Do we always try to go deeper with our spirituality?
When we look around and see the defilement in the conditioned world it might be considered that we can be forgiven not to go deeper because we practice - and so many don't. Undoubtedly there is a sense of rightness in looking positively at people with a daily meditation practice as having a spiritual life within the mire of a defiled world. But is there an element of complacency in this if we don’t go deeper? That is of course up to you to decide but I have developed in my own practice a quick rear-kick of anti-complacency:-
1. Grounded in nature under a tree or on a solitary walk
2. Focus on humility - humble heart
3. Examine myself for attachment to kilesa of greed aversion and delusion and clinging to upadanas of kama (desire), ditthi (ideas), silabatta (rituals) and attava (self).
But could there be a fundamental absence in a practice that is grounded in meditation alone? In meditation we learn the method of enquiry – to question all that we have learnt as conditioning in order to remove old conditioning and not attach to new conditioning. As meditators we know this is an ongoing part of our practice continually mindful of conditioning in a defiled world.
But there is an additional spiritual step we could take – quest. Undoubtedly for all on a spiritual path quest has been a part at some stage – especially at the beginning with firstgrace. But as the initial phala and possibly jhanas die down, what happens to quest? suggests that quest be a permanent part of our journey, and that study is the vehicle of this quest. What does this quest do? It goes inner, it goes deep, and in going deep it fights complacency. In meditation practitioners can go deep but outside of meditation is there a practice of depth during our daily lives?
As meditators we recognise the intellectual proliferations of sankhara-khandha, these attachments to sankhara can arise as we jump around on the surface. As each new teacher comes along we may become interested in their viewpoint, as we meet each new Buddhist Pali-word we read about it, we maybe have favourite spiritual teachers and we listen to their podcasts or read their blogs. There is a certain level of mindfulness that comes from this grappling but how much is there of the genuine quest to go deeper? Are there the passions of bright faith? Do these approaches contain a familiarity and comfort that keep us ticking over? Do we have a deep and meaningful quest as part of our practice? Do we go DE .... EP?
In this advice is talking about quest as deep enquiry during our daily life, he used this deep enquiry quest as a process during his work on Viveka-Zandtao. This method works for because writing is his creative process and writing can then be used for going deep. Over recent years blogposts have been regular, and through these enquiry was learnt, formalising this is part of – a method of deep enquiry.
Choose a topic
With study and blogging I have come to rely on my inner guide to provide the content material. Because of this relationship with the inner guide I do not experience “block”; of course I am not writing for a publisher, there are no deadlines or pressures, the path is writing. Either with what next to write or what next to read, there was the inner guide with suggestions. Or in the case of Viveka-Zandtao the inner guide latched onto a coincidence. It came from an email from a teacher-friend who listened to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast on the way to work. He had listened to Stephen Batchelor on solitude, was I interested? My initial response was not enthusiastic yet a week later my inner guide had been peaked. I remember at that time reading Buddhadasa talking of viveka and began Viveka-Zandtao – still going strong 9 months later. Remain open to the inner guide with your choice!
Years ago I began a process of Bouncing off Pirsig – Pirsig Platform – that has long since dropped off. I think both of Pirsig’s books are wonderful, and it had been my intention at the time to perhaps finish both books in this way. But it stopped.
Then came Stephen’s “Art of Solitude” from the coincidence of the friend's suggestion. Now it is not the reading of the book that creates the depth. Academia encourages breadth of reading, this is a process of gathering information - lauded as being widely read; I think of this as reading that keeps thoughts on the surface. For it is the reading that triggers quest to go deeper, something arises when reading, and needs to be developed. It is not necessarily about agreement or understanding, it is about inspiration - inspiring seeking. The written word sparks something, and writing starts. As the author’s words are matched off with experience - ideas conflict - don’t match up exactly - trigger sanna (a memory or perception), there begins a process of clarification as mindfulness grapples with the trigger leaving behind restricting contents and preparing the ground for creativity to take the process deeper. This is a consolidation of the known based on interaction with the author’s words.
For the process to be deep and meaningful it helps if the author has written with depth and meaning. If the author was on a quest with their own writing then they will have gone deeper - for them, and that depth methodology will show in the book. As the author goes deeper in the book, the reader's mindfulness grapples with more ideas emptying all the contents of their own consciousness freeing up their quest to go deeper. There is no academic filling of the mind with the thoughts of the author - ditthupadana, mindfulness weighs the thoughts of the author against ideas already known – often through insight, and the boundaries of those ideas are then pushed back – leading to clarity of the known and preparing the ground for the quest into the unknown. Through this clarification the mind is not then restricted by previous ideas because the writing interaction has emptied that content onto the page. Now the author’s words are able to take the seeker deeper uninhibited by prior attachment – able to start the quest into the unknown. Creative writing is crucial to this. Mindfulness on its own can grapple with thoughts and be deep, but piercing through with creativity is different. Creative writing can take you deeper than mindfulness of the known. Similarly in dhamma conversation, one practitioner can help another go deeper in a way personal reflection cannot, it is the stimulus of the different view that creates the depth. Bouncing off an author’s words can create this stimulus.
As a writer it is often the case that when creatively writing you connect with the muse and in the creative flow come up with something you have never thought before – this is the essence of the creativity. taps into that same process creating understanding that neither you nor the bounced-off author had. This creative process has questing into the unknown.
Bouncing off – reading to write with depth – is different from usual reading, it is trying to work with creativity. Creative writing flows, analytical writing is focussed on reason – sankhara-khandha; creative writing has no such restriction and goes where the muse takes it, This has a downside – discussed later.
Getting the path’s wisdom
Let us examine the way understanding can take place and see how this relates to . Understanding is wisdom so the first way we can think of gaining understanding is that we connect to the Dhamma, because wisdom is one of the resulting 4 Dhamma comrades. It has often been the case that in meditation insight has arisen - connection to the Dhamma. I sometimes think of my blogging as putting the flesh on the bones of an insight that has arisen in meditation.
Mindfulness, as one of the 4 Dhamma comrades, arises in connecting with the Dhamma. In writing this advice I have been trying to work out how mindfulness grapples. In my mind I hold the question “how does mindfulness understand?” and it is stuck there – initially no understanding. There is a feeling of pressure building up as using samadhi my desire for understanding reacts with the space where mindfulness is holding the question. In the past I have felt this pressure and reaction, and I take a break. Usually I leave the question for a time – often overnight – and an insight comes.
I began examining Thay’s “Miracle of Mindfulness” to grapple with how mindfulness understands. Here is a description of mindfulness [p23 of 180] – “"mindfulness" to refer to keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality”. To understand I have to be in the present moment with the question, and there came an understanding because the answer is known. How does mindfulness understand? Because the answer is known already. What does this mean? Mindfulness can grapple with the question because the answer is known, it is just(!) necessary to be fully in the present moment to become aware of the known answer. When mindfulness is grappling with questions or supposed new thoughts it is helping us become aware in the present moment – until what is known is recognised. We hold the thought, samadhi brings pressure to use mindfulness to make this known. There is maybe an impasse, and mindfulness uses the pressure to make us aware of what is already known. Mindfulness deals with the known, allowing quest to then go with faith into the unknown.
When we read to go deep mindfulness with samadhi grapples with what is written until the thoughts are known. Creative writing then develops understanding but in a different way. Let me talk about the scifi writing first. Writing scifi I connect to the muse, and develop the story. The telling of the story has reached a certain stage, I have a vague notion of where the next stage of the story goes, and I just write. The story does not always follow the line, it might zigzag, but it unfolds. Within that story line there might be wisdom arising, the wisdom is not the purpose of the story but in the writing a character might decide on some wisdom.
For it is this getting of wisdom that is the purpose - not an incidental but pleasant by-product of creativity. Recognising that wisdom can arise through creative writing, the ground is prepared by mindfulness grappling with the author's words establishing the known without attachment and emptying the contents of consciousness leaving the mind free to develop wisdom through creative writing by connecting to the Dhamma via the muse. In creative writing there is an immersion in the connectivity to the muse, it is that same immersion that tries to emulate. immerses itself in the book, the bouncing off the author's words, and creates a flow of writing that it is hoped will create wisdom.
I now have faith will work because of my understanding of quest and faith developed in Viveka-Zandtao - it is more than a creative hope for wisdom. Faith comes from the path, and with the path we are simply being who we are meant to be, learning what we are meant to learn. Questing into the unknown is meant to produce learning – dhammajati. Because of faith we can have confidence that going into the unknown will eventually produce understanding. Faith in is based on tha nature of the path that we are meant to learn. Through immersion a seeker uses creativity to go into the unknown with the faith that the path intends for the seeker to learn.
Tapping into wisdom as creative writing is . As I bounce off the author’s words creative writing takes over and I go into the flow of the “bounce”, and within that bounce new unknown wisdom arises through creativity. It is very important to note the need for review. I have found partial errors creeping into the writing when I do creative writing by bouncing. When I write scifi I am writing a story in conditioned world, it matters not whether there is ego – that can be part of the story or the character it doesn’t matter. In creative writing connects to the muse, but since errors arise there must be ego present; it cannot just be connecting to Dhamma or there would be no errors. These errors are not usually significant but if the writing is an effort to present wisdom there can be no errors. As I quest into the unknown the path does reveal new wisdom but somehow in the writing ego creeps in and without realising I maybe add an error to the wisdom. Review is how I correct this problem. Once a quest that has moved into the unknown has been completed eg the sections of quest or faith in the recent Viveka-Zandtao, will have developed a clear understanding in those sections. It will then be necessary to go back to the beginning of the section for mindfulness to review everything for errors in the light of where the seeker has gone. But be careful of this clarity it is only temporary, it will seem deeply clear at the end of that process but maybe later a new quest will reveal restrictions - note the nature of anicca.
On one occasion in Exploring Quest and Investigating Faith of Viveka-Zandtao, I left the error in – the error where I initially saw the faith-revelation as faith only whereas clarity came later by seeing it as faith and lokutarra. I left the error in the investigation to show how the investigation process worked. At other times I edited out the “errors” because I did not see it as constructive to the investigative process; these edits were not big – mainly clarification. Clearly some ego had happened in the process of creating wisdom because of there being errors. In the case of the faith revelation I know why, I was trying to accept Sharon’s broad understanding of faith - the ego was a form of ditthupadana that later disappeared with clarity on the understanding of faith and lokutarra. Detailed review is essential to decrease the chances of these ego errors arising, I now have an button. I used to put writing online before it had been reviewed, I rarely do that now because of the risk of ego.
To help with review our minds need to be clear, and the best way I know of for a clear mind is meditation. Whilst meditation is an ongoing part of practise, in review it is better to have an additional meditation session to prepare our minds to avoid kilesa and upadana.
So in quest armed with our faith the seeker uses creative writing to go into the unknown, and we have review to let go of any attachments or clinging to ego.
Here is how enables going deeper.
1) The inner guide chooses the book to investigate.
2) In reading we are inspired by what the author writes – the seeker/quest is inspired.
3) Mindfulness grapples with a particular quote discerning what is known from attachment.
4) With the whole book mindfulness empties the contents of consciousness through writing as clarification eschewing attachments. The mind is then free to quest into the unknown.
5) Through immersion quest takes us into the unknown by creative writing.
6) With our faith we can have confidence that the path means us to learn.
7) Realistically there is the risk of kilesa and upadana in the creative writing. Mindful review, from lokutarra if possible, is essential to remove these kilesa and upadana.
8) Moving into the unknown using , the path will give us new wisdom with the faith that this is what is intended and that there has been a discerning review concerning ego.
There must be many ways that practitioners go deeper on their paths. works for , but it is only offered as one possible suggestion. Doesn’t living rightly mean that we all try to go deeper despite the conditions of a defiled world that are around us?