Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Attachment to Emptiness

“This Sense World too is Enlightenment”    
Hakuin Zenji’s Chant in Praise of Zazen

In his 4/10/2013 webcast, Adyashanti addresses in a beautiful, clear, and direct manner the allure of emptiness and the need to move through this stage of enlightenment. Adyashanti speaks of the attachment to emptiness. The spiritual path is limitless, and every single step along the way has potential pitfalls. These difficulties arise in the form of attachments or aversions. I have spoken of the attachment to emptiness as dwelling in the ‘cave of nonduality’. Once the silence and peace of this absolute emptiness is experienced, it can be enticing, particularly to those who have experienced enormous suffering and trauma in this life. In emptiness there is no separation and hence no suffering. If the goal is the end of suffering, then emptiness is your ticket. Without the sense of self-identity, there can be no suffering as there is no separation. No separation means there is no comparison of what is with what isn’t. Without this comparing process, nothing is seen as lacking. There is neither joy nor the absence of joy. There is no passion, no desire, no fear, no pain of loss, no excitement, and no despair. Obviously meaningful relationships of all kinds are avoided or diminished, as relationships have typically been a source of suffering. The same can be said for all other forms of engagement in the world. Responsibility is avoided like the plague. The internal experience of emptiness is of a quiet contentment. People who have arrived at this deep, internally focused peacefulness appear emotionally flat to those not in the cave. There is often very little externally focused activity of any kind. Very little productive work is accomplished. Effort of all kinds is strenuously avoided as a sign of ego-based striving. A telltale sign of the depth of attachment to this stillness and emotional numbing is the ferocious response that occurs when an attempt is made to arouse them from their slumbers. The cave of nonduality is a deeply restful way station for the weary spiritual traveler, and abiding there a while is understandable and beneficial. The problem is mistaking a stage of the journey for the end of the journey.
After a deep spiritual realization, it is normal, even predictable to land hard in the cave of nonduality. Many years can pass quietly as the seeker rests, mistakenly assuming that the journey has ended. From my observations and experiences, it is almost impossible for the person (who no longer believes themselves to be a person) to recognize how stuck they are without some external assistance. This is where a trusted teacher who has successfully exited the cave and reengaged with the messy, unpredictable ordinary world is not only invaluable, but usually absolutely necessary. The discontent that drove the seeker to pursue self-realization with the passion required to awaken to an aspect of their true nature has ceased. Extinction is the nature of nonduality. There is no internal dissatisfaction left to motivate movement and action. What then is the motivation to leave the cave and reengage with the world of suffering and chaos, of desire and lack?
The only motivation I can find is a deep sense of compassion born of the experiential realization of both unity and separateness. Although my personal suffering may have ended in the cave of emptiness, a quick peek outside reveals an entire world of hurt. The instant that we wade into this morass of suffering, previously hidden attachments and aversions are activated and available for attention and release. As long as we stay safely within the cave, we can fool our self into thinking that we are ‘done’. As long as meaningful engagement with life and real responsibility are carefully avoided, we can maintain our carefully cultivated inner state of peace and contentment. The avoidance of engagement becomes the spiritually rationalized default setting. How can reengagement with the messy world be a good idea when it activates so many unresolved conflicts? This can be an especially delicate time for the spiritual aspirant who, having finally found peace, is asked to surrender it.
Many are called but few are chosen. If there is a willingness and access to accurate teaching, the rested seeker may gather up their few remaining possessions and begin the longest and most arduous portion of the path. The ordinary world of duality is engaged, but now it is intuitively understood from the aspect of emptiness, making all experience radically different. One of the last and most difficult attachments that must be released is the attachment to emptiness. The full engagement with ordinary life that is ultimately realized is beautifully depicted in the tenth ox-herding picture, where our fully liberated sage is completely at home in the world, demonstrating absolute freedom embodied as an individual and unique human being. 


Joseph T. McMahon III said...

Thanks for this well written article.

Tony Daniels said...

Strictly speaking, there can only "appear" to be an attachment to emptiness. Any kind of attachment requires a subject as the knower who attaches to and identifies with an object as the known. This is duality. Emptiness as a direct knowing, when the personal "I" dissolves, can have no such subject/object relationship because it stands alone and is untainted by mind and objects of perception. In the case of genuine self realization, and by that I mean when the cave of non duality is recognised as your true nature, if there follows less interest in relationships and a disengagement with the world, then so be it. This is covered extensively in the traditional teachings. Ramana Maharshi was a prime example of someone who spent many years in solitude and is recognized as a great sage representing just that practice and philosophy with which you identify. Why is this such an issue for western thinkers who seem to want to both live in the cave and continue to cling to the world? The meeting and synthesis of eastern spirituality and western psychotherapy is not adding to knowledge and understanding, but causing confusion.

The truth is that there are as many ways to live in the world as there are realized beings. Some prefer a reclusive lifestyle while others prefer to be active in society. Self realization is to know that this emptiness, this silent unbounded, undifferentiated awareness is your true nature. It is both empty and full and expresses itself naturally and spontaneously from unity to diversity through mind, body and world, but without attachment in the egoless state. It is not extinction. It is sat chit ananda. It is effortless and choiceless. To be established in that silence is the end of seeking. But something continues to expand and grow as an infinite expression of the silence within. And that is reflected in whatever way you choose to engage with the world. Once you have found peace, you can never surrender it as you suggest. True realization is irreversible.

But for those who have not become permanently established in the Self, there can be times when there is a sense of being stuck, being emotionally dry, numb, lethargic, disinterested, but still with the element of fear, anxiety, insecurity and attachment, even though it may feel like you are staring into the void of what you think is non dual awareness. It is likely to be some discomfort as a result of the purification process of your sadhana. This is what I suspect you have observed in some. If the cave is without bliss, the journey is not yet over.