TREATISE ON ZANDTAO
I am going to begin recommendations on practice by examining my personal history. In the chapter on “My Path” I discussed how I was middle-classed – no decision-making, getting qualifications and starting the career ladder. Prior to my upheaval I had no personal discipline, not even enough to hold down a job; I had discipline to learn for exams but that was all. Soon after the upheaval and when I started on the path I learned discipline. Even though the job I was doing was mindless for me, I had the discipline to do the job, arrive on time, sit quietly in the cubicle and do some work. That was an improvement.
But the real discipline I gained – that I would never forget – was for meditation and whatever I did to connect with presence in Chiswick. Whilst it only lasted a few months it stuck with me for the rest of my life, and I recalled it when I was developing better spiritual discipline towards the end of my second childhood.
I still don’t know why the upheaval happened to me, and why I started on the path. I cannot recollect any indications prior to the upheaval. However I have observed how I acted immediately following the upheaval and the start on the path. I deeply resented being a suit, I completely rejected the thought of 40 years in an office mindlessly accepting a routine without any real desire to be there - in order to get money to survive. I did not value my education, whilst I had reasonable qualifications I did not think I was educated – I was only just beginning a real education on the path. And I immediately moved to compassion, there had been no noticeable compassion in my life prior to the upheaval, and from that Chiswick time compassion was my main career motivation.
Based on this consideration my upheaval could well have been as a consequence of lacking compassion and being middle-classed, but I don’t know why the upheaval came to me and not to all the others who were not educated to enable their compassion and who had been middle-classed. I would like to know but the answer lies in the area of kamma that is beyond human understanding.
Despite being immature and not following the path sufficiently, throughout my life the path has given me an understanding of conditioning. That was a good thing for me to carry into teaching but in the end retrospectively I was unable to significantly step outside the prescribed conditioning role for a teacher. Whilst there were certain areas in which I was conscious of the conditioning and was able to detach myself from it, in other areas where I was less aware conditioning got a hold of me. A clear example was my alcoholism but even after I was sober the me that was conditioned still accepted teacher routine, and I was undoubtedly contributing to systemic conditioning that I now frown on much more vehemently.
But throughout the time of my second childhood and into my retirement I was addicted to self because I quite simply was unaware of the self. It was only when I started meditating did I begin to control my mind and so begin to move towards recognition of this addiction. So whilst I do conceive of the possibility of other methods that can enable understanding and enable efforts to end conditioning and addiction, I have to heartily recommend meditation.
Now meditation is a panacea word, I can’t recall the number of times I have trotted out meditation as a standard solution. I have already advised Buddhadasa’s book on anapanasati, but I want to look at certain things that I would like to indicate as possible meditation outcomes. In terms of overall methodology and understanding then work with Buddhadasa’s book but I want to examine how meditation helped me. The key thing that needs to happen is insight, this is an aspect of the path. Insight is not something that happens every time I meditate – wish it was . It happens when things are right, when it is meant to; good scientific logic - not at all mystical . It doesn’t happen when you are drunk! It can happen when you are focussed – right concentration. It can happen when you are confused, when you are grappling with a problem, you sit down and meditate, there is breathing the mind goes off, bring it back then the mind goes on the problem, further and further, proliferations and proliferations, and then like an arrow straight through – an insight. And you know it is an insight.
I often blog about insights, and in retrospect when I see these all I see is ideas, when I try to explain insight there is only an idea. This is particularly frustrating when confronting intellectuals but that is just life’s rich tapestry. I have a number of recollections where intellectuals have reacted badly in their efforts to experience insight through intellect; my attempted guidance towards such failed because it was through discourse – an intellectual methodology. Suffice it to say, insight cannot be understood rationally, cannot be experienced pursuant to logical development and reasoning. It can be “eureka-ed” somehow, but the nearest methodology that can produce an insight is meditation. Insight enables you to see through conditioning. Look for patterns of behaviour. Are there trigger moments in your life when you repeat a pattern of behaviour? That is conditioning, and meditation helps you see it. Once seen you can note its arising and simply let it go – it will go. This also comes from clarity, and that has developed since I started meditating regularly.
During my second childhood there were powerful moments – bells and banjoes – reminiscent of Chiswick, but these were few and far between. Also during those times there were troughs – notably the alcoholism. Once I meditated regularly there were few peaks and troughs and a general raising of happiness. Meditation was like a guardian often signposting where to go next with my studies. For me meditation is an ongoing process of clarifying the teaching, I trust where it takes me.
I have much to learn especially concerning paticcasamuppada but here is how my meditation fits in with the dogmas. When I read about a dogma it does not mean I have understood - far from it. Sometimes when I am reading something grabs me, but at other times it is just reading. It is not understood, the reading has just been added on the surface as a set of ideas (sankhara). Often I just let those ideas settle – even during sleep, and the next morning during meditation I have some insight concerning those ideas – that insight appropriates something of those ideas making it part of my understanding. This is how meditation fits in with my study, using insight to learn.
When I think back to the different times I have answered meditation as a solution, it is hard for someone to understand how following the breath can help. It is not the technique that you learn from, it is the process. It is the way that the 5 khandhas are calmed and find their place and consciousness frees up the space to enable sunnata. In meditation the daily life is put aside, and we can feel presence. In meditation there is a stillness that enables us to be filled with the Grace of God. Following the upheaval the systemic conditioning of being middle-classed shattered, and meditation led to presence that was exhilarating. Slowly I slipped back into daily life, and perhaps because I was not meditating sufficiently I did not have the mental discipline to free up myself to enable sunnata. When meditation became regular, first came sila – moral integrity, and then with the lack of turpitude that comes from having sila the mind calmed and I began to understand and practice some of the teachings as described. So for me meditation is the key practice – it is so much more than following the breath.
How can you know about this? Experience the benefits of daily (regular) meditation for yourself. No other way of knowing.
Another important practice is that of enquiry, genuine enquiry, a state of permanent enquiry.
As children we pick up an appreciation of life from our parents, schools and peers. This collection of ideas and facts is received from outside as conditioning, but for the most it is not internalised as understanding. One could imagine this conditioning as residing on the surface of our minds, continually being reinforced in daily life, and that by internalising we mean somehow that the collection changes to understanding and starts to reside deep. But for most this collection resides on the surface in the realm of the intellect – sankhara, subject to the intellectual organisation that comes from that aspect of mind. But does intellect (sankhara) understand? Is it a process of logic to understand?
At the beginning of life we are born with instincts to survive, these are facets of Nature. We have hunger, we seek emotional sustenance from our parents and then our contact widens seeking that sustenance from society. To gain emotional sustenance from society we concur with the ideas and facts that are presented to us – the Four Agreements (Appendix A), we more or less accept social mores, and we are forced to accept the law. Instinctively in our upbringing we appropriate this conditioning as self - a collection of ideas and living practices that might well be described as personality. Through custom and practice personalities form interactions that are our societies, so the driving force that adheres society is essentially instinct. Look at the exaggerated position the sexual instinct has in society, a definite indication that society is instinctual.
So we could start to enquire whether there is more than instinct. Our personalities are based on instinct and a collection of information and thoughts, but is there more than this instinct-based approach? Beyond instinct? Are we really just instinct?
For most people what is gained through upbringing lasts through their adult lives until death. But for some what is received is not enough. Doubt develops, the doubt that comes deep from within, the doubt that comes from the Path. For these people the received information becomes subjected to question. Do we live in a democracy when the laws benefit the rich? Do our elected democracies work when “our representatives” don’t do what we want collectively? Once these basic questions are asked, a can of worms is opened. How far is that collection of ideas and facts that we gained in our upbringing true?
Soon we can begin to question so many assumptions about society, and then about our personality. Once the rigid assumptions of our upbringings are undermined then the restrictions that enclosed our paths are taken away as in my upheaval, and we begin to question the results of being subject to conditioning and instinct. Do we need to be greedy? Can’t we live sustainably? Is it necessary to have more money than the next person, a bigger house, that latest smartphone? Why do we conform to what is expected of us by the received customs and practices? Why are we afraid to move forward? Why are we afraid to follow our paths?
By pursuing this enquiry we undermine the received knowledge that has accumulated through instinct, through our conditioning. One of the most notable aspects of instinct is its need to survive, that is why it is there in the first place – to show us how to survive when we are young and not old enough to make mature decisions. Instinct does not wish to lose control, it increases our fear, it identifies with the emotions and ideas so that when that received info that is our upbringing is questioned instinct lashes out; I have previously discussed the way intellect defends itself.
A significant aspect of this collection of ideas and facts is the belief system. Whether we subscribe to a religion or not we grow up believing a set of information that we have received, a belief that we live in a democracy, that our government is interested in our well-being, that there is a God, that there is reincarnation. The truth of some of our belief systems can be established, but to do so we need to start questioning. Very quickly the illusion of democracy falls away. But what about other beliefs?
Once path casts doubt on our received belief system, our conditioning, then we become vulnerable, and it is important at this stage that we learn tools to mature. What usually happens is that because our minds are educated to accept belief systems, when we start questioning we replace society’s belief system by that of someone else’s. Go East, and we accept the belief system of Buddhism. Politically we recognise the ownership of the world by the few, the delusion that money is substantive, and when demagogues stand up and explain this, we believe them wholeheartedly – including some questionable beliefs. This doesn’t help as all we have done is replace one belief system with another; we have replaced the received illusion of our upbringing by an alternative illusion. The real issue is the education process that has taught us to accept, the miseducation of conditioning. We instinctively accept what we receive, and when we step outside for a moment we use the same acceptance process to wipe the surface clean of the system of our upbringing and replace it with the alternative system. In the end neither brings satisfaction.
