There is a wonderful continuity to life, isn’t there? Continuity comes in different forms; there is the continuity of being – the sense of self, awareness of this world, of your life, and the elements in your life. Things that you think and feel, things that you desire and you want to have and to experience. Things that you would like to avoid, unpleasant things, pain, frustration, depression. The continuous awareness of self, a sense of yourself continuing in time and space is continuity – continuity of awareness. One of the funny things about awareness, within that frame work, is that it never assumes that it will end. In a way it does, and in a way it doesn’t.
When we are alive we never picture ourselves dying, yet some day each one of us dies. Some day in a room somewhere, perhaps in a hospital room, in an automobile, or perhaps outdoors, you will leave this world. You won’t be here anymore and everything you know will fade from your view, and it will happen at the darndest time. You’ll be quite convinced that it couldn’t be happening then, and yet you will be powerless to stop it. Then another kind of continuity occurs, and that’s the continuity that’s beyond death.
Death is a doorway, but it is a small, thin, doorway and only a portion of our being can walk through that doorway and the rest stays behind and it’s lost, or transformed into something else. At the time of death we walk through a doorway and our spirit which is very thin slides through into another world, another existence, another experience.
For now we are here, we are in this world, and in this world there are limitations, and no one likes to be limited. We all want freedom; we all want to be limitless. Limitations exist in the mind. Freedom exists in the mind. There are objective circumstances and situations. You can be in jail and you can be free. You can live in a country with restrictions on travel. You can live in a country where they don’t restrict your travel. But happiness, awareness, and consciousness have little to do with physical restrictions.
There are Ten Thousand States of Mind, ten thousand planes of awareness. Most people spend their entire lives confined to a few of these states of mind. Let’s imagine then, in a scale going from the left to the right, let’s say that number one is all the way to the left and ten thousand is way over to the right. Number one is very dark: it has almost no light in it at all; it’s hard to distinguish it from complete darkness. Number ten thousand is bright light, and it is hard to distinguish it from light, yet there is a subtle difference. There are gradations in between 9,998 to be exact. Naturally, since there are ten thousand, there is something more beyond ten thousand. But the Ten Thousand States of Mind are the place, the area of experience, where you spend your time and your life.
Most human beings only experience a few of these states, and most of them are very far down in ranking, down around a hundred. Each state of mind is not simply a mood. Moods exist within the state of mind, but it is a way of seeing life and experiencing it, a way of knowing. Your state of mind creates a view, or your window on life. You may live in Beverly Hills, in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. You may live in a tenement in East Harlem, alone, in poverty. But your house is a window, and it looks out on something. It may look out on your swimming pool with your kids playing in it. It may look out the gang down the street who is selling drugs to passing buyers.
You have a window and that window, which is your state of mind, determines everything that happens to you. It affords you a view on life. Opportunities, creative ideas, or the lack of them, happiness, frustration, brilliance, talent, success, failure – all these things are determined by the state of mind that you are in. You are the experiencer of states of mind. Yet your state of mind dominates your awareness to such an extent, that you can’t conceive of any other state of mind, other than the state of mind that you are in.
We grow accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a personality with a history. I’ve been here and there. I’ve done this. I like this. I don’t like that. All these ideas that we have about self are the accumulation or an aggregate within a state of mind, and they chain us to a state of mind. Zen is about breaking out of your ideas and experiencing life and not ideas.
For example, when most people see a tree, they don’t see a tree at all. What they see is an idea that they have developed throughout the course of their life of what a tree is. Only when they were very young they really saw a tree. Only at that time were they at all aware of what a tree looked like or perhaps it would be more precise to say what the tree felt like. Other than that they have no idea of what a tree is. As they grow older and they accumulate more ideas and experiences around trees, through associations with trees, experiences with trees, they no longer see what a tree is or feel it. Instead they have a more limited view of what a tree is, an idea. This is true not just of trees but of squirrels which live in trees, people, dogs, cats, jobs, the world, philosophies, everything. The more ideas you have, the less you feel and see life directly.
Concentration and meditation are practices that enable you to alter your state of mind. Within a state of mind, the state of mind that you are in now, there are different possibilities. There is a higher end to the state of mind and a lower end. The higher end let’s call it, the right side of that state of mind, borders the next state of mind and has a better view; it has more light in it. The lower end has less light. If you spend enough time at the lower end of the state of mind, and if you lose enough energy, you can drop to the next state of mind down. You can drop down from a hundred to ninety-nine. If you spend enough time on the right hand side, and you accumulate power and energy, you can kick up to maybe a hundred and one. When you change a state of mind, your whole life changes. Nothing remains the same. Nothing looks the same, because you have changed. You yourself are a continuous awareness.
A person who undertakes the study of meditation is like a gymnast. Most people can do limited things with their bodies, but the gymnast can do a lot more. You become a gymnast of the mind. Very few people have any idea of what life is about, of what their minds can do, or of the forces that affect them throughout the course of their life that cause success, failure, pleasure, pain, and awareness. But in the study of Zen, through the practice of concentration and meditation, you will expand your awareness to gain knowledge, power, and illumination. You may just gain a little knowledge, power, and illumination if you only practice Zen a little bit. If you practice Zen deeply, then you will discover that you are a limitless being and you may attain Enlightenment, which is the ability to freely transact within the Ten Thousand States of Mind without a continuous self or awareness, without the limitations that are generally imposed by conceptual mind.
Meditation and concentration are practices that enable you to become more conscious, and to utilize the moments in your life completely. Concentration and meditation are also taught in other forms. One other form is mindfulness, which is a practice that an individual engages in at all other times. Which is an advanced use of the mind in a variety of different ways: to increase the power of the mind, to develop it fully, and to employ that development in direct physical, mental and psychic ways. The practice mindfulness enables you to use your mind in an extremely effective and precise way. It allows you to succeed at whatever you would like to, whether it’s material success, psychic success, or whatever you want to do, you have your total mind at your disposal.