In service to the Highest Good – Amen!
The problem? Mindlessness.
The solution? Mindfulness!
As the great wisdom of Life flows through all mediums, including the TV show the Brady Bunch, at a family meal prayer, “Help us to ever be mindful of our blessings.”
“Life is suffering. Thus, the Buddha recommends Enlightenment.”
According to the above quote, what might Enlightenment be, or what might it result in? Freedom from suffering!
Whatever reduces our suffering is a step in the right direction.
What seem to be the sources of suffering?
In a word, selfishness. In another word, ignorance. To expand, we might say anger, disease, vanity, judgment. Projecting happiness and value on things outside ourselves – due to clinging to an illusion that suggests we are separate being and are lacking and therefore need things. The basic illusion/ignorance seems to be separateness and therefore lack/scarcity, which leads us to experiencing fear and insecurity. With a sense of insecurity, we then act selfishly to gain for ourselves, perhaps at the cost of harming others, which then leads to a more subtle level of suffering – emotional/mental guilt, shaming, etc.
So then, to transcend suffering requires an elevation of consciousness. What we are going for permanent reductions in suffering, not just the temporary quick fixes that we might get from winning the lottery, entering a new relationship, eating a delicious cake, losing five pounds, etc. The deep answer to our suffering is not on the superficial level of content. The answer resides in context – a shift in context and consciousness can truly heal and transform our experience of life and free us from suffering.
Solutions in content don’t last, do they? If we somehow start earning more money, what are the chances that we won’t be satisfied then and will still want even more money? No amount of money solves the spiritual dilemma we face. Spiritual solutions to discovering a sense of unconditional peace and happiness must come on the spiritual plane, which is the plane of context rather than content.
Context is similar to attitude. In any moment, we can choose our attitude. We cannot necessarily change external circumstances, but we can change our internal approach to the external circumstances. We can see the peanut butter sandwich before us and think nothing of it, or we can see it as a divine gift and something to be grateful for. Every moment, whatever we’re aware of, we can paint the picture of our world with colors of love, appreciation, admiration, gratitude, even kindness, reverence, and compassion. We can even look at a tree and feel grateful for the presence of the tree – no conditions necessary. Just for something to be with us in the present moment is more than enough of a reason to express gratitude for it.
To be conscious and aware of anything is an incredible experience, and every moment the content before us offers us the contextual opportunity to bask in gratitude, appreciation, reverence, compassion, or whatever other positive emotion we’d like to enjoy.
We need not be a victim to external circumstances and suffer. When it is cold outside, we can be grateful for the feeling of the cold. There is no need to project negativity on the cold and judge it is as bad and whither away our present moment by wishing we were in Hawaii instead.
If expressing gratitude for some aspect of the experience of the moment seems difficult, there is the approach, “Well…this could be worse.” If being grateful for feeling hungry and cold and sick seems difficult, rest assured, “It could be worse.” And then, you can be grateful that the circumstances are not worse.
Recently, I’ve noticed a selfish desire arise repeatedly and have been blessed to experience the suffering that follows. To have the awareness to witness the desire, see the selfishness behind it, and then experience the suffering is pretty awesome. Many scriptures and great teachers speak to selfishness as the cause of suffering, so it is not like I’m experiencing anything new, but it is somewhat refreshing to be able to confirm the teaching by direct experience, even if it does mean that I’m experiencing suffering. To witness the suffering though, and realize the validity of the teaching regarding the connection between selfishness and suffering, is quite refreshing and even comical. It’s like the Buddha tells you, “Selfish desire will cause you to experience suffering,” and then you go and cultivate selfish desires and experience suffering – to witness that is funny! And to think how ignorant/arrogant we can be to not respect the words of the Buddha enough to fully practice them – but still having the need to experience the truth of the teaching directly. The Buddha tells me I’ll suffer if I cultivate selfish desires, yet I do it anyway, and sure enough, there is the suffering – can I really complain?
So then, what is the illusion around selfishness?
Selfishness stems from the false belief that we are separate individuals, that I am a separate individual from you. Additionally, there is the false belief that I am inherently lacking and incomplete and therefore must acquire and gain things externally in order to reach a sense of satiation / completeness. Of course, the external gain that leads to satiation does not last for long, hence the cycle of feeling lack to satiation to lack again perpetuates, and suffering and selfishness do not stay away for long.
What beliefs might free us from selfish desires – free us from our illusory sense of separateness and/or our illusory sense of lacking and needing things outside of ourselves?
A few ideas, realized as a living reality, fully embraced in every moment of life – will greatly reduce if not totally eliminate the suffering:
- Everything is complete and perfect as it is. There is no lack or scarcity. All is abundant. As Psalm 23 puts it, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all I need.” (or, “I lack nothing.”)
- This is spoken of in eastern traditions as the concept of Wu Wei: in doing nothing, one accomplishes everything. Truly, there is nothing that needs to be done, and there is nowhere to go.
- This can also be understood as affirming the perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. That God is the Supreme Reality, and that God is Love and Peace and nothing else. Divinity is Infinite Love! Therefore, what could be possibly be needed or lacking? Only ignorant thinking would suggest there is anything lacking. This is like truly having complete and total faith and trust in God. Fear and faith do not go together. If one has total faith, there is absolute trust in God, and awareness that God is providing perfectly, every moment; therefore, one does not have to fear or exert self-will to meet one’s needs – rather, God provides.
- Affirming the Oneness of All That Is. Or even affirming that you are beyond anything that can be seen or heard – you are, in fact, invisible. This is a more abstract approach, known as Jnana Yoga. It is a massive shift in identity, spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita, as well as by sages like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in the classic text I am That, and by Sri Ramana Maharshi.
- This approaches is a great expansion and transformation of consciousness. While the first approach still generally holds to some sense of identity with being a human (body/mind complex) this approach takes one beyond all the names and forms of the world, back to the Source of Life and Existence, and suggest that one identify with That. Realize the Oneness with the Source of All Life and Existence, before all worlds existed, and the world as ‘most people’ know it reveals itself to be a dream, and one is more like the Dreamer of the dream rather than anything perceived in the dream.
Given the two above approaches to reduces suffering – which are essentially contexts to adapt – how does one go about adapting such contexts to pervade one’s day-to-day?
Faith is required. Also required is a willingness to surrender all desires and fears. A willingness to identify as the witness/observer rather than being the experiencer.
In two words – keys to great spiritual progress are earnestness and vigilance. To be earnest is to be sincere. If your heart is in it, you will inevitably step forward. If you are vigilant – constantly watchful – you can remain the witness when temptations arises and resist the urge to compulsively act on them. To have the heart and mind committed to the path will advance one along the path.
What are the temptations? What are some of the obstacles to progress?
Generally, think of the ego as the obstacle, and the ego is constantly playing the game of seeking subjective pleasure and gain. This can look like the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Let’s look at each one briefly.
- Pride is taking credit for things – which when examined reveals itself as absurd. Can you even take credit for the body breathing, circulating blood, or digesting food? The antidote to pride is humility and gratitude. To stay humble and grateful, whenever someone offers praise, a simple response is, “Thank you,” and if feeling particularly devotional, “Hallelujah!” or “All Praise be to the Lord!” Really, the power that moves the body and mind – how could we take credit for such power? When we give credit for our successes to the Great Beyond, we stay humble. This also helps protect us in cases of failure, for the failure too we can attribute to the Great Beyond and there is no need to wallow in guilt and shame about failures.
- Greed is wanting more than we need, or just simply wanting. Greed stems from projecting lack on our present scenario. It likely also arises from clinging to bodily life and having all unfulfilled selfish/petty desires based around satisfying the cravings of the flesh. Antidotes for greed including expressing gratitude for what you do have. Also, expanding awareness of the impermanence of the things and the fleeting nature of the content of reality can help reduce greed. Know that one of the primary spiritual illusions to transcend is the idea that happiness is outside of ourselves. Realize the source of joy and happiness is within and what is there to be greedy about? Affirm the perfection of Reality and realize there is nothing lacking.
- Lust. Greed might be considered wanting material things, whereas lust is wanting sexual gain. They are not really so different. But let’s just say – from personal experience – I found lust relatively easy to keep at bay when material desires were also reduced. There was a period of time when I intentionally lived without using any money, in a way disabling myself from acting upon any possibilities of greed, therefore I didn’t experience much of it. And, because I was not using money, I did not feel like I was possibly in a position to provide for another person, and therefore lust did not arise. Now, however, having regular income and a savings, I can say that lust is more of a reality. Because of the material gain/accumulation, it allows for that next level of gain which would be partnership/relationship, the negative connotation of which is lust. I just mention this to suggest that perhaps there is a great logic to the order of the seven deadly sins (to be expanded upon later, by God’s Grace).
- Antidotes for lust: dedicate sexual energy and desire to the Highest Good of all Creation, to the benefit of humanity and to the glory of God. This is what Mahatma Gandhi might refer to as channeling kundalini. Also, physical exercise is a great way to channel the energy – and perhaps a more advanced way would be to sit in meditation and prayer with it. Other antidotes – from a male perspective – are to look at women’s feet, rather than their face, and see the Divine Mother. This is a beautiful practice that I found useful while living in New York City and traveling on the subway. Sitting on the subway, seeing all the feet, with the gentle rocking of the train car, I felt practically in the womb of the Divine Mother – totally nurtured and protected. Another antidote: see lust for what it is – a fleeting desire for sense pleasure – it will go away quickly – it is just a passing thing, like a cloud in the sky. It is really just energy and you can use it in all kinds of positive ways. Aspire to be a more advanced being than the wild animals that simply eat and procreate and run around – the human being has far greater capacities! Master the animal instincts and evolve beautifully.
- Anger generally arises when selfish desires are not met. Keep in mind selfish desires are really desires of the body and basically arise when we identify with the body and mind. Once again, a Jnana Yoga approach and realizing that one is far more than simple a human body/mind can remedy anger. Also, being spiritually-oriented, an antidote to anger can be to remember that our primary service is remaining peaceful and loving, and by being peaceful and loving, we can then share peace and love with the entire creation. We cannot give what we do not have – so primarily we must have a sense of peace and love, and then we can give it. When we are angry, we don’t really have anything to give – and we are clearly just caught in some selfish desires, wanting, cravings being thwarted, etc. Anger can really be painful, and a great Catholic approach to handling negative emotions like this is to “Offer it up.” Dedicate the negative energy to the benefit of the whole, and maybe even channel the energy with physical exercise, singing, dancing, reading spiritual texts, etc. Shift the consciousness out of the bottomless pit.
- Gluttony. The tongue! “The spiritual journey begins when one tames the tongue,” or is it, “When one tames the tongue, Enlightenment is not far away,” words from Sri Swami Satchidananda. The tongue is quite a powerful tool. It is used for eating and for speech, input and output – so to master the tongue is quite a feat. Gluttony and lust are very similar – the craving for a sensory pleasure. So to have a feeling of lust come up and not satisfy it through eating is quite impressive. On the other hand, I haven’t experienced feelings of gluttony arise and then quell them by sexual expression – but maybe that happens? My guess is the expression of lust is ‘more reprehensible’ than gluttony and therefore gluttony is a common way of balancing lust – replacing one sense craving with another. Anyway, to be free from both lust and gluttony is the ideal. The general path is reducing the projections of happiness to less and less – until one realizes fully that nothing external brings any real happiness – and that the source of happiness is purely within.
- Envy. Envy arises because one identifies with a physical body and mind, separate from all others. In contrast, a sage can look around the room and say, “All this is Me and Mine. I am the world. The world is Me.” From that perspective, what is there to envy? Hence, the Jnana Yoga awareness is a great way to reduce envy. See yourself in all, and all in you, and there is no envy. See yourself as the other, enjoying the piece of cake, or even enjoying the conversation with the beautiful person, and there is nothing to envy. You are That!
- Or, from the faith perspective – remember that God is providing perfectly, and only gives you what is best for you and exactly what you need. Envy arises when we forget this and feel that we are lacking. Remember the perfection and completeness!
- Sloth. Hmm. Yes I think this one afflicts me daily. Waking up in the morning – why the slowness and resistance? There is a sense of contentment with how things are – and no need to rush and do things. Yet, the spiritual path is about moderation and also discipline. To think of it simply, it is about doing things that ordinary animals do not do. Of course, the Dalai Lama has spoken highly of the merits of sleep, so it is not about depriving oneself of sleep or rest. Rather, have guidelines, and beware of times when the animal ego attempts to hijack the higher capacities.
- As an example, just this morning I lied in bed for a bit longer than usual – yet I attempted prayer and meditation during that period – rather than simply letting the mind wander and think about whatever it wants. That being said, sloth is not just about physical laziness but also mental laziness. If the mind is actively engaged in spiritual practice, that seems to be a state free from sloth, regardless of the shape the body is in.
- Sloth, then, might really have to do more with the mental than the physical. Sitting and gossiping is sloth, whereas sitting and philosophizing or discussing spiritual texts is not. Lying in bed and daydreaming might be sloth, whereas lying in bed and repeating a mantra is not. Lying on the couch eating chips and watching the news might be sloth, whereas being on the couch and reading scripture or mindfully enjoying a cup of tea is not.
- Antidotes for sloth would then include mental exercise. Get the mind in an uplifted energy field – the body will follow as need. Read spiritual texts, listen to spiritual teachers, prayer and meditate, or at least exercise, stretch, do service, give abundantly of yourself, smile and laugh and play and have fun. Remember feeling happy and peaceful is a service to everyone and everything.
So then, what really matters?
What really matters?
What is Real? What is Eternal? What is Never-Changing?
I hear that progress on the spiritual path is really quite simple. It is a matter of having faith and sticking to one practice. One doesn’t need to read a lot of books, but rather just simply implement one idea and practice it all the time in all conditions. To be kind to everyone and everything no matter what – that is a great practice. It need not be more complicated than that. Of course, the intellect loves ideas and thinking, etc., so we occasionally read and talk and play those intellectual games. Just know that spiritual growth is not so much a matter of learning anything new, but really unlearning. Unlearn the idea that you are a separate being, unlearn the idea that reality is imperfect and incomplete and lacking, and unlearn the idea that you really need to do anything, but rather you can just be loving, and everything will take care of itself, moment by moment.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti