White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Mary Oliver


I Hope You Die Soon

Liberation is freedom from the burden of being a
person who apparently has to make choices and
decisions; choices and decisions which have con-
sequences. What a wonderful relief it is to see that
there is no choice, no person, no separation. Noth-
ing you have ever done has ever led to anything
because you have never done anything. No one has
ever done anything although it appears that things
have been done.
Isn’t it wonderful that you have never made a
choice in your life? There is nothing to regret, noth-
ing to feel guilty about. Nothing could ever have
been any different, nothing could ever have been
any other way. Isn’t that a relief? Nothing matters.
There is nowhere to go. There is nothing that has
to be done. There is no meaning and no morality.
There is no help and no hope. You can let it all
go, you can release all the tension. You can begin
to enjoy the wonder of hopelessness and the gift
of meaninglessness. You can begin to enjoy your
complete helplessness.
In liberation it is seen that nothing has any
meaning, it is simply what it is. The story does not
stop. The story continues but now it is seen that
it is just a story. All the passions of your apparent
life are just stuff happening. The conflicts, the loves,
the struggles for control and power, the victories
and defeats are simply phenomena arising in one-
ness and falling away again with no meaning at all.
Nothing has any more significance than anything
else or could ever be greater or lesser. The Trojan
war and a glass of beer are equal.
Except, of course, to the mind.

Richard Sylvester

Self as rainbow 2

We see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light—a process. Similarly, what we ‘see’ is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow. If you walk toward the rainbow you will never get there.

David Bohm, Thought as a System

I had posted this wonderful quote from Bohm several years ago; I now feel I have understood something new about it.

A whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. To this, Bohm would probably add, there are a whole lot of feelings floating around too. On top of which there is a subtle sense of self fleetingly dancing in there somewhere; and it is this sense of self, which is in essence a thought/feeling, that somehow seems to anchor all the other stuff that floats around in consciousness.

Try as we might, we cannot pin it down; the rainbow simply cannot be found, for it is ultimately an optical illusion. For this reason, probably, Ramana insisted that we try to find out the “I” thought. Seek and ye shall not find, for it is fundamentally illusory.

I absolutely love this metaphor: drops of rain and light posing as a solid self. Drops of thoughts and emotions. Can we merely see them as drops of light, sun, rain? Nothing else is required.

Nonduality, by David Loy

I have just begun a very exciting book, Nonduality, by David Loy. It is a philosophical analysis of three major non-dual philosophical systems: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism. It explores notions such as nondual perception and action in a rigorous and yet readable manner. Though is is primarily an academic work, it has already in a couple of chapters opened up some “real-life” philosophical puzzles that have haunted me for some time now!

I came across it in  Joan Tollifson’s reading list, which is a rich source for books in the non-duality ballpark.

Very excitingly, the author himself has uploaded the book as a scanned copy here. Please read for a sophisticated and exciting glimpse into the most profound philosophical traditions on the planet!

On Meditating, Sort Of: Mary Oliver

On Meditating, Sort Of
Mary Oliver (From Blue Horses)

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place — half asleep — where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter —
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints —
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

Free will

Sam Harris’ book Free Will is the most clear and cogent piece of writing on the subject of free will that I have come across.

If we follow the assumption that our mind states, our thoughts and feelings, are the product of the neurochemistry of our brain, then we must agree that as none of us have sculpted our brains, we are not in control of our minds.

Even if we believe that we have souls, then the same argument applies. We did not create our souls, therefore we are not “responsible” for them.

These summaries above are crude approximations to the elegance and power of the book, which I urge you to read now. Especially in the light of non-dual traditions, it makes for powerful reading.

Billy Collins

Shoveling snow with Buddha

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.