The most prevalent feature of all things is suffering. Prophets and sages of all times and places have almost unanimously agreed upon this one thing, typically differing only in their approach to the problem. Christ preached that suffering was the first grace. Buddha called it the first noble truth. And Sri Ramana Maharshi said that all things not present in deep sleep are not only sources of suffering, but that they are not really real at all! It's hard to top that one.
But what about the good things in life? Aren't there beautiful things in life, too? I mean there are puppies, birthday parties, and apple pie, yes? Well, yes, but there is also disease, death, and poison sumac. Not only that, there are dentists, too! And once you've analyzed it ad nauseum, once you've ceased escaping from the fact, you are astonished to find that the amenities of life are like small islands of smiles in a vast ocean of tears.
No one feels the truth of this as much as does the spiritual adept. In fact, if you investigate the lives of saints, sages, and shamans the world over you will find that they all have faced the annihilation of their ego via the disintegration of all that they hold dear. It seems almost mandatory that when one comes into the orbit of that which exists beyond the world of time, if I may be allowed to put it that way, one is then forced to leave behind all that belongs to that world. It is the price of admittance, or so it seems. And this is hell, make no mistake, because you are the world and the world is you. All that you love, cherish, fear, hope for, define yourself by, enjoy, reject, marry, and divorce: it all exists as the world, as your world. So, when those things begin to lose their savor, that is, when they reveal their transient and disappointing nature, the adept is forced — and oftentimes he is forced — to make a choice. He must decide whether he wants to remain fixated on worldliness or else abrogate his attachment to the world altogether. And herein lies the problem: there comes a point from which you cannot safely turn back to embrace the world without involving yourself in some serious complications. You have seen its dissatisfying nature. At the same time, however, you do not yet know if there is a beyond that is any better, or for that matter if there is a beyond at all. The adept wavers between the two, between the world and the abyss that separates him from his Higher Self (a dirty term!). And it is precisely this gap between the world and the Self that creates the ultimate suffering of the soul.
One of my favorite poems, AHA!, written by Aleister Crowley, describes this spiritual terror better than anything else I have ever read.
"Easy to say. To abandon all,
All must be first loved and possessed.
Nor thou nor I have burst the thrall.
All — as I offered half in jest,
Skeptic — was torn from me.
Not without pain! THEY slew my child,
Dragged my wife down to infamy,
Loathlier than death, drove to the wild
My tortured body, stripped me of
Wealth, health, youth, beauty, ardour, love.
Thou hast abandoned all? Then try
A speck of dust in the eye!"
The point is clear enough. One becomes dissatisfied with the world, subsequently strives to transcend the world while keeping one foot within it, and then suffers tremendous agony as the Beyond exerts a pull and exacts a toll quite outside the aspirant's capacity to oblige.
Now I am not saying that it always happens the way it is described in AHA! It is not a rule that everyone embarking on a spiritual path must suffer the agony of the saints. I do, however, maintain that a certain degree of crucifixion — in the metaphorical sense — is required for total Liberation for the very reason that the spiritual "seeker" is composed of the very world-stuff he is being forced to surrender. When that worldliness begins to fall away, it is quite like death. And just as no two people die in the same way (e.g., some die suddenly, and some die slowly), so too does the spiritual death differ in its flavor and tone.
Jesus, when in the garden of Gethsemane, was experiencing exactly this egoic death:
"And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then sayeth he unto them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.' And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.'"
I could multiply examples like this ad infinitum, but I trust you get the point. And though it may sound blasphemous to Christians when they hear that such comparisons are being made, more open-minded thinkers might understand that all of us, whether we are avatars or just average, are equal in suffering and death despite the idiosyncrasies of death-style. But I can tell you from my own experience that there is a vast difference between a suffering that exists as the opposite of peace and a suffering that goes beyond both pain and pleasure. That isn't to say that there is nothing significant in the suffering of, say, a single parent working three jobs to support a child, or what have you, only that there is a vast difference between the existential anguish of the world-transcending soul and the anguish of the world-oriented soul. The former often has everything she loves stripped away despite herself whereas the latter suffers because of the very effort to maintain that which she already has. The former agony is inevitable whereas with the latter agony there is hope.
