Completeness — Via Negativa

15th

It was a lovely evening, the sky was clear and in spite of city light, the stars were brilliant; though the tower was flooded with light from all sides, one could see the distant horizon and down below patches of light were on the river; though there was the everlasting roar of traffic, it was a peaceful evening. Meditation crept on one like a wave covering the sands. It was not a meditation which the brain could capture in its net of memory; it was something to which the total brain yielded without any resistance. It was a meditation that went far beyond any formula, method; method and formula and repetition destroy meditation. In its movement it took everything in, the stars, the noise, the quiet and the stretch of water. But there was no meditator; the meditator, the observer must cease for meditation to be. The breaking up of the meditator is also meditation; but when the meditator ceases then there’s an altogether different meditation.

It was very early in the morning; Orion was coming up over the horizon and the Pleiades were nearly overhead. The roar of the city had quietened and at that hour there were no lights in any of the windows and there was a pleasant, cool breeze. In complete attention there is no experiencing. In inattention, there is; it is this inattention that gathers experience, multiplying memory, building up walls of resistance; it is this inattention that builds up the self-centred activities. Inattention is concentration, which is exclusion, a cutting off; concentration knows distraction and the endless conflict of control and discipline. In the state of inattention, every response to any challenge is inadequate; this inadequacy is experience. Experience makes for insensitivity; dulls the mechanism of thought; thickens the walls of memory, and habit, routine, becoming the norm. Experience, inattention, is not liberating. Inattention is slow decay.

In complete attention there is no experiencing; there’s no centre which experiences, nor a periphery within which experience can take place. Attention is not concentration which is narrowing, limiting. Total attention includes, never excludes.*[…]

The purity of the otherness is its immense and impenetrable strength. And it was there with extraordinary stillness this morning.

-K, Notebook

*addendum: continuing from the above below (where the faint trace of the via negativa lies)

11 thoughts on “Completeness — Via Negativa

  1. In complete attention there is no experiencing; there’s no centre which experiences, nor a periphery within which experience can take place. Attention is not concentration which is narrowing, limiting. Total attention includes, never excludes. *[…] Superficiality of attention is inattention; total attention includes the superficial and the hidden, the past and its influence on the present, moving into the future. All consciousness is partial, confined, and total attention includes consciousness, with its limitations and so is able to break down the borders, the limitations. All thought is conditioned and thought cannot uncondition itself. Thought is time and experience; it is essentially the result of non-attention.

    What brings about total attention? Not any method nor any system; they bring about a result, promised by them. But total attention is not a result, any more than love is; it cannot be induced, it cannot be brought about by any action. Total attention is the negation of the results of inattention but this negation is not the act of knowing attention. What is false must be denied not because you already know what is true; if you knew what is true the false would not exist. The true is not the opposite of false; love is not the opposite of hate. Because you know hate, you do not know love. Denial of the false, denial of the things of non-attention is not the outcome of the desire to achieve total attention. Seeing the false as the false and the true as the true and the true in the false is not the result of comparison. To see the false as the false is attention. The false as the false cannot be seen when there is opinion, judgement, evaluation, attachment and so on, which are the result of non-attention. Seeing the whole fabric of non-attention is total attention. An attentive mind is an empty mind.

    The purity of the otherness is its immense and impenetrable strength. And it was there with extraordinary stillness this morning.

    -K, Notebook


    In truth, the via negativa in the above is indirect, almost… dare I use the word — ineffable.

  2. “Total attention is the negation of the results of inattention but this negation is not the act of knowing attention.”

    yes. “knowing attention” is just another form of inattention (as K. defines it). The key word here is “knowing”.

    “An attentive mind is an empty mind.”

    empty of what? empty of knowing — conceptual knowing.
    Blessed are the poor :-)
    Poor camel, he can’t get through the needle no matter how hard he tries, the more he tries the more he carries on his back. This reminds me of the cong-an — (paraphrase) the ox passes the head through the door, passes the body through the door but the tail can not pass through the door.

    A while ago, while having breakfast with the wife something suddenly occurred to me and I said to the wife — “I know why the practice of being-in-the-present-moment is misleading”. “why, dear my wacky husband”, said the wife.
    “Because they create a concept — being-in-the-present-moment. And they try/practice/force-themselves to be-in-the-present-moment. being-in-the-present-moment is the natural state arises after other “things” drop from the mind; it is not gained by practice.”. “watch your mouth, dear husband, they would throw stone at you.” :-)

    Personally I find it hard going through K’s books. never did finish anything written by him. When I was younger, he was too difficult to understand (because I was trying to understand :-) — i.e gain knowledge ). Now that I am more mature, it would take me several years to arrive at the state described by just a couple of paragraphs (or sentences) in his books. Still has one book of his upstairs, unfinished.

    “total attention includes the superficial and the hidden, the past and its influence on the present, moving into the future.”

    There, one example, it would take me a while longer to realize this. This reminds me the cong-an the fox.
    (paraphrased and shorten) the fox asked the monk “is an enlightened being free from karma (cause-and-effect)?”
    the monk replies — “aware clearly karma”.

  3. “empty of what? empty of knowing — conceptual knowing.

    to be more correct, as I percievie it, empty of the attachment of conceptual knowing.

  4. via negativa. Long time ago I used to hold the question/doubt/koan — “before heaven and earth what am I?”
    I met a monk and had a conversation during which I told him of my question. He said that the answer is already in the question. I asked how. He said that whenever I have a thought then it obviously it is already after heaven-and-earth are established. So that is not where I want to be. Just recognize that, so I don’t hold onto it. Same with all concepts, they are all after heaven-and-earth. So there is a process of elimination, we don’t know where/what before-heaven-andearth/God/self-nature is, we just know where/what is not. And when all the known are dropped then i would have arrived :-). btw, K. also has a book titled “freedom from the known” (did not read the book, just noticed the title in a bookstore)

    hm … I am chatty this weekend, ain’t I. thanks for the opportunity :-).

  5. Hi roamingwind,

    Always welcome you here. Feel free to post away…

    From where I’m at, the Pleiades are probably impossible to make out with the naked eyes, but Orion’s pretty distinct on most clear nights. In any case, like K, nighttime is special to me; that’s probably why the passage above is never too far away from mind.

    There are few things that are more precious than your better half being caring, supportive and protective of you.
    :)
    And I think you’re right about how “dropping concepts” may be the path to true practice. The Advaitic Vedanta practice of neti neti (neither this, nor that) may be one of the earliest form and practice of via negativa; and even after generations and traditions of adding and stripping away (through Yogacara, Mahayana, Vijnapati, Chan, Zen), its essence still remains.
    [mouth-washes and stones not included though]

    Your musings on the line “total attention includes the superficial and the hidden, the past and its influence on the present, moving into the future” and the Pai-Chang/fox/karma/causation koan is appreciated.
    Here’s K speaking of a purity which puts to death yesterday and tomorrow, and of all things in time and in space:

    Meditation without a set formula, without a cause and reason, without end and purpose is an incredible phenomenon. It is not only a great explosion which purifies but also it is death, that has no tomorrow. Its purity devastates… Its purity is vulnerable… It is pure because it has no resistance, like love. There is no tomorrow in meditation, no argument with death. The death of yesterday and of tomorrow does not leave the petty present of time, and time is always petty, but a destruction that is the new. […] Meditation is…of silence. This silence is emptiness in which and from which all things flow and have their being. […] All the ways and means of the calculating self must be destroyed wholly; all going forward and backward, the way of time, must come to an end, without tomorrow. Meditation is destruction; it’s a danger to those who wish to lead a superficial life and a life of fancy and myth.

    I understand your intent in the clarification in your second comment on “to be more correct, as I percievie it, empty of the attachment of conceptual knowing”.
    This ontological “reduction” reminds me of some of the rather intense practices used in tracing thoughts, to continually reduce and eventually, expire nen-念-thoughts.
    Phenomenological reduction also comes to mind; though I’m abit apprehensive here as to how to end what seems to be a recursive reduction process. (where is the turn…?)

    Don

    [Actually, when I first read K in my youth, there was the sense of amazed recognition… and also of a strange melancholy and fear.
    A long time passed before I read him again.
    ]

  6. “expire nen-念-thoughts.” yes. that is the temptation/danger.
    How can we, as long as we live here on this earth, do without thoughts. It is like saying we can live without air. One can try to be without thought for a short while just for the experience, but to eliminate thoughts altogether (as people who sits cross-legged and enter total-stillness), to me it is useless if it is done as a goal. Interesting, but useless. eventually one has to communicate with fellow human beings :-). Eventually one has to deal with the mundane things in life (as my wife telling me to have dinner right now :-) ). To me it is more important to see how we come to have certain thoughts and not others (why do I have the thought that i like, say, noodle, more than steak), and eventually arriving at the realization that behind all thoughts are concepts (more thoughts :-) ) that we hold about ourselves. That we we call me/I are collections of thoughts/concepts we hold/accumelate/learn over the years.
    Then we will be free from the known :-).
    [ Which is why I don’t think phenomenological reduction (as far as I understand from reading the link you provided) is the way to go either. ]

    “Actually, when I first read K in my youth, there was the sense of amazed recognition …” You are a wiser soul than I :-)) I was just totally lost when I first read K. It was until last year that I read through some of his writings again.

