No One’s Dark House

•January 24, 2016 • 1 Comment


[Poem from this morning, perhaps fits in with recent posts…Limits of words, negation, paradox…Took the shot of the Einstein quote from a shop window in the country town of Braidwood, NSW.]

No One’s Dark House

no one leaves
no one enters

no one questions
no one answers

no one passes by
no one asks why

no one dies there
no one is born

no one remembers
no one is torn

no one speaks
no one hears

no one hates
no one fears

no one looks out
no one looks in

no one can lose
no one can win

no one enjoys
no one can suffer

no one is someone
no one is other

no one is someone
no one is other

Words, words, words (and Silence, Paradox)

•January 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment


[Third part of the ‘Mystic Materials’ selection of quotes from 2500 years, sages, scientists, poets. The last poem, Don Paterson’s, consists only of the title as given here. The name of the baby sleeping is Oscar.]

Words, Words, Words (and Silence, Paradox)

[There is no way to say It (Tao, Godhead/God, The One, The Void, Nirvana). It is not an idea or what is said, It is the saying. It is the silence within the saying. It is not the saying, nor the silence. Paradox may point to It. It is not an it, ‘out there’ or anywhere, nor an experience, ‘in here’ or anywhere.]

Lao Tzu (Laozi, first Taoist sage, 6-5th century BCE, Tao Te Ching 1 and 56)

The Tao [Way] that can be told
is not the true Tao.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The Named is the mother of all things.
Therefore let there always be non-being so we may see their subtlety,
And let there always be being so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same. […]

He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.
Close the mouth.
Guard your senses […]
Become one with the dusty world.

Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zhu, Taoist sage, c. 369-286 BCE)

The most extensive knowledge does not necessarily know it [the Tao]; reasoning will not make men wise in it. The sages have decided against both these methods.

Kena Upanishad (pre-5th-6th century BCE)

What cannot be spoken of with words, but that whereby words are spoken: Know that alone is Brahman, the Spirit; and not what people here adore.

What cannot be thought with the mind, but that whereby the mind can think: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit; and not what people here adore.

Maitri Upanishad (c. 6th-4th century BCE)

There is something beyond the mind which abides in silence within our mind. It is the supreme mystery beyond thought. Let one’s mind and one’s subtle body rest upon that and not rest on anything else.

Gautama Buddha (6-4th century BCE, from the Diamond Sutra)

Moreover, the Tathagata [Buddha] has no formulated teaching to enunciate. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that truth is uncontainable and inexpressible. It neither is nor is it not. […]

The Flower Sermon (Wikipedia)

Among adherents of Zen, the origin of Zen Buddhism is ascribed to a story, known in English as the Flower Sermon in which Sakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) transmits direct prajna (wisdom) to the disciple Mahakasyapa. In the original Sino-Japanese, the story is called nengemishō (literally “pick up flower, subtle smile”). In the story, the Buddha gives a wordless sermon to his disciples by holding up a white flower. No one in the audience understands the Flower Sermon except Mahakasyapa, who smiles. Within Zen, the Flower Sermon communicates the ineffable nature of tathata (suchness) and Mahākāśyapa’s smile signifies the direct transmission of wisdom without words. The Buddha affirmed this by saying:

‘I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma Gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.’

Basilides and Valentinus (Gnostic Christians mid second century CE, in K. Armstrong, A History of God, 1993, pp. 112-113)

The Gnostics all began with an utterly incomprehensible reality which they called the Godhead, since it was the source of the lesser being that we call ‘God’. There was nothing at all we could say about it, since it entirely eludes the grasp of our limited minds. […] it is impossible to describe the Godhead, which is neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ and cannot even be said to ‘exist’. Basilides taught that in the beginning, there had been not God but only the Godhead, which, strictly speaking, was Nothing because it did not exist in any sense that we can understand. But this Nothingness had wished to make itself known and was not content to remain alone in Depth and Silence. There was an inner revolution in the depths of its unfathomable being which resulted in a series of emanations similar to those described in the ancient pagan mythologies. The first of these emanations was the ‘God’, which we know and pray to. Yet even ‘God’ was inaccessible to us and needed further elucidation.

Plotinus (204-270 CE, The Enneads VI/9, in E. O’Brien, The Essential Plotinus, 1964, pp. 78, 80, 87)

When we wish to speak with precision, we should not say that The One is this or that, but revolving, as it were, around it, try to express our own experience of it, now drawing nigh to it, now falling back from it as a result of the difficulties involved. The chief difficulty is this: awareness of The One comes to us neither by knowing nor by the pure thought that discovers the other intelligible things, but by a presence transcending knowledge; it cannot remain simply one because knowledge implies discursive reason and discursive reason implies multiplicity. […] We must renounce knowing and knowable, every object of thought […] That is why Plato says of The One: ‘ It can neither be spoken nor written about.’ If nevertheless we speak of it and write about it, we do so only to give direction, to urge towards that vision beyond discourse, to point out the road to one desirous of seeing. Instruction goes only as far as showing the road and direction. […]

[…]The One is not a being for then its unity would repose in another than itself. There is no name that suits it, really. But, since name it we must, it may appropriately be called ‘one’, on the understanding, however, that it is not a substance that possesses unity only as an attribute. […]

Therefore is it so difficult to describe this vision, for how can we represent as different from us what seemed, while we were contemplating it, not other than ourselves but perfect at-oneness with us?

Dionysius the Areopagite (probably Syrian monk, 5th-6th century CE, The Mystical Theology, in F.C. Happold, Mysticism, p. 196)

Again, ascending higher, we maintain that He [the universal transcendent Cause of all things] is neither soul nor intellect […]; nor can He be expressed or conceived, since He is neither number, nor order; nor greatness, nor smallness; nor equality, not inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity; neither is He standing, nor moving, nor at rest; neither has He power, nor is power, nor is light; neither does He live, nor is He life; neither is He essence, nor eternity, nor time; nor is He subject to intelligible contact […]; neither one, nor oneness; nor godhead, nor goodness […]; neither does anything that is know Him as He is […]; neither is He darkness nor light, nor the false , nor the true; […]; we can neither affirm nor deny Him, inasmuch as the all-perfect and unique Cause of all things transcends all affirmation, and the simple pre-eminence of His absolute nature is outside of every negation – free from limitation and beyond them all.

Wu-Men (Mumon, Chan Master, 1183-1260 CE, from the Wu-Men Kuan/Mumonkan)

Words do not convey the fact
Language is not expedient
Attached to words your life is lost
Blocked by phrases, you are bewildered

Dai-O Kokushi (1235-1308, Zen master)

There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name […]
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air[…]
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.

O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma [teaching],
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts […]

Rumi (1207-73, Sufi master and poet, Selected Poems, transl. by Coleman Barks)

But uncle, O uncle,
the universe of the creation-word,
the divine command to Be, that universe
of qualities is beyond any pointing to.

More intelligent than intellect,
and more spiritual than spirit.

No being is unconnected
to that reality, and that connection
cannot be said. There, there’s
no separation and no return. […]

Keep wanting that connection
with all your pulsing energy.
The throbbing vein
will take you further
than any thinking.

Muhammad said, ‘Don’t theorize
about essence!’ All speculations
are just more layers of covering.
Human beings love coverings!

They think the designs on the curtains
are what’s being concealed.

Observe the wonders as they occur around you.
Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry
moving through, and be silent.

Or say, ‘I cannot praise You
as You should be praised.
Such words are infinitely
beyond my understanding.’

Meister Eckhart (1267-1327, German Sermon 5, pp. 128-130, German Sermon 28, p. 236)

[…] I speak of the purity of the divine nature, and of the radiance within it which is ineffable. God is a word: an unspoken word. […] God is above names and nature. […] There is no name we can devise for God. […] All creatures are the utterance of God. If my mouth speaks and declares God, so too does the being of a stone, and we understand more by works than by words. […] you must die to all things and must be in-formed into the heights where we dwell in the Holy Spirit.


Now pay attention to this. God is nameless for no one can either speak of him or know him. […] If I say again that ‘God is wise’, then this too is not true. I am wiser than he is! Or if I say that ‘God exists’, this is also not true. He is being beyond being: he is nothingness beyond being. Therefore St Augustine says: ‘The finest thing that we can say of God is to be silent concerning him from the wisdom of inner riches.’ Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. […] Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master [Augustine, Sermon 117] says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God.’

Kabbala (G. Scholem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit, 1962, p. 31, own translation PL-N)

[In the Medieval Jewish Kabbala] The hidden Godhead – En-Sof, the Infinite ‒, as it rests unknowable in the deep of its own essence, is without form since it stands above all statements and can only be aimed at via negation, indeed via the negation of all negations. There are no images that represent it, no names that name it.

Fritz Mauthner (Beiträge zu einer Kritik der Sprache, 1906, transl. PL-N, pp. 42, 49)

Because language is a social power between people, it also exerts power over the thoughts of the individual. It is language which thinks in us; it is language which creates poetry within us. The feeling often expressed as ‘It is not me thinking, it is thinking in me’ – this feeling of compulsion is correct. [..] All humans relate to each other as reciprocal hypnotisers and hypnotised, all humans let themselves be manipulated by obsessive-compulsive notions expressed in words […]

Nature is completely speechless. He who would understand her, would also become speechless.

T.S. Eliot (‘Burnt Norton’, in Four Quartets, 1943)

Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.

R.H. Blyth (Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, 1942, pp. 166, 187, 195)

[…]The point to be grasped is that in some ways language is wiser than the men who use it; that often we say more than we mean, especially the poets; that we speak more truly than we know. Further, that figures of speech, when passion-inspired, reveal the identity of what is separated by the logical intellect. And last, that we should constantly strive, in our reading of literature, to recreate with the writer, that mood in which we are able, if only for a moment, to apprehend things in their unity, their oneness of nature, their absoluteness. […]

The perception of the real meaning of a paradox may take several forms, which we call humour, or poetry, or religion. In any case, some vivacity of energy is required lest the intellect should arrive and split hairs. The poetical or religious meaning can never be explained any more than a joke can be explained. […] Truth is expressible only in the form of a paradox. What is not paradoxical is not true; is not living, inexpressible truth.

