Koan: withered tree

In ancient days an old woman made offering to a hermit over a period of twenty years, and one day she sent her sixteen-year-old niece to take food to the hermit, telling her to make advances to him and to see what he would do. So the girl lay her head on the hermits lap and said, how is this?

The hermit said: The withered tree is rooted in an ancient rock in bitter cold during winter months. There is no warmth, no life.

The girl reported this to her aunt, and the old woman said: That vulgarian! How outrageous! To think that I have made offerings to him for twenty years!

So she drove the hermit away and burnt down his cottage.

Zen, in my limited experience, is of course about awakening in the traditional sense, the realization of no I with an Other. But it is equally much about becoming more fully human, and how the practice before awakening, and the awakening itself, allows us to be more fully, deeply and richly human.

In the beginning, and depending on what teachings we are exposed to and practices we engage in, it can appear as the two are somehow in conflict. But after a while, and even right away with the right teachings and practices, we can see very clearly how they are not only aligned, but support each other. When we deepen into one, we can deepen further into the other.

Including both not only makes the path much more enjoyable, and allows us to get something out of it even if there is not a stable awakening of Big Mind, but it also allows Big Mind – however clearly it has awakened to itself – to express itself more fully, richly and fluidly through our human self.

It helps who we take ourselves to be, before awakening. And it helps what we find ourselves to always be to express itself more fully and richly, following awakening. (Big Mind always expresses itself fully and perfectly, whether it is awake to itself or not, and no matter what shape the human self is in, but there is still a difference in how maturely, richly and fluidly it is expressed through our human self.)

To use God language, we can say that all is God, no matter what, and it is all God expressing and exploring itself. But there is a difference in whether it is awake to itself or not. And there is a difference in how healed, mature and developed the human self is that it is awake (or not) to itself through. Why focus on just one?

In this case, the test was not only how attached the monk still was to beliefs and identities, which is the awakening aspect, but also how fluidly any awakening and release from beliefs and identities was expressed. The monk failed in both respects.

As with any koan, this one must be resolved by living it. It is never resolved by insight alone, however clever, even if it comes from a clear and stable awakening.

Ikkyu, that crazy monk, knew this:

The old woman was bighearted enough
To elevate the pure monk with a girl to wed.
Tonight if a beauty were to embrace me
My withered old willow branch would sprout a new shoot!

Allowing and owning

There is a beautiful complementarity between allowing and owning whatever arises.

As awakeness itself, we already and always allow whatever arises. Shifting into finding ourselves as awakeness, there is a release of identification with whatever resistance there is to it. We can now hold whatever arises and the resistance to it, without blindly taking ourselves as either one. There is a passive allowing of it all. It is just a noticing of what is already and always here. (Although the shift into noticing it is often active.)

Yet at our human side, it is also important to actively own whatever arises. To actively become familiar with it, see that it is part of me, widen my conscious identity to include it, explore how it already shows up in my life, explore what it asks of me, discover how it supports the life of this human self, bring it into the active repertoire of how this human self lives in the world. This includes noticing a part of this human self that was already around, actively bringing it into my conscious identity at my human level, and actively exploring it in and bringing it into my daily life.

And as so often, there is a mutuality between the two. One supports the other.

Allowing whatever arises helps me more easily actively own it. I can release identification from any beliefs and identities that stopped me from seeing it as part of my human self, and I can now more wholeheartedly embrace it and find its gifts.

And actively own it helps me release identification with old beliefs and identities that previously kept it as “other”, which in turn makes it easier for me to find myself as awakeness itself, already allowing it all.

The allowing is the enlightenment part, finding myself as awakeness and everything arising to and within awakeness as no other than this awakeness itself. And the owning is the self-realization part, the healing, maturing and development of this human self.

Or we can say that the first is the Self-realization, and the other is the self-realization. It is the realization of the Self, as Big Mind, Brahman, the divine mind, or whatever fancy name we have for it. And it is the realization of the self, of the wholeness of who this individual self is and can be.

There are as many examples of this as there are experiences.

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Dream: adZeita – discovering a new and more comprehensive tradition

I see a young Indian looking man by a table in a room, displaying a range of books. It turns out that the books are from an Indian tradition I have not heard about before. I recognize a man pictured on front of one video as someone I had seen earlier the same day in a different context, and get interested.

