The Heart of Buddhism

Question: Hi. I’ve been a Buddhist for 10 years. Recently, I’ve been studying Japanese calligraphy, specifically the practice of how to draw the circular shape of an Enzo in a single stroke – where I let my mind be free and my body just create.

Michael Richardson-Borne: Hi and welcome. I’m intrigued by one of your statements. How do you just, “let the body create?”

Q: I try to get into a state of complete relaxation and then draw the circle in a sudden burst. Once I feel like I’m ready in the most peaceful state I can attain, I make the Enzo. I do this twice a day as a form of meditation.

MR-B: Trying to get into a state of relaxation is attempting to use separative tension to non-separatively relax. It won’t work. Personal effort is just confusion about the way life moves – the only results being chaotic scenarios that leave the mind tense with the observation and interpretation of its own stories. Remaining in the confusion of self-authorship leaves you in an endless cycle that guides your daily habits with the perceived need for exertion.

You believe you are a sprinter running at three-fourths speed where you can either exert to speed up or exert to slow down – either way you go it takes your personal effort to make something happen. Your experience is like flexing a muscle for a long time before letting go – the muscle seems to relax for an instant, but the baseline tension never fully recedes. This is just like the separate self. There are periods of extreme tension and moments of temporary pseudo-relaxation – but the foundational tension is never fully alleviated because the belief in separation is at its core. Relaxing isn’t something you try to do, it’s something you are. You’re either relaxed or you’re not – and no amount of trying will take you one way or the other. You’re either aligned and lived as Non-separation, or you’re embedded in the contraction of separation.

The state of complete relaxation is only a state just as you call it. States always pertain to individuals who believe in separation – even a “non-dual” state is merely a glimpse of the non-dual because embeddedness in the personal eventually returns. It’s this re-contraction that can inspire you with tremendous energy and longing for a return – as you have viewed an alternative possibility of awareness. The problem to be solved here requires the discovery of how to wake up within the impersonal in a way that the separate self is a micro-experience of who you are rather than the whole of your contracted state of relaxation.

The sudden burst you mention is only a sudden burst as your mind defines the experience. The experience itself is an expression of effortless rhythm, a rhythm without peaks and valleys, an impersonal hum that floats through and as your body and mind. What you describe as a sudden burst is an expectation that is projected into the future and executed in the past. It’s an action you think of as an autonomous decision after you undergo a violent relaxation.

Why is it violent? Because it’s seductive and forced upon you – it’s self-propaganda or a marketing scheme you use to imagine relaxation as a story you can buy from the marketplace of separation to make the pain of division feel a little better. Life as a perceived individual is just a shopping addiction, a hoarding of stories, two of which are imaginary relaxation and the possibility of sudden bursts of autonomous action. Waiting for the story of a separate self to accept a story of relaxation so that it can believe in an individual who draws a circle as a spiritual act is what the Enzo and your Buddhist tradition are inviting you to question. They’re inviting you to understand relaxation, not to be relaxed.

This means peaceful states, or relaxation, cannot be attained – they happen on their own terms as lived by Non-separation. Peace cannot be captured like a wild animal in a trap. If it’s captured, it’s an illusion. If it’s left uncaptured, no state is present separate from an individual and therefore doesn’t float ghost-like in an external field as an object to be experienced.

If you are “in” a relaxed state or “in” a peaceful state, it is impossible to create as anything other than an individual living in the past and the future. Only the separate can be “in” a contracted container that self-defines as relaxed or peaceful inside of its own unseen, but not unfelt, tension. Creation does not occur in this kind of fractured individual – creativity does not happen when the mind is pulled apart, drawn and quartered by memory, imagination, time, and continuity. Creation of a circle can only happen whole.

But be sure not to place your boundaries around this wholeness. What I’m speaking of is not like a “whole pie” where a slice has yet to be taken and its perimeter is still clearly defined by edges. What is in the moment as creation itself is free of edges, free of the restrictions that kill creation as such.

The edges, which we can call the body and mind, are like the conductor of a train that is off the tracks. When you are off the tracks, you sit in an empty field blowing clouds of smoke and collecting separative dust. The tracks where you have been extend as far as your eyes can see. The tracks where you could go are unseen and imagined around the bend. You remember the tracks to be evenly spaced and trustworthy enough to get you from and to the separate spaces of here and there. You are convinced there is somewhere to go. Because the train is still running, it doesn’t dawn on you that the vibration of the idling engine does not guarantee the power of real movement. So you remain exactly where you are, dreaming that you’re heading toward a destination where you will unload your cargo. But the cargo, the stories that define your separate self, remain exactly where they are – leaving you with only your memories, attachments, and projections to define how your fullness was created. You no longer have space to accept anything new in the moment other than random bits of refuse thrown into your cars by vagrants passing by. And all of this you don’t even notice.

To get back on the tracks is to re-align with Non-separation. It’s to regain the natural movement of what you were built for – which is to exist as a knowingness that your birthright is a lived invitation to the impersonal.

This is what Buddhists mean by “just letting the body create.” It’s an impersonal happening, the magic of a one to one blending that removes all personal creations by embracing the separate self as a merely imagined aspect of one homogenous movement. Non-separation, or just letting the body create, is the unencumbered effortless happening when one is being lived as existence without personal experience. As the impersonal, a circle draws itself; as the personal, an individual draws a circle in a self-glorified relaxed state of separative being.

Q: How do you come to realize this?

MR-B: You must undergo what I call “the flip.” While embedded in the belief of a separate self, you imagine you are doing the living as a self-authoring individual extracted from the whole. This belief is the foundational one that pulled you off the tracks, misaligning you with the movement of Non-separation. Belief in a separate self leaves you stagnant and locked in an idling train, lost in your imagination. When the remembrance of Non-separation comes into being, an understanding that one is lived rather than doing the living arises instantaneously with the realization. After the flip into being lived, there is no going back to “the other side” as the other side is seen to be a reflection of Non-separation that continues life exactly as it always has.

Without the divide that separative living brings, creation no longer has a creator. When the creator dies, creation comes into being. From here, a circle is drawn. To look at the finished product impersonally is to keep it alive, to observe the circle as an object created by an object is to suck the life out of the process and smear the outcome into a mere shape, a symbol that destructively turns awakening inside out.

If you look closely, you will see that Applied Awakening and the Path of Non-separation have many similarities to Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, there are three significant aspects of a holy triangle called Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Buddha is the awakened – what I call the realization of Non-separation. Dharma is the teaching – what I call the Path of Non-separation. Sangha is the community – what I call a culture of Non-separation being lived as an alive expression of Applied Awakening. Applied Awakening is a byproduct of having undergone “the flip,” a spontaneous self-rightening act where a body has no choice but to create because choice is gone.

Q: It’s amazing how such a simple movement can express the heart of Buddhism. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to make an Enzo look like the ones I see in museums or on the internet. In those, the artists have gone to the heart of the matter. Some of my friends make fun of me when I try to explain it to them. They say it’s just a circle and that anybody can draw a stupid circle.

MR-B: How do you respond?

Q: I tell them that they don’t get it. The Enzo symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, the totality.

MR-B: What do you mean by absolute enlightenment?

Q: Absolute enlightenment is the pinnacle of human achievement. It’s knowledge of the ultimate. It’s to know the nature of reality directly.

MR-B: Enlightenment is not the pinnacle of anything, except maybe the pinnacle of confusion. If it’s to be described, it’s a total humbling of the separate self to the point that pinnacles no longer exist.

As far as human achievement goes, it’s like taking credit for achieving your hands. Was developing your hands your doing? Or did it just happen? In the same way, is developing the desire to achieve your doing? Is enlightenment your doing? Can enlightenment ever be possessed and experienced by an individual directly?

Ask yourself these questions. What if there is no mountain to climb that isn’t climbed for you? What if your drive to climb and the climbing itself is on autopilot? What if all achievements, including enlightenment, happen to the impersonal impersonally? Do you believe the human achievement of enlightenment is the accomplishment of a self and/or an other – that it is an observed byproduct of a separate self divided from the totality? And how would you know the achievement of enlightenment if you had attained it?

Q: If you can’t achieve awakening, why do you teach Applied Awakening?

