Archive

Posts Tagged ‘koan’

THE SECRET OF CONSCIOUSNESS

During the winter months, I take the goldfish from my outdoor pond and bring them to a large fish tank in the basement.  I didn’t dig the pond deep enough to be able to leave them out over the winter.  As I watch them swim around I wonder if they are aware of the medium of water they are swimming in.  The water supports them, protects them and allows them to move.

We are also moving within a dense medium – air.  While we can’t see it, the pressure of the air around us is over fifteen pounds per square inch.  Several miles of air above us press down on the air around us, making the air at sea level very dense.

Yet we are not usually aware of air unless it is a windy day.  Then we can feel the air on our skins and can see dead leaves and trash flying around.  We are aware of the effects of air even if we are not directly aware of the air itself. 

Without an atmosphere life could not exist.  Without water, fish would suffocate, dry out and die.  There is another medium which is equally as vital to life as air and water and equally as hard to see.  This is the medium of consciousness.  While most people can’t perceive consciousness directly we can see its effects.  In fact, everything we are aware of is the effect of the medium of consciousness. 

I am writing this subject as this week’s lessons for an important reason.  Many people have told me that they are seeking spiritual development or self awareness or some kind of inner training.   There is a tendency in modern times to think that there is some trick or secret to be learned that will immediately lead to enlightenment or spiritual awareness.  So they repeat phrases to themselves or listen to motivational speakers repeat various clichés.  If they only hear the right phrase or repeat the right magical spell, they will be transformed. 

My take on this is that any kind of training must begin with the awareness of the medium you exist in, the mechanism that you are as a human being and how this mechanism has been designed to work in the medium.  Fish have fins so that they can swim in water.  They are not just decorations someone placed on them.  Animals have muscles and bones so they can use leverage to work with the force of gravity, which is another medium.  Reptiles developed a thick scaled skin to avoid drying out in the medium of air.

We can understand how our bodies have evolved to work within various mediums.  To understand our minds, emotions and other inner aspects of being human, we need to understand the other mediums in which we exist. 

We can know consciousness by the dynamics of our attention.  I have discussed this in other lessons.  I believe that there is no secret phrase or idea we can think about that will lead to a significant transformation of our lives.  But awareness of how our minds, emotions and other “inner” parts are designed to work in the medium of consciousness can’t help but to restore our full potential and vitality.

One of the Chinese Zen (Chan) masters witnessed a group of Buddhists arguing about a waving flag.  Some of the Buddhists said that the flag was waving.  Others said that it was actually the wind that was waving.  The Zen master told them that it was their minds that were waving. 

The wind and the flag show how you can perceive an invisible force by watching a visible objects reaction to that force.  The force was the movement of the air.  In the same way the movement of the flag created an effect on the minds of the Buddhists.  The thinking mind and the consciousness are in the same relationship as the flag and the wind. 

If you were to see a flag moving but didn’t know about the wind you would wonder, “Why is the flag moving?”  In the same way, my first koan (Zen question) as a child was, “Why does one thought follow another in a particular pattern?”  To understand this you need to understand the relationship between thinking and consciousness.  They are not the same. 

The movement of consciousness does not necessarily have to result in thinking.  It can lead to the movement of chi (internal energy).  It is said that consciousness leads, the internal energy follows and the body then follows that.  The saying actually is translated as “mind leads” but this mind does not mean thinking.  It refers to attention itself.  I use the term “attention” very often in my writings instead of “consciousness”.

Our attention is often ripped and pulled this way and that by the influences around us, like the wind waving the flag.  When we are seeking spiritual development, or whatever glorious phrase is used, we are usually trying to bring our attention more under our creative control.  We want our creativity to be more of an influence over our attention than the external forces such as advertisers or peer pressure. 

So spiritual development is really about perfecting the relationship of creativity and attention.  In Taoist philosophy creativity is referred to as the “Yang” force and attention as the “Yin” force.  Creativity is active; it is the shaper.  Attention is passive; it is the substance, the medium that is shaped.

What we are trying to discover in our training, is: to what extent is what we perceive a result of what is actually there and to what extent is it a result of how our attention is shaped and affected by the forces around us.  We are trying to get a clear picture of our lives and the world around us. 

Telescopes are placed high on mountaintops because the atmosphere interferes with the light coming into the telescopes.  This light is distorted by the miles of compacted air which is usually in a state of turbulence.  The higher up you go, the less air and the less distortion.

That is why silent meditation is part of any spiritual practice.  The thinking mind is like the miles of air.  It is usually in a state of movement which distorts your perception of the world around you. The key is to see things as they really are.

Then you can work on your forms, your push hands or, in other systems, on your rituals and really know what you are doing.  You can do your healing such as Tai-chi Massage and really see the problems within your patient about how his creativity and attention interact and how that interaction affects the body.  When these factors become clearly visible, then you can easily see how to use the techniques you have learned to correct those problems. 

There is another saying that if you put a frog into hot water it will jump out.  But if you put it into room temperature water then slowly heat the water up, the frog will not notice the slow increase and will eventually get boiled.  We are in a similar situation.  We cannot see how the influences around us control our thinking minds, how this affects or interferes with the dynamics of our attention and how that degrades the body.  Our whole system gradually degrades until we are in a sorry mess.  The solution is to become aware of this whole process.

One of the reasons I love Tai-chi and Zookinesis so much is that it so clearly explains this whole process and gives you a clearly defined, step by step process to use for your training.  There is no mysteriousness.  Yet there is an appreciation for the process and an awe of the process.  It is similar to a car fanatic who loves his cars and knows every detail about how they work.  He will spend an enormous amount of time repairing and improving his cars while people like me would rather just send it to a mechanic and only if it really needs fixing.

This winter solstice is unusual.  It is also the time of the new moon.  The mythological significance of this is that now we look forward to both an ever increasing length of day and an ever increasing brightness of the moon.  This is considered to be the best time to work on any practice that gives you greater awareness (light).  That is the way ancient people understood things.  Our inner world should be in harmony with the dynamics of nature around us.  If we can see, understand and predict the patterns of nature, we will then know when to plant, when to harvest, etc.

If we can see and understand the forces “inside” of us, then our training will be more effective.  Rather than just making the mind more “windy” by repeating clichés to ourselves or trying to discover the “correct” ideas, we can quiet down the wind and perceive our basic nature and how our nature is designed to work in the medium of consciousness.

SHOW ME YOUR ORIGINAL FACE

In Zen (Japanese) and Chan (Chinese) Buddhism, a “Koan” is a challenging question or statement used to bring the student to a higher level of awareness. The sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism used this Koan, “Give your bones to your father and your flesh to your mother and show me your original face”.
This Koan was a wonderful guide to me in my practice of Zen during my high school and college days. I studied in a Zen center in Ithaca, N. Y. while attending Cornell. The teacher was a toll taker on the New York State Thruway. At the same time, I studied at an Esalen study group, which was one of the beginning attempts at learning about the relationships between mind and body. My major was the evolution of animal behavior (“ethology”). I felt all this meshed together well.
Once out of college my work as a zoologist brought me in constant close contact with many species of wild animals. I had to work with each animal at its own level of awareness and become sensitive to its “point of view”. This work made me realize how “stuck” my own point of view had become. I had to connect with each animal by adopting its “dynamics of attention” because the animal was certainly not going to change to accommodate me. This in turn, made me sensitive to how variable the dynamics of attention are in people. Most people are stuck with one pattern of behavior – one set of responses to situations they encounter in everyday life. But that pattern is very different in each person.
I began to understand that developing yourself as a person is not a matter of having the “correct” pattern of responses. It is a matter of bringing creativity into your daily life so that you can adapt to each situation. Not only will you respond more effectively but, by being more creative in your life, you will live a more joyful life. Giving up addiction to your patterns allows you to “show your original face” which is your creativity.
With this in mind it is easy to understand why Tai-chi was invented. The slow forms require your attention to flow smoothly, along with the momentum of the body. Your movements are jerky and awkward when your attention is pulled by thoughts and other patterns. The slow forms un-trap your attention and allow it to return to its original state.
The Push Hands exercise requires that you fill your partner with your attention so that you are aware of the state of every muscle and joint in his body. You become aware of the patterns of attention within each part of the partner’s body so that you can take advantage of “dead spots” and throw the partner off balance. This means that your attention must become a living being. Attention no longer just means what your eyes are looking at. It is a vibrant, responsive energy.
When you develop that state of attention, you realize that attention is a universal energy, flowing through all living things. You then realize your connectedness to the rest of life. You feel that connectedness as much as you feel a hard physical object. Attention thus becomes a sense that allows you to feel how you are connected to your surroundings. You are no longer an isolated lump of flesh.
The Zookinesis exercise system strengthens that awareness and brings it into higher resolution so that you can truly use it as a sense. It ignites the awareness of each muscle, organ and cell of the body so that your body becomes stronger from the inside out.
With the colder weather approaching, the attention naturally starts to condense and focus within the body. If your body awareness is dead, then you will just feel dead, meaning tired. But if you develop your body awareness, winter can be an exciting, healing time. You can set aside a part of each day for your practice.
The summer naturally allows attention to expand into the environment. Attention goes through many patterns of expansion and contraction. Notice when your attention expands and contracts, from night to day, from in-breath to out-breath and during other cycles. You will become aware of attention itself as a living, breathing energy. Your identity will no longer be defined by the patterns of behavior and responses to situations. Your attention will be allowed to follow natural cycles and thus, your behavior as a person will start to follow those cycles.
If this becomes true for enough people, then the culture will start to follow natural cycles. When we become more natural in our lives, then creativity becomes a stronger influence. You can say that your spirit, your “original face” comes out. You see yourself, not as a collection of opinions but as joy, ready to leap from each cell of your body and participate in the world.
When in college, I also studied sociology and anthropology. I was especially interested in the question, “What is the role of culture?” What is a culture supposed to do for people? From the many cultures I studied around the world, it seemed that a culture is supposed to help its people to be happier. Is our culture doing that for us? Is it helping us to be healthier? How can we create a culture within our own lives that will help us achieve these goals?
The sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism suggested that you need to clear out your programmed behaviors first and feel how you are connected to life itself. One of the basic principles of Zookinesis is that your life is formed from what you pay attention to. Do you pay attention to your patterns or to life around you? Use what you pay attention to, to lift yourself up out of the heavy mud of your patterns. Feel your attention and its dynamics. Does it feel like a weapon, helping you battle through the day? Does it feel like a race car? Look for role models in nature to help craft your attention.
I used the animals I worked with simply because that was my job. Notice how you feel when your attention is a machine gun as compared to a soaring eagle. Is the spirit inside us an expression of our creativity or of patterns of defense and aggressiveness caused by fear. In other words, does fear rule our lives, or joy? Give your bones back to your father and your flesh back to your mother and show your original face!