Even with a teacher, the student sets up many dodges to protect his "my" consciousness from the triumphant experience of full awakening.
It was in the little western town of Berree. I faced the committee. Mr. Aleph Norte, the chairman, looked at me severely. "You know our principles," he said. "Seek and ye shall seek. Knock and we hope nothing happens."
"I do," I replied. I knew that Mr. Norte had had a very trying month. On his arrival at Berree, he had made no secret that he was and always had been a gold-seeker. There was an avalanche. Many sought to sell him their mines; many, however, offered them to him freely. It was necessary to impose stringent conditions. The gold must be officially assayed at 100 percent, it must be on the surface, it must be near at hand. Even then a committee was necessary to strain out all the applicants.
"I notice in your offer," said Mr. Norte, "that the gold is pure and beautiful and lies on the surface ready for the taking. However, you state that it lies on a road half-a-mile to the north. Now, all of us here know for a certainty that there cannot be only one way. We are here to investigate every way and are willing to spend our money and time in continual seeking. We are, therefore, sorry to refuse your offer, the more so as we love people."
This was not the first time I had made a mistake. Without thinking, I blurted out the truth. "Actually, the gold lies in a half-mile circle. It is all around you. You cannot fail to find it – if, of course, you wish."
There was a tense and terrible silence. Then, they came towards me.
How did I escape? I did not. The place was a shambles. There were bits of me all over the place, and so I feel free to tell you what the committee would not listen to: the actual way in which a student is brought to "awakening" – always has been and, as you will easily see for yourself, always will be, until our species develops a new faculty or somebody bursts this ball.
Your first problem is a teacher, "opener," master, or whatever you like to call him (or her). Let us take a specific example: Subud. This rests on perfectly valid experiences of Muhammad Subuh of Java; in particular on one that happened on the night of June 21-22, 1933.
As has happened many times in history (with the "Buddha" Gautama as an example), a "movement" started from this one man and has become world-wide. Groups of people are meeting everywhere under the guidance of so-called "helpers," and from these, people who are suitable will proceed to centers for direct work.
Awakened and "matured" persons will be needed to do this work. All must derive from Pak (Father) Subuh himself. Awakening may take anything from 30 minutes to 10 years or more, and usually takes several years under favorable conditions. Further, this awakening varies and many do not have either the desire or capacity to awaken others, and rest content with their attainment, spreading what light they can to those around them.
Groups are everywhere in the world. What will happen to this flood of people? Clearly, Subud will develop into a sort of religion and will offer much consolation to those content with the meetings and unable or unwilling to proceed further. That is, in fact, what religions are. There are tens of thousands of awakened people in the U.S., but if these "work," they work alone, and converts to Subud, who trust Pak Subuh, do not trust them.
On the other hand, there is a Zen Master in this country (or soon should be) and those working with him would not be much inclined to switch to Subud.
It seems that there are as many brands of awakening as of coffee, and that it is the well-advertised ones that attract people. They do not differ much actually in method and not at all in result since, as you will see, their problem is the same.
How can we sum this up? Clearly, Zen is a sure way because a succession of enlightened Masters is rigidly maintained, but it is apt to be a very lengthy process. It is also a tough one, but so it has to be in any system. Even in Subud there is an "0" group kept separate because of their violent reactions.
Many are afraid of the whole business because they suspect or rationalize that it is autosuggestion. I know very well, for what it is worth to you, that you are more free than before, not less free. Moreover, if it is time for you to start this process, you will not have much to say about it anyway. We have a saying that when the student is ready the master appears. It does seem to work that way.
The harvest, however, is plentiful but the laborers are few.
Let me consider the problem of working with a person like you, the reader. Normally if you wish to know something, you get a book on the subject or attend lectures or ask a friend. If the subject is not too complicated you anticipate that, by directing your mind and memory to it, you will see "what it is all about" and finish up with a good working knowledge of the subject. If the subject is very important, your mind becomes as alert as a tiger. It is the way of our minds (and many of the new calculating machines) to dichotomize, to tear things in half. Unfortunately, this process does not work with any "ultimate" problem and only results in the mind breeding more and more thoughts about it unendingly – like grasshoppers.
It so happens that the peculiar origin of you and the universe is concealed in a place that the mind cannot reach. Some persons will call this "God," but this word will mislead you, and it is better to find out what this is yourself, and then call it what you like.
Most persons think of themselves as twofold. There is "my" consciousness, "my" mind, "my" self on the one hand – and on the other, "my" body. This is all of me. There is a decided split between these two sides of me.
However, the fact is all of these are one; that is, my mind and my body are one – one organism, not two.
But this does not exhaust the situation. There is a pure Consciousness – Consciousness that knows itself. "I am that I am." This is unexpected, and I did not believe when I first heard this that there could be two kinds of Consciousness. I only knew the one I was naturally familiar with, the "I am as I am."
The way it works is this. This pure Consciousness shines on the mind-and-body organism; it is the "light that lighteth every man that cometh into this world." When it does this it suffers a change. My mind accepts it only as "my consciousness" – a limited consciousness – and, since Its essence is Self-Consciousness, "I" experience It in a similar way as a self, in fact "myself," or ego. I say I am "conscious of myself," but this is a smaller self, not the Universal One, merely what I call "me," one of my many "me's."
