Part One: Buddhism, Vipassana, No Self and the Ultimate Truth
I was just reading your section in the Saniel
Bonder website. I am a Buddhist monk and vipassana practitioner. I was
wondering how this teaching fits in with the radical phenomenology of
there is the seen and seeing, but no seer
there is the heard and hearing, but no hearer
there is the thought and thinking, but no thinker, etc.
What is the long-term goal of 'mutuality'?
Dear .... Bhikkhu,
It is truly a pleasure to receive your email.
Since Waking Down in Mutuality is a teaching that relies
on an association of teachers that are autonomous while agreeing about a few
core essentials, whatever I write here is simply my own perspective as a
WDM (Waking Down in Mutuality) teacher. WDM
and Theravada Buddhism use such radically different language that patience
would be needed to clarify misunderstandings that would most likely arise in
the midst of such a comparison.
From my perspective the radical phenomenology of anatta
and sunnata is one of the clearest (if not the clearest) Dharmic
expressions of the Absolute point of view. We can say a lot about how this
teaching "fits in" with it, but in the interest of being brief I will make a
few observations that may clarify some of this.
In most traditional paths, once the Absolute is
experienced through whatever technique, the tendency is to make it the goal
of further practice. What is implied is that one should continue to practice
until one can abide in that realization as a continuous experience.
This is also true with WDM, but only to a certain point.
Pretty much for everyone, the experience of the Absolute
view (when it it is not merely an intellectual idea) is rarely continuous
but is often interrupted with the conventional state of the separate self.
Often traditional practitioners are trying to keep the
state of the Absolute in place and persisting in denying the reality of the
conventional state. In WDM however, tastes of the absolute are taken as
initiations into an alternative side of reality. While (as traditionally)
WDM practitioners are encouraged to explore their Absolute dimension to the
point of confidence in it's truth, they are not counselled to pursue it to
the point of a separate self experience no longer arising.
The deepest embrace of reality for these teachings is an
embrace (as "true") of both perspectives simultaneously.
Of course it's not as though one's experience of oneself
as a separate self is not affected by ones experience of oneself as not
existing in separation. It is even safe to say that for most who persist in
this way the relative view gives way (over time) to the absolute, but not by
any kind of strategic avoidance of the relative. When we experience ourself
as a separate self, we are a separate self, and when we experience that
there is no separate self then there is no separate self. This is not a
statement about any Ultimate truth altogether, it is simply a statement
about how to proceed. Conceptual conclusions about the Ultimate truth of
reality are besides the point, because they are by definition partial and
subjective, what is useful is an accounting of the actual lived experience
of human beings.
All Dharmic expressions (even those of the Absolute view)
in these teachings are provisional skillful means, not expressions of
Ultimate truth. Hence WDM is not much interested in a conceptual explanation
about how it "truly is" for it's own sake, especially one that claims to to
be entirely phenomenological or free of subjectivity. The absence of true
and total objectivity by any single sentient being is understood to be a
working principal in WDM, awakened Buddhas included. The experience of no
subjectivity can equally be understood as a subjective experience. Since
experience of a separate self is a possible mode of experience, it is no
less "real" than the Absolute view.
The closest conceptual framework that speaks to this is
probably the writing of Nargajuna (second century AD). Taken as an Ultimate
truth, the absolute point of view becomes a stuck position. That said, as
far as the value of the Absolute view when it is not used as a "position":
It is immeasurable, It is Vast and Profound, it is the Means beyond all
stuckness. Without it, none of this is possible, and so (in that sense), it
is at the center of everything that we do.
Those, like yourself, who are pursuing (through rigorous
traditional means) the exploration of our nature beyond the separate self,
are truly specialists in their fields. One who spends his life exploring
such territory will always have more to contribute to the "Waking" dimension
of this work than the usual practitioner. When someone has the need to
balance the Waking / Down / Mutuality trio in terms of "waking" I always
encourage them to make use of whatever Dharma is available to them from the
repository of humanity's Great Traditions of Spirituality. And certainly,
from my perspective, anyone involved in any of the Great Traditions is
welcome to have their own practice in those traditions enriched by the
developments that have come forward through the WDM teachings.
Not the least of which is Mutuality. I don't know if it's
proper to view Mutuality as existing in order to pursue some other long term
goal. It is a blessing in itself, and while there are things that develop as
a result of Mutuality, it is still worth doing long after their attainment:
Mutuality develops the ability to be mindful as a listener both to oneself
and others. Mutuality develops Great Compassion both for oneself and others.
Mutuality reveals a sacred mandala in which the Divine
makes itself known as both oneself and others. That's just a start.
Thanks so much for your letter, I've enjoyed writing...
With Much love,
P.S. Would you mind if I posted our letters on the web site (without your
name of course)? I think that a lot of people would benefit from it.
Part Two: Buddhism, Vipassana, No Self and the Ultimate
Thanks for taking the time to
write back. Your writing is very concise and it is clear that this a
subject that you have contemplated before. I'll send a detailed reply soon
after I get a chance to digest your letter further, but until then, yes,
feel free to post our letters as you see fit. Just out of curiosity, what
techniques/traditions had you been involved in before WDM? Also, what is
your "position" on the existence of Nirvana as a completely separate thing
than the arising an passing phenomena of Samsara? What do you mean by the
Dear ..... Bhikkhu,
Thank you for your reply.
Just out of curiosity, what techniques/traditions
had you been involved in before WDM?
As for what came before Waking Down in Mutuality: I've
always been involved with one our another form of growth, and it's not easy
to see where it all began. I was raised a rather secular (even atheistic or
at least agnostic) cultural Roman Catholic.
