cutting through to naked experience

This is an extract from Contemplating Illusion Through Loving All Life, a new booklet from one of my precious Noble Mentors, Lama Mark Webber.

Meet the Great Illusionists – fast-talking clusters of brain cells that map out a ‘me’ and its entire experience of time and space – and just for a moment contemplate the utter unreality of your entire mental and physical landscape. It will change you forever.

Down the rabbit-hole we go … spinning, whirling whiffs of emptiness …

The illusion that one can hold any fixed mental position even for a millisecond is untrue.  All mental objects, thoughts, and sensations are fabricated.  Don’t believe me, take a close look.  To do so will take pellucid, naked mindfulness and inquiry, unbroken by thoughts and distractions.  No amount of intellectual certainty will be enough.  Reading a modern neuro-cognitive textbook that says the same thing will not be enough.  Yet the illusion of permanency and constancy, formed by a lifetime of talking brain cell clusters makes this fabrication appear to be very real.  In modern neuro-cognitive terms, these fabrications are ‘maps’ in the mind.  Our images and concepts of body, feelings, self and other, are but maps.  The tree you see, the bell you hear are not out there; however something is, but ‘it’ is fantastically vast in scope.

Ordinary experience, even most profound meditation and visionary experiences, are not what is.  Experiences appear solid only by conditioning.  Knock out those brain cells, those patterns or maps formed by normal conditioning, through physical-mental trauma or temporarily through insight meditation, and it all goes.  Deeply relax the rigidity via deep meditation and the illusion vanishes.  It only takes a small needle in a small part of the brain, and a human cannot recognize him or her-self, even when looking in a mirror.  Or use the sharp needle of penetrative insight, while looking in a mirror: “Is that Uncle Fred or perhaps… it is familiar… yes, hummm, Aunt Marge perhaps in that mirror?  And, more precisely, what do you call that thing I am looking at!”

Many illusions, really delusions, appear to exist, veils upon veils.  There’s the illusion that heaps of information are the same as meaningful content.  The illusion of not needing a Noble Mentor.  The illusion of permanency.  The illusion of concreteness.  The illusion that one can hold any fixed mental position.  The illusion of self.  The illusion of not-self.  The illusion of separate entities.  The illusion of happiness.  The illusion of unhappiness.  The illusion that objects are bad or good.  The illusion that we can Google our way out of this thicket.  The illusion that all thoughts are bad.  The illusion that thought is ultimately bad.  The illusion of speech as an inferior way of communicating.  The illusion of everlasting peace.  The illusion of space and light.  Even the illusion of some-body to become enlightened.  The illusion of a mind!  Cut through them all!  Cessation of clinging means cessation of clinging!

How many nice Buddhists keep forgetting the Four Noble Truths?  Far too many! Practitioners are often looking for some higher, deeper, more esoteric instructions. Finding something better than “Cease clinging (tanha) and dukkha ceases?”  Trying to negotiate out of the truth?

St. John of the Cross, a Spanish saint of the 16th century, declared the vital point of non-clinging in his famous and glorious poem, The Ascent of Mount Carmel:

When you turn toward something
you cease to cast
your self upon the all
For to go from the all to the all
you must leave your self in all
And when you come to the
possession of all
you must possess it
without wanting anything
In this nakedness the spirit
finds its rest, for when it
covets nothing, nothing
raises it up, and nothing
weighs it down, because it is
in the centre of its humility
When it covets something
in this very desire it is wearied


~ Lama Mark Webber


In a similar vein:

finding my mind …  isn’t mine!

nonduality and the mutating brain


the world will not be troubled by you

This post is inspired by three wise wideawake souls: Jac O’Keeffe, whose cluster of words – borrowed for my post title* – made my hair stand on end; Lama Mark Webber, who advised me to “Never stop emptying!”; and Lama Choedek, Rinpoche, who so lovingly taught me that FORGIVENESS is the kindest gift one can offer oneself, and the world. Homage; deep bows to you.

R e l e a s e   R e t r e a t   R e l a x

When I think about forgiveness I see a beach with a quiet tide, just like the Bay here, where I lived out the last decade, and where I am at present a visitor.  I see a woman (well, now, doesn’t she look familiar!) standing at the foaming edge of the water releasing a lifetime’s worth of pain, negativity, frustration, and fury – stuff buried so deep within her body that she had no idea it was even part of her.  She just rips herself open, intent on releasing the traces of memory that are no longer relevant to her life, along with all – friends, foes, family – who feature in those memories.  Out it all goes.  She’s weeping: tears of contrition, tears of joy, tears of release and gratitude.  She’s in the grip of bliss, actually.

The phrase “backing off” arises; retreating from mental engagement with the old wound-laden stories.  I see the waves edging up onto the sand, obliterating all the traces of those who left marks, and the marks they left.  I see the incoming tide meeting the outflow of her tears and retreating back to the womb of the ocean, carrying the past with it and leaving nothing but gratitude for Life’s learning.

I see the woman kneeling now.  She loves the world – its beauty and incomprehensible order have always awed her.  She deeply feels the troubles of the world and prays that those contributed by her mistakes, misunderstandings and delusion be erased and never repeated.  She prays that the dream of world be refreshed and restored to its transparent luminosity for all who dream – whether they know it or not.

She rises.  She walks away from the water and finds a spot beneath fragrant shade.  She lays her body down.  She relaxes.  Breath by breath her body releases and her mind retreats.  She rides the tide of her breath back to her unknowable spacious source and relaxes as that breath-breathing beingness, that incandescent awareness.  All the phantom yesterdays, yester-wheres, yester-whos and yester-yous vaporize.  She smiles a little smile – Hafiz was right about separation from God being the hardest work in the world.

And she smiles again at the realization that forgiveness is about giving and giving and giving; giving back to Emptiness; endlessly emptying.  She knows that there is no end to it; there is no ‘until. . .’

– miriam louisa
*Born to be Free, by Jac O’Keeffe

Photo by Luke Norris