“Millions eat bread, but few know all about wheat. And only those who know can improve the bread. Similarly, only those who know the self, who have seen beyond the world, can improve the world. Their value to private persons is immense, for they are their only hope of salvation.”
From the absolute perspective, there is no need for any story – things are what they are. What is, simply is. However, while immersed in the relative, objective sphere of time and space (as all of us are), there will be narratives, because that is how humans organize chaos. Even several levels above this vibrational frequency, there are still narratives, just more subtle.
The question is: to which narrative will we grant reality? Depending on our choice, so is the world created. We are not so much in the world as the world is in us. It is a compounded product of our own projections, both individually and collectively. On the macro level, the current world is the result of stories we have collectively fashioned, and so will be the world which follows.
When the mind moves, stories are spawned. Be before mind, and stories will take care of themselves. However, how many are able to drop off the mind? Certainly not the mass of humanity, or even the mass of spiritual practitioners. Consequently, we need to be very discriminative with our story-making.
The following consideration has been touched on previously, in essays such as “To Do Something”, “Shaking Others Awake”, and “Fighting the Powers That Be”, which are archived here. However, given the multiple alarming flash points that threaten humanity of late, it seems appropriate to inquire into the matter once again.
For most of us at our current level of awareness, the story of this realm is to a very large extent about a dedicated theater/training ground for soul evolution. In that respect, it functions perfectly, just as it is. It perfectly serves the various actors/students who appear here, who do so based on various causes and conditions which ripen into human birth on this planet (and countless others throughout the multiverse which provide comparable curricula).
Briefly, it is because conditions here are so different than what we experience in our natural state as immortal beings of light that we are curious about and thus attracted to the possibilities of human incarnation. Among other reasons, it provides a unique opportunity to find out how we would react when faced with the kinds of challenges specific to realms like this one. It is a particular kind of stage with particular kinds of props, and although the props will always be changing, the stage remains the same.
Essentially, the focus of this Earth drama/curriculum revolves around issues of love, integrity, and freedom from ignorance. Consequently, the fundamentals of both right view and right conduct are at the heart of most of the dramas and tests souls are subjected to here. These tests specifically entail such challenges as ignorance, greed, envy, hatred, and pride — the chief impediments that characterize rudimentary levels of soul developmental adaptation. Thus, the main emphasis in this screenplay is on how we treat each other in our lives and relationships, particularly in the midst of the challenging conditions that pertain on a war planet such as this.
Yes, a war planet. For the overwhelming mass of humanity, that is what it was designed to be, that is what it has been for as long as it has been here, and that is what it will likely remain (regardless of any attempts to have it be otherwise) . Throughout its history, there have been many who would like to modify this realm in order to have it approximate their subjective fantasy of what it should be and look like. People project all sorts of attributes onto phenomena in the process, but any efforts to have it correspond and conform to our conditioned ideals are not unlike trying to change a dream. No matter how passionately we may strive, it is still a dream.
This planet is not our home. Rather, it is more like a virtual reality stage, filled with ever-changing holographic props that are like school aids in our ongoing evolutionary explorations. In the course of our immortality, we have appeared in countless realms, material and subtle, but our true home is Spirit. Taking responsibility for our temporary environment is simply the right thing to do, but attaching to and clinging to any of it is the classic source of complication and suffering. How can we hold on to a dream?
We accept a kind of amnesia when we come here, in order to give the adventure story more impact, allowing us to more fully glean the experiential lessons implicit in our endeavors. If we were to retain our natural soul knowledge, it would defeat the purpose of incarnation. We love the mystery of the Unknown. Nevertheless, to one degree or another, most who arrive here will eventually want to change the dream/story in order to have it be more agreeable to their personal conditioned preferences.
Just as one might identify with a movie character to the point that they forget it is merely a movie they are watching, so too do we forget that our own human story is fictional too. Hearing that it is a dream, and even having some intellectual understanding that it is a dream, is not the same as directly realizing that it is a dream, and that is what constitutes the wisdom of awakening — directly seeing the illusion as illusion.
Nisargadatta Maharaj made an excellent point when he noted: “There is nothing that can help the world more than your putting an end to ignorance. Then, you need not do anything in particular to help the world. Your very being is a help, action or no action.” As long as we take the world to be real, we will be operating under a false assumption. We will run around trying to fix Samsara, locked in a vicious cycle of desire and fear, rather than recognizing how we are prolonging our stay in it by continuing to grant it some enduring and substantial reality.
