If you’re totally Bearing Witness, and also in the state of Not Knowing – that’s this word play. So play is both of those together. Then you’re acting in this free way in which you are totally immersed in the situation. You’re not attached to any kind of conditions. So you’re just playing. Where? In the fields of the pure land, where you are. Playing where you are. That’s sometimes drawn as the tenth oxherding picture that’s got Hotei – the fat guy with a bag of everything. Ryokan is another such character. He was a drunken poet in Japan and a monk, deeply in love with a nun named Teishin. They wrote many love poems to each other. Ryokan loved to play with the kids. There’s a famous story where he was hiding. They were playing hide and go seek and he hid in a barrel and after two days: “Wow they still haven’t found me!” That’s the kind of person he was.
The word fields is also very important to me. At play in the fields of the pure land. I have a science background, so although I see everything as one interdependent thing, I look at it as a field. And things don’t coalesce until you have some instrument that perceives it. “The dharma is always encountered but rarely perceived.” And we say “Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.” How do you perceive anything? As a human we use our senses to perceive. We can perceive things via the brain – thinking or via touching or hearing or seeing or smelling or tasting. It’s through these various senses. And it’s generally a combination thereof. Not usually all of them. I don’t know whether you can perceive without the brain getting involved. Take a brain that you’ve totally lobotomized, or somebody’s brain dead. Can you perceive then? We certainly know we can make perceptions without one of the others. You could be blind, you could be deaf.
My daughter Alisa studied special education at B.U. and she was specializing in deaf folks, but you know you’ve got to study it all. But she got a job working with kids that were epileptic, they were deaf, they were blind. They were having seizures all the time. But they had touch, so she learned Helen Keller touch. She could communicate that way. And she would take them dancing, and sit with them right in front of the speakers so they could feel the vibrations of the speakers. And she would take them to the edge of the property where they could feel the waves from the cars going by. There are many ways to perceive, but my opinion is that it’s all fields. And that when you place some kind of object like a brain in there with these other different instruments, you perceive, and that’s when all this starts happening – we start giving names to those perceptions, and we start labeling them and then we get categories and then we can study them and then we can get attached to those labels and categories.
When you just start off – when you’re just feeling it all, it’s not as interesting. We don’t have all these fields of study. You can’t build schools. So you can see how all this can really develop. But initially it’s just these fields. And then when we talk about prior to the fields, we get to the instant before the big bang. Cause once the big bang starts, then we have these fields. Then we’re going to start having perceptions. But before the big bang we don’t even have the fields. My god! What’s going on here? Once we have all these perceptions and all these categories, then all these kind of questions like “What time is it?” come up. And all these kinds of decisions, like that’s the pure land and that’s not the pure land. That’s Buddha but I’m not Buddha – how could I be Buddha? So we could come up with all those wierd things, see? Before, you can’t come up with all these wierd things.
Questioner: Rupert Sheldrake talks about morphogenic fields, which says there’s a field out there that feeds us information. I don’t know if the brain’s involved or not. There’s the example of the cuckoo birds. The hatch in the nests of other bird species and the parents fly down to Africa. But when the fledglings are ready to fly they don’t know but they all go to Africa. How do they know? He says that humans also are subject to some kind of morphogenic fields, whether we know it or not. So that’s prior to perception I guess.
Bernie:Fields is just fields. So he’s just talking about how within fields certain things can coalesce. There could be what they now call “tipping points” or whatever. He’s done a lot of work in that whole arena of fields. And made subcategories of fields. A field is very basic. Then you could start looking at different kinds of fields where different things are being perceived or whatever, but that’s already in the world of perceptions. That’s what I mean – that when you first start off, before the big bang, that’s the state of Not Knowing. There ain’t nothing. You can’t talk about tipping points, you can’t talk about the sparrows coming to roost. All that stuff comes later once you get out of the Not Knowing. So now you have the big bang and then you have this huge field. Even with that big field, if there’s nobody there perceiving, then it’s just field. As soon as you introduce anything, that can coalesce the field into what I would call a particle. We could call it different things. We could call it a dharma. The dharmas are phenomena, they’re particles. But as soon as you can coalesce the fields into anything – now you could start all kinds of studies. And you’ll then wind up with different schools of thought. In Buddhism we have the Alaya Vijñana – the storehouse consciousness. Jung has that. Sheldrake did his works. When Sheldrake published his first book, Bob Schwartz offered a $10,000 prize for anybody who could show that what he was talking about was true. And all kinds of examples came up. But those are already pieces of study. We’ve got people studying in all kinds of things and we’re going to learn so much about that stuff.
