I Love You, Cosmo!

SAMSUNGSo I’m in my car yesterday with a friend and she asks me something to the effect of, “What was your enlightenment experience like?”

This is someone who has read Hardcore Zen and There Is No God and He is Always With You, so she knows what I said about it in those books. She also knows that I’m not very fond of the term “enlightenment experience” because it tends to imply that there is some sort of experience which, once you have it, makes you “Enlightened.” But we knew each other well enough that I knew what she was asking about and I knew that she knew that there was no experience that makes anyone “Enlightened.”

So I was struggling with trying to come up with a way to answer the question she’d asked, to tell her in a direct way something about this moment that has shaped everything that has ever happened since that time – and perhaps shaped everything before it happened too, but maybe it’s best not to go there.

The title of this piece is the mnemonic I used to try to remember what I said to her because I thought maybe it would make a good blog posting. Although I’m not sure if this will actually work or not. I know this person very well, so will the things I said to her be understandable to people I don’t know at all? We shall see. This won’t be precisely what I told her. But it’ll be fairly close.

All of my life I’ve been aware of some very intimate aspect of myself that I have been calling “Brad.” I’ve called it “Brad” because that’s what other people seemed to call that thing. It is a very personal something, this “Brad” aspect of whatever it is that I am. When someone calls the name “Brad” it responds. Or at least that’s what I think happens. When someone says, “I love you, Brad,” it’s that aspect of myself that feels loved. When someone says my books are lousy or my music sucks it gets hurt.

This is an intensely private, close and familiar thing. It is so private, close and familiar that it feels like it cannot possibly be shared. It is the absolute me. It sees the bowl sitting on the table in front of me from a particular angle that no one could possibly see that bowl from even if they pressed their cheek right up to mine. It perceives my private thoughts that no one else can ever know. It knows my darkest secrets. It knows my fondest desires and it knows my most disgusting fantasies. It’s been everywhere I’ve been, done everything I’ve done, heard everything I’ve heard, said everything I’ve said.

People have told me that this “Brad” came into the world on a day in the very early spring when the trees were just starting to think about growing flower buds. They told me this “Brad” would eventually pass away. Some said it would be reborn after that happened. Others said it would go to Hell to atone for its sins forever and ever. Others said it would simply wink out of existence and no one, not even “Brad” itself would know that it ever even existed at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut on that autumn day on that bridge over the Sengawa River (I’m pretty sure it’s the bridge that appears at 2:33 in this video, the person who made the video calls it 打越橋,though I never knew it even had a name*) in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward, I saw clearly and unmistakably that this most intimate something that I thought was mine and mine alone, this thing that I thought was so personal to me that it could not possibly be shared by or even connected to anyone else in any way, this thing that was so unequivocally me that it was the very definition of the word “me,” I saw that this was not me at all.

In fact, this personal and private something was, I now saw, the personality of the entire universe from the beginningless beginning of time right on through eternity. I saw that this thing I thought was located so deeply inside of me that no one could ever even think of touching it was actually spread throughout all the universe. It wasn’t just inside me. It was inside Tau Ceti and Alpha Centuri and the Great Megallenic Cloud. It was there when the Big Bang happened. It was the Big Bang.

I saw that it was the very same intimate, personal, private something – the “me” aspect – of every person that ever lived, will live or could live – including you, dear reader. It was the personal private something of the sky and the sun and the moon and every ant or rock or piece of bird poop anywhere at any time throughout space. Nothing had ever happened or could ever happen without it knowing every intimate detail, bad or good, happy or sad, painful or pleasant.

If that’s not God, then I don’t know what is.

And perhaps I don’t.

Because it didn’t change me into a better person. It did not grant me moral perfection or freedom from the effects of my bad deeds. It didn’t give me magic powers. It didn’t give me extrasensory perception or vast insight into all things. It didn’t even let me know what color brontosauruses were. And that’s something I’d really like to know.

It didn’t leave me with anything to prove to others that it had visited me, like, y’know, when a guy in a sci-fi movie isn’t  sure he really traveled back in time until he reaches into his pocket and discovers he still has the autograph he had Abraham Lincoln sign or whatever. Nope. I got nothing but a funny story I can tell. And not even a cool enough story to get me on one of those shows Oprah Winfrey produces!

