This obsession with measuring and comparing seems to be the outcome of our love affair with the practices of western scientific endeavor and its outcome -- the technology that promises to ameliorate material things. For some inexplicable reason, today's educators feel that it is much more important to instill in their students the cravings for such trivia as "what is the length that the ray of light traverses in a nanosecond", than to help them learn how to lead their lives to their full potential. A person's full potential is something that, of course, cannot be measured, and as such, it immediately gets snubbed by the technocrats.
The subject of this book is not something that could be measured and quantified. The reader will not be, upon completing this book, improved or embellished in any conceivable manner. This book is strictly concerned with the quality of living. Such quality could be illustrated using a simple analogy:
As if commanded by some invisible force, both men jump on their feet and breathlessly climb the rock. What they discover then and there, at the foot of the mountain, makes them gasp in disbelief. Serenely glimmering under the shade of the giant rock, surrounded by lush, green vegetation, there lay a small pond full of crystal clear water! They rub their eyes, pinching themselves as if to awaken from some delirious hallucination. No, it's not an illusion, the pond is real.
Before they could even summon the last atom of their dangerously depleted reserves of strength in order to rush to the pond and to plunge themselves into its life-giving waters, they start forging plans for their survival. The fresh water will help them stay alive until the rainy season returns, for they can now fish for food and live on the plants and roots that are growing around the pond. Their hopes raise up high again. Life is not going to be lost, after all, and all is well once again. Just then and there, while they were dreaming of the renewed life, an incredible thing happened. As if in a bad dream, a strong earthquake has abruptly hit the area, bringing forth the tremors that were ominously shaking the ground on which they were standing. Driven by the irrational fear, they start rushing around, looking for some sort of a cover from the rolling and bouncing rocks. The quake didn't last for a long time, and soon the tremors of the earth have settled down. But then, to their horror, they've noticed that the bank of the pond is starting to give way. The huge crackling noise was following the opening of the big fissure. The water started gushing from the large cracks in the bedrock of the small pond. As soon as the fresh water hit the bone-dry ground, it was disappearing as if instantaneously evaporating before their very eyes. Their dreams and hopes about survival and life's felicity disappeared in an instant into the thin air. They knew that this is it -- there will be no more miraculous means of salvation, and it was clear as a day that now they are definitely doomed.
In the midst of this sad and despairing scene, an amazing thing happened -- one man rushed to the place where the water was bursting forth from the crack in the bank only to be swallowed by the thirsty soil bellow. He placed himself under this magnificent waterfall, rejoicing, screaming in delight, drinking the crystal cold water and bathing himself in it, dancing in the sun. The other man looked at him in an utter disbelief: "How can you think of your fleeting pleasure at such a gravely serious moment?" he was asking the other man, in all the desperation that was overburdening him. "Don't you realize that this won't help you one bit in the long run? Sure, you can quench your thirst momentarily and obtain the refreshing, cooling bath for your body for now, but in a minute or two, when the reserves of the pond water evaporate into the air and get gobbled down the cracks in the ground, you won't be any more better off than you were before your disgusting little orgy!"
The other man wasn't paying any attention to his friend reproaching him. He was too busy enjoying his "little orgy" to the fullest. How delicious the taste and the feel of that water was to him!
As far as the story about our two heroes (who suffered many misfortunes of a harsh climate) goes, they both ended their lives in the same way. The first man, who was lamenting the demise of their only hope and was reproaching the other man for enjoying himself mindlessly, was definitely right -- the fleeting enjoyment in the several splashes of water didn't spare his friend from the terrible death of dying from thirst and starvation. Arguably, nothing was gained from his grasping of the last drops of water. In the same vein, nothing was lost for the man who refused, in disgust, to participate in this, as he put it, "orgy". The application of our everyday yardstick for measuring what is desirable in life didn't reveal any differences between the two friends. And yet, somehow, we intuitively know that the man who plunged himself without hesitation into the coolness of the disappearing water had experienced real quality in his life. The other man, who knew that all is in vain, had only a shallow, abstract satisfaction in knowing that he was right. This points to nothing else than the fact that the enjoyment, the satisfaction and the quality of life cannot be measured, nor compared to anything else. To experience better quality in our lives does not really mean that we have gained anything. This book talks about this quality, as explained in the preceding paragraphs. It is, therefore, important to keep in mind that such a quality is not something that could be observed from the outside -- it is strictly subjective. As such, it may hold very little interest to some people.
Throughout this book, the reader will undoubtedly notice that the author is drawing heavily and liberally on the material found in the Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen Buddhist lore. A word of disclaimer is in order here: the author is not, nor has he ever been, in any way associated nor affiliated with any of the schools or institutions of Ch'an or Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, the author is not, nor has he ever been, associated with any other schools or institution of religious or other so-called cognitive practices. Also, the author has never had any contacts nor associations with any religious individuals, regardless of their walks of life. Acting as a free individual, the author has merely embraced the opportunity, offered to him early on in his formative years, to undergo a comprehensive and a rather long course of thorough education in science, art, philosophy, logic, music, languages, and social study. That study, coupled with a number of years of careful observations of the waxing and waning of everyday flow of life, has resulted in the thoughts presented in this book. And of course, this study continues indefinitely, following the endless and joyous path of growth and maturation.
Extending this disclaimer further, the author would like to add the following forewarnings: some of the thinking patterns exposed in this book may indicate the presence of the underlying methodology or some sort of a technique of spiritual practice in general. While this may actually be the case (albeit unbeknownst to the author), it was certainly not his original intention. It is very important to stress here that the author is clearly against advocating any method or technique to be applied with regards to the presented material. It also goes without saying that the author is not implying here that various methods and techniques (the existing ones as well as the ones that are yet to be discovered) are a priory worthless; merely, it is the author's contention that it would be more harmful than beneficial to strive to adopt any technique or methodology when trying to deal with the issues discussed in this book. Quite on the contrary, probably the best way to handle the material contained in here is to approach it with an unconcerned demeanor, without expecting any gain as well as without fearing any disruption in the readers' value systems. The fact is that even if readers do succeed in absorbing and understanding the book in its entirety, nothing would improve for those readers whatsoever. Similarly, failing to perceive any rhyme or reason to this book would not signal any loss, in any respect, for the readers. If someone would begin to study a book on how to improve his/her work or organizational habits, for example, not finishing the study properly could end up in undesirable states. Also, by digesting such book thoroughly, the reader will definitely reap tangible benefits in his/her subsequent actions. Nothing like that could ever apply to the material that the reader is about to encounter here. It is the author's wish that the book be consumed and viewed as an exercise in unconstrained and unconcerned thinking and experiencing.
Finally, there is nothing that has been
presented in this book that could be considered new. It is merely a collection,
or a compilation, of some of the ideas on change and eternity as it affects
us humans. These ideas have been gathered and put together by the author,
which is an exercise that may perhaps lend a slightly unique flavor to
the whole book. This personal perspective may result in a renewed interest
in some of the time-honored spiritual systems and disciplines. If something
like that happens, even if only in a single, isolated case, the author
will consider that his efforts have not been in vain.