Is the ego a mistake?
No. Its biological function is survival. First of all, if we had no concept that trying to stroke a predatory animal could be dangerous, our species would have died out long time ago. Since the universe runs on a constant amount of energy, life necessarily needs to live on other life. Every organism has to die, otherwise there would not be “room” for new organisms. However, to be able to grow old enough to pass on its genes (and raise its next generation to maturity), every organism is endowed with a survival mechanism. The psychic tension that is created when we experience something which puts our organism at risk serves exactly this function. The ego’s job is to react to the tension and find ways to release it (e.g. by getting out of the danger zone, eliminating the danger, etc). It is an automated mechanism by which the organism learns to survive long enough to continue in the form of its progeny.
The existential problem starts when we are conditioned to experience irrational fears (e.g. the fear of death, the fear of minorities) and thus develop a rigid set of “right” vs. “wrong” concepts (e.g. laziness is bad, thin is beautiful). Every such dual/ polar concept is a seed for irrational psychic tension to arise when it is triggered by inner or outer circumstances. Usually in our over-civilized and over-conceptualized world, by the time we are into our 30ties, our ego is almost constantly “active” trying to find ways to deal with these accumulated, irrational fears and out-of-touch-with-reality concepts.
Am I a puppet of the universe or am I the master? Is there free will or not?
Both, the ideas of fatalism (puppet) and free will (master) are based on fear. The source of this fear lies in the notion of an independent agent, a separate “you”. But you are an inter-dependent agent. Look at the ocean. Does the ocean push the wave or the wave push the ocean? Neither/ nor because ocean and wave are one inseparable process, the same “thing”. So, the wave is neither the puppet nor the master of the ocean because it IS the ocean.
A fatalist person tends to feel like a victim, is amotivated and depressive. A mastery-type of person tends to live a life of struggle to one-up on himself and his environment. The person who transcends the notion of separateness, though, becomes autonomous, that is, free from the urge to hide from or dominate his life.
If I start to live by letting things happen, will I become passive?
No. As you are liberated from the urge to compulsively control and justify yourself, a lot of previously wasted life energy is freed up. However, what seemed important before (e.g. possessions, status, satisfaction of desires, etc.) may lose its appeal. So often, ambition, restraint or the need for gratification are not pursued for their own sake (that is, because one enjoys it) but have their source in a feeling of lack or fear. They are dysfunctional “survival” (ego!) strategies which weaken our organism as they suck out lots of life energy. When we make these strategies and their underlying beliefs conscious, see that they are socially conditioned and realize that they are self-defeating, we clear them from the organism.
What do you mean when you say “everything is One” or “non-dual”?
Very simplified, physics tells us that energy is vibration (a continuous interval of “on” and “off”) and that all matter is energy. So everything is vibration (think of Shiva’s dance!). What is suggested here is that fundamental to existence is a uni-form field of vibrations (the uni-verse). Reality as we know it manifests itself by certain vibrations of this field being picked up by our sense organs and processed by our brains (if our “receivers” were different it could be possible to see or hear radio-waves or x-rays, for example).
Given that our bodies, thoughts, feelings, etc. are also vibrations, we are basically vibration perceiving vibration. Or in “non-dual” lingo: We are all that IS, perceiving itself through itself.
It is important to realize that although absolute reality is “not-two”, for a reality to manifest there needs to be a relationship between two seemingly separate things: receiver and received; self and other. Maya, the illusion of duality, is a necessary mask of the universe to be able to discover itself. Duality is the stage from which to depart on this amazing adventure called life.
What do you mean when you say “there is no time”?
Time is the notion of a progressive series of events. But what if there was no such progression because all these events are not happening in a series of different moments but in the very same (endless) moment? The present moment is like a TV screen that can show millions of movies without fundamentally changing. It is forever still, the same, while at the same time it can forever host motion and alteration.
Is there cause and effect?
On a fundamental level, the answer is no. If there was cause and effect, there must have been a first cause that brought the universe into being (something like the “Big Bang”). But if that was so, what could have caused this first cause? There is no solution to this problem unless we assume that something can start out of nothing. So, there must have been something always. Hence, the fundamental reality, the uni-form field, is uncaused.
It is also forever unaffected, itself, because it is the only thing there is. Causes and effects refer to two different manifestations which are, however, in essence one and the same thing. So, fundamentally, causes are caused by themselves and effects affect themselves. While “things” happen, nothing really happens.
