Other Dimensions (Out There)

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The main stumbling block with analysing the idea of witnessing another reality, is ensuring that what is experienced, is not a product of the malfunction of the human brain, and its ability to perceive, cognise or interpret. An individual could be suffering from any number of internally generated psychological and physiological conditions, that interfere with the usual process of sensing the material environment. Such divergence away from normal function in the brain (and body), obviously leads to an internally generated view of the physical world, that does not actually exist ‘out there’. If a group of people appear to share a ‘visionary’ experience, it cannot be rejected out of hand, that all concerned are suffering from a perceptual ailment, or that the group is engaging in a ‘cult-like’ activity involving peer pressure, mutual conditioning, and interpretive reinforcement (i.e. a group hallucination). From a scientific perspective, these issues cannot be ignored whilst attempting to establish the theoretical principle of the existence of different planes of reality. Of course, belief systems effect how the world is perceived simply because that is one of their primary functions, but ‘belief’ does not necessarily equate to correct perception or interpretation of reality. Although theoretical physics postulates that other dimensions may exist (i.e. ‘String Theory’ and ‘Quantum Theory’, etc), these realities are mathematical probabilities, and not the product of sensory observation in the usual or mundane sense. In other words, the only manner in which these realities have been understood to exist, is through the use of numbers as cognised by the human brain. This is very different to the structure of religious or spiritual visions of other realities, which always appear to be like this (mundane) reality – but ‘ideal’ in nature. This can be ‘ideally’ good or bad, depending upon belief ad circumstance, but there is no scientific reason why other dimensions should be in anyway ‘familiar’ to human beings and their cognitive sensory array (which has evolved within a particular environment), or even ‘perceptible’ to the human mind in the ordinary sense.

Ch’an Dialectics

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‘The illusion of form which includes the body and mind made of the five aggregates and the visible world is tackled first by returning each of its aspects to where it arises to prove its unreality.  Then the illusion of perception is wiped out by revealing its essence, or alaya, which like a second moon is also an illusionary creation.’

(Charles Luk: Preface – Surangama Sutra – Munshiram, (2001), Page xvii)

The Ch’an masters of ancient China are often judged as speaking nonsense, or even being ‘crazy’ in some Western-quarters, when the ‘enlightened’ dialogues with their disciples are analysed – supposedly in the cold light of day.  The problem with this type of analysis is that it is premised upon a major category error of interpretation that ignores or avoids the psychological and physical process the Ch’an masters are employing. This means that the ‘essence’ or ‘underlying’ aspect of the enlightened Ch’an dialogue is ‘missing’ from this limited interpretation.  It is like the presence of a wooden table being explained, without including the reality that it was once a living and growing ‘tree’ in the world, and that this tree was cut-down, and its trunk chopped into smaller pieces, which were then ‘processed’ into the applicable parts that are used to construct a standard table.  Everything in the world follows a logically discernible set of causes and effects, with a specific ‘cause’ eliciting a specific ‘effect’, and so on.  Far from being ‘illogical’, the Ch’an method is in fact highly logical, and a product of a sophisticated interpretation of depth psychology and behaviour.  The basis of the Ch’an dialogue is that of the interaction of ‘form’ and ‘void’ in the perception of the unenlightened disciple, as he or she is led to profound understanding by an already enlightened Ch’an master.  The Ch’an master either emphasises the ‘void’, or emphasises the ‘form’, depending upon the particular psychology (and understanding) of the disciple at hand.  This often rapid interchange of dialectical reality creates a ‘tension’ in the enquiring mind that assists in ‘loosening’ the bonds of ingrained attachment, and klesic obscuration.  This is the ancient Ch’an method at its root, which has nothing to do with being ‘crazy’, or ‘missing’ parts of one’s anatomy.  Dialectics, of course, can be traced not only back to the Buddha, but probably much earlier in ancient India, and of course in ancient and classical Greece, but the Buddha is unique in the ancient world in his use of ‘form’ and ‘void’ as a definite means to interpret and define reality.  It can be further stated that the early Confucian texts of ancient China utilised the dialectical method by juxtaposing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, as did the various early Daoist or proto-Daoist texts (which defined reality as ‘correct’ or incorrect’ paths of endeavour).  If the Ch’an method is understood properly, then the casual observer is not ‘limited’ to the surface level of interpretation, (as this mistakes the ‘surface’ for the ‘essence’), but instead understands that profound system of stimulus – response is unfolding in real-time.  As the disciple mistakenly presents a surface obscuration in the mind (accompanied by a corresponding physical behaviour), the Ch’an master automatically ‘dismisses’ this ‘limited’ interpretation of reality, and immediately returns to its ‘empty’ essence – whether the disciple is instantly enlightened or not, depends entirely upon that disciple’s historical conditioning – and the Ch’an master’s direct perception of that history as it existentially manifests.  If the disciple mistakes a state of one-sided ‘nothingness’ as ‘emptiness’, the Ch’an master might well suddenly present ‘form’ as an antidote (as true emptiness contains all form, and vice versa).  In reality, the Ch’an method does not go beyond the Buddha’s realisation of ‘perception’ and ‘non-perception – the so-called ‘Tathagata Ch’an’ – but differs in that the realisation of the empty essence of ‘perception’ and ‘non-perception’ is directly emphasised from the moment Ch’an training commences – the so-called Patriarch’s Ch’an’.

Scientific Buddha

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The Buddha organised his mind in a manner that is common (or at least familiar) today, but which was unheard of and unknown thousands of years ago in ancient India.  This is why Carl Jung referred to him as the first ‘modern’ man.  This is not to suggest that everyone alive today is ‘enlightened’, or that modern minds are not infected with greed, hatred, and delusion, far from it, but is rather an acknowledgement that modern mainstream science looks to logic and reason for its justifying paradigm, and moves away from imagination and speculative theories. People’s minds are just as deluded today as they were in the Buddha’s time, but his way of logically organising the thought processes of his mind is inaccordance with the highest principles known in the West and manifested through advanced scientific thinking.  As the Buddha emphasised the ‘uprooting’ of all ignorance from the mind, he can be further referred to as the world’s first modern ‘scientist’.  However, the Buddha pushed the boundaries of knowing much further with regard to his ability to ‘perceive’ his own mind and fully comprehend its functioning – as if he was witnessing his mind ‘objectively’ whilst still inhabiting its interior.  What many modern scientists lack is this very insight into their own minds that the Buddha possessed, and as such, whilst modern scientists pursue otherwise ‘logical’ paradigms, their personal mind remains trapped in a state of habitual ‘inversion’.  Modern scientists observe and measure the physical universe accurately, but at no time do they understand or comprehend the deep-rooted interaction that exists between ‘conscious awareness’ and ‘physical matter’ – still preferring to see physical matter as ‘distinct’ from conscious awareness.  Even the quantum understanding that perception effects the physical phenomena it observes, is arrived at ‘objectively’ and is devoid of personal, inner realisation of the very truth it expresses.  The Buddha taught that ‘perception’ and the objects ‘perceived’, although separate and distinct as categories of description, nevertheless are not separate in essence.  The Buddha advises that all those who follow his path must ‘uproot’ ALL ignorance.   This instruction alone proves that the Buddha was a ‘scientist’ and not a religious teacher in the conventional sense.

Uncertainty Matters

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Monday 13 May 1963

‘This evening went to St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, for a meeting of the Christian Agnostics to hear the Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson, talking about his book Honest to God, which we had gathered to discuss.  The Reverend Joseph McCulloch has organised this group, justifying its name by reference to the line (from “Oranges and Lemons”) which runs: “I do not know – says the great bells of Bow”.

At the gathering were Canon John Collins of St Paul’s Cathedral, Father Corbishley (a Jesuit writer), George Dickson (an Industrialist), Duncan Fairn (who took the chair), Gerald Gardiner, Dr Graham Howe (the humanist psychologist), the Earl of Longford, Canon and Mrs Milford, Mrs JB Priestly and a number of others.

The Bishop opened by saying that secularism was not basically anti-Christian and that Christians must understand and even welcome the revolt against dualistic supernaturalism, the mythological view o the world and the religiosity of the Church.  He said his book was designed to help those who were in revolt to see the basic validity of the Christian message.

Canon Collins asked whether Christ was perfect, for if he was, he was then God.  Woolwich replied that he wanted to write a book about Christ and that the Virgin birth made Christ seem unreal.  Woolwich’s interest in Christ lay in his normality, not his abnormality.  He felt he could not make sweeping statements about Christ’s moral life, for what was significant was his obedience.  Collins replied that if you simply say Christ was “the best man I know”, Christianity could never get started.

We broke for supper and resumed for another hour and a half.  Later we had a much deeper discussion about the supernatural, in which I had a long confrontation with Corbishley about whether the evidence for the supernatural came really from external manifestations or the discovery of hidden depths.  Corbishley was splendidly Jesuitical in saying that you had to have mythology “to get people to pray”.  Here is the real nub of the question.  Is prayer a duty or a need?’

(The Best of Tony Benn: Edited By R Winstone, Arrow Books, (2015), Pages 37-38)

I am of the considered opinion that there is a way of knowing that is free of the structural limitations associated with all the conventional systems designed to ‘gather’ facts, and to separate fact from fiction.  This type of knowledge gathering is dualistic and inefficient from a universalist position, but highly efficient from a localised (and limited) perspective.  Modern science falls into this category, as do many religions.  Each system is a programmed device to declare certain phenomenon to be ‘real’ and other ‘phenomenon’ to be false.  This has allowed humanity to develop a certain efficiency of thought and action, and to invent medicine, technology and all kinds of labour-saving devices.  No one in their right mind would call this advancement wrong or incorrect (as the progressive results speak for themselves), and it would be correct to describe modern science as an all-embracing exercise in the management of ‘certainty’ – but what of ‘uncertainty’?  As the remit of modern science is incredibly narrow, it follows that by far the vast majority of existence does not fall into the declared ‘fact’ of scientific understanding.  Therefore science, although vitally important, cannot and does not represent the entirety of human perceptual awareness.  This means that there must be a central position of awareness that fully embraces the entire periphery of ‘knowing’ without any contradiction, partiality, or contradiction.  This, in effect, is the realised integration of ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ in an instant.  This would imply that everything exists and does not exist simultaneously – and this includes all notions of ‘god’ and ‘non-god’.  Although I am not religious in anyway, I can truthfully state that god exists AND does not exist in equal measure, and that I am disinterested in either view.

Being ‘Aware’ of Awareness

Mind, Bead, Touch

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Ch’an is essentially working with the psychology of perception and apperception. This is the process of ‘sensing’ data through the six senses (perception), and then through the habit of the conditioned mind – arranging that data into a certain and definite interpretation (apperception) of the world.  This implies that all viewpoints and opinions are the product of conditioning influence in the environment, that produce and sustain (through habit) a certain ‘frequency’ of inner, interpretive existence.  Within his teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha refers to this habit as ‘mental formations, or ‘thought constructs’.  Regardless of whether the world is viewed as independently existing or not, the human mind will only interpret its presence in a manner conducive to its own historical conditioning.  During this habit forming process, the mind remains ‘unaware’ of the process of conditioning it is experiencing, and cannot see beyond its own limited (and programmed) interpretive horizon.  This narrow perception of reality is taken as being ‘all there is to know’, when in fact the mind remains ignorant of its own predicament.  Ch’an is the method of seeing into and through this limited predicament.  A Ch’an master’s statements and actions seem weird and illogical to the one-sided mind – but make perfect sense to a mind that is functioning in an integrative and all-embracing fashion.  Anyone can be ‘aware’ because it is a natural state – but only a Buddha can be ‘aware’ of the inherent quality of ‘awareness’ itself.

