If we really want to address the whole issue of suffering, as well as our desire and yearning for freedom, love, and connection, then we need to learn how to look clearly at our own minds…
…The difficulty of this and the problem with it is that the images we have of ourselves are often in conflict—because the perceptions and thoughts that others have about us don’t always “agree” with one another. At one moment, we have an image of ourself as being a worthy, loving, and happy person—but within minutes or an hour, our image of ourself can change quite drastically. All of a sudden, we may decide that were a terrible person because someone was critical of us, said something unkind about us, or told us that they really didn’t like us anymore. The idea we have of ourselves is something that makes us feel very insecure, because it can change so quickly, and often at the hands of another. And so we suffer, because someone’s opinion of us can so easily trigger anger, sadness, even depression. Our sense of self is very ephemeral; it’s not as solid as we imagine it to be, and the confusion around it is one of the greatest causes of human suffering that there is. To address the dilemma of human suffering, we need to look even more closely at the way our minds create this shifting sense of who we are.
The very idea that we may not be who we think we are, for many people, is something quite revolutionary. This discovery naturally gives rise to the larger question: Is our mind who we are? Are we actually able to be identified by, described by, and defined by the thoughts in our mind? When we begin to look at our experience clearly, we’ll see that there are at least two phenomena going on: one is the movement of mind, including all of the descriptions, self-images, ideas, beliefs, and opinions that arise moment to moment. The other phenomenon is the awareness of mind. Very rarely do we take into account the awareness of mind, the space in which mind arises and subsides.
Mind has a very powerful ability to put awareness into a trance. Very quickly, we find ourselves lost in that trance. This trance is precisely what we’ve been calling “egoic consciousness”—the creation of our belief in who we are, which forms the very structure of ego. Ego is nothing more than the beliefs, ideas, and images we have about ourselves—and so it is actually something completely imaginary.
Note what happens to your sense of self when you go to sleep and your mind isn’t thinking about who you are. What happens to your beliefs, your ideas and opinions, and the world as you think it is, when you’re in bed and asleep? While your mind is resting, none of the projections that your mind imagines exist. All of the imagination of your mind ceases when you go to sleep, at least until you start dreaming. In this state of deep sleep, what you experience is great peace. We call it “sleep,” we call it “rest,” and it’s absolutely vital to our survival. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll eventually go somewhat crazy. We can even die if we don’t get enough sleep, if we never allow the mind to come into a deep state of peace and rest, where it isn’t thinking anymore.
This is ironic, because we think that if we control our minds in a certain way, then peace, rest, and freedom will be ours. We think that it is simply a matter of coming up with the right thoughts, the right ideas, the right beliefs, then we’ll find the key to peace, and from there we will all begin to get along with each other. But our history shows us—hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years of history—that our ideas haven’t saved us. Our ideas haven’t saved us from our own anger, bitterness, and violence. They haven’t saved us from wars and famine and destruction. If our history has shown us anything—the history of thought, the history of ideas—it’s that thought can’t save humanity, that thought can’t save the world, that it’s going to take something other than even the greatest ideas that we can imagine. Instead, we must start with our own minds. Because if we don’t start with ourselves, then our mind is just going to keep projecting itself into the way we view life, and we’ll be lost within another dream, another trance.
THE TRANCE OF EGO
As soon as we’re caught in a trance state, we’re imprisoned in a mechanical, conditioned movement of mind. Everyone knows what it’s like to be caught in this egoic trance state: We experience great frustration and dissatisfaction. Part of our frustration arises because the ego can’t really do anything about this underlying discontent, because the ego itself is simply a mechanical movement of thought. It can’t express any true creativity. Our egos are basically the past expressing itself in the present. By that, I mean the ego is simply our conditioning unfolding and displaying itself here and now—in the way we think, act, and react. In the egoic state of consciousness, we really don’t have the amount of choice or volition that we imagine we have.
