In the course of editing THE ZEN REVOLUTION, many scenes were cut. This is one of those pieces, from an earlier version of TZR titled THE PERFECTION OF A LEAF:
The smile draws you in, to a familiar repeating of slogans, clichés, things overheard on the bus, other people’s songs, simple transitions from boring notes played without conviction, warbling chromatic shifts of no discernible melodic distance or contrast, other than the close proximity of one fret to the next. If it doesn’t clamber and stifle one! Instantaneous birth, clap of amatol, clappity-clop of a wooden hand hammered to the board like automatic writing as the soul is trammeled flat, opaque, a small token of what it was moments before, given freely to the currents, an abandonment of life and thought, wild, void of meaning save the string of notes that breathes into life white hot. The soul is magnetized by this sort of convection, this channel through to the surface.
What about this “musician” who has nothing compelling him to the edge of the known? Are we the same? There is no thing in him that will catch fire. It is the vessel alone, without a soul – not fully human. There, I said it. He is not yet of the race: malformed, unfocused, doubtless risen with little thought to the enormous task of becoming so, and how quickly the line is drawn, the cage formed. The crab retreats into its shell, its nightmare world – when the onslaught, the source of breath, is so compelling in its razing through the forests just outside, out there. What is the point of protecting against it? To endure a tattered daydream life that begs to be snuffed out? From sheer exhaustion!
Yet how much meaning can there be? How much frenzy is optimal here? The years are few, perhaps too many, but the end is certain, and so what use these observations? It’s hard to judge any part of it, so transient and illucid. Who is the victor, the one who clamors to the top of attainment to see into the tangled cord of life, or my simple-minded friend with his guitar? If it comes to the same result, the struggle would seem a charade, except for the small matter of civilization and passing on the torch. Would life be so deeply intoxicating for either without the great luxury of our conveniences? How many images pass through their cortexes? And yet without the careful work of the mother, of raising the child in the bosom of modern society, the hard work of our forefathers, the human strain would turn feral in a single generation.
Beyond this “passing of the torch”, what is the value of human life? And why this constant striving for more? I’m pressed to divine it from every glimmer of an eye, every hot breath. It’s difficult to convey what I’ve seen, for the answer is such a long equation one has to detach completely from the world before it can be discerned, and it passes like lightning! If there’s such a thing as knowing with the whole body, that is how this thing must be perceived, as it rings and pulses and sings through every aspect of creation. How a mind is lost in it, and held lovingly, sweetly… there is the mystery, the press forward, the wellspring, the magnetism of the atom, the dark matter that takes us farther from the known, as far as life can contain, to the point that the mind is extinguished.
I love Wim Wenders, but the line from one of his first films, Alice in the Cities, has bothered me for some time — while talking with a lost girl, he remarks, “I like to stay at the hotel closest to the airport.” I’ve never digested this sentiment, as airports are never located near anything interesting, save security fences, acres of concrete, restricted fields of burnt grass… Why fly to a new place only to remain in a sterile environment? What beauty? Is the height of luxury what he was implying, to stay aloft, or nearly so? I’ve come to see this line as unimportant, necessarily so – that it was written without much thought, or to suggest something else, which escapes me. For instance, his remark was that they had many airports to fly between, so desire this convenience or, maybe, that the neighborhood was unimportant, though, as someone who has lived in Manhattan long enough to be indoctrinated, this would be inane. As brilliant as Wenders is, I can’t see him not caring where he is, who he’s interacting with. Was it meant to be funny? Though I haven’t seen the film in more than a decade, I still remember the affable look Wenders had when he let loose this bomb. Impossible to glean anything here – Yes, it was sort of half-smilingly funny, for him. Was he proud of the line? Did he secretly know what he was unleashing? Was he, like Robert Downey Jr in Tropical Thunder, playing a version of himself playing himself somehow lost in the role? Is this some sort of anagram? Did he work at an airport before he became a famous director and had some sad, undefined nostalgia?
“I want to stay in the hotel closest to the airport.”
