“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”
– The Buddha
As traditional religions begin to hold less and less sway over people and culture itself begins to break down in the face of a globalized society, millions of people around the world, and especially the developed world are seeking answers.
They’re looking to fill a void left by traditional culture and religions, which will ground them, give them peace of mind, and allow them to skillfully navigate through life.
For many spiritual seekers, that vacuum gets filled by their own ideas of “Eastern” spirituality, “new thought”, and a general sort of caring and sharing perspective in which they aspire to bask in the love and light of some type of mytherial universal oneness.
They seek mystical experience, and union with the “divine”.
These people would generally fall within the “green” level of consciousness on the Clare-Graves model, and upon experiencing these types of mystical or peak states, their belief in, and devotion to the principle of “universal oneness” or that all encompassing god-love-bliss is only reinforced.
Unfortunately – this doesn’t represent true awakening or enlightenment.
It also doesn’t lead to, or certainly doesn’t lead directly to awakening.
They follow this guru…
They take that course…
They buy another book…
They go on retreat after retreat…
But never really become awakened.
Instead of directly targeting the means of waking themselves up from their own delusion, they spin their wheels for years – often for their whole lives trying to pretend to be an example of what they think an awakened or enlightened person would be.
The allegory of the acorn
All things in nature have inherent in them the capacity to reach their highest and best purpose and expression of themselves – If they are given the correct environment and opportunities.
Take for example, a mighty oak tree.
Every great oak tree which has ever existed began it’s existence as an acorn.
Every acorn which has ever existed, generally – has had the capacity to develop into a might oak tree.
The only differences are the environmental conditions and the soil in which they find themselves planted and whether they are able to receive enough light.
No acorn has ever needed compassion, law, dogma or doctrine to become an oak tree.
It is in its nature.
Similarly, no human has ever needed things such as law, religion or holy books in order to fulfill their highest and best purpose and expressions of themselves.
If it were so, we would come into the world screaming “Take me to the Mega-Church/Ashram/Temple/Mosque” rather than calling out for our mothers to give us milk.
All of us are created by nature so that we can live our lives nobly, and free from error.
Not just some of us, but all of us.
Everyone talks about themselves as having virtue and being good.
This is strong evidence for the presence of goodness in our nature.
When asked if they are stupid or intelligent, nobody will confess to being stupid.
When asked whether they are just or unjust no one will say “I am unjust”.
Similarly, if you ask people whether they use moderation they will reply “yes” at once.
Finally, if you ask if they are good or bad – they say that they are good – in spite of not being able to name a single teacher of virtue or mention any study or practice of virtue they’ve ever done.
So – what does this evidence say, if not that an inherent inclination towards goodness and nobleness exists in people?
It hints at the seeds of virtue in each one of us.
It’s not that we need to become better, or more wholesome people in order to awaken – Only after we are able to permanently self-awaken can we even discern between what is “good” or “bad”, and act accordingly.
“By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing…kill yourself…you’re the ruiner of all things good…you are Satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage…kill yourself.” – Bill Hicks
One of the biggest problems facing so-called “spiritual seekers” is that most of the material available to the public on self-improvement and personal development is what I would call “Wu-Peddling”. . .
That is – selling fantastic, mystical sounding wrong ideas that appeal to you, in order to separate you from your money as quickly as possible.
Many of the “spiritual” teachers out there today are well-intentioned poseurs who are going to waste years of your life, and quite a few are outright charlatans who are only after your money.
You know the type.
They peddle fluff and nonsense that appeals to the Oprah Book club crowd.
They have flyers and websites with pictures of stacked, polished stones and little pastel-pink lotus flowers.
Their advertising looks like a douche commercial…
See, most of these people aren’t PURPOSELY misleading others.
They’re just not into reality at all.
They’re into “good vibes” or… whatever – and rather than actually cracking the scrolls ™ and doing primary source research or study for themselves – they just teach what they ASSUME or HOPE to be correct.
Then, there are the others.
The ones who are outright charlatans, scammers, and get-overs, who window dress themselves in humility, contrived sincerity, and phoney “compassion” – only to get you to part with your money.
I call them the “Spiritual Mullet Mafia”™.
You know the mullet, right?
Business in front, party in the back…
And people constantly get taken for a ride.
They lose their money and get nothing meaningful in return…
They lose years of their life for nothing…
What’s even more dangerous is falling victim to the “mindful mindfuck” ™…
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and when it comes to being awakened – that is ABSOLUTELY correct.
The humble attitude. The bell ringing, bringing you back to awareness when the teacher says something profound *DING*…
Now, more often than not – this is REALLY just brainwashing and behavioral conditioning.
The bell rings on the pretty little meditation singing bowl every time you’re supposed to accept some suggestion. *DING*
So they do it a few times to warm you up… *DING*
Then you drop into a state of deep suggestibility.
They lecture and say things that sound correct like –
“You are so wrapped up in the ego. All you care about is the “I” *DING* (gestures to self)…
The “I” controls you. You only serve the “I” *DING* (gestures to self)…
In your mind (“and you’re mine”) you feel that “I”(gestures to self) is God… *DING* *DING* *DING”
You see how that works…?
There is one VERY famous author and lecturer who pulls this every time he speaks…
Here’s a hint: Oprah LOVES him…
But this all just goes to show you –
There is no way for you to tell how awakened someone is unless you are at the same or a higher level…
The phonies? They look AWESOME.
The walk around outside with their heads low…
Their hands behind their back…
Like they must be thinking something very, very profound. . .
The monks who actually practice meditation 6-18 hours a day, or those who are actually self-awakened?
Smoking cigarettes. Chewing beetel. Acting like normal guys on the surface.
WHEN IT COMES TO REAL ENLIGHTENMENT – YOU JUST CAN’T TELL UNTIL YOU’RE AT THE SAME LEVEL AS SOMEONE.
Wu-peddlers and the personal development community at large are the perfect examples of how marginally intelligent humans can get somewhere by impressing dumb humans.
They have little to no real ideas of their own, and the ones they do have are not well thought out at all.
They are what I refer to as “super sheep”.
Smarter than the majority of their peers, but not smart enough to stop being sheep…
I’m sort of an expert on this, because –
Worse than being a dumb sheep – I was a dumb sheep for YEARS…
Until – I unlocked something INCREDIBLY POWERFUL which is within the reach of every person….
Is it really possible to become fully awakened and enlightened to the truth of existence?
The simple answer is – “That depends.”
It depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is your definition of enlightenment.
If you’re interested in turning into something like Neo from The Matrix – I’d say the chances are slim.
If you imagine that you are going to become morally perfect and develop the ability to project Qi missiles from your fingertips, I’d say… Slim to nil.
I would love someone to prove me wrong.
If, however you’re interested in awakening or becoming enlightened in the sense of following the natural rhythm and harmony of life being conducted by biology, genetics, environment, etc. free from all points of self-reference in every moment –
Then I will tell you – IT IS DEFINITELY POSSIBLE.
It takes focused, dedicated and disciplined mental training to really wake up, for good.
That’s what we’re going to work on here. Your awakening.
Here’s what you’ll discover in The Way Of The Sage:
- What awakening and enlightenment ACTUALLY are
- The difference between permanent awakening and mystical experience
- The exact framework for self-awakening
- A practicum that, if followed – will get you to where you want to go
I hope you’re ready.