  7. roamingwind,

    I like your optimism: “Then we will be free from the known”

    There’s not-a-time for some explosive inaction, to get lost and amnesiac:

    “We are afraid of this total destruction of the known, the ground of the self, the me and the mine; the known is better than the unknown, the known with its confusion, conflict and misery; freedom from this known may destroy what we call love, relationship, joy and so on. Freedom from the known, the explosive questioning, not of reaction, ends sorrow, and so love then is something that thought and feeling cannot measure.

    Our life is so shallow and empty, petty thoughts and petty activities, woven in conflict and misery and always journeying from the known to the known, psychologically demanding security. There is no security in the known however much one may want it. Security is time and there is no psychological time; it is a myth and an illusion, breeding fear. There is nothing permanent now or in the hereafter, in the future. By right questioning and listening, the pattern moulded by thought and feeling, the pattern of the known, is shattered. Self-knowing, knowing the ways of thought and feeling, listening to every movement of thought and feeling, ends the known. The known breeds sorrow, and love is the freedom from the known. shadow, without root and word. And as the sun went further down, every colour became more violent, more intense and you were completely lost, past all recalling. It was an evening that had no memory.”

    And whether or not phenomenological reduction does allow eventual existential transcendence, it is interesting as a comparative study.
    :)

    Don

    [Some works and readings refuse to lend themselves to a casual reading.

    Their words and essence stir within the Reader a pure tone, a resonance that is deep and immense, older than the Self yet strangely familiar; the only and hugely inadequate description may be, the sense of finally coming Home.
    Yet that all-enveloping recognition comes with it an unknown Fear, fear of loss… and a sadness beyond tears.
    ]

  8. “By right questioning and listening, the pattern moulded by thought and feeling, the pattern of the known, is shattered. ”

    Essentially that’s all there is to it :-).
    [ he could have just written that one sentence and be done with all of his books :-). ]

    So yes, I am optimistic :-).

    Back on earth. yes. That’s the hard part. The shattering of the known. To be dead. Jesus died on the cross.
    Without which there can’t be rebirth and ascending to heaven.
    In Zen there is the saying, on top of the one-thousand-foot pole and step out.

    It is interesting that he uses “right questioning”, which is the essential of Zen — the doubt. I would use “looking” instead of “listening” — you can tell the Buddhism/Zen influence in me.

    What he wrote is similar to the beginning of the Heart Sutra —
    the bodhisattva “seeing that the five aspects of human are empty, thus (he is) released from suffering”.

    It takes certain maturity in the psyche to appreciate this type of writing. There has to be a longing inside, no matter how faintly felt. it is that longing that pushes us forward, until it arrives at complete peace.

  9. roamingwind,

    While its true that some books or indeed Everything, may be reduced to a sentence or even a single word, if we continue down this line, we’ll be joining the Kabbalistic hunt for the one true word/number.
    :)

    [Since we’re here, you may find these interesting:
    The Aleph (short story) by Jorge Luis Borges;
    Aleph number;
    Continuum hypothesis by Georg Cantor.
    ]

    looking is listening is questioning is the pole is stepping out at the top is stepping in/to is just still

    The welling-up of the doubt, expanding bigger and bigger till you are exploded into truth, may go beyond the limit of one koan in time. Perhaps we are called to explode the doubt and koan in bracketed time, or in a ksana-moment-thought, or in a kalpa-aeon, or…

    Don

  10. Don Chu,

    I enjoyed reading your posts. K is not the easiest person to read-Eckhart is easier-but he wrote some of the best descriptions on nature that I have come across.

    Best,
    m

  11. Hi Murali,

    Welcome.
    Agree. K’s descriptions on nature, may at one moment, seem to be essentially all the same and rather run-on;
    but at the very next instant, clarifies into an exuberant bouquet of sights sounds smells — Being apprehended.
    It is like magic.

    Don

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