Tag Archives: Daishin Morgan

To awaken is to love

To awaken is to love, and in that love the tiresome need to put up and defend our views and opinions dissolves, and right there is an insight into things that nothing else compares with. We have to discover through personal experience how that insight, our faith and our intelligence all interrelate. For me, words and the effort to give expression to the truth continue to be of profound necessity in training. To awaken and not give expression to that awakening would be a contradiction. The struggle to find the words and the struggle to find the form our lives must take are the same struggle. I find it important to recognize that the way we represent training and enlightenment to ourselves and to others is influenced by our own existential needs. Those needs can give rise to many mistakes, yet if we engage them intimately, they impart a resonance of authenticity. How we represent the truth to ourselves and to others needs to be examined with sympathy, care and intellectual rigour. To me, this is part of what it means to cleanse the heart.

Daishin Morgan, Buddha Recognizes Buddha

I have often wondered how my instinct to put things into words might fit with the journey of awakening. I have not often had the opportunity directly to teach what I have found, nor am I a member of any institution within which publishing might be a normal and indispensable part of my life and work. So I have drifted, I suppose, into blogging. Small though my audience might be – oddly enough, it was much larger when I was blogging in a Christian context – at least I am making some effort perhaps “to give expression to the truth”.

As I have found myself increasingly at variance with institutional religion, Christian, Buddhist or whatever, and increasingly sceptical of its value either in the life of the spirit or in the life of society, so my naturally eremitical inclinations seem to have strengthened – dramatically so since the enforced isolation in which so many of us found ourselves during the earlier months of the recent pandemic. The opportunity for online fellowship and collegiality of one kind or another changes our expectations of community and communication almost daily.

Almost as an aside, I have to say how profoundly grateful I have been to Sam Harris’ Waking Up course, both as a tool for learning and exploration, and as a wholly open community of practice. I came to the course through reading Harris’ book Waking Up, having had no idea that such a thing existed, and discovered right from the introductory course that I had discovered exactly the non-religious, intellectually honest and ethically sound path I needed once I had laid down my Christian contemplative practice. Without some such place to hitch the wagon of my nascent practice of open awareness, I might have found it much more difficult to avoid losing the thread altogether, or else attaching myself to a some avowedly religious community merely in order to keep some structure in my spiritual life.

Harris’ approach, which can best be summed up in his own words (quoted here before), was exactly what I needed at that time:

Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experiences that are anything but ordinary. And the conventional opposition between humility and hubris has no place here. Yes, the cosmos is vast and appears indifferent to our mortal schemes, but every present moment of consciousness is profound. In subjective terms, each of us is identical to the very principle that brings value to the universe. Experiencing this directly—not merely thinking about it—is the true beginning of spiritual life.

Sam Harris, Waking Up, p.206

The explorations I have chronicled here and in my other blogs will go on, of course – probably as long as I do – but at times it is hard to know quite what to write. Any attempt I make at direct description of spiritual experience is almost bound to descend into hyperbole or bathos, and to try and describe life in the light of awakening would probably end up more like poetry than anything else. Maybe the value of a blog like this then is merely to carry on trying to communicate a few insights from the path of practice itself: glimpses, perhaps, from some imagined railway.

Choiceless

[One] mindfulness meditation technique is termed choiceless awareness or bare awareness. In this technique, we begin by paying attention to the sensation of the breath (this settles the mind and body), but then the instruction is to let our attention rest on whatever is most prominent in our field of awareness. This is the meditation technique I’m going to cover because it best fits the theme of the book—awakening by engaging the whole of our experience fully, however it presents itself. In the quotation that begins this chapter, Indian spiritual teacher and philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti uses the word “freedom” to describe this awakening. As a meditation practice, choiceless awareness is similar to the Zen meditation technique known as shikantaza, which roughly translates as just sitting. I love the idea of just sitting, although for me, just lying down will do—which takes me to my number one rule regarding meditation: be flexible.