Once we have genuine enquiry then there are no ideas that restrict the path, this is freedom. Once we have genuine enquiry we are not told what to do by a received system, we make our own decisions.
And perhaps one of the most difficult belief systems to comprehend is that of the self as I discussed earlier with self arising from attachment to the 5 khandhas. I contend there is nothing left if we remove attachment to the 5 khandhas, but through our instinct-based conditioning we believe there is a self. I hope you have got this, don’t believe me – that would be a belief system. Enquire. What is there in self that is not in the 5 khandhas? What do we need other than sunnata and a disciplined mind? With experiencing presence or the grace of God there is no need to have a belief system like self. If we remove attachment to the 5 khandhas and let go of the belief system, what is left?
Letting go of self can be important in other ways. I have internalised pain and anger – Eckhart’s pain body. I remember a night in Nyanga in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. I remember I had been reading a spiritual self-help plan that taught that we internalised some of our emotional experiences, and that carrying this internal baggage was harmful. Five years earlier I had emerged scarred from a particularly turbulent relationship; it was the relationship that did in for me the romantic love of Hollywood - I never wanted romantic love again. I began searching in my stomach region for this lady. And I found her, I found the hurt. Instead of backing off I went in to experience the hurt again. I began crying, but there was more to come. I kept going in reliving the pain until my tears had scooped out all the hurt of that relationship. But it didn't stop there, for whilst I was there I felt buried emotions about my parents. I cleared them out, and drained but light-headed I went to sleep. In the morning I felt light but still drained - the experience was that powerful. Since then I have had emotional clearouts but none as powerful as Nyanga. But such clearouts might not get it all. 20 years after Nyanga was the first time I was able to be comfortable with saying I loved the lady in that turbulent relationship, how important that love was, and even though I never really sought a loving relationship again it gave me love that is so important to have in life. That love for her enabled my love for all, further enabled my compassion.
I consider that the emotions of the relationship and emotions from my upbringing had formed a self that had substantiated inside me – Eckhart’s pain body. This emotional self affected decisions in ways that I was not aware of, maybe the pain body still does – I have to keep checking. One of the issues attached to meditation is that when people are beginning to calm themselves such emotional selfs rear their heads causing problems. Some are afraid of these emotions so steer clear of the meditation. This avoidance is saddening as facing them and experiencing them as I did in Nyanga allows release of this attached emotional baggage – pain body – enabling so much increased freedom. This is compassion – freedom from suffering.
The next practice is that of genuine creativity, connecting with the muse. I am unsure what to write for this so I just started writing. Why is it practice? Because creativity, in my case writing, comes from the muse, and the muse in terms of the above terminology is presence, sunnata and the Grace of God. What does that mean? When I am writing I “align” myself so that there is no self - just writing. When I am writing that is all there is, the writing, it is just the practice of writing.
Here is what it is not. I don’t sit down and plan the writing, it is not a thought process; it is not, I think then I write. For me that would be sankhara. If I am writing the scifi, I have a vague notion of where the story is going – a theme – and then I write. Before I write I don’t know what I am going to write, the story just unfolds. The path of the writer takes over, produces the writing, and the story-line, what is written, is that of the path – not of me. What I am saying is that there is no self in the writing. When I am saying I write, I am saying that the body and psyche are still, minimal, consciousness is focussed on writing, and writing happens; there is no self in this.
How does this fit in with the writing I have done? I can’t ever think that I had pretensions to being a writer. At school I did maths because “it was easy”; it isn’t easy but I could do little work to get through. English on the other hand was not, I struggled, and it showed in exam grades. After the upheaval writing just happened. With the Chiswick presence I started to blast skits as Martin Smoothchatter. By this time arts people were helping me open up, and I wrote about what I read – scifi books. That was 43 years ago when for several years prior I had devoured all types of scifi. The last scifi I read was maybe 33 years ago, Doris Lessing’s Shikasta series, and I have written 4 scifi books since. Why??????
I have mentioned the writing of Kirramura where I had a conscious strategy of waiting for the muse. It was a Summer break – I could never write until I had left the stress of work far behind. I can’t remember how it started but I got in the routine of “waiting for the muse”. During the day I woke up late, did chores, watched tv, and waited for the time to go to bed – maybe midnight. I lay flat on the bed, still – stilling the mind. I began to feel myself pinned against the bed. I imagined it would be like the way they discussed astral projection – lying still and my rising; but no matter how much I would have liked that rising never happened. I just lay flat, still, pinned down. Then the presence would come, what I call “the guys”. I can see them but I can’t describe them. It wasn’t one thing, it was many. I can sort of see points vibrating but that doesn’t do it either. Once I got over their “arrival”, I just began writing, and that Summer over maybe a month “The Winds of Kirramura” happened.
There was a certain level of discipline as well. Maybe the next day I would reread and check it, sometimes I would do that at the time to kickstart the next writing session. Putting the stuff online with formats etc., that is different, that is discipline – duty, no presence then.
I have no idea how the muse comes to other artists as I write alone – not as part of a community, I have never been with artists except in my early years of the path after the upheaval.
It is worth mentioning another aspect of my writing that fits in with my blogging. I met a Belgian guy, Yves, who wanted to help with my writing when I was young. He took me over to Brussels and introduced me around. It was sort of nice but wasn’t me. We had a difficult time, I know I was the problem but I am not sure what I did. But he was true to his word, and I stayed in a small cottage for a month or two, I think Baisy-Thy. It was wonderful. I went to the British Council library and took out any book. I went back to the cottage, read a bit, and just wrote and wrote and wrote; a bit like I do with the blogs now. I have no idea what I wrote then, but I started exploring inside and it was tremendous. Yves did this because he wanted to help a writer. I never became a writer until I retired – a couple of books, Lidors and Kirramura when teaching, but Baisy-Thy helped me develop and I will always be grateful to Yves – who I never saw again.
I digressed because I wanted to say thanks. Being creative, getting in touch with the muse – however it appears to the artist is a practice. Why is creativity the path? Because artists who have touched the muse think the “same way”. Some may stray, be bought off, some may never get there, or never have the discipline to develop the path, but the genuine artist has followed the path to some extent. Maybe it is even true that more people touch the path through creativity than through any other method of practice, but for the creative the path is erratic. It needs discipline – much like I did.
Out of a sense of completeness I should mention one final practice – ayahuasca. I know nothing of this, and personally don’t want to know. I see it as a shortcut on something that is already fraught with danger – a shortcut to finding the path. When I was near these things it was people taking LSD, I never did so I have no real knowledge or understanding. People who had taken LSD had definitely touched something real but it seemed to me that the few I knew about had never properly been able to integrate the experience. I wonder whether ayahuasca is the same. Because the path is dangerous and with many pitfalls controlling the ego, I have no desire to take shortcuts; my natural shortcut was upheaval enough. For people not so lucky, maybe this sort of drugs is a way, but please don’t go near them unless under the tutelage of someone who is experienced on the path. One of the Buddha’s precepts is “I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness”, this could mean ayahuasca, it might not; it’s up to you. I have heard of the taking of ayahuasca as a way of detaching from self, that could be enlightening or it could be devastating for those reliant on self and not ready. I am only noting this practice out of a sense of completeness, there is no recommendation here – nor dismissal; you must make all your own choices, if interested go and learn, study, evaluate, and then make your decision. I cannot help with this.
I have discussed practices but what is the purpose of good practice? Wise mind. Wise mind is what makes our actions good, stupid mind makes our actions bad. By following good practices of meditation and enquiry we develop a wise mind. A wise mind uses khandhas but is not attached to those same khandhas.
I want to talk of a delusion where I always sail close to the wind. I am not the path. I am not sunnata, I am not presence. Path sunnata and presence are always there. If I have wise mind then there is awareness of path sunnata and presence, but I can never be these. Good practice leads to a wise mind that has awareness.
I began this section of the Treatise on path and transcendence by looking at my path as an attempt to open discussion about path. For me putting the path into practice is essential for a happy and peaceful life. What prevents people from having a peaceful life is nature’s process of conditioning through instinct in early life. This conditioning is primarily based around desire, instinct uses desire to help us grow, but when we are adults we fail to lose this instinctive conditioning and we remain addicted to these conditionings nature provided for us to survive.
The path is what we must follow to go beyond these conditionings, go beyond these addictions – to transcend. This transcending is the most important aspect of path. The Noble 8-fold Path is a way of life but the purpose of the way of life is to find path, to go beyond, to transcend. All religions have paths as ways of life. Many appear different, but they are not in transcendence. Words are different, strategies are different, but when there is transcendence paths are the same.
But we need practical methods to access this path – to transcend the ways of life. The first practice I suggest is meditation and I discussed ways in which meditation has helped me. We also need a wise mind that is always enquiring, breaking down conditionings that we don’t recognise as such primarily because we are addicted. Finally I discussed creativity as a practice but this has risks. Although genuine creativity accesses the path through the muse, consciousness contacting in this way is not disciplined; with the discipline of meditation and an enquiring mind creativity has to be a path that is fulfilling and full of bliss.