbot Nakagawa, told me in no uncertain terms that Shingon practice was not an intellectual curio, but a path for transforming a person’s consciousness and life.
If I wanted to actually practice it, then I would first have to live in the temple doing menial tasks.
I made a momentous, life-altering decision. I moved into the abbot’s temple, Shinno-in.
Previous to this, I had spent my days in studying and reading. Doing menial labor was torture for me. I was bored and agitated, my attention constantly wandering into memory, planning, fantasizing—always thinking about how I could be understanding Buddhism better by studying. Why was I wasting my time washing floors and cleaning toilets?
I started to notice something interesting toward the end of my sit. My breath would slow down spontaneously, my body would relax despite the pain, and—miracle of miracles—the voice in my head would stop frantically screaming. It was still there, but more like an undercurrent, a whisper.
Interesting in what way?” I described to him the slowing of the breath, the relaxing into the pain, and the semi-quieting of the self-talk. He said that that was good, and that I was beginning to experience the very first stages of zammai
then he said something that totally blew my mind: “You must try to be in this state at all times, even as you go about ordinary activity.”
“As a general principle, any positive state that you experience within the context of silent sitting practice, you must try to attain in the midst of ordinary life.”
The first is to experience some degree of samadhi during formal sitting. The next is to experience it during simple tasks like cleaning, then to maintain it during more complex tasks like cooking meals, serving guests at the temple, and so forth. The next level of challenge would be to stay in samadhi during small talk. The ultimate challenge would be to stay in samadhi while having important, emotionally charged, social interactions with others.
Finally, I got it! The menial tasks I had been assigned to around the temple were meant to be an exercise in meditation. Whether washing dishes or cleaning toilets, my job was to try to stay in samadhi. When my attention wandered from the activity, I was to bring it back over and over again to my task. By doing that, I should eventually be able to enter that same pleasant, focused state that I experienced while sitting.
Suddenly it all made sense. I stopped thinking of my jobs in the temple as a meaningless waste of time and began to see them as fascinating challenges. Everything shifted: “How deep can I get this morning as I wash these dishes?” “How deep can I stay as I rake the sand?” I also began to notice that it was relatively easy to enter samadhi during the morning chanting. It was natural to let the external sound of the chant replace the internal sound of my self-talk.
Even if he lived, he would be horribly disfigured and blind. In the end, he lived for about a month in agonizing pain and then died.
This turned my life upside down. Up to this point, I had devoted myself to the acquisition of information and the honing of my intellect. But so what if you know a dozen languages and possess an intellect the size of Wisconsin? It won’t help a bit when you’re facing such intensities of pain, terror, and grief.
Dukkha, “suffering”—the first noble truth of Buddhism—hit me like a ton of bricks. Being in horrible physical and emotional pain could happen to me, in fact probably will happen to me, if only toward the end of my life. And it can also happen to everyone I love or am invested in. Indeed, it already had happened to Richard.
I imagined what it would have been like to be in his body, writhing in pain day after day. I would have been in abject hell.
Between reading that letter and receiving the news of his death a month later, a deep shift occurred in my value system. My academic study of Buddhism, my transient glimpse of enlightenment in San Francisco, and the beginnings of tasting samadhi had intellectually convinced me that it was, in theory, possible to experience physical and emotional pain without suffering.
My idol’s horrific death convinced me, emotionally, that I must pursue this goal. That’s how I transformed from an armchair academic to a committed monastic.
That fall, Abbot Nakagawa approached me with a piece of paper upon which were written two Chinese characters: (shin) and (zen).
This shin means “truth,” and zen means “goodness.” The abbot asked me if Shinzen would be an acceptable monk name for me. I was stunned. He was agreeing to ordain me, and giving me a very heavy name.
In essence, the abbot was saying, “There’s a lineage of masters who have lived here for a thousand years. Take it back with you when you return to the U.S.”
I told the abbot that I didn’t think I could live up to the name. He said, “I know that, but is it acceptable to you?” I stuttered, “Yes.”
Abbot Nakagawa told me that if I wanted to be trained in traditional Shingon practice, he would allow it—but I would have to do it the old-fashioned way. I would have to do a solo retreat of one hundred days in winter, most of the time with no source of heat, in complete silence other than occasional instruction from him, and with no meal after noon.
For me, this cold-water purification was a horrific ordeal. Maybe being a thin-skinned Californian had something to do with it. I did notice, however, that if I stayed in a state of high concentration while I did it, my distress was noticeably lessened. On the other hand, as soon as my attention wandered, the suffering became unbearable. I could see that this whole training situation was a giant biofeedback device designed to keep a person in some degree of samadhi at all times.
On the third day of this training, as I was about to pour the water over myself, I had an epiphany. It hit me with crystal clarity. I was faced with a trichotomy; the future forked into three branches. I could spend the next ninety-seven days in a state of high concentration all my waking hours, spend them in abject misery, or give up and fail to complete my commitment. The choice was obvious.
When I completed the hundred-day training, it was the spring of a new year, and I had a new self. I had entered the crucible (or should I say cryostat?) of the traditional Shingon training and had come out a different person. From that time on, I was able to consciously experience the taste of high concentration whenever I wanted to. One hundred days subtracted from my life were really a very small price to pay in order to live a totally different kind of life.
Perhaps science could even discover things about enlightenment that would make enlightenment attainable by large masses of human beings. Perhaps science could democratize enlightenment as it had democratized other aspects of power, comfort, and convenience.
This concept utterly changed my world.
I like to describe mindfulness as a threefold attentional skill set: concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity working together.
For one thing, I learned that impermanence is not merely something that you experience in your sensory circuits. It also informs your motor circuits. It’s a kind of effortless energy that you can “ride on” in daily life. It imparts a bounce to your step, a flow to your voice, and a vibrancy to your creative thought.
I also learned about the expansion-contraction paradigm for how consciousness works.
I learned the importance of not suppressing the arising of self.
Finally, he provided me with a role model around devotion to teaching—an example of seemingly endless availability and service to students. For all of that, I’m eternally grateful.