Pure Awareness?

PureAwarenessI’m on retreat and can’t post. Here’s a rerun of an article I did on my older blog, posted May 12, 2012

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My name is Brad and I subscribe to Deepak Chopra’s Twitter feed.

Hi Brad!

I don’t even really “get” Twitter. I’m not sure just what you’re supposed to do with it. The best stuff I’ve seen there has been funny one-liners like Shit My Dad Says or my friend Precious Veal.  She’s a hoot!

A lot of “spiritual” type guys are on Twitter these days throwing out little sound bytes of spirituality. But I doubt there’s anything truly worthwhile in the realm of spiritual practice that can be reduced to 140 characters.

Of course, having said that I also have to mention that there is a tradition in Zen of so-called “turning words.” These are short phrases that, when heard by just the right person at just the right time, have a profound effect. One such phrase that often gets quoted is, “From birth to death it’s just like this.” A lot of the koans end with “turning words.” For me, hearing the phrase “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” really blew my head right off when I was about 18 years old.

But I seriously doubt that a Twitter feed is the best way to disseminate “turning words.” It’s not like those ancient Zen guys subscribed to a service that would sling random “turning words” at them from multiple sources of varying quality at a rate of four to six an hour popping up on their cell phones among fart jokes from drive time DJs and news about Paris Hilton’s latest Brazilian wax job. It was a different sort of thing altogether.

I’ve responded to a couple of Deepak’s tweets already. But one came up last night that I think really needs to be addressed in detail.

Right at the outset I want to emphasize that this is not about the man Mr. Deepak Chopra himself. It’s about what he tweeted. It’s not even about everything he tweets. It’s about this one specific tweet. I don’t know enough about Mr. Chopra to criticize him as a human being or even as a brand. I know he’s got a comic book series and a bunch of TV shows and even a video game. As dubious as the spiritual applications of these things seem to me, I’m not even all that fussed about them. If someone wanted to make a graphic novel or a video game out of Hardcore Zen, I’d probably do it. So this isn’t about that.

It’s about what Mr. Chopra says in his tweet. And what he says is this:

When you reach pure awareness you will have no problems, therefore there will be no need for solutions.

Let’s analyze that for a minute.

When (in the future, not now) you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) reach (whatever you imagine to be) pure awareness you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) will have (in the future) no problems (for your self), therefore there will be (in the future, not now) no need for (you to have) solutions (and won’t that be wonderful, over there, past that hill, just out of sight, let me sell you a way to get there).

If it were only Deepak Chopra who believed this, it wouldn’t really matter much. But this is how pretty much everyone approaches meditation practice and it’s why meditation practice seems to fail those people. It is certainly how I myself thought of practice for a very long time. I wanted something for myself. I might have even thought of what I wanted to get in terms of “pure awareness.” I read enough shitty books that used shitty phrases like that.

There is no pure awareness for you.

That might sound harsh. But really it’s not. What you are can never enter that place. Because youare the subject that sees things in terms of objects. Joshu Sasaki put it like this in his book Buddha is the Center of Gravity; “The God that is standing in front of you as an object says, ‘I am your God.’ But he is not. Even if that God has great power, he is not the real God.”

Pure awareness, whatever that is, or God (my preferred term), cannot be the object of you, cannot be the possession of you, it isn’t in your future, it isn’t something you can ever possibly reach. It will not solve all of your problems. It couldn’t even if it wanted to. It’s a fantastic dream that can never come true.

This doesn’t mean everything is bleak and horrible and hopeless. It just means that approaching it in terms of you and the things you want to get cannot possibly work. It can’t work precisely because thinking of things in terms of you and what you want to get is exactly the thing that blocks it.

The attitude expressed in Mr. Chopra’s tweet sits right at the very epicenter of where things have gone wrong for mankind. It is the source of all of our troubles. The solution to what’s wrong in the world is not some distant dream of pure awareness. It’s the understanding that what exists right now is pure awareness, is God, whether you know it or not. We, who seek to know it and possess it, are the very thing that makes it so hard to understand that.

A couple of blogs ago Broken Yogi made a comment that, “Brad is mixing categories. I can’t pole vault 18 feet like a top Olympic athlete, but I doubt that athlete would call me physically ill because I can’t do that… Likewise, I’m not enlightened, but I’m not spiritually lame either.”