Once you go through this you will never be able to un-know what you are about to discover about your own existence, the universe, mind/matter, and ultimate reality…
If you’re comfortable where you’re at in life – I highly suggest putting this book down now and never picking it back up.
The perennial philosophy they don’t tell you about
One of the most popular and most influential books amongst and upon spiritual seekers in the past century has been Aldous Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy”.
“The man who wishes to know the “that” which is “thou” may set to work in any one of three ways.
He may begin by looking inwards into his own particular thou and, by a process of “dying to self” — self in reasoning, self in willing, self in feeling — come at last to knowledge of the self, the kingdom of the self, the kingdom of God that is within.
Or else he may begin with the thous existing outside himself, and may try to realize their essential unity with God and, through God, with one another and with his own being.
Or, finally (and this is doubtless the best way), he may seek to approach the ultimate That both from within and from without, so that he comes to realize God experimentally as at once the principle of his own thou and of all other thous, animate and inanimate.”
― Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy
In synthesizing the views of mystical traditions from around the world and throughout history, Huxley presupposes the existence of “God” or some sort of “divine ground” of existence.
The marketplace of ideas
Throughout my decades of travel and living across the planet – one thing has become clear to me:
Everyone believes what they believe.
And they believe it whole-heartedly.
That is – they believe in their doctrines, dogma and religions with all of their hearts, and – with the best of intentions.
- The Pentecostal Christian who has been “slain in the spirit”
- The Hindu who has felt himself melted into the Atta or universal consciousness
- The cultural Buddhist who has meditated and has seen the Deva and Brahma planes
- The New Ager who was “astral” projected into other worlds or lives
And what do all of these people have in common?
For all of them – their experiences were subjectively true but not objectively testable or verifiable.
The human mind, and the human psycho-physical complex holds the remarkable ability to manufacture what it needs in order to feel better, more at ease, and less stressed.
And – it has the capacity not only to manufacture any type of subjective experience, but – to blur and even erase the lines between subjectivity and objectivity.
These mainstream religions, philosophies, and worldviews from which Huxley drew all suggest that some Soul, Self, Ego or Atman exists which is permanent, everlasting and absolutely exists, and that – this stuff is the immovable, unchangeable substance of which the material world – the world of which your life is made up.
You are told that this soul or self in man is the thinker of thoughts, the feeler of sensations and the receiver of rewards and punishments for all it’s actions – whether good or bad.
The Way Of The Sage stands unique in the history of thought in denying the existence of such a self, soul or atman.
These beliefs are false and have no corresponding reality and they produce harmful thoughts of “me” and “mine”, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill will, conceit, pride, egoism and other problems.
The belief in the self is the source of all problems and trouble in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations.
To be direct – all of the evil in the world can be traced to this false view.
So – what is the source of this illusion?
This false view which is the source of all evil?
Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man:
“For self-protection man has created gods, on whom he depends on for his own protection, safety and security – just as a child depends on its parents.
For self-preservation man has dreamed up the notion of an immortal soul, or atman – which will live eternally.
In his ignorance, weakness, fear and desire – man needs these two things to comfort himself.
So he holds on to them deeply and fanatically…”
– Walpola Rahula
Generally speaking – all of these beliefs in supernatural phenomenon and other-worldly destinations at the end of life can be reduced to two basic functions or needs of the human psycho-physical complex:
- The desire for safety and security
- The desire for continuity of existence
These ideas are so deep-rooted in man that he will refuse to listen to, nor does he want to understand any teaching against them.
The Way Of The Sage does not support this ignorance, weakness, fear and desire, but – aims at making man enlightened by removing and destroying them. Striking at their very root.
A Prima Facia Case
In order for a way of thinking and a way of living to be useful – it must be self-evident and it must be practically applicable in the present moment – the place and time where you exist NOW.
When laid out in front of you, its meaning should be instantly clear.
If you have to study it to understand it – someone is probably trying to pull something over on you.
Similarly – metaphysics in general are not the arena of the Sage.
Whether or not something is ultimately true – is irrelevant to whether it’s useful to know.
In the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, The Buddha said:
“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison.
His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’
He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me…
until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short…
until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored…
until I know his home village, town, or city…
until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow…
until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark…
until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated…
until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird…
until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’
He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’
The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.”
Life is too short…
If we spend it in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth, or to changing the quality of our lives or our world.
“Do nothing that is of no use”
All truth is based upon partial and incomplete perspectives, so worrying about whether or not something is “true” or not is a waste of time.
It is better to consider whether something is useful to believe and whether it is useful in a specific context or situation than whether it is “true”.
In order for any philosophy or belief system to be useful, it must be simple, and it must cut quickly and deeply to the roots of the biggest problems.
A philosophy of life must be practical in application.
You must be able to use it, right now in order to improve the quality of your life, right now.
“Vain is the word of a philosopher which does no heal any suffering of man.
For just as there is no profit in medicine if it does not expel the diseases of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy either, if it does not expel the suffering of the mind.”
The culimation of 2,000 years of mutually co-dependent thought
Throughout this post – I will refer both to my own experiences and ideas, and to the sources of those ideas.
Those sources, in general are the perennial philosophy embedded in Theravada or Southern Buddhism, certain tendencies of Greek philosophy, and Taoism.
Now – this is in contrast to the “perennial philosophy” as written about by Aldous Huxley.
In fact – it is exactly the opposite.
Huxley’s perennial philosophy was that of the self.
And that tendency has certainly existed along with The Way Of The Sage – which denies such theories.
In fact –
There have always been TWO perennial philosophies running through human culture, based on two very different concepts of how to live your life:
- Devotional surrender
The first, devotional surrender – is the basis of most modern and ancient religions.
It is the seizing upon of those base instincts and fears of survival and safety that all humans suffer from by opportunists, in order to control, make subservient, weaken and exploit the masses of humans who never perceive themselves as anything other than the illusion – created by biology in order to bring comfort in an uncomfortable world.
The Way Of Sage The differs from existing schools of thought in a fundamental sense:
- It is purpose is practical application.
- It is not a mystical, emotional or “spiritual” enterprise.
- It’s a tool that you can use to become a better person.
In this work – I will lay out the basis of an alternative “perennial philosophy”.
One that is not based upon ignorance, superstition, fear or weakness but which is grounded in objective reality and practical application.
The tactics of the sage
The summum bonum (supreme ideal) of the sage is a combination of Four qualities.
- Moral insight and virtue
- Self-control and control of your mind
- Wisdom or insight
- Living in accord with reality
The ultimate end result of these tactics is happiness.
The goals of the sage
The major goal of The Way Of The Sage is to lead man to arrive at happiness by achieving the true good thing in life: arete in Greek or virtus in Latin).
This is accomplished by:
Dramatically improving the quality of your life and your effectiveness and success in all areas of your life by:
Reducing and eliminating negative and harmful emotions like fear, doubt, anger, jealousy, etc. which allows you to develop what the Greeks called “Apatheia” or what’s called in Pali “Uppekha” – A permanent and deep sense of equanimity (Equanimity is produced when areas of the prefrontal cortex regulate emotional responses in the amygdala and other limbic regions) which results from a lack of irrational or extreme emotions by developing:
- The ability to exist in the present moment
The goals of the Sage and the tactics required to achieve them are a matter of practice and training, but –
Permanent self-awakening is absolutely achievable.
And it doesn’t have to take decades or years.
