It is hard to leave the world, and hard to live in
it, painful to live with the worldly and painful
to be a wanderer. Reach the goal; you will
wander and suffer no more.
Recently, two episodes in the Buddha’s life have inspired my practice.
The first is the night that Prince Siddhartha slipped out of his palace, donned the saffron robes of an outcast and abdicated his roles as the future king, devoted son, proud father and loving husband. The chronicles don’t tell us whether he felt conflicted about this decision. Did he debate the “stay versus go” duality endlessly? Did he suffer the anguish of having to make a choice to follow his heart instead of bowing to the dictates of his conditioning? Was he tortured about leaving behind the many obligations and duties that came with his position? Did he feel guilty for selfishly choosing his own salvation at the expense of the good he could do for the people who depended on him?
From the perspective of everyone in his life—wife, son, father, subjects—the Buddha’s decision was not the “good person/right thing to do.” It was likely viewed as downright irresponsible! The impulse towards freedom, enjoyment, expression, and happiness have traditionally been viewed with suspicion. If we all give in to our “selfish” impulses, can we be trusted to act in ways that won’t ultimately undermine the social fabric that keeps us co-existing together? Without the internal programming that whispers constantly of punishment, judgment, and exclusion, can we be counted on to do the right thing, to comply with the prevailing order, not to indulge in excess? If nothing external holds us accountable, would we not be the worst of what we are?
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
Cultivating the ability to calibrate to and act from the guidance of the life force—wild, clear, pure, and true despite the “fantasies of authority”—is not easy. The central question it poses is the willingness to realize that what animates us, Conscious Compassionate Awareness, is perfect as it is, that the life force is not a “good person” but rather Goodness itself, despite everything the voices say to the contrary. The accusations of doing it wrong, of not being the right person, of not being “good” because we don’t comply with the prevailing norms are lies in the face of what we truly are. Our freedom lies in realizing the truth of our essential Goodness and actively choosing it. The Buddha showed us how to do this as well.
On the night of his enlightenment, or so we’re told, Mara, the personification of ego, unleashed his forces. All the impulses of the mind that negate True Nature, including pure self-hate, arose before the Buddha, questioning his Authenticity, challenging the validity of his awakening. Sitting in meditation, the Buddha watched it all and then smiled and touched the Earth. With that gesture, the Buddha chose to identify with the Earth, with That Which Is/True Nature, not Mara; Intelligence knowing itself vanquished the forces of egocentricity.
We’re all circumscribed by the boundaries of our conditioning, and on the path we’ve chosen we have to encounter and transcend what keeps us within the karmic precincts. Sometimes those choices fly in the face of all that we have been conditioned to believe is good and right. But that’s because of our deep identification with “what we’re not.” Ego is not a “good person.” Ego is completely self-serving, absolutely dedicated to keeping itself alive no matter the cost. It is literally an absence of conscientiousness. Identified with it, we would be wise not to trust ourselves. Unconscious of who we truly are, we do indeed wreak havoc on our environment, community, and relationships. When we consider the implications of any choice that ego deems selfish, it’s a clue, a process clue, that the place we are in is not a place from which we will have any clarity on making a “good choice.” The only relevant choice is to redirect the attention, out of the world of opposites. What unfolds after that is not “my” choice. It’s simply Life unfolding. I then have the privilege to learn to attend to/be with/witness whatever happens now.
Enlightenment, seen through conditioned mind, is a goal which, once attained, banishes the struggle forever. To acknowledge that an “end” is desired and needs to be attained is to catch on to another ploy of Mara. The Buddha practiced till his dying day, or so we’re told, because Mara arises in every moment. Awakening produces such a strong realization of what we are that we no longer believe the lie of “what we’re not.” But until we know in our bones that Authentic Nature is Goodness, we have to learn to keep confronting and losing interest in what says what we are isn’t perfection.
As we begin a new year, our practice focus of being full-time Awareness Practitioners reframes our lives to be the continuous choice between Being Goodness and “being a good person.” Goodness is not in what we choose, but how we choose it. With practice, our ability to shift from “what” to “how” comes more easily. All our “failures” in the training process are simply what we have to encounter to become more skillful at identifying with Goodness, with That Which Is, with True Nature. By practicing, we don’t become better people or better at making the right choices. We become less involved with the suffering process that hides behind “being a good person/doing the right thing.” We have to face down the fear of doing something that goes against conditioning to prove to ourselves that the arrows of the mind do not wound. It’s only when we attempt to break out of the ego prison that we discover the consequences of doing so are not as dire as the voices threaten. We have to step outside the boundaries of karmic identity to experience that authentically we really are adequate to our life.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
That day is today…the time is Now.