Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dualistic Parable of The Tilted Table

Awareness Has No Favorites

Two superstitious women sat at a table to have coffee and cookies, and to chat about their day and their children. Immediately the women realized that the table was tilted toward one, and away from the other. Each tried to act interested in what the other was saying, and smile at the appropriate time, but the conversation soon died and the smiles along with it.

Both women began to consider her place at the table, and what this meant. One woman looked at the table and said to herself,  "This table tilts away from me. Surely this means all my good luck will leave me, and run to her. If only I had known in which direction the table was tilted I would have chosen the other seat, and her good fortune would have run to me. This will never do." Unable to bear the thought any longer she made an excuse, and got up to leave the table.

The woman across from her had also been considering the table and said  to herself, "This table tilts toward me. Surely this means that all her bad luck will leave her and run toward me. If only I had known in which direction the table was tilted I would have chosen the other seat, and my bad fortune would have run to her. This will never do." Unable to bear the thought any longer she also made an excuse and got up to leave the table.

The next time they met for cookies and coffee they sat at the opposite side of the table from their last meeting.The smiles and conversation went on and on, each woman satisfied with her place at the table.

The table didn't care! Neither did the Universe!

Peace be with you,

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Fourth of July Advaitamin

The Fourth of July is nearly here. American Independence Day- when patriotism will be in full bloom and all across America there will be backyard cook outs in the afternoon and fireworks when it gets dark. Professional and amateur fireworks displays can be heard for miles in every direction. Everybody likes a good fireworks show and every kid likes to light the fuse on their favorite ones. Hand-held sparklers are, by far, the all time favorite of young American children.

Let me give you a little scenario of one night in front of our house on a Fourth of July night long ago. My best friend Frankie and I were holding sparklers and waving them around in the air, making patterns and light trails. Just before the sparklers went out, we threw them as high as we could into the air to make them look like shooting stars as they arched through the night sky... and landed- to our horror- on a neighbor’s roof. Silence reigned as we all stared, waiting to see if the roof would catch fire. Frankie and I stood condemned. We broke the cardinal rule of home fireworks display: don't throw a burning object onto someone’s house. Fire is the bane of homeowners across the face of the earth, from the poorest in ramshackle huts to the richest in glorious mansions. No one, with the exception of insurance scammers, wants to see their house burn down. Fortunately, the sparklers went out before Mrs. Mendoza's house caught on fire. All's well that ends well.

Here are three possible consequences that can ensue from carelessly throwing sparklers in the air.
If your sparkler lands on a neighbors roof and it catches fire, that's bad.
If your sparkler lands on your roof and it catches fire, that's worse.
 If your sparkler lands on a house on the next block and it catches fire, that's bad… but not as bad, since you don't know them.

The list of consequences is tongue in cheek of course, but there is an underlying principle that gives it meaning and validity. What's at play here, is in one word, "other”  In the  conditioned  world view into which we are all born, there is a concept that takes center stage and insists that it is the only truth of existence. It goes something like this: There is “I” and there is other. Other, being defined as people, and the world we interact with. “I” is subject, other is object. “I” defines, other is defined. “I” knows, other is known. “I” is me and mine, other is you and yours. “I” is most important, other less so. If my sparkler burns down your house I'm sorry, but not as sorry as I would be if I burn my own house down. I, me, mine, are priority. The reverse is also true if your sparkler burns down my house. Why? Because you and yours are other; other in the context we are speaking of is equivalent to separate. Separate implies independence. Where there is independence there is the potential for conflict because now there are two "I's" and two “others”.  
Two people, two families, two religions, two nations all seeing themselves as priority one, and everyone and everything else as other. I, me, mine, we, our, ours; separate, different, open to conflict, willing to hate, willing to enslave, willing to kill, even in the name of the Lord.

I can't change the way of the world. I can only open myself up to the realization that in the understanding of one-ness the end of conflict is born. I'm not writing here to prove it - - it's not provable - - but it is a living reality for some.

What better day to contemplate the inter-connectedness, the one-ness of all things, than on a day that celebrates the opposite: The Fourth of July: American Independence Day.  

Peace be with you,

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Problem with Bliss-ters

Dancing in bad shoes; Ow! Blisters! 
Won't dance for a while.
Learning guitar with bad strings; Ow! Blisters!
Won't practice for a while.
Meditating with bad understanding; Ahh! Bliss-ters!
Do it again tomorrow.
Enlightenment can wait!

Peace be with you,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One, The Loneliest Number?

I'm writing this post without the usual vignette from my life, because frankly I can't think of anything that fits. I am also writing this post in the belief that you are reading this because of interest in the concept of non-duality, and are familiar with the terms and expressions used in my previous discussions.

In non-dual circles a word that has become synonymous with non-duality is the Sanskrit word Advaita which translates as "not two", and often heard in these same discussions is the phrase "one without a second". Both are in reference to the understanding that reality emanates from and is nothing other than an aspect of the Absolute (God, Consciousness) manifesting itself as all things, physical, mental, and spiritual. There is no separate existence. There is not the Absolute and the world, there is only the Absolute. Adi Shankara (788 CE-820 CE) preeminent philosopher of Advaita is often quoted thus:
The world is an illusion
Brahman alone is real
Brahman is the world
 According to Advaita, if reality is not two then it must be one; it would seem then, that the concept of oneness should follow logically. In fact, Oneness is an accepted description of this understanding. The sages affirm that reality is not two, but in defiance of logic, affirm that reality is also not one. This clarification finds expression in the term "not two, not one". Attempting to explain this seeming contradiction is the heart of this posting.

Trusting that a simple explanation is often the best explanation, I begin this discussion with a limited definition of the word before: A designation in time or sequence in relation to a future time or sequence, designated by the word after. It is in the nature of the relationship between before and after, that the understanding of “not two, not one" can be found. Continuing with the theme of relationship; most of us think of, and experience reality in a dualistic manner. If I say black most people will say white, if I say up most people will say down, if I say near most people will say far. It is how we are conditioned to think and reason, and it comes as naturally as breathing. Advaita seeks to lead us beyond this conditioned response in a way that is simple yet profoundly intuitive.

Let us designate before as "one" and after as "two". In this obviously dualistic example: "one" (before) anticipates "two" (after) both temporally and sequentially. In our experience this has always held true.  Advaita raises the question; what happens to "one" (before) if "two" (after) never appears? Can you have a before if there is no after? Can you have an after if there is no before? Likewise, without two, the designation one is meaningless. One no longer has a reference in time or sequence. One is no longer one. One is now all there is, one just is. The Is-ness of reality...which is what we are discussing... is now all we see.

Let's return to our earlier description of non-dual reality, using the new parameter we have established. When we hear the phrase "one without a second" referring to the Absolute, we understand we are not talking about time or sequence, but about a concept beyond our ability to completely comprehend. When we add the clarifier "not two, not one" we become aware that the Absolute never was, and has never been before anything, and that nothing can, or ever will come after.

Peace be with you,

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Advaitamin

This will be a short little post...an Advaitamin.

I can't remember every Halloween that I participated in as a kid, nor can I remember every costume that I wore. Most of those nights, running from yard to yard yelling "Trick or Treat", have faded from memory.  What hasn't faded  is the way Halloween felt, the experience of it: the sights and sounds, jaywalking across streets with a full sack of goodies, the big house with the cheesy scarecrow on the porch, being disappointed when someone gave you raisins instead of candy, being overjoyed when someone gave you a big handful of  chocolates, coming home tired to sort out the nights haul. That was pure fun. That was Halloween.

There is one memory of Halloween that I cherish to this day and look back at as something almost sacred. It was a completely private experience and, until now, I have never discussed nor shared it with anyone else. It was the moment I put on my mask and looked out through the eye holes. In that moment, awareness arose. In that moment I became aware that "I" was looking out from behind the mask. I was just a kid, but I was present to the moment, experiencing a profound sense of being. I couldn't have explained it like that at the time, but that was how it felt.

Many many years have gone by since I last wore a Halloween mask. My masks are more subtle now, and I change them from time to time. What hasn't changed is the fact that "I" am still here, looking out from behind the mask, more precisely, what I am is still here, looking out.

Peace be with you,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One-ness and Mr. Mobius

Once, on a visit to the Los Angeles Museum of Science, I came upon a curious object known as a Mobius Strip. A Mobius Strip is essentially a loop, but with only a half twist in the surface. This half twist is the feature that gives a Mobius Strip it's most peculiar characteristic. It may look like a loop, but it only has one side and one edge. If you try to paint only one side of it, you will inevitably paint all of it. If you try and draw a line down the middle, of one side of it, you will end up drawing a line that meets itself;  because it only has one side. If you try to color what looks like the outside edge, you will soon find yourself coloring the inside edge; because it only has one edge. The Mobius Strip gives you no choice about which surface to paint; because it only has one surface; this makes it the perfect metaphor, for the concept of choosing One-ness.

Choosing to see the One-ness of all things can be a very daunting task, if the mind is still filtering through the divided lens of duality. Years and years of conditioned thinking from a dualistic perspective, will not easily yield to a simple suggestion, that all is one. It is especially hard to see this, when the object you see is manifesting as aversion; something or someone you have no desire to be one with. We only want to be one with people or things, that pass a certain standard. Beauty, pleasure, joy, in all their variations are welcomed; ugliness, pain and sorrow are not. One-ness, like the example of the Mobius Strip, doesn't give you a choice, if it did it would not be One-ness. To choose, to make any kind of distinction, to show any preference intrinsically promotes the exclusion of one over another. Choice, distinction, and preference are antithetical to One-ness.

 The elements of choice arise simultaneously, and cannot stand independently. There is no chooser, without a chosen; no chosen, without a chooser; and no choosing without both a chooser and a chosen. Eliminate any one of the elements and there is no concept called choice.

Where in One-ness is there room for choice? There isn't; there can't be. That would be like saying all leaves room for more. All means all; not less than, not more than. A circle has 360 degrees not 359, not 361. All is complete. One-ness is complete; it can't be added to nor subtracted from, and from this standpoint, gives you no choice. If there is no choice then, by logic, there is nothing to choose, not even One-ness.

 Labels are all we have to express the inexpressible. Duality, non-duality, One-ness, choice, all are just labels; one more thing to cling to, one more thing to transcend. You can't choose One-ness because you are One-ness; you are an aspect of the Absolute One-ness, and so is every other person, and every other thing in all creation.

So, cut yourself a strip of paper; give it a half twist and tape the ends together. Take a highlighter and start coloring what appears to be a side. When you have finished coloring your, "chosen side", you will have colored the entire strip. There was no choice in the matter, there was only One-ness. Thank you, Mr. Mobius.

Peace be with you,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Realusionistically Speaking

Writing is hard work. Writing about a concept that can't be adequately explained with words is especially difficult. Example: Describe in words empty space. Where do you start? You can't describe it's shape, you can't describe it's weight, you can't describe it's color. So far, all we have been able to do is come to an understanding of what it is not. We know it's something, but that's about as far as we can go.

Trying to describe the Absolute and other non-dual concepts, can be just like that. Sometimes the effort  required, to find  the precise word or phrase to explain a subtle point can wear me out. Throw in some grammar and punctuation, and I'm ready for a nap. So, I've decided to take a break from the heavy stuff, -- for at least a paragraph -- and do something for the fun of it. I'm going to coin a word: "Realusion". I doubt that it will catch on or that it will be taken seriously -- and I'm not suggesting that it should --, but it works for me, as they say. Realusion is an obvious and not-so-perfect combination of the words real and illusion, which are key words in the understanding of Advaita or  non-duality. It describes a condition  of existence, that can't be said to be real nor unreal. Realusion. By now I'm sure you're thinking of the word "delusion", and you're thinking of me as you do, but finish reading before you call the white coats to come and get me. 

Sanskrit has a term for what I have been  playfully calling realusion: mithya. Mithya is defined in various ways: illusion, dependent reality, apparent reality. Dr Kuntimaddi Sadananda in an article for Advaita-academy.org says this: " The unreal can never be experienced. Then what about the world? The world is experienced, therefore it is not unreal. But the world itself continuously changes and hence it is not real either. We have to come up with another word which means neither real nor unreal – this is the definition of mithyA. " In English -- as far as I know-- we have no single word that embraces the concept of the real and unreal existing simultaneously in the same object, so I'm calling it realusion.

There are some in the Advaita, non-duality community, who insist that only  the absolute point of view of reality is valid; that there is no person, no doer, no experiencer, and certainly no realusionist. The world is seen as illusion. From the absolute point of view of reality, what they are saying is correct. A person is no more than a mental construct; a fluid amalgam of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, animated by an indescribable life force called Consciousness; (God, the Absolute) which is said to be the only reality: omnipresent, ineffable, absolute.  From the  relative point of view of reality, however, I have no other way to experience this world, except as a person animated by Consciousness. The character Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice had this to say about being a person; " I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" He was showing that there is no difference, in how a Jew experiences life in comparison to a Christian, or any other person for that matter. This is the world of dependent reality: Mithya.

 As discussed in a previous blog The Absolute is omnipresent, everywhere, in all things, always. The substratum upon which is overlaid the world of experience. Any apparent reality only exists as an aspect of the omnipresent Absolute. The Absolute is the world; the world is not the Absolute. Let me say it another way: The Absolute is not just the anvil upon which the vessel of the relative is shattered, it is also the potters wheel upon which the experience of life is shaped. To say otherwise is to miss: the wonder and mystery that is Life -- but what do I know?-- I'm just a realusonist.

Peace be with you,