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War And Peace

©Copyright 1996, by Phil Servedio

Rumors and Cause of War

The other day, as I was walking to another building at work, about to give another sales demo to a gnarly group of potential customers, I began thinking how people are so caught up in form, their whole lives are about one kind of form or another, ones they like, dislike, love or hate, and how little their lives are about what is not form. In fact, it seems that for most of us, we are in a tremendous battle to maintain our current forms, no matter how blissful or painful they may be - we are willing to endure anything, it seems, in order to not to dissolve, die, disappear, move into the unknown. And the irony dawned on me that this is the battle, the awful war that we are waging at every microsecond of our existence.

This war is about the refusal to recognize, allow and see into our fundamental nature upon which all forms, subtle or gross, reside. This nature is not separate from forms, yet it is has been characterized by various great spiritual traditions as emptiness, unqualified being, consciousness, the Self, and more recent times, "the implicit order" (by the philosopher/physicist David Bohm). So what is occurring is that this refusal, based on fear, is a driven motivation inherent within us to not see into our nature and to abide as that. We are afraid to see who we are because it IS a form of death, the fear of which being the primary motivation for action in our lives. This fitful activity to avoid, at all costs, any feeling, idea, or intuition that we may not be as solid, dense or extant as we think we are is a constant activity, a function that our own egos take on very early in life, and for the most part continues on, ad infinitum, ad absurdum! The very possibility that we are not that solid or real, moment to moment, can be such a threatening thing that it can lead to various form of neurosis, or mental illness. In fact, methinks that it is this dilemma between the empty spacious quality of our fundamental nature over against the constant eruption of moment to moment form generation of our being that is the fundamental precursor or cause of most neurosis, suffering and existential anguish. In other words, to one degree or another, and in our own unique styles, we are all nuts, bonkers, kookoo, to use some highly technical psychological terms!

This mechanism of form generation is not just a simple outgrowth of the superficial persona. This is a mechanism of all aspects of our selves, our bodies, higher mind, our reptilian brain, emotional bodies, energetic bodies, the causal body - they are all a cause and result of form generation. Anyone who has sat down and tried desperately to find a little peace of mind in meditation knows this from the start - the cards are stacked against them, and for the beginning meditator, a typical session of meditation can often be an exercise of frustration. One of my previous teachers, Da Free John, brought forth the proposal that it is in the generation of a body, not merely in the resulting early developmental processes of human being, where the cause of the suffering of existence lies. The existence of a body, subtle or gross/physical, is accompanied by a mechanism to support its continuance and this is where all the trouble lies. The body itself is inherently knotted by all this activity of attempting to keep a static form in place in the midst of an ever changing universe, and within the body is the root of suffering. The mind is simply an extension of the body, a sexier and more complex mechanism to keep the illusion of a static form in place. This is painful, no?

So in the midst of this fitful activity of continuing the illusion of a single, monolith, separate form called self that exists unchanged moment to moment, comes a gnawing but real, fundamental intuition that we are not what we think we are. Our native intelligence as to our real nature is in conflict with our neurotic drives to make sure we are secure about our "self". This is a war of the ugliest of kinds, and taking to extremes, extrapolated to a societal level, a cause of the wars between others, between tribes and nation-states. Our threatened existence, this fundamental conflict between two opposing forces inside of us is then played out on a larger battlefield, projecting the threat of our dissolution on the enemy (which of course can be most real and true, if someone or some state wants to annihilate you), on all levels of human existence. A barometer for psychological and spiritual maturity, in my opinion, is the capacity to withdraw those kind of projections from the "other", be it a personal enemy or threat, "the evil empire", the "great Satan", whatever. It seems that poor old Satan has taken a bum rap - the personification of threat that is quite ordinary, real, and fundamentally true of us. We are going to die, and our currently viewed situation is not as solid and real as we think it is!

Rallying of the Troops & Counterattack

In our personal experience of this form generation day to day, we notice that it is a painful mechanism and it prevents any kind of real peace, relaxation or sense of well-being, this battle between continuance and dissolution, between our native intelligence and fear based personal identities. So some of us, having tried all kinds of strategies of alleviation, and discovering that they were only temporary (and in some cases, made our fundamental sense of suffering and pain felt more acutely), we enter upon the spiritual path as some miserable, but hopeful seeker of wisdom and truth. The "native intelligence", our own inherent wisdom, is like a painful pricker in those who ignore it or cannot come to see it, due to various karmic reasons (i.e. the noise of form generation is so loud that this pricker of intelligence cannot be felt or heard).

Additionally, out of inherent, fundamental nature an impulse may arise to bring the dilemma between form and its base to some sort of resolution, completion, rest. There is an old Hindu analogy of the human condition, one that speaks of a tired bird on a planet where all there is is an ocean, with no land in sight and no place to rest from its weary flight. That ocean, of course, is the ocean of samsara, which taken at face value, never brings rest to the traveler. So we step onto the spiritual path only to be faced with what seems impossible odds - to get everybody (all our gross and subtle bodies) to SHUT UP! What occurs for many beginners, as they relax a bit in meditation is that the mechanisms of form generation become felt more painfully loud, as the sensitivities to their own inner activities develop. This is of course a difficult situation, and one that is alluded to in the Buddhist saying,"Better not to start, but once started, better to finish". The look into the "ugliness" of our form generation mechanisms, the nearness to them based on an increasing sensitivity can cause these neurotic mechanisms to rise to the surface of our personalities and create an even more rocky situation in our lives. We may feel at times, insane, totally confused, in turmoil, or crisis. This is not necessarily a bad thing! The only recourse, as with all human endeavours, in my opinion, is persistence.