H.L. Mencken (US satirist and cultural critic 1880-1956)

Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.

D.E. Harding (On Having No Head, 1961, pp. 10-11)

[…]the longer the post-mortem examination drags on, the further it gets from the living original. At best, these descriptions can remind one of the vision (without the bright awareness) or invite a recurrence of it; but they can no more convey its essential quality, or ensure a recurrence, than the most appetising menu can taste like the dinner, or the best book about humour enable one to see the joke. On the other hand, it is impossible to stop thinking for long, and some attempt to relate the lucid intervals of one’s life to the confused background is inevitable. It could also encourage, indirectly, the recurrence of lucidity.

Thomas Merton (‘Message to Poets’, in Raids on the Unspeakable, 1964, p. 160, Choosing to Love the World, 2008, pp. 106, 109, ‘Thoughts in Solitude’ and Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968, pp. 48-49)

Let us [poets] be proud that we are not experts in anything. Let us be proud of the words that are given to us for nothing; not to teach anyone, not to confute anyone, not to prove anyone absurd, but to point beyond all objects into the silence where nothing can be said.
We are not persuaders. We are the children of the Unknown. We are the ministers of silence that is needed to cure all victims of absurdity who lie dying of a contrived joy.


The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquillity of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our busyness, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about out purposes, our busyness, and our noise: these are the illusion.


For language to have meaning there must be intervals of silence somewhere, to divide word from word and utterance from utterance. He who retires into silence does not necessarily hate language. Perhaps it is love and respect for language which imposes silence upon him. For the mercy of God is not heard in words unless it is heard, both before and after the words are spoken, in silence.


Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world of silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves, because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.


The language used by Zen is therefore in some sense an anti-language, and the ‘logic’ of Zen is a radical reversal of philosophical logic. The human dilemma of communication is that we cannot communicate ordinarily without words and signs, but even ordinary experience tends to be falsified by our habits of verbalization and rationalization. […] Instead of seeing things and facts as they are we see them as reflections and verifications of the sentences we have previously made up in our minds. We quickly forget how to simply see things and substitute our words and our formulas for the things themselves, manipulating facts so that we see only what conveniently fits our prejudices. Zen uses language against itself to blast out these preconceptions and to destroy the specious ‘reality’ in our minds so that we can see directly. Zen is saying, as Wittgenstein said, ‘Don’t think: Look!’

Jiddu Krishnamurti (‘The Only Revolution’, in The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader, 1970, p. 117 and The Wholeness of Life)

Sit, sometime, on the bank of a river and look into the water. Don’t be hypnotized by the movement of the water, by the light, the clarity and depth of the stream. Look at it without any movement of thought. The silence is all round you, in you, in the river, and in those trees that are utterly still. You can’t take it back home, hold it in your mind or your hand and think you have achieved some extraordinary state. If you have, then it is not silence; then it is merely a memory, an imagining, a romantic escape from the daily noise of life.

Because of silence everything exists. The music you heard this morning came to you out of silence, and you heard it because you were silent, and it went beyond you in silence. Only we don’t listen to the silence because our ears are full of the chatter of the mind. […] Silence is where you are, in yourself and beside yourself.


Silence demands space, space in the whole structure of consciousness. There is no space in the structure of one’s consciousness as it is, because it is crowded with fears – crowded, chattering, chattering. When there is silence, there is immense, timeless space; then only is there a possibility of coming upon that which is the eternal, sacred.

Alan Watts (The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, 1966, p. 140, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, 1973, p. 126, In My Own Way, 1972, p. 378)

The difficulty is not only that language is dualistic, insofar as words are labels for mutually exclusive classes. The problem is that IT is so much more myself than I thought I was, so central and so basic to my existence that I cannot make it an object. There is no way to stand outside IT, and, in fact, no need to do so. For so long as I am trying to grasp IT, I am implying that IT is not really myself. If it were possible, I am losing the sense of it by attempting to find it. This is why those who really know that they are IT invariably say they do not understand it, for IT understands understanding – not the other way about. […]

But the fact that IT eludes every description must not, as happens so often, be mistaken for the description of IT as the airiest of abstractions, as a literal transparent continuum or undifferentiated cosmic jello. […] Yet in speaking and thinking of IT, there is no alternative to the use of conceptions and images, and no harm in it so long as we realize what we are doing. Idolatry is not the use of images, but confusing them with what they represent, and in this respect mental images and lofty abstractions can be more insidious than bronze idols. […]

Real religion has nothing to do with words. It is a silent, effortless, and fascinated concentration on the basic energy, the fundamental and musical vibration of the world – which, as Saint Thomas Aquinas might have said, “is what all men call God.” You do religion as you breathe easily, slowly, and delightedly, or listen intently to a bird singing at dawn, or die a surfboard on the exact dynamic centre of an immense wave. […]

By such reflections I think myself into silence and, by writing, help others similarly spellbound by thoughts and words to come to silence – which is the realization that a linear code cannot justly represent a non-linear world.

Non-Western Monotheism (in K. Armstrong, A History of God, 1993, p. 403)

We have seen that though the idea of God as the Supreme Being had gained ascendancy in the West, other monotheistic traditions had gone out of their way to separate themselves from this type of theology. Jews, Muslims and [Eastern] Orthodox Christians had all insisted in their different ways that our human idea of God did not correspond to the ineffable reality of which it was a mere symbol. All has suggested, at one time or another, that it was more accurate to describe God as ‘Nothing’ rather than the Supreme Being, since ‘he’ did not exist in any way that we could conceive. Over the centuries, the West had gradually lost sight of this more imaginative conception of God.

R.D. Laing (The Bird of Paradise, 1967, p. 156)

There is really nothing more to say when we come back to that beginning of all beginnings that is nothing all. Only when you begin to lose that Alpha and Omega do you want to start to talk and to write, and then there is no end to it, words, words, words. At best and most they are perhaps in memoriam, evocations, conjurations, incantations, emanations, shimmering, iridescent flares in the sky of darkness, a just still feasible tact, indiscretions, perhaps forgivable… […]

If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know.

Sir Arthur Eddington (The Nature of the Physical World, 1928, p. 330 and pp. 280-281)

The physicist now regards his own external world in a way which I can only describe as more mystical, though not less exact and practical, than that which prevailed some years ago, when it was taken for granted that nothing could be true unless an engineer could make a model of it. […]

The spectacle [of atoms and electrons] is so fascinating that we have perhaps forgotten that there was a time when we wanted to be told what an electron is. The question was never answered … Something unknown is doing we don’t know what – that is what our theory amounts to. It does not sound a particularly illuminating theory. I have read something like it elsewhere:

The slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

There is the same suggestion of activity. There is the same indefiniteness as to the nature of the activity and of what it is that is acting.

Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (‘Parmenides und die Quantentheorie’ in Die Einheit der Natur, 1971, p. 480, own translation P-LN)

The recognition of a meditative or mystical experience of oneness is not an avoidance of rationality but rather […] a consequence of an understanding of the essence of rationality. Rationally arguing philosophy can then be a preparation or an explication of this experience; it can also be an explication of the recognition of the possibility of this experience. Mystics have in fact found an explication of their experience in the philosophy of the One. […] On the other hand, mystical experience is as little philosophy as sensory perception is science.

Fritjof Capra (The Tao of Physics, 1975, pp. 28-29)

For most of us it is very difficult to be constantly aware of the limitations and of the relativity of conceptual knowledge. Because our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and to take our concepts and symbols for reality. It is one of the main aims of Eastern mysticism to rid us of this confusion. […] It is, so we are told by Buddhists, the direct experience of undifferentiated, undivided, indeterminate ‘suchness’ [tathata]. Complete apprehension of this suchness is not only the core of Eastern mysticism, but is the central characteristic of all mystical experience.

David Bohm (Wholeness and the Implicate Order, 1981, p. 3)

What will be emphasized, first of all in scientific research and later in a more general context, is that fragmentation is continually being brought about by the almost universal habit of taking the content of our thought for ‘a description of the world as it is.’ Or we could say that, in this habit, our thought is regarded as in direct correspondence with objective reality. Since our thought is pervaded with differences and distinctions, it follows that such a habit leads us to look on these as real divisions, so that the world is then seen and experienced as actually broken up into fragments.

Paul Davies (The Matter Myth, 1991, pp. 20-21)

The founders of quantum mechanics, notably Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, argued that when we talk of atoms, electrons, and so on, we must not fall into the trap of imagining them as little things, existing independently in their own right. Quantum mechanics enables us to relate different observations made on, say, an atom. […] It [the word ‘atom’] is a helpful means of encapsulating that abstract concept in physical language, but that does not mean that the atom is actually there as a well-defined entity with a complete set of physical attributes of its own, such as definite location in space and a definite velocity through space. [..] Bohr expressed it thus: ‘Physics is not about how the world is, it is about what we can say about the world.’

Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950, founder of General Semantics)

The map is not the territory.

M. Conrad Hyers (Zen and the Comic Spirit, 1974, p. 149)

It is difficult to imagine the word-oriented Near Eastern religions, with their stress upon the Word of creation, the prophetic Word, the biblical Word, the Incarnate Word, the kerygmatic Word etc., including [like Te-shan/Tokusan in Zen] in their lists of holy men one who demonstrated his spiritual realisation by burning the scriptures, whether Torah, Gospels or Quran – although there have been numerous instances of burning other peoples’ books and bibles. But in a very real sense in Zen, as in mysticism generally, inner illumination implies the burning of all words. The Word of scripture or of reason is at most only an occasion for the realisation of that ‘wordless Dharma’ which is beyond all words, and in relation to which even the most sacred words stand in the awkwardness of hiding and obstructing that which they would reveal. The final word is silence, pregnant with meaning.

Poets on Words and Silence

‘Words are the enemy of poetry.’ – Russel Edson (2000)
‘Language is not commensurate to the world. Something slips in the telling.’ – Carolyn Forché (2005)
‘I find language is well after the fact; and the fact is a way of seeing, feeling, thinking that is pre-linguistic, that is in blocks of imagery, in blocks of feeling.’ – Gary Snyder (1991)
‘However remarkable the text may be, its poetic quality depends on its author having known how to keep alive in it the light of what is beyond language.’ – Yves Bonnefoy (2005)
‘Poetry is an experience of limits: it travels around the borderlines of what can be named and what must be left unnamed.’ – Kevin Hart (1999)
‘Poetry’s essence is not to show or to tell as we say of fiction, but to reveal.’ – Brendan Kennelly (1995)
‘The novel relates; the poem tries to leave unsaid as much as possible.’ – Charles Simic (1996)
‘A poem is an interruption of silence, whereas prose is a continuation of noise.’ – Billy Collins (2001)
‘Poetry [is] …a sculpture of silence. It is precisely this inclusion of silence in words that distinguishes the poem from prose. The difficult thing is making the silence be heard, making it be felt.’ – Eugene Guillevic (1999)
‘Lyric poetry speaks out of a solitude to a solitude. It begins and ends in silence.’ – Edward Hirsch (2003)
‘Poetry is only there to frame the silence. There is silence between each verse and silence at the end.’ – Alice Oswald (2005)
‘Poetry is the closest literary form we have to silence.’ – Marianne Boruch (1994)

Denise Levertov (‘Beyond the Field’, in This Great Unknowing. Last Poems, 1999)

Light, flake by flake touching down on surface tension
of ocean, strolling there before diving forever under.

Tectonic plates inaudibly grinding, shifting –
monumental fidgets.

The mind’s far edges twitch, sensing
kinships beyond reach.

Too much unseen, unknown, unknowable,
assumed missing therefore:

shadings, clues, transitions linking
rivers of event, imaged, not imaged, a flood

that rushes towards us, through us, away
beyond us before we wheel to face what seems

a trace of passages, ripple already stilling itself
in tall grass near the fence of the mind’s field.

Peter Everwine: Distance

The light pulling away from trees,
the trees speaking in shadows
to whatever listens…

Something as common as water
turns away from our faces
and leaves.

The stars rise out of the hills
-old kings and animals
marching in their thin tunnels of light.

Once more I find myself
standing on a dark pier, holding
an enormous rope of silence.

Don Paterson: On Going to Meet a Zen Master in the Kyushu Mountains and Not Finding Him
for A.G.

Enlightenment, Realization, Insight, Wisdom

•January 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment


[Second part of my ‘Mystical Materials’, a 62 page selection of quotes I’ve gathered from 2500 years ago to today, this time on ‘Enlightenment’. Again, the people quoted are mystics, poets, scientists, Zen masters, East and West. Wasn’t going to continue after the first post on the ‘Self Illusion’, as a blog does not seem to be the ideal place to place such radical, confronting notions (needing as they do more space, breath and touch, like most poems, i.e. more than the usual online skimming and instant ‘like/don’t like’ conditioned reactions). However, a comment by my friend James in Melbourne on the last post has motivated me to do so. Perhaps just try browsing the quotes till one or two resonate strongly with you, and then stick to them? Dunno, they all resonate with me. Shot of sun on water taken on south coast.]

Realization, Enlightenment, Insight, Wisdom

[Enlightenment that can be described is not enlightenment. It is dying to the self-illusion and understanding ‘You’ already are ‘enlightened’, are ineffable, unborn/undying, wide open ‘Emptiness’. For you to ‘seek or attain enlightenment’ is a self-contradiction for there is no ‘you’ that can seek or attain, nothing to be liberated, nothing to be attained. This liberation is not a thing or event or experience that happens or belongs to someone and thus can be ‘had’ and described. It is not ‘achieved’ by any technique whatsoever. Some call it insight: ‘letting go’, being original ‘emptiness’ or ‘witnessing awareness’, direct, choiceless seeing (not judging or thinking-analysing) how mind-self-world functions, constructs, identifies, attaches, grasps, flees. It is not a flight from the world but a complete opening to it. The world and enlightenment, samsara and nirvana, are one. ‘The speechless full moon comes out now.’]

Gautama Buddha (from the Diamond Sutra and S. Batchelor, Living with the Devil, 2004, pp. 6-8)

Through the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment I acquired not even the least thing; wherefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’

Furthermore, Subhuti, This is altogether everywhere, without differentiation or degree; wherefore it is called ‘Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment.’ It is straightly attained by freedom from separate personal selfhood and by cultivating all kinds of goodness. Subhuti, although we speak of ‘goodness’, the Tathagata declares that there is no goodness; such is merely a name.


At the heart of Buddha’s awakening lies a counterintuitive recognition of human experience as radically transient, unreliable, and contingent. By paying sustained, unsentimental attention to life as it unfolded within and around him, Siddartha Gotama (the historical Buddha) realized that no essential self either underpinned or stood back and viewed the integrated display of colours, shapes, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise and vanish in each moment of consciousness. This startling insight shook him to the core of what he felt himself to be. The instinctive conviction of being an unchanging, isolated ‘I’ collapsed. Life was just a dazzlingly tentative array of contingent processes, playing themselves out in complex sequences of causes and effects but with no discernible beginning and no divine power mysteriously directing them to a preordained end.

Gotama found this revelation of a selfless and Godless reality to be deeply liberating. He was freed from the self-centred compulsions and fears that had trapped him in seemingly endless cycles of boredom and anguish. He referred to this freedom as ‘nirvana’ – literally a ‘blowing out’ of the ‘fires’ of such existential discontent. Elsewhere, he spoke of this as ‘emptiness’: an open space where the idea of being an isolated and permanent self is no longer able to ensnare one. This emptiness is ‘the abode of a great person’, where one can encounter and respond to the world from a selfless but caring perspective. […] rather than an absence of meaning and value, emptiness is an absence of what limits and confines one’s capacity to realize what human life can potentially become. […] Emptiness is not something sacred in which to believe. It is an emptying: a letting go of the fixations and compulsions that lock one into a tight cell of self that seems to exist in detached isolation from the turbulent flux of life.

Vimalakirti Sutra (c. 100 CE, Mahayana Buddhist)

There is no body in which enlightenment is to be realized, and no mind by which enlightenment is to be realized.

Plotinus (204-270 CE, The Enneads VI/9, in E. O’Brien, The Essential Plotinus, pp. 82-83, 87, and V/3)

Do not let yourself be distracted by anything exterior, for The One is not in some one place, depriving all the rest of its presence. […] It is impossible for a soul, impressed with something else, to conceive of The One so long as such an impression occupies its attention. […] So must the soul […] be stripped of all forms if it would be filled and fired by the supreme without any hindrance from within itself. Having thus freed itself of all externals, the soul must turn totally inward; not allowing itself to be wrested back towards the outer, it must forget everything, the subjective first and, finally, the objective. It must not even know that it is itself that is applying itself to contemplation of The One. […]

Therefore is it so very difficult to describe this vision, for how can we represent as different from us what seemed, while we were contemplating it, not other than ourselves but perfect at-oneness with us? […]

The vision, in any case, did not imply duality; the man who saw was identical with what he saw. Hence he did not ‘see’ it but rather was ‘oned’ with it. […] In that state he had attained unity, nothing within him or without effecting diversity. When he had made his ascent, there was within him no disturbance, no anger, emotion, desire, reason, or thought. Actually, he was no longer himself; but swept away and filled with the divine, he was still, solitary, and at rest, not turning to this side or that or even towards himself. He was utter rest, having, so to say, become rest itself. […]
But how is this to be accomplished?

Cut away everything.

Hui-Neng (638-713 CE, Chan master, from The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch or Liu-tsu t’an-ching)

Learned Audience, the Wisdom of Enlightenment is inherent in every one of us. It is because of the delusion under which our mind works that we fail to realise it ourselves, and that we have to seek the advice and guidance of enlightened ones before we can know our Essence of Mind. You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realises it, while the other is ignorant of it. […]

To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain Samadhi (Bliss) of Prajna (Insight), which is ‘thoughtlessness’. What is ‘thoughtlessness’? ‘Thoughtlessness’ is to see and to know all dharmas [things] with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. [..] But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.

Learned Audience, it has been the tradition of our school to take ‘idea-lessness’ as our object, ‘non-objectivity’ as our basis, and ‘non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle. ‘Non-objectivity’ means not to be absorbed by objects when in contact with objects. ‘Idea-lessness’ means not to be carried away by any particular idea in the exercise of the mental faculty. ‘Non-attachment’ is the characteristic of our Essence of Mind. All things good or bad, beautiful or ugly, should be treated as void.

Ma-tsu (Jap. Baso, d. 788 CE, Chan master)

A monk asked: ‘Why do you teach that Mind is no other than Buddha?’
Ma-tsu answered: ‘In order to make a child stop its crying’.
‘When the crying is stopped, what would you say?’
‘Neither Mind nor Buddha’.
‘What teaching would you give to him who is not in these two groups?’
‘I will say, It is not something.’
‘If you unexpectedly interview a person who is in it, what would you do?’
‘I will let him realize the great Tao.’

Baizhang Hui Hai (720-814 CE, Chan master, from the Path to Sudden Attainment and The Tsung Ching Record)

When your mind moves, do not follow it up and it will cut itself off from motion. When your mind rests on something, do not follow it up either and it will cut itself off from that on which it rests. That is the non-abiding mind or the mind which dwells in no abiding place. […] If you clearly realise for yourself that your mind does not abide anywhere whatsoever, that is called clearly perceiving your real mind. It is also called clearly perceiving reality. Only the mind which abides nowhere is the mind of a Buddha. It can also be described as a mind set free, the Bodhi-mind or birthless mind. Another name for this is Voidness of the nature of phenomena. […]

You should know that setting forth the principle of deliverance in its entirety amounts only to this – when things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever; keep them for ever still as the Void and utterly pure, and thereby attain spontaneous deliverance. Oh do not seek for empty fame, mouthing forth talk of the Absolute with minds like those of apes! […]

Our Nature, which is intrinsically pure, does not rely on any practice in order to achieve its own state. Only the arrogant claim that there are practice and realization. The real void is without obstruction and its function is, under all circumstances, inexhaustible. It is without beginning or end.

