Take it or leave it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

SITTING WITH THE SELF


I began writing on my own time (rather than compulsorily, made to by my teachers) around the age of 20, and in the two decades since I have read everything I could get my hands on. My interests varied. Fiction, nonfiction, periodicals, essays, poetry, screenplays, tabloids, the back of cereal boxes. You name it I've at least looked at it - though I've always had a preference for classical works. I have always been a lover of solitude and so that aloneness doesn't become loneliness a good read is a nice thing to have in hand. These reading materials were so many lesser peaks in preparation for my major climb.

When my attention turned to spirituality it was classical works I referenced. Why read only the modern renditions such as Schopenhauer and Tolle and Chopra, de Ruiz and Dyer, when I could reference the very works of mysticism that inspired all that came after? And so I devoured the texts that gave rise to each of the major religions. Having gone to Catholic school as a boy and read both testaments of the Bible perfunctorily, I returned to The Book as it is known and read those beautiful sections dealing with the Creation, with Moses' interactions with God, as well as the Gospels, which treat the life of Jesus Christ. I read the Chinese's Tao Te Ching, which gave rise to Taoism, I almost wrote "gave ruse to," since the Tao reads like a collection of koans, and indeed influenced the koans, or paradoxes to be meditated upon by monks, having as it did exerted a profound impact on Zen Buddhism. Speaking of Buddhism, I read the Dhammapada, a collection of versified sayings by the Buddha himself.

And having since early youth been intimately acquainted with the tenets of Hinduism through the teachings of Sai Baba, I read and re-read these sacred scriptures. The Ramayana, Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, selected Upanishads, Yoga Vashista, Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, as well as the teachings of more modern proponents of the Advaita school of nonduality (oneness), Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj.

I am currently in the early pages of the Brahma Sutras of Shankaracharya. These Sutras, along with the Gita and the Upanishads, form what's known as Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas. Collectively they dispense with ritual and form and focus on the formless Reality underlying all, which the Masters refer to as Brahman, the Self, and which is identical with Atman or the individual soul. Both immanent and transcendent, manifest and unmanifest, the Self is all that is.

And I must say that this stuff is pretty hilarious. Imagine a bunch of sages, bearded and wearing tree bark (so the legend goes) sitting around with one another in secluded haunts of the forest, arguing about God. Yes, debating God's existence and nature. Sometimes heatedly. This was an all boys club, mind you. No women allowed. And none of them were married. For as they say many a philosopher has died with the birth of his first child. Maybe these dudes should have had girlfriends. What sane man wants to spend all day discussing what you cannot even see? But these men weren't sane. They were sages. Besides, this was before pro football and Fox News and other topics of bar conversation. Before bars even.

The text itself is a commentary on the Upanishads by Badarayana, an Indian philosopher living c. 500 BCE and regarded as an avatar of God. Shankara, speaking on behalf of the Advaita school of nonduality, refutes various objections from other philosophers about the oneness of God, who Shankara upholds, is of the nature of bliss. God is Bliss.

The Upanishads themselves predate both Buddhism and the Brahma Sutras, obviously, since the latter is a commentary on them. The earliest Upanishad (there are more than 100 altogether) was probably composed in 800 BCE by various unknown authors referred to as Rishis, the inspired poets of the Vedas.

In essence then, the Brahma Sutras is a book about a group of men discussing the earlier writings of a group of other men. Men discussing men discussing God. And I thought, where did these Rishis, these inspired poets, themselves get their material from? Who taught them about the nature and existence of God?

The answer, empirical evidence. Direct experience. Like the father of Islam, the prophet and author of the Koran, these Rishis went into profound meditation, probably wearing beards and tree bark, and in some secluded cave, and found the answers to all the most basic questions by listening to the voice of God within! It's all there, waiting to be revealed in the silence and stillness of the heart.

And so I set the book down and plunged into meditation myself - yet again! You see, anything not directly experienced is just another form of hearsay, like water cooler gossip and tabloid magazines. And while ancient writings are often classified as direct experience, since their authority is beyond a doubt, ultimately even these sacred books amount to various accounts, entertaining and enlightening though they may be, of other people's experience.

Why not be a Rishi yourself? Clear your head of thoughts, sit in quiet stillness. Attune your attention to the imponderable depths that lie within, and see what you come up with. You may find that like our Rishis, in the stillness of meditation you are already at the top of life's major climb. You are the majestic peak. And the view is marvelous. 

I'm still committed to finishing the Brahma Sutras, all 900 pages of it. Not for truth, mind you. I've found truth. I am truth. Truth is my nature. I'm talking pure entertainment. Light reading. Just for kicks. I'm sure that big book has a few more good laughs in store.

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