MR-B: In Applied Awakening, there is only the application itself – it’s not the awakening of you or something applied by you. It’s a remembrance of Non-separation that happens to what was formerly you – and a split second later there is only application.

That’s why I define Applied Awakening as the impersonal application of the realization of Non-separation. It’s not the personal application of the realization of Non-separation after the achievement of enlightenment. Applied Awakening is an application that’s done, not done by you. What is being done through me is the opposite of teaching. Even as you expect to be taught, I’m not teaching you anything that is outside of who you already are. I’m merely alive as an invitation – an invitation for you to make my words useless so that you can become useful.

I don’t want this to sound overly abstract or heady. What I’m saying is that existence is impersonal and therefore so is your experience. It’s the impersonal beingness that is living – your personal stories of a body and a mind are merely presented as what Rupert Spira calls “the activity of the thing.” This is what I describe as the impersonal movement of Non-separation.

Q: But when I look at Buddhist art, it feels deeply personal. What is it about the minimalist aesthetic that is so beautiful and makes me feel the way I do? When I look at an Enzo or other traditional Japanese landscapes created by a master artist, I just want to cry. Do you understand what I’m saying?

MR-B: I suppose so. But in my experience, it doesn’t take art for those feelings to arise. For instance, they are here, this very moment as I look and listen to you.

Experience makes you ache, whether it’s beautiful or ugly. Both are the same exact feeling of separation colored by different stories of the mind. So existence hurts – you’re just not fully aware of it unless a particular experience seems profound. During profundity, your mind is arrested for a brief spell from its blandness, altered by having your attention more singularly focused. It’s not the painting that is beautiful, it’s the freedom from the usual rampage of stories that have taken up residence in your mind. A clearing has occurred – an expansion of free space that is momentarily haunted by a narrowed focus of individuality and thoughts of beauty. These two forms of story, the foundational assumption of separation and the secondary stories of beauty, isolated together, easily bring tears as the closeness to who you are is nearer to the surface than during your normative day to day experience – and the sense of freedom and possibility is overwhelming.

Many teachers talk about Non-separation being pure bliss – I have found this to be pure bunk. Existence always brings the personal to its knees, to its fundamental breaking point. It shatters the heart – which is the suppressed pain the Culture of Separation acts out every day. When one understands attention from the inside or has an experience of the external world so full that nothing is left except Non-separation, the heart is completely shattered – which reveals the source of a pre-existing pulse.

Being utterly broken brings peace, but it does not always bring bliss. Tremendous pain can live in the peace of Non-separation and it’s okay to feel this. There is nothing to move beyond, nothing to transcend – especially the suffering of separation that is so obvious to a heart being lived as an invitation to Non-separation.

If I am blissful while knowing that there is a little boy or girl hungry, probably within two blocks of me, and that there is no way to find them in this moment to provide comfort – if I am blissed out while knowing this, then bliss is not something worthy of trust. I can be at peace knowing things could be no other way than the way they are – but the feeling tone of Non-separation is not one to be described as bliss. Non-separation can also appear as a deep heartache to the point of tears where the inclusion of the separate self is being lived with a fog of depression undifferentiated from love and compassion.

The entire world is not an Enzo but the action of drawing the Enzo. Seen correctly, all of these paintings are self-portraits. Pay attention to the moment you are close to tears – see through this moment and all of these images will be your self-portrait also. The Enzo you see is your reflection, not a calligraphic scribbling for the mind to pause in time and project upon.

You take the images to mean something when to the artist, the images are utterly dead. The moment the stroke of the brush concluded, time did not break into a fragment for the artist – that would turn the Enzo into an actual Enzo, something besides the point.

Q: I think I’m starting to understand. It’s crazy to me that something like drawing a circle can be a spiritual practice – that knowing how to draw a circle can be an indication of a deeper wisdom.

MR-B: Every moment is a pointer, every breath is a spiritual practice – so it’s not a surprise that drawing circles is no different. The only thing to know in this world is the right response to life – which is total action rather than total reaction. This is the teaching of the Enzo. Every circle drawn is the beating heart of Buddhism – which is also the beating heart of Non-separation.