Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
That’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.
So what I wanted to share with you was the next post that I’m working on, which is called “That’s what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.” For several years now, I have been trying to get to a Linus van Pelt understanding of Buddhism. And I have to say that I have arrived. In short: it’s all about connecting, connecting to everybody and everything in the universe in a loving, kind, non-judgemental, compassionate way. The contemplation on “emptiness” and non-self is nothing more than a method of breaking through the defensive shell around us that we call “self.” But the goal is not emptiness, nor is it realizing “non-self.” The goal is to shed any barriers that keep us from connecting to a universal collective consciousness, being ‘a part of’ everything. Some of this came from the work I did on the previous article, “Pratityasmautpada: the Evolution of Evolution”; and some of it came from listening to a teaching by Ajahn Thanasanti, who was giving a teaching at the Interdependence Project in NYC. (They have great podcasts.) Thanasanti (Theravada Buddhist) talks about the traumatized self, the wounded self, and that we have to love and heal that self so that we can then be free of self in order to connect with others. The practice of loving and healing yourself is so you can connect with others; the point of practicing “non-self” is also to connect with others. Loving self and practicing non-self are not in conflict, they help each other. These are two different kinds of practices, but they have the same goal: connection.
So I’ll give you the rough draft of what i’ve been writing in my journal:
Ajahn (Amma) Thanasanti is talking about sex and celibacy, but what she gets to is the relationship between sexual desire and the need to be loved and cared for, like a child.
go to “2015-05-23 Love Sex, and Awakening 46:35”
She teaches that the point of meditation and awakening is to dissolve the ego and sense of separate self so that you experience and become part of the state of awareness in which love and connection and awareness is everywhere, pervasive, all encompassing; there is no “you” being it, it is just everything. But the process of dissolving the self and going into that state of love threatens the ego and triggers the fear of engulfment, the fear of being completely lost and annihilated and not being able to locate oneself. The woundings of attachment that we get as children are triggered by these experiences, and the need to cling is provoked, to cling to self, to cling to ego. Conversely we can also cling to a parent figure, a guru, who we believe, consciously or unconsciously, will keep us feeling safe as we go through the dissolving. In fact, it’s probably the traditional role of the guru to be that parent-figure while the dissolving happens. But then the guru isn’t there most of the time and we are left on our own again anyway. The hunger or desire to overcome separateness, to feel ‘a part of’, connected, to be part of a community, is part of the desire for awakening. It is best achieved through spiritual practice, but people often sublimate it through relationships, and especially through sex. Sex can also bring about that sense of “no separate self” but it also triggers craving and delusion.
We have to work through our attachment disorders, our attachment wounding, in order to heal both that desire for connection that is/was not met, and to heal our fear of engulfment that is can’t let go of the ego. Ego develops as a way to separate self from mother, later self from siblings and father. Josh Korda also talks often about attachment disorders and how they affect our path to awakening. Of course the Buddha had the biggest attachment disorder: he lost his mother when he was a week old. His suffering was huge, it was pre-verbal pre-conceptual, and it drove his need for awakening, which is the sense of being universally connected. It’s no wonder Buddha left his family when his son Rahula had just been born: he ran away from his own greatest wound, the loss of his mother at the same age, at a week old. Instead of re-living the pain of that loss, he ran away to pursue “enlightenment.” HIs whole trip through anorexia, nearly starving himself to death, was another manifestation of that wounding, the conflict around “nourishment” and “nurturing.” But Buddha just went through a more extreme version of what we all suffer from: the hunger for love, yet the sense of separation, rejection, abandonment, disconnection, alienation, isolation, feeling excluded and outside; but at the same time, the fear of engulfment, losing self, annihilation, of not being able to constitute a self that can cope with the world. The tension between those two sides is what we have to work on this trip through enlightenment.
Ajahn Thanasanti also says that when you use the sexual experience to overcome the sense of separate self, the intense pleasure activates LACK. Touch into pleasure, you activate lack. Touch into lack, it activates the hunger for fulfillment. This is all connected to trauma and addiction. Sex and love addiction and co-dependence is a deeper and more profound trauma/addiction than drugs and alcohol.
If you have trauma, then you must do what you need to do to heal the trauma, even if it means for a while not practicing the same way you usually do. Meditation will trigger the trauma of loss, separation, abandonment, engulfment, annihilation, etc. You have to go back and forth between the mediation that dissolves the separate sense of self, and meditation that cares, nurtures and loves the self. You have to go back and forth between the meditation of groundlessness and emptiness of dissolving self and the meditation that stabilizes and heals self. Until you heal that wounded, traumatized child with attachment disorder, you have to do both kinds of work. That’s why there’s so much emphasis in Buddhism on paying attention to sensations in the body; it has to do with trauma that is pre-verbal, pre-conceptual, experienced by the infant as discomfort or terror in the body. That’s why movement meditation is so healing, like yoga and tai chi; meditation on the body helps heal that dissociation, numbness, discomfort which is suffering in the body. So that’s why my awakening began with yoga, even before I got to meditation.
And why do we need to do the work of loving and healing our wounded selves? So that we can connect with others. Why do we do the work of dissolving the ego into emptiness, transcending the separate self? So that we can connect with others. The method is different, but the purpose is the same: connection. There is no conflict between loving ourselves and dissolving the self; the end result is the same: so that we can connect with others. The work we do to heal ourselves of our own suffering and pain is the same work we do with others to help them relieve their suffering and pain; it’s the same work. We work to be free of our own suffering and pain so that we are fully available to others for that mutually healing connection. Connection with others, with ourselves, with others in society at the collective level, with nature, with every living being on the planet, with the universe, with the cosmos. Connection.
Buddhism is about overcoming separation, a separate self, and a separate “other”, and becoming conscious of that universal connection that is always there. I’m going to take this one step further to the flip side and say this: most Buddhists who think they are practicing Buddhism are actually practicing the opposite of Buddhism. They are practicing being something special and extraordinary and mystical and nearly super-human, which is being a “Buddhist.” By doing this, they are actually separating themselves from everybody else, and thereby perpetuating this sense of a separate self, separation as a Buddhist, self-ness as a Buddhist. This is in fact, the exact opposite of what Buddhism is about: Buddhism is the practice of not being special, not being separate, not being extraordinary or super-human, but being completely connected to everybody and everything around you.
Furthermore, awakening to connection is absolutely ordinary. Anybody can do it, and I mean anybody. It doesn’t require any special knowledge, training, meditation, mystical propensity, special gifts or super-human characteristics; anybody can do it. Awakening is a daily occurrence, people do it all the time as they go about their lives. When Buddha said that loving-kindness is like the love of a mother for her baby, he was talking about something that is absolutely ordinary. Nearly every human being who has ever had a child, or a mother, knows what that kind of love and connection is, or what it’s supposed to be. Every animal that has ever given birth to offspring knows what that love and connection is; its ubiquitous.
And if all you ever got out of Buddhism is that it’s about loving-kindness towards everyone and everything, then you got it. And if you never understood anything else about Buddhism, you still got the most important thing of all, which is loving-kindness.
And thats what it’s all about, Charlie Brown.