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Deadly Play Print
Shambhala Sun | January 1999


Deadly Play

In a poor country devastated by nine years of civil war, a guerrilla army is conducting a campaign of death and mutilation so unrelenting it is called "No Living Thing." Thousands of those conscripted to carry out this violence are children. This is a hell on earth, a place where a young girl, hands cut off at the wrist and tied to her waist by another child, is sent walking as a living billboard advertising the end of hope and compassion. It is a place of deadly play.
I once taught drama in the converted ballroom of a private Catholic elementary school in New York. The children's favorite game was an ongoing battle between the forces of Good and Evil. The Good were led by a magic Wizard, the Evil were led by a wicked General, and the children shifted allegiances readily, exploring both sides. They savored conducting merciless attacks on one another and constructing make-believe torture rooms.
The highlight of play occurred when someone from either side was killed. The children made a circle and, under the direction of the Wizard, sang the dead child back to life. Then the battle continued. New episodes were invented until the bell that marked the end of the class. Exhausted and happy the children gathered to retell their adventures before leaving for math, religion or history.
Not one of these children, nor I, could have imagined that at the same time thousands of children of the same age, armed with guns and machetes, were being sent into real battles to kill and be killed, with no one to sing them back to life.
"No Living Thing" is the motto of rebel forces in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Eighty percent of the guerrillas are thought to be children between the ages of five and seventeen. Born into violence, raised as killers, they are trained to commit mutilation and murder. Like all children, they learn by example: adults force them to witness atrocities before taking them to neighboring villages to do it themselves.
This situation is unique only in its brutality: the use of children as soldiers is on the increase in many parts of the world. The United Nations estimates the number of child soldiers globally at more than 300,000, up from 250,000 two years ago. At the same time, the age of the children is decreasing: children as young as four are seen using the weapons of war.
The statistics: Ten percent of an estimated 60,000 combatants in Liberia may be children; at least twenty percent in El Salvador; ten percent in Afghanistan. Nearly seventy percent of Palestinian children are believed to have participated in acts of political violence. And so on.
The justifications: Children make the best soldiers because they carry out orders without question. Having lost families and suffering from trauma, they find security in the army. Small children, knowing nothing other than violence, will fight until they die. They make better spies and messengers because of their size. They do not ask for salaries. Children can be used as human shields or sent ahead of armies to test for landmines.
UNICEF concludes that the proliferation of child soldiers also arises from the ease of using light and devastating weapons. The AK 47 can be stripped and reassembled by a child of ten.
In her groundbreaking 1996 U.N. report, Graca Michal wrote, "More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values; a space in which children are slaughtered, raped, and maimed; a space in which children are exploited as soldiers....There are few further depths to which humanity can sink."
In the fall of 1997 I worked as a facilitator for "Children's Voices," a UNICEF conference at the United Nations at which children from twenty-three countries spoke. There I met an orphaned former child soldier from West Africa. At the time, he was fifteen years old. He wrote songs about peace and longed for an education. I stayed in close contact with him afterward, and after a difficult process, brought him to this country to build a new life. Because he is still young, he chooses to remain anonymous; here is some of his story.
"When I was eleven years old my parents and brothers were killed in the civil war. I hid for eight months. Often alone, living in trees in the bush, hardly eating, I suffered from malnutrition. I was told that if I joined the forces I could have food, and take revenge for the death of my family. I was also told that if I did not become a soldier I would be killed.
"I had no choice. I became a soldier. I learned to shoot a gun. That was my training. Then I was sent into my first battle. All around me people were dying. In front of me people were dying. I could not imagine killing a human being, but a grown man kept shouting at me, "Shoot! Shoot!" Then I shot. I killed for the first time. And I was no longer of this world."
I asked him what he lost in those years of being a soldier, besides the obvious losses of family and home. He answered, "I lost my self in the war, my self, my image, my sense of feeling for myself and other children. I lost my ability to think before doing. I just kept going.
"That's what happens to every child soldier. Children are the best soldiers because they can be used to do whatever you ask them to do. The grown-ups give you drugs and torture you. The littlest children usually get killed. They have no maturity. Their minds are all mixed up and they will never give up until they die. They think that the only way to live is to fight.
"When the war broke out everyone became stupid and did not think. Because of guns and trauma and drugs you cannot think. Adults need to raise their children with the idea of forgiveness, not revenge. Otherwise it will never stop."
I asked him how he was able to leave the army. He explained that the children were never left alone, so that they had no chance to think. "Once I was in the bush alone. I do not know where it came from, but I had a thought that I was no longer a good boy. Then it went away."
Later, when there were no battles, U.N. workers came looking for child soldiers to encourage them to undergo detraumatization. "I was not normal. I was crazy. I did not want to stop fighting. But I recognized one of the men. He was from my village. He saw me. When he recognized me he said, "Oh My God!" His face was very sad. I realized I was no longer a good child. "What am I doing?" I asked myself. It was later that I went for detraumatization. It was very hard. It was very painful to become a normal human being again, because I had to feel, remember and dream again.
"Some child soldiers in the future will change. But it will take a long time. It is hard to find people who really care about us and are willing to work with us. We were not normal. These children who do not get help will end up in a bad situation because they do not think before they act. So you see, in the future there will be more trouble."
What story in the world best describes the atrocity of turning children into killers? What story offers some clues of redemption, or of understanding of this awful wound in the psyche of the world? Perhaps it is the wild destruction unleashed by Dionysus, God of ecstasy and the vine.
Dionysus, twice born child, wearing two masks, reveals the darkest possibilities of human nature-and the most joyous. At the height of his murderous frenzy arises the birth of song; a natural stream of light evolves from the unrelenting darkness of murder and death.
Thinking about his cult, I have sought some medicine for the depravity of turning children into soldiers in the world today. Knowing such darkness, can they become protectors of peace and compassion? Knowing about them, can we face our own shadows and liberate kindness without judgement? Can we find a place for these children in our world.
A country like Sierra Leone, whose unnatural borders were created by colonial powers who disregarded tribal traditions and hierarchies, was once infused by rituals and myths that included awareness of both the dark and the light. Tremendous energy went into rites of passage which brought children into contact with the realms of ancestors, spirits and demons, both good and evil.
But colonial powers ignored this process of rebalancing life and devalued the transmutation of dark forces within and without. Where did the suppressed shadows go? Perhaps, unacknowledged or contained by myth and ritual, these dark forces arose as the displays of evil and destruction that plague Africa today.
At the U.N. conference, the boy was given five minutes to speak about the children of his country. He brought the room to silence.
"I joined the forces because of the loss of my parents and hunger. It is not easy to be a soldier, but we just had to do it." Putting down his paper, he looked around and smiled shyly. "I am reintegrated. You don't have to be afraid of me. I am not a soldier anymore. Now I am a child. We are all brothers and sisters."
Sitting straight, radiating dignity, he continued: "This is what I have learned and want to say: revenge is not good. I killed to revenge the death of my parents. But if I continue to revenge, if another is killed and then another, then there will only be more revenge and it will never come to an end."
Following the children's presentations, a journalist asked a girl from Albania: "What are the causes of war?" She answered gently, "We are more interested in what are the causes of peace."
According to a folk tale from Zimbabwe, the origin of murder is the death of a child: "A mother left her baby beneath a tree while she worked in the field. When it cried, a large eagle landed on the child. The bird comforted the baby, and it stopped crying. Every day when the baby cried, the eagle comforted it.
"When the mother told her husband, he did not believe her. He went out to the field. The eagle flew to the crying baby. The husband grew afraid. He lifted his bow and shot at the bird. The eagle flew away, but the baby was killed. That was the first murder. Since that time people have killed each other."
The man did not trust the word of the mother; he did not trust the natural world. I told the story to the boy. He said softly, "No one thinks. In your mind you know you are doing something wrong, but few people want to stop or apologize. Some people do not listen to their mind. They are too proud to feel."
He described the painful process of detraumatization as a coming back to this world, a harrowing reawakening of feeling, thinking, sensing and remembering.
"You know, in war all of nature is lost. You cannot hear the sounds of the bush or the birds. You only hear gunshots. When you walk through empty villages it is so sad. No birds sing. Even the buildings begin to collapse without human warmth or the sounds of nature. It is a terrible silence."
In her U.N. report, Graca Michal called for an immediate, global demobilization of child soldiers. She asked all armies to create "peace zones" for children. In a personal note at the end of her presentation, she added, "Above all else, this process has strengthened my conviction that we must do anything and everything to protect children, to give them priority and a better future. This is a call to embrace a new morality that places children where they belong-at the heart of all agendas. Ask yourselves what you can do to make a difference. Then take action, no matter how large or how small, for our children have a right to peace."