I also told my friend it was a little like going through life with a paper grocery bag over your head. Then one day somebody lifts the grocery bag for a couple seconds and you see there’s whole world out there. Then they put the grocery bag back on your head again. She said, “Why don’t you just take it off then?”

I thought about it for a couple seconds and said that I think it’s like Cosmo, my friend Nina’s cat. He’s the cat sitting on my shoulder in the photo on the top of this blog entry. Cosmo sometimes likes to run outside Nina’s apartment if you leave the door open long enough for him to make a break for it. But Cosmo never goes very far. One time he got out and I caught him. I slung him over my shoulder to take him inside. But then I remembered I’d left something in my car. So I started walking toward the parking lot instead of back to the apartment. Cosmo freaked out! He clawed the crap out of my back before I realized what was wrong and headed back inside.

Nina has another cat, Lilly, who sometimes sits and looks through the screen door but never goes out. Maybe sometimes Cosmo tells Lilly about what it’s like outside. Lilly probably just rolls her eyes. Maybe she doesn’t believe in outside. Maybe she thinks Cosmo just made up the whole concept of “outside.” After all, how can Cosmo even prove such a thing exists? Sure, there’s the view out the screen door. But why should she believe what Cosmo says about what’s out there? And especially why should she believe what Cosmo says about there being even more to “outside” than he has seen for himself? But it doesn’t matter if Lilly believes in the existence of outside or not. Her belief or lack thereof doesn’t change anything.

And even though Cosmo has gone maybe ten or fifteen feet into the outside, going any farther is just too scary for him. Ultimately he’s happier in the apartment. It’s familiar to him. It’s home. Even though the idea of freedom excites him, ultimately he likes the limitations of the apartment. They’re comfortable. They’re knowable.

Maybe this body/mind isn’t meant for navigating the limitless vastness of the universe. Maybe its place is here. But knowing that it is a manifestation of something much greater is nice. It makes everything seem at once much more serious and much less solemn and grim.

So there you go.


* Weirdly the first Chinese character in the bridge’s name is the ta from shikantaza or “just sitting” style zazen, the second character means “to cross” and the third means “bridge.” So one way to interpret the name of the bridge would be “the bridge where shikantaza is crossed.” Although I am very certain that’s not the proper interpretation. Google translate says the name of the bridge is Uchikoshi Bridge. There is also apparently a far more famous and beautiful bridge that has the same name.

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41 Responses

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  1. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm |

    What was it Harry used to say, something about the numerology of things…

    Brad comes clean. Thanks, Brad.

    Good news, and now a word from Ben Johnson (about partying?):

    “…Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care will kill a cat, up-tails all, and a pox on the hangman.”

    Eugene O’Neill:

    “BENNY–(with a wink) Curiosity killed a cat! Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm |

    I ain’t askin’ ya, ain’t ya is; I’m askin’ ya, ain’t ya ain’t: well- is ya?

    Gautama studied with two masters, the first whose teaching centered around the attainment of the “Realm of No-Thing”, and the second whose teaching centered around the attainment of “Neither Cessation of Perception and Sensation Nor Yet Not the Cessation of Perception and Sensation”. Gautama said that he arrived at a place where he thought to himself regarding his own attainment, “all this is constructed and thought out, but all that is constructed and thought out is impermanent”. He realized the attainment of the “Cessation of Perception and Sensation”, which I presume he also described as the “Deliverance from Thought Without Grasping”, a cessation of habitual activity regarding the senses including the mind.

    Now here’s where it gets tricky for me: his enlightenment, so far as I can tell from reading the Pali sermon volumes, consisted of the four truths about suffering. His practice consisted of “the setting up of mindfulness that is mindfulness of in-breaths and out-breaths” (also translated “the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths), both before and after his enlightenment, by his own words.

    Yes, he did speak of the extension of the mind of friendliness to infinity in ten directions (perhaps synonymous with the fourth material meditative state?), the extension of the mind of compassion similarly (synonmous with the first immaterial meditative state), the extension of the mind of benevolent joy similarly (the second immaterial meditative state), and the extension of the mind of equanimity to infinity in ten directions (synonymous with the third immaterial meditative state, also known as “the Realm of No-thing”).

    If you would say that the place in which you stood on the bridge that day walked away, who would believe you?

  3. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 29, 2013 at 2:46 pm |

    Must be time for people to ask “big” questions? Just got this today…

    From: ___________________
    To: johneberly@rocketmail.com
    Sent: Monday, July 29, 2013 2:57 PM

    John, forgive my question but have you completely transcended or transmuted from the I thought?


