Before we get started, I wanted to let all three of you who might be contemplating coming to the weekly Zazen class in Santa Monica about our upcoming schedule. First off, there WILL be Zazen classes on August 26th and on September 9th. I’ll be there on Aug. 26th and Kevin Bortolin, a fellow student of Gudo Nishijima, will take over for me on Sept. 9th. For most of September I will be in Japan. Our annual Zazen Retreat in Shizuoka is September 2-4. I’ll be returning to Los Angeles on Sept. 17th. So I’m planning to start the regular Zazen classes again on September 23rd. I’ll update the webpage once I’ve confirmed everything.
OK. Now on to today’s rant.
The other day someone wrote and asked my opinion about a process Scientologists use, known as “Auditing.” This guy thought that most of Scientology was pretty hokey. But he was intrigued by their claims of having created a technology of spiritual awakening. He asked if I thought we could apply this kind of approach to Buddhism.
Apparently Auditing is where you go in and a trained Scientologist leads you through a series of pre-ordained steps, at each point monitoring your responses on a doo-hickey called an “E-Meter.” The E-Meter tells your Scientologist guide how you’re doing and helps him determine how to proceed. Here’s what their website says about the principle upon which this technology is based.
“In Scientology it is known that there are many states of existence beyond that of so-called normal man. This has been touched on by earlier philosophies but what is new about Scientology is that one can predictably attain these higher states of existence.
“Although some savants in the Himalayas have worked in this direction, Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha) spoke of it at length, at least fifteen or twenty years of hard work were required for what was, at best, an uncertain outcome.
“With Scientology, there are no such uncertainties. Higher states of existence are attainable through auditing.”
Of course this is all a load of bullshit.
I think it’s important to address this matter because I get variations on this question a lot and I’m aware that there are entire schools of thought and practice based around the same idea. Some of these even present themselves as “Buddhism.” But they aren’t. Sometimes I’m asked if bio-feedback might be a good way to ascertain if one is making proper progress in Zen practice. Once I spoke to a guy who was certain one day we’d develop a drug that would balance the autonomic nervous system. I’ve seen various trademarked processes like Big Mind™ that claim to have distilled Buddha’s teachings into an easy to follow system which can speed us on the way to spiritual fulfillment.
The basic idea behind this kind of thinking goes like this. First, we assume that there is a better state than the one we have now. Then we assume that someone else has experienced this state and knows how to get us to it. It therefore follows that, if such a person devised a process or a machine or a drug that could induce this state, we could then use that process, machine or drug to experience the state ourselves quickly and easily. Thus we do not have to waste loads of effort on dreary, time-consuming practices like meditation and will have more time to sit around watching Three’s Company reruns or whatever. Moreover, since the process has been devised for us by an expert and tested on others who offer glowing testimonials to its effectiveness, there is no danger that we might spend a lot of energy on something which will fail us in the end.
Here’s why this is not Buddhism, and, more importantly, why it is not true. Let’s start with the idea of higher states of consciousness. How, exactly, is a higher state of consciousness defined? First of all, we assume that there is something called “consciousness.” We have consciousness. Or we are conscious. In any case there is “me” and there is “consciousness” which is experienced by “me.” But consciousness is really just an idea. Just like the idea of self. How do we separate “me” from “consciousness?” Even if you say “I am a being of pure consciousness” you’re still conceiving it as 2 distinct things. This is what the brain does. It must carve things into pieces. It can never envision wholeness. Buddha tried to find the line where one can separate “consciousness” from the things one was conscious of. He found there was no line between them at all. Consciousness may be a faulty idea at best.
Even if we accept that consciousness is real, or at least that the word, however limited, describes something real, then we have the problem of higher and lower. Who is to say that one state of consciousness is any higher than another? After all, there is no way to experience two states of consciousness at the same time and compare them. In fact, comparison itself is a pretty dodgy thing. In the case of consciousness, you have to compare the state you have now with whatever you imagine a higher state must be like. Your imaginative ideas about that higher state are drawn from your own stew of memories, ideas and fantasies. In other words your conception of “higher states” is based only upon your experiences with “lower” ones.
Then we have the problem of our expert who says he knows all about those higher states and how to guide you to them. In every case I have ever encountered, these experts seem to charge a lot of money for their secrets. It’s not hard to see that the only higher state they’re really interested is a higher tax bracket.
Buddhism rejects the idea of higher states completely. Furthermore, it rejects the idea that one can ever progress from any level to any other level. Nagarjuna even questions the idea of “change” as we commonly accept it.
Buddhism has nothing to do with attaining higher states. Higher states are just a fantasy. You may be able to create a pretty fantasy and devise ways of attaining it. But what you have attained is only the fulfillment of your fantasy. It is never the reality of here and now.
What is really needed is not the ability to induce temporary lapses into so-called “higher states,” but the ability to understand thoroughly and exactly what this state we have right here and right now truly is (and is not). This is the key to everything. When anger, hatred or greed arises and one understands them fully for what they are, they have no power. You will never understand the truth of these things by running away from them into fantasies of “higher consciousness.” They will always, always, always come right back and bite you on the ass as soon as your vacation in the astral plane is over. The reason is simple. It was greed for spiritual power, anger at your lack of progress and hatred for those less “spiritual” than you that got you to your so-called “higher state” in the first place.
There are serious problems in the world right now! Stop farting around with toys and games!