It could happen in the blink of an eye.
You only have to follow the framework…
There’s a saying in Latin:
Vires acquirit eundo (We gather strength as we go).
That’s how it works…
By the time you have finished this you will have begun gathering that strength and your transformation will be underway.
***THIS SECTION (Info About My Personal Life) REDACTED FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION. Please read Mastering The Four Elements: A Philosophy Of Fighting, Leadership, Strategy & Meditation if you want to know what was here.
When an opportunity arose to study and live at the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon, Myanmar – I jumped on it.
I had to sit an entrance exam at the Myanmar consulate in South Korea.
I read just enough about Buddhism on Wikipedia to bullshit my way through it.
And then, after about a year of waiting, I was finally accepted.
Being what I am-ing
Life at ITBMU was kind of rough.
A quick Google search will turn up lots of negative reviews and experiences by attendees.
But – I was generally into it.
I lived with a bunch of Theravada Buddhist monks and nuns.
I studied full time, as you would at a normal university, but in this case I only studied monastic subjects.
Generally the classes were boring to me. I liked Pali – the language of the common people at the time of the Buddha, and the language in which he probably taught.
That was about it, though.
I felt like there were a lot of contradictions in what was being taught, and I was pretty sure that a lot of it was just Indian/South-Asian cultural tradition, and not any kind of “ultimate truth”.
So, I went to classes, studied my lessons, and read a lot.
I got really interested in language and transformational grammar, and read and re-read Alfred Korzybski’s “Science and sanity”.
His analysis of how grammar conditions consciousness had a profound effect upon me.
I began running thought experiments where I would not nominalize anything.
I would use no nouns.
Instead, I would try to look at everything as a process. A gerund. A verb+ing.
I trained myself to think in this way pretty constantly. Instead of noticing “a bird”, I would notice “being a bird”, or even “birding”.
This led me to my first real experience of impermanence, and on to my first experience of no-permanent-self.
I was sitting outside my room at the monastery one day. Just sitting.
At that time, the Tatmadaw (military junta) was still in control of Myanmar, and the country was still under international sanctions.
There was no such thing as an international ATM machine in the country.
I was making a little bit of money every month from my books and training programs, but had no way to access it.
I couldn’t even afford to buy a bottle of water for a year. I was that broke – Lower than a beggar.
At any point, I could have ordained as a monk, and would have likely been showered with gifts, food and even cash, but – as I watched a lot of the monks, sitting around like prima-donnas while old ladies did back breaking work to support them, I never could bring myself to it.
Some of them were very cool guys, and very dedicated to the Dhamma.
And so I found myself back in a familiar state: HUNGER.
There I was. Just sitting. Thinking.
And I began focusing on and thinking about the most immediate thing in my life: Hunger.
I remember thinking – “I’m sooooo hungry!”
And then I realized the nonsense of the thought.
I am not hungry, I am Jonathan.
I thought it was funny that I would self-identify with a state like hunger without even thinking about it…
The clockwork started clicking.
I began thinking like Korzybski.
I am hungry became “I am being hungry.”
“I am being hungry” became “I am hungrying.”
“I am hungrying” became “Hungry is I’ing.”
Peak conscious state…
A million padlocks on my mind broke open…
I began seeing the arising and passing away of individual units of consciousness again.
At first, it only happened once.
After some effort, I was able to pretty easily get back into state at will and see my consciousness itself not as an unbroken stream, but a series of minute individual events. Each giving rise to, and conditioning the next…
It only took a few more months of disciplined, self-guided, self-taught meditation until I had completely engrossed myself on the path of self-awakening.
This book represents a retrospective look on that process, and the frameworks that were useful to me in my own awakening – as far outside the context of any religion or dogma as I can take them, while still honoring and paying respect and tribute to the sources through which I uncovered them.
THE AWAKENING FRAMEWORKS
The Universal Sage
Many of the Greek Philosophers and Buddhists offered roughly the same solutions to the problems of life.
Both sought the elimination of the ego and bad emotions through practice.
Greek Philosophy, and in especially – Stoicism pursues it through active rationality, using logic and certain techniques like “negative visualization” to control ego and bad emotions.
Buddhism (Theravada or Southern Buddhism – the oldest extant tradition) similarly seeks the same thing by a process of observation into the fundamental nature of reality through the Vimokkha Mukkha or “3 gateways of liberation”:
Similarites between the founders and major thinkers – East and West
It’s interesting to keep in mind that both The Buddha and Zeno, the founder of Stoicism began as wandering ascetics (yogi’s and philosophers who completely rejected materialism, care of the body, etc.) but both gave that up for a more “middle way”…
Zeno of Citium began his philosophical education by practicing Cynicism, the ancient philosophy that advocated an ascetic lifestyle.
The ancient Cynics (including Diogenes of Sinope and Zeno’s teacher Crates) lived on the street and owned only the clothing that they wore.
Similarly, Prince Siddhatta – having left his father’s palace and renounced worldly life became an ascetic for many years – practicing severe austerities and self-deprivation.
Eventually however, both abandoned the practice of asceticism in favor of a middle way between self-mortification and hedonism.
Another Greek philosopher – Heraclitus lived between 535-475 BCE, or approximately 2,500 years ago.
More or less at the same time as The Buddha and he was also a self-taught, self-awakened person of distinguished parents.
In addition to being called “The Weeping philosopher”, he is also called Heraclitus “The Obscure”.
This obscurity is remarkably similar to the Buddha’s teaching, which he described as ”Against the stream.” – Not easy to accept, and in contrast to all after-birth, conditioned tendencies and instincts that men possess.
Reject human conditioning, follow nature
Accept everything just the way it is.
This is the goal of most practice-centered spirituality.
Following nature, and accepting what is usually is much easier said than done, though.
First, we’ll have to figure out what our own nature is, and then develop a fundamental understanding of what “is”.
In general, I would divide most of the spiritual systems of the world into two specific camps, as I mentioned earlier:
- Devotional surrender – To the god, messiah, guru, law, principle
- Practice – Of de-programming and removal of afterbirth conditioning to return to the natural state of the acorn become oak tree.
Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy” is that way of devotional surrender in order to achieve unification with some sort of divine-ground.
The way of the sage is completely different, because it doesn’t recognize any self-hood, personage or even permanence to ultimate truth, but instead only focuses on the realization of self as an impermanent, ever-changing psycho-physical complex.
The four truths
As we examine this “other” perennial philosophy, we’ll see it interwoven and spoken of again and again in different ways, at different times and throughout different cultures.
For further reading, and to study this outside the scope of The Way Of The Sage, I highly recommend picking up The Shape Of Ancient Thought by Thomas McEvilly.
In that book, McEvilly closely examines the correlations between Greek, Persian and Indian philosophy – but without making the distinction between paths of devotional surrender or practice.
When examining any kind of philosophy of existence, after discerning the difference between the two major strains we quickly come across “our” first major perennial truths.
In Buddhism, they are known as “The Four Noble Truths” and they make their appearance in the rebel strain of Greek philosophy early on.
The Buddha expounded those truths immediately after his enlightenment under a Bodhi tree when he gave his first sermon to his former ascetic training partner Kondanna, and this first sermon forms the Dhammacakkapavattana (Turning the wheel of the Dhamma) Sutta. The sutta of the Buddha’s first teaching.
