Does your Cartesian mind Reign Supreme? Are you an unwitting hostage to it? How would you know anyway?
What is your relationship with direct experience? What is your relationship with your cognitive element? Are the two in happy marriage, or is the relationship up for review?
What allows for the true evolution beyond mere mental manipulation and coercion, dressed up as transcendence, visualisation, self-help etc and even at a certain point ‘spiritual practice’?
How can that Cartesian mind seduce and tease us into remaining in its closed kingdom in the state of continual hope, repetition and dull mediocrity?
What happens when we begin to trust that the Sensing, through contact, can just rest in itself? What kind of alchemy might that offer, and is there more to it than just ‘experience’?
When the Buddha to be was sat on the Vajrassana, the kind of symbolic centre of the universe, as Siddartha was just about to attain Enlightenment he was indeed challenged by Mara, (the Buddhist take on the devil). Mara erupted probably somewhere in a forest as Siddhartha sat under a Pipal tree, that lovely tree with kind of heart-shaped leaves, keeping him company, and said ‘Who are you to attain this ‘elevated place’ so to speak? Mara was certainly worried. Siddartha actually, did not contest Mara verbally, intellectually, in dialogue, in argument, in rhetoric, he did not go there at all. He just, in a lotus sitting position, took his right hand and softly placed the tips of his fingers on the earth, keeping his composure.
I can just imagine every tree, plant, insect, flower, briefly hold its breath as the stars perhaps gazed down, and there Siddhartha held contact with the earth, just sensing the richness of touch, the current, the charge. It’s as if it were a portal into the universal wisdom, into a deep resonant connection. Of course Siddhartha was already connected to the earth through his sitting so its curious he would have done this, it was clearly a symbol, a gesture, perhaps an invitation, because what happened? The earth goddess Vasundara rose up from the earth, and came into relationship both with Mara and the Buddha to be, and said something like, ‘I have witnessed this being over many lives, I can testify to his value and worth, to his integrity and qualities, his suitability as it were, to take this universal Crown’. Perhaps it is not taken, more given - and with that, Mara just faded back.
For me that is highly symbolic, and perhaps one of the most important symbols, actions, parable’s in Buddhism because what it invites for me is a more visceral, or even a visceral approach to our evolution, and that Siddartha did not engage with the thinking or cognition. He engaged through directness*, and it’s as if through contact it inspired the deeper energies within to emerge and as they did so, integration, wholeness, completion even, is the result. It’s counter-intuitive, it’s not the way of the Cartesian ‘I think therefore I am’ mind. It’s a complete bypass of the limitation and tyranny of that oscillating, repetitive mind - as brilliant as it is in many ways, especially in the spheres of science, and creativity. However, on the note of creativity, I am not convinced necessarily purely a thinking faculty - probably more intuitive, emotive, embodied at source.
Mara for me represents any edge, not just that penultimate edge to the gateway to the Great Liberation. I believe Mara represents just the edge, you could even argue, greed, hatred and delusion in all forms. Well, that’s interesting, how we might normally be inclined to meet that edge is through argument, attack, freeze, compliance or passivity, repetition, being in the head effectively, or on a more subtler form, analysis, investigation, theories, concepts, ideas, not to say they are not important, but when it comes to meeting the edge….. perhaps some degree of clear thinking is ok, for me when it came to this bodies own evolution it really began with contact, it began when the sovereign nature of the body reclaimed itself back, or even ‘claimed itself’ – I’m not sure in this culture that this body was ever fully realised into it’s full self, when born and educated into that reward and punishment system, it never actually new or sensed the fullness of being embodied and living from it. Sure, it did yoga and things like that, but the invitation to contact is more than just the invitation into experience. For me that’s the first evolutionary step, that shift into the body claiming itself in to its sovereign nature.
Vasundara to me represents the depths-energies that hold the key and the portal into a deep well of creativity, a deep flow and resonance that is in harmony with all things, she is the earth goddess, the full body of nature. But I have a kind of idea around all this, or at least in my experience, and this is to be tested for yourself, that contact is the container, is the richness of sensing. So contact with the earth let’s say through the fingers is symbolic of all sensory contact - seeing , hearing smelling, tasting, touching - and the contact we can sense through the whole body, the visceral sense of being, the contact of connection with others, with nature, with a tree, or the sound of a bird.
And if we just suspend the senses that are divided into six, and let’s just say there is just one sensing. And even if we remove that word, ‘Sensing’ what happens when the sensing through contact, just rests in itself? What happens for me is the notion of a subject owning the objects of sensing begins to disappear, and that’s magical, the magical sense of Being which begins as it were to take on its own life, it senses its own richness from its own perspective, it just rests in itself and is entertained by the myriad richness of sensory experience without entering into a subjective sense of it, it just plays itself out.
So I can hear water running, or lets say there’s a sound of water runs, of course that’s an interpretation strip a way the interpretation, you have this tinkling, running sound, and the sound of wind, and where the body meets the mattress below it, and the subtlety of breathing.
So I think at this point, what happens when sensing reclaims itself as it were, into the fullness of things – we cease to live exclusively FROM perception! In a way we cease to buy into that we are perception at any given moment, effectively living from the rich visceral and spatial sensory experience, if we are available to the living energy running through it which we might have called perception, we are now in relationship, there’s a sense of embodiment plus relationship – I would call this the felt-sense, borrowing from Gene Gendlin’s Focusing paradigm.
So the felt-sense is a richly nuanced, kind of saturated, embodied, spatial experience which has a beautiful mosaic of subtle experience running through it. It is as it were to be entertained from the full sensing, we can call this Presence. As this takes place, the thinking mind, which operates through stories which triggers feeling which then endorses story, that loop, that closed loop of the Cartesian mind has full expression to be held, and its energies are received fully in the felt-sensing, to sublimate, to find their fresh edge - there is in fact just flow.
So if we strip a way all the language here, what remains is not a fixed, bounded sense of an ‘I’. It is indeed a mystery that just seems to take care of itself. And I am reminded of a poem by Ryokan;
If someone asks my abode, I reply -
The East edge of the Milky Way
Life a drifting cloud
Bound by nothing
I just let go
To the whim of the wind.
Indeed, ‘the whim of the wind’, just lets go of itself, and this is the case when Siddartha touched the earth. My belief is that he was indeed with the felt sense making room for the energies of Mara, to partake fully in experience. In doing so, that energetic, that would be threat, just found space in the majesty of things to bother no one, to live in the natural order of things.
In a way, Mara is not an issue if that energetic is given full connection and relationship to be the way it wants to be, it’s just received in the fullness of things, it as it were, self-liberates. This quality, if you can call it one, this way of being, this living from Presence, always available at all times, direct, relational, available, living from and in, what I would call availability. Indeed, go by your own experience, this is an invitation to explore experience for yourself?
* ‘If you use your mind to study reality you will not understand your mind or reality. If you study reality without using your mind, you will understand both. Those who don’t understand, don’t understand understanding. And those who understand, understand ‘not understanding’.
Dogen / Shobogenzo
If you're interested in exploring these ideas further, you might consider Face to Face and online Focusing courses in Cambridge, starting in March and April 2023. These programs provide an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and explore the concepts of Presence in a supportive and nurturing environment. Whether you're seeking to deepen your own sense of homecoming or to support others in their journey, these programs can provide a valuable space to do so.