Essence Nature


Most people would probably agree that the biggest human questions are why are we here and where do we come from. We generally do not believe anyone who claims to have received a phone call from God. And even if such a claim turned out to be true, that would take all the fun out of the inquiry, wouldn’t it?  Plenty of people have plenty to say about this, but no one has the ultimate credibility.

Anyone may glimpse the truth–if only for a fleeting moment, a flash, a single dramatic image, or a rare case of true spontaneous awakening.  To articulate the detail and nuance of what is revealed is something else.

For example, I’m not so sure I believe in reincarnation, the cyclic return to this realm of cause and effect under circumstances determined by karma. Karma is regarded as an individual thing. “My” karma is specifically mine, unique to “my” mind stream—as if something about “me” is substantial, ongoing — apart from this identity I have spent a life creating as if it truly is “mine.”

Each of us is unique and temporary. Whatever is unique about us is itself part of a much larger and far more complex murmuration of inconceivable magnitude. We are but a single bird in a vast flock of numberless creatures. Each of us a part of the journey of the whole, a fine thread of a vast dynamic finding its way back and forth in and out of time, woven with threads of fellow beings and with the whole itself.

But there is nothing eternal about this version of “me” I have adopted. It is all a temporary suit allowing me to present the idea (of me) as if it has enduring reality. I would grant that it does, in a way, within our limited system of rules, if the universe of physics were the only universe. I am created by someone…or something. I am the author. But ultimately, I am a flawed and insubstantial interpretation of ultimate truth precisely because of my inescapable conditioned nature. At the conclusion of my allotted period of expression, I will dissolve into the reservoir of images that await their own evolutionary moment of greater expression.

I’m not sure there’s much choice involved. It’s nice to tell ourselves that we “chose” this body or this identity for this life to learn something. It is temporarily satisfying. And it may even be close to the truth. But I do not fully subscribe to this idea. A non-dual view suggests there is no such thing as a separate consciousness that drives that choice. Again, we seem to be temporary expressions of a consciousness that is in constant flux, moving into and out of these brief material manifestations and weaving ourselves into networks of similarly transitional expressions, aka other beings.

From the non-dual view, how can we define karma as strictly individual? So much is spoken about relative and absolute truth. The same distinction might be made about karma—as if there is a relative karma of our everyday transactions, the everyday activity of mind, the  unconscious habits of attention that we adopt to manipulate the outer or inner world, including our interpretations of the world and the actions we take in regard to all those related events.

We understand the meaning of karma to be “action”—which initiates and sustains the cycle of cause and effect, what we know as samsara. All of samsara, every bit of it, is karmically generated. Karma is the seed within every action of every being, including our attachment to our mental delusions, in the sense that they initiate the harvest of effects that arise in our lives.


Given the vast field in which we act, including the familial, tribal, the collective social context, the political and the global, to focus on individual karma is to overlook the true nature of our presence. To fully appreciate the nature of our predicament, we have to place ourselves within a multi-layered reality that is itself only a relative version of the journey we are all on, which is itself a relative version of the timeless condition of no condition, the ceaseless condition of arising and non-arising.

We operate not only in helplessness and confusion. There is also bewilderment, a primal search for our eternal nature beyond the laws of physics, mixed with an awareness of our physical nature hopelessly anchored in the laws of physics. Sure, there is a karmic component of all our transactions; there is also a karmic component to our interpretations of events. This is the karma of our karma, predisposing the interpretation of the activity we are observing. We can never have an objective view. There is no such thing.

Adopting tools of interpretation can either facilitate awakening or inhibit it. We are boxed in by our own box. Our habits of mind operate regardless of our intent or our self-reinforcing assurances. Our view is always inescapably relative. No doubt we do have karmic encounters for some mutual purpose. If we differentiated karma, we might say relative karma applies to the individual, while absolute karma is a aggregate condition of the whole, the entire fabric of samsara we share.

Our lives–what we experience as the separate nature of our journey–are brief holographic representations of the whole truth, the entire timeless web of existence, the knowing that fuels us and which so frequently stumps and confuses us. At that moment of entering the realm of physics, the universe of sensation, we lose awareness of the whole. We enter the realm of forgetting, helplessness and bewilderment. There is no going back. There is no recovery. There is no absolute solace. Whatever true perspective, equanimity or peace we may achieve comes only with great diligence…and is itself impermanent.

Our ultimate nature, the timeless and absolute view, always present, is pure, fearless, compassionate awareness. These words alone, being frail derivatives of non-conceptual reality, fall hopelessly short of conveying unconditioned nature. They convey what appears to have distinct attributes such as purity or compassion or fearlessness. But these terms are redundant. They describe a single facet of a condition having no attributes, that is indivisible and cannot be described in terms appearing to differentiate one quality from another.

There is no purity without awareness. There is no awareness without compassion. Compassion does not exist apart from fearlessness. Anything detracting from the purity of open awareness is obscuration. Fear is a characteristic of our embodied condition, the dualism of confusion and bewilderment inherent to the universe of sensation.

If this is the truth of our ultimate nature, then every moment we are ensnared in the mental universe, conceptualizing and imagining these qualities to be separate attributes of truth, we are failing to notice the dynamic nature, the unity, the immeasurable spontaneous, ever-renewing beauty of moment-to-moment presence.

