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
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
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
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
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.