Upon his enlightenment, he told Kondanna that:
- All existence is fundamentally un-satisfactory
- The cause of that un-satisfactoriness is desire or “thirst” (Pali: Tanha)
- The stopping of desire or thirst leads to the end of un-satisfactoriness
- There is a path which leads to the end of un-satisfactoriness
Compare that to this simple quote from Epictetus:
“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”
Pretty, pretty similar, right…?
The middle way
This “middle way” is also an essential part of this strain of perennial philosophy:
In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the ‘golden mean’ is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.
For example, in the Aristotelian view, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness, and if deficient as cowardice.
The Middle Path (Pali: majjhima paṭipada) is the term that Siddhatta Gautama used to describe the nature of the path that he discovered which leads to liberation.
In the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, the expression “Middle Way” is used by the Buddha in his first discourse (the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) to describe the path to achieve liberation, instead of taking extremes of austerities and sensual indulgence.
Similarly, Confucius’s The Doctrine of the Mean is a text rich with symbolism and guidance to perfecting yourself.
The Doctrine of the Mean represents moderation, rectitude, objectivity, sincerity, honesty and propriety.
The guiding principle is that you should never act in excess.
The Way Of The Sage calls for simplicity and moderation in terms of lifestyle, thought and emotion.
It is an action based philosophy and one which is totally practical in application.
There is no spookism, supernatural activity nor divine intervention…
There is only cause and effect…
There is only execution and it’s results…
However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?
Remember the story of the man shot by the arrow?
It is not speculation about what is un-useful to know that brings us toward awakening.
It is not metaphysics…
It is not the pondering of the origin of all things…
It is not the pursuit of mystical experience…
Nor is it pretending to be holy – the wearing of the supposed clothing of enlightenment and awakening by sleeping people.
Sleeping people don’t know what the truth is.
They don’t know what compassion is.
They don’t know what is real and what is part of their own individual or shared dream.
All of the typical trappings of spirituality are just window dressing on ignorance.
It’s only the direct perception of ultimate reality from moment to moment which is awakening, and the three characteristic marks of ultimate reality are only stress (and eustress), impermanence and non-self.
It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.
The sole concern of the spiritual seeker on the path towards real liberation is liberation.
Paying homage to this goes nowhere.
Worshipping that goes nowhere.
The blissed-out state of devotional surrender may lead to temporary furlows and pardons from the prison of reality, but it is not reality, and as un-reality does not awaken you to ultimate reality and truth.
Enlightenment is only the direct perception of stress, impermanence, and no-permanent self in every thought moment, leading to the absolute dissolution of the ego-self and all points of self-reference.
And there is only one path. There is only one set of frameworks.
Now, that’s not to say that there are not variations on the theme, or different ways of approaching the path.
I stumbled on to my own variation on the theme, and we’ll use a variation here.
But, the basic structure of the path and the end-game never change.
Anything other than the direct perception of un-satisfactoriness, impermanence, and no-permanent self is a delusion.
A side path.
A waste of time, because although you might become slightly more relaxed, slightly happier or significantly more annoying – you’re still asleep.
The awakening frameworks are not my own original thought, nor are they unique to me.
They are part of the perennial contra-philosophy of renegades who have self-awakened from the delusion of human life into ultimate reality.
They lead to ultimate reality because they are ultimate reality.
Anything else is a self-indulgent side path which only re-enforces delusion.
The sage avoids the temptation towards extremes.
Awakened an enlightened, he goes on about his business in the world of dreams.
He sees that there is no “he”, but continues “he-ing”.
This framework is simple, because in all things, the closer you get towards the truth, the more simple things become.
“In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there are few.”
– D.T. Suzuki
Framework I: A principle centered life
“We are members of one great body, planted by nature… We must consider that we were born for the good of the whole.”
This historical Buddha’s teachings can be boiled down to three specific categories of:
At the beginning of this process of awakening, and if it is to be a long process, rather than something that occurs relatively quickly – precepts and morality play a crucial role in safeguarding the individual awakener and society in general.
During the second stage, or the development of concentration, the awakener develops laser focused powers of concentration in order to proceed to the next step of developing insight.
This concentration, in Buddhism is broken down into specific levels, called “Jhanas”.
I like the Jhanas framework because it is the most detailed map of the layers of consciousness accessible by the chimp-mind.
Nothing else even comes close, in terms of scope and depth…
The Jhanas can be broken down into two separate categories – Rupa Jhana and Arupa Jhana, or attainment of concentration at different levels in the material sphere, and the attainment of concentration at different levels in the immaterial sphere.
It’s been my experience, that since they’re so focused on Jhana/Chan/Zen, practitioners of those schools are often able to develop access concentration and then achieve some levels of absorbtion concentration somewhat faster than Theravadans who are focused more on Sasana (Dhamma spreading) work.
Anyhow- In Brian Victoria’s book, Zen At War he examines the topic of Jhana and violence at length.
I’m not one to get into dogmatic discussions about religious sects, so I’ll be brief…
It can more or less be said though, that Chinese Chan Buddhism and Japanese Zen focus more or less exclusively on Samatha Bhavana, or the development of mental concentration.
The historical Buddha taught these as a recommended pre-requisite to Vipasana Bhavana or insight meditation.
Samatha develops extreme powers of concentration.
This power is so extreme that it can allow any subjective experience to over-ride objective reality.
It can also easily suppress the human conscience.
So much so, that the Japanese Imperial Army, whose ranks included many dedicated Zen Buddhists were able to commit unspeakable atrocities across Asia before and during World War 2.
It’s mainly for this reason, among others that The Sage must conform to specific ethical and moral precepts.
Beyond the concentrative power of the Jhanas though, once a person gets a glimpse at ultimate reality – if they’re not permanently residing there, they can easily make some pretty serious mistakes and wreak havoc in society.
In the case of our Greek friends, many of the contemplative or meditative techniques that they used have been lost to us.
There are some specific contemplative training techniques, or Askesis, but for the most part we’ll use both a Greek and Indian context for what we’re pushing you towards, but we’ll focus on the training methods of South Asia, because they are preserved more or less intact.
I cover morality and ethics extensively in The Way Of The Warrior, so I’ll not revisit it here.
Morality is simple.
Again – no acorn needs any book of laws in order to become the best possible oak tree it could.
Unless you are a rare exception with faulty wiring, you already know the difference between right and wrong. Between wholesome and unwholesome thoughts and actions.
It only remains for you to pull your actions and thoughts in line with your most deeply held beliefs about yourself.
“When you know for yourself that certain things are unwholesome (akusala) and wrong and bad – give them up…
And when you know for yourself that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them.”
– The Buddha
It ain’t rocket science, is it?
Do more of what you know to be right, try to do less of what you know to be wrong and try to fulfill your duty in and to the world.
What does that mean?
It will be sufficient just to say that we are social beings with a social duty.
“Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.”
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
“The soul is dyed the color of it’s thoughts.
Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day.
The content of your character is your choice.
Day by day, what you do is who you become.
Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.”
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”
Framework II: Non-attachment
“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker or smarter.
Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
― Miyamoto Musashi
Attachments are dangerous because they often lead to uncontrollable excess.
To the extent that you can now, you should detach from material goods, power, status and even the people and communities they are surrounded by.
Now, that’s not to say that you should give up all of your possessions and become a wandering beggar. Remember – we’re avoiding extremes.
What it really means is just cultivating the ability to care less about what’s right in front of you.
