Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Not One, Not Two

Faces and Vase

     Neil Theise: “When I think of the word ‘enlightenment,’ or ‘kensho’ in Japanese Zen, or ‘awakening experience,’ to me it's not so much about what you discover, but it’s that you have that moment when you see the two faces and then suddenly you see the vase.
    Someone asked me, in a yoga group when I was giving this talk, ‘What’s enlightenment like?’ – like I know (laughing). I had used a video of a murmuration of starlings (see below). And if you’ve ever actually been present for starlings, you may first just hear this sound coming from up there, and you look up and there’s this thing in the sky and then there’s this moment you realize, ‘Oh no, it’s starlings.’ It’s an extraordinary moment! There’s a joy to it and an excitement to it. That to me is an enlightenment experience
    You saw reality one way (face / black cloud), you saw it another way (vase / starlings). The most extraordinary enlightenment experiences are, when you see the world of everyday reality, samsara, and then suddenly you see its non-dual pure awareness aspect (ultimate reality), and they aren’t two. It’s just, do you see it this way (face /
everyday reality), or do you see it this way (vase / ultimate reality)? I think in Zen practice, in Buddhist practice, the question, the aim, how do you alleviate suffering, is learning to flexibly move between these 2 views. We’re separate. I hurt. I’m alone (face / everyday reality). We are seamlessly one whole thing within which everything is just as it should be (vase / ultimate reality). I’m separate. I’m alone. I hurt (face / everyday reality).

    Rick Archer: “And my sense is that … it’s not strictly 'either or.' So as you go along, it becomes more & more blended, 'both and.' And that it may be that, like my video camera right now, I’m in focus and the background is a little bit fuzzy, but then the camera could be adjusted so that I’m a little bit fuzzy and the background is clear. And I think that’s the way it works. As one goes along, eventually there’s always this continuum of pure awareness or self-realization or whatever you want to call it, in the midst of whatever else that's going on.”

Neil Theise: “Right. And you’re just able to do it that much more flexibly & freely. You know, the freedom, when people talk about in Zen terms ... People talk about the freedom of a Zen master, of a Zen adept. The freedom is the freedom to move back & forth (face, vase, back & forth) with ease.”

Rick Archer: “And again, to have both there all the time. And sometimes the fact that it’s there might not be obvious. Always there might not be obvious. If you could sort of say that pure awareness is like a tone, the tone is always going, after a while you wouldn’t be paying so much attention to it, you’d be doing this or that, but any time you want to check, oh yeah, the tone is still there.
    And so, you know, like in my experience, like sometimes if I injure myself, like I fall off my bicycle or something like that. The contrast of that experience makes it, vividly evident that there’s something that’s not affected by that and that something is always there and it just, you don’t have to pay attention to it as 'a thing,' because it isn’t one, but it’s just this, like the screen of a movie – they always use that analogy. The screen is always there no matter what movie is playing on it. But awakening is more like a state where you actually see the screen AND watch the movie at the same time. The movie no longer overshadows the screen.”

Neil Theise: “And not get caught by either. ‘Oh this isn’t real. I’m not going to react emotionally what’s going on because I know it’s just light on a screen. But on the other hand, ‘Oh my God, what a story!’

   Rick Archer: “You want to enjoy the movie - you paid for it. That’s the task, right?”
    Neil Theise interviewed by Rick Archer:


    "Enjoy the problem you're trying to solve!" Wise advice I heard on TV.

    “We are all faced with a series of great opportunitiesbrilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” John W. Gardner

    "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough." George Washington Carver

    "You learn about a thing ... by opening yourself wholeheartedly to it. You learn about a thing by loving it."
Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize-winning geneticist


    David Steindl-Rast PhD (psychology) is a highly- & widely-respected Benedictine monk, 97 years young when he wrote this, his most recent book. As one expects from mystics, Steindl-Rast's book beautifully resonates with Neil Theise & Rick Archer's discussion above:

    "I have been privileged to meet people whose I seemed completely translucent, letting the Self shine through. In their presence, it becomes easier for me to be myself. At such moments, I’m aware of being a unique expression in space and time of the one great Self. Different traditions call the Self under this aspect by different names. For the Native American Pima people it is I’itoi; for Hindus, Atman; for Buddhists, Buddha Nature. Christians call it the Christ within us. St. Paul points to this when he writes, ‘I live, yet not I, Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). To become ever more transparent for the Self in this sense is the great task of ‘becoming who we truly are.’

    That task involves ‘playing my role in life well,’ …

    There is only one Self. To forget this fact amounts to forgetting that it is ultimately the Self that – through its countless manifestationsplays all the roles on the world stage. When I forget that, I become like the actor so lost in my role that, in the end, I can no longer distinguish myself from my role. To the extent to which this happens, my I loses awareness of the Self and, by doing so, becomes an Ego.
    Ego is simply the Latin word for ‘I,’ but we’ll be using it with a negative connotation because we need a word for the I when it loses – partly or completely – awareness of the Self. The more the I forgets the Self that makes it one with all others, the more it feels isolated and becomes the Ego.”

    David Steindl-Rast. “You Are Here. Keywords for Life Explorers.” Orbis, 2023.


    Maturity is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts.” David Whyte, poet & philosopher

    True adulthood … is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces & cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.”
Toni Morrison 

    “There are only two ways to live your life.
     One is as though nothing is a miracle.
     The other is as though
     everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein

    Michael Singer does an amazing job of illustrating how everything is miraculously amazing even with the restricted vision of materialist science: Michael A. Singer “Living Untethered: Beyond the Human Predicament” Sounds True, 2022.

    “The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do what best awakens us to love.”
Saint Teresa of Ávila

    "... one works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn't create more suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.”
Ram Dass


    We are called “to serve not our limitations but what’s whole & unbreakable, our true self. It’s easy to identify with all the places we’ve been hurt & abandoned, but can we identify with the timeless wholeness that weathers every condition? If we can’t, we may spend this life protecting ourselves and never risk really living.” Bonnie Myotai Treace


"A murmuration of starlings"


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