    This is interesting. You’ve heard this before, said differently, or maybe quite the same…I wouldn’t say that “John” did anything, but the “I” thought in terms of relating to the world of objects as opposite to a subject is gone. There was a “witness” phase (and where /when all this went down is lost in time/space, so not sure where the realization came -but again, not to “John” as ego observing something happening to “him”, just as Being in terms of being along with everything else “being” as such now, before, forever…). Sort of a grand summation of all (ALL) coursing through consciousness like a river without beginning or end, like the snake eating its tail in alchemy.

    Said simply: There isn’t an “I.” This is an illusion built up by ego to protect itself and project itself in a fantasy upon the world (another grand illusion made of illusions). Use it like the plastic environment it is (a projection screen for fantasies) for your enjoyment, but let go of the ego-need to control/influence it, just row row row your boat.

  4. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

    I love you, Cosmos

  5. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm |


    “The philosopher Ken Wilber uses the term kosmos to refer to all of manifest existence, including various realms of consciousness. The term kosmos so used distinguishes a nondual Universe (which, in his view, includes both noetic and physical aspects) from the strictly physical Universe that is the concern of the traditional sciences. “

  6. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm |

    Ken Wilber:

    “One taste” is a simple, direct, clear recognition in which it becomes perfectly obvious that you do not see the sky, you are the sky. You do not touch the earth, you are the earth. The wind does not blow on you, it blows within you. In this simple one taste, you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, and swallow the universe whole. Supernovas are born and die all within your heart, and galaxies swirling endlessly where you thought your head was, and it is all as simple as the sound of a robin singing on a crystal clear dawn.”

  7. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    On transcending or transmuting from the I thought.

    The Universe slowly woke up and remembered itself

  8. robert
    robert July 29, 2013 at 8:36 pm |

    Go back outside, Brad. You need to go back outside.

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 29, 2013 at 9:13 pm |

    “If you wish to know the taste of seawater and you live on an island, set out towards the coast and keep going. When you reach the seashore all you then need to do is to bend down, put the finger into the water, and then into the mouth and you will know the taste of all the seven seas. So it is with freedom, it has but one single taste” (Rinzai Zen Master Hakuin)

    “Kobun was always pulling the plug on our projections and false assumptions,” says Sonja Margulies. Many years ago, in the Los Altos sangha, a student challenged Kobun’s frequent mentions of the universality of suffering, as Kobun held his infant son Taido in his arms: “I bet you don’t feel suffering when you are holding your baby.” Kobun answered, “He is my biggest suffering.” Another student gushed, “It must be wonderful to be enlightened.” “It just gets harder,” he replied. To a question, “what is sangha?” posed by a student in an early, romantic phase of practice, he answered, “bottomless garbage can.” Long-time student Martin Mosko recalls, “I did my ngondro practice under Kobun, in retreat. He used to emphasize, “You go into retreat to come out. Your practice is for the benefit of others.” (from cuke.com, here.

  10. fregas
    fregas July 29, 2013 at 9:26 pm |

    As someone who hasn’t experienced the “outside” or the vastness of the universe, I like this explanation a lot.

  11. Nia
    Nia July 29, 2013 at 10:57 pm |

    I felt something when I read this.

  12. buddy
    buddy July 30, 2013 at 12:06 am |

    Norman Fischer: ‘we need to keep a critical eye when we study. as i said last night, right and wrong are both right and both wrong- so it is never possible to be self righteous. but we have the responsibility to make discriminations and use our intelligence and never to advocate violence or racism in the name of truth. this is the trouble with “all things are buddha nature” – why we have to be careful of it. totalizing philosophies often subtly encourage us to gloss over questions of right and wrong and emphasize oneness to a fault. so, as i have been saying, it is necessary that we enter oneness, that we drop our self, find our feet. but then we have to get up and walk, make distinctions and decisions and act on them with commitment.’

  13. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 30, 2013 at 5:50 am |

    Chogyam Trungpa:

    All of your schemes and thoughts and ideas are empty! If you look behind their backs, it is like looking at a mask. If you look behind a mask, you see that it is hollow. There may be a few holes for the nostrils and the mouth–but if you look behind it, it doesn’t look like a face anymore. It is just junk with holes in it. You realize that you are just authoring absurd, nonexistent things. That is the best protection for cutting confusion.

