“God is in himself so exalted that he is beyond the reach of either knowledge or desire. Desire extends further than anything that can be grasped by knowledge. It is wider than the whole of the heavens, than all angels, even though everything that lives on earth is contained in the spark of a single angel. Desire is wide, immeasurably so. But nothing that knowledge can grasp or desire can want, is God. Where knowledge and desire end, there is darkness, and there God shines.”
~ Meister Eckhart
Wisdom reveals that the appearance and disappearance of all phenomena constitute an interdependent functioning of one dreamy universal totality – Consciousness Itself. Within this Consciousness, a quality of individuation appears as singular form, an apparent independent entity manifesting with the separate self-sense that is the common experience of every born being.
Prompted by this sense of separation, or individualization, the moving mind of desire is spawned. Desire in turn serves to confirm and reinforce that separate self-sense, creating an endless loop of craving and aversion, and along with it, the story of “me and mine”.
In a nutshell, this is the core of suffering. What the Buddha noted 2500 years ago is as true now as it was then. The alternating cycle of craving and aversion, or love and fear, leads to attachment, to clinging or fixation, which is the root of dissatisfaction, stress, suffering. Moreover, this drama will continue to re-capitulate itself in endless variations on the same theme, compounding itself in an entanglement of energetic interactions with all the complexity of a vast spider’s web.
Furthermore, we live in a world of “others”, and that is pretty much undeniable, based on the so-called “objective” evidence. We arrive in this world and find ourselves in association with and dependent on others, and so a dilemma arises (otherwise known as “self-interest”, the womb of craving and fear). In the course of this adventure, the complications of relationship define our sense of separation, and in turn feed the mind of desire – the desire that circumstances and conditions be different than they are, the desire that life conform to our will, or the desire that it all ends, all the apparent strife of born existence itself.
Desire births strategy, schemes, methods, and goals. All religion, politics, and personal relationships are permutations on the fundamental strategy — the satisfaction of desire. However, experience demonstrates that these strategies don’t really work, and thus we suffer. No strategy has ever satisfied desire, and even the temporary pleasures one might attain only serve to inspire the demand for more: more bliss, more stuff, more experiences, more, more, more — life after life, devoted to the pursuit of what can’t be satisfied, can’t be grasped.
Why? Because nothing lasts, nothing can be clung to for long. Whatever appears in all of the dimensions and realms of experience is smoke-like in its essential impermanence. It all slips away. Even the most thrilling passion, glorious vision, intense orgasm, the most blissful ecstasy — it all fades, and we are left with a lingering thirst, a chronic sense of dissatisfaction and disconnection embedded within the independent self-identity.
So, what’s love got to do with it? Well, what most of us regard as love turns out to be simply another name for desire, since it generally implies a duality of subject and object — hence, the acknowledgement of distance, otherness, separation and the consequent search for the imagined relief of idealized union. In other words, love is co-opted into just another figment of the search, even though the motive to love and be loved, when liberated from the need for self-confirmation, is as true as it gets on this human stage.
Alternately, the philosophically minded may resort to an intellectual effort to dis-identify with the projection of a separate self-consciousness. However, since the contraction is rooted in the subconscious, such efforts merely create an experience of the concept of freedom, rather than the direct realization of it. Moreover, they may feign a kind of immune aloofness that would lift them above and beyond the grosser manifestations of the suffering heart, but even this is simply a variation on desire — the desire to be free of desire and all the messiness associated with mortal existence.
At the root of our perpetual seeking, what is it that we invariably want? Upon thorough investigation, it might be recognized that what we really want is to finally be free of wanting, free of the ache a of unfulfilled desire, even to be released from the stress of consciousness itself. And yet, do we ever encounter anyone free of wanting, any lover, philosopher, or spiritual aspirant? Aspiration itself is a form of embodied desire – the search to have things be other than they are, the yearning to have one’s perceived reality be more comprehensively aligned with some arbitrary idealism born of dissatisfaction with life and relations as they appear.
The magnificent Nityananda Bhagavan, an epitome of divine evolution in human form in the last century, told his devotees that he would forsake taking his final Samadhi and continue in his physical body if even one among them could stand before him, honestly free of desire. Nobody could, of course, and thus he shuffled off this mortal coil that day.
When the implications of our inevitable failure to attain lasting liberation from desire become frankly undeniable, the struggle itself reveals its inherent futility. No distraction has the power any longer to obscure our fundamental sense of boredom, doubt, and discomfort. The emptiness of all options and alternatives we could employ has become obvious. Nothing really works.
Paradoxically, this can be a very auspicious moment. As Siddharameshwar Maharaj remarked: “The bored and the indifferent are on the verge of leaving the lure of the temptress Maya behind, no longer swayed by her shiny attractions. They are on the verge of waking.”
Here, in what has been termed by some mystical writers “the dark night”, we have become disinterested in the seductive propaganda of this world in all of its guises. For the first time, a space of free attention becomes available in which a mysterious and transformative power called “grace” can operate.
At such a momentous juncture, the endless narrative of seeking and desire can be directly understood, seen through, and even released. As it is brought into the clear light of awareness, the contraction that has dominated our existence and spawned every scheme and strategy for liberation is rendered increasingly obsolete.
When the blinders that have obscured the recognition of our true nature finally drop away, we discover that our resistance to life has dissipated, and we begin to open like a flowering blossom. At last, something clenched and restless deep within can soften and come to genuine blessed rest. The war with ourselves is nearing its end. With a mighty exhalation, we can relax and just let go.