For about five years in the late 1970's I was a fervent
evangelical Christian, and on the other extreme I was later a disciple of
the iconoclastic Indian teacher Shree Rajneesh (Osho) for five more years in
the early 1980's. While it's difficult to draw stark lines, I consider this
period my spiritual infancy.
It wasn't until later in the 1980's while working with
the American teacher Ken Lloyd Russell ("The Way of Seeing"), that I felt
encouraged to explore more serious traditional approaches. Although
primarily involved in Buddhist Dharma, I was also drawn to the view of Advaita Vedanta after my first reading of "I Am That" by Nisargadatta
Maharaj in 1984. I've also been involved in sitting "zen style" since
then, as well as Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism, with an emphasis on
Devotional and Dzogchen practices especially since 1990, receiving
teachings and practice transmissions in the Nyingma lineage through Ngakpa
Chogyam Rinpoche and later through Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.
In 1992 I attended the Satsang of the teacher Gangaji and
became exposed to the radical Non dual teachings of HWL Poonja (Papaji),
her Master. Poonjaji was both an enlightened disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi
(the renowned Master of Advaita Vedanta) as well as a Master of the Vaisnava Bhaktimarga tradition in which he was raised. Meeting Him in
January 1993 drew me into a deeply personal and devotional Relationship, an
unexpected turn of events for someone who considered himself a Buddhist. I
spent most of the 1990's helping spread Sri Poonjaji's teachings in the US,
supporting and assisting those teachers connected to Him. These friends and
fellow disciples of Poonjaji included (in order of my meeting them) Arjuna
Ardagh, Hanuman Golden and Catherine Ingram. Hanuman Golden is the friend
with whom I spent the most time serving and is a sterling example of the
integrity, loyalty and devotion that Poonjaji inspired.
Poonjaji's life was one which was a bridge from the
ancient to the modern. Being a down to earth householder He was the
essential heart of the tradition making itself profoundly ordinary and
incredibly available to people where they lived. He freely and entirely gave
me to myself. I am forever in gratitude to Him. While His Mahasamadhi
happened in 1997, I am still His disciple.
I met Saniel Bonder and became involved with Waking Down
in 1998, and while the emphasis in this teaching is different, I've always
considered it as continuous with all that's come before in my life,
especially what Poonjaji pointed to. I am a Teacher in the Waking Down in
Mutuality school of teaching and also a friend and colleague of Saniel
Bonder it's founder. Saniel has always made it clear that his interest was
in training teachers who could bring their own unique gifts to the lineage
that he has founded. This generous vision has inspired both respect and
devotion in me toward him. As for Myself and Poonjaji, He is my Master in my
heart and my bones, so for me He can never be "past".
Also, what is your "position" on the existence of
Nirvana as a completely separate thing than the arising an passing
phenomena of Samsara?
Hard to talk about in a way that makes sense...but for the sake of this
conversation, yes, of course that would be what I would call "the Absolute".
That is also the answer to:
What do you mean by the Absolute?
Of course the paradox in this is that all reports of "the
existence of Nirvana as a completely separate thing than the arising and
passing phenomena of Samsara" are only always conveyed by sentient beings
(whether Buddhas, Arhants or any other teachers) who are themselves the
arising and passing phenomena of Samsara. From my perspective this fact
cannot be ignored away. To then say that it is " a completely separate thing
than the arising and passing phenomena of Samsara" must always be qualified
by that fact. This is why the claim of total objectivity is always
problematic, it is also (from my perspective) why The Buddha was so
insistent that His words not be made into a dogma. You must use all these
words as the starting place for exploration, a subjective message of one
human being to another, not an explanation of "objective truth". At the same
time to say that it is not the experience of countless sages of numerous
traditions that the Unborn is a "completely separate thing than the
arising and passing phenomena of Samsara" would not be true either. In my
own case there is the recognition that it is untouched by anything. Yet even
to use the words "thing" (as in: "Nirvana as a completely separate thing")
or "it" (as in: " it is untouched ") in relation to this recognition is not
actually correct. Just to be clear... while the Absolute, the Unbecome, the
Unborn is beyond all that changes it is also the context in which all the
arising and passing phenomena of Samsara takes place. If we only think of
nirvana as an extinguishing of all conditioned arising then of course none
of this is an issue. In that case Nirvana is then simply the goal, but not
the condition of existence. Both senses of the word are appropriate as far
as I'm concerned. If we only stick with the second definition as
legitimate, I believe we are entering into the age old Theravada/Mahayana
quandary... no need for this. It is enough to know that while Nirvana is
completely beyond passing phenomena it is also always available to passing
phenomena as it's unborn nature. If it were "absolutely, totally and
completely" separate from passing phenomena then Buddhas and Arhants (who
are themselves passing phenomena) could not know it in any way, even to say
it is unspeakable.
With much love,
I have really enjoyed reading
your letters, especially the part about the quandary of a samsaric,
conditioned consciousness apprehending Nibbana, the unchanging. It's
something I'd thought a lot about myself.
Anyway, on Sunday I'm going back
to Burma, where I have been living for the past 7 years, to continue my
practice. I don't know when I'll be back to the States. Internet isn't
available there, so as a responsible internet user I will be canceling my
Yahoo! mailbox sometime on Sunday.
May you attain complete awakening, whatever that
is, in this very life.
Dear .......... Bhikkhu,
May you also attain the same.
With Sincerest Love and Respect,
2005 Krishna Gauci