Conditio Humana

If we take a moment to think about it, the problem most schools of thought are ultimately concerned with is a) how to avoid suffering, and/ or b) how to find happiness (or “meaning”) in life.

The way non-dual philosophies deal with these issues is to point to a state of receptive, purposeless “being” (present) as the source of happiness and “meaning” and to the realization that our concepts of “good” and “bad” are responsible for our hang-ups. So, according to non-dual teachings, a) the illusory nature of the duality of opposites and, b) the (conditioned) continuous attempt to be in charge of internal processes are at the core of our existential problems. In conjunction they create the illusion of a separate entity, a tension called “ego”, in space and time.

While “being” is relatively easily found in love, the arts, any “flow” activity or meditative practice, the avoidance of suffering is much harder to come by. That’s probably the reason why the Buddha put the emphasis of his teachings on suffering and not on happiness. The potential problem with happiness-philosophies is that they inherently create reasons for suffering in that they propagate a striving for happiness and a consequential rejection of states of unhappiness. A philosophy of suffering, on the other hand, will go right at the core of the problem of existential dis-ease: the tendency to judge and reject. It aims at providing peace of mind in whatever state, happy or sad.

From early childhood we learn to navigate through life by means of fear and attraction. It is what drives our actions (or karma), and eventually, our whole lives. The judging attitude inherent in grasping and rejecting agitate our minds and make life seem somewhat murky. Consequently, we lose touch with reality as it actually “is”. And instead of gratitude, wonder and awe for life, we are wandering within the narrow boundaries of desire and fear through a world of commonplaces. So, the striving for happiness must create dissatisfaction. This is the ultimate paradox of existence. That by trying to attain something, we create an idea of its opposite and, thus, we forever remain in the cycle of judging and suffering. The world of ideas is the portal to Samsara.

Although our maps of navigation cause our suffering by liking and disliking certain aspects of what is really “One”, we cling to them, fearing to get lost without any opinion to hold on to. That’s why enlightenment is such an illusive thing, accessible only for those trusting and loving life to the point of complete unknowing. To transcend “good” and “bad” we have to find a way to accept and embrace everything as sacred, as making sense in the grander scheme of things beyond our ego. This is exactly what is happening when we have a mystical experience (or Satori) and get a glimpse at the world through the eyes of the impersonal, the Absolute.

Unfortunately, though, almost all seekers will misunderstand the mystical message at first. They will take the viewpoint of the Absolute (or cosmic consciousness), as the “real” view, dismissing ordinary consciousness. This, again, just keeps the cycle of dissatisfactory existence turning. After all, even if Brahman is the only reality, the world is Brahman, or in Buddhist terminology, form is emptiness. Same thing, no difference. So, cosmic consciousness implies the sacredness of ordinary consciousness.

So then, the ultimate liberation (moksha) according to the non-dual traditions of the East, is to be free of even the concept of freedom. That is, liberation is to have no fundamental objection to what is happening. It is a cleansing of the mind of ideas of right and wrong. That way, we relax and the tension of the “ego” gives way to peace and serenity in times of joy as well as in times of sorrow. All states are seen as equally valid manifestations of this “One” sacred universe. Nothing is never not (part of) IT. Not even our feelings of separateness. No-thing whatsoever.

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live
With veracity
And love.

Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?

What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.

This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.

Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

~Hafiz

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Love and Clinging

Since one of the most popular posts on this blog has been about relationships and because I am not going to be able to post much new content regularly during the next two months, I decided to pick up the topic of romantic love again.

From what I can tell, what people seem to be most interested in when it comes to romantic love is to understand why some relationships don’t work and how to commit to a partner without compromising oneself. I think that the ‘problem’ of most romantic relationships is always the same: clinging.

Clinging is an expression of insecurity of one’s lovability and, ultimately, of the fear of losing the partner. One of the fundamental laws of nature is that acting from a place of fear never prevents what is feared. It actually makes it more likely to happen. Because our freedom is what we treasure most, the more we cling to our beloved, the more we will estrange him or her from us or from him- or herself. Alan Watts used to have a story to tell to emphasize this fact. There was a little girl who longed to get a bunny so bad that once she got it, she hugged and squeezed it until it suffocated in her arms. Her fear of ever having to be without the bunny again killed it.

If the tendency to cling is stronger in one partner than in the other, love relationships are dysfunctional and usually do not last long. But even most so-called ‘functional’ relationships are based on clinging. They are mutual clinging agreements based on a balance of fear of the partners losing each other. The more fear and insecurity the partners bring into the agreement, the tighter, more restrictive it will be. Thus, in most relationships lovers become each others impediments of expressing their uniqueness, of finding their own (fulfilling) life. Because of that, sooner or later, their relationships dry out and become stale, dead.

Why are we afraid to lose the partner? What’s the big deal?

When we are in love with somebody, we channel most of our love to one person. So, love ‘flows’ in the presence of the partner and it doesn’t when (s)he is not around. We then associate the overwhelming feeling of love (and being loved) with a particular person. This ‘exclusiveness’ of love can be the source of great joy and meaning but also of great heartache and grief.

When we awaken, though, our love expands from exclusive love relationships to objects or people to the whole universe. As we become intimate with everything, clinging to one aspect or manifestation of the universe vanishes. A simple stroll in the woods can be as fulfilling as an afternoon with the lover. The more we fall in love with what ‘is’ the less we are inclined to seek and cling to love. It will flow naturally wherever we are.

So, what does and ‘enlightened’ relationship look like?

Both partners know that the highest gift in life is to be free to be who they are, so they grant each other this privilege. They understand love as sharing freedom with each other. As long as the partners are true to themselves, all actions and decisions are deeply respected. They know that this is the surest way that their bond of love, in the long term, will weather all storms of life.


This Is IT?

One of the most cited pointers in the tradition of Zen or Advaita Vedanta is the realization that “this is it”, or that “thou art that”, respectively. To understand the deeper meaning of this pointer is sometimes referred to as the ultimate realization on the path. But what exactly is this “this” or this “that”?

First of all we ought not to forget that pointers do not refer to concrete things or facts. They are teaching tools, that is to say, they are symbolic images or metaphors to invoke an awakening, a realization of the Truth. Since realization is the intuitive understanding of the reference of all these metaphors, until the realization, spiritual seekers on the path will inevitably mistake the metaphors for their reference.

Now, what does that mean?

Just as if I said “you are a nut”, I would not try to suggest that you are literally a nut, spiritual metaphors like “there is no-self” or “there is only consciousness” do not refer to an absence of a person or a hidden, numinous reality. What these metaphors directly point to is nothing but the only reality there is, which is that which we are sensing and feeling right here now. That’s whats real. Hence, the ultimate Truth all seekers are looking for is almost embarrassingly simple: it is what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel in each moment. All else is mere subjective interpretation of Truth, taught about what “is”, or Maya, illusion.

So, spiritual pointers, ultimately, are reminders for people who have forgotten about the most obvious thing: that life constitutes of what we experience, and, thus, that existence is most fulfilling when we are open and receptive to what is going on now. The reason seekers take years (or even lifetimes!) to get this utterly simple fact, is because they are used to compartmentalize the Truth, that is, what they sense and feel, in desirable and undesirable aspects. Thereby they have conditioned themselves to avoid certain aspects of the Truth and to grasp others. This constant “movement” away or towards what “is” forever estranges them from the intimacy of resting in the moment. Spiritual seeking is the ultimate contradiction in terms: it is a search for something that is never not right here now. As they seek it, they must miss it.

So, then, what does the pointer “this is it” mean? Yes, you guessed it right: it’s pointing to the immediate experience in this moment. It does not refer to a “now I’ve got it!” kind of state or flash of insight, but to whatever we experience in this very moment. Whatever that is, is sacred. Experience is the source of divinity, the nourishment of the soul, our life-blood. The more we cherish it, the more we feel alive.

What we all truly want is to have a “rich” life. True richness is not linked to abstract ideas of wealth or achievements but to the ability to be intimate with what is happening. Whenever we are moved and touched by life, it provides us purpose, meaning and direction. On the other hand, if we are incapable of being moved and touched by it, our souls dry out and life becomes a meaningless drag. Once we fully realize this utterly simple fact, that all that counts in life is whether we are capable of sensing and feeling properly or not, our perspective and outlook changes from striving for a life to paying attention to life.

The perennial message is this: THIS is it! THIS is what matters! THIS is the Beloved. THIS is what we have always been searching for! Where else could it be? Stop talking and philosophizing about the good life, just get lost in it! Trust me it works. It always does. Being alive is bliss.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.”
~Henry David Thoreau