On a deep, intuitive level, we all know this, because if we had the choice that we think we possess, we would simply choose happiness and peace; nobody who’s not insane would choose otherwise. And yet, even though we believe that we have this power of choice, life keeps showing us that we can’t even manipulate where our minds go, that we can’t even insist on the way we feel day to day, much less control every one of our behaviors or the behaviors of those around us. How many times have we made New Year’s resolutions about how we were going to change, and how many times did that change actually occur? More often than not, even the things we say we want to do, we don’t end up doing. The reason isn’t because we have a lack of willpower. The reason isn’t because we haven’t figured out how to do them. The reason is because, from the egoic level of consciousness, we don’t really have the power of choice that we imagine we have, and that’s one of the most frustrating things within the trance state of egoic consciousness.
This trance state of egoic consciousness is where 99 percent of humanity lives and breathes, yet it’s the very thing from which we yearn to escape. Even though we don’t know it’s what we long to be free of, we all have this desire to not be confined or limited imprinted within us. We all have this innate desire to be free, creative, loving, open, and compassionate—and yet when we’re trapped within the egoic state of consciousness, in this trance of ego, our options are very limited.
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Losing Jesus’ Cultural & Theological Baggage by Adyashanti — from 'Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic' (EXCERPT)
Adapted from Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti. Copyright © 2014 by Adyashanti. To be published by Sounds True in April 2014.
Losing Jesus’ Cultural & Theological Baggage
I often wonder what would it be like if Jesus were alive today. Imagine Jesus—who wasn’t a Christian, after all, but a Jew—entering a church today, going up to the pulpit and giving a sermon. Can you imagine how challenging that would be for the congregation? Can you imagine how uniquely different that sermon would be from what many of us received in church?
In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly challenges the religious authorities of the day, but ultimately what he’s saying is relevant to all forms of religion. It wouldn’t matter if he grew up a Jew, or a Christian, or a Buddhist, or a Hindu, because he’s speaking about the structure of religion itself—its hierarchy, its tendency to become corrupted by human beings’ desires for power, for influence, for money. Jesus, I think, had a profound understanding that the religion itself, instead of connecting us to the radiance of being, connecting us to that spiritual mystery, could easily become a barrier to divinity. As soon as we get too caught up with the rites and the rituals and the Thou shalts and Thou shalt nots of conventional religion, we begin to lose sight of the primary task of religion, which is to orient us toward the mystery of being and awaken us to what we really are.
Of course, these external forms do have a certain usefulness. The social function of religion is to have a moderating influence on egoic impulses and desires, and this moral and ethical role has been very important throughout history. When people move in the world of time and space from a healthy sense of ethics and morals, it’s a very positive thing, and religion has an important function in helping control the deeper and darker impulses of the ego.
But religion’s primary function is not about conveying ethical and moral codes, not about politics and power and hierarchy. Religion’s primary function is to awaken within us the experience of the sublime and to connect us with the mystery of existence. As soon as religion forgets about its roots in the eternal, it fails in its central task. Jesus was so critical of the religion of his time because he saw that not only was it not connecting people to the mystery, but that it was actually an active participant in veiling the mystery of existence, in obscuring the Kingdom of Heaven. And so he was a critic from the inside; he didn’t necessarily reject the religion he was brought up in, but he felt called to challenge it, to transform it. Jesus’ keen insight into the potential for the corrupting influence of power in all institutions—whether they’re political, economic or religious— is very relevant to the modern day. If Jesus existed here and now as a human being, what he’d have to say about these subjects would be as shocking now as it was two thousand years ago.
I’ve talked to many people over many years that have turned away from Christianity because it seems so often to focus on only the moral and ethical questions, on telling them how to live their lives, but hasn’t connected with them in a really deep way. Of course, there are those churches today that are inspired by the real living presence of Christ, but as a whole, Christianity needs new life breathed into it. It needs to be challenged to awaken from the old structures that confine spirit, so that the perennial spirit of awakening can flourish once again.
This may bring a sense of insecurity, but the living presence of the Christ is something that can’t be contained within any structure. The spirit that Jesus embodies is not a safe spirit; there’s no guarantee of how it will all play out in your life. There’s only one guarantee that Jesus gave: if you can receive and awaken and embody what he is speaking about, then your life will never be the same again. Then you will realize that you’re already living in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Jesus story gives us many different images of how spiritual realization can be embodied in the world of time and space. It’s important for us to realize that we must not only have the courage to recognize the divinity within ourselves, but also to embody it and manifest it in the way we live. Jesus as a living presence is not meek or mild. Jesus was a revolutionary, but he wasn’t a revolutionary just for the sake of rebellion; he wanted to break down the lines of separation between people, between heaven and earth, between human and divine.
The events in the Jesus story can be seen as a living metaphor for what’s necessary in our own being.
The true boundaries that need to be broken down are the boundaries within our own minds and within our own hearts. So the whole Jesus story, ultimately, is the map of a journey that happens within us. It’s an invitation to live out the radiance that’s revealed when we have the courage to step beyond anything and everything that separates us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adyashanti began teaching in 1996 after a series of transformative spiritual awakenings.
Adapted from Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic by Adyashanti. Copyright © 2014 by Adyashanti. To be published by Sounds True in April 2014.
Sooner or later we will all experience the tragic quality of life. Perhaps this quality of life is brought to us through illness, or the death of a loved one, or losing a job, or an unexpected accident, or having your heart broken. But we will all experience this tragic quality of life in both small and overwhelmingly large ways over the span of our lives. Whether we want to face it or not, life, with all of its beauty, joy, and majesty, also has a tragic element to it. This is exactly what the Buddha saw, and it inspired his entire spiritual search.
It seems that most people look for various ways to escape from this tragic quality of life, but ultimately to no avail. There is no escaping it. And it must be faced sooner or later. The question is, when we are faced with this aspect of life, how do we respond? Surely, to avoid it only leads to denial, fantasy, life-numbing withdrawal, cynicism, and fear. It takes great courage to face the totality of life without withdrawing from it or trying to protect ourselves from it.
Paradoxically, to face the totality of life we must face the reality of death, sorrow, and loss as well. We must face them as unavoidable aspects of life. The question is, can we face them directly without getting lost in the stories that our mind weaves about them? That is, can we directly encounter this tragic quality of life on its own terms? Because if we can, we will find a tremendous affirmation of life, an affirmation that is forged in the fierce embrace of tragedy.
At the very heart and core of our being, there exists an overwhelming yes to existence. This yes is discovered by those who have the courage to open their hearts to the totality of life. This yes is not a return to the innocence of youth, for there is no going back, only forward. This yes is found only by embracing the reality of sorrow and going beyond it. It is the courage to love in spite of all the reasons to not love. By embracing the tragic quality of life we come upon a depth of love that can love “in spite of” this tragic quality. Even though your heart may be broken a thousand times, this unlimited love reaches across the multitude of sorrows of life and always triumphs. It triumphs by directly facing tragedy, by relenting to its fierce grace, and embracing it in spite of the reflex to protect ourselves.
In the end, we will either retreat into self-protection, or acknowledge the reality of sorrow and love anyway. Such love not only transcends life and death, it is also made manifest in life and death. You give yourself to life out of love, and it is to love more fiercely that you walk through the fires of sorrow that forge the heart into boundless affection.
AN INNER REVOLUTION
The enlightenment I speak of is not simply a realization, not simply the discovery of one’s true nature. This discovery is just the beginning—the point of entry into an inner revolution. Realization does not guarantee this revolution; it simply makes it possible.
What is this inner revolution? To begin with, revolution is not static; it is alive, ongoing, and continuous. It cannot be grasped or made to fit into any conceptual model. Nor is there any path to this inner revolution, for it is neither predictable nor controllable and has a life all its own. This revolution is a breaking away from the old, repetitive, dead structures of thought and perception that humanity finds itself trapped in. Realization of the ultimate reality is a direct and sudden existential awakening to one’s true nature that opens the door to the possibility of an inner revolution. Such a revolution requires an ongoing emptying out of the old structures of consciousness and the birth of a living and fluid intelligence. This intelligence restructures your entire being—body, mind, and perception. This intelligence cuts the mind free of its old structures that are rooted within the totality of human consciousness. If one cannot become free of the old conditioned structures of human consciousness, then one is still in a prison.
Having an awakening to one’s true nature does not necessarily mean that there will be an ongoing revolution in the way one perceives, acts, and responds to life. The moment of awakening shows us what is ultimately true and real as well as revealing a deeper possibility in the way that life can be lived from an undivided and unconditioned state of being. But the moment of awakening does not guarantee this deeper possibility, as many who have experienced spiritual awakening can attest to. Awakening opens a door inside to a deep inner revolution, but in no way guarantees that it will take place. Whether it takes place or not depends on many factors, but none more important and vital than an earnest and unambiguous intention for truth above and beyond all else. This earnest intention toward truth is what all spiritual growth ultimately depends upon, especially when it transcends all personal preferences, agendas, and goals.
This inner revolution is the awakening of an intelligence not born of the mind but of an inner silence of mind, which alone has the ability to uproot all of the old structures of one’s consciousness. Unless these structures are uprooted, there will be no creative thought, action, or response. Unless there is an inner revolution, nothing new and fresh can flower. Only the old, the repetitious, the conditioned will flower in the absence of this revolution. But our potential lies beyond the known, beyond the structures of the past, beyond anything that humanity has established. Our potential is something that can flower only when we are no longer caught within the influence and limitations of the known. Beyond the realm of the mind, beyond the limitations of humanity’s conditioned consciousness, lies that which can be called the sacred. And it is from the sacred that a new and fluid consciousness is born that wipes away the old and brings to life the flowering of a living and undivided expression of being. Such an expression is neither personal nor impersonal, neither spiritual nor worldly, but rather the flow and flowering of existence beyond all notions of self.
So let us understand that reality transcends all of our notions about reality. Reality is neither Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Advaita Vedanta, nor Buddhist. It is neither dualistic nor nondualistic, neither spiritual nor nonspiritual. We should come to know that there is more reality and sacredness in a blade of grass than in all of our thoughts and ideas about reality. When we perceive from an undivided consciousness, we will find the sacred in every expression of life. We will find it in our teacup, in the fall breeze, in the brushing of our teeth, in each and every moment of living and dying. Therefore we must leave the entire collection of conditioned thought behind and let ourselves be led by the inner thread of silence into the unknown, beyond where all paths end, to that place where we go innocently or not at all—not once but continually.
One must be willing to stand alone—in the unknown, with no reference to the known or the past or any of one’s conditioning. One must stand where no one has stood before in complete nakedness, innocence, and humility. One must stand in that dark light, in that groundless embrace, unwavering and true to the reality beyond all self—not just for a moment, but forever without end. For then that which is sacred, undivided, and whole is born within consciousness and begins to express itself.
“Lord Buddha” by Prince Chaand
The Question of Being
Above the entrance to the Oracle at Delphi were written the words, “Know Thyself.” Jesus came along and added a sense of urgency and consequence to the ancient idea when he said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
What Jesus is saying is that spirituality is serious business, with serious consequences. Your life hangs precariously in the balance, teetering between a state of unconscious sleepwalking and eyes-wide-open spiritual enlightenment. The fact that most people do not see life this way testifies to how deeply asleep and in denial they truly are.
Within each of our forms lies the existential mystery of being. Apart from one’s physical appearance, personality, gender, history, occupation, hopes and dreams, comings and goings, there lies an eerie silence, an abyss of stillness charged with an etheric presence. For all of our anxious business and obsession with triviality, we cannot completely deny this phantasmal essence at our core. And yet we do everything we can to avoid its stillness, its silence, its utter emptiness and intimate embrace.
To remain unconscious of being is to be trapped within an ego-driven wasteland of conflict, strife, and fear that only seems customary because we have been brainwashed into a state of suspended disbelief where a shocking amount of hate, dishonesty, ignorance, and greed are viewed as normal and sane. But it is not sane, not even close to being sane. Nor is it based in reality. In fact, nothing could be less real than what we human beings call reality.
By clinging to the mind in the form of memory and thought, we are held captive by the movement of our conditioned thinking and imagination, all the while believing that we are perfectly rational and sane. We therefore continue to justify the reality of what causes us, as well as others, immeasurable amounts of pain and suffering.
Deep down we all suspect that something is very wrong with the way we perceive life but we try very, very hard not to notice it. And the way we remain blind to our frightful condition is through an obsessive and pathological denial of being -- as if some dreadful fate would overcome us if we were to face the pure light of truth and lay bare our fearful clinging to illusion.
The question of being is everything. Nothing could be more important or consequential -- nothing where the stakes run so high. To remain unconscious of being is to remain asleep to our own reality and therefore asleep to reality at large. The choice is simple: awaken to being or sleep an endless sleep.
© Adyashanti 2012
`COMPOSITION OF AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD DOGS JUMPING`
© 2007 by Adyashanti — http://www.adyashanti.org
The quest for enlightenment is the quest for truth or reality. It’s not a quest for ideas about truth—that’s philosophy. And it’s not a quest to realize your fantasies about truth—that’s fundamentalized religion. It’s a quest for truth on truth’s terms. It’s a quest for the underlying principle of life, the unifying element of existence.
In your quiet moments of honesty, you know that you are not who you present yourself as, or who you pretend to be. Although you have changed identities many times, and changed them even in the course of a single day, none of them fit for long. They are all in a process of constant decay. One moment you’re a loving person, the next an angry one. One day you’re an indulgent, worldly person; the next a pure, spiritual lover of God. One moment you love your image of yourself, and the next you loathe it. On it goes, identified with one self-image after another, each as separate and false as the last.
When this game of delusion gets boring or painful enough, something within you begins to stir. Out of the unsatisfactoriness of separation arises the intuition that there is something more real than you are now conscious of. It is the intuition that there is truth, although you do not know what it is. But you know, you intuit, that truth exists, truth that has absolutely nothing to do with your ideas about it. But somehow you know that the truth about you and all of life exists.
Once you receive this intuition, this revelation, you will be compelled to find it. You will have no choice in the matter. You will have consciously begun the authentic quest for enlightenment, and there is no turning back. Life as you’ve known it will never be quite the same.
A great Zen master said, “Do not seek the truth; simply cease cherishing illusions.” If there is a primary practice or path to enlightenment, this is it—to cease cherishing illusions. Seeking truth can be a game, complete with a new identity as a truth-seeker fueled by new ideas and beliefs. But ceasing to cherish illusions is no game; it’s a gritty and intimate form of deconstructing yourself down to nothing. Get rid of all of your illusions and what’s left is the truth. You don’t find truth as much as you stumble upon it when you have cast away your illusions.
As the master said, “Do not seek the truth.” But you can’t stop seeking just because some ancient Zen master said to. Seeking is an energy, a movement toward something. Spiritual seekers are moving toward God, nirvana, enlightenment, ultimate truth, whatever. To seek something, you must have at least some vague idea or image of what it is you are seeking. But ultimate truth is not an idea or an image or something attained anew. So, to seek truth as something objective is a waste of time and energy. Truth can’t be found by seeking it, simply because truth is what you are. Seeking what you are is as silly as your shoes looking for their soles by walking in circles. What is the path that will lead your shoes to their soles? That’s why the Zen master said, “Do not seek the truth.” Instead, cease cherishing illusions.
To cease cherishing illusions is a way of inverting the energy of seeking. The energy of seeking will be there in one form or another until you wake up from the dream state. You can’t just get rid of it. You need to learn how to invert it and use the energy to deconstruct the illusions that hold your consciousness in the dream state. This sounds relatively simple, but the consequences can seem quite disorienting, even threatening. I’m not talking about a new spiritual technique here; I’m talking about a radically different orientation to the whole of your spiritual life. This is not a little thing. It is a very big thing, and your best chance of awakening depends on it. “Do not seek the truth; simply cease cherishing illusions.” And if you’re like most spiritually oriented people, your spirituality is your most cherished illusion. Imagine that.