‘It is clear before you, but you do not see it,’ says the Zen master. ‘It is self-evident, but hard to find’, says the holy Indian text. They are speaking of the ultimate reality, the supreme goal of human life, and some people find these seeming contradictions obscurantist and, perhaps, irritating. They foresee a lot of clever talking, but nothing of any use in life.
However, we can find examples, in our own daily life, of just these contradictions, and to resolve them is a stimulus to inner training.
Ask a few people to look at a garden and describe what they see. They will name the main features: grass, flowers, perhaps a few small rocks, a bush – and so on – but then they are told: ‘You have left something out.’ They go into more detail, but again are told: ‘You have left something out, a big thing.’ They try again: the garden wall – did I say that? ‘No, it is not the wall. Bigger than that!’
Soon they give up. ‘Well, what is it supposed to be? What are you talking about? We’ve described everything there.’
But they have not. They have left out one thing: Light. Light is everywhere in the scene, but they do not describe it; they describe only objects, which reflect light. They have completely missed the light from their description.
And now to go deeper. They think they have seen objects such as the bush or the grass, but, in fact, they have seen only light. From the light, they have inferred the existence of those objects, but they have not actually seen them.
This is a first illustration of something clearly evident and yet somehow not perceived, because it is not consciously perceived. The application in spiritual practice is this: we are aware of outer objects as we think them to be, and inner objects, such as thoughts and feelings and memories, which are also taken by us as objects.
The first application is to try to distinguish the consciousness-light, under which we see these things outer and inner, from the perceived things themselves. At the beginning, it is necessary to sit, undisturbed, in meditation, calm the mind by breathing slowly and deeply, and then look, with calm inner attention, at the process. Seek to distinguish the light under which it takes place from the mental process itself.
It generally takes quite a few weeks before the twitchings of: ‘How am I doing?’ and ‘I ought to have made that telephone call,’ and ‘Am I wasting my time?’ to die down.
A reasonably controlled lifestyle is necessary for serious practice.
Assuming these things become established, in time, when it is no longer a practice but a calm search, there will be glimpses of the inner light.
After that first glimpse, life changes. Something has been found within the self which is not upset when the body or mind is upset, which is not afraid or angry when there is fear or anger in the body or mind, and which does not die when body and mind die.
Read more teachings from Trevor Leggett here.