Refinement #4

As we continue to plunge deeper into this practice it leads us to the direct experience of sacred world. (There is a LOT going on with this practice, more than meets the eye – so to speak.) As we become increasingly open, sensitive, and aware of the processes of perception by looking at our object, we come to dis-cover that when the mind is drawn to a fresh sensory arising (a sound, sight, smell, feeling or taste), in that very first instant of perception everything is perfectly pure. In other words, the initial experience is non-conceptual. But in a micro-instant, with the speed of a thunderclap after a lightning strike, we contract onto that sensory arising, stick to it, and proliferate (prapañca). That’s the profanity. Contraction and conceptual proliferation stains the initial purity, and the sacred is transformed into the profane.

The importance of this instantaneous process cannot be overstated. It means that once we understand this process and start to relax around our perceptions we can return to the sacred with equal rapidity. We can regain contact with reality (not our concepts about it) on the spot, every time we open and release the contraction/proliferation and return to what is – to the initial sensory input of our object. We use our senses to come to our senses. Our senses, by nature, are pure (nonconceptual). This exercise of looking at the object is therefore a very sensual practice, leading to a celebratory relationship to our sense faculties. You will find yourself hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching more, because you’re thinking less. When all the distracting thunder is removed, the light from the flash becomes even more illuminating.

You’ll find yourself more and more in contact with reality, which you soon dis-cover to be sacred. Eventually you will realize that the sacred is the only thing that really exists. You just have to open to it. Recognize it. Just drop the endless commentary, the relentless storylines that thunderously accompany any experience. Relax your grip on the profane and the sacred reveals itself. The Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, in his influential book A Study of Good, writes, “What kind of thing is direct reality before we have as yet added the complexities of thought? That is, what kind of thing is an event of pure experience? At this time there is not as yet the opposition of subject and object, there is not the separation into intellect, emotion, and will, there is only independent, self-contained, pure activity.”

Anything that is “profane” is etymologically “outside the temple” (from the prefix prō – ‘before’ (used here in the sense of ‘outside’) and fānum – ‘temple.’) The sacred temple is simply reality before the conceptual and proliferating mind barges into it, soiling the sanctuary of the pure present moment with endless dirt from the past and future. Stay inside the temple by staying open and present to the initial purity of whatever arises. Otherwise you will continue to evict yourself, and find yourself outside the temple. You’ll end up on the streets, with the ineffable feeling that something is missing. You are missing. You are the one who has gone AWOL on reality and thrown yourself into profanity at this most foundational level, “cursing” your way out of the temple through the eviction born from contraction and proliferation. The meditation master Orgyenpa shares,

When we say “appearance,” we mean appearance in the sense of confused appearance as opposed to mere appearance or direct, initial experience. We wander through samsara by entering into fixation on those secondary appearances. We enter into fixation with regard to what we conceive of as “self” and “other,” “good and “bad,” and so on. The reason that we fixate in this way is based on our secondary apprehensions of an initial nonconceptual experience is simply because we have the habit of doing so. This habit has been accumulating since beginningless time. That is the reason our confusion continually recurs. When the force of such habit gels or solidifies, we become used to passing from the initial, direct experience into the secondary, conceptual apprehension of it.

This is why we need to be patient with this practice, because the habit of contracting away from the object, and proliferating with commentary about it, is so deeply entrenched. It’s taken a long time to get so sticky; it’s going to take some time to come unglued. This is because our very sense of self, the ego, is glued together with this process. By contracting, and therefore generating the illusion that there is something out there, the immediate implication means there has to be something in here. That’s the fundamental contraction/attachment. Once again, self and other, inside and outside, co-emerge. They “lean” on each other. But the point for us is that when we enter into fixation and pull away from the object, we exit the temple. This is profanity at its root.