In response I said something like, “Enlightenment (I hate that word) isn’t like pole vaulting 18 feet. It’s more like walking to the bathroom, if we were to continue that analogy. Most people, instead of walking to the bathroom, which (let’s say) just happens to be 18 feet away instead try to pole vault to the bathroom. And they can’t do it because the ceiling is too low. Yet they try anyway and keep injuring themselves. The pole keeps breaking, they keep hitting their heads, they keep beating themselves up over not being able to do it, and they still have to pee. The only thing an enlightened person (I hate that term) does differently is that she walks straight to the bathroom, does her business and then goes back to bed.”

Enlightenment or pure awareness or God or whatever isn’t some complicated thing we have to chase after far, far away. It’s the chasing itself that gets in our way. We wear ourselves out running in circles to try to arrive at the place we already are.

I’ve got a new book coming out soon! Stay up to date on its release schedule, my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page!


September 24, 2015 7:30pm Belfast, N. Ireland Oh Yeah, Belfast (Q&A)

September 27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 1-DAY RETREAT

October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova

November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT

April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”


All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.

Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

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Don’t donate to Deepak! He’s a millionaire! Donate to me! Your donations are important. I appreciate your on-going support!

33 Responses

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  1. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 24, 2015 at 10:06 am |

    GC, I’ll say it again, thanks for the Chemirocha video on the last comment thread, that was great.

    What does Brad have to do, to make some money without using hook, line, and sinker? I don’t know why Chopra is so successful, in terms of audience and income. I know that original sources matter to me, that I rely on coincidence and serendipity to bring the thing that I need, and that I dedicated my life to “that which it is time for me to do” a long time ago. I kind of thought I’d master the Zen thing and go on to be a success in life, by the time I was mid-thirties; what I have instead is many good friends, an uncertain future, and a shoestring to survive on as I continue to take my time with the lotus, now in my mid-sixties.

    I get to be happy a lot, right now; it seems like that which it is time for me to do, and yet I realize there is a rhythm. There’s a rhythm to the bathroom break, too, and I think my happiness depends more on observing the rhythm than on the specifics. Mostly!

    1. Kyla
      Kyla September 25, 2015 at 3:59 am |

      Yup, thanks for posting it Grand Canyon. Finally had a chance to watch it this morning.


  2. Cygni
    Cygni September 24, 2015 at 11:51 am |
    1. Cygni
      Cygni September 25, 2015 at 7:56 am |
  3. Zafu
    Zafu September 24, 2015 at 1:25 pm |

    Mr. Chopra’s tweet sits right at the very epicenter of where things have gone wrong for mankind. It is the source of all of our troubles.
    ~ Brand Warmer

    Chillax bro, Deepak is not the anti-Christ, and one lil tweet can’t do that much harm, much less be the source of all our troubles.

    The solution to what’s wrong in the world is not some distant dream of pure awareness. It’s the understanding that what exists right now is pure awareness, is God, whether you know it or not.

    Countless people have been believing for millennia that God, or emptiness in the case of Buddhism, is everywhere. And they all suffer just the same. The world is just as “wrong.”

    So you are exactly like Deepak. You just use different words and slightly different meanings. The result is the same. You and Deepak are in the business of meaning systems. Meaning systems don’t need to do anything but supply meaning. They are not “solutions for what’s wrong in the world.” Any moron can see that.

  4. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost September 24, 2015 at 2:27 pm |

    I don’t think Deepak knows what he’s saying – I also don’t think I know what I’m saying but I’m going to say it anyway: I’ve trained a bit in a tradition (Nyingma) that takes ‘pure awareness’ as the thing to suss out in meditation but the point (as I understand it) is not to identify with a concept called ‘pure awareness’ but to cease to identify with all phenomena that are temporary and that arise and cease of their own accord but that we mistake for ourselves or our possessions or even our world (not like my Gibson Firebird but like my belief system or my emotional state or my sensory experience). So, it could be argued that once you no longer believe in or identify with your problems you would no longer have them, but I think that’s sort of like only half the quote from the Heart Sutra – form is emptiness – such a person would still not have understood that emptiness is form or that realizing that life is like a ‘dream’ doesn’t end the ‘dream’ or negate the rules of ‘dreamland’. When Dogen’s master says “break through the barrier of dualism” it doesn’t seem to me any different than when Tibetan teachers instruct on how to negate the apprehended in order to simultaneously negate the apprehender.

    1. Fred
      Fred September 24, 2015 at 4:27 pm |

      “Pure awareness, whatever that is, or God (my preferred term), cannot be the object of you, cannot be the possession of you, it isn’t in your future, it isn’t something you can ever possibly reach.”

      Ken Wilber said something like that in The Spectrum of Consciousness which I read in the 70’s or 80’s and at that moment they were turning words and everything dissolved without taking 5-MeODMT.

