“Letting everything end means to stand in the moment completely naked of attachment to any and all ideas, concepts, hopes, preferences, and experiences. Simply put, it means to stop strategizing, controlling, manipulating, and running away from yourself — and to simply be. Finally you must let everything end and be still. In letting everything end, all seeking and striving stops. All effort to be someone or to find some extraordinary state of being ceases. This ceasing is essential. It is true spiritual maturity. By ceasing to follow the mind’s tendency to always want ‘more’, ‘different’, or ‘better’, one encounters the opportunity to be still. In being still, a perspective is revealed which is free from all ignorance and bondage to suffering.”
For as many people as are appearing in this psycho-physical realm we call “the world”, there are at least as many reasons for incarnating in these particular forms to play the human game. What just about all of these players have in common, regardless of make and model, is that they are here seeking for something – some “thing” that they believe will increase their happiness, peace, and contentment once it’s found. This “something” will obviously be specific to each individual seeker, but commonly will revolve around some desired modification of consciousness, necessitating an effort to acquire greater material, social, or so-called “spiritual” benefits, enhancements, or attainments in the process.
Moreover, with very little variation, these efforts are prompted and thus characterized by the belief in oneself as a separate and substantial person, an individual somebody appearing in the midst of many others, others with whom one must invariably compete for the desired goals. In any case, the belief that we are somehow separate from Happiness, in need of Salvation, and at odds with Existence itself are the common assumptions that in turn motivate the search for things to be other than they are.
These types of beliefs are inculcated by the conditioning of a culture which is firmly committed to convincing us that what we need is outside of ourselves, that we were cast out of Eden via some kind of original sin or delusion, and consequently that we must initiate and commit to some kind of special life strategy in order to return “home”. For each person, this strategy will take its own unique form, but all such schemes are generally founded on the same premise: a simple case of mistaken identity, derived from amnesia about who and what we truly are.
Just so, how do we wake up from the dreamy trance of false identification and realize that we already are what we seek? How do we come to understand that any effort to manipulate causes and circumstances in order to grasp happiness, salvation, and existence is the very thing that obstructs the recognition of the truth of our original nature, which is Happiness itself, beyond any need for salvation, and never threatened by the alternations of existence and non-existence?
Well, we can start by dedicating ourselves to the conscious process of investigating the nature of the seeker we have taken ourselves to be. Are we really that one, or is this whole narrative that we have been telling ourselves actually more in the nature of a fictional creation? Perhaps we have relied so much on others to define who we are, and what we need to be doing while we are here, that we never were moved to question otherwise. After all, our parents and school teachers provided us with our identity cards right from the beginning.
These cards came encoded with all sorts of information which we were supposed to accept without challenge – information about our name, our gender, our age, our nationality, our religious affiliation, and our body’s various characteristics. Our whole story was detailed right there on the card of personhood we carried around with us everywhere. Of course, as children, we naively believed that all of the statistics were true, and that they totally accounted for who and what we were.
Our personal identity was thus firmly established, and as we gained some experience, we learned that we needed to polish that identity in order to make it loveable and employable. Consequently, we followed the advice of helpful advertisers and marketing specialists, refining our costumes and hair styles, employing the preferred personal hygiene products, customizing our presentation before the mirror, and attending the right indoctrination facilities where we discovered how to best present a convincing and effective persona in a world populated by other actors such as ourselves.
All along, the goal was to survive and prosper, even if that meant jumping through hoops at others’ commands. These commands were not always verbal, moreover, but instead consisted of the peer pressure that comes from being a herd animal, the pressure to conform to a consensus description of reality.
Primary within this description was the tacit and sometimes not so tacit encouragement to improve oneself, in order to be a better player and accumulate more points in the game. Such improvements take many forms, but all rely on us buying into the story of “me and mine”, and all require that we take our given identities seriously.
Furthermore, this me-story demands constant work, in response to the vagaries of existence. For example, we must make career adjustments here and fine tune our relationships there, all of which implies a perpetual search for satisfaction. Such a search is indeed never-ending, because any accomplishment or acquisition that we can claim as “mine” is always impermanent, and so we become like a hamster on a wheel.
We are always moving, but not really getting to where we really want to be, and never really arriving at a state of rest. Nevertheless, we persist, because, after all, that is what is expected of us, and we are unable to imagine any viable alternative that is not merely another variation of treading along on the same spinning wheel.
At a certain point in life, the search itself might begin to lose both its fascination and inherent imperative. Some might say that this is a moment of Grace. The seeker just can’t seem to generate the same old “juice”, or enthusiasm, for the game, whether it be the pursuit of money, food, sex, power, bliss, knowledge, God, or whatever object of acquisition that once promised happiness and peace.
Here the former seeker may fall into a kind of dark night, where the primal afflictions of boredom, doubt, discomfort may come to dominate one’s attention, now that the search is winding down. As the great adept Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche points out: “Once you have been struck by the pointlessness of letting yourself be forever influenced and conditioned by your habitual tendencies, you will become sick of it.”
Paradoxically, there can be a unique opportunity at this juncture, a kind of open space that presents itself, in which true inquiry finally becomes possible. While the search was on, this was not the case. All the bets were placed, and the payoff was just around the corner. That is, there was the assumption that, if I only do this, then I will get what I really want. If I only work hard and pay my taxes, if I only take these vitamin supplements and eat vegan foods, have this career, marry this lover, find the right guru, chant to the Lord and do no harm, then I will find peace and freedom.
In other words, happiness is envisioned as some future reward for following the arbitrary rules borrowed from somebody else’s experience. As such, it can never be a present event. Consequently, when that whole artificial game and its accompanying stressful effort is eventually recognized for the futility that it is, there arises in that conscious process the possibility for true realization to replace the chronic amnesia with which we arrived here. In other words, we become available to a transformative grace. When the seeker really sees how the dog has been chasing the tail, a shift can occur, and in this shift the seeds of awakening can really take root. As they do, the potential for free attention to the ever-deepening inquiry finally comes alive.
And what does such an inquiry reveal? When we begin to intuit that the seeker we have taken ourselves to be is nothing but a bundle of thoughts and impulses, memories and emotions, sensations and perceptions, all packaged together like a customized software program and conditioned by arbitrary factors which have no ultimate reality, then the façade of our carefully constructed identity begins to wobble and crumble. No independent self nor existing independent object can be found, given their essential impermanence. Now what?
As the Dzogchen master, Anam Thubten, writes: “When all the layers of false identity have been stripped off, there is no longer any version of that old self. What is left behind is pure consciousness. That is our original being. That is our true identity. Our true nature is indestructible. No matter whether we are sick or healthy, poor or wealthy, it always remains divine and perfect as it is. When we realize our true nature, our life is transformed in a way we could not have imagined before. We realize the very meaning of our life and it puts an end to all searching right there.”
All seeking begins with a thought, a thought of lack. After all, if it is already the case, no thought of its lack will arise. For example, a thought arises of some lack of peace, which initiates a search to acquire it, to gain peace. This process can be verified by paying attention to our mind. What we can notice, if we are thorough in our exploration, is that there is a reality prior to thought. We discover this by returning attention to the root of thought, and observing how it arises and disappears. In doing so, we can recognize that we are not the thought, whether it is a thought of peace or a thought of peace lacking.
Indeed, it is thought which tries to name that prior reality, the reality which is before thought. Using the mind in an effort to grasp mind is like using one’s eyes to find the back of one’s head. In other words, it is an exercise in futility. However, by refraining from identifying with that thought, or any thought, the prior reality automatically comes to the forefront. It did not require a search, since it is always already the case. It’s just that we get seduced by various thoughts, various searches, and so miss the simplest thing, our own true nature.
As we finally begin to see through the illusion we once took to be “me”, there is a simultaneous emergence of our true nature from the background, where it has been waiting patiently for us to sober up from the intoxication of seeking. What was never lost need not be sought. When we realize directly that we have been like a wave searching for the ocean, the momentum of the search is undermined. With the ensuing collapse of that struggle, we can relax and exhale.
In that blossoming ripeness we can welcome life’s embrace, and also see what it is that we are still unwilling to allow in. In doing so, we begin to feel the Mystery at the heart, rather than relying solely on the thought energy which constitutes the mind. Moreover, in seeing through and discarding any lingering struggle and recoil, it at last becomes obvious that this Mystery, this Life, is who we are, have always been, and will always be. Indeed, there is no longer any motive or movement to have it be anything other than what it is. The war with ourselves is over, the seeker has disappeared, and all the relatives rejoice!
Q: The search will come to an end. The seeker will remain.
Nisargadatta: No, the seeker will dissolve, the search will remain. The search is the ultimate and timeless reality.
Q: Search means lacking, wanting, incompleteness and imperfection.
Nisargadatta: No, it means refusal and rejection of the incomplete and the imperfect. The search for reality is itself the movement of reality. In a way, all search is for the real bliss, or the bliss of the real. By search we mean the search for oneself as the root of being conscious, as the light beyond the mind. This search will never end, as long as there remains a restless craving for anything else, and only then can real progress take place.
~I Am That, Nisargadatta Maharaj