Moreover, as long as we cling to our human identities, we will not be able to raise our vibrational frequency to a level whereby we might expand beyond this dense dark plane of interminable conflict. Our very ignorance will trap us, in the sense of limiting our access to the infinite possibilities available beyond this harsh plane. As such, the metaphor of having to repeat an elementary class over and over again is not inappropriate.
Does this mean things will never improve here? Of course not — things will improve, and then they will un-improve, and that cycle will alternate perpetually, because that is the nature of this realm. The Awake among us have always stressed the fact that we need to change ourselves first, before we run out and try to change others. Great changes can be made and have been made, no doubt, but Samsara is still Samsara, and that fact has not changed. Suffering has not changed, nor has ignorance. Human behavior is still dominated by desire and fear. A brief glance at the current world headlines demonstrates that fact amply enough.
When a questioner demanded to know how to deal with the world’s suffering and sorrows, Nisargadatta responded: “You have created them out of your own desires and fears, you deal with them. All is due to your having forgotten your own being. Having given reality to the picture on the screen, you love its people and suffer for them and seek to save them. It is just not so. You must begin with yourself. There is no other way. Work, of course. There is no harm in working.”
Does that mean we just ignore suffering? Of course not — we do what we can whenever the opportunity presents itself for us to be of service. However, our altruism needs to be tempered by the realization that we are not here to change the world, but to be changed by our experience of it. We are not here to perfect elementary school, but to learn its lessons and then move on to more advanced curricula, and that starts with us coming to know our true being.
Until all the notions, wishes, demands, and beliefs that things should be other than they are, and that this world should be other than it is, are seen through and understood in the light of real awakening, we will only be spinning our wheels, and doing no real good for anyone. Indeed, we will only be creating more suffering, in the conceited guise of being some sort of bodhisattva or savior. Again, it was Nisargadatta who pointed out such hubris: “When you deceive yourself that you work for the good of all, it makes matters worse, for you should not be guided by your own ideas of what is good for others. A man who claims to know what is good for others, is dangerous.”
Just so, who better than the Buddha to clarify exactly how the true Bodhisattva regards sentient beings? In the Vimilakirti Sutra, an essential Buddhist scripture, he begins:
“A bodhisattva should regard all livings beings as a wise man regards the reflection of the moon in water or as magicians regard men created by magic. He should regard them as being like a face in a mirror; like the water of a mirage; like the sound of an echo; like a mass of clouds in the sky; like the previous moment of a ball of foam; like the appearance and disappearance of a bubble of water; like the core of a plantain tree; like a flash of lightning; like the fifth great element; like the seventh sense-medium; like the appearance of matter in an immaterial realm; like a sprout from a rotten seed; like a tortoise-hair coat; like the fun of games for one who wishes to die . . .”
He continues on with these similes for a while, pointing to the truth of emptiness and the dream-like nature of all beings, and when asked how a true Bodisattva rouses great compassion for sentient beings, he replies:
“He generates the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings; the love that is peaceful because free of grasping; the love that is not feverish, because free of passions; the love that accords with reality because it is equanimous in all three times; the love that is without conflict because free of the violence of the passions; the love that is nondual because it is involved neither with the external nor with the internal; the love that is imperturbable because totally ultimate, a love that that causes living beings to awaken from their sleep . . .”
In other words, the highest form of compassion is not involved in schemes and strategies to save or improve the world, but rather is geared towards the awakening of all beings, because all beings are recognized to be none other than oneself, and furthermore, that self is ultimately recognized to be empty of any inherent substance or solidity – a character in a dream. Thus, in Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are inseparable.
The Sage Nisargadatta once noted, “Helping others is mere imagination, however noble. In truth you do not help others because there are not others.” To truly awaken to the nature of reality is also to recognize that the whole concept of separate entities in need of being saved is a delusion, and yet it is paradoxically just such a recognition that qualifies one as a true Bodhisattva – one who is able to respond to suffering in the most effective fashion, based on an enlightened balance of love and wisdom.
A contemporary Chan (Zen) teacher, Guo Gu, clarified this matter when he wrote: “Remember: those who are suffering are precisely you, but you are not them. If you only have the first part, then you’re simply suffering. If you only have the latter, then you’re deluded.”
