Following are some of the things I found most fundamental, and very challenging, to learn and realize in life (I still stumble every day in their application):
Seeing The World As One: I have written many posts on this, but it is still a daily challenge for me to remember the oneness of everything and everyone in the world. The best way for me is to stay in an internal meditation zone, just constantly looking at my breathing, while doing other stuff as needed. The moment we lose sight of the oneness and allow our minds to divide it into ‘I’ and the ‘world’, problems begin (or re-surface). If one wants or needs to use the concept of sin, then, the forgetting of this oneness, the losing sight of it, is, for me, the original sin and gives rise to all other sins. It also gives rise to man’s loss of identity and then his search for it through various means such as philosophy, science, religion, spirituality, consciousness, arts, politics, education, business and finance. It is also what gives rise to man’s search for love. All this search has created (and drives) our civilization as it stands currently. Mass understanding of this one aspect of our life could demolish the current civilization and give rise to another civilization, one which would be unrecognizable to people used to living in the present day and age.
Minimizing Expectations: We divide oneness into ‘I’ and the ‘world’, we externalize the ‘world’ as something separate from us and then we start trying to win it back. In this struggle to win it back, we try to develop relationships with the world and we also start expecting things from the ‘world’. Most common of all and most over-powering and damaging for us, we expect the world to love us and to be good to us and to be fair to us. Nothing hurts us more than these expectations, because sooner or later, the world is going to fail in fulfilling our expectations, as it is bound to, given the massive scope and extent of these expectations. But instead of seeing our own misunderstanding, we start blaming others for our failures and misery. Life would become a great teacher if we took full responsibility for our actions and our emotional state of being and if we accept the fact that only we ourselves are responsible for where we are in life and that the world owes nothing to us and that we need to stop expecting it to treat us with fairness, kindness and love. And this ties in to the first point above, i.e., remembering our innate oneness. If our spiritual search could take us to the place where we can see the oneness of all and the ‘other’ ceases to exist, then there would be no one else to expect anything from and no one else to blame, we would discover our universal self and a self-love would arise which would include the whole universe.
Understanding Change, Temporariness Of Life And Futility Of Possessions: We fail to fully grasp the inherent characteristic of change in life. We ‘fall in love’ with things and people and try to cling to them for life, whereas life changes from moment to moment. That’s how we fall behind and lag in life. That’s why we fail to see the utter freshness of life. We are always living somewhere in the past, trying to hold on to some past version of reality, while life runs miles ahead of us. If only we could learn to let go of attachments and flow freely, we would come face to face with life as it is right now and we will fly with it and see it in an entirely different way.
Everything we come to ‘own’ or possess, including our very life, is temporary. But we try to collect, own and possess as many things and people as we can, behaving as if we are going to own and possess them forever. Money, house, jewellery, other expensive stuff, family, etc. We think we own all this and we cling to these as if there is no end to it. In fact, we own nothing. Everything in life, and life itself, is like on a lease which is going to run out soon with no renewals. But we don’t get it. We are blinded by the joy of ownership and possession. We live in a bubble that eventually bursts. But till it bursts, we play with it and are enamoured with it, without understanding it.
Polarities And Karma: We run after polarities (opposite ends of a pole), like love, happiness, wealth, respect, power, etc. These polarities (and all polarities for that matter) are karmic. If we find love, hate will follow. Happiness will bring sadness. Wealth will all be taken away from us one day. If we hunger for respect, disrespect will follow automatically. All the power we acquire in this world will one day be taken away from us. Karma restores the balance in life, whether we understand it or not. No one in history has escaped and no one can escape such karmic results. We fail to understand this and keep running after one polarity or another.
It is possible to go beyond polarities. There is a place between the polarities from where we can observe both ends of the pole and understand both and neither be attracted by nor be repulsed by either polarity. That place can be reached in utter silence and stillness. Some call it meditation.
It Is OK To Be Ordinary: This is a Zen saying which changed my life. For some reason, some words penetrate deep into the innermost core of our minds very quickly. This was one such saying. The moment I read it, I understood it and I knew that I had to act upon it. I gave up a nice, cushy, corporate job that I had lost interest in and was doing only for the money and decided to rebuild my life from scratch. I have since then delivered food, worked as a security guard and worked as a ride-share driver while trying to find something to do that I would find inspiring and interesting enough that I can do for the rest of my life, without the urge to retire any time soon.
This point actually goes back a little bit to the last point, i.e., on polarities and karma. Life is not ‘ordinary’ and life is not ‘special’. Life is somewhere between the two polarities. The two polarities are images created by the human mind and we do not need to be bound by these images. We can escape to a place beyond these images. We can avoid choosing between the two. The saying does not mean that we should opt for an ‘ordinary’ life. No, Zen masters do not think that way. They do not believe in taking sides. They do not settle for polarities. True masters are ones who have risen beyond polarities.
No, in this case, they are just trying to pull us away from the image of ‘special’. We spend all our lives trying to be special. Zen masters are telling us that we are already special, even when we are ordinary, we are special. We do not need to choose any images. We can just look at life as it is. The masters were only suggesting that everything is OK. They were telling us not to shun being ordinary.
And I know that this is going to go against all the social programming that our families and social circles have done on us. We have been bombarded from our childhoods with ideas that we are special and we deserve special. So much so that now if we come across this Zen saying, we will think that the Zen masters were old-fashioned idiots, life has become much more sophisticated and today the old teachings should be ignored. But if we can find the time to sit patiently and try to understand these sayings, we will be surprised at how much relevance they carry to our lives today. It is like they were written for our own times.
This saying also goes back to the first point, i.e., oneness of the universe. The Zen masters were teaching us to observe the whole universe and not to pick and choose. The whole universe is us. We are the whole universe. Whatever we accept, we accept ourselves. Whatever we reject we reject ourselves. The Zen masters were saying, do not reject any part of yourself, otherwise it will create problems. When we accept some parts of ourself and reject other parts of ourself, then a conflict arises between these various parts, which taints all of our daily life and creates hell. And then we spend most of our time dealing with the consequences of this conflict. This saying tries to take us beyond ordinary and special to a place of silence, stillness and surrender. If we can be silent and still and surrender to life and observe all of it without accepting or rejecting anything, we will reach a place that we have never been to before.
Conclusion: These are, for me, those key revolutionary lessons which will not seem interesting to everyone. They will attract those who have reached a certain place, a certain frame of mind, where a certain type of questions arise to the individual and the mind opens up to possibilities of a certain kind of deep learning and revolutionary internal transformation.
To all others, these words will be meaningless. And that is fine. They have other things to look forward to in life.
These lessons, if learnt well, will take us beyond fear, attachments and images, to the very place where we came from.
The tools that work best for this learning are silence and stillness.