It turns out that this tradition is more comprehensive and clear than any other, and includes yet also goes far beyond practices and insights from other traditions. The title of the books say “adZeita” (!) which also turns out to be the name of the traditions.

I am shown a diagram which demonstrates how this traditions compares with the other ones: adZeita has 40+ books, Hinduism (including Adveita) has twelve or thirteen, Buddhism eight, Christianity three, and Islam one. The number of books indicates how comprehensive the approach is.

I ask more specific questions, and learn that this tradition emphasizes both Enlightenment (Big Mind awakening to itself) and also Self-Realization (deepening into the evolving fullness of who we are as human and soul). Enlightenment is considered a quite early and simple shift in the overall process and more attention is put on the process of Self-Realization.

I tell the man that I am not looking for any traditions or practices right now, I am happy with what I have, but since adZeita is so clear and inclusive – including any practice I am familiar with – I have to look into it further, and maybe take it as my main guide from now on.

The name adZeita sounded like a slightly embarrassing misspelling of Adveita in the dream. Staying with it after waking up I see that it is a combination of Adveita and Zeit which is the German word for time. Adveita is the nondual and timeless, form as emptiness, and Zeit is the unfolding of form over time, emptiness as form. Together, it is Adveita embracing time and the evolution, development, maturing and unfolding of form over time.

As the dream made clear, this tradition includes any practices and insights from any other tradition, presented in a far clearer (and more contemporary) way, and also goes far beyond in its scope.

There was no secrecy around it, just simplicity and clarity. I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it before, but now had to acknowledge that I have to look into it further – especially as it already includes any practice I am familiar with.

The sense of clarity and comprehensiveness is one that has come up in my waking life in different ways for quite a while – more recently through The Center for Sacred Sciences, Almaas, Barry and Karen, and also (and maybe especially) through my own explorations.

The number of books in each tradition does not quite correspond with my conscious view, especially in placing Islam so far behind the others…!

Overall, the dream seems a little silly to my conscious view – both as it happened and now. At the same time, it seems to tell me to take this sense of clarity and comprehensiveness more seriously.

Planting seeds in the world of form

Seeds are planted in the world of form, and as form, allowing the field of seeing and seen to awaken to its own nature, inherently absent of I anywhere.

And seeds are planted in the world of form inviting the human self to continue to actively heal, mature and develop, before and after this awakening.

The field remains the same in its formless aspect, as emptiness and awareness. It is timeless, untouched by form. Yet, as form, it is not only never the same, it evolves.

And planting a seed in the human self, inviting it to continue to develop even after it is released from any sense of I, allows it to more consciously take part in this evolution. It allows it to continue to play the game, even after the field of seeing and seen has awakened to its absence of I anywhere.

It allows it to be more actively engaged in its own unfolding as an infinitely small aspect of the evolution of the world of form as a whole.

For the benefit of all beings

In Mahayana Buddhism, and maybe especially in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong emphasis on seeking awakening for the benefit of all beings.

And there is a pretty obvious reason for that:

If we attain awakening only for our “own” benefit, then that’s it. It stops there. (Not really, but that may be the attitude.) A seed is planted in our human self saying that Enlightenment is it, that it is a goal in itself, and that the continuing healing, maturing and development of our human self is not important.

On the other hand, when the invitation to benefit all beings is planted in our human self, it serves as a catalyst for this human self to continue to heal, mature and develop before and after realized selflessness. The intention comes from from, is form, and is a catalyst and guide for the unfolding of form.

It allows for Self-Realization as well as Enlightenment.

It allows for this human self to actively seek to heal, mature and develop, before and after realized selflessness, because it recognizes itself as a tool for benefiting others in the world of form, even as all these beings, including itself, are absent of any I.

It continues to play the game. It embraces the Absolute, the field of seeing and seen absent of I anywhere, and the relative, including the myriads of beings, the field mistakenly identifying as a finite being and experiencing suffering from it, and the possibility to help the field to wake up to its own nature as the Ground of seeing and seen, inherenly absent of I anywhere.

Aspects of Self-Realization

If Enlightenment is Ground awakening or Big Mind awakening to its nature of emptiness and form absent of I anywhere, then Self-Realization can be seen as the continuing unfolding of the world of form, specifically as an individual Being of soul and human self.

