Meta Enlightenment

VIII. You Can Only Search For Something That You Already Have

By Alex Bunard, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

One of the biggest and certainly one of the toughest paradoxes in our lives is the fact that we can only feel the urge towards something that we already have. Now, from the ordinary perspective, nothing could be more ludicrous than uttering such a statement. Surely, if, for example, I feel tired, I would like to lie down on a comfortable bed. But if I don't have a bed, I will be looking for it, I would feel the urge to get it. If, on the other hand, I already have a bed next to me, I will not search for it, nor will I feel any urge for it.

This ordinary view of the paradox (stated above) is vulgar, and we may call it a deluded view. It operates in such a way that it breaks any given situation into myriad pieces, and then picks them up, one piece at a time, and tries to interpret them. This deliberate narrowing of the world view cannot produce anything but illusions. When we penetrate through the veil of these illusions, the following reality appears:

In the vastness of the Universe, all the particular beings and things that appear and then vanish are perfectly complete, fine as they are. There are no barriers, and there is no power to be found anywhere, because no push to accomplish anything is needed. Being devoid of any "special effects", the reality is rich and diversified beyond rational comprehension, and yet everything is always accomplished and completed. In the realm of absolute creativity anything can happen (and it happens) with equal possibility. Thus, we are absolutely free to imagine that we are lacking something.

Because we are firmly rooted in reality (and cannot be any other way), we can only imagine something that we already have. This simple truism  -- we cannot imagine the unimaginable -- must be repeated once again here. Therefore, whatever we may imagine that is lacking, is actually already there. There is a famous Enyadatta story (from the lore of Chinese Ch'an Buddhism), which depicts a beautiful girl who one morning fell into a terrible delusion because she could not see her head in the mirror. She was thrown in the depths of darkest despair when she became convinced (by falsely interpreting an event in her life) that her head was missing from her shoulders. Of course, it goes without saying that it certainly feels terribly painful to be lacking such an important feature, and the poor girl was almost driven to insanity by the strong feelings of grief. It didn't help one bit when her family and her friends started reassuring her that everything is all right, and that, indeed, her head was still on her shoulders. Finally, having exhausted all the means of trying to bring her back to her senses, they tied her to a pillar in the house. Only when she, thus helpless to do anything, gradually fell into the quiet contemplation, did it dawn on her that she couldn't possibly be mourning the loss of her head had she really lost it! This realization brought her back to sanity, she was released from the pillar, and she simply couldn't contain her joy and euphoria. She was dancing around the house, singing, laughing, shedding bitter-sweet tears, being filled with more happiness than she could take.

This parable is instructive on many levels. Enyadatta fell into a disgrace when she imagined that she had lost something she knew she had always had. Now, had she imagined, by some weird caprice, that she had lost something that was actually never in her possession to begin with, would she had felt equally distressed? For instance, say that one morning she was looking at herself in the mirror and suddenly she had noticed that she doesn't have gills on the side of her neck. Or, she became aware of the fact that she doesn't have two heads. How would Enyadatta interpret such a discovery? Unless she was already utterly deranged, naturally she wouldn't even stop to comment on such an insight. The truth of the matter is, we never have any problems with something we don't consider to be our nature. But the odd truth is also that though the only thing that has the power to really upset us is a feature of our nature (because it is so dear to our hearts), we are never deprived of even the tiniest attribute of our nature. Isn't it really strange, then, how we always grieve so intensely the loss of something that is always with us, no matter what?

Once Enyadatta came to her senses, and realized that she couldn't even begin to feel the loss of her head if she had really lost it, she simply couldn't believe that such a thing, as imagining that she was deprived of something so fundamental in her life, could ever happen. How is it possible that I can imagine that something is missing when it is precisely that something, supposedly not present, which enables me to imagine the whole lunacy? This is the great paradox of our lives, and the one we should be familiar with.

We can now draw some parallels between the Enyadatta's case and the problem of the ongoing inner trial: similar to Enyadatta, we have come to an uneasy discovery that something vitally important is missing from our lives. This discovery has defeated us, and has dragged us to the inner court, where we are forced to undergo this utterly harassing trial. The loss of freedom is being mourned all along, and the dreams of liberation are growing ever bigger in our hearts. But, what is actually at stake here? What are we mourning, and what are we being accused of?

