After so much suffering in Nirvanic castles
What a joy to sink into this world!
People wear silk clothes,
Buddhas dress in rags.
A wooden man walking in the evening,
A stone woman with a bonnet –
For the first time you will see
When you can cup your hands
And pick up the moon as it floats
On the still surface of a pond.
A few years ago I wrote a book called The Wisdom of the Infinite which detailed some of the logic involved in reaching a perfect intellectual understanding of reality. Reaching such an understanding, however, is really just the first step of the spiritual path. It is the easy part. The real business of spirituality involves applying this understanding to your daily life – indeed, applying it whole-heartedly to such an extent that it utterly consumes your existence.
This is the stage where philosophy transforms into spirituality and all subsequent progress is driven by desire, courage and character. It is the stage where terms like “faith” and “gnashing of teeth” begin to have real meaning. It can be a lonely and frightening road, but also one filled with wondrous sights. It is like being dropped into a hostile world which has no interest in truth and one has to fight demons on all fronts – both outwardly in the form of other people and their sheer loathing towards anything that forces them to become more conscious, and inwardly in the form of one’s own hesitations and weaknesses. And then, every now and then, one slips into heaven.
Many people who seek the truth are motivated by the wrong reasons. Their desire for truth is borne out of a disgust of mainstream life and a hatred of the lies and falsehoods which permeate society. Their disgust is essentially a desire to escape. This is fine as far as it goes, as it can take you some way towards the goal, but if it is not sublimated and eventually replaced by a child-like love of truth for its own sake, then there will come a point where you will stop and go no further. For as your intellectual understanding develops and creates distance between yourself and the world, the driving force of disgust will peter out and all you will be left with is a hollow conceptual understanding of things and an impoverished daily existence. The disgust needs to be transformed into love, for only then will you be motivated to push on when the going gets tough. Only then will truth come to life and reveal its countless treasures.
Don’t be fooled by lesser attainments. Set only the highest standards for yourself. Aim for the stars. If you are not experiencing the full nature of the Infinite in every moment – concretely, directly and consciously, in every situation you find yourself in – then you do not really know it at all. That is how you should always be viewing the matter. The whole of God’s nature can be found in a crumpled leaf or a speck of dust if you know how to look. The key lies in having the courage to look.
If you truly desire the truth, then it helps to burn your bridges to the world. If you can extinguish all other avenues of fulfilment, if you can place all of your eggs in the one basket of truth, it will force you to make the truth the centre of your life whether you like it or not. Spiritual success is a product of total commitment. If you can take the plunge and reject the world completely then not only will you quickly find nirvana, but it will save you a lot of unnecessary suffering as well. Kevin Solway makes the analogy of crossing a busy street to get to the other side (where nirvana resides). If you hesitantly venture out a little way and then stop, you will quickly be battered into submission. But if you can stride out with clarity and purpose, you will reach the other side in no time. Then you can take your ease.
Of course, things are rarely this black and white. We are human, after all, and each of us has our own fears and weaknesses. While stepping out onto the road is relatively easy, as one is still feeling empowered by one’s intellectual understanding and everything still looks fresh and new, it is making the decision to go further out into the road, away from the world, away from the human race, which is the challenge. For it means entering a sort of bleak half-way abyss in which one is all alone. Those who enter it find that they are too spiritual to find comfort in the world and yet not spiritual enough to find comfort in nirvana. It is at this point that the lustre of the spiritual path seems to fade, reason seems to lose its power and truth seems to be an empty mirage. Even people with great character sometimes need encouragement to continue on with their journey, and indeed this is the primary purpose of the world’s scriptures and spiritual texts, such as the Tao Te Ching, the Dharmapada, the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospels, Kierkegaard’s writings, etc. They are essentially written for those few who have already reached the very pinnacle of intellectual understanding. Their prime focus is to encourage such people to continue striving for the other side. The great value of these texts is that they can help steel the mind and fan a powerful love for truth.
In any case, enough of the introduction. Time to step out onto the road ….
The phrase “intellectually understanding the nature of reality” essentially means understanding the illusory nature of all things. Again, I refer the reader to The Wisdom of the Infinite for a detailed account of what this is about. But for those of you who already understand the logic of why things are illusory, the next step is to thoroughly break the spell of “objective existence” in every aspect of your daily life.
It has sometimes been said by Buddhist sages that life is like a dream, which is not a bad way of looking at the matter. It is obviously not equivalent to a dream, but it is like a dream in the sense that all we ever experience are appearances. Whether it be the distant stars, the nearby hills, the busy streets, the crowds of noisy people milling around, the molecules inside your body, the thoughts inside your mind – they are all appearances. Even your very own self is nothing more than an appearance.
It is very important to thoroughly understand what this means. There is no denying that the world appears to objectively exist, and for all intents and purposes, it does objectively exist, yet it is easy to see that it is nothing more than an apparition. It is similar to the way the sun appears to rise and set each day. We might directly experience the rising and setting of the sun with our own eyes, so to speak, yet the whole thing is an illusion produced by the rotating earth. It is an experience which is constructed out of our perspective as beings situated on the earth. In the same way, our experience of the world as an objective entity is a mirage generated out of a particular perspective, one that is centred around a belief in the self and reinforced by habit of thought. The objectivity of the world appears real on the surface, but it disappears the moment you begin to approach it.
All things are fundamentally like this. They appear to exist from certain angles, but they are not really there. I have always liked the Buddha’s illustration of this, where he twirled a flame around and around in a circle so that it formed a ring of light. The ring of light certainly appears to exist and can be perceived by observers, and yet it has no existence outside of that perception. As soon as you look more closely at the twirling, you can see that the ring does not really exist at all. It is merely an illusion of perspective. Your very own self is like that ring. You could search for your self forever and you would never find it. For there is nothing to find.
The biggest mistake people make is grasping at the world as though it was real. They are subconsciously convinced that there must be a “bottom line” to Nature, that there is a fundamental realm of reality somewhere, that there is a particular form of Nature which comprises the one true reality. This is ultimately where all belief comes from, whether it be a belief in a particular god, or a belief in scientific atheism. Belief is the arbitrary raising of a particular form over and above all other forms. It is also the essence of insanity.
The word “enlightenment” is sometimes used to mean moksha or liberation, and this is probably the best way to conceive of it. To be enlightened means to be liberated from all forms, all things, all events, all states, all hopes, all regrets, all happiness, and all suffering. It even means being liberated from the truth, from the spiritual path, from all knowledge and wisdom, even from enlightenment itself. In each moment, all of it has to be abandoned. Throw it all away as though it were a filthy piece of clothing. Whatever you think you might have achieved, whatever insights you might have gathered, whatever skills or merits you believe you have accumulated, whatever mystical experiences you have enjoyed, whatever social standing you possess – all of it needs to be tossed to the winds and allowed to disperse. Hold on to nothing whatsoever.
The greatest spiritual practice is to engage in no practice at all. The person who engages in such a practice single-mindedly ensures that his mind never clings to anything and never strives for anything. His meditation is to studiously avoid all forms of meditation. He does not seek any kind of understanding, nor any kind of mystical experience, nor any kind of altered state of consciousness. He does not seek these things because his every experience is already nirvanic in nature. He is already in nirvana. Even the most mundane aspects of his life are full expressions of nirvana. He knows that he can no more leave nirvana than he can enter into it.
The enlightened person is perfectly at home in all realms. He sees them all as equal expressions of ultimate reality. He does not have to enter a particular realm or mental state in order to feel more enlightened. He could travel into the depths of outer space and into other galaxies, or into other universes and dimensions, and yet he would not have moved an inch. He could dive inwardly into the most heavenly of mystical states and experience all that is sublime and timeless, and yet he would feel as though nothing has happened. For him, everything is already complete. And he too is complete.
In order to fully understand and engage in this practice, you need to abandon every preconceived idea of what you think nirvana should be. You must not equate it with any kind of egotistical heaven. Accept nirvana for what it is and forget about what you would like it to be. Nirvana has no form, yet there is never any place where it is absent. It is constantly before our eyes in all of its glory, yet it is impossible to get a handle on it in any way. It has an infinite number of faces and yet none of them can be caught.
So treat everything that you experience for the appearance that it is. Or better yet, treat every experience as a temporary form that only exists in the moment. In this way, you can go beyond the perception that everything is an appearance, for that too lacks objective reality. The whole history of the Universe, with the Big Bang and the formation of the galaxies and stars, and the long, gradual evolution of life on earth eventually leading to the reign of the dinosaurs and the mammals, and then human history with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the Dark Ages, the scientific revolution and the advent of the modern world – all of it is nothing more than a fleeting form that exists in the moment and nowhere else. Break the spell of objective reality in all of its guises and slide into formlessness. Stop seeing yourself as a finite being who is stuck inside a concrete, three-dimensional world. Slip sideways out of existence, as it were, and enter the void of the All which is not really a void. Tune into your unborn nature and truly live.
The most important aspect of this practice is constancy of application. Moment after moment, day after day, do everything you can to be aware of your formless nature. No matter what the situation is, or what you are doing, or how you are feeling, or who you are talking to, make it your highest priority to constantly think of the Infinite. Try to avoid the habit of confining such a meditation to your spare time. It is relatively easy to think of the Infinite when you are alone and not doing anything else, but the real test comes when you are in the midst of the world and its distracting situations. That is when you should redouble your efforts and really apply yourself. The more you can think about God in those situations the more powerful your overall practice will be, and even your quieter times will become more fruitful. It is all about building up a head of steam and maintaining the momentum, and this requires the discipline of single-mindedness. It is like using a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays in order to set fire to a piece of paper. If you are constantly stopping and starting, or waving the magnifying glass about, you will never succeed.
The definitive sign that one is enlightened is when one is able to see into the nature of reality with an instantaneous application of will, without any need to engage in laborious mental processes or having to solve philosophic problems. And this can only be achieved when you become intimately familiar with the ins and outs of nirvana, when you know it like the back of your hand. This is the great prize of spiritual expertise. It is only at this point that the real benefits of truthful living start to emerge in terms of perfect freedom, utter certainty, pure spontaneity, fearlessness, immeasurable peace, and so on.
