It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely, so perhaps we should be careful but the saying itself reveals something important: the absolute can be experienced in the here and now and is not merely an abstract principle.
In the Two Truths post it was mentioned how the teachings have a two-way street structure, namely either starting from the fruition (enlightenment) and working back as it were, or starting from confusion and working forward from there. Not mentioned but also of course one can do both at the same time depending on what pops up at any given moment.
But if we are not enlightened already how can we start from that? Because as already explained in the Trikaya post, there are many things going on at once in our experiential continuum, the analogy given being that of how waves which have a seemingly separate and distinct identity as such, each wave being unique and different and in a unique place each time, are nevertheless continuously inseparable from the ocean of what they are a part and not apart from. This is more than just logic; it is truth.
Similarly, in meditation we often experience thoughts. Different traditions have different ways of dealing with them. Simply put there are three main approaches:
- Eliminate them: this involves developing the skill to enter various trance states in which no thought arises, no pain or pleasure either.
- Similar to 1) but instead of eliminating them channel them into a stream-like experience which doesn’t change and which usually involves experiencing intense bliss, clarity-luminosity and/or emptiness-transparency. Ancient Hindus mastered this millennia ago – indeed the Buddha for a while mastered this – and there are many adepts in this style of samadhi-generation to this day.
- Become aware of the nature of one’s being as it is all the time, thoughts just being part of that ongoing process. This latter is the approach of most Buddhist schools.
This brings to mind the old saying: “first there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is.” First, a little background from Tricycle Magazine: “During the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese Ch’an [Zen in Japanese] master Qingyuan Weixin famously wrote: “Before I had studied Ch’an for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance, I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.” First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”
To unpack this a little: first we see things as we habitually see them in the relative truth world, with waves and ripples and foam and spray all being separate, unique phenomena, and ourselves as well witnessing them, and each moment this happens different from other moments which have happened before or will happen later as we sit on the beach observing such things.
Later though, we might realize that everything we are seeing, being it outer or inner phenomena, is filtered through mind. A fly does not see the table the same way we see the table. Furthermore, we might not see the table the same way our family member does because a table is more than the object alone, it has an emotional context bringing up certain memories and feelings some to do with the past some with the present. For example, to the son it is a place where later on he has to do homework instead of running around outside with his friends; to the wife it is where dinner will soon happen and the family will get together; to the husband it is where he gets to talk to his family all together, the only time that happens every day. And so on.
But it’s more than that: if you go deeper you can learn to see how we have constructed the notion of ‘table’ in order to see it as such. Is the table its legs, or its surface, or the wood pieces its made of or the polish or the stain or the grain or the location or the function? It is none of those things but without any of those particulars it would not be this table. So the table is actually a conceptual overlay bundling all its different constituent parts into a cognitively recognizable whole which we label ‘table.’
“First there is a table then there is no table.”
But this idea that there is ‘no table’ is yet another label because of course there IS a table – it’s right there and we can all see it and sit around it together, clearly. Before we dismiss the whole thing, though, let’s pause to consider: we are not just discussing tables and how we perceive them, but actually our whole world and ourselves and everyone we know in it. Put more directly, this involves how we see ‘I’ and ‘you.’ But let’s stick with just ‘I’ or ‘me.’ Just as with the table, the notion of ‘I’ inside is a cognitive construct. There is no ‘I’ apart from that construct or rather even if there is we are not able to see it unless we drop the habitual cognitive and emotional patterning (aka ‘habits’) we have in observing and experiencing them. We have to see through our habitual cognitive labelling process – ‘no mountain, no table, no ‘I.’
Once we do so, then we can see the mountain, see the table and also see the ‘I’ again albeit now freshly, without the habitual, self-centered cognitive overlays.
The point here is that this can be done. In fact it is happening moment after (illusory) moment all the time anyway. This can be likened to how no matter the drama of the particular, ever-changing displays of wave action on the surface, the ocean underneath remains always and forever essentially the same. Clouds form, move around and then dissolve back into the sky. Clouds and the sky are not two. Waves and the ocean are not two. Mind and thoughts – including the habitual patternings that create the sense of solid ‘I’ and solid others – similarly are not two.
This means that the nature of mind is not apart from the nature of thoughts even if those thoughts give us the deluded sense that they are separate from mind. Perhaps to be clear let us use two different spellings for mind, namely Mind and mind or Big Mind and little mind. Big Mind, or Mind, is the fundamental nature of Mind which is there all the time throughout our waking and sleeping experiences, aka ‘life.’ Little mind, or mind, is the individual thinking mind throwing up thoughts of this, that and the other all the time. Even though the nature of little mind is the same as the nature of Big Mind, it appears to us that they are different because it seems like we are separate, independent, continuous, solid beings apart from and not a part of our surroundings. That is the cognitive construct of the self that we begin to see through when we tune into the underlying nature of those habitual thought patterns and start to directly experience Mind.
As we do so – first with occasional glimpses, later more continuously as those initial glimpses ‘take’ – the seemingly solid projection of me and my mind are seen as not be separate from the overall field, or continuum, of Mind and thus are somewhat transparent. This is exactly the same as when you contemplate waves on the ocean seeing both their unique and particular characteristic whilst at the same time also seeing how they are one with the ocean, they and all their neighbouring waves which are coming and going moment by moment.
First there are waves; then there are no waves; then there are waves.
Once you see the waves as being not different from the ocean, then you can see the waves as they are free from the labelling process. Once you see ‘me and my mind’ as not different from the nature of Mind then you can work with ‘me’ and ‘mine’ without grasping and attachment at which point there is an experience of being free which is called ‘liberation’ in the Buddhist jargon.*
In the terminology of the previous post, Big Mind is Absolute Truth or Absolute Dharma. Dharma means ‘that which is’ or ‘suchness’ or ‘a fact, a truth.’ Big Mind is the dharma, the underlying actual nature, of both Big Mind and little mind, aka ‘my mind’ or ‘your mind.’ This absolute nature doesn’t change no matter what my mind’s thought and feeling patterns are throwing up just like the ocean doesn’t change with different wave actions and the nature of the sky doesn’t change with different cloud formations. Because such natures do not change – mind, ocean, sky – they are absolute in the sense that they are always there throughout any arising, dwelling and ceasing of related phenomena all of which happen transparently within them.
There is no experience in our life without the medium of mind. At first we think of it as the medium of ‘me’ with me being some sort of solid, continuous, separate entity walking around a solid, continuous world with different objects, creatures and locations. But then we realize all such phenomena – objects, creatures and locations – happen within the sphere of experiential mind which itself happens within the sphere of Big Mind. All phenomena take place within the realm of experience and all experience is part of the continuum of Big Mind which can be likened to ocean or sky.
This Big Mind continuum – or ‘field’ in quantum theory language – can be experienced directly. So absolute truth can be experienced directly as the nature of mind. And you can begin with that or rather make that the founding premise of your spiritual path and practice. Or you can deconstruct the relative and habit-maintained constructs engendering our habitual perceptions of self and other so that, by showing they lack the substance and continuity we collectively ascribe to them, we can poke holes in the clouds, so to speak, letting the sky of our underlying nature and the underlying nature of reality show through until at some point those clouds dissolve back into the sky from whence they arose and we see that the nature of phenomena and the nature of mind are not two, are all part of the same overall continuum.
So both paths lead to the same end which is the inseparability of relative and absolute, of waves and ocean, of clouds and sky, of self, other and Mind.
* jargon: 1: the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jargon)