so what is it?

Islamic architecture - Iranian mosque ceiling

 

It’s so close you can’t see it.
It’s so profound you can’t fathom it.
It’s so simple you can’t believe it.
It’s so good you can’t accept it.

 

This mind-shifting riddle comes from the Tibetan Shangpa Kagyu tradition, and the commentary is by Pir Elias Amidon.  It’s lifted with gratitude from Michel Bellegarde‘s online oasis nomindsland  – thank you Michel.


What is it?

The wonderful thing about this riddle is that it’s compounded of paradox — pure positivity (so close, so profound, so simple, so good) and pure negativity (you can’t see it, you can’t fathom it, you can’t believe it, you can’t accept it).  It’s saying that no matter how we look for, or what we call, this “it,” it escapes the looking and the telling.

In most texts these lines are not referred to as a riddle, but are given the whimsical title: “the four faults of awareness.”  But if we think “awareness” is the answer to the riddle, we’ve missed the point.  To say “awareness” is to make a conceptual conclusion, and whatever this “it” is, it’s neither bounded like a conclusion nor objective like a concept.  Yes, the lines are referring to awareness, but do we really get what that is, beyond the idea that the word “awareness” represents?  The beauty of the riddle is that it forces us to the edge of language and then pushes us off.

Although these four lines certainly cannot be improved, I’d like to offer a few thoughts here in the hopes they may help, in some small way, with that push.

It’s so close you can’t see it

One way to enter the mystery of this line is to imagine space.  Space is close and invisible too. It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, that we can have a sense of space without being able to see or feel it?
Our bodies move through space and though space doesn’t separate to let us by, we feel no resistance — it goes right through us.  Whatever our riddle is referring to is that close.

The great nondual teacher Jean Klein says it’s our “nearest.”  So near it has no distance to travel to get any nearer.  Sufis prize “nearness to God” and mean the same thing.  “I am closer to thee than thy jugular vein,” it says in the Quran.  In this case the words “close” and “near” are not about location or distance — they refer to identity, being so close to it we are it.

And so it is with our awareness.  Can we find anything nearer to us than awareness?  It’s so close we can’t see it, just like the eye cannot see the eye.  Awareness is not seeable, though it is self-evident.  And though the analogy of awareness being “like space” may be helpful, unlike our sense of space, awareness cannot be measured.

It’s so profound you can’t fathom it

This line drops the bottom out.  It says we simply cannot understand what this is.  To say it’s “awareness” doesn’t take us very far, since no one has ever fathomed awareness.  Mystics have continually pointed out that awareness is the ground of all being, and now physicists are beginning to discover the same thing.  But to say this is not to fathom it — it simply provides another mysterious description.  This that we’re speaking of cannot be fathomed.  It is a mystery and will remain that way because it cannot be focused into an object that our minds can surround.  Mysterium profundum!  The Divine Unknown.

To the extent we can admit this, humility graces our being.  Our drive to understand, our insistence on possessing this profundity with our intellects… relaxes.  The mind surrenders, making way for something we might call devotion or gratitude or praise or love.

It’s so simple you can’t believe it

What it is is so simple that it can’t provide any kind of story or concept for us to believe in. Every word we use passes right through it.  Plotinus calls it “the One,” that which is uncompounded, that has no predicate, the absolutely simple first principle of all. Buddhists call it emptiness.  Sufis call it the void of pure potential.

Does its primal simplicity mean we cannot experience it?  We can, but not as an experience.  In order to open to this non-experience we must ourselves become simple.  We must become transparent to ourselves.

In the uncertain light of single, certain truth,
Equal in living changingness to the light
In which I meet you, in which we sit at rest,
For a moment in the central of our being,
the vivid transparence that you bring is peace.

— Wallace Stevens, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction

Becoming transparent is not so difficult as it sounds, since our true nature is already transparent. It is the transparence of pure presence — or as some call it, presence-awareness.  If we try to picture pure presence, we can’t.  If we try to fathom it, we can’t.  If we try to believe in it, we miss it — it’s simpler than anything we can approach through belief.

And yet it’s here, the simple pure presence of being, vividly immanent every moment in how everything appears, while at the same time transcending every appearance, every moment.

It’s so good you can’t accept it

This final line may be the most mysterious of all.  We might think that if something is really good we could easily accept it, but the goodness this line points to is beyond the capacity of our acceptance.  We cannot contain it — our “cup runneth over.”

We have come to believe that this reality we’re in is a tough place.  We’re threatened by illness, violence and death.  Everything that we have will one day be taken away.  How could the truth be something so good that it both holds and supersedes our pain and grief?  The stubbornness of that question is one reason why we can’t accept this that is “so good.”

As in the preceding lines, “accepting it” hits the same limits that seeing, believing, and fathoming run into.  As long as we think there is something we have to do — seeing, believing, fathoming, or accepting — we will miss what this is about.

This that is so good pervades all being.  It is the pure love-generosity that is so close, so profound, so simple we can’t surround it with our usual ways of knowing and feeling.  As Rumi advises, “Close these eyes to open the other. Let the center brighten your sight.”

– Pir Elias Amedon

sufiway.org


Also by Pir Elias Amedon on this blog:
how extraordinary!  how beautiful!


Image: Iranian mosque ceiling.  Avoiding the use of figurative images, the Islamic architectural tradition developed a style of geometric patterns of unbelievable richness, precision and detail.
Source:  doorofperception.com


 

may you shine as golden space

May your Solstice be pure gold.  May it bring the healing that enables full immersion in non-conceptual wholeness.  May you shine as golden space.

 

We are the children of this beautiful planet that we have lately seen photographed from the moon.  We were not delivered into it by some god, but have come forth from it.  We are its eyes and mind, its seeing and its thinking.  And the earth, together with the sun, this light around which it flies like a moth, came forth, we are told, from a nebula; and that nebula, in turn, from space.  So that we are the mind, ultimately, of space … each in his own way at one with all, and with no horizons.

Joseph Campbell

 

Max Gimblett, Eagle

 

Later … I opened my eyes with wonder and the sky had utterly changed again and was no longer dark but bright, golden, gold-dust golden, as if curtain after curtain had been removed behind the stars I had seen before, and now I was looking into the vast interior of the universe, as if the universe were quietly turning itself inside out.  Stars behind stars and stars behind stars behind stars until there was nothing between them, nothing beyond them, but dusty dim gold of stars and no space and no light but stars.  The moon was gone.  The water lapped higher, nearer, touching the rock so lightly it was audible only as a kind of vibration.  The sea had fallen dark, in submission to the stars.  And the stars seemed to move as if one could see the rotation of the heavens as a kind of vast crepitation, only now there were no more events, no shooting stars, no falling stars, which human senses could grasp or even conceive of. All was movement, all was change, and somehow this was visible and yet unimaginable.  And I was no longer I but something pinned down as an atom, an atom of an atom, a necessary captive spectator, a tiny mirror into which it was all indifferently beamed, as it motionlessly seethed and boiled, gold behind gold behind gold.

– Iris Murdoch’s character Charles Arrowby in The Sea, The Sea 

 

– – –

 

Now that I see in Mind, I see myself to be the All.
I am in heaven and on earth, in water and in air.
I am in beasts and plants.
I am a babe in the womb and one that is not yet conceived
and one that has been born,
I am present everywhere.

– Upanishads

 


Painting by New Zealand / New York artist Max Gimblett Eagle, 2015
Leaves of gold, gesso, resin, gelatin, 23.75kt rosanoble gold leaf on wood panel, 850 x 840


And there was endlessness

The wholeness of undivided, intimate attention – an awareing that has no boundaries, no sense of separation, where observer and observed are both obliterated in a single movement of observing – is the subject of one of Denise Levertov‘s last poems, First Love.  The whole poem is sublime, but the final few lines speak so powerfully to me that I’m singling them out for this post.

It seems to me that one taste of that timelessness changes everything. This is not some cunning escape into yet another thought-bubble; not some desperate effort to transcend one’s mediocre little life. This is an experienced glimpse of another order of relationship. Haven’t we all had this glimpse? For me, it took hold of the steering wheel and has driven the trajectory of my life.

Through the entirety of your lifetime, what is it that you’ve deeply desired?

What has been – is – the Great Motivator of your days?

 

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968)

 
 
[…]

`Convolvulus,’ said my mother.
Pale shell-pink, a chalice
no wider across than a silver sixpence.

It looked at me, I looked
back, delight
filled me as if
I, not the flower,
were a flower and were brimful of rain.
And there was endlesness.
Perhaps through a lifetime what I’ve desired
has always been to return
to that endless giving and receiving, the wholeness
of that attention,
that once-in-a-lifetime
secret communion.

 

– Denise Levertov, from First Love
 in This Great Unknowing, Last Poems

 


Painting by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968), Morning Glories (Convolvulus)


 

be light, light, light – full of light!

Right on cue, as I ponder putting this blog out to cyber-pasture, WordPress tells me that its “stats are booming” or that another handful of readers have subscribed to receive notifications of new posts, or someone emails me with their appreciation.  As some of you know, these days I post my own writing and poetry over at echoes from emptiness; inevitably, that blog tends to get more attention.  Yet I’m told the resources on this blog are valuable for those interested in the mystery of our shared primordial awarenessThis Unlit Light.  So I guess I’ll keep on posting – albeit erratically.  Today’s offering is a little cluster of light-themed quotes glowing in harmony with Tatiana Plakhova’s astonishing graphics. (Do watch the video full-screen!)


Tatiana Plakhova, Complexity Graphics

 

God
pours light
into every cup,
quenching darkness.

The proudly pious
stuff their cups with parchment
and critique the taste of ink
while God pours light

and the trees lift their limbs
without worry of redemption,
every blossom a chalice.

Hafiz, seduce those withered souls
with words that wet their parched
lips

as light
pours like rain
into every empty cup
set adrift on the Infinite Ocean.

– Hafiz


Tatiana Plakhova - Flowerwings

 
[Physicist David] Bohm suggested that the explicate order is extracted from the implicate order in a similar way in which a holographic image is extracted from a series of swirls and shadings into a three-dimensional image when illuminated by laser light.

The illumination that extracts the physical universe from the implicate order is the light of consciousness.

In this model the act of observation draws ‘in-formation’ out of the implicate order and manifests it in the explicate order. Bohm was keen to use the term in-formation rather than information. By this he meant a process that actually ‘forms’ the recipient.

– Anthony Peake, Infinite Mindfield


We are constantly in the midst of light. We are surrounded, bathed, and nourished by it. This miracle we call light can transform. It can teach, reveal, evoke, and heal. It speaks in many voices.

We tend to see light as something that makes form visible, but light reveals much more. It reveals us.

In the subtle, soft undulations of a snowscape illuminated by an overcast sky, in the rare presence of a backlighted, towering, ancient oak, both subject and photographer are revealed. Light makes visible invisible.

– John Daido Loori, Making Love With Light


Tatiana Plakhova - Complexity Graphics

 

What we understand to be phenomena

are but the magical projections of the mind.

The hollow vastness of the sky

I never saw to be afraid of anything.

All this is but the self-glowing light of clarity.

There is no other cause at all.

All that happens is but my adornment.

Better, then, to stay in silent meditation.

– Yeshe Tsogyal

Quoted in Advice from the Lotus-Born


That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists; come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
George Saunders, speaking at Syracuse University


Tatiana Plakhova - Light Beyond Sound

 

Even the sense of ‘I am’ is composed of the pure light and the sense of being.
The ‘I’ is there even without the ‘am’.
So is the pure light there whether you say ‘I’ or not.
Become aware of that pure light and you will never lose it.
The beingness in being,
the awareness in consciousness,
the interest in every experience
— that is not describable,
yet perfectly accessible, for there is nothing else.

– Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That


In a dream I am walking joyfully up the mountain. Something breaks and falls away, and all is light. Nothing has changed, yet all is amazing, luminescent, free. Released at last, I rise into the sky … This dream comes often. Sometimes I run, then lift up like a kite, high above earth, and always I sail transcendent for a time before awaking. I choose to awake, for fear of falling, yet such dreams tell me that I am a part of things, if only I would let go, and keep on going. “Do not be heavy,” Soen Roshi says. “Be light, light, light – full of light!”

– Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard



Video and graphics by Tatiana Plakhova
complexitygraphics.com


 

an extraordinarily elegant way of realising God

What would it be like to be fully, continually aware of all of our senses – and what’s more, to be aware of that very awareness?  What might that full sensory awakening have to do with the irreversible realisation of Reality? Drawing from his personal experiences with Parmenides and Empedocles – foundational figures of Western civilization whose mystical dimensions have been forgotten or ignored – pre-Socratic philosopher Peter Kingsley maintains that to approach the changeless authentically, Western civilization must rediscover its own sacred origins and purpose. He asks, how can Western culture participate in the harmony of oneness if it has forgotten its own note?

In this post, which is a transcript of part of an interview made in connection with the Global Oneness Project, Kingsley outlines the sensory awakening at the root of Empedocles’ writings.

 

Persephone - Greek Goddess of the Underworld; Museum of Ancient Sculpture, Cyrene, Libya

 

You have to find reality, ultimate reality, here, where you are, in this apparent body, surrounded by these apparent colors and movements, and shapes and forms and sounds and noises. And they (the ancient Greek mystics) gave the techniques. They gave the methods for using our senses to find oneness all around us.

Empedocles and Parmenides were very, very up front, as most great mystics are, and at the beginning of their teachings they say, “Everybody is living a totally wasted life.” Everybody’s life is a sham, everybody is living in a dream. We can think we are driving down the road, we can think we’re shopping, we can think we’re in a business meeting. We are asleep. We are never actually using our senses.

Sometimes there can be the brief moment when we look out at a tree, or we’re driving down the road, and just for a brief moment we can say, “Good Lord, I’m holding a steering wheel. I have my foot on the gas pedal!” Or, “Good Lord, I’m looking at a tree!”

Usually we’re just looking at a tree and thinking about something else. Or we’re driving down the road and thinking about the argument we just had with our partner. It’s very, very rare that we simply look and are aware that we are looking.

And that involves being aware of what we’re looking at, and being aware of ourselves looking at the same time. So right now, I can be aware that I’m moving my hand, and that I’m talking, and that you there are in front of me. But it’s actually not a very, very common state at all, to be aware like that.

Empedocles gave very, very specific directions for how to start to become conscious through your senses. How to look and be aware that you’re looking. How to feel your tongue inside your mouth, and be aware of it. Not just rub your tongue on the top of your mouth, but actually be aware that it’s happening. And how to do this with all of the senses at the same time.

And this last stage, about how to do it with all the senses at the same time, this is very, very powerful, it’s very, very esoteric, it is an extraordinarily elegant way of realizing God.

Not by leaving the senses behind, but by consciously using all of your senses at the same time. If you do that, if you actually do that, you start to become aware… there is your sense of sight, there is your sense of hearing, there is the sense of feeling what you feel, your backside on the chair, or you feel your shoes on the floor. The hearing, the seeing, the feeling, the tasting, the touching. And it’s difficult enough even to do one of those consciously, but if you do them all consciously, you become aware of this infinite blackness between them.

There is a void that connects the seeing to the hearing, to the tasting, to the touching.

And that’s ETERNITY.

And that eternity is totally unchanging, but that eternity is also what gives rise to the physical world. And it’s out of that experience of eternity that people like Empedocles or Parmenides, these ancient Greeks, were actually able to bring the germs of a new civilization.

Because that eternity – it never changes, but it contains the seeds of all change.

 


The complete interview – 19:02


A prominent mystic of our time and student of sufi path, Peter Kingsley’s groundbreaking work on the origin of Western spirituality, philosophy, and culture is recognized throughout the world. Through his writings as well as lectures he speaks straight to the heart, and has helped to transform many people’s understanding not only of the past but of who they are. The author of three books, including Reality and In the Dark Places of Wisdom, and recipient of numerous academic awards, he holds honorary positions at universities in England, Canada, the United States.

peterkingsley.org

Peter Kingsley on Wikipedia

About the image:
Persephone, Greek Goddess of the Underworld; Museum of Ancient Sculpture, Cyrene, Libya.
In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the fertility goddess Demeter, was abducted to the underworld by Hades but was allowed to return for part of the year, when the earth became fruitful. She is often depicted, as here, drawing a veil across her face, indicating her time on earth is ending and she is returning to the underworld, when the earth once again becomes barren.
Source

If, however, you read Peter Kingsley’s Reality, you will learn the true role Persephone played in guiding those who journeyed to the underworld – her domain – towards true reality.
And you’ll learn the real significance of the veil…

“… two and a half thousand years ago we were given a gift
– and in our childishness we threw away the instructions for how to use it.
We felt we knew what we were playing with.
And, as a result, western civilisation may soon be nothing but
an experiment that failed.”
– Peter Kingsley

Reality, by Peter Kingsley

Eckhart Tolle says, “This book is a journey back to the source
– not only of western civilisation but, more importantly, to the source within you.
Read it! To understand it is to be transformed.”
I couldn’t agree more.


 

I see you

Particle tracks on film from the Fermilab Bubble Chamber

 

If I should seek to know the thought-free state
all I need do is gaze into your eyes
every being who ever was, is, or will be
gazes back; I am gazing back, even though
I am not a being, not a thought, not conceivable
or perceivable, not even a secret godly whisper
shimmering in the stillness, nor anything
I thought I was, you were, we are.

I cannot see myself except through you,
you who live to share this same silent vision,
this eternal gaze expanding, always becoming
more than sight, more than any kind of knowing —
a fluid wordless epiphany emerging from nowhere,
the same place we inhabit now in our loving, this
exquisite loving without location or circumference,
and even though we never move, yet forever we are
circling in lazy liquid orbits around each other,
never once allowing our gaze to falter,
never even blinking

– Bob O’Hearn


These links open in new tabs:

Source: Bob’s blog feeling into infinity

Image: Particle tracks on film from the Fermilab Bubble Chamber, sourced from the wondrous sagan*sense blog


 

how extraordinary! how beautiful!

