How I remember the day! My dad comes home from work all excited. It's the summer of '92, and still light outside. "You've got to realize the Self," he announces. "It's the only thing to do." "How's that?" I say. In those days I was a 19-year-old college student, bodybuilder and part-time waiter. My father could have been speaking Spanish and I'd have understood his meaning more clearly - since with a year of that romance language under my belt I was just shy of fluent. "The purpose of life," dad goes on, "is to sink your mind in pure Awareness. This Awareness is the Source of everything. It is the Self. Once you abide in the Self, you are realized!"
He pitches the idea to me like it's the next big thing. For all his exuberance it could have been bungee jumping or biohacking, or juicing or jogging or (enter flavor of the month here). Dad has predicted all these crazies, I mean crazes. He's usually ahead of the curve. And yes, Eastern spirituality is also a sort of craze, flourishing in America in the New Age movement of the 1970s - which curiously enough was also the time of the jogging boom - but Eastern spirituality first visited the West in the 18th century with translations of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred scripture itself dating back to the time of Krishna, who lived in the 33th century BCE (that's 5000+ years ago), so spirituality can be said to be a craze with quite a bit of history and whose popularity has grown over time. Which is to say not a craze at all.
Dad is so excited it's like we're about to embark on a treasure hunt, or like it's some elite club, some lucrative career, a dream job I absolutely must sign up for. Most parents hope for doctors, lawyers or computer scientists, maybe professional athletes or pilots. In essence my dad is telling me, pay no mind to these worldly pursuits. Or do whatever, but turn your attention inward. Become realized. He hands me a couple books on the subject. I read them, hand them back, and resume my worldly pursuits, chasing Betties and slewing brewskies. Because I'm not even twenty. And boys will be boys.
But reading about the witnessing consciousness that is aware of all even as you, the individual, go through life and taste of its fruits both bitter and sweet - the Self that is always detached, always unaffected, always free - I became reprogrammed, and even while I was bolting beers and bedding beauties, I realized that the real me wasn't doing any of this. I became aware of a sense of presence. This presence was all around me and in me. It saw and heard everything, could even read my thoughts. And what I took for the self, my little personality and ego, was like a shadow on a bright sunny day. Who am I really? The Sun.
The purpose of life is to realize the Self. That goes for whatever role you happen to be playing, whatever profession you happen to be practicing whether pilot or player or parent. Some careers are more conducive to Self-realization than others. If your attention is fixed on amassing fortune and aggrandizing your ego, the Self can easily go unnoticed and unexperienced. The more time you can turn inward, the faster will be your progress, as the petals of the Self open to reveal its lovely fragrance.
Of course, my father pitched Self-realization to me as if it was something to be achieved or attained. But really it is about a gradual wearing away of identification with the body and mind. It is like being in a loud room. Your ears are bombarded with noise. Turn down the volume and enjoy the silence, and you can detect humming almost imperceptibly, that subtle, otherworldly vibration, like the note on a Tibetan singing bowl, the primal sound: "Om."
Imagine the moment way back when that you (as consciousness) entered your body, the moment when you took your first breath or as a fetus in the womb when your heart began to beat (at day 22 of gestation, imagine!). Before all memories, all abilities, all thoughts. Just pure free consciousness, like a current of electricity attaching itself to matter, to a form (your body). The body that is to be your vehicle on earth is thrust out of the womb and into the world. Gradually an identity is thrust on you. Your name is so and so. Born on such a such a day to this and the other parent. Over time you develop tastes for this and aversions to that. You are good at these things and not so good at those. You as spirit become weighed down by matter and its accoutrements. But not really, because you are ever pure and free. Like a current of electricity. Existing in potential everywhere, and entering the light fixture when the circumstances are just right. Does the electricity identify with the light bulb it ignites? Of course not. Electricity is everywhere. As is consciousness. As the Self. As the True You.
Once you are fixed in this awareness of your true identity, "realized" as my father would say, you live out your days in quiet contentment, above the fray, fixed in the Self which is beyond space and time, pure perfect Awareness. But how to get there? How to clear away the riff-raff, still the tumultuous mind whose agitated waters obscure the reflection of the Self's shining rays?
Meditation is highly recommended. Subdue the senses, quiet the mind, and fix the attention inwardly. This is ancient wisdom and leads to an authentic experience of the Absolute, which is beyond duality, beyond sensuality. Like the Om, it can only be truly experienced in the silence of the heart, in the space beyond thought.
But once you get there, do you need meditation any longer? Who is to tell you that you have arrived, that you are "Self-realized"? Some teachers urge you always to meditate, as a way of calming the mind which is put to unrest by life's enticing experiences. And of course meditation has its health benefits. Others say that meditation can be practiced wherever you go. It's like breathing. Fix your attention inwardly, let the mind contemplate the Self, its source, as you go about your daily business, as if on autopilot.
One thing is true. The great masters lived lives of quiet contemplation. I can't think of any exception. Most were unmarried. Some lived in caves. Many abided in rural areas untouched by technology and the hustle and bustle of busy city life. And even in an atmosphere of such calm, they often lapsed into samadhi (pure consciousness), even when they were in the company of others.
The Self is like green grass, the mind is a cow. Rather than lock the mind into its pen for 15 minutes at a time and force meditation upon it, you allow it to contemplate the sweetness of the Self regardless of the hour, and then it chooses to do this at every spare moment. Which is why not many masters watched a lot of TV, and indeed why many lived before TV. Television would seem to stunt the spiritual progress, drawing the attention outward; and once spiritual progress is achieved, the events on TV, however sensational and titillating, no longer provide any interest, for they pale by comparison to the quiet stillness, that endless stream of sweetness, flowing from within.
Be this as it may, I often wonder about the place of TV in modern life. Each day I spend many hours in quiet meditation, and sometimes wonder whether as an alternative I might watch an hour or two of the tube. (I am partial to sporting events, which are like a pacifier to me, since this is what I watched as a child.) Maybe TV, like meditation, or for that matter biohacking or bungee jumping, is just another way of passing the time.
Or maybe, if watching baseball is so appealing to me, I haven't yet fully "realized" the incomparable bliss of pure consciousness. And therefore I need to meditate more. That is, after I have a quick look at who the Angels are playing.