There have apparently been times in human history when people, like Jesus or Buddha or Lao Tzu or Krishna or Mahavira or others like them, could devote their lives to searching for the eternal, the divine, the timeless, the universal, giving up all attachments to this world and diving deep within to find that connection to the whole. And the same could be said for their disciples. It is said that Buddha (2500 BC) had many thousands of disciples and that on some of his journeys, as he moved from town to town, nearly ten thousand disciples moved with him.
For these great teachers, there were, broadly speaking, two kinds of world views that one could choose from, i.e., on the one hand, to be and remain a part of this world, the physical world, the material world, the world perceivable by human eyes OR, on the other hand, to search for the meta-physical world, the other world, the un-manifest world, the world which is not perceivable by human eyes.
Today, it seems that the later world view is disappearing very rapidly. ‘Spirituality’, as many call it, is not on the list of priorities for many people. Money has to be made, property has to be acquired, bank balance has to be increased, otherwise you’re gonna end up in trouble and face some very serious issues in life. We have become slaves to money. If we don’t have money, we cannot have a place to live or food to eat or clothes or shoes to wear, we cannot get married or we cannot provide our children with the basic amenities in life, etc., etc. And to do all of these basic things in life, we spend all of our life working from morning to night. A pathetic life!
And on the weekends, if we get any, we use alcohol, weed, TV, movies, entertainment and sex to forget this pathetic life style.
A few years ago, the senselessness of such a life became apparent o me and I started thinking about it and writing about it in my daily journal. And while I was trying to understand it, I came across a quote from Jesus which did not solve my problem, it made it even worse. It goes like this:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Bible, Book of Matthew, Chapter 6)
I think in this verse Jesus is talking about one’s priorities in life. And he is talking about the whole gestalt of life. The gestalt theory of psychology postulates that the mind constructs a global whole view / a world view and then perceives different parts of the global whole in terms of this world view. This world view is called the gestalt.
Years ago, when I was studying law and wanted to become a constitutional lawyer, I came across another interesting concept, i.e., the concept of the grund norm, which is a German term meaning basic norm. It comes from the concept of the Pure Theory of Law formulated by the German jurist and legal philosopher, Hans Kelsen and refers to the norm, rule or order forming the underlying basis of a legal system. For example, the concept of ‘the rule of law’ is the grund norm of the constitutional legal system in the United States, which means that this concept of ‘the rule of law’ cannot be ignored in any situation which requires an application or understanding of the US constitutional law.
Jesus is asking, what is the gestalt / what is the grund norm in your life, meaning, what is your world view?
For Jesus, a person’s world view is either based on physical growth and accumulation, i.e., money or it is based on spirituality, i.e., understanding and finding yourself and connecting with your universal self. Thus, he says, a person can either serve God or he/she can serve money. No one can serve both God and money. There is a choice to be made and we cannot choose both.
This quote of Jesus’ shook me up a little bit. I started studying my own life and the lives of others around me. I also started reading more of Jesus and also other great teachers like Lao Tzu, Buddha and others. And very slowly the words from Jesus started opening up to me. I could see how Jesus was drawing a contrast between a spiritual life and a non-spiritual / material life.
I began to see how these words of Jesus continue to be relevant even today and that nothing had changed from his time to ours in so far as man’s search for meaning and purpose in life is concerned.
Now lets zoom in and take a closer look at these two world views:
The World of Money:
The Bottomless Pit Of Physical Growth:
Money refers to the physical world. We are concerned with our physical selves and the physical world we live in, how we look, how we behave in the physical world, who is around us, our family and friends, what opinion people have of us, how much money I have in my bank account and how can I grow it further, what clothes and shoes do I have, how up to date these should be, what kind of house do I live in, what kind of car do I drive, who am I married or engaged to, what kind of kids and in-laws do I have, what is my profession, how do people think of me in the neighbourhood and what image do I have in the extended family and in the society, what kind of parties do I throw, who comes to those parties. All this and much more occupies our everyday thought. Waking and sleeping, the mind keeps working trying to sort these things out.
And the great thing is, they’re never sorted out. There is always something new coming up which demands further work, some new fashion, new gadgets, new car, new drink, new restaurant, new friends or other relationships, new job or greater financial opportunities, new movies and music, other changes in our physical surroundings which require us to take further actions. The money in the bank account is never enough. The house is never big enough. The car needs to be changed every year or couple of years. We need another destination for the next vacation.
It is a bottomless pit and no matter how much we pour into it, it never fills up. We’re forever unsatisfied. No matter how much alcohol or weed we consume, no matter how many new restaurants we try, no matter how much shopping we do, no matter how much TV we watch or music we listen to, no matter how many relationships we get into and out of, its never enough. And we just have to keep going. And we are happy doing that. And frankly there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with it, as long as we’re happy.
Osho used to tell the story of a monk who came to the castle of a king. He was, of course, not let in. So, he stood outside the castle gate and waited for the King who had gone somewhere and was supposed to return soon.
When the King came, he saw the monk standing outside the gate and, being a kindly and spiritual man, he stopped the carriage and asked the monk what he wanted. The monk had a begging bowl in his hand and he asked the King if his begging bowl could be filled up. The King asked his servants to immediately fill up the begging bowl with food, as was the custom in India. You never refused food to a monk. But the monk said, “I do not need food, I need money.”
The King and all of his servants and courtiers were astonished at the monk’s request. However, the King told the servants to fill up the bowl with gold coins, which was the currency in those days.
The servants brought a bag of gold coins and poured some into the bowl. The gold coins vanished. They poured some more and those vanished too. They poured and poured but all the gold coins kept vanishing. When the King saw this, he was amazed. But, being a great and rich King, he was not about to be defeated by a begging monk. He told his servants to keep on pouring gold coins into the bowl.
The servants kept pouring and pouring bag after bag full of gold coins into the bowl and the coins just kept vanishing.
After some time, the servants and courtiers approached the King and said, “This man appears to be a magician and his bowl appears to be magical. He will take all your gold.”
The monk said, “I am not a magician and this bowl is not magical.”
The King said, “Then, tell me what is going on? Where are all the gold coins going?”
The monk replied, “The bowl is made of human desire. That is why it never fills up.”
Zen buddhists say, when the student is ready, the master appears. The King was not a man of ordinary intelligence and character. He had been on a spiritual path for some time, but had been unable to take the final step of letting go of the worldly life. The monk had appeared to push him further on the path.
The King dropped down on his knees in front of the monk and said, “Thank you. I understand what you saying.”
Later, in the middle of the night, the King slipped away from the castle without telling anyone, giving up all of his belongings and his kingdom and became a travelling monk himself.
Thoughts, Images and Judgments:
We live in a world of images and judgments. We believe in what we see superficially and what we are told and we make images. These images become our gestalt, our world view and then this gestalt / world view governs all aspects of our life. It defines everything else we see or think. We form an image of ourselves and then that image has to be conformed to for the rest of our lives. We form images of others. One person is good, another is bad, another is partly good and partly bad, another is evil, still another is an angel. We form all these judgments and then the judgments define the relationships.
Time, Past and Future:
The world of money is the world of time. The happening of some physical event(s) creates time for us and we divide time into the past, the present and the future. Time itself is just a word, a concept, a human invention for the sake of convenience of perception and understanding. It is viewed as directional, always moving towards the future, never standing still, never heading back to the past.
In this world of time, humans tend to live either in the past or in the future. We cannot, for the life of us, live in the present and all these great wisdom teachers (Jesus et al) have been trying to bring us into the present. We are attached to things in the past and we aspire for things in the future. We cannot stand still and be in the present. There is always the swing of the pendulum, from one end to the other.
Division, Fear of Death and Endless Worry:
The world of money is a world in which we are separate individuals and we all fear each other and we fear the whole world apart from ourselves.
We also fear death which we see as the ending of our human experience. We fear leaving the system and never coming back. (It will require a separate post to go into the question of why we fear death, so lets keep that for another time)
These fears makes us crave for protection and thus we desire wealth, property, relationships, a stable politics and government, legal and justice systems, religious and moral systems and so on and so forth. We worry endlessly. The mind never stops working towards ensuring our survival. A torrential rain of thoughts continues to pass through the mind at all times.
The World of God:
The first think to remember about that world, the world of God, the other world, is that it is beyond description. So, whatever I am going to say in this post will eventually be futile for you, total BS till you experience it or understand it yourself. You will have to go to that world on your own to see and understand it.
It is an un-manifest world, not perceivable by normal human vision. It can be experienced but not conveyed. You can experience it when you are not the normal ‘you’ but the eternal You. When you come back to your normal self, the other world becomes indescribable. Some people, i.e., the great wisdom teachers of the past and present experienced it and came very close to describing it, i.e., Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu and some others.
All the rest of us either never experience it or, when they experience, they cannot describe it.
Some, like Ramana Maharishi, go silent and choose not to say anything about it and just stay in the blissfulness coming from the experience. When seekers put questions to them, they just say a few words to help and to be polite.
The Seeker Never Enters The World of God:
Just to re-emphasize one of things mentioned above, and I hope it is understood properly and it doesn’t disappoint the seeker, the seeker will never be in the world of God. The seeker dissolves into thin air just at the door to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, as Jesus used to call it.
As long as the seeker is, the world of God / the Kingdom of Heaven is far away. There is a path leading to that Kingdom. The more the seeker travels on the path and comes closer to the Kingdom, the more he vanishes. And just as the seeker, after travelling the path, reaches the door and is about to enter, the seeker vanishes totally. And the door vanishes and the Kingdom of Heaven vanishes. There is nothing that remains except that which cannot be described, which can only be experienced.
So, as we will see further ahead in this post, if we have this goal of entering the world of God, then we might as well give up right now and follow some other goal. ‘We’ (meaning the ‘I’, the ego) will never enter.
The Unmanifest / Metaphysical World:
The world of God is beyond the physical world. No one knows where the universe comes from, not even astrophysicists or cosmologists. No one can answer the question of what happened before the Big Bang.
For the last few years there has been research going on about dark energy and dark matter which are both invisible yet hypothetically observable aspects of the universe. Dark energy is estimated to represent 68% of the universe of energy. Dark matter constitutes 27% and ordinary visible matter constitutes only 5% of the universe.
Did our visible world (5% of the universe) emanate from this dark energy-dark matter world (95%)? If yes, where did this ‘dark’ world come from? From what did it manifest? Science has a long way to go, but it is proceeding step by step. My own gut feeling is that the scientists will never fully understand, because they are trying to understand only from the outside. And the outside is only part of the picture. The other side, the inner side, is the key to a total understanding. The scientist will have to go inside himself / herself and understand that inner state of being. Otherwise, the scientific view will remain incomplete.
We can follow the scientists in their research. And we can follow the Church in its practices and rituals. Or we can try to learn what the great teachers have been telling us and see if we can experience the unknown / eternal universal source directly. After all, we are a part of it. It is our creator, our ancestor, our source. Maybe there is a way of meeting it one-to-one, face-to-face, without having to ask the scientist or the pastor to intervene on our behalf.
As the poet would say, the lover and the beloved, after years of waiting, finally meet and become one in the silence and the soft light of a full moon night, with no one around. Thats how the ‘I’ meets the divine and both merge and vanish into nothingness.
No Time, No Images, No Possessions, No Goals:
Time is a human invention which has no utility in the world of God. We are not concerned with what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. All that matters is the ‘now’. Who am I and what is going on right now? These are the only questions relevant in the now. If I can observe myself without the images from the past and see what is happening right now, without any judgments, ambitions or goals, I am in the present.
If I have any ambition, whether material or spiritual, I am not even close to the world of God. Everything I am (the ego) and everything that I have, all possessions, all goals, all ambitions, all thoughts, will have to be left behind.
This is the biggest challenge for the seeker. The way we are, our tangible and intangible possessions define us, we see ourselves in terms of those possessions. We become what we have acquired, the name, the family, the religion, the city, the state, the country, the job, the friends, the house, the car, the bank balance, the clothes, the shoes, the watch, all this becomes the ‘I’ and defines us. And, unless we acquire the drive of a seeker, it is not even a possibility for us to even think about leaving these things behind. The thought of giving up any or all of these things is like telling someone to cut up one of their hands or arms or legs and give it up. Can you do it if I ask you today?
Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was talking about the hold our possessions have over us. Our possessions possess us. They are like fetters and chains that bind us.
The world of God demands a huge let-go. The path of discipleship is about letting go. We reach God not by gaining something but by losing everything we have. The more we lose and let go of, the closer we are to God. And when we have lost everything, when we are absolutely naked, we disappear and when we disappear, we become that which cannot be described in words, not even these words I am using right now.
The ‘I’ consists of all the acquisitions we made in life. Everything we acquire in life contributes to the ‘I’. The path of acquisition is the path of ‘I’ and is the path going away from God. The path of letting go is the path of the seeker and is the path going towards God. When Jesus said “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”, he was talking about making a U-turn on the path. It is the same path, one direction leads to the world of money, the other leads to the world of God. Jesus is saying, turn around and head in the opposite direction. And come like little children, not ashamed to be naked and not interested in money and possessions. And be prepared to die, because die you will… only to be resurrected to an eternal, everlasting life.
Jesus said, deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me. Those were the three main stages in his life and those will be three main stages in every seeker’s life:
– denying yourself, meaning letting go of everything,
– picking up the cross, meaning get ready to die, and
– following Jesus, meaning the entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e., complete unity with God.
Lets go back, for a second, to see how we began this post. We began with the following quote from Jesus:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
(Matthew Chapter 6)
If I am someone who has been struck by this quote or who is struck by some other quotes of Jesus or any other teacher and who has thought about life and about whether there is something more to life than what we come across in our every day life, then it means there is a good seed coming to the realization that it has the potential to grow into a huge tree.
Way Forward For The Seeker:
If you are already a seeker, then, you are already on the path, you are already becoming transformed, you have made the U-turn towards God and every day you are coming to understand more and more about yourself and about God.
The one thing you do need to keep in mind is the potential of losing the progress you have made. One of the parables Jesus used to tell was of the woman who was carrying a jar of grains on her shoulder. On her way, the cover of the jar broke and the grains started falling out of the jar. The woman, not being very mindful, did not realize what was happening and kept walking. By the time she reached home and looked into the jar, it was already empty.
The parable is about staying watchful. It is not enough to be on the path. You have to stay watchful, you have to stay in the present and you have to keep walking, which means keep working on yourself. If you do not stay watchful, if you do not stay observant, if you do not keep working on yourself, then, you will start losing the progress you have made. It will be a retardation, a retrogression. You will start going back to where you were.
So, stay watchful and keep working.
Way Forward For the Potential Seeker:
Who is a potential seeker? One who has realized that there is another path that they can take, other than the path they are on right now. However, for whatever reason, this potential seeker is not willing to start walking on this path. Or this person takes a few steps on the path and then finds it too difficult and returns.
One of the other parables Jesus used to share with his disciples was that of the sower, the seed and the soil. It goes like this:
A farmer was sowing seeds to grow a crop. As he was scattering the seeds, some fell on the path and the birds came and picked it up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and withered because they had no roots.
Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew and choked the plants.
Still others fell on good soil and produced a crop.
The potential seekers are like the second and third kind of seeds mentioned in the parable. They will either have very little conviction to start and keep walking on the path and will move away from the path very quickly. Or, they will have conviction enough to start and keep walking for a while, but then the problems that they face later will force them to give up and head back towards the world of money.
I totally believe in the saying that there is nothing good or bad (and I would add, right or wrong), only thinking makes it so.
I also believe that every person has to find his or her own path. And if someone presently does not have enough conviction to start or to keep going, then it just means that they need more time to figure things out.
And if someone is happy to be in the world of money, then that is OK too.
My understanding about death and re-incarnation is as follows:
Physical: We are packets of energy, going through the illusion of being separate physical individuals. Thats how we perceive ourselves. Our bodies follow a pattern of birth and death. ‘Death’ of the body is its return to the whole and redistribution to other life forms / other packets of energy. Some parts of it may survive (bones, etc) and others disintegrate and get taken up by other beings and become parts of them.
Meta-physical: I feel that there is a field of consciousness, a universal mind (some teachers have called it ‘the seer’, the one who sees everything) which records all of our experiences and memories and thoughts. And this field of consciousness / universal mind survives the disintegration of the body. Some perhaps call it the ‘soul’.
In any case, whether you become a seeker or not, one day the body is going to disintegrate and the mind / soul is going to become a part of the universal mind. The only difference could be that those who do not become seekers do not get to experience the oneness of life, i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven, the nirvana, the moksha, the existence-consciousness-bliss or the tawhid that a Jesus or a Buddha or a Mahavira or a Ramana or a Rumi would experience.
And if thats OK for someone and they’re happy with other things in life, then thats good too!
Finally, going back to what Jesus said, whether you serve God or you serve money, serving any one of these would be better than trying to serve both. If the most important thing in my life is money, with God coming in at a close second position, then I can do well financially, but I will be mediocre spiritually. On the other hand, if the big fish in my life is spiritual understanding and attainment, but money is also important for me, then I can probably make huge strides spiritually, but financially I will achieve only average or below average success. Jesus is right in saying that you cannot serve two masters. And he is also right about knowing your priorities, knowing you Big Fish.
So, my advice for the seeker… do not try to be at two different places at the same time.
– If you feel that at this point in time, you need to earn money, then do that without feeling sorry that you cannot give time to God. Give yourself to money totally.
– Alternatively, if you are ready for God, then give up everything – and everything means everything – and devote every second of your time to God. And don’t ask how. If you are at that place in your life, then you will find out what to do.
Jesus says (in Revelation 2), “because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
So, the bottomline for everyone, whether a seeker or not, is: do not be lukewarm… and do not confuse yourself… find out your One Thing and just follow it passionately… commit yourself to it totally.