Toni Bernhard, How to Wake Up, Wisdom Publications 2013, p. 104

Gradually I am coming to realise that the phrase “choiceless awareness” is not just yet another technical term for one technique among the many kinds of Buddhist (and related!) meditation, but a vital descriptor of what actually happens when we sit in stillness. Choicelessness is the open and unreserved receiving of whatever arrives – be it bodily sensation, sound, thought, desire, emotion or whatever – as simply an arising within consciousness. It is the grounding of our own awareness in the ground of being itself. There is nothing else, nowhere to go, no thing to find.

[Doing zazen] leads you closer and closer to your true nature, the primordial mind that is one with reality. Zazen is to just be this mind, which we already are, without adding anything to it. It is to accept all that arises as appearances within the mind.

Daishin Morgan, Sitting Buddha, Throssel Hole Press 2014, loc. 330

Still watchful after all these years

Christian contemplative life holds dear a sense of watchfulness: there are Psalms and other scriptures that speak of watchmen on the walls, watchmen who wait for the morning, and so on (Psalm 130:6; Isaiah 21:11; Ezekiel 3:17, among many others), and the concept has its place in most traditions of Christian contemplative practice. This is not quite the same thing as Buddhist concepts of attention or concentration – there is a sense of waiting alertness, of “keeping watch” that I don’t read in most Buddhist texts.

Watchfulness, too, brings with it a sense of stillness, of poised attentiveness that reminds me of the old Zen tradition of asking, “What is this?” As Daishin Morgan says, “To ask, ‘What is this?’ can also be expressed as ‘just look’.”

To be still is grace; and inside that gift is gratitude. True stillness is nothing less, really, than open awareness: a place into which come sense data, the movements of the mind, traces of feeling, memory. The mirror remains unclouded. Stillness allows that to be seen, opens to light.

I am, as an aside perhaps, profoundly grateful to the emerging secular dharma. The knowledge that there is a growing community of practice that does not depend upon religious traditions, or on the acceptance of either dogma or the teacher/disciple relationship (however open it may be to learning from whatever source proves nourishing) is something I missed in my early dharma investigations in the 1970s. Growing up as I did outside of formal religion has left me much more comfortable outside of its traditions, whether Christian or  Buddhist. From here, where I am, I can simply ask the question “what is this?” without needing to look for an answer that fits.

Paying attention, keeping watch – the heart too is open in stillness, and that is a solitude, a place apart from which compassion can extend, for which I am increasingly grateful – more so as the long days of this springtime pass into early summer.

Resting in the ground

Practice often seems an arduous thing. We all too easily fall into a default attitude of stress, as though our practice seat were something like a gym or an examination hall, as though there were something to prove. And indeed there is a sense of discipline (which in fact is sometimes used as an alternative term for practice) required, but there is another side altogether to our regular sitting that is too often missed.

Awakening is not something to achieve, not a goal to reach or a structure to build. It is no more than a wiping of the mirror, a clearing of the breath of anxious grasping and hunger.

Our continuing life is a response to conditions, as well as being simply itself. Even grass and trees respond to conditions, even a rock and the whole earth are constantly responding. That response depends upon the conditions. Just so with our own minds. To rest in things as they are gives rise to a response, just as an in-breath gives rise to an out-breath. The key thing about awakening the mind that seeks the way is that this response will arise from a genuine acceptance of the conditions, and that includes one’s own limitations, such that the response is what conditions call for. This is very ordinary and it is the action of saving all beings before saving yourself, because the response is no longer driven by fears and desires. The energy to respond is life released from the inhibition of fear and desire.

Morgan, Daishin. Buddha Recognizes Buddha . Throssel Hole Press. Kindle Edition.

At times nothing more is required than to rest in the ground of all that is, to be held in the gentle, unbreakable grasp of isness. Morgan continues (ibid.)

This kind of response is the action of a Buddha. In practice that is a person who gives without being concerned about achieving anything or being recognized, although they may appreciate these things if they come along. The ability to respond selflessly can never be the possession of any self. Giving oneself like this is faith. Faith, giving and the realization of one’s connectedness do not arise in a sequence. There is a simultaneity of all of these things that are just the nature of reality. There is no path to this reality, we can only precipitate ourselves into this that we already are.

This self-gift in faith is a place of rest deeper than any other. Faith like this is not belief in something, some proposition or other requiring assent: it is nothing more than allowing what is to be. Whether just sitting, or in the resilient grasp of the Nembutsu, it is no more than that.

Open Awareness

In Sōtō Zen there is a practice, Shikantaza, which is derived from a Chinese term in Caodong Buddhism, usually translated into English as “Silent Illumination”, or “Serene Reflection”. Mary Fowler, however, in a now out of print book translates it as “open awareness”, which seems to me a much better, less other-worldly translation.

Daishin Morgan:

Zazen or enlightenment os not about finding a particular state of mind, for all states of mind are fleeting and cannot be relied upon. When you know who is sitting, you know sitting Buddha. This expression is a bit strange; why not say sitting like a Buddha? I prefer to say sitting Buddha because there is nobody sitting like a Buddha; there is just sitting Buddha. That Buddha never stops sitting, but we must awaken to her presence–not that sitting Buddha is either male or female…

A theme I return to again and again is to just do the work that comes to you. Such an attitude is open-ended in the way that life itself is open. If you give yourself to the way, the way appears and that way is always changing.

Morgan, Daishin. Sitting Buddha. Throssel Hole Press. Kindle Edition

The openness here is the openness of just being: there is nothing to achieve, nothing to become. All that is necessary is to cease deceiving ourselves.

Faith and watching

In an extract published in Tricycle Magazine, from his 1998 book Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor writes:

THE FORCE OF THE TERM “agnosticism” has been lost. It has come to mean: not to hold an opinion about the questions of life and death; to say “I don’t know,” when you really mean “I don’t want to know.” When allied (and confused) with atheism, it has become part of the attitude that legitimizes an indulgent consumerism and the unreflective conformism dictated by mass media.

For T H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticism was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it as a method realized through “the rigorous application of a single principle.” He expressed this principle positively as “Follow your reason as far as it will take you,” and negatively as “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” This principle runs through the Western tradition: from Socrates, via the Reformation and the Enlightenment, to the axioms of modem science. Huxley called it “the agnostic faith.”

First and foremost the Buddha taught a method (“dharma practice“) rather than another “-ism.” The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do. The Buddha did not reveal an esoteric set of facts about reality, which we can choose to believe in or not. He challenged people to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, realize its cessation, and bring into being a way of life. The Buddha followed his reason as far as it would take him and did not pretend that any conclusion was certain unless it was demonstrable. Dharma practice has become a creed (“Buddhism”) much in the same way scientific method has degraded into the creed of “Scientism.”

Just as contemporary agnosticism has tended to lose its confidence and lapse into skepticism, so Buddhism has tended to lose its critical edge and lapse into religiosity. What each has lost, however, the other may be able to help restore. In encountering contemporary culture, the dharma may recover its agnostic imperative, while secular agnosticism may recover its soul. An agnostic Buddhist would not regard the dharma as a source of “answers” to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happens after death. He would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc. An agnostic Buddhist is not a “believer” with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense is not “religious.”

But in order to practice, whatever method one follows, one must have faith: faith that something is possible, whether one calls it enlightenment, encounter with God, minding the Light, or something else. From within the Sōtō Zen tradition, Daishin Morgan writes:

Zazen is not an absence of thought, feeling, perception and volition, it is awakening to their emptiness. The same is true of purpose and the path. Some of the best advice is never to believe that you were lost in the first place, and never hesitate to do that which you know to be needed.

To awaken is to love, and in that love the tiresome need to put up and defend our views and opinions dissolves, and right there is an insight into things that nothing else compares with. We have to discover through personal experience how that insight, our faith and our intelligence all interrelate. For me, words and the effort to give expression to the truth continue to be of profound necessity in training. To awaken and not give expression to that awakening would be a contradiction. The struggle to find the words and the struggle to find the form our lives must take are the same struggle.

Morgan, Daishin. Buddha Recognizes Buddha . Throssel Hole Press. Kindle Edition.

Faith and language may be more closely related than we know. But in love, as Morgan points out, much of the difficulty does not so much resolve as dissolve. Quakerism is sometimes described as an “experimental faith”. Daishin Morgan’s words, “We have to discover through personal experience how… insight, our faith and our intelligence all interrelate” could almost be a restatement of that. It is the wholeness of love that contains all things.

The wish and its call

Everyone would like to make sense of life, but for some people the need to explore life’s meaning cannot be ignored. This need may have been awakened in us by experiencing particular events, or it may have been felt for as long as we can remember. To know such a call is to feel its insistence. Having felt it, one can hide by running to distractions of one kind or another, but whenever there is a pause in the business of life, it is there awaiting our response. This call is the greatest blessing imaginable, and it sometimes feels like torture. Even though it makes so many demands, we would be bereft without it. When we are able to acknowledge the presence of the wish, then the wish sets all the priorities of life. The insistence of the wish drives us to understand the wish itself.

Morgan, Daishin. Buddha Recognizes Buddha, Throssel Hole Press. Kindle Edition.

These words of Daishin Morgan’s remind me once again that this wish, or call, is the centre of my own path – that it “sets all the priorities of life”. Sometimes this can be confusing, since this thing, call, wish, karma, call it what you will, seems to take no account of normal human priorities. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why those afflicted with such an impulse seem so often to take themselves off into monasteries, or into solitude. Daishin Morgan goes on,

It is the wish that draws us to meditation. We may have rational reasons for meditating and undertaking Buddhist practice, but I suggest that what calls us is something much more fundamental. It may be that we have no explanation – all we know is that there is something here of the greatest importance, and that we cannot let our lives go by without exploring it to the full. Buddhism does not contain it, and no path defines it. And yet we need guidance and some frame of reference to work within. Idealism may suggest we can manage without a commitment to any one path, but experience shows such idealism is easily subverted by one’s ego. Even though we can entangle ourselves in the technicalities and structures of a religion and so mistake the finger for the moon, sooner or later the wish makes itself felt, perhaps as a nagging doubt that impels us to stop fiddling around the edges and really commit ourselves to the wish. When that happens, the duality of the wish and its frame of reference dissolves.

The current pandemic has, as I hinted in one of my first posts here, refocused this question of entanglement in a novel way. In my last post, I suggested that the search for a language for our calling may well be an underlying cause for so many of us to seek out an established religious route for our path, and so it may. But there is also the question of discipline, for certainly discipline is required, in the first place to allow the call to set the priorities of our life (not an easy thing to allow), and then to keep at it in such a way as to give the practice time to do its work in us. This discipline is most reliably mediated by a community of those engaged in the practice too.

Classical Buddhism in all its schools speaks of taking refuge in the Three Refuges: The Buddha, the fully enlightened one; the Dharma, the nature of reality regarded as a universal truth taught by the Buddha; and the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks and nuns, and sometimes Buddhist laity. There is a similar conception in Christian contemplative life, seen clearly in Benedictine and Carthusian spirituality, as well as in the Orthodox monastic traditions surrounding the Jesus Prayer, of community as a place of shelter as well as of commitment. The contemplative path is not always easy, and sometimes it is demanding, and a community can offer support and comfort – refuge, shelter -at times when it is most needed.

The pandemic has shattered many of our established forms of community, especially for laity, who do not usually live in community in the way that monastics do, and have traditionally depended on their local church or temple, or meditation group, for support. Much of this contact has, of necessity, moved online. I suspect that some practitioners may have adopted, more or less intentionally, an effectively eremitic approach. I described some of my own gropings towards this in the last real post on my old blog.

Where is this leading, in practice? I’m not sure. There is an immense amount of teaching and shared experience available online, as well as in books – Daishin Morgan’s own being good examples – and an online eremitic tradition has been simmering under  for some time, Paul and Karen Fredette’s Raven’s Bread Ministries being the most obvious site. Perhaps the odd blog post like this one may create ripples, too, and may help the growth of connections between individuals and communities. We shall see.