If you believe your suffering is building toward relief then you can endure it with grace. But if you see no light at the end of the tunnel, suffering reaches a feverish pitch. The fractured ego reels against the onslaught of an encroaching world.
Why does this terrible fate seem to befall so many mystics? It is because the Adept has come into the orbit of what I call the "event-horizon" of enlightenment — to borrow a term from astronomy — that separates duality from nonduality, involution from evolution, nunc stans from nunc fluens. When this happens, one is literally straddling the realms of the personal and the transpersonal. It is exactly that state of schizophrenia that creates so much suffering, or so I maintain. One is torn between the realm of dukkha (suffering), on the one hand, and the realm of nirvana (enlightenment), on the other. The problem is, however, that you cannot have both; you are either in the world of grasping and avoiding or you are in the world of release and equanimity, until the nondual reckoning.
As for myself, I began to notice that whenever I gave in to social pressure to "get with the program," as it were, I suffered. This suffering was due to the stripping away of all that I vowed to work toward. Sometimes it felt like I was being tested by the Powers That Be; but regardless what the source of purgation was, it became clear to me that to grasp anything in this world is to accept its eventual demise. I do not apply this uncanny feature of The Path to everyone, but it is unarguably one of the better-known landmarks on Liberation Street.
"Black pit of all insanity!
The adept must make his way to thee!
This is the end of all our pain,
The dissolution of the brain!
For lo! in this no mortar sticks;
Down comes the house — a hail of bricks!
The sense of all I hear is drowned;
Tap, tap, isolated sound,
Patters, clatters, batters, chatters,
Tap, tap, tap, and nothing matters!
Senseless hallucinations roll
Across the curtain on the soul.
Each ripple on the river seems
The madness of a maniac's dreams!"
Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh (Osho), in Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic, gives us his own experience of the "event-horizon":
"For one year I was in such a state that it was almost impossible to know what was happening. For one year continuously, it was even difficult to keep myself alive. Just to keep myself alive was a very difficult thing — because all appetite disappeared."
He elaborates elsewhere:
"And I had to keep myself close to myself. I would not talk to anybody because everything had become so inconsistent that even to formulate one sentence was difficult. In the middle of a sentence I would forget what I was saying. In the middle of the road I would forget where I was going. I made it a point not to talk, not to say anything, because to say anything was to say that I was mad."
Summary: The more I become acclimatized to the formless state, I am increasingly convinced that true happiness is a product of timelessness meeting time from a place beyond grasping and avoiding. Food tastes better when you are not attached to taste, when you are eating because you are hungry and not because you are sad. Sex feels better when you are not doing it as a duty, as a habit, as a concession to marital law. Work is less tiring when you do it for its own sake and not because you are competing with your neighbor. Money is more enjoyable when you have enough to spoil the ones you love, and not yourself exclusively. Heartbreak is far more poignant when you focus not on the pain, but on the love that remains despite the loss of your beloved. Death is less frightening when you die daily, from moment to moment. Life is vibrant against the backdrop of death. Life is lucid against the backdrop of death. Life is prayerful against the backdrop of death. On the cross, at Golgotha, when the spear pierces the side of a dying Jesus, does not the crimson blood glisten like rubies on the forehead of the dawning Christ? Rubies, one and all!
You suffer, yes, so that you may learn how not to suffer. But you suffer also that you may come to know your sibling in every stranger. So that you might see in a child's eyes the promise of a blessed tomorrow. She (the child) too shall suffer. She too shall choose water over wine and then beg that the cup be taken from her. But on that day of the Passion, on that night of deliverance, when the sun is darkened, and the temple veil is torn asunder, you shall be with her to help her bear her cross. And exactly then, at the final hour, when even God forsakes her, you shall be with her. Yes, you and all those that took up their crosses before you; all shall be present at that hour. And the voices of all who have suffered yesterday, and the voices of all who suffer today, and the voices of all who shall suffer tomorrow, will raise up their voices in a single sigh, saying: "It is finished."
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