Laura Simms is a storyteller and writer based in New York. Her most recent book is Rotten Teeth (Houghton-Mifflin) and her most recent CD is "Four Legged Stories" (Lyrichord Records). She is among the performers at the U.N. Human Rights Celebration in Oslo in December

Deadly Play, Laura Simms, Shambhala Sun, January 1999.


The Power of the Tao Te Ching Print


The Power of the Tao Te Ching


Perhaps the most valuable message the Tao Te Ching offers is that when something positive occurs, it contains within it the seeds of the negative and vice versa.

It has been decades since the Tao Te Ching swept college campuses and its mythic (and perhaps entirely mythical) author, Lao Tzu, became the poster boy for the mystical East. In the intervening time, tao has entered the English lexicon, along with yin and yang. Feng shui, acupuncture and Tai Chi, disciplines based on taoist principles, are popular and well known. The tao and the yin-yang symbol have long been cliches, but how broadly understood are the fundamental messages in the Tao Te Ching, and in what way are they valuable?

The Tao Te Ching was originally known as the Lao Tzu, after the contemporary of Confucius who is supposed to have composed the text in the sixth century BCE, although it is probably several hundred years younger. Eventually it acquired the status of a ching—a canonical text on a par with the great Confucian texts and The Book of Changes, the I Ching. Although it is sometimes called The Book of the Way or The Way of Virtue, its title is simply meant to indicate that it is the classic text of tao and te.

Tao and te are not easy to pin down, which is why the text exists in the first place. Tao, an expression of that which is ultimate, is many-faceted and elusive in its meaning. Its various translations—the way, supreme reality, primordial simplicity, transcendence and many others—emerge from glimpsing the tao from different angles. Te, which has been translated variously as power, virtue, manifestation, immanent reality et al, refers broadly to the experience of tao in the forms and virtues of people and things in the world. The tao is nameless and formless. Its power, te, is manifested in the "ten thousand things" that make up our experience.

Classical Chinese literature is a slippery fish. The lines of the old texts exist almost as a simple listing of ideas free of syntax or even context. Each of the concepts themselves can contain half a dozen possible meanings and some of them are so rich, like tao itself, as to be untranslatable. This results in translations that appear to be based on completely different works.

The ancient texts also arise within the context of intricate spiritual and philosophical traditions. Lao Tzu stands in opposition to the Confucian emphasis on hierarchy and social order. Whereas Confucius (who is known in China as K’ung Tzu) is primarily concerned with social order, the Tao Te Ching concerns itself with cosmic order, implying that social order is only a subset of that. Both of these, in turn, influenced the form of Buddhism that developed in northern and eastern Asia. Encountering all these streams of possible meanings and interrelated isms can be paralyzing. The only choice becomes to jump in, with the understanding that no one will ever have the last word on what the Tao Te Ching means. It can only be tested by experience.

Although the Tao Te Ching can be read in one sitting, it is the sort of book that one can return to many times, taking the merest snippet and letting it roll around in one’s mind, not necessarily resolving its meaning but allowing it to shed light nevertheless, such as one can do with the passage below (taken, as are all examples here, from John C.H. Wu's translation):

            We make doors and windows for a room;
            But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.
            Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
            It is the intangible that makes it useful.

At the same time that one can find delight in certain passages and glean an overall attitude from reading the entire work, certain parts of the text can come across as merely sententious, in the manner of the great sage in the Kung Fu television series:

            To be great is to go on
            To go on is to be far
            To be far is to return

There is clearly meaning there, and quite likely profundity, but some of it may be hidden in the translation and the result can be something that just sounds cool. While this passage is fuzzy, it gives way to one that is actually obscure:

            Hence, "Tao is great,
            Heaven is great,
            Earth is great,
            King is great."
            Thus, the king is one of the great four in the Universe.

To get at the meaning of this passage one clearly requires extensive commentary and background, but the passage that follows packs the kind of wallop that leaves a direct mark, and one feels that little is lost in translation:

            Man follows the ways of the Earth.
            The Earth follows the ways of Heaven.
            Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
            Tao follows its own ways.

This passage gets at the power of the Tao Te Ching: it does not put human beings—or any beings for that matter—at the center of the cosmos. It enlarges the petty view that pits man against evil, man against nature, man against man. It's not about being against. As one reads the Tao Te Ching, it is impossible to be self-absorbed. One is absorbed into a greater order, but that order is not knowable or graspable. You cannot enslave it and make it work for your ends. Tao follows its own ways.

In just about every field of endeavor, from energy to architecture to medicine, city planning and military affairs, we regularly violate the basic understanding of tao. We believe that we can dominate the world and bend it to our will, whereas in fact we can bend the world so far, but eventually it bends back. The tao is not punishing or rewarding us. It merely does what it does, or doesn’t do as the case may be.

In our own everyday affairs, we have a tendency to think in a linear way, and the evening news, self-help books and new and improved technologies are there to reinforce that. We would like a better life, a more comfortable life, a life secure from vicissitudes. We want to move in a straight line from bad to good, less to more, down to up, but for some strange reason fortunes seem to go up and down. Every gain brings some kind of loss; every coming involves some kind of going:

            Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on,
            Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
            Who knows the ultimate end of this process?

Although the Tao Te Ching is replete with messages from the stark to the fuzzy to the opaque, this one is perhaps the most valuable to let sink in. When something positive occurs, it contains within it the seeds of the negative, and vice versa. When you buy your most prized possession, it is already beginning to decay. Conversely, when you lose a job or a friendship ends, you may think of it as a failure, something purely unfortunate, and not notice the beginning of something altogether new. This is what the yin-yang symbol is all about. It takes the global view.

To forswear the idea that life should move in an ever-better direction might seem a pessimistic view, the very end of life. In fact, the Tao Te Ching suggests that only when we fully understand the interdependency of dark and light does life begin at all. Before that, we are so busy bouncing between Point A and Point B that we have no opportunity to live at all.

Barry Boyce is senior editor and staff writer for the Shambhala Sun

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Inheritance Print
Shambhala Sun | January 1999


By: "When my father said, ‘You descend from kings,’ he was reminding us that though we did not have the money of the powerful, we were powerful nonetheless."

When I was born, my dad, at age fifty, had already lived many lives. In his early years, he traveled to every one of the continental United States and had more than fifty different jobs, including running the fireworks show at the 1939 World’s Fair. He met my mother in an office there and married her when he was thirty five. He went on to have seven children, of whom I am the youngest. My friends’ dads were fifteen to twenty years his junior. My dad did not play ball with me; he waxed philosophical. He didn’t move at an ambitious pace, but rather with the slightly melancholic grace of an older man.

My father came as a baby to New York from Scotland, which his father had left in order to avoid fighting for the British in South Africa. Dad was raised on Long Island when it was still frontier, when houses there had outhouses and were heated with wood. They kept a pig, who ate all their scraps and was offered up annually to feed the family. Paper packaging was used to start the fire along with "the morning sticks," which my father and his siblings would collect from their yard. The concept of garbage barely existed. You used everything you had. Growing up in this time and through the depression gave my father the conservative streak that was a hallmark of his generation. You conserved not out of ideology, but because there was no other way to live.

Craftsmanship was what people would call today a "core value" for my father. My grandfather, whom I knew only briefly, was a molding carpenter who worked on buildings like the Waldorf Astoria during the construction boom at the early part of the century. Moldings today are usually much simpler: a few grooves are cut from a piece of wood with an electric router. My grandfather’s molding planes were ornately shaped and scrupulously sharpened knives that he used to carve an elegant shape in a raw piece of timber with fine-tuned brute strength. In my family, therefore, tools are regarded with awe and care. When my father handled a saw or a hammer or a wrench, there was something more than expedience at work. He didn’t use it. He wielded it.

That’s among the great things I learned from him, in the arena where he was most comfortable, his vast shop in the basement, a repository of more tools and hardware than a country store. It was there that he took most solace and it was there that he was king. I am not handy, like most of the rest of my family, but I absorbed the deeper meaning of what he had to say to me about how to work. With a hammer he showed me how to use a loose and flexible grip and let the head of the hammer do the work, propelled forward by the releasing action in your wrist, rather than stiffly pushed toward the object you’re striking. With a handsaw, he showed me how to cut with vigor on the down stroke and rest on the backstroke. I learned how a larger wrench provided a larger leverage. I now appreciate that these lessons—somewhat tedious at the time for a teenager with parties to go to—were about conserving energy and learning to enjoy your work rather than struggling.

Outside of his shop, though, my father struggled. Through pluck and ambition he worked his way up from being a parking field attendant at Jones Beach to being a business executive, but he always hid the fact that he had no more than an eighth grade education. His upbringing dictated that he begin to support himself early, but his lack of formal education weighed him down like a hidden millstone. It needn’t have. He was a brilliantly educated and erudite man who read voraciously. But he was an immigrant existing among people who knew several generations of college degrees, and it made him feel lesser. When the last company he worked for forced him to retire at sixty-five, while I was still in high school, he felt discarded and useless. He became sadder and sadder in later years. The aspirations of his youth—to invent things and build his own business—had slipped through his fingers. Work for yourself, he would always say to me.

Although there was a sadness about my dad, he was never gloomy. He had a great infectious laugh and smile and a sense of humor that was always at the ready. When I was young, he still had a volcanic temper. He rarely erupted, but when he did, it was like the roar of Zeus. He could be sentimental and proud of his highland heritage, declaring as he did many times to us, "You descend from kings." It was his way of reminding us that although our parents did not have the education or money of the powerful, we were powerful nonetheless. It was a joy to be hugged by my father, who was never reserved about his love. His power also held great gentleness. A few years before he died, my mother found a mouse in the basement and she asked him to get rid of it. Surreptitiously, he began to feed the mouse, whom he named Herman. It kept him company in his shop. When my mother found out, she couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t kill it, so he put it outside. One day, I saw him crying at the window. He’d found Herman’s frozen body.

I lament that my children never had him as a grandfather, because I know what that would have been like. He was a bit of a grandfather to me. Right now, my girl’s are laughing at me, because—as my father would have—I am taking delight in reading a history of the screwdriver and the screw. But secretly they admire it a bit, the curiosity about simple things. At times like these, a little of my dad is there for them, and together we are father and grandfather all at once.

Barry Boyce is senior editor and staff writer for the Shambhala Sun

Inheritance, Barry Boyce, Shambhala Sun, January 1999.


Calvin and Mobs Print


Calvin and Mobs

Barry Boyce wants to know: Is America's dream freedom or a crusade of vindictive reform?

In Geneva, the spiritual home of John Calvin, there is a monument to the Protestant reformation. It is a stark place, stone gray and white with walkways in a grid pattern creating rectangles of scrupulously trimmed forbidden lawns, all overseen by tall statues of great reformers, Mr. Calvin principal among them. No passion allowed, thank you very much.

You may also find Mr. Calvin's church there, dark and dank, colorless, forbidding. The sobriety of these places communicates the chill atmosphere of reformation: the dead serious business of taking what is bad and bringing it into the light. From the time that the reformers rebelled against the excesses of the "one true church" in the sixteenth century, this strain of reform has proved a durable force in the culture and politics of the West, reaching its pinnacle in the United States, the far shore of puritanical culture. Its influence is more than theoretical.

I felt it growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, overseen by the Presbyterians (Greek for "elders") on the hill. They were guided by the Bible and a book of rules that governed how things were run. Thrift, Industry, Success in Business-these were the virtues held high in my home town. Indeed, in most ways, the leaders of our community were kind-spirited and civically minded, just as John Calvin had been for the city of Geneva. They built hospitals, established charities, and provided jobs for lots and lots of people.

In many ways, the elders made a well-oiled and happy little town, but there was a dark side there revealed in the urge to condemn. I'm convinced it all came from good old Johnny C. I keep his picture near my desk just to remember that when you screw up the good things, reformers will descend with armfuls of scarlet letters and medicines that are far worse than the disease.

John Calvin was not a happy camper. He grew up in France at a time when the church sold offices and indulgences to the highest bidder, and since his father was a church official, he saw it first hand, and it made him bitter. You can see it in his eyes-and the eyes of his successors.

Calvin, and particularly those who followed him, carved out a small and ungenerous piece of the Christian legacy and magnified it. They enshrined the notion of a predestined elect and their diametric opposite, the eternally damned. They virtually invented "holier than thou." Salvation must be sought through faith, for human beings are inherently depraved. If you don't make it, you must be found out, shamed, damned, and deleted. When the Unitarian heretic Michael Servetus was caught, Calvin recommended decapitation. (No improvement on the Catholic approach there.)

In the small-town America I grew up in, those who strayed often felt the harsh judgement of the elect. Under the tutelage of these harsh masters, people naturally had a rough time with their urges and passions, but they managed to bury them deep. This was life in the America that many of us grew up in. Behind the picnics and the ballgames lay a mean spirit seeking to lay bare the damned, however they were identified-morally, economically, or even racially.

Calvinists love rules and laws, providing not justice but justification. Codes are not there to enshrine great human ideals or even to make life fair. They are there to identify those who stray and ensure they receive their just desserts. This approach, so toward others, also creates people toward themselves, carrying the burden of private sins and ashamed of their natural juices. Calvinism takes the human tendency to self-doubt and hatred and raises it to the level of religion.

As I grew up, I tried to believe in the high ideals of America—the freedom rhetoric, the democratic light of the world and all that—but the inquisitorial, puritanical spirit put the lie to those high ideals. You could wake up one day and discover that America's dream was not freedom, but a crusade of vindictive reform.

Now that John Calvin has found his high priest in Kenneth Starr, the dirty secret of American freedom is once again on open display. As I watched the American president hunted down, trapped in a lie about that most abhorrent of human depravities, and marched to the Star Chamber, the chill, stark monument to Calvin came vividly to mind. Omigod, is that a wicked smile I see forming on his face?

Barry Campbell Boyce is a writer and teacher of writing. He is president of Victory Communication.

Calvin and Mobs, Barry Boyce, Shambhala Sun, January 1999.

Constant Consciousness Print
Shambhala Sun | January 1999

Constant Consciousness

By: "That which is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not real." -Ramana Maharshi

Sitting here on the porch, watching the sun go down. Except there is no watcher, just the sun, setting, setting. From purest Emptiness, brilliant clarity shines forth. The sound of the birds, over there. Clouds, a few, right up there. But there is no "up," no "down," no "over," and no "there"-because there is no "me" or "I" for which these directions make sense. There is just this. Simple, clear, easy, effortless, ever-present this.
I became extremely serious about meditation practice when I read the following line from the illustrious Sri Ramana Maharshi: "That which is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not real."
That is a shocking statement, because basically there is nothing-literally nothing-in the deep dreamless state. That was his point. Ultimate reality (or Spirit), Ramana said, cannot be something that pops into consciousness and then pops out. It must be something that is constant, permanent, or, more technically, something that, being timeless, is fully present at every point in time. Therefore, ultimate reality must also be fully present in deep dreamless sleep, and anything that is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not ultimate reality.
This profoundly disturbed me, because I had had several kensho or satori-like experiences (glimpses of One Taste), but they were all confined to the waking state. Moreover, most of the things I cared for existed in the waking state. And yet clearly the waking state is not permanent. It comes and goes every twenty-four hours. And yet, according to the great sages, there is something in us that is always conscious-that is, literally conscious or aware at all times and through all states, waking, dreaming, sleeping. And that ever-present awareness is Spirit in us. That underlying current of constant consciousness (or nondual awareness) is a direct and unbroken ray of pure Spirit itself. It is our connection with the Goddess, our pipeline straight to God.
Thus, if we want to realize our supreme identity with Spirit, we will have to plug ourselves into this current of constant consciousness, and follow it through all changes of state-waking, dreaming, sleeping. This will: 1) strip us of an exclusive identification with any of those states (such as the body, the mind, the ego, or the soul); and 2) allow us to recognize and identify with that which is constant-or timeless-through all of those states, namely, Consciousness as Such, by any other name, timeless Spirit.
I had been meditating fairly intensely for around twenty years when I came across that line from Ramana. I had studied Zen with Katigiri and Maezumi; Vajrayana with Kalu and Trungpa; Dzogchen with Pema Norbu and Chagdud; plus Vedanta, TM, Kashmir Shaivism, Christian mysticism, Kabbalah, Daism, Sufism... well, it's a long list. When I ran across Ramana's statement, I was on an intensive Dzogchen retreat with my primary Dzogchen teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. Rinpoche also stressed the importance of carrying the mirror-mind into the dream and deep sleep states. I began having flashes of this constant nondual awareness, through all states, which Rinpoche confirmed. But it wasn't until a few years later, during a very intense eleven-day period-in which the separate-self seemed to radically, deeply, thoroughly die-that it all seemed to come to fruition. I slept not at all during those eleven days; or rather, I was conscious for eleven days; or rather, I was conscious for eleven days and nights, even as the body and mind went through waking, dreaming and sleeping. I was unmoved in the midst of changes; there was no I to be moved; there was only unwavering empty consciousness, the luminous mirror-mind, the witness that was one with everything witnessed. I simply reverted to what I am, and it has been so, more or less, ever since.
The moment this constant nondual consciousness is obvious in your case, a new destiny will awaken in the midst of the manifest world. You will have discovered your own Buddha Mind, you own Godhead, your own formless, spaceless, timeless, infinite Emptiness, your own Atman that is Brahman, your Keter, Christ consciousness, radiant shekinah-in so many words, One Taste. It is unmistakably so. And just that is your true identity-pure Emptiness or pure unqualifiable Consciousness as Such-and thus you are released from the terror and the torment that necessarily arise when you identify with a little subject in a world of little objects.
Once you find your formless identity as Buddha-mind, as Atman, as pure Spirit or Godhead, you will take that constant, non-dual, ever present consciousness and re-enter the lesser states, subtle mind and gross body, and re-animate them with radiance. You will not remain merely Formless and Empty. You will empty yourself of Emptiness: you will pour yourself out into the mind and world, and create them in the process, and enter them all equally, but especially and particularly that specific mind and body that is called you (that is called, in my case, Ken Wilber): this lesser self will become the vehicle of the Spirit that you are.
And then all things, including your own little mind and body and feelings and thoughts, will arise in the vast Emptiness that you are, and they will self-liberate into their own true nature just as they arise, precisely because you no longer identify with any of them, but rather let them play, let them all arise, in the Emptiness and Openness that you now are. You then will awaken as radical Freedom, and sing those songs of radiant release, beam an infinity too obvious to see, and drink an ocean of delight. You will look at the moon as part of your body and bow to the sun as part of your heart, and all of it is just so. For eternally and always, eternally and always, there is only this.

Material in this column appears in One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, from Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston. Copyright Ken Wilber, 1998.

    Constant Consciousness, Ken Wilber, Shambhala Sun, January 1999.

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