The Pratyeka’s Garden
Mining the Tropes of Our Lives
there we were again, inside,
drawn down the narrow shaft of perspective
past mind’s open maw
into the pit of coal and diamonds
where the empty ache of eons rests
above, below, and all around us
in the bones of the ages
there we were again, inside the mind,
mining the tropes of our lives
and blinking at each other
faces blackened with soot
our eyes startled out like headlights
when we remembered
what we left above
for this dark
the open field
the leaves of fall
the winter sleep
the green spring
the light summer dresses rippling in the breeze
In the development of different Buddhist canons certain paths were recognized and Buddha consciousness was characterized according to the actions of the awakened one. Self-realized beings like Gautama Buddha are denoted by three things. They teach, bring enlightenment to others, and leave a legacy in the form of a canon, community or religion. They came to be characterized as samyaksambuddhas.
Other Buddhas give moral teaching reluctantly and do not bring others to enlightenment or leave a legacy. In some traditions these pratyekbuddhas are devalued or marginalized on the basis that their paths are unique, personal, eccentric and eclectic. They can be seen as exiles or outlanders. This seems to be thoughtless, considering that all great samyaksambuddhas are also pratyekbuddhas because their newly brought forth wisdom is gained on a personal, unique path.
Traditionalists rightfully see the unique path of the pratyekabuddha may offer more confusion and distraction to the seeker than the carefully blocked out orderly steps of the traditional path, which is reasonably homogeneous across varying schools sharing the particular root. The path of the canon, community and religion is embraced, assigned a favorable status, institutionalized. Ironically it becomes closed to that which it grew out of; the newly brought forth wisdom gained on the personal, unique path of the first message bearer, an unknown pratyekbuddha.
A pratyeka’s garden may not be combed and perfected to the simple elegance of the classic zen garden. It is unruly in its ways. It is a tree, a meadow, a river in four seasons, by turns riotous in spring and silently stark in winter. Perfection is there in a dynamic chaos which does not obscure that perfection.
Pratyeka is my path, not my status. I can’t confirm or deny my status, it eludes me. It defies measure, although many people think they can take my measure quite handily and assign me a status accordingly. I can’t deny my consciousness, it would be pointless to do that.
I can confirm my path. The expressions of my path have been and may continue to be indeed eccentric, personal and eclectic. I will nudge whoever is put in my way toward consciousness in my manner. I tender offers, I do not instruct. I rarely chatter idly, but it takes a certain discernment and willingness to consider what I say and how I say it to see there is more than prattle in my expressions. I can be contrapuntal to the point of offering what is wrong as being right, because people often learn more in the excitement of catching a mistake than they do when the clean and perfect truth stands before them.
I offer odd koans with tone, manner, content and whim. I have faith that all these expressions come when and where they do because they are meant to be there. I allow it without regard for propriety. Idle chatter is rare in what I offer. The eye of the beholder sees what it will. Light is missed when the eye looks only for the ray in its own neighborhood. Yet even so, the ray leads to light.
Everyone has a perspective. The pratyeka follows the rays seen locally to the source of all rays. It is perfectly acceptable to dance and sing and laugh and celebrate before the altar of known truth. The celebrant in the eye of the traditionalist is often perceived as an idle chatterer, or worse. The consciousness which does not locate the content in the pratyeka’s message in no way diminishes the message given. Often gold given turns into ash in the hands of the recipient.
The path which teaches there is nothing through meditation, and seeks and finds union in the practices of purification and singular attention and detachment, is the way.
The path which teaches there is everything through joining and finds union in the practice of simultaneously knowing One and More Than One, is the way.
The simultaneity of the two paths, reconciled, is the message here, and the message is the path. Spiritual bliss and existential woe are the two primary polarities of human essence. We are able to move toward either pole, and we are able to be balanced between the two.
On the Path of Parity the pilgrim comes to know the divine and the existential mutually comprise life simultaneously, and without conflict. The first is inexpressible, the latter inexhaustibly prone to perspective, relativity, and the wordy, rationalistic expressions thereof. It’s the paradox of being, this dualistic ability to simultaneously know the universal divine and yet see existence from only one perspective point. It’s a humorous predicament, laughably absurd and poignantly clear. The tears of each, of laughter and song and samsara and grieving, are the same perfect tear.
On my path, I experience both my natures. I chose this, and it chose me. The divine and the existential comprise my life. I am simultaneously untroubled knowing the first and troubled in my experience of the latter.
Aldous Huxley speaks of the difficulty encountered when we attempt to express this paradoxical knowledge in rational terms. To paraphrase, he said,
“To describe existence as a continuum, rather than as what it appears to be to common sense, expressions of syntax and vocabulary are quite inadequate. We must be patient, then, with the linguistic eccentricities, the frequency of paradox, the verbal extravagance, sometimes even of the seeming blasphemy of those who are compelled to describe this paradoxical knowledge in terms of a symbol system such as language.”
We humans are able to suspend belief easily. We do it nearly every time we are offered the chance by the well-crafted story, whether it be about super heroes, cartoon trolls, people in the farthest reaches of the past and future, animated furniture, mad rabbits with English accents, and so forth.
What is more difficult for us is to suspend our disbelief.
When one hears another say, “I awoke,” where is the hubris? Is it in the mouth of that which speaks its own truth? Is it in the ear of the listener who denies such a thing could be? Is it in the mind which does not know it, too, is awake? Is it in the mind which believes it is small, and separate?
When one hears the self say, “I awoke,” why does it condemn itself?
Sometimes encountering the awakened condition which speaks without false humility becomes an occasion for desire or envy or disbelief. It can inspire perspectives seeing only precious, egocentric specialness and give rise to condemnation and negative judgment.
Individual identity, either your own or that of others who say “I awoke,” is not important. Suspend your disbelief in every encounter, if only so far as to allow the beginning ground to be open to you, to clear of the fog of prejudgment. A spirit of mutual identity serves better than a belief in separation. Believe instead that we are all awake to that which seems to be lost.
If you are a seeker, you have awakened. If you had not, the thing which informs you something has been lost would not exist, and you would not seek it.
Many people think this thing informs them they do not have something, and so they go forth in life getting things, but their instructions have come from other people who believe the same thing, that getting material things will fulfill the feeling that something has been lost. Obviously, it does not.
I awoke. I learned, simply put, that we know that we know. This is a simple thing hidden behind much difficulty. If your path has brought you here, welcome. If your path carries you to other places, fare well upon your path. Go about your business, expressing and being and doing as you are.
We are all awake, sometimes thrashing in the unmanageable complexity of existence, at other times resting in the simplicity of the essence of life itself.
On the path of life waking comes when we awaken to knowing we are awake. You are awake. You are an awakened one. Waking can happen anywhere, at any time, and we have all had those moments. It can be overlooked when the sight of the world beyond that moment looms, and the self-mind begins to calculate its strategies and speculate upon possible hardships there. It can be forgotten or discounted by our own disbelief that we are awake and the moments we have had which told us to disbelieve.
Suspend your Disbelief
Suspend your disbelief and know that you know. If it is enlightenment that you want, go about your business, expressing and being and doing as you are. God does not deny you what you want. This is so. So be careful. You may not know what God wants. This is how we learn. This is how we are taught. Suspend your disbelief and know that you know.
There is a Hindu saying: “None but a god can worship a god.” You have to identify yourself.
My journey is the hero’s journey. The archetypical roots in the story of my life confirm that for me. I will share the story with you and speak of the wisdoms I gained there. The personal how and what and why of my particular life circumstances don’t always speak to another’s experience and perspective. Yet I have chosen to include autobiographical and personal, eccentric expressions here in the hope that the story of what I have encountered and learned on my path will be of use to you on yours.
The unique, eclectic expressions shared here from my perspective point are forms risen out of a local experience, nothing more, nothing less. The value offered is the object of the perspective point. Follow the rays you see there to the source of all rays. Follow the rays you see from your own perspective point as well. Forms will fade and the source of light appear in the triangulated perspective produced wherever two or more are gathered together. You will see your own path, you will know when you awakened there.
I speak about what I have learned which is universally real and known. I speak sharing my local view of social, cultural, and religious matrices of understanding. I speak of how to know and navigate and reconcile the seeming separation between our known essence and the local perspective seen by our existential self. I speak in bits of practical information gleaned from my own path about thought, feeling, and action.
If one were to tot up the sum of my life it would depend on what kind of a ledger was used. If one were to assign a value of success it would depend on what success meant.
I have characterized my life as being one that took the road less often traveled. I honestly would have to say I didn’t take it, it took me. It seems in retrospect to have been the only vector which could have possibly been plotted out of the calculus and chaos of my nature and my nurture.
The thing not spoken of about the less traveled road is how unruly it is. It’s unpaved and uncivilized, full of deep potholes. Wild things stalk the traveler there and savage the unwary wanderer mercilessly, teaching harsh lessons. There, when the pilgrim has an inspiration and decides to bang the rocks together, the advent of divine fire is no more likely than smashed fingers. At the end the reward of it all is the simple, surprising development that somehow you have managed to survive, for better and for worse, with a few graces, a bit of wisdom, and a large catalog of experience.
There are wisdoms found and good choices made on my road. There are revelations gained and the great, good, solid joy of love ever-present there, often overtaken by shadows, then shared in brilliant light.
There are also blinding winces and aching regrets. I used to say I have no regrets. Now I temper that by saying instead that, while I have regrets, they have informed me and made me stronger, and I see no possibility that things could have gone any differently than the way they have.
It is all unruly and perfect. It is the tree, the meadow, the river, all in four seasons. Perfection is there, moment to moment in the dynamic chaos and confused joy of living.
This story is a “tropeography” of my early life; a biography embedded with the archetypal tropes of my own experience. It is the record of my passage from the palace of Siddhartha out onto the roadways of samsara and the suffering there. It is the story of my odyssey through the dark wood, my fall into the pit. It is my speaking of the places where I met the crone and angel and devil and god, and how I came home to Penelope and Ithaca, to the cross, the gods, to God. It is the story of the journey to the beginning of the second leg of the heroic journey which commences upon awakening to who we are, really.
It is, too, an invitation to you to discover your own moment of awakening, to own its presence in your life. To remember what delivered you to it. To recognize where and when and how it happened, and how it has delivered you here, to where you are now.
I will speak my story and pass it on, not as support for my own conclusions about what life is, or to glorify my unique particularity, but to pass down a story which any beholder who comes to it might use to identify their own path and conclusions. My experience is unique, as is the experience of every person. My conclusions have served me. My story, and the story every person tells, serves us all. Our conclusions may be different, yet still each story serves us all.
I suppose there are stages of aging just like there are stages of grieving. I am older now, and beyond the stage of justifying my life. I think more now about what I could pass on to others which might be of use to them in their own lives.
After the age of seven I was raised with much less nurture than most, and as a result I did not form a perspective largely guided and informed by family, church, community and society. I encountered life relatively unencumbered by the direction of people who would have taught me the ways and means of social value systems and the cultural institutions human beings are incorporated into as they grow up. I encountered life directly, and by my own means formed my own perspective. It left me often not submitted to the ways and means of the society I live in.
We are formed by our past and move within it until we don’t anymore. It’s as simple as that. Until then we move thrashing in chains of emotional memory, mindful of the point sources of past pain. We reside in small domiciles, walled off from the great world beyond. The remembered past sifts like a dark miasma inside those walls and comes to us in daylight memories and dark dreams.
Until it doesn’t matter anymore.
I am connected to the events of my youth. It is natural, I think, to want to speak of those events, to pass my history along to others. Consideration of those events has occupied a large part of my life as I strove to understand myself in the place where my nature, my essential identity, intersects with my nurture.
There is a certain cathartic detoxification available when we bring our past to light. Yet when we tell our stories with ruthless honesty and share our pains, relief is not the end sought. If relief alone is gained it will be a momentary gain and the old shades will come round again. We will walk the same old round with them. It is only when, speaking the story, the story is released into the world once and for all, that we transcend our past and engage the present.
This transcendence is not an abandonment of the contextual matrix of our lives, which is intrinsic to our being. It is more about knowing that the walls surrounding us do not need to be opaque. We can see beyond them and behold more. When we look, we see the universe we are part of, the creation we are joined with, the inseparable reality which suffuses us all and which is no respecter of walls.
People have been passing their stories down through the generations ever since there was language, and for the same reasons – to leave a record of their passing here and, more importantly, to pass on the story as information about what is in play in the human experience; what causes proceed into what effects; where the ground is certain and where it is uncertain; where light shines and where darkness prevails; where planting produces the harvest and where it comes to naught; what acts produce peace and which lead to war; how victory is gained and loss endured; what random, powerful, uncontrollable events await the sojourner in life, and where they are encountered, and how they are received, and what effect they have.
And finally I need to say I am not a polished writer in the sense that I can produce a consistent style or tone. I have many voices ranging from coarse to overly refined and they speak as they will here, so this is not a coherent work in that sense. I pray you take the essence here and forgive the form.