Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being good and being spiritual

Oddly enough, sometimes being true to oneself and being good can be 2 different things. :-)

Most human beings, including the spiritual seeker, have a certain common idea of what it means to be good, - to be a good person. A good person is one who is kind and considerate, loving and generous, good-tempered and helpful. When a person is unkind or angry or unhelpful, we don't think of that person as being so good. Is this not true?

These are very deeply entrenched beliefs in the human psyche.

One can describe the spiritual path as one where all beliefs come undone. - Even the most widely held, universally claimed and deeply entrenched ones - such as what it means to be good.

Through my own experience and that of those I am with, I find that most spiritual seekers have a very strong resistance to the dropping of this belief in being good. We equate being spiritual with being very good. How can it be otherwise? We have heard and read of saints and sages and Gods who personify and embody the good virtues listed above. So it comes as a bit of a shock when we are nudged to see that even being good, in the commonly accepted human sense, can be simply another belief. And we are frightened of seeing through this belief. This is very natural. The fear is that if this belief drops away then we will somehow be bad people, or, at the very least our bad side will show up more. We think that our belief in being good is what keeps the bad demons away. We don't want to be bad and we don't want to be seen to be bad. We don't want to hurt ourselves or the other. So we cling to this belief in being good.

Does any of this strike a chord so far?

Now I am not saying that being good is bad. :-) Infact this belief can arise in great innocence, and is very well-intentioned. And who among us would not prefer 'good' behavior to 'bad' behavior? But good and bad are ideas too and all ideas are eventually seen through. So I am simply saying that when we no longer resist seeing this apparently difficult truth, then this belief can be seen through.

When we cling to the belief in being good, we are basically insuring ourselves from finding out our bad side. So the belief in being good is fuelled by a fear of discovering how bad we may actually be. The belief in being good is rooted in fear. And fear is rooted in separation. Only one that believes herself to be separate, is fearful for herself.

So let's take a minute to see how this belief in being good plays out in our lives.

We try to be good. We curb what arises naturally and try to make it conform with our idea of good. We censor our words and actions. We speak lies to avoid uncomfortable truths. We live lies to fend off inconvenient truths. We blame ourselves and others when badness escapes our watch anyways and manifests as anger or unkindness. We feel conflicted inside, over our actions, and the actions of others. We feel like we must be on constant guard. We feel tense and constrained in body and mind. We feel superior to the less good people. We build up our image of virtuosity and feel inflated by it. And then we feel deflated when we slip into the slightest deviation. And on and on.

Curiously the belief never really sets out to achieve what it intends. Does it? Look within yourself. Do you believe in being good as a credo? Has it effectively stopped you from being 'bad'? Of course the mind's comeback is that although it doesn't stop badness, it keeps it in check. Yes? No - that is not my experience and if you are interested, I invite you to discover what is really true for you, beyond what mind says. You may be very surprised by what you discover.

For the spiritual seeker, there is the added issue of spiritual image. How can one be spiritual and bad at the same time? No, no - one must avoid being bad and being seen to be bad. That would not be spiritual at all. So we hold back and pull back and perpetuate this violence upon ourselves and others, all in the service of this belief in being good.

Why do I call it violence? When we resist something using force, it is violence, is it not? And when we force ourselves to act good, it is violence upon ourselves. When we force others to be good as per our ideas of good, we are being violent towards them. I am not saying it is right or wrong. But it is violence. And we can see for ourselves how this violence feels inside us and how it affects the other.

Yet, all the time, despite the extent of our suffering around this belief, we feel a certain sense of relief and validation that at least we are trying to be good, just like everyone around us. There is a safety about this trying, because it brings us membership to the human club. This sustains the belief. No need to blame ourselves for this - this just happens. Our need for safety and affiliation is so strong that we are willing to pay a very very high price for it. Until we are not.

When we are no longer willing to pay this high price, we are willing to look deeply into this belief. We are willing to confront the fear that upholds annd perpetuates this belief and all its suffering. We are willing to see that good and bad are both only ideas based on a certain perspective. We see that when we accept living in fear and suffering, then we feed that fear and suffering in everyone around us. This is a gut-wrenching discovery that brings us to our knees. It turns our world upside-down. For we see that our very attempts to not harm, when frozen into this belief in being good, can generate suffering within and without! When this belief dissolves, humility and gratitude flow. Fear starts to be dislodged and freedom begins to take its place. This is the freedom of one who no longer believes herself to be separate from the flow of life and all that it brings.

The belief in being good drops away. And the wisdom of the moment is free to arise. This is the wisdom of wholeness. It may express itself as love, kindness, compassion, understanding, appreciation, gratitude and peace. But make no mistake, nothing is exempt from this freedom; nothing is denied. So anger may arise too. But it is not held back from fear and so it is free to serve its purpose and pass, in freedom. And when we live in this freedom and act from it, then the freedom radiates out, and everything and everyone around us can be free too. This is to be true to ourselves.

Images arise:

Lord Brahma creating the world and Lord Shiva destroying it,

Jesus Christ on the cross and Jesus Christ dealing with the money-lenders,

Kanzeon, the Bodhisattva of compassion and Manjushri wielding the sword.

All in service to the truth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Who is looking?

What do you see right now?

Suffering? Bad times? Anger? Sorrow? Evil? Rudeness? Confusion? Mistakes? Discontent?

Joy? Peace? Love? Contentment? Fun? Excitement?

Any mix of the above?

Notice how what you see affects how you feel. Whether the anger or peace arises outside you or inside you, notice that there is a response inside you. What is that response? More feelings? More thoughts? Notice.

Notice that all of these are objects in awareness. You are aware of the anger, the peace, other feelings and thoughts. They are not aware of you.

We get caught up in what we are experiencing and looking at. But who is looking?

No matter what is being looked at, there is always the one that is looking.

What is seen depends on who is seeing.

See this at work in your own life.

Start with the most basic thing that we take so for granted - the physical world. What appears as a red flower to us human beings appears differently to different species in the animal world. Some species can perceive only one color and others can perceive a wider range of colors than the human eye.

Then there are functional differences. What may appear as an insignificant ant to a hiker on a trail appears as food to an anteater.

And of course there are emotional variances. Two people faced with the same circumstances may see different things and respond differently.

At many levels then, we can notice that what is seen depends on who is looking.

The world of objects is so fascinating to us that we keep going from one object to another in wonder. Built into this fascination is a desire to find better and better objects. This fuels the looking. And it is natural and fine as long as it lasts. But many of us begin to experience a kind of dreariness to this endless looking. Then at some point we tire altogether of what seems like a wildgoose chase. That's when we can get interested in the question: Who is looking?

This question begins to draw us inward, as we begin to get interested in the perspective that looks out. At first when we ask ourselves this question, we may come across different perspectives. An example that many people can relate with, is that when we see anger within ourselves, asking this question Who is looking? often reveals somebody filled with fear. And we can simply acknowledge this fearful one. And we can see that when fear is looking, then anger is seen and experienced. Now we have stepped back, behind the anger.

Similarly other sights may reveal other perspectives.

When we continue to ask this question, (at a pace that does not feel forced in any way) we begin to step further and further back. So to continue the example above, when we contact the fearful one fully, we may see that even this fear is only an object - it is being seen and experienced. So it is natural to ask the question again - Who is looking? And we may find yet another perspective.

I am not suggesting that we do this as a process to reach a certain objective. What I am suggesting is that if this question interests you, then this process may arise quite naturally. There may appear to be a little effort in asking the question at first, and then it may just start happen quite frequently on its own.

We begin to see that all the perspectives, or the ones who are looking, are finally objects in themselves. And as we step further and further back, we begin to be what we always and already are - that empty self-aware awareness within which everything arises.

There is no gain from this. And the curious thing is there is no interest in any gain.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Circles and dots

The teacher drew a large circle on a paper pasted to a board. Then he turned to his students and said, This is the great circle of being. Nobody and nothing is outside it.

The students listened with rapt attention, some nodding their heads in understanding, and others closing their eyes in meditation.

Each one of you is fully contained within this circle. See this very clearly, each one of you, continued the teacher, scanning all the faces before him intently.

Suddenly a tentative hand raised itself. And a young new student stood up and cleared his throat nervously. Sir, may I share what I am seeing and ask a question? he asked, hesitatingly. The teacher's eyes bore into the young man's even as he nodded his assent.

Well, began the student, clearing his throat again, for two days now you have shown us this circle of being and told us to see that we are each inside it. But I don't see that.... He paused to take note of the teacher's expression, and finding only an even intensity there he made bold to continue. I see myself as being outside the circle, he said a little more confidently.

The teacher's expression softened a bit as he turned to the board and picked up the pen. He drew a small dot outside the circle. Then pointing his pen at the student, he smiled and said, Is this where you find yourself? The student nodded and looked around at the other students. Most of them were now paying close attention. Then the teacher turned back to the board and with great flourish, drew another larger circle, so that the dot was inside this new circle. There now, it is fixed, he said beaming at the student, You are fully within the circle of being.

Some of the students chuckled and others nodded in appreciation.

The student looked nonplussed, then started to sit down as if this was as far as he could get, when the teacher stabbed the air with his pen and said No, no, don't believe me. Look inside again and see what you find this time. Then turning to the other students, he said, All of you - I want you to look inside again. But first, is there anyone here who has never had the same question as this young man? Maybe some of you found the answer sometime back. But allow the answer to refresh itself in this moment. Don't bank on past memories of an answer. See what is true right now.

The students all became very quiet, and a period of silence followed. At one point the teacher called out to the young student and said, I see you are ready to share something. What do you find?. The student stood up and said, a bit sheepishly, I still see myself as being outside that new circle, Sir. He bit his lip anxiously. But the teacher only smiled and drawing another dot outside the second circle, asked, Like this? When the student nodded, the teacher nodded too and again with great flourish drew a third circle on the board such that the new dot was inside it. Then without a word, he turned to the student again and raised his eyebrow. The student nodded slightly, sat down and closed his eyes.

This scene was faithfully repeated many times over the next few days. During this time some of the students went from great discomfort to a kind of settling down. Still others, like the young student, seemed to be ok and took this chance to look within. And then there were a few who seethed about this complete waste of time, but stuck it out for their own reasons. One student left in pure frustration.

The fifth day commenced. On the board were a set of concentric circles, each with a little dot inside. The teacher sat beside the board, immersed in the silence, eyes opening sometimes and closing sometimes. Finally the young student raised his hand again, stood up confidently and said, Sir, I am fully within the circle. And..., he paused, a bit unsure again. Yes? asked the teacher, and what? The student continued, eyes shining, And the circle is fully within me. I am the paper and the circle and the dot.

At that instant many of the students felt an arrow pierce their hearts, but what spilled out was love, not blood.

The teacher turned and began to pack away the board and paper and pen. Good, he said, because I was really getting tired of drawing so many circles.