In a nutshell, we are saddened to admit that we have lost the grace of spontaneous living, that we have been expelled from the Promised Land. We have lost this exalted position in reality, and we want to get it back. We know that we are entitled to such living, that it is our birthright. We are looking for it everywhere, we are restless and are awaiting the tidings which will either re-affirm us in the blissful state, or throw us in the nether world of total annihilation (which we fear more than anything).

However, the craziest, the most radical absurdity permeating this whole field of irreconcilable problems, is that only because we are forever in the state of complete spontaneity and gracefulness, are we capable of suffering such feelings of loss and upset. Like Enyadatta, who could come to the realization that her head was missing only because she already had her head on, we can be deluded into thinking that we are expelled from Paradise strictly because we are installed in the midst of it. If we were not already living the full blessed life according to our nature, we wouldn't be capable of feeling this fear and distress. This statement really doesn't make one iota of sense from the ordinary point of reasoning, but for those who really look into it, the paradox has a way of revealing the reality. Let's then look into it some more:

In everyday situations, a suffering individual may complain that life feels so shaky, so insecure, that it almost seems as if it is not worth living. What would be the solution, the resolution that would put the feelings of that individual at ease? Various people may give slightly different answers to this fundamental inquiry, but typically the answer boils down to: "A definite certainty, some sort of a guarantee that my being will not be threatened, and furthermore, I'd like to see the circumstances of my life being permanently favorable with regards to fulfilling my potentials."

Of course, we can add much more to this typified reply, because the list of demands is practically endless. We can, however, safely stop even at such a short list, because it is good enough to serve the purpose of our presentation. The curious part of this whole process is that while people are complaining and making wish lists and so on, nothing is really happening in their lives that could clearly demonstrate how threatened they are (as they incessantly claim to be). If, on the other hand, a person happens to be really threatened, he/she then does not have even one split second of time to entertain such fundamental grieving. In the situation where the real problem is present, life doesn't feel problematic at all. It is only during leisure time that we feel so fundamentally wrong about ourselves and about the reality.

This assessment does appear to be unbelievably naive, optimistic and akin to viewing the world through a pair of pink-colored glasses. But that may hold true only if the assessment itself is assessed from the heavy duty dualistic standpoint. Again, at any point we are free to stop, and to imagine that such a view cannot come even close to faithfully represent reality. But, now is the time to realize that we are once again entering that vicious loop that we have described as: "we can only long for that which we already have". It is possible to disagree with this only if we postulate that we are irreparably split along the subject/object imaginary demarcation line. In other words, only if we accept that, somehow, a subject has his/her origins in a totally different reality and has then been mysteriously transported to this utterly alien reality where nothing is in accord with the subject's nature.

Not too many people would be willing to embrace this "alien origin of the subject" hypothesis. It simply is at the core of our being that we know that the reality is one, that there is nothing, no matter how remote or bizarre it may be, that is not reality itself. This being so, there is no way to refute, on any grounds (including the today's most venerable grounds, namely that of scientific evidence), that the reality is within ourselves and that we are within reality. Therefore, we have total access to all of it, and it is only because of the peculiar nature of our rational reasoning that we are experiencing difficulties in acknowledging it.

If we inquire into this area with people who have experienced enlightenment and who have brought such experiences into the realm of the mature practice, they will invariably point to the fact that at every moment, we are perfectly fine, with everything that's needed for us to be absolutely happy being at our immediate disposal. Mind you, depending on the particular circumstances, not every enlightened being will necessarily be so blunt and straightforward. The reason for this lies in the fact that it is all too easy to misinterpret their intentions and to cling onto their words and therefore be led astray. Wisdom that such people possess enables them to read the personality of the inquirer, so the answer will probably vary from person to person. But, if one is allowed to generalize, all the answers boil down to the fact that there is absolutely nothing lacking in anyone's life.

