Musings

September 2021 Musings

To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to haveto want and wanthow that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!
― Virginia Woolf
 
The word used in the Pali canon to describe desire, the root cause of suffering, is tanha, or thirst. Desire itself is not condemned in religious texts for without desire we cease to exist. Aren’t we just expressions of Life’s longing for itself? Without divine dissatisfaction, the niggling sense that there is more to us than the limitation of ego identification, would we be propelled to seek the Boundless within? So, what is this desire that inflames the fires of suffering?
 
We are told that tanha, unquenchable thirst, is the result of selfish desire. In this sense “selfish” is not only grasping after what I want. There are many things I want that I might end up having. Desire that results in suffering is almost always for the impossible coupled with unconscious refusal to accept the absurdity of hankering after what cannot be. At its most basic, desire that causes suffering is unwillingness to accept the nature of life. If we examine a few of the fundamental desires that cause the most suffering…
 
I don’t want my loved ones to die
I don’t want to get sick
I don’t want to experience pain
I don’t want to suffer loss
I don’t want to age
I don’t want things to change
I don’t want to face anything difficult
I don’t want to feel discomfort
I don’t want to do anything hard
I want things to go my way
 
…we see that we long for life to be something it isn’t. We want security, control, permanence, certainty, predictability, agency, eternal existence. On the other hand, Life is transient, cyclical, mysterious, impersonal, ever-changing, uncontainable…can we say indescribable?
 
Obliviousness to how Life is not only propels a lifetime pursuit of the unattainable, it also creates an illusion of lack where there isn’t one, engendering unnecessary desires.
 
I ache to belong
I long to be loved
I wish to be good
I want to be accepted
I wish I felt adequate to my life
I wish I were different  
I wish I could do more
I wish I could be happy
 
Life is perfection, happiness, love, wholeness, compassion, goodness, adequacy, sufficiency. In Hindu scripture, an awakened human being is someone who is happy with themselves. If one realizes that one is consciousness itself, how can one feel anything but whole, complete, contented and connected to Infinity? But ignorance of our True Nature has us in a state of deprivation, longing for what we are, unable to receive what we have.
 
There is always the temptation to wonder why egocentricity is our default identification and why happiness is arrived at only after arduous practice. To paraphrase Ramana Maharshi, the why question is relevant only when one is still suffering. Almost all spiritual practices acknowledge the futility of asking why. Why we have to live out our lives in this odd design of existence that is rife with suffering is an unanswerable question. If happiness is our pursuit, the encouragement is not to ask why the trajectory of awakening is from ignorance to realization but to get on with awakening. If we can clearly see the absurdity of longing for what cannot be, we can stop engaging in a process that results in “hearts being wrung over and over again.”
 
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
― Joseph Campbell
 
The ignorance we suffer from is a stubborn form of resistance to seeing the obvious. We receive information from Life about how Life is, and yet we refuse to abandon the orientation that the world must change, or I must change the world, or I must change myself to have the life I want, or there must be something wrong with me. Until we let go that “I,” happiness isn’t. But there is tremendous conditioning around letting that “I” go. Letting go “I” is tantamount to giving up all that I am, synonymous with the loss of hope, dreams, possibility, freedom of choice, individuality. Ironically, clinging to the ego orientation often results in what we are afraid of losing. Since life doesn’t necessarily go “my” way, “I” become inured to disappointment and, quietly or not-so-quietly, resign myself to existing in an unfriendly universe that trades on broken dreams. Letting go “I” is “growing up,” which, as the Guide observed in There Is Nothing Wrong with You, almost no one wants to do. No “personality” wants to give up its better idea for how life should be in order to live the life there is to live. It is often tragedy or unexpected loss that spurs the willingness to concede that our approach to happiness isn’t working and leads to the openness to explore other options.
 
I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
― Hafiz
 
In the Vedic scriptures, it is said that each of us comes into this world with an allotment of karma that needs to be exhausted in this lifetime. We have a predisposition of personality and a trajectory of circumstances that will unfold regardless. This perspective may be considered fatalistic but it isn’t. The “I” rebels against having no agency, but that’s because it has no notion where freedom lies! Being imprisoned by conditioning is something we feel repeatedly. For example, I yell at someone I love. Even with a lot of practice, sometimes I cannot help myself. From within the identification, we feel victimized by the karma—the predisposition to react when triggered in a specific way. But even if we are “born of karma,” even if there is little choice over the programming of our personality, freedom from suffering doesn’t lie in changing the karma or improving the personality. That’s another impossible desire! True freedom lies in identification with the Awareness that remains unruffled as it witnesses the unfolding karmic drama.
 
That which we are seeking is causing us to seek. To be aligned with that desire, to come home to ourselves, to be happiness, is the only desire that leads to true fulfillment. Since a human incarnation is a game of hide and seek, we might as well submit to Life’s terms of engagement. Arriving at that surrender feels like a brutal process, but, it seems, Life has no issue with the design of encounter and transcend, completely serene in the face of shattering the barriers to Self-discovery. After all, from Divinity’s perspective, it is only a game. The odds may not appear to be in our favor, but with practice, if we stay disidentified from ego, attentive to Awareness, we begin to enjoy the game. Fulfillment arises when we realize that the joy is in being alive, that joy is in Life itself. This is the experience of “the joy of Intelligence knowing itself.”
 
Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world.
The forms may change, yet the essence remains the same.
Every wonderful sight will vanish, every sweet word will fade,
But do not be disheartened,
The source they come from is eternal, growing,
Branching out, giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep?
The Source is within you
And this whole world is springing up from it.
― Rumi
 
Gasshō
ashwini