Saturday, 3 October 2015

Getting Priorities Sorted

People often say how do I practice when I have so little time. There is always time for what you really want to do. Just how important is the search for these higher things? Where in your list of priorites, written or unwritten, is it? Above or below the new car?

God made the world in six days. On the seventh day he and the guys were hanging out congratulating themselves on a job well done – they had a sign up: Mission Accomplished! They were reminiscing about some of the cool moves - mountains, rivers, the seas, the oceans. And then, coolest of all, the people - a work of art, in his own image. 

Some way into the proceedings one of the girls looked up at God at the head of the table and said, 'So, what’s it all for?' 'What do you mean, what’s it all for, it’s great,' said God. 'Yeah I know, but I mean, what's the point? Why bother? Everything was stable, in equilibrium when it was unmanifest, so why shake the balance?' God started to think about this and after some time he said, 'Yes, that’s a good point, there has to be a purpose. If there's going to be choice in the world then there has to be something that motivates a good choice from a bad one.' 

So a silence followed while all the guys started thinking what could be the purpose. Well, pretty soon they realised what was needed was a search for something, a trial, a quest - something like the holy grail or the golden fleece - and the prize would be the Ultimate Truth, the meaning of it all. Okay that much was clear. 

Next they began to think where to hide it. Now this exercised them a bit more. There were suggestions like the bottom of the deepest ocean, the top of the highest mountain, the middle of the hottest desert, Antarctica, and so on. But God dismissed all suggestions. 'Too easy,' he said. 'I mean we gave these guys an adventurous spirit and they’ll soon get to all these places. No, it has to be somewhere they’ll never think of.' 

When another longer silence had fallen on the group, one of the older boys, a gnarled old fellow who hadn’t participated much in the general discussion, made his way round to God's side and started speaking in his ear. As he did so God began to smile. 'Yes,' he said, 'I think you got it. I know where to hide it'. The old boy at his side was sniggering away, hardly able to contain himself. 'Okay, I’ll tell them,' God said, 'We’ll hide it in every single heart. They’ll never think of looking for it there. Because, if they do, they’ll think it can't possibly be the real thing if everyone can have a go at it.'

You are pure consciousness

There is absolutely nothing preventing anybody from having a direct experience of the Truth. Of course, as a general principle we may well accept this, but why then is it so difficult? 

There is a well-known book called, I Am That, considered a modern spiritual classic. It’s a collection of talks, interactions and discussions with Sri Nisargadatta, Maharaj as he was known. He was a realised soul who lived his last days in Mumbai and it was there that these talks were recorded and transcribed a few years before he died in 1981 at the age of 84. He liked those who came to him to question and even to argue, create some fire, where thoughts and ideas and philosophies would tested. 

One question that he was often asked was, 'How did you become realised?’ He would answer in pretty much the same way each time, 'My guru told me, "You are pure consciousness." How could I not believe him?' In broader terms that we might understand you could say: You are the body, but you are not just the body, you are more than the body. You are the mind, but you are not just the mind, you are more than the mind. What is that More than…? Discover that. And he did.

When Maharaj was told this there was not a trace of doubt that what he was told was the perfect truth. The faith in the truth of what he had heard was total, complete, one hundred percent, and that kind of faith and commitment to what is real has tremendous power. It was that faith inspiring and guiding his practice that led to his rapid realization. It did not come from outside, because what he had been told was that the answer was inside, at the centre.

Truth and doubt

Now we may have heard this same thing many times from many different sources, and it’s been repeated over thousands of years. And we’ve touched on it before here that the profoundest spiritual truths often end up sounding like cliches when they are so often casually repeated, without any real understanding of their import. And in that intellectual climate they can easily be dismissed. And anyway what’s all that got to do with getting on with the practicalities of life? So it’s not really surprising that it seems there is always some doubt in our minds, some reason to put off any deeper enquiry until later, till another time.

But thinking it through logically, if we have been told that this is the truth, and if that truth is as it has been told by the Wise Ones, and if that Truth is the real thing, then wouldn’t there be real purpose in searching for it, and wouldn’t Truth, which surely is intelligent, respond to that? Do we think that Truth is hiding somewhere like in a vast game of hide and seek, sniggering away, trying to be as elusive as possible? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile having some kind of go at it, in some way? 

And, to complete the picture, if there is doubt, the form that the doubt will surely take will be, Maybe it's not true, what if what they say is True is not really true. Well, if it's not true, wouldn't you also really want to know that for sure, for yourself, whether that is the case or not!? 

It’s like atheists in a way are proud of their non-belief. And when they talk about it, it seems that their non-belief is a kind of belief in itself. Maybe they are just still looking for something to believe in with as much strength as what they don't believe. But whatever perspective you take, the search would be worth the effort.

The source of happiness

We are all looking for the source of our own happiness. Can that be denied? If I believe that happiness is in accumulating vast wealth, then I will prioritise that in my life and invest enormous effort in it. Same with artistic pursuits, success in competition, personal relationships, personal power, sensual gratification, etc etc. Happiness, joy, satisfaction, contentment, fulfilment - you name it - is the expected reward that drives any lifelong pursuit. It all comes down to beliefs, then the priorities built around those beliefs, and then the effort we put into those top few priorities. That’s it isn’t it, that’s a life.

If consciousness is real in everyone, then everyone also must have some kind of a seeking element, something which senses and recognises and wants to search out this amazing potential within. And the strength of that desire will determine where in our priorities we place our so called spiritual aspiration. It’s a force of life, and it’s worth recognising it consciously and knowing what you’re ready to do for it. Is it above or below the new car? It’s a joke, but one that points out the directness of the question.

What priority spiritual life?

It’s a delicate matter this putting the esoteric in amongst all the realistic everyday considerations - usually easier to leave it out and just get on with it (see the story below) - but any ongoing experience with these two side by side shows that there is a continual connection between the well-being of our inner life and our perceived prosperity in any and all other activity on our list of priorities.

Because, by placing the spiritual search consciously in the list of priorities, it does NOT mean that anything else on the list is automatically overridden, or should be rejected or renounced. Not at all! That would be a serious mistake, one that some religions tend to make. The strange thing is that, if the so called spiritual pursuit goes on evolving, all the so called lesser things get more interesting, more enjoyable and better understood because they are seen in a more accurate perspective than at any time before. You get more involved but less attached. Nothing is lost - even time is not lost - so much is gained.

Life is meant to be expressed at every level. To leave out and ignore the nascent / latent spiritual qualities is like living half a life. No matter how fulfilling any pursuit may be, for some time, can there ever be any guarantee that it will always be so? But the two can work together: By all means develop deeper inner qualities so you can be better and successful in life. But also, embrace life in a way that you can learn from it, that gives you a better inner understanding. It’s like choosing eating to live, instead of living to eat; but in eating to live you can still enjoy the food! It works both ways, so nothing need be denied.

The force behind beliefs is desire. Desires have to be either fulfilled and eventually dropped when the final realisation - that the gratification doesn’t last - finally sinks in, or transcended through spiritual pursuits, like karma yoga or meditation. There’s no other way. Suppression doesn’t work, as everyone will eventually find out. The answer is to let all that has to be done be done, but closely observed by an inner focus so that a natural relationship develops between the lowest desire and the highest aspiration.

A salutary tale

A team of road builders set off to build a road between two places in the forest. They were an elite group and each of the men brought a particular skill which was respected by the others. Their morale was high and there was a tightly knit sense of comradeship. The clearing of the forest was under way and the road was begun. They worked hard and obstacles were overcome through good leadership and teamwork. 

There was one among the men a young chap who didn’t seem to quite fit in. He didn’t join in the heavy social evenings when the day’s work was done. He always seemed to be thinking differently from the others and they didn’t understand him. The other men were friendly enough but as he continued holding himself aloof they began to look on him with less affection and soon were implying in their tone of voice things about his usefulness because he didn’t actually seem to be doing anything useful.

One day when the project was well under way the young fellow shinned up the tallest tree on the highest ground. When he came down he looked satisfied. There was a meeting of the managers and foremen going on when he got back and he boldly interrupted it, 'Wrong forest,' he said, 'we’re in the wrong forest.' 

There was a strange stillness for a moment and then everyone started going on just as if they hadn’t seen or heard the young fellow. He couldn’t understand. Wasn’t this the single most important piece of information of the whole project? Finally he got to talk to one of the men who was a bit more friendly. 'What’s happening? You know we’re building the road in the wrong forest?' 'Yes,' the other man replied, 'but it’s a really good road.' So they went on with the road just as before.

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