Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

SOUL CYCLE

This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster. 

This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure …

EVERYTHING'S INTENTIONAL

There is no such thing as screw-ups.

Case in point. My excellent friend Deej comes over to help me beautify the garden. He immediately dives in, crouching down on his knees and weed whacking with his bare hands. Before I can say yay or nay, he proceeds to remove a huge clump of daisy greens from the oblong patch of Earth adjacent to the driveway. The area instantly looks bare. Like the back of Woody Allen's head. Smoothing out the soil and shaking his head Deej mutters to himself "I fucked it up!" over and over again. We try everything. Planting succulents in the daisy's place. Covering it with rocks. But still the area looks barren. And every time you water it the water trickles down onto the sidewalk in the absence of roots to hold it in place. It's getting dark so we go back inside. The next day I return to the spot with a clear perspective and remove all the other daisies, leaving only rose bushes and the succulents that DJ planted, and depositing 10 bags of m…

GRAY MATTERS

I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…