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The Ten Thousand Things Paperback – February 12, 2017
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'My words are not spiritual teaching at all, but a pointing to the uncertainty of conjecture, and the foolishness of credulity vis-à-vis anything to do with spirituality. In the face of impermanence, the vanity of claiming "self-realisation", or, even worse, claiming to be able to teach it, seems unmistakable. After all, today's "self-realisation" might be tomorrow's "what the hell was I thinking?"'
The Buddha, amongst others, famously said, 'Be a light unto yourself',and if that's a message that makes sense to you as it does to me,there's an obvious irony in quoting from any source other than your own direct, immediate experience. However, if I were the sort of person who likes to underline pertinent passages in books I read, my copy of The Ten Thousand Things would be heavily marked. (Not that I agree with absolutely everything he says, but then I guess he wouldn't want me to!) In the often vague and woolly world of 'spiritual' (dreadful word)writings, Robert Saltzman makes the case for 'Kill the Buddha!' in a really clear, radical and uncompromising manner.
He is never going to accept something on someone else's say-so, whether that someone be Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi, Jesus or the Buddha, and he will have no truck with what he describes as 'magical thinking', where we gullible seekers blithely swallow ideas such as those often found in modern non-dualist circles: that consciousness isn't generated by the brain, for example, or that 'everything is consciousness'.
'You know nothing about ultimate matters,' he tells a questioner, 'and no one else does either.' And: 'No one knows what really exists, or even what"really exists" means or entails.'
He talks about 'attaining enlightenment' or 'realising your "self"' as 'the carrots of fantasy' - a fairy tale which tempts the seeker into thinking that, when the day comes, 'I will be special. I will be different from ordinary people. I will not suffer as they do, and as I do now.' However, he is far from being a nihilist or a materialist. 'I'm not a materialist,' he writes.'I'm an "I-don't-know-ist."'
To quote again from this beautiful and challenging book: 'You do not have to believe anything in order to be alive. Like the stars in the sky, this aliveness is present whether noticed or not, and when the contraction called "myself" relaxes sufficiently, the aliveness feels obvious and indisputable. That relaxation of the clenched "myself" feels like having been roused from a dream to find oneself alive and aware ... What is, simply is, and cannot become anything. Each moment feels fresh, different from any other, and entirely unspeakable. The future never arrives. Enlightenment is a non-issue - not worth thinking about. One simply experiences what living human beings experience from moment to moment, and that's it. And that is sufficient.
---review by Ian Budgerigar
There is no need to praise the content of this book. Even the most casual browser will quickly observe the clarity of the author's thinking and the elegance with which he describes his experience of living. Yet, despite the simplicity with which he presents himself, Robert Saltzman finds his views repeatedly challenged, and it is the genius of this book that Saltzman has found a way to elaborate on his life through his deeply respectful response to his challengers and his appreciation of those who share his views. It's the form of the book that enables this: a series of exchanges not unlike the Socratic dialogues of Plato except that here we are not asked to follow the logic of an argument, but rather to observe our own experience in the light of a straightforward description of life. In chapter after chapter we circle around a plain and unobstructed vision, magnified by chapter headings in the form of Saltzman's remarkable photographs, which he uses in the place of epigraphs. In this way we are constantly reminded that wisdom lies not in the pithy saying, but rather in looking at the world around us.
---review by Jack Hirschfeld
From the Author
Whenever I think about it or notice it, I find myself here. When I say "here," I mean at the visual center of an apparent world of sights; at the auditory center of an apparent world of sounds; at the tactile center of an apparent world of texture, etc. The entirety of that sensory information, most of which usually passes unnoticed, is assembled moment by moment into an experience of "the world." I cannot do that assembling any more than I can digest food or circulate blood. I have no choice in the matter. When I awaken from sleep, the world is there, a seamless confection that is not my doing. Nor do I know what that world"really" is or from whence my experience of it comes.
Inasmuch as I neither make the world nor, despite the dogmas of religion and spirituality, know anything at all about its source, I do not know and cannot know what "I"--a feature of that world--am either.
So for me, awakening means the end of "spirituality" in the face of the undeniable understanding that all conjecture on the subject of "myself" falls short--must fall short--of actually explaining anything. In each moment, I find myself here as an apparent focus of awareness without ever having chosen to be here, without knowing what I "really" am, and without needing to know.
I am well aware that what I see and feel is a concoction of some sort or another, but this world is the world I have, and so I, an apparent constituent of this world of mine, live in it and with it--not in a world of conjecture, supposition, and mysticism about ultimate matters, but here and now. That is what I mean by "awake."
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But if you read it with an open mind and heart, its message might kick you free in an instant, more than you have ever been able to imagine. Even without the need to get awake or enlightened. Just seeing life as it really is, here and now, no fairytales. Just the plain and sometimes hard truth of being human. Being human without any conditions. This book has changed my life and the outlook on everything. Even the most horrific life circumstances one can come across, understanding the message will shine a light in the darkest regions of Life. Worry, fear and anxiety could just dissolve in this very moment.
I am the center of awareness.
I and what I'm aware of are one inseparable happening.
Thoughts, feelings, and actions arise on their own. You are not causing anything to happen.
You are not the doer.
No one ever chooses what to do next any more than one can choose what to think next, or what to feel next: anxious, relaxed, worried, in love, etc. All of that just arises--including what you find yourself "doing" and "choosing."
