If you’ve studied meditation for any length of time you know there are two selves: your normal thoughts and emotions, and the observer, the one who’s aware that you’re thinking or having an emotion.
The observer can see beyond the confines of self.
Thinking and emotion are entangled, but they are not the same. Thinking deteriorates into chaos and unconsciousness. Thinking is internal programming. It doesn’t have any connection to anything else. It’s only your deep association processes, the things you’ve learned and accrued through your life, your logic, your struggle to resolve things. It doesn’t connect to the One Mind, it’s solely your own mechanism. Emotions are different. At the crescendo emotion is pure energy, a direct pathway to deep samadhi. Emotions lead directly to the One. That’s the way I experience them now, but I’m afraid that without making an initial connection emotions never complete the circuit, they’re pulled by their own gravity back into the mortal. Breaking through the wall is very important, for so many reasons.
In meditation you detach from your thoughts and feelings. This helps the observer to grow strong and conserves energy. During normal meditation, if you’re not leaking a lot of energy through following your thinking or wanting things, you will not feel sleepy. You’ll stay in a bright state throughout. This is its own teaching. It’s very rewarding to know yourself fully. This is how you become a human being, and always glimpses of something more. But when you’re sleepy there’s an opportunity you’ve probably overlooked.
Over time you’ll notice that when you follow your thinking, you’re not in the room anymore. Your head will nod, sometimes your body will move slightly. This isn’t falling asleep, it’s on the periphery. The training I’ve been doing, we all take turns carrying a stick to rouse sleepy meditators. As I walk behind the monks, without fail I find all their heads nodding. Some of them are falling asleep, others just following their thinking, but all of them are coming against something very important, and failing.
As thinking deteriorates on the boundaries of the known, reality falters. You perceive it as a surge of static, chaos. As you approach it your thoughts becomes more and more strange. They branch out in bizarre turns. That’s when you know you’re not going to be awake much longer—you’re cooked. The observer can perceive this but past a certain point both minds are lost.
This is the wall.
It reminds me of that scene in The Matrix when Morpheus takes Neo to the desert and shows him the part that isn’t written yet. He realizes he’s in a simulation. Your mind exists in an organic matrix. Our inner universe seems infinite because the borders are the arms of Morpheus. As you approach it you’re rendered unconscious.
The wall is also a door.
If the sitter is very strong then he or she will skirt around the edges, hold on to their waking consciousness, and not fall asleep. It’s a struggle, the same as if you’re driving at night or any situation where you have to remain awake. You feel a surge that pulls you into sleep and you have to fight in order to remain awake. You learn to skirt it, to stay out of its reach. You always take some damage, it takes some energy to pull free, if you want to pull free. I’m going to suggest that you go in.
Not wanting anything helps you to disengage cleanly from the chaff. Otherwise as you approach the wall you’ll be dragged down into unconsciousness. It’s very difficult to go cleanly through it, but if you don’t want anything your entity disperses, there’s nothing there to grab. If you keep thoughts to a minimum and cut them off regularly, and continually start a new chain of meditation so that it doesn’t congeal, and don’t want anything—If your observer is strong enough you can remain conscious through the chaos.
As you progress through this unmapped territory you will face, not simply a surge, but a succession of them, waves of static. You will be completely disoriented, but if you can remain unperturbed, and conscious, you will eventually break through to a bright presence, soft like starlight, streaming filaments of light. Once you’re in the presence of this, the One Mind blasting into existence—I’m convinced that’s what it is —it completely transforms your life. If I’m right, this is Seung Sahn Sunim’s door.
The name Buddha means “to awaken.” As the story goes, the Buddha sat in meditation through the night. In the morning he saw the north star and attained enlightenment. To me, this metaphor points to the experiences I’ve just outlined, of almost falling asleep, holding to your observer consciousness, penetrating the wall of chaos into the light, the starlight, the One. To awaken, to remain awake, to become en-lightened, the light of the One.
This is a good example of how abstract the teachings are. You have to attain your own realization, go by your own truth, not the popular myth built up around the teaching. You need to examine the teachings in the light of your Dharma. In Zen they say that the Buddha saw the actual North star, nothing more. In the logic of Zen, it has to be something ordinary. It’s a juxtaposition. But what’s ordinary? I’ve seen the north star thousands of times. There’s something special about it, the line of the horizon, the light at that time of day. It’s something important in the human experience, granted, but I’ve never had a spiritual awakening from looking at it. On the other hand, witnessing the One Mind once transformed my life. There’s no way you can experience something like that and not be fundamentally changed. It’s a recognizable, common experience I’ve had a thousand times, and each time it’s something extraordinary. Not only that but once you’ve broken through the wall of consciousness and opened your life to this presence, it’s always with you. You’re no longer alone, the teaching comes to you readily all the time.
So what is ordinary, that the Buddha saw the morning star and had some extraordinary experience, or that he saw the One Mind and had an awakening… what seems more logical in this light?
Similarly, I’ve never understood the Christian interpretation of Jesus on the cross. Then it came to me, to reach the kingdom of heaven you must crucify the self. Very similar to Buddhist teaching. TaHui instructs us to abandon the self. Zen Master Seung Sahn would say:
Let go of your small self and become your true self.
Where am I with these experiences? I’ve known a few enlightened people in my life, including Zen Master Seung Sahn and the wonderful Maha Gosananda. I cannot say that I’m like they were. I’m an ordinary person, but I know where they we’re coming from. I feel that, if you haven’t seen through this, you won’t understand. I’m hoping that your intuition will sense something about it, that it will help you find out for yourself.
Increasingly I’m describing things that aren’t in the human experience. People don’t know how to respond to what I’m illustrating. A friend warned me not to start my own religion. I don’t see this as a new form, more the adaption and clarification an old model. This is American Zen.
A few days ago I had one of the strongest experiences of meditation in my life, one that lasted for an entire hour. I was completely blasted out of my mind, out of the room, my heart beating irregularly. I was in a state of ecstasy, blind from it. It wasn’t from penetrating the wall. It came of its own. (It’s all the domain of the One. It can overwhelm you at any point. But I know people who’ve practiced their entire lives and not had a direct experience). While I was trembling in sweet ecstasy, the monk sitting next to me was cracking his bones and coughing loudly to get me to stop moving. It depressed me for a few days. I felt that nobody understood what I was going through. After mulling over whether to continue writing, I decided that, even if nobody understands what I’m talking about, I have to express my truth. I’ve come too far, undergone arduous training for more than 30 years. I’ve become more determined to express it exactly the way I see it, without a filter of any kind—or all of this is for nothing.
Trying to go into or beyond this bright presence is really forcing it. I’ve tried, and something very strange happened. I gave an account of this in The Zen Revolution, which I’ll post next.
This piece evolved from the previous two: