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the Wanderling

"There once was a sage named Niu-T'ou Fa-Yung (Gozu Hoyu, Niutou Farong Fa-jung) 594-657, who lived in a lonely temple high in the mountains. He was visited one day by a wandering monk, T'ao Hsin, the Fourth Patriarch of the Chinese Lineage of Ch'an. As the two were talking a wild animal roared close by, T'ao Hisn, a fully Enlightened monk, jumped. 'I see it is still with you,' said the Fa-Yung...referring, of course, to the instinctive 'passion' of fright. Shortly afterwards, while he was unobserved for a moment, T'ao Hsin inscribed the Chinese character for the Buddha on the rock Fa-Yung was accustomed to sit. When the sage returned to sit down he saw the sacred Name and hesitated to sit. 'I see,' said T'ao Hsin, 'it is still with you!'"

The above "public case" is one of my favorite Zen stories, so much so it is featured prominently in my paper on Enlightenment in the modern era, Dark Luminosity. Here, two individuals, one a fully Enlightened Patriarch of Zen, the other a deeply spiritual person sitting on the cusp of Awakening, and both, not unlike nearly all of us, lay person and quest seeker alike, having "it (that is, fear) still with you!"


The case as it is presented above is abstracted from a number of oft-repeated contemporary sources that somewhere along the line derived it from the original source, the Ching-te Ch'uan Teng-lu. The Ching-te Ch'uan Teng-lu was compiled during the Ching-te Era and is considered to be the oldest and most influential of the "Transmission of the Lamp" (teng-lu) texts. Assembled by Tao-Yuan of the line of Fa-Yen Wen I (885-958), the text was presented to Emperor Chen-tsung of the Northern Sung in 1004, and published under his imperial patronage in 1011. Composed of thirty fascicles, it narrates chronologically the lives and teachings of the major figures associated with Ch'an Buddhism, from the legendary Buddhas and ancient patriarchs to the heirs of the Fa-yen lineage in the tenth century---together, 1,701 persons and 52 generations. It consists of some 1,700 "public cases" that came to be called kung-ans, or Koans, each containing the encounter dialogues between Ch'an masters and their disciples. The primary source for nearly all authenticated "public cases" that have come down to the present day, such as those found in the Blue Cliff Record and the Mumonkan, is the Ching-te Ch'uan Teng-lu. See source at FOOTNOTE (1)

Niu-T'ou Fa-Yung was a Ch'an Master who lived in the early part of the 7th century(594-657). Having passed through considerable study of Confucianism and Chinese History, he embraced Buddhism. Soon after, he went to live a hermit's existence in a cave on Niu-T'ou Mountain. Here he spent his days in the conventional patterns of Buddhism and developed such a condition of piety and holiness that it was said birds would come by and drop flowers and other things into his lap as he sat praying or meditating. Upon hearing T'ao Hsin's remark, "I see it is still with you!" Fa-Yung was fully Awakened. He might have died and rotted away in all of his sanctity and holiness, unknown in history and Zen lore, if the Fourth Patriarch had not happen to chance by and visit him. (2)

Except for the very rare instance cited above, fear, ranked within the meaning of the Sanskrit word Klesa in Buddhism, doesn't show up much in classic Zen literature on the way to Enlightenment, and for sure, not as a main, ongoing theme. Why that is I am not sure, but I think it is because in most of the historical situations that have come down to us the monks involved were directly under the auspices of Masters who could deal with fear as it unfolded. In the contemporary scene, in that fear didn't come down from the eternals or historicals to the masses, most people along the path either promulgating or seeking Enlightenment in the present day modern world, probably don't consider fear as a factor. For me however, it is a direct gage as to one's authenticity. Why? Because of my own personal experience. Below is a quote from me in an interview of some years ago, a quote I use prominently in my Dharma course AWAKENING 101:

"Under his auspices as a young teenage boy still in high school I was coached and guided into the practice of Samadhi and eventually Deep Samadhi. There is a place one reaches where you no longer are. Just before that point it is one of the most frightening experiences imaginable. I would not let loose because I was afraid that I would "not be able to get back." Thinking back I recall fears of what would I do if "somebody took my body" for example...perhaps thinking I was "dead." It is like you are actually gone."