Damn you Wim Wenders. Why won’t you return my call?
from kyol-che, from the muddy fields of my youth, the lack of companionship that drove me to roam the fields, to bond with nature in its element, the rudimentary steps of meditation. Summer vacations were interminable, but the cycle established there grew and blossomed in the Kwan Um, with 3-month retreats of intensive meditation. The suffering, the intense longing that burned in those fields! The sense of alienation welded to my psyche, I trudged into the world the outsider – the eternal glare of things out of reach, society moving together inexplicably, communicating subtly things that were commonplace to them, violence and sex and boundaries…
The Matrix has been assimilated into Zen lore as readily as the words of the old Patriarchs. I’ve used it, and Star Wars, in talks and informal discourses, as it conveys something new that’s easy to grasp – the notion of a larger reality, beyond our senses. But it is here that the analogy falls short. To become awake is not at all like unplugging from the Matrix, though at times the rift between the Absolute and the affairs we’ve become enmeshed in is so great that this clumsy mechanism rings true. Certainly we’re all connected in some way.
“The seat was very bright, nearly white hot. The state of the previous winter quickly rose again, blotting out everything. More focused and powerful, it required all of my resources. If my body was weak I would falter. Not too much walking, I was careful about how much food I was taking in, and to let everything wash over me. I let nature direct what I should do and to what extent — the wisdom of long practice.
As the schedule began to dominate me, I would often reside in the ecstatic core, or else fall briefly into the blankness of sleep. The moments where I lost my hold a doorway, invisible; I could only sense it by the surge of energy that rose as I approached. There’s something important here — in the crossing over the mind is freed. But the door itself is heavily weighted and not meant to be tampered with, like a heart, lung, or other organ. I’ve worked on this for many years. I was able, once, to hold my mind steady all the way to the moment of unconsciousness, then nothing, but the practice sprang back in place inside the dream, startling me awake.
It’s a useful tool in going deeper into the stream, as it takes you along with it down to the depths, but otherwise fooling around with this is a waste of time. Only more data to sort through: an ephemeral sort that reflects the surface, which itself is of no real consequence; a vicious cycle that needs only a modern chemical to unlatch it. I’m sure we’ll have it on the street before long, some sort of channel through to the surface that, like Claire in Wender’s ‘Until the End of the World,’ creates a new breed of junkie.
There’s another door, infinitely more remote. The wild energy of the previous winter pushed me toward it, unknown until the latch was thrown. As the practice continued to deepen I was able to penetrate farther, with less effort, to the point that I finally rode all the way through to the tapering off into nothing. It wasn’t into the abyss of sleep, but the other end, where the mind is lost in the field of the Absolute. Here the energy bursts had their own rising, crests, and receding. There was nothing remarkable about them, besides the rapture, but what was revealed there. At the far end I discovered a new door.
I will never forget the night of December 27th. Three weeks into kyol-che, I’d just finished a walk into town and some editing in the suitcase. It was the last round of sitting, near 9PM. I had no feeling that something would occur. I wasn’t holding my mind too tight, but easily in control of it, plenty of energy, when a strong gust of wind hit the window behind me.
‘Are you ready?’
I thought it the same internal dialogue, the same ceaseless chattering. There was no thing discernible, nothing new, only the heat and sound and vibration of a concentrated mind steadily increasing in pitch. Somehow, instinctively, I held my mind very gently, with a deep feeling of my own purity and that of all things. My mind was even, with no concerns. As I continued, the energy field tightened — a concentration of light and a constant ringing as I neared the door. The tight-walled blue center pulsed brightly, ever faster. I latched on to the knife-edge of it, refocusing every half-second, pressing forward — gently — to the heated core.
The ringing continued to rise, together with other indefinable sounds and a rapid fluttering of light, like bird wings. I saw only a tight glowing mass emanating in surging pulses, my eyes nearly pressed closed from the intensity. My vision became more and more broken apart, with plates of static slamming past patches of pitch black. I reached a point where I could go no farther and dug in firmly for a long period of just holding ground. My body shook uncontrollably, with fits of trembling, until there was a softening; a dip in the energy field. At once a surge of rapture rose and enveloped me, and I was pulled through the door.
The blue core of this state, the thread of consciousness, is blurry or imperceptible normally, but when the practice heats up it can become more defined. It tightens as one nears the edge, what we’re able to perceive. If you’re able to control the flow of energy out, and keep a gentle hold on the surface, and stay with it a long time without getting rattled, the mind will be drawn up in a tremendous surge of energy, and so exit the thread. It’s possible. I wouldn’t think many have made it through, as difficult as it was.