Huangbo Xiyun (d. 850 CE, Chan master, from the Chün Chou Record)

But whether they transcend conceptual thought by a longer or a shorter way, the result is a state of BEING; there is not pious practising and no action of realising. That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk, it is the truth. [..] This state of being admits of no degrees […] So if you students of the Way [Tao] are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognising that it is Buddha, you will consequently look for him elsewhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realisation by such graduated practices. But, even after aeons of diligent searching, you will not be able to attain the Way.

These methods cannot be compared to the sudden elimination of conceptual thought, the certain knowledge that there is nothing at all which has absolute existence, nothing on which to lay hold, nothing on which to rely, nothing in which to abide, nothing subjective or objective. It is by preventing the rise of conceptual thought that you will realise Bodhi; and when you do, you will just be realising the Buddha who has always existed in your own Mind! […] There is only one reality, neither to be realised nor attained. To say ‘I am able to realise something’ or ‘I am able to attain something’ is to place yourself among the arrogant. […] Therefore the Buddha said: ‘I truly obtained nothing from Enlightenment.’ […]

If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind. […] You people go on misunderstanding; you hold to concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, directing your thoughts outwards where they gallop about like horses!

Nan-ch’üan (748-834, Chan master, in Wu-Men Kuan/Mumonkan 19)

Chao-chou is said to have had his awakening after the following incident with master Nan-ch’üan:
Chao-chou: ‘What is the Tao?
Nan-ch’üan: ‘Your ordinary [natural] mind is the Tao.’
‘How can one return into accord with it?’
‘By intending to accord you immediately deviate.’
‘But without intention, how can one know the Tao?’
‘The Tao belongs neither to knowing nor to not knowing. Knowing is false understanding; not knowing is blind ignorance. If you really understand the Tao beyond doubt, it’s like the empty sky. How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?

Wu-Men’s verse on the above (13th century):

Spring comes with flowers, autumn with the moon,
Summer with breeze, winter with snow.
When idle concerns don’t hang in your mind,
That is your best season.

Lin-chi I-Hsüan (d. 867, Chan master)

When it’s time to get dressed, put on your clothes. When you must walk, walk. When you must sit, then sit. Don’t have a single thought in your mind about seeking for Buddahood.[…] To seek the Buddha and to seek the Dharma [true teaching, Law] is at once to make karma which leads to hells. To seek (to be) Bodhisattvas [compassionate forms of enlightened Buddhas] is also making karma, and likewise studying the sutras and commentaries. […] What Dharma do you say must be realized, and what Tao cultivated? What do you lack in the way you are functioning right now? What will you add to where you are?

Han Shan (Tang Dynasty, 9th century CE poet)

I took a walk. Suddenly I stood still, filled with the realization that I had no body or mind. All I could see was one great illuminating Whole – omnipresent, perfect, lucid, and serene. It was like an all-embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were projected…I felt clear and transparent.

Wu-Men (Jap. Mumon, 1183-1260, Chan Master)

Because it is so very clear
It takes so long to realise.
If you just know that flame is fire,
You’ll find your rice has long been cooked.

Zenrin poem

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Dogen (1200-1253, Japanese Soto Zen master)

To study the Way [Tao/Zen] is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.

Mind and body dropped off! Dropped off! Dropped off! This state must be experienced by all; it is like piling fruit into a basket without a bottom, it is like pouring water into a bowl with a hole in it.

Hakuin (1685-1768, Japanese Rinzai Zen master)

Not knowing how near the Truth is, people seek it far away – what a pity!
They are like him who, in the midst of water,
Cries in thirst so imploringly […]
For those who, reflecting within themselves,
Testify to the truth of Self-nature,
To the truth that Self-nature is no-nature,
They have really gone beyond the ken of sophistry […]
Abiding with the not-particular which is in the particulars,
Whether going or returning, they remain for ever unmoved;
Taking hold of the not-thought which lies in thoughts,
In every act of theirs they hear the voice of truth.
How boundless the sky of Samadhi [bliss, enlightenment] unfettered! […]
This very earth is the Lotus Land of Purity,
And this body is the body of the Buddha.


All of a sudden you find your mind and body wiped out of existence. This is what is known as letting go your hold. As you regain your breath it is like drinking water and knowing it is cold. It is joy inexpressible.

Rumi (or Jelaluddin Balkhi, Sufi master and poet, 1207-1273)

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

Behead yourself! Dissolve
Your whole body into vision.
Become seeing, seeing, seeing!

Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
And be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1327, German Sermons 16, 18, 22, 24 and The Talks of Instruction)

If my eye is to perceive colour, it must be free of all colours. If I see the colour blue or white, then the seeing of my eye, which perceives the colour, is exactly the same as what it sees, as what is seen by the eye. The eye with which I see God is exactly the same eye with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowledge and one love.

That person who is thus rooted in God’s love must be dead to themselves and to all created things so that they are no more concerned with themselves than they are with someone who is over a thousand miles away. Such a person remains in likeness and in unity and is always the same. No unlikeness enters them. This person must have abandoned themselves and the whole world.


Nothing that knowledge can grasp or desire can want, is God. Where knowledge and desire end, there is darkness, and there God shines. […] There is in the soul a power which finds all things equally pleasing. In fact, the very worst and the very best thing are exactly the same for this power, which receives everything from a position above the here and now. […] If only the soul remained within, she would find all things present there. There is a power in the soul, which is not merely a power but is rather being, and not just being, but rather something that liberates from being. […] Now know this: all our perfection and all our blessedness depends upon our breaking through, passing beyond all createdness, all temporality and all being and entering into the ground that is without ground.


[…] For there is another kind of poverty, which is internal, and which is referred to by Our Lord when he says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Now, I ask you to be poor enough to understand what it is that I am saying to you, for I declare by Eternal Wisdom that if you do not yourself become the same as that Wisdom of which we wish to speak, then my words will mean nothing to you. […]
We can improve on this by saying that a poor person is someone who desires nothing, knows nothing and possesses nothing. […] If we are to have true poverty, then we must be so free of our own created will as we were before we were created. I tell you by the eternal truth that as long as you have the will to perform God’s will, and a desire for eternity and for God, you are not yet poor. They alone are poor who will nothing and desire nothing.


For what is familiar to you is in truth your enemy. […] Therefore a master says: if someone is to perform an inner work, they must draw in all their powers as if in the corner of their soul, hiding from all images and forms, and then they shall be able to act. They must thus enter a forgetfulness and an unknowing. Where this word is to be heard, there must be stillness and silence. We cannot serve this word better than with stillness and silence; there it can be heard and properly understood, and there we are in a state of unknowing.


Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, then take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

Kabir (15th century CE, poet, weaver, from The Kabir Book, 1977, version by Robert Bly)

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travellers on the river road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

St John of the Cross (1542-1591, in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, 1901, p. 127)

I stood enraptured in ecstasy, beside myself, and in my every sense no sense remained. My spirit was endowed with understanding, understanding nought, all science transcending. The higher I ascended the less I understood. It is the dark cloud illumining the night. Therefore he who understands knows nothing, ever all science transcending. He who really ascends so high annihilates himself, and all his previous knowledge seems ever less and less; his knowledge so increases that he knows nothing, all science transcending.

Jacob Böhme (1575-1624, cobbler, sage, in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, pp. 153-156)

If you behold your own self and the outer world, and what is taking place therein, you will find that you, with regard to your external being, are that external world.

Not I, the I that I am, know these things: But God knows them in me. […] I am not come to this meaning, or to this work and knowledge through my own reason, or through my own will and purpose; neither have I sought this knowledge, not so much as know anything concerning it.
The scholar said to his master: ‘How may I come to the supersensual life, that I may see God and hear him speak?’ His master said: ‘When you can throw yourself but for a moment into that where no creature dwells, then you hear what God does speak. Scholar: ‘Is that near at hand or far off?’

Master: ‘It is in you, and if you can for a while cease from all your thinking and willing, you shall hear unspeakable words of God.’

Scholar: ‘How can I hear when I stand still from thinking and willing?’

Master: ‘When you stand still from the thinking and willing of self, the eternal hearing, seeing and speaking will be revealed to you, and so God hears and sees through you. Your own hearing, willing and seeing does hinder you so you do not see or hear God.’

Scholar: ‘Wherewithal shall I hear and see God, being he is above nature and creature?’

Master: ‘When you are quiet or silent, then you are that which God was before nature and creature, and whereof he made your nature and creature. Then you hear and see with that wherewith God saw and heard in you before your own willing, seeing and hearing began.’ […]

Bankei (1622-93, Japanese Zen master)

A layman asked, ‘I appreciate very much your instruction about the Unborn [fusho: the mind which does not arise or appear in the realm of symbolic knowledge], but by force of habit second thoughts keep tending to arise, and being confused by them it is difficult to be in perfect accord with the Unborn. How am I to trust in it entirely?

Bankei said: ‘If you make an attempt to stop the second thoughts which arise, then the mind which does the stopping and the mind which is stopped become divided, and there is no occasion for peace of mind. So it is best for you simply to believe that originally there is no (possibility of control by) second thoughts. Yet because of karmic affinity, through what you see and what you hear these thoughts arise and vanish temporarily, but are without substance. […]

Brushing off thoughts which arise is just like washing off blood with blood. We remain impure because of being washed with blood, even when the blood that was first there has gone – and if we continue in this way the impurity never departs. This is from ignorance of the mind’s unborn, unvanishing, and unconfused nature. If we take second thoughts for an effective reality, we keep going on and on around the wheel of birth-and-death. You should realize that such thought is just temporary mental construction, and not try to hold or to reject it. Let it alone just as it occurs and just as it ceases. It is like an image reflected in a mirror. The mirror is clear and reflects anything which comes before it, and yet no image sticks to the mirror. The Buddha mind (i.e. the real, unborn mind) is ten thousand times more clear than a mirror, and more inexpressibly marvellous. In its light all such thoughts vanish without trace.’

Edward Carpenter (in The Labour Prophet 1894, quoted in R.M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, 1901, pp. 204-206)

I became for some time overwhelmingly conscious of the disclosure within me of a region transcending in some sense the ordinary bounds of personality, in the light of which region my own idiosyncrasies of character – defects, accomplishments, limitations, or what not – appeared of no importance whatsoever – an absolute freedom from mortality, accompanied by an indescribable calm and joy.

I also immediately saw, or felt, that this region of self existing in me existed equally (though not always equally consciously) in others. In regard to it the mere diversities of temperament which ordinarily distinguish and divide people dropped away and became indifferent, and a field was opened in which all might meet, in which all are truly equal.[…]

All I can say is that there seems to be a vision possible to man, as from some more universal standpoint free from the obscurity and localism which specially connect themselves with the passing clouds of desire, fear, and all ordinary thought and emotion; in that sense another and separate faculty; and as vision always means a sense of light, so here is a sense of inward light, unconnected of course with the mortal eye, but bringing to the eye of the mind the impression that it sees, and by means of the medium which washes, as it were, the interior surfaces of all objects and things and persons – how can I express it? And yet this is most defective, for the sense is a sense that one is those objects and things and persons that one perceives (and the whole universe) – a sense in which sight and touch and hearing are all fused in identity. […]

And now with regard to the ‘I’ which occurs so freely in this book. […] What or who in the main is the ‘I’ spoken of? To this question I must also frankly own that I can give no answer. I do not know. That the word is not used in the dramatic sense is all I can say. The ‘I’ is myself, as well as I could find words to express myself; but what that self is, and what its limits may be – and therefore what the self of any other person is and what its limits may be ‒ I cannot tell.

T.S. Eliot (from ‘East Coker’ and ‘Little Gidding’, in Four Quartets, 1943 and from ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, 1919)

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. […]

Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well […]


What happens [in poetry writing] is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. […] And emotions he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. […] Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.

Seamus Heaney (Irish poet, 1994)

The command which is unspoken but deep in the mystery of poetry is to somehow abdicate from audience, from self-promotion or self-alignment, and to go towards the subject, to give yourself over and disappear.

R.H. Blyth (Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, 1942, p. 224)

The servant has given the dog a bone. He comes into the room carrying it. He is blind and deaf to everything else, his world is the size and shape and colour and taste of the bone. I sit and look at the dog, and for a few moments there is nothing between me and the dog and the bone, nothing separating, nothing joining us. You could, as the phrase goes, knock me down with a feather, or rather, you could knock me down with a club, burn me in fire or drown me in water, because I am not there at all.

Then I re-collect myself, my eternal life is over and this life continues as before. I look up at the blue sky. I look and look until my very soul is without form and void, until my soul itself is blue and the sky colourless. One last example from Chinese poetry, the best translation (Waley’s) of the best poem in the world:

Swiftly the years, beyond recall,
Solemn the stillness of this fair morning.
I will clothe myself in spring-clothing,
And visit the slopes of the Eastern Hill.
By the mountain stream a mist hovers,
Hovers a moment, then scatters.
There comes a wind blowing from the south
That brushes the fields of new corn.

Sokei-an Sasaki (Zen Notes, New York 1954, quoted in A. Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 142)

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 centre 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.

Walpola Rahula (What the Buddha Taught, 1959, pp. 37, 42]

Nirvana is definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is the annihilation of the illusion, of the false idea of self.

There is another popular question: If there is no Self, no Atman, who realizes Nirvana? Before we go on to Nirvana, let us ask the question: Who thinks now, if there is no Self? We have seen earlier that it is the thought that thinks, that there is no thinker behind the thought. In the same way, it is wisdom (panna/prajna), realization, that realizes. There is no other self behind the realization.

D.E. Harding (On Having No Head, 1961, pp. 5-7)

The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head. […] I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.

It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? […] What actually happened [one day while viewing the Himalayas] was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking.

A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouser legs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in – absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been, was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything – room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, quite breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of ‘me’, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.

Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

Alan Watts (Beyond Theology, 1964, p. )

The final meaning of negative theology, of knowing God by unknowing, of the abandonment of idols both sensible and conceptual, is that ultimate faith is not in or upon anything at all. It is complete letting go. Not only is it beyond theology; it is also beyond atheism and nihilism. Such letting go cannot be attained. It cannot be acquired or developed through perseverance and exercises, except insofar as such efforts prove the impossibility of acquiring it. Letting go comes only through desperation. When you know that it is beyond you – beyond your powers of action and beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this ‘giving up’ as something that one might do, say, at ten o’clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it – that IS it! That is the mighty self-abandonment which gives birth to the stars.

Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray, Posthumous Pieces, 1968, p. 158 and The Tenth Man 1966)

It is not sufficient to eschew practice: it is necessary also to eschew non-practice. Both forms of practice are incompatible with liberation, for liberation means liberation from a practiser.

As long as there is a ‘you’ doing or not-doing,
thinking or not-thinking,
‘meditating’ or ‘not-meditating’
you are no closer to home
than the day you were born.

Having found no self that is not other,
The seeker must find that there is no other that is not self,
So that in the absence of both other and self,
There may be known the perfect peace,
Of the presence of absolute absence.

Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961, pp. 220-221, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968, pp. 76-77, 87-88)

When the next step comes, you do not take the step, you do not know the transition, you do not fall into anything. You do not go anywhere, and so you do not know the way by which you got there or the way by which you come back afterwards. You are certainly not lost. You do not fly. There is no space, or there is all space: it makes no difference.

The next step is not a step. You are not transported from one degree to another. What happens is that the separate entity that is you apparently disappears and nothing seems to be left but a pure freedom indistinguishable from infinite Freedom, love identified with Love. Not two loves, one waiting for the other, striving for the other, seeking for the other, but Love Loving in Freedom.

Would you call this experience? I think you might say that this only becomes an experience in a man’s memory. Otherwise it seems wrong even to speak of it as something that happens. Because things that happen have to happen to some subject, and experiences have to be experienced by someone. But here the subject of any divided or limited or creature experience seems to have vanished. You are not you, you are fruition. If you like, you do not have an experience, you become Experience: but that is entirely different, because you no longer exist in such a way that you can reflect on yourself or see yourself having an experience, or judge what is going on, if it can be said that something is going on that is not eternal and unchanging and an activity so tremendous that it is infinitely still.

And here all adjectives fall to pieces. Words become stupid. Everything you say is misleading – unless you list every possible experience and say: ‘That is not what it is.’ ‘That is not what I am talking about.’ Metaphor has now become hopeless altogether. […] You can speak of ‘emptiness’ but that makes you think of floating around in space: and this is nothing spatial. What it is, is freedom. It is perfect love. […]


Hence it becomes overwhelmingly important for us to become detached from our everyday conception of ourselves as potential subjects for special and unique experiences, or as candidates for realization, attainment and fulfilment. In other words, this means that a spiritual guide worth his salt will conduct a ruthless campaign against all forms of delusion arising out of spiritual ambition and self-complacency which aim to establish the ego in spiritual glory. That is why a St. John of the Cross is so hostile to visions, ecstasies and all forms of ‘special experience.’ That is why the Zen Masters say: ‘If you meet the Buddha, kill him.’ […]

As the Buddhists say, Nirvana is found in the midst of the world around us, and the truth is not somewhere else. To be here and now where we are in our ‘suchness’ is to be in Nirvana, but unfortunately as long as we have ‘thirst’ or Tanha [egoic wanting, grasping, attachment] we falsify our own situation and cannot realize it as Nirvana. As long as we are inauthentic, as long as we block and obscure the presence of what truly is, we are in delusion and we are in pain. Were we capable of a moment of perfect authenticity, of complete openness, we would see at once that Nirvana and Samsara are the same. This, I submit, implies not flight from the world, […] but a real understanding of the value of the world.

R.D. Laing (The Bird of Paradise, 1967, p. 156)

The truth I am trying to grasp is the grasp that is trying to grasp it.
I have seen the Bird of Paradise, she has spread herself before me, and I shall never be the same again.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Nothing.
The Life I am trying to grasp is the me that is trying to grasp it.

Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 1970, pp. 28, 114-115)

Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture [of zazen] is, itself, enlightenment. […]

So realization of the truth is salvation itself. We say ‘to realize’, but the realization of the truth is always near at hand. It is not after we practise zazen that we realize the truth; even before we practise zazen, realization is there. It is not after we understand the truth that we attain enlightenment. To realize the truth is to live – to exist here and now. So it is not a matter of understanding or of practice. It is an ultimate fact. […] Even before we practise it, enlightenment is there. [..] So there actually is no particular practice. […]

It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom. So wisdom could be various philosophies and teachings, and various kinds of research and studies. But we should not become attached to some particular wisdom, such as that which was taught by Buddha. Wisdom is not something to learn. Wisdom is something that will come out of your mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things, and to be ready for thinking. This is called emptiness of your mind. Emptiness is nothing but the practice of zazen.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (‘The Problems of Living’, p. 71, Questioning Krishnamurti, pp. 90-91 and ‘The Core of the Teaching’, 1980)

The important thing, therefore, is to be aware from moment to moment without accumulating the experience which awareness brings; because, the moment you accumulate, you are aware only according to that accumulation, according to that pattern, according to that experience. That is, your awareness is conditioned by your accumulation and therefore there is no longer observation but merely translation. Where there is translation, there is choice, and choice creates conflict; in conflict there can be no understanding. […] As I said, this passive awareness does not come through any form of discipline, through any practice. It is just to be aware, from moment to moment, of our thinking and feeling, not only when we are awake […] Reality is not a thing which is knowable by the mind, because the mind is the result of the known, of the past; therefore the mind must understand itself and its functioning, its truth, and only then is it possible for the unknown to be.


That is the whole question. To perceive the totality of this movement instantly. Then we can come to the point of perception: whether it is possible to perceive – it sounds a little odd, and perhaps a little crazy, but it is not – is it possible to perceive without all the movement of memory? To perceive something directly without the word, without the reaction, without the memories entering into perception?

David Bohm: That is a very big question because memory has constantly entered perception. It would raise the question of what is going to stop memory from entering perception?

K: Nothing can stop it. But if we see that the activity of memory is limited, in the very perception of that limitation we have moved out of it into another dimension. […] We have often discussed this, whether there is anything beyond thought. Not something holy, sacred – I am not talking about that. We are asking: is there an activity that is not touched by thought? We are saying there is. And that
activity is the highest form of intelligence. […]


When man becomes aware of the movement of his own thoughts, he will see the division between the thinker and thought, the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experience. He will discover that this division is an illusion. Then only is there pure observation which is insight without any shadow of the past or of time. This timeless insight brings about a deep, radical mutation of mind.

