August 31, 2010

The Power of an Open Question - One with Everything?

roboppy flickr

When we don't yet have a direct experience of interdependence and boundarylessness things can get a little abstract and vague. For instance, sometimes when first encountering the Middle Way people think, "Well if we can't find the parameters of self and other it must mean that everything is one." Have you heard the joke: "What did the Buddha say to the hot-dog vendor?" "Make me one with everything." But what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that everything is the same? Most of us would argue that we don't experience the world in that way.

The Buddha didn't say that everything was one. He said that everything arises in dependence upon something "other." I think when people say that everything is one, they mean that they feel connected to everything around them—now, this does relate to the experience of interdependence. When we pay attention to language, we begin to understand subtleties that change the way we see things.

- Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, The Power of an Open Question

Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel’s Tricycle Retreat starts a week from today on Tricycle.com! Join the Tricycle Community to enjoy the retreat and get her book, The Power of an Open Question, at 30% off.

[image: roboppy]

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[...] Tricycle » The Power of an Open Question – One with Everything? [...]

Oneself's picture

Samantabhadra, why so defensive?

Samantabhadra's picture

How does anyone really know what the buddha said? Not only are we removed from first-hand accounts by a number of centuries, but we also cross a number of language barriers to get there.

And what does it matter in the end? Will a dialectal argument actually bring us closer to the silent truth within?

The idea that "being one with everything" entails an attribution of ultimate sameness which is then said to be very different from the common experience of "most of us" is perhaps evidential of some other investigations into a phenomena termed "one taste" - also perhaps yet to come for the author.

It is understandable that the realm of conceptual thought is the most prevalently addressed topic in modern traditions, considering the great deal of additional layers we have accumulated as society since the ancient traditions were coming about. However, the clarity, joy and peace that freedom from conceptual thought brings about seems often for modern practitioners to be at best a stumbling block and at worst an insurmountable obstacle.

Often people who have such experiences will point to the ancient idea that "all is maya" and that all is illusion or having no intrinsic reality. While this may be so, unfortunately for the vast majority of people this is nothing more than an intellectual fantasy. If it were truly so - then the illusion would have no power to affect the mind once it was recognized as such. At this point you could set fire to your arm and just watch it burn, with no consequences. However, once you try this experiment you will see just how much power and influence this so-called "illusion" actually has over your existence. If it was truly unreal, then you would be free of all its consequences in their entirety. Such all-pervasive and absolutely penetrating insight may be possible, however to simply pretend that one has such insight is a great misstep.

For we now must address not only the conceptual layer of symbolic and abstract thought which includes words, numbers, and images, but also other aspects of the natural organism which are far more pressing in terms of physical effect. The realm of the senses and instinctual needs are primary tools for what the human animal does to survive. The realm of feelings and emotions which tend to motivate actions and thought can also paralyze it.

These other more visceral aspects of practice are often neglected, and sometimes ignored altogether in the pursuit of the "ultimate argument" or the most non-conceptual concept. More commonly they are given the basic lip service, or regarded as afterthought or something that will take care of itself after non-conceptual realization has become stabilized. However, this is not the case. It is entirely possible to come to the point of lasting silence and then obsessively fixate on this lack of fixation, and simply indulge in the freed energy which manifests as bliss. In fact this seems to be the most prevalent type of teaching which reaches commercial success, and therefore it is the most widely promoted.

An empty mind which is stabilized in freedom of conceptual thought is only a preliminary work for the modern practitioner. The reconnection with the basic essentials of life which have a coarser material substance is the legacy of modern practice that our technologically "advanced" civilization has brought about by its all-consuming focus on abstraction and the perfection of such thought. In the past, this recommendation was most likely not necessary. The people were much closer to material life by virtue of the lack of technology to mediate its manipulation.

While the all-out effort of some teachers to penetrate the modern person's enormous storehouse of conceptual conditioning is of course admirable, noble, etc. - it is possible that such focus will become a detriment to the greater path which it is part of. The even balance of qualities is an essential practice and ultimately must be addressed. I would rather people realize this now than have to wait till they die to discover it.

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