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The Lotus Effect

Shedding Suffering & Rediscovering Your Essential Self

Entries in mind (9)


Consciousness Is Its Own Broom

Suzuki reports the following curious exchange between Yun-men (a Zen master) and a fellow monk.  When asked “Who is Buddha?” Yun-men said:  “The dried-up dirt cleaner.” 

To my analysis, this a rather profound response, although it doesn’t seem so at first.  After all, Buddha as a dirt cleaner?  What does that mean? 

Let’s take a look.  But first, a word about the meaning of “buddha.”  There’s nothing religious about this word—it simply means “awakened, aware” and originates from the Pali verb budh, meaning “to awaken." Thus, the term “buddha nature” can be taken to mean animated nature, nature that is aware. 

Buddha nature is consciousness.  Here’s the Dalai Lama equating buddha nature with consciousness:  “This consciousness is the innermost subtle mind.  We call it Buddha nature, the real source of all consciousness” (1988, 45).  Indeed, consciousness, since it exists, is part of nature and its defining characteristic is that it is aware.  In fact, the two words “consciousness” and “awareness” are functionally interchangeable. 

So, what did Yun-men mean when he described Buddha as a dirt cleaner?   Perhaps that buddha nature (consciousness) is self-cleaning. 

Consider a lava lamp.  Within it there is wax (the substance, the essence) and then there are various forms that it takes (the information).  The mind is made of consciousness, just like any given wax-form is made of wax.  As the wax moves, it self-cleans: through constant movement, it continuously sheds one form after another.  It is the very movement of the underlying wax substance that accounts for the arising and the cessation of any given form.  It works the same way with consciousness: in its continuous, uninterrupted flow, consciousness cleans its own house—each thought, feeling, and sensation that emerges eventually passes. 

Consciousness is its own broom.  It takes out its own mind-garbage.  In its ceaseless flow, consciousness wipes its own slate clean time and again.  Information ripples through consciousness like a wave across the ocean until it eventually fades out.

Here’s what Thich Nhat Hann, a noted Buddhist thinker, says on this point in Opening the Heart of the Cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra:  “The wave does not have to seek to become water—she is water, right here and now. In the same way, you are already a Buddha.” 

If so—if consciousness, like water, is self-cleaning—then why should you bother with an identity (informational) detox if there’s never been a thought that didn’t go away?  The point is to help the process along, to tone down the informational tsunami, to learn to surf the mind-waves without drowning.


Excerpt from Lotus Effect: Shedding Suffering and Rediscovering Your Essential Self


Noosphere of Naiveté

“Both the French paleontologist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Russian atheist Vladimir Vernadsky agreed that Earth is developing a global mind.   The layer of thought in the shape of a sphere they called the noosphere, from Greek noos, mind.  The aggregate net of throbbing life, from flashing fireflies to human e-mail, is the developing planetary mind.  Perhaps, like the brain of a human babe with many synaptic connections that diminish over time, the noosphere is still in its infancy.  Polymorphous, paranoiac, confused, yet intensely imaginative, the thinking layer of Earth that is largely the unexpected product of animal consciousness, may now be in its most impressionable stage.”  (1)

Yes, the human biomass is, indeed, connecting at an ever increasing pace.  The day is likely coming when we begin to embed our respective individualities into one seamless hive-mind with the help of some kind of implantable “augmented reality” gizmo.  But what would be the psychological savvy of this global meta-mind if we (its constituent mind-parts) still don’t know what/who we are?

“The transition from cell, to cell society, to animal organism is an old story in evolution: individuals group into societies, which themselves become individuals.” (2)

If we are, indeed, heading for some digital Brahman-state, it’s time to look within yourself before Earth reinvents us all again, before the interplay of evolutionary and technological trends starts to recruit our respective selves, like cells, into a planet-wide society of consciousness.  

A noosphere unaware of itself is like Wal-Mart with empty shelves.  What would be the point?

Ask yourself: "Who am I?" and "Am I connecting to others on the basis of difference or similarity?"


Noosphere (source: wiki): In the original theory of Vernadsky, the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life).