Surrender II

In recent conversation with a poet/yogini friend, I offered to advance her book of poetry via a connection I had in McLeod Ganj. The advantages seemed too serendipitous to pass up. She was appreciative, but expressed reservations, wanting to finalize her publishing deal first. She also made references to other more mysterious factors to be assessed before proceeding in the way I suggested. She had referred to herself as a shaman in previous communication. Now she was sounding like one. I was drawn into her view, which was entirely about fully opening awareness, not to obscure conceptualization, but to the unseen, the non-conceptual un-evaluated forces that impinge on important decisions and activities in everyday life–if we take the time to notice. A shamanic view.

Not only that, I was being drawn into such awareness in that moment, suddenly immersing in the flow of my own life. But I had no doubt it was the energetics of the moment, the exchange we were having that drove my attention in that way. I was having a burning reflection of my personal default state, my primary orientation to material existence, to causes and conditions, to the imaginary nurture of dualism, a force-based mechanical self-assessment and decision-making process about nearly everything I do.

This came as a shock, and with considerable emotion, as if I was suddenly permitting myself to see clearly and to let go, releasing into a more expansive view of everything. The sense of boundaries, physical boundaries, psychic boundaries, the limits of my separate identity all relaxed. The sense of my own influence in the world and in my very own life, my agency, also relaxed. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, my need to exercise that agency relaxed. I sensed the fear at the root of that need melting away. It was a welcome feeling. I was not surrendering agency; I was redefining it. I was no longer the sole agent, the sole cause and director of my separate life, but the effect of energies far beyond my comprehension or influence.

About a month ago I had an experience I called “dissolution.” It was a temporary disappearance of the normal boundary between the perceiver and the perceived. I experienced a dissolution of whatever we imagine separates phenomena from each other.  Everything appeared as a single seamless image in which all phenomena including myself, arise and return to a single source-less source, in no-place in no-time. My friend read what I had written and recognized it as territory of common interest.

Returning to and continuing to reside in that no-place and no-time requires more conscious deliberation lest the experience recede and become inaccessible. It’s barely accessible even now. Trying too hard becomes mere contrivance, as if one can set the stage and wait for the actors before the drama has been written. Dissolution, allowing all  contrivance to fall away, becomes the new challenge. Yet transcending the contradiction of learning how to “not do” is possible, even if only for brief moments.

In those moments, the presence of death, the inevitable end of everything, arises into awareness, where it has always belonged, where it has never truly left. Fear subsides, striving dissolves, apprehension and anxiety about the past or future disappear. The sense of oneself as simultaneously insignificant abides, being a mere instrument of reality, as well as being an unusually powerful voice of truth.

Exploring these pathways, I re-inhabit a body-mind relaxation-response I associate with surrender. Infusion with this dose of reality becomes a form of surrender, though not in the conventional sense of erasing myself, or giving up something, autonomy; more like redefining the self I imagined, having an opportunity to revise hidden assumptions about autonomy.

The dissolution of duality, the separation of living and dying, arising and disappearing, is not a matter of doing. Neither is the state of non-meditation–entirely different from not meditating–a matter of doing. It is a matter of un-doing, walking backward through the layers of mental construction of everyday mind, the obscuration of reality, to the fundamental nature of mind–a placid pond on which thoughts arise from nothing and skip like stones into exhaustion. The observer disappears. Surrender cannot be true, and remains a limited self-delusional contrivance, if the subject-object structure of perception is preserved.

The most common buddhist inference about surrender implies subsuming oneself to a greater influence, abjectly deferring one’s will to a larger purpose; namely, the intelligence, the practice, the clear seeing of a teacher. One is admonished to regard the teacher as an emissary of the dharma, a voice of all teachers; not merely as just another ego, but even as a Buddha himself. A karmic partnership is expressed in the one who reveals our own self-cherishing to us, holds a mirror to our flawed thinking, doubt and twisted perception.

Yet we also have to ask, “Who is surrendering? And surrendering to what?” There is no doubt that grasping and contrivance may be revealed in relationship, but it is equally flawed to regard the Other as any more real than oneself, with all of the same flaws, feelings and constant tripping over one’s own garments. Subsuming one’s ego to another’s guidance without noticing the empty essence and primordial purity of the entire transaction will not be of ultimate benefit. Light is not other than the sun, but the sun itself in different form. The vast expanse is not other than the vast expanse in every possible form, appearing as Other. Surrender into a relationship that is not dedicated to the dissolution of boundaries, to the promise and evocation of the seamless image, not merely to the destruction of the witness, but to the shamanic inclusion of everything as witness, that is the promise of true surrender.


The Karmapa Stupa-Crestone, CO.


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As It Is


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From my earliest instruction in Buddhist meditation, this phrase, “As it is,” has been used in numerous contexts to describe a way of interpreting experience. It implies that all overlays, story, judgment, speculation about the future and interpretation of the … Continue reading

Real, But Not True


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The Flow of Feeling


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Kapan Gompa


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Yes, I realize you’re probably already bored with me talking about driving in Kathmandu. But I tell you, it’s such a significant aspect of the local reality that is so radically different from what any of us who don’t live … Continue reading



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Our meditations on compassion begin at home, within our own hearts. They begin with appreciating our selves in an ever-deepening way. This appreciation is not about pumping ourselves up in our own eyes. It is not about covering over layers … Continue reading