A Work in Progress (waiting for your opinions.)
“Why was I talking to that girl? Because she reminds me of you. That’s why I’m talking to you: You remind me of you. Everything about you reminds me of you. Your eyes, your lips, your eyes … Everything reminds me of you, except you. How do you account for that?”
I account for it by concluding Groucho was still in the state of grasping and yearning – but that Margaret Dumont, the object of this soliloquy, had achieved the state where she could tell Mara that there is no being there to be found.
“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”
We know everybody’s face but our own. Show me your original face that you had before your mother was born. By deflating the ego-identity of the ripostee, Groucho is also reminding him that he has forgotten his original face. Bob Dylan said, “You have no face to lose, and you know it.” When I forget about my face (persona), my original face can appear.
Not-knowing is the first tenet of the Zen Peacemakers. My opinion of Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any opinion, idea or concept. This means total openness to the situation, deep listening to the situation.
It is the opinion of many scientists (including me) that about 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion started the expansion of the universe. This explosion is known as the Big Bang. At the point of this event all of the matter and energy of space was contained at one point. What existed prior to this event is completely unknown and is a matter of pure speculation. This occurrence was not a conventional explosion but rather an event filling all of space with all of the particles of the embryonic universe rushing away from each other. The Big Bang actually consisted of an explosion of space within itself unlike an explosion of a bomb were fragments are thrown outward. The galaxies were not all clumped together, but rather the Big Bang laid the foundations for the universe.
Where’s the beginning in the big bang? You can’t know what’s there before the big bang, right? You can go down pretty damn close i mean they’re going down in nanoseconds and seeing what happens in there. And they’re going forward and stuff like that. But in the very beginning, that’s what’s called a singularity. You can’t know.
Now you may notice that in the Peacemakers, our first tenet is Not Knowing. It’s a state of not knowing, so what we say is if you’re going do something first approach it from that state of not knowing, that is get back to that initial singular point – to that point before the big bang. So if i can get back to that point of Not Knowing right now, and be there, then something happens and that’s the big bang. Now it starts unfolding. And it can unfold in a very creative way because it’s starting from this point of not knowing, this singular point. It’s starting from the beginning. Whatever you believe in it was created out of that big bang. Before that there was nothing.
Our job in Zen is to experience that beginning, that place before there’s anything. That’s what’s meant by the koan “what’s the sound of one hand” It’s before any phenomena, what’s that state? It’s not so easy to experience. But it can be done, and it has been done, and it’s being done. So we want to get to the beginning. I’ll jump to the end of this discussion, but it’s also the beginning. There’s an end point as well as that beginning point. The beginning point is singular, the end point is singular, and that end point in the Christian and Jewish world is called God. In Islam, it is Allah. In the Buddhist world it’s called Maitreya. These are different terms for similar ideas. So there’s this beginning point and end point, and in between is an evolution from the beginning point to the end point. Things are evolving. But the interesting thing about it is that this end point is creating the evolution from the beginning point. So that end point is also right here, now, in the beginning. And it’s all evolving between these two points.
A little metaphysical, but what’s fascinating about it to me is that if you go to the big bang and there’s just not knowing, or if you go to our state right now and say we can get to this place of not knowing, there’s this anything can happen. As soon as something bangs, as soon as something coalesces, as soon as two relations meet and there’s an event… As soon as anything happens, each starts evolving. And the forms, and by forms i mean not just physical forms but spiritual forms and mental forms and conscious forms and unconscious forms… All the forms evolve.
If you look at one billionth of a nanosecond after that big bang, there weren’t any of us around. There were different kinds of particles – they kept evolving, and they evolved to where we are. That means everything we’re made of including our consciousness and our spiritual being dates back to that initial point. And going forward everything that we are keeps evolving to the singular point that we call God or Allah or i call Not Knowing – just the state of not knowing. So that for me the beginning point and the end point are the same and they’re drawing our evolution.
In zen and in many buddhist groups we relate to a boss whose name was Shakyamuni Buddha. Some groups go back to different buddhas, like Vairocana Buddha, but zen and many groups go back to the founder Shakyamuni Buddha, from about 500 BC. Although he didn’t know that there was a B.C. at the time. And when he had his enlightenment experience, in our tradition at least we say that. he said “How wonderful! How wonderful! Everyone – everything is enlightened!” Except the problem is that most of us are attached to our notions and ideas that we’re not enlightened. Or we’re attached to some kind of notions and ideas. And so we can’t see that state of enlightenment. He said “Everything as it is is enlightened, so what we can’t see or we can’t accept is that everything as it is, is enlightened. So it’s a bit like the fish in the water.
So a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, – “Where’s the water?” and the fish says “What water?”.You say: “You are water!” You know the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to this notion that he or she’s some kind of… thing. And doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask –What is the ocean? Do we say it’s water? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath – they became Hawaii! They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea all kinds of stuff. But we just call it an ocean. And some Jewish comedian is in a boat looking down and says “See the ocean? ….and that’s only the top of it” I mean there’s a lot to this thing. But somehow that evades us, so enlightenment is like that. Enlightenment is the realization and actualization that it’s all just one thing. That “I’m not this little thing”. I’m air, I’m You, I’m rocks – it’s all one thing. But that relationship is so intimate that we don’t see it. So somehow we have to awaken to that intimacy. So “intimacy is like fish and water”. We could replace it with “enlightenment is like us and the things we don’t see”, or “enlightenment is our ideas and our non-ideas”. It’s our knowing and not knowing. Because we’re knowing – because we’re attached to our ideas – doesn’t mean we’re not enlightened. Since it’s all one thing you can’t exclude the knowing state. You don’t exclude the water or the fish. What are the aspects of ourselves that are so intimate that we don’t see? We don’t see that we are all things. We don’t see that the bleeding person in the street is us. It’s so intimate we don’t see it. Our practice is about opening our eyes, awakening. Awakening to who we are. And that’s “getting to not know” us. When we know ourselves we don’t see who we are. When we can let go of all our notions of who we are we can really get into that open space of being – then we’re in that place of Not Knowing, in that intimacy of enlightenment. Now that word itself is very extra. It’s not a necessary word. But somehow we’ve got to use words. Our brain is very dualistic. We need words. Somebody was telling me just recently about a whole new field of therapy – maybe it’s not so new – that says all the problems are in the words. It’s a field that’s saying that without the semantics… that without the words you didn’t have a lot of the problems we’re talking about.
Questioner: Are there no problems in the animal realm then? They don’t call them problems I guess. Bernie: Yeah, that’s the point. If you take away the words, are the problems problems or are they just things that are happening? Who’s defining them as problems?
Questioner: If we didn’t have words, wouldn’t there just be something else? Bernie: Yeah, so what you’re saying is if we didn’t have the words – if there weren’t the semantics, we would create some other way of creating our problems maybe. In and of itself, the word “problem” is a problem. Problems are extremely subjective. Extremely subjective – you go outside, you know, this couple with their kids they go outside – they’re going to a picnic. They’ve got all their stuff together and they’re going out to go have a picnic and it starts to thunderstorm. It starts raining like crazy. They have a problem. The farmer on the other hand is looking up at the rain and saying “Wow! Great!” He doesn’t have a problem. So the rain in and of itself is not such a problem. It’s the thoughts we have about it. Or the plans we had -the expectations we had, and then something happens to screw up our expectations a little. But the rain itself is like the intimacy of fish and water. That is, sometimes it’s snow, sometimes it’s sun, sometimes it’s rain. It’s everything that’s happening. Sometimes different cells do funny things in our system and they become for us problems, or for our loved ones they become problems. The cells don’t know it, they’re just doing their thing it seems, and all together it’s the fish in water, I mean you go in that ocean, and there’s fish swallowing fish and whales swallowing fish and people harpooning whales and there’s all kinds of stuff going on.