In any case, if we sincerely inquire into our motives, we might come to recognize how arrogant our assumption is that we know what is right for somebody else, much less the world. The fact is, we are never in any kind of position to comprehend the bigger picture, at least as long as we are encased in these meat suits, and are operating at this dense vibratory frequency. That being so, why go about making assumptions about others’ fate that may be merely a product of our own delusion? An old cliché that nevertheless rings true, especially in this regard, is that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
The various crusades that humans have undertaken can serve as cautionary tales in that regard, because they invariably make things worse. Clearly, we need look no further than places like Cambodia, China, and Russia in recent times, where people imagined they could make things better by imposing a more just ideal of society, but instead ended up with dictatorial regimes that slaughtered millions in the name of progress.
Indeed, this planet has seen countless civilizations rise and disappear, long before our current one began recording its own brief history. All sorts of actors and dramas have played out their roles and scenes on this stage, and that will continue, as long as there are sentient beings who wander in the delusions of “me and mine”, self and other. In the course of time, more trouble than good has been perpetrated on humanity by well-meaning but ignorant missionaries, blinded by their own zeal and uninspected beliefs. Given that, true compassion may very well mean that we let others have the experience they came here to have, without any meddling interference from us (based on our limited filters and idealistic but biased programs).
Does this mean we stop caring? Of course not — there is no end to caring, but few ever bother to deeply inquire regarding who or what exactly is doing this caring. That’s the key the sages are pointing to. They do not urge us to go out and take up social work, suggesting that we become professional “do-gooders”. Rather, they ask us to find out who we truly are (and aren’t). The rest will unfold naturally from that liberating recognition, though without it, we are just endlessly pushing Sisyphus’ rock up a hill — a rock that is bound to roll right back down again.
The fact is, we are not separate from the world. Simply by virtue of being alive here, we are already and always changing it, regardless of where we are geographically located. That is what Inter-being (Co-dependent Arising) is all about. The question is, wherever we are, are we changing things for the better or worse (setting aside for the moment the fact that “better or worse” is a conditional interpretation on perception)?
If our actions are based on ignorance — even seemingly well-intentioned idealism — there will be one predictable result. As noted previously, that is how the world got into its present precarious situation — humans trying to modify the world to make it more agreeable to their conceptual ideal.
Only the alternative to ignorance will change that, and it begins with real self-knowledge, not beliefs and vague hopes. In that regard, simply inquiring into the validity of one’s conditioned belief system is a revolutionary act, and automatically changes the world. “Know thyself” is the mandate of the sages, and for a very good reason. If one truly understands themselves, then they will also understand the world, and what is actually required to effect positive transformation, right where they are. Accordingly, if we want to live in a more aware, peaceful, and loving world, then we ourselves must first become more aware, peaceful, and more loving.
Perhaps the two complementary aspects of love and wisdom were best summed up by Sri Nisargadatta when he said: “When I see I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I see I am everything, that is love. Between these two my life moves.” Just so, true love is selfless in that it embodies the principle of loving others as oneself, because that is the literal truth. In other words, when we awaken to the Real, we realize that there is no other, and there is no world, separate and divided from ourselves. We are that! The mystical epiphany that there is only God actually reflects this recognition.
True wisdom is likewise selfless, because it recognizes the essential emptiness of both the self and the world. We are neither this nor that – self or world – but rather the open spacious transparency of awake awareness, in which both self and world appear and disappear. It is this union of love and wisdom that defines the authentic Bodhisattva — the one who hears the cries of the suffering, and responds with enlightened compassion (Bodhicitta). It is only That One who truly “saves the world”.
“No doubt, striving for the improvement of the world is a most praiseworthy occupation. Done selflessly, it clarifies the mind and purifies the heart. But soon man will realize that he pursues a mirage. Local and temporary improvement is always possible and was achieved again and again under the influence of a great king or teacher; but it would soon come to an end, leaving humanity in a new cycle of misery. It is in the nature of all manifestation that the good and the bad follow each other and in equal measure. The true refuge is only in the unmanifested.
Once you realize that the world is your own projection, you are free of it. You need not free yourself of a world that does not exist, except in your own imagination! However the picture is — beautiful or ugly — you are painting it and you are not bound by it. Realize that there is nobody to force it on you, that it is due to the habit of taking the imaginary to be real. See the imaginary as imaginary and be free of fear.
When you realize that you are the light of the world, you will also realize that you are the love of it; that to know is to love and to love is to know. Of all the affections the love of oneself comes first. Your love of the world is the reflection of your love of yourself, for your world is of your own creation. Light and love are impersonal, but they are reflected in your mind as knowing and wishing oneself well. We are always friendly towards ourselves, but not always wise. A Yogi is a man whose goodwill is allied to wisdom.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj