One common aspect of the religions of this realm — both western and eastern – is that they all seem to arise based on a dissatisfaction with things as they are, with life as it is, and consequently generate a substantial arsenal of schemes, methods, and strategies in an often desperate effort to escape from this “vale of tears”, as one faith characterizes life on earth. Prayers, meditations, competing therapy programs, and complex rituals of every sort are recommended by the various priests and gurus as remedies to the perceived horror of just appearing here in the first place, and so a pronounced aversion more often than not seems to be the chief form of reactivity to the very fact of human birth.
Ironically, the hard lesson most of us must eventually learn is that running away from the world is a sure way to reinforce the oppressive sense that we are trapped by it, and thus in our failure of balanced appreciation and accurate discernment we prolong an illusory dilemma that, although fueled by the propaganda of religious conditioning, nevertheless has originated and been kept alive in our own mind.
From the moment we entered this arena, we have been taught that we are sinful, diseased, deluded, separated from home, and in need of a lot of salvific help, simply by virtue of acquiring a human body. In fact, it’s typically been suggested that the wisest thing we could do is to get saved, redeemed, enlightened, and basically just get the heck out of Dodge as fast as possible. To that end, our various religious teachers have assumed the role of parent/doctors, diagnosing our presumed illness, and prescribing a life-long treatment regimen consisting of regular doses of their particular holy oil, the secret recipes for which have been handed down from one venerable salesman to the next in what they call the “transmission of their lineage”.
So convincing is the traditional consensus spin about life on earth that very few of us ever stop to question, “Is it true, are we so utterly screwed up that only the most heroic efforts can hope to save us from the great misfortune of mere existence? Are we really patients in need of a cure, prisoners in a jail, sinners in need of a savior, hapless victims of bad karma?”
If we inquire deeply, one thing we can notice is that, to the extent that we buy into the party line rap, the longer we will be destined to wander in a desert wilderness of our own confused design, self-conscious and withdrawn, fearing that we lack the right stuff, and so endlessly searching outside ourselves for it. In the process, we invariably condemn ourselves to the dead ends of perpetual doubt, despair, and unhappiness, convinced that freedom is somewhere else, in the hazy distant future perhaps, or maybe up in heaven, but never here, never now, never already and always the case.
Really? How can that be, one might ask — just look at all the suffering, pain, and evil in the world. How can one accept life as it is, surrender and even enjoy it, with so much trouble and sorrow reflected in the daily news, so much cruelty and disappointment? Honestly examining our own lives, we can easily find plenty of causes for dismay. Conditions here are far from satisfactory, and in fact humanity itself may even be on the verge of self-extinction at the pace we are going, with environmental destruction, an endless parade of regional wars, and the ominous threat of thermonuclear or biological destruction always on the horizon. It would seem that only a blind fool would claim that everything is perfect just as it is, and that we are already happy and rich beyond the grandest imagining. Such outrageous propositions could only come from someone in a state of deep denial, according to the conventional wisdom.
As it so happens, what’s missing from the conventional wisdom is wisdom itself. Instead, the usual view relies on the assumption that we are the body-mind self, and thus subject to its destiny. If that were actually the case, then we would all be facing dreary prospects indeed, for whatever is born must die – that is the law of impermanence – and so even the most valiant efforts to insulate ourselves from that reality are bound to fail, sooner or later. All the treasure we could accumulate, all the pleasurable relations we could establish, all the good stuff we struggle to gain and maintain will ultimately turn to dust, and even the memory of our appearance will fade and eventually dissolve into nothingness. Who then could really enjoy a magnificent sunset, a lover’s embrace, the laughter of children, the lingering finish of a great wine, realizing that it is all so pointless, so fleeting and empty of any inherent substance?
It’s no wonder that religions would come along and preach an aversion to this life, suggesting instead countless avenues of escape and salvation from the implications of our fateful arrival on this challenging stage with all its intimidating props and pratfalls. On the other hand, if we are not really the body-mind self, but merely occupying a dreamed creation in order to enjoy and learn from the amazing varieties of human experiences (in much the same way that we might temporarily identify with a fictional character in a virtual reality video game), then any effort to escape from the game would be rather absurd.
After all, we came to play the game, why then turn and run away from it? It is only through the gift of our momentary amnesia that we tend to take it all so seriously. I say “gift” (although there are many who would call it an impediment) because without the amnesia, the game would have a lot less impact, and so wouldn’t yield the same vivid results of increased levels of awareness about what we are really made of — recognition that can only come from full immersion in the incarnational adventure.
In other words, we don’t require being saved from the game via some human-based religious solution, but simply need to learn how to play the game properly, and that knowledge begins to arise in us when we stop trying to change the game, and instead let the game change us. That’s what it is for, after all – to draw us out of our self-conscious absorption and contraction at the heart, and reveal to us the unconditional love that is at the very core of our true nature and condition.
In the light of that recognition, aversion towards the world is merely another failed strategy that can be released, just like all the accompanying armor with which we have clothed ourselves in our presumption of independence. Indeed, we have never been nor could we ever be separate from our Source (of which we are beloved expressions), except in the trick of imagination which would have us believe that we are some lost and lonesome body-mind self, adrift in a hostile landscape, in need of holy redemption.
With the benefit of clear seeing, how can we not love the world, with all its tender frailty and delicate beauty? In the same way that we rob ourselves of our true being, as Rumi says, if we are eager to be nothing before we know who we really are, so too must we come to respect and appreciate the world before we can ever dream of leaving it.
Still, if we allow such understanding to go to our head, fixating on it there as if it were some final revelation, rather than letting it sink into and open our heart, initiating the living embodiment of the principle, then we have merely added another story to the useless collection of shiny, empty bottles on the crowded shelf of ersatz enlightenment. In this game, everything must go. Indeed, as a sage once noted, one could possess a whole library of spiritual wisdom, and still not have the faintest clue as to who and what they really are.
True liberation from ignorance is not a static accomplishment, nor a goal to be attained by some ego-mind, because it is already true of us from the very no-beginning. Rather, it is an activity first and foremost, the functioning of an inconceivable love that will never abandon the world, regardless of its apparent problems and challenges.
Even though it is ultimately a realm of imaginary playmates, we are drawn by the wisdom of the heart’s call to submit ever more deeply to the loving of this dew drop world, until all sense of separation is seen through and released, and we recognize in full that we are That.
Moreover, we cannot even stop there, nor linger anywhere along the way – a journey which runs on to an immense infinity beyond our comprehension, dropping blossoms with every step, and blessing all without hesitation or regret.
“When you’re deluded, this shore exists. When you wake up, it doesn’t exist. Mortals stay on this shore. But those who discover the greatest of all vehicles stay on neither this shore nor the other shore. They’re able to leave both shores. Those who see the other shore as different from this shore don’t understand . . . Delusion means mortality. And awareness means Buddhahood. They’re not the same. And they’re not different. It’s essential that people distinguish delusion from awareness. When we’re deluded there’s a world to escape. When we’re aware, there’s nothing to escape.”
~Bodhidharma, Wake up Sermon