Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
What is the truth? This question has captivated and perplexed humankind since the beginning of recorded history. Why? Because it’s a question unlike any other. Unlike asking about the political situation in the Middle East or how to pursue a better life, it’s a deep yearning for knowledge, not information. Information that is gained can just as easily be lost. The truth is not about gaining something, but realizing what is already known.
At our core is an intent to truly know the Self. Rather than an end goal to strive for, it’s a process of revealing the truth that we are something greater than our limited, material selves. This intent towards liberation is unavoidable because it is our very essence.
On the bumpy road of truth discovery, we have to get lost once in a while to really know where we’re going. Many seekers strive for instant gratification or the easy route to happiness—to find something, anything, to satisfy this deep inner urge. Though the path of liberation requires a strong will to set it into motion and to continue on the path, it’s a gradual process that takes time. When there’s no rush, letting replaces getting since there isn’t the same kind of attachment to attain something—the kind of attachment that causes many to wander off the path or avoid the truth altogether because it’s too difficult to bear.
In our world of stuff-attainment, it’s sensible to avoid seeking the truth. It’s not like the path of truth discovery benefits us in any material sense. Quite the opposite in fact. Many truly committed truth-seekers choose to live in voluntary simplicity or live a monastic life of complete renunciation after finding that material comforts serve no purpose in realizing the truth. When realizing this many seekers hit a red light. Do we follow the green, moving forward along this path that will likely cause us to toss our desires out the window or do we pull a U-turn and hightail it back so we can cling to the same comforts in familiar surroundings?
Many resist their will and suppress the urge. Others wait until having “time on the schedule.” But if that means putting it off for many years, the inevitable crap that comes up from questioning a lifetime’s worth of conditioning gives the ego a major edge. It’s just too great a mental burden for most to bear. But even if committing ourselves to the truth, the ego still sets clever traps on the most subtle levels to catch and confuse us along the way.
Doubt is the most insidious ego trap. It has a way of overwhelming and knocking us out, in some cases for an entire lifetime. Paradoxically, the same doubt that pulls us from the truth can also push us back to it as a way of saying “Nope. This isn’t good enough either”—back to being discontent with material comforts and questioning life again. It’s the ego’s way of remaining king so it can continue imposing a constant state of unease in its empire.
What is it about doubt? Just when the sand castle starts to take shape, the universe flings out a wave to knock it over. The truth is elusive. It cannot be found simply because we already are the truth. It’s just a process of revealing. And through the process of revealing, deeper and deeper layers of our Self get exposed until ever subtler bits rise to the surface. And the more knowledge we gain, the more ignorant we become because we realize just how little we actually know. Frustrating at times, and a big reason why doubt walks onto the scene so often.
Doubt has a way of creeping up without warning, whenever and wherever. But doubt, like anything else, is impermanent. As real as it may seem, and it does have ways of appearing really real, it too will pass.
But doubt, however, is far from bad. “Our difficulty is we are so heavily conditioned that we never look, never ask, never question, never doubt. We are all followers, we are all yes-sayers,” says J. Krishnamurti. Without doubt we’d never question what the truth is in the first place. And when the swarm of desires and aversions come knocking on the door to distract us, without doubt we’d avoid the truth until a major life event happens. And if not this lifetime, the next.
Courage and surrender
A wanderer was walking aimlessly through a park, eyes fixed on the ground with a dejected countenance. A wise sage sitting under a banyan tree saw her and offered a smile. The seeker accepted the welcoming smile as an invitation to talk.
“Why do I keep on walking in circles in this park?” the wanderer asked.
“Ask who is doing the walking and you will know,” the sage replied.
The seeker went off to contemplate the question and returned the next day with an even greater desperation bred from utter hopeless confusion—the desperation of someone who cares greatly about something, but despite being stuck, resolves with incredible will to push forward. In the depths of this misery, she returned to see the sage sitting under the same tree.
“I do not know who I am, where I came from, how or when I came to be. I know nothing.”
“Good. You accept not knowing with surrender. Now you will know.”
Immediately a calm came over the wanderer. A feeling of Being-ness unlike anything she had ever experienced. At that point she knew. Though it was a temporary hint of knowing that quickly escaped, the potent jolt was sufficient—she knew what before she was trying to figure out.
The wanderer possessed the much-needed virtue of courage to face her difficulties until she could overcome them. Without courage there’s no chance to know the truth because there are too many distractions, too many reasons to give up, go elsewhere, do something else or get sucked into the “easy” life at some point on the long road.
The sage acknowledged the wanderer’s strong will, yet her mind was getting in the way, trying to figure out what could not be figured out. She was at a point that Karl Krumins in “Purification of Intent” refers to as the beginning of transformation. “Really understanding that ‘you can’t do what you think you can’ is the beginning of transformation. It’s the beginning of self-honesty.” Her mind was running mental laps until she exhausted herself. The great wealth of information she had stored in her head frustrated her because she couldn’t absorb any meaning from it.
A dose of the truth came to her as an experience, facilitated by the teacher’s presence. In the ancient Indian science of Vedanta, it’s believed that awareness of Self is unexperienceable. All experiences are temporary, but the Self, being everything there is, is limitless and eternal and cannot be experienced. It is knowledge that has to be developed.
The spiritual high
The wanderer experienced a breakthrough moment that gave her the necessary nudge to break free of her mental bondage. But despite its potency, it evaporated. Why is it that perfection can be experienced then so easily lost? Quite simply, because whatever can be gained can also be lost. That’s the impermanence of duality.
Non-duality is that which cannot be divided. There’s no good or bad, come or go, one or another. Everything just is. There’s no separation in the Self. According to Vedanta teacher James Swartz, “The Self is whole and complete actionless awareness.” Different spiritual traditions speak about this reality of the truth in different ways, but the underlying essence is the same.
To minds clouded with conditioning, the veil of ignorance needs to be lifted before seeing the truth. Though even when that veil of ignorance gets lifted, the momentum of our conditioning covers our eyes time and again. We can derive benefit from the highs just as the wanderer used her experience to get jolted out of stasis, but the ecstasy needs to be paired with the realization that those experiences are impermanent.
Unlike experiences that come and go, the inner urge for truth is permanent. There’s no point fighting it. It drives us in the background, compelling us to experience love or connect to nature. Just as we go through the motions of the day to satisfy our physical needs, our Being subtly drives home the truth. So to stifle the search is to stifle life itself, manifesting in depression, addictions or a subtle feeling of discontent, a constant want to satisfy the hungry ghost that just cannot be satisfied.
When approaching the intersection of truth we have apparent choices. Stop at a red. Show caution during a yellow. Proceed through a green. Fundamentally, we cannot choose to avoid the truth because it already is us. Like watching a pot of boiling water, the longer we sit at a red light, staring at it in a trance, the longer we hang out insamsara from one lifetime to the next. In the end, every red eventually turns green.