1, 2: “What is Life?” (Lynn Margulis & Dorian Sagan, 2000)


Psychological Autopoiesis (Identity Regulation, Identity Hygiene)

Over the last several years I have been reading Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan (the former, Lynn, is the ex of Carl Sagan and the mother of the latter).  This mother-son writing duo – to my estimation – is one of the key think-tanks on this planet at the present time.  Lynn is a fearless iconoclast brilliantly redefining our understanding of life.  But this post isn’t about “life,” in its biochemical or cosmic sense.  This post is about inner life and maintenance thereof. 

As some of the readers of my blog know, I recently published a book called “Lotus Effect” which is a program of the identity detox designed to help you “shed suffering” and “rediscover your (so-called) essential self.”  What I want to show you in this post is the interplay between biology and psychology, namely, the interplay between the two fundamental questions: “What is life?” and “Who am I?”

In their book “What is Life?” Margulis and Sagan write of life as “islands of order in an ocean of chaos.” This isn’t just a poetic stance, this is a kind of thermodynamic proclamation of independence.  You see, according to the second law of thermodynamics entropy (i.e. chaos, disorder) increases “in any moving or energy-using [i.e. living, i.e. existing] system.”  In other words, everything tends to fall apart.  But life – while it exists – resists this tendency for disorder through self-maintenance. 

Here’s Margulis & Son on this point:

“Body concentrates order.  It continuously self-repairs.  Every five days you get a new stomach lining.  You get a new liver every two months.  Your skin replaces itself every six weeks.  Every year, 98 percent of the atoms of your body are replaced.  This non-stop chemical replacement, metabolism, is a sure sign of life.”

This process of self-repair is called “autopoiesis” which is Greek for “self-making.”

Margulis & Son again:

“Without autopoietic behavior, organic beings do not self-maintain – they are not alive.”

So, where am I going with all this?  To the notion of psychological autopoiesis, to what an early 20th century Armenian mystic Gurdjieff used to call “self-remembering,” to what I call “identity detox,” i.e. to the work of psychological self-maintenance.  When I say “psychological self-maintenance,” I am not talking about emotional self-regulation (mood management).  I am talking – literally – about identity-regulation, Self-maintenance. 

When you ask yourself “Who am I?” you are, in a sense, shedding the outdated psychological skin and replacing it with an renewed sense of self.  You see, psychologically speaking, we are mired in informational misrepresentations of who/what we are.  We keep confusing ourselves with what we do, with what we have, with what we feel and think, with the roles with play, with our history.  This informational confusion is the entropy of identity, a continuous loss of self.  We simply disappear behind all these words of self-descriptions and self-definitions. 

The task of psychological self-maintenance is the same as that of biological self-maintenance: it is autopoiesis, it is a job of self-making.  Instead of being made (programmed) into “this” or “that,” we have to continuously de-program.  We have to keep asking ourselves this basic identity-detoxing question “Who am I – who am I at my core, at my foundation, who am I when I shed my roles, when I dis-identify from all that’s fleeting and transient in my life, who am I when go beyond my self-descriptions, – who am I in essence, rather than in form?”

As you see, the “Who am I?” question isn’t just a superficial inquiry.  It is a depth-psychology probe.  It is an invitation to drill down through the informational calluses that weigh us down.  It is an informational detox, a detox of identity, an informational strip-down, a process of remembering that you are not any information about you but that which is in the process of formation. 

I know it sounds heady and confusing.  And it is: you have to use your head and you have to tolerate the initial confusion that comes with this kind of self-work, before you finally begin to know what/who you are by being clear about what/who you are not.

Each day you are actively involved in life-supporting metabolic self-maintenance: you eat, you excrete, you repeat this cycle.  The same goes for psychological self-maintenance, but in reverse: first, you excrete (shed) the ego-dirt, the informational dust that gets in your mind’s eye, the suffering of identification with what you are not; and, then, you “feed” yourself – through meditation and contemplation – with a sense of self, with a sense of “am-ness.”

This kind of daily “identity detox” is no more complicated or time-consuming than brushing your teeth.  It is part of psychological hygiene, not a chore but an enjoyable task of self-remembering.  There are many different experiential ways of accomplishing this.  Just like with biological self-maintenance, you have a choice of any breakfast of consciousness you wish.  It so happens that I, myself, like Dzogchen-style “sky-gazing meditation” for my “am-ness cereal.”  That doesn’t make me a Buddhist.  If you want to go with the Biblical “bagel-and-ham” of “I am that I am” to start and/or finish your day, you don’t have to be a Christian to do so.  Any psychologically-autopoietic identity-detox method would do!

