Your pride in yourself and your wanting,
these steal your energy along the road.
If you can kill these robbers
and become the servant of everyone,
you’ll meet the Lord in meditation
and see what you used to protect
as just a pile of ashes.
~ Lal Ded
Despite idealistic claims by some teachers that the process is an effortless one, it still seems that it is devilishly difficult for the vast majority of aspirants to actually let go of the programed belief in a separate and independent person, path, and destiny. All subsequent schemes and notions about performing liberating practices, accumulating merit, attaining enlightenment, and so forth are based on that primal case of mistaken identity.
In any case, we obviously cannot think or wish that delusion away, because its very root and origin is fixed in the deep subconscious. What we can do is to continue to reach beyond ourselves by giving love, and simultaneously refrain from investing in ego-mind’s self-absorbed narrative. At some point, the subconscious may simply cease projecting a karmic self, because there is no longer grounds for the existence of such a projection — its fuel supply has been severed due to non-attention.
Until then, it seems that we will persist in fretting about that which turns out to be a mere make-believe character. In the coffee shop adjacent to the theater, seekers will continue to gather after the movie and passionately debate the fate of the fictional movie character, as if he/she were real. Even that can be a playful sort of fun, except that everyone appears so serious. They are all doing sacred sadhana, after all, and that’s no laughing matter!
On the other hand, if we were somehow able to get a bit of perspective on the whole “me-project”, we just might recognize the humor in all of the arduous efforts undertaken to become . . . well . . . what we already are. When we read the anecdotal stories of awakening in the testimonial literature, there is typically a burst of laughter that accompanies direct recognition (often accompanied by some version of a face palm). Ramana Maharshi put it succinctly when he said: “We think that there is something hiding our reality and that it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. It is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.”
For many of us, one of the chief culprits impeding such a recognition is pride, stubborn spiritual pride. After all, we have spent so much valuable time squirming and nodding at the feet of teachers, we have done the prostrations, read the books, twisted our legs into pretzels, visualized all sorts of super beings, chanted monosyllabic Sanskrit fragments countless times, and purchased all the prescribed mountain climbing gear we have been assured will help in our courageous ascent to the top where spiritual glory awaits us (or so we have been told).
Now someone comes along and suggests that all of that was essentially a humorous pretense, and points out that we are not one step closer to real liberation than we were when we started the whole pious business. Moreover, they claim the reason for that is because the one who was so determined to get free is actually the glitch that has been obstructing the spontaneous realization all along. The realization of what? The realization of that which has never been bound from the beginning, and so has never been in need of fixing! The spiritual comedian Chogyam Trungpa called this whole set-up “the cosmic joke”.
Indeed – how can one not laugh at the absurdity? Well, when we no longer take our foibles seriously, it can provoke a concomitant sense of humility, and humility is the last thing ego-mind wants to get involved with. Why? Humility can be quite uncomfortable to the mind intoxicated with its own importance. That is, humility will not confirm and validate ego-mind’s very existence. In fact, it diminishes its power, weakens its voice, saps attention from the perceived wonderfulness of its self-image, and generally deflates its enthusiasm to acquire all the perks that supposedly come with spiritual attainment. Clearly, ego-mind has no sense of humor, and that is a big clue in itself.
Moreover, who wants to look like a fool? In the view of ego-mind, that is exactly how it would be perceived if all of its mighty efforts at becoming enlightened turned out to be a big diversion — a waste of time. Remember, how we are perceived is typically more important to ego-mind than the reality of who and what we really are. For ego-mind, it truly is all in the perception. The actual reality is conveniently ignored, unless of course it can be employed somehow to bolster the desired perception. It will even pat itself on the back for the brilliant recognition of its own non-existence!
Invariably, the cumulative energy behind this culture’s massive programing and marketing shtick is spawned and nourished by our fundamental concern for how we look, and that is certainly no laughing matter! This is because (in our minds) how we appear is the determinant for how loved and lovable we might be. Hence, here is the heart of it – what we are really seeking. It’s what all of our efforts are devoted to — the supreme and primordial motive – to be attended to, to be loved.
Once that is directly seen, we may be moved to return to the initial inquiry: who or what is so desperately yearning to be loved, confirmed, and cherished that we would jump through all the hoops tossed at us in the spiritual game, just to heal a wound at the heart which is there from our own doing ? Our own doing? Yes, in the process of assuming these human forms, we projected and then reinforced a sense of self and other, despite the reality that consciousness is indivisible.
We created the chasm, in other words, based on a case of mistaken identity – the identity of a separate and independent person believed to be in need of redemption, liberation, love. Certainly, we had a lot of help in the process. After all, the story we have been told from birth by all of the various agents of our socialization is based on being a separate person in a world filled with other separate people, some of whom could give us what we want, and some of whom could threaten our very existence. In any case, we are told that we are on our own. Yikes!
Keep in mind that all of this is related in general terms, and individual motives and experiences may vary, but if we are willing to deeply inspect our own motives, perhaps we can recognize a particular quality at the root of our being: self-interest. The motive of self-interest is in fact the primary one for just about all creatures in this realm. Nor can we simply banish it from our minds, especially if we are unwilling to confront it first, and see what kind of gift is hidden within its appearance.
If we are observant, we might come to see that whatever appears in our lives can be recognized as a gift for us, if we are open to receiving. Nothing is there haphazardly. Even the more difficult challenges and visions are still only temporary phenomena that are reflected in the mirror of mind. We are not what appears and vanishes, and so having faith in that fact, we can proceed.
Upon investigation, we can notice that the sense of self-interest is primal, arising for almost everyone simultaneous with embodiment. Indeed, without it, we would not last long in this realm, and so it can be appreciated as a useful and necessary program in that respect, as long as it serves its proper function. So far, so good.
The complication arises when we mistake the program for our actual identity, because then it threatens to become a tyrannical master, rather than a loyal and helpful servant. Moreover, in doing so, it creates painful contractions in the flow of our interpersonal relationships, even to the extreme of our making war to insure its dominance. Just so, if we survey this world as it is today, with all of its strife and bloodshed, we can see the results of an out-of-control sense of self-interest.
By spending some time turning our attention away from the interests of the identified one – its thoughts, emotions, memories, and perceptions – and instead allowing mind to come to rest in the spaciousness of that awake awareness which is always present, then the natural balance and harmony between the expediency of the transient self-sense and the eternal reality of our native pristine selflessness can eventually be restored.
In the process, the essential emptiness of the self-image may be revealed, thus freeing attention even more from the dilemma of imagined independent embodiment, and simultaneously releasing it to the exquisite enjoyment of pure being. Such liberated energy subsequently transmutes to a fine-burning fuel, freely available for the actualization of life’s inherent potential and evolutionary expansion to infinity.
Now we are no longer looking for love, because we know ourselves as Love itself. When the heart knows itself as it is, bondage and liberation both become moot, humor flows freely, while what remains is what has always been – this miraculous motionless moment that paradoxically goes on forever!
“That which you are, your true self, you love it, and whatever you do, you do for your own happiness. To find it, to know it, to cherish it is your basic urge. Since time immemorial you loved yourself, but not wisely. What is wrong is to love yourself stupidly, so as to make yourself suffer. Use your body and mind wisely in the service of the self, that is all.”