The tortoise dragging its tail is a famous image in the orient. Once while in northern Costa Rico I went to the beach at night when tortoises had come to lay their eggs. They’re really gigantic. Peter Mathiessen wrote a beautiful book – Far Tortuga. It’s in the dialect of the people in Tortuga. A little north of Costa Rica. But if you see a tortoise walking on the beach, their tail wipes away the tracks. But of course there are new tracks. The tail itself creates a new track. One of the ways we know ourselves is by all of our criticisms of ourselves. And all of the things that we think we’re doing wrong. And we spend a lot of time trying to apologize or wipe away or being sorry, “I’m sorry I did this, I did that, I’m sorry.” And that’s the tortoise moving the tail and wiping away the tracks. So we do things and then we sort of look back, and “Oh, I did that wrong”. So we’ve left all of these tracks of the things that we didn’t do right in our mind. And now we spend a lot of time trying to get rid of all of those tracks. And that very process of doing that is creating new tracks. Then we look back and say “Oh I didn’t do that right, I didn’t get rid of that right”. When you get to the state of Not Knowing You, you aren’t busy wiping away the tracks because you don’t have the tracks. At any moment you have the ingredients that are there and you do the best thing you can (make the best meal) with those ingredients, and you offer your creation. And then you look again and see what ingredients you now have and make the best meal you can and offer it again. It’s never about “Oh that meal was too sour” or that meal was too yucky or that meal… It’s “Here I am! What are the ingredients? What do I do? Let’s do it!. And then the next moment: “Here I am! What are the ingredients? Let’s use them in the way I can best do it. And then I offer it.”
When my son, Marc, was young he would take the food that he was given and make piles of all the stuff he didn’t’ want to eat – those were his yucky piles. Then he would eat the stuff that was left – the good stuff. And then he had to figure out what to do with the yucky piles. Because his mother would say you’re supposed to eat your broccoli or whatever he called his yucky pile. He might sneak it down to the dogs. We had dogs and cats. He might put it on his sister’s plate. There were different schemes. He says that now he creates nice piles. And leaves the yucky piles – he doesn’t call them yucky piles. Making nice piles and just leaving the other stuff around. But that falls in line with this whole notion of what do we do with the ingredients we have? How do we make the best meal? How do we offer it? And when we look at our lives, what do we call our yucky piles, and then what do you do with it? And just think of how much energy you spend or your friends spend being sorry instead of just doing something new. Talking about what they didn’t do, or what yucky piles they created.
The work of the jester or coyote (North American Indians) is to work with the yucky piles. They don’t call them yucky piles. They work in the cracks of society. They call out the issues that we aren’t dealing with. So it’s a little bit like what my son shifted to. Society or we will tend to recognize those things we like. And we work with that. We invite to our homes those we like. We don’t invite to our homes those we don’t like. We don’t think of them. We don’t even think of them enough to call them yucky piles. They don’t exist. We work with things we like. It’s very normal, so the jester is trained, the coyote is trained to see what are the yucky piles that individuals, tribes, societies have created and what’s the work to be done. They’re not the only ones who work with yucky piles. There’s whole industries that have been created to work with yucky piles – the homeless in the streets, the prisons, lots of different industries have been created to get the yucky piles out of sight – so that we could just deal with all the pretty things, and not have to see the things that we have shunted aside.
Our getting to Not Know You is not hiding. Not apologizing. Not screaming at others ‘cause they’re not doing it the right way. Our way is to do things. Is to look at the ingredients, make the best meal, and do it.
Here are the ingredients. I do the best thing I can at this time. If that’s what I’m always doing there’s no tracks to be wiped away. It sometimes gets confusing to people because they don’t’ know what they’re doing. It depends on the moment – it depends on the circumstances. What we are most comfortable with is to put people in a category. Even ourselves. Many people consider consistency a virtue. Because I know what’s going to happen – I know what the schedule’s is. I know what that person’s going to do. But that’s getting to know you rather than getting to Not Know You. Getting to Not Know You is to work with the ingredients and always be open to what’s required now. It’s not even what’s required – It’s to be… free. The rain comes down pouring on your head. You don’t stop and say “what should I do? Should I get an umbrella or should I wipe the rain away? Should I put a hat on?” You don’t go through all of that. The rains coming down. If you have an umbrella you might open it. If you don’t have an umbrella but you have a rain hat you might put that on. If it’s a fancy hat you might not put it on. You might hide it. So it all depends on the ingredients.
This post is also available in: German