Readers of this blog know that I’ve been studying Taoism and Zen for quite some time within and without. This time I would like to share the three main practical lessons I learnt from all my studying and observing.
Lesson #1: Life is a roller-coaster
If you observe yourself, your mind and your emotional states for a while you will notice that there never is a “high” that has not been preceded by some sort of “low” some time before (and vice versa). In any cycle, the lower you go, the higher you can get. The explanation for this is very simple: the longer you stay in the dark, the more intense any sort of light will be because our consciousness is very sensitive to contrasts.
If you agree that this rule holds true, then you will easily realise that you cannot always stay “high” (or happy or you name it). When you are bathed in the light, your consciousness will start to get used to it and literarily overlook it. And so the light will eventually be as blinding as the dark.
So the lesson is that there is no use denying or resisting the roller-coaster nature of life. The fools try and thus make the roller-coaster experience dreadful. But the wise develop a flip-flopability, which is the ability to not minding the ups and downs, highs and lows because they know that they constitute life. Without going through the motions, there’s no life! Therefore, they enjoy the ride, like we enjoy the actually roller-coasters.
Lesson #2: Life is two-sided
All actions and decisions have (subjective) pro’s and con’s. There is no such thing as an “ideal” action or decision. Think all your actions and decisions humbly and honestly through to the very end and you will realise the same.
The fools keep looking for the “optimal” or “ideal” life, which only exits because they suppress the con’s of their own actions. Instead they blame others for all miseries in the world and grow hatred in their hearts. They start fights, revolutions and wars.
The wise who know that every coin has two sides, leave others in peace. They kill “the Buddha when they see him” as they know that they themselves create harm too. They focus on the pro’s of other people’s actions and are thus more compassionate with them when dealing with the con’s. Thus they approach problems and frictions with others in a positive rather than a negative way.
Lesson #3: Life is a balancing-act
The world is impermanent. This is plain obvious. Life is the same: it is always changing because of its roller-coaster nature and its two-sidedness. We are forever going up and down, in and out and balance between the pairs of opposites. The way to find peace in this turmoil is simple: full embrace of the “catastrophe” that is life. Nirvana is Samsara fully embraced. The difficulty, though, is that we cannot want to embrace. Embrace is something that happens automatically when we do not resist life anymore. The reason we are not in Nirvana is that we are afraid of letting go into it. Thus we hold on and get dragged along instead of flowing along. So the spiritual discipline is to lose our fears and trust in life as it presents itself in all its glory and all its horrors. Say YES to life unconditionally and it will shout back at you and bestow you with peace of mind.
Encore: Lesson #4: Check your motivation
From time to time check why you are seeking out for and reading stuff like this. Do you want to get “high”? Are you trying to find a solution to your problems? Are you looking for some relief or hope? If that’s the case, something inside of you resists life (that is, what is happening right now). Enquire: what is wrong with “now”? You’ll eventually find out that the only thing that is “wrong” is that you think something is “wrong” because you are afraid of life.
Whenever you think “such is THIS” or “such is THAT”,
You are leaving the middle way.
All conceptual thoughts are intimately connected to their opposite,
And so all thinking is biased by default.
To get attached to thought is to lose the balance;
And to lose the balance is to disalign with Tao, the way of nature.
To remain in thought is to be caught in the dualistic web of the mind;
Forever Yin is emphasized over Yang, and Yang is emphasized over Yin.
There is no way out of this, for “out” is just another thought;
To transcend thought simply cease to take sides.
We cannot help but to think,
But believing one’s thoughts to the point of attachment is a choice.
By dropping out of “this” or “that” we gain our liberty;
By letting go of all fixed ideas about self and other we fall into grace.
Are you ready to pass through this “void”?
The promise is that it is filled with abundance.
I remember it as vividly as if it had happened just recently. One fine day I was walking in the streets unperturbed and without haste when suddenly time ‘stopped’. In a flash of graceful insight, I realized that time was a mere concept, an illusion fed by our social and biological conditioning.
