Direction, Paths and the Journey On..
Intensive meditation retreats offer a chance to collect together energy, the energy needed to let the mind settle and therefore take understanding deeper. There is also an opportunity to examine direction, which links with your motivation. I have suggested that letting the following questions roll around in the background can be useful: Direction towards what? Understanding what?
A. You have emerged! It takes a while to assimilate after an Intensive, and no doubt the process is still going on. That's the under-the-mind part. Which is the same process with which it is useful to tackle those questions of direction and understanding. From silence. They need to be taken within into silence and allowed to open if anything new is to come forth.
I have been pondering on the difference between paths and can see two broad ways:
One is a Religious way which delineates a clear goal, an object in some form/description of God, and the need to reach it by various prescribed means.
The other places emphasis on Mind itself, ie. on the means. Hence elaborate and detailed meditation practices to identify distinct states of mind. The goal is framed in terms of mind rather than personification, eg, primordial wisdom, enlightenment, mind of Buddha, original mind, emptiness. The enormous detail and precision to be found in the old systems addresses the task of bringing about change in the body-mind, which is presented as, or becomes the goal.
But there is another, a third way, which neither focuses on defining the goal and making it an object, nor on elaborating the means of making some great change and turn-around. This I would call a path of Knowledge, but it's trickier to define.
It may seem a lot simpler than either of the above. However, clearly there must be an aim, and methods, or it wouldn't be a way to anything, and the simplicity is deceptive. Simplicity is much harder to maintain than complication, and in place of detailed analyses of states of mind, the method cultivates an ability to see where paths lead, and to step aside from engaging byways in order to maintain a direction of travel. The direction is clearly felt/seen, not the ending, but the whole organism trusts that the path is worth travelling, and is assisted by a clear view of the alternatives, which may take a lot of work!
It actually reminds me of you walking that long path through the desert in our early interactions. Why is it necessary to reach somewhere? Is the place reached a final stopping-point? It did not seem so; merely a resting. And that is characteristic of a path of Knowledge.
The biblical phrase seems apt: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there be that find it."
Which is preceded by: " Enter ye in by the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat."
Q. I've been pondering your email and continue to be a bit at a loss.
I think I understand aim but am unclear about methods. Are the methods important in and of themselves or is the value found in just looking? (As a metaphor, the methods would be a ladder to facilitate looking over the fence and therefor any ladder would do)?
It seems to suggest direction is maintained by not actively following one particular orientation (teaching). It seems to point to trust in oneself above all else, however this trust is deepened by a good understanding of the alternatives. When I first read this, I thought it was passive trust, however I now see it as a very active exploration of alternatives. Was this your intent?
A. Your ladder metaphor is useful. Let’s examine these 3 elements: - an obscuring fence, something beyond it which is worth seeing/knowing, and a ladder to help you achieve this.
Take the fence. Do you really know what it is made of, how high it is, how wide or thick etc. Maybe there are gaps in it where no ladder is needed? Maybe it finishes just around the corner. Maybe it is so high, no ladder you could find would ever reach the top. Even if you did, maybe there is another fence beyond to scale...
The fence is made of our life (mind etc) and all its obstacles and obscurities. It is an unknown quantity; all we know is that it is there. We are aware of something fence-like which hides something else we are aware of, but which is also of unknown dimension.
And what do we know of an appropriate ladder? Is it high enough? It may look good, but are the rungs so flimsy they will break when we put some decent weight on them? We need to choose our ladder carefully in view of so many unknowns, but if it looks sturdy, and others have gone that way before, we can begin a climb and get a better view of the fence!
I’ve deconstructed the metaphor, because we all naturally get trapped by the metaphors we use to organise our mind and start to think ‘reality/truth’ is like that. Wisdom develops through questioning these automatic (but very useful) transitional metaphors.
The metaphor of ‘a direction of travel’ has the advantage of respecting and honouring the Unknown. It is open-ended, and mostly concerned with avoiding being captured by attachment to the myriad objects which present themselves as either ‘goal' or ‘method’ and by seeming so concrete and compelling, are false idols in the kingdom of the Unknowable. So it is a ‘via negativa’ method; ‘neti, neti’; not this, not this.
But you must travel on.
You know how to do that—you’ve been doing it all your life, with integrity, with hope, and with discipline by following the one method you found which rang true to you and offered to meet your hope. Shopping around is not generally useful, except as background. It is not trust in oneself, because as a good Buddhist and non-dualist you know how dodgy that 'self' is. It is trust in something greater.
A genuine method will involve a person in self-discipline, widening horizons, confronting obstacles etc., or there is no method. Trust is not passive, nor am I advocating 'exploration of alternatives'. Many self-chosen ‘explorations of alternative methods’ basically equate to no method, by enabling avoidance of confrontations and disciplines. Trust has to be very active. How to do that?
You’ve encountered a cattle-prod in me, unfortunately for your settlement of mind! Any worthwhile goal or method points beyond itself, and the path of Knowledge is a path of reminding, of cultivating discernment when all kinds of pseudo-methods and enticing goals can close round an individual like the threads around Gulliver. Gulliver loses his freedom, his true movement, when pinned down by myriad Lilliputians in the mind. A sharp knife can cut through all the threads and liberate, but Lilliputians are always with us! Take a nap, and more threads have appeared…..
Hope my metaphoric utterances haven’t confused!