Is there death?
Since the separate self is an illusion, dying is an illusion.
What then is that which we call death? Let’s look at the ocean-wave example. A wave is defined as a form consisting of a trough, a crest and another trough. It is a certain configuration of the ocean. Now, the only constant in the ocean is continuous change of configuration (because the universe is a vibratory thing). So, we could say that the ocean is constantly wave-ing.
Similarly, we could say that the universe is constantly materialize-ing, gas-ing, light-ing, heat-ing, liquidize-ing and therefore flower-ing, animal-ing, people-ing, etc. All these forms in the universe are void of inherent, that is, independent existence just as a wave is not inherently different from the ocean. What we call death is simply the transition of one form of “spirit” (or energy/ vibration) into another. And because this fundamental essence of being never depletes, the universe will not disappear either. It will just keep changing its configuration. Forever, and ever and ever.
What changes when we embrace change?
When we don’t, we are involved, that is, we struggle in vain to always stay on the sunny side of life. E.g. we spiritual seekers try to stay in a happy, aware, meditative mood always, although that’s impossible. We want just the “good” without the “bad”. This is Samsara.
When we lose the fear of change, that is, when we do not object to it, though, we transcend Samsara, because we are not involved anymore. With non-involvement I mean that there is no more struggle, no more “self” (ego).
So, in a way nothing changes: changes still happen. After the sun comes the rain. But in another way everything changes because we are at peace, in non-objection to whatever is (ourselves!). And this peace, this not wavering, is the anchor to the “now”.
End of Part 2
The next few posts will be Q&A’s that I have compiled over the last year writing this blog. The questions start of basic and broad and get more and more specific.
Hope you enjoy the dialogue. Further questions welcome (to: truthlesstruth[at]gmail.com).
Why do we feel separated, alienated from our environment?
Whenever our attention is focused on our experiences (thoughts, feelings, sense impressions) there arises the illusion of an experiencer, a separate agent. The experiencer is nothing but an echo of experience itself, an experience of experience (or a self-experience). With this separate agent arises fear and a feeling of alienation. Whenever our attention comes to rest on experiencing itself (which is the natural state), this illusion vanishes and we feel at ease.
Our attention gets focused on experiences when we grasp or reject them (which happens automatically in accord with our unconscious fears and desires). When we are in a complete affirmative mind state, judging is transcended, the “experiencer” collapses for a while and we seem to flow along with life and feel “one” with it.
It is important to realize that this “flow” is always there. It’s not something we need to first align ourselves with. Everything, including our fears, our confusions, our restlessness, the boredom and our anxieties are part of it too. Mostly, though, we reject these unpleasant sensations and get caught up in the illusion of separation. In this rejection mode, the (illusory) “experiencer” goes about trying to hide from these aspects of the “flow”, push them away or channel them. However, this is an impossible task, because the “experiencer” has no control over the “flow” whatsoever. We simply cannot decide to feel, think or sense this way or that way or not at all. All such futile pursuits ever accomplish is exhaustion, depression or repression.
The only way to stop anything from moving that we have no control over is by moving with it at the same pace. Or in other words, by non-objecting to what is (already g(fl)o(w)ing on) we keep on flowing with life and find our stillness in motion.
Why do we object to reality?
As we feel separate from the universe, we live in unconscious existential angst. This angst is the driving force of Samsara, the endless, frustrating struggle to fight with or to flight from what is. Our fears make us continuously seek either control or distraction, because truly resting in the present moment would mean coming face to face with our unconscious fears. How long can you be all by yourself before you get the itch to “do” something to distract yourself from yourself or to try to become more than you are?
How to realize our unity with the universe?
Actually, our non-separation with the universe is the most obvious fact. Read any science book and you’ll get the point. However, since in our aculturisation process we were conditioned to fear and mistrust our inner selves and our environment, we are under the spell of illusory separateness from the universe within and without.
Any attempt to unify ourselves will perpetuate the illusion of a separate entity that seeks unification. So, to realize our unity is to see through our illusion of separation. The only way to do that is to convince ourselves that our fears are fundamentally ungrounded.
My advice is this: spend some time alone into nature (e.g. a cave, a monastery, etc.) try out psychedelics (in a beneficial setting, with professional guidance, respect and care!), or, alternatively, seek so hard to unify yourself with the universe (yourself!) until you get the point that “you are riding on a horse asking where the horse is!” (~Ajahn Chah).
Will I ever be able to see through my illusion of separateness?
No, not by any effort from your side. It’s an illusion to ever be able get out of an illusion, because you can never get out from what does not exist in the first place. You were there from the beginning. You are never not IT.
Is spiritual practice relevant?
All goal-oriented practices are ways to try to outsmart the way things are. So, they are inherently non-affirmative to what is and, thus, increase the illusion of separation. It’s like wearing a CIA-shirt when going on a undercover mission. It defeats its own purpose. But spiritual practices do it so consistently that the practitioner may eventually burst into a liberating awakening experience.
Practice is relevant as long as we are under the illusion of separateness. Once we “know”, practice becomes irrelevant (but not necessarily futile, because one could still go on practicing for the sheer enjoyment of practicing).
What is liberation?
Liberation is granting yourself the freedom to allow yourself every experience genuinely, to respect and non-object to it. Liberation is something you give to yourself! It’s the freedom to be ashamed, to be a fool, to be embarrassed, to be angry, to feel sad, etc. By not minding you re-align with the universe and pacify the heart and mind. Or in other words, a liberated being lives completely autonomous, free from social conditioning of “good” vs. “bad”.
So, liberation is not about freeing oneself ideologically or physically from social conventions, but about gaining the ability to move within one’s social sphere without getting “hung-up” on it.
Wouldn’t civilisation fall apart if we all acted genuinely without a control feature?
I think its the other way around. I think civilization is falling apart, because of too much civilization. As we are trained to not attend properly to our emotions, feelings and urges we not only develop the dangerous illusion of a separate self but also act them out in harmful ways. Think of priests molesting children in the name of God, or the general violence against our natural habitat, mother earth.
Our cultures and societies in general deeply mistrust our innermost being. Therefore, it emphasizes the need to control it. But go, get lost in nature and ask yourself this question: has the universe ever produced a mistake? Has there ever been a “wrong” snowflake or a weird constellation of stars? All is happening perfectly coordinated and orchestrated by itself. Why not trust the universe’s intelligence? Or ask yourself the following question: if you can’t trust the universe, the fore- and background of all there is, whom could you trust? You couldn’t trust anybody, not even yourself! So you would have to come up with checks and controls and because you couldn’t trust the checker and controller either you would have to come up with a check for the checks and a control for the controllers, etc. As a consequence, you would never find peace, you would never be at ease. So then, tell me what reasonable option do we have other than to take the risk to trust the universe?
How to quiet the mind?
The desire to quiet the mind is a rejection of the disquiet mind. In other words, the disquiet mind is rendered into a problem. To try to get rid of a problem is to enforce it, because the very trying validates the problem by giving it credit. So, the attempt to get rid of a (psychological) problem by problematizing it is as accomplishable as trying to not see an elephant when you think you see one. It can’t be done. The source of any psychological problem is the thought of a problem. You can never ever not have a problem as long as you think you have one.
How to solve this dilemma? What to do? Do nothing. Do not mind the disquiet mind and it will calm down by itself. Once you realize this, the problem of a disquiet mind ceases to be problematic and will not bother you again.
End of part one
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. To make up for the long wait, I am going to give away everything in this post. All that I know about how to become a peaceful and content person. Luckily, all I know, that is, the gist of all that is said and will be said on this blog (and consequently all that I’ve understood from spiritual teachings) can be summarized in three key insights.
Insight 1: our fears create our suffering
When our ordinary consciousness is nurtured by unconscious fears and general mistrust, we live in a state of subtle anxiety and dis-ease with life.
Some aspects of existence change our consciousness by relieving our fears and foster trust. These aspects we usually call “good”. We hold them high and feel compelled to strive for them (“follow your bliss”). Other aspects strengthen our fears and foster mistrust. These we call “bad”. We reject, dismiss or fight against them.
So, fundamental to the concepts of “good” and “bad” is fear and mistrust.
Concepts create a duality between what is (happening) and what ought (to be happening), that is, between plain reality and conceptual reality. This duality creates a tension in our organism, the subtle anxiety and dis-ease with life I spoke about in the beginning. So, because we hold unconscious fears, we create concepts and because of the concepts we live in duality and dis-ease. To release the dis-comfort we keep struggling for the “good” and avoiding the “bad”, thus perpetuating our dual state and dis-ease. It’s a classic vicious cycle.
The way we usually try to cope with the dis-ease is by trying to change what is into what ought, that is we either fight with or flight from reality. We may try to “cover the world in leather”, that is, struggle to change the whole world according to our ideas, or, renounce the world altogether and seek refuge into a cocoon-like ideal utopian world where everything always goes the way we want it. The important insight is that these strategies will never, ever deliver their ultimate promise because they are completely unrealistic. So, as long as there are unconscious fears, there will be duality and dis-ease. Following these coping strategies only leads to continuous frustration, the sort of rat race many of us feel ourselves participating in.
“The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Do not seek for the truth. Only cease to cherish opinions.”
“Men are disturbed not by things but by the view which they take of them.”
“All ideologies are idiotic, whether religious or political, for it is conceptual thinking, the conceptual word, which has so unfortunately divided man.”
The question “what makes me content and peaceful?” does not lead you anywhere because you are peaceful and content by nature. Ask instead “what keeps me from being peaceful and content?”. You’ll find the answer is fear and mistrust in oneself and the universe.
Insight 2: we cannot overcome our fears (by an act of will)
So, how to overcome our fears and mistrust? How to accept and embrace what is? The truth is, we can’t. As we are trying to overcome fear or trying to accept, we are working under the assumption that there is something wrong with fear or that there is something that is not accepted yet. By doing so, we basically label our fears problematic and reject our non-acceptance, respectively. Instead of embracing what is, we are just deepening the illusion that what is, is a problem. We create more concepts of “good” vs. “bad” and, hence, all we do is strengthening duality and dis-ease.
Acceptance and trust is the absence of the urge to do something about an aspect of reality. It is never something we “do”, but the non-objection to what always already “is”.
We are basically “double-bound”: we can’t get rid of our dis-ease, neither by doing nor by abstaining from doing something about it. We can never relieve our dis-ease, we can only keep it going. In fact, as I have tried to point out, “we” are an integral part of our problem.
So, what we need to learn is to let things be and surrender. Again, as long as we are afraid we will have the itch to “do” (or to not do) something to make our dis-ease go away.
“Stop trying to leave and you will arrive.”
“Your ordinary consciousness is the Tao. By intending to accord with it you immediately deviate.”
“Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough.”
We can’t rationally talk ourselves out of our “hang-ups” because they are induced by irrational fears.
Insight 3: fear is based on the ignore-ance that we are one with the universe
Since we can’t do anything about our dis-ease, how can we ever find peace and contentment? By replacing our fears and mistrust with love and trust.
One way of getting somebody into a consciousness of love and trust is by exaggerating the “double-bind” situation. In this scenario, the spiritual seeker is faced with ever more complex (and absurd) spiritual practices and exercises until (s)he gives up, surrenders, and has a mystical experience (aka a spiritual awakening). The message that this experience powerfully delivers is manyfold: it is now known that the universe is endless, inherently flawless and lacking a specific purpose. More importantly, though, one realizes one’s unity with everything. One sees the universe as it is: one perpetual organism. Thus, the spiritually awakened have a strong sense of feeling at home in the world. And as they do, they will have their irrational (and illusory) fears crumble one by one.
Obviously, this undermines the fundamental problem of discomfort, anxiety and dis-ease. As we start to trust the universe (ourselves!) we automatically drop our judgmental concepts and (re-)align ourselves with our innate being and what(ever) is. We flow at-one-ed with life instead of trying to reject or to push it. We finally become free to be completely ourselves in any situation, which ultimately means that we become free to feel everything, to be vulnerable and open. That way, we find the compassion, peace and contentment we have always been running after.
“Nirvana means extinction of all notions and ideas. If we can become free from them we can touch the peace of our true nature.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
“It is false to speak of realization. What is there to realize? The real is as it is always. When all sanskaras have been given up, the Self will shine alone.”
“The real calm of sages comes from the fact that they are ready and willing to do whatever comes naturally in all circumstances.”
When there is no more concept of “problem”, then there is no more problem! The reason for the problems in the world is that people, because of their irrational fears, create imaginary problems in whose pursuit of solving they mess up an otherwise perfectly balanced world.
Clip from the brilliant movie “A Single Man”: