Within It No Darkness:
on Karma and Enlightenment
Dan Berkow (D) with Terry Murphy (T)
D. I wonder: How can there be a disagreement, if there is no "you" proposing anything and no "me" proposing anything?
T: If there is a difference between our views, it perhaps involves this idea of simultaneously discriminating and transcending. Do events have their consequences? Or are there no events, and no consequences?
D: If there is a seamless nondivisible reality at work here, what is the need to form a view about this? Once we engage in that exercise, I can only see it as free expression of energy and love.
As far as simultaneously discriminating and transcending, yes - I agree, that is a difference in how we were speaking of the situation. My words come from here: there are events and there are not events. As there are events, we can discuss karmic repercussions or consequences. As there are not events, we are not contained by cause and effect realities.
As the world is seamless, no discussion of cause and effect or karma pertains. As the world has differences, and we act perceiving differences, in the practical world of human interaction we can discuss cause and effect and karma. To be simultaneously aware of both realities, without there being two realities, is what I was expressing, although I'm not sure the words I used conveyed it perfectly. The One reality, subsumes and includes the other reality (time and consequence), and this for me is transcendence.
It doesn't negate time and karma, it subsumes and transcends that world. Thus, ultimately, nothing is split or divided. However, being infinite, we can act "as if" there were a world of time and phenomena. In other words, you and I can write these words as if there were such a thing as forming a view, and there will be repercussions to how we view each other's words - and at the same time - no views are formed, no repercussions are concerns.
T: Does time really exist,
D: No thing "really exists", no time "really exists" - but time is perceived to exist, and we communicate in that "realm" - the realm of words and thoughts - "as if" time exists
T: or is it true that there is no time, only the unfoldment of Now?
D: The reality of no-time cannot be described - "the unfoldment of Now" is probably as good a description as any - if any were possible.
T: Is there simultaneously a phenomenal world and an absolute, essential world, or is the absolute world the True one, and the phenomenal world a convenient illusion which is used by the enlightened and uses the unenlightened?
Part of the problem is that I was using your words about "the enlightened"
and "the unenlightened" whereas I wouldn't speak this way myself. It's
an artificial distinction and leads to the problems coming up here. There is only
Reality. The "phenomenal world" is itself Reality, when seen as Infinity;
however - interpretations bound to phenomenally perceived distinctions, that is
"objectification" considered a reality, without awareness *as* Reality,
lead to erroneous imbeddedness in thought-processes as reality. To say this simply,
everything is perfect as is, yet everything needs work, particularly identifications
with thought-processes as being "for a self". Being is perfect, with
becoming, work is needed - and Being is becoming. The work involved in becoming
involves awareness of karma; that if I do this, that will result.
At the same time, there is no "I", no doing, no result, no separation between now and then. No one becomes enlightened. Enlightenment works on us so that we provide an opening for enlightenment to operate, for the Timeless to work in time. Simultaneously, there is no time. Words are a clumsy vehicle for what is multidimensional and timeless.
T: I can say to you that karma neither exists nor does not exist. *In essence*, there are no actual discrete events that may be truly abstracted from the flow of universal energy; on the other hand, *in practice* it is useful to regard certain inputs as being causally related to certain outputs.
D: Your saying this resonates with me and, at least as perceived from here, confirms the words I spoke previously. We live "in Truth" because we "are Truth"; we interact in the world in practical ways. Being is universal, becoming is particular. Being is becoming.
T: I can also say that karma, like ego, is a genuine illusion, a self-created prison for many people who constantly punish themselves for imagined sins, and keep themselves down. If one truly knows the absolute truth, does one really need to view things in terms of cause and effect, or personality? Is the enlightened view ('transcendence') a dual awareness of both seamless whole and events with consequences, as you appear to claim?
D: Well, it came across in words that way. The "dual view" is simultaneously one view - so there's no interference between time and eternity, karma and seamless all-at-onceness. In answer to you here, if one truly knows the absolute truth, there is no one knowing anything, only "pure knowing" with no separation of knower and known - thus there is no enlightened view or unenlightened view. This "knowing" isn't an awareness of a doer, so no karma pertains.
There is a perspective oriented to a body, a culture, and a time and seeing that simultaneously there is no perspective, no culture, and no time. If there were no body, you couldn't type this, if there were no culture, we couldn't use these words, if there were no perspectives, we couldn't have this discussion. There is cause and effect here: you type, words come up. If you typed different words, the message would be different. Your words have an effect - this is "karma". At the same time, no typing occurs, there is no perspective, logic and karma *ultimately* don't pertain. So *ultimately* karma is perception, perception depends on perspective, and perspective doesn't pertain. Your words and my words are exchanged, but Reality remains the same before, during, and after this exchange. No view is formed and none is sought.
T: I don't think so, dan. I can sign that paycheck, I can press down on the accelerator and make it on down to the airport to pick you up, without ever varying my continuous awareness that reality is a seamless whole and Now is the only time.
This is fine, yet as in your story - the post is a post. The paycheck is a paycheck.
Don't sign it and you don't get paid. Drive drunk to the airport and you may get
in an accident, perhaps kill someone in the other car. This person who was killed
has relatives who will grieve that death. Tell the judge you're enlightened, living
in reality as a seamless whole, and karmic rules don't apply to you.
See what difference that makes to the judge. See what difference that makes to the grieving family. Because there is awareness of consequences, I don't get drunk when I drive to the airport. I don't claim that karma doesn't pertain to me, although *ultimately* it doesn't. I have respect for the family that would grieve the death, and don't tell them that they don't exist because phenomenal reality isn't real. This is the point I have been attempting to put into language - and it seems to me the basis for whatever "disagreement" there appeared to be in our views.
T: I may appear to 'others' as an Actor performing an Action, but may myself only be aware of everything happening interdependently with everything else in an utterly choiceless unfolding.
D: What you say here seems on target to me, essentially. Yet, as there is no one there to make a choice, choice or choicelessness aren't categories that seem to pertain. There is no one there being aware of anything. Once you say that you are aware of everything happening in a certain way, there is a "someone" who has an awareness of "something" which has some kind of quality (e.g. interdependence). Because there is awareness of things happening in a certain way, there can be the thought to write, there can be speech and thought. There can be writing. In Reality, no one is doing the writing - from what I understand of your position, we agree on this.
T: I'm not sure that you are not kind of mushing together the absolute and the relative into a meaningless hash.
D: LOL - you give me powers I don't possess. After all, no one is here who could do anything to the absolute and the relative, let alone superhumanly make them into a meaningless hash. The relativeness of relativity is the Absolute. The Absolute doesn't dwell somewhere other than here. There is a plant on my desk. The texture of the leaves is the Absolute. The color that my walls are painted is the Absolute. The desk is the desk and the computer is the computer. This is the Absolute. Am I saying that the Absolute is a computer, and is a plant - no, not at all. Am I mushing together the Absolute and the relative - no, that can't be done. Yet, there is nothing apart from the so-called Absolute. Whatever we happen to be labelling as phenomenal reality or relativity is nothing other than Absoluteness.
T: We may have an intellectual grasp of the philosophical advantages of monism while personally actually experiencing ourselves as individual egos. If you experience "one person's seeing" as "interactive karma" in a really existent "'realm of interaction'"; in other words simultaneously experiencing personal ego and intellectual knowledge of some notion of universality, then we might be sounding similar but actually be worlds apart.
D: How can we be worlds apart when the world is seamless? Your stance seems to contradict itself. If there is no "you" and "me" how can there be any personal experiencing of ourselves as individual egos? How can there possibly be a "me" experiencing a really existent realm of interaction that isn't there?
T: Again, the reality of 'karma' is a psychological sense of justice, or sin-and-its-consequences, which is almost universal at a certain stage of human development.
I see karma as the mutual arising of phenomena when understood in the thought-realm
of perceived actions and consequences of actions. It's a perception that all events
are interwoven in utter order, an order that includes everything that we perceive
as "random". Ignoring or avoiding this order because you think it doesn't
pertain to you is the "stench of enlightenment", at least as seen from
Problems associated with this stance occur in antinomian religious groups, and there have been many, only a few of which we've discussed recently on this list. It's not uncommon for leaders of these groups to claim themselves to be beyond karmic consequences, to be God incarnate, beyond the reaches of time or karma, or when Christian, to refer to themselves as being in a state of grace where human laws and understandings don't pertain to themselves or their actions. My expression was an attempt to show why such endeavors and philosophies tend to go astray, how they miss an aspect of reality - how such groups can bear fruit that doesn't taste good. To say there is no such thing as karma is true in terms of pure awareness, who one really is. But to say there is no karma as one interacts day to day is often the philosophical refuge of one who is intent on blindness about the hurts others deal with. I'm not saying this is true of you at all - I'm philosophically addressing the point in a way that confronts its shortcoming in the world of day to day human interaction.
T: Just as people powerfully feel that criminals should be punished for their actions, they similarly judge and punish themselves, using their own unconscious behavior to modify their own conscious behavior. The 'unenlightened' are not consciously aware that they are doing the best they can for the sake of all sentient beings, though in actual fact they are. When they become aware that they are actually doing their best for all beings, that they are infallibly designed that way and can't do anything else, any inner need for self-punishment falls away and 'karma' as a psychological reality no longer applies. Just as ego is transcended and realized to be an illusion, so the sense of oneself as a sinner in need of punishment is realized to be an illusion as well. Continuing to maintain these illusions once they are realized to be such is delusion.
D: I find your statement above to be very clear. It fits well with my perception. Thank you for stating it so clearly. My resonation here is real to me. I see you stating very well what I meant to say when I spoke of the "enlightened one" as encompassing and transcending the entire world of karma. The "enlightened one" doesn't destroy karma, but transcends it. This is equivalent, in my view, to seeing that all beings are actually working toward the enlightenment of all beings, or "doing their best for all beings". However, seeing this, really, will be evidenced by fruits of compassion. Compassion includes awareness of temporal things, such as how to use language, cultural meanings, etc. This is why I said the "enlightened one" would operate in time while not being in time.
If there were not awareness of karma, the enlightened would, without any discrimination about repercussions, do whatever they felt like doing - and I agree with you, "they" don't do this.
Yes "they" do! :-) They have no awareness of karma at all, and do whatever pops into their minds, without thinking. This is why *siddhis* operate, because without any thought, with any breaking of the connection with the infinite, the enlightened spontaneously reflect the harmony of the cosmos.
D: You seem to imply that thought is bad, that being able to reflect negates Infinity. You seem to dichotomize people again, into the enlightened and unenlightened, with the enlightened never having a thought and manifesting siddhis, while the unelightened think and don't manifest siddhis. This is the kind of dichotomization that I don't find useful, and I'm happier with your statements that don't rely on such dichotomies. I think it's this dichotomization that underlies the "disagreement" you initially noted. It contradicts your previous statement that *everything* is manifesting the order of the cosmos perfectly.
People who act on whatever pops into their head are impulsive. You seem to equate impulsivity with no-mind. No-mind is no awareness of a separate self, and thought associated with nonawareness of a self tends to be focused toward immediate issues, then dropped when not needed. Nonetheless, I agree that spontaneity manifests universal order, that no thought is needed to behave in perfect accord with the cosmos, and karma has no "real" application to the "enlightened."
T: Rinzai says ('The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi,' trans Burton Watson, p44):
"Followers of the Way, you take the words that come out of the mouths of a bunch of old teachers to be a description of the true Way. You think, 'This is a most wonderful teacher and friend. I have only the mind of a common mortal, I would never try to fathom such venerableness.' Blind idiots! You go through life with this kind of understanding, betraying your own two eyes, cringing and faltering like a donkey on an icy road, saying, 'I would never dare speak ill of such a good friend, I'd be afraid of making mouth karma!' "Followers of the Way, the really good friend is someone who dares to speak ill of the Buddha, speak ill of the patriarchs, pass judgment on anyone in the world, throw away the *Tripitaka*, revile those little children, and in the midst of opposition and assent search out the real person. So for the past twelve years, though I've looked for this thing called karma, I've never found so much as a particle of it the size of a mustard seed."
D: Obviously this is Zen teaching, which is fond of negating precious assumptions, intending to provide direct access to enlightenment. No system is perfect. Drawbacks of Zen are an anti-philosophical philosophy (leading to hundreds of thousands of texts showing why texts aren't needed), overemphasis on the self to achieve no-self (leading to exhortation, recrimination, bullying applied to a self that isn't there), and a ritualistic reliance on paradox. Having said this - I enjoy Zen stories very much and thank you for posting this and others. Clearly, Buddhist writings could be cited ad nauseum on the other side, showing that karma is considered an established and vital aspect of the Buddhist darmha.
Zen is the only Buddhist school I've found with teachings that negate karma and rebirth. The Tibetan school is based on these concepts. So, it comes down to what is useful, what works. Does saying there is no karma, and Love will spontaneously provide at all times work? Perhaps for some, certainly not for others. I wanted to show that awareness of karma can be useful, at least in dealing with practical "worldly" realities. Is there great value to the teaching that Love is All, the no knowledge is needed, that spontaneously the Way will manifest? Yes, I believe so. I find myself essentially in agreement with you concerning *ultimate* reality. The question I raise pertains to how best to voice that awareness in the world - the world that includes logic, time, and consequences, as well as transcends these.
Without awareness of karma, they wouldn't care about any apparent beings being hurt (or any apparent beings learning anything either) because they would see no existing beings. So, why do they teach, and why do they interact compassionately? Because they see karma, at the same time they see no entities suffering from karma.
They see the illusion of ego, and the consequent operation of 'karma' as a psychological effect, a delusion. Very real to the suffering being, yes; this 'cannot be obscured.' But entities and karma canot be separated, they go together as causes and effects do; if there are causes, there must be effects. If there are no entities to have karma, there is no karma to have.
Dan: You say this well. I am essentially in agreement with you here, although I worded it differently. The karma, seen from an *ultimate* perspective is unreal. That is why there is no one suffering from it. Yet its effects on perception in the phenomenal world are real. That is why there can be said to be karma, and why teachers teach and interact out of compassion. No karma - no compassion needed.
Dan: Transcendence is to see that from the first not a thing is, and yet, simultaneously see that "this is". To see that there is no cause and effect, and simultaneously, actions have repercussions.
Terry: Pardon me, my friend, but this just sounds like nonsense.
Dan: Pardon me, my friend, but how do you know this "nonsense" isn't the spontaneous manifestation of Love, which as you say is always operating perfectly for the well-being of all? Well, if what you say is true, then how "nonsensical" could it be?
T: What is a 'repercussion' but an 'effect'?
D: I don't know - you tell me. I never said a repercussion was not an effect. You seem to miss my point. My point was "not a thing is" and "this is". There are no events, and this occurs. There can be no karma *ultimately* and karma *relatively*. Remember, it was you who said karma cannot be said to exist nor not to exist.
There is no "me", yet the perception of a "me" is real to "him" and to "her," and how they see "me" behave (and experience "me" to behave, will affect "him" or "her"). This is true even though there is no "him" or "her". All is perception, there is no perceiver and no perceived object, and love functions in this perception with awareness of the ripple-effect of actions.
My inferred conclusion as I read your perceptive and thoughtful writing is that sometimes the actions of one who is aware may appear paradoxical, yet the reason for the paradox is that the love expressed is transcendent of norms, not confined by norms, but comes from recognition of the entirety of karma as a whole, from being the entire pond, all of the ripples, and yet expressing simultaneously as a particular ripple interacting with other particular ripples.
The whole pond with all its ripples is the universe of dependent origination,
where everything depends on every other thing, where a kingdom may be lost for
the want of a horseshoe nail, and a typhoon in the sea of japan may be traced
back to the flapping of a butterfly's wing in the amazon river basin.
In practice, however, I do not deny that if you go out and shoot someone, you are likely to get busted.
Dan: It's not only that, Terry, it's that "you" are going to "cause" a lot of grief for a lot of "people".
T: But even then, to apply single causes to single outcomes is simplistic.
D: I agree wholeheartedly. Events are overdetermined. But in the practical world, try dealing with people who have no sense of responsibility, no concern about the consequences of their actions, and behave toward "others" as if there were no "others" there to have feelings or reactions!
T: Confucius comments on the first line of the second hexagram of the I Ching:
"A house that heaps good upon good is sure to have an abundance of blessings. A house that heaps evil upon evil is sure to have an abundance of ills. Where a servant murders his master, where a son murders his father, the causes do not lie between the morning and evening of one day. It took a long time for things to go so far. It came about because things that should have been stopped were not stopped soon enough."
D: Quite so - call it karma (which never belongs to one isolated individual), call it the unfolding of Now considered from the perspective of Time, or don't call it anything. The truth is, we use language and thought, so we call it something, we reflect on it, we throw the I Ching, or read a book about antisocial behavior. Human beings use thought and language to understand and respond to events in terms of their view of situations and feelings. *Ultimately* Reality can't be understood in these terms.
Dan: There's no way around it: how this can occur is a great mystery!
Terry: I suppose you could say that our intuitive, natural abilities to be in harmony with the universe, which are similar to those of every other aspect of creation, living and non-living, are a 'mystery.' But only to the logic-chopping, practical, imaginary false self.
Dan: I meant "mystery" this way: totally and completely unknown and unknowable - completely beyond logic. And yes - this refers to the "little self," not the Big Self. And yes - the little self, poor fellow, ultimately doesn't have a leg to stand on. But this Big Self, doesn't he know without any entity being there, doesn't he manifest perfect Wholeness with no effort - now if that's not mysterious, what is? To me, the sense of mystery and awe is a great gift, along with peace and simplicity these are wonderful gifts of the Spirit. Gifts from no one to no body. Like Love.
Dan: It transcends logic without destroying logic, just as it transcends karma without destroying karma. Karma and logic are the same thing: awareness of cause and effect perspectives. Karma and logic continue to function, are used when their framework is useful, and simultaneously are seen in no way to define the nature of "ultimate reality".
Terry: As you wind it up here I quite agree, and could have stated it in practically the same terms as you have. It just doesn't seem mysterious to me. Our practical, task-oriented, tool-using skills coexist with our intuitive, natural identity with the universe. I guess my perspective differs in that I regard the latter as Real and the former as an illusion at best and a delusion causing great suffering at worst.
Okay I'll buy that. How about this - nothing is unreal. There is only what is
real. Infinite universes manifest from this point. .
Nothing manifested anywhere is unreal. There is no delusion to combat. Seeing delusion is the only delusion there is.
T: To see the phenomenal
and the absolute as equal or in some sort of harmonious balance is a dangerous
view, tantamount to regarding god and the devil as equal powers and granting negativity
equal say in what you do. It is just this granting of autonomy to the ego which
is the essence of delusion and the cause of suffering.
Consider light and darkness. You can turn on a light, and darkness instantly vanishes. But darkness has no powers of its own, you can't turn on the dark, the dark is simply the absence of light, it has no qualities of its own. This is what nonduality is all about, there are "not two" substances in the world, it is a world of light only. The Absolute is True, and phenomena are a convenient illusion, to be used but never given power over us.
Of course, nonduality has "within" it no darkness that needs to be combatted.
That is what is so difficult about it with regard to orginary thinking and morality.
Any darkness that is shadow of a light, is Light in nondual view. No outside,
thus no inside. No separation, thus no negation, thus no affirmation. Thus, perfect
Peace. Thus, no possibility of "us" disagreeing ever. You say "black"
and I say "white". No disagreement.
T: Jesus, the great nondualist, explicitly rejected karma, considered absolute by the rabbis, and embraced forgiveness.
The rabbis in no way considered karma absolute. No way, Terry. It is for this
reason that the Day of Atonement is considered the greatest Jewish holiday. It
is a day of universal atonement (at-one-ment) and universal forgiveness. The rabbis
didn't like Jesus's presumption of authority to tell them what is "true",
particularly didn't like the way he claimed revelation as his source of truth.
He undermined their whole established socio-political system. But his views about forgiveness are an extension of views expressed in traditional Hebrew teachings - only carried to a more universal and Total Beingness.
T: How could we be forgiven if karma were absolutely true? Taoism embraces forgiveness, and buddhism does as well. Karma is a fetter, and justice may be tempered by mercy. Logic won't get you to heaven.
D: Karma isn't a fetter. Karma is the justice that is tempered by mercy, the law that is transcended through Love and mutual forgiveness. Remember, Jesus also was said to have said, "as you sow, you shall reap." "I have not come to end the Law, but to fulfill it.