There is no death

There is no death.

Not really. Or, not in the way we might commonly think of death.

Time, for example, is much stranger than our everyday minds allow for. The only moment that is real, is this precise moment – ‘the now’. So, who I was in the previous moment – the one just gone – has already passed away. And the being I am to be in the future moment is not yet. The only being I am, the only place life is to be experienced really, and all reality, is just in the unfolding moment right now. Codependent origination; everything unfolding all at once, and disappearing as quickly as it has gone.

But what about memory? The sense of continuum? A personal journey? A story? Well, yes. This is part of experience. But memory itself is quite a weak force. We are prone to misremember, to elaborate on memories to suit something happening in the present. Or simply to get material facts wrong at our subconscious choosing. It is a part of experience.

When we fear dying, what we really fear could do with a little more study. Perhaps we fear pain. If I cut my finger, it can really hurt. And that’s just my finger! What about an experience which extinguishes all of me! That must really hurt! Yes, but some may pass away quietly in their sleep.

Perhaps we find not existing too strange to comprehend. Of course. But it is our ego thinking this. Everyday mind. The ego cannot imagine itself not being, because the ego exists to preseve the vital prerogative to persist. To continue. And so not existing is counter to the purpose of the ego. But when we practice meditation we come to understand that the ego is not everything that we are – it is just one necessary function of our being.

The rest of our self, our being, is shared with all being; is One. And we know from experience that One persists beyond time – before, during, after, without, within time-space-movement.

We know Oneness has no death. The Source. Buddha-nature. No death there. No birth. No not-death. No not-birth. And so on.

If it is our fear of pain, fear of losing memories, fear of losing free will (is there free will? whose will?), missing habits – all of this comes from the small self – the individuated self.

Death and time are very strange. But, it’s not really death itself or time itself we fear or dislike.

Life is beautiful when we are ready to die. When we have nothing to fear.

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Atoning for evil karma

“The river laughed. Yes, that was how it was. Everything that was not suffered to the end and finally concluded, recurred, and the same sorrows were undergone.”
Hermann Hesse, ‘Siddhartha’ (1922)

“It’s a long, long Way,
‘Cause I’ve been there before,
And I ain’t goin’ back there no more”
Seasick Steve, ‘Long Long Way’ (2011)

Atoning for past karma, in Buddhism, is for me at least a process of having to be awake to the grim process of the desires of old karma, while also being awake to what these desires result in, and being awake to a better way.

Old formulations are easy and automatic no matter how dysfunctional they are. Wanting to live in anxiety of the presumed expectations of others (‘never good enough’), in earnest of myself (‘is this right’), in low self-esteem (‘of course not good enough’), in expecting punishment for the sake of punishment (‘hell is where I belong’). These are all automatic patterns. But they are all also harmful, and dysfunctional.

There is no other way to a better way, than to go through this process of change. And ‘going through it’ is the same thing as atoning. Having distance from the old dysfunctional patterns, recognising them when they arise, being aware of a different response, learning to take that new response.

I misunderstood ‘to atone’ before because that is a word used in Christianity; often to mean saying sorry to God. Truly atoning is not saying sorry to anybody or anything, but simply committing to the process of change from negative karma. Saying sorry makes no difference at all, whether it is to God, or to an ant!

Buddha confirms that attaining Enlightenment is a very difficult thing to achieve. Persistence is required, and it is easy to lose nerve. He is also very clear. When we lose nerve and go back to the automatic and comfortable ways, they do not stay comfortable. So it is that we trap ourselves in a karmic cycle. Ever repeating itself because we are afraid to move on.

There is much less pain, and much more freedom, to be had with just a little persistance. Not persistance at doing ‘right’, but persistance through the grim challenge of re-living our own karmic causes and effects whilst also being awake to them and realizing a different manner altogether.

But I’ve read many people say this, and not understood it until now. Only now is this a lived reality. And that’s the funny thing about the Way.

Just so many words on a blog. There’s a sunset outside, and small birds are singing.

Surrender and fear

The difficulties I experienced as a child with the strong, Biblically literal, and bigoted opinions of those in my family and community being at odds with my own experiences of living in the world resulted in several things. One was that God, made in my own image, was a heavenly parent with whom to share favours; if I did favours for God and was a ‘good Christian’, God would keep me out of harm’s way and help me survive in an evil world. Another was that God could not be trusted.

Now that my self-made image of God has self-destructed, because nobody is ever safe from harm’s way, I am left not knowing the nature of God. There seems to be a life energy in the Universe. An energy that is life and gives life to everything. And one aspect of that is that the universe wants us all to be well. Beyond that, I do not know if God (if this life energy is God) answers specific verbal prayer requests, or responds better simply to us living in a way which embraces, harnesses, shares, and reflects the life energy that is in us and all things.

But in the absence of a heavenly Parent God, the world is as beautiful as it is vile. There are no crutches, and this mysterious life energy does not seem to intervene in my affairs the way I want it to intervene. My constant experience is that the more I open up to living in tune with Spirit, the more I realise my requests and wants are the wrong requests and wants; I am listening more than I am talking. In fact, in zazen, I am not talking at all. “Just thinking ‘not thinking'”, in the words of Dogen. In the absence of a heavenly Parent God, what has come back to me is this second aspect of my experiences as a child – that God can not be trusted – simply because I could not trust the advice of my elders growing up in a fundamentalist community.

So where I stand today is that I have unearthed another block on the Way. Another piece of duhkha – to use a Buddhist word. Or an illusion, to use a Hindu word. The block is this: I am afraid of fully letting go, and surrendering, and living ever more fully in the harnessing, sharing, and reflecting of Spirit. And I am afraid because I do not trust Spirit, because I did not trust God.

My challenge today is to embrace Spirit fully, and let go my distrust. My distrust, at its root, has nothing to do with Spirit or what I comfortably call the ground of all being. It was a distrust of my elders.

So, perhaps as Muslims might say, mine is to let go fear, and surrender to the will of the divine.

Fear is not much use.

We are afraid of…

…the impact we are having on the planet’s climate.
…the economic turbulence which will spin with every extra hurricaine and tornado the world faces.
…the demise in fossil fuels, and whether energy change will take away our assumed right to run automobiles and trawl the world looking to be entertained by primitives.
…H5N1.
…the increase in theft due to the credit crunch.
…increasing political extremism.
…the implosion of governance systems which go to war without our consent.

But…
…we know not everyone can live like we do in our country, yet we do not change how we live.
…we will not shore up the causes of that uncertainty, choosing instead to capitalise on uncertainty.

We are less afraid of AIDS or the nuclear threat, but we hold those fears in reserve.

But what does all this fear give us? Fear does not give us a resourceful mind to flex and adapt to a changing climate – to learn from climate how better to live our lives. It does not create fair economic systems, or social cohesion.

Fear is not much use as a tool. We have only to fear fear itself.

I will not be afraid of these things.