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Taoism & Deep Mind

That Which Transpires Behind That Which Appears


That Which Transpires Behind That Which Appears

“That which transpires behind that which appears” is a phrase used commonly within the Sufi tradition, to point to the reality of the unseen realms and, ultimately, to the Absolute itself: Allah, God, Pure Awareness, Spirit.

It reminds us that just because we’re not, at the moment, consciously aware of something, or able physically to perceive it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, in ways that are influencing us deeply. I can stand two feet away from a blind man, and he will not see me. Does this mean that I don’t exist? Of course not! Even though I don’t exist, for him, as a visibly perceived object -- if he tries to walk through me, my unseen (yet far from inconsequential) existence will certainly be felt.

And so it is -- the great sages of all spiritual traditions tell us -- in terms of our relationship to our innermost essence, the Light of Tao, our Buddha-Nature: like a hidden treasure, it’s here already and always .... we’re just not yet able to consciously know/perceive it.

Similarly, there are aspects of our human bodyminds which operate largely beyond the reach of our conscious knowing. Some of this deep conditioning may simply be necessary or at least efficient for our day-to-day functioning, e.g. how our heart beats, quite naturally, without our really noticing. But other patterns within the deeper, unseen layers of body and mind wreak havoc, and actually comprise the veils that prevent us from unearthing -- from perceiving directly -- the treasure of our True Nature.

The Deep Mind -- East & West

Freudian psychology refers to these aspects of deep mind as the unconscious or subconscious realms. For Jungian psychology, they comprise the collective as well as the personal unconscious, and the "shadow" archetype. In Buddhist psychology, such patterns are linked to seeds/impressions in the alaya-vijnana, or storehouse consciousness. The Hindu yogic traditions use the words samskaras and vasanas to reference unseen habit-energy, which manifest in our daily lives as specific psychological patterns.The understanding inherent in qigong practice is that patterns in the deep mind express as blockages in the meridians -- i.e. as distortions or stagnations in the flow of life-force energy through the channels of the subtle body.

What these various conceptual maps have in common is the recognition of a level of mind that, for most people, operates “behind the scenes” of the moment-by-moment arising of thoughts, sensations and perceptions into our conscious field of awareness. This deep-mind is a field defined by habitual patterns (our shared and unique ways of overlooking our True Nature) -- which effect the expression of seemingly individual thought-events, perception-events and sensation-events. In other words, the patterning of the deep-mind conditions these seemingly-individual, seemingly-isolated perceptual/cognitive events -- whose appearance then constitutes the first level of veiling that prevents a direct encounter with our True Nature.

Turning The Light Around

In Taoist practice -- as in all nondual spiritual traditions -- we turn the light around, as the first step in our journey back to the Light of Tao, to the Source which lies beneath the deep-mind patterning. The next step is to employ qigong practice or other means of resolving blockages in the bodymind’s meridian system, until qi -- life-force energy -- flows unobstructedly through these channels of awareness.

Or, in the language of Buddha-Dharma: as the seeds (the unconscious karmic impressions) in the alaya-vijnana (storehouse consciousness) are “burned,” perception is clarified, to a point where mind truly is just this perception, just this thought, just this sensation -- liberated spontaneously into the Source out of which it transparently arose. In other words, when the veils of deep-mind have been fully or mostly dissolved, perceptions and sensations (and, in particular, the gaps between them) become portals to Pure Awareness. This then marks the end of unconscious transmigration (which is powered by these unseen seeds/patterns in deep mind) -- from moment to moment, day to day, lifetime to lifetime.

But .... until such deep transformation has actually occurred, it’s important to avoid assuming that the visible components of mind -- the manifest thoughts, perceptions and sensations -- are all that mind consists of. And to assume that paying attention to the gaps between manifest thoughts, sensations or perceptions will -- in and of itself -- usher in an experience of Source-energy -- is also (it seems to me) to err. As long as the deep-mind is still operational, at best these gaps will open into a glimpse of this deeper and heretofore unconscious patterning.

In vipassana-style meditation practice, for instance, it’s not uncommon to begin to perceive directly (subjectively) the subtle undercurrent of thought-activity which is the deep-mind -- as a kind of non-specific rumbling of thought-energy. This marks the beginning of a more conscious perception of this heretofore unconscious mind-activity, which then sets the stage for its dissolution. Similarly, through qigong or yoga asana practice, we can become consciously aware, at a feeling level, of previously numb or "dark" areas of our physiology.

The importance of in some way or another becoming aware of and unwinding deep-mind patterning, is pointed to also by the difference -- spoken of in Hindu yogic traditions, in terms of the three gunas -- between tamasic and sattvic relaxation or “doing nothing”: the former being no more than ignorant laziness, while the latter a spacious release into Presence. Tamasic laziness arises in conjunction with still being largely unconscious of the subterranean samskaras/vasanas -- and somehow assuming (like the blind man) that because we’re not seeing the samskaras, they must not exist. So what is indicated, then, is the application of rajasic effort, in order to move us to a place where sattvic relaxation is authentically possible.

At the culmination of this process, appearances of the phenomenal world become transparent to the Ultimate Perceiver, Pure Awareness, the Light of Tao -- rather than being censored/distorted via the habitual and largely unconscious filtering devices of the deep-mind.

Continued on page two: Living Authentically: Daoist Contributions To Modern Psychology


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