It may be said that the pure Consciousness is concealed in "my" consciousness as a penny may hide the sun. A ray of this may suddenly dazzle us in so-called "mystical experiences," of which most persons have had a touch, but in awakening (or satori or metanoia) we see the pure Consciousness shining serenely in its own light. It is a triumphant experience since "what has to be done" has been done; but it is also profoundly humbling as our little self sees itself as a usurper, a thief borrowing its selfhood from the Universal Self.
A student wrote me: "Consciousness sees itself. It is impossible yet it happens."
So much for theory. The practical job of awakening someone consists in part of showing him or her by various devices that all mental attempts to reach the pure Consciousness are in vain. It lies back of our mind and back of our consciousness. Any thought we have about it is impartially irradiated by it. For example, we think "this is unproved idiocy" and the pure Consciousness lights it up in its usual benevolent way so that it becomes "I am aware that I think this is unproved idiocy."
Obviously, this is a peculiar situation. This Consciousness is at all times ready to make us "aware" of what we are thinking or perceiving, but that does not mean that we become aware of That which is Itself giving us this peculiar faculty of being aware of ourselves and our processes. Thus we get no clue as to whether our thought was a correct one or not; only that we know we have such a thought.
No wonder It is hidden and confusing. The problem is to reach Consciousness as it is in itself, and not as reflecting some thought or perception of ours that is in it at the time.
We require empty Consciousness so to say. Some try, like the Yogis or some of them, to attain it by emptying the mind by "meditation" but it is not the mind we have to empty. The real obstacle, of course, is the "my" concept, the self or ego. This is my Enemy in this work. How can we get from "my" consciousness to "the" Consciousness?
Naturally, as long as "we" decide or "we" try to do this, we are regarding ourselves as ultimate and reinforcing the bonds of delusion. All we do is rotate our own ideas like a squirrel in a cage. It would seem, therefore, an impossible task like lifting ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
However. the simple fact is that it happens all the time. There is help from the side of the Consciousness itself (theologians call this "Grace") which is not resting idly but presses to "come out" in us. There are intimations of what this pure Consciousness is like in music and the arts, in nature, and the highest aspirations we have.
The teacher (I wish I had a better word) takes advantage of these. Further, he stays "open" with the student, and the student, by mere love and friendship, receives what in Zen is called "transmission" and in Subud "contact." It is inevitable that the student should carefully observe every word and action of the teacher (because at first he doubts him) and in time the awakening of the teacher is felt definitely by the student, altho not verbally definable.
In Zen, so-called "koans" are used to throw the mind out of the reasoning rut (in these days of paper books, I assume the reader knows what koans are) and sudden shocks are contrived to shake out the obstinate ego. The teacher uses similar things.
For months, the student tries every possible argument. Over and over, he will bring up, for example, the "problem of evil," the question of life after death, of reincarnation, of some religion or other he may have been taught in childhood, of science, of his own desperation at ever getting anywhere, of how one can tell if the realization, if it comes, is any more "real" than anything else, if it is merely another trick of the versatile mind or subconscious, whether we are just bubbles – anything and everything.
It is nothing new to the teacher. He could write the script himself. (In fact, I have partly done so here.) However, he remains steady; he knows what has to be done, he knows where the student is and in time be sees hopeful signs.
The student is disturbed. He has come to the end of his "tricks" (actually desperate attempts to preserve the ego as boss, when it is only a competent executive officer) and the teacher will not "buy" any of such tricks.
The student is not a fool. He knows all the time what he is doing and that one day he must surrender in utter helplessness. Meanwhile, he retains a second line of defense, a "secondary" judgment which does not yield whatever he may say openly. One day this too lapses, even if only for a moment.
Then something happens. The student is surprised to notice, for example, that his perceptions are sharper, everything seems brighter. Next morning he awakens to a situation which puzzles him for a moment. Something is missing. What can it be?
He soon finds out. For a time he enjoys the extraordinary experience of being a limited ego with an unlimited Consciousness. He is free to use it and to test it. He finds It will show him the basis behind material things, the many in the One, a clear but absolutely new and indescribable thing; or it makes clear once and for all, the whole process of the ego or self in himself and others and in relationship. For a salesman or lawyer, this is indeed a bonanza, but there is a price to pay – he is not likely to use this new wisdom for wrong.
He now knows intimately – more intimately than we can know anything or anybody – the Basis of our universe and us and is perforce henceforward a "channel" and a servant of "That." It is a strange feeling for a proud man.
The job is not done. There ensues a long maturing process. Confused areas of thought, mental blockages, must yield one by one. He has the means to do this, but uses it naturally. One day the last weed is gone from his garden and he is surprised to find he has no further questions.
Do not think that this is all a mental exercise. It involves the whole organism, body and mind. It is a criticism of Zen that this feature is not stressed at all. In Subud, remarkable cures have occurred and readers may remember another great man who went about doing good – he could not avoid it. People will not flock for enlightenment, but will try anything to cure a so-called chronic condition.
What happens to the student after his experience has matured? It becomes the most natural thing in the world. He may say, like Gautama, that he has done nothing at all. It is true that he has "done" nothing, but he does know by actual experience what our human situation really is.
There is much difference between experience and words. You are welcome to laugh at my words. I do not think you would laugh at the experience.
Do not find this article too disturbing. You will find that God is both "open" and loving – devastatingly, almost unbearably, so.
If you should find that the thought of God is constantly in your mind, do not try to remove it; it can be very unsettling. Welcome it and in time it will seem supremely right.
[ end ]
Also by Alfred Pulyan, written a year after this essay: Letters from a Zen Master, Or Why You're Still Suffering