Relaxing belief-driven agendas

Often times I think we find ourselves trapped in a cage of our own making.

I have forgotten who it was now, but someone on the dusty Dharma trail years ago remarked, after spending 6 months in a Burmese monastery practicing intensive vipassana meditation, that he felt like he had “downloaded an entire religion.”

I think it is absolutely essential to carefully examine the beliefs we carry into our meditation practice. What this usually means is to examine the resistance we have to doing this. It is precisely this resistance which allows Maya to spin her web.

Beliefs are rather subjective and are notoriously prone to the forces of persuasion. What has comes under the rubric of fact does change, of course, but beliefs have a noticeably more dramatic will-o’-the-wisp quality.

When beliefs go largely unexamined and unquestioned, they can create enormous subconscious tension in the mind. We don’t need to look too far to see this: the angry, homophobic fundamentalists of many religions are just one example.

When beliefs are held lightly they certainly contribute to a lesser degree of intrapsychic strife. My favorite example of this is comes from a new online friend I have recently made (Raymond, I hope you don’t mind me calling you that). Raymond Sigrist recently sent me an extraordinary book he recently published In Love With Everything: Apophatic Mysticism The Benefits and Dangers of Love Without Reason. This is such a rich buffet of a book; I can only offer a few delicious morsels up here in regard to this topic.

In regard to lightly holding beliefs versus the adamant, tight-fisted grasping of them, Raymond has an alter-ego character in the book named Rawley Creed who comes up with brilliant one-liners.  (Raymond, you had me Googling this character for more of his wisdom until I noticed your trickery!).

At one point Rawley confesses he is so committed to radical spiritual pragmatism he is willing to give up pragmatism at the drop of a hat! (Raymond calls his approach practical apophatic mysticism, and I wholly concur with his observations.)

But holding a belief lightly is still holding, still a subtle form of grasping, to use the Buddhist lingo. Practice as I see it looks deeply into this entire enterprise. And this looking at beliefs we hold, even lightly, is often very uncomfortable, which is born of a deep desire for the comfort of the familiar (or what has come to become to represent the familiar in recently acquired beliefs).

It’s natural to resist change and the unfamiliar—because it does not resonate with us. I get this feedback all the time. Why do I have to be such a rabble-rouser? Just relax and toe the line.

It is exactly this turning of attention to that which has been overlooked that permits breakthroughs to occur.

Some sages of old suggested the use of equally cunning counter trick to squash the operation of Maya, often calling it self-inquiry. This “technique” was likened to a stick used to stir the burning sticks in a funeral pyre until the stick itself was consumed by the fire.

Beliefs masquerade as facts because they take up residence in the subconscious.  They remain hidden precisely because our of our unwillingness to look at them. But to look at them requires a focus strong enough to break old habit patterns.

This focus is precisely the openness of meditation not directed at any object. It has the ability to leave up absolutely vulnerable. Here is another gem from Raymond Sigrist:


Utter vulnerability is the apophatic’s treasure. The apophatic path is vulnerable to the distinct possibility of meaninglessness. The spotless clarity which results from the surrender of all ideation allows the apophatic to attain transparent awareness. Within this sublime awareness the mystic experiences the pure quality of being here. This experience is called the “numinous” or the “mystical state.”


This is precisely why Meister Echkart wrote, in the reading for a couple of weeks ago on this blog:

Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God.

This transparent awareness is present and available, on tap 24/7, and like broadband, there is a very short connect time compared to the slow dialup of conventional meditation practice. Often all that is needed is a little nudge.

This discovery is not reserved for special people or available only after years of practice or seeking. What is discovered is your utter birthright, and is who you already are, and absolutely not some special state, experience, or least of all thought, that one has to work hard to find and maintain.

This recognition is just a very direct looking at who and what you actually are in this moment:  thoughts arising and passing in a field of ever-present awareness, with nothing to stick to. Who or what owns the thoughts? Where do they come from, and where do they go? Do you need to wait for some special circumstance to recognize this presence-awareness in which thoughts arise and into which they dissolve? Can you relax into and as this awareness? How old are you as awareness?

This re-cognition is as ordinary as oatmeal.

It can put out the smoldering fire of belief-driven agendas. It brings joy, love, peace, and well-being. It also reveals the quivering heart of compassion.

Somewhere in the Bible I remember reading “much study is weariness to the flesh and in the making of books, there is no end.”

Along these lines Nisargadatta said “No university can teach you to be yourself”.       

This all too sneaky ego trick, of thinking that the discovery of timeless awareness is the result of great effort or study, was pointed out to me last week while sitting down for coffee with a friend, who said “your problem is you think you will find an answer in a book.”

I believe this simple, ordinary discovery is crucial to undertaking a sincere look at the interspiritual literature suggested in the reading list for the year on this blog . It is also at the heart of the apophatic mystical journey.

(with warm thanks to Raymond Sigrist and Rev. Dan Hatch)


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One Comment

  1. Hi Tom

    This is beautiful: “It is your utter birthright, and is who you already are, and absolutely not some special state, experience, or least of all thought, that one has to work hard to find and maintain.”

    It’s the archetypal generic mystical realization, found in many traditions. For one example, Luther’s “justification by faith not works.” And Laozi’s “Do nothing (contrived).”

    Also in the following: “Kun-tu bzang-po, without ever having done the slightest good, has realized Buddhahood by recognizing the three facets of Being for what they are. The sentient beings in the three realms, without ever having done any evil, roam about in Samsara by not having recognized the three facets for what they are. They roam about in Samsara because they have failed to recognize reality to be open-dimensional, experience to be radiant, and responsiveness to be the unity of presence and openness.”
    MKha-gro snkying -thig Translated by Herbert Guenther.

    By the way, the above copy of Guenther’s text (I don’t know from which book) is somewhat corrupt. If anyone knows where I can obtain a more accurate copy, please let me know.

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