Awareness is whatever is noticed here and now.
Awareness and the contents of awareness are one inseparable happening.
The container and its contents are one inseparable happening.
Wholeness and its parts are one inseparable happening.
The seer and the seen are one inseparable happening.
I and whatever I experience in each moment are an inseparable wholeness. So the feeling of separateness and isolation disappears.
Without awareness there are no objects, but without objects there is no awareness. It is not that objects arise in or upon awareness, but that objects are awareness, and awareness is objects. The container and the contained are one and the same, and reliance on the traditional notion of a permanent self or “presence” existing apart from and prior to phenomena is part of what one awakens from.
Try this experiment. Get a bowl of some food you like and sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, and as you are eating say to yourself, "Eating is happening."
There is not a separate you located somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears who is HAVING this experience.
In each moment you ARE this experience, you ARE this happening.
You are the choiceless awareness in which doer, doing, and done are one and the same.
Often, confusion arises due to the limitations of language--the subject/verb/object structure that implies a doer, what the doer does, and to whom or about whom the doer does it. So, for example, in the ordinary sentence form, ”I see Spot run,” we have “I” over here (subject) doing seeing (verb) of “Spot” over there (object).
I am simply pointing out that although language divides this “seeing-happening” into three pieces, that happening is really only one indivisible process we call “myself,” or, that I like to call “this aliveness."
The feeling of being “Robert” is this aliveness, the ability to see is this aliveness, and the image of Spot in the mind is this aliveness. It’s ALL this aliveness.
Or, seen from another angle, one might say that what is seen cannot be separated from seeing, nor can the seer be separated from seeing. So seer, seeing, and seen are all of a piece, a single happening.
From either angle, it should be clear that awareness and its supposed “contents” are not separable. Without awareness, there are no contents, and without contents there is no awareness.
Some people try to say that a completely empty awareness exists already just waiting to be filled with contents. This is sometimes called “pure consciousness.” I don’t buy it. Show it to me and I might believe you.
Focus on what you really know.
We humans are built to ask the ultimate questions like "What is God", "What is the meaning of life", "Why are we here", "Is there life after death" etc.
But we are not built to really figure out the answers to those questions. It's all a mystery.
So all of that is pretty much a waste of time.
All we really know is what we are experiencing here and now. This is it.
The idea of impermanence freaks us out.
We don't like the idea that someday this body will be dead.
So we latch onto religious or spiritual ideas that tell us that even though the body will die, the soul or Big Self will somehow live on.
When we look at the animal kingdom it seems perfectly normal that an animal is born, matures, and then dies. But we have trouble acknowledging that when it comes to us.
For many people, not knowing feels so anxiety-ridden, and the desire for "life" to have a definite meaning and definite destination feels so pressing, that they glom on as soon as possible to an explanation that allows them to "know" that life has a telos, and hopefully rules and methods too.
When your guru tells you that someday you will be enlightened if you do such and such a practice, that is taking you away from here and now, taking you in the wrong direction. It gives you the impression that the daily reality that you have is somehow not good enough, that someday you will experience a much better reality than the one that is here right now. But guess what? This is it.
Just as people use alcohol and drugs to deal with the pain and fear of being a human animal in an insecure world, people use ideas as drugs. Knowing what those ideas are without judging them will allow them to fall away naturally in their time.
When the fever to attain something permanent comes to an end, and one finds oneself instead flowing along with everything else in the universe, one is awake.
Each moment arrives freshly in its uniqueness.
Freedom is being exactly what you are with no idea of improvement.
There is no searching for meaning, looking for answers, or demanding that anything be different from the way it is.
One can just be and let the stream of consciousness flow where it will.
Whatever you feel, think, and see IS you. The boundary between self and others dissolves.
The personal self has nowhere very solid to perch.
Beliefs and opinions lose significance.
No one is to blame for “bad choices.”
Frustration, pain, loss, fear, and all the rest of the “negatives” are simply part of living as a human primate animal. Those feelings just arise if and when they do, just like the “positives” such as pleasure, joy, peace of mind, creativity, love, etcetera. Trying to have one without the other is, I say, a fool’s errand.
When I open my eyes in the morning, I find a world of objects, feelings, and thoughts, complete and intact. I do not have to TRY to create that world, any more than I have to try to circulate my blood or grow my hair. The world just happens, and I could not prevent that happening even if I wanted to.
I find myself simply amazed by each moment of this aliveness. To experience this aliveness directly blows so-called “non-duality” right out of the water.
Buddha said: "Within your own mind, you already have what you need to succeed: the ability to put others ahead of yourself. This is called the wish-fulfilling gem."
I urge you, if it is possible, to get the hard copy rather than the kindle edition. You will understand why when you hold it in your hands and feel the pages and take in Robert's beautiful photographs. However, if not possible, the Kindle edition can also be a boon.
In The Ten Thousand Things there is an opportunity to explore something that words can hardly touch. Yet you will be touched in some unknownable way as the truth of being reverberates through what was once a wasteland of effort. In the future, as I read more, I will come back to review again. This morning was the first reading and something that has been such an irritation, which I did not want, but seemly had no choice to correct, resolved itself. It melted away as if it never existed. After a lifetime of searching, I can now say, this is it. Instead of the finger pointing at the moon, this is the moon. LOL
A quote from the book, "To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things."
_Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)
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