      Funny how that all fits together. The pure awareness is that which is doing the looking.

      1. Fred
        Fred September 24, 2015 at 4:40 pm |

        Page 333, The Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber, 1977.

        ” The Void is what you can’t see when you are looking for a self that isn’t there. Why is that? Because it is what is looking.”

        Wilber was a genius in describing the path in 1977, but he lost the way when he tried to create an intellectual system and sell it.

        1. Fred
          Fred September 24, 2015 at 6:54 pm |

          Cygni, Panjabi can not wear any electronic device because it interferes with the harmony between her spirit and body.

          Have you experienced electronic interference while on psilocybin?

          1. Cygni
            Cygni September 24, 2015 at 8:26 pm |

            Interference? I don’t know if I’d call it that. One time I was staring into my heat lamp and I experienced something like quantum coherence. There comes a phase where your so dissolved into the inner vibratory nature of matter where its hard to say where you begin and the universe ends. Warp and woof, there is no way to even begin to conceptualise the inner subtlety of sound and vision at that level. Focus at the nose bindu and go from there. You might start with a green laser light show and end up shredded in the void. Ever feel like you could tune into every atom in every cell and organism in this thing we think is our body, it can be a little disconcerting.

  5. jason farrow
    jason farrow September 24, 2015 at 9:44 pm |

    Errr….yeah but…I get that. I don’t know if that was the case with Lady Maya giving birth to Shakyamuni, where they both became enlightened at the same time. But may be. Idk. Like, Kisagotami, she was devastated because the male child (who was Shakyamuni’s child?) elevated her status in society.
    But then, you could also say, that the 7 steps of the infant Siddhartha (I wonder if it represents meditation?) , could literally mean “an infant of Nirvana.”

    But, setting those weeds aside, how do you know there is no such thing as enlightenment if you have never experienced “no-enlightenment(no-delusion).” To understand “no-enlightenment”, don’t you need to have the experience of, and subsequent comprehensive action of motivation through nessecesity ; due to Nirvana?

    Like…how can a person understand the fullness of emptiness, and the practices conducive to the understanding that emptiness is full of wisdom, if they have never experienced it? How can a person teach something they don’t know about?

    Thx for the call and answer dude!

    1. Cygni
      Cygni September 25, 2015 at 4:46 am |

      I have no idea how to fully understand emptiness, let alone teach it. Even the Buddha’s first teaching was that no-one would be able to understand the truth he had discovered. One thing that’s pointed out in the secret mantra teachings is the rarity of these teachings in the world, and when the Buddha teaches them it is not on an ordinary level but a visionary one, and the person who these teachings are transmitted to is someone with a kind of special karmic destiny due to complex karmic factors playing out over many lifetimes as well as probably extraordinarily intense devotion and determination. Being just an ordinary person myself and still bewildered by mundane appearances I can only try to grok at what the Buddha’s enlightenment entailed or what exactly he was proclaiming when he took those 7 steps, but I have seen enough to know that Buddha’s realization stretches far beyond what most people could ever possibly imagine.

      1. Fred Jr.
        Fred Jr. September 25, 2015 at 6:33 am |

        Remember, the Buddha did not think his stuff up – he saw ordinary reality directly. Think about a rainbow – all those tiny particles of water coming in contact with light and producing a spectrum of colors. Imagine those particles are actually flickering, made up of even smaller particles coming into and out of existence a trillion times a trillion times per second. The rainbow seems constant, but the underlying factors that produce it are not. Maybe emptiness is linked to impermanence in some way?

        1. Cygni
          Cygni September 25, 2015 at 7:45 am |

          That’s a beautiful anaology, emptiness does seem to imply impermanence, and vice versa. There doesn’t seem to be any inherently existing permanent anything anywhere. Science seems to be converging with emptiness doctrine on that point. Is emptiness itself empty? I have no clue what I’m saying.

  6. Kyla
    Kyla September 25, 2015 at 5:18 am |

    I guess I just don’t even worry about attain higher states or enlightenment or great realizations. I remember wanting my life to be drastically different after I left home due to abuse. I remember always being depressed and angry. It’s enough for me now that I practice Zazen, have a loving marriage, a job I like and am happy. I just even care if people have reached states far beyond me. I just have no problem anymore being ordinary.

  7. Kyla
    Kyla September 25, 2015 at 6:16 am |

    Maybe that is the wrong way to go about it or think about Zazen, I don’t know.

    1. Cygni
      Cygni September 25, 2015 at 7:29 am |

      That sounds like a very sensible approach, higher states are over rated anyway, they don’t nessesarily make you happier or a better person, plus they are mostly temporary, although they can lead to certain positive shifts if you can integrate them with your ordinary awareness. Total ordinariness seems like kind of the point or end goal of Zen anyway, although I’m totally presuming, you probably know more about Zazen than I do, which is next to nothing…

      1. Kyla
        Kyla September 25, 2015 at 7:53 am |

        My general state of existence is more or less feeling like a fool making lots of mistakes!! 🙂 But Zazen practice along with other things has helped me lessen my knee-jerk reactions to life (this ability to me is a higher state) and people as well as being less prone to triggers. I certainly am no expert on Buddhist texts by any means!!

        1. Cygni
          Cygni September 25, 2015 at 8:04 am |

          I hear you, I feel like a fool all the time and making lots of mistakes is often the only way to learn and grow as a practitioner and person!

  8. Son of Zafu
    Son of Zafu September 25, 2015 at 8:44 am |

    ‘Meaning systems don’t need to do anything but supply meaning. ”

    Oh dear me. Moms used to stir the second alprazolam in evening martini when he gets like this. Otherwise, the poor soul just want to know the night muttering m-word.

    1. Zafu
      Zafu September 25, 2015 at 9:42 am |

      When you reach pure awareness you will have no problems, therefore there will be no need for solutions.
      ~ Deepak

      Did he say this would be a permanent state of being? No, duh…

      The solution to what’s wrong in the world is the understanding that what exists right now is pure awareness, is God.
      ~ Brand Warmer

      The Kool-Aid has clearly gone to his head.

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2015 at 9:37 am |

    Something from Shohaku Okumura’s “Living by Vow”, in a section on the philosophy behind the Heart Sutra (later he writes about what the philosophy means in practice):

    “Therefore, although a wise person sees all beings, the person sees them as phantoms or dreams”, says Pingala (commenting on Nagarjuna’s “Mulamadhyamakakarika”, as recorded in the Zhonglun in 409 C.E.) . Ordinary beings and wise people see things in the same way, but their attitude is different. Nothing is fixed. No one is necessarily a bad person (always bad) or a good one (always good). There is no fixed nature because we are always changing. In a sense, each time we meet a person, we meet a different person. Because I am changing, and the other person is also changing, we can appreciate each meeting as a fresh new one. An important phrase that conveys the spirit of having tea together in the tea ceremony is “Ichi go ichi ye”. The phrase ichi go means “one time”, one occasion” or “one life”. Ichi ye means “one meeting.” Each meeting or encounter happens only once. We cannot meet with the same person twice. Each meeting, each moment, is very significant and precious because it is unique. To see things as phantoms or dreams doesn’t mean they are not important. Because reality is like a phantom or dream, we have to appreciate it. Since everything is changing, since nothing stays forever, this is the only time we can meet. We have to savor each moment.

    … The wisdom of seeing emptiness is to see both sides. There are no liars and no honest people, and yet we try to avoid lying. There are two sides, and to see things from both is prajna. Our thoughts, values, and attitudes are based on our work, education, and experiences. We must have some yardstick to live in society. But this yardstick is not absolute. I was born in Japan and grew up in Japanese society and cannot be completely free of a Japanese way of thinking and behaving. I don’t think that I have to become American, or that you should become Japanese. We have to understand that neither the American nor the Japanese way of thought is absolutely right. There is another way of thinking, of acting, of valuing things. It is the way of letting go of thought. This is what we do in our zazen. We become flexible.

    “Letting go of thought” is like the title of Uchiyama’s book “Opening the hand of thought”. It’s not surprising that Okumura emphasizes this, since he studied with Uchiyama.

    Opening the hand of thought to me is like “breathe in… breathe out… freeing thought”, which was a part of Gautama’s “best of ways”:

    Mindful [one] breathes in. Mindful [one] breathes out.

    Whether [one] is breathing in a long (breath), breathing out a long (breath), breathing in a short (breath), breathing out a short (breath), one comprehends ‘I am breathing in a long (breath), I am breathing out a long (breath), I am breathing in a short (breath), I am breathing out a short (breath).’

    Thus [one] trains [oneself] thinking, ‘I will breathe in experiencing the whole body; I will breathe out experiencing the whole body.’

    [One] trains [oneself], thinking ‘ I will breathe in tranquillizing the activity of body; I will breathe out tranquillizing the activity of body.’