You can live in a house made of solid gold bricks if you don’t care about and aren’t attached to gold…
This conclusion is drawn from a strong belief within the Buddhist philosophy that all things are impermanent and so therefore attachment to them is an illusion causing excessive pain at their loss.
The Stoics advocate detachment for similar reasons as Buddhists.
Stoicism teaches that intrinsic value should not be projected onto things which depend on the outside world.
These objects dependent on the outside world can disappear at any time and can leave you with a feeling of loss or grief.
This is why the Stoics advocate detachment – so that you can be totally self-sufficient in your own happiness and won’t have to depend on the unreliable outside world.
Both schools would have you “not attach to anything or anyone that can be taken away at any moment” because it will lead to sadness when it is lost.
This non-attachment in Buddhism and Stoicism can be thought of in two ways:
First, you can remove special feelings towards others.
If you can remove special feelings or affinity for something, you won’t feel sadness at its loss.
Secondly, you can cultivate, develop or train resilience and toughness, as armor for special feelings.
That means developing a view of the world that allows you to remain in emotional equilibrium – even when faced with the loss of something important to you.
“It is a wretched thing that young men of today are so contriving and so proud of their material possessions.
Men with contriving hearts are lacking in duty.
Lacking in duty, they will have no self-respect.”
Yamamato Tsunetomo, The Hagakure
Framework III: Nothing lasts forever
“Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis”
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
That’s one of my favorite quotes of all time.
Heraclitus, even though most of his philosophy has been passed down as hearsay or in fragments is, in my mind – the greatest and most profound of the Greek philosophers.
In many, many ways he was quite similar to The Buddha in India, in terms of his worldview:
“The perceiving of impermanence, monks, developed and frequently practiced, removes all sensual passion, removes all passion for material existence, removes all passion for becoming, removes all ignorance, removes and abolishes all conceit of ‘I am.’”
– The Buddha
Not only is impermanence a fact of life – along with the recognition of un-satisfactoriness and no-permanent self, it’s recognition and acceptance is one of the primary strategies of The Sage to eliminate the illusion of self-hood.
“Whatever is subject to origination [samudaya] is subject to cessation [nirodha]”
– The Buddha
That nothing is permanent is an open and shut case.
Without impermanence – there could be no life.
When you are able to recognize impermanence at deeper and deeper levels more and more often, you tend to increase the quality of your existence.
- If you are aware of impermanence you will take better physical care of yourself.
- If you know that your loved ones are impermanent you will value your time with them even more.
- Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all of the precious things around us.
We can be sure that Heraclitus was enlightened to the truth of Anicca or impermanence, because he also said:
“All things are in flux;
the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle.
This principle bound opposites together in a unifed tension, which is like that of a lyre,
where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of the opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string.”
The Stoics and even earlier Greek Philosophers like Heraclitus had similar views to the Buddha regarding the impermanence and flux of all things.
We seem to have an innate tendency to want to grasp hold of and secure the things and people we cherish and value, making them ours forever.
But, in this impermanent world, everything which we attempt to hold on to will inevitably at some point slip through our fingers and vanish forever.
According to the Stoics, we must contemplate this idea, so that when the things and people we cherish do disintegrate in front of us, we are not overcome by despair.
Also, by becoming aware that the things and people we love will at some point vanish before us, we will appreciate them that much more while they are in front of us.
“To lose someone you love is something you’ll regard as the hardest of all blows to bear, while all the time this will be as silly as crying because the leaves fall from the beautiful trees that add to the charm of your home.
Preserve a sense of proportion in your attitude to everything that pleases you, and make the most of them while they are at their best.
At one moment chance will carry off one of them, at another moment another; but the falling of the leaves is not difficult to bear, since they grow again, and it is no more hard to bear the loss of those whom you love and regard as brightening your existence; for even if they do not grow again they are replaced.
‘But their successors will never be quite the same’
No, and neither will you.
Every day, every hour sees a change in you, although the ravages of time are easier to see in others; in your own case they are far less obvious, because to you they do not show.
While other people are snatched away from us, we are being filched away surreptitiously from ourselves.”
The same can be said of life.
Life is too is short and passes by too quickly, and if you acknowledge that it too will one day disappear, maybe you can come to appreciate it a little more.
The winds of change will erode even those things we regard as ‘set in stone’.
“Whenever you are devoted to something, don’t regard it as irremovable but as belonging to the class of things like a jar or a drinking glass so that when it is broken you remember what it was and are not disturbed.
So in the case of love, if you kiss your child or your brother or your friend, never let your thoughts about them go all the way, and do not allow yourself to be as elated as you are feeling wants, but check it and restrain it, like those who stand behind triumphing generals and remind them that they are human.
Just so, remind yourself that what you love is mortal and not something that you own. It has been given to you for the present, not as something irremovable and permanent, but like a fig or grape, at the appointed time of the year.
If you long for it in winter, you are foolish.
So too, if you long for your son or your friend, at the time they are not granted to you, be sure that you are longing for a fig in winter.
For the relation of winter to a fig is the relation that every event in the world has to the things that the same event takes away.”
So, what is the real benefit of acknowledging, understanding and accepting impermanence?
First of all, we appreciate what we have more when we know it will soon be gone.
Whether that be your:
Also, once we finally and permanently train ourselves to recognize the impermanence of everything around us, and – ourselves, we become better people.
“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever:
Where is all that now?
Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend.
Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Recognizing impermanence also allows us to deepen our perception of no-permanent self, and for many people is a prelude to that realization.
“Time is a river, the resistless flow of all created things. One thing no sooner comes in sight than it is hurried past and another is borne along, only to be swept away in its turn.”
– Marcus Aurelius
This is why it’s important, or certainly useful to not only contemplate death itself, but the fact that you are – in a protracted, long term sense always dying, and but because once you begin to see the arising and passing away of single units of consciousness – you begin to realize that what you had once thought was “you” wasn’t you at all, and that in fact you are born and die in every moment.
“Even while a thing is in the act of coming into existence, some part of it has already ceased to be.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Framework IV: No-Permanent Self
“But the awakened and knowing say: ‘body am I entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body.
Behind your thoughts and feeling, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage – whose name is self.
In your body he dwells; He is your body.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s a very common line of thought that I guess recently has come out of the so-called “new age” community, and which goes back earlier to Advaita and Atman based Hinduism which says that there is something divine in all of us.
Or in Christianity that Jesus was literally a manifestation of God, or that any of the Hindu avatars were literal physical manifestations of literal, existing gods.
When I think about that, I imagine the sun.
The real one, which the Earth is revolving around.
If you tried to put all of that radiance and power and light into an inferior vessel – the only thing that would happen is that it would consume and destroy the vessel…
If any god has the characteristics that people typically attribute to a god – It’s hard to believe they could manifest as a man, or – in us, imperfect and supposedly inferior and fallen as we are.
So, the idea of a divine spark encapsulated by meat seems… utterly ridiculous.
No “after-life” for the Sage
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
At other times, Heraclitus speaks at length with regard to “unsatisfactoriness” –
To the extent that he is remembered by history as “The Weeping Philosopher”, but in this simple allegorical quote we have a strong view of both impermanence and no-permanent self, or Anicha and Anatta.
Heraclitus, even though most of his philosophy has been passed down as hearsay or in fragments is, in my mind – the greatest and most profound of the Greek philosophers.