It is Big Mind awakened to itself, functioning through an individual and evolving soul and developing human self, in the context of an evolving universe.

And while the awakening to realized selflessness has a sense of finality, the unfolding of the world of form continues. It is Spirit manifesting, exploring and experiencing itself in always new ways, including as evolution and development. (Evolution and development is one of the ways that Spirit prevents itself from repeating itself. Not that it could anyway.)

Here are some of the possible aspects of this Self-Realization…

Part of evolution of form

Independent of anything else, any human self is inherently a part of the evolution of form in general. Whatever happens with and in this human self has infinite causes, and these causes go back to the beginning of time and extend out to the limits (if any) of this universe.

This human self is the local manifestation of the world of form as a whole, and of the totality embracing emptiness and all of form. It is inherently part of the evolution of form, no matter how that shows up.

Skillful means in general

There can be a continuing development of skillful means, exploring how to live from realized selflessness in a particular culture and circumstances.

Skillful means in teaching

And there can be a continuing development of skillful means in teaching, in exploring how to express and convey the awakening in ways that helps Big Mind (when functionally connected with other human selves) awaken to its own nature.


Then there is the healing of the human self: working through wounds so that this realized selflessness can be expressed and live through a more (conventionally) healthy human self.

Realized selflessness is realized selflessness independent of the state of the human self it functions through, but why not allow this vehicle to continue to heal in conventional terms as well? That only adds to the richness of it, and can also make the wisdom and compassion to come through in a clearer way.

The state of the human self filters the stainless clarity of awakening, so why not allow this filter to be more healthy in a relative sense.

Allowing it and its to become me and mine

An aspect of all of the above, from Spirit exploring itself to skillful means to health, is allowing it and its to become me and mine. (As Freud and his successors, including Ken Wilber, point out.)

Within realized selflessness, any quality and characteristic arise freely, as emptiness dancing. At the same time, they can be disowned by and foreign to our human self, or familiar and used in daily life.

If disowned, they cannot very easily become a part of the repertoire of our human self. It does not know how to use them in daily life in any effective, skillful or elegant way. They become holes in the ways this human self can function and relate to others. They are tools that could be available and useful to our human self, but are not since it is not familiar with how to use them.

Even as they arise as Spirit, and recognized by Spirit as Spirit, they also appear as third or second person, as an it or at best an you. There is little or no familiarity with it as an I, me or mine, with how to live it or live from it, how to use it – effortlessly, seamlessly, effectively and with elegance, in daily life and interactions.

By becoming familiar with these qualities on a human level, they gradually become more me and mine, more of a useful and available tool. And this helps Spirit to experience itself in a different, and maybe fuller and richer way. It becomes included in our available skillful means. And it helps our human self to heal.

Maturing and developing

And then there is the conventional (and less conventional) forms of maturing and developing.

Maturing, for me, means to become more fully human, to mature into what it means to be human as well as Big Mind. Or as they say in Breema: being participation, allowing more of all of us to participate – which influences our human self to mature and deepen over time.

In addition, there are innumerable areas we can develop in as human beings: cognitive (what we are aware of), emotional, relational, aesthetical (our appreciation of beauty), and more specific areas such as skills and insights into music, writing, teaching, kayaking, photography, science, engineering, romance, coziness, yogas, group dynamics, cooking, energy work, medicine, bodywork, mind-body connections, and so on. There is no lack of areas where we can develop and hone our skills and understanding.

An aspect of human development is, as Ken Wilber points out, catching up with evolution in general. How far has human evolution currently gone in any of these areas? Where is the leading edge? And how can I allow this human self to catch up with it, and then be part of the leading edge of this wave of evolution – at least in one or some areas?

Combinations and degrees

These are just a few of the many ways Self-Realization can unfold.

For any given individual at any given time, each of these is emphasized to different degrees.

In some cases, the human self may be happy to just passively take part in the general evolution of the world of form, to go along for the ride.

In other cases, there may be more of a conscious emphasis in some or all of these areas. An active and engaged exploration of what Self-Realization means, in the areas of teaching, skillful means, healing, bringing its into mine, maturing, and/or developing along specific lines.

And our culture and time seems to be one where a more actively engaged Self-Realization is emphasized. A Ground awakening itself is of course fine, but it gets fuller and richer in a different way when these forms of Self-Realization are actively brought alive and explored.