At that moment of insight and realization, we are no longer compelled to try and force life to conform to our will, no longer moved to cling to or cherish beliefs, forms, or phantasms. We are no longer inclined towards any artificial scheme of attainment. Life happens by itself, and we recognize that we are not other than this life. Opening our eyes, we see that same life pulsing through everyone and everything. It is obvious. We are being lived.
Everything is being lived. We are not in relationship — we are relationship itself — relationship with no limit, no boundary. We are not in conflict with desire. We are not in conflict with ourselves. We are the activity of Love Itself. We begin to recognize our presence here as Love’s Play, embodied in the form of ourselves and our relations. As co-creators, we can begin to take responsibility for our behaviors, once we cease our habitual identification with empty self-images.
In the process, what we can notice is that the stress that has plagued us was not spawned so much by desire, but by fixation. When attention fixates, life comes to a standstill. It ceases to flow. We become seduced and then paralyzed by some fanciful image of ourselves in a mirroring pond, like Narcissus, and so become trapped in identification with the activity of grasping for the desirable and avoiding the undesirable. Such activity leads inevitably to attachment, fixation, and thus the whole chain of causation is set in motion, producing the inevitable dissatisfaction and suffering that obscure our native happiness.
We find that it is not desire and the enjoyment of life that is the source of the problem. Rather, it is the primal contraction born of mis-identification that binds us. Clinging, attachment, fixation – these activities create identification with a separate self-sense. This is how consciousness is tricked into the trap or illusion of suffering.
One potent antidote to such self-imposed distress is the practice of non-dwelling. What is non-dwelling? It is the persistent refusal to fixate attention on any passing thought form, any potential object of desire, or on any provisional self-image believed in need of confirmation, preservation, or validation. Working with the practice, we can notice how the sense of concrete and independent personhood becomes more and more transparent, like a thin cloud briefly floating through a sky of endless blue.
In that practice, we observe how we are always trying to grant a reality to that which is not actually real, and furthermore, we recognize how we have unconsciously and habitually been clinging to that sense of independent and enduring self, taking it to be who and what we are. By staying with the practice, the feeling of solidity of the “person” becomes increasingly suspect, and conversely, as it does so, the knot at the heart is able to loosen and uncoil.
The great 8th century Chan Master Hui Hai gave this succinct summary (in his treatise on “The Essential Gateway to Truth by Means of Instantaneous Awakening”):
Q: Whereon should the mind settle and dwell?
A: It should settle upon non-dwelling and there dwell.
Q: What is this non-dwelling?
A: It means not allowing the mind to dwell upon anything whatsoever.
Q: And what is the meaning of that?
A: Dwelling upon nothing means that the mind is not fixed upon good or evil, being or nonbeing, inside or outside, or somewhere between the two, void or non-void, concentration or distraction.
This dwelling upon nothing is the state in which it should dwell; those who attain to it are said to have non-dwelling minds — in other words, they have Buddha-minds!
Going hand-in-hand with non-dwelling is inquiry into the whole edifice of self-interest. Just who and what is this “self” at the matrix of desire and fixation? Upon honest and sincere inspection, what is revealed is a collection of thoughts, memories, sensations, and impulses, all strung together on an imaginary clothesline of “I”, and yet empty of any actual concrete and continuous “person”.
As the sage Nisargadatta Maharaj notes: “When you happen to desire or fear, it is not the desire or fear that are wrong and must go, but the person who desires and fears. There is no point in fighting desires and fears which may be perfectly natural and justified; It is the person, who is swayed by them, that is the cause of mistakes, past and future. The person should be carefully examined and its falseness seen; then its power over you will end.”
In fact, the whole conceptual designation of personhood can be recognized at last as a provisional mental superimposition, an interpretive fantasy with no inherent substance. Amazingly, there is nobody there. There never has been. All along, there has only been this activity of desire, of expansion and contraction of consciousness, of interweaving thought energies sprung from the interaction of various causes and conditions, all playing out as Love Itself against a background of timeless and motionless Awareness.
In such direct recognition, there is a deep letting go, a lasting relaxation and true peace at heart. We realize that desire has created the body, and all that appears simultaneous with it. Desire fuels the perfect functioning of the universal totality, producing the infinitely modifying expressions of the manifest and un-manifest cosmos. How could desire be other than love? Only love could emerge from the womb of the pure Source, of which all the flickering realms are but quicksilver reflections flashing in vast emptiness.
Like babies born with an innocent glow, it is only through conditioning programs of human greed, envy, hatred, and ignorance derived from fixation and attachment that our natural innocence is twisted and distorted into the myriad forms of suffering that infect this poignant prison world of mad children.
Originally, all desire is love’s radiance shining existence into the wispy forms of birthed light we are — traveling without moving through an enormous dark, a Saturday Night in timelessness, all bundled up in our longings, thoughts, and memories, which are themselves but twiggy kindling to warm us during the icicle winter of desire’s death.
It’s been said that a death in the snow is difficult at first, but not unpleasant towards the end. Just so, when the thoughts finally burn out, desire is happy. It is a happy death, to die back into the Source of mind, of love — the aware space, the Heart. We need not fear such a death, we can welcome it with open arms, for it is nothing more than dropping off a tattered old costume, and running naked and free like a child with the wind!