Q: In my reading lately, it seems that most Eastern philosophies and religions keep pushing the point that everything is suffering. Do you agree?
I need to get you guys to start reading other books besides Buddhism, and Hinduism! Trying to translate the Eastern nondual view for the Western mind creates so many challenges, including the need for an entirely different vocabulary, and framework for seeing the world.
Even though I’m going to be accused of speaking out of both sides of my mouth, let’s have a go.
Buddhism and Vedanta are basically pointing to the same thing. They just slice it up a little bit differently. Essentially, they’re both saying that you have to let go of this reality. Because this reality is an illusion, which is the cause of suffering. And the only way out of the suffering is to pursue enlightenment, which means nondual awareness.
I do agree, from a nondual perspective, that the world is illusion, but I’ll add that for Westerners there’s an “in addition to…”
I believe the experience of being of this world serves a purpose separate from, or in addition to, spiritual seekers trying to free themselves. I don’t believe that all of these existences, all of these reincarnations — that the purpose of them (and purpose is a tricky word, but bear with me for a minute) is for us to conclude that we don’t want to be here. That somehow this is all just a trick of illusion that we need figure out how to escape from as soon as we can.
We are all on a walk through time, to use dual terms. Even when we blend back into the All That Is. The illusion to me is thinking there is some finish line. To think we need to be in some kind of big rush to get out of here. When we’re talking about infinity/eternity, how does rushing even compute?
I think it is more about how suffering comes from the attachment and the grasping — “I want more. I want different. This isn’t enough.” It’s not that here is bad or wrong or that we need to continually be saying, “I deny this. I reject this.” It’s about being fully here.
Only by being in the now, in the present, is there an opportunity to find awakening. Because it can only happen in the present moment.
The continual denial of the present moment — “I don’t want this, I reject this, this is not real, this is all illusion” is the opposite ofbeing in the present moment.
I feel we need to think about shifting our approach to that of awakening the senses, to expand them to such a degree that all there is is that present moment. Taking in everything in that present moment. Not based on memory or language or wanting something from that present moment. It’s not about this present moment is going to do something for me. It is about the full beingness in that moment, with that moment. Where there’s a merging and an ability to experience everything as connected. And in this way, to experience the All That Is, the one.
Whenever we feel snagged by being tied to waiting for something else or someone else, it doesn’t let us be in our own moment. And being in our own moment doesn’t mean that we’ve automatically figured out how to be happy or present. But it at least releases us from the snare that pulls us into the past and the future, with their fears and expectations.
So, this is how I would reframe the issue of illusion and suffering for Westerners. That it isn’t about, “Everything is suffering.” It’s about how reality sets us up to have expectations that are not realistic. It’s not that this world creates suffering, it’s the culture that creates suffering. It is not being that creates suffering, it is the grasping that creates suffering.
Being here doesn’t require a denial and a rejection. It requires a release. But the release isn’t, “I give this up.” Rather, “I see there’s no value in this anymore, so I let it go.”
We can’t force this before we’re ready. Because that just perpetuates more suffering. We need to hold the perspective that we will grow through all of it as we get more aware, as we have deeper understanding. Then there’s nothing to release. It dissolves on its own.
My path is not about suffering. It’s about being fully in the present and experiencing that joy. From within that joy, awakening happens. It’s not aestheticism. It’s not extreme behaviors or extreme meditations or extreme diets or extreme views. Those can work. But I feel that in order to walk those paths, you have to fully embrace that this is all about suffering. And I don’t embrace that this is all fully about suffering.
Q: Well, I’ve always thought that the suffering that they referred to is the disconnection from the All That Is.
Yes, it is. But the idea is that it’s living life here in this body that’s the cause. The attachment to this body, etc. And I agree with some of it. But the way it’s set up is that everything is a disappointment, everything is a frustration. Even happiness is suffering because it’s temporary. There’s this underlying dissatisfaction with our lives. And that’s what suffering is. Again, I am in some agreement, but let’s recognize how this deep dissatisfaction is culturally induced. I don’t feel that we must let go of this world. We’ve got to let go of what’s been culturally trained into us.
Q: Would another way of putting this be that we need to get to the point where we’re no longer swimming in the river; we are the river?
Yes, ultimately, we must realize that we are the river. And sometimes that realization can be instant, but it’s usually not. So until then, or in preparation for then, think of it this way. It’s like swimming in the river and then you realize, oh, the river is carrying me anyway, I don’t even need to swim. It’s effortless. If I just go with it, it’s effortless.