So one of the errors I am almost continually guilty of is this searching for something other than what is as a means of escaping from the suffering I experience when I am in the grip of the samsaric realm- when I am longing for nirvana, for limitless love, for peace, tranquility, and happiness.
I have this notion in my own mind that what is needed is some kind of holy intervention, some kind of magic show, some kind of made for television movie where I am contacted by the numinous forces behind the scenes and granted an all access pass to the transcendent realms- as if there is such a place or such a thing different altogether from this place, this thing. A hidden world to which I long to be granted access. What separates me from this holy realm, this realm of bliss, is my own confusion and error, my own blindness, and so I must work away at this detritus in order to gain access, in order to be worthy, in order to be correct and good and so to in a sense earn admittance to the good place, to the thing or experience or mystical state I long for- long for in itself, yes, but also as an escape from the torment of this life right here where I am experiencing all of this pain.
I am told again and again by the teachings, by my teachers, that this approach is deeply flawed and won’t result in anything beneficial at all- I’m missing the point completely and by missing the point, by going off in the wrong direction, I’m very much wasting my time. Or not wasting it, exactly- I am getting the benefit of going off in the wrong direction and seeing for myself the mistake. But I’m going the wrong way. That’s a slow and difficult way to make progress toward the goal. (A terrible way to put it, since there is neither progress nor goal, and yet. One must use words.)
I don’t know. I know that I have had experiences of numinous, revelatory breakthroughs. I have had these experiences and they have given me a profound faith that “it” exists- I know directly, experientially, that what I seek is real. It isn’t imaginary, it isn’t hallucinatory, the quality of these experiences is that they are more real than ordinary reality, not less so. So these experiences I think may have deceived me in a way, or I’ve deceived myself about their nature, or what they mean or where they come from. I understand that they are real, that they aren’t only products of my own wishful thinking but that they are experiences, rather, of connecting with something fundamental. But because these experiences are so different from my normal way of experiencing reality, I have established a view of them as somehow something “outside” of my normal world, behind it somehow- as if the normal existing world is the veil that I must pierce in order to perceive and live in the “holy” or transcendent world behind that veil.
This I think is a common error on the path. It colors so much of my own experience that I find it difficult to understand, to see completely. I keep thinking I get it, that I see the outlines and contours of this false approach and so can avoid it, but I keep finding myself standing smack in the middle of the wrong path time and time again.
Right now, though, I am experiencing the effects of a profound shift in my approach. I don’t know if I can put it into words, or if it’s even beneficial to do so. But that’s what I’m up to here, in this space, so for better or worse I plunge ahead. What I’m experiencing currently is that I’m no longer looking for anything at all. In sitting practice, in meditation and in post-meditation, I’m simply looking at. Not for, not through, not beyond, not behind or beneath or around. Simply at.
Of course this turns out to be a pretty good approach. Since everything that is is right here, looking at it directly is a good way of seeing it. You can’t actually see what is if you’re not looking at it. It’s very difficult to find out anything at all about it if your approach is to try to see beyond it to something else, something that isn’t there at all.
This approach, this new way of looking, results, for me, in the experience of actually piercing the veil. Suddenly nothing is obscured, nothing is hidden. It’s all right there, right out in the open. As clear and as simple and as direct as anything can be. An orange on the table in morning light. The blue of the sky and the whiteness of clouds. This world is that world. This place is the place I seek. I am already home.
Of course, I know this, I knew this before. I knew it, but I wasn’t doing it and I didn’t know I wasn’t doing it. Or I was doing it and didn’t know I was. I was journeying to where I already was and had in fact always been and can’t, in fact, ever leave. You have to go on the journey before you can understand that there is no journey to go on. Now this makes it seem like I think that I’ve made the journey, or that I understand that there’s no journey to make- I mean, that is what I just said. But that sounds like I’ve arrived somewhere, too. I’ve crossed the river.
Well, of course, I haven’t.
But I can see the river. I can see where I am, I can see everything. Or rather, I know how and where to look now. It’s so simple it can’t be understood until suddenly it is. The only thing I can liken it to is those “magic eye” 3d images- you know the ones I mean- some picture of random colors and shapes, jagged and geometrical, ugly to look at, disordered, nothing but junk and noise and pattern- but you hold it so far from your nose and you stare at it in just the right way, and suddenly you’re looking into something very deep, and there’s an image floating in space in front of you- an odd looking bird, or a plane, or a tree or something.
And you try to explain that to someone who hasn’t had the experience and it’s like, “What?”
“Look at it, look at the bird, there’s a bird right there.”
And they can look and look right where you’re pointing, and quite clearly you are crazy, or lying, because- there’s no fucking bird there. There’s just random colors and shapes and noise. The bird isn’t behind the colors and shapes and noises, those are what constitute the bird, right? I mean, even when you’ve got it figured out, even once you see the bird and are looking right at it, you can’t really show someone else the contours of it, or even point them out to yourself. It’s just that it isn’t there, and then suddenly, it is.
That’s as close as I can get to it right now. I’m looking at the bird. That’s all that’s happened. I’ve been trying to look behind the picture, through the picture, looking for the bird, looking for the bird, looking for the bird. But you can’t see the bird by looking for it.
Now I sound like a proper goddamned Buddhist, right?
“You can’t see the bird by looking for it.”
So, clearly, I don’t have anything of benefit to add to this discussion. It turns into gobbledy-gook. It looks and sounds like a koan when it’s supposed to be simple and direct. The simplicity seems to conceal something mysterious and profound, but it’s all right there on the surface. The surface is the depth, the depth is the surface. There isn’t something else at all beyond what’s right there, but it isn’t the case that what’s right there completely reveals itself when you’re not looking at it in the right way. The numinous is the mundane, the mundane is the numinous. But you can look and look and look at the mundane and if you aren’t seeing the numinous it isn’t there for you. It is mundane, and it can be ugly or pretty, soothing or terrifying, based upon how it appears to you. And you react to what you see based upon how you see it, and it has those qualities. But when you are seeing both the mundane and the numinous at the same time, then it changes everything. And nothing. An orange completely remains an orange, a car wreck remains a car wreck, a dead child is still a dead child. Nothing changes.
And yet. With this new way of seeing, with these new eyes, your whole experience of the orange changes. Your experience of the car wreck changes. Your experience of the dead child changes. Each thing remains exactly itself, it doesn’t change at all. The seer and the ordinary person both can agree that they are looking at an orange, at a dead child. And the seer can describe exactly what he’s seeing and the ordinary man will agree with him in every detail. And vice versa. But the two are having completely different experiences of those events, in fact, of the entire field of being in which those events, and they themselves, are appearing.
Buddha nature is our true nature. The veils and obscurations do nothing to damage it in any way. The veils and obscurations are mirage-like, almost imaginary. It isn’t the case that they have to be eradicated, totally worn away, perfectly purified, in order to access buddhanature, in order to connect with it and realize it as your own true self. This is really good news because otherwise there would be no hope at all. But it’s there, it is intrinsic to us. And when you’re practicing and following the instructions, you’re learning to relax your eyes, you’re creating the causes and conditions that will enable you to see the bird in the picture. And once you’ve seen the bird, you’re changed. It doesn’t mean that you’re a Buddha. It doesn’t mean your work is done and you can just chill out and look at the bird and everything will be hunky dory. But it does have significance. It means you know there’s a bird there in all of that noise, that what passes as reality for most folks is only part of the picture- but the other part of the picture isn’t somewhere else, it’s right there in the picture. There’s nowhere else to go, nothing else be, or do. It’s all right there in front of you, embedded only in the present moment, in things just as they are.
Seeing the bird isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.
I offer this primarily as an acknowledgment of my own stumbles and errors on the path. Despite the help and encouragement of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, of my teachers and fellow seekers, I still cling stubbornly to error and confusion. I go the wrong way. I persist in my mistakes and find new ones to make as I go along. And yet, through grace, through love, through patience and persistence, slowly by slowly, things keep happening.
The bird is there. It’s real. It’s really, really, real.
Look and see.
Namaste. May you be happy, may you be at peace, may you make the world better with your goodness, may all of your wishes come true.