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.
The universe makes most sense by not making much sense.
As its purpose is to have no particular purpose,
It has infinite creative potential.
It moves as it stays and stays as it moves.
As change is its only constant,
It remains forever the same.
It has always been going on without going anywhere.
As it has never started and will never end,
Time does not apply to it.
It gives rise to all pairs of opposites.
And as the source of everything,
Nothing exists apart of it.
You are neither its puppet nor its master.
These ideas are based on self and other,
But such separation never took place.
There is only all-self which is all-other,
Forever re-creating itself out of itself.
We are IT dreaming we are other.
Now, wake up.
The juice of life is in the dream.
The last post was concerned with a gradual approach to dealing with the seeking mind. It was explained that the seeking mind can be exhausted to such an extent that a permanent resting place in ‘what is’ (right here now) can be found. In this post, however, I would like to introduce the possibility of blowing the seeking mind by engaging it in paradox. (In no way I want to suggest that this latter, more sudden approach is better than the other, more gradual one. In fact they complement each other rather nicely)
The way we are hardwired to experience reality through our minds is in terms of pairs of opposites. Left or right, good or bad, black or white, etc. The founding fathers of quantum physics were the first Westerners to scientifically discover that our normal ‘either/ or’ approach to reality was somehow not how it really seemed to be. In a series of famous experiments they proved, for example, that two opposite outcomes could be simultaneously true or untrue. It was found that the occurrence of one or the other outcome was based on a probability distribution that only collapses into a definite event at the time of measurement.
While creating a lot of uproar in the scientific community of the West, this new paradoxical ‘both/ and’ / ‘neither/ nor’ view of the foundations of reality was nothing new to philosophers of the East. The scientific findings reflected what these philosophers had been saying for millennia: the mother of reality is paradox, a field of potentiality. There are no opposites, dualities, there is only paradox, non-duality.
It is rather straightforward to see why non-duality/ paradox is a more ‘realistic’ representation of reality than what our minds make us believe. All pairs of opposites are co-dependent and, thus, inseparable. We can’t talk or think about one without implicitly referring to the other. ‘Left’ only makes sense in conjunction with ‘right’. Hence, all opposites are actually two sides of the same coin, superimpositions on the ‘One’ reality. From this ‘One’ reality the ‘Many’ are created in our discriminating minds by means of establishing pairs of opposites. The mind is like a prism that breaks up the ‘One’ light into the ‘Many’ colors of the visible spectrum.
Let’s have a look now at some pairs of opposites that Eastern philosophers found to be exquisite mind-blowers when understood in terms of paradoxes (‘both/ and’ or ‘neither/ nor’) as opposed to opposites (‘either/ or’):
Form and Emptiness
From an Eastern philosophical standpoint this is probably the most important pair of opposites that needs to be transcended in order to understand reality how ‘it really is’. It is the ultimate mind-blower. No wonder it is most prominently featured in the most revered Mahayana Buddhist Sutra, the ‘Heart Sutra’ where it says that ‘Form’ is ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Emptiness’ is ‘Form’.
What it points to is that ‘Emptiness’ is the substratum of all ‘Form’ (which is a placeholder for the world perceivable by the senses). ‘Emptiness’ is the field of potentiality that manifests/ is actualized as ‘Form’. ‘Form’ is actualized ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Emptiness’ is potential ‘Form’. Just like the ocean is the substratum or the potential to manifest/ actualize as the waves, ‘Form’ and ‘Emptiness’ are inseparable and, thus, ‘One’ (and the same).
This ‘One’ is both, ‘Form’ and ‘Emptiness’ simultaneously. Or stated differently, since ‘Form’ and ‘Emptiness’ are inseparable, this ‘One’ is neither ‘Form’ nor ‘Emptiness’. Again, read slowly: since it is both, it is neither. This ‘One’ is all that ‘is’ and, hence, there is no ‘other’ in reference to which it could be defined. It (whatever it is) can never be grasped by the mind. If we seriously try, though, we need to prepare to have your minds blown.
Subject and Object
Any notion of a subject depends on a sensory object: if there was no sound, smell, touch, vision, taste nor mind-objects (thought, memory, imagination etc.) there would be no notion of a subject, just bare existence/ being. The notion of an object on the other hand is dependent on a sensing subject.
Object and subject arise in co-dependence: without objects, there is no subject and without subject there are no objects. Fundamentally, thus, object and subject must be ‘One’ (and the same) like wave and ocean, completely inseparable. There are neither subjects nor objects but only this ‘One’ perceiving itself by itself.
Cause and Effect
It is pretty straightforward to understand that every effect has a cause: something is pushed, it moves. Cause, however, also depends on effect. Every effect causes new effects just like every cause causes new causes. To assume that causes do not depend on effects would imply that causes can be uncaused, which is illogical. Eastern philosophers, thus, no not believe in the ‘Big Bang’-Theory because it assumes an uncaused cause to initiate the ‘Bang’. Rather, they have been saying that all that happens is (and has always been) the cause of all that happens. Effects cause themselves. Cause and effect are completely intimate, inseparable, ‘One’ (and the same) and, thus, there is neither cause nor effect. The only constant in the universe is perpetual change, impermanence. The universe is ‘One’ cosmic dance, always in flux.
Life and Death
Due to the perpetual changing nature of the ‘One’ universe, the minute a ‘Form’ manifests it irrevocably starts its process towards ultimate de-manifestation. Death depends on life. On the other hand, Scientists have discovered that the amount of energy (the potential for change) in the universe is constant. Hence, new ‘Forms’ can only manifest when other ‘Forms’ de-manifest. Life also depends on death. Life is the prerequisite for death and death is the prerequisite for life. Life lives on itself.
The cycle of life and death is but the perpetual change of actualization in the ‘One’ field of potentiality. Just like the wave does not go anywhere different to where it has always been when it sinks back into the ocean, life and death are fundamentally inseparable, two seemingly distinct aspects of this ‘One’ reality and, thus, there fundamentally is neither life nor death. There is but this ‘One’ constantly changing its appearance, destructing in the name of creation, creating in the name of destruction.
Here and There
Space is that which is in between two (or more) local reference points, a ‘here’ and a ‘there’. If all is but this ‘One’, though, there is no ‘other’, which means that this ‘One’ has no definable range or border. It is infinite. In infinity there is no center since from any local point of reference the ‘One’ stretches out infinitely in all directions. If everywhere is its center, locality does not exist in this ‘One’. All local points are effectively in the same (no-)place. Everywhere is always ‘here’. And because of that, this ‘One’ is spaceless.
Now and Then
Time is the succession of changes between two reference events, a ‘now’ and a ‘then’. If all always has been and forever will be but this ‘One’, there has never been and there never will be any succession of events in this ‘One’, because there has never been and there will never be something ‘other’ than this ‘One’. Although its appearance may change, fundamentally all there eternally is, is this ‘One’. It is always ‘now’. And because of that, this ‘One’ is timeless.
Samsara and Nirvana
Whatever we perceive, we experience ‘Emptiness’ manifest as ‘Form’. Every emotion, sensual perception, thought or memory: we are constantly experiencing the ocean in the form of the waves. Just like the waves are no impediment to sense the ocean, our experiences are never in the way to sense this ‘One’.
If samsara is the confrontation with ‘what is’ from a perspective of separateness, nirvana is the unconditional acceptance of (all!) the waves because they are known to be the ocean. It is the realization that all there ‘is’ is no-thing but this ‘One’ (without an ‘other’) which extincts all dualistic notions. Nirvana, therefore, is the extinction of itself. Nirvana is ‘this’.
The ‘divine’ union, as reported by the mystics of all spiritual traditions, is reconciling the opposites in the paradox that no-thing exists (in and of itself) because all is ‘One’. All is always and everywhere fundamentally inseparable from this ‘One’. There is neither ‘Form’ nor ‘Emptiness’, subject nor object, cause nor effect, life nor death, time nor space, samsara nor nirvana. Any notion of duality is an act of ignorance towards the fundamental reality of this truthless ‘truth’.
To conclude, let me reiterate that opposites (and their expression in the form of words) are conceptual abstractions and superimpositions on this ‘One’ which have the power to create an apprehensible ‘reality’ where fundamentally there is none. Since what has no distinctive features can not be understood, though, the only way to realize this ‘One’ is through the pairs of opposites. The ‘gateless gate’ to the noumenous is reached through the transcendence of the world of phenomena.
Nobody will ever be able to grasp what this ‘One’ is because it is so completely self-sufficient, self-entrenched, self-contained and self-instituted that it does not allow for an outside perspective to uncover its mystery. The mystic, thus, having once and for all blown his seeking mind remains silent, and awed in not knowing.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”