The quote refers my early attempts of study-practice under my spiritual Mentor. He in turn had studied under the great Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi, Awakening in the process under the Maharshi's grace and light. While I was studying under my Mentor, he, observing after several years that I was not making much progress, arranged for me to study under Yasutani Hakuun Roshi. That too, unfolded without nearly the success he had hoped for. For me to be successful, my Mentor's only recourse was it seemed, was to concentrate on me exclusively, if for no other reason than to get rid of me. He then opted for a middle ground between his Indian side of things and the Zen side of things. Knowing that as a very young boy I had met with the American Franklin Merrell-Wolff, a man known to be of great Spiritual Attainment --- a meeting that fully enveloped me with nothing less than a fear, by the way --- my Mentor, after months and months of me doing nothing but hard time in a Zen monastery stashed away high in the mountains along the southern edges of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, sent me to a virtually unknown, anonymous, and fully Awakened "American Zen master" by the name of Alfred Pulyan. It was in those years following Yasutani along with guidance through Pulyan that they coached me --- and for the first time in an ever deepening quest experienced fear at such a level. I had experienced fear on a spiritual level as a young boy at least twice before, but it was much different. It had a similar intense, in depth inside gnawing feeling of hopelessness, the difference was I didn't have the feeling of no escape as in the above. My first experience is summed up in THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana and the second with Merrell-Wolff.

My Mentor, who knew and had studied under Sri Ramana, told me of Ramana's fears in his youth as he was approaching the first throws of Awakening, of which the following, from the Sri Ramana Maharshi link above, closely parallels:

One day, as usual, he was in the first floor of his uncle's house, in a mood of deep thought. His health was good. But all of a sudden, he was seized by a chill of Fear. He felt he was almost dying by an all encompassing Fear of Death. Trying to prevent this feeling from weakening him, he began to think of what he should do. He said to himself:

'Now death is approaching. I am dying. What is death? This body gets lost.'

Then he held his breath completely, closed his lips and eyes, lay down as one dead, and began to ponder:

'Now my body is dead. They will carry this body, motionless, to the cremation ground and burn it. But do I really die with this body? Am I merely this body? My body is now motionless. But still I know my name. I remember my parents, uncles, brothers, friends and all others. It means that I have a knowledge of my individuality. If so, the "I" in me is not merely my body; it is a deathless spirit.'

Thus, as in a flash, a new realization came.

In 1912 Ramana had a little known but just as fearful, if not more so, excruciating Second Death Experience. Roaming off the trails of the holy hill Arunachala, Ramana was confronted by a "spirit" and for the second time in his life, spiraled deep towards death. Turning livid blue and with no vital signs, followers held him assuming he was dead. Eventually returning to a normal (for Ramana) but somewhat different, much more deeper yet more open state, Ramana never again wandered off the trails. Ramana's second death experience did result in some startling results as quoted from the above link:

This new experience may not have upstaged his previous realization (but) it did serve to reintegrate him with his bodily vehicle and with life.

After this he was more at ease in everyday circumstances, and began to increasingly associate with those seekers who gathered around him.

At the time, other than the quote above involving Fa-Yung and T'ao Hsin and the story about Sri Ramana, both brought to my attention by my Mentor in an effort to alleviate my anxiety, I had not heard of such a fear along the path. No one had mentioned it, nowhere had I read about it. Since then a small smattering of the subject has surfaced.

In her autobiography, Bernadette Roberts, ex-nun, mother, housewife, and author of The Experience of No-Self speaks of fear as it is experienced on the path. She had been in the practice of meditating in a nearby monastery and had often had the experience of complete silence such as provided in Deep Samadhi. She writes previously such experiences had sparked fear in her, perhaps a fear of never returning. But, on a particular afternoon, as her meditation was ending:

"...once again there was a pervasive silence and once again I waited for the onset of fear to break it up. But this time the fear never came. . . . Within, all was still, silent and motionless. In the stillness, I was not aware of the moment when the fear and tension of waiting had left. Still I continued to wait for a movement not of myself and when no movement came, I simply remained in a great stillness."

