In his 1958 classic “The Philosophy of the Buddha” Prof. Archie J. Bahm analyses the most ancient Buddhist scriptures (“Sutta” and “Vinaya Pitakas”) and suggests that during his 40 year career as a teacher the Buddha only taught one single universal Truth: unfullfilled desire causes frustration and the rejection of frustration is the source of suffering. According to Bahm, all other teachings including the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path” must have been later added to the philosophy by “other minds” due to misunderstandings of what the Buddha was trying to convey.
Now, you may ask, what is so hard to understand about the fact that unfulfilled desire causes suffering? By digging into the problem of desire more closely one easily understands why.
If the cause of suffering is unfulfilled desire, the solution to the problem must be to stop desiring. Simple as that. Simple? Not quite. Basically there are two ways of stopping desire: one either gets out of sight of the objects of desire (seclusion) or one tries to beat desire (asceticism). However, neither of these two approaches really work as the Buddha found out for himself during his pre-enlightment spiritual seeking. On the one hand, some basic desires such as food and sex are not extinguishable as long as one is still human. On the other hand, the desire to stop desiring is still a desire, just a more subtle form of it. So, it is impossible to willingly not desire, because that would be a desire! Furthermore one could argue that stop desiring is not even really desirable as desires provide motivation and fulfilled desires provide satisfaction. By creating emotions, desires are life-affirming.
So desire, when not fulfilled, provides frustration. Stopping desire, though, is life-negating and actually impossible. Not so simple, is it? This is were the genius of the Buddha comes in. He discovered the “Middle Way” between desiring and desiring not to desire. Here is how it goes: if we always desired exactly what we are getting, we would always get satisfaction and the sensation of being alive. Or in other words, if we always accepted everything AS IT IS (within and without), which includes the suffering, we would be free from suffering and live in joy.
Hold on, you may say, how can one accept everything without desiring to accept everything? Of course you are right, accepting without desiring to accept is impossible. Whenever you want something, you desire it, and since trying to not want is also a desire, the attempt will cause endless frustration and suffering. It’s like trying to relax a muscle by forcing it to relax. It just won’t work.
Nevertheless, there is a way the get into the “Middle Way”. It’s a paradoxical way, though. Once the desire to get into the “Middle Way” (or any other desired state) is completely broken, one automatically falls into it. Again, because this “break” cannot directly be achieved by will-power, the way “there” is to either completely exhaust the will to get “there” by trying as sincerely and forcefully as possible (remember the Buddha had his sudden enlightenment at the moment of renouncing 7 years of hard-core asceticism!) or by thoroughly realising by other means that the YOU has no power or control over the process of accepting or desiring. The former way is nowadays practised in Zen (e.g. with “koans”), the latter in Advaita (“SELF-realization” aka “there is no YOU”). Both, the exhaustion of the will or “Self-realization”, leads to a surrender to WHAT IS, which paradoxically, yields exactly what one was desiring to get but what one actually prevented from getting by the very desiring (or desiring to not desire) to get it!
Now, to make the long story short, the surrendering to Samsara (the world AS IS) is the way to Nirvana (desiring WHAT IS). Samadhi is the complete willingness to accept the actual as the ideal. The crux, though, is that surrendering cannot be achieved by the individual (“ego”), one has to be pushed into it, as it were, by some sort of grace in the form of will-undermining insight(s).
Finally, why does Prof. Bahm conclude that this is the only Truth that the Buddha taught? First of all, the Buddha was concerned with one thing only: the cessation of suffering. According to the records he stated this very clearly. Then he discovered that the only solution to the problem of suffering lies in surrendering to the present moment (WHAT IS). So, everything that was not concerned with the present moment like concepts of the past (e.g. “karma”) or the future (e.g. “reincarnation”) or any other metaphysical speculation (e.g. the question of the “soul”) he did not deem helpful for solving the problem of suffering. Therefore in the ancient texts the Buddha never answered any questions of that sort. He neither denied nor affirmed these concepts. For the Buddha in the oldest scriptures, the existence or non-existence of metaphysical entities and ideas simply did not change the fact that to end suffering one had to come to surrender to whatever IS in this very moment no matter what the cause or effect of this present moment was. By implication, this also means that as long as one’s ideas lead one to align one’s desires with WHAT IS, any “Truth” would be as good as another.
