Nonduality this middle ground lies the very *possibility* of 'non-dual activism'

'Felt Groups' and Rinzai: Continuing to Lay the Groundwork

Terry Murphy
with Jerry Katz

I am still struggling with Jerry's concept of 'felt groups' in relation to nondual activism. I don't want to go back to dissecting Jerry's exact words; I would end up like the little boy who pulled the legs and wings and head off of a fly, and then wondered where the fly went. But I sense that his basic 'idea' - perhaps deliberately kind of fuzzy - matches up somewhat with my sense that people who truly realize nondualism shed their egos like an eggshell or a cocoon, and become 'more than human' because they operate as an organ of a larger whole. When this happens, their 'action' is not the action of an individual, not a calculated doing such as most people imagine they ordinarily perform, but the functioning of a greater whole, like a finger which is extended and knows it is extended but has no idea that the gesture is motivated by the 'road rage' of a greater whole (the 'felt group'?).

John said:

"The basis of my observation is personal experience in a phenomenal, dualistic existence. It is all I have as a basis.
The rest are stories someone else is recounting to me."

I know that most of us think this way. We think that we actually are the individual known as John or whomever, that all our experience is personal and anything else is concepts held by that person and received from an external 'society.' Some of us don't perceive this way at all, and actually function without any such sense of self (as Gene has pointed out). Some of us still identify closely with the skin-bound body which carries the name our parents gave it, but may also understand that there are others who are not so identified. In my view, *none* of us bear any resemblance to that individuality so taken for granted by the majority of the members of our species. We all act in accordance with group ethos; for proof we need look no further than the commonality of language which is the very substance of intelligence. Ironically, the very language which makes us intelligent and provides us with the ability to coordinate our activities is what deludes us into imagining we are separate human beings with disparate aims. So, my struggle with Jerry's 'felt group' concept (my own particular idiosyncracy or gift if you like is a taste for clarity) is that it appears to be taking a middle ground between the big I and the little I. Yet in this middle ground lies the very *possibility* of 'non-dual activism,' the potential for genuine non-individuals (those enlightened 'gods and goddesses' with which NDS abounds) to perform group practices which have the effect of liberating those who, like John, perceive no other basis for observation than phenomenal dualism.

Jerry said:

"We have freed ourselves and others from spiritual bondage in which teachers, masters, gurus would like to keep us all our lives."

I heartily endorse the idea here. If you have a teacher or guru who encourages you to do something other than what he or she does, then you are indeed being bound by that individual's idea of how *you* should act or behave. This generally works about as well as telling your kids they shouldn't use drugs while you are smoking a cigarette and sucking up a six-pack. Not to pick on anyone in particular, but take a guy like 'Lama X' (to avoid names) who walks around in traditional robes of another culture and makes his living promoting a religion which arose in a far distant country and in a far distant language. This person may be telling you how to handle your boss and your kids and your wife, but he has none of those problems and handles his problems quite differently from the way he advises you. My most fundamental attraction to nondualism as promoted by Jerry and others is that the 'teachers' themselves expect to exemplify the behavior they encourage, instead of them being the teachers and others being the disciples (which amounts to role-playing). Recognizing that we are not perfect examples, because 'the perfect seems imperfect.' The tao te ching says:

Chapter 45 (feng/english)

Great accomplishment seems imperfect, Yet it does not outlive its usefulness. Great fullness seems empty, Yet it cannot be exhausted.

Great strength seems twisted. Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.

Movement overcomes cold. Stillness overcomes heat. Stillness and tranquillity set things in order in the universe.

Teachers such as the conventional priests and wise men of any culture are only misleading us, binding us to rules which are different from what they themselves follow. Real leadership is by example, just as our children tend to do what we do and not what we tell them to do. If we have teachers, masters, or gurus, the very relationship that this places us in confines us to a lesser status, and inhibits any real understanding or spiritual growth. Those who help us to be free *must* be seen as friends or fellow-travellers in order for us to realize what they have realized, though it may readily be admitted that there are many who are older and further along than us, just as there are many who are younger and not so far along. This is what Rinzai was talking about when he said:

"Followers of the Way, those who have left household life need to study the Way. I myself in past years turned my attention to the *vinaya*, and I also delved into the sutras and treatises. But later I realized that these are just medicines to cure the sickness of the world, expositions of surface matters. So finally I tossed them aside and sought the Way through Ch'an practice. Later I encountered an excellent friend and teacher, and then my Dharma eye at last became keen and bright and for the first time I could judge the old reverends of the world and tell who was crooked and who was straight. But this understanding was not with me when my mother gave birth to me--I had to probe and polish and undergo experiences until one morning I could see clearly for myself. "Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time, you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go."


"Here at my place, we don't talk about who is a monk and who is a lay believer. When someone comes to me, I can tell exactly what he is like. Whatever circumstances he may have come from, I
take all his words and utterances to be so many dreams and phantoms. But when I see a man who has learned to master the environment, I know that here is the secret meaning of the buddhas. "A man in a Buddha environment, or state of enlightenment, can't announce himself, saying, 'I'm in a Buddha environment.' But a man of the Way who has learned to lean on nothing is master of the environment when he appears. If this kind of man appears and says to me 'I'm looking for the Buddha,' I respond at once by meeting him with a clean and pure environment. If a man asks me about bodhisattvas, I respond at once by meeting him with an environment of pity and compassion. If a man asks me about *bodhi*, I respond at once by meeting him with an environment of wonderful purity. If a man asks me about nirvana, I respond at once by meeting him in an environment of stillness and tranquility. The environment takes ten thousand different shapes, but the person never varies. Therefore in response to the object he manifests different forms, like the moon in the water. "Followers of the Way, if you want to be constantly in accord with the Dharma, you'll have to begin by learning to be first-rate fellows. Be weak-kneed and wishy-washy
and you'll never get there. No vessel with cracks in it is fit to hold ghee. If you want to be a truly great vessel, you must never be led astray by others. Wherever you are, play the host and then any place you stand will be a true one. "Whatever confronts you, don't let yourself be imposed on. If you entertain even a moment of doubt, the devil will enter your mind. Even a bodhisattva, when he starts doubting, is prey to the devil of birth and death. Learn to put a stop to thoughts and never look for something outside of yourselves. When an object appears, shine your light on it. Just have faith in this thing that is operating in you right now. Outside of it, nothing else exists."

Rinzai was himself the examplar of what he was preaching about. He didn't care if you were a layperson or a monk, and he didn't want you to adopt a certain style or repeat certain words. He simply was what he was, like his 'masters' Huang-Po and Ta-Yu. Rinzai preached incessantly and founded a school which still exists today; he was a towering figure in the history of human evolution. Yet he himself did not feel that he had succeeded in enlightening anyone. He said:

"I don't have a particle of Dharma to give to anyone. All I have is a cure for sickness, freedom from bondage. You followers of the Way from here and there, try coming to me without depending on anything. I would like to do some testing with you. But for ten years, for five seasons there's never been one such person! All I get are things stuck to stems, clinging to leaves, wraiths that inhabit bamboo or trees, wild fox spirits! They chew away frantically at any lump of shit they happen on. Blind fools! Shamelessly accepting alms from all the ten directions, they declare, 'I'm the one that has left household life' yet their understanding is like this. "I tell you, there is no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack? "Followers of the Way, you who are carrying out your activities before my eyes are no different from the Buddha and the patriarchs. But you don't believe that and go on searching outside. Make no mistake. There's no Dharma outside, and even
what is on the inside can't be grasped. You get taken up with the words from my mouth, but it would be better if you stopped all that and did nothing. Things already underway, don't go on with them. Things not yet under way, don't let them get under way. That's better for you than ten years going around on pilgrimages. "The way I see it, there's no call for anything special. Just act ordinary, put on your clothes, eat your rice, pass the time doing nothing. You who come from here and there, you all have a mind to do something. You search for Buddha, search for the Dharma, search for emancipation, search for a way to get out of the threefold world. Idiots, trying to get out of the threefold world! Where will you go? "Buddha, patriarchs--these are just laudatory words and phrases. Do you want to know what the threefold world is? It is nothing other than the mind-ground that you who are now listening to the Dharma are standing on. When you have a moment of greed in your mind, that is the world of desire. When you have a moment of anger in your mind, that is the world of form. When you have a moment of ignorance in your mind, that is the world of formlessness. These are the three pieces of furniture in your house. "The threefold world does not announce, 'I am the threefold world.' Rather, it's you, followers of the Way, who do so, this person here in front of my eyes who in marvelous fashion shines his torch on the ten thousand things and sizes up the world--it's *he* who assigns names to the threefold world."

Most of the great Zen masters spoke similarly. Jesus was no different; he despaired of his disciples, and pointed out over and over that they were missing the point, not getting it. Were the disciples of Jesus functioning as a 'felt group' in Jerry's sense? (Jerry, feel free to answer this question.) To my understanding of the concept, they were not, each was caught up in individualism, unable to really break free of the basic 'ordinary consciousness' which perceives itself to be an individual human, and not an organ of a higher order organism. When I speak of the problem that I have with enlightened people operating in competition with each other instead of a wordless, mindless cooperation reflective of their highest insights, what I am looking for is some sign or sense that truly enlightened people might be able to operate like the fingers of a hand; not just to the enlightened eye but in a way that is visible to 'ordinary' minds as well. Such a group could have an enormous power to affect people, regardless of whether they realized they were being affected. The Buddha, Lao-tzu, the traditional Zoroaster and Socrates were all near-contemporaries; what if they could communicate by email, fly, and use mass media? I'm still not sure what Jerry meant by 'felt group' but the idea seems to me to be an important one, because it implies shaking off the conditioning which has everyone regarding themselves as *nothing more* than an individual, and implies the power of the collective unconscious released by egotism and brought into awareness. More than this, those capable of shedding this conditioning might actually be able to unleash an enormous transforming power by demonstrating unconditional love in a collective manner.

Rinzai spoke about *using* the power of the Way; I know this is a confusing idea to people, because it seems to contradict the idea of 'non-doing' and the absence of any 'actor' to perform an action. It may also be assumed that, if there is no individual, then there is no group less than the whole cosmic egg, either. And yet we *can* act, we are free to do anything we want to do; we can move mountains, should we care to do so, and had the faith. Rinzai said:

"Followers of the Way, the outstanding teachers from times past have all had ways of drawing people out. What I want myself to impress on you is that you mustn't be led astray by others. If you want to use this thing, then use it and have no doubts or hesitations!" "When students today fail to make progress, where's the fault? The fault lies in the fact that they don't have faith in themselves! If you don't have faith in yourself, then you'll be forever in a hurry trying to keep up with everything around you, you'll be twisted and turned by whatever environment you're in and you can never move freely. But if you can just stop this mind that goes rushing around moment by moment looking for something, then you'll be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas. Do you want to get to know the patriarchs and buddhas? They're none other than you, the people standing in front of me listening to this lecture on the Dharma! "Students don't have enough faith in themselves, and so they rush around looking for something outside themselves. But even if they get something, all it will be is words and phrases, pretty appearances. They'll never get at the living thought of the patriarchs!"

So, how can we really succeed in getting students to have the required faith in themselves? Even such an obvious luminary as Dan B prefers to think of himself as an ordinary man in a world where sages exist. My view (which seems to have been conflated
with 'activism') is that modern technology is giving us the possibility of uniting unaffiliated sages into groups which might have a transforming power over so-called individuals the like of which has never before been seen in human history.

But then, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong... :-)

Jerry Katz responses:
Your description is helpful in understanding the felt group. It is a personal thing. I feel that simply by talking about it some people will get their own sense of it. For some it might be a step backward toward a more dualistic experience. You describe it below as a 'middle ground'. With the felt group we're not alking radical nonduality; it's more like practical nonduality.

Everything you and others are saying about this 'nondual activism' is important. Some people are going to come at the concept from different angles. I can't be crystal clear about the terminology being used -- 'nondual activism', 'felt group'. People know clarity. That's required. From that clarity, all kinds of worlds can be created, games can be played, work can be done. It may mean a journey into a misty world filled with dragons. But it can be done and enjoyed. I feel that in order to do group work properly it needs to involve people who would know the Self. These people are probably least likely to engage in group work or to bend the mind to see the group and to see reasons to function in practical ways in the world. Perhaps a greater clarity is required to know the group. Perhaps lesser. Whatever, perhaps some people will consider it.