Now, it is one thing to personally experience this fact, and another thing altogether to simply take it for granted. Taking somebody's word for it is useless. It is like a person who is starving and who is watching another person feasting on a tasty meal -- the person who is in the midst of gorging himself may tell the hungry guy that the food is so delicious, and the hungry guy may absolutely believe him, but that firm conviction is not going to remove his hunger. What is needed is not belief systems, rational constructions and ingeniously rendered imaginary worlds; leaving all that behind, a person can be saved from starving to death only through a specific action -- only if he actually eats the food will everything be restored to normal.

Same is true for our other fundamental problems. Only when we agree to actually lower our whole being from the lofty heights of rational reasoning down to the messy stream of experiencing the reality, will we be able to verify the falsity or validity of such outrageous claims. While this is quite easy to understand and to agree with, we are still faced with insurmountable barriers whenever we attempt to apply this practice in our daily lives. The main reason for that is the lack of faith -- we find that the proposed acceptance of our innate perfection is something that is not at all suited for a mature person, who is well versed with the ways of the world and who has risen beyond the lore of fairy tales and magical thinking. Our hard-earned position in the world, obtained only after we've undergone some painful ordeals and received some harsh lessons that life had to teach us, is single-mindedly pointing to only one viable strategy for success -- attaining the truce. A mature person inevitably reaches a stage where the only way out of the horrible black-and-white inner trial (either I'll live to be installed as the all-pervasive highest entity in the universe, or I'll die a terrible, shameful death of nullity) is to try and reach the "middle ground". This is in accordance with an old adage -- "the truth is always somewhere in the middle". Applied to the fundamental war between the self and the not-self (or "others"), this adage teaches us that it is best to make some compromises; actually, just to be on the safe side, it is advisable to make lots and lots of compromises.

This strategy, pushed to its extreme (i.e. over-done), results in a sorry, pathetic life of utter grayness. People who pursue this "reasonable" path in life appear to be outwardly lifeless, while inwardly they tend to be occupied with the stupor of apprehension -- everything in their lives, every trivial event, gets transformed into the material for building the truce with reality, for compromising. Such people elect to spend their lives in a state of near-nullity, so as to avoid provoking any major counter-action coming from the not-self (that is to say, from the others). Although this strategy is easily rationalized as a common sense-based, scientifically founded approach to reasonable living, it is in essence nothing more than a cowardly attempt to force a tiger to hide in a mouse hole. In short, such an approach simply doesn't work, which in turn inspires even more fear and panic in people who are practicing it.

To hear the truth is not effective either. All such reports on the immediacy of the perfect living that is right in front of our noses must out of necessity be interpreted by the ordinary people as being nothing more than a bunch of scandalously unfounded, outrageous claims. To illustrate the necessity of such an interpretation, let us engage for a minute in a hypothetical example. Let's try to imagine that we have found ourselves in a very problematic financial situation (for most of us, this wouldn't be too difficult to imagine after all). We need large sums of money very urgently, and there just doesn't seem to be any prospect of getting it any time soon. Imagine now that, in our state of utmost distress, somebody approaches us with the following words:

There simply isn't a way that we could ever believe that person. Also, none of us would be prepared to humiliate ourselves and to actually get out of the house and check the mailbox. We feel that not only would such an act be against any reasonable behavior, it would plainly make us look like complete and irreparable idiots. We think that we would never be able to recover from such a fiasco, and that we'll never be able to restore our respectable standing among our fellow human beings.

It is easier to see now why are we bound to assume an identical stance upon hearing the advice from an enlightened person -- it simply goes against the very fiber of our being. We cannot allow ourselves to drop down to the level of childish, wishful thinking attitude towards life. Only a fool would give up all the hard won achievements, after so many years of fierce struggling with the unfriendly elements of life, for some unfounded fairy tale promise coming from some unfamiliar source.

But, while it's easy to understand the exemplary lunacy of accepting the possibility that, indeed, there may be a cheque on my name for millions of dollars that has somehow arrived from an unknown source, just in time to save me, it would be a grave mistake to equate this example with the real claim regarding the possibility of enlightenment. The above example is useful only as a way of pointing to the essential difference between the possibility of being saved by the worldly means versus the possibility of being saved for real. While the former (the possibility of being saved by the worldly means) is in all likelihood null (there is no way anyone could ever cheat on life and not get old, sick, and die), the latter (the possibility of being really and irrevocably saved) is right here, in front of our eyes, impossible to deny in its glorious certitude.

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