The News IS Drama: A Danger

It’s not that news stirs up drama, though of course it does that. It’s that the news is drama.

But drama is not meditation. And meditation is the nature of universal consciousness.

For those working in the media, something happens and immediately it’s “taken up.” As my Zen teacher says concerning practice, “Don’t turn it into something.” But the media’s impulse, its charge is to continually turn a happening into something. That something is endlessly repeated, relayed, modified, discussed, debated, gossiped about. Not only all that. But the news sequesters endless “likes” (support, loyalty, greed, excitation, contingent happiness, etc.) and “dislikes” (ill will, hatred, jealousy, envy, etc.), the immediate result being the veiling of very possibility of equanimity.

In this sense, the news is actually quite dangerous. Dangerous because it promotes two ideas. One is that something is always happening. The other is that that happening is always “turned into something” that is endlessly liked and disliked.

But this, in essence, is samsara, the samsaric condition of wandering mind. In other words, this is the very epitome of suffering. The news is modeled on wandering mind while exacerbating its tendencies!

Meditation, therefore, mustn’t be the news. Instead, it simply is what has never happened. Call this The Unhappening. What is this? What is it? And it doesn’t, because it can’t, turn The Unhappening into anything else; in fact, it sees The Unhappening as being manifest in, and as, all happenings. More accurately, meditation is The Unhappening.

Then what is The Unhappening, the very “root of stillness” (in the words of The Daodejing)? What is it? And what are you before all happenings, before and after every news cycle, before all births and after all deaths?

What is right here beneath it all?

The Seeking Self Isn’t No Satisfaction!

In a collection of Dharma talks entitled Zen Classics for the Modern World (2011), Rinzai Zen teacher Jeff Shore states,

For the ceaselessly seeking self, nothing it comes across will give lasting satisfaction. Once the seeking self has come to rest, the most ordinary and commonplace is quite enough. “When hungry, eat; Tired, sleep.” The fool ended may laugh: You call that the summit of a life of religious practice? Yet how extraordinarily ordinary are the everyday, immediate events of our lives–when freed of tedious manipulations and self-centered seeking. Nothing esoteric, up in the clouds. Far from being dull or stupid, this is intrinsic wisdom. And it naturally works in the world. (pp. 92-3)

“What is lacking here?” Jeff Shore sometimes asks his students. For if there is something lacking, then seeking begins. And when seeking begins, it only stops when it arrives at what it seeks. For a brief moment, there may be rest. But then the mind sees lack, then seeking mind arises, and then striving for this or that continues. Thus, it is said that “delusions are endless.”

The best that can be offered the seeking self is temporary relief. But that is true folly! The irony, in fact, is that the seeking self, quite ambitious though it is, is not ambitious enough! To be “truly ambitious” is to see through all of one’s suffering–to end it right now!–and for that to occur, the seeking self must dissolve in the eternal, infinite water of Reality!

This is why Buddhism is at odds with modern culture. Capitalism perpetuates our “upside-down view” (more Buddhist lingo) by giving a stamp of approval to one of the Three Poisons. That poison is greed (rebranded “self-interest”). Ignorant and not knowing that we’re ignorant, we continue perpetuating dissatisfaction. Rough!

The worst thing that can happen is for you to keep getting what you want. The best thing that can happen is for you to see that the seeking self IS the source of all of your dissatisfaction. It’s not that it can’t get no satisfaction. It’s that it is the very fount of dissatisfaction.

The essential point is to bring this entire apparatus to a full stop and so to rest in the Source. Not more forwards, therefore, but in a sense backwards, diagonally backwards. The rightside-up view is here, always here, just when the upside-down view is seen through.

Then, yes: “how extraordinarily ordinary are the everyday, immediate events of our lives—when freed of tedious manipulations and self-centered seeking.”

Be Your Own Zen Socrates

Imagine a cake consisting of three layers: the bottom layer, the middle layer, and the top layer. Now label the bottom layer “hurt,” the middle layer “ignorance,” and the top layer “presumption.” In simplified form, this schema depicts our ordinary minds.

Presuming that we know is laid overtop actual ignorance. Actual ignorance, situated above the hurt, is ignorance of hurt, of suffering. Therefore, presumption is precisely what stands in the way of our coming to see our suffering for what it is.

The trouble is not that we do not know ourselves (middle –> bottom). It is that we think we know ourselves (the top layer occluding our going from middle –> bottom).

Now imagine a Socrates filled, as we say in Zen, with “grandmotherly kindness.” In fact, let’s make Socrates into a Zen teacher. One day he bumps into someone and that someone presumes to know, presumes to have wisdom (top). Seeing this presumption and having an intimate felt sense of the other’s suffering, Socrates joins his fellow in inquiry.

What happens in the midst of the inquiry? His interlocutor realizes that what he thought he knew (top) he does not know (middle). And yet, in lieu of going deeper (bottom), he gets angry and becomes aggressive. “YOU are making me confused! YOU are turning me about! YOU are to blame!”

In many cases, the interlocutor will then leave. And that is just so sad because soon enough he will attempt to return to his presumptuousness, to what he presumes to know, to what he takes to be familiar. So sad because doing so will only perpetuate his samsara.

Sometimes, however, he will have the courage to stick around. And what he’ll experience immediately will be a deep, deep humbling. Instead of “I (presume to) know,” he’ll say from the heart, “I don’t know.” Thus, the top layer will be shattered.

Out of that deep humility will be engendered a sweet openness to truly knowing. Thus, the second layer of ignorance will be shattered.

And then he will, with the help of this Zen Socrates, begin to look carefully and closely at the bottom layer, experiencing it while releasing it.

And then what? In time true peace, genuine contentment.

What do you presume to know about yourself? What do you think you know that you really don’t? Start right here. In this moment, be your own Zen Socrates.

Escape Total Work! A 4-Week Course Starting In February

“Escape Total Work” is a 4-week course running from February 7th to February 28th. The course will likely be capped at 12 people.

Here’s what one past participant had to say about her experience:

This course gave me a signal to wake up and be curious about my life in a deeper sense, to look beyond doing and to explore being. Months afterward, the sparks of awakening that began during it are still having effects on my life; in fact, they are still guiding me. — Eloah, Coder

To learn more and to apply, go here.

Self-emptying Or Self-improvement?

In Philippians 2:7, we read that Jesus “made himself nothing” (NIV). Kenosis suggests the emptying of self-will to the point at which one is nothing but a vessel for the divine will. My will be Thine; Thy will be mine.

This is the heart of meditation: it is the very emptying out of the self so that Big Mind can shine forth.

Self-improvement, self-help, self-optimization, and self-development all share a common mistake: they perpetuate self-will, doubling down on human agency. Doing so, they ensure that there will be more suffering for the one heading, again and again, in the wrong direction.

It is clear, for those who have developed a sense of self during childhood and into adulthood, that self-emptying is the way and that self-improvement is not.

Doing more, being more, and trying more: no. Fundamentally no.

Doing less, being less, trying less: yes. Quintessentially yes.

Doing–being–trying more: born of lack and fraught with craving. Stop. Instead, undergo a fasting of the mind, urges Zhuangzi. Be like a mirror without a speck of dust, Zen masters command. Make yourself nothing as Jesus exemplifies.