When I approached the door I could feel the excitement of it. It stays with me. But it remained invisible. I was able to pass through it only when the heavens aligned, the body and mind were purified, and all concerns far away. What did I see there? It can’t be described, besides, I have no idea what it was. The complexity of the human body alone, not to mention all sentient life, the web of consciousness must be even more so. A similar case was noted by Tu-Shun (557-640 A.D.), who labeled it the ‘Net of Indra,’ but his account seemed as far away and quaint as someone describing a rocket as ‘a chariot of fire that rode across the heavens…’ nearly indecipherable unless you actually saw it.
Since I don’t want to leave you with a historical account alone, I’ll give you my impression. Imagine an infinite span of interconnected strands, a very dense, organic web not all the same color or evenly distributed, but largely neutral in tone and laid out flat, as if held by some kind of gravity. There was a great deal of activity; the strands flashed with some sort of current, a sense of turmoil and noise running through them: a dull sensation, a convection nearly boiling with the movement of life. The activity was greater in the dense areas, where knots formed from the many interconnected strands; collectives of human consciousness. I say this because I could hear faint voices at the nearest knot, all jumbled together in conflict. Quieter threads branched out from there and down to depths unknown. It must have included every sort of life, down to the mineral.
I was locked in, my mind completely clear, still, euphoric, with a feeling of sadness along with the rapture. What I saw had no glamour to it: life filled to the brink with suffering and turmoil, everything feeding on each other. It was hard on me. It changed me. I don’t know how long I was in, only a few minutes, when my heart began beating erratically and I was forced to return.
But the world is never the same.”
(Excerpt from The Zen Revolution)
let me illustrate this further. There are two aspects which must be brought into alignment. The self has to be resolved, in Zen the teaching of no-self (the Ox-herding series gives a quick summary). After the self is dissolved in the furnace of practice, the mind opens, accepts the larger self, the Absolute.
To develop compassion for all beings, more than a religious ideal, is a necessary condition. Without orientating yourself this way, the gate remains obscured (the true self is that). Here the Matrix analogy, a dim echo, can be disposed of. There’s no other reality apart from phenomenal existence, only a greater apprehension of it.
I assume you’ve taken the red pill?
As a man who sprang from the ethers just as Gemini VII was performing its first rendezvous maneuver, I’m firmly planted on the major fault line of our age, the division between an analog and digital society. Kids born today develop friendships across the globe before learning to speak. When they reach adulthood, what new technologies will divide them from their children? Implants? Virtual robot selves on Mars? Already many of my former classmates seem as remote and puzzled as Neanderthals with all the new advances. Whatever side of the divide, everyone is mesmerized.
This year’s Google I/O was telling. The push to mobile, the interface changes; how many hidden menus now? The race forward is to make the device ubiquitous, interconnected with the user to the extent that, as the mother and newborn, it could be called the same entity. Already Leo Laporte, the King of the Internet, refers to Google’s infrastructure as a “neural network.” The flow of information now must soon turn from knowing the external – mapping, cross referencing with mountains of cross-references – to some internal world unknown to us: new bridges across synapses, new flavors, sounds, colors – for how long can we re-sole the same shoes?
With Google Glass, Google Now, hot words, and many new advances in the android ecosystem, we have the first branches into augmented reality. Already we’ve made the leap from tree branch to racing jet – impossible for the mind to grasp, yet it allows the unreality of flying through space, or hurtling down a freeway at the speed of death, where one wrong move…
The complexity of the android interface, doesn’t it suggest an Artificial Intelligence slowly building itself? At some point it will have no need of us, or our puny devices. Communication, what for? It already knows, predicts, forms, reforms – a plastic world, a formless world. Would we need to exist anymore as separate entities? Can our fascination with our own limbs, posteriors, noses, be supplanted? The move from biological to, what, photoplasm, will it be a sexless Mr. Manhattan who grows whatever body, exists wherever or perhaps multiple places?
I spent half the morning attempting to unlock an LG Optimus so I could load Cyanogenmod. It was a great waste of time, as the carrier would not allow it, and so the morning evaporated inside the puzzling interface. At least half the time I spend on computers is pushing the interface, trying to get more, do more, upgrade, update – in the background the stream of Google I/O, the important new developments. Larry Page closes with the remark,” Technology should do the hard work so that people can get on with the things that make them the happiest in life.”