The Door, chapter 20 of The Zen Revolution, happened 13 years ago. It’s still very clear in my mind, all the things detailed there. What I described has only been reinforced over the years—a continuation of these experiences. The static field that I detail below is actually the door, and the wall. I saw through this only a few days ago. I wrote about it in my last piece Beyond The Wall. No reason to rehash it here. What’s unique about this experience, it’s the only one where I’ve seen something other than the light of the Absolute. My struggle through the static surges was so intense that I was completely turned around. When I came through I didn’t see the light of the Absolute, I saw what it was illuminating: the organic structure of consciousness (I could be wrong here. I have no way of knowing what it was). Going over this recently I thought it could’ve been my own neural structure, but I just didn’t identify with anything there. The voices I heard, the feeling that I had, there was nothing about me in it, and it was just too massive to be an individual.
The understanding of what I’m going through here, I can see it evolving from even the last few pieces that I’ve written. Everything is moving very quickly these days. All of the things that I’ve learned over my whole life are now bearing fruit. Many of these things come directly from the teachings—Seung Sahn Sunim’s door, his “enough mind,” Ta Hui’s “abandon your life,“ to cut off all thinking—but I never understood how all of these pieces fit together, and what to do with them, until now.
There are two processes occupying our mind: thought and emotion. To make progress in meditation, Ta Hui recommended that we abandon our lives. It’s kind of drastic, but this is not something that’s easy to accomplish. He compared it to entering the coals of a furnace, saying, “If you can find a better way, then please tell me about it.” Abandoning your life transforms your meditation into something at once more intimate and profound. It gives you more control of your thoughts, and more space between them. It’s much easier to cut thinking when there’s less of it.
… that stillness is bliss.
When your thinking calms down you become more and more aware of the One (what I see now as the original, the real entity—not me, myself, I’m only an emanation of it). Emotions are more difficult. They don’t have the immediacy of thought. It’s a body problem, not just mind. Not wanting anything cuts emotion.
Cutting thinking and emotion are like ninja skills that will enable you to encounter the One.
Seung Sahn Sunim’s door is more advanced. Instead of becoming dormant and allowing the One Mind to appear, you go directly to it through the wall of consciousness (I want to call this the wall of self, but that phrase has more to do with the ego and self-identity). What follows is my first reckoning with it.
An excerpt from The Zen Revolution, Chapter 20—The Door:
The seat was very bright, nearly white hot. The state of the previous winter quickly rose again, blotting out everything. More focused and powerful, it required all of my resources. If my body was weak I would falter. Not too much walking, I was careful about how much food I was taking in, and to let everything wash over me. I let nature direct what I should do and to what extent—the wisdom of long practice. As the schedule began to dominate me, I would often reside in the ecstatic core, or else fall briefly into the blankness of sleep. The moments where I lost my hold a doorway, invisible; I could only sense it by the surge of energy that rose as I approached. There’s something important here—in the crossing over the mind is freed. But the door itself is heavily weighted and not meant to be tampered with, like a heart, lung, or other organ. I’ve worked on this for many years. I was able, once, to hold my mind steady all the way to the moment of unconsciousness, then nothing, but the practice sprang back in place inside the dream, startling me awake. It’s a useful tool in going deeper into the stream, as it takes you along with it down to the depths, but otherwise fooling around with this is a waste of time. Only more data to sort through: an ephemeral sort that reflects the surface, which itself is of no real consequence; a vicious cycle that needs only a modern chemical to unlatch it. I’m sure we’ll have it on the street before long, some sort of channel through to the surface that, like Claire in Wender’s “Until the End of the World,” creates a new breed of junkie.
There’s another door, infinitely more remote. The wild energy of the previous winter pushed me toward it, unknown until the latch was thrown. As the practice continued to deepen I was able to penetrate farther, with less effort, to the point that I finally rode all the way through to the tapering off into nothing. It wasn’t into the abyss of sleep, but the other end, where the mind is lost in the field of the Absolute. Here the energy bursts had their own rising, crests, and receding. There was nothing remarkable about them, besides the rapture, but what was revealed there. At the far end I discovered a new door. I will never forget the night of December 27th. Three weeks into kyolche, I’d just finished a walk into town and some editing in the suitcase. It was the last round of sitting, near 9pm. I had no feeling that something would occur. I wasn’t holding my mind too tight, but easily in control of it, plenty of energy, when a strong gust of wind hit the window behind me.
“Are you ready?”
I thought it the same internal dialogue, the same ceaseless chattering. There was no thing discernible, nothing new, only the heat and sound and vibration of a concentrated mind steadily increasing in pitch. Somehow, instinctively, I held my mind very gently, with a deep feeling of my own purity and that of all things. My mind was even, with no concerns. As I continued, the energy field tightened—a concentration of light and a constant ringing as I neared the door. The tight-walled blue center pulsed brightly, ever faster. I latched onto the knife-edge of it, refocusing every half-second, pressing forward—gently—to the heated core. The ringing continued to rise, together with other indefinable sounds and a rapid fluttering of light, like bird wings. I saw only a tight glowing mass emanating in surging pulses, my eyes nearly pressed closed from the intensity. My vision became more and more broken apart, with plates of static slamming past patches of pitch black. I reached a point where I could go no farther and dug in firmly for a long period of just holding ground. My body shook uncontrollably, with fits of trembling, until there was a softening; a dip in the energy field. At once a surge of rapture rose and enveloped me, and I was pulled through the door. The blue core of this state, the thread of consciousness, is blurry or imperceptible normally, but when the practice heats up it can become more defined. It tightens as one nears the edge, what we’re able to perceive. If you’re able to control the flow of energy out, and keep a gentle hold on the surface, and stay with it a long time without getting rattled, the mind will be drawn up in a tremendous surge of energy, and so exit the thread. It’s possible. I wouldn’t think many have made it through, as difficult as it was.
When I approached the door I could feel the excitement of it. It stays with me. But it remained invisible. I was able to pass through it only when the heavens aligned, the body and mind were purified, and all concerns far away. What did I see there? It can’t be described, besides, I have no idea what it was. The complexity of the human body alone, not to mention all sentient life, the web of consciousness must be even more so. A similar case was noted by Tu-Shun (557-640 A.D.), who labeled it the “Net of Indra,” but his account seemed as far away and quaint as someone describing a rocket as “a chariot of fire that rode across the heavens…” nearly indecipherable unless you actually saw it.
Since I don’t want to leave you with a historical account alone, I’ll give you my impression. Imagine an infinite span of interconnected strands, a very dense, organic web not all the same color or evenly distributed, but largely neutral in tone and laid out flat, as if held by some kind of gravity. There was a great deal of activity; the strands flashed with some sort of current, a sense of turmoil and noise running through them: a dull sensation, a convection nearly boiling with the movement of life. The activity was greater in the dense areas, where knots formed from the many interconnected strands; collectives of human consciousness. I say this because I could hear faint voices at the nearest knot, all jumbled together in conflict. Quieter threads branched out from there and down to depths unknown. It must have included every sort of life, down to the mineral. I was locked in, my mind completely clear, still, euphoric, with a feeling of sadness along with the rapture. What I saw had no glamour to it: life filled to the brink with suffering and turmoil, everything feeding on each other. It was hard on me. It changed me. I don’t know how long I was in, only a few minutes, when my heart began beating erratically and I was forced to return. But the world is never the same.
