We are happy to announce that our good friends, Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi and Keith Martin-Smith, have returned with another excellent book.
The Heart of Zen: Enlightenment, Emotional Maturity, and What It Really Takes for Spiritual Liberation is a follow up to their 2012, award-winning biography A Heart Blown Open. This new book is in the lively format of Q & A (like Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything), where Jun Po and Keith address a growing problem in spiritual circles: namely, that more and more of us are “waking up” into spiritual insight, only to get stuck. Life still comes at us full force, and hope can turn to frustration as the gulf between spiritual belief and everyday life looms ever larger.
What is missing is integration. If spiritual awakening truly transforms every part of a life, how can things like anger, shame, envy, and jealousy continue to arise? What is Enlightenment’s real impact on our intimate relationships, our emotions, and our views of the world and its problems?
Part discussion on these intricate topics and part experiential guide, The Heart of Zen offers a one-of-a-kind take on enlightenment, emotional maturity, and the honesty required to take one’s seat in true liberation.
“Jun Po Roshi’s introduction of emotional koans is a major discovery, a major breakthrough, in meditation in general and Buddhist meditation in particular. It reaches far more profoundly into the psyche than typical meditations do. Most spirituality sticks to the most evolved parts of the psyche, arising out of the neocortex. This whole area of emotionality runs so much deeper into our reptilian and mammalian brains, where the separate self lives and where the separate self-contraction lives — and hopefully dies! Most modern-day spirituality ignores these so-called more private places, the darkest corners of our humanity, often to their regret. Not Jun Po.”
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THE HEART OF ZEN CHAPTER 1: DIVING IN
Mondo Zen, Jun Po Roshi’s unique contribution to the body of Zen, aims to combine the best of Zen’s meditative insight with philosophical reorientation and cutting-edge emotional intelligence. The idea of Mondo Zen is three-fold: to show practitioners that what they seek is within them right in this very moment (genuine spiritual insight). At the same time, it helps them to shift their perspective to understand the deeper nature of their so-called problematic emotions, so that when emotions arise they can experience the truth in the feeling. Then, with training, they can use their emotions to call to their newly-experienced Awakened mind. Because of this, “Your angst is your liberation” as Jun Po likes to say.
As we get into a discussion with Jun Po about Mondo Zen, however, we need to be careful with a few terms we’ll be throwing around. A deeper discussion of what Mondo Zen is requires a deeper clarity of language. Words like “Enlightenment” (called turiyatita in Hindu and Dhyana in Zen) are notoriously difficult to nail down. Like the words “love” or “god”, they are loaded not only of our own ideas, but also are mere approximations of the experience the word suggests. For someone who has been passionately, deeply in love (with all its highs, lows, struggles, and triumphs), the word love means something different than to a teenager who has only read romance novels. Love means something different to a couple married for 50 years then it does to a pair of newlyweds. God, of course, means 1,000 things to a 1,000 people, and there’s little doubt that the god of the fundamentalist is very different than the god of the progressive.
Like many teachers before him, Jun Po is in the unenviable position of speaking about something that he has inhabited deeply, but something that we, as his students and audience, likely do not share. Using language, then, can be tricky, which is why generations of Zen masters have used koans, those seemingly enigmatic questions and riddles used to challenge students who seek who seek to understand things within the level of their current understanding. Enlightenment, it has been said, isn’t waking up to a new truth, it’s stepping out of the box altogether. Zen calls it the “gateless gate”, because once you’re through and on the side of Understanding, you see that there was no gate there to begin with. Enlightenment was with you all along — you just weren’t aware of it. Like a fish living in a bowl, we don’t see the water in which we swim. Once Awakened, we see the water, the bowl, and our own fish-ness as a single expression of Perfection.
When one reads about Zen masters, they are notorious for refusing to use linear, logical explanations on what Awakening, what Enlightenment, really is. As far from theology or philosophy as one can get, these teachers have pointed again and again at our immediate experience, with phrasing that make the linear brain contort:
“When you understand one thing through and through, you understand everything.” – Shunryu Suzuki
“One minute of sitting, one inch of Buddha. Like lightning, all thoughts come and pass. Just once look into your mind-depths: Nothing else has ever been.” – Manzan
“This slowly drifting cloud is pitiful!/ What dreamwalkers we all are! /Awakened, the one great truth: / Black rain on the temple roof.” – Master Dogen
It is small wonder, then, that the idea of Enlightenment has confounded and continues to confound most of us. Part of what Jun Po set out to do with Mondo Zen was to demystify Enlightenment, yet at the same time he has still been bound by this fundamental dilemma: Enlightenment isn’t a concept, idea, or belief. Much more tricky, it also isn’t just an experience like, say falling in love or understanding the meaning of a book. It’s this second part that makes it such an especially tricky thing to talk about. So let’s talk about it, and see what we can shake loose.
On this first day of getting together to talk, Jun Po and I meet in my house in Boulder, Colorado. It’s late winter, and he comes to my door far underdressed for the cold weather outside, a testament his Wisconsin roots and current life. We make some small talk, and I serve some tea for the two of us. Sitting in my sunny kitchen, we’re an arm’s length apart, and I put a notebook and a digital recorder between us.
Kogen Ananda, Keith Martin-Smith (KA): Here we are, Jun Po. Our first meeting. We’re here to talk about a whole host of things. Enlightenment. Relationships. Emotional maturity. Ego. Right view. Morality and ethics on the spiritual path. Relative and Absolute views, and how to integrate them. Fearlessness, love, devotion, play. And, of course, your invention of what you call Mondo Zen.
Jun Po Roshi [pronounced “June Poe”] (JP): Good thing I’ve got my organic tea.
KA: Let’s start off by being up front that talking about Enlightenment is tricky business. While historically Zen masters were very vague about defining Enlightenment, the philosopher Ken Wilber hasn’t been shy about not only defining Enlightenment, but defining it rather precisely. (Interested readers can find common terms and definitions of spiritual development at the end of this chapter.)
Ken is careful to explain that the map he is providing is not the territory. As a Zen master, do you find these maps are helpful, or end up being just another thing that stands in the way of a student and his or her realization of their True Nature?
JP: Maps are essential; a good clear map can accelerate the journey. In order to change our perspective and subsequent journey from an egocentric view of the world to Buddhacentric one, we need a new map to change our route and practice on that route. Many of us, especially in the West, have been following an erroneous map that has made for a confused journey. Buddhist practice begins with right view, with a correct map, if you will.
KA: Yet I have seen you, sometimes with a great deal of zeal, denounce maps and mapmakers.
JP: (laughs) Well, maps are like Right View in Buddhism. They can be indispensible to understanding what is arising in your awareness, giving it a context and a place for you to gain self-understanding. This is invaluable. But the map isn’t the territory.
JP: Just because you’ve seen a map of downtown Paris doesn’t mean you know what the street feels like under your feet there; what the smells off the Seine are like at dawn; what it feels like to watch the sunset from a balcony overlooking Place Dauphine. Maps are wonderful, unless your nose is buried in one and you don’t notice what’s actually happening around you. Then they’re in the way. But if you have a good map, then all you need is someone to smack you now and again to tell you to pay attention to where you’re standing.
KA: There’s also, in my experience, a greater danger of map-lovers to inflate their own spiritual insight. They think they’re been to Paris because they’ve seen a documentary on it.
JP: I would agree. One does not Awaken merely through studying spiritual maps or through thinking about Enlightenment.
KA: What, exactly, is Enlightenment?
JP: Practically speaking, Enlightenment is realization of your true self-nature. It’s awakening into pure receptive consciousness, and awakening from the dream of your ego as a permanent self.
KA: That’s it?
JP: Not quite, Baba.1 Expressing this realizing, this freedom, is beyond description. (laughs) So we’re (pauses) — I’ll be polite and say screwed.
But we have to try. Once Awakened, you experience and see your ego as a temporary process, instead of a permanent self. You experience the pure Nondual Bud (pronounced booed) Consciousness deep within you and if deep enough, you also experience the visceral compassion, the unconditional love that arises within this realization. This can be overwhelming to behold. Tears and laughter.
At the relative, ego level it is also the integrated realization of the One Mind, One integrated universal Body, no you, no me. At the absolute deepest level, Emptiness, it is a realization of death beyond death, darkness beyond darkness, nothing to say here, no one to say it, Dhyana Mind, the void, Zen.
KA: I’ve heard it is said that Enlightenment takes about 20 years of steady practice. You’ve claimed that this insight can occur faster than that. Care to explain?
JP: Well, traditionally it usually takes 20 years because we’re using old maps to get into the territory. In our post-post modern world, we have very sophisticated ideas about ourselves; tremendous awareness of emotional shadow and conditioning, and a stronger sense of individuality probably than at any other time in history. All of these things are wonderful, but they’re all part of what can make a traditional approach to Enlightenment more challenging if we’re using the maps and guides from several hundred years ago. We have evolved.
Those maps don’t fit us anymore. If we take what we’ve learned from modern science, psychology, and biology, and plug that into these ancient training methods, we must seriously practice but don’t necessarily have to labor in frustration and ignorance for two decades before we get the joke.
The Buddha told us that anyone who follows his map, the 8-fold Path, will Awaken and become liberated from their ego suffering, their delusions. The first step on that path is Right View, and it’s first for a reason. If we don’t understand what we’re doing, the path we’re on, it can take years and years of stumbling in the dark, trying to integrate our spiritual insights into our daily lives. And that means only the most autocratic and rigid assholes make it, pardon my French.
KA: Present company included?
JP: Oh, most definitely. Mondo Zen is designed to update traditional Zen training, but to keep the essence of the teachings. It’s keeping the baby but replacing the cultural bathwater.
KA: Before we get into what Mondo Zen is and all those other topics, I want to have a brief discussion over how you ended up in a position to create a new school of Zen in the first place. Some of the readers of this book might be familiar with the biography I wrote of your life, A Heart Blown Open. But in a nutshell, how did you end up wanting to bring Zen into the post-post modern era?
JP: I’ve made more false turns than most in my life, but for some strange reason I was blessed with an early experience of Samadhi — of a view outside of any view.
KA: Can you tell that story?
JP: I found myself, as a toddler, under the bed of a room in my house. In the next room, my parents were fighting violently, crazily. It made no sense to me. In the grip of terror and confusion, I wet my pants. I was lying there, watching the piss flow out from under the bed as I listened to my parents fight, and then the door opened. I was set free. (snaps his fingers)
For a few moments, I was utterly, radically boundless. Outside of need or my still-forming identity, I was unable to be frightened and had no need of comfort. I just was, and in that state the most delicious sense of peace and stillness arose. It was like the most profound happiness you’ve ever experienced, but far deeper and more pervasive. After an eternity, this sense of freedom collapsed and I was once again a frightened toddler stuffed under a bed, stuck in the stream of time and with urine-soaked pants sticking to his legs. I was terrified again. But I had experienced freedom; I had experienced a truth that was without a reference point, a simple but profound receptivity to and oneness with what is. This was my first experience of Zen mind, of consciousness deeper than opinion.
KA: Then what?
JP: And then life happened, that’s what. I grew up with a violent, alcoholic father who suffered horribly from the ravages of PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Second World War, and who, when he drank, brought the madness and confusion of that psychological state into our home.
KA: The abuse you and your brothers received was intense. I remember the story you told me about walking in from school — you were like 12 or 13 years old — and him sucker punching you, thinking you were your older brother Patrick.
JP: (nods, and pauses) It’s still emotional for me, to think of him. When he wasn’t drunk he was an outstanding father who taught me a lot about life, but his version of discipline was hard and arbitrary.
KA: And when he was drunk?
JP: (long pause, composing himself) Excuse me. Intense violence and emotional cruelty. He could be a tyrant when he was drunk. (pause) But it’s complicated — he wasn’t like that before the war. He was an airman serving in the Far East, and saw all kinds of things no sheltered Midwestern 20-something was meant to see. His friends crucified and gutted by the Japanese; war camps, torture — real atrocities, over two long years. It fried his mind and back in those days, the dark ages of psychology, there was no understanding of the kind of scarring that exposure causes people who are, at their core, sensitive and kind. They just labeled you as “shell shocked” and sent you home.
KA: It’s still an issue for you?
JP: It’s not an issue, but it’s still emotional for me, yes, of course. My dad and I eventually made amends when I was middle-aged. We became pals, for the first time. I loved him very much — he had a real great sense of humor, and he gave up drinking when I asked him to — I should say when I threatened and then bribed him by saying I would never speak to him again. It took love and an RV to get his attention. But even then, he used humor and playfulness. When he died, we were very close.
KA: Yet that upbringing — the violence — how did it affect you?
JP: Profoundly. It was compounded by the fact that at school and at church I was exposed to Roman Catholic lower middle class culture that worshipped a violent and detached god. The priests ruled with corporal punishment and relentless conformity. It was not a good environment for a rebellious spirit. My marriage, at 17, found me wrapped in confusion, ignorance, deep cultural and psychological conditioning, and desperation. By 20, I had utterly rejected my faith, my upbringing, conventional American culture, and the norms of society. And yet I had no idea what I wanted instead. I abandoned my family — something I can never take back and will always regret — and hit the road, raging against life, and never wanted to look back to the life I had left behind. (pauses) If only it had been that easy.
I was driven to transcend, to leave utterly behind, the man I had been. I know all about the desire to leave it all behind, because that’s what I wanted to do. I was fortunate, though, to have a number of experiences that began to powerfully show me how psychological conditioning could still manifest even in very disciplined and Awakened practitioners.
It would be years before I went back to face the ghosts of my past and the consequences of my actions, actions that affected not only me but many of those whose lives I touched, some of them not for the better. I’m not proud of some of my conditioned reactions as a young man, but I’ve tried to learn from them as best I can.
KA: Since most this was covered in A Heart Blown Open, I don’t want to get into the nuances of all that happened to you — God knows, you’ve had enough experiences to fill a couple of books. So let me cut to the chase here, and ask: you believe it was that early experience as a toddler that kept you on a spiritual path, not willing to settle down until you found it for yourself?
JP: I think so, yes.
KA: But you found LSD-25 along the way.
JP: That I did. LSD was a shortcut to concentration/meditation and it induced genuine spiritual insight. It could — and can — help us see what we’re actually attempting to find in our spiritual practice, when carefully used. Let me be clear and say I am not recommending that anyone take LSD. I am just sharing my experience. LSD strips away the ego so that one can see the Emptiness out of which it arises. It’s not, though, the same as coming to that insight in a sober and disciplined practice.
KA: Which for you was when?
JP: My first Zazen meditation experience was when I was living underground, under an assumed name, running from the DEA. That’s a long story. But I was at Dai Bosatsu Zendo attending a 100 day kessei, a classical monastic training period n 1979. During a 7-day meditation retreat sesshin I was doing the classical mu, the no koan concentration practice with Eido Roshi —
KA: Remind us of the koan process, will you?
JP: Sure. Koan practice is when the master gives you an enigmatic phrase. A practitioner must transcend the question, and resolve the paradox in a deeper understanding of the question ad its answer.
So my teacher, Eido Roshi, gave me the mu koan to contemplate. The koan is “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” After months of contemplating it, I finally broke through and the riddle cracked me with its insight. The traditional answer is mu, how the Japanese say no — no to the question, no to the dualistic mind that asks it, no to the idea that such a distinction can be made when one is sitting in Dhyana mind, turyatita, Nondual mind. From the Absolute, the question resolves itself, you see — no!
But I had another insight about that koan, which was that it’s not only no, it’s also know, as in “know a deeper consciousness in your mind than where the question itself arises”. Sitting in front of Eido Roshi, I suddenly saw my original face before my mother was born. That’s another koan, by the way.
KA: So thirteen years later, you become Eido Roshi’s first dharma heir and a roshi in your own right. You were given all the titles and honors to carry on the ancient Japanese lineage, and had proved your insight was deep enough to get this public acknowledgment. Most people would simply set up shop and start teaching what they had been taught. But not you. What happened?