Periods of Truce

The basic fundamental purpose of the spiritual process is, through a variety of techniques, helping forces, teachers, teachings, etc., is to work with the various gross and subtle mechanisms of our body-minds so that our inherent wisdom and fundamental nature can become a living reality, and not merely an intellectual (and/or hopeful) point of view. Now, it seems to me that there is some level or degree of "purification" of these subtle and gross elements needed for a period of time (the length of which is entirely individual) - better diet, bodily purification, meditation, yoga, confession, study - various practices that deal with and are associated directly with one of our subtle bodies, in order to free up the incessant activity of those forms. When this kind of purification occurs, there is often a subtle or dramatic freeing of energy, a greater sense of personal freedom, as a form generating mechanism has subsided or been totally released from one's being. So the spiritual process may result in various kinds of purification, releases of pent up energy that may be defined as neurotic (or a result of neurotic behavior). It is a two fold process:

  • to give insight, to enhance sensitivity to see and distinguish the various form generation mechanism that cause our suffering, then...
  • to let go of them, or at least to create space from them by being aware of their existence.

The second area speaks of two possibilities, one of releasing certain form generating patterns, and two of simply seeing the patterns. Some mechanisms cannot be let go of - for example, no one who is sane would want to interfere with our physical bodily processes that keep us functioning (however, some people take on strategies of "stopping the mind" or take on points of view that the arising of mental forms is "bad" - more on that later). However, as we become more sensitive to various neurotic forms, we mature, and the reasons for those patterns to be in existence are no longer needed, and we can release them or let go of them. A battle in the war is won with gentleness, insight and acceptance. Many mechanisms do not necessarily have to be eradicated, annihilated, removed or released, but simply seen clearly with an ever acutely sensitive quality of awareness. In fact the very attempt to try to remove certain mechanisms in our body-minds becomes counter-productive, and only results in creating an ever heightened sense of dilemma and neurosis. Instead of having a vague sense of suffering at the start of the spiritual path, one can add a host of individual dilemmas and problems to advance one's suffering to ever increasing heights. The bliss problem, the purity problem, the emotional problem, the mental problem. Paradoxically, by generating awareness into a certain mechanism or neurotic pattern, a sense of "space" or a gap arises, because one is no longer identified habitually with the pattern, like an automaton or robot, but one becomes identified with awareness itself when it arises, and "sees" the pattern now as an object, no longer as a subjective aspect of one's identity. And paradoxically enough, when this occurs, the energy or force of this pattern or mechanism dissipates, and one can own the force/energy that once was totally allocated to this mechanism. Slowly but surely, over time, each pattern is recognized, seen through, its energy re-owned and possibily released for good. This is one explanation of the model of the "gradual path", whereby one is freed from the implications of one's own mechanisms of suffering over time.

As the spiritual process matures, the capacity to see into the various mechanisms of form generation becomes increasingly acute, which we can denote as "insight", until one comes to the form of the causal body, housing the subtlest notion of a self. It is in this realm of working with ideas of self, existence and "other" where the more "advanced" spiritual practices exist, and for those who try to bypass work in the grosser vehicles or bodies, this becomes more of a mental exercise than a living, breathing process to undermine the very roots of suffering.

It is in this undermining process, through the use of penetrating insight and awareness of the various forms and form generating mechanisms, thatthe root causes of suffering are seen and eventually resolved. It is not so much that something is gotten rid of, purified or "gone beyond", but it is in the questioning of our most basic assumptions of subject existence, through self enquiry and naturally arising "doubt" about a substantial self, that the illusions of personal and objective existence are seen, and in a flash, a summary moment, the recognition of our fundamental and real nature becomes apparent, obvious. We recognize that for our entire lives we have been living a lie, a false belief, an errant notion about ourselves. And the causes for this notion, belief, or lie are the root of everyone's suffering.

Peace Erupts

When "radical" (or root) insight into our nature dawns on us, then the war is over, armistice day begins. One has seen through all the veils of the various gross and subtle forms that make up the entirety of our being, and has resolved the crisis of identification with any particular one of them, over time. Then the processes of generation of forms can be allowed to continue naturally without being an obstruction to our freedom. In other words, the import or implications of these forms and form generation mechanisms are reduced, their force or power no longer has binding quality to our own identity - they become disarmed, and seen as simply another arising object within conditional existence. Peace is now possible because the fundamental crisis of identification has been resolved. As a former teacher of mine, David Wheeler once said, "A better term for self-realization is self-resolution". The inner conflict, the subtle but antagonizing dilemma over two opposing forces, one that is trying to keep static image of identification, and one poised to dissolve all personal qualities, can come to rest, real rest. A weight is lifted off one self that one could never exactly pinpoint, but it is gone. As the spiritual process develops in this new mode of identification, what is not fundamental is "seen through", seen to be simply arising forms that are results of the fundamental field of radiant emptiness, from a mysterious process of becoming. The unseen fundamental nature of all forms begins to become an obvious reality over time. As a friend of mine once stated, "you pull the pants down on all manifest existence" - its nature is exposed, and the dreamlike quality of this supposed solid, real and substantial realm becomes a personal reality. Many individuals describe objects in terms of "transparency" - the solidity or opaqueness has been penetrated and the underlying nature of objective existence becomes part of the perceptual landscape.

This is not to say within the realm of forms, that the individual who has recognized his or her fundamental nature is given a free, smooth ride in life. Despite the noticing of the empty, unqualified nature of all forms, those forms are still there, and certain forms can still cause considerable pain to the body-mind of an individual. Look at how so many Buddhist lamas were imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Chinese...