Perspectives from the Mountain: Scratching your own back
I recently visited Sonoma Mountain Zen Center with Jun Po Roshi. I went through all the normal stages of hindrance (doubt, aversion, pain, etc) during the first real day, Sunday. On Monday, I was surprised with a private Dokusan with Jun Po. A Dokusan is basically where you get one on one time with the Roshi. They find out how you are doing, and perhaps try to transmit something to you.
I walked in and sat down without a word. Smiling, we looked into each others eyes, silently, for like 5 minutes. I twitched an eyebrow, then he grabbed an ear. Then to my surprise, I stuck my finger up my nose. These actions happen spontaneously, from a place of pure presence.
He began: “So, you know, emptiness is form, and form is emptiness….you see?”
I nodded, and almost casually, but from an intellectual understanding, said “Yeah, I know about that.”
It went on like this for a while. He asked me about my practice, and how teaching Zen was going.
After like what seemed like hours, we finished: “Back to the Zendo!”, he said.
Later that day, I was walking down the mountain road, doing my Nature Walk meditation. I was completely relaxed, and in a very open state. In my meditation, I asked “What is Truth”, very casually, not even with any intention. It just kinda came up.
That’s when it hit me, these visions of Emptiness, and form. It started small, with just a person, almost like an empty shell. But really made up of the 5 skandahs, or 5 layers of self. And the inner layer, consciousness, or emptiness, or god, was looking “out” through all those layers.
Then it zoomed out. And I saw the “Experience Bubble” around that person, and how consciousness was also, “looking out” through all those things too. And it wraped around the bubble, and connected at the “top” and “bottom” of the person. This was all happening in 3 dimensions at this point. It again zoomed out, and showed multiple people, with the same bubbles around them, with consciousness still “looking out”, but as I saw the multiple beings bubbles start to really abstract, and interact, I realized that IN FACT consciousness is “looking in” to the world of form, through the layers of physical, sensation, perception, and cognition.
Scratching your own back
As I saw these people bubbles moving about, I realized why we have all these filters (cognition, perception, sensation) between consciousness and the physical realm. They appeared as layers of distortion, almost like layers of different kinds of glass.
Without these filters ‘distorting’ the physical realm, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Imagine, one single being, pretending to be a lot of different ones, but also KNOWING that it was doing this pretending. It would amount to scratching your own back; it’s not nearly as fun, as when someone else does it for you. So if you’re god, and you want someone else to scratch your back, you need to create distortions, so that those parts of you do not realize that they are…well…you.
This is the source of all the fun, but also the source of all suffering as well. Since there’s no direct control over these distortions, they are merely grooves created through repetitive patterns of the past (karma), they can become corrupt and create suffering.
Imagine we are waves on top of an ocean, except that the surface of the ocean isn’t just a flat, 2 dimensional surface. Instead it’s a 3 dimensional surface on top (or inside) of which the waves are 3 dimensional forms.
It gets better. Another shift out, and I now see that in fact time is included in this matrix of emptiness. I see all the bubbles past, present, and future instances dancing together inside this material I’m calling emptiness. From the beginning of time, to the end, which, in fact, there is none. Just constant shift and play of wave bubbles bouncing into each other.
This is when I realized that this material couldn’t only be a 3 dimensional surface. In order to project a 2 dimensional wave, which appears to move through the dimension of time, the ocean itself is 4 dimensions (2 surface, 1 depth, 1 time). This showed me so clearly in that moment that the ‘ocean’ we ride on top of, emptiness, was in fact a 5 dimensional substrate (3 surface, 1 depth, 1 time).
The inside is actually the outside
Imagine that you are inside out. And that emptiness is looking “in” to your “inside” to “see” what is “outside of you”.
As I continued walking, I could feel my subtle body wake up. I could clearly feel the delineation between the physical, and subtle body. In that moment, I slowed right down, and noticed that I could just move the subtle body, and that would in fact make the physical body follow. With just the most minute intention, the subtle body would push the physical one in one direction or another.
Then there was this shift. I noticed that I could hear subtle sounds, and see subtle light, in addition to the subtle somatic sensations. My seeing went from direct to background, I was behind my eyes. My feeling fell behind in the same moment. The hearing also fell behind. “I” was now behind these sensations of the subtle body, purely witnessing the subtle body moving the physical body.
I was looking “in”.
A sensation of my looking started to expand beyond…but in that moment a truck came by and in a flash I was back in the subtle body, just moving the physical one around.
What I find particularly interesting about this experience is the fact that my intellect was almost ‘dismissive’ about what he was saying, about emptiness being form. Because I definitely thought I understood it. And in a way, I did. However, understanding is very different from a direct experience, one that deeply changes the perspective you really have, at a subtle level.
Meet the Author
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals…” - Henry David Thoreau
Cian is a teacher of Yoga and Zen, and a sought after business coach for start-ups and boardroom executives alike. Known for his unique perspective on productivity, this serial entrepreneur and investor is a wealth of fresh ideas, constantly seeking new ways to 'do business better'.