  14. Fred
    Fred July 30, 2013 at 5:55 am |

    The relative is in constant flux, with new stuff constantly arising. You could
    not influence what arose yesterday, let alone today. And the self in everyday life is a part of that flux.

    Distinctions and decisions are illusions.

    A 100 foot flagpole up your ass is about as real as it gets.

  15. Fred
    Fred July 30, 2013 at 6:03 am |
  16. zaroff
    zaroff July 30, 2013 at 6:38 am |

    Lilly: Did you take a ride on the Brad again?
    Cosmo: Hm, yes. Bit wobbly. I like the wind though.
    Lilly: Did he recite a koan again about the wind?
    Cosmo: Not as such. He said he had the wind..
    Lilly: Really, he has the wind? Where?
    Cosmo: Where-ever that noise comes from i guess..
    Lilly: Is that wind outside?
    Cosmo: Yes and no. My Bradmover carries some with him.
    Lilly: He must be bigger than i thought.
    Cosmo: He is.

  17. zenrocker
    zenrocker July 30, 2013 at 8:48 am |

    Thank you for sharing “Brad”.

    Although words are very limiting in describing a personal experience and the levels of distortion between the two ends are immense, I still feel I can grasp a tiny bit of that experience.

  18. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 30, 2013 at 8:24 pm |

    “but then we have to get up and walk”.

    At the close of a lecture at S.F. Zen Center city center in the 1980’s, Kobun said, “You know, sometimes zazen gets up and walks around.”

    “So it is with freedom, it has but one single taste”- my take would be that it’s freedom of mind that he refers to, and that is the freedom occasioned by the cessation of ignorance that is at the same time the cessation of any stationing of consciousness.

    Thanks for Paul Butterfield, Fred!

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 30, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

    ah, the cessation of ignorance –> cessation of the exercise of will, even to get up and do good –> cessation of a station of consciousness –> cessation of name and form –> cessation of feeling (occasioned through will and by a stationing of consciousness) –> cessation of craving –> cessation of grasping after self === the cessation of suffering.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence July 31, 2013 at 8:08 am |

      No suffering
      No origination
      No stopping
      No path
      No cognition

      And also no extinction of them.

  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 31, 2013 at 3:35 am |

    —> cessation of the exercise of will, even to get up (zazen) and…walk around?

    Hey Mark, have you seen this, is it worth a look?..


    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot July 31, 2013 at 5:56 pm |

      I’ve read it. Jobs had a relationship with Chino-roshi that surprised me. The graphic did a good job of presenting it.

      Ultimately, Jobs seemed to prefer Zen’s aesthetic to working to realize its core.

  21. Fred
    Fred July 31, 2013 at 5:01 am |

    Luke Skywalker meets Obi Wan but doesn’t hold the hand of the Absolute.

  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm |

    Mumbles, I have seen excerpts from the comic before; in the post-word they point out that it’s a reimagining, and to tell you the truth I don’t hear Kobun in the words they have him speak. Aside from that, looks like a great comic.

    The taste of freedom thing, that stays with me. I wrote this:

    “Just before I fall asleep, my awareness can move very readily, and my sense of where I am tends to move with it. This is also true when I am waking up, although it can be harder to recognize (I tend to live through my eyes in the daytime, and associate my sense of place with them). When my awareness shifts readily, I realize that my ability to feel my location in space is made possible in part by the freedom of my awareness to move. ”

    It does seem possible to recognize that freedom of awareness to move, and I do dip a finger into ten directions to infinity and bring it to my lips, as it were, in opening up to that freedom.

  23. SoF
    SoF July 31, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    kanagawa chigasaki posted that video… That is strange.

    I spent some time in Kanagawa and Chigasaki Beach is where a ‘romance’ started with my future bride… jeeze, that was just 30 years ago…

    obtuse reference: http://lang-8.com/420880/journals/1529478/Do-you-know-Kanagawa%253F

    a more recent video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2nWIwmM8Y0

  24. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 1, 2013 at 9:23 am |

    Thank you all for your comments on the Jobs/Kobun comic, I’ll likely try it.

    I’ve been getting several questions lately from people, and one person sent me this link I’d sent them years ago that has a lot of good stuff on it for anyone so inclined to read it.


