Zen: Voluntary and Involuntary Events


For those of you who enjoyed yesterday’s post, this is the continuation of Alan Watts‘ text in The Way of Zen:

“The sense of subjective isolation is also based on a failure to see the relativity of voluntary and involuntary events. This relativity is easily felt by watching one’s breath, for by a slight change of viewpoint it is as easy to feel that “I breathe” as that “It breathes me.” We feel that our actions are voluntary when they follow a decision, and involuntary when they happen without decision. But if decision itself were voluntary, every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide – an infinite regression which fortunately does not occur. Oddly enough, if we had to decide to decide, we would not be free to decide. We are free to decide because decision “happens.” We just decide without having the faintest understanding of how we do it. In fact, it is neither voluntary nor involuntary.

To “get the feel” of this relativity is to find another extraordinary transformation of our experience as a whole, which may be described in either of two ways. I feel that I am deciding everything that happens, or, I feel that everything, including my decisions, is just happening spontaneously. For a decision – the freest of my actions – just happens like hiccups inside me or like a bird singing outside me.

Such a way of seeing things is vividly described by a modern Zen master, the late Sokei-an Sasaki:”

One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer – as if I were being carried into something, or as if I were touching some power unknown to me … and Ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the center of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words had lost their meaning. I saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this world. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created;

I was the cosmos; no individual Mr. Sasaki existed.

1940's Photograph of Sokei-an Sasaki

1940’s Photograph of Sokei-an Sasaki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

source: Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 117

There is a story about a Zen master whose monastery was overrun by marauding soldiers. When the Zen master did not appear frightened, the soldier’s captain said, “Don’t you know who I am? I could run my sword through you and not think twice about it.” the Zen master replied, “Don’t you know who I am? You could run your sword through me and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”

Zen: The Net of Jewels


Zen: The Net of Jewels

“Thence it appears that the entire sense of subjective isolation, of being the one who was “given” a mind and to whom experience happens, is an illusion of bad semantics–the hypnotic suggestion of repeated wrong thinking. For there is no “myself” apart from the mind-body which gives structure to my experience. It is likewise ridiculous to talk of this mind-body as something which was passively and involuntarily “given” a certain structure. It is that structure, and before the structure arose there was no mind-body.
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Direct Perception and Choiceless Awareness

Myrtle Creek joins the ocean

Myrtle Creek joins the Pacific

I was out at Arizona Beach Lodge for two days over this last weekend on a private retreat. Here are some of my reflections.

My interest is to connect with those of you who are engaged in their own exploration of consciousness on the background of their direct experience. For me ‘direct experience’ is the same as direct perception. I know that sometimes the term ‘experience’ is seen as that which is recognized by the mind after the fact. For example, I see a tree and then I reflect on that ‘seeing’ and the taking in of the image of the tree. In other words, there is a subject-object relationship.  Direct experience and direct perception for me point to the pure happening of ‘me’, as one integral part of this one beingness coming into contact with another integral part, which I, out of convention, call with the word ‘tree’.
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Time is on my side…


“We see you ask yourselves where has this week gone, where has this month gone, where has this year gone? You all do it, without the realization that Time within you has sped up. Others who do not vibrate as quickly as you do; do not have the same perception of Time as you have.  Every one of your sub-atomic particles rotating within the etheric substance that flows through you as electromagnetism, creates Time for you. The faster those subatomic particles spin, the faster Time goes for each of you.
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This post is Pam’s comment to my post on the Tornado in Oklahoma and my response to her comment:

“Our Souls Touched – Tornado in Oklahoma”

Pam’s comment:

“Tomas, thank you for sharing this. Indeed our hearts go out… and break while going.

Mother Nature has not only been ignored by homosapiens (since the beginning of their ascent) but terribly abused, plundered mercilessly. Not to be pessimistic, but there is nothing we can do to eliminate the harm we’ve already caused, the repercussions of which we are now experiencing. Yes, it would be wise to listen now to Mother, as you say, and to learn from our past mistakes. But look around, what is the likelihood of that happening? Keystone Pipeline, anyone? Let’s have a little “fracking” party, perhaps? How about we fell all the Amazon trees to build new homes and shopping centers? We need more of those. And create new dams throughout the once vast tropical land; we need the water more than the native species that live there. Oh, and let’s not forget to spray our manicured lawns and those pesky little dandelions with some Round Up, not to worry that it’ll destroy the GMO’d corn & other vegetables that are being grown nearby should its mist migrate. We don’t want weeds, nor bugs, nor any other ‘alien’ lifeform, do we?

I wonder, has Mother decide we are the aliens?

Sigh. Sorry.

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