September 29, 2012

5 Steps to Freedom: Melting into Liquid.

photo: N. Bernardi

Introduction: The Inner & The Outer. (Part Five)

Click here for Part One, Two, Three and Four.

We live in a society that emphasizes the surface.

Focusing on the apparent foreground of our lives, we become fairly oblivious and numb to the infinite background that is always present—the vast wilderness within the mind, as well as the universe that gave us life—holding us moment after moment. A collective lack of reverence and recognition of the ultimate reality behind the undulations of what is before us is an essential faux pas within modern culture.

There is much more to life than what meets the eyes and the ears and even further, the mental formations streaming through the mind. And, if this is the case, then there is much more to happiness and contentment than fulfilling some preconceived notions stemming from a ceaseless desire.

This piece offers a cultural paradigm shift: experience life—but first, make it a priority to deeply examine your inner self, diving below the waves to become the master of your inner realms.

Stepping into Liquid

When the concepts are removed and the logical put to rest, life shows itself in its truest form—an inexhaustible, vast flowing body of water.

Though the bamboo forest is dense,

Water flows through it freely. [x]

How to jump in? Void of an attempt to corral, dam or tame the flow, one finds the space within to move out of the reeds and into the current. Plunging headlong into ultimate reality (the present) and removing the comfortable, prison-like barriers of the mind (attachments and conceptualizations) is the first and fundamentally the only step we take toward freedom.

Moving our perception beyond the borders of knowledge, definitions and the conditioned historical view, means settling into the large and being comfortable with the small. The year of this universe and thus the theater that holds our present existence is fifteen billion, 2012.[xi] Our earth, the bundle of molten and cooled rock we inhabit, was created some four and a half billion years before this moment.

When we come to relax into our status—creations within the billions of years that have passed, as well as the billions of years yet to come—we move toward the beach. Grounding ourselves in this countless moment provides a doorway for an individual seeker to walk through and peer out onto the water that lies beyond the parameters of the small mind’s white picket fence.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh places us within this water when he writes,

“Suppose we are looking at the ocean. On the surface we see waves rising and falling. From the point of view of the waves, there is birth and death, high and low, rising and falling. There are distinctions between waves. But each wave is made of a substance called water. It is a wave, but at the same time, it is water. Concepts of… rising and falling, apply only to the waves, not to the water itself.” [xii]

We often live on the surface, going up and down with the motion of the waves; there is separation, distinction and conceptualization, night and day.

Sometimes, there are storms and the waves grow, we feel great joy and then great despair, we laugh and cry, whisper and sing. Life and death also mimic such movements when they appear in our lives.

Living within the waves, rising and falling with the ideas of the “good” and the “bad,” leads to suffering, the construction of a separate ego and thus delusion. Amongst the waves, people become important or unimportant.

In the end, rather than settling into what is, we resist the inherent nature of what it means to be living. But we can break through the cyclical movement of the waves and thus surface-level existence, by recognizing the ocean in which we live and the water we are made of. The water that binds us. Water is what we are.

In the old days there were sixteen bodhisattvas. They all got into the bath together and realized the cause of water. They called out, “This subtle touch reveals the light that is in everything. We have reached the place where the sons and daughters of the Buddha live.” [xiii]

Water flows through…it is life giving. It is a mirror. It requires great courage, deep insight and sincere calm to embark into the realm of the ultimate. Similar to the Buddhist notion of emptiness, letting go of our beliefs during the process is frightening because, in a sense, we are dying.

The ocean is frightening too. It is dark below the waves, full of mysterious creatures—unknowable, indefinable, uncontrollable, vast, empty, spacious and yet strangely full. It is not all easy or like a stroll in the park. Some ghosts from the past—the motivators of our inability to remain present, the pain below that forces us to call things “stupid,” to judge, to react, to be abused, to lash out, to feel uncontrollable anger or remorse—rear their heads and we must face them and accept them through recognition and mindful attention. Removing the distortions within, the light shines through our subjective perceptions, allowing the essence to seep through a once distorted picture.

Going beyond the mind and the ego into the unknown is the way.

Accepting the now, as it is, without a desire for change, allows change to happen. Open up and give the present your undivided attention.


Embracing our subjective tendencies through mindfulness practice and placing ourselves within the context of ultimate reality is integral to our evolution.

Our brain, our mind, our engine and also, ironically, our veil, can morph into the reflection of its original, the wisdom beyond wisdom, the concept that cannot be conceptualized; internal struggle to transcend roles, definitions and conceptualizations, leads to rebirth in life.

Struggle, doubt, again but then, like the stillness that surrounds a lonesome gravel road, become vividly balanced and at rest.

All that is required of us is our undivided attention and our willingness to remain mindful of what is happening in the now—both in the inner and the outer.

The show is now revealed and we, the cosmic “we” watch, intermingle and even dance with the actors, stepping forth and falling back. And we watch it all unravel before our practicing eye—eyes that have striven to see—greeted by the sight of what is and nourished by the thought that moves through, accounted for and burned in the fire of awareness.

The teachings of the Buddha are radical: We are Buddha. Look below, turn within and go beyond the walls of mind. Buddha nature is universal nature.

“To find a Buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the Buddha.” [xiv]

~ Bodhidharma

In the background of the universe, the earth is smaller than a grain of sand. In the background of our infinite interior, subjective mind is as small as the earth in space. Rooting ourselves in the present, seeing through the show and letting go of who we think we are—all of the parts—we fall into the oneness of the whole.

Secular, philosophical, religious (no matter one’s affiliation or preference), mindfulness and awareness, consciously touching the core, the root of life—you, in this moment—transcend all definitions and boundaries.

The walls begin to fall apart and the gate opens…

[i] D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, Shih-t’ou
[ii] Gerald D. Fischbach, Scientific American, 1992
[iii] Lama Surya Das, Awakening the Buddha Within, p 356. Dzogchen Master Jigme Lingpa
[iv] Yunmen
[v] John Tarrant, audiotape
[vi] D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, “Song of Realizing the Way”, Yung-chia
[vii] Authentic Voice, “An Interview with Meredith Monk”
[viii] NASA.com, astrophysics: http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy/
[ix] Foster & Shoemaker, A New Zen Reader, Chao Chou p 100. Ecco Press (1996)
[x] Zen Proverb
[xi] Is this important?
[xii] Thich Nhat Hanh, You Are Here, p. 40)
[xiii]The Blue Cliff Record, Case 78
[xiv] The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma. Trans. Red Pine. New York: North Point Press, 1987, pp. 13-15


Editor: Bryonie Wise

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