On Spirituality


In my spiritual journey, I’ve come across many great thinkers. More recently, I’ve discovered Alan Watts, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Terence McKenna and many other influential people.

We all talk about “things” such as oriental philosophy, psychotherapy, religion and mysticism because we derive joy from and take interest in talking about them. Any sensible person does what he or she enjoys doing.

Many people who are concerned and confused with themselves seek a teacher, guru or psychiatrist. If this is what you feel you must do, then do it. “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise,” as William Blake said in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

But what is the authority of a teacher or guru? The answer is that the student is the source of the teacher’s authority and that is true whether the teacher speaks as an individual or for a tradition or church.  

Throughout our lives almost everybody is looking for help. There is this feeling of a certain helplessness of being alone and somewhat confused, in an unpredictable wayward external world of happenings. This world includes an enormous amount of tragedy and suffering. We wonder why we are here,how we got here and what to do about the problem of life, which is death. It seems certain that we are going to die and the process of death may be painful. So what about it? Is there anyway in which we can become masters of this situation? Well, there are many kinds of ways of trying to escape from the human predicament of being a lonely, isolated consciousness in the midst of this vast and wayward not self.

We can, of course, try to beat this game on a material basis by becoming very wealthy or very powerful. We may resort to different kinds of technology to get rid of our sufferings: hunger, pain, sickness and so on. It seems there is always something to worry about. If you are very rich, you will still have anxiety about sickness or death, revolution, financial collapse and if the IRS will catch you for cheating on your taxes.

There is always this worry, and so you realize the problem of life does not really consist of your external circumstances because you worry no matter what they are. Rather, the problem consists in what you call your mind. Can you, by some method, control your mind so that you will not worry? There are many people that say the best answer is to think positive thoughts, to be peaceful, to breath slowly, and to hum gently in order to get yourself into a peaceful state of mind by repeating affirmations or whatever it may be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work because you have a persistent suspicion that you are just hypnotizing yourself. Therefore, you realize this matter of controlling the mind is no superficial undertaking, because although you may be able to smooth the ruffles of your consciousness, beneath that, there is an extensive area of subconsciousness which erupts as unpredictably as events in the external world.

How does one force oneself to make a change within their self? If you feel you could use some sort of psychological or spiritual improvement, obviously, you are the one who is going to to bring this about. On the other hand, if you are the one who needs to be improved, how are you going to accomplish this improvement? Who transforms the transformer? For this reason, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle. We are trying to get better. We want a positive experience: the good, the light and the living. We want to get away from the negative, the evil, the dark and the dead.

The philosophy of the I Ching about “yes” and “no” may help you in this journey. But we are trying to have yang without yin –a life of winning without losing. Can everyone attain this circumstance? “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody,” as W. S. Gilbert said in The Gondoliers.

There is always a sense among people that with success in any scale, either worldly or spiritual progress, that there is a feeling you are still in the same place where you began. Nonetheless, there must be someway out of that.

Perhaps there is a great dose of spiritual pride, in that by my efforts, I could make myself into a Buddha or saint. Buddha proposed that desire was the root of suffering. He suggested that if you eliminate desire, it might relieve you from suffering. The teachings of Buddha are not doctrines, they are proposals. If you go out and try not to desire, you will very quickly discover yourself desiring not to desire.  

Hence, we come to a situation where it seems that with regard to your own transformation, everything you attempt to do about it doesn’t work. Many methods may have some sort of temporary success to make you feel better, but many teachers say there is nothing to undo. Therefore, you may begin the practice of  ‘wu wei’ as Daoists call it. Many people say in the course of their zen training that they realized there was nothing to realize because it was all right there from the beginning.

If you try to control your thoughts or feelings, there is no difference between the thoughts and the thinker because what you call the thinker is simply the thought of yourself. The thinker is a thought among thoughts and the feeler is a feeling among feelings. The other side of the picture is that the project of controlling yourself is unnecessary, because you were yourself from the very beginning. That is what the Upanishads mean when they say, “tat tvam asi” (that thou art or you are it).  

You have the feeling of yourself but there is a contrast, the feeling of other. The self is a sensation of being in control of life through voluntary action, the will seems to have a certain freedom to it. Yet it seems in the end life sweeps us away and we are overwhelmed by the involuntary. You couldn’t have the experience of the voluntary self without the involuntary happening. If you take the ideas of determinism and fatalism, you may get a sense of liberation. Soon, this sensation wears off and you find that you don’t seem to be able to follow out that philosophy consistently. These are two sides of our experience: the voluntary and the involuntary, the knower and the known, the subject and the object, the self and the other. Although appearing to be separate, they are really one: you cannot have one without the other.

You begin to realize that what you call your experience is a “do-happening.” We don’t have very good words for this kind of thing. You are both what you do and what happens to you. Everybody is a manifestation of the divine. You’re it, so wake up, live in the eternal now, and enjoy it.