In many, many ways he was quite similar to The Buddha in India, in terms of his worldview.
On the other hand, the Buddha VERY CLEARLY expounded on these topics in great depth, and also provided a very specific, reasonable and doable training regimen to awaken to reality and achieve liberation.
Let’s take a look at some of that in a bit more detail:
“When neither self nor anything pertaining to self can truly and really be found,
this speculative view: The universe is that Atman (Soul);
I shall be that after death, permanent, abiding, ever-lasting, unchanging, and I shall exist as such for eternity – is it not wholly and completely foolish?”
– The Buddha
Just as Heraclitus denied any continuity of “Self” or soul by saying that the man who stepped into the river was not the same man, the Buddha tells us that not only is this correct, but to believe otherwise is “completely foolish”.
In fact, he went in pretty hard on this topic. Harder than the image most people have of “The Buddha”…
“To whomever, you stupid one, have you ever heard me expounding the doctrine in this manner?
Haven’t I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions?
That there is no arising of consciousness without conditions?”
– The Buddha
Again, the Buddha clearly and unequivocably stated that consciousness is a phenomenon that arises out of other phenomena, and therefore is contingent upon the phenomena which give rise to it…
“Were man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception, and mental formations – he would be speaking of something that does not exist.”
– The Buddha
The things mentioned here – Matter, Sensation, Perception, Mental formations, etc. are part of the Pancakkhanda or the 5 aggregates of corporeality which the Buddha taught as the phenomenological ground for the existence of the self.
These things create, influence and condition the self.
Depending upon the nature of the data input from the 5 aggregates, the self-output can be fundamentally different.
So much so, that the Buddha said:
“When the aggregates arise, decay, and die, oh Monk,
every moment you are born, decay and die.”
– The Buddha
The “self” is something which is caused by, and contingent upon other, external factors – not something inherent or permanent or which lasts forever.
In fact, “selfhood” arises and passes away every second.
Millions. Maybe trillions of time per second.
“Mere suffering exists, but no sufferer is found. The deeds are, but no doer is found.”
How did these parallels arise between Eastern and Western thought arise?
Is it the case that everyone who wakes up wakes up from the same dream and delusion to the same truth?
There is also ample evidence to support the notion that there has always been a strong cross-pollination between Greece and India, with Persia as the common link.
Greek Skepticism – especially that of Pyrrho is often very similar to Southern Buddhist philosophy.
The goal of the Pyrrhonian Skeptics was what they called “Ataraxia” or peace of mind, similar to the Buddhist-Pali concept of Uppekha.
They promoted withholding judgement or “Epoche” about facts of the world as a way to reach that goal.
This is similar to the Buddha’s refusal to answer certain metaphysical questions that he saw as useless to Buddhist practice.
That Pyrrho was influenced by the India sages is highly likely.
He traveled with Alexander The Great to India and upon his return promoted very similar ideas.
Both Buddhism and Skepticism argue against holding any dogmatic views about “ultimate reality” as a tactic to reach tranquility.
In many ways, Buddhist thought can be compared to Classical Cynicism and Stoicism as well, in that all of them sought to develop a set of practices to reach a state of equanimity by the removal of desires and passions, and by the development of wisdom – panna or insight.
This strain of Perennial Philosophy continued in Europe up to the 18th century and to this day.
The English philosopher David Hume Wrote:
“When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception”
According to Hume there is nothing that is constantly stable which we could identify as the self.
There is only a flow of differing experiences.
So – our view that there is something substantive or permanent which binds all of these experiences together for Hume was just imaginary.
The self is a fiction that is attributed to the entire flow of experiences.
“Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time.
It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derived; and consequently there is no such idea…
I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”
– David Hume
Hume’s “Bundle Theory” of personal identity is very similar to the Buddha’s doctrine of Anatta or no permanent self which says that the unitary self is a fiction and only exists as a collection of or as emergent phenomenon of the 5 aggregates of corporeality.
However, both Hume and The Buddha made the distinction between conventional and ultimate reality, and accepted that it was perfectly normal to speak of the “self” in every day conversation or within the context of conditioned reality.
So – Why is the doctrine of “no permanent self” important and useful?
Once you understand that who you are now is NOT who you were before, and who “you” will be in the future is not who you are now – it makes sense to train yourself to exist wholly and fully, now.
The bitter cup
“Oh monks, this idea that I may not be, I may not have is frightening to the uninstructed worldlings.”
– The Buddha
As you’re beginning to acclimate more and more to the fundamental truth of reality, and as you’re making more and more progress towards awakening – you’ll encounter some rough patches.
This is the stuff that the Wu peddlers and new-agey hippies leave out.
They leave it out because:
- It’s not good for marketing and they’ll lose money
- They don’t fully understand it
- They aren’t self-awakened and haven’t experienced these stages of development
Have you ever been having a dream, and between the dream and waking up you felt quite uncomfortable?
Maybe even terrified, because you were unsure about the boundaries of your self – you knew that you were or had been dreaming but weren’t yet fully awake enough to organize your thoughts and comfort yourself…
It’s a common experienced that most people can relate to.
Something similar happens in most contemplative traditions.
Remember the “weeping philosopher”?
In Western contemplative traditions, it’s called the “dark night of the soul”.
In the Indian context it has several different names depending on the stage of development that you’re at.
In general, within the Indian framework for the stages of insight or awakening knowledge are:
- Knowledge of contemplation of mind and matter (sammassana nana)
- Knowledge of the contemplation of the arising and passing away (udayabaya nana)
- Knowledge of the contemplation of danger (bhaya nana)
- Knowledge of the contemplation of dispassion (nibbida nana)
- Knowledge of the desire for deliverance (muncitukamyat nana)
- Knowledge of contemplation or reflection (patisankha nana)
- Knowledge about equanimity of formation (sankharupekkha nana)
- Knowledge and conformity with Truth (Anuloma nana)
It’s all fun and games until you’re backed into the corner of terror, mortal dread and severe existential crisis.
Again, there are good reasons why the Wu peddlers never talk about these things…
There are no butterfly experts in the caterpillar world.
Different people will experience these stages in different ways on their path.
Sometimes you might not be able to distinguish between them, and it may seem like you are going through fewer levels, especially at the beginning.
And it can play out several ways.
Many people seem to experience them as a linear sequence.
They go through one stage, and then the next and then the next.
If you’ve ever eaten LSD or have taken what Terrence McKenna called a “heroic dose” of psylocibe mushrooms you probably have some basis for comparison.
As the ego-self begins dissolving – it fights desperately to maintain control.
So much so that you may experience real, profound waking terror.
And it might last a long time.
The only way around it is through it.
Keep pushing forward, and when you come out on the other side you’ll see that the cliff you were about to step off of and fall to your death was actually a ladder.
Practicum – Do this, awaken now
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
This practicum represents the exact process by which I leveled up from my initial peak state experience to moving through the 3 gateways of impermanence, no-permanent self, and un-satisfactoriness to achiever permanent self-awakening.
‘Do you not realize that when once you have let your mind go wandering, it is no longer in your power to recall it, to bring it back to what is right, to self-respect, to moderation?’
The importance of cultivating a focused mind in Stoicism is reminiscent of the Buddha’s saying in the Dhammapada that:
“Not a mother, not a father will do so much….a well-directed mind will do us greater service”
Unfortunately, as soon as the word “meditation” is mentioned, people think of an escape from the daily activities of life, assuming some posture, and being absorbed in some kind of mysterious thought or trance.
