the Sun Hermit: Letters from my Brother

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Dear Teacher,

The wind is high, the day is beautiful, I am at ease. Challenged, but at ease with the challenge. I am open to guidance. I am not jumping to conclusions, I am open to discover.

My brother has asked, “What are sanskaras?” How better to understand mindfulness, equanimity and non-reactivity, in the realm of thoughts, sensations and emotions?

As for myself, I am inquiring into my work, this new project venture I am contemplating, and what it means to be a guide. Is there anywhere to guide others? Is it arrogance to present oneself as a guide? Or at least, is this truly my path, or just an idea I have taken on? Where is my creative joy taking me? What is my next step?

I pose these questions not expecting immediate answers, but as avenues into contemplation, into deeper wisdom, into deeper serenity and strength both. I hold my accumulated knowledge lightly. I am indebted to it, but I can also transcend it if need be. Teacher, please open the door to communion with you!

Yours truly,
Tao

The Sun Hermit reads my letter silently by the light of a flickering fire. He folds it and gestures for me to join him.

I sit next to him by the fire.

“Close your eyes,” he tells me. “Touch the silence within.”

happyzen

My life is centered on a great joke. Tea as dark as earth, secret societies and esoteric knowledge, real cloak-and-dagger type stuff… all these are the perfume of a great joke.

Keys… keys to what? A key to a book of keys to doors that were never locked and cannot be closed. A key to more keys. A key to a mystery that is always opening into greater mystery! A journey that leads to blissful nowhere. And all swirling around this question, “Who am I?”

Do not rely on your work to bring you a sense of self. Mystery is mystery is mystery! Being, clarity… is a flower mysterious? When a child sees a flower, is the flower mysterious? Or is mystery colored by a sense of danger, fear of the unknown? Mystery, seduction, beauty, innocence…

Spirit is at work, always in all ways.

Who am I? The wandering fool? The friendly and humble counselor? The mystifying mystic? The father, the son, the holy spirit?

Do I long for greatness or do I long to disappear into the unknown, hidden nooks of the world?

And at the end of the day, which is the greater blessing to the world, questions or answers? So many wars have been fought over conflicting answers, but questions lead a soul away from war, into the quiet spaces of life that offer themselves for contemplation.

I will share with you the doctrine of sanskaras as I understand it. It is a doctrine which comes to us from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and approaches life in terms of Mind and experience, rather than matter and physical laws. The science of sanskaras, then, is a science of how a particular experience gives birth to more experiences. It is intimately tied with the notion of karma, though the contemplation of sanskaras leads one to a more impersonal perspective.

Here’s how it works: An experience rises in the field of consciousness. This experience is composed of sensory awareness and mental awareness. The conditioned tendency of the Mind is to react to these experiences, through either craving or aversion. With craving, Mind judges the experience to be pleasant and wants more. With aversion, Mind judges the experience to be unpleasant and wants to get rid of it. So long as Mind is caught up in craving and aversion, there is no balance, because the ephemeral, impermanent nature of these experiences keeps unbalancing the mind and keeps it seeking after a permanent state of pleasure that is not actually possible.

Each instance of craving and aversion also creates an impression in the Mind, and over time builds up a conditioned set of behaviors that the Mind identifies with as “me.” Any time these beliefs and behaviors are challenged more suffering arises. And, acting out of ignorance, the Mind will attempt to solidify its own illusion to protect it from what the Mind perceives as threats.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this vicious cycle of disharmony and suffering. When the Mind rests in its true nature as an empty, dispassionate vessel for experience, no new sanskaras are accumulated and old sanskaras begin to unravel.

Now, whether an experience is pleasant or unpleasant, Mind sees its true nature of impermanence and emptiness of self or identification, and simply allows the experience to come and go. As this process deepens, even decision-making and acting are seen as impersonal experiences that rise and pass away in harmony with the totality of the field of experience.

In this way, the notion of separation dissolves, and Mind remembers its true nature as the underlying source and reality of all that is.

Many great sages of the past gave us techniques to begin to cultivate this awareness, such as meditation on the breath or bodily sensations. Identification with beliefs and emotions runs so deep that it is usually necessary to begin by challenging our identification with the body, which is where the unconscious roots of our beliefs and emotions actually lie.

From this perspective, the goal of life is not to have pleasant experiences, but to learn detachment from experiences such that the Mind can return to its original state of peace, bliss, and universal love. To remember what Zen calls “choiceless awareness.”

“Will this knowledge help my brother?”

“It will help anyone who takes the time to really digest this teaching. It is beautiful, profoundly beautiful. It is the way out of suffering. It might seem technical and dry, but there is a magic inside it that is always ready to be born. There is no yearning of the Mind so great as to return to its true nature. Within every experience, it is always seeking itself.”

“Is there anything you would add or take away?”

“Much has been said regarding the value of finding a teacher. I would speak to the value of love and surrender. It’s a necessary step. Once you begin to understand your goal, you must surrender to a path or teacher who can challenge your ego and keep you going until you reach the final goal.

Without this it’s easy to remain stuck in a comfortable cycle that keeps you from breaking through deep unconscious layers of attachment and identification. We must dare to fall in love with something or someone that allows us to taste the nectar of wisdom and freedom, and then we must surrender to the fire that burns away all falsity.”

I can attest to this from my own experience. I have seen how love and devotion change everything. A teaching from someone you have not surrendered to can easily fall on deaf ears, but when the same teaching comes from someone you are devoted to it goes right to the heart. We have to be true to ourselves. If we are following a path or practicing a technique without genuine love and devotion, it can only take us so far. Realization always requires surrender.

For many of us I think surrender is probably the most difficult aspect of the path. Our over-analytical nature makes it difficult to trust. Our ideas of will-power and individuality make it difficult to fully open up to something we perceive as being outside ourselves.

“Teacher, what is the greatest service we can render to the world?”

“Love the Truth above all else, and dare to give it a voice, a medium to dance its way into the hearts of your brothers and sisters. This is the only service, and whether its forms are small or large doesn’t matter. Every manifestation of love is a manifestation of the One.”

Unity.

To bear testament to the reality where all paths meet as one.

May my voice sing this gentle reality for all who seek it…

Love and salutations
to Lord Jesus Christ

Love and salutations
to Lord Buddha

Love and salutations
to Lao Tzu and all sages of mad wisdom

Love and salutations
to all contemporary teachers of insight and inquiry

Love and salutations
to you and me and the place where we meet as one

Love and salutations to all beings!

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