The Possibility of Freedom
In the Buddhist tradition, there is a story about two friends who were separated by death, each reincarnated in different realms of existence.
The first of these friends reincarnated at the level of the gods. He constantly enjoyed supreme bliss. One day, while reminiscing, his old friend began to occupy his thoughts. “I wonder what he is up to,” the god silently asked himself. Using his clairvoyant powers, he searched the whole of the cosmos for his friend and found him reincarnated as a silkworm.
He then appeared to his friend and introduced himself.
“Wow! How have you been?” the silkworm asked, with enthusiasm. “I couldn’t be happier. Everything is truly awesome in the heavens. I am surrounded by beauty everyday,” the god replied. Then, he looked around and noticed that his friends abode was devoid of beauty and smelled terrible. The closer he looked he noticed that his friend was living in excrement. Next, it dawned on him, “I could use my divine powers to transport him out of this pile of crap and into the realm of the gods.”
He shared his brilliant plan with his friend who replied, “Why would I want to leave this place? It is great! I have all I want to eat and it is warm.”
Suffering can be thick.
We are so afraid of uncertainty that we bind ourselves to the causes of misery for the convenience of familiar circumstances. As Shantideva famously said, “We hate suffering, but love it’s causes.” We have distanced ourselves from the experience of life, as it is revealed in the body, by migrating into the stale and lifeless world of inbred thought.
We think about life, instead of living.
We have forgotten how to hear, feel, taste, smell and see. We have misplaced experience. Everything, including thought, is seen through the lens of thought—we think about what we think.
This is problematic on many levels, most noticeably in that we become trapped between our ears and that our point of view becomes inbred. Using the very thought process which generated the idea to determine whether the idea is sane or not is like measuring the length of your hand using the same hand.
It is bound to always check out; this is the birth of insanity. The criminal has been put in charge of the crime scene.
While the thick veil of inbred thought can appear impenetrable, there are flashes of hope. Like a comet shooting through the darkness of night, these messages of hope emerge from the deep wellspring of indestructible wisdom that is the body. These glimpses of freedom are commonly referred to as prayer.
We tend to think of prayer as a vocalized petition to a divine being for the bestowment of strength and guidance during difficult times. This is the intellectualization and vocalization of true prayer, the prayer of the heart. Spontaneous prayer is the heart bursting through the ephemeral limitations imposed by the ego-centric mind and emerging as an invitation to the conscious mind to participate in the unfolding of our true Life.
Prayer does not begin.
It is the timeless percolation of our true nature. But it is the basis of religious practice. The spiritual journey is initiated by this eruption of intention—it is the calling out of the claustrophobic mind to the vitality of the body.
Prayer is not the belief in God, but the expressivity of an unspoken knowledge that is embedded deep in the human condition forever reminding us of our infinite potentiality and inalienable freedom. This infinite potentiality goes by many names—Buddha-nature, God, Christ or Atman—but speaks only one language, silence.
This silence is forever calling us back to an individuated participation in our true Life: “Adam, where are you?”
Most of us come to spiritual practice because we are a mess. We want to pull ourselves together. Truth be told, our motivations have not really changed. We are still seeking control. We want to organize our experience. The ego is one great big, giant attempt, using patterns of psychological and physical tension, to force our experience to conform to the assortment of inherited ideas about who or what we should be.
Organic prayer is an eruption of volcanic energy that emerges deep from the depths of our heart tearing through all of our ego-centric pretenses, demolishing any and all of our attempts to put ourselves together.
Like a giant tidal wave, this primordial energy drowns out all of our attempts at sophistication. The beauty and majesty of chaos begins to emerge out of our helplessness or our inability to suppress the indestructible energy associated with prayer. We may cry or burst out laughing; we may sit in reverent silence, or go for a walk or run; whatever the case we are out of control, and this lack of sophistication has revealed a spontaneous beauty and vitality, which we have been ignorant of until now.
Prayer brings us back to now.
The present moment is the kingdom.
It is freedom. We are a mess. We cannot clean it up. But if we sit back and begin to appreciate the mess in a moment of mindful embrace, the mess begins to feel fresh and awake. It reveals its own self-existing order or beauty. This beauty is refreshing. It tastes like the experience of vitality and meaning we have been longing for.
Spirituality begins with prayer, or the indestructible nature of our true life—chaos—rushing to the surface, and indefinitely concludes with the mindful appreciation of this chaos, which is often called meditation.
The third noble truth, the glimpse of freedom, is the heart moving through the shadows cast by the conscious mind towards the power of Being.
The fourth noble truth asks, “How do I consent to this movement?”
This moment of consent is the practice of meditation.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise