There is cause and there is effect, but we seldom see them clearly. Reliance upon cause and effect liberates, yet requires deep faith when the false prosper and the good must retire. One extreme is to become angry about the bad things in the world and do one's work drawing on that angry energy. Another extreme is to become cynical and feel that there is no point in doing anything. Neither of these is noble.
I was discussing recently a variety of problems to do with ecology. There can be little doubt that humans are doing a good deal of damage to the natural world and the consequences can be extremely serious. This is an instance of cause and effect. “Doesn't it make you angry?” my friend asked. I realised that it doesn't. I can see that humans are in many ways a blight and that I am one of them, but getting angry is not going to change this. “Whether we are in heaven or in hell, our duty is always much the same,” I said.
I guess that we become angry when we take something personally and when our identity and values are at stake. In situations of this kind I can see, to more or less the same extent as others can, what needs doing, but it does not touch my personal being in a way that would make me angry, because I know that I am as much a culprit as anybody else.
In order to cultivate the sublime we have to encounter the truth of our selves, which is at first deeply troubling. We are not the perfect beings that we would like to think we are. Even when we discern some way in which we could improve we are often very weak willed in bringing the change into effect. We easily persuade ourselves in the short run to do what we have already decided is, in the longer run, bad for us or others. Actually, we are more likely to succumb if we just think that it is bad for ourselves and somewhat more likely to make the change for the sake of others, but either way we are far from perfect.
It is the function of the mind to perceive the universe in each annoying grain of sand. Only by working with their irritating nature are pearls made. Our lives pivot around crucial intuitions without which we would not be the spiritual beings that we are, but one must soften the glare of wary consciousness to appreciate them. The attempt to deny them only stunts the mind and inhibits its true activity. It is not that we are restored to wholeness, it is that by perceiving our brokenness truly we open the doors to a realm in which broken creatures such as ourselves are the inheritors of heaven and earth. When the ego lies in fragments, indescribable marvels parade before us.
Nor is common knowledge much of a guide. What everybody thinks wise is foolish. What everybody thinks beautiful is trivial art. What everybody assumes to be so is a good place to start asking penetrating questions. The urge to fit in is the source of deception and the urge to stand out, of hypocrisy. Few can be true to the truth and those who do find it risky to utter a word. The teacher seldom gives lectures, but if you can walk in your own moccasins a mile with him you will see the open sky. He has a gentle will. He has a relaxed mind. He can fight a battle if he has to, but does not relish it.
He can cut cane to make a house and dance for joy, yet grieves for the canes he cuts. When young Siddhartha saw the body of Mother Earth cut open by the plough and its denizens devoured by birds he took his first step to true enlightenment.
There is truth beyond human affairs that can yet be the reliable foundation for them. There are paths in what seems wilderness where one can learn ancestral songs. To enter one must become foolish and a bit of a child. Pay the rent and do not make a show of strangeness, but even while rendering unto Caesar turn your mind to God and call a holy name.
The sublime is an inexhaustible source encompassing terror and ecstasy when necessary, yet it is at home in silence and stillness, having no sharp edges. It does not jump out but blends in and most never notice it. There is nowhere where you are beyond its comfort, yet it is also, in a sense, ruthless. Truth is true whether we like it or not. The world is not the projection of our mind, we are the projection of its.
The description of spirituality requires a vehicle or language, a system of concepts and ideas, but these always fall short. Hence simplicity seems complex and straight-forwardness paradoxical. Words can make a map, they are not the territory. Not even a map, they are signposts and some of the destinations may be remote. Other signs might also serve. Signs are, however, useful, though the maps we draw from them are perforce sketchy. If you are alone in a strange city a map is handy, but it is much easier to accompany a local.
The collection of gleanings that I have accumulated over the years has come to be called by the makeshift term, Zen Therapy. It is located somewhere between the two East Asian systems called Amidism and Taoism and the Western ones called psychology and philosophy. It is the cultivation of wholeness. It is a way of liberation through truth, truth which is often difficult and uncomfortable, and is certainly not simply a matter of living to a formula. Rather it is an art drawn from nature who knows better than we do, yet not only from the nature that is close at hand, but Great Nature that is the profound backdrop to all the activity of our mind.
Amidism is the intuition of compassion at work in the world and of the renewal that lies beyond all endings, Tao the intuition of wisdom interwoven with the fabric of things, functioning through the interplay of opposites, Zen a path of personal cultivation rooted in silence and stillness, and Therapy a form of spiritual accompaniment. Since shamans in earliest times began to journey beyond the limited self, ever new paths of cultivation have been emerging. We too shall find new ways. Zen Therapy is not, nor will it ever be, a finished system. It is an ever growing synergism of methods that draw their efficacy from the intuition of a wholeness that transcends the ego. It has many gates.
This book is a collection of essays. The collection has been revised, but not so completely as to eliminate the disparate origins of its parts. They hint at a path of spiritual cultivation that transcends particular religions, that must be explored by each for him or herself, but which does not require that such exploration be a lonely and unaided stumbling in the total dark. We can learn from our forebears and do well to honour them and we can help one another. Such helping, together with its obstacles and disappointments, is itself one way of understanding the nature of the path.
The limited capacity of human understanding is not just a restriction on what we can say, it is also a foundational principle. This is a description of a practical approach to spiritual cultivation from the perspective of the ordinary person, living in this wonderful world, yet beset with all the worries, limitations, pressures, responsibilities and irrationality that most of us have. It is not a presentation from the perspective of absolute truth or ultimate accomplishment. It is not a counsel of perfection and it is not intended to make anybody feel guilty for not being enlightened. One of its fundamental messages is that it is our very misdemeanours that are the seeds for future growth.
Many people are allergic to the idea of religion because they associate it with restriction and the imposition of a sense of guilt. In my view that is the corruption of true religion. True religion would be a re-linking to the source of spirit. It is actually the secular world that makes unreasonable demands upon us and drives us to distraction. It is the place of true religion to provide a refuge where our natural energy may be restored, rekindled, and ultimately resublimated into what is truly sublime, or, at least, into the best approximation that we are capable of at whatever level of spiritual development we happen to be at the time.
This way of cultivation is for people like you and I. All systems of spirituality are made by people, for people and they have the same limitations and faults that people have, but they can indicate a life oriented to something beyond these limitations, not so much as a goal to be attained, as a dimension of reality to be appreciated and related to through all the vicissitudes of real life, as a reliable refuge.
I will talk of Spirit. This is again hardly definable, but the spiritual sense is the general term for the intuition that we have of a greater, meaningful whole. There are levels: we can speak of the spirit in which an act is performed or of the spirit of our times or of ultimate spirit that is like the pole star of all human endeavour. If you are allergic to spiritual language, this is not a book for you. Here the divine is on every page and the greater dimensions of things open in all directions.
I will talk of Buddhism, but this is not Buddhism as opposed to other religions so much as Buddhism as a waking up to universal truths. The essential insights of Buddha and Jesus seem to me to have been pretty much the same. We are not required to imitate either of them, but to each of us individually and all of us collectively find our own way, yet when we do so I strongly suspect that we shall find ourselves in agreement with them on essentials.
As sentient beings we do not just intuit the Whole in the abstract, though that is important, we also experience ourselves in relation to it and this relationship is personal. There are both abstract and personal dimensions to the spiritual sense and both are important. When we contemplate, we may contemplate either or both. When we accompany, we do so within a sense of a greater spiritual whole that seems vast, yet also with a sense of help being intimately close at hand.
This is not really a path with a goal or end. Cultivation continues. The goal is to be on the path. Eternity is reflected in each moment, the ultimate in each particular, but the wholesome life is appreciative of change and realises that the most perfect thing is on the verge of disaster and the most sullied can be the most fertile. All things have a tendency to change into their opposites and those who understand this cultivate in a way that holds to the middle without rejecting the extremes totally.
Some things to ponder about by Satya - do please share your thoughts on these questions or anything else that strikes you:
- What makes you angry in the world? Can you see how it might be because you are 'taking something personally' or that your 'identity and values are at stake'?
- A lot of this chapter reads like poetry to me, with dense statements and things that I have to read several times to make sense of (or begin to!). Are there any phrases that jump out at you? How is it to carry it around as a koan or a pebble found on the beach?
- How well do you 'encounter the truth of yourself'?
- How does it leave you feeling when you have read this chapter?