Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible. That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself." - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Replace the word Quality with substrate consciousness, or potential, or buddha-nature, and you get the same thing we been discussing here for a while now.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


"In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it."
In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert Pirsig called "Quality," with a capital Q, what I've been calling substrate consciousness and potential, which in turn roughly correlate to the Buddhist storehouse consciousness and buddha-nature.  I've also called it cookie dough in the past, but that's a long story.

I'm leery, though, of the term "potential" because while it does invoke probability and quantum states, it sounds to too many people like "self-potential" and just another self-improvement scheme, when actually it's quite different.  "Potentiality" works a little bit better, because it refers to the potential itself, not a subject of potential, but it's a little too long and unwieldy.

Sanskrit terms are even longer and turn many people off.

"Becoming," used as a noun, might work, but if it's read as a verb the meaning changes.

So for now, I'm going to have to stick with "potential" until I can think of a better word, and run the risk of being misunderstood.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Falling Water

"When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure  How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river!  If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die?" - Shunryo Suzuki, from Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Not Grasping

But all of this, substrate consciousness, potential, waves, and so on, is just mere philosophy.  We're not supposed to "understand" it or "get" it, but instead to experience it.

Sit quietly somewhere and just let your thoughts come and go.  If you get distracted, focus on your breath.  With time, the waves will subside, the differentiation between yourself and your experience will drop away, and the substrate consciousness will transform into potential.  

At the very instant when you think you realize it, it will be over.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Imagine a waterfall.  Above, the water is calm and serene, and below, much the same.  But as the water falls, it separates into individual drops, and each falling drop might worry about what will happen when it hits the bottom.  When the drops were part of the stream, there was no worry, no suffering, no anxiety. It is only when the drops are separate from the stream does all the worrying occur.

But the drops were always water and nothing but water, above the falls, below the falls, and while they were falling.  But separate from the stream, they forget that they're water, and imagine that they are something that should have an existence separate from the rest of the water.

Shunryo Suzuki once wrote that before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe.  After we are separated by birth from this oneness,  then we had feeling.  When we do not realize that we are one with the universe, then we have fear.  "Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life."   

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Surfer's Experience of the Ocean Is Different From a Sunbather's

Okay, Shokai, a week or so ago, if even that, you were saying that everything in the universe was composed of something you called buddha nature, which you described as the potential to awaken, or to put it another way, a probability.  Cool story, bro.  But now you're saying that everything in the universe is composed of something I can't even quite understand that you're calling "substrate consciousness," and that everything is like waves on the ocean of substrate consciousness.  Well, which one is it, huh?
Actually, that's a straw-man question - no one asked me that (or in that tone of voice, which is the internal tone I use in my frequent moments of self doubt).  But the voices in my head (not the schizophrenic kind of voices, but that interior monologue we all engage in) brought that up as something the hypothetical reader of this blog might ask (presuming I even have any readers left anymore).

So, to answer my own question, they're actually the same thing,  It's all just a matter of how one looks at it.  To use some Sanskrit terms (sorry), what I'm calling the substrate consciousness is alaya-vijnana, which is like gazinging at the ocean from some dry vantage point and studying the waves. But if one were to jump into the ocean and directly experience the motion of the currents, the rolling of the waves, and the silence and cold of the subsurface, one would quickly ignore the individual waves and instead experience the actual, undifferentiated ocean.  This is the tathagata-garbha (Sanskrit) or "womb of the buddhas," The tathagata-garbha is the mind purified, the substrate consciousness transformed, the alaya-vijnana in its undifferentiated state.  The undifferentiated womb of the buddhas is where realization arises, and is therefore another way of saying "buddha nature." 

So if I've connected the dots correctly and if you follow me, buddha nature and substrate consciousness are one and the same thing, which is the one thing that is you and I and all the rest of the universe.  But since I don't like using Sanskrit terms or religious terminology, from here on in for alaya-vijnana I'll use the term "substrate consciousness" and for tathagata-garbha and buddha-nature, I'll use the term "potential."  


Monday, December 15, 2014

The One Thing

According to Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hanh, "our mind has eight aspects or, we can say, eight 'consciousnesses.'  The first five are based in the physical senses,  They are the consciousnesses that arise when our eyes see form, our ears hear sounds, our nose smells an odor, our tongue tastes something, or our skin touches an object.  The sixth, mind consciousness, . . . arises when our mind contacts an object of perception.  The seventh . . . is the part of consciousness that gives rise to and is the support of mind consciousness.  The eighth . . . is the ground, or base, of the other seven consciousnesses."  

That is why I call the eighth consciousness "substrate consciousness."  Various teachers over the centuries have used different names.  Thich Nhat Hanh called it by the Sanskrit alaya vijnana, or store consciousness (that term is what is left out by the ellipses in the last sentence).  Translator Red Pine called it "repository consciousness," the receptacle that contains whatever remains from our thoughts, words, or deeds,and is therefore the seedbed from which our subsequent thoughts, words, and deeds arise.  

Substrate consciousness has been compared to the ocean.  Everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, or think flows into the ocean of substrate consciousness like thousands of rivers. Individual thoughts, words, and deeds, are like "waves" in the "ocean" of substrate consciousness.

All material things are known to us only by our perception of them; therefore, all things and our experience of all things are one and the same and are just more waves in the ocean of substrate consciousness.  Therefore, the entire material universe - you, me, the sun, the stars, and the sky - are waves of substrate consciousness. arise from substrate consciousness, and eventually resolve back to substrate consciousness.  Everything is nothing other than substrate consciousness.  

Although we can differentiate one wave from another in the ocean, each wave is itself nothing but ocean and is never separate from ocean.  Similarly, we can differentiate between things in the universe - self, other, mountains, rivers, plants, and animals - it's all still substrate consciousness and is never anything other than substrate consciousness.  

Everything is the one thing.