How long this story has gone, and we are still at a formative stage. Be glad I didn’t start earlier! Here began my descent into cubism: blocks of light, vivid colors, all with some implication—if things can be explained with anything approaching experience. Perhaps it is best left in a poetic language? Since there was already a breakthrough of some sort, life pulsed through me in a new way. A tap left on day and night, the flood couldn’t be managed. What chance did I have to lead a normal life? Since it came apart on its own, I left it where it was. Work stalled with Steve just as my mother received a hurricane relief check from “A Road Home.” As I finished jacketing her trailer in 26 gauge steel, I received word that Steve had received a $10,000,000 lawsuit. Someone had been injured on the property—so all of the work I had lined up was cancelled, my art projects put on ice. At the same time, he’d found a new fiancé that had already moved in. My LA situation had folded overnight. The time was ripe. I built a small hermitage on the back of my mother’s land. The lot was overgrown with myrtle and tallow, trash trees that come in after a fire. The forest gave out to a small green pond. I picked a site to the north of it, just inside the canopy of trees. I built six feet above ground to avoid the damp conditions. Well insulated to survive the winter, it was made of hurricane salvage, with a large window overlooking the pond. It took a month before everything was nailed down, the night of October 14th—the full moon. The retreat would last more than a hundred days, all the way to the new moon of January. The sitting was immense: twelve hour-long rounds with minimal breaks that only tightened as the day progressed. I designed the schedule to develop a practice resonance, spontaneously wrote it down months before. I knew it was coming. In fact, as the retreat neared I began sitting bolt-upright at 3AM every morning, my body primed and ready. I still do this.
The retreat began to glow with the light of practice. It was easy to give myself to it fully. The light came in differently after the experience in Korea, more quiet, more constant—enormous. No longer a glowing core but a mind state emanating everywhere at once. With no distractions other than my own troubled affairs, it wasn’t long before I entered deeply into the field of the Absolute. Along with this immediacy the concerns of the world would find their way in: all my things hidden in a wine cellar in Los Angeles, my projects on a thin lifeline, all the old family karma that surfaced when I entered the old woods. Between these two worlds I toiled insolubly, regardless of what came into view. Hour after hour the two realms captured me and were left untouched. As I came logically to loathe the turmoil at the surface, the light of the Absolute became dominant, became more and more accessible, and each time a new ground, a higher vibration, a deeper level of rapture. As the way was trammeled back and forth from the phenomenal world to the Absolute, the gate between the two was gradually worn through, until it was dissolved in the fire of practice. I was suddenly aware that the fabric of life, all aspects of it, were emanations of the Absolute, all of it cherished, loved, of divine form and symmetry, every piece of it! Yet I was still caught between the two, taken by the sound of a kingfisher as it plunged into the pond, transfixed by the rapture emanating from the core—each remaining distinct. Not one, not two!
As I acclimated to the new flow of energy I began to see the teaching words and slogans as misleading—impossible to understand the way they were presented. I could see the original intention, but more clearly the quagmire in which most were trapped, repeating phrases with a fervor often mistaken for insight. Does anyone understand these words? All the teachings should be seen as a vast koan—whatever meaning can be gleaned from them should be discarded. It is not the real meaning. It will come later, when all the words are anymore meaningless, worthless against the brilliance of the original mind. When you’re bathed in the rapture of the Absolute there will be a considerable amusement and satisfaction at pulling out a quaint expression of the dharma—so pretty and arcane and courageous, and nothing like the truth.
Afterward I returned to LA briefly and went to work tending to Steve’s mother, who was in ICU after suffering a stroke. Steve had survived one a few weeks before with only a slight twitch, then his sister died unexpectedly. My days were spent holding his mother’s hand, visiting her church to offer prayers, talking to the priests, nurses, doctors, family members. Steve put me up in her house, in his sister’s old room. It was there, in the middle of the night, full of wine and the suffering of the world, that I woke suddenly, sat bolt upright, my mind catapulted into a blissful state that has never receded. It was such a tiny moment for what it unleashed, so unexpected. It put me at the reins of a galloping stallion—a flash of silver in the night; the wild eyes dazzling, shining with an unbridled fury.
Just discovered and presently reading your book The Zen Revolution. It’s a breath of fresh air.
I was introduced to Zen when I was 19 I’m now 64 . It wasn’t formal institutional Zen . I just luckily met an English man who was impelled by that something? And I’ve been impelled ever since. It really is amazing this magical impelling.
I agree. I’ve been at it for more than thirty years. It is truly magical when you go deep enough to transform your mind, but all of it… it’s extraordinary to be on the path.