J.P. Briggs and F. David Peat (Looking Glass Universe, 1984, p. 139)

When he [physicist David Bohm] talks about consciousness having ‘insight’ into the implicate order or any other order […], the word ‘insight’ is synonymous with a leap to the implicate level. The insight may quickly take an explicate form (a poem, a theory, a sigh), but Bohm wants to show us that explicate expressions (be they scientific theories, poems or sighs) do not eliminate the implicate. It is still there, behind everything, slipping steadily away from attempts to explicate it fixedly, like sand pulled out from beneath one’s feet by an undertow. Where does insight come from? Bohm would say from the holomovement (which is, after all, only an explicate idea of an implicate process). An insight is not Bohm’s insight or Heisenberg’s or Leonardo da Vinci’s. It is the movement of the whole expressing itself through explicate forms.

M. Conrad Hyers (Zen and the Comic Spirit, 1974, pp. 153, 155, 156-157)

[…] the sudden realisation of the point of a joke is directly analogous to the sudden realisation of enlightenment, as this is interpreted by [Chan masters] Hui-neng and Lin-chi. The point of the joke, or the humorousness in the antics of the clown, is something that is caught immediately and effortlessly, or it is not caught at all. […]. Like comic appreciation, spiritual awakening has a non sequitur character about it. It comes spontaneously and uncoerced by anything that might attempt to give it birth. Hence both the Taoist and Zen emphasis upon no-effort and no-striving (wu-wei) which is easily confused with the counsels of a do-nothing party, or the advice of advocates of a cheap and easy enlightenment. […]

The moment of comic awareness is not a matter of reflection upon some process. […] To participate in comic insight is to participate in the immediacy and spontaneity of the Now. It is not an argument going somewhere, but a procession brought to a sudden halt and plunged into the laughter of eternity. It is for this reason that humour and Zen are so suited to each other, and in their spheres of coincidence so inseparable. Getting the point of a joke, or seeing things in comic perspective, like getting the ‘point’ of Zen, is something that cannot be reached either in strictly rationalist or empiricist terms, while smiling or laughing is a sign that one has moved beyond a mere discursive comprehension to a genuine understanding.

Thus when Wen Chen-ching was asked, ‘Who is the Buddha?’ he laughed most heartily. The puzzled monk was taken aback: ‘I do not see why my question makes you laugh so.’ Wen replied, ‘I laugh at your attempt to get into the meaning by merely following the letter.’ Here the laughter of the master calls an abrupt halt to the false path being taken by the disciple, and invites him to a similar laughter with respect to the folly of his approach to the problem.

One World: Nothing to Lose but Ourselves

•January 13, 2016 • 9 Comments


[Some more personal remarks perhaps serving as a sort of background to the quotes on the Self Illusion I posted the other day. Remember too: ‘experiences’ are just verbalized and reified memories, no more, no less, not to be fetishized. Shot I took near here of two trees: life and death, Eros and Thanatos, youth and age, coming and going, manifesting and dissolving, yin and yang etc.]

When I was about six or seven, a Chinese student boarder of ours asked me: ‘Peter, how do you know you exist?’ I think this question, this koan, has stayed with me throughout my life, sometimes less, sometimes more predominantly. It, and its versions (who am I? what does it all mean? etc), have probably un- or half-consciously informed a lot of my reading and quest for knowledge on all matter of things.

When I was seven or eight, I was staring at a spot on the ceiling during a lesson in fourth class at Naremburn Primary. Suddenly I had a very strange sensation, hard to describe in words. It had something to do with a deep feeling of bliss and/or anxiety around whether ‘I’ was just made up of ‘things’ like body parts.

Around the same time, I was lying alone on the nature strip opposite our house in Palmer Street around sunset after a hard day of playing with my friends. In deep openness I looked at the sky, and was filled with bliss.

I have always had the deep feeling and empirical knowledge that ‘the one’, or that sensibility, perceiving through my eyes and ears at that early age in childhood is exactly the same as ‘the one’ now perceiving through my eyes and ears. Although my thoughts and body have of course greatly changed, that one has not. That one is thus without change, timeless, unborn, undying. That one, that awareness-continuum, is not an entity, a someone or something, as perceivable or describable from without, not an external third person ‘self’ or persona that a mirror, a camera or others may see. Rather it is the specific, incommunicable ‘quality’ of my first person experience or awareness.

Teaching a class of migrants English in Liverpool one evening, I was listening intently to a Polish man talking about his experiences as a pilot when there was suddenly no distance, no gap, no difference between ‘him’ and ‘me’. I was both ‘me’ and ‘him’ at the same time. I was not ‘empathizing with’ him, ‘I’ was ‘him’. ‘His’ words were also coming out of ‘my’ mouth. This seemed utterly obvious and normal, unattended by any emotion. This did not last long as I became one with my thoughts and judgements again.

Like many people, I have very often experienced a ‘future’ event somehow ‘influencing’ a ‘present’ event. This is often dismissed as mere coincidence. For example, seeing someone or something in the present when you have thought about them before actually seeing them. (From the present viewpoint of the thinking of them, the actual meeting is in the ‘future’). Sometimes this may be mere coincidence but it is worth remembering that in modern physics time does not ‘objectively exist’ and in quantum theory, the ‘future’ can indeed influence the present, and thus the present can also influence the ‘past’.

All this is in fact utterly normal, unremarkable. According to Duane Elgin (Awakening Earth, 1993, pp. 267-268), a survey conducted by the US National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that in a random sample of people 55% said they had experienced ‘a feeling of deep and profound peace’, 43% said they felt ‘love is at the center of everything’, 29% described an experience of ‘the unity of everything and my own part in it’, 25% had ‘the sense that all the universe is alive.’ Other US surveys have shown that roughly 40% of the public have had the experience of being unified with ‘God’ or the ‘Meta-universe’ (Elgin’s term for the Godhead, Tao, Void).

Perhaps an egalitarian mysticism is the next necessary step in human evolution towards an ecologically sustainable One World civilization. Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but yourselves.

The Self Illusion

•January 12, 2016 • 3 Comments


[This is part one of Mystic Materials, a collection of quotes I’ve gathered over the last few weeks from mystics, poets, scientists, Zen masters. Mainly to remind myself. This wisdom is also known as the Perennial Philosophy (Aldous Huxley) and spans the ‘Axial Age’ (800 BCE – 200 CE) to the present, from the Buddha and Upanishads to present physicists and poets. It is transcultural. This first section is about the illusion of having an ‘I-identity’, self, ego, a ghost in the body machine, of being an independent individual ‘confronting’ and separate from the universe. Who ARE you? ‘What was your face before you were born’? Took the shot of my wife on the south coast.]

The Self Illusion, No-Self (Anatma), ‘Original Self’, ‘Unborn Self’, ‘Buddha Nature’

[The root cause of most individual and collective problems: our mistaken identity. We identify as separate individuals, with an ‘I concept’, as an ‘ego’ or ‘self’ that is inside our sack of skin somehow ‘in control’ and directing things. This is a social internalisation and construct that does not exist, or rather exists as a wave exists as a both real and illusionary fluctuation of the Ocean. We are both wave and Ocean, form and Emptiness.]

Gautama Buddha (Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, 1959, pp. 26, 54-55, 66)

As the Buddha told Ratthapala: ‘The world is in continuous flux and is impermanent.’ One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent Self (Atman), individuality, or anything that can in reality be called ‘I’. […] There is no unmoving movement behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. The thought is itself the thinker. […]

If the whole of existence is relative, conditioned and interdependent, how can will alone be free? Will, like any other thought, is conditioned. So-called ‘freedom’ itself is conditioned and relative. There can be nothing absolutely free, physical or mental, as everything is interdependent and relative. […] According to the doctrine of Conditioned Genesis [pratitya-samutpada], as well as according to the analysis of being into Five Aggregates [of attachment, pancakkhandha], the idea of an abiding, immortal substance in man or outside, whether it is called Atman, ‘I’, Soul, or Ego, is considered only a false belief, a mental projection. This is the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta, No-Soul or No-Self. […]

According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is as wrong to hold the opinion ‘I have no self’ (which is the annihilationist theory) as to hold the opinion ‘I have self’ (which is the eternalist theory), because both are fetters, both arising out of the false idea ‘I AM’. The correct position with regard to the question of Anatta is not to take hold of any opinions or views, but to try to see things objectively as they are without mental projections, to see that what we call ‘I’, or ‘being’, is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence.

Rumi (1207- 1273, Sufi master and poet, Selected Poems transl. by Coleman Barks)

Do you think I know what I am doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it’s writing,
or the ball can guess where it’s going next.


Every second he’s bowing into a mirror.
If he could see for just one second one molecule
of what’s there without fantasizing about it,
he’d explode.
His imagination, and he himself,
would vanish, with all his knowledge, obliterated
into a new birth, a perfectly clear view,
a voice that says, I am God.

Meister Eckhart (1267-1327, German Sermons 2, 13 and 22 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…’)

The soul too is nameless. It is no more possible to find a name for the soul than it is to find one for God, even though weighty tomes have been written about this. But in so far as she chooses to act, we give her a name.

Sometimes I have said that there is a power in the soul that can alone be said to be free. Sometimes I have said that it is a refuge of the spirit and sometimes I have said that it is a light of the spirit. Sometimes I have said that it is a spark. But now I say that it is neither this nor that, and yet still it is something which is as far above this or that as heaven is above earth. Therefore I shall now name it in a nobler manner than I have ever done before, and yet it mocks such reverence and manner, and is far above them.

It is free of all names and is devoid of all forms, quite empty and free as God is empty and free in himself. It is so entirely one and simple, as God is one and simple, that no one can see inside it in a particular manner. […] If you could see this with my heart, then you would understand what it is I am saying: for it is true, and the truth itself tells it.

