Dogzen Email Newsletter
Reprints of the Dogzen Email Newsletters
Number 8 - January, 2005
All we (the Dogzenners) are trying to do is directly realize the pure, naked base of experience so that it is available to us. This base is almost always clouded over with content in the form of thoughts, emotions, events, meanings, visual objects, sounds, and so forth, so directly experiencing the formless base can be pretty tricky. It's not only clouded over, but awareness fully joins the flow of conscious ideas and experiences and lives completely ungrounded from the underlying formless base. This joining in to the flow of experiences is done innocently and automatically, but so thoroughly that the base is unknown.
We all want good life experiences, so there is little attraction to the empty state of the base (except, perhaps, for relief during a crisis). Yet the flavor of the base is, in fact, capable of giving us the life we truly desire. That is because we intuitively sense that there is more to life than the temporary experiences we normally get, no matter how fine they might be. This is especially evident when we get older, when death is no longer some distant theoretical thing, but something all too real and imminent. Then we might look for some real value, some deeper meaning that will turn our lives into something more than trivial cosmic hiccoughs.
What does "deeper" mean? What defines depth of life experience? We use the idea of the base to help us get at this. The base is "below" the transitory experiences of daily life. The base, being nothing but pure awareness, is the point from which we gain insight into all experiences since it is not an experience but the fundamental faculty that brings all experiences to light. It's the bottom, the field that makes it possible to have all of that which is not the bottom. Knowing the base, its real nature, makes it possible to know all events and meanings for what they really are, because to know the base is to know what all experience is made of. Access to the base positions us to see and understand the illusions that occur in our lives. Knowing illusion, we are less inclined to go off the deep end about these things. The reactivity is quenched by our being rooted in the base and experiencing life from it.
How exactly do you get these benefits? The answer lies in the point at which you make that transition going from one state (the illusion) to the other (the base). You are experiencing something and then you detach awareness from it and be aware of awareness itself. At that moment, when you make that shift, if you are being aware of the transition, it directly informs you about the nature of illusion.
For me, there is sometimes a unique and sometimes intense change that occurs right at the point of transitioning to the base. Everything that attaches me to an illusion rises up at that instant as if to convince me that the illusion is reality and I am making some kind of mistake to let it go. You may not experience it this way. It could be that you experience a fright, like a demon rearing its ugly head to frighten you back into submission to the illusion. Others just forget how to get to the base, or forget that it can be done at all. Sometimes going to the base is like giving up your very being (called "death of the ego"). At other times, it might seem as if going to the base separates you from others, so you resist. Sometimes feelings are so strong, they dominate your nervous system and you can't seem to extricate yourself. You are bound to samsara. Of course, you may not experience it like any of these. You will probably have your own unique version of being stuck in illusion.
To transition to the base, it is best if you are not bound too tightly to your assumptions about reality. You need to be open to something new. If you believe your current experience too deeply, you won't even try to go to the base ("Why should I deny reality?"). If you can open to the possibility that your current experience is mind (in the sense that mind is just cosmic vapor that illuminates with pure-light knowing), you can at least try. You really shouldn't try to dissolve your assumptions directly, talking yourself out of them or covering them with other thoughts, however. That just becomes a mental thing. Remember that the base is not in the mind, it is deeper. Just set out to realize the actual nature of the base itself (empty, pure, present, knowing potential for sentient experience) and the clinging dissipates with no effort on your part.
Don't try to release your mind-bind using thought. Just bail. Detach awareness from what it is aware of and be aware of awareness itself.
Of course, if you are sitting peacefully in your garden, the transition from mind-defined reality (samsara) to the base is easier because there are no compelling, demanding events or meanings holding your attention. When you are at peace and resting, the mind is already pretty quiet and empty, so the base is right there. It is helpful to cultivate a lifestyle that gives you some peaceful moments so you can practice sinking into the base.
When you are in a "strongly experienced" situation, the path to the base is trickier. You can cultivate having access to the base even at those times. As the Dogzen practice evolves your state, you will find it easier and easier to live.
I hope that took you to an interesting place. If it did not, maybe read it one more time, slowly.
Fond regards, Edrid
PS: a special thanks to Anatta, my wife, for all her help in writing these newsletters. She finds the places where I've garbled the thoughts and helps me correct them. They are much better because of her.