For the very same reason the Buddha also refrained from stating anything idealistic or from proclaiming any sort of higher virtues (e.g. he never idealised a monastic lifestyle or compassion). Whatever IS is to be surrendered to to end suffering. That is the full story of the teaching in the old texts. All else, including all methods and “Paths”, must have been added later by disciples not fully understanding the full depth of “whatever IS” (on the other hand, though, one could easily conclude, that all Buddhist methods and concepts must have been created to completely frustrate the seeker and/or make him experience his lack of power to get to Nirvana in order to bring him to the very brink of it).
Additional personal note: the old-school philosophy of Buddha portrayed here can be criticised for the lack of moral outrage at the obvious evils like cruelty in the world. If one, for some reason or other, though, cannot surrender to the present-moment because of its monstrosity, and suffers as a result of it, one could still surrender to the non-surrender and the suffering, and therefore transcend the suffering. Hence, accepting “whatever IS” is not fatalistic. One can have an (unfulfillable) desire for a world without cruelty and not suffer, if (s)he can surrender to the frustration of this unfulfilled desire.
This little conundrum also explains the difference between before and after getting into “surrendering-mode”. “Before” one suffers over one’s frustration and because of that one starts suffering over the suffering, and suffering of the suffering over the suffering, etc. Suffering creates a downward spiral, a grip, if not surrendered to. “After” one may be frustrated (because of one’s unfulfilled desire) but one does not suffer over the frustration because the frustration is accepted. The spiral of suffering stops right there.
Furthermore, allthough I think that many of our desires actually stem from our fears and insecurities I see the Buddha’s point in not being concerned with the causes of desire, as the causes could be indefinite. Instead he went right to the immediate solution: accepting whatever IS includes one’s suffering caused by one’s fears. Quite smart the guy…
I have lived with a depressed person for a while. And although I have only personally experienced mild forms of depression, my friends illness clarified a few things for me about the nature of suffering which I would like to share with you out there.
First of all, what is a depression? For me, it is the painful sensation of life’s “pressure” due to a person’s inability or incapacity to flow with it. Life happens but the person resists, tries to desperately hold on as (s)he does not accept the impermanent nature of life. And this resistance to life is what manifests as suffering as it creates contraction in the body-mind, shuts the depressed person off sensually from experiencing the wonders of being alive and sucks him or her out energetically.
If you read my blog you know that my mantra is to say “yes” to life, to first understand it and then accept it. The reason for resisting (saying “no”) is always rooted in fear and fear is rooted in misunderstanding life. We usually find it easy to understand the “positive” aspects of life but we completely misunderstand the “negative” and so our fears and our resistance arises (I call our tendency to resist and clutch “ego”).
So what is it we do not understand?
We think the “positive” is independent of the “negative”. As we take a stroll in the woods we may be enchanted by the beauty of nature ignoring the fact that “behind the scenes” organisms are continuously fighting for survival. But the beauty of nature precisely hinges on the principle of the survival of the fittest. If you say “yes” to nature but “no” to the darwinistic principle you are being contradictory and will be hopelessly confused about life. Same applies to human qualities. If human beings had no means of being aggressive, we would not be here now capable of enjoying the world. Let’s face it: whatever exists has its place and makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Everything (including the “positive”) is the way it is, because everything (including the “negative”) is exactly the way it is. Or “this is this, because that is that”, as the Buddhists say.
Because we fail to see this interdependence we think that the “positive” and the “negative” are engaged in an epic battle against each other and that the “positive” can (and must!) win. This is the oldest story ever told. The quest to get to this place where the “good” will permanently prevail within (e.g. new-age “enlightenment”) and without (e.g. “heaven”). But that’s an impossibility because the “positive” can never take over the “negative” as they depend on each other. Like one side of a coin can never take over the other. Hence, trying to win this battle will forever frustrate us. It can’t be done. Life is the whole works, it includes light and darkness. For how would we define “good” if we could not contrast it with “bad”? The sense of darkness gives rise to the sense of light and vice versa. Eradicating something must ultimately eradicate its opposite as well. Take away one side of a coin and you don’t have a coin anymore. So, as we go on tackling this futile task of seeking “heaven” while rejecting “hell” we roam in the cycle of suffering that the Buddhists call Samsara (consequently, thus from a Buddhist standpoint even the angels have not transcended Samsara but are only temporarily in heaven). Hence, depression is another word for being very tightly stuck in Samsara.
Sometimes, though, being stuck is part of the way forward. The spiritual literature abounds with people having awakened in midst of a depression as they got so exhausted that the tendency to reject the flow of life (“ego”) just stopped. In these situations the biblical statement “thy will, not mine” reveals its deeper meaning.
To conclude, some wise words from the Buddha, the first systematic psychologist in history. His whole teaching can be summed up as follows: as long as we are too ignorant to notice that everything continuously arises and passes away in mutual interdependence, we are caught in grasping and rejection which leads to endless frustration and suffering.
Let things be and you have arrived.
This is the last Q&A part (for the time being)…
What do you mean when you say “we are enlightened by nature”?
When there is fear we see the world through the veils of Maya, the great illusion of separateness. When fear is absent, the veil is lifted, and we see the (same) world through our Buddha-eyes as it really is. So, enlightenment is nothing that can be achieved. It is the falling away of fear.
How to untrap myself from the ego?
You see, the trap and what is trapped are basically one and the same thing. It’s called the self or ego. That’s why “we” can never untrap ourselves. To try to untrap ourselves is to trap ourselves by believing in a trap from which we can be untrapped. The only thing that will help, is to realize that the self, the trap, only “seems” to exist separately but in reality it is a hallucination. This undermines any urge to do or to not do anything to untrap ourselves and, voilá, we will realize that we were never trapped. It was all an illusion.
What is the Buddha’s method to gain enlightenment?
Buddhism is a dialectic process. That means, one does not need to believe in dogmatic statements or follow any rules. The method is a dialogue between student and teacher. The process starts with a departure point, usually a problem. Now, the master will try to make the student intuitively grasp that there is no solution to the problem, because it is illusory. There are several techniques to do that but all have one thing in common: that the student is encouraged to persist in trying to resolve the problem intellectually or experientially until (s)he knows by himself that it can’t be resolved because it never existed.
Is humanity crazy?
Humanity is not crazy but ignore-ant of its oneness with what is and, thus, irrationally fearful of itself and its environment. That’s why Western man seems to keep getting busier and busier. The more he tries to escapes what is, the busier he gets escaping. The faster he hurries, the slower he goes.
If nothing can be done to enlighten oneself, what is your teaching?
The teaching is to undermine the illusion of “something to get” because the urge to seek it is what keeps us in bondage.
Tantra or renunciation, which method is better?
Both methods work because neither renunciation nor indulgence will bring you peace. But if followed to their respective extremes, you may realize just that and consequently be free.
What’s the problem with self-consciousness?
Self-consciousness is a feedback mechanism. It is the self being conscious about itself. The idea of self and consciousness, experiencer and experience, is the foundation of duality. Duality means that there is an (apparent) entity and there is what this (apparent) entity experiences. The more self-conscious we are, the more we feel to be a separate entity “having” experiences. Any feedback loop works like an amplifier. In this case it amplifies our illusory separateness and thus our fears.
Alan Watts once said that being conscious of oneself is like hearing your own ears due to a Tinnitus. Any organ ceases to work smoothly when it gets in its own way. It then becomes the potential source of all kinds of problems and hang-ups.
If that example does not make sense, think of a situation when you just seemed to “flow” with life, even if it was just for a short time, when there was no “you” being conscious about yourself. There was no duality, just what is, moment by moment, a sort of oneness of experience and experiencer. Or in the words of Zen-master Dogen: “to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things”.
From what has been said it could be argued that the development of self-consciousness marks the “fall of man” as portrayed in the bible (knowledge of good and evil, introduction of shame, etc.). Does that mean, though, that we should strive to perpetually go with the “Truth” of “flow” experiences and “forget” about ourselves? Even if we could (which I doubt), my answer is no. Just as self-consciousness is the source of suffering, it is also the source of great joy, gratitude and appreciation for life. How would you know that you are happy, if you ceased to be self-conscious? Could you be grateful for life if you ceased to know you existed? To wholeheartedly stay with one leg in the “dream”-world of separateness is what makes life worth living. This is the teaching of the middle way. Separateness is samsara is nirvana. If we dropped out of the “dream” completely, we would cease to have a genuine human experience. That’s hardly what we want. Wouldn’t you agree?
Many Yogi’s are saying we should stop thinking. You say we shouldn’t mind our thinking…
When the Yogi’s refer to thinking they mean the conceptual, evaluative, judgmental function of the mind under the spell of Maya (the illusion of separation invoking fear). This sort of thinking is the source of the duality of “right” vs. “wrong”, “me” and “other”. By realizing non-duality, this comes to a halt, and there is no more minding of anything, not even our “ordinary” thinking.
Often the Yogi’s are misunderstood, though. We think they suggest to stop thinking altogether. That would be like trying to stop our blood from flowing; it can’t be done and it mustn’t be done.
“The goodie-goodies are the thieves of virtue”. What’s that supposed to mean?
The quote is from Confucius. It means that prescribed virtue is never genuine virtue. It is a form of hypocrisy which leads to inner conflict if not acknowledged. It also often brings about a “must-save-the-world”-attitude in people as the inner conflict is projected onto the outside world.
History tells us that “righteous” wars are always the longest and most brutal one’s (think of religious wars, or ideological wars like WW1 and WW2, etc). If one fights for the “good” it is easier to mobilize people and justify the means of war. The road to hell is indeed often paved with good intentions.
Is money “bad”?
Money is stored energy. You do something and as a compensation for the efforts you get this thing called money that can be exchanged for other people’s efforts.
Money is not something that can be experienced. You cannot touch, smell, see, taste or hear it. You can only see a number on a screen or a sheet of paper or cloth representing money. Money is not real, it is a symbol.
Symbols have the power to impoverish peoples lives. Symbols are lifeless, have no “soul” (because they have no experiential value). Thus, if we worship a symbol, turn it into our “God”, we, ourselves turn into lifeless zombies.
Wealth is appreciating what money can be exchanged for. If we don’t trade money for experiences, we have no wealth. To worship the symbol is to miss what it stands for (that’s what Buddha meant when he said that “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon”). Money stands for wealth and wealth is (the experience of) being alive. So, money is not bad per se. But it is often mistaken for what it is not: a source of life in itself.
Ok, I am not doing anything anymore. I stopped seeking. Why am I not enlightened?
You still want to get it by trying to not get it. You are still seeking. Seeking means expecting results for your actions. You are deceiving yourself.
I am a mess. Will enlightenment settle things for me?
So, you’ve found out you’re a mess. Congratulations! You’ve already come a long way. Now, there’s an important last step to make. Ask yourself: what’s the problem with being a mess? Is there really a problem with being a mess or could it be that you only think it is a problem? Who says what is normal and what is messy? Have you ever seen a messy arrangement in nature? Or is nature beautiful exactly because it is not orderly and not all similar? You see “enlightenment” is not getting anywhere else or being anyone else than where and what you already are. There is nothing to be gotten out of it but the abandonment of our illusions.
How does non-objection and activism go together? They seem contradictory…
Non-objection is not becoming irresponsible or stop caring about the world. Non-objection is an internal alignment with what “is”. This alignment bestows peace. From this place of peace, activism is actually much more effective because it comes from the heart as opposed to from the mind. What does that mean? Activism which tries to change the world is usually ideological and, thus, from the mind. It purports ideas which are supposed to make the world a “better” place to live. But all ideologies create winners and losers, just as there is no action which is purely “good” or purely “bad”, ever. Activism from the heart is concerned with action to alleviate suffering of those who can’t handle it (anymore). It is not concerned with ideas on how to make suffering go away altogether. That’s a subtle but very important difference. If you want to make suffering go away, you are trying to do the impossible, to find a way of “winning” without “losing”. Thus, you keep yourself and all your followers in the wheel of samsara, the endless struggle to always stay up without ever going down.
Which level is real: the relative (personal) or the absolute (impersonal)?
There are no two levels of reality! This separation never took place other than in our minds. The only reality is “this” that you are now experiencing. What you can think of is conceptual and never real. That’s the whole teaching of non-duality in a nutshell.
What do you mean by “unknowing”?
Imagine you knew you were so intimately and seamlessly connected with the universe that you were in fact no different from it. And imagine you knew that the universe is the totality of all there is (without exception). How could you know anything about the fundamental nature of the world for certain? That which is everything cannot be identified, classified, observed, measured, etc, because there is no other, outside this totality, who could perform these tasks on it. It is the primordial and eternal (non-dual) subject-object. So, it completely defies logical analysis.
The universe as a whole will forever be ungraspable, just like the eye can’t see the eye. Whatever is said about it is speculation. What is it? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Does it have a purpose? Since we are the universe, there is nothing we definitively know about ourselves (our Selves!) either. This is the final frontier, the end of knowledge (“veda” = knowledge; “anta” = end) short-circuiting all seeking.
Your teaching implies an autonomous “I”. But there is no “I” who is doing anything!
What do you mean there is no I? IT is I, and I am IT. That’s why we talk of “non-duality”: no difference between I and other. To say there is no “I” would suggest there is only “other”. Everything is “other” is only one side of the coin of “Truth”. The other side is everything is “I”.
To realize that the “I” is not as real as we used to think is a good starting point, though. The great sage Ramana Maharshi outlined a three-step approach to non-dual realization:
The world is unreal (~the “I” is unreal)
Only Brahman is real (~awakening to the Absolute)
The world is Brahman (~the “I” and the Absolute are one and the same)
All seekers get stuck at level 1 and level 2 for some time. First we need to leave the relative level of reality to be open to awaken to its opposite, the absolute level. Finally, the journey after awakening takes us to consolidate these polar concepts. Non-dual realization is to know that these levels are not different. Never have, never will be. They are one and the same, because there is nothing apart from the totality of “this” reality. Separation never took place other than in our minds. Even to speak of “non-duality” is delusional because there never was a “real” duality ever! Wake up!
By the way, the “there is nobody home” and the “nobody is doing anything” kind of talk is sometimes called the “Lucknow disease” (named after the place in India where modern advaita “guru” Papaji used to teach) or the “advaita shuffle” (jumping to the absolute level at odd times).
What’s your opinion on “direct pointing” exercises? Do you think they are futile?
The direct pointing approach tries to facilitate the intuitive experience of a very simple point: there is no individual person separate from the stream of consciousness. The sense of personality is a function of consciousness just as hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, feeling and thinking is. At the same time the approach tries to clarify who “you” actually are. The “real” you is something which can’t be experienced or pinned down for the same reason the eye can’t see itself: the source of measurement can never measure itself (in the absence of a reflecting device like a mirror that feeds the measurement back to its source). The fact that there is measurement, that there is seeing, implies a measuring source, an eye. So, the “real” you can never be experienced (or known) because it is that which makes experiencing possible. But the fact that there is experience implies that a “real” you (whatever it is) exists. So, all you can ever know is that you exist because you exist. I am that I am. Full stop.
All “pointing” then ultimately points to this: you are fundamentally that unknown thing which enables/ activates/ vitalizes everything. The social role you are playing in the game of life is not you, it is a mask (that by biological default cannot be removed but only glimpsed through occasionally). This insight is what “individuation” (as understood by C.G. Jung) is all about: you are not your social role, your mask, so don’t take it so damned seriously. An individuated person takes himself lightly and thus has an elevated sense of being. Or as D.T. Suzuki said “Satori is like an everyday experience, only two inches above the ground”.
Now, whether the pointing approach actually works or not, I have my doubts. As you try to realize the absence of a “you”, all you accomplish is a strengthening of the sense of you. Have you ever managed to relax by willingly trying to relax? All your trying will ever do is to prevent relaxation from happening by itself. You are getting in your own way. Thus, in my experience finding the trust to give up control is key to realization, not intellectual exercises in finding nobody (which in a way, though, could be seen as a method to get into your own way so consistently that you eventually give up and finally let “you” go).
What is your take on quantum mechanics, matrix, evolution of consciousness, etc.?
If you like to play around with these things, go ahead, entertain yourself. They won’t get you any peace, though. I am always amazed by all these complicated new-age theories. The “Truth” is so simple and yet everybody comes up with so much complicated stuff about it. Instead of reading about these things or watch endless Youtube videos, go out for a walk. It’s all always there in front of us. There is nothing “hidden”. Fact is that we can’t acknowledge reality as it is, as long as our selves feel threatened by it. You see, seeking “more” or “different”, is always an expression of fear, of not “good/ safe enough yet”.
Even if they claim otherwise, new-age theories are based on ignoring the unity of all things. What’s there to improve, develop, enhance, practice, etc. if we knew that we were that which is everything, which by definition is immaculate (because it has no opposite)? The benefit of traditional spiritual practice (like meditation) is that once we shut up for a while, be on our own and make our fears conscious, these new-age theories become completely obsolete. I guarantee you that if you actually had the guts to sit on your own for a few weeks or months, you would come to the same conclusion, that new-age is seeking for the sake of avoiding. Why eat candy when you can get a good meal?
What’s your message in a nutshell?
All is well, but our fears and insecurities suggest otherwise. The way to deal with our fears and insecurities is to look at them and to realize that a) they are ok, and eventually, b) they are based on an illusion.
Any last words?
Once you know you are god incarnate, you can relax and finally allow yourself to be a genuine human being. And once you allow yourself to be a genuine human being, you stop struggling to become a god.
End of Question & Answer
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
When the great American mythologist Joseph Campbell in 1955 visited living Advaita sage Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon in India, he had one burning question for the master in mind. Having studied Indian mythology thoroughly for years, he struggled to reconcile the messages of God’s glory in the vedic hymns with the apparent horrors of the ordinary world. How could we say “no” to brutality, stupidity, vulgarity and thoughtlessness if, according to the Vedas, all was a manifestation of the divine? The master’s answer blew Campbell’s mind. “For you and me”, Krishna Menon replied, “the way is to say yes”.
For most people such an answer would be plain stupid or, at best, naive. They would argue that this supposedly Indian sage was telling them to become cowards by avoiding friction and conflict, or, they would expect to be thrown around and crushed by life if they ceased to defend themselves.
What Sri Atmananda was pointing to is, of course, exactly the opposite to cowardice. It takes a truly heroic stance to say “yes”, for every “no” reflects our unacknowledged fears that trigger conditioned, reactive patterns, collectively known as our ego. At the root of our ego and all our psychological suffering is an array of “no’s” that are heavily encased by unconscious fears. For the sages and masters of all times, thus, spirit-uality was about cultivating a warrior spirit towards our fears, turning our “no’s” into “yes'”, thereby transcending our ego (obviously, from the point of view of our ego, developing such a spirit feels like a terrible mistake which is exactly why spiritual training is so darn challenging).
When we say “no” we act and react from an unconscious place of fear. Fear is what drives the brutality, stupidity, vulgarity and thoughtlessness that Joseph Campbell saw manifested in the world. When we transcend fear and say “yes”, however, the range of possible actions and reactions broaden immensely. After saying “yes” we can still say “no”, but we will be able do so from our “Buddha-Nature”, that is, in a more open, creative and compassionate manner because our being is not gripped and bound by fear. A spiritually mature person can, thus, utter paradoxical statements like Ram Dass when he said that “suffering is part of the plan of it all, and suffering stinks”.
To reach such maturity in (warrior) spirit, non-dual teachings are great tools. When we realize that all is this ‘One’ (or ‘God’) we lose all objection to the various facets of life, whether they ‘stink’ or not. It helps us realize that not only joy and peace is what characterizes life, but also the suffering that comes with it. “All life is sorrowful”, is the first Noble Truth of the teaching of the Buddha and when he is depicted as sitting in the immovable spot in the hub of the wheel of life, he is not immune to life’s pains and sorrows since the hub is still a part of the world. He accepts the seemingly contradictory polarities of life as an integral part of life, as a manifestation of this ‘One’ Absolute reality that includes every single thing. He knew that when we can unconditionally say “yes” to all existence, we indirectly also say “yes” to this moment, this eternal “Now”. And it is in this “Now” that all the Buddhas before and after him have found their liberation from pain and sorrow.
What the enlightened masters ultimately teach us is that if we don’t know how to wisely relate to the “dark side” of existence, we are not fit for the full experience of life, since whenever we keep aspects of the world out we keep ourselves out of the world.
“My formula for greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different. Not merely bear what is necessary but love it.”
In this post I would like to share with you a list of 7 short and succinct masterpieces of non-dual philosophy. While each of these texts takes less than 20 minutes to read, they can take up to a lifetime to understand. Hence, they are true classics, good in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end of a spiritual ‘journey’. Enjoy!
Sri Atmananda (Krishna Menon)
Faith in Heart-Mind
10 Ox-Herding Pictures
What short, classic texts would you have selected?