JP: (laughs) There was nowhere to hide, that’s what happened. In 1992, when recognized as a so-called Zen Master, I had to face the fact that in my case Zen was just not working effectively — not for me or for many others. I had insight but I wasn’t free. I had a lot of psychological damage from my upbringing, and Zen simply hadn’t touched it. I could transcend it, true, control it with my will, but the damage was still intact and mostly untouched. I didn’t know if that was just my problem, or if it was something that was common in the larger Buddhist community. I saw, with my 6 years in the monastery, a lot of psychological shadows —
JP: Yeah, the unconscious issues people carry with them about authority, or sexuality, or gender, or power, or the hierarchy of the place that caused people to act out in weird ways. A million places.
I saw those shadows in myself, but also in the men and women training at Dai Bosatsu, in other spiritual communities, and in Eido Shimano himself. But how widespread it was, and what it meant, I could only guess at.
What was missing became my relentless koan. I couldn’t crack it with my level of insight at that time, even though I was 50 years old and had spent almost half my life in serious meditative practice.
KA: What was your koan?
JP: How come after decades of practice, real wisdom and compassion were not ruling my life, directing my behavior, and transforming lust, violent anger, jealousy, envy? How could love and compassion not hold in the face of my internal conflict? I could remain non-reactive in the face of these things, mind you, but it was a very repressive energy that was required. And my negative emotions still flourished, and they would sometimes overpower my discipline and my insight. Why? How? I had to know.
In 1994, in Nepal, after many hours of uninterrupted full lotus posture Zazen in the forest, I was looking out on the world with full Dhyana consciousness. It was then I recognized the ego is a wholly conditioned reactive process, not a self at all. In my insight, all of my thoughts and emotions were experienced not as a self but as a reactive process. Deep meditative consciousness is pure and receptive fundamentally; ego is temporary and superficial. I had this experience in the forest, and it changed everything.
KA: Yet you did what some might consider strange. You came back to the States and threw yourself into psychological shadow work — everything from the Hoffman Process to standard therapy.
JP: That’s right. Because ego is a reactive process and not a self, I was able to approach therapy in a very different way than most people do. I wasn’t trying to fix myself, or get a better version of myself that I liked better, or even trying to incorporate my unconscious shadow elements into my conscious mind. I saw, instead, that there was no self, only a process, and I developed a deep curiosity about how that process worked, including the years of violence I had experienced as a child and young man.
KA: By the late-1990’s you were teaching what you learned — what was to my mind more of a standard approach of Buddhists trying to integrate some psychology into their practice. You called it Stop and Drop, and it had to do with noticing emotion arising, stopping the reaction and then dropping to your deeper nature, correct?
JP: That’s about right. Yeah, but it was missing a few things. During my cancer treatment in 2005-6 — at 64 years of age —
KA: Throat cancer, right? Stage 4?
JP: That’s right. The prognosis wasn’t good. They had prepared palliative care for me, assuming I was an old, out-of-shape geezer. But I was in outstanding physical shape, so they decided to treat me the way they would a man half my age. And hope they wouldn’t accidentally kill me or leave me irrevocably damaged.
I received four months of heavy metal chemotherapy — carbo platin, cisplatin and taxol — and two months of throat radiation. (pauses) It caused the slow and methodical dissolving of my neural connections. The life I knew slowly disappeared, dissolved into Emptiness. I experienced directly the fact that relative ego mind — thoughts and emotions — are in fact reliant upon the biophysical neurobiological structure of body mind. This is obvious, right? But we forget in day-to-day life how powerfully we are tied to our bodies.
As treatment went on, I knew less and less. No connections to memory, nobody to react as I was heading for death. I got a direct biophysical transmission deeper than I had ever experienced before. I knew Emptiness, I knew non-dual reality, from my many years of training. But watching my ego be deconstructed as my physical brain and body died — how extraordinary. It was here where I deepened the insight I had in Nepal. I knew the ego was a reactive process and not a self. But I saw how my ego mind was constructed by a series of conditioned habitual reactions, rather than by conscious choices or responses. My reactions were wholly conditioned and without a separate beginning personal self.
KA: So choice was the insight, what made it a deeper insight than in Nepal?
JP: That’s right. Many of our choices aren’t conscious, because our relative minds appear to move so quickly — but they are reactive choices nonetheless, in the sense that we can develop the capacity to make a choice instead of merely having a reaction. We think we “fly into a rage”, but we actually choose to fly into a rage. That was my insight.
Our minds don’t, you see, move as fast as we think they do, but we’re locked onto the surface. From the depths of our being, each emotional reaction we have takes an eternity to arise, giving us all we need to choose a response when, say, we get cut off in traffic, mom calls and tries to shame us, or we find out our partner is having an affair. With meditation concentration training and emotional koan practice we develop the ability to see this.
KA: I think that’s going to take some unpacking. We’ll save the explanation of that statement for later. In summary, though, Mondo Zen came from this insight around choice?
JP: (nods) The ego is a temporary process not a self, and that process is conditioned — therefore, when your insight is deep enough, you will discover that you don’t know who you are. You can’t know who you are, because there’s no self here. Look into your ego right now — who are you? Find something that’s permanent inside of your ego, that hasn’t come into being in the stream of time, that will survive death, and that hasn’t been shaped by your beliefs, biological, psychological, and spiritual conditioning. (laughs) Good luck.
No, we don’t know who we are from the ego’s perspective. But we are Not Knowing. That’s our nature — you have never entered time, have never been born and will never die, are boundless and eternal, are utterly beyond fear or contraction or self-doubt. You are — before Abraham, before the Big Bang. Claiming I don’t know from the ego, and experiencing the freedom of Not Knowing from the depths of your consciousness are as far apart as heaven and earth, nirvana and samsara, God and man. Deep mind is naked and free, relative mind is constructed and bound. Where do you take you seat? Where do you want to take your seat?
KA: So the ego is a process and not a self. And our true nature is deathless, fearless, timeless.
KA: Assuming I can access this timeless, fearless bud consciousness you speak of, then what?
JP: (laughs) Then what, indeed! Awakening transcends but also includes our relative, value-weighted egos. Another wonderful Zen saying is, “ordinary mind is the way.” After Awakening, we feel life’s pain even more powerfully than before, not less. Once we Awaken, we’re no longer willing to use violence trying to change what is, you see, but that doesn’t mean we sit around on our cushions doing nothing. Compassionate caring discernment, and skillful non-violent action reigns. The great sages don’t sit on their asses and just be Awake; they are in the world, doing things to make it a better place. But they’re also not attached to the outcome, you see.
We stop trying to make life abide by our wishes, or reacting angrily every time something gets in the way of what we think we want. We are suddenly capable of watching our collective and personal karma unfold, smiling and patiently applying skillful means to deal with it.
KA: And how do we get there?
JP: Follow ordinary mind. What we want is right under our noses, right now. The more pain and angst you have in your life, the more fuel for your Awakening. I’ve spent time in federal prison and in monasteries. Prison if a far better place to practice, I can tell you. And once you get that —
KA: Excuse me for interrupting. Prison is a better place to practice meditation and insight than a monastery?
JP: Without a doubt. In prison, everything is a hell realm. You have the opportunity to see and discipline your reactive mind constantly. You can remain silent for days on end — no one cares. It is the perfect place to practice meditative awareness, and to come and know yourself deeper than your reactions. Horrible institutional food, incredibly wounded human beings, psychological darkness all around — inside and out, all you see is conditioned, relative misery. And with that, you can see your own reactive mind very clearly, if you’re looking.
In monasteries you’ve got a bunch of vegetable gobblers sitting around contemplating their navels 100 miles from the real world.
When I counsel people going to prison, I tell what an opportunity. I explain how it can become a great place to practice, because it’s the most difficult place you could ever find. We have an expression in the Rinzai Zen tradition: send me to hell so I can see if I’m really awake.
KA: That’s a pretty bold statement. I’d be looking for some wood to knock on right about now.
JP: Awakened mind, Buddha, cannot be disturbed. Nothing but you can move you out of stable clear awareness and presence and into contraction — nothing.
If you have a spiritual practice or belief that isn’t strong enough to withstand prison, the death of a loved one, infidelity, bankruptcy, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness it may be time to start over.
KA: All things you’ve experienced.
JP: (nods) If your consciousness cannot remain undisturbed by these things — which doesn’t mean no tears or no emotions, by the way — you might want to ask what is missing in your practice, why you’re bothering in the first place.
KA: Okay, I think that’s more than enough to get us started. Anything you’d like to add before we sign off?
JP: Yeah, one more thing. Maybe the most important thing. As you go through life and practice, if you’re not laughing, you’ve missed the point.
Chapter End Notes
Classic Zen training, and the cornerstone of modern Mondo Zen, is mostly involved with what the philosopher Ken Wilber has called “states” of consciousness, which he roughly splits into the categories of gross, subtle, causal, and nondual. Here is a high-level definition of these terms. Please note that these are mental definitions of very nebulous experiences; this is the map, not the territory itself. Like trying to define love or god, attempting to define Enlightenment is problematic, but let’s at least take a look at the maps that we have.
STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS2
- Gross consciousness is our everyday waking consciousness, and includes our thinking egos and some basic emotional awareness. This would also include our unconscious mind, our conditioning, and so on. Here, we are fully identified with our thoughts as us.
- I am my thoughts; I am my story of me. (in other words, I don’t have “a” story of me, I merely am one, without reflection)
- Subtle consciousness refers to our dreaming state of consciousness, but also to mystical visions, Jungian archetypal realms, the Bardo realms in Tibetan Buddhism, and any intuition or experience of a deity, be it God, Jesus, Ganesh, etc. This can run the gamut from “low subtle” — everyday feelings, dreams, and intuitions — to “high subtle”, which would include powerful visions of deities, kundalini energy rising up the spine, and perhaps things such as astral travel, healing energy, seeing chakras or energy bodies, out of body experiences, and the like. Sometimes this is called Savikalpa Samadhi. Here, we experience thoughts and feelings as phenomena that arise in a larger sense of Self, tied to the Divine.
- So waiting, I have won from you the end: God’s presence in each element3.
- Causal consciousness refers to formless meditative insight, where there is no longer an egoic “I” looking out on the world. This would include deep, dreamless sleep, which all of us experience every night, although for most of us there is nothing witnessing our deep, dreamless sleep. When causal consciousness is reached and stabilized, the gross and subtle realms arise, along with thoughts and dreams, but there is a blissful release of attachment to them; high, low, or otherwise. This is Witnessing Consciousness. Everything is as it is, and arises without effort or valuations (good, bad, just, unjust, right, wrong). Sometimes this is called Nirvikalpa Samadhi, turiya, or shunyata, Clear Deep Heart, Clear Deep Mind
- God is closer to me than I am to myself.4
- Nondual consciousness is the ever-present union of subject and object, form and emptiness. All dualities, all sense of being separate from or watching out from vanish. Even the Witnessing consciousness in causal awareness falls away. This is an always-present consciousness when experienced; it exists outside of time and space, and is utterly unbound, empty, and beyond morality, concept, or thought of any kind. It cannot be entered, nor can it be attained, because it is the very end and beginning of the mind. It transcends and includes everything in the manifest and unmanifest universe.
This realization is not an experience, because it does not come and go even if your ability to rest in it comes and goes. Likewise, you are not the one who experiences liberation; you are the emptiness in which experiences come and go. You are the mountains and you are the Watcher of them, not apart from either, not standing back and watching but part of everything in the moment that arises. These seeming paradoxes of the Nondual can only be resolved when on is sitting in this Awareness itself. It is called Sahaj Samadhi, turiyatita, rigpa, Dhyana, or Zen, Clear Deep Heart/Mind
- This slowly drifting cloud is pitiful!/ What dreamwalkers we all are! /Awakened, the one great truth: / Black rain on the temple roof.”5
In this book, Jun Po Roshi sometimes uses the words for causal and Nondual interchangeably; he sometimes uses them quite specifically. As best I can tell, this is to keep us from attaching too much meaning to the words themselves.
1 “Baba” is a Hindi term of endearment, and one that Jun Po likes to use with his students.
2 Based on the works of Ken Wilber
4 From the German mystic, Meister Eckhart
5 From the great Zen master Dogen