This article is in response to Barbara Franken’s challenge: link
I am asked to relate my awakening experience. This article is about the time that I first became aware of all that we take to be ‘the world’ is not what we think it is. It was in 1966 and I was a 16-year-old who had hitch-hiked to Istanbul from Trieste, Italy where I lived at that time.
Asking around for a good place to spend some nights I was directed to Hotel Gülhane, the cheap hotel in which back-packers from around the world congregated. It was summer and the cheapest and coolest places were on the hotel roof in the open air. Hitch-hikers and globe-trotters from many different countries were there to enjoy the laid-back Turkish culture, the good food and cozy cafes in the Casbah. One could pay for lodging, eat and drink for about one US dollar in those days. The main past-time for most of these tourists was to enjoy some hashish (this was before the introduction of stricter drug laws) and then see where their feet would take them.
After becoming acclimated to this scenario and after a few days of just letting myself be drawn into the narrow streets and the labyrinths of the old Turkish city, I met an African-American former GI from Georgia. This man sat on his bed in his small room in the hotel with doors and windows open, playing records on one of those little Phillips record-players with the detachable loudspeaker, playing rock music and smoking hashish.
At one point I was ready and he, having been observing me since I had arrived, then offered me to smoke with him. The smoke may have been very strong or perhaps because it was my first time I was suddenly catapulted into the world under the influence of psychoactive substances. My clearest memory is that all of the sudden I and the world were not two but rather I was “embedded” in the world, as part of it. I was sitting on the floor of his room like a part of the building. Everything was as alive as I was. Speaking from my current understanding this was the experience of there being only the Subject and there was no object as an opposite. Supported by Jimi Hendrix’ song “Are You Experienced” blaring from the tiny record player I did experience everything I saw in this fundamentally new quality. It is even possible to say that there was no ‘experience’ at that point because there was no ‘experiencer’ separate from the experience. That is perhaps why there is no memory of that occurrence as one would remember a particular interaction with objects, but rather there was a very deep level of understanding activated in me that cannot be shared with anyone, because in that ‘no-state state’ there is no one else to share anything with. As Nisargadatta loves to say: “You alone are.”
For the next few days after the effect of the substance had worn off, I found myself sitting a lot of the time either in a café or a mosque or on a park bench just letting the impressions of that ‘experience’ sink in. That is what I can say about my first experience of ‘waking up’ from the trance and self-hypnosis we are conditioned into from the earliest age through society.
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
That experience in the room of Hotel Gülhane kept calling me to question our normal way of consciousness, which I than began to study and engage in discussions about. How is it that we project our beliefs onto the world such that we no longer recognize the primordial Reality behind these projections? Can deeper understanding of how consciousness works enable us to ‘see through’ the veil that is like a blindfold, all but obliterating a direct perception of that ground of consciousness?
My experience, after partaking of this mind-altering substance, demonstrated to me that there is “something else” happening here than I had been taught in school. I wanted to find out how to experience life in this way, free of the filters that distorted my perception – without the use of any substance but purely using my own mind. Questions like these have fueled my inquiry into the nature of consciousness and the mechanisms of bondage for the last fifty-two years.
Now, after decades of disciplined and also often eclectic exploration of many of the main wisdom teachings of the ancients and of the present, I have come to an understanding of the bottom line in all of these: thoughts will never lead you out of thoughts. When this understanding is clear and strong, thought subsides and all cravings for ‘outside’ stimuli lose their grip on me. It is one of the most difficult disciplines to just remain as “I am”, as beingness, without needing to further define myself. When I am able to stay alert to this state when it arises, there is immense spaciousness and peace of mind.
In my experience it is not a state that can be ‘dialed in to’ by using a certain procedure or series of steps. All ‘paths’ end up being like the raft that carried me to the other side of the stream and that I must let go of in order to step out into the new land. I am now in the practice of allowing all parts of me (all sense organs, my limbs, my mouth, my ears, my mind, my deeper intuition etc. etc.) to move as they will while not leaving stillness behind, as Lao Tzu asks us to do in the Taoteching. This requires that I be alert enough to allow stillness (our original state) come to my full awareness once it arises.
So on the one hand there is nothing I can do with my mind, etc. to attempt to ‘create’ the no-state-state of Emptiness since every movement of my entire psycho-somatic organism is creating more agitation in the field of human consciousness. On the other hand there is a certain effort involved in “wu-wei” – the movement of no movement, or, to just “let it be”. We are then advised to refrain from any intention to ‘achieve’ anything, as that intent will muddy the waters of our consciousness. How to refrain from having any intent whatsoever and yet not be drawn into the abyss of nihilism? That is where the rubber meets the road for those who have an interest in breaking free from the bondage of conditioned consciousness into the pure land of the Buddha mind.
This being said, the ancients then go on to give us steps that we can take and practices that will lead us to this goal:
It was there, and what was started as meditation, ended. Of what significance is meditation when reality is there! It was not meditation that brought reality into being, nothing can bring it into being; it was there in spite of meditation but what was necessary was a very sensitive, alert brain which had stopped entirely, willingly and easily, its chatter of reason and non-reason. It had become very quiet, seeing and listening without interpreting, without classifying; it was quiet and there was no entity or necessity to make it quiet. The brain was very still and very alive.
Guru Vacaka Kovai 175: The only worthy occupation is to thoroughly absorb the ego by turning Selfward and, without allowing it to rise, to thus abide quietly, like a waveless ocean, in Self-Knowledge, having annihilated the delusive mind-ghost, which had been wandering about unobstructed.
Zen Master Linji:
You haven’t yet gotten down to the practice of breathing, taking steps in mindfulness, recognizing your mental formations and liberating yourself from them.
Eight means of Enlightenment – Zen Master Dogen:
1. be free from desire
2. be satisfied
3. be tranquil
4. be diligent
5. remember the teachings
7. practice wisdom
8. avoid pointless talk