Please tell me this: how does it profit one to be convinced that everything one takes to be true and real – beliefs, body, belongings – is so, when at the end it all “becomes transparent”? How can we heedlessly march into that Great Transparency without unshakeable awareness of the pure Clear Light? How can we deprive ourselves of the extraordinary beauty it unveils?

Pir Elias Amidon reflects on these questions in the light of his own experience. How beautiful!

The Clear Light and the beauty of the world - Pir Elias Amidon

 

At the moment of our death, when the messages of our senses cease and the contents of our mind become transparent, The Tibetan Book of the Dead offers this instruction:

Remember the Clear Light, the pure Clear Light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind….
Let go into the Clear Light, trust it, merge with it.
It is your own true nature, it is home.

When I first read that passage as a young man I was deeply moved and reassured — it assured me that the confusion and loneliness I felt as a twenty-two year-old would vanish one day in that great, final homecoming. I didn’t understand what this “Clear Light” was, but it didn’t matter — the certainty of the voice in the Book of the Dead comforted me. The Clear Light would come.

And meanwhile, I would just have to make the best of it. So in the years that followed — my twenties and thirties — I kept attempting to find or build some kind of substitute, metaphorical home in which I could belong during my exile here on earth.

I realize now that I had succumbed to the old polarity of my species: the sacred hereafter and the profane here, heaven and earth, light and dark. As far as I can understand it, this polarity has its genesis in our need to identify ourselves as individual beings separate from the other beings and objects of the world: me in here and all the rest out there. The dominance of the “me in here” sets up the added polarity of my suffering and incompleteness now versus the promise of redemption and homecoming in the future.

Of course, these kinds of polarities are understandable — we are two-legged organisms walking about, seemingly disconnected from the earth and sky, and anxious about avoiding any dangers that might be lurking on our path. It appears we are separate beings.

It took me a few decades of spiritual practice and inquiry — not to mention the normal sufferings life provides — to realize that the nature of reality only appears to be split into these dualities. As one of my teachers, Murshida Sitara Brutnell, once cryptically said, “There is no other.” This whole show is one magnificent Happening, one awesome Brilliance reflected in the infinite prisms of possibility. Which means that we — you and I right now, every humming atom of us, every thought and feeling, every movement — are inextricably part of this blossoming of spontaneous light.

Sufis call this wahdat-al-wujud, the Oneness of Existence. Nothing stands outside of its Oneness and Suchness — there is no other. The multiplicity of the phenomenal world is sometimes imaged by Sufis as a veil over the Absolute, though the veil and the Absolute are not seen as two different things, rather “the veil is the external epiphany of the Absolute.” Or, as the 14th century Persian Sufi Mahmud Shabastari wrote, “The whole world of Being is the beams of the Absolute Light. The Absolute remains hidden because it is so clearly manifest.”

Which brings us back to the Tibetan notion of the Clear Light, surely the same as Shabastari’s “Absolute Light.” The Clear Light is not, as I had first thought, something waiting out there to welcome me when I die. It is present now, right here, both as perceptible as all the apparent things and thoughts and feelings of this world, and as imperceptible, invisible, and transparent as the awareness in which these words appear to us right now. The “light” of awareness, the Clear Light, “the original nature of your own mind,” all indicate this same “light” that can’t be seen or located, though it is unmistakably, spontaneously present. “God’s Light is in the heavens and the earth,” says the Bible and the Quran. And the Quran adds, “whichever way you turn, there is its presence.”

When I die I imagine that one of my last feelings will be, “How beautiful!” I won’t be referring to the beauty of where I’m going (I have no idea about that), but how beautiful is where I’ve been, this astonishing earth, sky, and cosmos, this astonishing body and its capacity to know and love. As the mystic-philosopher Francois Cheng remarked, “The universe is not obliged to be beautiful, and yet it is beautiful.” How extraordinary!

The mystery of the Clear Light and the mystery of the beauty of the universe have become the central contemplations of my life. “Beauty” (I’m fond of repeating these words of Ibn ‘Arabi) “is the welcoming openness of the truth toward us.” Somehow the “truth” of the unchanging Clear Light is revealed by ever-changing beauty. “God is beautiful and loves beauty,” a hadith tells us. Spontaneous, ephemeral beauty — the beauty of a song, a kiss, a passing cloud, a glint of sunlight — each one a momentary revelation of the unborn Clear Light, our home.

– Pir Elias Amidon


Text and image sourced from The Open Path


The Tibetan Book of the Dead