    [One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out experiencing zest… experiencing ease… experiencing the activity of thought… tranquillising the activity of thought.’

    [One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out experiencing thought… rejoicing in thought… concentrating thought… freeing thought.’

    [One] trains [oneself], thinking: ‘I will breathe in… breathe out beholding impermanence… beholding detachment… beholding stopping (of “voluntary control… concealed from the consciousness by habit”) … beholding casting away (of “latent conceits that ‘I am the doer, mine is the doer’ in regard to this consciousness-informed body”)’.

    (4) (parentheticals added, from Feldenkrais and from MN III 18-19 Pali Text Society III pg 68; “zest” and “ease” from SN V 309-312 Pali Text Society, in place of “rapture” and “joy” (9))

    Maybe it’s more like riding a bicycle or walking a tightrope, in that there’s a certain rhythm and getting stuck on any part means you’re going down (best to learn how to fall to begin with). These things become like second-nature, pretty quickly. For me, it seems the second-nature of Gautama’s “best of ways” requires a little Feldenkrais and D. L. Bartilink in the mix, at least with regard to the comprehension of the long or short of inhalation or exhalation. I realize that most folks would rather think they know what “letting go of thought” entails, and they’d rather just do that in zazen, but I would caution “if you go right ahead, you cannot move a step” (as Bodhidharma said).

    1. Kyla
      Kyla September 25, 2015 at 11:47 am |

      I was wondering if the Feldenkrais you referred to was Moshe Feldenkrais and it was! A very interesting read in your blog and here. I don’t know how to explain what I feel but in the posture of sitting I sense so much going on say in the fascia of my iliopsoas group of muscles, the dura of the spine, etc. It’s like an extreme release or stretch. I don’t know how else to put it. There is all sorts of popping (like when you go to a chiropractor) in small joints, especially the vertebrae and even between skull bones. I don’t know what it all means but I’ve noticed it. I know my body is A LOT more flexible, not just muscularly but the fascia connecting everything.

    2. Kyla
      Kyla September 26, 2015 at 3:27 am |

      The long and the short of it is, I’ve noticed long-standing changes in my body, my scoliosis and breathing has improved.

  10. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 September 25, 2015 at 5:22 pm |

    Mysterion should post again.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles September 26, 2015 at 5:09 am |

      I’ve been thinking the same thing.

  11. Cygni
    Cygni September 25, 2015 at 5:25 pm |
  12. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 September 25, 2015 at 8:06 pm |

    I agree with the most honorable Lama. And besides having an attractive face, she also should have a very large bosom.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 25, 2015 at 10:43 pm |

    Kyla, thanks.

    “It’s like an extreme release or stretch.”- how’sat again?

    I do believe that the sense of place together with the motion of balance in all three planes can apply the cranial-sacral rhythm wherever it’s needed (speaking of dura).

    If you’re interested, I write about the anatomy more here; I’m satisfied with what I’ve written about the poem, although I’m grateful for the things I’ve written since.

    You know, it’s hard to find good info about meaningless stuff, like straightening the clothes and sitting precariously. Sitting happy all day long, who can do that!

    1. Kyla
      Kyla September 26, 2015 at 3:25 am |

      Hi Mark. I just mean that I feel that the fascia, especially along the spine, the fascia of the iliopsoas, the connection of the psoas to the back all feels lengthened ( hope that is the right word), that the posture affects the nervous system, the fascia but not like a typical stretch. Not like the type of stretching one might do to become more flexible in the large, more external muscles. And I am aware of the movement of the rib cage in sitting, the breathing of the rib cage. They way the ribs lift up then release, lift up then release on each breath.
      If any of that makes any more sense. 🙂

      1. Kyla
        Kyla September 26, 2015 at 3:26 am |

        Yes, I was looking at your blog, quite interesting.

  14. woken
    woken September 26, 2015 at 7:02 am |

    He’s getting a lot of stick for his comments, but in fairness to the Dalai Lama, he’s being honest. He’s an entertainer and he knows what rich whiteys expect from their exoticised oriental religious types. I’d say he has someone like Aung San Suu Kyi, the
    Burmese politician, in mind.

    If people want to develop fascial awareness, they need to practice high level Chinese and Japanese martial arts directly under a lineage instructor. Otherwise you’re just fooling yourself. 99 percent of instructors in “the west” can’t or won’t teach this stuff, so you’ll probably have to go to Asia.

  15. Cygni
    Cygni September 27, 2015 at 6:23 am |

    You might like this book Brad, I lost track of my copy about a decade ago but I remember it being hilarious and brilliant.


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