In this post I will try to explain in words what exactly had become clear to me in that instant and the impact such an insight can have.
First of all let’s define time. Time measures a sequence of causes and effects in the interval between two ‘events’. For example, a year is defined as a sequence of occurrences within one interval of the earth leaving and returning to the same position in reference to the sun.
Now, I want you to consider the possibility that the universe is timeless, that is, eternal. What if there was neither a beginning nor an end to it? Yes, there may have been a ‘Big Bang’ that created this particular manifestation of the universe but there must be something that caused it. According to reputable modern-day scientists and ancient Eastern cosmology the universe has expanded and collapsed infinite times before and will go on doing so endlessly. Because there never was a first ‘Bang’, we can’t tell in which ‘Bang-and-Bust’ cycle we are currently in. Since there is no reference ‘Bang’ we could use to tell cycles apart, every cycle is the same cycle in different shape and form. Each cycle is just the furthermost in an endless series of cycles. If we assume an eternal universe, the time must always be the same: ‘now’. Far out, isn’t it? Eternity kills time.
Since there is no time (in eternity), none of this, not your life nor anything else, is actually ever ‘happening’. All that is ‘happening’, is change in this one, endless moment. Again, a ‘happening’/ ‘event’ is something which could be marked on a linear timescale. But without a beginning nor an end, such a scale couldn’t exist. All that has ever ‘happened’ and ever will ‘happen’, is ‘happening’ in this same endless instant. This moment is not a passing phase. There is no progression from one moment to the next. Yesterday, today and tomorrow ‘happen’ in this very same moment, this ‘now’.
Let’s make an example: raise your arm. We could say that time elapsed between these two distinct states of your arm. First the arm was down then there was a smooth sequence of movements of the arm going up and finally the arm was up. Between ‘arm down’ and ‘arm up’ a few measures of time (e.g. seconds) passed. However, from the perspective of eternity all that ‘happened’ was that the timeless, static ‘Now’ (aka Brahman, Tao, Godhead, Void, etc.) simply changed its appearance from one state or ‘configuration’ to another. That’s it. Forms, time and space are all superimposed on an infinite, static context of potentiality. Just like a movie screen can endlessly display things in all imaginable variations, the ‘Now’ can forever assume any imaginable sequence of forms. The famous 3rd Patriarch of Zen, Seng Ts’an, was pointing to this realization when he wrote: “Consider motion in stillness and stillness in motion [then] both movement and stillness disappear”. Motion is in fact embedded in the static stillness of the eternal ‘Now’. As much as the static moves, motion is static. Or in Taoist terms: there is inaction underlying every action (wei wu wei).
Why is the illusion of time an important insight?
Time is the cause of all kinds of suffering. Which is why I like to call it the ‘King of Delusions’. Time creates the notion of finiteness, coming and going, past and future. Such ideas give rise to regret and anxiety, striving and struggle, fear and desire. Realizing that all that ever ‘happened’ and will ever ‘happen’, births, deaths, achievements, successes, failures, etc., are but different ‘modes’ of the very same eternal and infinite primordial ground, stops the minds tendencies to dwell in the murky bondage of the ‘not-HereNow’ of time and space.
When (the illusion of) time is completely seen through we fully realize our essential, eternal nature. We know that ‘we’ never move nor age. ‘We’ are never affected by anything. ‘We’ are never not here. The manifestations ‘we’ can give rise to appear and disappear, but, in the end, they are just actualizations of ‘our’ potential. Because, in essence, ‘we’ are the infinite, all penetrating and everlasting sea of pixels manifesting as the images ‘we’ create. All ‘we’ ever ultimately do is playing an endless game with ourselves without any particular purpose or meaning, just for the sake of playing it.
Once the mind realizes beyond doubt that the eternal ‘Now’ is all there ever is, it strays no more but stays right here, and our very own kingdom of heaven becomes finally fully ours to enjoy.
“The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.”
The Chromatics – Tick of the Clock