Monday, July 30, 2012

Knowing Nothing, Wanting Nothing

When I was a young man, I was very much in search of heroes. I saw so many things around me that were uninspiring and insufficient, and I knew that I wanted something in life that went beyond the mundane compromises that filled my life and the lives of others. I did everything I could to discover people who had lived lives that were worthy of emulation. I found a goodly number of people to admire: Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg and Mother Theresa, among many others.

One literary figure in particular stood out for me: the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. Most people wouldn’t know him, or if at all they would know him for his novel, “Zorba the Greek.” But I was interested in him more for his spiritual yearning and the passionate writings that came from that, such as “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Saint Francis” and his most significant work for me, “Report to Greco.”

Kazantzakis was a rebel who would not be limited by conformity or orthodoxy, and he was eventually excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church. Due to this excommunication, when he died he could not be buried in a cemetery. He was instead buried on the city walls surrounding Heraklion, Crete. I was so moved by his intense devotion to the inquiry into truth that I made a sort of pilgrimage to his grave site — with “Report to Greco” firmly in my hand. When I came there, I found an intriguing epitaph on his gravestone which read, “I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free.”

I felt immensely inspired by those words, but I don’t think I really had any clue at all as to what they actually meant. I could understand the virtue of fearing nothing, but how could someone hope for nothing? From a conventional point of view, “to hope for nothing” appears to be a stance of complete nihilism and pessimism. What would life be if we could not hope for anything? That idea perplexed me. But the more I pondered the deeper meaning of the idea, and the more I had rich life experiences that pointed the way towards freedom in immediate perception, and the more I saw incredible people courageously living in that way, the more it dawned on me what this could mean.

This phrase is pointing to an incredible teaching that can set one free from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. By hoping for nothing, we are in a totally alert and easeful relationship with life; we are not resistant to what is. This is NOT a stance of passivity and inaction; no, not at all. Quite the opposite: it is the hero’s stance, one of complete strength, vision, trust, courage, commitment and service to the benefit of all. The hero’s stance is always right now — not lost in the figures of the past or fearing the challenges of the future. Gain and loss, coming and going, death and disease, joy and love — all of it flowing to us in an unbroken stream without the resistance of hope or fear. Right now, right now, life in all its abundance and in all its many twists and turns, right now.

There is another way to perceive the hero’s way. We could call it the path of knowing nothing and wanting nothing. Once again, if this is understood in the wrong way, it would seem to point to a lifeless and vacant response to life. Oh, my goodness, how very much it is the total opposite of that! To know nothing is to be in a beautiful dance with all of life, where we are seeing everything as if for the first time. Because we are not at all relying on all the burdensome prejudices of the past, we see with complete clarity and openness. In knowing nothing, we have open access to all knowledge. By no longer relying on our vague notions, we emerge into a profundity of seeing that is unimaginable from the mere vantage of fixed ideas and small-minded opinions.

To know nothing and to want nothing…it takes some getting used to, doesn’t it! Because this is so unfamiliar to us. We were never educated or encouraged to know nothing or to want nothing. Quite the reverse, of course: we have been trained our whole lives to gather ideas and forms that will keep us safe and to acquire people and things that will complete a life that is seen to be incomplete.

To know nothing and to want nothing is the vantage that will best serve us when death finally comes to us. At the point of death, wanting and knowing will be of no use to us. We don’t know what our death will bring, and nothing we can hope for will prevent its coming.

Wanting nothing and knowing nothing, we truly live the life that is right here, right now. We are heroes in the greatest sense of the word; we are mastered by nothing and limited by nothing. All of what is possible is available to us without having to ask for more.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Education in the Nature of Mind

Once upon a time I was a young lad of sixteen, very much like most of the other sixteen year-olds who surrounded me, and I was set to begin a life devoted to the values of the culture in which I grew up in the southern U.S. I was meant to follow a familiar path, one laid out for me by my family and community, whose lives were also consciously or unconsciously shaped by the values passed down to them. The swirl of school, sports and the social activities surrounding country club, debutante balls, dances and girlfriends swept me up and carried me along. This was all I really knew, and it all seemed fine to me. Some version of this lifestyle was what was probably meant for me for the rest of my life.

Then something very interesting and unexpected happened. Suddenly and without any cause, reason or forewarning, while sitting in Mrs. Sutherland’s class at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC reading a psychology book, a strong notion just arrived in my mind stream: “They haven’t told us everything.” Now, at first glance that might not sound like much of a revelation, but for me it was an incredibly powerful eye-opener and motivator. I knew very directly and immediately that there had to be more to life than what was being presented to me, and that whatever this “more” was, it was very much worth discovering. But where could I go and what could I do to find this “more” that they hadn’t told me about?

This slight break in the worlds — this glimpse into a higher significance in life — set me off on a lifelong journey. My approach altogether was very much like trying to put lots and lots and lots of puzzle pieces together, form a coherent whole and then figure out the whole cosmic picture through intellectual means. The first step on the journey was one taken in the direction of wanting to learn EVERYTHING. This meant reading every book possible, asking every question and looking under every rock. It then also took the form of extensive travel over a period of many years and a broad exposure to other cultures. I had concluded that if I could live for an extended time in other countries, learn the languages, read all about everything and be totally conversant with the history and culture, then I would be on the right track.

The next step on the journey was to go off to India and immerse myself in the spirituality available there. I would eventually find a number of wonderful teachers and would end up spending a number of years there in a monastic setting. I was dedicated to a meditation practice and intensive study and was living quite an austere and introverted life, and this was very satisfying and inspiring for me.

Now, please let me make it perfectly clear that I do not for one instant regret any of this journey. It was a completely wonderful adventure which provided me so much, and I am extraordinarily grateful for all that I learned, experienced and received. However, this “more” that I had been looking for from an early age remained elusive. Along the way I had heard very wonderful descriptions of it, and I had had glimpses of what it might be, but the ongoing, moment-by-moment experience of that special something still seemed to be out of reach.

This was to change. Through a very simple teaching that pointed to the basis of all things through my own direct experience, I came to see that nothing had ever been lacking. The “more” I had been seeking is not a “more,” but is just this, right here and now, with nothing needing to be added. This essential knowledge is available for everyone; it is our birthright and is not earned or achieved.

The good news is that now I can say with full conviction that whatever it was that I was looking for has never been out of reach. The deliriously joyous fact is that what I and so many others have been looking for is that which was doing the looking; that which we were looking for is simply what was looking! Who would have known! It was never a matter of finding something, accomplishing something or being something other than I already was.

What is required to come to this recognition is an education in the nature of mind. Another way of saying “education in the nature of mind” is “unerring instruction in and direct experience of the nature of existence.” This knowledge of the basis of the mind is the knowledge, knowing which, all things come to be known. It is the most essential and fundamental knowledge, but it is for the most part completely lacking in our schools, universities or anywhere else in society for that matter. We may know every possible fact in every available field, but if we are lacking in the education of the nature of the mind, then the basic knowledge necessary in all fields will be lacking. How ironic — we have seen so much advancement in learning as well as an exponential increase in educational resources through the Internet, but yet the most crucial form of education has remained neglected.

It also became clear to me that the apparent diversity that we perceive is in fact all one thing — uncreated, indivisible, timelessly perfect, uncompounded and totally permeated with pure benefit. No matter what appears, it is nothing other than this profound intelligence that fills every speck of space. We have gone through our whole life convinced that thoughts, emotions, experiences and all phenomena had an independent existence; however, through education in the nature of mind we come to see that we have merely been falsely educated in this matter; that is all.

It is just a simple matter now of being rightly educated. What is required for this right education to occur is an openness and interest in what is true. If openness and interest are there, then upon introduction to the education in the nature of mind and with further immersion in unerring instruction, a new vantage will be trained up.

I am not describing some theoretical circumstance which will occur at some distant time in the future. This is my own lived experience and the experience of so many others. I do not have the depth of vision to predict what will happen in the future, but I know that right now education in the nature of mind is spreading around the world and is influencing thousands of lives for the better. Right here, right now, the teachings in the education in the nature of mind are available for all.