A friend of Bernadette Roberts and onetime neighbor, Ed Muzika, who studied under Robert Adams, an ardent follower of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, with Muzika eventually Awakening under Adams, writes of fear in regards to his Enlightenment experience:

"Briefly, I felt fear. The fear was, "Who is watching the store?" I felt, or better, there was a feeling of insecurity, because no one was there to protect and control. All that there was, was experiencing, happening in consciousness. All the air left my lungs, almost as if it had been knocked out of me, and I relaxed. Years of tension drained out of me. I did not breathe for what seemed like minutes. There was no need to breathe. There was no me, no I to pump up anymore, so my body just relaxed and deflated."

Christopher Titmuss, a teacher of Buddhist Vipassana Meditation of some renown, speaking of fear says in Abiding in the Ushakable:

In the world of sitting/walking/standing meditation, one can and will cut through a great deal of fear, and it's invaluable and important to recognize what the sense, awareness, and experience is of not having fear, and the way that that demonstrates, so at least deeper down we get some inkling of being without fear. Acknowledging there might be lots of fears in the mind, but also periods and moments of non-fear.

And also, sometimes, acting in spite of fear can matter a great deal, because it only becomes fear when it stops action. So even if the body generates a lot of painful sensations and anxiety, the sensations in the body, unpleasant as they are, do not make it fear. Fear is when one can't respond. Buddha is walking down the road and a huge rottweiler jumps out at him, or her: guaranteed, there will be loads of unpleasant sensations in the body, in the stomach--that doesn't make it fear. Fear is when panic and worry set in, fear is when it's paralyzing, when one is wavering about what to do. Buddhas have unpleasant sensations.

Tony Parsons author of The Open Secret in which he chronicles his Awakening experience cites the following in response to a follower during a question-answer forum, the first one being one of the best comments I have ever seen written regarding Enlightenment and any attainment thereof:

We all have a deep longing and a Deep Fear of the discovery of what we are, and the mind devises any way it can to avoid this discovery. The most effective way it (the mind) AVOIDS Awakening is to SEEK it.

You are already that which is. But your mind is frightened to let go and still has an idea that something special should happen.

Suzanne Segal in Collision with the Infinite writes following her initial insight into Awareness:

Walking home from that bus ride, she felt like a "cloud of awareness" following the body. The cloud was a witness located behind and to the left of the body and completely separate from body, mind and emotions. The witness was constant and so was the fear, the fear of complete physical dissolution. The witnessing continued for several months, even during sleep, and Segal had to endure the fear and the accompanying stress, finding relief in long and frequent sleeps.

Following, that is after the deepening of her Awakening experience, Segal writes

In fact, however, the presence of fear means only that fear is present, and nothing more.

Segal goes on to say, in an interview published in the book The Awakening West:

The first response that the mind had to this completely ungraspable experience was absolute terror; but that terror never changed the experience for a moment. In other words that terror never got the reference point back again. There was no personal self, but nothing stopped; the functions continued to function just as before. In fact, better than before. Speaking was still speaking and walking was still walking.

Regarding Suzanne Segal, readers may find the following link of some interest as well: When Infinities Collide.

In their very first meditation meeting, Sri Ramakrishna, sitting in deep Samadhi touched his right foot ever so slightly to his eighteen year old disciple and to-be-heir Swami Vikekananda. Immediately Vikekananda experienced what follows in his own words:

"I saw with my eyes open that all the things of the room together with the walls were rapidly whirling and receding into an unknown region, and my I-ness together with the whole universe was, as it were, going to vanish in an all devouring great void. I was then overwhelmed with terrible FEAR. I knew that the destruction of I-ness was death, I thought that the Face of Death was before me, very near at hand. Unable to control myself, I cried out loudly, saying, 'What is it you have done to me?' Laughing loudly at his words, Sri Ramakrishna touched Narendra with his hand and said, 'Let it then cease now. It need not be done all at once. It will come to pass in course of time.'"

Phil Servedio in his very long but extremely excellent online journal RADICAL GRADUALISM: A Journal of Awakening, in which he documents over a year and a half period his experience toward Awakening, writes in the segment dated Monday, March 20:

During the evening I started feeling weirder and weirder, almost paranoid and fearful. The energy in my body was intensifying to a level that was uncomfortable and beyond my control. It started feeling panicky, which I have only rarely felt in satsang, when things got really intense. But this time, this was so, so much bigger, overwhelming. I felt frightened, not knowing what was going to happen next. When I sat down for evening meditation, all I was was scared. Whatever freedom was being experienced was being overwhelmed by a tidal wave of fitful fear.

I love that paragraph. Servedio has captured the experience of fear in the Awakening process eloquently. Everytime I read it, it sends me back to the times of similar experiences (cited previously, above, but not nearly so eloquently) under the auspices of my spiritual Mentor.

Carlos Castaneda in his book THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge quotes the shaman-sorcerer who studied under a Diablero and who Castaneda later studied under, Don Juan Matus:

"The first enemy of a man of knowledge is Fear. A terrible enemy--treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest. Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has acquired clarity of mind which erases fear."

Some people would argue quite stringently that Buddhism and Shamanism are for the most part nowhere related. That is to say, to draw an analogy would be creating a thin line out of practically nothing and that introducing comments on the subject of fear by Castaneda might not be all that apropos. However, the coincidence of characteristics and striking similarities between Buddhist adepts and Shamans and Shamanism has been studied and outlined quite thoroughly by the Sanskrit scholar Mircea Eliade in his monograph, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. For example, the abilities of the Arhat relating to the sixfold knowledge of the worthy ones that includes not only the ability similar to the Cloud Shaman to appear and disappear at will, but also the oft cited case in Buddhism and Zen by the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja where the venerable Arhat was adomished by the Buddha for flying and performing miraculous acts infront of the faithful.

Although a little off topic in relation to Fear in Enlightenment and Zen, for some clarification to the above, if you have read my paper Zen, the Buddha and Shamanism you may recall it opens with the following:

"The word shaman, used internationally, has its origin in manchú-tangu and has reached the ethnologic vocabulary through Russian. The word originated from saman (xaman), derived from the verb scha-, "to know", so shaman means someone who knows, is wise, a sage. Further ethnologic investigations shows that the true origin for the word Shaman can be tracked from the Sanskrit initially, then through Chinese-Buddhist mediation to the manchú-tangu, indicating a much deeper but now overlooked connection between early Buddhism and Shamanism generally. In Pali it is schamana, in Sanskrit sramana translated to something like "buddhist monk, ascetic". The intermediate Chinese term is scha-men."

Now, for a little additional insight... It is true the main thrust of this paper is FEAR, especially so as to how it relates to the Enlightenment experience. However, an often overlooked, but extremely interesting sidelight is brought forth regarding another important aspect that sometimes adversely effects an individual's momentum along the path.

A couple paragraphs back, a sentence by Tony Parsons, outlined in yellow, reads: "The most effective way it (the ego) avoids Awakening is to seek it." That is to say, overt seeking or wanting Enlightenment basically stops the Awakening process from bearing the full fruit as described in the texts by the ancients. The desire or wanting Enlightenment is a major stumbling block, and WAS for me, initially a much larger impediment than fear, as fear unfolded much later in the process, while the wanting or desire was there from the very beginning. On the second page of my paper ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds I write the following:

"I sat mouth agape as I pictured what it must have been like in India, high in the mountains, crisp rarified air biting at your nostrils and filling your lungs to the bottom of the last tiny air sac. The sun breaking the tops of the peaks and having your mind explode, but not explode; to be whole, but not whole. I wanted it, I wanted my mind to explode in a brilliant flash of illumination."

Like the sentence by Tony Parsons I write that I wanted it, I wanted my mind to explode. And thats the problem, WANT. My Mentor spent a great deal of time redirecting and trying to alleviate or tone down my strong desire or want. The want drove me to practice, but the wanting as to own or possess was nothing but ego driven from the Samsaric side of things, the almost total opposite of what Enlightenment is or stands for.

The above is brought up to emphasize how being "driven" can inhibit one's forward progression and the need to redirect oneself. Always consider intent. What is your actual real bottom line gut intent. Do not concern yourself with the final outcome or how much merit there may be in it. Any action with the goal of personal merit as intent or result, no matter how minuscule, will go down in failure relative to outcome.

For me however, it wasn't simply being driven that blocked MY access --- it was somewhat more complicated than that, and fully wrapped around FEAR. Fear not at the loss of the ego but that welled up from quite another source. See:


It should be noted that Adam Osborne, who, as a young boy grew up at the Ramana ashram and the son of one of the foremost Ramana biographers Arthur Osborne, played a prominent role in the Last American Darshan as linked above.

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.






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