Therefore I am my own self cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is in time. There I am unborn, and according to the manner of my unbornness, shall never die. According to the manner of my unborn nature, I have been eternal, as I am now and ever shall be. But what I am according to my nature which was born into the world, that shall die and turn to nothing, for it is mortal. Therefore it must decay with time. In my birth, all things were born, and I was the cause of my own self and of all things. Had I wished that I should not exist, then neither would anything else have existed. And if I did not exist, then neither would God have existed as ‘God’. I am the cause of God’s existence as ‘God’. But it is not necessary for you to know this. […]

But in the breakthrough, where I am free of my own will and of God’s will and of all his works and am free of God himself, there I am above all creatures and am neither ‘God’ nor creature, but I am rather what I once was and what I shall remain now and for evermore. […]

Whoever does not understand these words, should not be troubled. For as long as someone is not themselves akin to this truth, they will not understand my words, since this is an unconcealed truth which has come directly from the heart of God.

Angelus Silesius (Johan Scheffler, 1624-1677, own translation)

I was God within God even before I was me,
That’s why I can be so again when I have died to me.

David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739, pp. 252-253)

For my part, 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 any thing but the perception. […] 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. […] The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. […] What then gives us a great propension to ascribe an identity to these successive perceptions, and to suppose ourselves possest of an invariable and uninterrupted existence thro’ the whole course of our lives?

George H. Mead (Mind, Self, and Society, 1934, pp. 138-155)

For he enters his own experience as a self or individual, not directly or immediately, not by becoming a subject to himself, but only in so far as he first becomes an object to himself just as other individuals are objects to him or in his experience; and he becomes an object to himself only by taking the attitudes of other individuals toward himself within a social environment or context of experience and behaviour in which both he and they are involved. […] The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure, and it arises in social experience. After a self has arisen, it in a certain sense provides for itself its social experiences, and so we can conceive of an absolutely solitary self. But it is impossible to conceive of a self arising outside of social experience. […]

We are one thing to one man and another thing to another. […] There are all sorts of different selves answering to all sorts of different social reactions. It is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self; it is not there is a self apart from this type of experience. A multiple personality is in a certain sense normal. […]

The organized community or social group which gives to the individual his unity of self may be called ‘the generalized other.’ The attitude of the generalized other is the attitude of the whole community. […] It is in the form of the generalized other that […] the community exercises control over the conduct of its individual members; for it is in this form that the social process or community enters as a determining factor into the individual’s thinking. […] The internal conversations of the individual with himself in terms of words or significant gestures – the conversation which constitutes the process or activity of thinking – is carried on by the individual from the standpoint of the ‘generalized other.’

Max Planck (quoted in: D. Blatner, Spectrums, 2013, p. 150 and p. 172)

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And it is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve. […]

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

Norbert Wiener (The Human Use of Human Beings, 1950, p. 96)

We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.

Alan Watts (The Way of Zen, 1957, pp. 67, 141, Psychotherapy East and West, 1961, pp. 95-99, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, 1966, pp. 120, 145-146)

It is fundamental to every school of Buddhism that there is no ego, no enduring entity which is the constant subject of our changing experiences, For the ego exists in an abstract sense alone, being an abstraction from memory, somewhat like the illusory circle of fire made by a whirling torch. […] the past from which our ego is abstracted has entirely disappeared. Thus any attempt to cling to the ego or to make it an effective source of action is doomed to frustration. […]

When we are no longer identified with the idea of ourselves, the entire relationship between subject and object, knower and known, undergoes a sudden revolutionary change. It becomes a real relationship, a mutuality in which the subject creates the object as much as the object creates the subject. The knower no longer feels himself to be independent of the known; the experiencer no longer feels himself to stand apart from the experience. Consequently the whole notion of getting something ‘out’ of life, of seeking something ‘from’ experience, becomes absurd. To put it another way, it becomes vividly clear that in concrete fact I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware. […]

With all their differing methods, Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism all involve the realization that life ceases to seem problematic when it is understood that the ego is a social fiction. […] For the ego is the role, the ‘act’, that one’s inmost self is permanent, that it is in control of the organism, and that while it ‘has’ experiences it is not involved in them. Pain and death expose this pretence […] Thus the ego which observes and controls the cortex is a complex of social information relayed back to the cortex – Mead’s ‘generalized other’. […] The ego is the unconscious pretence that the organism contains a higher system than the cortex […] When, therefore, I feel that ‘I’ am knowing or controlling myself – my cortex – I should recognize that I am actually being controlled by other people’s words and gestures masquerading as my inner or better self. […] If all this is true, it becomes obvious that the ego feeling is pure hypnosis. Society is persuading the individual to do what it wants by making it appear that its commands are the individual’s inmost self. […] This is misinformation, and this – if anything – is the ‘Great Social Lie’. […]

The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. […]

I presume, then, that with my own death I shall forget who I was, just as my conscious attention is unable to recall, if it ever knew, how to form the cells of the brain and the pattern of the veins. Conscious memory plays little part in our biological existence. Thus as my sensation of ‘I-ness’, of being alive, once came into being without conscious memory or intent, so it will arise again and again, as the ‘central’ Self – the IT – appears as the self/other situation in its myriads of pulsating forms – always the same and always new, a here in the midst of a there, a now in the midst of then, and a one in the midst of many. And if I forget how many times I have been here, and in how many shapes, this forgetting is the necessary interval of darkness between every pulsation of light. I return in every baby born. […] Each infant dawns into life as I did, without any memory of a past. Thus when I am gone there can be no experience, no living through, of the state of being a perpetual ‘has-been’. Nature ‘abhors a vacuum’ and the I-feeling appears again as it did before, and it matters not whether the interval be ten seconds or billions of years. In unconsciousness all times are the same brief instant.

This is so obvious, but our block against seeing it is the ingrained and compelling myth that the ‘I’ comes into this world, or is thrown out from it, in such a way as to have no essential connection with it. Thus we do not trust the universe to repeat what it has already done – to ‘I’ itself again and again. […] In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is looking at itself – through our eyes and IT’s.

D.E. Harding (On Having No Head, 1961, pp. 9-10)

Somehow or other I had vaguely thought of myself as inhabiting this house which is my body, and looking out through its two round windows at the world. Now I find it isn’t like that at all. […] Victim of a prolonged fit of madness, of a lifelong hallucination […], I had been blind to the one thing that is always present, and without which I am blind indeed – to this marvellous substitute-for-a-head, this unbounded clarity, this luminous and absolutely pure void, which nevertheless is – rather than contains – all things.

For, however carefully I attend, I fail to find here even so much as a blank screen on which these mountains and sun and sky are projected, or a clear mirror in which they are reflected, or a transparent lens or aperture through which they are viewed – still less a soul or mind to which they are presented, or a viewer (however shadowy) who is distinguishable from the view. Nothing whatever intervenes […]

R.D. Laing (from The Politics of Experience, 1967, p. 113)

Most people most of the time experience themselves and others in one or other way that I shall call egoic. That is, centrally or peripherally, they experience the world and themselves in terms of a consistent identity, a me-here over against a you-there, within a framework of certain ground structures of space and time, shared with other members of their society. […] It gives us a sense of ontological security […]

In fact all religious and all existential philosophies have agreed that such egoic experience is a preliminary illusion, a veil, a film of maya – a dream to Heraclitus, and to Lao-Tzu, the fundamental illusion of all Buddhism, a state of sleep, of death, of socially accepted madness, a womb state to which one has to die, from which one has to be born.

William Blake (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-93)

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

The notion that a man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged;
This I shall do by…melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.

Walt Whitman (‘Song of Myself’, in Leaves of Grass, 1855)

The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions
or exaltations,
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next, both in and out of the game
and watching and wondering at it.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night. […]

I acknowledge the duplicates of myself, the weakest and shallowest is deathless with me,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Every thought that flounders in me the same flounders in them. […]

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Jorge Luis Borges (‘Funes the Memorious’, ‘A New Refutation of Time’, and ‘Everything and Nothing’, in Labyrinths, 1964, pp. 92, 256-257, 269 and 284-285)

The truth is that we live out our lives putting off all that can be put off; perhaps we all know deep down that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.


The Cartesian ‘I think, therefore I am’ is thus invalidated; to say ‘ think’ postulates the self, [and] is a begging of the question; Lichtenberg in the eighteenth century, proposed that in place of ‘I think’ we should say impersonally, ‘it thinks’, just as one would say ‘it thunders’ or ‘it rains’. I repeat: behind our faces there is no secret self which governs our acts and receives our impressions; we are, solely, the series of these imaginary acts and these errant impressions. The series? Once matter and spirit, which are continuous, are negated, once space too has been negated, I do not know what right we have to that continuity which is time. […] Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.


There was no one in him; behind his face […] and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. […] At twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. […] History adds that before or after his dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: ‘I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself.’ The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: ‘Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one.’

Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961, pp. 26-28 and Choosing to Love the World, 2008, pp. 40, 39)

To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone I never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be. And thus I came into existence and nonexistence at the same time because from the very start I was something that I was not. […]

For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their very contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.


Learning to be oneself means, therefore, to die in order to live. It means discovering in the ground of one’s being a ‘self’ which is ultimate and indestructible, which not only survives the destruction of all other more superficial selves but finds its identity affirmed and clarified by their destruction. The inmost self is naked. […] Paradise is simply the person, the self, but the radical self in its uninhibited freedom. The self no longer clothed with an ego.

Wei Wu Wei (Terence Gray, Ask the Awakened, 1963, and Posthumous Pieces, 1968, pp. 212, 216, 220, 221, 223)

Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 per cent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself —
And there isn’t one.

What is your trouble? Mistaken identity.
We do not possess an ‘ego’.
We are possessed by the idea of one.
All the evil in the world, and all the unhappiness, comes from the I-concept.

This ‘real’ nature with whose revelation the Chan Masters are primarily concerned, or the Atman-‘I’ of the Vedantists, is not the far-off, unreachable will-o’-the-wisp we are apt to imagine, but just the within of which we know the without. It is just the other side of the medal, and it lies wherever our senses and our intellect cease to function.

We do not experience: we are experience.

‘You’ cannot ‘see’ (or ‘seek’) it because ‘you’ think ‘you’ are looking, and ‘you’ cannot see LOOKING, for it is what is looking, and what is looking is not ‘a’ you. No ‘you’ could ever see it. ‘You’ removed – it is HERE.

‘I’ cannot be thought: the thinking is what I am. […]
Being aware of this is called ‘Not-Thinking.’

The moment I cease to be myself, I become what I am.

What you are trying to see is what is looking!

Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, 1970, p. 29)

If you think ‘I breathe’, the ‘I’ is extra. There is no you to say ‘I’. What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no ‘I’, no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.

J.P. Briggs and F. David Peat (Looking Glass Universe, 1984, pp. 137-138)

So ordinary consciousness responds to the explicate [external, created] because that consciousness has been trained through acculturation to consider itself an explicate order, to screen out and suppress vast dimensions of its own implicate [inmost, essential, uncreated, eternal] nature. One of the explicate-order forms which consciousness adopts is the sense of personal identity or self. Humans come to think of the individual self as a fundamentally separate ‘thing’ which persists despite an immensity of changes that take place in one’s life. Becoming an explicate order mirroring the explicate orders in the universe has great advantages for consciousness. […]

[Physicist David] Bohm believes that there is a grave fallacy lurking behind the concept of individual consciousness. In the implicate order, consciousness as a whole – the total consciousness of human kind – has a more primary reality. Even more deeply than this, all of consciousness is enfolded in matter and matter is the unfolding of consciousness. Thus individual consciousness, like an individual electron, is an abstraction. A useful one at times; at others, destructive and confusing.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (Questioning Krishnamurti, 1996, pp. 15, 67)

No, I say you are not an individual. Your thinking is not yours. Your consciousness is not yours because every human being suffers, every human being goes through hell, turmoil, anxiety, agony, every human being, whether west or east, north, south, goes through this. So we are human beings, not ‘I am a separate human who is related to other human beings’: I am the rest of humanity. And if I see that fact I will not kill another.


Look, sir, there is no you and me. I am not you and you are not me. There is that quality of choiceless awareness, that sense of attention in which the ‘me’ and the ‘you’ cease. You don’t say it’s unity. Unity implies division.

Joanna Macy (World as Lover, World as Self, 1991, p. 187)

The crisis that threatens our planet, whether seen from its military, ecological, or social aspect, derives from a dysfunctional and pathological notion of self. It derives from a mistake about our place in the order of things. It is a delusion that the self is so separate and fragile that we must delineate and defend its boundaries, that it is so small and so needy that we must endlessly acquire and endlessly consume, and that it is so aloof that as individuals, corporations, nation-states, or species, we can be immune to what we do to other beings. […]

Sten F. Odenwald (Patterns in the Void, 2002, pp. 172 and 243)

If [as in quantum mechanics] space and time can at some point lose their individuality and certainty, how do we then regard all the other possibilities for space and time that might have been? What becomes of the sanctity of cause and effect, or the sense of self, when the bedrock of reality seems to tremble and shift from state to state in an uncontrolled and chaotic dance? In the quantum world, things remain in a half-real state until they are observed. Does this also mean that space-time doesn’t exist until it is observed? And who is doing the observing? […]

In the end it is not what we see that matters or that steers our destinies either as a species or as a living substance. Ninety-seven percent of what you are is a pattern of energy trapped in a gluon field. The three percent of you that tips the bathroom scale each morning is a hint of concrete mass that is a gift from the Higgs field, or something like it, lurking in the Void. The destiny of the entire universe is not controlled by the luminous stars and matter sprinkled throughout space like diamonds on a dark satin cloth. It is controlled by the 97 percent of the dark matter and energy that moves in the Void, unseen except for its feeble gravity.

Bruce Hood (The Self Illusion, 2012, p. xi and ‘The Self’ in J. Brockman (ed.), This Idea Must Die, 2015, p. 147)

Who we are is a story of our self – a constructed narrative that our brain creates. Some of that simulation is experienced as a conscious awareness that corresponds to the self illusion that the average person in the street reports. At present we do not know how a physical system like the brain could ever produce those non-physical experiences like the conscious self. In fact, it is turning out to be a very hard problem to solve. We may never find an answer and some philosophers believe the question is misguided in the first place. Dan Dennett also thinks the self is constructed out of narratives: ‘Our tales are spun, but for the most part, we don’t spin them; they spin us.’ There is no self at the core. Rather it emerges as the ‘centre of a narrative gravity.’ […] The self is an illusion created by our brain. […]

It seems almost redundant to call for the retirement of the free willing self, as the idea is neither scientific not is this the first time the concept has been dismissed for lack of empirical support. […]We know the self is constructed because it can be so easily deconstructed – through damage, disease, and drugs. It must be an emergent property of a parallel system processing input, output, and internal representations. It’s an illusion because it feels so real, but that experience is not what it seems. The same is true of free will.

Jan Westerhoff (‘What are you?’ in New Scientist The Collection No 1, The Big Questions, 2014, p 99)

So, many of our core beliefs about ourselves do not withstand scrutiny. This presents a tremendous challenge for our everyday view of ourselves, as it suggests that in a very fundamental sense we are not real. Instead, our self is comparable to an illusion – but without anybody there that experiences the illusion.

Yet we may have no choice but to endorse these mistaken beliefs. Our whole way of living relies on the notion that we are unchanging, coherent and autonomous individuals. The self is not only a useful illusion, it may also be a necessary one.

Thomas Metzinger (‘Cognitive Agency’, in J. Brockman (ed.), This Idea Must Die, 2015, pp. 149-151)

Thinking isn’t something you do. Most of the time, it’s something that happens to you. […] Western culture, traditional philosophy of mind, and even cognitive neuroscience, have been deeply influenced by the Myth of Cognitive Agency. It’s the myth of the Cartesian Ego, the active thinker of thoughts, the epistemic subject that acts – mentally, rationally, in a goal-directed manner – and can always terminate or suspend its own cognitive processing at will. It’s the theory that conscious thought is a personal-level process – something that by necessity has to be ascribed to you, the person as a whole. This theory has now been empirically refuted. As it turns out, most of our conscious thoughts are actually the product of sub-personal processes, like breathing or the peristaltic movements in our gastrointestinal tract. The Myth of Cognitive Agency says that we’re mentally autonomous beings. We can now see that this is an old complacent fairy tale. It’s time to put it to rest.

Recent studies in the booming research field of Mind Wandering show that we spend roughly two-thirds of our conscious lifetime zoning out – day-dreaming, lost in fantasies, autobiographical planning, inner narratives, or depressive rumination. Depending on the study, 30 to 50 percent of our waking life is occupied by spontaneously occurring stimulus-and-task-unrelated thought. […]

One global function of Mind Wandering might be called ‘autobiographical self-model maintenance’. Mind Wandering creates an adaptive form of self-deception – namely, an illusion of personal identity across time. It helps maintain a fictional ‘self’ that then lays the foundation for important achievements like reward prediction or delay discounting.

Czeslaw Milosz: from ‘Ars Poetica’

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person…

Stephen Mitchell: The Sense of Proportion

There are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.
Each galaxy contains at least one hundred billion stars. Each
star illuminates an uncounted number of planets, each of which
may support inconceivable forms of life.
From most points of view, the green earth is smaller than
an electron.
All this is happening within your mind.

Octavio Paz: Between Going and Staying (translated by Eliot Weinberger)

Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.

The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theatre of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.

Guide to a Lonely Planet (found poem)

•January 6, 2016 • 4 Comments


[Found this the other day in my newspaper. Yuppie cartoon by Polyp.]

Guide to a Lonely Planet (found poem)

The question was:

‘Climate change will affect our view of the world.
Where do you want to go
before it’s too late?’

L.Simmons writes: The Barrier Reef.
From all reports it’s dying a slow death.

J.Bowman: I want to go to Iceland
while there is still more ice than land.

The Taj Mahal, according to K.Johnstone.
The white marble is yellowing
from the effects of atmospheric pollution
and I’d love to see it in its pristine state.

B.Pollard: Polar bears in northern Canada.
It’s just devastating that these
wonderful animals might disappear.

D.Evanson writes: The Maldives
are said to be the world’s lowest-lying
islands and I hate the thought
they might get swallowed up
by rising seas.

Next question: Just travelled
premium economy to Singapore
and I’m a convert. Ever done
a premium economy flight,
and was it worth the extra cost?

The best
will win
a Lonely

[SMH Traveller on Sunday 6/12/2015]

An Eternity of New Years

•January 2, 2016 • 2 Comments


[Recent poem about New Year events. The ‘Eternity’ on the Bridge at the end is referencing last year’s Sydney Harbour New Year fireworks, and ‘Eternity’ is also a Sydney-specific reference: a reformed alcoholic called Arthur Stace used to write that word on the footpaths of Sydney in the 50 and 60s. I once saw one on Parramatta Road in Haberfield where we lived when I was a teenager. ‘Eyore’ is a grumpy donkey in Winnie the Pooh. I took the shots in a restaurant and at a seaside fair in Kiama three years ago.]

An Eternity of New Years

Always feel a bit strange, uncomfortable
at New Year events. Don’t quite get the excitement.
Can’t fake the delirious midnight moment,
the lip-pucker and offered cheek, the nose
in the way of the prosecco glass rim.

I know, I know, just loosen up, celebrate
humanity’s just made another year,
avoid the mortal danger of Eyore grump,
ageing curmudgeon no longer even much
interested in movies, ultimate sin. Now
there seems just too much of everything,
not enough wholesome nothing.

Again I crack open a crisp new Collins calendar,
all those empty pages already quivering
with virtual appointments, rainfall figures,
farm observations, births and deaths. Just
takes an observing pen to jolt them
into the so-called real like wavicles on a screen.

Can understand the healthy need to start afresh,
boot the old year over the cliff of Was,
begin again with a fresh shirt and fervent
incantations of I Really Should.

Where I live people pay money, camp for days
to nail the best spot to see the fireworks
gush the Harbour like a first orgasm, be first
through the guarded doors to finger
a petaflop of Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana,
remodel themselves anew like the models
prescribed to achieve some coyly followable self.
(Follow this poem, and you’re defriended).

Yeah/no, seems, like, we’re stuffing ourselves empty,
putting that bad/great year behind us,
vaguely hoping this year will finally, finally
be the one all is revealed like a cascade
of liquid fire spelling out Eternity
over that darkly illuminated Bridge.


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