Enough rambling.  Time to load up on “am-ness” calories!  Lotus-eating time!


Read anything written by Margulis & Son!  It’s complex but scientifically and existentially brave.  I particularly recommend “What Is Life?” and “Microcosmos.”


Lotus Effect, Ontologically

Thought plows the field of Consciousness.

Feelings grow.

Ontologically*, Nothing changes.


*Ontology (psychologically, not philosophically (not that there is a great difference between these two applications of consciousness)) is the knowledge of one’s Unchanging Identity.  The rest is informational (phenomenological) metamorphosis.



Disclosures of the Lotus Mirror

Li Ho, a 9th century Chinese poet observed:

Hsi-shih dreams at dawn, in the cool of silk curtains:

A tress has slipped from the scented knot over the fading rouge,

The pulley creaks at the well, winds up with a jade tinkle

And startles awake the lotus which has just slept its fill.


Two birds on the flaps disclose the mirror, an autumn sunlit pool.


She loosens the knots and looks down in the mirror […]

Her toilet done, the dressed hair slants and does not sag.

She […] turns away, still without speaking.  What has caught her eye?

She goes down the steps and picks up the cherry flowers.

So, what’s the story here: a girl, named Hsi-shih, is asleep, the sound of the water-well outside awakens her and, it so happens, also startles a couple of birds off the surface of the pond; once awake, the girl fixes her hair that she didn’t mind while she was asleep and notices cherry flowers.  Sounds like your typical privileged morning in the 9th century China.  Why write a poem about it?  I don’t know.  I am not Li Ho.

But here’s why I am writing about this poem.  Here’s what it means to me.  Let’s take it a stanza at a time.

Hsi-shih dreams at dawn, in the cool of silk curtains:

A tress has slipped from the scented knot over the fading rouge,

The pulley creaks at the well, winds up with a jade tinkle

And startles awake the lotus which has just slept its fill.

Notice that the poet gives this girl two names – her given name, His-shih, and then a metaphorical name, “the lotus.”  Lotus in Asia has long been a sacred symbol.  As I see it, divinity aside, lotus represents consciousness.  Indeed, the sound of the well awakens the consciousness.  And a sleeping beauty comes alive.  If we strip this poem down to its basic philosophical meaning, all that happens here is that a mind is awakened.

Metaphorically, a lotus blossoms.  Let’s see what happens next in the poem to see what happens next when a mind awakens:

Two birds on the flaps disclose the mirror, an autumn sunlit pool.

All of a sudden, Li Ho switches focus: the poem is no longer about the girl, it’s about the fact that two birds, also startled by the sound of the well-chain, fly off the surface of the pond “to disclose” a mirror.  What a mysterious detour!  What’s this about?

I have no idea, but here’s how I see it.  Li Ho is telling us about what happens when the mind awakens: it becomes self-reflective.  Indeed, in sleep, the girl was one with reality, not even aware of the hair that had fallen on her face.  But once immediately awake and self-aware she checks the mirror of her consciousness and… fixes herself up.

She loosens the knots and looks down in the mirror […]

Her toilet done, the dressed hair slants and does not sag.

Self-awareness is self-correcting, which is a sleep of yet another kind.  The lotus – having briefly bloomed – is closing again.  The mind, having seen itself in the mirror of its own consciousness, starts correcting itself.  Only to be once again awakened by another input from reality:

She […] turns away, still without speaking.  What has caught her eye?

She goes down the steps and picks up the cherry flowers.

The lotus blooms again: instead of correcting one’s own reflection in the mirror, the mind is once again awakened to its own presence by a little nudge from reality.  First, reality tickled the mind with the sounds of the well, now it has roused the mind with the stimulation of the cherry blossom.

And so it goes, from sleep to wakefulness, from sleep to wakefulness.  The lotus of self seems to be in the best of blooms when engaged with whatever is, rather than trying to polish its reflection in the mirror.

My only hope is that Hsi-shih doesn’t pick the cherry blossoms and doesn’t return back to her mirror to use them as a garland on her dress.  Whatever it is that we are, we certainly are not the reflection disclosed in the mirror.

Of course, there are a million ways to read and interpret Li Ho’s poem or my interpretation of it.  Your time to reflect.


Placid Lake of Lotus Consciousness

Sometimes we feel that something comes over us.  The mind changes, and we feel that we change too.  But do we? 

Fill a glass with water.  Wait until the water settles, then stir it up with your finger.  Watch the waves of the vortex warp the surface.  Now sit back and watch the water clean itself of all these wave-forms.  What you are witnessing is a process of self-cleaning.  Recognize that your consciousness works the same way.  Notice that while it certainly takes time for informational ripples to fade out, they always do.  Recognize that no matter what you’ve ruminated over or worried about in your life, no matter how long that song was stuck in your head, eventually all those thoughts (images, feelings, sensations, memories) dissolved back into the surface of your consciousness.  Indeed, there has never been a thought (mind form) that didn’t go away.  Knowing this, recognize that you don’t have to be afraid of your mind forms any more than a lake has to fear the waves on its surface or the lotus has to fear the morning dew.


Lotus Moment of Self-Discovery

The following is a both an entertaining and illuminating passage of self-discovery from Richard Hughe’s 1929 novel “High Wind in Jamaica.” 

“And then an event did occur, to Emily, of considerable importance.  She suddenly realized who she was. 

[…]  She had been playing houses in a nook right in the bows […], and tiring of it was walking rather aimlessly aft, thinking vaguely about some bees and a fairy queen, when it suddenly flashed into her mind that she was she

She stopped dead, and began looking over all of her person which came within the range of eyes.  She could not see much, except a fore-shortened view of the front of her frock, and her hands when she lifted them for inspection: but it was enough for her to form a rough idea of the little body that she suddenly realized to be hers

She began to laugh, rather mockingly.  “Well!” she though,  in effect: “Fancy you, of all people, going and getting caught like this! – You can’t get  out of it now, not for a very long time: you’ll have to go through with being a child, and growing up, and getting old, before you’ll be quit of this mad prank!”

Determined to avoid any interruption of this highly important occasion, she began to climb the ratlines, on her way to her favorite perch on the mast-head.  Each time she moved an arm or a leg in this simple action, however, it struck her with fresh amusement to find them obeying her so readily.  Memory told her, of course, that they had always done so before: but before, she had never realized how surprising this was. 

Once settled on her perch, she began examining the skin of her hands with the utmost care: for it was hers.  She slipped a shoulder out of the top of her frock, and having peeped in to make sure she really was continuous under her clothes, she shrugged it up to touch her cheek.   The contact of her face and the warm bare hollow of her shoulder gave her a comfortable thrill, as if it was the caress of some kind of friend.  But whether the feeling came to her through her cheek or her shoulder, which was the caresser and which was the caressed, that no analysis could tell her.  

Once fully convinced of this astonishing fact […] she began seriously to reckon its implications.”  (pp. 135-136)

Step out of your mind for a few minutes (like Emily).  Discover this body of yours.  And then discover the discoverer.


Playing Programmer in Lotus Land

Here’s a stanza from a Rush song, called Freewill, and my interpretive projections.

They are those who think they were dealt a losing hand,

The cards were stacked against them:

they weren’t born in lotus-land.

Mind is conditional, i.e. un-free.  Consciousness isn’t conditional, it is the conditioner, thus, free, or, in the parlance of the East, consciousness is un-born or a-causal (in the sense that it is not pre-determined, but pre-determines).  Consciousness is the source of freedom.  Override determinism via mindfulness. 

Once again: how’s mind different from consciousness?  Same way as form is different from essence and the programmer is different from the program.  Brain – hardware.  Mind – software.  Consciousness – programmer.  Mindfulness – toggle switch.  Sit down to witness the difference.  Sit down to play programmer.

We are what we identify with.  Which do you identify with: mind (form) or consciousness (essence)?


Reflections in the Lotus Pond

Poem (by Charlene Balcom, Reflections/Shadows on the Shoji/Hokuseido Press, 1936):

As you reached into the lotus pond,

I saw the reflection

Of a young willow

Trailing slender branches

In the water.

Poetic Interpretation:

Lotus pond is post-Narcissism, it reflects no ego: when you look into the lotus pond of your consciousness, no Narcissus looks back; when you look into the lotus pond of your consciousness, you see no mind or any informational "self," for that matter,  just the "trailing slender branches" of Reality nearby.

Any reflections in the lotus pond are mind-projections…