Today is Monday, December 2, 2019. Welcome to Day 2 of the 2019 Bodhi Season. Today we discuss the 2nd item of the Eightfold Path – Awakened Intent.
The Intent of No Intent
Awakened Intent means ignoring everything that isn’t right here, right now. Your sentience is undiluted and unencumbered, blending into the Universe without friction. Your sentience will be spared the bumpy ride of an off-kilter machine. Your only intention is to have intention for nothing other than what is in the present.
It starts by giving yourself permission to ignore everything that distracts you from the moment. Everything! It’s tough because there are always issues involving things we care about deeply that interrupts the task at hand.
However, it doesn’t mean you don’t care about those precious things you’re ignoring. It’s just that anything that doesn’t belong in this Now dilutes your effort in the moment. Those things will have its time, and at that time you will dedicate your full attention to it.
The Life on Earth Machine
With Awakened View, the 1st item of the Eightfold Path, we see the Universe as it really is: One, wondrous, complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional, hierarchical mega-system of interactions. This is vastly different from how we normally experience the Universe in our daily lives through the lens of our primate brain as small fragments of space and time.
Each small fragment of space and time are a small chunk of the reality we perceive on the little piece of the surface of this small planet over what is the very short period of our lifetime. Those things within those chunks, seen through the lens of our primate brain, are other things with which we share that fragment of space and time. They too exist in the context of Life on Earth, and they too observe us through a brain geared to their role.
Our primate brain is the controlling component of our human vehicle, our physical bodies. Our human vehicle along with all other creatures comprise the legions of players interacting within the system called “Life on Earth”. In some ways it’s similar to machines (the software and hardware) we’ve built that play our human-invented games such as chess.
So I wonder, if the primate brain is just a machine that plays the game of Life on Earth, could a chess machine, which are better than any human players at this time, someday ponder the Oneness of the Universe as our primate brain can? Probably not.
Life on Earth and chess are two very different games. Chess is a small set of rules and ends when a well-defined condition is met. The nature of chess doesn’t involve a mechanism for its rules to evolve. The nature of chess is stuck firmly into the context of chess, and nothing else.
For Life on Earth, however, its primary quality is self-perpetuation. It’s capable of perpetuating on through relatively infrequent catastrophes (big meteors) and long periods of slow change (tectonic plates and volcanoes). Life on Earth has survived for over three billion years through persistent change because it’s a mechanism that fundamentally adapts to change.
The annoying quality of this self-perpetuation machine, at least for independently thinking humans, is that unlike most machines there is no such thing as direct control over it. We can obliquely affect our surroundings towards short-term effects. But the longer-term effects are impossible to predict and control to a useful degree.
And that is the source of the suffering of our sentient brains. With our sentience and hands we’re able to manifest things we imagine into the physical world. But the Universe keeps on chugging away, dissolving these things we worked so hard to build.
Who is the asshole?
- Is it the Universe that rudely dissolves our hard-built things through its relentless change?
- Or is it us, the sentient brats suffering because we insist on having things our way.
We can’t control the Universe. It’s especially tough since we ourselves are a part of it. But we can accept for ourselves (the only thing we can change) the impermanence of the Universe as The Given. When we accept impermanence as The Given, clinging to things just doesn’t make sense.
When you become nothing, you become everything …
When we let go of everything, we are open to all there is in the Universe. When we cling on to things, we self-define as those things. Limiting how we define ourselves limits what we can do.
Here’s a contradiction to explore:
- On one hand, Small is Good – Awakened Intent is about focus on a minuscule dot of a moment, not diffusing your attention over a wide area by distractions of the past and future.
- On the other hand, Small is Bad – Through the lens of the primate brain we operate under the delusion that the small fragment of space and time it experiences is all there is.
Those two contexts are not contradictory. They are two sides of the same coin. Our sentience emerged from Life on Earth. The quality of Life on Earth as a self-perpetuating machine spawned a brain architecture capable of pondering the Universe. It’s a quality beyond that of less sentient animals. However, since we are still creatures of Life on Earth, animals, we depend on that “street-smart” primate brain to keep us alive.
You Can Take the Guy Out of the Monkey, but Can’t Take the Monkey Out of the Guy
Our primate brain screams at us about threats to our survival. Survival is really all that matters to it. However, to our primate brain, all the things we actually need to survive – our arms and legs, for example – are tossed into the same bag with the things we think we need – that is, all those things we care about.
It’s obvious that we should fight like a maniac to protect the survival of ourselves and kin from lions, tigers, and bears. But our sentience can become foolishly attached to the very many things we become fond of or become dependent upon over the course of our lives – most of which aren’t directly necessary for our survival. So our primate brain makes a lot of noise about a great number of things we’re about to lose, diffusing our attention away from simply what is here.
Making Peace Between the Primate Brain and the Gift of Sentience
In our normal lives, at our corporate jobs, through all those projects you didn’t pick, the deadlines you didn’t set, the people you didn’t pick to work with, etc, remember that your place of work is your dojo. It’s where you train your mindfulness (items 7 and 8 of the Eightfold Path) for those critical moments requiring a masterful mind that’s One with the Universe.
You have three choices:
- Suffer through it, leading a senseless life.
- Keep running away, punting your life away until there isn’t another punt.
- Use it to slowly and steadily hone your mastery so when your moment of fate comes, you’re ready.
Of course, the answer I’m looking for #3. In a complex system such as Life on Earth, you cannot dictate your desires without a whole lot of suffering that goes along with it. Like a samurai, you diligently practice with real life until your moment comes. And it will. The better you become, the more noticeable you will be.
Forget about petty fiefdoms, getting passed over for promotions, random “fire drills” that screw up your plans, credit where it’s not due. If you genuinely live the life of the Awakened, you’re of intense value and free to leave any time. But don’t leave just because it’s tough. Recognize the immense value of a genuinely challenging dojo. As an Awakened soul, you’ll be sensitive enough to know when it’s time for you to leave.
Humility – Power of the Empty Cup
Years ago, someone taught me the phrase, “He knows everything.” It’s not a compliment. It means you’re talking to someone with a brain either tightly-packed and full or closed off to anything, such that none of your words can get in for consideration. I later recognized the subject in a Zen story known as The Empty Cup, which is the first of three Zen stories upon which the teachings of the Eternal Fishnu are based.
The punchline of the Empty Cup is that in order to fill your cup with tea it must first be empty. Listen to what is around you. In Zen, this is known as Keeping the Beginner’s Mind. It’s advised that one should always have a beginner’s mind. That’s such an important concept that if this is all you ever got out of studying Zen, that is in itself very powerful.
Awakened View and Awakened Intent comprise a subset of the Eightfold Path exploring the duality of the lens of the primate brain and the Universe as it really is. These two are the toughest to swallow and digest. That means you may be only a quarter of the way through the eight items, but you’re most of the way there!
You can be of the greatest service to yourself and others by mastering the ability to be in the present through all sorts of noise. The nosiest times are usually the times most requiring a masterful focus in the present.
Today’s post is really about better listening, honing your sensitivity to what’s around you. Tomorrow’s item, Awakened Speech, is about only things that matter from the confines of your head. Not all that useless, at best low-value, crap your primate brain is howling about.
Faith and Patience to you!
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Posts on clinging:
Posts on empty mind, a beginner’s mind:
Bodhi Season/Day 2019: