The Sense of Lack and the Master Game

“I tell you, there’s no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack?”

 ~Rinzai (Linji Yixuan)

I had always heard that, if one were to embark upon a spiritual path, it would be most advantageous to seek out and find an enlightened master — one who would know what being enlightened is all about, and in turn would be willing to guide me to the attainment of such a desirable state. Consequently, for varying lengths of time I found myself involved with a number of such purported characters, usually based on their reputation, books they had written, or other secondary sources.

For many years I never stopped to thoroughly examine, much less deeply question, my primary motivation for the search. All the spiritual literature claimed that enlightenment was the way to go, so I was willing to put on the blinders and jump right in. As a result, there was always an idealistic element to my efforts, and in turn a lack of any real inquiry. I could have stepped back at any moment along the way and turned the spotlight around to inspect what it was I was really looking for, but there was a tacit, fearful suspicion that if I were to do so, it might be like pulling a thread on a sweater that would lead inexorably to the unraveling of the garment itself. This in turn would throw my whole life strategy into doubt, and that was too frightening a prospect to contemplate, at least until it became obvious that all my seeking was actually comparable to a dog chasing its tail.

Various melodramas and lessons ensued, as they do regardless, and in the midst of it all, “Help” was always available. It is not the immediate consolation one might expect, however. Indeed, sometimes it might seem like just the opposite. Truly, we need look no further than our own mirror, but if we are not scrupulously honest with ourselves, and instead rely on external authority figures to determine our path, then we will never awaken to who and what we really are. On the contrary, we will be condemning ourselves to wallow in an indefinite state of dependence, like children who are never able to grow up and stand on their own two feet.

I had to discover, sometimes the hard way, that the role of the teacher is to point back to the student’s true nature, which is exactly the same as the teacher’s true nature. If the teacher is pointing in any other direction, especially to themselves in a self-aggrandizing fashion, than that is an immediate reason for suspicion.

Life in all its variety is perpetually offering us a cornucopia of gifts and teachings, but they may not necessarily be what we would have asked for, given our conditioned preferences. In fact, they might often appear to be some sort of painful tribulation. Only the discerning heart can recognize them for what they are — opportunities to grow and deepen in awareness. The fabulous conductivity of this human appearance is the mysterious benevolence of the One who is living us now. We assume such benevolence would be an agreeable thing, but that conditional presumption might be reconsidered when “push comes to shove”. Even calling it “benevolent” or “grace” is adding something extra. It just is what it is — Life as it is. Nor does it need to be other than it is, except in the imagination fueled by desire, hope, and fear.

Comparative mind always wants something it doesn’t seem to have. Whatever the current situation, it wants things to be other than they are — brighter, shinier, fuller, more agreeable — and so suffering, dissatisfaction, and stress are born, granted a reality, and then perpetuated. In reality, there has never been anything truly lacking, but mind likes to imagine, until imagination becomes the habitual response to experience, superimposing layers of interpretive fantasy onto the innocent simplicity of raw life itself.

So, what is it that persists in dilemma, compelled by a sense of lack? What is the accumulating momentum of compulsion that drags one relentlessly from blossom to blossom, thought to thought, life to life, even as each fragrant flower eventually shrivels and withers in the hand that would try and grasp its petals? What drives us out of Eden, what motivates the search, but the compelling sense of lack, of insufficiency?

From birth, it appears that we are dependent on some external food source, without which we cannot survive. As we grow, we find ourselves dependent on people, objects, and events in order to get by and thrive, and so it is natural that we would come to regard ourselves as needy, and by our very nature lacking the necessary self-sufficiency required to prosper in the spiritual arena. After all, there is a deeply hardwired aspect of our genetic make-up, in which reliance on some Alpha-type leader is a necessary component for tribal success. It is part of being a human animal.

Consequently, it is totally understandable how we would then transfer that sense of physical dependence and neediness to the assessment of our spiritual condition, conflating the two, and granting reality to the assumption that we require a good measure of external support in order to realize our destiny in that respect. For example, consider the common meme of the Priest who is elevated to the role of mediator between the human and the Divine. At the extreme end of the spectrum, there is the “perfected” or “enlightened” Master who arrives on earth to guide aspirants to a level of salvation that would be otherwise inaccessible to them if left to their own devices. In some religions, a god-like status is granted to such exceptional individuals, requiring various rituals of reverence and worship.

Of course, it is true that we live in an inter-dependent universe in which everything relies upon everything else for its origination, and indeed very existence. However, the danger arises in subsequently concluding that we ourselves are lacking in some essential quality necessary to realize our true nature, and so must rely on others of a supposedly superior spiritual status to enlighten us. This is how so many sincere but naive aspirants get lured into and then trapped in the “Master Game”.

There is no question that a qualified guide can be extremely helpful along the way. For example, they can save us from wasting time and effort on dead ends that have already been tested and recognized to be merely distracting detours. Nevertheless, if they do not direct us back to ourselves, they are ultimately doing us a disservice. They are binding us to reliance on them, rather than pointing us back to our own prior and true freedom, of which we have never actually been lacking. As the Sage Nisargadatta remarked:

“In reality nothing is lacking and nothing is needed, all work is on the surface only. In the depths there is perfect peace. All your problems arise because you have defined and therefore limited yourself.”

No second-hand method, practice scheme, or remedial strategy can result in liberation, since liberation is not an acquisition, but a recognition of that which has always been the case, even as we chase our tails running after teachers and masters. In that regard, the great Adept Dilgo Khyentse summed it up well when he said:

“The everyday practice . . . is just everyday life itself. Since the undeveloped state does not exist, there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond what you actually are. There should be no feeling of striving to reach some “amazing goal” or “advanced state”. To strive for such a state is a neurosis which only conditions us and serves to obstruct the free flow of Mind. We should also avoid thinking of ourselves as worthless persons – we are naturally free and unconditioned. We are intrinsically enlightened and lack nothing.”

A true “Spiritual Friend” will always turn us in that direction — to the recognition of our own true nature, condition, identity. Indeed, to find such a one who wants nothing other than to support us in our own awakening to the truth of our being, and who also has the depth of wisdom to quicken that process, is a rare blessing!

And what is that truth which has always been the “case”? We are free, powerful, immortal spiritual beings who enter into the playgrounds of human incarnation as a way to become increasingly self-aware of who and what we truly are, throughout all the dimensions of this magnificent dream of the Great One. We are in fact That One, expressing Itself through the infinite forms of each unique creation that we momentarily represent as apparently individualized beings. The role of the Master is to serve us in coming to the recognition that the real Master is none other than ourselves, and that we have never for one instant been lacking anything. Then their work is done.


“The real work is in the Heart:

Wake up your Heart!

When the heart is completely awake,

it needs no Friend.”


see also:



About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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12 Responses to The Sense of Lack and the Master Game

  1. rahkyt says:

    Such a salient topic, always requiring further thought. You never know who might need it and read it no matter how many times it is said or written by however many “Masters”. I thought for a long time that I needed a Guru. Until the Great Gathering. LOL Bless, bredren.

  2. Sri Ramana Maharshi: The sadguru (the Guru who is one with Being) is within.

    Questioner: Sadguru is necessary to guide me to understand it.

    Sri Ramana Maharshi: The sadguru is within.

    Questioner: I want a visible Guru.

    Sri Ramana Maharshi: That visible Guru says that he is within.

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    “Don’t give up your authority over your own spiritual life. Take responsibility for shaping it. Shape it consciously and with attention and respect for yourself. It’s your journey: no one else can say what the best route or the best speed is for you. Only you know that. Only you.”
    ~Natalie Sudman

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    M: There is nothing to gain. Abandon all imaginings and know yourself as you are. Self-knowledge is detachment. All craving is due to a sense of insufficiency. When you know that you lack nothing, that all there is, is you and yours, desire ceases.

    Q: To know myself must I practise awareness?

    M: There is nothing to practise. To know yourself, be yourself. To be yourself, stop imagining yourself to be this or that. Just be. Let your true nature emerge. Don’t disturb your mind with seeking.

    Q: It will take much time if I Just wait for self-realisation.

    M: What have you to wait for when it is already here and now? You have only to look and see. Look at your self, at your own being. You know that you are and you like it. Abandon all imagining, that is all. Do not rely on time. Time is death. Who waits — dies. Life is now only. Do not talk to me about past and future — they exist only in your mind.

    ~from “I Am That”, Nisargadatta Maharaj

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “This is just your life. So you do your part, and the rest is clear. It is clear because there has never been anything lacking, despite any beliefs you might have, despite any ideas you might have. There has never been anything lacking.”

    ~Elihu Genmyo Smith

  6. Freddy says:

    Thank you Bob!

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “There is no such thing as riding the coat-tails of an enlightened being to enlightenment itself. A failure to understand this can lead (as so many have been led) to cultish fanaticism, fundamentalism, magical thinking, disappointment, disillusionment, and/or spiritual infancy.

    While it is understandable that many people project their unresolved parental issues, relationship issues, authority issues, sexuality issues, as well as God issues onto their spiritual teacher (and are sometimes encouraged to do so by unscrupulous spiritual teachers), it is essential to understand that a spiritual teacher’s role is to be a good and wise spiritual guide as well as an embodiment of the Truth that he or she points toward.

    While there may be deep respect, love, and even devotion to one’s spiritual teacher, it is important not to abdicate all of your authority over to your spiritual teacher or project all divinity exclusively onto them. Your life belongs in your hands, not someone else’s. Take responsibility for it.”


  8. Bob OHearn says:

    From Anita Moorjani’s website:

    “A few days ago, my husband Danny and I were relaxing at home watching a movie we had selected from an online movie rental site. It was a fascinating movie documenting the life of a prominent and well-known contemporary self-help guru. The movie was filmed by his son, and made in the style of an expose, revealing a much more human side of this world-renowned guru. Although it may have surprised some viewers to see their beloved guru portrayed in this light, I actually found it to be endearing. It was fun to see him glued to his BlackBerry, spending his days tweeting updates to his followers instead of being in meditation, focusing on the present moment, or to discover his coffee addiction when he advocated a pure Ayurvedic diet. To me these traits just made him more real as a human being.

    Danny and I chuckled all the way through the film, which was both well made and entertaining. He then turned to me and said with his mischievous grin, “I know! How about I make an expose about you?”

    “I’m hardly a guru, so I don’t have far to fall!” I said, “And what are you going to expose about me? My fetish for shoes and purses? My love for all things chocolate?”

    “Exactly!” he said. “And I’ve even got a name for the movie! We can call it “Dying to be a Diva!” I burst out laughing at this, and although the idea really was funny, I said, “Thankfully, I think everybody already knows these things about me, so there won’t be much to expose!”

    Although we were kidding around, this movie and the conversation that ensued got me thinking about the perception of gurus in our culture as a whole. I started thinking about how we place those we revere, such as spiritual teachers, on a pedestal and give them super human qualities. However, by doing so, we are actually placing a huge responsibility on them and sometimes this responsibility is unrealistic. A good question to ask ourselves is: “Are we likely to get disappointed when we find out that they actually have very human desires and needs, and are not really all that different from you and me? Can we accept that they actually have the same vulnerabilities and weaknesses as the rest of us?”

    On the flip side of that, what if you were to discover that in actuality, we also all have the same level of “guruness” within us, but have just never allowed our inner guru to express itself? Perhaps we have simply been conditioned not to listen to our own inner guru, but instead have been encouraged to listen to authorities we believe are superior to us, and to give our power away to others outside ourselves. Perhaps because we give our power to them, we place them on pedestals and see them as having qualities that are superior to our own.

    I believe that one reason we do this is because we believe that “spirituality” is something that needs to be attained, and that we need to work at it by transcending the ego and becoming detached from the material world. In a way, this attitude has become a type of dogma, a set belief taken as a given because it is so prevalent in our world.

    However, from my experience in the NDE realm, I learned that nothing could be further from the truth. We transcend our ego and the material world only when we die and leave our bodies. But as long as we are alive, breathing, and expressing through a physical body, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for those around us is to engage in life fully, embrace who we are, and express ourselves authentically. To me, being spiritual, and being ourselves is one and the same thing!

    There is nothing wrong with seeking out teachers. Sometimes that is the best way to grow and learn. But since we are always learning from others, in truth, we are all teachers and students at the same time. This means that we are all gurus as well, because guru is just the Sanskrit word for teacher.

    I believe that our purpose is to be who we came here to be, and live life to the fullest—and if for some that means tweeting and drinking coffee, then all power to them. Most of us take “spirituality” too seriously and try to make it something separate from our everyday life. Life would be so much more fun if we lightened up and realized we are not flawed or in need of fixing! We are beautiful, magnificent beings. We don’t have to work at being spiritual. In truth, we are already spiritual, whether we realize it or not, whether we are meditating on a mountaintop, or sharing a delicious chocolate dessert with our best friend or lover.”

    – Anita Moorjani

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