Dogzen Email Newsletter
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Number 12 - November, 2005
What makes one experience true and another not true? Some say enlightenment is bliss or God is bliss. Is bliss more true than suffering? And sometimes I experience myself as a limited physical being, while at other times I experience myself as a non-physical unbounded being. Which is more true? These excellent questions were posed by a person who signed up for the next Masters Training Course. I'll propose some answers and you can see if they take you close to where the answer is for you.
The word "true" is used two different ways and it is important to see the difference between them.
On the one hand, there is a truth such as:
How many nickels do I have in my pocket?
I check and I have three.
I say, "Three!" and that is the truth. Check it out, and, sure enough, there are three of them. I can put them in the parking meter and the little time needle does what I expect. It all hangs together.
The other truth is:
How many nickels do I have in my pocket?
"Nickel" and "pocket" and "have" are actually mental forms made of mind stuff the way dreams are. Ultimately, there really isn't a nickel, pocket, or have. They are illusions.
[Aside: some people just hate this kind of talk and bail at this point, but I charge on.]
What you experience is a form or object made of mind light, bound or packaged by "nickelness," "pocketness" and so on. However, there is an actual truth that gave rise to that experience and that truth can be directly known. This underlying truth is what we go for in our enlightenment quest.
You could say that what makes something not a basic truth is the overlay of concepts with which the mind holds or frames the experience. The concepts never so perfectly match actuality that they are what they describe. My concept "nickel" is never what the thing itself really is. So you could say that the ordinary sense of the nickel is a relative truth, an illusion created by the mind. To think that the actual thing is expressed by the concept is an error.
[An aside: we humans came up with concepts in order to communicate. That is their purpose, but trying to capture ultimate truth with them exceeds their design specification. Instead, think of them as an invitation to go into union. This newsletter has this problem, as I am writing about ultimate truth using concepts which, by their very nature, can't help but introduce some error. It has entertainment value, however.]
The question about the nature of self is in this same context. Whether you are a body with physical boundaries or a non-physical being that is boundless is actually in the realm of ideas and neither can ever really express your actual nature. Your actual nature is expressed by your actual nature, by your being who and what you truly are.
The question about bliss is an interesting one. In one Tibetan Bon tradition, the focal Deity is Samantabhadra. Samantabhadra is said to represent "non-dual" good. The mind normally thinks in terms of duality - good vs. non-good. You know, one minute I'm in a good state, and then I lose it and so now I'm in the non-good state. Samantabhadra represents the good that is in all experience, even what we normally think of as suffering or neutral. This is the good that cannot be lost, because the events and meanings that arise within the field of consciousness are all of the very same nature which, when directly experienced without overlays, is good. This underlying good just gets obscured by how our mind decorates what arises in awareness. Realization of this fundamental good is bliss.
You may not feel entirely comfortable with these descriptions, by the way, and might prefer to tell me how it really is from your own experience, which I respect and am open to. As we become enlightened by directly knowing, each of us finds some words that best describe it for us. Nevertheless, although our descriptions can vary, the underlying truth is always the same one. There is just the one truth.
May we all bask in union and bliss!
[It goes this way (from the Bon teachings):
Experience -> mind -> emptiness -> clear light -> union -> bliss
Experience is really mind. Mind is understood to be empty. That Emptiness is actually clear light, which is union with the absolute. And union is bliss. More on this in a future newsletter.]