The following is a summary of The Science of Enlightenment Session #10, by Shinzen Young. We are currently reviewing this series as a group in the Individuals Anonymous Facebook group, and you are encouraged to join if you have not done so already.
You may also purchase The Science of Enlightenment audiobook on Amazon, here.
Can an ordinary person in the normal world become enlightened?
U Ba Khin is a great example of somebody who is efficacious in the real world, yet highly enlightened. He has a very stressful government position with the Burmese government in which he was responsible for deciding who received what money for government projects.
In his accounting department, he started teaching his employees to meditate and gave them the option to meditate at lunch. As a result, his accounting department began to stand out within the organization. They made him the head of four different departments of the company – and he had to continue teaching the employees.
Another example is given of a guy in Asia who is extremely wealthy taking about how monetary/physical belongings are definitely not the source of happiness or fulfillment. He’s liberated and extremely wealthy. This is not just ‘hippy failures’ who say that money will not make you happy.
Because the issue is completeness, it doesn’t matter whether one takes a small aspect of experience or whether they take a big piece of experience. One can instill mindfulness and equanimity just as easily by working with small or large aspects of an experience.
Having a Complete Experience of the Breath
Without having a complete experience of breath, the experience is not complete. Breath is a sensation. A very distinct sub-sensation which is actually a sensation itself.
In the breath, there is a simultaneously expansive and contractive aspect to out breaths and in-breaths. By focusing on just this aspect of the breath, one can become familiar with the expansive and contractive nature of nature.
Mr. Young asked his Zen teacher at one point for a more advanced meditation (more advanced than meditating on the breath). His teacher told him that there are people who have been meditating on the breath for 20 years and they still are learning new things about the breath every single day. He said ‘And you’re asking for a more advanced meditation now?’
His teacher laughed, but he agreed. His teacher told him he wanted Mr. Young to now figure out who he was. He said he wanted to be able to answer the question, ‘Who am I?‘.
He meditated on “Who am I?” And for 4 years he grouped on the idea, not in a thinking sense, but in a diving deeper into-kind-of-way.
Then one day, something incredible happened.
When the sense of his individual self-arose, as thoughts and feelings, there was mindfulness and equanimity covering the entire spectrum – conscious and unconsciously. He received a taste of the Truth.
He just laughed and laughed, and he noticed that the walls were laughing too – really. There was absolutely no difference between inside and outside. And well, that’s just how it goes.
If your work with body sensations as an initial object of meditation, applying mindfulness and equanimity, there is a good chance anybody can learn to be able to do this.
You can also work with thought as a means of having a complete experience but this can be much more difficult because it is much more difficult to understand. Thought is just one of the senses, no different than seeing or hearing.
The difference is that each time a thought is had, that is you, so you have this drivenness and fixation on the thought until it can hopefully eventually stop.
The problem isn’t thought. The problem is the drivenness and fixation associated with the thoughts.
The mind wants to follow each thought, every thought is you – and so it has to be played out.
The cure for each thought is more thoughts. There is a drive to think. When there are no thoughts, random thoughts come up which have no relevance, and soon a significant thought comes up – and the drivenness and fixation comes along with it. The key is to eliminate or minimize the drivenness and fixation that comes with thought.
Once that is done, ordinary thoughts suddenly turn into transcendental wisdom.
Monkey Mind vs Transcendental Thought
The only difference between monkey mind and transcendental thought is the fixation and drivenness that come with it. When we eliminate that, the sense of self and vision begin to sense the vibratory nature of the sense of self, the visual field, thoughts, etc…
Another way to work with though is to watch the thoughts, seeing them with mindfulness and equanimity.
If you can see your entire visual field with mindfulness and equanimity, you begin to be able to see your sense of self with mindfulness and equanimity. Your entire visual field begins to be filled with vibrations and fluctuations that are constantly changing – just how the sensations of the body also
If you were to look at the entire process of a plant from a side view, through a cutout of the earth, you would see the roots form, the shoots come out, then form more roots, and more shoots. You would see them dying, and popping up, and spreading. This is identical to how thoughts work and you begin to be able to observe that.
When it wants to expand, you let it expand, when it wants to contract you let it contract.
Once you can do this, you begin to are able to watch the entire thinking mind, which is mostly unconscious, as a kind of space. You begin to see this as something which has a jellyfish-like framework, in which the entire universe is as well.
Then the positive and negative gather at the core of your mind, and the thinking mind becomes zero. This might last a few seconds or it might last many hours. Having peace of mind is good, this is literally zero mind.
Most people have limiting beliefs and concepts and judgments. They believe that they cannot change because they are a certain way or the world is a certain way. Once you are able to view the thoughts with mindfulness and equanimity, you no longer have the drivenness and fixation, and you are able to break through that because you no longer identify with them.
What is Satori? What is Enlightenment?
Mr. Young tells a story of a time when he was interviewed with a Zen master and another American monk. The entire thing was in Japanese. The interviewer, the owner of a large steakhouse chain, asked Mr. Young, ‘What is satori? What is enlightenment?’ Mr. Young turned to his superior. That monk turned to Master Roshi.
The Zen master said some words in Japanese then said: “….disappearance of the distinction between enlightened and not enlighted.” Then how does one figure out if they are enlightened or if another is enlightened?
Pay attention to this…
One very quick way to achieve enlightenment is to have a complete experience of the conviction that you are not enlightened. How many times per day does the thought, ‘I am not enlightened or I’ll never get enlightened’ come up?
The thinking process is a very challenging aspect of the experience to work with. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to work with thought. If you can’t do it, you can’t. Work with the body or breath or whatever instead.
One way to work with the thinking process is to focus away from the thinking process, to take away from the gripping quality of thought. Mantras are a good example fo this.
Another way is to observe the thinking process, as just described.
Maintaining Contact With a Single Quality of the Thinking Process
One of the most intriguing ways to work with the thinking process is to single out just one quality within the thinking process and try to maintain a continuous contact with that quality. What that quality is, is confusion.
His master used to ask, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” It’s a very confusing question. You are totally confused. It creates confusion to be faced with a conundrum like this.
We’re constantly faced with what we don’t know, confusing situations, the fact that our mind gets stimied/brain-locked. At the end of a busy day, our thoughts are worn out. The mind gets bound up.
Examining the Process of the Thinking Mind
If you look very carefully at the moment by moment thinking process, it becomes clear that this includes knowing, not knowing, needing to know, which is constantly goading the mind. Chaos, confusion, ‘I can’t know’, this whole range of experiences are related. It’s ultimately what drives the mind to get answers.
One of the most direct ways to get it is to maintain direct contact with this quality of confusion. If we constantly look to find it, and every experience in life that distorts us intellectually. In doing this, rather than avoiding confusion, one begins to work through the confusion – the thing that drives the mind. The mind becomes less driven. It becomes calmer. When the mind needs to gets answers, it gets simple answers.
When the mind doesn’t ‘need’ to get answers, the thoughts come with deep, profound insight, with crystal clarity.
So this other strategy is to maintain contact and equanimity with the confused quality of the mind.
A popular Korean master teaches ‘Only keep don’t-know mind.’
Another teaches, ‘The great doubt is the basis for the great awakening.’
Another object of meditation is ‘your ready-made problem.’ You have a substance abuse issue. You have an issue that you can’t escape from. This practice is one of diving into it and therefore, resolving it.
Your ready-made conundrum only involves thoughts and feelings.
Another object of meditation can be the ordinary things in life you are doing.
Focusing on the Pleasure/Relaxation Quality
Another way of working with the thinking mind is to focus on the qualities of pleasure/relaxation, which are intrinsic to the sitting. In a former session, Mr. Young spoke of using the sensation of total relaxation, that is also a state of equanimity. Equanimity is an important aspect of total clarity.
The object of meditation might be something small and simple. It might be something large and complex.
That is not the issue. The method chosen is also not the issue. The issue is not being able to have a complete experience of whatever it is.
The issue is just to do our best – both in sitting practice and also in daily life. Complete experience is, by definition, complete. All complete experiences link us with the source of all things.
If this confuses you, have a complete experience of confusion and that will work out exactly the same.