REAL meditation doesn’t mean that kind of escape at all.
The Buddha’s Triple Gateway To Liberation(Vimokkha Mukha)
The Buddha taught 3 Mukha’s or doors to liberation” which we have already seen reflected from the Greeks, and which exists throughout the alternative “perennial philosophy”.
The gateway void of “atta”, “self” or “soul” based on the insight knowledge that is contemplation on the absence of any permanent self.
Nothing deeper than that. It is just contemplation.
The gateway of signlessness realizes liberation based on the contemplation of impermanence.
Again, just contemplation.
The gateway of desirelessness leading to liberation based on the contemplation of Dukkha or suffering or unsatisfactoriness.
Read this out loud – because this is important:
”The Ultimate Goal Of Buddhist Meditation Practices Is Awakening To The Unsatisfactoriness Of Existence, The Impermanence Of Existence, And The Inherent Lack Of Any Permanent Self In Existence – Leading To – PERMANENT NON EXISTENCE OF THE EGO SELF.”
Here’s what that means in plain English:
Through the CORRECT practice of meditation, you can PERMANENTLY ELIMINATE THE CAUSES OF STRESS, UNHAPPINESS AND DISSATISFACTION –
And, you don’t have to go live in a monastery or pay some spooked out balding creep with a pony tail thousands of dollars to do it.
In fact – I won’t tell you it’s easy, but – IT’S SIMPLE.
What Exactly Is Meditation…?
The English word “meditation” is really a bad substitute for the original Pali term – “Bhavana” which means “Culture” or “development”.
Mental culture or mental development.
There are 2 types of meditation which the Buddha taught:
The first is Samatha, or mental concentration.
This type of meditation leads to the highest mystic states.
All of these mystic states however – according to the Buddha, are mind-created, mind produced and conditioned.
They have nothing to do with Ultimate Reality.
This kind of meditation existed before the Buddha, so it’s not purely Buddhist.
The Buddha himself studied these methods, but wasn’t satisfied with them, because they didn’t offer complete liberation and don’t lead you to Ultimate Reality.
So he discovered another form of “Bhavana” – Vipassana or insight meditation.
Insight into the nature of things, leading to the complete liberation of the mind, to the realization of ultimate truth and to Nibbana.
The realistic, achievable goal of all of this is Complete Liberation Of The Mind – Perfect Mental Health, Equilibrium And Tranquility and a MORE SUCCESSFUL LIFE.
The Four Elements Meditation System
This process has 4 main components, or 4 steps.
Each step mirrors the Four Elements model.
- Awareness of the breath – Earth, gross energy, physicality
- Awareness of the body – Water, subtle energy, the relationship between your mind and body
- Awareness of thought – Fire, causal energy, mentality
- Awareness of the Four Elements through the 3 gateways of liberation – Air, non-dual energy, post-personality
You’ll notice that each step corresponds to one of the Four Elements, but each step also contains each of the Four…
The first step is aimed at the development of access concentration.
After focusing on mindfulness of the breath, we focus on awareness of the Four Elements in the corporeal body.
“…Just as if a skilled butcher or his assistant, having slaughtered a cow, were to it at a crossroads with the carcass divided into portions, so a monk reviews this very body…
In terms of the elements: ‘There are in this body the Earth element, the Water element, the Fire element, the Air element.’ So he abides contemplating the body as body internally…”
-The Mahasatipatthana Sutta
This technique is further expounded upon in Bhikku Buddhagosa’s meditation training manual, The Visuddhimagga, or The Path Of Purification:
“So firstly, one of quick understanding who wants to develop this meditation should go into solitary retreat.
Then he should advert to his entire material body, and discern the elements in brief in this way, “In this body what is hard or rough is the earth-element, what is flowing or cohesion is the water-element, what is maturing (ripening) or heat is the fire-element, what is pushing or supporting is the air-element,” and he should advert and give attention to it and review it again and again as “earth-element, water-element, fire-element, air-element,” that is to say, as mere elements, not a being, and soulless.
As he makes effort in this way it is not long before concentration arises in him, which is reinforced by understanding that illuminates the classification of the elements, and which is only access and does not reach absorption because it has states with individual essences as its object.”
These four elements are the primary component of “form” or “rupa”.
Matter or rupa is defined in terms of it’s function – what it does, rather than what it “is”.
We can think of or classify rupa based upon it’s 4 functions, which are:
“Form” is the first category of the “Five Aggregates” of corporeality, or Pancakhandas, and those 5 aggregates are the ultimate basis for unsatisfactoriness.
The 5 aggregates of corporeality are:
- Mental formation
To put it simply, these are the 5 constituent parts of the human psycho-physical complex, and again are the basis for unsatisfactoriness.
The Four Elements meditation system is a very simple process, which achieves the most profound results possible. That is – awakening to ultimate reality.
It would take me less than 5 minutes to explain the entire process to you in person. It’s just that simple.
However, although it’s quite simple, It’s not “easy” to do.
As with all meditation, this takes time and effort and must be re-enforced with constant and diligent practice.
“The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding.”
– Miyamoto Musashi
Step 1: The Breath
- Awareness of the breath – as you’re beginning the Four Elements meditation you want to begin by being aware of the breath. Now, you can focus your awareness of the breath where it hits the upper lip…If you focus now on your breath, you can feel as you’re breathing in and out where it hits the upper lip – or, you can focus your awareness around the nostrils and the movement of the breath of the nostrils. Just become aware of the breath. Awareness of where the breath hits the upper lip, or awareness of where the breath is around the nostrils.
- Awareness of the length of breath – Is this a long breath, or a short breath? Breathing in – long breath… Breathing out – long breath… Long breath in… Long breath out… Short breath in… Short breath out… Now – you don’t need to intentionally drive the length of the breath – you just need to remain constantly aware of the length of the breath.
- Continuous awareness of the breath from beginning to end – Simply maintain awareness of the breath from it’s beginning until it’s end, noting where the last breath starts and the next breath begins.
As you’re going through this process, especially in the beginning you’ll find it difficult to concentrate on the breath.
Jus begin by focusing on each of the 3 steps of awareness of the breath for a short time.
If you feel your mind wandering, just move to the next type of breath awareness.
Every time you feel your mind beginning to wander – just pull it back to the awareness of the breath.
Keep it as stupidly simple as possible – because even something as simple as this is going to require you to develop tremendous self-discipline…
Step 2: Examination of the body
- With your mind, observe the solid parts of the body.
- Then, observe the fluid parts of the body.
- Then observe the temperature – the heat or cold in the body.
- Finally, observe the mobility – the movement in the body.
What is moving in the body?
The way I teach people is to go through each of these steps individually.
Then, as you’re continuing – after you’ve spent some time looking at the solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility in your body, as feelings, sensations, or thoughts rise up you want to look at each of these characteristics.
If you have a specific feeling – for example if you’re sitting and you feel something in the feet, you want to examine the solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility in that feeling.
If you feel an itch, you want to examine the solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility in that feeling.
All phenomena that you’re experience – you want to investigate the Four Elements of that experience.
You’ll do this for as long as you can.
The longer, the better…
Step 3: Examine the arising of thoughts
The next step is that you’ll examine the arising of thoughts, within the context of the Four Elements.
