“Spiritual maturity is being ready to let go of everything.
Giving up is a first step, but real giving-up is the insight
that there’s nothing to be given up.”
When most of us embark on our idea of a “spiritual” path, we invariably tend to turn it into a kind of self-improvement project. We say, “Well, there is Buddha, Christ, Krishna, hovering in enlightened bliss, and then there’s this messed up little critter — me. I have a lot of work to do!”
Based on such typical assessments, the comparative mind projects a formidable chasm between the shining legendary characters on one end of the spectrum, and this miserable, endarkened ego on the other end, and consequently becomes attracted to hopeful strategies and promising formulae that would bridge that gap and propel us to a similar exalted status as those idealized figures in the holy stories that religion regularly offers us.
This project entails a classic struggle – an internal battle to transform oneself and become holy, free, happy, fulfilled, better. In identification with all that appears undesirable about our self, we feel weighed down by the burden of our “sins”, and come to believe that, if we could only rid ourselves of these faults through prescribed practices such as prayer, meditation, fasting, study, pilgrimage, celibacy, chant, and close proximity to “higher” beings, we could be happy, realized, saved, loved, liberated.
In reality, this scheme doesn’t work. The mind cannot be used to free itself from itself, despite monumental efforts. Sometimes those efforts may be necessary to realize the utter futility of any effort, but regardless, sooner or later it will become obvious that all the efforts will always fail to achieve the desired result.
There is, of course, a good reason that they do not work. When we try to pin it down, the very self that was believed in need of salvation, awakening, and enlightenment, cannot actually be found. Why raise your voice to try and stop an echo? All along, we’ve been trying to modify a phantom, a completely fictional character, composed of bundles of thoughts and memories, but with no inherent and enduring substance. Sri Nisargadatta sums this up succinctly:
“Think for a moment: who is thinking in terms of transformation, changing from one state to another; in terms of self-improvement? Surely, it is nothing other than an appearance in consciousness, a character in a movie, an individual in a dream — a dreamed pseudo-entity considering itself subject to the workings of Karma. How could such a dreamed character ‘perfect’ itself into anything other than its dreamed self? How could a shadow perfect itself into its substance? How could there be any ‘awakening’ from the dream, except for the dreamer to re-solve the true identity of the source of the dream, the manifestation?”
If we take up various “spiritual” techniques, methods, or remedial schemes based on the notion of improving this self (as me), we merely become more entangled in the narrative of the “me-story”. Any effort, mental or physical, only reinforces the illusion that this self can become enlightened. It can’t. It is a thought-complex arising and dissolving in the limitless ocean of Awareness.
That fictitious entity we believe ourselves to be when we assume the role of “aspirant” does not somehow perform certain practices successfully enough to finally arrive at Awareness. Nothing leads to Awareness. Since we are already Awareness, to what can we be led? Nothing needs to be changed or improved in Awareness, which is already and always perfect as it is.
As the great Thai Forest teacher, Ajahn Chah, suggests: “Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”
In the course of turning our attention to its root, and simply being aware of being aware, rather than chasing after any mere modifications of consciousness, what may occur is a sudden flash of insight that has nothing to do with the conceptual mind or separate self-sense. Our true nature, the aware space in which all thoughts, emotions, memories, and self-images appear and disappear, suddenly “wakes up” to Itself.
What is critical to understand here is that the “me” does not suddenly have a realization. In fact, that conceptual designation is what disappears in the midst of true re-cognition. This revelatory flash of true identity is completely beyond the claims of “me and mine”. In such Awakening, all of the self-improvement projects are rendered utterly pointless, since the one we have taken ourselves to be — the “seeker” — drops away in that moment of Seeing.
When the implications of this Recognition finally sink in, the whole momentum of the struggle begins to collapse in on itself, and what we are left with is a kind of natural acceptance. When we are no longer committed to a war with it, we find that we can accept this life, just as it is, and in that forgiving acceptance, come to welcome whatever appears without compulsive grasping, clinging, or avoidance.
The contemporary American teacher Adyashanti spoke to the issue of futile self-improvement struggles when he wrote:
“All of your life you have been taught to do, to strive, to effort. You have been sold a self-improvement plan. You have been conditioned to believe that you are the body and the mind. All of this is a reflection of ignorance. It has been the blind leading the blind. The truth of your being is openness. It needs no practice, technique or manipulation to realize. Who you are is free, now! Who you are will not become free or liberated at some point in the future; who you are is liberated, now! Stop all doing and be still. Let the fire of stillness burn everything and reveal That which is openness.”
In such openness, we gradually notice that everyone and everything is included in this welcoming embrace — not based upon an ideal of love, but anchored in the very clear recognition that loving is the only possible response to life that truly satisfies the heart and returns us to the peace that is our natural and native condition, prior to the adventure of seeking.
We can surrender trying to be “knowers” (and the fear that not knowing once implied), without imagining ourselves to be some problem in need of a final solution, and without the guilt-filled need of purification, restoration, re-distribution, or transmigration to a superior metaphysical plane. In fact, despite our warts and bumps and goofs, we can be happy.
When we are happy, Buddha is happy, Christ is happy. Our happiness is no different than theirs. All the sacred scriptures, texts, and philosophies become superfluous — superfluous to our own prior happiness, our own immense heart, in which the whole world is lovingly reflected.
When we come to rest in the slipstream of total insecurity, complete not knowing, then we become a demonstration of that possibility in the midst of the haunted restlessness that humanity shares in common.
Such deep resting transmutes the inner conflict into creative life force – it was the struggle all along that merely distracted and complicated life’s natural flowing energy, dividing itself against itself in futile efforts to grasp itself, to hold on and not let go, even unto death.
The death of that struggle is the birth of Love, unconditional Love. Unconditional because it is not bound by destiny or contrived design, it is free, selfless real Love, submitted to this dying into life without reluctance or regret.
Yes, at last we can face our own death – the death of fixed belief, of idealistic hope, arrogant pride, the death of poisonous reactivity, the death of any identification, any self-image, any perceived or conceived limitation on our infinite nature, and all in order to demonstrate for each other the Principle that is not touched by death, not touched by impermanence.
This is the perfect service we can render to each other — just being what we are. That is enough. It has always been, and will always be, enough.
“Be just what you is, not what you is not.
Folks what do this is the happiest lot.”