Image for post
Image for post
The Sun

Not self presents us with a dilemma. Before you start on the Buddhist path, you likely never thought of yourself as being anyone but who you are.

Then these pesky Buddhist teachers start to tell you that your self is a misrecognition, and one that does more harm than good in the bargain. As your meditation practice develops, you begin to notice the luminous emptiness of infinite consciousness, which is appealingly vast, beautiful, and peaceful.

So what do you do with your sense of self? Ajahn Sumedho says we should die before we die. What he means is that we can allow our daily, limited self that we start out with to die before our physical bodies expire. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Sun

Okay, I did it. I just couldn’t resist. I created BuddhaPAC. The web site is here. Please give if you are so inclined.

The prevailing theme is peace, but with the recognition that, as the old saying goes, no justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace. From a Buddhist perspective, peace is the goal, but also a necessary precondition. Highly accomplished meditators can meditate pretty much anywhere, but anyone will require a substantial amount of practice to get to that point, and the practice pretty much has to start in a location that is already pretty peaceful.

A lot of issues that we think of as “political” have an impact on people’s access to peaceful places where they can work on their meditation practices. Also, Buddhism is very egalitarian. The Buddha was very clear that all humans are already enlightened and have the capacity to awaken as he did. Buddhists see no basis for excluding anyone who wants to participate. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Sun

Our problem is that we are always trying to become someone/something else. In Buddhist terms, we have a zeal for becoming. We won’t stop and realize that we are already enlightened.

Paradoxically, if we feel we are not making our way down the Buddhist path as quickly as we would like, that is likely because we are clinging to our sense of ourselves as selves. Awakening includes the realization that we were never separate selves to begin with. This is a fundamental misrecognition on our part, that we need to recognize as such and let go of. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Sun

In his iconic hit song from the early 1970s, “Space Odddity,” David Bowie paints a picture of alarm on earth: “Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong/ Can you hear me, Major Tom, can you hear me, Major Tom,” contrasted with a certain resigned equanimity on the part of Major Tom himself: “Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do….”

It is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Major Tom achieved full awakening in his “tin can” as he floated helplessly in space. Indeed, he went the Buddha one better. Recalling that the historical Buddha, being a human long before the space age, died and his body decomposed as bodies will do on earth, while his consciousness, maybe, dissipated into space, such that he became light, our putatively enlightened Major Tom not only dissipated into light in his consciousness, but his body is now floating around in space, too, or it was for however long his tin can lasted, after which, we do not know what would happen to a human corpse left floating in space. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Sun

Following the logic of “the Buddha,” it is a mistake to focus on the person of the historical Buddha, or any other person, and that for multiple reasons.

What we should focus on is consciousness. Full stop, end of discussion. We have discussed how concepts can be useful, but they are ultimately a distraction. Even “consciousness” is a concept. We cannot meaningfully offer any predicate about “consciousness,” even a name, without distracting from the direct experience of it.

But most people are badly distracted from their own “consciousness” as the result of decades, lifetimes, of habit, so we need to try to get them to focus on the experience, and human language is the best, least imperfect, tool we have to pursue that goal. If you can read, chances are you can grasp this paradox and keep meditating until consciousness, um, overtakes your consciousness entirely, until you see awareness as aware of awareness. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Buddha

Concepts can be useful, but they are just thoughts, and thoughts are very wispy and ephemeral, once you start to pay attention to them.

The Buddha’s point that all is impermanence applies with special force to thoughts. Nothing comes and goes more quickly and easily than thoughts. You will notice then when you develop your meditation practice. Every time you return your attention to the breath, note that you did so and what you were thinking. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Buddha

Still nags.

Granting the observation that involvement in politics creates a substantial temptation to cling to one’s sense of self, which Buddhists have no desire to encourage, there remains the problem that, for Buddhists to refuse to engage in politics looks like a major failure of compassion.

We know how to encourage peace and calm, which the world needs more of. It seems indisputable that, the more regular meditators we have in the world, the less violence and oppression we will see.

And anyone who has fully realized not self will not much likely succumb to the temptation to identify so strongly with any political position or person as to cause a recrudescence of their own sense of self. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Buddha

When you are awake, in the usual, human sense, you get bombarded with sensory inputs. If your eyes are open, light enters through the holes in the middle of them. Sound enters through the holes in the sides of your head. The air you breathe carries smells in through your nose.

But these are all concepts. The labels, “light,” “sound,” and “smell” are all arbitrary labels we choose to put onto the corresponding sensory experience. We also put arbitrary labels on what we perceive through these sensory inputs. We see cars and trees and grass and buildings and myriad other things, usually all of which we have some label for. Buddhists want to keep well in mind that the labels are arbitrary and can help, but can also get in the way. The goal is experience as unmediated by labels and categories as possible. …


Image for post
Image for post
The Buddha

Remember the story of Angulimala. He was the bandit in the time of the Buddha who set for himself the goal of killing 1,000 people. Every time he killed another person, he would cut off a finger and add it to a necklace he wore. The name, “Angulimala” means, “finger garland.”

He lacked one finger to reach his goal of 1,000 when he saw the Buddha walking alone in the forest and resolved to make him the thousandth victim. The Buddha knew Angulimala’s goal and continued walking, but used his shamanic powers to prevent Anglimala from catching up to him.

Angulimala continued the pursuit for some way, then, out of frustration, yelled, “Monk, stop!” The Buddha replied, “I have stopped. Now, you should stop.” This response indeed stopped Angulimala, mentally and physically. …

About

William B. Turner

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store