Monday, 4 November 2013

Reflexive Living - Existing Effortlessly

"If you can just concentrate your mind and transcend its falsehood and evil, the suffering ... will automatically disappear. And once free from suffering, you’re truly free." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Breakthrough Sermon (Red Pine translation, 1987).
"If one discards the delusions that conceal the Buddha-nature, the Buddha-nature automatically appears." - Korean Zen Master Seongcheol, 1st Journal of White Lotus Buddhist Studies (JWBS) (1991).

We do not need to make decisions about whether our cells absorb nutrients from an IV drip, or to breathe when we are unconscious, or to notice danger when it appears. All of this happens reflexively. When we sit down to meditate - with reflexive cells metabolising, reflexive breathing respiring, and reflexive awareness noticing - there is nothing for us to do - everything is happening as simply and naturally as water flowing down a mountain - it needs no adjustment or encouragement. Our attention will eventually automatically alight upon the breath because that will be the most tangible source of grounding stimulation. However, when we ask ourselves the question, "Who is breathing?" - the most obvious answer is, "Nobody". Are we OK with this? If "I" am nobody, then doesn't that mean "I" am dead? Who or what is making decisions? Who or what is 'doing' this body? This can be very unnerving for our minds, but why?

When faced with 'what is', it seems our experiences in life revolve around a simple choice - whether we accept what is necessary or not. We can enjoy relaxing into the necessary unfolding of the moment, or we can reject our present experience, and fantasise about how we think things should be. If we choose the latter, then there will be inevitable disharmony in what our minds and bodies are experiencing, and when such disharmony is severe, our reflexive reaction will be a very basic and feral emergency response - the adrenaline reaction. Thus, stress - the product of what some see as animal-like 'sin' - appears in our life as if it is an inevitable and inescapable facet of our 'higher level' of human existence. In this sense, the more we elevate ourselves above 'what is' - into a supernatural state of being able to live as we think we should, the more we seem to seal ourselves into a more painful life.

Just because we can imagine a Creator with human intelligence creating a system such as our universe and imbuing humans with souls made in his image, does not mean that such a system exists, no matter how strongly we think it should exist. If we think that our clever, creative, conscious decision-making process - the doer which resembles a Creator - should lie at the core of our being, does not mean that it actually does. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that it does not lie at our core if we consider that our bodily functions regulate and take care of themselves better without interference from our conscious minds.

Even though this may be clear to see and understand, it is difficult to leave existential questions unanswered - babies are born and they grow up to make more babies. Where did all this begin? Who or what was the first parent? The first thing to exist? Was there a Creator? Can we, or will we, ever know if such a force exists or existed? Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki states in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995) that a Creator does not exist. He equates our existence to being like trains running on the infinite track of the universe, and that mindfulness requires an acceptance of this in order for us to live more peaceful lives, p54:
"The sights we see from the train will change, but we are always running on the same track. And there is no beginning or end to the track: beginningless and endless track. There is no starting point nor goal, nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our way. This is the nature of our Zen practice."
The fact that discrete causes and effects - Creators and Creations - are likely falsities imposed on the universe by human brains (for example, the Earth was simultaneously yet independently created by an exploding supernova and the big bang before it) seems to pass us by when assuming a Creation Event kick-started our existence, even before one arrives at assigning that creation event to a Creator God. By that point one has already made three assumptions creating potentially mind-boggling layers of complexity; that there are objective causes and effects, that our existence has an initial cause, and that a Creator caused us to come into being. Concerning this situation, Shunryu Suzuki warns us in Zen Mind Beginner's Mind that any such contemplation of this railway track upon which we run is always bound to end in dizzying frustration, p54:
"...when you become curious about the railway track, danger is there. You should not see the railway track. If you look at the track you will become dizzy. Just appreciate the sights you see from the train. That is our way. There is no need for the passengers to be curious about the track. Someone will take care of it ; Buddha will take care of it. But sometimes we try to explain the railway track because we become curious if something is always the same. We wonder, "How is it possible for the Bodhisattva always to be the same? What is his secret?" But there is no secret. Everyone has the same nature as the railway track."
If one dwells upon, or creates answers to questions about why we trains run on such tracks - the very process of contemplating and creating such answers busies the mind with such complex, dislocating riddles that it can become like a huge dusty whirlwind within our heads which saps our energy and tears our experiences into shreds wherever we go. Even as agnostics we can invest so much time and energy in the conceptual riddle of existence that we feel we deserve an answer - to the point that we eventually subconsciously satisfy our hunger for such knowledge with irrational religious blind faith in various guises - for example New Age conceptions of the soul or spiritual 'subtle energies' - some sort of belief in a 'clever ghost' of sorts. Others may hold out some faith in science.

Scientists continue to divide and analyse the fabric of existence in space and time, and yet there is no hint of an ultimate answer - the universe is known to not be infinite, but something finite needs to be contained within something else, and is that thing infinite? No one knows. Suffering the ignorance of why we exist is not solved by looking at the outside world for knowledge, but instead by looking at the nature of suffering itself, and learning how to liberate ourselves from such stress. The ultimate question becomes: "Can I be ignorant of why I exist and be OK with that?". Can humans go about their lives and enjoy the view as they pass through from birth to death without an answer as to why they exist? It seems the answer is "yes", since we do not actually have to consciously do anything to stay healthy and survive - we just need to enjoy the reflexive ride, and a novel and surprising by-product of this is that we no longer suffer ignorance regarding our existential nature.

Our brains are around 85% water, our bodies consist of up to 60% water, and that water is mostly held within our cells. These cells absorb nutrients automatically through osmosis, and different kinds of cells make up our tissues and nervous system. The nervous system regulates oxygen intake via our breathing and processes information we take in about resources and dangers in our environment. All of this evolved and continues to exist effortlessly within our bodies, as well as in the bodies of many other animals on this planet. Mindfulness practice allows us to step out of the way of our own being and relax into this reflexivity - allowing us to peacefully witness the truth of our existence as a process in the same way one can gain an understanding of riding a bicycle beyond conceptual description or analysis - a deep sense of dynamic balance.

As the conceptual realm of understanding containing reasons, purposes, and souls is transcended, and the individual enters a more proprioceptive mode of being, so the reasoning and existential questions fade away as their illusory, limiting nature is revealed. Dwelling in a peaceful, mindful state allows 'decisions to be made' without any conscious effort - action is automatic and effortless - when we are hungry we prepare and eat food - automatically, and when we are tired we prepare for bed and go to sleep - automatically. American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes of this automatic process in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p101:
"When our anger resolves into emptiness, there’s no problem; the right action arises by itself."

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