So, as a thought arises – if any thought arises, examine the bio-survival nature of the thought…
- What bio-survival process from the Earth element of your physical body – of your psycho-physical complex generated this thought?
- What part of the socio-sexual quadrant – the Water quadrant supported this thought, or – what need from the socio-sexual quadrant caused you to have this thought?
- What process from the logical-intellectual or Fire quadrant supports and rationalizes or validates this thought?
As you’re going through this process you’re beginning to understand this Four Elements “ground-up” theory of thought – that all thought originates in the Earth quadrant, through bio-survival needs and moves up through the Water quadrant where it’s filtered for socio-sexual needs.
Then, if it moves past those two quadrants into conscious thought it’s rationalized through the Fire quadrant.
You create a “reason why” for this thought that didn’t originate in logic.
Which didn’t originate in reason.
That is creating this false impression of free-will and being your own thought and your own volition and your own decision.
So those are the first 3 steps.
- You focus on the breath
- You examine the solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility of the body
- You examine the origin of thoughts which originate from each of the first 3 Elements: Bio-survival generation of thoughts, socio-sexual generation of thoughts and then logical-intellectual excuses. Stories about “why” for thought…
Step 4: Examination of the Four Elements through the 3 gateways to liberation
As you’re focusing on a feeling in the body and noticing the solidity, fluidity, temperature and mobility of this feeling –
- You also notice the un-satisfactoriness.
- You’re also noticing the impermanence.
- And you’re noticing that it has no self.
As you’re examining the arising of thoughts and your analyzing and clearly seeing how those thoughts have risen up through the bio-survival circuitry of your physical body and your psycho-physical complex, and then have been filtered through the socio-sexual quadrant and have moved up into the Fire or logical-intellectual rationalization zone – See how you’re creating a story to support this thought…
And as you’re examining those thoughts you’ll see the fundamental un-satisfactoriness…
It was initially unsatisfactory for me because of the realization that I had no free will.
That I was the result of these processes and their interactions.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
The thought is impermanent.
It arises and then decays and dies.
There’s no permanent self attached to this thought.
There’s no permanent “I”. No soul.
No permanent thing generating or attached to this thought…
So that is the overall process.
This process – The Four Elements meditation is extremely powerful.
It will bring you a tremendous amount of focus and concentration.
As you’re going through each of the steps you’ll begin developing a tremendous amount of insight into your own existence.
Your physical existence
Your emotional existence
Your intellectual existence
And the ultimate nature of your existence…
Practicum Addemum – Momento Mori (Rememember you will die)
“Life has the name of life, but in reality it is death.”
At the beginning you were presented by a highly confrontational quote:
“Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.”
– The Buddha
Generally, the Buddha taught two overall systems of meditation – Samatha, for the development of concentration, and Vipassana or insight meditation.
In total, he taught 40 types of meditation objects for Samatha or concentrative meditation.
Among those were the 10 asubhas, or recollection of ten types of corpses.
Not your mommas new-age hippy dippy new age bullshit, huh?
The power of negative thinking
Those asubhas are the ten signs of foulness or the 10 kinds of corpses which can be found in cemetaries and battle grounds.
In modern times, any corpse that shows the repulsive nature of the body is a suitable object for meditation.
The 10 kinds of corpses which are suitable as objects of meditation are:
- Rotten, bloated corpses
- Blue-black corpses with patchy discolorations
- Festering corpses with puss oozing out
- Corpses cut in half
- Gnawed corpses
- Scattered corpses
- Cracked and scattered corpses.
- Blood smeared corpses
- Worm infested corpses
In addition to the Four Elements meditation, I HIGHLY encourage you to meditate on death throughout your waking day.
Become obsessed by your own mortality.
Google image search is your friend…
The Buddha specifically prescribed different meditation objects for specific types of temperaments or personality types.
Asubha meditation is recommended for people with greedy and/or intelligent temperments.
Just as mysticism and Huxley’s perennial philosophy fixate upon and almost worship the notion of a mytherial after-life, recollection of imminent, inescapable and permanent death of the ego-self is a permanent fixture of The Way Of The Sage.
Don’t fear the reaper
People are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
Death, for instance, is not terrible… But the terror consists in our notion of death. That it is terrible.
When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles…”
– The Enchiridion
It is the very fact that we will cease to exist which makes existence itself worthwhile.
“To get everything you want is not a good thing.
Disease makes health seem sweet.
Hunger leads to the appreciation of being full-fed.
Tiredness creates the enjoyment of resting…”
This sentiment is echoed in, and in fact “Negative Reflection is the central theme of the classic samurai manual – The Hagakure:
“The Way of the Samurai is found in death.
Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.
Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords.
Being carried away by surging waves. Being thrown into the midst of a great fire. Being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake. Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master.
And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. “
– The Hagakure
‘The most wondrous thing in the world is that although, every day, innumerable creatures go to the abode of Death, still man thinks that he is immortal.’
– Prince Yudhisthira, The Mahabharata
Compare the asubha objects prescribed by the Buddha or the perception of the repulsiveness of food which is equally grim to the (Greek) Stoic training method of “Negative Visualization”…
Epictetus reminds us, for example, that our children have been given to us “for the present, not inseparably nor forever.”
His advice: “In the very act of kissing your child, silently reflect on the possibility that she could die tomorrow.”
“Sixth, consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that man’s life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Vita Brevis Est
This grim reality – this dark night of the soul is passable, but the only way around it is through it.
Upon recognizing, and then accepting and then habituating yourself to the ultimate truths of un-satisfactoriness, impermanence and no-permanent self, you become free to live fully, to fully live, and to express yourself towards your own highest potential in the only world where you will ever exist:
“There is surely nothing else other than the single purpose of the present moment.
A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment.
There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue.
Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”
– Yamamoto Tsunetomo, The Hagakure
The Sage operates outside of the realm of time.
Happiness is a state, and our duty in the world is to be in that state.
Happiness, once achieved, is all that is expected and all that we need.
Whether we are happy for a short while or a long while, makes no difference.
There is no afterlife – no history and no future for the Sage.
“Think of yourself as dead.
You have lived your life.
Now, take what’s left and live it properly.
What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
– Marcus Aurelius
The Roman philosopher Seneca advises us to live each day as if it were our last, indeed as if this very moment were our last.
He’s not suggesting that you drop your responsibilities and squander the day in frivolous or hedonistic activities.
He’s encouraging you to change your state of mind.
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life:
it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.
The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today.
You are arranging what lies in fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours.
What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining?
The whole future lies in uncertainty: Live immediately.”
By contemplating the impermanence of everything in your world, you can invest all your activities with more intensity, higher significance, greater awareness.
You realize that not only will you pass away, but that there is no permanent self, no everlasting, unchanging “I” at the core of your being, orchestrating the light show from behind the curtains in the Emerald City.
“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in it’s particulars.
Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.”
As you practice the Four Elements meditation method, you begin to not only realize, but to see – that every moment you are born and die again…
That there is no continuity of existence to be found in existence.
But – you are here, now.
You have this shot. This opportunity.
There is nothing of you that will continue forever, but there is the “you” which exists in, is conditioned by and which will fade away into oblivion in this very moment.
“Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.”
― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, The Hagakure
I challenge you to practice The Four Elements Meditation system 30 minutes a day for a month, and then let me know what happens.
Do you have the guts to see the truth?
If so, we’ll see you on the other side of the dream…