Enlightenment and Self-Realization II

Using the distinction between what Ken Wilber calls horizontal and vertical Enlightenment, or Enlightenment and Self-Realization, it is interesting to see where different approaches and teachings fall.


Horizontal Enlightenment, or just old-fashioned Enlightenment, is realized selflessness, Big Mind waking up to its own nature. It is independent of the particulars of the content: whatever arises is recognized as Spirit, as emptiness dancing, absent of any I.

This awakening is the final release from the suffering of the story of I, it is the final coming home, the Ground of the seeing and the seen awakening to itself.


Vertical Enlightenment, or Self-Realization, has everything to do with the particulars of the content, specifically where the universe is in its evolution, and where this individual soul and human self are in their development.

It especially has to do with the healing, maturing and development of this soul and human self, this individual Being which in this particular case is the vehicle for Big Mind awakening to its own nature.

This being which arises as everything else, and as everything else is inherently absent of any I, yet also functions as a vehicle for Big Mind in the world of form, and is an aspect of the evolution of the world of form.

Self-Realization is never complete. It is a work in progress. It evolves with and as the world of form.

What we miss out of if there is one, and not the other

If there is only, or even mainly, a focus on Enlightenment, the healing, maturing and development of our human self may freeze to some extent, or at least not unfold as much as it is invited to within this new context of realized selflessness.

And although working on Self-Realization alone can certainly be rewarding, it never gives the same sense of completeness and finality as horizontal Enlightenment. There will always be a sense of something missing, which is true: realized selflessness.

Some examples

So where do some of the many approaches fit in this framework?

Of the ones that work mainly on Enlightenment, we find traditional Advaita and Zen, and the Center for Sacred Sciences.

Of the ones working mainly on Self-Realization, we find western psychology (at its best), self-help approaches, shadow work, energy work, body-centered practices, various forms of yoga, and so on.

And of the ones including both, we find the Big Mind process, The Work, Adyashanti, Ken Wilber, and most of the folks associated with the integral institute (they are at least interested in or moving towards addressing both).

The Big Mind process helps with integration, healing, maturing and development at our human level, and also with Big Mind awakening to its own nature.

The Work allows beliefs to unravel, allowing our human self to heal, mature and flower, and also, eventually, and if we take it that far, revealing Big Mind and the Ground.

Adyashanti, while mainly focusing on realized selflessness, certainly also addresses and encourages the flowering of Spirit in our human life.

Flowering of Spirit

I went to a half-day satsang with Adyashanti yesterday, in Portland, and it was wonderful. As a friend of mine said, he is a breath of fresh air.

Awakening and flowering of Spirit

One of the things he talked about is the distinction between awakening and the flowering of Spirit, or Enlightenment and Self-Realization as Ken Wilber calls it in Integral Spirituality.

One is the awakening of Big Mind to its own nature. It is realized selflessness. The other is the continuing maturing and development of this human self, or as Adya said it: the flowering of Spirit through this human life.

Flowering of Spirit in always fresh ways

As he pointed out, Spirit never repeats itself. It is always manifesting as fresh, new, different. Uniquely, whether it is as a snow flake, a mountain, or through and as a human life.

So this flowering inevitably involves the breaking of boundaries, of the conventions of society and our tradition, of the expectations of ourselves and others, of our old limited identity, any ideas of what this human self can and should do. The flowering, if full and encouraged, will naturally break and go beyond any and maybe all of these imaginary boundaries.

Adyashanti himself is one of the most clear examples of this. He goes beyond any imaginary boundary, whether from culture, tradition (Zen, in his case), expectations, identity. I suspect he continually surprises even himself.

It is possible to restrict and narrowly channel this flowering of Spirit, if there is a clinging to norms, tradition, expectation and old identities. And this probably happens quite a lot.

And it is possible to encourage this flowering of Spirit, going beyond boundaries existing only as ephemeral ideas.

Genpo Roshi does this, having gone beyond the Zen tradition and developed the Big Mind process. Byron Katie certainly does this, although she has learned to talk and communicate in a way that is a little easier for people to take in.Adyashanti does this, in his wonderfully clear and fresh teachings. Douglas Harding does this, daring – in a quite traditional British culture, to suggest that we are really headless in our own immediate experience.