    I make no claims and am not a “spiritual teacher” -more of a regular bum than a “dharma bum” but do what I can to point sincere people in a direction they seem to be going anyway. I never take any money, never have, never will. I noticed in the link above this is said quite clearly and as I understand it:

    “Authentic spiritual teachers never accept monetary donations, never charge any fees, and never have a collection plate or donation box. When money changes hands that is business, not spirituality. “Spiritual teachers” who accept money are really just business people. Beware of them.”

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |

      I like this:

      Sixth Ring
      Ceasing to Pretend One Wishes to be Liberated
      A look at tricks the ego uses to preserve its imaginary self.

  25. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 1, 2013 at 10:32 am |

    That said, I did direct one person to purchase Brad’s new book as the nature of the question is in line with what Brad is investigating. I have often over the years sent people to Brad/his books. IMO, he’s a unique, informed, modern Zen man.

    But I come here mostly to play.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |

      Barbara O’Brien’s review of TINGAHIAWY:


      Btw, she’s also recently written a number of posts to her blog touching on the limits of science, Scientism, Buddhism & Science, etc. I’ve been tempted to join the arguments in these threads about these topics, but they’re just so ego-grabbing and time-consuming. Barbara expresses much of what I would have said.

  26. Fred
    Fred August 1, 2013 at 11:34 am |

    “Shut your eyes.
    Notice your awareness. Observe that awareness.
    Turn your attention away from the world, body and thought, and towards awareness watching awareness.

    If you notice you are thinking, turn your attention away from thought and back towards awareness watching awareness.”

    Who or what is observing the awareness. If it is said that it is just awareness, and that awareness is empty of content, is this just a semantical trick?

    You could say that it’s awareness, but it’s really some aspect of ego.

  27. Fred
    Fred August 1, 2013 at 11:35 am |

    Barbara posted here on one thread.

  28. Fred
    Fred August 1, 2013 at 11:51 am |

    “64.Awareness paying attention to awareness to the exclusion of all else.
    65.Awareness paying attention only to itself.
    66.The results were instant!
    67.From the very first moment one tries this practice, one is abiding as awareness!
    68.There is no waiting!
    69.It is so easy.
    70.One does not mean to imply that from the beginning the ego ends.
    71.It takes years of continuous practice before the ego meets its final end.”

  29. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm |

    Meanwhile, back to the show….

    (Warning, the first few seconds of graphics is randomly horrific and out of place as German is spoken over (?), then on to Sonny Boy Williamson II aka Rice Miller THROWING DOWN…Hang w/it: it goes from great to AMAZING by the end.)


    Now THAT’S Entertainment!

  30. Cloud Cave
    Cloud Cave August 1, 2013 at 7:56 pm |

    There is a commonality to mystic experience that transcends the disciplines that attempt to frame it. It was the genius of Siddhartha Gotama to instill a profound sense of non-self so that when that transcendent experience of universal unity comes about we don’t then identify the entire universe as “our-self”, rather we understand what we really are, radiation with no radiator. Limitless beings with no edges. The whole and the particular simultaneously, yet nothing that can said. In god based religions, there is a real danger that this experience suggests that the “small I” becomes the “big I”, in other words “God”.
    In regards to your statement that it really didn’t make you a different person, to quote Jack Kornfield, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

  31. wbtphdjd
    wbtphdjd August 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm |

    If I told you what it takes
    To reach the highest high
    You’d laugh and say nothing’s that simple
    But you’ve been told many times before
    Messiah’s pointed to the door
    No one had the guts to leave the temple

    –The Who

  32. Blind Turtle
    Blind Turtle September 19, 2013 at 11:56 am |

    I really like this post, Something in it and for that matter something within Brad’s consistent tone finally moved me today. I was trying to encourage myself to sit zazen as I often have to do in a sort of carrot and stick method. Then at once very gently the thought occurred to me as if for the first time, that there was no real reason to sit, I wouldn’t get anything out of it and that wasn’t the way life worked anyway. And for once I was OK with this idea of getting nowhere, for a while it just wasn’t about me anymore. And then I just sat. And I sat in a way I now feel one should sit. Thank you so much Brad, keep working that voodoo that you do the best.

  33. jason farrow
    jason farrow August 15, 2015 at 4:05 pm |

    idk…my guess is that it is something that should be stated, and something that shouldn’t be stated.

    i’ve read that it’s just something that when a person speaks about it, they just lightly touch upon it.


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