The noteworthy problem that kick starts all of our other problems isn’t all that problematic in the long run.
It’s a simple mistake made by all sentient beings to some extent. The issue is that we base our identities in unstable hands—namely our own.
It starts with perception, when the mind perceives the figure (Gestalts, wholes) as something separate from the ground (The ganzfeld, the “whole field”). Instead of seeing a room as an undifferentiated whole, for instance, we start to fixate on individual objects in the room while the room itself fades into the background.
Gestalt psychology mostly dealt with this in terms of vision, but it applies to all of our senses, including the mind and thoughts.
Then we come to see ourselves as gestalts and we relate more with consciousness than everything we’re conscious of—including our thoughts, feelings, and bodies. We parcel something like “seeing” into seer, sight, and seen wherein “I” am solely the unseen seer.
So, we push the world outside of ourselves and identify with the “seeing and knowing” aspect of ourselves which is itself unseen and unknown; the same way that the eye can’t see itself or the ear hear itself. From this intuitive sense of there being a “witness” separate from the witnessed, comes the belief in God and the soul; in personhood, and being an isolated being.
Here comes the main problem: we identify with the characteristics that make us unique more than the traits we have in common with everything else. All the harmful things we do stem from this simple identity crisis.
The solution is equally simple. When it comes to traits and characteristics, come to identify with the common ground. What do all living beings have in common? We’re alive, for one thing. We’re born, we live, we die. We’re overcome by suffering and we try to overcome being overcome.
What do living and non-living things have in common? We’re dependently arisen, we’re impermanent. We’re dynamic, liminal, and in a state of continuous renewal.
As gestalts, we come together and fall apart. As the ganzfeld, we never came together so we never fall apart.
This commonality includes individuality, since we all have individuality in common. So, Oneness isn’t an extreme if it’s seen clearly.
Meditation and mindfulness are methods we can use to understand this common ground and see the non-separation between gestalt and ganzfeld.
It’s so simple: instead of looking for things that make everything different, look for things that make everything the same.
The second aspect of contemplative life is not taking this sameness too seriously. It’s a grave mistake to trade total separation for total non-separation because that just sets up a whole ‘nother roadblock to clarity.
Non-separation isn’t like a drop of water dissolving in the ocean, this is just another passing sensory experience. Non-separation isn’t something that happens that cancels out separation, it’s something that’s always been that includes separation.
Speechlessness is the authentic taste of non-separation. The mind turning about and being blinded by its own radiance so that every word, label, and gestalt feels only partially accurate. Something as simple as saying, “This is a coffee cup,” can be giggle-worthy. Not because that declaration is wrong, but because it tickles.
Realizing the common ground is the beginning of Buddhist practice. It’s the fruition of Clear Seeing. The remainder of the Path involves using skillful views and techniques designed to nourish Complete Understanding, which eventually culminates in Buddhahood.
Even here, though, there’s no real separation between being a Buddha and being an afflicted sentient being; between being enlightened and delusional. The same way that the finger I whacked with a hammer is connected to all the uninjured fingers through the same hand—the same way that day and night alternate but are also always occurring at the same time.
Buddhas, sentient beings, enlightenment, delusion… these are just the continuance of mental proliferation, of extracting the figure from the ground. Picture a statue of a Buddha next to a statue of Mara. Plucked from the ground, they’re two distinct figures. Allowed to rest as the ground, they’re both just equally part of the environment they’re in.
If you can view the many from the standpoint of the One, then you’ll be fine throughout your entire journey. If you view the One from the One, you’re fucked because then you’re “lost in emptiness.” If you view the One from the many (if you view nonduality with a dualistic mindset) you’re also fucked.
One time, Joshu was asked, “If the many return to the One, what does the One return to?”
I’d reply, “How can something return if it never left?” Then I’d smile and say to the questioner and myself, “You silly fucker.”