While the ultimate spiritual practice is to engage in no practice at all, sometimes you do need to engage in other practices in order to keep the mind focused. The practice of no practice can be difficult to sustain throughout the day, particularly in the early stages. It is easy to become distracted and lose sight of what needs to be done. It is a bit like experiencing narcolepsy, in that one often slides into unconsciousness of reality – that is to say, back into ordinary consciousness – without even realizing what is happening. And then twenty minutes later you suddenly wake up and only then do you realize that you have been fast asleep all that while! When this happens – as it will, again and again – all you can do is write the whole thing off as the workings of karma and climb back into the saddle once more. There is no point in recriminating yourself over such lapses. They will invariably happen. It is better to look to the future, vow to improve, and move on.
One way to keep the mind focused is to exploit your ego’s instinctive desire for happiness and use it to direct your attention to the All. For example, you can train your mind to view every aspect of Nature as an artistic masterpiece. It is easy to see that everything is immensely beautiful in an aesthetic sense. The colours, textures and sounds of even the most mundane things in life possess a sublime beauty if you know how to see it. Most people block out this beauty because they are so caught up in their daily worries, but there is no reason why you should be trapped in misery like them and go around being cranky at everything. You are well within your rights to experience the magical beauty of reality in everything that you do. It is an excellent way to find joy in the All and help free the mind from worldly attachments. All it takes is a little time and practice until it becomes second nature.
I have found through experience that many people who embark on the path to enlightenment are afraid to enjoy God. This relates to the earlier point about being motivated by the wrong reasons – namely, by disgust and anger, rather than by love and joy. A lot of people become too caught up in the crassness of the human race and the dire situation of modern society, and they waste their lives loathing everything, including themselves. This is surely the height of stupidity. To hate something, whatever it might be, is to hate Nature itself, for Nature is the root cause of everything that happens. People are essentially flawed robots, as far as this matter is concerned. It is not their fault if they grow up with lots of bugs in their programming. If an opportunity presents itself to engage in some debugging, then fine. Go for it. But it is not your responsibility to worry and fret over the outcome.
A genius is able to shoulder the responsibility of the world and work diligently for the sake of other people’s welfare, yet for him it is no burden at all. Freedom and lightness is his default state of being. So give up all your cares and keep your mind in the Infinite. Don’t be afraid to enjoy God. Indeed, it is very important that you learn how to flourish in your infinite nature and take delight in it. It will make you a far better teacher in the long run.
In everything that you do, treat each moment as though it were the very first moment of creation. Beginningless time and the present moment are the same. There is no before, and no after. Everything is as it should be – utterly pure and innocent. We literally live our lives in the Garden of Eden. What is there to fix?
Another example of an exercise you can do involves making love to everything that happens. You can even mentally verbalize this love, if you want. Sometimes, I like to walk around the place and mentally affirm my love for everything that I see. “I love the way that piece of paper is crumpled up like that”, or “I love the way that tree is fluttering lightly in the breeze”, or “I love the way all that hair is growing out of that man’s ear.” This might seem like a corny thing to do, but using words to mentally verbalize such practices can help concentrate the mind and lock it into the right attitude. It is not unlike the way writing can help crystallize your thoughts and bring them into greater clarity.
Another exercise involves affirming the truth that everything is literally your self, simply by reversing or subverting habitual thought. For example, you can view the world as your body, and your body as the world. See how the distant stars are as familiar as the freckles on your legs, while the blood coursing throughout your body and the synapses firing inside your brain are as alien as the stars. The wind rustling through the trees is your consciousness moving. The thoughts appearing in your mind are like the clouds which appear in the sky. A loud noise erupts and the heart beats faster. A decision is made in the brain and the world changes. Where exactly is this boundary between self and other!
In any case, these are just a few examples of what can be done to keep the mind focused on the All. I am sure there are countless other exercises you can devise. Feel free to be creative. Experiment and improvise. Try not to settle into any one kind of practice, though. Mix it up. Always be alert, intelligent and flexible. Learn to read your moods and adapt your practice accordingly.
To recap ….
If you are planning to cross the road, then do it whole-heartedly. Burn all of your bridges and escape routes and go at it as hard as you can. Generate the momentum needed to reach the other side. This momentum will be your greatest asset during that bleak period when you are neither part of the world, nor part of nirvana. Use your ego against itself and exploit its desire for happiness by seeking joy in the All. Be intelligent and creative with your practices and ground them all in the core practice of no practice. Keep doing this day after day after day.
In the end, the whole spiritual path to enlightenment boils down to belief. Not in the sense of blindly accepting articles of faith, but in the sense of having utter conviction in the truth. You really have to believe, with the whole of your being, in what you know to be true. Intellectually, you know that everything is nirvana. So believe it. And keep believing it, over and over, all the time, no matter what the situation. If you can apply this belief in a sustained manner, you will find yourself on the other side of the road in no time. Indeed, you will find that there has never been any road in the first place.