Questioner: I wonder, is the buddhist concept of shin addressing that deeper perception?
Bernie: The shin that’s heartmind in Buddhism. It can be used in two different ways. Generally if it’s the heart – like sometimes we use that heart of compassion or that kind of heart, it would be a different term, not shin. Kokoru. The shin that’s mind in Buddhism tends to be what my dharma brother Gempo calls “big mind”. Sometimes you put “dai” (great) on it, so “daishin”. But that shin is more universal mind. And what sometimes confuses us is that it can be translated as heart or mind. It gets translated sometimes as heart, sometimes as mind. It’s more like geist – the German term for spirit. So it’s not the physical heart or the mind that we usually think of. It’s the universal mind.
Questioner: Would that be in terms of perception?
Bernie: No, there’s no perceptions in that.
Questioner: I’m a little lost here.
Bernie: Me too, but that’s a good place to be.
Questioner: When you talk about field of course my image is an Irish green field with stones.
Bernie: That’s nice.
Questioner: So when you talk about the big bang, and what went before the big bang, St. Thomas Aquinus would refer to that as god. And he defines god as Quam quam ignotum – it’s beyond all human experience, it’s something we can’t even conceive of. So once you have the big bang, then you have a world that is perceptible to human beings. But you’re saying that that has created a whole field of energy.
Bernie: Yes, originally it’s just a field of energy.
Questioner: Okay so, Boom! – then it happens and now we have the world we live in. So I’m trying to tie in what you’re saying with this field.
Bernie: I’ll tell you my opinion. Okay? I don’t know if any of the Buddhas think this. All I can say is this is what I think. So you have pre-big bang. You can’t go there. That’s my space of Not Knowing. That’s another way of defining it: pre-big bang. That should make it easy for you to understand my opinion of Not Knowing. Then there is the Bang. And now what you have is fields. The perceptions now come because of instrumentation that starts happening: that includes god. That includes everything. I don’t have a god pre-big bang.
Questioner: You have an energy field…
Bernie: No. Pre-big bang all I have is Not Knowing. I have nothing. And then there’s the bang, and now I’ve got this field. Then within that field there’s instrumentation that starts happening – creates perceptions and everything including god comes out of that. Now I swing into sort of Teller/Desjardins thinking: That that god that has come in after that big band is pulling all of this in a certain direction. But doesn’t come into existence until the big bang, and then it’s just all now. So it’s like “What time is it? – When”. All of this is possible to talk about because of the way we perceive things. Because we’re coalescing this field. If I’m just part of that field I can’t ask those kind of questions. And I can’t even think about Desjardins’ evolution. Because that involves when.
Questioner: But that field – the actual field – its existence – That becomes a conduit into the pre-big bang.
Bernie: No. There’s no conduit there. That’s the tricky thing. There’s no way into it. You can get as close to it as possible, but no way into it. Mathematically that is the equation: one over N. N can get as large as you want. Which would make 1/N as close to zero as you want. But you can never get to zero. There’s no conduit. It’s the other side.
Questioner: So that’s the Aha! of I don’t’ know.
Bernie: Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. Instead of saying the big bang we could say Aha! Yeah. You know that was a very important invention: nothing. The zero. Before zero was invented mathematics couldn’t go anywhere. And the zero was invented or discovered in Europe not so long ago. A few hundred years. And mathematics could not advance. The zero did exist I think in India way before, but nothing is very important.
Questioner: The Christians at that point prohibited mathematicians from using zero.
Bernie: You can’t blame them. Once you’re able to deal with nothing you could think wow!
Questioner: Is that jiju zanmai?
Bernie: Yes. A Japenese term for playing.
Questioner: You’re talking about this big bang. But there have been many big bangs, because the universe is expanding and then collapsing. There’s infinite expansions and contractions.
Bernie: Yes. And there’s controversy about how that functions. Some people say it all happened that time. And therefore there’s many different parallel worlds. And of course many science fiction writers are now writing about these parallel worlds and how do you get from one to the other. But some people think that there was an initial big bang. But now we’re getting into theory, or opinions. The important thing for me is that pre-big bang is Not Knowing. Once you have your Aha!, or once you have your perception – now you can bear witness to it. People keep mistaking what I mean by Not Knowing – the first of the Peacemakers’ Three Tenets. And I think once I say that it’s pre-big bang, then it’s not clear. Because they want to put some kind of thing to it. And whatever you put to it, it’s not what I mean by Not Knowing. But the Bearing Witness – that can only happen when there’s perceptions, right? I could perceive something and now I could bear witness to it – in the state of Bearing Witness I’m back in the field. I’ve gone back where there’s no this and that. And now I act and now I’m back into the perceptions. Now things have coalesced and now I start doing things. Why is this important? It may not be. The importance for me is learning how to look at the ingredients. And to really see the ingredients I think you have to Bear Witness. I mean you’ll see ingredients without Bearing Witness, but if you Bear Witness to a situation I think you’ll see the ingredients in a much deeper way, and so your actions, I think, will have the best possibility of reducing suffering. We all act. We’re all going to have perceptions and they’re all going to be biased by our thinking, by our knowing. So practices that allow us to get to that place of Not Knowing for me are very important. Plunges for example. That’s a fantastic practice for me of getting to not know. I happen to think plunges are the best. Because I do that. And you know, we all think that way. But at least I think it’s the best for me, cause that’s helped me the most. So when I say “the best” I don’t mean that. ‘Cause depending on who you are, different things are going to be best for you at that time. And you’ll change. As you change, other things may be best. So, you know, it’s always a function of the ingredients.
Bernie: Why? Why is not a question! I mean that’s just my opinion, man!
Questioner: What do you mean by a plunge.
Bernie: Oh, I started doing what I call plunges. It’s like plunging into a pool. That is, it’s getting into a situation where your brain doesn’t help you out. That is, it’s beyond your capability to rationalize. So our retreats at Auschwitz are plunges. The situation is so immense that after you try to figure it out for a while, you can’t. So you’re plunged into something that’s beyond the capacity of the brain to think out. Our street retreats are plunges. Working with somebody close who’s dying can be a plunge. Meditation can be a plunge. All these things – even though they’re designed to be plunges – any of them could also be nice escapes. They don’t have to be plunges. It depends what goes on. You know, so there can be people that help you. Doing clowning work in refugee camps was a plunge for me.
Questioner: What does a plunge look like in meditation?
Bernie: You know, it’s hard. The technical term for a plunge in Japanese is shikantaza. It’s a state in which there’s not subject/object.
Questioner: When you say that god is created, that always just turns something in me – that god is created. And then there’s that book – god is a verb… I love that. So it really makes you look closely at “who is god?”
Bernie: There are different opinions of course. A lot of people feel that that’s true.
Questioner: You mean it’s not?
Bernie: We have to remember that opinions are opinions. And I would never claim that anything I ever have said or will say is true in any sense – I mean it’s just what I think, what I feel. I won’t even go as far as to say it’s what I believe. Because I think things, but I’m very much open for them all to change in the next moment. I don’t particularly believe in anything I’m saying, but that doesn’t stop me from saying – I could talk forever about what I think and what I feel. I just like to every once in a while make sure that people listening to me don’t think that I think that any of what I’m saying is true. It’s just what I’m saying. That’s extremely important. People are always doing that – thinking that what they’re saying somehow is true, or they’ve got some truth. And we’re all looking for that. And for me that’s the biggest trap. What are your ingredients? What do you want to do? To me, what someone else wants me to do is just their opinion. I don’t care who it is – whether it’s Christ or Buddha or Yogi Berra.
Questioner: I remember one time you going before an audience of young people. And they made some kind of big introduction about who you were. And you got up on the stage and read the room. Then you said “Everything I’m about to tell you is fabricated.”
Bernie: Yeah. I mean it’s what I think. But I’m always looking for the Aha! I mean I know that the things, the places I come to become traps to keep me from having new ahas. And that’s the fun part – to have the ahas. And so my practice is to try to be as open as I can – that’s my personal practice. And I try to seek out places where there will be plunges for me, cause I know that those help mo to open up more. Not plunges by definition. They’re places where I think I have some answers and that’s a trap. So if I can get into plunges – if I can get into spaces where “I don’t know what the hell’s happening here.” Then I can grow.