Archive for the ‘Experience’ Tag
Curiosity is a hunger to explore and a delight in discovery. When we are curious, we approach the world with a child-like habit of poking and prodding and asking questions. We are attracted to new experiences. Rather than pursuing an agenda or a desired set of answers, we follow our questions where they lead. Socially, curiosity lets us really listen to other people because we want to know who they are. We open ourselves to the morsels of knowledge and experience they can share with us. We relish having discoveries of our own to share. Curiosity makes us interested in a broad range of information about the world around us, not only that with direct utility. We learn for the joy of learning.
Human beings have myriad range of characteristics and attributes. Some are innate, some are formed through experiences and some are developed through wisdom and insight. One of the most fundamental of these human features is that of curiosity. It is the curious nature of man that has led him to wonder, ponder and then learn. Curiosity is the organic building block of knowledge structure and is the key which has opened new vistas of thought and objective disciplines.
It is curiosity in man’s nature which drives him to understand different phenomena in life. The curiosity about one’s self and the environment leads a person to investigate and with the help of his findings draw adequate inferences. It guides him to attain his desires and goals in life, to create a vision and to dream. It is that quintessential quality in man that makes him superior to other creations in terms of sociability, morality and intellectuality. This is something which enables him to build communities and develop societies.
This curious nature of man has made him reflect upon higher purposes and discover deeper meanings in things, going beyond what they apparently seem to be. This higher search for purpose compels him to find meaning of his existence and the existence of things in the universe. While treading on the track on his instinctive curiosity, he leads his complete life shaped out of inquisitiveness in vastness of various questions about events taking place either in his life or in the universe around him. Since, he does not have any assurance of any conjectures he is making about the outcome of events in his life, he lives in the curiosity of knowing them. But, there is a certain amount of common sense which guides his cognitive abilities.
Nevertheless, the search and hunt of conquering his future and controlling his life never ends till the curiosity serves better of him. Hence, man seeks some ways and means for the outlet of this characteristic inside in varying degrees and to different extents. For this very element in him, he becomes passionate and enthusiastic. Sometimes, this material world, which is all that his sight can conceive, makes him think that having mundane comforts will give his soul the ever needed satisfaction. But such a false contentment comes at the expense of him losing sight of the divine ideals of governing life. He would be someone standing at a selfish point from where he cares about only his survival, well being and welfare in life.
On some other level of soul curiosity, he would have sentiments and sensibility as the prime factors directing his heart and humanity. This level of his conscious being let him undertake his natural human curiosity as well as his humanism to use them in the benefit of the whole mankind. This very form of consciousness allows mankind to construct that human touch and that human connection so much necessary for the survival of the world and the growth we see through shared knowledge and wisdom.
Shunyata, usually translated as "emptiness," is a Buddhist term that people often struggle with. I was fascinated to discover that it has always been difficult for people to understand, and that it was intended to be that way from the beginning. The basic formula that all dharmas are marked by emptiness points right at existence, at experience, and past it at the same time, a brilliant feat. The Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines is a Mahayana Sutra; an ultimate text on this teaching, along with the Diamond and Heart Sutras. Stories about how and why an insight occurred are particularly useful in opening doors for others, and I hope they may be useful here. This post does not have catchy title. I have come up with my own descriptive titles for it, and I hope the readers will forgive me for that.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to better understand depression, its causes, and how it can best be alleviated. It’s not that I’m depressed–in fact I’m happy to report that I’m rarely blue since I started a regular meditation practice some years ago. But due to current circumstances I’m in a position where it makes sense to take a deeper look at this incredibly powerful mind state because it has an incredibly strong hold over several important people in my life. While goggling “Recurrent Major Depression;” a diagnosis that a close friend of mine recently received, I stumbled upon the DSM IV criteria for this condition as well as another that often goes along with it “Borderline Personality Disorder.”
One of the symptoms listed under the “Cognitive” category caught my eye immediately “Chronic Emptiness.” It’s fitting that a word like “emptiness” is devoid of any one inherent meaning. Of course the emptiness being described in the DSM IV is the “I feel like nothing matters…life has no meaning…I don’t want to do anything…everything is too hard…” sort of emptiness. Then there’s the Buddhist version of emptiness, which isn’t quite as easy and straightforward to define. Emptiness as described in Buddhism is often mistaken for nihilism which couldn’t be further from the truth. Usually, it’s best to refer to it in its original Sanskrit form “Sunyata” but for the purposes of this article I’m going to use the standard “emptiness.”
From a Buddhist perspective, having an experiential and intellectual understanding of emptiness is answer to relieving our constant dissatisfaction with the way things are, and the distorted way we go about experiencing ourselves, other people, and the world around us. I wish psychiatrists and psychologists would start to promote chronic emptiness as a remedy for emotional distress rather than just a symptom, and we could all benefit from cultivating a borderline personality instead of our customary solid one.
If we all truly experienced chronic emptiness we wouldn’t feel the need to crap all over our daily experience with the habitual narrowness that results from our fixed thinking. There would be no solid “I” that would have to be at odds with “you” and “them” and “the world outside” of Myself. By experiencing chronic emptiness, we could gain more insight into the nature of our minds and realize that all of our emotional states are temporary and fluid and based on a constantly evolving set of circumstances and conditions. By stressing the inherent interconnectedness of all things we can gain an insight into our emotional maladies and eventually have more openness and space in which they can run there course without having to take us over and paralyze us with fear and anxiety.
There are some severe forms of depression that absolutely need medication in order to be dealt with appropriately: meditation and understanding emptiness aren’t one-size-fits all answer to every issue in every instance. But we can meditate on emptiness and eventually realize how amazingly liberating it is once we get a glimpse of what it truly means.
I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste. Don’t think you understand It. On the other hand, don’t think you don’t understand It. It? What is It, a pronoun capitalized this way? What is It, pronounced with the kind of emphasis that communicates great significance? Alternatively, it is called the Great Matter, Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness. These are ways we refer to different aspects of It. When I write these words, what do you think to yourself? You probably think to yourself either that you don’t understand these things, “Wow, I wish I understood those things, maybe I will someday.” Or, perhaps, “I will probably never understand,” or when you hear these words you have a sense that you do understand these things, at least to some degree; the words conjure up for you a memory of an experience, a mind-state, an insight, or you think of images or sensations that you find comforting or inspiring. It is difficult to say which of these – a sense that we don’t understand, or a sense that we do understand – is more detrimental to spiritual practice.
Buddhist understanding – prajna paramita, the perfection of wisdom – is completely different from ordinary understanding. It is so different that even though it is here under our noses all the time, we miss It. Even though this Understanding is free and available, we revere Shakyamuni Buddha as a once-in-a-universe amazing person because he came to It without even having a teacher who pointed it out to him. This is the central teaching of Buddhism – that there is a kind of wisdom, a kind of insight, “which removes all suffering, and is true, not false.” The Buddha studied suffering – old age, disease, death, loss, dissatisfactions – and asked whether there was any way out of it. He was not the first to ask this question by any means. Almost every religion and social movement has tried to offer people a remedy, a way out, at least a mitigation of this human experience of suffering.
What the Buddha realized was, in a sense, its all how you relate to it. It’s all how you see it and understand your place in it. However, this is not about adopting some arbitrary positive outlook! Well, you could look at things that way and suffer, but if you adopt this philosophy or view things don’t look so bad…This is about seeing the true nature of reality. What is it that we see? A textbook answer would be something like, “we see that we, and all beings and things, are empty of inherent, enduring self-nature.” But this description is so inadequate to convey what we end up understanding. We could also say “we see that things-just-as-they-are, without the filter of our self-concern, are precious.” Or we could say “we see that there is only this moment, and this moment is free from suffering.”
Intellectual understanding of these descriptions or faithful belief in these descriptions, do not convey the release from suffering that the Buddha found. They must be personally and directly experienced for that to occur and once they are personally and directly experienced we are forever changed, but no experience in the past conveys lasting release from suffering either. Perhaps when you hear It – the Great Matter, Prajna Paramita (Transcendental Wisdom), Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness – you recall the spacious, unself-conscious feeling you experience in the wilderness. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of the “zone” you get into while doing a body practice or artistic activity. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how vast space is, or how we are made up mostly of space, between our tiny atomic particles. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how everything changes, so you can’t really draw a boundary around who you are. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how it is impossible to trace all the causes and conditions and beings that brought you the meal you eat, and how dependent you are on all these different aspects of the universe. That’s not It.
Now, it would be good for all of us, myself included, if I left you with that message and shut up. But in the West, especially in Soto Zen, they explain things. It is the gentle way. It is so easy to be satisfied with just an intellectual understanding. It is so easy to fool ourselves that ours is not just an intellectual understanding – after all, if it is associated with emotions, it’s not just intellectual, right? It is so easy to allow what was once a real experience to devolve into a mere memory, a mere view. Most of us walk around with a largely intellectual understanding of It. As Dogen would say, we are “playing in the entrance way.” This is why Zen Masters through the ages have pulled out all the stops and done all kinds of strange things to try and wake their students up from their dreams. They yanked their students’ noses, offered riddles, put slippers on their heads. What is that about? Some kind of ridiculous code? A contest to see who was least inhibited? No. It says Right Here, Right Now, Do You See? In a sense it doesn’t matter what is said or done to express it; if both people can experience It, the arrows have met in mid-air. This is extremely important. There is no god in Buddhism that is going to condemn us or even be disappointed in us because we just play in the entrance way. But what a shame.
But thinking you do not understand is just as bad. When I think like that, I am here, and understanding is over there – in that [other person’s] head, or in the past, or in the future. This can be one of the most painful beliefs. It can also be one of the biggest obstacles. We are intimate with It every moment of every day. It is never anywhere else. We experience the perfection of wisdom when we stop looking anywhere else. When the Zen Master comes and challenges us, we answer her in kind. Perhaps we say, “Yes! Buddha caught the pillow!” Perhaps we throw the pillow back. Perhaps we laugh. But the challenge does not send us off in our minds to abstractions or memories, concepts, images, metaphors or teachings. We know the Buddha is nowhere else, and have dropped the self-concern that wonders how “I” relate to Buddha.
Being at home with oneself like that is an immense relief from suffering. We must struggle to understand, unfortunately there are no shortcuts. But what we do in that struggle is exhaust all of our dreams until finally there is no place left to go. Then we see It is something we have understood all along. We just didn’t know what kind of understanding to look for. And a final note – having answered the Zen master’s challenge one day does not mean we will be able to do so the next. This is not an understanding that is of any use to us in the past.