When I write books I always cut stuff out that I think is good. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit with the rest of a particular chapter. Sometimes I feel like I said the same thing already. Sometimes I feel like it’s good but it interrupts the flow. There are lots of reasons things get cut even though they’re good. I usually keep those good bits for future use, but I very seldom end up using them.
Today’s offering is one of those. I cut it from my forthcoming book The Other Side of Nothing. I can’t remember why I cut this part or even where in the book it was originally intended to go. But I think it can stand on its own. So here it is.
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. This is the reason my phase of psychedelic exploration was so brief. It quickly became clear that nothing I learned from those drug-induced 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 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, I wondered, did I always end up right back where I started?
The insights always flew away. The psychedelic colors always faded. The euphoria always turned to ennui. I never remained that superhuman fellow who solved the Great Riddle. I always ended up just being me again.
Kobun Chino had an interesting way of explaining this 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” continued on the same trajectory. Perhaps what I am is, in some sense, not an individual who follows a trajectory. I am the trajectory itself. 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 rebel against that process. I can get in the way of that process. I can love it or hate it or feel any other way I wish to about that process that Kobun calls “checking.” But I cannot stop that process. 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. Since I can’t stop it, it’s also in my best interest to learn to enjoy it, or at least learn not to hate it and rebel against it. This “checking” is what brings me back again and again to the same place I started from.
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 that I see, which appear to be beings and things other than myself, are reflections of a Mind, which is not me and yet is more me than I could ever be. What I see before myself in the mirror is the universe. Have you ever seen a dog barking at its own reflection in a mirror or a window? That’s me barking at myself. That’s all of 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 only 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.
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