Tuesday, November 4, 2008

You Cannot Desire Desirelessness

"I’m not teaching to transmit a tradition or carry on a lineage; I’m teaching to awaken whoever may be interested in awakening." Adya calls himself a "closer" because awakening is his starting point. "For me as a teacher, waking up to the absolute nature of reality is step one. For a lot of other systems, they’re working up to that and it’s almost the culmination. To me, that’s the entry point. Until you’ve done that, we don’t have much more to talk about. Wake up first, and then we’ll see what you need to deal with. We’ll see what’s left, in other words."
Adya’s "formlessness" calls for a different spiritual relationship, one that initially puts a lot more responsibility on the student. With Adya there is no guidance in the classic sense, no teaching of methods to attain a goal, no graded steps. He’s interested only in stopping seekers in their tracks. And if there is nothing left to seek, then what? "If you look at your life, almost everything is in some way a subtle goal," Adya said. "You are always psychologically moving toward something, and when consciousness is no longer moving toward anything, then there is a whole different something that moves you. It’s completely different from the personal, and it’s not always immediately obvious to people. Very often it confuses them."
Contrary to common belief, awakening is not the end of the journey…"Awakening is the end of seeking, the end of the seeker, but it is the beginning of life lived from your true nature. That’s a whole other discovery – life lived from oneness. Embodying what you are; being a human expression of oneness." There is awakening and then there is embodying that awakening, making it real and integrating it into the world. These are Adya’s "two things."
--From A Rare and Precious Thing, by John Kain, chapter on Adyashanti, aka Steven Gray, a contemporary American spiritual teacher

"At that moment, when the world around him melted away, when he stood alone like a star in the heavens, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of icy despair, but he was more firmly himself than ever."
-I believe this is from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

"…within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself…Few people have that capacity and yet everyone could have it."
- Source Forgotten

"Desire is a trap,
Desirelessness is liberation.
Desire is the creator, the destroyer, the universe."
-Source Forgotten, but certainly Buddhist oriented. The paradox is that you can’t desire desirelessness! I remember once a long time ago being accosted on the street in Boston by an aggressive Scientologist. I just looked her square in the eye and stated emphatically (possibly with a slight twinge of insanity) that you cannot desire desirelessness. "What?" she queried. I repeated the statement. She slowly backed away with a quizzical look and left me alone.

"Rejoice, rejoice
We have no choice, but to carry on.
Carry on
Love is coming
Love is coming to us all."
-Crosby, Stills and Nash

"Without love,
Where would we be right now?"
-Doobie Brothers

"Don’t worry,
Be happy."
-Meher Baba/Bobbie McFerrin

What most spiritual traditions have always taught is not only that love is coming, but love and grace are here now all of the time and always available. As one of my mentors put it, the Divine Condition is "always already the case". As another put it, "There is Only God". For such folk, there is really nowhere to go and nothing to do except express and serve. If a person does not have a sensation of this or access to this Divine Benevolence, then the spiritual traditions proceed to prescribe methods/techniques/paths to open up avenues of access to this Divine Love. I would disagree with the semantics of the one quote cited above that few people have this capacity, in that I believe that all people have the capacity or potential to access inner peace, but there is something within them that is obstructing them from actualizing that potential. So the spiritual traditions concoct these various methods that focus on breaking through the inner obstructions to allow the potential that is already there to come forth and express. The semantics often take on nomenclature such as "seekers", "aspirants", etc., and couch things in terms of paths to be trod, goals to be attained, and steps that can be taken to attain the goal. My primary spiritual mentor, Swami Rama, as part of his mission to establish the scientific basis for spiritual practices, always maintained that the traditional yoga and meditation practices that he taught were grounded in scientific method, because he maintained that if the practices were performed properly as prescribed, they would inevitably result in the benefit described. But the benefits are not really newly created modes or states of consciousness, but rather arise as the result of the prescribed spiritual practices that are processes designed for two purposes: (1) to eliminate or minimize obstructions that prevent access to the enlightenment that has always been there all along, and (2) to increase one’s capacity to safely conduct and express higher energy levels that are accessed through the practices in a balanced manner. At the same time, Swami Rama, in accord with most of these same spiritual systems, also acknowledged that ultimately, enlightenment was an act of grace totally beyond any mortal effort or manipulation, but that the grace would inevitably eventually occur, and could be hastened by the sincere efforts of aspirants. And thus, part of the spiritual search also inevitably involves passing through the "Dark Night of the Soul", a profound feeling of despair. There is a realization that true peace and happiness is beyond all effort, which hopefully is followed by a recognition of deep cosmic humor, a sense of awesomeness, and profound humility and thankfulness.

As one controversial Buddhist teacher said, "Enlightenment is kind of a gyp." As indicated in the quote at the beginning of this entry about Adyshanti, enlightenment is not some happily ever after be-all and end-all. Life goes on with its challenges and struggles. There is just a different orientation and perspective. I disagree with some assertions that you are either enlightened or you’re not, and that there are no degrees of enlightenment. I believe that most of us have some sense of inner peace, and the degree of spiritual development is a matter of how often and easily we can access it, and how magnified and expressed it is in our inner and outer being.

Mystical Judaism connects two of our basic bodily systems to more subtle energetic functionings: our circulatory system relates primarily to our lower animal nature, drives and instincts (our inner plumbing system, circulating liquid/blood); and our nervous system relates primarily to our higher Divine nature (our internal wiring, conducting inner electrical impulses). Consistent with this view, when I teach meditation, I often use metaphors concerning our inner plumbing and wiring, and that what meditation and spiritual development is all about is to cleanse, improve, our inner plumbing and wiring so that they have greater capacities to circulate the energies they are supposed to circulate, with less obstructions.

The neo-Advaitists and their like take pot shots at the spiritual traditions that speak in terms of attainments and goals as being delusional and misleading, because you can’t desire desirelessness. You can’t work towards the goal of desirelessness, and if you attempt to do so, you inevitably achieve the opposite, distancing yourself from it and undermining your ability to be that which you want to be. But if spiritual practice is approached from the kind of orientation I have described above, it has its proper place and benefit in spiritual development. It is always great to begin with the attitude and reality that one already has access to inner peace, and that the spiritual disciplines being engaged are for the purpose of expanding that inner peace and expressing it more powerfully. For those who do not have that sense of inner peace to begin with, then spiritual practices can help them discover what already exists within them, but is being concealed from them. Concealment is a significant topic in the Jewish tradition. The iteration is that even when it appears that God is absent, God is never really absent, only concealed, because one of the characteristics of God is Omnipresence. For an individual, there is a big turning point when a sense of vague groping in the darkness (period of God’s concealment) begins to be replaced by a sense of feeling your way through the light (period of God being revealed). As one of my teachers has put it, "I do not feel full or fulfilled, I am lost in the Fullness." And as one of my dear friends, who has been engaged in spiritual practices for many years, has put it, "Sometimes I feel like I have swallowed the sun".

In her book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, Sylvia Boorstein describes a kundalini-type of experience that was at first pleasant, but then created discomfort and difficulties for many years until it thankfully dissolved. She remembered reading something by a person named Gopi Krishna (with whom I am familiar, but that’s another story!), who had an intense kundalini awakening that resulted in major disorientation and discomfort until it finally stabilized. There are times when folks may encounter such increases in inner energy, and if they are not adequately prepared, this heightened energy level can create havoc and an intense "spiritual cleansing" crisis. Folks who have engaged in spiritual practices regularly will be more capable of handling such power surges, because they have been working on improving the capacities of their inner plumbing and wiring, so that when the power surge occurs, there is not an overload situation. Although I earlier referred to this as metaphor, it is actually close to being literal. I once expressed to one of my early teachers years ago my yearning to want to be able to more fully experience and express Divine Love. His response was to pray that it did not happen before I was ready for it.

Meditation and spiritual practice should be approached more like the way we approach sleeping, rather than like eating. Eating and sleeping are two essential life activities that are quite qualitatively different. In order to eat, there are many things that we have to undertake and actively engage in to accomplish this task. We have to consciously and intentionally obtain, cook and eat the food. There is a clear goal and procedures for accomplishing that goal involving active participation. Sleeping is of a very different nature. We can say that we go to sleep, but it is more like we set up conditions favorable to sleep and eliminate conditions disruptive to sleep. We then allow sleep to happen of its own accord. So our effort in going to sleep ultimately is more passive and receptive. The preliminaries involve activities conducive to receiving sleep, to allowing that state to happen. I think the real basis for the argument that spiritual practices are useless concerns approaching spiritual practice with a mindset similar to the way we approach eating and comparable external activities. This would be limiting, and unfortunately, many people may approach it in this way, as another consumer product that needs to fit in with their schedules, that they partake of at their convenience. Spiritual practices need to be approached more in the manner in which we approach going to sleep: we set up conditions conducive to allowing them to happen, eliminating conditions that might be distracting. Then it is much more a process of allowing it to happen. It is not so much that we are meditating as it is that we are being meditated; we allow meditation that is already there in the background to come front and center. We don’t do sleep, we allow sleep to happen. What we can do is work on eliminating obstacles to meditation, but we can’t actually do meditation itself.

If you can truly practice in your daily life the simple edict, "Don’t worry, be happy", then you might not need a lot of spiritual development or exercises. Congratulations. Go forth and prosper. For the rest of us, perhaps we should carry on.

1 comment:

Dejan said...

Interesting Article.

Thank you.

Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



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