is there a redeeming, wonderful life to be lived?
13 Pillars of Enlightenment: How to realize your true nature and end suffering
With spirituality’s emphasis on suffering, one may wonder if this emphasis is all that life is about and all that is important on the invisible road to enlightenment. The Buddha, the gurus in the Advaita-Vedanta lineage, Hindu teachers, and others have based their teachings on the fact that life is inherently about suffering. It’s true that everywhere we look there is suffering, but is this all we can glean from life and focus on?
Although it is suffering that is the great catalyst that pushes seekers to find the deeper meaning in life, we often forget that the experience of life has much to be enjoyed and embraced. Besides the gloom and doom of certain teachings, is it wrong to look at the bright side as long as we are not being reactive against the dark side?
say ‘Yes!’ to it all
Joseph Campbell taught that it’s important to “say Yes! to it all.” Novelist EM Forster wrote that beside the everlasting question of “Why” is a “Yes.” It’s a temporary “Yes,” but a “Yes” nonetheless, he wrote. Christian mystic David Steindl-Rast said, “We have thousands of opportunities every day to be grateful: for having good weather, to have slept well last night, to be able to get up, to be healthy, to have enough to eat. … There’s opportunity upon opportunity to be grateful; that’s what life is.” And Douglas Harding said, “Isn’t it the very last thing we feel grateful for — having happened? You needn’t have happened. But you did happen.”
suffering from trying not to suffer
I would suggest that many seekers work so hard to escape their suffering that they suffer in the process. This is no small point to skip over. Trying not to be something is the reverse side of the attachment coin. The effort to move away from what we are only reinforces the illusionary idea of what we are.
Finding out what you really are, devoid of the egoic self that is at the heart of suffering, is not about trying to eradicate suffering. It is about seeing things as they are, which is the totality. If we separate ourselves from suffering then we have created a fragmented idea of reality. And though the totality of consciousness contains suffering it also contains acts of gratitude, altruism, love, artistic expression, and so much more. To accept both suffering and happiness is to see “what is” that constitutes this sense of self that travels through life.
the middle way
It seems that persistent focus on suffering is the sign of an imbalance, even though suffering is unavoidable and a prime motivator for all spiritual seekers in a flimsy reality. On the other hand, it’s way too easy to fall into the trap of trying to be happy, because the true nature of reality will still remain ignored. If you’re trying to be happy it means that you are not happy. If you are trying to ignore or do away with suffering then you are denying what exists.
Between the banks of suffering and joy is the Middle Way, which is the way of the silent observer — unalloyed awareness, if you will. The question, however, is whether we can truly see this as more than just a poetic idea or a lofty belief. Is it possible to find the Middle Way?
The Middle Way, or the Tao, or the way of consciousness, is the absence of using effort spurred by desire for an outcome to go your way. The key word here is “effort,” because trying to be happy or trying to avoid suffering comes from the same sense of self. It is the conditioned mind that takes sides and poses preferences. Ironically, desires aimed at finding happiness invariably meet up with suffering.
can we be liberated from ourselves?
Untold numbers of words have been written about liberation, enlightenment, and awakening. It’s the bedrock of Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, and Kabbalist philosophy. Awakening means seeing things as they are. Since the sense of self is mired in its own false beliefs of being tied to the body and attentive to the ephemeral things of this world, the self can never awaken. It is an illusion and an illusion cannot do anything other than get in the way of the truth.
Religious and spiritual beliefs have promoted the wrong conclusion about happiness and the good things of life. We have been awash with images of the austere monk braving the harsh elements in the pursuit of enlightenment, and Christ bearing his cross because we are all sinful creatures. There are all sorts of silly “shall nots” about having sex, drinking alcohol, looking at women, enjoying the body, and even dancing — all stemming from the mixed up minds of religious zealots who remain clueless about the real source of suffering and desire. In fact, they are the obstacles and not the solutions to finding truth. Fear-stirring depictions of depraved and out-of-control behavior have fortified the idea of desire as the root of all evil. But to blame desire is an absurdity.
desire is not all bad
Desire in itself is not an impediment to spiritual liberation. In fact, it is the motivator to find one’s truth. Desire that comes from the self-centered self is the culprit, because this desire is predicated on the false belief that we are separate from all else and must get or attain something we need to be whole and fulfilled. So putting this type of desire away, why not enjoy the good things that life has to offer?
This illusory sense of a “me” believes it must repudiate suffering and find happiness; or, tainted by religious beliefs it may think it must repudiate joy and pleasure. But what if we just allowed happiness to arise like a bubble of life-supporting oxygen yearning to break free of the water’s surface? If we are to accept our own suffering, why not also accept our happy moments, celebrations, and moments of bliss? Surely no true guru could argue against this. Our only trap is denial, not acceptance.
The legendary Taoist Chuang Tsu said, “Perfect happiness is being free from the need to be happy.”