UFO: A Perceptual Exercise

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The UFO phenomena is essentially one of perception. Gaps in knowledge leads to the creation of mythology to fill-in the missing data. This process, in and of itself, is not an ‘error’, or a ‘mistake’, but rather evidence of evolution as experienced by the human ‘brain’ and ‘mind’. The ability to speculate and to create a type of knowledge where none previously existed, has enabled humanity to evolve to a high degree. This acknowledgement is not a judgement on, or validity of, the knowledge that has been ‘speculated’, as the process of data sorting is a post-perceptual event.  There is perception, and there is then an over-lay of thought construction that defines and interprets what has ben sensed. For instance, a neutral set of events will be interpreted according to the psychological conditioning of the observer. Belief is a post-perceptual over-lay that projects a particular interpretation onto events as they appear to unfold. The entirety of human experience involves this process, which has seen a refinement of perception that has evolved through religion to science, and that now occupies a post-modern position whereby secularism, science, and certain aspects of religion integrate to form a new and complex perspective. The UFO picture above is a human invention which depicts an event that has never happened. In other words, an artist has created an image based upon imagination and not on an actual event – even if the details portrayed are ‘believed’ to have occurred somewhere else, at some other time. This logical assessment should not be used to suggest that an event like this has never happened – how could such a definite statement be made with complete lack supporting the evidence? – but is rather a simple observation that this picture is not a photograph of an actual event. What then, is being seen here?

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Events that have what might be described as a particular ‘frequency’ of manifestation, inevitably invite a certain interpretation that becomes hot-wired into the perceptual system. However, change the manifested frequency – even only slightly – and the ‘certainty’ of what humanity thinks it know falls away completely. Mythology and speculative thinking have evolved as an antidote to the ‘horror’ human beings feel when they are unable to adequately ‘cognise’ their surroundings and experiences. This is because ‘fear’ has been a tremendous force for the evolutionary engine, driving humanity forever onward tin its endless quest to eradicate ‘not knowing’, and ignorance.  Before humanity can speculate about the ‘nature’ of what is being seen, it should first understand the perceptual apparatus with which it is making these key observations.  How can humanity be sure aliens are visiting earth, when the human mind that creates this information remains under appreciated and misunderstood?  It is a curious paradox to consider that alien intelligence might well be looking at a human intelligence that remains essentially ‘unaware’ of the details of its own functionality, but is equally aware that it is being ‘watched’ by a mysterious outside force.  On the face of it, this scenario sounds suspiciously like another form of religious mythology.  Unless proven otherwise, the paranormal appears to be the ‘new’ church, with visiting aliens being synonymous with the return of Christ, etc.

 

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.

Taijiquan as Advanced Rationality

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Taijiquan, regardless of its philosophical underpinnings, or its historicity, is the product not of a mind ensnared in a world of vague mystery and rampant imaginations, but is rather a product of the objective observation of the human body whilst experiencing the duress of combat. Taijiquan is the advanced and progressive consequence of a human rational mind, which has transcended the limitations usually associated with the brutality of human conflict. Of course, Taijiquan is not a physical art imposed upon the body by a mind that is out of control, or operating through the premise of ordinary awareness. On the contrary, minds that created the physical framework of the Taijiquan form were themselves ‘mature’ and ‘cognitively developed’ – this is how the principle of Taijiquan emerged through environmental (and psychological) conditioning. Those who practiced regular military arts, and who experienced and survived engagements in battles that remained primarily ‘hand-to-hand’ – despite the presence of fired projectiles on the ancient and modern Chinese battlefield – were able, through the agency of experience, to eventually ‘see through’ the psychological and physical confusion, hesitation, and fear, and were consequently able to develop and modify the existing military martial arts into a physical expression of an advanced state of understanding, which operated through physical movement. These circumstances created the material reality of the Taijiquan technique – a clearly recognisable set of movements that share a common philosophical basis.

Ordinary logic – which satisfies itself primarily with instinctive responses to perceived and real external threats – was transcended by those individuals who experienced combat on a regular basis throughout their lives and lived to benefit from the experience. This progression of human understanding is thoroughly inaccordance with the premise of human psychological and physical evolution, and as a principle, has been evident within Chinese science for millennia. The military martial arts, far from being inferior in structure or theory, have performed a very important function throughout Chinese history and culture, and have been the preferred vehicle for conveying discipline, moral fortitude, virtue, honour, and the notion of ‘selflessness’ to the younger generations, as they have been prepared for service in the military as a soldier, or as a scholar-official within the government. The military martial arts are the historical foundation of Chinese martial culture. These martial arts developed out of primitive combat and hunting skills, and were transformed into effective self-defence techniques practiced and used by vast and disciplined military formations that numbered tens of thousands, or more.

The ability of the mind to direct the body in combat led to the extensive diversification of armed and unnamed martial related skills, styles, and lineages. Martial practice in peacetime became a cultural habit within Chinese culture, which acted not only as a vehicle for self-development (through the replication in training of the discipline required to fight on the battlefield), but acted as an insurance policy to enhance the chances of survival of the individual, should war ever breakout in reality. The acquisition and development of proficient martial skill in peacetime, equated with the ability to adequately manifest martial ability in wartime. The notion of nobility contained within martial practice, probably dates back to the time of Confucius, who pointed-out (through his philosophical teachings), that the concentration required for the practice of martial arts (and the seriousness of engaging in combat), is the same as that required by a scholar who has the task of studying the classical books of China in his attempt to pass the state examinations, with the intention of assuming public office. As an official and a soldier serve both the people and the government – their roles, although distinctive, share certain characteristics. Indeed, for Confucius a scholar was a warrior, and a warrior was a scholar, and this led to him using the Chinese ideogram ‘士’ (shi4), which means warrior, and knight, (as well as gentleman), to refer to a cultivated scholar. Progressive rationality, in whatever form it has taken throughout Chinese historicity, has been an important aspect of Chinese culture for thousands of years.

As a development of higher reason, Taijiquan is a distinct activity with a unique philosophy, which is indicative of an advanced rationality. This use of the human mind has developed a set of combat effective physical exercises that are designed to complement the anatomy and physiology of the human body. No movement exists within Taijiquan that has not evolved from the requirement of optimising the inner and outer physical structures of the body. Not only does this mean that there is no resistance to the natural structure or functioning of the body – which builds both health and strength – but through the requirement of aligning the bones and joints, and becoming aware of how gravity operates on (and through) the human body, the awareness of a great systemic power is realised that can be emitted through any part of the body without recourse to the excessive tensing of localised muscle groups. Muscles assist the alignment of the bones and joints, and operate in natural ripples up and down the body, unhindered by pockets of habitual tension usually found around the joints. All these attributes stem from the development of deep and full abdominal breathing that utilises the entire lung capacity, and which is designed to take in the maximum amount of oxygen with each breath, whilst cleansing the maximum amount of carbon dioxide (and excessive water vapour) from the body, through exhalation of the outer breath. The slow performance of the various techniques extends and expands the movements, opening the joints and strengthening the bones. Slow movement builds awareness of every part of the technique, thus building co-ordination through an advanced use of the neural network. The neural network is comprised of extensive nerve-fibre pathways that link the brain to every part of the inner and outer body. This means that by practicing slowly, and strengthening the neural network through experience, the foundations are laid for lightning fast reflexes should the situation require such a response. Slow practice builds awareness over a greater period of time through movements, which in regular martial arts, is executed so fast that awareness does not penetrate its inner structure. The fastness associated with regular martial arts diminishes with levels of fitness and age, but the fastness associated with Taijiquan is the product of the enhancing of mind-body co-ordination through the permanent development of the neural network. All Taijiquan movements are rounded – as are the bones and joints that form them. Nothing is wasted, health is enhanced, and martial ability is assured.

The Patriarch’s Ch’an Can Not Be Bought

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Patriarch Ch’an, as a distinct concept, maybe defined as the method utilised by the Ch’an School of China, designed to convey the reality of the empty mind essence – here and now – without recourse to the expedient Buddhist teachings found in the sutras. This is because the expedient Buddhist teachings found in the sutras, are pointing to exactly the same empty mind essence. The human propensity for attachment to intellectual concepts influenced the Buddha to pass-on his realisation ‘mind to mind’, thus by-passing the requirement for intellectual engagement and sophistry. The strongest intellect, as it is unaware of the existence of its own historical conditioning, is not wise, and can not see beyond its own limitations. When the expedient teachings of the sutras are mediated through the intellect, they become dumb curiosities and part of the ignorant fetters that bind humanity to the suffering of existence. The wisdom contained within the sutras can free the mind, providing there is no attachment to its apparent ‘holiness’. The duality of ‘holiness’ on the one hand, and ‘ignorance’ on the other, makes fools of us all.

Pointing directly to the essence of the empty mind is exactly the Patriarch’s method of Ch’an. All Ch’an masters understand the sutras without effort, because the meaning of all sutras does not go beyond the realisation and comprehension of the empty mind ground. If a sutra goes beyond this, then it is not the true word of the Buddha, and is a fabrication of the ignorant mind. As ignorance knows no end, so do false sutras (and incorrect commentaries). This is doubly correct of true sutras interpreted incorrectly to justify this doctrinal view, or that political justification. The Patriarch’s method of teaching Ch’an does not go beyond the Tathagata method of teaching Ch’an, as one reflects the other free of delusion. When delusion is present, nothing works and no amount of effort will clear the way for effective self-development. A deluded interpretation of ‘enlightened words’, is still only ‘delusion’ and not the ‘wisdom’ it pretends to be.

The Fourth Ch’an Patriarch was the Great Teacher Dayi Daoxin. One day, as Daoxin was walking to Huangmei County, he encountered a young child on the road. The child was unusual looking and fine featured.

Daoxin asked the boy: “What is your name?”

The boy answered: “I have a name, but it is not a permanent nane.”

Daoxin said: “What name is it?”

The boy answered: “Buddha.”

Daoxin said: “You do not have a name?”

The boy said: “It is empty, so I do not possess it.”

Daoxin stared at this young Dharma-vessel. Later the boy became his student and eventually inherited the Dharma and became the Fifth Ch’an Patriarch – Hongren. Hongren would eventually choose an illiterate man for his successor, who would become the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an – Hiuneng. This is a significant statement to humanity, because Hongren had many students who were affluent and well educated. These students had fully functioning intellects which were the consequence of their relatively good socio-economic backgrounds, and privileged upbringings. However, as the illiterate and poor Huineng proved, this kind of advantage in life means nothing if the empty essence of the mind is not fully realised here and now. The chatter of privilege means nothing to the Buddha, or his enlightened descendents.

Mindfulness: The Effectiveness of Attention Relocation.

The mind as an apparent internal device is influenced by the environment within which it exists.  This environment is not only the outer world of separate, disparate people and events, but also includes the body itself.  The body and the surrounding environment (of what might be referred to broadly as ‘society’), are subject to the awareness of the conscious mind itself, so that the psychic substance of the mind, and the actual physical matter that comprises the world, appear to reconcile at a certain point, in such away that allows ‘mind’ to still appear as a distinct psychic entity, and for the world of matter to continue to function as if it where separate and distinct from the mind that perceives and interacts with it.  The awareness of ‘emptiness’ (sunyata), is the Buddhist philosophical experience that serves as the basis that allows the functioning interaction of ‘mind’ (void), and ‘matter’ (form), with no apparent contradiction within the experience itself.  Often, in such an enlightened state, phenomena are described as rising and falling away within a pristine, reflective, space-like continuum.  This state is realised that the apparent movements of the mind are ‘stilled’ through the use of a concentrative method.  This method invariably involves a withdrawing of attention from the senses – which in Buddhist philosophy also includes the mind itself – so that inner tendencies, habits of response, continuous cycles of thoughts and feelings, are reduced through the breaking of contact with the obvious physical circumstances (i.e. ‘causes’) which trigger the inner (i.e. ‘effect’) responses.  Simultaneously with this effort is applied a system of behaviour modification (i.e. ‘the precepts’) which serves to limit the scope of detrimental physical actions, which have their origination within the mind itself.  The inner mind and outer body is thus aligned through an effort of will that seeks to create a mind free of delusion, and a body free of error.

The Buddhist teachings explain the attainment of the state of enlightenment from the perspective of ‘what it is not’.  It is the state of mind that is manifest, when the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion are thoroughly ‘cut-off’ at their root in the mind itself.  Although the environment creates, through its influence via the senses, confusions and lamentations in the mind, it is the creation of defilements in the mind that the various modes of Buddhist meditation seek to uproot and prevent from re-arising.  The body and social conditions are taken care of through the precepts for the monastic and the lay person alike.  Therefore, the body and outer environmental conditions are regulated in such away so as to allow for extended hours of quiet, seated meditation practice.  Such a regulation allows for the attention of the mind to be re-located away from the concerns of triviality, and toward the contemplation of the inner mind itself.  At the beginning of such a practice, the individual’s concentration is weak and undeveloped.  As a consequence, the outer conditions that would normally serve to divert the mind’s attention toward living fully within the concerns of the ordinary world, are modified so that the immediate environment is free of the need for the obvious trials and tribulations associated with the struggle for survival.  In this developmental environment, the emphasis is upon an inner struggle only, with the need to acquire food and shelter met within and through the meditating community itself.  The individual meditator is freed from the daily grind of the mundane requirement to accumulate wealth to sustain him/her and a family within a worldly existence.  The material effort usually required by an individual is taken-over by the community and replaced with an effort designed solely to develop and free the mind.  This is of course, relevant to the ‘Sangharama’, the holy places provided to spiritual teachers and their students, by kings who wished to encourage pockets of intense spiritual practice within their kingdoms.  Such places consisted of a specific geographical area, whereby the incumbent community of ascetics were immune from secular, taxation and military conscription.  In return for this social freedom, the communities had to apply themselves to their Dharmic studies and not get involved in the ordinary world, or participate in any movements to oust the king and his administration.  Such behaviour was considered a treasonous act and responded to accordingly.  These official holy spaces were often situated in parks or forested areas.  However, individuals not part of these kinds of communities often went alone into the wilderness and through non-attachment to the worldly concerns of regular food and shelter, renounced the concerns of the world and applied themselves to various modes of yoga and meditative practice – much like the Buddha before his enlightenment.  These holy people simply moved physically away from direct physical contact with the ordinary, everyday world of trials and tribulations.  The entering of the natural world, away from the structures of developed society, commerce and other people’s minds, allowed the aspirant’s mind to detach itself from its own habitual reactions, conditioned over years of association.  The natural world offers a different set of concerns – food to live, the elements and wild animals to survive, and diseases to avoid, etc.  The securities offered by developed human society are tainted by the deluded human minds that create them.  Human society, with its need to survive, is the product of greed, hatred and delusion.  Therefore, its developed physical structures and cultural norms are implicitly contaminated by greed, hatred and delusion.  The physical and psychic fabric of ordinary society is polluted by these defilements, and holy people, either living within special spiritual communities, or by themselves in the forests or other open spaces, have taken the decision to replace one set of social conditions with another, with the intention of changing or reducing the obvious outer influences of greed, hatred and delusion.

There is, of course, the third option of remaining within society itself, and through the finding of relatively quiet surroundings, such as a room, a city temple, or an urban park, whereby the most powerful effects of greed, hatred and delusion are not so evident, and a meditative space within the mind is established.  The reality of physical relocation must only be a temporary requirement, if the enlightenment sought is believed to permanently free the experiencer from worldly suffering.  The requirement for outer relocation pre-empts the meditative technique of ‘attention’ relocation, which is, in effect, an inner repositioning of awareness toward a specific objective.  Initially, both the ‘inner’ attention and the ‘outer’ position are re-aligned toward a spiritual endeavour that is fuelled by energy that has been withdrawn from the usual rigours of engagement with outside world, and channelled instead, toward the inner realm.  The volition required for this endeavour, is a practical demonstration of the need to break with habits of behaviour and habitual patterns involving thoughts and emotions.  As an antidote to corrosive habit, meditation as a distinct practice, is thoroughly revolutionary in both principle and practice, for it seeks, as a method, nothing less than the complete transformation of the individual mind, and through this metamorphosis, ushers in a profound reformation of perception and conception, and in so doing, obliterates the definitional boundaries and limiting parameters of the previously deluded viewpoint.  In this regard, the meditational method derives from the perspective of the achieved spiritual objective.  The methodology developed, is always from the expanded conscious perspective, and is designed to lead a practitioner from the state of non-enlightenment, to that of the state of full enlightenment and the perfected understanding such a state represents.  The success of the meditative method is attested to by the mind that has created it, as such a mind is a living example, (in respect of a demonstrable realisation), of the validity of the enlightened path it represents.  A person manifesting such an achievement appears to possess a calm mind and an unusual wisdom.  Furthermore, there also exists a certain indifference to social climate and the various sensations associated with it, as if the being in question is so immersed in a higher plane of conscious existence, that the act of bare sensation itself is transformed beyond the usual (and expected) subject-object dichotomy.  Pleasure, neutrality and pain are each clearly perceived for what they are, and due to a superior insight, are not responded to either mentally or physically in a manner that elicits the karma producing reactions of greed, hatred and delusion.  This reaction is now a complete impossibility in the enlightened state of being, as the conditions, and the propensity to give rise to such conditions, no long exists.

The instruction that contains guidance upon the foundational method of Buddhist meditation is found in the Satipaṭṭhāna (Presence of Mindfulness) Sutta (MN 10), and the Maha-Satipatthana (Great Presence of Mindfulness) Sutta (DN 22), as well generally throughout the Pali Canon.  The Buddha considers this teaching as a direct method to achieve nirvana – the cessation of greed, hatred and delusion.  The Satipatthana Sutta appears in Chinese as ‘念處經’ (nian4chu4jing1).  The first ideogram ‘念’ (nian4) is written as a ‘mouth’ (今-jin1), over a ‘heart’ (心-xin1), and carries the meaning of a present awareness (or mindfulness) that is used in the act of study.  Although ‘心’ is drawn literally as a human heart, in ancient Chinese thought, the anatomical heart and the conscious mind were thought to be one and the same.  In reality, this concept is thought of as representing the centre of conscious being, as well a righteous and virtuous moral nature.  With ‘今’, an open mouth is depicted, currently in the act of speaking, this act is existential and in progress, giving the associated meaning of ‘now’ or ‘presently’.   This can also refer to the act of chanting, and reading aloud a text, as well as remembering a text.  The second ideogram’處’ (chu4) is written as a ‘tiger’ (虍-hu1), a ‘person’ (儿-ren2), and ‘foot’ (夂-zhu3), and carries the meaning of a ‘special quality’, a ‘place’, a ‘spot’, a ‘point’ and a ‘distinguishing mark’.  It has the further interpretive meanings of ‘to be faced with’, ‘to manage’, ‘to handle’, and ‘to live’.  These meanings may well stem from the idea that a tiger walks around a person, keeping that person in a particular place, but as the tiger does not press home an attack the situation is successfully faced, managed and survived.  The meaning here, seems to be of that of holding to a single ‘point’ or position, designed to achieve a specific objective.  The third ideogram ‘經’ (jing1) is a term commonly used to denote a classical book of authoritative text.  Written as the ‘warp of a fabric’, it denotes the orderly collection of rules, regulations and guidelines.  Books described as ‘jing’ are considered to contain a special knowledge that has originated from virtuous sages.  The term ‘經’ is believed to have developed from the practice of books written on bamboo strips, being bound together using a twisted thread (糸-mi4).  The ‘念處經’ then, translates literally as ‘’Current Mind Place/Point Classic’, and transliterates as ‘Present Mind Concentration – Classic’.

Satipatthana – the establishing of mindfulness – is the prime Buddhist method of observing phenomena originating from both within and without the body and mind.  It is the quality of mind that clearly perceives without error, and does not tire over-time.  It is the practice of a continuous, non-judgemental awareness, that nevertheless, precisely distinguished between phenomena that are in nature pleasurable, neutral and full of suffering.  This practice is one of a clear discernment that does not lapse for a single second.  Satipatthana has four categories of application:

1)     Body – Breathing, postures, repulsiveness, and material elements,

2)     Sensations-Feelings – Pleasant, neutral and painful.

3)     Mind-Consciousness – greed, hatred, delusion.

4)     Mental Phenomena – Five Hindrances, Seven Factors of Enlightenment, etc.

Through the cultivation of an awareness that perceives the inner, outer and integrated states of these four categories, a profound ‘detachment’ is developed, regardless of the nature of the phenomena being observed.   In this manner and through this practice, the attachment and suffering implicit in the physical and mental world is transcended, and the state of ‘extinction’ of passion, (nirvana) is achieved.  Through this development of non-attached awareness, the mind’s attention is relocated away from an outer world (situated outside of the body) of frivolous attractions, and is gathered together and reigned in.  This ‘gathering together’ is essentially a wilful ‘pulling’ of psychic energy into a single, concentrated point.   This is the initial disentangling from the world of conditioned events, and the turning inward of awareness.  The body and mind are controlled through concentration upon the breath.  The breath begins at birth and ceases at physical death, but its presence is usually undetected to any great degree by the average person.  Through the focus upon the breath, the body and mind are calmed.  This in-turn allows for the development of tranquillity and insight in equal measure, as each of these two attributes develops in the shadow of the other.  Although the Buddha teaches awareness of a number of psychological and physical states, the awareness he advocates remains constant and does not change in quality from one attribute to the next.  The concentration of awareness is built-up through the contemplation of the array of differing bodily and mental phenomena until a permanent breakthrough in the mind is achieved.  The disparate nature of the ever changing objects of contemplation ensure that the power of concentration is kept ‘even’ at its base, regardless of the changing of the object being contemplated.  The objects of the mind and body are viewed from the perspective of an underlying essence or observer.  It is this observatory essence that gives rise to concentrative power, and maintains the discipline of the practice in relation to the contemplated world of disparate phenomena.  The cessation of the inner generation of greed, hatred and delusion, and all the hindrances based upon them, coincides with the development of the perception of ‘emptiness’.  However, the Buddha’s path does not stop at the perception of ‘emptiness’ in relation to the existence of a separate physical world of matter.  The state of enlightenment involves the transcending of even the experience of ‘emptiness’, so that no dualistic tendency survives.  Emptiness and the consciousness of emptiness, as such, ‘ceases’.  Again, this is an example of the Buddhist tendency of explaining enlightenment through what it is not.

What is clear is that Buddhist meditation can be practiced by focusing attention upon a bodily aspect – such as ‘breathing’ – or upon mental content.  It is also clear that both methods can be used simultaneously, as well as separately.  As the underlying reality of all mental or bodily phenomena is the (empty) cessation of the nirvanic state, it follows that in reality, both methods of Buddhist meditation stem from the same enlightened essence.  That is to say that the different attributes of ‘breath’ and ‘lust’, by way of example, are both perceived equally from the perspective of the mind ground.  It is a matter of focused attention that breaks through the barrier of delusion, so that the common perception of duality is thoroughly transcended.  In developed Buddhism, practices such as chanting, visualisation and methods such as the gong-an of Ch’an, all serve to focus the mind in exactly the same manner as the Satipatthana.  A method of bare attention is used through the agency of extensive concentration, to eventually break through the barrier of delusion in the mind, and thus free the practitioner from the suffering of the experience of duality based upon greed, hatred and delusion.  The Buddha’s teaching preserved in the Pali Canon is an exercise in the application of minute attention to detail, which is a testament to the understanding of his enlightenment.  From this exact foundation, Buddhist meditation has developed into a variety of distinct aspects that all claim authenticity from the early teaching.

The Satipatthana teaches that there are seven attributes of mind that are required to be present (i.e. ‘cultivated’) for effective progress toward enlightenment, listed under the ‘Mind Phenomena-Events’ category

a)     Mindfulness.

b)     Investigation.

c)     Energy.

d)     Bliss.

e)     Tranquillity

f)      Absorption.

g)     Equanimity.

Mindfulness, investigation and energy, collectively develop the mind so that a break through is achieved and states of ‘bliss’ and ‘tranquillity’ realised.  With further effective training in mindfulness, tranquillity and bliss give way to absorption and then equality of mind.  Non-mindfulness, non-investigation and non-energy represent the conditions of the ordinary deluded mind.  Mindfulness, investigation and energy all support one another.  Without energy, for instance, there can be no investigation, and therefore no establishment of mindfulness.  Without the inclination to investigate, mindfulness can not be established, regardless of the presence (or not) of energy.  If the initial three attributes are reversed however, then the presence of inclined energy gives rise to the appropriate desire to investigate, which in turn eventually creates the conditions for the creation of a firm foundation in mindfulness.  By reversing bliss and tranquillity into ‘tranquillity’ and ‘bliss’, then bliss becomes the ‘effect’ of the establishment of tranquillity, which becomes the ‘cause’- suggesting that tranquillity leads to the condition of bliss.  The concept of ‘absorption’ (jhana), is categorised into eight levels of attainment, four material and four non-material.  The attribute of equanimity is present in seven of the eight jhanic (i.e. ‘meditative’ states), with the last state being beyond the ability of language to adequately describe.  Interestingly, ‘equanimity’ (upekkhā), is the fourth of the four levels of attainment described in the Brahmavihara teaching – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.  In this (Brahmavihara) Sutta the Buddha teaches that by generating these attributes (in turn) and directing each toward oneself, toward every being in the immediate environment, and every being in the universe without discrimination.  These ‘divine abodes’ (Brahmavihara) are taught by the Buddha as a means of mind purification.  Here, it is clear that although ‘equanimity’ is divine, it is not yet considered full enlightenment.  Therefore it is probable that equanimity should precede absorption in the list of the seven attributes of enlightenment.  Lists are often reversed in the collection of Buddhist texts, possibly due to a particular method of memory organisation from an earlier time, when the teachings were passed on by word of mouth from teacher to student through the generations.

Mindfulness is presence of awareness, as gentle as it is strong.  In the deluded state the mind is routinely scattered, disorganised and full of angst – this is the state of non-mindfulness, as mindfulness is not present.  To make mindfulness present, the mind must be brought into a unified state by an act of will.  This is, in essence, motivated by a desire for enlightenment, a desire which is considered correct within Buddhist thinking, as it is a desire that has no other consequence than the eventual cessation of greed, hatred and delusion.  Such a gathered mind focuses physical and mental energy.  This energy is withdrawn from the social environment and is thus preserved for the spiritual effort.  It is not the case that mind energy should not be situated in the outer environment, but rather that in the deluded state, energy is placed outwardly in a haphazard and inefficient manner.  A previously scattered and uneven awareness is levelled and refined so that all that comes into its presence is perceived with an inherently ‘equal’ and clear cognition.  Once achieved, the surface turmoil of the mind recedes so that a calm state of mental being is manifest.  This calm (or tranquil) state allows for an ever greater clarity of perception and thought, and thus leads to the wisdom associated with advanced states of absorption.  In these states, gross energy is refined into a constant, purified stream of physical and mental empowerment.  Boundaries that once limited the scope of thought and compassion fall away and insight follows insight without end.

This leads to an assessment of what exactly ‘mindfulness’ is within the Buddhist context.  This can be a problematic issue that is over simplified or over complicated, by suttas comprising of exhaustive lists of terms, categories definitions, preferences, warnings and prohibitions.  This rich diversity stems from the Buddha’s habit of teaching the same message in a number of variations to different individuals or groups of people.  The underlying message is consistent with what might be broadly identified as a ‘doctrine’.  The existential reference for this body of work is of course the Buddha’s enlightenment itself.  This understanding emanates from the wisdom that is conveyed in the words that are recorded in the teachings.  By comparison to the three dimensional presence of the Buddha, the recorded words must, by comparison, appear philosophically ‘dry’ within the format of their written preservation.  The speaker has long departed from this world, but the spiritual shadow of his achievement lives on through the written word.  This does not, in any way undermine the value of the preserved words themselves, but instead serves to clarify that the one person who could bring an instant and immediate order to the disparate suttas is no longer present in physical form.  With well over two thousand years separating this time from that, interpretation of the teachings themselves are reliant upon Buddhist traditions and the schooling they offer.  Of course, with the advent of the internet, individuals can now access the digitalised sacred texts in a manner unavailable to all previous generations.  Not only this, but expert advice can be acquired from Buddhist monastic experts and teachers from around the world, without the need to travel.  Mindfulness for a postmodern age often breaks down unnecessary barriers that were once thought unbreakable.  Many people in the world today live in urban settings, and this includes Buddhist lay and monastic practitioners.  The world, with its asymmetric distribution of wealth, sees an affluent West juxtaposed to the relative poverty of the developing world.  The Buddha’s essentially anti-greed message is at odds with that of capitalism and the inherent exploitation demanded by it, and yet this form of economics has spread throughout the world, including the Buddha’s own country ofIndia.  Certain modern Buddhist organisations in the world today, are happy to sell the Buddha’s teachings (that they do not own) for money, without any sense of irony, or the appreciation that the Buddha would simply have categorised this activity as delusional, adharmic and ‘unmindful’, thus undermining the claims of these organisations as being truly ‘representative’ of the Buddha’s compassionate teachings.  The Buddha taught the Dharma because it was right to do so, as he believed that he was relieving human suffering as a result.  He made a point by example of abandoning wealth in his youth.  Nowhere in the teachings does it say that wealth is an important aspect of the Buddha-Dharma – far from it, wealth, and its pursuit is a product of a lack of correct ‘mindfulness’.  In this respect, the endless lists of things that should be done in the suttas, serve to clearly define what the Buddha’s path ‘is’, and equally clearly, define what it ‘is not’.  This is an important point that is essential to the analysis of proper ‘mindfulness’, and through it, the correct interpretation of the unfolding, meditative path.  If the foundation is not correct, it follows that the path will unfold incorrectly and suffering will not be relieved.  Today, it is often the case that bare attention is not withdrawn from the outer world, as it should be, but rather that the outer world is mistaken for the inner world, and attention not correctly withdrawn from it.  This creates the inversion of the Buddha’s teaching whereby a reinforced deluded ego is re-interpreted as an enlightened mind.  No levelling out of conscious has occurred, and any apparent peace of mind achieved is based solely upon a stable social environment sustained by a flow of money.  In this model, Buddhism has become a ‘business’, with exactly the same rationale applied to its distribution throughout society, as if it where a consumable product produced in a factory.  People wishing to study Buddhism are treated as ‘customers’ purchasing goods.  The entire commercial premise for this attitude is thoroughly against the Buddha’s teachings on ‘mindfulness’, and conforms to the Buddha’s definition of ‘deluded’ behaviour – that is actions motivated by greed, hatred and delusion.

The Buddha, during his lifetime, withdrew his mind’s attention away from the privilege of his royal position, (i.e. of social leadership), and out of, and away from the social oppression of the caste system his social privilege depended upon.  In entities so doing, he disinvested his mind of its social conditioning.  The enlightened mind perceives in very different manner to that of the deluded mind.  A totality of awareness manifests whereby the apparent dichotomy of subject-object carries no real meaning.  The mental essence and the material essence no longer appear to be different, and mind and world are reconciled.  Prior to this state however, individuals are born into a world of external social entities that demand empowerment from projections into the environment, of mental energy that is seized and stored.  Individual minds are implicitly trained to partake in this process which splits the mind into an apparent (disempowered) individual subject, and an apparent (powerful) external State.  The individual experiences one half of his mind as estranged, and the other as disempowered.  The estranged aspect is the experience of external State power reflected back onto the individual in a manner that is highly oppressive and exploitative, doubly so as without the projection of power from the individual, external social entities would possess no power at all.  This sets the conditions for the delusive mind to manifest, as these inherent contradictions allow for greed, hatred and delusion to exist.  A human mind estranged from itself is set adrift in a world uncertainty and impermanency.  More than this, however, through the condition of estrangement it seeks permanency in the unstable and the untenable.  Logic is turned upon its head and the world of apparent reality is mistaken for the real world, and not recognised for the distortion that it really represents.  The Buddha saw that this situation sets all experience as ultimately unsatisfactory and therefore prone to produce suffering through alienation.  For mindfulness to be established, the mind must be made whole again and mental energy withdrawn from the delusionary world and re-integrated back into the fabric of the mind, so that the mind and world reflect one another, such is the power of attention relocation.

In this respect, mindfulness is the establishment of an ‘even’ awareness that clearly perceives the objects of phenomena as they appear before its perception.  This perception is sharp, clear and discerning, and it firmly establishes each object for what it is, and what it is not.  There is no margin for error if mindfulness is to be effective as a means toward meditative development.  It is equally important in mindfulness training that the absence of exact phenomena is also clearly perceived.  For instance, through the appropriate application of mindfulness, the presence of sexual desire is clearly discerned, and through the appropriate application of mindfulness, the non-presence of sexual desire is discerned.  This includes the arising, establishing and diminishing of each phenomenon through the process of its creation and demise within the mind itself, and any corresponding external circumstance.  Mindfulness in its refined form allows the practitioner to experience the world through the developed awareness of an expanded conscious perspective.  This state is in fact simply the normal conscious extent of the mind’s awareness applied to itself and through the body, and which is extrapolated through the senses, into the environment, unhindered by deluded thought constructs and emotional turmoil.  Mindfulness is the effect of a calmed mind that perceives the full extent of its innate sensory ability, and that through this unencumbered awareness, is focused by the will, so that correct attention, (defined as a gathering of energy at a single specific point of reference), can be firmly applied to the object of focus itself.  Continuous familiarity with this technique allows for the mind to become re-orientated so that this process becomes normalised.  That is to say, the mind itself becomes perfectly and continuously calm (tranquil), and in so doing facilitates a greater understanding (through efficient attention), of all phenomena travelling through its awareness parameter.  It is only in the initial stages of mindfulness training that an intense effort of will is required to make the transition from ordinary consciousness to enlightened consciousness.  Nevertheless, this beginning stage is arguably the most difficult, as the everyday functioning of the mind is literally being reformed away from its previously normal functioning, to that of a spiritually advanced state.  Once this transition has been successfully established, the new state of insight is maintained by the act of continuous mindfulness itself, which has progressed from the ‘entry’ stage, to that of full manifestation.  Tranquillity and insight, of course, form the basis of the Buddhist enlightenment tradition, and at the highest realisation, all the distinctions of the path designed to transport a practitioner from the deluded ‘here’, to the enlightened ‘there’, lose their validity as their function is fully realised.  Mindfulness transcends itself, so that ‘mindfulness’ and ‘non-mindfulness’ reconcile in the state of enlightenment itself.  The Buddha’s teachings, not being of a dogmatic nature, contain within themselves, their own redundancy.

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