Most of the figures recorded by history also seem to fall into this category, although that does not mean that they were necessarily more important the many who were more anonymous or less obviously adventurous. Jesus was certainly an iconoclast, as were BuddhaShakyamuni, Bodhidharma, Dogen, Milarepa, Meister Eckhart, Hafiz, Rumi, Hildegaard, and many others.

It requires Great Courage (or Great Foolishness!) to invite this flowering of Spirit in our human life. This flood which will break all dams and levees. And the reward is a possibly fuller and richer manifestation of Spirit in our human life, and a continual surprising of even ourselves.

How this human self is put together

I suspect that this too depends somewhat on how our particular human self is put together.

If it is already somewhat reckless, a sucker for freshness and newness, relentlessly curious by nature, or dedicated to truth and authenticity, then this flowering is more likely to be one that goes beyond any and all boundaries.

If more traditional and conventional by nature, the flowering may fall more neatly within the expectations of culture and tradition, and maybe even our old identity.

Both needed

Again, there is nothing wrong in either of these, and there is certainly room for both. If we were all reckless iconoclasts, little would be left of tradition and the accumulated experience and wisdom embodied there. If we were all traditionalists, there would be little freshness, innovation and adaption to new and changing settings and circumstances.

Equally important, some human selves – such as this one, has an affiliation to and resonate with the innovators. Others, with the traditionalists. And we all find our interest drawn to one or the other at various times, and maybe even both.

Further differentiation

(As I write this, I see that I started out closer to what I heard Adyashanti briefly say, and then go into further differentiation on my own. It shifts as I write, which is why I do it – to explore and clarify it on my own.)

When I look at it for myself, it seems that the flowering of Spirit can certainly be full and rich in either case. One is not necessarily more full or rich, or more important, than the other. They complement each other. They are both equally needed. They can both be a flowering of Spirit in a fresh way, whether within the general boundaries of tradition and culture or not.

The one boundary which the flowering do need to break out of is that of our old identity. This is the one that can restrict it. Sometimes, it is possible to break out of our own identity and still function within the general boundaries of tradition and culture. Other times, it may lead us to go beyond and break free from these boundaries. And this can happen in more or less obvious and dramatic ways.


So there is awakening, realized selflessness, which is independent of the particulars of the content, including this human self. And there is Self-Realization and the flowering of Spirit, which is all about content – about the life and maturing of this human self.

And this flowering of Spirit relates to the imaginary boundaries of tradition, culture, identity and expectations in two ways.

First, there is the realization of freedom from any boundaries of tradition, culture, identity and expectations, and the flowering of Spirit beyond and independent of these.

Then, there is the expression of this, how it is lived in the world. Here, it can be aligned with and mostly within the boundaries of tradition and culture, and may even appear to be mostly within the boundaries of the old identity (although most likely not). Or it can obviously and clearly be expressed free from and independent of any and all of these boundaries.

In the realization of freedom from boundaries, there is also the freedom to express it within or free from these boundaries. And that depends on how this human self is put together, the situation, what seems most helpful to others, and so on. It will change with changing circumstances.

The coin of awakening II: Impersonal Enlightenment and personal Self-Realization

I my slow enjoyment of Integral Spirituality, I have come to chapter six, The Shadow and the Disovned Self. In general, I find IS even more clear and to the point than previous books by Ken Wilber, and this chapter in particular is amazingly so. It seems that his writings has benefited from his more active engagement with a range of people through the Integral Institute, and he clarifies several points that used to be more fuzzy to me.

On pages 129 and 130, he writes about the difference between Enlightenment and Self-Realization.

Enlightenment means to be one with the stages and states at any one time. Or we could say it is a Ground awakening, Big Mind awakening to its own nature, or realized selflessness. Enlightenment is independent of however the world of form arises in the present, it is independent of any particulars in content.

In an a complementary fashion, Self-Realization has everything to do with the particulars of the content, of how the evolution of the world of form shows up right now. It has to do with the healing, maturing and development of our human self, until we catch up to the leading edge of current human evolution, and continue to develop (more or less) along that edge.

This is a beautiful way to put it, and one that very much makes sense to me. On the one hand, we have the impersonal awakening which is available at any time and any place. On the other hand, we have the personal expression of this awakening, riding the crest of evolution and our individual development.