Lots of times when I write a book, I end up writing stuff that’s good but doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. The following section was cut out of my forthcoming book Stop Hitting Yourself: And Other Lessons I Learned from the Zen Ethics of Time, Space, and Being.
A lot of people make great claims for insights that can be had through the use of psychedelic drugs. I’ve done a few of those drugs myself and experienced some insights. Yet whenever the drugs wore off I ended up right back where I started. And I wondered why. This is the reason my phase of psychedelic exploration was so brief. It was clear that nothing I learned from those experiences really stuck around.
I’ve also had some pretty amazing experiences around my meditation practice. The insights associated with those experiences stayed with me a lot longer. Yet, no matter what experiences I had, or how profound they were, whether brought on by drugs or by meditation, I still ended up back here as soon as they were done. Why?
in his book Embracing Mind, Kobun Chino had an interesting way of explaining that phenomenon. He said, “in the deep center of our life, we are always checking (ourselves). If we don’t check it, there is no tomorrow, no way to receive tomorrow. In other words, the entire system checks it, even as you rest and sleep.”
The particular something that flows through time and space and which appears here and now as “me” always keeps track. If it didn’t keep track, I couldn’t continue to exist. There could be no tomorrow for “me” unless “me” continues on the same trajectory. What I am, in some sense, is not an individual who follows a trajectory. I am the trajectory of a certain very specific way of existing in the phenomenal universe.
In Kobun’s words, my “body is checking where to be, with whom to be.” It is “choosing the most level place.” This body exists because the universe as a whole is looking for the most level place for this specific way of existing that I define as “me” to be. I can get in the way of that process. But I cannot stop it. Actually, this sort of checking is the best thing that can possibly happen to “me.” It is in my best interest to allow it to occur.
Kobun also says, “What we see is all appearing in relative forms, and the mind is reflected in those relative forms. Each of those forms is actually how you can be. Our knowledge about what we are doing, what we are experiencing, is very, very small, but what is happening is incredibly complicated.”
The relative forms we that see, which appear to be beings and things other than ourselves, are reflections of our minds. What we see before us is ourselves in the mirror that is the universe. Have you ever seen a dog barking at its own reflection in a mirror or a window? That’s us.
In the beginning of practice this is usually hard to accept. It becomes clearer as the practice continues. The reason it is initially unclear is that, as individuals, our knowledge of what we are experiencing is limited to what we as an individual can perceive. Which is a very tiny slice of reality. The whole of reality is far too big and complicated for the individual to perceive or to comprehend.
In fact, we will never know the whole of it. But we can come to know that our own perceptions are unreliable, and that the thoughts we indulge in based on those perceptions are even more unreliable. Knowing this, we can make efforts to do what Nishijima Roshi called “following circumstances.”
To do this, we rely not on thought or perception, but on intuition. We accept who we are right now and we accept the circumstances we are in at this moment and we try to do the right thing here and now.
We now sit IN PERSON at the Angel City Zen Center in Los Angeles on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings. For details check aczc.org
Angel City Zen Center now meets on ZOOM several times each week often with Brad giving the lectures. We’re even having an online retreat in November. For details check aczc.org
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