I have been transported, even if only temporarily; and seen that another world, another way of life is possible. There is another, better world and another life, and it is here-we are living in it. We may feel far from it, but rest assured: it is never far from us. You may sometimes feel out of the flow, but the flow goes right through you: thus speak Surya.
Around that time, I wrote:
“This is the pure land. Why wait?
Everything is already perfectly one and at peace,
Just as it is.
I have had transformational experiences, growthful experiences, terrifying and exhilarating experiences, breakthroughs and breakups and even breakdowns, in the loosest use of that word; deep samadhis, ecstatic revelations, colorful dream-like visions and clear light dreams, cosmic orgasms, glimpses of god and heaven and hell. But most of these are just special effects, not the main story line of a poor pilgrim’s authentic progress from darkness towards the light, from ignorance to knowledge, from death to deathlessness…as they say. I have been brahmacharya, a monk and in cloistered retreats for years and years, and lived in caves, ashrams, cowsheds, tents, undergone austerities, and wandered without visible means of support. I have experienced ego-death and spiritual rebirth to speak frankly here, as requested. I have changed a lot since my childhood, no doubt… And yet, I am probably more myself than ever, now. But transformation? That comes hard, even to a professional spiritual practitioner and questioner, truth seeker and transformationalist like myself. Patience furthers. “Haste slowly, and you shall soon arrive.” Every step of the way is the Way. And the greatest miracle is love.
Many claim enlightenment experiences, satori’s, insights and realizations, which is all fine, if you study the literature about enlightenment and spiritual illumination. These days, it seems, it is far easier to get enlightened than to stay enlightened; and that is the crux of the problem. For better or for worse, there is no enlightenment pill or enlightenment-guaranteed-or-your-money-back weekend. (If it was that easy to see God, what would it be worth, ultimately? It probably would not be the ultimate reality of that grand notion, and in any case we’d immediately be seeking something else.) After all, we want and need a spiritual life, not just a spiritual event, weekend, or experienceisn’t it? Epiphanous experiences can provide us a glimpse of the Promised Land, and help us to ascertain beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is really a there there, as all the mystics and sages throughout the ages say. But just one or two visits ain’t enough. Don’t we want to live there, to be there even here and now and not just to visit? For what is there, is here. If it ain’t, it ain’t IT…to use the vernacular.
Myself, through the blessings and inspiration of Buddhist wisdom, self-inquiry, training and practice, coupled with the kindness and generosity of my own enlightened teachers, good parents and friends, plus a little luck and pluck; I have begun to find out who I am, and ain’t.
No self-transformation, yet everything is transforming right before our eyes. What a mystery, what a spectacle! Emaho! Marvelous, wonderful.
Buddhism is not a self-help project; there is no separate, eternal self– and in any case, it can’t be helped. And yet the dance of being and becoming, of doing and being goes on. Wise, sane and caring people continue to work towards a better world by being better people even while learning to love and accept themselves, others, and things just as they are. Striving for enlightenment on one hand while, on the other, coming into deepening acceptance and appreciation/gratitude: seems like a contradiction, a paradox, a conundrum, don’t it? Try just for a moment to hold in mind both extremes without fixating on one or another? This is the koan for today.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” as the French say. An example: the older I get, the more I am like the father I rebelled against in my youth. A bird doesn’t fall from from the tree. Or something. (A phoenix is another matter. But who is ready to be totally consumed, and transubstantiated?)
I am what I am, as-mysteriously enough– God has also purportedly said. Tibetan lamas say that our true nature is immutable, deathless, unborn and undyingDharmakaya, in Buddhist lingo. Untrammeled pure spirit, inherently free, unconditioned and luminous: truth itself. Reality. We are all Buddhas by nature; we only have to awaken to that fact. It is only adventitious obscurations which veil it.
Nonetheless, change is law. Everything is constantly in evolution and transformation, anyway. I trust in that, having found it to be true. I have found out what my life is, and what it can be. This is what spiritual teachings promise, a birthright which has become real to me through Buddhist meditation and living an intentional mindful life. This journey of awakening can take some effort and attention.
Listening to your heart is not simple. Finding out who you are is not simple. It takes a lot of hard work and honesty, conscientousness and courage to get to know who you are and what you want and how you fit into the scheme of the universe.
Being able to penetrate the mystery of Who Am I? brings us to resolve all the questions about the soul, God and Man, our meaning and purpose, death and the afterlife.
I am not one of these new age, fast-fruit gurus who teach that we are all enlightened already and therefore there is nothing to be done: no spiritual aspiration or efforts, no karma, no discipline, no practice, no path, no goal, no enlightenment and so forth. This is only one sidethe absolute level– of the whole truth. Merely to amuse myself, I think of this pernicious already-enlightened as Premature Immaculation. When an American once asked , zen master Suzuki Roshi said: yes, we are all perfect, and we can keep perfecting ourselves forever.” Another time he said: Yes, it’s true that everything is perfect as it is and we are perfect as we are, but we could still use a little tweaking.” Thus have I heard.
The undeniable fact is that we still live and exist here on the relative level, with bodies and interrelationships with others and the environment, and must deal with causation and conditioning, virtue and vice, helping and harming, andI am talking about karma now– the laws of the land. If we think that this world and this life and this body doesn’t matter, Buddha tells us: “If you want to see what you were in the past life, look at what you are now; if you want to know what you’ll be in the future, look at how you are now.” In the ultimate analysisin the vast, cosmic sweep of geological time, space and infinity– nothing matters much, but here on earth in this life, everything counts. Every little thought, intention, word, and deed makes a difference. Doesn’t it matter if you kick your child instead of hugging and kissing them; and doesn’t that karmic act have repercussions down the generations, like a gift that keeps on giving? It is good to reflect on these matters.
J. R. R. Tolkein, who seems to have been reborn again lately, wrote:
“All that glitters is not gold; all who wander are not lost.” I have always remembered that, from my college days reading in the Sixties. When I lived in Nepal next to my lama’s monastery, I thought Tolkien must have visited there on his travels, since the foothills of the Himalayas and their short people reminded me in many ways of the Middle Earth and its denizens.
Freud said life is all about sex/love and death. Americans say the only sure thing is death and taxes. Buddha said: Death is my guru. Death and mortality drive me to seek something beyond death, the realize deathless nirvana. A the elephant’s footprint is the largest in the jungle, the meditation on death and mortality is the greatest meditation.” We are all going to die, certainly, for sure. But are we all going to live?