(by James M. Corrigan)
Filed under Prose
Filed under Prose
Question: What leads one to the realization that there is truly only one sense, not five or six as we normally understand experience?
Answer: One way that this realization arises is out of the process of “turning hearing around,” which is both a deconstruction of the subtle structuring of experience that is normally overlooked, and ultimately a direct experience.
Even though we may understand the emptiness of thoughts and other sensations, which arise without any intrinsic self-reality, and though we may also have direct non-conceptual experiences, what is still present is the perspective, even if there is no inferred, actual, or imagined observer/knower involved. This is the normal perspective that we all have, because it is our familiar way of experiencing things. So, in hearing something that is arising impersonally, we still understand it to be “heard,” even if we know there is no one to hear, nothing to hear, etc. But instead of taking that perspective, turn it around: “you,” which is that perspective even when it is stripped of all the concretions of ego and identify, is still a false structure. “You” are confusing, through a subtle structuring of direct experience, what is actually happening. “You” are doing this because you understand hearing to be structured as a perception, therefore encompassing something perceived and the perception of it.
Sound is a manifesting experience that is empty of an intrinsic self-nature like everything that manifests is. You neither create it, nor hear it in a dualistic sense. Instead it is experienced because all that is manifesting is the process of knowing. This knowing is not self-centered, so all the problems of shared knowledge are not present, but a perspective still exists. So which way, truly, should the perspective be pointing? From an illusory “you” that, lacking an intrinsic self-nature, isn’t real at all, toward a “sound” that is just as illusory? Or from the source of the manifestation towards the manifestation? That latter perspective is our normal perspective turned around. When we realized that there is no “me” or ego “here” we forgot to realign our more fundamental understandings of perceiving and experiencing, leaving this subtle error to trip us up, and leading to a proliferation of identified types of perceptions and senses.
Once you understand that there has been that subtle misunderstanding of the experience of hearing sound, every time you experience sound, note the error and force yourself to understand “sound” as just something arising in mind, and by that I mean being selflessly natured, so really not having a source at all. Done with some dedication, suddenly you will experience it directly, without effort, because that is how it truly is. And once you have that direct experience you will understand that all of the senses are like this, and they will all collapse into the only sense there truly is—selfless naturing, which is the process of knowing.
It’s easiest to do this with hearing “unstruck sound,” in my experience, because the overpowering attraction of a source, like a tree falling in a forest, is absent with “unstruck sound” which has no source in what is manifested.
Unstruck sound has been referred to in many ways, even by me. Some of them are: unborn sound, Anahata Nada, Chönyid kyi rangdra, Dharmata Swayambhu Nada, Divine Tremoring, Shabd, Eternal Sound, Music of the Spheres, Primordial Sound, Sound of Creation, Soundless Sound, the Word of God, Autogenous Resonance, and others.
Question: It is difficult to comprehend that sound isn’t dependent on a source. How can this be?
Answer: In my experience, there are two ways that sounds can arise: as sympathetic resonances in the mind based upon manifest conditions, and autogenous resonances in the mind. I use the word “resonance” so as not to confuse what I am speaking of with normal “sounds” that we understand we hear in a dualistic sense, and the difference between sympathetic and autogenous must be fleshed out below. But note that the word “autogenous” is being used, not because its meaning is accurate, but because, properly understood, it’s meaning can be clearly intuited. Once one clarifies their understanding, the “auto-“ prefix is seen not as indicating a relation to a self-entity, but to the “essence of self-less naturing,” i.e. “emptiness.” So, onward…
Since everything is empty of an intrinsic self-nature, everything that arises does so spontaneously and uncaused. I experience a self-less (actor or agent-less) naturing and mindfully do not infer a cause or source of that naturing as many do, because that is intellect trying to impose rational order on our understanding. Thus, for me, there is nothing to be known apart from this naturing, and that necessarily includes the understanding that there is no entity such as a “nature” that is naturing.
In all cases, this naturing is the event-horizon between the intelligible—all that we experience, and which can be puzzled out, to make sense of—and what is beyond the intelligible. And of what is beyond the intelligible, there is nothing that can truthfully be said, although interpretive explanations abound in religious and spiritual traditions. But the fact that the naturing itself, as well as what is natured, is intelligible, at least in some respects, provides a hook into a more subtle understanding, as I will explain. By this I mean, for example, that we can note that what manifests is coherent—things go together—so we can say something like: “this naturing, while spontaneous and uncaused, is conditioned by what has already manifested.”
First, this naturing is viscerally known. It’s not a knowing of something, and it’s not a knowing by someone, it’s just an awake/aware naturing, so while ultimately empty of selfhood, it is also ultimately pregnant with infinite possibility of visceral presence. If this was not the case, then nothing would or could be known, given that what manifests has no intrinsic self-nature, and reality is an inside without an outside, so there are no other forces, causes, actors, etc. at play here.
But in our experience, it is noted that what arises is somehow coherent with what is already the case. At least, that is how intellect orders experience. I understand our idea of “time” to be just such an ordering placed upon what appears in the eternal (i.e. timeless) Now, in which there is no time, so no past, no future, no present—only presence. I have noted that the coherence is not the result of causality, but of conditioned freedom, thus what arises is coherent with the range of possibility opened up by what is manifest Now, but it is not caused directly by it—how could that be, since there is no “it” and no separation, nor “self-causality,” and thus without such bounds, there can be surprise, novelty, range, awesome serendipity, etc.
What is experienced is always arising in mind (i.e. naturing), and what we experience arises sympathetically (coherently) with current conditions—the state of the universe, so to speak. The perspective, the “I” and the “we,” is what is imposed upon reality by intellect, and intellect is the acquired habits of conceptualization and thought, a kind of karma I suppose, that imposes a narrowing down of focus. That narrowing can be overcome… but that’s another subject.
And in the case of sound, everything up to, but not including, the magical idea that consciousness arises from some quantity, configuration, or function of physical matter, that scientists have observed, holds. Yes, a tree falls and it’s falling conditions the arising of pressure (sound) waves that travel through the air, striking our ears, which are so structured that when the pressure changes condition a vibration in the eardrum, those vibrations condition impulses that move into the brain, which conditions further electrical and chemical activity in the brain, which conditions the arising of sound. But all of those steps, are just intellect imposing ordering upon the dichotomized conditions that are selflessly natured.
So, “sound,” properly speaking, arises only in the naturing (called “mind”) based upon manifest conditions. Sound is thought of as a kind of vibration, but the time and space that vibration requires are also impositions of order by intellect upon this naturing—they are our way of conceptually explaining experience, ordering it, and showing where we have cut things up with our distinguishing thoughts.
What we are trying to do with such orderings is explain what is beyond the event horizon of self-less naturing. But given that we cannot truly succeed, what happens if we just step back and don’t impose an intellectual order? What is “sound?” It can only be the visceral (known) presencing of this self-less naturing, and specifically one kind of presencing that our intellect distinguishes from all other kinds (the concept of “kinds” itself shows this to be the result of intellection). Vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and thinking are all just subtle structures of distinctions that intellect imposes on self-less naturing. And light, sound, tastes, kinds of physical touching, and smells, as well as thoughts, are all just distinctions that the ordering intellect imposes upon what selfless naturing is manifesting, in this case pointing to the content of the distinguished experiences.
Thus, what is manifest is intelligible in this way. We can, through habit of thought, whether self-developed or learned, make all these distinctions and order all the conditions and coherency in such a way that we build this whole edifice of a world of separate things somehow interacting together through causal relations. And we do this without intent, thoughtlessly! These habits are the very structuring that we have become so accustomed to.
But there are manifestations for which there are no conditions, such as a source for a particular kind of sound that we can experience. We can distinguish these sounds into kinds, but cannot relate them to any conditions that, such as a tree falling, open the possibility of these sounds arising, so they can be called “unconditioned,” or “unstruck”. And in our normal, sleepy way of being, we don’t even notice them, but in deep meditation we can. And when experienced in meditation, they are called “nimittas,” or “meditation signs,” also “siddhis,” and “charismata,” among other names.
When they are experienced, and clearly so as unconditioned sound, they can be referred to as the “resonances of selfless naturing” as well as all the other names from different traditions that I gave earlier. I call them “autogenous resonances.”
We tend to screen these out of our awareness (i.e. we do not turn our attention to them even when they become apparent), or we immediately think, upon hearing them, that we are ill and run to a doctor for drugs or therapy to make them go away. But being that they are unconditioned, there is no intelligible link between them and current conditions in or around us, and so the intellect can’t jump in and say “over there, over there! that’s where they are coming from” thus imposing a subtle conceptual structuring, and even a dualistic perspective, on what we are experiencing. Thus these are the easiest way to see through the dichotomization of our experiences into kinds of phenomena perceived by kinds of senses, collapsing it all into just self-less naturing, which we habitually call “mind.”
I don’t know if this is helpful, without a direct experience of these sounds. Just stay vigilant and if you notice them, follow them. The trail leads to surprising experiences and insights.
Question: What is this “non-conditioned” referring to? Buddha taught that all that arises does so contingently, which is referred to as “dependent origination” in Buddhism, so doesn’t this go against his teaching?
Answer: No, this doesn’t go against what the Buddha taught. It’s comes out of a subtle point about the truth of Dependent Origination—which is that while what arises originates in dependence upon conditions, this truth is not itself dependent upon anything. Dependent Origination holds independent of conditions—there is no contingency upon which it is or is not true.
And what I am saying reflects a more wholistic understanding than Dependent Origination when it is emphasized out of the context of Emptiness. Dependent Origination and Emptiness are not two truths, they are two perspectives upon nondual reality. On its own, Dependent Origination could be just a codification of the conceptual idea of Causality, and that is how it is often understood, in my experience with others, given the tendency to speak about “causes and conditions” as if they are they same thing. What I am speaking of as non-conditioned is useful for seeing that sound arises solely in mind, and this insight originates in a direct experience I’ve attained and is not the result of speculative intellection. I am presenting this explanation to overcome the absence of first-hand experience of it, pointing others to the possibility of using unconditioned sound as a meditation support, and its superiority as a support.
So, what is non-conditioned is the naturing itself… this processual unfolding is unborn, timeless, and immortal. There is no condition that allows it to be, or not be. What is conditioned is the contingent arising of coherent manifestation, which is called Dependent Origination. That which is unconditioned can also be found in the spontaneous freedom of naturing—because conditions don’t cause anything to arise, they are merely the conditioning of possibility, so that, what arises is not specifically caused, but is dependent upon the conditions that made it possible for them to arise.
The unconditioned sounds that I speak of arise as the resonance of this naturing in the same fashion as the universal ether, the Akasha, is conventionally understood to be both the medium for vibrational movement (sound), as well as, more subtly, nothing other than the vibrational movement. Thus self-less naturing—“dharmata” in Buddhism—can be directly experienced as resonant sound, as well as the manifested appearances. These unconditioned sounds are the naturing of what manifests, thus we can turn towards the naturing in its bare essence as resonance empty of a cause—the non-conceptual emptiness of all that manifests—or toward the formal, structured experience of all that manifests. This is unconditioned sounds’ importance as a meditational support, and the origin of its power to heal and transform.